Assembly Bill 2772, introduced by Democrat Jose Medina, would require public high schools and charter schools to offer a course in ethnic studies beginning in the 2021–22 school year. It also would add a course in ethnic studies to high school graduation requirements in social studies commencing with the 2023–24 school year. The Assembly Education Committee gave the bill its first approval with a bipartisan 5-1 vote. It now must get out of the Appropriations Committee.
A bill passed in 2016 encourages, but does not require school districts to offer ethnic studies, at least as an elective. Currently California has 17 out of 1000 school districts that are considering or offering an ethnic studies high school course and include San Diego Unified, San Francisco Unified, L. A. Unified, Oakland (within 3 years) and Ventura Unified is positioning itself to implement an ethnic studies class in the coming year. The Ventura course is reportedly a response to “deep rooted bullying” in the schools.
Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2016, which is set to create the first statewide model curriculum on ethnic studies by 2019. No other state had ever approved such a bill to help standardize the courses. The guidelines are due to be adopted by 2020. However two states, Oregon and Indiana, have ethnic studies requirements.
The ethnic studies courses have been approved by the University of California and California State University systems as electives that count toward admission. Many faculty from both systems and area Community Colleges have worked with school districts to develop the ethnic studies curriculum.
Opposition to the bill includes the cost of implementing new curriculum and adding to the cost of existing requirements. Others expressed concern about another state mandate on districts and what it will mean to scale up the current efforts.
A 2016 Stanford University study showed that ethnic studies courses helped high school students increase their educational outcomes, attendance and credits earned. Researchers discovered that students’ GPAs improved by 1.4 grade points, attendance rose 21 percentage points, and class credits earned increased by 23. There were positive effects across male, female, Asian and Hispanic groups of students, the study said, but the most improved outcomes were particularly concentrated among boys and Hispanic students.
Additional research shows that providing courses to examine the experiences of African-Americans, Latinos and other ethnic and racial groups makes the understanding of American history and social movements more relevant to students who might appreciate, but don’t identify with a Eurocentric approach to teaching American history and culture.
The approval by the Assembly Education Committee is the first in a long process that requires approvals from the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the entire Assembly and from their counterparts in the state Senate before it reaches Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.