California could be the first state in the nation to require all students to take ethnic studies to graduate high school if lawmakers are successful in ushering CTA co-sponsored AB 101 through the Legislature and to the governor’s desk.
Authored by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), AB 101 would make the completion of an ethnic studies class a California high school graduation requirement at a time when educators, students and elected leaders say it’s needed most.
“We are poised to lead the nation in educational equality and equity,” Medina said at a press conference today. “The time for ethnic studies is now!”
Supporters are hoping this is finally the year the requirement becomes a reality after numerous disappointments, including last year when Medina’s AB 331 passed the Legislature and was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. CTA State Council delegates last weekend voted to co-sponsor AB 101, which would go into effect for students graduating in the 2029-30 school year and require each school to offer an ethnic studies course beginning in 2025-26.
Riverside science educator Pia VanMeter said ethnic studies are far too important to be left as an option.
“When students learn to appreciate diverse histories and experiences, it makes them well-rounded individuals,” said VanMeter, a member of Riverside City Teachers Association. “They also become more self-aware, empathetic, understanding and civically engaged citizens of the world. This lesson has always been our mission as educators, regardless of what subject we teach.”
A former Chicano studies teacher, Medina said it has been more than 50 years since ethnic studies was established as an academic discipline. He said that despite decades of scholarship and activism, ethnic studies has not been integrated into K-12 classrooms, meaning many students graduate high school without exposure to a culturally comprehensive education and lack understanding of our country’s diverse and complex history.
“Californians should learn the complete picture of our country,” said state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles). “We cannot heal what we do not face.”
CTA believes participation in ethnic studies has positive effects for all students. Providing these learning opportunities and engagement with the study of race and equity benefits achievement in other academic areas and promotes a positive identity. CTA believes that we have a duty to teach our youth about their ancestral legacies, that culture is essential in the fight for racial justice and equity, and that it is the right of all California students to have access to quality ethnic studies curriculum.
“It is our duty as educators to prepare the next generation of changemakers. Students look to us to lead by example, and this means we must do the impactful and lifesaving work of building awareness and compassion through the stories of Black, Indigenous and people of color,” VanMeter said. “We have a chance at making the world a better place today. It all starts with our students.”
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said that the continued rise in acts of blatant racism nationwide and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by white supremacists show why this education is crucial.
“We need not look far to see why this is so important,” he said. “The time is now.”
AB 101 is currently awaiting a hearing by the Assembly Education Committee.
Draft Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum still needs work
Last week, CTA submitted comments to the state Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) on the third draft of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, which educators will be able to use to develop curriculum for the implementation of an ethnic studies course. While a commendable effort, CTA leaders said the draft still needs improvements to provide useful guidance to educators, especially those who have not previously taught an ethnic studies course.
“This model curriculum, being the first in the nation, needs to be one that California teachers can use meaningfully, intentionally and effectively,” CTA President E. Toby Boyd said in the letter to the IQC.
The model curriculum was reviewed by two CTA policymaking committees—Curriculum and Instruction, and Civil Rights in Education—during a series of lengthy virtual meetings to provide comments from educators who are its potential users. They suggested numerous improvements, such as expanding the guidance offered for TK-8 ethnic studies curriculum, including templates, course development, curriculum planning and lessons.
“We wholeheartedly recommend a universal TK-12 curriculum that provides pedagogy and guidelines for developing critical thinking skills in read-alouds, questioning, repeating facts and modeling at the primary level and progressing to diving deeper into the text, comparing, contrasting, analyzing and showing evidence spiraling all the way up to the secondary level,” the letter states.
Additionally, CTA noted that the work of practicing ethnic studies educators on the first draft of the curriculum was not included in the current version, despite a request by Thurmond to ensure their efforts are included.
“Their dedication and commitment in developing a model Ethnic Studies curriculum have been diminished,” Boyd said in the letter. “CTA remains committed to a fair and transparent representation of teacher and student voices in the development of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.”
Last summer, while work continued on the model curriculum, California Department of Education (CDE) held a series of ethnic studies webinars to help students, educators and families familiarize themselves with the core areas of ethnic studies, including how different groups have struggled and worked together, and key concepts such as equality, justice, race, ethnicity and indigeneity. Archived on the CDE Facebook page, this series of virtual classroom experiences focused on all four foundational groups of ethnic studies: Africana Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano Latino Studies and Native American Studies, and featured prominent leaders and educators including civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, educator Karen Korematsu and Shirley Weber, sworn in today as California Secretary of State.
“As we are engaging in more conversations about race and racism in our own communities and as a nation, we have heard from students and educators that the pursuit of a more just society begins in the classroom,” said Thurmond. “It’s never been clearer that now is the time to devote a special emphasis to teaching students about the struggles, histories, and contributions from people of color in our state and national history.”