Mexican American Studies effect on students

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Mexican American studies was established in 1998 in reaction to a lengthy desegregation ruling against Tucson's school district, in which Latino and black communities argued that the community's racial diversity facilitated intentional segregation and unlawful discrimination based on race and nationality.

The primary goal of the Tucson initiative was to include a curriculum based on the experiences of Americans of Mexican origin, as influenced by the works of Mexican-American authors and other Hispanic writers. This curriculum was conceived as a means of closing the intellectual distance between Hispanic students and their peers of other races. According to Cammarota, Julio, and Augustine (16-26) who were among the founders of the program and a former teacher at the Tucson High Magnet school, the principal aim of the program was to try to build the confidence levels of students who did not participate in any traditional course. O’Leary, Anna, et al. (97-120) add that the study of ethnic courses was first done in universities during the era of civil rights movements in the United States of America and recently expanded to high schools. Abrego (337-370) gives an example of Governor Jerry Brown of California who signed a bill last year that allowed for the development of a program that will create ethnic awareness in high school throughout the California state.

How Tucson Program Developed

The Tucson program expanded over the next thirteen years and enrolled close to one thousand three hundred students in the elementary, middle and high school at its height by 2010. In a curriculum audit in 2011, the state commissioned auditors recommended that the program should be expanded and matured to serve the needs of various students including the disabled students. Further reports by the auditors claimed that the course was beneficial to students. In a study carried out by Abrego (337-370) a professor at the Arizona University revealed that students were participated in the program performed better on state tests and were more likely to graduate with better grades as compared to their counterparts.

How Tucson Program Became Controversial

According to Cammarota (16-26), the resistance against the Mexican American studies began back in 2006, when Dolores Huerta (a labor activist), gave a talk to students at Tucson High Magnet School. Dolores urged the students to look critically at the immigration policies that arose at that time and address the reason why the members of the Republican Party hated Latinos. The comments stuck with the previous Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Department of Education in Arizona's Mr. Thomas Horne. At the end of the meeting, students were not allowed to ask any questions (Salinas 301). This raised a lot of question, and was channeled to protests. Horne respondent by writing an open letter to the residents of Tucson residents following the speech delivered. In the open letter, Horne criticized the Mexican American studies program and described as "a kind of destructive ethnic chauvinism,” and accused teachers of the protests caused by students.

In 2010, the policy makers in Arizona passed the anti- immigration law SB 1070, which was influenced by the Republican ideologies. In October the same year, a group of teacher sued the state for eliminating the program and violating their First Amendment rights. On his last day as a superintendent in 2011 and just before he became the state attorney General; Tom Horne declared that the Tucson program violated state laws and gave orders that the district terminate the studies or else they would risk losing 10 percent of state funding (O’Leary, Anna et al. 97-120).

John Huppenthal, who was the state senator and had a hand in passing the infamous law, succeeded Horne. In spite of the 2011 independent audit report that showed no evidence of the Mexican American studies violating any law in Arizona, John Huppenthal still rejected these findings. After the second investigation, Huppenthal stated that the program violated state laws and threatened the schools that still offered the program by withholding state funding especially the Tucson's School district. In 2012, the state government implemented the sanctions, and the school board voted to end it and confiscated books from the school (Cabrera et al. 1084-1118). This paper will therefore concentrate on the benefits students derived from participation in the Mexican American studies, some of which include; raised student’s achievements in high school graduation rates, improved standardized test score or in college acceptance rates.

Relevant Literature and Theory

The Tucson Mexican American program was one of the academic and activist heredity of ethnic studies that the government created in the 1960s. According to Cabrera et al. (1084-1118), this program offered Latino students the opportunity to see themselves and reflect on their experiences through the curriculum. This allows them to be engaged in school, which eventually led to greater educational success. Paris (93-97) adds that the Mexican American framework was established from a paradigm ideology. This ideology means that the Mexican American studies was more than appreciating racial variations or positive identity development but also offering criticism, analyzing and fighting against oppressions brought about by the system. The diploma offered in high schools provides an alternative from the traditional cycle of school to prison. This diploma provides students with various economic opportunities, creates a way for higher education and can improve the conditions of the Latino community.

