TUSD President Stegeman offers perspective on Mexican American Studies debateby tcguestblogger on Jun. 15, 2011, under Government, Politics
TUSD Governing Board President submitted this guest blog post about an hour before the ruling from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
by Mark Stegeman
TUSD Board President
June 15, 2011
Dear supporters and correspondents,
My short letter of May 3 said that I would soon send a more complete description of the Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) situation with ethnic studies. This means mainly Mexican-American Studies (MAS) because our other ethnic studies programs have attracted little controversy. Again I write later than expected and of course much has happened since then.
If last year the ethnic studies issue had become a case of the tail wagging the (TUSD) dog, as I wrote in my September letter, then it has recently been not merely wagging but twirling the dog around.
This letter overlaps only slightly with what I wrote on May 3. Because it is long, here is a summary:
State superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal has investigated whether the MAS program violates A.R.S. 15-112 and will soon report those findings. A finding of violation will introduce the threat of a significant funding cut. In mid-April I advanced a proposal, which is appended to the end of this letter, to simplify and strengthen TUSD’s high school social studies curriculum, improve political balance in classrooms, improve academic counseling, and make other changes which affect MAS. I hoped that making a constructive proposal would create middle ground in the polarized discussion on MAS and believed that adoption might forestall aggressive intervention by the state if it finds a violation. After heated opposition from MAS program supporters, the (TUSD) superintendent asked the board to postpone consideration of the proposal, which it did during a difficult meeting on May 3. The initiative went back to the state.
The rest of this letter covers these points and many more, in detail. Press accounts, by omitting much detail, can lead to misconceptions.
I write to you before the release of the state findings (currently expected at 4 p.m. today) because I may not want to write immediately after they are released. I do not know what the findings are; the ADE has been careful to keep them confidential. If they are negative, then it will make sense to consider them carefully and then get some initial sense of which direction the board wants to go.
TUSD has had and has other major issues on the table, such as generally low student achievement, social promotion, the turnaround models at Palo Verde and Rincon high schools, the proposed Carson closure, the disposition of closed school sites, the reorganization of the alternative education program, our processes for technology planning and procurement, the desegregation case and post-unitary plan, etc. It would be easy to make the list much longer.
Many of these issues affect more students, more employees, and more dollars than the MAS programs. If the enactment of A.R.S. 15-112 had not accelerated the attention on MAS, it would instead have been part of a comprehensive review of the desegregation budget. I have long pushed for such a review and for clearer policies concerning the spending of desegregation funds.
I hope to write another letter, covering non-MAS issues, before the end of the summer.
I firmly believe that, despite the jungle we are hacking through, TUSD is making progress and is on track to becoming a much stronger district. Hacking through jungles is usually messy. The reestablishment of all-day kindergarten is one recent sign of TUSD’s progress.
TUSD’s superintendent, John Pedicone, has my full support. He has begun to clean up some of the inherited problems and has started new programs to improve the training of teachers and principals. It is my consistent policy not to criticize the superintendent or any other member of the board.
Whether the conversation is within district leadership, or with stakeholders who have opposing viewpoints, or with the general public, we should always speak respectfully of each other and understand that none of us occupies the unique moral high ground.
Many persons have asked whether, in retrospect, I would still have introduced the proposal before the state’s finding. It is hard to judge while the situation is still evolving, but the reaction was much stronger than I expected.
I apologize if I have not answered your email. Please let me know if you prefer to be off this list.
This letter is intended mainly for friends and correspondents, including some who have written only about MAS, but none of it is confidential. You are free to pass it on. It reflects only my own views, not those of the board or district. Please let me know about any (I hope none) errors in facts.
The Mexican-American Studies (MAS) Program
This letter is organized by headings, so that you can find what interests you or what you do not already know. No sane person will want to read the whole thing. Because this account has accumulated over time, there is more historical record than might be the case if I wrote the whole letter today. In the future I will try to write prompter and shorter letters.
I. What has happened and what lies ahead.
For several months the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has been studying TUSD’s MAS program, to determine whether it violates A.R.S. 15-112, the main law created by HB2281. The law, which does not ban ethnic studies but sets limits on what may be taught, went into effect on December 31.
The main curriculum rules in A.R.S. 15-112 are:
“A school district or charter school in this state shall not include its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:
1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
The law explicitly limits the scope of these prohibitions, stating for example:
“Nothing in this section shall be construed to restrict or prohibit the instruction of… the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on ethnicity, race, or class.”
Therefore, the law allows teaching about topics such as slavery and discrimination. The law (which is much longer than these quoted passages) also states:
“If the State Board of Education or the Superintendent of Public Instruction determines that the school district or charter school has failed to comply with subsection A [above] within sixty days after a notice has been issued …, the State Board of Education or the Superintendent of Public Instruction may direct the Department of Education to withhold up to ten per cent of the monthly apportionment of state aid that would otherwise be due the school district or charter school.”
