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August 15, 2016

The Case for Ethnic Studies in All Schools

Filed under: Ethnic Studies — millerlf @ 11:43 am

In 2010, a coalition of students, parents, teachers, and community advocates organized to win a pilot Ethnic Studies course in five San Francisco high schools. After implementation of the pilot, we continued to work together to evolve the curriculum and plan for its future expansion throughout district.

In 2014, Sandra Fewer, a San Francisco Board of Education Commissioner and former parent organizer for Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth, authored a landmark resolution to expand the curriculum. In December of that year, the policy was passed, providing access to Ethnic Studies classes for every San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) high school student.

Approximately 90 percent of SFUSD pupils are students of color and yet the curriculum remains overwhelmingly Eurocentric, leading many young people to disengage from their academic experience.

Extensive research, including a report from the National Education Association, demonstrates that Ethnic Studies, a curriculum that does reflect the experiences of students of color, has a positive impact on student academic engagement, achievement, and empowerment.

The SFUSD Ethnic Studies curriculum supports students to think critically about race, ethnicity and culture in the context of their own identifies and their lived experiences. By exposing students to the histories of diverse cultures, it offers a more accurate sense of the nation’s complex, multicultural history.

The curriculum is grounded in a social justice framework that provides students with the critical lens necessary to analyze oppression and address issues in their own lives. Some courses also provide hands-on service learning opportunities that support students in making positive changes in their communities.

In the advocacy efforts to win expansion of Ethnic Studies in SFUSD, students consistently testified about their frustration at the absence of historical and cultural figures from communities of color and the dominance of White ones in school curricula. That void, they said, made them feel excluded from what was being taught in most classes.

“It is just wrong that so many kids never learn anything in history that they can relate to or that has anything to do with their heritage,” said Alejandra Mendez-Ruiz, SFUSD senior and a Coleman youth leader.

“It makes us feel invisible and like we don’t have any value. Students in my Ethnic Studies class were way more attentive than in my other classes because we were learning about people that look like us and come from the places our families come from. When you walk into a class and see someone of your own background on the big projector instead of the same old Caucasian male as the hero, it makes you more curious and more excited about learning.”

SFUSD teachers also testified to the power of the curriculum, making the explicit link between Ethnic Studies and the school-to-prison pipeline. They talked about witnessing struggling students improve when they began to learn about their culture’s history – the achievements of the Black Civil Rights movement or the Chicano Movement, for example.

Students became more invested in their own education and felt more embraced by the school community, which had positive affects on the larger school climate.

At San Francisco’s Balboa High School, an Ethnic Studies course is used as an “early retention strategy” for outgoing middle school students identified as “at risk” of failing or dropping out. Earlier this year, Stanford University released findings from a controlled study that revealed that taking this ninth-grade Ethnic Studies course boosted the grades, attendance and course completion rates of participating students.

The academic benefits of the course were so significant, the researchers who conducted the study said they were “shocked” by their own findings.

“Schools have tried a number of approaches to support struggling students, and few have been this effective,” said Emily Penner, co-author of the Stanford report, according to the university’s news service. “It’s a novel approach that suggests that making schools relevant and engaging to struggling students can really pay off.”

Despite the abundance of evidence about the positive impacts of Ethnic Studies, many efforts around the country to expand the curriculum have faced aggressive opposition. Legislators in some states have proposed cutting the curriculum altogether, arguing that it is “anti-American” and teaches divisiveness.

An effort in Texas to add a Mexican-American course as a high school elective failed – in a state where Latinos are the largest ethnic group in public schools. And it wasn’t until July of last year that a federal appeals court ruled that a 2010 Arizona law banning Mexican American studies is discriminatory.

The good news is that a number of individual school districts require Ethnic Studies or are moving in that direction. And while California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation last year that would have made Ethnic Studies courses a statewide requirement, the movement to win future legislation of this kind continues to grow.

California has one of the largest and most diverse student populations in the country, with young people of color making up nearly 75 percent of the student population. We should be setting an example for the nation by ensuring that all students have access to Ethnic Studies courses that broaden and expand their minds, affirm their sense of self and community, prepare them for the diverse workforce of the 21st century and lead to increased engagement and improved academic outcomes.

