Pamela Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona
Regardless of the cause, spreading misinformation to pump up emotions is not right. OK, call me a Pollyanna in a fact-free universe, but I still believe in telling the truth. UNIDOS, the high school/university student group that supports the revival of now-defunct Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), is widely distributing this flier through social media. UNIDOS is calling for a Day of Action to commemorate students storming the TUSD board meeting last year. Unfortunately, this flier includes three errors of fact. 1: The overall dropout rate for Hispanic students in TUSD is 2.09% in 2010– not 48%. This is just a bit more than the overall dropout rate of 1.82%; less than half the dropout rate for Native American students (4.41%); and almost twice the dropout rate for white students (1.19%). Here’s the data table. (BTW, “Mexican American” is not listed as a catagory by TUSD– only Hispanic.) 2: The overall graduation rate for TUSD students is 83%, as is the overall graduation rate for TUSD students who have taken at least one MAS course. The biggest difference in graduation rates between MAS and non-MAS students appears when you look at only very low income students. Using a 2010 cohort, 79% of very low-income MAS students graduated compared to 64% of very low income non-MAS students (The data graphic below and others are at the end of this story.) 3: Mexican American Studies is not illegal in Tucson or in Arizona. The state shut down only the TUSD MAS program. MAS is being taught in the Sunnyside School District in Tucson. MAS (of a different variety) could be taught again in TUSD– if someone developed the curriculum. I am not anti-MAS, but I do believe that no program is beyond improvement. As I stated in this article, in my opinion, MAS supporters should learn from their experiences over the last 10 years and develop a new curriculum that reaches more Latino students and has a stronger evaluation component. Now, excuse me while I don my hard hat and wait for the shouts of racist! UPDATE: Fuzzy Math Predictably, rather than explaining how UNIDOS came up with their figures, this blog was attacked because I didn’t tow the MAS party line. Just to clarify the charge of “fuzzy math”… the 83% graduation rate shown in the graphic below is based upon a “2010 four-year graduation cohort” (subset of students), according to the TUSD Excel spreadsheet from which I created the graphic. The 2.09% dropout rate is across all TUSD schools. The dropout rate was taken from this handy TUSD table, which allows anyone to quickly find dropout rates– and lots of other data– by school, by year, by ethnicity, etc. (If you’re into data and evaluation, check out the TUSD website. There is a lot there.) What’s the difference between these two figures? For the math majors out there, the percentages were derived from different data sets– one a four-year cohort, the other all students, all grades, all schools. (Apples and oranges, as they say in the math world.) Secondly, there are other reasons students don’t graduate– besides dropping out and quitting school. People move. People die.
Originally published in Blog for Arizona on April 25, 2012.