I opposed HB2281 because some its language (e.g. “resentment,” “primarily,” “solidarity”) is vague and because the enforcement mechanism is draconian and gives too much discretion to one state official. I was surprised when TUSD staff did not oppose the bill. In February, 2010, the Star quoted TUSD’s since-departed in-house counsel: “TUSD would have no problem complying with the legislation as it’s written because current school policy prohibits the same things.” He did however express potential concern about the bill’s enforcement provisions.
Nothing in this letter should be construed to suggest that TUSD is violating A.R.S. 15-112 or any other statute.
Chronology of formal actions by ADE and the TUSD board, after the enactment of HB2281.
May and November, 2010: The board passed nearly identical declarations of its certainty that TUSD’s ethnic studies programs satisfy the requirements of HB2281.
Both votes were 4-1. I dissented because I thought that the board’s claims would be more credible following an external review of the program, which I advocated in a Star oped in May, 2010. I thought that a positive external report would have strengthened the board’s position, while a negative report would have given us time to address any issues, before the law came into effect.
The board and staff showed little support for such an external review.
December 30, 2010: The board unanimously adopted a resolution which said nothing about the legality of past practices but did state the board’s commitment to comply with the new rules, which were incorporated verbatim. Staff set up training sessions for the MAS teachers, to ensure that they understood TUSD’s interpretation of the statute and the board’s commitment.
December 30, 2010: Then-superintendent of public instruction Tom Horne issued a letter which found that TUSD “is in violation of A.R.S. §15-112…” The remedy demanded was “to eliminate the Mexican American Studies courses.” I am not a lawyer, but it is hard for me to understand how anyone can violate a law which does not yet exist.
December 31, 2010: A.R.S. 15-112 took effect.
January 14, 2011: TUSD appealed Horne’s finding, through the standard administrative hearing process prescribed by HB2281. The state pays the expense of holding the hearings.
February 4, 2011: The Arizona Department of Education (ADE), now run by John Huppenthal, extended the 60-day “cure” period initiated by the Horne finding to April 18. This then became the earliest date at which the 10% funding cut could begin.
March 9, 2011: The ADE extended the cure period again, “until after [its new] investigation has been completed and [ADE issues either] an amended notice of violation or a notification that an investigation has revealed full compliance… If an amended notice is issued [then] another 60-day period would begin. Furthermore, the Department agrees that it will not withhold 10% of the monthly state aid apportionment until after a final agency decision is issued after an administrative hearing, should one be necessary.”
The March 9 letter, in effect, set aside the original December 30 finding and TUSD’s January 14 appeal of that finding. The 60-day period would restart if the ADE issues a new finding of violation.
Genesis and timing of my proposal (which is appended to the end of this letter).
Since before I joined the board in 2009, polarized rhetoric has surrounded the MAS program. One side includes Tom Horne and other state officials, who have advocated its elimination. On the other side, prominent MAS supporters have consistently rejected any criticism or suggestion of change (unless the change is expansion). Each side accuses the other of exploiting and inflaming ethnic divisions.
I have been trying, with slight success, to create a middle ground in this debate. It is important to create a constituency for a pragmatic assessment of ethnic studies. In December, 2010, I wrote in a Star oped: “I hope that … readers can empathize with both views of the Raza Studies program… Persons who want to build consensus, rather than escalate the argument, need to regain control of the conversation.”
In another oped in March, 2010, I describe possible reforms in TUSD’s ethnic studies programs, and in mid-April I sent to the board the draft proposal which is reproduced at the end of this letter. The proposal has ten parts, but public attention focused on the sentence which changed some of the MAS courses from core courses to electives.
District staff reviewed the proposal several times and changes were made to reflect some staff comments (but not MAS staff). The proposal came forward without a staff recommendation; it was to be purely a board decision. One other board member had formally endorsed it, and a majority of the board seemed potentially willing to support it.
(Media reports may have created confusion about the board’s agenda policy. Any two board members can put an item on the board’s agenda; the superintendent does not have a veto.)
I believed that the proposal was a sensible reform, independent of any state action. Reading the proposal makes it clear that it would not have destroyed MAS in TUSD. The timing of the proposal was driven by A.R.S. 15-112 and the ongoing state investigation. I hoped to mitigate an impending collision between the district and the state, a collision in which TUSD seemed likely to sustain most of the damage.
Specifically, I had three reasons for bringing the proposal to the board ahead of the state’s finding.
