AB 101 will make California first state to require Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement

By NATHAN DENNIS

Governor Gavin Newsom of Redlands California signed legislation on Oct. 8 that will make California the first state to have Ethnic studies as a requirement to earn a high school diploma. The mandate will go into effect beginning with the graduating class of 2029-30 and will require one semester of an Ethnic Studies course for public high school students.

The introductory excerpt from Assembly Bill 101 is featured above. The full text of the bill can be found at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/ (Ethic News image)

High schools will be required to provide ethnic studies course options starting in the 2025-26 school year. Some districts have already started the process. Los Angeles and Fresno Unified school districts both voted in 2021 for ethnic studies as a requirement for high school students.

Governor Newsom’s signing of the Assembly Bill 101, written by California Assemblyman Jose Medina, is the final step in the state-wide process for creating a curriculum that closely resembles California’s history, culture, and struggles of its diverse population.  

Medina said “The signing of AB 101 today is one step in the long struggle for equal education for all students.”

Citrus Valley High School Ethnic Studies teacher Yon Okorodudu says, “I am very happy about the bill. In my opinion Ethnic Studies is an important and informative course that all students should be exposed to.”

Both Okorodudu and Redlands East Valley High School Ethnic Studies teacher Duan Kellum believe that AB 101 will have a positive impact on the Redlands School District and increase opportunities for all students.

Okorodudu says, “I think it will have a very positive effect on the school district. More students will have an opportunity to be represented in the history curriculum. Students will have an opportunity to learn about the many contributions and struggles of different groups for American history.”  

Kellum says, “I think it is a positive step. Contrary to the thoughts of some, all students will benefit from expanding their knowledge about American history and the way we develop our identities and world views.”  

Currently, all high schools in Redlands offer an Ethnic Studies course option, according to Kellum.

“Unfortunately, I do expect pushback from some members of our community,” said Kellum, “There has been a national backlash to programs and curriculum that address equity and the voices of those that have been muted throughout history.”  

Kellum expresses some concerns students may have, as well, “Some students may not like having to take an additional class to graduate. However, since it won’t be in full effect until the 2029/2030 school year, I hope it will be normalized by then. School districts will have to be creative to provide the class without adding undue burdens on their academic schedules of students. Over the years I have received positive feedback from students, both current and former, as to how they have used knowledge they have obtained in the class in their academic and personal lives.”  

The Instructional Quality Commission, which is responsible for curriculum development, has notably revised the draft and in March the State Board of Education approved said curriculum, which is optional for district use. The legislation authorizing the design of the model has encouraged to focus attention on the four ethnic and racial groups: Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans and also incorporated lesson plans for Sikh, Jewish, and Armenian Americans. The curriculum model encourages schools to implement discussions on the ethnic heritage and legacy of students in their communities.

In Governor Newsom’s veto message a year ago, he restated his support for ethnic studies, but called the early model of the curriculum, “insufficiently balanced and inclusive.” He didn’t mention the earlier veto in his news release on Friday, but he did mention that the bill does include, “a number of safeguards to ensure that courses will be free from bias or bigotry and appropriate for all students.”  

In Newsom’s statement, he said that ethnic studies will expand the educational opportunities in schools and has credited it for increasing academic achievement. He gave recognition to recent research co-written by Thomas Dee, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, that ethnic studies has had a positive impact on attendance, graduation rates, and college enrollment for multiple classes with below average San Francisco students who have taken the course in 9th grade.

Medina has personally thanked governor Newsom for signing the bill in the news release. “The inclusion of ethnic studies in the high school curriculum is long overdue,” Medina said. “The signing of AB 101 today is one step in the long struggle for equal education for all students.”

The enactment of AB 101 releases 50 million in this year’s state budget for all country offices of education, charter and public school districts to implement ethnic studies curriculums. The money will be distributed to schools accommodating high school students according to the California Department of Education.  

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