The Impact of Ethnic Studies Courses on Students’ Academic Outcomes

Research published in December in the American Educational Research Magazine revealed that students who enrolled in Mexican American studies courses accomplished better grades as compared to their colleagues who did not enroll in the program. To come up with this conclusion, researchers used the administrative data collected starting 2008 to 2011--school calendar, so as to analyze the relationships between learning the Mexican American course and high school graduation grades and achievements on the state standardized assessments. Students who enrolled in this study were found to have performed better on the state tests and graduated with better grades. According to Paris (93-97) who was one of the researchers, the relationship between Mexican American participation and student education quality was found to be strong. These results are in tandem with the findings that ethnic educations lead to improved student development. The surprising part of it was that the Mexican American studies students performed fairly better than their peers who did not take this coursework. Acosta, Curtis, and Asiya (15-26) purport that number of scholarships in higher education offered to students who took Mexican American studies at high school level revealed a positive impact of the ethnic studies to students. Mexican American studies students were exposed to diverse information and ideologies that range from significant social cognitive and democratic results from high school.

However, ethnic studies are limited because they do not differentiate the students taking classical, ethnic studies, for instance, examination of racism and those students taking diversity components studies, such as reading scholars of color. Therefore, it is not clear to what extent a critical perception that centers power relations are related to student development (Cammarota, Julio, and Michelle 485-500). Dougherty, Kevin, Kenny and Blanca (363-372), add that none of these studies state whether taking ethnic studies course improved the academic performances of students. Cammarota, Julio, and Augustine (55-78) analyze the literature on ethnic studies in K-12 settings showed that the TUSD was the only district school in the United States to have offered a comprehensive ethnic studies program, this program was soon eliminated due to reasons stated above. Therefore, there is no form of evidence, which documents the relationship between these studies in K-12 schools, and the student outcome.

Some of the studies that Acosta et al. (15-26) referred to argue that ethnic studies fostered a positive relationship between ethnic identity and academic achievement among colored students. Most of these studies also cited that ethnic studies engaged students more by the fact that the student could read the literature of an author whom they share the same racial background and cultural beliefs. Besides Lundholm (55-78) established that ethnic studies curricula led to improved literacy skills and better achievement and more positive attitude towards learning in science and mathematics among the Native American students. Finally, Cammarota, Julio, Augustine, and David (456-471) revealed that ethnic programs in social studies frequently led to enhanced academic achievement and sense of agency among various students. The research carried out by Lundholm (55-78) was informative but had limited information because there was no comparison group to act as a control group (students who did not take ethnic studies) to the targeted subjects. The research also had a small sample size, and it was conducted as a qualitative research. This study, however, discovered some relationship between students taking Mexican American studies and increased academic achievement. This is enough justification that there is a positive correlation between ethnic studies and student achievement.

To be confident about this conclusion, it would be prudent if the paper analyzed a study that is quantitative, involves a large sample size and has a comparison group. According to a report published by Cammarota et al. (485-500), it estimated that there is a strong relationship between Mexican American studies participation and students' academic attainment. Most of the researchers cited above did not include a covariate for prior academic performances, it is expected that the relationship should decline once the covariates were included. In this study, the covariates were included and yet the relationship remained the same (Dougherty et al. 363-372). Instead, the strength of the coefficient on Mexican American participation was consistent. The study carried out by Cammarota et al. (485-500) revealed that the Mexican American studies students had considerably lower GPAs in their 9th and 10th grade respectively and in AIM tests as compared to their counterparts who did not enroll in the program. Several research findings would suggest that better 9th and 10th grade GPA are positively correlated with graduation rates. Instead, this study revealed that Mexican American studies students did better than their peers who never took the program in terms AIMS passing and graduation points despite have lower grades in the 9th and 10th grade (Cammarota et al. 456-471). These outcomes corroborate findings that were earlier made by various studies on ethnic studies, corroborating the fact that ethnic studies can result to academic improvement and better academic grades (Dougherty et al. 363-372).