First, I wanted to take advantage of several months of state silence, as Mr. Huppenthal took over from Mr. Horne and formed his own assessments. This silence created an opening to move the debate beyond the oversimplified arguments of the polar positions. If the ADE’s finding is negative (as now seems certain, given its slow appearance), the old rhetorical pattern will probably reemerge. The simple and divisive themes of right vs. left, Tucson vs. Phoenix, and Anglos vs. Latinos will tend to overwhelm any calm and more detailed discussion of TUSD’s ethnic studies curriculum.
Second, I preferred to vote for changes I believed in than to vote later, under the threat of a funding cut, for changes dictated by ADE. I was surprised, given the political history of the issue, that many MAS supporters preferred to let ADE take the initiative.
Adopting my proposal was unlikely to change ADE’s conclusions about the legality of the program, because ADE had already collected its evidence. The goal was to affect the remedy.
If the board had shown the capacity to make changes in the MAS program, by adopting a proposal which explicitly aimed to ensure political balance and reduce students’ self-segregation in the social studies core courses, then we could have made a credible argument that TUSD could craft whatever further changes were needed to fix any problems identified by ADE. Instead of imposing solutions from Phoenix, I thought that ADE would be more likely to give us time to address any issues ourselves.
As it is, we have given ADE little reason to believe that TUSD will make any change in MAS without aggressive intervention by ADE.
Third, I wanted to bolster the case for local control, by actually exercising local control before the state announced its demands. If, in the apparent absence of local control, the ADE now crafts its own set of changes in the MAS program, then (barring judicial relief) TUSD will face the prospect of capitulation to prevent a funding cut. That may produce a worse outcome for TUSD’s ethnic studies programs; it will also, for many persons, validate the original arguments against local control and for intrusive measures such as HB2281.
We should be having this debate in our own community, making our own decisions. Instead we have shown (so far) that we are hardly capable of debating the question in a civil way, much less taking action. That is bad for school districts and local government across the state.
Chronology (partial) of recent events.
April 26: My proposal, formally co-sponsored by board member Michael Hicks, first appeared as a Study/Action item on the April 26 agenda. (The full agenda also included many other items.) The meeting was canceled after members of the pro-MAS student group UNIDOS took control of the board room, shortly before the meeting was scheduled to start.
May 3: The rescheduled board meeting was marked by heavy police presence, audience disruption, and numerous arrests. The board discussed but took no action on my proposal, after the superintendent requested that the board postpone action until after “greater community dialogue.”
May 10: The Board met and ethnic studies was not on the agenda, but during the audience call someone read controversial passages from Message to Aztlan, by Rodolfo Gonzalez, into the record. The profanity in some passages caused the superintendent to halt the speaker, though a previous board had approved this book for grades 3 and higher. (Staff says it is unclear whether any elementary students were ever actually exposed to this book.)
I think that this approval, if still in force, should be rescinded, and it makes sense to review other old textbook approvals.
May 16: The superintendent sent similar letters to the MAS Community Advisory Board (a citizens’ group with no official connection to TUSD) and the student group UNIDOS, saying in part: “I have strongly recommended to the [TUSD] board the [proposal]… be tabled and not considered… TUSD has no intention of pressing charges against any of the individuals cited at either the April 26 or May 3 meetings.”
May 23: UNIDOS responded to the superintendent’s letter, asking for written responses to many questions and writing: “we demand that no further changes or actions be taken against the program, no matter what the state may do or say. Please support our classes by defending ethnic studies against all racist attacks.”
June 1: After difficulties arose in the process for planning the community forum, the MAS Community Advisory Board, UNIDOS, and several other organizations sponsored the community forum without formal district participation. All of the invited speakers were strong supporters of the MAS program.
I believe that the superintendent made a strong and sincere effort to organize the forum, with sponsors including both TUSD and the MAS Board, but district staff apparently had difficulty establishing a productive working relationship with the MAS Board, on this project. Several “neutral” community members generously tried to help, and their efforts are much appreciated.
Comments about the disrupted meetings (April 26 and May 3).
Through March and April, security at Board meetings consisted of four of TUSD’s internal security officers. Despite some disruptions, we sought to keep the security presence unobtrusive. That was obviously insufficient on April 26.
I support vigorous free speech and the board had, at previous meetings, heard many pro-MAS speakers. (They had considerably outnumbered anti-MAS speakers.) UNIDOS’s board room takeover on April 26 went far beyond free speech, however. Any democracy has winners and losers, and persons who are afraid of losing are not entitled to stop the democratic process, unless that process is itself badly flawed.
Some persons have argued that the takeover was justifiable because my proposal is so hostile to civil rights that it was appropriate to use force to shut down the elected board. I respect the long history of civil rights problems which form the backdrop for that argument, but my mild proposal did not shut down any courses, censor any content out of courses, end the teaching of ethnic studies or alternative viewpoints, or attempt to control what students or teachers do outside of school. The controversial sentence stated only that taking MAS social studies courses would no longer exempt the student from taking the standard core curriculum. One may debate for or against the proposal, but it is hard for me to find in it a civil rights (or human rights) violation.