For those of us that have seen first-hand the many benefits of Ethnic Studies, we will continue to fight for expansion of these courses as an essential component of the quality, culturally relevant education that all our young people deserve.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Kevine Boggess is policy director for San Francisco-based Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth, a community organization that supports human rights and dignity for all people.

The Long-Term Effects of Social-Justice Education on Black Students

Filed under: BlackLivesMatter,Ethnic Studies — millerlf @ 11:42 am

A new study shows such courses prompted self-exploration and openness in marginalized kids.

Melinda D. Anderson Jul 19, 2016 The Atlantic

Last summer, the high-school English teacher T.J. Whitaker revised the reading list for his contemporary literature course with the addition of a new title—The Savage City, a gritty nonfiction account of race and murder in New York City in the 1960s. The 24-year teaching veteran said he chose the book to give his students at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, a chance to read “an honest depiction of the Black Panther Party and the corruption that existed in the NYPD during the ‘60s.” In a school where black students are half of the student body—and a photo of two white peers in blackface caused an uproar in May—Whitaker’s classroom is a space for students to examine issues such as oppression, classism, and abuse of power. And it’s yielding results.

When the South Orange-Maplewood School District recently considered restoring school resource officers, law-enforcement officials assigned to school campuses, the move was met with sizeable opposition from juniors and seniors in Whitaker’s class. They organized fellow students to attend the public forums and testify on their experiences with local police—both in school and the community. And notably, they relied on Whitaker’s class discussions to bolster their arguments.

Transformative social-justice education is often viewed as a path to more equitable classrooms and cross-racial understanding, at a time when public-school classrooms are increasingly segregated. Most frequently associated with the Brazilian educator and theorist Paulo Freire, it is an approach growing in popularity and interest nationally. But for students from marginalized and disenfranchised groups—those most in need of upending the status quo—what is the payoff? And how can teachers steeped in this method affect their learning?

A new study from Pennsylvania State University seeks to answer these lingering questions. Marinda K. Harrell-Levy, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Penn State Brandywine, set out to explore the long-term impact of a transformative social-justice course on black adolescents. The class, a junior-year requirement, intended to motivate students to become social agents in their schools and communities, and included a service learning component. In 2010, as part of a larger research project, Harrell-Levy followed up with 13 black students who graduated from an urban parochial high school in 1995 to 2009, and, though the sample size was small, she found that the benefits of their mandatory social-justice class extended well into adulthood.

“We know that if you teach … anything related to civic development, it’s very likely that within the next week or two after taking the course, students are going to have a positive feeling about their experiences,” she said. “[But] how do they feel … years later? Is it still resonating?” Harrell-Levy’s goal was to discover how the social-justice class helped a socioeconomically diverse group of black teenagers see themselves in society. What the study revealed was a deep-rooted link between the course, career choices, and the former students’ civic and social-justice values.
“[These] thought-provoking conversations made them consider, or reconsider, their own perspective on what it meant to be black.”

Black alumni of the class, many years after graduating, uniformly credited the social-justice course for provoking a process of self-exploration that altered their sense of justice and influenced their self-identity. Eleven of the 13 reported identifying or revising career interests while taking the course, prioritizing professions to improve their community. Helping convicted felons return to the workforce, pursuing a degree in social work, and working in the education field all flowed from their enrollment in the social-justice class.

“Jenna” (pseudonyms were used in the study to protect the identity of the student participants) pointed to the course as giving her “a different moral standpoint and a different conception of justice.” Her knowledge of civic issues like capital punishment increased, she said, inspiring her to enroll in law school “to contribute to a socially just world.” Likewise, conversations with participants like “Patricia” showed how the social-justice class ignited “the power of her own agency”—a sentiment widely shared, in which students saw themselves as capable of changing conditions in their own lives as well as larger institutional injustices.

The former students were very forthcoming, said Harrell-Levy, sharing all types of experiences they were going through, from “My father was in jail” and “My mother was addicted to drugs” to “I was in a foster home during half of my time at the school”—underscoring how their teachers incorporated those experiences into the learning process. “They felt that they were relevant. That their experiences were relevant. There was this nexus of culture and pedagogy that was happening with the students and with the teachers that made the learning process that much more meaningful for everybody,” said the study’s lead author.