More studies have examined carefully if this pedagogical approach is useful in supporting higher performance among students using traditional measures. These studies revealed that Mexican American studies taught consistently by teachers, the more students connect to these studies and the more classes students will attend. With all factors, remaining constant ethnic studies have proved to have a healthy relationship with quality grades among students enrolling in these categories.

To prove the same point researchers from Stanford University carried out a study on the impact of the ethnic-studies syllabus. Their primary sample population was 9th-grade students who were struggling academically in San Francisco highs school from 2010 to 2014. The academic records of these students were identified to be at risk of dropping out of school as compared to their colleagues. These sample population posted a significant improvement in terms of; their school attendance increased by 21% and their grade improved by a mean of 1.4 points. Furthermore, students in ethnic studies that were studying social justices, discrimination and stereo types earned 23 more credits towards their graduation. Overall, the highest gains were realized among male and Hispanic students and in respective subjects such as Mathematics and Science. The study coordinator commented that the notable growth could be attributed to ethnic studies because of the age group of the sample population studied. The transition from middle school to high school proves to be confusing to most students, low grades, and failure to attain the required credits can derail them in the first year. Taking ethnic studies does not only improve the grades of such students but also promotes their engagement in schools and discourages them from dropping out. Dougherty, Kevin, Kenny Nienhusser, and Blanca (123-173) writes that the distinct advantage of learning ethnic studies in school, regardless of whether the student is academically at risk or not. For the students who belong the minority race who always feel alienated in a school set up no matter their economic background, ethnic studies give them a “feel good component”. This "feel good" element gives these students’ self-esteem and the ability to develop critical thinking that helps them when advancing in their education and professional life (Espinoza, Mariella, and Ricardo 459-521).

However, from 2010 there has been a sharp decline in quality grades posted by American Mexican Students in the 9th and 10th grade GPA respectively. This could be attributed to the increased political scrutiny by the Arizona State government and the concerned authorities. In 2011 May, the Arizona legislature passed the infamous HB2881 law, and Tom Horne who was the state superintendent found that TUSD was not complying with this statute. Several communities protests occurred over the potential elimination of Mexican American studies including the dramatic student takeover of the school board on April 26. This extreme political and civil turmoil contributed to the decline in the impact of Mexican American Studies on academic achievement since this turmoil affected that the students, school and the parents and directly had an impact on the daily activities of classroom life. In spite of the lower grades experienced in 2011, the overall analysis, supports the fact that student, participation in Mexican American Studies are positively related to improved academic achievements (Lundholm 55-78).

These results are crucial since TUSD is funded by the federal government, governed by the same and the federal desegregation in part because of the disparities in the education sector faced between Latino and White students. The analysis shows that when compared to the students who are not taking Mexican American studies, Mexican American studies students are likely to come from low-income families and have lower grades before enrolling to the Mexican American Studies.

These analyses also pose greater questions as to what extent can Mexican American studies program can be advanced throughout the district? Can the same program be adopted in various locations that are facing similar academic gaps? If so, would the local area permit incorporating critical theorists? The outcomes achieved in prior ethnic studies can also act as guidance for those adopting Mexican American Studies approach to education. While one course was crucial, the most evident impact restricted from taking different classes. Therefore, those coming up with such a program need to be coordinating efforts and partnering with various stake holders to offer more content than just a diversity course (Cabrer et al. 20-24). This requires large-scale organized and joint efforts. Some scholars have argued that this is not possible, but the truth of the matter is Mexican American studies started from the grassroots and developed with the interest of the students and the presence of trained teachers in this particular field of study. Like K-12 advancements efforts, a program such as Mexican American studies needs to be designed and implemented with outermost diligence to achieve the desired outcome (Espinoza, Mariella, and Ricardo 459-521).