When the MAS curriculum was originally created, none of its courses were in the core. The board made the change from elective to core in 2002. As far as I know, no one claimed that the original arrangement violated anyone’s civil rights. Moreover, no other district in Pima County offers any set of courses similar to what TUSD offers through the MAS program, and I have heard no one claim that the other districts are violating anyone’s civil rights.
From the other side, persons upset by the takeover have argued that we should have immediately arrested the persons who chained themselves into the chairs (only some of whom were TUSD students). I still support our original decision to let the protest wind down on its own, because this seemed to be the best way to avoid injuries, including injuries to innocent bystanders who were still in the room.
Aftermath of April 26.
I was surprised by TUSD’s later decision to seek no charges later against persons who disrupted the meeting. If a similar situation arises again, then I will try to ensure that the full board discusses the question first. I could have supported charges against adults, if the city attorney felt that such charges were supportable, but I have no evidence that a majority of the board felt that way.
Staff felt unprepared to hold the rescheduled meeting in a larger venue, partly because of the challenge of providing adequate security. I have asked staff to try to identify a larger venue which could be used in the future, for meetings where a large crowd is expected and security is a concern.
A striking sequel to the April 26 takeover is that I have never heard any of the adults connected to the MAS program express any regret about what happened or any concern that the students put themselves in harm’s way. Indeed, several of the MAS teachers applauded UNIDOS’s actions and appeared to encourage more of the same. On April 27, one of the teachers was quoted in the press: “They’re [the students are] brilliant. This is not a one-time event. It looks like they’re not going to stop until they have an impact on this decision.”
Similar praise and enthusiasm were conspicuous at the MAS public forum on June 1. No one expressed any regret that students took major risks while the adults mostly stood back and cheered them on.
Statements by the students, during the takeover and later, suggested that protests would escalate. The Star recently quoted one Sunnyside student who helped to organize the April 26 takeover: “We are being radical. Youth will attend the next meeting. This is not going to stop.”
The agenda for the rescheduled meeting was essentially the same as for the canceled April 26 meeting. The ethnic studies proposal was unchanged.
For this meeting, TUSD’s internal security office worked with police to devise security measures sufficient to ensure that we could conduct the meeting in an orderly way and provide a safe environment for persons attending. In addition to the threats of escalation, there were reports that an opposition group would show up to protest what happened on April 26. The possibility of conflict between groups affected security decisions.
The board did not participate in the detailed planning, so on May 3 I was surprised by the strength of the police cordon, the dogs, the helicopter, etc. I appreciate the police department’s help and it seems unreasonable to criticize the planning after the fact. The board expected staff and the police to plan for the worst case and left details to their professional judgment. We were obviously glad that the worst case did not develop. The crowd was smaller than expected and comprised mostly MAS supporters.
The agenda included a special 30-minute audience call, for the ethnic studies issue specifically. I extended the time slightly to accommodate more speakers, as I have often done in recent months. On May 3, the entire list of speaking requests would have consumed about two hours. (Later I regretted not working through the entire list, but other board members might have objected to that. In the future I will put decisions about extending the audience call to a board vote.)
During the audience call, all but one of the speakers were MAS supporters (i.e., they opposed the proposal). The one speaker who supported making changes in the ethnic studies programs was repeatedly heckled and had to receive extra time to get through her remarks.
The meeting environment was challenging. Some MAS supporters disrupted the meeting repeatedly and seemed determined to make its management as difficult as possible. Most of the persons who were arrested for seizing the floor and making speeches had not even signed up to speak during the audience call. (One of those persons, unfortunately, was the well-respected senior activist Guadalupe Castillo; she had originally signed up to speak, but just before the meeting an unidentified man told the board secretary that she wished to cancel her request.)
Some persons may have deliberately created situations which were likely to produce arrests.
Facing these challenges, we made mistakes in meeting management, for which I take responsibility. We had plans for dealing with disruptive persons, but those plans did not work well. In some cases, I was too lenient; in other cases we were too quick to arrest. We are on a learning curve.
Some reporters from major media were denied entry to the building, because no seats had been specifically reserved for them. In the future, reporters for major media who would like seats held for them should contact the Board office before the meeting, or contact me directly.
The audio broadcast of the meeting, to the large overflow crowd outside the building, was frequently interrupted by technical problems. I am sure that staff will try to ensure that the audio is reliable, whenever we next plan to broadcast to a large overflow crowd.
The decision to postpone the proposal, on May 3.
