Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Reflection this Evening on the WWI Battlefield Sacrifice of José de la Luz Sáenz, a Critically Conscious Educator

Enjoying the evening, the French countryside, far, far away from Texas near a village named Montaville whose peaceful, scenic views belie its history of unspeakable horror during the First World War.

As per the World War I Diary authored by Jose de la Luz Saenz (and translated by Emilio Zamora [see previous post]), the town was obliterated by the Germans with 12 large projectiles.

Shortly thereafter on Monday, September 2, 1918, "Luz"—as he referred to himself—and the other U.S. soldiers that accompanied him from the 90th Division discovered 50 German supply horses—yes, 50.  With the aim of thwarting their usefulness to the nearby German army, French forces mercilessly bombed them, decimating them all.  At least up until that point in his war diary, Luz described this as one of the "ugliest, most difficult scenes" that unfolded before their very eyes.

After this, a 150-millimeter cannon began to bomb Luz and his fellow soldiers with him writing his concluding thought that day, 

It was a horrible day for the soldiers. The shells were flying over our heads, howling like souls from hell. (p. 195)
Without a doubt, Luz was an extraordinary person.  He voluntarily joined the military in order to be able to return home and make the case for civil rights for Mexican Americans, having paid with others the ultimate price of wartime sacrifice on behalf of the homeland.

Particularly between September and November, 1918, they endured the fiercest fighting in this territory of northeastern France where thousands of American—and of course French, British, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh—soldiers lost their lives.  
The relative few like Luz that survived endured the cold, rain, gas warfare, bombs, sniper fire, sleepless nights, and hunger as a result of their continuous strategic movements against the unrelenting German army that sought to reach Paris.  
Yet Luz managed to write on napkins, paper, and and whatever he could get his hands on in order to produce an intimate record of the war that not even the French of this very area are likely to have.  Or if any survived, it would still be a different one from another perspective.
Luz was a former school teacher with a critical consciousness and social justice ethic. He sought to leave a record that Emilio Zamora has miraculously recovered.  
Even as we trace Luz' steps through this theater of war, we discuss and ponder its larger significance in our lives and in our history as Mexican Americans in the U.S., as the progeny of a subject people whose ascendancy—however uneven, incomplete, and ever evolving—was purchased with the sacrificial hardship and blood that was shed on the battlefield in places like Montaville and beyond.

Angela Valenzuela

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

If the Dead Could Speak...My Reflections on the June 28, 1914 Assassination of the Duke of Serbia

The bluish-tinted stamp shows Sophia, duchess of Hohenberg on the left, and Franz Ferdinand on the right. The stamp is titled "Militärpost" ("Military Mail") at the top, and the date of the couple's deaths at the bottom.
Austria-Hungary commemorative postage stamp
This day 98 years ago on June 28, 1914, the Duke of Serbia Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg, were killed in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina, leading to a chain of events that served as a catalyst for the first World War. Staggering numbers of Americans, including many from Texas, lost their lives. 

Today, my husband, UT History Professor Emilio Zamora and I visited the graves at the largest American cemetery in Europe located at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon and honored the memory of individuals like Simón Gonzales from Martindale, Texas, and so many others that gave their lives in the Allied Cause against Germany—and as captured in the singular, very graphic and moving WWI Diary written by former school teacher from Realitos in South Texas, José de la Luz Sáenz. 

Luz Sáenz joined the war effort with the specific intention of paying the ultimate sacrifice in order to be able to return to the U.S. and make the specific claim for civil rights for Mexican Americans back home in the U.S. 

Amazingly, Luz Sáenz not only survived the great war but also produced this fascinating and exceptionally written war diary that is a very detailed and unblinking, day-to-day account of what he experienced as an American soldier.  (Note: Emilio translated it into English and interpreted it and Luz Saenz' life and contributions in an opening chapter.)

Luz Sáenz ended up returning to the U.S. and becoming one of the founders of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), that today is the oldest and largest Latino civil rights organizations in the country.  I myself am a member of LULAC and have been so for many years.  Looking backwards through time, we might easily say that his strategy for inclusion worked, making him in so many ways a precursor to the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.

