Commentary: How SBOE could advance plan for Mexican-American studies

Updated Jan 26, 2018
  • By Trinidad Gonzales
  • Special to the American-Statesman
State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez speaks at meeting in September.

The Board of Education is considering the development of state standards — formally known by educators as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills — for a Mexican-American studies course Tuesday during its general meeting.

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

Three years later, the issue of creating the course has arisen again — though this time, the debate is whether the State Board of Education will allow the creation of state standards for a widely taught course. During the intervening years, the Texas Education Agency approved an innovative Mexican-American studies course. The innovation course — and Mexican-American history dual-enrollment classes — both have sweeping support across the state.

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

Prior to these pathways toward teaching Mexican-American studies, instructors utilized the Social Studies Special Topics course to teach it. The course focuses on research skills, so a wide range of content can be used for instructional purposes. TEA data only indicates how many special topics courses are taught, not what their content is. As a result, courses on Mexican-American studies taught under this category are not included in the working group’s calculation. The Working Group’s estimates is likely an undercount.

So, unlike 2014, the board is no longer debating the creation of a unique class but approving state standards for curriculum alignment of a course that is being taught throughout the state with various curricula. Two primary options are available for the state board to meets its statuary obligations of establishing curriculum:

• The board can simply vote to have the innovative course curriculum become the official TEKS standard, or have the TEA develop the state standard from the various curricula.

• The Tejas Foco working group can help provide experts on Mexican-American studies to develop new state standards — if the board chooses the latter option. The first option is the most ideal though, because it is already approved curriculum.

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There are three reasons for the need of curriculum alignment: First, because of the fragmented nature of the curricula, it is time to establish statewide standards to help bring coherence to a widely taught course. Second, publishers have not sought to create textbooks for the course because of a lack of input to help authors align the text to statewide standards. Third, while many school districts have developed courses on Mexican-American studies, many cannot because they lack the curriculum experts to do so — and because there is a lack of official textbooks that they can use. Establishing the TEKS standard would solve these issues.

It is time to recognize that courses on Mexican-American studies exist in Texas — and that the only way forward is for the state board to approve the creation statewide standards. There are no longer any pedagogical or bureaucratic reasons not to do so.

Gonzales is a history instructor at South Texas College and a member of the National Association of Chicana Chicano Studies-Tejas Foco Working Group.