Standardized Ethnic-Studies Curriculum for High Schools to Be Studied

Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2014

Students in Santa Monica High School’s ethnic-studies class took on a touchy subject recently when they analyzed enrollment in Advanced Placement courses. Despite the school’s diversity, most of those taking the college-level classes were predominantly white and from affluent backgrounds, the students found.

Their findings didn’t come as a complete surprise. The students had studied racism in education and housing, and they suspected that all ethnicities wouldn’t be equally represented. The next step was to find a way to change it.

The AP survey was a real-life lesson in ethnic studies, an approach that teacher Kitaro Webb said exemplifies the goal of the program. That is, to create bridges between people and spur students to become active participants in the world around them, Webb said.

“The whole point of ethnic studies is American at its core,” he said. “It’s about civic engagement, responsibility and fighting for what you believe in.”

It’s exactly this kind of course that California lawmakers are hoping to replicate throughout the state. A bill approved last week by the state Assembly requires the Education Department to form a task force to study how best to implement a standardized ethnic-studies curriculum in high schools statewide. The legislation now is in the Senate.

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Opponents of ethnic-studies classes say they are divisive and foster resentment among students.

Supporters say the classes teach students about long-neglected slices of America’s cultural heritage by exploring different perspectives in literature, history and social justice.

About three-quarters of the 6.2 million public school students in California are nonwhite. Latinos make up 53% of state enrollment.

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A revision of California academic standards, which must be approved by the state Board of Education or directed by the Legislature, could cost school districts millions of dollars because it would probably require new courses, staff and materials, according to an analysis by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. {snip}

Still, lawmakers believe the governor would support the legislation. (A similar bill was vetoed in 2002 by then-Gov. Gray Davis.)

In recent years, ethnic-studies programs on California college campuses have been hit by budget cuts; professor positions have been unfilled, class offerings and majors reduced, eliminated or folded into other programs. Most UC campuses and other universities, however, require undergraduates to take a class in racial, cultural, gender or religious diversity.

Many voluntary classes exist in school systems across the state. In 2013, about 100 schools offered 435 ethnic-studies courses, and about 4,380 students enrolled in them, according to the Education Department.

San Francisco Unified offers five ethnic-studies courses, including Defining Racism and Reconstruction to Jim Crow, at four high schools.

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