Additionally, the research showed that the race of the teachers was not an impediment to the course’s mission—a crucial takeaway given that just over 8 out of 10 public schoolteachers are white. “They didn’t ignore the fact they are white,” said Harrell-Levy, stressing that “colorblind ideology” was rejected. Instead, recognizing that her students looked at her as “this privileged white lady who had the luxury of illuminating about issues [of diversity],” the teacher brought the students’ reluctance into the classroom discussion as a learning point.

An unexpected outcome for the researchers was how the course allowed students to unravel issues of advantage among black students based on class—an aspect that seldom surfaces in social-justice discourse. The predominately black Catholic school included a mix of students attending through school vouchers, athletic scholarships, academic scholarships and other financial means. According to Harrell-Levy, the combination offered a unique opportunity for the teachers to challenge intra-racial stereotypes. Participants who described themselves as “privileged” or “sheltered” revealed that their opinions of the “black poor”—and more generally, those living in poverty—were effectively confronted through the social-justice curriculum.
“We’ve got to give them the tools…to process in ways that are healthy and will actually build our democracy.”

“All of these … thought-provoking conversations made them consider, or reconsider, their own perspective on what it meant to be black. Their own perspective on what it meant to be poor and black. Their own perspective on what it meant to be [economically advantaged] and black. That was a type of conversation that teachers willingly let [happen].”

Leigh Patel, an associate education professor at Boston College and a sociologist of education, characterized the study as a nuanced take on race and class, and a departure from the study of blackness and black youth as a monolithic topic. She cautioned, however, that understanding the full scope of transformative social-justice education should extend beyond the individual to the collective impact.

“Are we transforming individuals’ [career] pathways [or] are we transforming a collective population’s realities of wellness and suffering?” asked Patel, noting that the drawback to focusing primarily on “individualistic, live-your-best-life” measures is that inequities are never experienced exclusively by individuals. By contrast, Patel cited United We Dream, the Dream Defenders, and We Charge Genocide as “explicit projects of social transformation” that are “fundamentally collective.”

Where Patel and Harrell-Levy found firm agreement was on the critical need to rethink teacher training and professional development to incorporate transformational social-justice teaching. “What’s required here is a certain vulnerability that you don’t really expect [and] teachers don’t generally want,” said the Penn State researcher. “The teachers in the study, on a regular basis, had to expose themselves in order to connect with the students. At the very least, teachers need to understand the impact that they’re having on students’ identity. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, it’s happening.”

In the wake of recent fatal police shootings of black men, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and heightened interest in how black youth are processing these events, Harrell-Levy said the time is now to revisit the role of teachers and schools. “There’s a lot of emotion surging through a lot of [youth] right now, who don’t have any experience on what to do with it, and how to deal with it,” she said. “There’s a mental toll to … literally seeing life leave bodies on YouTube, again and again. We’ve got to give them the tools…to process in ways that are healthy and will actually build our democracy.”

Albuquerque Public Schools Add Ethnic Studies to High School Curriculum

Filed under: Ethnic Studies — millerlf @ 11:42 am
 Currently, only three Albuquerque high schools offer ethnic studies courses, including Chicano Studies, Mexican-American literature, and Native American studies. Last December, Families United for Education approached the Albuquerque Board of Education to advocate for ethnic studies courses across the district. Last week, about 40 teachers and community members came together for a three-day workshop to begin planning the curriculum, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Albuquerque’s population is 46.7 percent Latino or Hispanic, 42.1 percent non-Hispanic white, 4.6 percent Native American and Alaskan Native, 4.6 percent two or more races, 3.3 percent African American, 2.6 percent Asian American, and 0.1 percent Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander.

RELATED: Students Call For Ethnic Studies in Portland High Schools

The 2015 four-year graduation rate at Albuquerque Public Schools is 61.7 percent, according to the New Mexico Department of Education.

Families United for Education is committed to continued family and community engagement, Emma Sandoval said. “The next step for Families United is to advocate for ethnic studies to be integrated in the core curriculum for K-12 in the Albuquerque Public School district,” she said.

Stanford study suggests academic benefits to ethnic studies courses

Filed under: Ethnic Studies — millerlf @ 11:42 am

A high school ethnic studies course examining the roles of race, nationality and culture on identity and experience boosted attendance and academic performance of students at risk of dropping out, a new study by scholars at Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) found.

The study looked at ethnic studies classes in a pilot program in San Francisco high schools, and compared academic outcomes for students encouraged to enroll in the courses with similar students who did not take them.

