Social Studies

California Bill Would Create First Statewide Ethnic Studies Template

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — June 23, 2016 2 min read
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California may soon be the first state to have a model ethnic studies curriculum.

A bill that would require the state education department to create a model curriculum and encourage local school districts to offer ethnic studies classes passed the state’s senate education committee yesterday.

The bill would make California the first state to create a model curriculum related to ethnic studies. Ravi K. Perry, the president of the National Association for Ethnic Studies, said in an interview with Education Week earlier this year that most ethnic studies programs are developed at the local level and reflect the communities in which they are created.

That’s true in California, where schools and districts have already started offering a variety of courses that aim to teach about the history and contributions of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Armenian-Americans, and other racial and ethnic groups.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill, citing a desire to not duplicate the efforts of a review of the state’s social studies framework, which guides how the subject is taught in the state.

The draft framework produced after that review includes a high school elective in ethnic studies.

Tom Torlakson, the state’s Superintendent for Public Instruction, released a letter encouraging lawmakers to approve the new bill and the creation of the model curriculum. In the letter, posted on the website of the advocacy group Ethnic Studies Now, Torlakson writes that a model curriculum would provide educators with more information about how to teach that new elective. Torlakson had not released a similar letter about last year’s bill.

Advocates for the courses tell stories about becoming more invested in school and education after seeing their own culture and history reflected in school curriculum. A study from Stanford University found that in San Francisco, students who took an ethnic studies course had stronger GPAs and better attendance than peers who didn’t take the course.

Individual districts in and out of California are increasingly taking to ethnic studies: In Los Angeles, a committee tasked with developing an ethnic studies program that would eventually be required in all district schools was re-assembled after being disbanded last year, according to the LA School Report.

The school district in Albuquerque, N.M., is also planning to offer ethnic studies courses in each of its high schools after a local advocacy group, Families United for Education, advocated for the district to expand its ethnic studies offerings.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.