Social Studies

Ethnic Studies Requirement Rejected by Kansas Lawmakers

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — February 23, 2016 2 min read
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Kansas lawmakers rejected a bill on Monday that would require the state’s education department to create ethnic studies courses and standards, according to the Wichita Eagle.

Kansas is the latest in a number of states to consider, and ultimately reject, ethnic studies in public schools. California’s legislature approved a bill requiring ethnic studies last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October. Arizona’s legislature banned ethnic studies courses in 2010; a federal court of appeals is currently considering a challenge to that law.

Kansas advocates argue that ethnic studies courses lead to more academic engagement among students of color and would help all students have a more comprehensive understanding of history. In January, Stanford University researchers released a study showing that students in San Francisco who took ethnic studies fared better in other academic courses.

A number of individual school districts in California, including San Francisco, now require students in every high school to take a course in ethnic studies.

But requiring such courses at the state level has proved difficult.

In California, the governor said the proposed ethnic studies law was unnecessary and redundant since the state is already reviewing its curriculum. In Arizona, legislators who opposed ethnic studies argued that such courses, which examine history through the point of view of specific ethnic groups, fostered animosity between races.

In Kansas, the House of Representatives had initially approved an amendment that added an ethnic studies requirement to a bill that would require schools to teach financial literacy classes. But hours later, the bill fell through, after a number of members changed their votes.

Some credited their change of heart to one representative’s speech about how he feared usurping the role of the state’s department of education by adding requirements. But other lawmakers had argued that the bill was discriminatory because it did not include white Americans.

Kansas lawmakers may still consider a separate bill, first introduced last year, that focuses entirely on ethnic studies and would require the state department of education to create relevant standards and curriculum. That bill has not yet been up for a vote.

Meanwhile, Kansas lawmakers have another substantial education bill ahead of them: The state is again considering whether to ditch the Common Core State Standards. A similar proposal was considered, and then rejected, last year. Stay tuned.

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