As I wrote on May 3, it is common to discuss an item when it first appears for Study/Action, without taking a vote. This holds especially for major and controversial items. In this case, the board seemed prepared to vote but I recommended postponement because that was the superintendent’s request and because there was obviously great unsatisfied demand for public comment, including from persons who had not previously addressed the board.
For months, there had been much public and board discussion of ethnic studies, but my specific proposal had been public for only about a week. Therefore, the superintendent’s suggestion to hold a forum was reasonable, and this would give everyone more time to present questions, evidence, and suggestions. It would also create a chance to dispel some of the misinformation surrounding the proposal. Then we could bring it, or a revised version, back for a vote after two or three weeks.
I generally support the concept of public forums (or hearings) on difficult issues, during which all sides can present their views. In the past, I think that TUSD has done too little of this.
Soon after the May 3 meeting, however, it became clear that the forum would not happen quickly, and the superintendent requested further postponement. Postponing the vote beyond May implied pushing it beyond the expected appearance of ADE’s findings, which will recast the discussion no matter what they are. At that point my proposal may or may not become moot.
In short, the extended postponement punted the initiative back to ADE.
The second problem with the long postponement is the appearance that, instead of creating more time for discussion, we have in reality simply capitulated to disruptive tactics. During the May 3 audience call, Pima County Legal Defender Isabel Garcia claimed that victory:
“…you have to acknowledge that the students caused you to capitulate …now you are saying that you want more dialogue. You have to be honest and admit that it was the students’ courageous acts last week that caused you to say maybe we should talk to the public”
I did not interpret a postponement as a capitulation; it was mainly a response to the superintendent’s request and a desire to err on the side of allowing more public input. I assume, however, that much of the public perceives a capitulation.
In the end, I believe that each board member will act according to what he or she believes will produce the best outcome for the district and its students, without being influenced by efforts to disrupt the process.
Aftermath of May 3.
The security presence on May 10 was much greater than on April 26 but much less than on May 3, and it was adequate. Staff will continue to adjust the security arrangements, as we learn from experience.
We are changing several procedures for the audience call. One change is that we will no longer allow speakers to cede time to other speakers.
Regardless of who bears what fraction of the responsibility, the May 3 meeting damaged relationships between district leadership and parts of the Latino community. Whatever happens concerning the MAS program, we should work to repair that damage.
What happens next.
At this writing, the ADE has indicated that it will release its findings at 4 p.m. today. If it finds a violation of A.R.S. 15-112, then over the next several weeks or months the Board may face at least three kinds of decisions:
1) Whether to appeal the new finding through the state’s administrative hearing process, as it appealed the Horne finding in January. The results of such a hearing are advisory and not binding on the state superintendent.
2) Whether to appeal any aspect of the new finding in court.
3) What changes to make, if any, in the MAS program.
I cannot predict what decisions the board will make, in various scenarios. Given the range of opinions on the board and the advantages of achieving as much consensus as possible, we may (or may not) use all of the time allowed by various state-imposed deadlines.
A negative finding would also require a later decision by the state superintendent (unless the courts intervene to prevent it): whether to impose the funding cut allowed under A.R.S. 15-112.
II. The local legal and political environment.
Communication with MAS supporters.
Advocates for the MAS program have often said that board members are unwilling to listen to them. It seems important to refute this charge.
As mentioned above, the board has, over many months, heard from many MAS supporters during its audience calls. Some MAS supporters have spoken to the board several times, at different meetings.
On Jan. 28 I met with a group of long-time MAS supporters, from the Latino community. I have great respect for these persons, their accomplishments, and their commitment. On Feb. 3 I met with some of the MAS teachers, at their request. Both meetings were cordial and informative. On March 24 I tried to attend the premiere of Precious Knowledge but was unable to get in. On June 1 I attended the public forum organized by MAS supporters. I have attended two MAS classes this year, following one teacher’s invitation, and enjoyed talking with both teachers.
When UNIDOS first approached board members about scheduling a meeting, I offered to meet on Feb. 21, one of their proposed dates, but they declined that offer and offered no substitute date. On March 25 I told one of the UNIDOS leaders that I was still happy to meet, but I heard nothing more about it.
On April 8 I met with the MAS Community Advisory Board, at my suggestion. I was surprised that I was allowed to bring no one else to the meeting, but it was civil and produced a useful exchange of information. At a time when so many persons are indifferent to education and to politics, I was honored to meet with these articulate and committed supporters of the MAS program and the Latino community. I did receive a very clear message: no change in the MAS program other than expansion is acceptable.
It would be good to create a regular channel of communication.
The no compromise stance.
The no compromise theme runs consistently through the statements of key MAS supporters, over many months. One of the students who occupied the dais expressed a typical viewpoint, in a press account: she “acknowledged that the protest may be viewed as students starting trouble, but she still felt it was effective in sending the message that any change to MAS is unacceptable.”
