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The controversy over Mexican American studies should be over

January 28, 2018

The State Board of Education is considering the development of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards for a Mexican-American Studies course Tuesday during its general meeting.

The first time this course was proposed was in 2014 by Ruben Cortez Jr., the District 2 representative. Instead of creating the course, the board sought the submission of textbooks for such a class as a compromise between supporters and those who were against it.

Three years later, the issue of the course has arisen again, but it’s no longer about its creation. Instead, the debate is whether the SBOE will allow the creation of TEKS — which establishes standards for the curriculum — for a widely taught course.

During the intervening years, the Texas Education Agency approved an innovative Mexican-American studies, or MAS, course. Both the innovation course and Mexican-American history dual-enrollment classes have swept the state. Dual enrollment courses offer both college and high school credit for the same class taught by a college instructor.

The National Association of Chicana Chicano Studies-Tejas Foco Working Group on MAS K-12 has determined that for the 2016-17 school year, more than 400 students across the state took a Mexican-American studies course. Its research is based on TEA and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board data.

Prior to this, instructors used the Social Studies Special Topics course to teach the MAS course. The special topics course focuses on research skills, so a wide range of content can be used for instructional purposes.

TEA data only indicate how many special topics courses are taught, not their content. As a result, MAS courses taught under this category are not included in the working group’s calculation. The working group’s estimates are likely an undercount.

So unlike 2014, the board is no longer debating the creation of a unique class but approving TEKS for curriculum alignment of a course that is being taught throughout the state with various curricula.

Two primary options are available for the SBOE to meets its obligations of establishing curriculum. The board can simply vote to have the innovative course curriculum become the official TEKS, or it can have the TEA develop the TEKS from the various curricula.

The working group can help provide MAS experts to develop the new TEKS if the board chooses the latter option.

The first option is the most ideal, though, because it is already approved curriculum.

There are three reasons curriculum alignment is needed. First, because of the fragmented nature of the curricula, it is time to establish statewide TEKS to bring a curricular coherence to a widely taught course.

Second, publishers have not sought to create textbooks for the course because of a lack of TEKS to help authors align the text to state standards.

Third, while many school districts have developed MAS courses, many cannot because they lack the curriculum experts and because of the lack of official textbooks.

Establishing the TEKS would solve these issues.

It is time to recognize that MAS courses exist in Texas and that the only way forward is for the SBOE to approve the creation of TEKS for the class.

There are no longer any pedagogical or bureaucratic reasons not to do so. Simply, the SBOE should approve MAS TEKS.

Trinidad Gonzales is a history instructor at South Texas College, where he teaches Mexican-American history, and a member of the National Association of Chicana Chicano Studies-Tejas Foco Working Group on MAS K-12. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of South Texas College.