Friday, July 18, 2014

The Costs of "Postponing" Ethnic Studies in Texas

In my last post, I included some actions people could take to encourage members of the State Board of Education to vote to approve a Mexican American Studies course and curriculum for the elementary and secondary levels in Texas. In April 2014, the board compromised by passing a proclamation, Proclamation 2016, that would support the development of ethnic studies topics courses in social studies as well as the development of textbooks and materials for African American, Native American, Asian American, and Mexican American studies courses.

This week, the board has pulled a fast one by voting in favor of an amendment proposed by member Thomas Ratliffe to "postpone" development of those materials, a major blow and what many among those who organized in support of enriching education in Tejas saw as sabotage of the original proclamation and vote. As mi colega, Tony "El Librotraficante" Diaz has phrased it, the State Board is "pulling the rug" out from under Texas students. And many are comparing the acts of the board to the ethnocentrism at work in Arizona in its banning of ethnic studies in 2011.

Indeed, for me personally it's hard to divorce this decision from racially-tinged ideological motives at work in the state. But I'm also an impassioned Chicana advocate of Chican@ studies, with ethnically- and racially-tinged ideological motives of my own. Pues, a veces la verdad duele.  So, I started to ask the question: what are the actual costs to Texas and Texans of failing to provide a culturally relevant elementary and secondary education to our students? I found many answers in a 2008 Workforce Report from Texas Comptroller, Susan Combs.

After a careful analysis of, by now well-known, demographic trends in Texas, the report analyzes the impact of the absence of culturally relevant education for young Texans, especially Latin@s and African Americans, who tend to drop out of high school at higher rates. The report finds:

 . . . The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reported that Hispanics and blacks accounted for about 54 percent of the population aged 15 to 34 in Texas in 2007, but on 39 percent of the state's higher education students in Fall 2007. One way to increase overall educational attainment in Texas is to raise participation among Hispanic and black students in postsecondary education, in both two-year and four-year institutions.  ("Demographic Change and Education" 13)
Indeed, these findings motivated the Closing the Gaps and Achieving the Dream initiatives in the THECB, but the 2008 workforce report goes on to remind readers that programs in higher education can only go so far when those students needed to close achievement gaps and become skilled members of the Texas workforce aren't even graduating from high school. Although the report predicts that "[i]f the State Data Center's 'high-growth' scenario plays out," which it has continued to do at an even faster pace than predicted, "Hispanics will make up 58.7 percent of the state work force in 2040, more than twice their share in 2000" (14). Thus,
Because this portion of the state's population is growing rapidly, a larger percentage of the Texas workforce -- 30.1 percent -- will have no high school diploma by 2040, compared to 18.8 percent in 2000, if current trends continue. The State Data Center also expects the percentage of high school graduates in Texas to fall slightly, from 29 percent in 2000 to 28.7 percent by 2040. (14)
And here's the kicker, the part the SBOE should really be paying attention to, the part that needs more attention and media coverage by Texans, regardless of ideological motivation:

 And if policy in Texas limits high school educational options, it could exacerbate these trends, causing more students to lose interest and drop out of school. (14, emphasis mine)

 As we know, policy in Texas, with its emphasis on high-stakes testing, reducing funding for schools while enlarging budgets for publishing compaines and test-making factories, and diluting the cultural relevance of the curriculum, has continued to limit high school options. But again, what are the stakes of these policy/political moves? To understand that, we have to recognize that all policy implications have a human face and human desires. Thus, the report continues,
While students drop out for many different reasons, a recent survey for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that nearly half of dropouts surveyed (47 percent) said a major reason for dropping out was that classes were not interesting. (15, emphasis mine)
Educators in Mexican American Studies know this first-hand because we hear time and again in our classes that students never knew of the contributions of our people to American history, to Tejas history, to the arts, to the medical professions, to the rich history of entrepreneurs in this country. Once they see their lives reflected in our classes, they become not just interested but invested. Why would the school board want to delay such an important investment, which is not just a human investment but an economic one? Once again, the 2008 Workforce report clarifies the impact that an impoverished education will have on the future of Texas:
Unless Texas increases the average educational attainment levels of its non-Anglo populations, our future labor force will be less educated than today's. This means that workers will earn less and have fewer skills, and business will find it increasingly difficult to hire and retain qualified applicants. If the Texas economy is to continue to thrive, this downward spiral of decreasing educational levels, a less educated work force and fewer skilled job seekers must be reversed. (15-16)
Those of you who access the report and read it more fully will clearly see that the calls in this report are for the strengthening of workforce and career training programs, which may make it appear as though I'm cherry-picking data. Quite the contrary. Although I am one of those acknowledged in the report as an advocate for academic programs in higher education in order to sustain the civil society that undergirds and parallels the political economy, what the report demonstrates through this data is that it really doesn't matter whether students seek a workforce or academic route in post-secondary education if they're not even receiving an enriching and culturally relevant elementary and secondary education.

The question that the Texas electorate needs to be asking of SBOE members and policymakers at large is: why wouldn't we want to implement--and even fast-track--a culturally-relevant curriculum for Texas students?

