Read, comment on TUSD draft equity plan
Arizona Daily Star
Feb. 12, 2009

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Our view: Jargon-laden plan needs translation, consistency to be effective

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/education/279828

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For roughly three decades the Tucson Unified School District has been involved with a federal desegregation court case brought on behalf of black and Hispanic students who were not receiving equal access to a quality education. During those years, TUSD has operated under a court order and spent millions upon millions of dollars on efforts to improve education for minority students, creating specific departments and programs in schools to bolster learning.

The court case is nearing its end and the district has posted on its Web site a draft of its plan to ensure equity and access to all students once it's free from court oversight and has reached what is called "unitary status." TUSD is asking for public comment on the draft, and it's worth taking the time to read the plan, think about the proposal and make constructive suggestions.

The 49-page draft is just that a draft. The document addresses large themes, including school assignments, the ethnic diversity of the district's faculty, student discipline and access to high-level classes. Within these chapters are more detailed explanations of what's happening today, goals for the future and steps to get there.

TUSD is wise to go to the public for feedback on the plan before it is finalized and submitted to the court. Given the history of vitriolic criticism of the desegregation program, this probably won't be a smooth or pleasant experience. But it is infinitely better to hear from parents, teachers, students and community members while the plan is under development instead of presenting a final version as a done deal.

TUSD also is planning to hold public meetings to collect comments and help people understand the plan.

"Tell us what you think, what doesn't make sense, what we need to clarify a little bit more, what's missing from the proposal," said Albert Siqueiros, the district's chief academic officer.

We encourage everyone to read the plan themselves, but here are a few points the district should consider:

Readability: The report was written by educators, in consultation with representatives of the lawsuit's African-American and Hispanic plaintiffs and their experts and it reads like a report written by professional educators and lawyers.

It's filled with educationese and academic language that may very well mean something to the people who wrote it, but its wording creates a barrier for parents trying to understand what it really means for their kids. The plan doesn't need to be dumbed down, but translated.

Consistency of student goals: The draft includes benchmarks for when a parent will be called about a student's grade throughout the semester and makes reference to plans for specific schools a parent at Cholla High Magnet School would get a call if his child earns a D or an F at progress report time during the semester, but University High School parents would be contacted if the student was earning a B. We believe the bar should be set high at all schools and the standard must be consistent.

The draft plan is too complex to fit all of our concerns in this space, and we will come back to it again during the public comment period. But we encourage all who are interested to read the draft and share not simply reactions or criticism, but thoughtful consideration and suggestions.