A no compromise stance is legitimate but just as rigid as Tom Horne’s position that the MAS program should be eliminated (which is shared by many in the community, judging from the email which I have received). This makes me pessimistic that the situation will come to a quiet end.
My proposal was meant to be moderate and appeared so to many. (National Public Radio: “TUSD is considering something that you wouldn’t think … people could get quite this mad about. The issue is whether the MAS program in high school will be turned from a core credit to an elective. That’s it.”). The fierce reaction raises the question: will any proposal which constrains the MAS program in any way, at any time, cause a crisis? I hope not, especially at a time when the entire district is facing tighter budgets and is committed to improving student achievement across the board.
MAS supporters sometimes highlight the program’s exceptional status by describing it as the best program in TUSD or the only program which helps Latino students to achieve. TUSD should take pride in any cost-effective program that increases achievement, but these statements show too little respect for many hardworking persons and successful programs in TUSD, many of which have already endured substantial cuts and reorganizations. Many things in the district are already good, but almost every unit (including, of course, the board and the member writing this letter) has room for improvement. No program is exempt from change, and all sides should be willing to compromise in response to reasonable arguments.
The teachers’ lawsuit.
Eleven of the MAS teachers have sued the state, with the goal (according to my understanding) of having A.R.S. 15-112 declared unconstitutional. TUSD is not part of the suit. The teachers or their counsel are the best sources of information.
At the board’s January 11 meeting, the teachers gave us a letter and a public deadline: either commit by January 13 to join the lawsuit or be named as a defendant. It was almost impossible for the board to respond within this deadline, especially given the 24-hour public notice required for a special meeting with that item on the agenda. Therefore, we did not respond. At this writing, TUSD has not yet been named as a defendant.
The claims that the proposal would destroy the MAS program (though it changes the status of only about half the courses) or that TUSD board members would not meet with MAS supporters are just two of many misrepresentations which have helped to escalate the hostility of the past few weeks.
It would be impossible to respond to all of the false or misleading statements which have circulated, but it may cheer me up to address several of them, even if the reader understandably skips to something more interesting.
One MAS teacher says on a posted video, while speaking to a group: “Stegeman has also gone around town, telling fellow Dems. that the eleven of us, who are plaintiffs, are only doing this to save our jobs.” This is untrue. I always speak respectfully about the MAS teachers, as I try to do for all TUSD employees, and I have been careful not to judge their motives. I rarely trust myself to judge a particular person’s motives.
MAS supporters have repeatedly claimed that I filtered the speakers during the May 10 audience call, so that only anti-MAS speakers were called and the rest were deferred to the next meeting. Anyone who reviews the tape of the meeting can hear that this is false.
Others have referred to my proposal as “racist garbage” or compared me to Russell Pearce. If I am secretly a Russell Pearce Republican, then anyone looking at my long history of campaign contributions would have to conclude that I have been operating under very deep cover.
The amazing things which I have learned about myself from online blogs and videos could fill several more paragraphs.
I have also received hostile comments from many MAS opponents, who simply want the program condemned, but most of that communication has been private.
It is important to emphasize that many MAS supporters and opponents do speak civilly. These comments apply to a few persons.
Persons who can support their points with solid arguments and evidence usually need not resort to misrepresentation and ad hominem attacks. Likewise, those who seek to block others’ speech often seem to fear that the other may be making a persuasive argument.
Political pressure, etc.
The political pressure on an issue which should ideally be driven only by educational considerations has been remarkable. It has come from both sides but (in my case) especially from the left.
For example, I received this message from a prominent local Democrat, a few hours before the May 3 meeting:
“I can’t tell you how much this is going to destroy you… This will be the end of your political career … you have picked a path that will end your public service with your current term (if you are not recalled before it ends).”
If I based my votes on messages like this, then I would indeed deserve to be recalled.
That is the fourth recall threat I’ve received in two and a half years on the board, from four different groups and both sides of the political spectrum. At this rate, I should get negative votes in the next election.
On the same day (May 3), a different kind of pressure appeared in my UA classroom, where I teach Principles of Economics to about 400 students. As I described in my May 3 letter, unknown students gave attack flyers to my students as they entered the room, and after class began a few students I didn’t recognize began raising their hands, standing, and challenging me to discuss ethnic studies.
It is ironic that those who talk the most about the “hate” and ethnic division and bullying coming from the other side are often (not always) those who themselves use the harshest and most intimidating language, launch the most personal attacks, and are the quickest to parse the issues along ethnic lines.
The underlying problem permeates modern American politics: polar viewpoints tend to be the most committed and in many cases also the least civil. (There is nothing original in that observation.) The bright side is that the uncivil extremes represent a minority of the population, but the majority who are unhappy about the political rowdiness are too busy or too discouraged to do much about it, except, judging from trends, to register Independent.