As frequently happens in political decisions motivated by ideology and ethnocentrism, cost was identified as the biggest factor in the decision to postpone the approved ethnic studies materials. But we should all be asking ourselves and our legislators, what are the bigger costs, not just to students but to all tax-paying and voting Texans, of continuing to impoverish our students' education?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Focando 2014: MAS y MAS y Mas

NACCS-Tejas 2014 @ Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, Texas
The National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Foco conference always leaves me regenerated intellectually, politically, and spiritually, and this year's conference even more-so than in previous years.

This year, much of the work of the conference focused on the gains that Mexican American Studies has made in Texas and the progress we have yet to make. In particular, although Mexican American Studies seems to be surviving budget cuts, threats of program termination, and frequent misunderstanding of the nature of the field in higher education, there is a growing recognition of the grave need for MAS courses in K-12 public education in a state with a Latino population of almost 40%. The rewards of the continued struggle for Chicano Studies in Texas can be seen in the success of programs like UTPA's revamped Mexican American Studies degree programs and the recognition of UT-Austin's and University of Houston's centers for Mexican American Studies as national leaders in the field as well as the growth of MAS programs in 2-year colleges across the state (e.g., South Texas College in McAllen, Palo Alto College in San Anto, and HCC in Houston). In addition to continuing to grow these programs, a fundamental part of la lucha is expanding the reach of Chicano Studies into K-12 public education.

Que Podemos Hacer Ahorita? / What Can We Do Now?

The approach discussed at the conference is multi-pronged. One effort, widely publicized by mi colega en Houston, Tony "El Librotraficante" Diaz, has been to turn to the state legislature and the Texas State Board of Education to get a Mexican American Studies course as an optional offering at the K-12 level. To move this forward, we need to pressure the Chair of the SBOE, Barbara Cargill (R-Woodlands), to move MAS from a "Discussion Item" to an "Action Item" for their next board meeting on April 9th, 2014.

Right Now, You Can . . .

Call and email your SBOE representatives and Barbara Cargill herself to move MAS to an "Action Item." The NACCS Tejas Foco Committee for Mexican American Studies Pre-K to 12 has initiated a two-week "E-mail and Call-In Campaign" that began on March 17th and lasts until March 31st. Feel free to contact me if you want the name and contact info for your SBOE rep. Then, on Monday, April 7th, we're having a "Day of Action," in which we ask that everyone call and email their individual SBOE reps and email all 15 representatives at sboesupport at tea dot state dot tx dot us. Now and on April 7th, you can use this address and type "To All Texas State Board of Education Members" in the body of the email so that they will all receive it.

Finally, if you want to testify at the April 9th SBOE meeting in Austin, individuals may register on the website or by fax between 8am on Friday through 5pm on Monday prior to the board meeting; or, in person or by telephone between 8am and 5pm Friday or Monday with the appropriate agency office. Register at:

You can also sign this petition in support of Mexican American Studies.

Unsure what to say?

You can adapt language such as this to your own circumstances:
My name is Lydia French, and I am Director of Mexican American/Latino Studies and instructor of English at Houston Community College - Central in Houston, Texas. I am calling/writing to let you know that I support the integration of Mexican American Studies in Texas schools from Pre-K to 12th grade, and I am asking you to urge Barbara Cargill to move Mexican American Studies from a Discussion Item to an Action Item at the April 9th SBOE meeting so that Texas can begin developing a curriculum for a high school course in Mexican American Studies. Thank you.
(Gracias a Juan Tejeda of Palo Alto College for this language.)

If you're a parent or a student, you should definitely include your own experiences and understandings of the benefits such a course would offer. If you're in Houston Independent School District in particular, you should also feel free to use some of the following statistics:

  • Houston ISD is the largest school district in the state, and it has a 61.9% Hispanic student population.
  • Standardized test results show HISD consistently below state averages
  • Scores and retention rates of Hispanic students are consistently lower than those of other ethnicities and generally at about the same rate as those of economically disadvantaged students of any ethnicity
These data suggest that our Latino/Chicano students are experiencing an impoverishment of education. But our students' educational experiences can be enriched through the incorporation of MAS into the K-12 curriculum.

Myself, Dr. Grisel Cano of HCC Southeast, Tony Diaz of Lone Star College North Harris, Stalina Villarreal of HCC SE and Lorenzo Cano of University of Houston

Y Mas . . .

Now, despite the numbers we all know what we're up against in this fight to get a vote on MAS in K-12. But there is work that we, and specifically, I can do now to work on getting Mexican American/Latino Studies into the high schools. My own lucha at home has been to work with the high schools with which Central is affiliated to get dual credit students into our MAS courses (including MA History, MA Literature, Intro to MAS, and other courses). Of the high schools that work with Central, the statistics reflect the need for students to be more engaged and to see themselves more reflected in their coursework, which is one of the aspects of ethnic studies that makes it so successful.

Mi colega, Grisel Cano at HCC Southeast, has already successfully established MAS in some of the schools affiliated with her college, and she and I are sharing resources to expand the scope of our dual credit offerings. I'll update more on the struggle and (hopefully) successes of the dual credit project as I can. Currently, I'm in the early stages of working through the various levels of any kind of work dealing with multiple bureaucracies, but my goal is to enroll more dual credit students into our courses by Fall 2014.