The next question would be; what elements of the Mexican American studies program enhanced Students achievements? Was it the valuing fund of knowledge, the authentic care or were the developers of the program correct that the individual component of the program cannot be separated and must work holistically to maximize the effectiveness of the program? Answers to such question could be fundamental in developing a curriculum for students in future, but since the program was abolished in January 2012, there is no sufficient data and information to answer such questions. It is a fact that the population of the Latinos in Arizona public education system is rising drastically and not only in Arizona but in the whole country. Additionally, there are also tenacious gaps in the education systems that are continuously evolving concerning academic achievement between the Latino (who are mainly come from low-income families) and the Whites (who come from middle-income households) (Valencia (257-279). The current programs developed have not successfully filled these gaps, and there is a need for new approaches to bridging these gaps that are increasing daily. Mexican American Studies program represent one option that the state superintendents are required to investigate more on the field of education with an imperial support of success among the students who pursued it (Otero, Lydia and Julio 639-648).

Currently, there are some few schemes in the education system that try to fill the academic gap between the Latino and white learners, but racial and Republican politics still overshadow them at the expense of the students’ academic achievement (Cabrer et al. 20-24). Those who were against the Mexican American studies are yet to offer another alternative program that is well researched assessed and tested. This is important since removing this program caused some potential academic harm to the academically vulnerable students especially those whom the Mexican American program had served (Lundholm 55-78).

Cammarota, Julio, and Augustine (53-65) posit that given the various research conducted in Mexican American studies and all showed positive outcomes, there is need to discuss how to come up with a viable replacement for this program beyond just Tucson. Because the problem of academic disparity that the Mexican American studies effectively sorted, is a nationwide problem and in the contemporary era there has been a constant discussion of education inequality and how to ensure that this gap is filled. Among these study, ethnic studies are not included as possible solutions, if at all the results of different studies matter then it ought to be included as part of the educational reforms that the nation needs. Otero et al. (639-648) add that taking Mexican American Studies fits within the context of a program that has larger professed objectives of engaging liberatory education.

Currently, there are tensions on ideologies given and that various analysis are focuses on the passing of standardized examinations and high graduation GPA, as a trend to represent a repressive paradigm that blames the oppressed for their marginalized social position. Nevertheless, the initiators, followers, and maintainers of the suite deliberately comprised traditional processes of academic accomplishment as a portion of their liberatory hypothesis. While professional educators derive the oppressive nature and overuse of standardized tests, these tests are still practical realities in student lives. Valencia (257-279) argues that these standards are the determinants that stand between the students and their failures in life. This statement conquers with the sentiments of Cabrera et al. (1084-1118), who reframes critical pedagogy whereby teachers believe that they must choose between academically focused teachings and teach for the sake of social justice. According to Espinoza et al. (459-521) academic focused education and social justice, teaching is mutually complementary goals that allow students to polish the critical thinking as they gain theoretical knowledge that would help them in their social critique. Cabrera, Nolan, Elisa, Meza, and Cintli (20-24) argues that education itself was created to maintain racial and economic inequality that is why during the black oppression in America black students were never given a chance to attend any formal education. Therefore trying to raise the individual performance of academically weak students attending public schools would be in itself a revolutionary act. Thus the Mexican American studies is a tool for improving the grades of students especially the low-income Latino students and will be considered as a counter-hegemonic means of disrupting the systematic inequalities experienced in the United States of America.