I have no solutions to offer, but one small change which might improve the quality of political discussion would be greater awareness of the problem of appearing to apply inconsistent standards.
For example, the criticisms of the arrests on May 3 sound more persuasive (to me) when they come from persons who acknowledge that the students who chained themselves to the chairs on April 26 might have been slightly out of line. The defenders of that student takeover might be more persuasive if they would explain how they would react to conservative students shutting down a board meeting to prevent a vote to expand sex education; if the situations are not analogous, then is the difference any deeper than supporting protestors who happen to be on your side of the issue?
I am not a political expert, but I think that sensitivity to such questions would strengthen much political rhetoric
III. The underlying issues.
The reasons to include Mexican-American history and culture in TUSD’s curriculum.
It helps to connect curriculum to the students’ own experience.
One of the biggest problems facing teachers is motivating students to care about what they are learning. It helps if the curriculum seems relevant to the student’s own experience. For example, a Mexican-American student may find it much easier to get engaged with modern Mexican-American literature than with The Scarlet Letter. The latter book, though a great novel, is about people unlike herself, with values probably unlike her own, in a distant time and place.
This student’s experience with literature must extend beyond Mexican-American literature, because the state core requires familiarity with “mainstream” British and American literature and because a major point of education is to learn about people and places and times unlike your own. Mexican-American literature should simply be part of her curriculum. Its inclusion may not matter for some Mexican-American students, but it will help to motivate many other Mexican-American students. That is important because over 60% of the students in TUSD are Latino.
(When the MAS program was created, in 1998, TUSD was about 40% Latino. The reversal since that date is partly the result of growth in our Latino student population but even more the result of “white flight” into charter schools, private schools, and other districts. We need to reverse this trend. Otherwise one of the fundamental ideas behind universal public education, which is the creation of a common experience for all ethnic groups and social classes, in a common classroom, may slip away permanently.)
Similar to the case of literature, it makes sense when teaching the history of the western United States to include a significant portion of Mexican-American history. A typical student will be more interested in history if it seems connected to stories he has heard from his mother or grandmother or about his earlier family heritage. It is also interesting, and not unpatriotic, to learn (for example) about the Battle of the Alamo from both viewpoints.
It is good to learn about others’ experience.
Because it is good for everyone to hear different viewpoints, we should expose all of our students to Mexican-American history and culture. Just as Mexican-American students should learn about the Anglo-American world of the founding fathers and The Scarlet Letter (whether or not they read that particular book), so should Anglo-American students learn about the world of Mexican-Americans. Especially in a time and place of increased ethnic tension, it makes sense to learn about others’ experiences and viewpoints. It is trite but also true that we usually get along better with people we understand.
It is good to have that learning experience together.
Finally, it makes sense (to me) for Anglo-American and Mexican-American students to do this learning together, because that also promotes empathy and understanding. That is part of the reasoning behind my suggestion to integrate the social studies core into a single sequence, instead of the twin sequences which TUSD now has in some high schools: the “standard” core social studies sequence, which most students take (including most Latino students); and the MAS sequence.
Because the students who take the MAS courses are mainly Latino (much more so than the overall student population), the twin sequences produce a degree of self-segregation, meaning: students having different ethnic backgrounds are, through their own choices, in different rooms getting different curriculum. While the MAS courses are funded out of the desegregation budget, and the MAS program is intended to promote the general goals of the desegregation court orders, the resulting self-segregation seems out of step with the basic idea of desegregation. (That is only my opinion, not the opinion of the district or of the courts.)
It is an important part of U.S. history and culture.
Another reason to include Mexican-American history and culture in TUSD’s curriculum is unrelated to which students happen to be in the classroom. It is an important part of American history and culture, especially in this region. To leave it out or to minimize it is to teach a history which is fundamentally incomplete. The same is true for Native-American history and culture.
Some facts about the MAS program
It was created in 1998. Including its regular budget and supplemental appropriations, its annual cost has recently been slightly over $1 million. It employs about 20 teachers.
In 2010-11, according to information provided by staff, 43 semester courses were taught in high schools, mostly at Tucson, Rincon, and Pueblo high schools; 9 semester courses were taught at middle schools, and MAS material was integrated into classes at 9 elementary schools.
All of the high school courses can be used to substitute for “standard” courses in the state’s core curriculum. About half of the courses substitute for History or Government courses in the Social Studies core, and most of the rest substitute for courses in the English core.
MAS Course Core Requirement
Social Justice Education Project Social Studies
American History from a Mexican-American Perspective Social Studies
Latino Literature English
Latino Art Fine Arts
In 2009-2010, 706 high school students took at least one MAS course.
