VOL. 17 ISSUE NO. 52   |  DECEMBER 28, 2011 – JANUARY 3, 2012


TUSD loses appeal on Raza Studies program

Testimonial evidence demonstrates that MAS classes cause students to develop a sense of racial resentment toward the ‘white oppressor’

PHOENIX – On Dec. 27, Administrative Law Judge Lewis D. Kowal issued a decision affirming Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal’s June 15, 2011 determination that the Raza or Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) violates ARS §§15-112(A)(2-4) by promoting racial resentment, being designed primarily for one ethnic group and advocating ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.

Kowal prefaced his decision by stating, “At issue is not whether the MAS program should be suspended, dismantled, or terminated, or whether the MAS program has achieved a certain level of academic success, or whether the MAS program is an effective program, or whether MAS classes are being taught in accordance with state standards.”

He said the hearing was solely held to determine whether TUSD’s MAS program violates statute.

Following several days of hearings that spanned from August through October 2011 and a record that closed on Dec. 16, 2011, Kowal agreed with Huppenthal’s determination that the MAS program had one or more classes that violate ARS §§15-112(A)(2-4) and concluded grounds exist for the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction and Department of Education (ADE) to withhold 10 percent of the monthly apportionment of state aid unless the district comes into compliance.

Enacted by the Arizona Legislature in the spring of 2010, ARS §15-112(A) took effect in Dec. 31, 2010.

The MAS program began at TUSD in the spring of 1998. However, according to testimony, it had not substantially changed since that time.

During the 2011 Spring Semester, at the high school level, the MAS program offered classes in Literature, American History, American Government/Social Justice and Chicana/o Art, courses which could be used to satisfy graduation requirements.

Some similar courses are offered at the elementary and middle school levels as well.

The ADE received complaints from Tucson community members about the manner in which educational instruction was being conducted in the MAS program.

Because the ADE is required, by statute (ARS §15-231.01.12), to consider and investigate complaints relating to public schools, Huppenthal subsequently initiated an investigation to determine whether TUSD’s MAS program was in violation of state statute and contracted the services of Cambium Learning, Inc. to conduct an independent curriculum audit of the MAS program.

While the ADE contracted with Cambium, Cambium subcontracted all the work to the National Academic Educational Partners (NAEP), which began the curriculum audit in March 2011.

The ADE required the audit to be completed within 60 days so a decision could be communicated to the district by the end of the 2011 Spring Semester.

The auditors’ findings, disseminated to the ADE in the Cambium Report, concluded TUSD’s MAS classes did not violate statute.

However, because of concerns the ADE had regarding those conclusions, which were based upon the data contained in the Cambium Report as well as the limited information auditors were provided access to by the district, Huppenthal decided to conduct an independent review of the MAS curricular materials before making a determination as to whether the district’s MAS program was operating in compliance with the law.

After reviewing the materials and textbooks from TUSD’s MAS program produced by a variety of sources, including a subpoena issued to the district by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and submitted by members of the Tucson community, Huppenthal issued a determination that the district’s MAS program violated ARS §15-112(A)(2-3).

He also specifically noted in his June 15, 2011 determination that his findings were limited and that the investigation was hampered by a lack of cooperation from the MAS director and the district’s failure to provide a written curriculum for each of the classes offered as a part of the MAS program.

TUSD appealed Huppenthal’s determination.

Although TUSD affirmed there is a district-wide policy requiring lesson plans and syllabuses to be in writing and approved, auditors were informed there was no such policy “specifying a consistent practice for daily or cumulative lesson plan retention” and it was common practice for MAS high school teachers to “write the plan on the board.”

And, while classroom observations by auditors were supposed to be unannounced, because, as ADE Program Chief John Stollar testified, if teachers know in advance they are going to be observed, they have a tendency to change their lesson so that it might not represent what is actually taught, TUSD Deputy Superintendent Maria Menconi told principals the time frame when the auditors would be conducting classroom visits.

Merconi testified she did not know whether the principals informed teachers of when the auditors were coming.

However, MAS Director Sean Arce testified he told MAS teachers that auditors were going to make unannounced observations of their classes.

Through testimony, it was learned the auditors were provided less than 20 percent of the written curriculum used in the courses offered by the MAS program.

However, based on what was produced, the auditors found three out of nine total MAS curriculum units “contain and overabundance of controversial commentary inclusive of political tones of personal activism and bias.”

Also interesting to note was ADE Associate Superintendent Kathy Hrublak’s testimony about how she “thought it strange that the MAS history classes observed by the auditors covered different subjects because all six classes were for the same grade level and offering the same core credit for American History.”

The TUSD’s MAS website asserts, “While the MAS Department was formed specifically to enhance the academic success of Latino students, the educational model and curriculum developed by the MAS Department help all students.”

However, the MAS website also states the program’s “mission” is to “advance the interests of Raza populations within TUSD …”

Its other listed goals include: “Providing and promoting teacher education that is centered within Critical Pedagogy, Latino Critical Race Pedagogy, and Authentic Caring …, and Promoting and advocating for social and educational transformation.”

Kowal pointed out, “Testimonial evidence presented at the hearing, in conjunction with excerpts from texts, curriculum, assessments, and student work, demonstrates that MAS classes cause students to develop a sense of racial resentment toward the ‘white oppressor’ or ‘dominant’ group. The philosophy of ‘us against them’ is a persistent theme that exists within the MAS program.”

Several examples of Arce’s intent for the MAS program to encourage racial activism are cited in Kowal’s 37-page decision.

Affirming Huppenthal’s determination, Kowal concluded ADE had sustained its burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the MAS program had at least one or more classes or courses that were in violation of ARS §§15-112(A)(2-4), and ordered ADE to withhold 10 percent of the monthly apportionment of state aid until TUSD comes into compliance.