Don't compromise Mexican American Studies' track record of success

2011-04-11T00:00:00Z Don't compromise Mexican American Studies' track record of successMaría Federico Brummer and Sarah M. Rusk Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A lot of misinformation has been tossed around recently about Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American Studies (MAS) program.

First is the notion that it is ineffective. A March 11 report by David Scott, Tucson Unified School District director of accountability and research, prepared for TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone, contradicts such reports.

Scott compared MAS students against all students in the district (including schools where MAS courses are not offered, and where students come from considerably higher socio-economic means than MAS schools) and concluded:

• "I find that there are positive measurable differences between MAS students and the corresponding comparative group of students."

• "Juniors taking a MAS course are more likely than their peers to pass the reading and writing AIMS subject test if they had previously failed those tests in their sophomore year."

• "Seniors taking a MAS course are more likely to persist to graduation than their peers."

We could drill down into the details, as should have been done in the Star's reporting, but the point is MAS students have shown significant increases in AIMS reading and writing scores, and are graduating at higher rates than their district counterparts.

They are closing the achievement gap that has plagued Latino students for years. Moreover TUSD's ethnic studies program is the only one in the district geared toward closing that gap.

There has been talk about making MAS courses electives. They already are electives. No one forces students to take these courses for their English, history and government graduation requirements. What is really being suggested is making them non-accredited electives, and that is just wrong. Why should our students have to double their course load for their graduation requirements, especially when our program is demonstrably helping these students do better and increasing graduation rates?

Making these courses unaccredited electives sends the message to Latino students and parents that MAS courses, which highlight the historical and cultural contributions that Latinos have made to the United States (while simultaneously covering the traditional state standards), are not worthy of study as social studies and English classes sufficient to count as core credit.

To roll back this program from accredited status is a giant step back from the tremendous gains that the Mexican American/Latino community and MAS have made to counter the Latino student population as being traditionally underserved.

Any such structural change in course offerings will certainly reset the Mexican American/Latino historical, cultural and lived experiences back to the margins and not at the center of curriculum and instruction, a practice that has traditionally failed Latino students in TUSD.

Latino students have traditionally struggled to graduate and are second only to Native American students for the highest dropout rates in TUSD.

Our district is more than 70 percent minority (60-plus percent Latino), and the schools where MAS classes are taught are upwards of 90 percent minority - mainly Latino.

And yet our district, under pressure from the state superintendent of public instruction, John Huppenthal, who made the elimination of Mexican American Studies a campaign promise, is seriously considering going back to institutionally failing our students as a so-called "compromise."

Would you compromise with your child's education?

Our program has consistently met the academic needs of the second-lowest performing and largest student population in TUSD.

So why the rush to dilute an effective program, rather than replicate it across the district? No doubt Huppenthal and Attorney General Tom Horne are fearful that our lawsuit will prevail and that the law banning ethnic studies will be struck down (see full debate footage on the topic from the University of Arizona College of Law at: www.youtube.com-/watch?v=7-1joLIuXvI).

The effort to dismantle this program before that court date certainly smacks of a thinly hidden political agenda.

María Federico Brummer and Sarah M. Rusk are TUSD Mexican American Studies educators. Email them at info@saveethnicstudies.org

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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