Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Experts Might Not Testify in Arizona Ethnic Studies Suit

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The University of Arizona professor whose research found that Mexican-American studies leads to improved test scores and high school graduation rates may be barred from testifying in a pending lawsuit against the state for its ban on ethnic studies. 

The state’s attorneys filed a motion to remove Nolan Cabrera and two other researchers from the witness list last week, a move that could further delay a trial in a court case that will determine the legality of Arizona’s HB 2281 and whether it intentionally discriminates against Hispanics. A panel of judges in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the law last year, and the case is headed back to court in Tucson, Arizona, where it all began.

In 2010, the state Legislature passed the bill that banned courses aimed at a specific ethnic group and advocated ethnic solidarity or for the overthrow of the U.S. government after a debate over Mexican-American studies in the majority-Latino Tucson Unified School District.

Four years later, Cabrera published the findings of a study revealing that students’ chances of completing high school increased by nearly 10 percent if they took Mexican-American studies.

As The Huffington Post reports, “The effects of taking the classes were most pronounced for students who had previously performed most poorly and the positive effects extended to performance on state math exams. Because the Mexican-American studies courses weren’t offered in math, the researchers suggested the curriculum may have improved students’ overall relationship with school and education.”

Attorneys on the case believe that have strong arguments against the state’s motion to bar Cabrera and professors Stephen Pitti of Yale University and Angela Valenzuela of The University of Texas at Austin from providing expert testimony. If the motion passes, however, their opinions will not be admissible in court, said Luna Barrington, an associate of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. While attorneys had hoped that the case would go to trial this month, they now expect it to take place in early spring. 

Cabrera declined to comment at this time but has said before that the state has never been able to address successfully the achievement gaps between white and Latino students, and Mexican-American studies is one of the programs that may be able to do that. It gives students a sense of belonging and cultural understanding, he said, comparing the courses to lessons white students learn in European history, for example. 

“If you eliminate a highly successful program, ultimately you’re hurting students in the process,” he said last year.