TUSD forming culturally relevant classes

Public review needed, and time is limited before school starts
2013-06-24T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:48:43Z TUSD forming culturally relevant classesAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

With fewer than six weeks before classes resume, the Tucson Unified School District is still hoping to offer culturally relevant courses in the fall.

It's a lofty goal considering the curriculum is still in the revision phase and will need to go through a public review before it can be adopted by the school board.

The board would also determine when to offer the courses.

The curriculum, which will replace the controversial Mexican American Studies courses, will be directed at 11th- and 12th-graders and cover literature, government and American history. Each class is offered from either the Mexican-American perspective or the African-American perspective, though students will have the option of taking traditional classes in each of the subjects.

"I feel good about this process," said Maria Menconi, TUSD's deputy superintendent. "I feel it was a little rushed, but I believe once it gets to the point where we have it in front of the board for approval that it will be a good and fair curriculum."

Governing Board member Kristel Ann Foster said it's feasible to begin teaching the classes on the first day of school, Aug. 1.

"They have a great, strong team working on the curriculum," Foster said. "If they didn't have strong teachers putting this together, it would be a different story."

Fellow board member Mark Stegeman called the short timeline "far from optimal."

Still, Stegeman said offering the literature and government courses this school year was a "reasonable compromise."

"I'm uncomfortable with the brevity of the process but would be uncomfortable with not offering anything at all," Stegeman said, citing a federal court order that the classes be offered this school year. "We have so much else we're trying to do, and history shows that we tend to bite off more than we can accomplish. I think it would be better to be more cautious."

For the upcoming school year, the classes - if approved - will be offered only at three pilot high schools: Cholla, Tucson and Pueblo. There already is a waiting list of students at those schools for the culturally relevant courses, Menconi said.

The literature classes are expected to be adopted before the government and history courses. The proposed timeline for the public to review the literature curriculum is tentatively scheduled to begin today and run through July 8, with possible board adoption by July 9. If that timeline is met, the TUSD board could offer the yearlong literature class on the first day of classes.

The history and government courses are slated to go on public display from July 19 through Aug. 2, with board adoption on Aug. 13.

Because the government class is only one semester long, the starting date could be pushed back to the second semester. The history class, however, spans the entire school year, leaving the board to decide if the class should start in the middle of the year and cut back on the content covered or if they should push it back to the 2014-15 school year.

"There's no rule that says you couldn't start the history class later, but you have to think about the impact on students," Menconi said. "What does half a year look like? We can't expect students to cover a year's worth of work in one semester, but you could consider starting at a certain point in time, like the 1900s, and move forward from there."

As long as students are enrolled in a traditional history class for the first semester, that credit will carry forward should they join a culturally relevant course in the spring.

The Arizona Department of Education reviewed the classes but did not give its stamp of approval.

The disapproval stems from concerns that portions of the curriculum did not address certain state standards or that the district could have done a better job in tying it to the Common Core standards, Menconi said.

Asked whether the Department of Education noted any possible violations in state law, which is what led to the demise of the Mexican American Studies courses, Menconi said that was not addressed.

"They really didn't take that approach," she said. "The approach they took were standards issues. If you think about it, when you read the state law you have to see the course in action to deduce whether there are violations."

The law, which was written specifically in response to the TUSD MAS program, prohibits classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals, and are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

If the culturally relevant curriculum were to be called into question, Menconi says TUSD would have a stronger argument regarding what the class covers.

"You'll recall that we struggled at that time because we didn't have copies of a written curriculum," Menconi said. "The contrast is, now we do and they can see whether what is being taught is in alignment with standards. But at that time, they had observations and information from people in the community, but no documents."

Though Menconi did not have the exact number of culturally relevant classes that would be offered, she estimated that the district would offer a section or two at each of the pilot campuses. While that may be fewer sections than were offered for Mexican American Studies courses, there will be an expansion in courses that are offered from an African-American perspective. No teachers have been assigned to teach the culturally relevant courses, but like the waiting list of students, there is a list of 20 to 30 teachers who have shown an interest.

Menconi knew of at least one Mexican American Studies teacher who voiced an interest in teaching the classes, but said about half of the former MAS educators did not want to participate in curriculum writing, so she did not expect to see many of them leading the new courses.

The selected teachers will be trained on how to properly teach the classes before they are officially launched, Menconi said.

On StarNet: Find more education and TUSD news and resources at azstarnet.com/education

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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