Ethnic studies one vote closer to becoming grad requirement
(Calif.) High school students will be required to take one semester of ethnic studies coursework in order to graduate under a bill approved by a key legislative committee Wednesday.
AB 2772, authored by Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, calls for the stand-alone course to be based on a state-adopted model curriculum currently under development, and a graduation requirement beginning with the 2023-24 school year.
Ethnic studies courses typically focus on the historical experiences and perspectives of people of color within the U.S.–such as the contributions of Mexican-Americans, or the discrimination faced by Japanese-Americans during World War II.
“We cannot continue to teach only a limited view of history,” the bill’s author, Medina said during Wednesday’s Senate education committee hearing.
Speaking in support of the bill, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson told lawmakers that participation in ethnic studies empowers students to think critically of the world around them and engage positively with their communities, and increases their empathy for others.
“Studies have linked the teaching of ethnic studies to lower dropout rates, improved test scores, higher self-esteem and increased graduation rates,” Torlakson said. “There is a relevancy to the education which inspires and motivates students to stay in school and believe in themselves, and to be a part of changing the world.”
In addition to the social benefits of participation in ethnic studies demonstrated in past research, recent studies have highlighted strong academic outcomes. A 2016 report from Stanford University found that a year-long 9th grade ethnic studies course piloted in several high schools in the San Francisco Unified School District course was associated with a 21 percentage point increase in attendance, as well as a boost in GPA by 1.4 grade points.
Some states have already moved to expand participation in ethnic studies coursework. Beginning this fall, Indiana high schools will be required to offer an ethnic and racial studies elective course at least every school. And in Oregon, an advisory group is currently developing ethnic-studies standards into existing statewide social-studies standards.
In California, participation in current ethnic studies classes has been expanding. According to data from the California Department of Education, more than 17,000 students were enrolled in such coursework through classes that combined ethnic studies with either social science or English language arts during the 2016-17 school year–up from almost 9,000 students during the 2014-15 school year.
More classes are also being offered in more schools. In 2016-17, 943 ethnic studies courses integrated into social science and English language arts classes were taught in 555 schools, compared with 696 courses in 177 schools in 2014-15, according to CDE data.
The state is already in the process of developing model curriculum in ethnic studies, as called for under a bill signed by the governor in 2016. That bill also requires districts which elect to offer a course in ethnic studies to make the course available in at least one year during a student’s enrollment in high school.
AB 2772 goes further by requiring all schools to offer the curriculum, and mandating that students take a course in ethnic studies in order to graduate.
The bill has received support from more than 30 legislative, education and racial and ethnic advocacy organizations, as well as city and county boards. Members of the Senate education committee also expressed strong support.
Committee chair Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica said he had talked with Torlakson about the logistical implementation concerns posed by the bill–including issues related to expanding ethnic studies to all schools and getting enough credentialed teachers–and that he felt good about the progress already made and the commitment from education officials to continue working with districts.
“This issue has always been important, but I think in the times we’re living in now it is critical that we make sure we understand each other, and that we have more in common than not,” Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, said. “And if it’s not mandated and it isn’t made a requirement in our school districts, then when are our children going to have a chance to learn about each other?”