Ethnic studies required to graduate high school

AB 101 makes California the first state to require ethnic studies for high school graduation.

By Emily Faith Grodin, Staff Writer

AB 101 will require all high school students in California to take at least one semester of an Ethnic Studies course by 2029. (Graphic Illustration by Vickie Guzman/The Valley Star)

On Oct. 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 101, requiring that all high school students take a one-semester course on ethnic studies in order to graduate. The mandate will not take effect until at least the 2029 school year, but starting in 2025 all high schools in California will need to offer ethnic studies courses. Newsom vetoed a similar bill just one year ago, saying that the model curriculum being proposed was “insufficiently balanced and inclusive.” At the time he expressed his support for ethnic studies.

The California Department of Education released an overview of the model curriculum that will be used once courses have been fully implemented. It states that the class should encourage students to think and learn about how different cultures have met and faced struggles, with a focus on concepts such as equality, race, justice, ethnicity, indigeneity and more. The coursework will be written in language that is free of discrimination and prejudice while welcoming discussions of differences in backgrounds to promote learning and acceptance. While the curriculum does highlight the four groups stated above, it also encourages classrooms to include discussions on the ethnic heritage of students in their own communities.

Valley defines ethnic studies as a “critical and interdisciplinary approach to the study of various ethnic groups” with an emphasis on those that historically have suffered racial injustices in the U.S. These groups are African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans.

Data from Stanford University reveals the long term effects that ethnic studies has on students. The study took place by examining ninth grade students in the San Francisco Unified School District in 2009. The program assigned freshman students to an ethnic studies class if they had a GPA of less than 2.0. The effects of the course lasted long after the ninth grade with some measurable successes. One of these was improved attendance, with students attending one extra day for every two weeks compared to peers. Another positive outcome was that these students passed about six more classes than students who did not take the course. Students were 15 percent more likely to become college students within six years than the comparison group.

School districts within California are ahead of the statewide bill. LAUSD is already on track to require ethnic studies to graduate by 2024, with Fresno and San Francisco following closely behind.

Chicano Studies professor Pete Lopez feels it is a good idea to require ethnic studies for high school students.

“It affords students opportunities to learn about other ethnic cultures in the United States that perhaps they were not familiar with previously, even though they may interact with them in school or at work.” said Lopez, “In the current political climate, it is imperative that we provide young people the tools and skill set that allow them to address and discuss their own feelings and understanding of the current discourse on immigration locally and nationally.”

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