Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ethnic Studies: Huppenthal and the Art of Arizona Politics

Posted By on Sat, Jun 18, 2011 at 1:47 PM

When it comes to the ongoing ethnic studies story in Arizona, it’s difficult to figure out where to start first.

Last week, the Tucson Weekly ran a story on Tucson Police Department Chief Roberto Villaseñor responding to criticism of the police presence at the May 3 TUSD governing board meeting.

It wasn't until an active member of the community publicly explained what took place that night—including how police hit her and others who were protesting peacefully—that Villaseñor offered an apology.

This week, it’s all about Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal’s Wednesday, June 15. press conference that in the end may be considered just another fine example of the art of Arizona politics.

Huppenthal released his determination that TUSD is out of compliance with the state’s anti-ethnic studies law based on findings from the independent audit the state paid more than $170,000 for a Florida-based company to complete — a company picked by Huppenthal. A decision from Huppenthal has been expected for weeks, with some of the public thinking the hold up was coming from Cambium Learning, the company that audited the Mexican-American Studies department — the only ethnic studies program audited in TUSD.

After Huppenthal’s press conference, it felt as if a trick was played. The superintendent suggested his decision was based on findings in the audit, and he released the "findings of his investigation" in a three page document. Reporters and TV folks left thinking Cambium sided with Huppenthal — that indeed, those TUSD teachers are Marxists readying students to take over the U.S., and if any of them are of Mexican heritage, they are being taught they’re better then everyone else and victims at the same time.

But those who sat down and finally read the 120-page audit learned Cambium thinks the classes are great, that the teachers are great, and that they aren’t breaking the anti-ethnic studies law. It probably wasn’t what Huppenthal was hoping for, which probably explains why he sat on the audit for several weeks, since the audit is dated May 2.

In Huppenthal’s press release, he further infers the audit agreed with his findings discussed at the press conference. Before going further, let’s go over the anti-ethnic studies law:

A. A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its Program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

1. Promote overthrowing the U.S. government;
2. Promote resentment towards a race or class of people;
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race; and
4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

Although Huppenthal forgets to accuse anyone of working to overthrow the U.S. government, he goes right into “promote resentment towards a race or class of people” based on materials gathered by the Arizona Department of Education and the auditors. As for the other points of the law ... that the classes “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race”? Yep, materials and website content make him certain this is true. Regarding if the classes “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals,” of course Huppenthal determined that program materials do just that.

Now according to Huppenthal's decision, TUSD has 60 days to bring Mexican-American studies into compliance; if not the state will withhold “10% of the monthly apportionment of state aid to Tucson Unified School District until such time as they come into compliance.”

But what about that audit?

Read more after the jump.

“The findings of the auditors agree student achievement has occurred and is closing the achievement gap based on the re-analysis and findings of TUSD’s Department of Accountability and Research.”

“It is apparent that students enrolled in MASD courses in high school graduate in the very least at a rate of five percent more than their counterparts in 2005, and at the most, a rate of 11 percent more in 2010. Students who complete a MASD course during their senior year f high school are more likely to graduate than compared to non-MASD counterparts.”

“No observable evidence exists that instruction promotes overthrow of the U.S. Government. During the audit team’s visits, the American government was taught as it exists in terms of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. At no time was any conversation even remotely relevant to the overthrow of the U.S. government.”

“No observable evidence exists that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department promotes resentment toward a race or class of people. The auditors observed the opposite, as students are taught to be accepting of multiple ethnicities of people.”

“A majority of evidence demonstrates that the Mexican American Studies Department’s instruction is NOT designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.”

“No evidence as seen by the auditors exists to indicate that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department program classes advocates ethnic solidarity; rather it has been proven to treat students as individuals.”

Does the audit have any recommendations or criticism? Yes—as well as a recommendation to TUSD that the classes remain core classes and be expanded to be made available to more students.

Those recommendations: More curriculum management in Mexican-American studies department; better communication between the department, TUSD administration and the Department of Education; and the maintaining of the courses as core curriculum. At a recent Save Ethnic Studies press conference, teachers who spoke said the recommendations and criticism were welcomed and that every year the teachers are always changing curriculum and talking about how to make classes better.

State Senator Steve Gallardo has reportedly said he wants state hearings to look further into how Huppenthal made his final decision about the TUSD program, while obviously sitting on the final audit report for weeks until his press conference and ignoring the findings in the report commissioned by the state.

Huppenthal said his decision is all about education, not politics, but remember this is a career politician who ran on a platform to get rid of “la raza,” the term turned derogatory by Huppenthal and Attorney General Tom Horne to identify the ethnic studies classes.

In a recent story by Jeff Biggers on Huffington Post, Biggers asks if it’s possible that Huppenthal committed a felony lying about the audit results during his press conference:

In short: Did Huppenthal commit a felony at his extremely odd press conference this Wednesday at the Arizona Department of Education in Phoenix if he knowingly presented the results of an independent audit of Tucson's Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies Program in a false manner, in order to justifying his ruling that the program was out of compliance with the state's controversial Ethnic Studies ban?

Despite Huppenthal's charges to the contrary, the 120-page audit concluded: "During the curriculum audit period, no observable evidence was present to suggest that any classroom within Tucson Unified School District is in direct violation of the law A.R.S. 15-112."

Huppenthal, who campaigned for the state's top education post last year with the inflammatory slogan that he was "one of us" and would "stop la raza"—raza means race or people in Spanish, and refers to the Mexican American community — used the audit results by the private Cambium firm as part of his rationale to find the Ethnic Studies Program in violation of the state law for promoting resentment towards a race or class, advocating ethnic solidarity, and using a curriculum designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race.

But, for example, did Huppenthal violate Arizona Article 38-423, which refers to public officers, and stipulates: "A public officer authorized by law to make or give any certificate or other writing, who makes and delivers as true such a certificate or writing containing a statement which he knows is false, is guilty of a class 6 felony"?

Still questioning the curriculum? Still casting doubt or buying into past doubt about the classes? Read the audit yourself right here.

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