There's a battle going on right now in Arizona.
At stake is our very educational system.
How this case goes may well determine whether politicians have control over what is taught in our schools. Whether teachers can teach diverse perspectives of history and literature. Whether Latino students, historically behind in standardized tests and graduation rates, can catch up with the rest of the student population. And whether those Latino students will emerge from our schools with a sense of who they are, what their people have, and are still contributing to America, and a deep belief in serving and uniting our communities toward building a stronger nation.
The target is Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American Studies program.
Taking aim is the former Arizona superintendent of public instruction Tom Horne – now the state's attorney general – who has vowed to eliminate TUSD's MAS program. His successor in the state's highest education post – John Huppenthal – similarly ran on a platform of eliminating “Raza studies” in Arizona.
The tool to destroy the program is HB 2281, now ARS §§ 15-111 and 15-112 which makes this and similar ethnic studies programs illegal. The penalty for keeping such programs is a 10 percent reduction of state funding to the district.
These same politicians have consistently ignored the unprecedented success of the program that has an independently verified track record of improving performance by Latino students in standardized tests, closing the gap in graduation rates for Latinos, and sending more graduates on to college.
The political backdrop is a state where the Republican held legislature and governor's office are using scare tactics to enflame voters to associate Arizona's budget and crime problems with immigrants, particularly Latinos crossing the state's southern border. And they are putting the squeeze play hard on the state's schools to make sure all are stepping to the party line.
Mix in a divided school board with some cagy members, an unsupportive superintendent, and a whole lot of political figures talking out of both sides of their neck and you have the situation that led in the spring of 2011 to a student takeover of the school board meeting, followed at the next board meeting by a disgraceful mass police demonstration of force complete with the brutal arrests of students and community elders.
Fighting back are 11 teachers and administrators from TUSD's MAS program, and two of its students. They have banded together to question the constitutionality of HB 2281 and defend their program of excellence – one that should be duplicated rather than banned.
Join the fight today. Please support us in this ongoing struggle for the future of education in America.