- A proposed ethnic studies curriculum plan in California is facing criticism from top state education leaders and organizations that say the 350-page document is politically biased, anti-Semitic and insensitive to other ethnic and religious groups, EdSource reports.
- The plan, drafted by the 20-member Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Advisory Group after a 2016 law ordered the creation of an ethnic studies curriculum, has received over 5,000 responses — most of which are critical.
- The document is meant to serve as a guide rather than a mandate when implementing ethnic studies curricula in high schools and, potentially, middle schools by fall 2020. The state board has until March 31 to decide what will be included in the model curriculum.
Prior to the drafting of the proposed curriculum plan, California’s state board advised the group in charge with guidelines for an ethnic studies curriculum. An ethnic studies curriculum, according to the state board’s guidance, should:
- “Encourage cultural understanding of how different groups have struggled and worked together” while also highlighting concepts of equality, justice and race.
- Allow districts to tailor their courses to reflect the demographics of the local communities they serve.
- Be in accordance with California’s history and social science standards.
- Encourage critical thinking and student empowerment.
In response to the proposed draft, California State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond said in a statement, “A model curriculum should be accurate, free of bias, appropriate for all learners in our diverse state and align with Governor Newsom’s vision of a California for all.” The current draft, she said, “falls short” and needs to be “substantially redesigned.”
Another critic, the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, released a statement pointing out that the draft "omits the Jewish experience and our country’s history of antisemitism. "We cannot accept a curriculum that erases the Jewish community, fails to acknowledge antisemitism, and would institutionalize the teaching of anti-Jewish stereotypes in our public schools," said Assembly member Jesse Gabriel, vice chair of the caucus.
Adding to the pressure to provide a well-rounded ethnic studies curriculum plan is the timeline of the state legislature’s proposed Assembly Bill 331, which passed 63-8 in the Assembly and is now in the Senate. The bill, if enacted, would make California the first state to require all high school students beginning in the 2024-25 school year to take one semester-long ethnic studies course in order to graduate.
California is among many states and districts pushing to adopt curricula that are inclusive and reflective of the various student demographics across the country. Earlier this month, New York City voted to adopt culturally responsive curricula after a push by the city's schools chancellor, Richard Carranza.
Advocates of the initiative say curricula reflecting the experiences and racial or ethnic backgrounds of students would remove the historically Eurocentric focus of instructional material while also increasing their interest in the content. Critics, however, point out that this could come at the cost of improving test scores.
Many school districts, including those in Baltimore and North Carolina, are taking similar initiatives not only to diversify the content, but also to reflect the racial and civil rights histories of their localities.
For example, Guilford County Schools in North Carolina is putting its content into context by teaching students about the civil rights movement through discussing the Greensboro Sit-In that took place in the county and sparked similar protests across the nation.
When drafting this kind of curriculum, working closely with local resources, such as inclusion or diversity offices, can optimize the quality of the content. Experts say a key component to adopting any new curriculum, especially one that is specifically tailored to student demographics and local histories, is extensive teacher training prior to, during and even after the school year in which the curriculum is adopted.
“Everything changes all the time, so we me make sure to have a careful eye from the lens of the teachers to ensure our curriculum is sound,” Whitney Oakley, interim Chief Academic Officer Guildford County Schools and Assistant Superintendent of Teaching, Learning and Professional Development said. “How we deliver those resources is a cycle of improvement.”