The State: Student Achievement, Self Esteem Are Irrelevant

The arguments over Arizona's anti-Mexican American Studies law in the 9th Circuit Court pretty much boil down to this: Are increased student achievement and self esteem important tasks of our public schools? The jaw-dropping answer from the state attorney was a simple "No."

One of the judges hearing the case cited a recent study concluding that students who took Mexican American Studies courses had greater increases in achievement and higher graduation rates than similar TUSD students who didn't take the courses. The lawyer for the state questioned whether the study was accurate, referring to the "purported effect" of the courses, but went on to say student achievement is irrelevant. Even if student achievement increased, that doesn't matter in this case.

One of the judges asked whether there's a problem with a class teaching students about their ethnic heritage and developing their sense of ethnic pride. The answer from the lawyer representing the state:

“I’m not sure it’s the purpose of the public school system to inculcate ethnic pride. I don’t know that there’s a constitutional right to classes that inculcate ethnic pride.”

To sum up: If the Mexican American Studies courses succeeded in increasing student achievement, but they violated a law that was created to make the courses illegal, the courses have to go. And if those same courses increased students' motivation to work hard in school by educating them about their history and culture (recent research has emphasized the huge role motivation plays in student achievement), but they violate the same law that was created to make the courses illegal, the courses have to go.

Is it any wonder the judges suspect the law "is intended with discriminatory intent," and the lawyers arguing against the law feel optimistic about their chances?

We've got an interesting scenario developing here. On the one hand, TUSD has until March 4 to make a deal with Ed Supe Douglas to keep her from deciding that the current Culturally Relevant Curriculum violates state law. On the other hand, the 9th Circuit Court could overturn that law, taking away Douglas' main weapon in her fight with TUSD. The district has every reason to say to Douglas, "We need to wait for the court's decision before making any changes to our current ethnic studies curriculum."