The researchers found that students not only made gains in attendance and grades, they also increased the number of course credits they earned to graduate.

“What’s so unique about this program is the degree to which it helped the students who took it,” said Emily Penner, co-author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at the GSE. “Schools have tried a number of approaches to support struggling students, and few have been this effective. It’s a novel approach that suggests that making school relevant and engaging to struggling students can really pay off.”

Thomas S. Dee, a professor at Stanford GSE and director at the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, was the other author of the report, which was posted Jan. 11 as a working paper on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

District debate

The findings come as educators and policymakers in Arizona, California, Oregon and other states debate adding or taking away such curriculum from their schools. While ethnic studies proponents contend the courses can help address academic disparities by aligning individual student experiences with curriculum, opponents have argued they are anti-American, teach divisiveness and may displace opportunities for students to take electives of their choice.

Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation proposing to require ethnic studies courses statewide, and the Arizona legislature also balked at a similar measure.

Still, a number of California school districts – including Los Angeles, Pico Rivera and Oakland – require ethnic studies or are moving in that direction. San Francisco voted to expand its program to all 19 high schools last year when early findings from this study indicated positive gains for students.

Significant gains

The study was conducted in collaboration with the San Francisco Unified School District as part of a research-practice partnership with the GSE.

Bill Sanderson, assistant superintendent at SFUSD, said the partnership “allows the district to validate promising practices and expand successes in multiple schools to have the greatest impact on students.”

The ethnic studies course offered in San Francisco focuses on the experiences and identities of racial and ethnic minorities, uses cultural references in teaching and aims to enhance social and political awareness. In one lesson, for example, teachers ask students to look at the role of advertising in reinforcing cultural stereotypes and the idea that some values and people are “normal” while others are not.

“Culturally relevant pedagogy embeds several features of interventions designed to reduce stereotype threat, such as explaining stereotypes and identifying external forces that contribute to academic challenges,” Dee said. “Ethnic studies may be effective because it is an unusually intensive and at-scale social-psychological intervention.”

For the study, Dee and Penner gathered data from three San Francisco high schools participating in the pilot ethnic studies program from 2010 to 2014.

Enrollment in ethnic studies was automatic for students who had eighth grade GPAs below 2.0 and voluntary for those with GPAs above 2.0. The scholars narrowed their observations to a population of 1,405 ninth graders, and compared attendance rates, GPA and grade credits earned for students who came in closest to each side of the 2.0 threshold. Looking at students near the cutoff allowed for the best analysis of the program because a student with a 1.99 GPA, for example, was likely to be very similar to a student with a 2.01 – except that one student was encouraged to enroll in the course, while the other was not.

“It’s similar to a randomized trial where one group of people are assigned to a treatment and another similar group is asked to take a placebo,” explained Dee, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

The researchers found that attendance for those encouraged to enroll in the class increased by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points and credits earned by 23.

Boys, Hispanic students stand out

There were positive effects across male, female, Asian and Hispanic groups of students, the study said, but the improved outcomes were particularly concentrated among boys and Hispanic students.

The study also found significant effects on GPA specific to math and science. Grade point grew in English language arts, as well, but less so. Sample sizes of white and black populations, specifically, were too small to reliably estimate separate effects.

“To be confident we were getting the effect of the course and not the fact that these kids were flagged as needing extra help because of their GPA, we looked for similar patterns in high schools that did not offer ethnic studies,” Dee said. “We found no evidence the early warning indicators were causing the effects.

“The results are highly encouraging,” he added. “This is the first causally credible evidence on the academic effects of culturally relevant pedagogy.”

Dee and Penner cautioned, however, that the study had the benefit of examining a well-implemented program whose enrollment formula enabled a research design that allowed for causal inference.

“The evidence for San Francisco is very strong,” said Dee. “Whether what works there would work in other school districts is not yet determined. But the magnitude of the effects in San Francisco merits enthusiasm.”

The paper was funded through the Stanford-SFUSD partnership and a Postdoctoral Training Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. The researchers presented their findings at the Association for Public Policy and Management conference in November 2015. The paper has not yet undergone peer review.

Media Contacts

Thomas S. Dee, Graduate School of Education:

Emily Penner, Graduate School of Education:

Brooke Donald, Graduate School of Education: (650) 721-1402,
Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224,

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