Horne seeks info on ethnic studies programs in TUSD
Arizona Daily Star
Nov. 15, 2007
By George B. Sánchez
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/211712
TUSD's ethnic studies program has come under the lens of Arizona's education czar.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has asked the Tucson Unified School District to provide information on funding for its ethnic studies programs.
The request also calls for all training materials used in Mexican-American and African-American studies, syllabuses, videos, films, teachers' guides, reading materials, audio recordings and other instructional materials.
Horne said his inquiry is not based on a question of academics or education, but "values."
He said he is concerned about what he calls "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."
When asked about the nature of the records request, filed last week, Horne said he would not call it an investigation.
"Incidentally, I am concerned about the cost of all that," he added.
The records request states its purpose as: "Maintaining adequate knowledge in the state Department of Education of what is occurring in the schools."
Augustine Romero, coordinator of TUSD's ethnic studies department, defended Mexican-American studies on its academic success and the value students can gain through exploring cultural identity.
Interviewed earlier this week, Romero said the community needs to understand state education standards are included in the course and lesson plans of the Mexican-American program, also called "raza studies." (Loosely defined, "la raza" means "the race," and it often refers to the Spanish-speaking people of the Americas.)
A sign of the program's success, he said, can be seen in a study from the 2006-07 school year that compared AIMS scores of raza studies students against those of students not in the program. Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, known as AIMS, is the state's academic accountability exam.
Eleventh-graders at Cholla Magnet, Rincon, Pueblo Magnet and Tucson Magnet high schools all outscored their peers in reading, writing and math. The same was found at Hohokam and Wakefield middle schools.
When told about the superior AIMS scores of raza studies students, Horne said the program's academic success may be what draws students to the program, but the program itself may not lead to student success.
Two recent graduates of TUSD and its raza studies classes say the courses did put them on the path to academic and personal success.
"For kids like me, who had trouble staying motivated, it was something I looked forward to and it gave me a space to talk and have a relationship with my teacher," said Jesus Romero, an 18-year-old graduate of Tucson Magnet High. "After I graduated, it gave me a sense of who I am as a student and a youth and what I can do."
Mireya Renteria, 18, is a Rincon High graduate and, like Romero, attends Pima Community College. She said the program helped her grades.
"Before, I was a C-average student. I didn't care if I would pass as long as I graduated. My counselor never asked me or told me to go to college," said Renteria. "But my teacher, Dr. Gonzalez, he was concerned if I would continue and get a college education. And my grades went up."
When asked about the cultural aspect of the classes, Romero said that by helping students develop their identities — as Chicanos, Latinos or academics, or a combination — the students feel a greater sense of worth and purpose.
"We know if we can do that, we can get the students to do better in school," he said.
TUSD's ethnic studies department was created in 2004 as an umbrella for its black, American Indian, Pan-Asian and raza studies programs.
The ethnic studies programs heighten students' understandings of different cultures, offer a critical perspective of U.S. and world history and bolster cultural identity for some, Romero said.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, raza studies has significantly expanded during the past five years.
About 900 students are officially enrolled in raza studies classes at four high schools. Teachers who have taken part in raza studies workshops are able to incorporate the department's lesson plans into various classes. Romero estimated that about 1,400 students are served daily by the program.
In 2002, about 70 students were enrolled in raza studies classes. At the time, there was only one class at Tucson High Magnet and Cholla High Magnet schools.
The program is not limited to Hispanic students, Romero said.
"We've got a representation across the board," he said.
Horne was elected in 2002 on a platform that included an anti-bilingual-education stance.
"I have a long history of opposing ethnic studies and gender studies," he said, explaining that he halted a proposed women's studies program in a Paradise Valley high school.
"It's sad to hear that, that someone with so much power would try to take away the funding for a program without knowing us or our stories," Romero said. "For students who took the class, asking critical questions, not being worried about the grade as much as how you can serve the community, it's priceless."
Horne noted that he is learning to speak and read Spanish.
● Contact reporter George B. Sánchez at 573-4195 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.