California Considers Requiring Ethnic Studies Course to Graduate High School

graduation cap diploma isolated on a white background

As a teacher in Los Angeles county, Jose Lara has fought for years to have ethnic studies taught in high schools across the state. He’s taught the course for 13 years and says he’s seen his students transform by studying their history—whether learning about Cesar Chavez, who led the farmworkers movement in the ’60s, or about Angel Island, a port of entry near San Francisco that limited Chinese immigration in the early 1900s.

“Ethnic studies helps students develop an academic identity,” he said. “It really builds empathy cross-culturally as well so it brings communities that may be different from one another closer together.”

But skeptics say the state couldn’t afford to require such a course. Some critics go even further, insisting the state shouldn’t reinforce “identity politics” and instead should laser-focus on shrinking the academic achievement gap for black and Latino students.

This week the Legislature—which had been considering a bill to make California the first state to require ethnic studies for high school graduation—backed away from creating such a statewide mandate, citing costs estimated to top $400 million. Sponsors settled on a pilot program instead.

The pilot would cover 10 to 15 school districts across the state that will opt in to have ethnic studies as a graduation requirement. Schools would begin applying next year and the program would create the requirement for some students as early as 2022, with schools reporting their findings in 2024.

A state law passed in 2016 already encourages high schools to offer an elective course in ethnic studies, and requires the state to create a model curriculum for the class by 2020. Currently only 1 percent of California’s public high school students take ethnic studies. …

Click here to read the full article from CalMatters