After the Kern County Educators for Ethnic Studies Coalition presented a proposal for an Ethnic Studies Program to become a graduation requirement for the Kern High School District at the Aug. 3 board meeting, the district reccomended the board not adopt the proposal.
The Board of Trustees followed the District’s recommendation.
“I just believe we have begun work in regards to Ethnic Studies and have begun acting in the other areas that were recommended,” Brenda Lewis, KHSD’s Associate Superintendent of Instruction, told the board.
The KCE4ES Coalition, made up of 80 educators from many Kern County school districts, including Bakersfield City School District and KHSD, said in a statement the program could not only improve students’ grade point average, but it can also improve attendance rates, and graduation rates.
“I feel that it was a good meeting as we talked about the importance of the offering of Ethnic Studies, and it is a great opportunity for our students,” said Brenda Lewis, KHSD’s Associate Superintendent of Instruction, of her meeting with members of the Coalition.
In the proposal, the coalition also said Ethnic Studies strengthens the social-emotional growth and development of a student’s sense of self, while bolstering their academic behaviors, such as attendance, homework, study skills, organization, and participation in class.
“We have been inspired by what we have seen across the state and in the country,” said Randy Villegas, a member of the coalition, a graduate of the KHSD, and a professor at the College of the Sequoias. “The Black Lives Movement, the protests in our communities, the statue removals, the polarized political environment, and the lives of marginalized people across this nation are telling us that the time is now. There is an urgent need for Ethnic Studies now.”
Although the board did not adopt the proposal, Ethnic Studies could become part of the statewide curriculum in the near future. If Assembly Bill 331 passes, it will require Ethnic Studies to be mandatory for graduation from California High Schools beginning the 2023-24 school year. A final draft of the curriculum is set to go to the California Department of Education in 2021 for approval.
“Our schools, and our classrooms are just smaller scale microcosms for the diversity that will exist in the university, in the workforce, or anywhere students go after graduation” says the KCE4ES in a statement to the KHSD Board of Trustees.
In many districts, Ethnic Studies has already proven to reverse low achievement and high push-out levels and has instead increased motivation and graduation rates.
The Oakland Unified School District saw improvements among minority groups after the district implemented an ethnic studies. Before the addition of these courses, one out of six black high school males had been suspended at least once. However, as the program matured, the African-American male suspension rate decreased by 47 percent, and students who took these courses had their GPA improve by 1.14 points.
Researchers for the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis found that for those enrolled in Ethnic studies, attendance increased by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4-grade points, and total credits earned towards graduation by 23. Moreover, the most dramatic increases were shown by young men of color. The study also found significant effects on GPA, specific to math and science. 2 areas in which our district is currently below standards, according to data from the CA Education Dashboard
“We really want to see this change happen as we have seen in other regions it has worked,” said Villegas. “We do know from research that it can be done and done right in a way that can be inclusive within Kern and the Central Valley.”
The coalition proposed all ethnic studies courses include an anti-racist curriculum.
“In today’s age, it’s not enough to just not be racist,” said Villegas. “We have to be explicitly anti-racist in the way we carry ourselves in our curriculum. We want ethnic studies to include a service learning project, and we want all ethnic study teachers to meet qualifications set by an ethnic studies advisory committee.”
The proposal also stressed the importance of students being able to see themselves in the curriculum. This will also help the student body learn to appreciate different ethnicities and cultures other than their own, the coalition said in a statement.
“The value of ethnic studies is the kids will engage in history and understand that they are part of the history of the United States,” said Aleida Rojas, a history teacher at East Bakersfield High School. “They will become more active citizens.”
In the resolution put forth in the KHSD the Coalition asks to have separate classes for each marginalized group, which would reflect the different demographic population of the districts and campuses for example african american studies, latinx/ raza, native american, asian america.
“There is a major need for ethnic studies in Kern County and is reflected in this Coalition of Kern County Educators of Ethnic Studies,” said Octavio Barajas, an Ethnic Studies Professor at College of the Sequoias and member of the coalition.