The Missing Piece

An Arizona teacher discovers a key to closing our schools’ achievement gap. Innovator Curtis Acosta, Mexican American Ethnic Studies Educator


  • Curtis Acosta is passionate about teaching and obviously much loved and respected by his students. Who was your favorite teacher in high school?  Please elaborate and note any personal pivotal learning and/or experience you had as a result of that relationship.
  • Imagine closing the achievement gap in high school!  What an accomplishment.  Curtis stated that it was important that Mexican American ethics was woven into core curricula like history and literature that resulted in students even doing better in math and science.  Why do you think this happened?
  • Why do you think that Curtis’ successful ethnic studies’ program in Tucson High School was banned by the Arizona state legislature?
  • Curtis talks about the widespread activism of students, parents, grandparents and fellow teachers as a result of the banning of the class.  Please elaborate on your reaction and share any similar stories that you have.
  • What is the status of ethnic studies in your school district?  Is it offered?  If so, is it part of the core curricula or an elective?  When ethnics studies is part of the core curricula as demonstrated by the program in the Tucson high school, it is more effective.


  • Invite friends, colleagues or community members to view this video with you and host a conversation.
  • Contact Curtis Acosta on Linked-in to invite him to your school, community or school board meeting to learn more about closing the achievement gap through ethnic studies in the core curriculum.
  • Learn about Albuquerque’s success in having ethnic studies integrated in core curricula for juniors and seniors.


The Center for American Progress released a report in 2014 that they did on teacher diversity in the classroom.  They did a state by state analysis and although they found student diversity in the classroom, it did not exist among the teachers.” Students of color make up almost half of the public school population. But teachers of color are just 18 percent of the teaching profession.. Almost every state has a significant diversity gap

The National Education and Research Association found that 92% of teachers were of European/American descent and most often from middle class backgrounds. Education professors Richard Ingersoll and Henry May have argued, “minority students benefit from being taught by minority teachers, because minority teachers are likely to have ‘insider knowledge’ due to similar life experiences and cultural backgrounds.” What’s more, it is important for all students to interact with people who look and act differently than they do in order to build social trust and create a wider sense of community. In other words, the benefits of diversity are not just for students of color. They are also important for white students.Given these benefits, why are there such large diversity gaps between teachers and students? If teachers of color bring so much to the academic table, why don’t states and districts do more to bring them into the classroom? What could you do to help make this happen?


Curtis Acosta is an educator and consultant with the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership.  He taught English and Chicano literature in the Tucson Unified School District for 17 years. He came to national prominence as a leader in the creation of the landmark program of Mexican American ethnic studies in a Tucson high school that successfully closed the achievement gap for Mexican American students.  Despite the passing of a law in 2010 banning Arizona state schools from teaching ethnic studies classes, Curtis Acosta’s successful work has been instrumental in the adoption of ethnic studies in school districts across the country. He has been interviewed by HuffingtonPost, The Jon Stewart Show, and David Safier with the Rest of the Story; among others.