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Tucson Officials Back the Continued Teaching of Ethnic Studies

Officials in the Tucson Unified School District say they support the continued teaching of Mexican-American studies in their district, although outgoing chief schools officer Tom Horne told them this week they must end the courses or lose 10 percent of their state funds.

John J. Pedicone, who started his new job as superintendent of the Tucson Unified School district on Monday, posted a letter to employees and students telling them the Tucson administration backs the ethnic studies program. I write about his statement and the position of the Tucson Unified governing board in a story published on edweek.org yesterday.

For years Tom Horne, who finished two terms as Arizona's superintendent of public instruction and became the state's attorney general this week, has complained that the Mexican-American ethnic-studies program at Tucson Unified is anti-American and teaching Mexican-American youths they are victims. His last message to the district was to announce on Monday that it is in violation of a new state law banning public schools from teaching courses designed for a particular ethnic group or that promote ethnic solidarity. Under that law, the state can withhold 10 percent of funds from any district that doesn't comply, though the district would have an opportunity to appeal a determination of noncompliance.

The Tucson Unified administration maintains that the way the courses are taught does not violate the law.

What's new in this old controversy are the players. As I mentioned, Tucson Unified has a new superintendent. And the state also has a new superintendent, Republican John Huppenthal.

This week Huppenthal released a statement saying that based on the evidence he has seen (he visited a Mexican-American history class at Tucson Unified in fall 2009), he agrees with Horne that the Tucson district is violating the new state law.

But his statement was more conciliatory in tone than statements by Horne have been. For example, he said that he hasn't had a chance to review all the evidence on the issue, leaving open the possibility that he might adjust his thinking somewhat on the controversy.

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