Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 15, 2011


Host: Ted Simons

Mexican American Studies


  • State Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal discusses his determination that Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program violates a new state law.
Guests:
  • John Huppenthal - State Superintendent of Schools
Category: Education   |   Keywords: education, law,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The Mexican-American studies program at Tucson Unified School District violates a as state law that went into effect at the beginning of the year. That's according to state schools Chief John Huppenthal, who commissioned an audit of the program to determine its legality. Today he released the findings. And tonight superintendent Huppenthal joins us on "Horizon." Good to see you again, thanks for joining us.

John Huppenthal: Great to be here.

Ted Simons: Out of compliance ARS, that’s a lot of gobbledygook there. Let's talk about why the district is out of compliance.

John Huppenthal: Well, when we started -- we set up a whole new framework for analyzing this when I came into office, and we started to go through the entire process by which the class was set up, and we began to see problems in the development of the curriculum for this class. They violated their own board policy that this would come to and be approved by the Tucson unified school district governing board. So they failed to provide that oversight. They violated state law on how you develop curriculum and get that approved. One of the key processes is that you allowed broad-based community input through your board deliberations. That process was completely missing. And then as a further problem, they failed to allow principals to have quality oversight for classes that were taken -- taking place within that principal's school. So that entire curriculum development process that is a key part of the quality education just completely collapsed and there was a dramatic failure there.

Ted Simons: So according to statute, a program that promotes resentment towards race and class prohibited by law, you saw that in this program?

John Huppenthal: Yes. Now, you have a problem because you don't have this approved curriculum by the state board or – by the TUSD governing board, you only have this vague outline of class materials. And so when we go to these class materials and go to approved materials by the TUSD governing board we have no overlap at all. So there's no approval of these materials. So then we had to pull samples of what was actually being done in the class and we saw a myriad of violations of 15-112 in those materials. But again this kind of mess is what happens when you don't follow fundamental procedures for developing a quality educational -- quality educational content.

Ted Simons: Specifically what you call, the mess, promoting resentment, a program designated for kids of a particular ethnicity, you found a violation there as well?

John Huppenthal: Yes. The website specifically outlines this is for a particular ethnicity, there were a variety of materials that outlined that. And plus, when we checked the enrollment in the classes, they are 90% Latino and the overall population is at 60%. So we made that finding in that regard.

Ted Simons: Are they open classes, though? Could white kids or African-American kids go ahead and take these classes if they so chose?

John Huppenthal: They are, but that still doesn't mean that you don't have a violation. Violation comes because the specific targeting of the material for a particular group.

Ted Simons: I'm confused. This is a Mexican-American studies program, it would be, I would imagine, targeted towards studies of Mexican-Americans.

John Huppenthal: That is the key. The content as opposed to the targeting. It was explicit terms saying they were targeting Latino students. And that's the problem that creates the violation.

Ted Simons: Another problem you found was advocating ethnic solidarity instead of having students taught as individual students. Explain what's going on here.

John Huppenthal: Repeatedly in the materials that were used, again, with no oversight by the governing board, we repeatedly saw those type of sort of proselytizing as opposed to development and teaching of history. So those materials we came up with repeated examples of those.

Ted Simons: Can you give me an example of proselytize something how that aspect of the law was broken?

John Huppenthal: Well, without laying it out in detail, perhaps not. We saw that type of thing repeatedly in those materials.

Ted Simons: OK. I want to -- in the statute subsection E talks about classes that are protected, and that you can't restrict or prohibit certain types of courses, including courses open to all students. Which we talked about, so I'm confused about open to all students yet not designated. You saw you saw a differentiation.

John Huppenthal: Well, again, if you're talking about historical content, we have state standards for history, and it's important to note that those state standards completely allow examples of historical injustice. If that's all you're teaching in a class, you're not giving a true account of history. So within our state standards, you have broad ability to develop a curriculum. Again, we can't emphasize enough they didn't go through that process of curriculum development, having their board approve that, complying with that process, we're going to come back to that curriculum development process over and over again. All of the failures that led to this mess come out of their failure to use good processes and development of curriculum.

Ted Simons: Another aspect of this subsection E in the statute, it doesn't allow restriction or prohibition of courses. That discusses controversial aspects of history. How do you discuss controversial aspects much history without someone feeling resentment? There's got to be a fine line, isn't it?

John Huppenthal: Well, there is, again, I'm going to come back to it, because you -- once you abandon a framework for developing of curriculum, when you have that community input, when you have the oversight of the governing board, when you go through that process, all of this comes and these problems are resolved by having good processes for developing educational content. As soon as you get away from that, then you see the materials that we came across, examples of where they went over the line and they were doing stuff that was inflaming the community and causing all of these problems of violations of 15-112.

Ted Simons: And one other subset of 15-12 is teaching of historical oppression of groups based on ethnicity, race, ask class. Again those classes are supposed to be not prohibited and not restricted. I know what you're going to say regarding the curriculum development, but as far as your research is concerned, you found violations there. Correct?

John Huppenthal: Yes.

Ted Simons: Is there any way we can get an example of these things, or is it just a repeated violation?

John Huppenthal: Well, repeated violations, but also explicitly talking about in terms of how it's cast. In terms of being from one viewpoint and talking about it always in terms of content of oppression, of Latinos, by whites, the types of references in that context. Not -- improper -- just improper phraseology, the whole -- how you bring that out we think that's where the violation took place. These things could have been cured by the proper development of a curriculum. Completely -- it's completely possible within state standards and by their board approval to bring out examples of historical injustice. And you can't teach a good history without those examples, but if that's all you're teaching, you're depriving these students of a knowledge of what America is all about. We move forward to a better future because we have these examples of injustice, but you don't focus just on those examples of injustice and you don't twist those examples of injustice to have just one perspective.

Ted Simons: How did you come about your conclusions? Talk about the research, how long it took and how you got your conclusions.

John Huppenthal: We brought in a consulting firm to do a curriculum audit, we employed our own -- we have associate superintendent who presented her findings at the press conference today. She did an in-depth analysis going through the curriculum audit process. So we spent a number of months meeting periodically through that process to review our findings. Pretty much in-depth.

Ted Simons: A couple months for the district to reply, at least try to comply, if they fail to comply, will you go ahead and withhold funds?

John Huppenthal: Absolutely. It's up to 10% of the state level of funding, so it's pretty substantial. The findings themselves lay out a road map, how they would cure this. They've gotten themselves into a heck of a bind by all of these failures to file fundamental policy on how you develop curriculum and how you do quality controls as that curriculum is implemented.

Ted Simons: Last question, those who support the program say they result in higher aims tests, they result in higher graduation rates, and more of these students taking these courses going on to college. How do you respond to that?

John Huppenthal: Well, those are side issues. We would be glad to come back at a separate date, separating those issues and discuss as to whether the Tucson Unified School District is doing a good job for poor and minority students. We think that is a very important discussion. But that's a separate side question from what we were considering today.

Ted Simons: All right. Superintendent good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

John Huppenthal: Great to be here.

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