Located northeast of Paris and otherwise termed "The Western Front," the The Meuse-Argonne Cemetery located roughly where the Meuse-Argonne Offensive took place is where we visited today. I came to appreciate in a tangible way just how important this specific offensive was to the ultimate defeat of Germany despite it's incalculable toll within and across time—indeed generationally, in particular, for the French, British, and so many others that experienced the brunt of this war. 

It was moving to see the headstones of the 14,246 fallen that were never repatriated to the United States.  It was similarly moving to traverse the towns, hills, and rivers where so many fought bravely, shed blood, and lost their lives. 

We located the grave of individuals like Simón Gonzales of Martindale, Texas, who was a good friend of Jose de la Luz Saenz and according to his recounting of his personal story, was well liked by all but sadly fought courageously but lost his life. 

For some unknown reason, Simón Gonzales' body was never repatriated to the U.S.  Of course the bodies of so many others remained as you can see from this image that doesn't even come close to capturing the thousands that lay silent and to some extent "unmissed and unremembered" there today.  And this despite the literally thousands of American bodies returned home upon request by their families. What we do know is that this issue of repatriated bodies was a hotly debated issue since it also made sense for some for them to simply remain on the sacred ground for which they fought so hard. More research on all of this needs to nevertheless be done in order to know why specific individuals like Simón Gonzales lay silently on the bucolic slopes of this cemetery "Americain." 

Perhaps most striking and interesting for me was to contemplate on this day, the 98-year anniversary of "the shot heard round the world"—the killing of the Duke of Serbia—that even in France where the stakes were exceedingly high has subsided into the deep recesses of memory to the point of little, if any, noticeable recollection of this momentous event on such a day like today.

If the dead could speak, my guess is that they would ask us for their sacrifice to have meant something to us and for us.  Of course, we all know at some level what it meant, however, I think that they would have liked for it to have been a more personal memory or thought process regarding the war that Luz Saenz and others hoped would end all wars.... 

I can certainly say that reading Emilio's book and coming here—and doing both simultaneously today—resurrected a painful, albeit collective, memory that brought healing to a wound that I myself didn't quite know I had.

Angela Valenzuela

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

AB 2016 (Ethnic Studies Bill) goes before the CA Senate Education Committee TODAY:

AB 2016 (Ethnic Studies Bill) goes before the CA Senate Education Committee TODAY:

Please call Senator Carol Liu (Chair of Senate Ed Committee) and ask for her to vote in support of AB 2016. Her telephone number in Sacramento is (916) 651-4025. AB 2016 successfully made its way through the California Assembly, and now needs to continue its path through the Senate.
Letter of Support from Tom Torlakson.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has expressed his support for AB 2016 in a letter last week which he sent to Senator Carol Liu. This is an important step, as this is the first year that he has shown this level of support for Ethnic Studies. You can read the letter here: You can call to express your thanks to him here: (916) 319-0800.


STOCKTON, CA: July 8 at 7-9PM Ethnic Studies Na!: Community Showcase 2016.  "Ethnic Studies Na (Now)! will showcase the culminating performances of the Little Manila Dance Collective, Bahala Na Escrima Martial Arts, and the Little Manila After School Program student scholars. This year, we are excited to debut the work of Kulintang Academy, a traditional Philippine music program piloted by Little Manila and Master Artist Danogan “Danny” Kalanduyan, Frank Holder, and Ramon Lazo, funded by the Alliance for California Traditional Arts and the Stockton Arts Commission."

This evening will highlight the struggles, traditions, history, and culture of the Filipino American community within and outside of Stockton, California.

