California passing more ethnic based curriculum

Maria Ruiz Zendejas, a teacher at Pacific Avenue Education Center, reads to her students in spanish.

On Thursday, the State Board of Education will adopt an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum for high schools that is four years, four drafts, three public vetting periods and 100,000 comments in the making.

Had they more time and an endless reservoir of patience, the board, the California Department of Education and the Instructional Quality Commission, which reports to the state board, could have continued to refine what and how ethnic studies should be taught. But the Legislature set an April 1 deadline to pass the model curriculum, and more iterations would not resolve the irreconcilable differences between its staunchest advocates and critics.

The model curriculum, while voluntary for districts to adopt, is intended to build upon ethnic studies courses already offered as electives in hundreds of high schools. Two of the state’s largest districts indicated they intend to require an ethnic studies course for graduation: Fresno Unified next year and Los Angeles Unified in 2022-23.

Reinforcing the growing movement is research showing the power of ethnic studies to engage Black and Latino students is compelling, though limited. Most often cited is a 2014 study by Stanford University professors Thomas Dee and Emily Penner of struggling 9th-graders in San Francisco. That report, soon to be updated, showed that taking ethnic studies taught by skilled instructors led to significantly improved attendance, grades and credits.

Over the past two years, the language of ethnic studies — white privilege, implicit bias, white supremacy — has seeped into everyday speech. Searing events outside of California — police killings of Blacks, insurrectionists on Capitol Hill wielding Confederate flags, violent attacks on Asian Americans, blatant efforts to disenfranchise minority voters — have underscored the need for ethnic studies courses, as the draft document states, to “address the causes of racism and other forms of bigotry … within our culture and governmental policies.”

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