Tuesday, December 13, 2016

An Awesomely New Beginning in AISD by Angela Valenzuela, Ph.D.

Today represents an awesomely new beginning for our district with our leadership making the wise decision to pilot an Ethnic Studies course in the Austin Independent School District (AISD) at six high schools beginning in the 2017-18 year as follows:  Anderson, Akins, Austin, LBJ Early College, Reagan Early College, and Travis High Schools. By Fall 2018, the district plans to implement it at all high school campuses district-wide.  Here's how the district officially describes it:
The course will be a weighted credit under Special Topics in Social Studies. The course is divided into parts 1A and 1B. Students can earn 0.5 credit for each part. Students must take course 1A to take course 1B.

An Ethnic Studies course uses critical historical inquiry to examine the languages, family structures, spiritual traditions, economic and social issues, political aspirations, and values of diverse groups within the United States. The course has the potential to reduce drop-out rates and provide a more inclusive and engaging academic experience for students, especially those who are at-risk.  An Ethnic Studies course can also influence college enrollment as increasing numbers of students experience academic success derived from an authentic connection to the curriculum. 

You can read more about yesterday's December 12, 2016 AISD Board Session item on Ethnic Studies here.

Front, Brenda Rubio & Anita Quintanilla; Second row: Modesta Treviño, Alejandra Garza, Martha P. Cotera, Dr. Angela Valenzuela, Dr. Lisa Goodnow, AISD Trustee Paul Saldaña, Back row: María Hammack, AAABE President Patricia Nuñez, Dr. Emilio Zamora, Education Austin Vice-President Montserrat Garibay & Texas State Board of Education District 1 Member Georgina Cecilia Pérez.

There is, of course, voluminous scholarship in Ethnic Studies that easily tracks back to the Civil Rights Movement and the establishment in the late 1960s and early 1970s of centers and departments in African American studies, Asian American studies, Native American studies, and Mexican American Studies, together with significant support from the Ford Foundation.  That said, I'm happy to share a few recent published, peer-reviewed articles that I recommend that you read:
Cabrera, N. L., Milem, J. F., Jaquette, O., & Marx, R. W. (2014). Missing the (Student Achievement) Forest for All the (Political) Trees Empiricism and the Mexican American Studies Controversy in Tucson. American Educational Research Journal, 51(6), 1084-1118.
Dee, T. & Penner, E. (2016). The causal effects of cultural relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies curriculum. National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 21865.
López, F. (2016). Teacher reports of culturally responsive teaching and Latino students’ reading achievement in Arizona. Teachers College Record, 118(5)
López, G. E. (2004). Interethnic contact, curriculum, and attitudes in the first year of college. Journal of Social Issues, 40(1), 75–94.
Sleeter, C. E. (2011). The Academic and Social Value of Ethnic Studies: A Research Review. National Education Association Research Department.   Retrieved on February 19, 2016

A few of us made presentations in this work session.  My fellow co-presenters did an outstanding job.  These were Edmund R. Oropez, Chief Officer for Teaching and Learning, James Maxfield, Austin High School Teacher, and Dr. Lisa Goodnow, Executive Director for Academics & Social Emotional Learning.

I was able to provide an initial layout, as well, on our nascent and evolving community-based initiative to grow our own educators and was pleased to see that it was well received.  There are lots of reasons why we should grow our own teachers and I've posted on this several times on this blog [keyword search: GYO], but what comes into real focus at the moment is that in light of the extant groundswell for Ethnic Studies across the U.S.—particularly in such states as California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas—we need to simultaneously address the capacity in the educator workforce to meet the demand.  I’ll share more details on this later as the framework matures.  In any case, it is very exciting and encouraging to think that we can couple Ethnic Studies (that already includes bilingual/dual language education) with growing our own critically conscious teachers to actually teach and expand the curriculum that we are devising.

Another possible merger that comes to mind is with the movement opposing high-stakes testing of which I have not only been and continue to be a part but which actually also led to the establishment of this blog back in 2004.   
All of our movements—Ethnic Studies, bilingual education, growing our own educators, and the high-stakes/opt-out movements—share a deep concern with the de-contextualized fragmentation of curriculum and instruction that has resulted in increased, rather than decreased, inequalities due to a test-driven curriculum that marginalizes both knowledge and children. 
Stated differently, we will never test our way to equity.  So now is our opportune moment to join the movements and re-make ourselves from within, beginning with an Ethnic Studies curriculum to which no high-stakes tests are—or will ever be— attached if our communities and movements continue to have a say on this.
Better yet, these efforts can work in tandem so that we can eliminate high-stakes testing altogether.  Please note that I am not calling for an end to standardized testing, but rather to position them as useful, albeit limited, tools when used appropriately.  Look no further than the testing companies themselves that say as much.  (As have many others, I’ve blogged on this ad nauseam so do avail yourself therein.)
There are always unsung heroes in initiatives like these.  I would like to do a shout out here to Jessica Jollife, AISD Social Studies Supervisor, who masterfully convened us with an actionable blueprint for the development of curriculum. 
Other wonderful members of our team are retired AISD World Geography teacher and Curriculum Supervisor Joe Ramirez, UT Professor and Curriculum and Instruction Department Chair Dr. Cinthia Salinas, Associate High School Superintendent Miguel Garcia, Texas State University Associate Professor of Social Work Dr. Raphael Travis, Jr., Anderson High School Ethnic Studies teacher Elizabeth Close, Cultural Proficiency & Inclusiveness Director Angela Ward (mi tocaya/my namesake), and Austin High School African American Studies teacher James Maxfield, and me.
Special thanks, as well, to Trustee Paul Saldaña for his leadership, as well as Superintendent Paul Cruz, Trustee Ted Gordon, Associate Superintendent Edmund Oropez, as well as the entire board of trustees of the Austin Independent School District for leading and expressing their support for this.
A final word of thanks to our community for a great showing yesterday evening.  Being present matters.  These included members of Nuestro Grupo, undergraduate and graduate students from both the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Education Policy and Planning Program at UT, the Austin Area Association for Bilingual Education, Education Austin, and members of the Raza Roundtable for their presence yesterday evening.  It was also a special treat having Texas State Board of Education District 1 Member Georgina Cecilia Pérez in the audience.
I hope that like me, you woke up this morning pinching yourselves wondering whether all of this had really happened or whether it was just a dream.  We owe much indeed to our ancestors, elders, and intellectual forbears for keeping hope alive. 
I am confident that everybody’s love, passion, and commitment to a more just and caring world will continue to nourish this seed of a humble beginning into a force of good will that continues to motivate and inspire.
Sí se puede!  Yes we can!
Angela Valenzuela

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