Please Consider a Donation

If you support the work we are doing with the Ethnic Studies Now Coalition please help us fund the movement. We cannot do it without you. With your help we can expand our community organizing/advocacy campaign, provide professional development support for teachers and curriculum design for school districts. PLEASE make a donation to Ethnic Studies Now! by clicking the link below:

José Lara

Coordinating Committee Member, 
Ethnic Studies Now Coalition
Tel. (213) 267-9031
Fax. (323) 844-0110

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In school finance decision, the poor people have lost again

After 4 decades of litigation—as laid out here by David Hinojosa—the Texas Supreme Court ruled on school finance in a way that suggests that "Money does not matter," when research suggests that it does—including that presented during the trial to that effect.  The Court is indifferent to demonstrated inequities, savage inequalities, in our system.  This means that the only route for redress is the Texas State Legislature.  We go into session in January, 2017.
Angela Valenzuela

In school finance decision, the poor people have lost again

Photo by Todd Wiseman
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court was faced with overwhelming facts in a case, Rodríguez v. San Antonio, showing a Texas school funding system that treated poor students grossly differently than their wealthy peers. But instead of insisting on equal treatment for all, the court slammed the door shut, holding that the system was good enough under the U.S. Constitution. The lead plaintiff parent in that case, Demetrio Rodríguez, responded, "The poor people have lost again."
Four decades later, it was the Texas Supreme Court's turn to face an extensive trial record detailing the lack of opportunities for poor students across Texas resulting from the state's terribly inadequate funding system in Morath v. Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition. The court held that the school finance system is good enough to satisfy the minimal standards under Texas Constitution.
So how does the Texas court turn away poor people challenging a substantially unfair system? By changing the law and the facts to ensure they can't win, of course — just as their federal counterparts did 43 years ago.
By all accounts in the school funding case decided less than a month ago, poor students struggle mightily to achieve in the classroom. All parties agreed, however, that these students can succeed if given appropriate opportunities, such as robust coursework, good teachers, smaller class sizes, quality pre-K and strong tutoring. Many of these, including the recruitment of good teachers, unfortunately cost a lot of money — especially for schools with high numbers of poor students. The record in the case undeniably showed that no matter how smartly schools stretched their budgets, oftentimes many children were left without these opportunities because the state purposefully underfunded their education.
So the Texas Supreme Court went to work to reinvent the law and the record. It did so first by holding that the Texas Legislature has "extreme" deference in creating policies that deny poor children opportunities. It was perfectly fine with the court that poor kids' teachers did not have the support they needed to help all students succeed. This, despite the court previously ruling that "all students" have a right to receive "reasonable opportunities" to achieve the standards set by the state for all children. The learning opportunities mentioned above were, by all accounts, "reasonable" and not part of a "wish list."
Next, the court held that the system "as a whole" must be deficient to be unconstitutional and that it is not enough for poor students to show they are being denied necessary opportunities. The court did not seem to care that the state recognizes the special educational needs of these 3 million-plus students as a group (three-fifths of all public schoolchildren) and then intentionally underfunds their education.
The court's rationale is akin to saying that it would be OK if schools segregated Latino children, so long as all schoolchildren are not segregated. The court even shamed the poor kids for trying to steal a slice of pie from the rich kids, but the poor never argued such. If anything, the poor kids argued for a larger pie so that they, too, could achieve their potential.
Finally, the court resurrected an argument intended to sustain privileges for the few from the Rodríguez case: "Money does not matter." This age-old misnomer based on outdated science has been debunked by several leading studies, including many presented in the trial court, but that did not matter to this court. Instead, the court pandered to the few ill-fated think tanks that hold on to that false proposition.
While money is not the only thing that matters, it is absurd to suggest in the 21st century that it does not matter at all. The extensive record showed that sufficient resources support critical learning opportunities, which, in turn, lead to increased student achievement and life outcomes, including higher earnings for poor students.
To ensure that the "poor people lost again," the Texas court changed the meaning of the Texas Constitution and attempted to change the facts — mortal sins for a supreme court. But those facts of lost potential, lost opportunities and lost dreams of education being the great equalizer remain for poor students.
Perhaps with the court out of the picture, the Legislature will finally listen to parents and commit to doing what's right for all Texas kids by fairly funding education for all students.

