Horne done with ethnic- studies look
His aim was to 'make the facts known,' but some TUSD officials aren't happy with what they view as his meddling
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/218367
Arizona's education czar has quietly concluded his inspection of the ethnic-studies department of Tucson's largest school district without action.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne now says his aim in inspecting the department and its materials was to inform the community of what was being taught, rather than to suggest or order changes to the curriculum.
"My main role here is to make the facts known, and now it's up to the people of Tucson," he said.
Those facts, according to Horne, were curriculum outlines, budgets and reading lists of the four programs in the Tucson Unified School District's ethnic-studies department, specifically the Mexican-American/ Raza Studies program.
On Nov. 6, Horne filed a public records request with TUSD, asking for information on funding for the department, as well as training materials.
Horne has said his inquiry was not a question of academics or education, but of "values," explaining he was concerned about "ethnic chauvinism," which he described as "teaching people to make their primary personal identity the ethnic group they were born into, rather than identifying as an individual in terms of character and ability."
Horne said the reading lists concerned him, noting the use of Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed." A Brazilian educator and education theorist, Freire's book critiques the student-teacher relationship, traditional education and its implications outside the classroom.
Horne proposed that TUSD could better spend the department's nearly $2.7 million budget, but admits he has no power to change what is taught in Tucson schools.
"The school board has the power," he said.
TUSD Governing Board President Joel Ireland agreed.
"He has no jurisdiction to talk about what the district has in its curriculum," he said. "Our job is to align the curriculum with state standards . . . otherwise it's none of his business."
He said the board never discussed altering the programs.
Since Horne's inquiry became public, Ireland said the Governing Board has received both criticism of and support for the programs, though the overwhelming majority has been in favor of the programs. He said he's bothered that Horne never contacted the board directly.
Augustine Romero, director of TUSD's ethnic-studies department, questioned Horne's motives, in light of explanations that the inquiry wasn't based on academic achievement.
Research regarding Raza Studies students has found they outscored their peers in reading, writing and math as measured by the state's academic accountability exam.
"If you discount the pursuit of academic and educational excellence, this reads as nothing other than a political maneuver," Romero said. "Since when has education lost its standing as a core value in this country? At our core, the ethnic-studies department is academic excellence and equitable education."
Ireland agreed with Romero.
"It sure looks like much ado about nothing, and in the political world that means someone is running for office," he said. "It was always, to me, stupid from the start. Nothing was going to happen. He had no jurisdiction, and, frankly, I had forgotten about it."
Horne, a Republican, says he does plan to run for public office after his term as Arizona's head of education comes to an end in 2010, though he wouldn't say what office. But he denied the notion that his inquiry was motivated by political ambition.
"The inquiry I made is a reflection of my deep philosophical beliefs," he said. "It is not a political move. If you want to do something political in Tucson, you do something liberal, not conservative."
Romero found a lesson in Horne's inquiry. Students became more engaged with local and state politics, he said, noting that they wrote letters to local newspapers and elected officials, discussed the issue with their parents and community members, and even voiced their opinions at the December meeting of the Governing Board.
Romero said he could see how a conservative politician would be concerned with some of the texts taught in the ethnic-studies department, but said academic engagement and student success trump politics.
"If you look at the educational aspects, it's black and white. We succeed," he said. "If you want an ideological discussion, it's going to be gray, and at best, we'll agree to disagree."
DID YOU KNOW ...
TUSD's Mexican-American/Raza Studies program was created after years of community organizing that began in November 1996 when a group called the Coalition of Neighbors for Mexican-American Studies, or CONMAS, presented a petition for a Mexican-American studies program to TUSD's Governing Board.
Two years after the petition was submitted, the board approved a budget that included funding for the program.
In addition to Mexican-American/Raza Studies, TUSD's ethnic-studies department is composed of African-American, Pan-Asian and Native American programs.
● Contact reporter George B. Sánchez at 573-4195 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.