It is evident that Mexican American studies program is a success with regards to improving the academic outcomes of students. This was a useful framework in bridging that growing gap in the education system among the low-income Latino students and the high-income white students. Unfortunately, due to political and racial reasons, the Arizona State government abolished this program. Before abolishing it, the authorities ought to have had a substitute program that would stand in for this program. Unfortunately, up to date, no program has been implemented and has a greater success like the Mexican American studies did. It would also be prudent that before any policy maker makes taking critical actions like abolishing the Mexican American study, he/she should do extensive research on the effects of the intended action. Various programs that have been put in place, but still require a lot of coordination to be effective in supporting positive academic outcomes among diverse students, which so far has not been implemented. With the current increase of Latinos among other ethnic minorities students in the USA, such a program may be reinvented in future and this time politics should be kept out of education and let the technocrats come up with a suitable bridge that will stand in to bridge the systematic disparities experienced in the education sector. By interfering with the Mexican American studies, the Arizona bill ignores the benefits of these studies that had prior been recorded as a framework that improved academic achievement and graduation rates among Latino students. For instance while joining high school various students who enrolled into the Social Justice Education Project were on the verge of dropping out of school. Since 2004, with the introduction of ethnic studies, the graduation rate has increased to about 95% and most of these students later join college.

Finally, ethnic studies are not only meant to foster better and quality grades, but also offer a platform where students can discover whom they really are. Self-discovery helps the students to accept themselves and have the right self-esteem to face the world in spite of any injustices and repressions the society offers. Secondly, ethnic studies help in creating cultural awareness; cultural awareness is fundamental especially when relating with people from different cultures in a professional setting.

Works Cited

Abrego, Leisy J. "Legal consciousness of undocumented Latinos: Fear and stigma as barriers to claims‐making for first‐and 1.5‐generation immigrants." Law & Society Review 45.2 (2011): 337-370.

Acosta, Curtis, and Asiya Mir. "Empowering young people to be critical thinkers: The Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson." Voices in Urban Education 34.Summer (2012): 15-26.

Cabrera, Nolan L., Elisa L. Meza, and Cintli Rodriguez. "The fight for Mexican American studies in Tucson." NACLA Report on the Americas 44.6 (2011): 20-24.

Cabrera, Nolan L., et al. "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 (2014): 1084-1118.

Cammarota, Julio, and Augustine F. Romero. "A social justice epistemology and pedagogy for Latina/o students: Transforming public education with participatory action research." New Directions for Student Leadership 2009.123 (2009): 53-65.

Cammarota, Julio, and Augustine Romero. "A critically compassionate intellectualism for Latina/o students: Raising voices above the silencing in our schools." Multicultural Education 14.2 (2006): 16-26.

Cammarota, Julio, and Michelle Aguilera. "‘By the time I get to Arizona’: Race, language, and education in America’s racist state." Race Ethnicity and Education 15.4 (2012): 485-500.

Cammarota, Julio, Augustine Romero, and David Stovall. Raza studies: The public option for an educational revolution. University of Arizona Press, 2014, 456-471.

Dougherty, Kevin J., H. Kenny Nienhusser, and Blanca E. Vega. "Undocumented immigrants and state higher education policy: The politics of in-state tuition eligibility in Texas and Arizona." The Review of Higher Education 34.1 (2010): 123-173.

Espinoza-Herold, Mariella, and Ricardo Gonzalez-Carriedo. Issues in Latino education: Race, school culture, and the politics of academic success. Taylor & Francis, 2017, 459- 521.

Lundholm, Nicholas B. "Cutting class: Why Arizona’s ethnic studies ban won’t ban ethnic studies." (2011): 55-78.

O’Leary, Anna Ochoa, et al. "Assault on ethnic studies." Arizona firestorm: Global realities, national media and provincial politics (2012): 97-120.

Otero, Lydia R., and Julio Cammarota. "Notes from the ethnic studies home front: student protests, texting, and subtexts of oppression." International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 24.5 (2011): 639-648.

Paris, Django. "Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology, and practice." Educational Researcher 41.3 (2012): 93-97.

Salinas, Lupe S. "Arizona's Desire to Eliminate Ethnic Studies Programs: A Time to Take the Pill and to Engage Latino Students in Critical Education about Their History." Harv. Latino L. Rev. 14 (2011): 301.

Valencia, Richard R. Chicano students and the courts: The Mexican American legal struggle for educational equality. NYU Press, 2008, 257-279.

May 04, 2022




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