National director of policy, Intercultural Development Research Association

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

San Antonio to Host First-Ever Summit on Mexican-American Studies in Texas Schools

San Antonio to Host First-Ever Summit on Mexican-American Studies in Texas Schools

Controversy over a proposed textbook, Mexican American Heritage, has dominated recent discussion on the subject of integrating Mexican-American Studies (MAS) into public school curriculum in Texas. While response to the book has been overwhelmingly negative from scholars, it has raised awareness of the need for Texas to “get this right,” according to Michael Soto professor at Trinity University, and former member of the State Board of Education.
In pursuit of that goal, the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Foco Committee will be hosting the Summit on Implementing Mexican American Studies in Texas Schools on Saturday, June 18, from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at San Antonio College’s McAllister Auditorium. The free event is open to anyone interested in contributing to the strategic plan to ensure that Texas students are given an accurate and robust MAS curriculum, and that this curriculum is equitably implemented with best practices in mind.
Members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Senate Hispanic Caucus have long been aware of the need for Texas to “get this right.” Mexican-American and Latino students comprise 51.3% of school-­aged children in the state of Texas and this demographic is expected to grow to 67% by 2050 according to the Hobby Center. Their cultural invisibility from current state and U.S. history curriculum is problematic, according to advocates like state Sen. José Menéndez.
“I think we can do a better job without segregating ourselves,” Menéndez told the Rivard Report in May.

The proposed textbook, Mexican American Heritage, was produced by Momentum Instruction. Composite courtesy images.
Tejas Foco points to research that indicates students who participate in MAS and other ethnic studies courses see improved performance in school. Researchers attribute this to being more engaged in the instruction, especially in the cases of minority students learning about their own heritage, and how their ancestral contributions shaped history. Once engaged in their coursework, it is more likely that these students will go on to graduate with higher test scores and grades than their previous performance would have predicted, according to this research.
It would seem that academic enfranchisement has benefits.
Other studies have shown that white students also benefit from ethnic studies. While they are emotionally challenging, students did find the classes interesting and engaging. One study showed a minor but observable increase in cognitive development for students engaged with diverse populations through study and experience.
At a fundamental level, research shows that the ability to see things from another’s perspective is critical to cognitive social development.
In April 2014, the State Board of Education approved a call for MAS textbooks and other ethnic studies texts under the umbrella of “special topics in social studies,” an elective that existed already under the current standard for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
The guidelines for special topics in social studies are intentionally vague, according to Soto, and so it is not particularly difficult to find curriculum that meets TEKS standards, and thus require consideration for approval by the State Board of Education.
Lumping MAS into special topics in social studies, as well as including other ethnic studies, was a compromise ventured in 2014 by State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville). While many hoped for a designated course requirement for MAS, Cortez proposed the umbrella designation and call for text book submissions, which may have been the key to the proposal’s approval.
The controversial textbook demonstrated to many that while Cortez’s compromise was an important step forward, MAS does not have the definitive protections of other studies. Each district will decide on its curriculum, and it is very possible that books like Mexican American Heritage could be included.
The goals of the summit on Saturday are to identify institutional barriers, establish priorities, and develop a plan of action for the implementation of MAS in Texas schools from Pre-K to 12th grade and for increasing access to MAS courses and content within the broader community.
During this Summit there will be a press conference addressing the controversial Mexican American Studies textbook being proposed to the Texas State Board of Education, as well as other issues related to the Summit, at 11:15 a.m. in the McAllister Auditorium.
The summit is presented by the National Association for Chicana & Chicano Studies Tejas Foco Committee on Mexican American Studies Pre-K–12, and hosted by San Antonio College with co-sponsorship support from the Palo Alto College Center for Mexican American Studies, the Center for Mexican American Studies at UT San Antonio, Somos MAS/Mexican American Studies San Antonio, Tejas, the Center for Mexican American Studies and Research at Our Lady of the Lake University, MAS Unidxs, the Mexican American Studies Program at UT Rio Grande Valley, the Rio Grande Valley Coalition for Mexican American Studies in K-12 Education, Nuestra Palabra, Librotraficante, MAS Texas, and MAS for the Masses.
This story was originally published on Monday, June 13. 
Top image: Charros hold American, Texas, and Mexican flags during the Western Heritage Parade in February 2016.  Photo by Scott Ball.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Foul Ups Prompt State to Scrap School Test Scores

What a mess and what an incredible waste of scarce, tax payer dollars for Texas.  ETS still makes its money.


