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California Becomes First State to Require Ethnic Studies in High School

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation on October 8, 2021, making California the first state to require all students to complete a semester-long course in ethnic studies to earn a high school diploma.

The mandate will take effect starting with the graduating class of 2029-30, although high schools must start to offer courses starting in the 2025-26 school year. Hundreds of high schools already have such courses, and Los Angeles Unified and Fresno Unified voted last year to require students to take ethnic studies.

Newsom’s signature of Assembly Bill 101, authored by Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, ends a decades long quest by advocates for a curriculum that more closely reflects the history, culture and struggles of California’s diverse population. And it comes one year after Newsom vetoed a nearly identical bill amid strenuous opposition to the first draft of a model ethnic studies curriculum that critics, particularly Jewish organizations, dismissed as prejudiced and discriminatory.

Since then, the Instructional Quality Commission, which oversees curriculum development, significantly revised the draft, eliminating much of the most contentious material, and in March the State Board of Education approved the curriculum, which is optional for districts to use.

The legislation authorizing the creation of an ethnic studies curriculum stated that it should draw attention to the four ethnic and racial groups whose history and stories have been traditionally overlooked and have been the focus of college ethnic studies courses: Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans. The model curriculum does that while encouraging schools to include discussions on the ethnic heritage and the legacies of students in their communities. The model curriculum includes lesson plans on Sikh, Jewish, Arab and Armenian Americans, which were added after those groups objected to being left out in earlier drafts.

In his statement, Newsom said ethnic studies will help expand educational opportunities in schools and credited it for raising academic achievement. He referred to recent research, co-authored by Thomas Dee, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, that ethnic studies had a positive impact on attendance, graduation rates and college enrollment for several classes of below-average San Francisco students who took the course in ninth grade.

Enactment of AB 101 releases $50 million in this year’s state budget for all county offices of education, charter schools and school districts to develop ethnic studies curriculums. The money will be distributed to schools serving high school students, as a straight apportionment, according to the California Department of Education.

“There is no requirement for CDE or any other agency to manage the program,” said California Department of Education information officer Jonathan Mendick. “Districts must spend the money in accordance with the requirements of AB 101, which has myriad guardrails built in around curriculum that meets the graduation requirement.”

School districts can pick and choose any curriculum they want; the Legislature has no authority to prescribe districts’ curriculums.

Excerpted from “California Becomes First State to Require Ethnic Studies in High School” in EdSource. Read the full article online.

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Source: EdSource | California Becomes First State to Require Ethnic Studies in High School, https://edsource.org/2021/california-becomes-first-state-to-require-ethnic-studies-in-high-school/662219 | © 2021 EdSource

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