Arizona Continues to Struggle for Equality in Education

The struggle for equality in education amongst different ethnic and cultural groups continues in Tucson after nearly four decades in court and almost $1 billion in public money.  The efforts have not been particularly successful: black students are still among the lowest-performing students in the Tucson United School District, among the most likely to be suspended or assigned to special education classes and among the least likely to join classes for gifted students.

A federal judge approved a plan to lift the desegregation order that has done little to improve quality of education for students of colour.  Lawyer Rubin Salter, who took on the desegregation case in 1974, says he no longer harbours hope for integration.  New challenges have been posed since the desegregation order was imposed decades ago.  Arizona has an open-enrollment policy that allows children to attend any school they like, meaning that parents of white children are free to send their children outside the boundaries of the city to attend whiter schools.

Additionally, Arizona’s growing Latino population diversifies the challenges facing educators.  The state is still recovering from criticism after a popular curriculum program that focused on the Mexican-American perspective was outlawed by the state last year for being antiwhite.  However, the school district’s governing board voted last month to lift its ban on “culturally relevant curriculum.”  These types of programs could include lesson plans that add cultural references familiar to black and Latino students.

Proponents of such programs cite a study by the University of Arizona College of Education that says that students enrolled in culturally relevant studies are at least 46 percent more likely to graduate from school than other students.  Latinos make up nearly 62 percent of the students in the Tucson school district and are three times as likely to be suspended and twice as likely to drop out than white students.

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