Foul Ups Prompt State to Scrap School Test Scores

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Fifth and eighth graders who failed STAAR exams this year won’t be held back a grade or be required to retest later this month, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced late Friday, citing “ongoing reporting issues” with the state’s new testing vendor.
“I apologize for the continuing problems our students and staff are being forced to deal with because of ongoing reporting issues with our testing vendor,” Morath said in a statement. “Kids in the classroom should never suffer from mistakes made by adults. We intend to hold the vendor, Educational Testing Service, accountable.”
This past school year was the first that the New Jersey-based company known as ETS developed and administered the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness exams, which 5th and 8th graders and high schoolers are supposed to pass before they can move on to the next grade or graduate. State law allows Morath to waive the requirement whenever necessary, the Texas Education Agency noted in a news release.
School districts have reported dozens of logistical and technical issues during the various spring administrations of the state-required exams.
Problems first surfaced in March, when school districts reported problems with online tests that caused students to lose answers. The computer glitch impacted more than 14,000 exams. Several other issues have surfaced since, including — most recently — claims from a high-performing West Austin school district that ETS had lost all exams taken by 3rd through 8th graders that it shipped to the company.
ETS denied it had lost the tests. A spokesman did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment late Friday.
The issues, which are not entirely unprecedented, have fueled an existing backlash against the state's testing and accountability system, the stakes of which many parents and educators believe are too high.
Morath's announcement marks a departure in opinion for the state education chief, who previously said there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant scrapping all statewide exams for the purposes of holding students accountable. Friday’s announcement did not address whether exam scores, including those of 5th and 8th graders, would be used to rate schools under the state’s accountability system. 
But Morath did make it clear that districts still may hold 5th and 8th graders back — or make them go to summer school — if they deem it appropriate.
"Even though state requirements have been waived, districts are still encouraged to use local discretion to determine on an individual basis whether accelerated instruction should be offered to support students," the news release said.
The problems also have affected high school STAAR tests, but state law doesn't allow the education commissioner to waive graduation requirements.
The announcement is a victory for parents and educators who had urged Morath to discount STAAR scores.
Last month, a group of parents sued the state in an attempt to block it from using STAAR scores results to make grade promotion decisions for younger students, including grades other than 5th and 8th, or to decide whether they should attend summer school.
“A large part of the relief which we were seeking has been voluntarily given by the [Texas Education Agency],” said the parents' lawyer, Scott Placek, describing it as “a good first step." "They know the administration of this year’s STAAR is indefensible."
Further review of the announcement is needed before they can decide whether to drop the lawsuit, Placek said. It seems that the exam scores still will appear in students’ records regardless of whether they are used to decide whether to promote them, he noted.
“They could completely toss the scores out, which in a way I think they’re trying to do without doing it,” he said, describing an ideal scenario.
Disclosure: Educational Testing Service has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

On the subject of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements for state accountability, college readiness and ethnic studies...

On the subject of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements for state accountability and college readiness and ethnic studies (or critical multicultural education at the Pk-12 level)...  I always notice that cultural competence of the kind that critical ethnic studies affords is never a part of these metrics.  Especially on profoundly sad days like today in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida (50 dead, 53 injured by gunfire), I always think about how a critically conscious educator, pedagogy, and curriculum promotes tolerance and acceptance and how in our youth being so exposed if done well, this could have the ultimate positive consequence of diffusing extremism in our midst while simultaneously promoting college readiness.

I'm afraid that yet another re-articulation of accountability will continue to miss the mark in this regard. Thanks to AISD School Board President Kendall Griffith Pace​ for sharing. 

Angela Valenzuela


College and Career Readiness: Redefining Ready

"Most U.S. Students Are Not Ready for College, Career." Unfortunately, this is a common headline across the country with "U.S." interchangeable with any number of school, district, or state names.
Usually, it means students didn't perform as well on a standardized assessment as someone thinks they should have. But as educators know, that doesn't mean as much as politicians or the media imply that it does. One assessment does not reveal a student's entire knowledge base. All assessments have limitations. Students have off days.
When evaluating student progress for instructional purposes, educators use a variety of measures. Unfortunately, the idea of multiple measures on a systemic level has been largely ignored in favor of standardized test scores, which are relatively easy to collect and report and have been enshrined in federal policy for the last decade-plus as the measure of school quality.
But that could be changing. In addition to four academic indicators, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires state accountability systems to include one other indicator, such as student engagement, educator engagement, access to and completion of advanced coursework, postsecondary readiness, or school climate and safety. The idea? To broaden the definition of what it means to be a successful school.
And the pressure isn't only coming from Washington, DC. States and districts across the country are developing new ways of measuring student achievement, as well as tools to help redefine what it means to be a successful school -- or student.

National College and Career Readiness Indicators

One such tool comes out of a Chicago-area school district, and it aims to help educators better determine whether a student is college and career ready.
Township High School District 214 Superintendent David Schuler -- who also currently serves as president of AASA, the School Superintendents Association -- and his colleagues have conducted an extensive review of the work of leading research institutions to find out what really predicts student success in college or career.
Based on their research, they developed the National College and Career Readiness Indicators, a multi-metric index that offers a truer picture of whether students are ready for life after high school than you get from simply looking at standardized test scores. AASA has since endorsed the work and launched Redefining Ready! as a national campaign based on these indicators to change the conversation about readiness in our country.
Essentially, the indicators form a checklist for schools and districts -- and possibly even states -- to use to gauge whether students are prepared for their next step.

College Ready Indicators

Under this model, students are considered to be college ready if they have a GPA of 2.8 out of 4.0 and meet one or more of the following benchmarks:
  • Advanced placement exam (3+)
  • Advanced placement course (A, B or C)
  • Dual credit college English or math (A, B or C)
  • College developmental or remedial English or math (A, B or C)
  • Algebra II (A, B or C)
  • International baccalaureate exam (4+)
  • College readiness placement assessment (ACT scores of 18 in English, 22 in reading, 23 in science, and 22 in math; SAT benchmark scores have not yet been determined given its recent redesign)

Career Ready Indicators

Students are considered career ready if they have identified a career interest and meet two or more of the following benchmarks:
  • 90 percent attendance
  • 25 hours of community service
  • Workplace learning experience
  • Industry credential
  • Dual credit career pathway course
  • Two or more organized co-curricular activities
In addition, students hoping to enter the military must meet the passing scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) for each branch of the military.
Of course, these are just a sampling of the indicators associated with postsecondary success. Others include: earning As, Bs, Cs, FAFSA completion, enrollment in a career pathway course sequence, college academic advising, participation in college bound bridge programs, taking senior year math, and completion of a math class after Algebra II.
District officials did not consider the research base on those indicators strong enough to warrant inclusion in their final list, but it's important to note that this index is merely a starting point. As knowledge about what is tied to success increases, it can be easily adapted.

Changing the Conversation

So how can you use this information to change the conversation around readiness in your community?
If you are interested, you can sign on to personally endorse the Redefining Ready! initiative. You can also bring a resolution to your school board that your district adopt the framework of indicators to assess student readiness. Or you can use these indicators to create a school (or district) reporting system to ensure students are on track for success and shine a light on areas your school could focus efforts to improve readiness.
You can also use these indicators as a starting point for a broader conversation in your community. How does your community define ready?
*If you are interested in reviewing the background research on each of these indicators, it is available at Redefining Ready!