Issues surrounding the MAS implementation of ethnic studies
From my viewpoint, the six major issues concerning the MAS program’s particular implementation of a curriculum which includes Mexican-American history and culture are:
How many students are served.
Whether the MAS core courses provide adequate coverage of core material.
Whether content is age-appropriate (for elementary and middle school students).
There is plausible evidence, though I think it is far from statistically conclusive, that taking MAS classes improves student achievement, on average. The courses clearly have had remarkable effects on particular students; I have heard many parents testify to this.
I believe that the other five issues all pose serious questions for the MAS program, in its current form. It probably makes more sense to write more about all six issues after the release of the state findings (and, for now, I have consumed enough time and space!).
Resolution Concerning the Extension and Restructuring of TUSD’s Ethnic Studies Curriculum and the Maintenance of Political Balance in Classrooms.
Whereas, in any given year fewer than 5% of TUSD’s high school students take any of the Mexican American Studies (MAS) classes; and
Whereas, according to certain measures, among certain sample populations, staff analysis dated March 3, 2011 shows that students who take MAS classes outperform those who do not; and
Whereas, the MAS teachers and curriculum have increased many students’ motivation to succeed, by the students’ own convincing testimony; and
Whereas, the annual cost of the MAS program is slightly over $1 million, several times the cost of educating the MAS students in standard core classes, and the combined annual cost of the other three Ethnic Studies programs is about $1.6 million; and
Whereas, TUSD has not systematically evaluated how the four Ethnic Studies programs affect student achievement, and current data indicates that these programs have had marginal success in closing the achievement gaps; and
Whereas, the State’s requirements for the high school Social Sciences core are long and specific and will be augmented in academic year 2011-12 by a new Economics requirement, and there is flexibility in how to cover the required topics but also an inherent limit on how much time can be spent covering particular events and themes; and
Whereas, the State’s requirements for the high school English core emphasize skills but also include familiarity with American, British, and world literature, classic works of literature, and major literary periods and traditions.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the TUSD Governing Board directs staff to recommend policies and undertake actions to achieve the following in TUSD’s high schools:
1. The traditional core sequences in Social Sciences and English should be strengthened by adding a significant component which focuses on the contributions and viewpoints of Mexican-Americans and other ethnic minorities, especially in this region, to create a multi-cultural perspective. The staff of the current Ethnic Studies departments should help to develop this component. The new core material cannot come at the expense of adequate treatment of the topics required by the state.
2. The MAS courses should continue to be offered, in accordance with student demand.
3. Commencing with the 2011-12 academic year, the MAS courses cannot be used to satisfy the State’s core Social Science requirements. The courses used to satisfy those requirements should be taught by regular high school faculty and expose all students to a common set of diverse viewpoints. This change shall not affect the Social Science core credit earned by students who took the MAS courses in previous semesters.
4. Staff should develop a recommendation concerning whether a student should be able to use MAS literature courses to satisfy part of the state’s core English requirement and whether this would require any changes in those courses. The MAS literature courses shall continue to be an option for satisfying the state’s core English requirement, for academic year 2011-12.
5. The Ethnic Studies departments (however titled) should adopt academic support for individual students as a primary mission, using proven models. Staff should develop instruments and methods to evaluate these support programs and to determine whether they are actually improving students’ academic results and providing satisfactory return on the resources invested.
6. These support programs should extend their scope to serve students of Latino, African American, Native American, Asian and Pan-Asian background, students who are refugees, and other minority populations.
7. Total funding for the Ethnic Studies programs should be increased, to reflect these expanded roles, as finances allow. The relative funding of the programs should be adjusted to reduce the disparity between these funding levels and the composition of the district’s student population.
8. Staff should study ways to reduce administrative overhead in the Ethnic Studies departments, potentially including consolidation of functions.
9. Staff should consider the appropriate role of the internal and external compliance officers in monitoring the achievement of these goals and, if appropriate, make recommendations to the Board.
IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED the Governing Board reaffirms its commitment to teaching critical thinking skills in an objective and impartial manner, and reasserts its directives set forth in Board Policy IMB, Teaching about Controversial/Sensitive Issues, which reads in part:
Teaching critical thinking and communication skills utilizing controversial or sensitive subjects such as those involving political or religious points of view must be done in an objective and impartial manner. Students shall be instructed in:
- Issue analysis
- Formulation of opinions
- Communication of opinions
- Respectful disagreement
Staff, working with the Board’s policy subcommittee, should recommend additional policy, regulations, or procedures to ensure that classroom treatment of political topics is reasonably balanced.
Staff should make a progress report to the Board in January 2012.
Adopted this ____th day of April, 2011.
Tucson Unified School District Governing Board
Dr. Mark Stegeman, President Judy Burns, Clerk
Miguel Cuevas, Member Mike Hicks, Clerk
Adelita S. Grijalva, Member