Feathered Bastard

John Huppenthal's Whopper on Ethnic Studies: Cambium Report Doesn't Back Hup's Declaration that Tucson's MASD Program Violates State Law

I've just finished reading the Cambium report on Tucson Unified School District's much-maligned Mexican American Studies Department. It's a shocker.

Know why? Because the report itself concludes that "no observable evidence was present to suggest that any classroom within Tucson Unified School District is in direct violation of the law [Arizona Revised Statutes] 15-112(A)."

This completely contradicts Arizona Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal's determination that TUSD's MASD program is in violation of the law and has 60 days to change its ways or face a potential cutoff of 10 percent of its state funds.

The statute, passed by the Legislature in 2010, and written by former Superintendent and current Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, prohibits classes that promote the overthrow of the United States Government, promote resentment toward a certain race or class, are designed for pupils of a particular ethnicity, or advocate ethnic solidarity.

Huppenthal alleged that the MASD classes violate all but the first provision. However, the audit conducted by Texas-based Cambium Learning, Inc. (which was commissioned by Huppenthal himself) found that none of the four prongs of the law were violated by any of the various literature, history, government or art courses that MASD offers.

In addition, the audit, which is overwhelmingly positive, depicts courses that are popular with students and the community, and, more importantly, effective.

"High school juniors taking a MASD course are more likely to pass the reading and writing portion of the AIMS subject tests if they had previously failed those subtests in their sophomore year. Consequently, high school seniors enrolled in a MASD course are more likely to graduate than their peers."

Anywhere from five to 11 percent more likely, the data indicates. 

And for this, the study lauds the program.

"[Student] achievement is due to the sense of pride that develops through their accomplishments with highly effective teachers," the report states at one point.

The study does offer some criticism and recommendations, and it does identify certain texts that should go through a review process, but it doesn't recommend scrapping the program, as Horne wanted done. This, as he left the Superintendent's office for the AG's throne. 

Rather, it recommends keeping the classes as core courses, as long as its recommendations are instituted. These were: effective curriculum management, open communication between MASD and TUSD, and between both of those parties and the Department of Education.

I will post the full report as soon as I can get it scanned and turned into a PDF file.

(UPDATE: The full report is now available via the links given at the end of this blog item.)

How did the media, on the whole, miss this big story? 

First, Huppenthal sat on the report for about a month, and released it only during a very misleading press conference yesterday.

Journalists there had no time to read or even browse the 120 page report. It was not provided to them in PDF form, and the presser itself did not discuss the report's actual findings.

Instead, reporters were fed an insipid dog and pony show with prepared statements by Huppenthal and Associate Superintendent Kathy Hrabluk. These officials indicated, at great length, that the MASD courses were poorly developed and not produced using accepted norms.

Of course, they never said anything about the report contradicting Huppenthal's draconian decision. And since reporters knew nothing of the actual content of the report, they mostly swallowed what they heard.

Also, Huppenthal and Hrabluk scurried out of the room like frightened Chihuahuas after fielding a few questions. Before doing so, Huppenthal had the gall to say that he believed the courses caused "unhealthy segregation."

I asked him what "healthy segregation" would look like, and how he planned to desegregate TUSD, seeing that some of its schools are up to 90 percent Latino.

Naturally, he dodged the question.

The study found some texts MASD reportedly uses to be questionable, and I would disagree with that characterization. However, the reading lists for these courses, as you will see when I post the document, are very broad, and include everything from Sandra Cisneros' coming-of-age novel The House on Mango Street to William Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Huppenthal spokesman Andrew LeFevre told me that the report was not the only basis for Huppenthal's decision yesterday, and the department will soon release a list of offending passages and texts to back up Huppenthal's determination.

But the majority of the reading lists are made up of texts that virtually no one would find offensive. To damn the entire program by cherry-picking and taking passages out of context smacks of true Tom Horne-style McCarthyism.

LeFevre wasn't sure of how much the study actually cost. Previous reports cited a figure of $170,000. But LeFevre believes that is not accurate. Whatever the bill, Huppenthal should ask for a refund, because it undermines everything critics like him have been saying about the program.

The audit finds the students to be motivated, articulate, and "closing the achievement gap." The teachers are committed, prepared, and "provided students with assignments which required the use of higher-order and critical thinking skills."

So what's wrong about this? Again, this report gives the lie to all of the smears and misinformation promulgated by conservative extremists in this state, such as MASD-hater Doug MacEachern of the Arizona Republic

No wonder MASD's students are willing to risk jail protesting the possible elimination of these classes. Were I in their sneakers, I'd do the same damn thing.

Because of the size of the document, it's split into five parts. Here are the links: Cambium One, Cambium Two, Cambium Three, Cambium Four, and Cambium Five.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons