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Legislature to Gov. Newsom: Make Ethnic Studies a High School Graduation Pre-Requisite

Sponsored by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), AB 101 requires all public school districts and charter schools serving students in grades 9 through 12 to offer culturally responsive curricula reflective of California’s diverse population.

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California Governor Gavin Newsom (then Lieutenant Governor) riding in the Golden State Warriors Parade in Oakland, California 6/12/18

For the second time since he became governor, Gavin Newsom is being asked by the California Legislature to sign a bill that would make ethnic studies a California high school graduation requirement.

Days before the end of the 2021 Legislative session, by overwhelming margins, the State Assembly and Senate approved Assembly Bill (AB) 101. It would require high schools to offer ethnic studies courses beginning academic year 2025-26 and make completing a one-semester course a graduation requirement starting in the 2029-30 school year.

Sponsored by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), AB 101 requires all public school districts and charter schools serving students in grades 9 through 12 to offer culturally responsive curricula reflective of California’s diverse population.

The state has more than 1,000 public school districts enrolling 6.2 million students speaking more than 90 languages. More than three-quarters of California’s K-12 students are non-white: 55% Latino, 22% white, 12% Asian or Pacific Islander and 5% African American.

According to Medina, a former ethnic studies teacher, “California is one of the most diverse states in the country and we should celebrate that diversity by teaching a curriculum that is inclusive of all of our cultures and backgrounds. Ethnic Studies provide students an opportunity to learn about histories outside of the Euro-centric teachings most prominent in our schools. At a time when the national climate drives divisiveness and fear of otherness, Ethnic Studies can play a critical role in increasing awareness and understanding.”

Last year, Newsom, who has expressed support of ethnic studies, vetoed a similar bill, AB 331.

He expressed concerns about the content of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum that was being developed as a template to guide school districts as they created their own versions of the course. Newsom called the draft model curriculum “insufficiently balanced and inclusive and needed to be substantially amended.”

Initial reaction to the Department of Education (CDE) Instructional Quality Commission’s (IQC) Ethic Studies Model Curriculum was strongly negative. During two years of heated debates, it produced several versions of the curriculum and attracted nearly 100,000 public comments.

The drafts drew complaints from Jewish Americans and other ethnic and religious groups who said their American experiences were being ignored. Jewish Americans expressed concerns that the curriculum evoked anti-Semitic stereotypes and dwelled on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Others criticized the curriculum for taking a left-leaning and politically biased view of history. For example, it defined capitalism as a system of oppression.

Revisions to the model curriculum were made and it was adopted by the State Board of Education this past March. The 894-page curriculum with more than two dozen lesson plans is designed to teach students about the history, culture and struggles of four historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups: African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. The guidelines also include supplemental lessons on Jews, Armenians and Sikhs in response to public comments received.

School districts and charter schools are not required to adopt CDE’s model curriculum. AB 101 lets them pick the elements they like from the model curriculum— or choose none of them. They can develop ethnic studies courses on their own. The course must be approved by the governing board of the school district or the governing body of the charter school, and the courses must be approved as meeting the A–G requirements of the University of California and the California State University.

AB 101 is supported by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and a coalition of educators, students, and advocates across the state. Supporters include the California Teachers Association, the California State PTA, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, California Association for Bilingual Education, and The Education Trust-West.

Over the weekend, at the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA) 2021 Annual Round-Up, Thurmond was applauded by the group when he said, “I hope you’ve heard the good news. AB 101, the bill to require ethnic studies as a graduation requirement has been passed and is on its way to the governor’s desk for signature.

“Our babies deserve to learn about the contributions of their ancestors. Our African American children, our Latino children, our Native American, Pacific Islander children, deserve to hear the positive contributions of their ancestors, who helped to make this a great state, and a great nation.”

Also unanimously supporting AB 101 are the five diversity caucuses of the California State Legislature: the Latino caucus, the Asian Pacific Islander caucus, the Black caucus, the Jewish caucus and the Native American caucus.

The statement from the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) leaders chair Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and vice-chair Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) reads, “As chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, I am proud to stand with Assembly member Medina in support of the amendments to AB 101, … it is critical that ethnic studies be immediately included as a graduation requirement to help reduce further racial bias and create understanding. History is often taught with oppression and racism in the periphery or sometimes erased altogether. It is imperative that all students leave our education system with a deeper understanding of the communities that make California and America culturally diverse and strong.”

As Newsom decides whether or not to sign AB 101, criticism of the bill persists.

The anti-Semitism watchdog AMCHA Initiative writes, “My organization is deeply concerned that classes taught using [the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum] will become vehicles for highly controversial, one-sided and extremely coercive political advocacy and activism that will both subvert the educational mission of our schools and incite bigotry and harm against many students…, we believe it is irresponsible and unethical to pass a bill requiring students to take a course that has not been shown to improve students’ academic achievement, and is quite likely to incite strife and hatred.”

Republican legislator opposition can be summed up in a comment Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) made recently. Debating AB 101, Melendez said that ethnic studies is rooted in “critical race theory,” a view that racism is ingrained in laws and government institutions.

Ahead of his recall election on September 14, Newsom will likely avoid signing any bills until after the election, fearing he could motivate critics to vote in favor of the recall.

He has until October 10 to sign the bill.

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Activism

Tony Thurmond Starts Second Term as State Addresses Educational Inequity

“We’re offering scholarships for anyone who wants to become a teacher. $20,000,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Tony Thurmond told California Black Media. “I sponsored a bill, HB 520, that was focused on how we get more male educators of color. And that bill turned into funding in the state budget. That now means our residency programs can be used to help have male educators of color as part of the beneficiaries of that program.”

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State Supt. of Public Instruction speaks with a student after his swearing in on Jan. 7. Photo by Max Elramsisy, California Black Media.
State Supt. of Public Instruction speaks with a student after his swearing in on Jan. 7. Photo by Max Elramsisy, California Black Media.

By Max Elramsisy | California Black Media

State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Tony Thurmond took the oath of office to begin his second term on Jan. 7 at a ceremony conducted at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles.

Thurmond oversees the education of 6 million PreK-12 students in over 1,000 public school districts across California.

Although SPI is a non-partisan office, Thurmond drew support from many of the state’s top Democrats in his bid for re-election, including from Gov. Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and several members of the California Legislative Black Caucus. He was also endorsed by unions across the state, including the California Federation of Teachers and California Teachers Association.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona performed the ceremonial swearing in of Thurmond, who then reflected on his path to the office. The son of a Panamanian immigrant mother and Vietnam veteran father who did not return to his family after the war, Thurmond and his brother were raised by their cousin and relied on public assistance programs and public schools to make it out of poverty.

“I am standing on the shoulders of those relatives who struggle and sacrifice so that we could have a better life,” Thurmond said after he was sworn in. “It was the sacrifices of teachers and classified staff and childcare workers and school administrators who make it possible for me to stand here today as your public servant fighting for 6 million students in the great state of California.”

Thurmond’s first term coincided with one of the most tumultuous periods in California’s history — a time, he says, that brought with it many unforeseen challenges.

“We all watched it together. The lives lost and impacted and disrupted by the pandemic,” Thurmond said before naming other cultural, social and political developments the country endured as the COVID-19 crisis intensified.

“The killing of George Floyd, fighting hate against the Asian American Pacific Islander community, racism targeted directly to African American families, anti-Semitism, the mistreatment of Latino families, immigrant families, we have seen so much hate all in such a short period of time that we would move into a pandemic and find out that, in a state with all the wealth that we have in California, that a million students could be without a computer,” Thurmond added. “That is the most important thing that they needed to be connected to in those early days through remote learning.”

Thurmond says his administration stepped up to address challenges presented by the pandemic.

“We know that the impact this has had clearly affected student proficiency levels where they are now compared to where they were a few years before the pandemic and of course, a deep, deep impact on the mental health of our students and our families,” he said.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in depression and anxiety and hospitalizations for children and it has been difficult for them,” Thurmond continued. “But our children are more than the sum of their circumstances. They’ve demonstrated their resiliency, and they’re on the path to recovery, and we’re going to help them with that because we just secured enough money to recruit 10,000 counselors for our schools in the state of California.”

The addition of counselors is good news for teachers across the state seeking resources to help their students recover and develop in areas outside of academics where school also plays a crucial role for many students.

“I was very excited when Superintendent Thurman said that there would be 10,000 counselors coming to the school sites because we need that,” said Bridgette Donald-Blue, an elementary school math teacher and California Teacher of the Year award recipient. “The emotional health of our students, that is important, that is very important.”

The SPI does not have any legislative role. But Thurmond, who served in the California State Assembly for two terms, sponsored or endorsed several legislative initiatives that may have a profound effect on the future of education in California and the role that schools play to meet the social and emotional needs of students to provide a positive learning environment.

Thurmond says, beginning in the 2022–23 school year, the California Universal School Meal Program will help all students to reach their full academic potential by providing a nutritiously adequate breakfast and lunch at no charge for all children each school day regardless of individual eligibility.

Thurmond also has initiatives to combat inequities in the school system including universal preschool for 4-year-olds regardless of background, race, zip code, immigration status, or income level. He also launched the Black Student Achievement Taskforce to help quantify the impacts systemic and institutional racism have had on Black students in California.

Thurmond points out that he sponsored legislation to increase funding to the lowest-performing students, ban suspension and expulsions in preschools, and secured $90 million for suspensions and chronic absenteeism programming.

“I know the impacts of what happens when our students don’t learn to read by third grade. Sadly, they end up dropping out in many cases and in the criminal justice system, and we’re going to change the narrative and flip the script. We’re going to educate, not incarcerate our kids.” Thurmond repeated a pledge for today’s kindergarteners to be able to “read by third grade.”

Recently, some education advocates pointed out that there has been a reported wave of retirements and disincentives that have led to an unprecedented teacher shortage across the nation.

In response, Thurmond says he is creating new incentives to draw qualified people into the school system to help students, especially those who are of color.

“We’re offering scholarships for anyone who wants to become a teacher. $20,000,” Thurmond told California Black Media. “I sponsored a bill, HB 520, that was focused on how we get more male educators of color. And that bill turned into funding in the state budget. That now means our residency programs can be used to help have male educators of color as part of the beneficiaries of that program.”

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Bay Area

Among Less-Educated Young Workers, Women and Black Men Are Paid Far Less

According to Byeongdon Oh, a postdoctoral researcher in the campus’ Social Sciences D-Lab, the pay disparity between Asian and white men on one side and Black men on the other may actually be worse than the data suggest. A disproportionate number of young men who did not go to college are Black. A disproportionate number of young Black men have been incarcerated, he explained, and incarcerated men were not tracked in the survey data.

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A new study co-authored at UC Berkeley finds that women of all races, as well as Black men, who have not attended college are paid dramatically less than Asian American and white men at similar education levels. (Photo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture)
A new study co-authored at UC Berkeley finds that women of all races, as well as Black men, who have not attended college are paid dramatically less than Asian American and white men at similar education levels. (Photo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

By Edward Lempinen | UC Berkeley News

Less-educated U.S. workers often face a lifetime of financial challenges, but some among them are more disadvantaged than others: Young Asian and white men without college education are paid more — sometimes far more — than both Black men and women of all racial groups, according to a new study co-authored at UC Berkeley.

The study led by Byeongdon Oh, a postdoctoral researcher in the campus’ Social Sciences D-Lab, found that young Black men with no college education earn barely half of what their Asian American and white counterparts make. Latinx, Asian and Black women lag even further.

“Earnings are an important factor to study because they’re related to other outcomes, like health, engagement with the criminal justice system and family development,” Oh said. “So, we focus on the non-college population at an early age. They are already disadvantaged economically — they have very low earnings. If there’s a sizable racial or ethnic earnings disparity in this population, there may be severe consequences.”

The study, “Inequality among the Disadvantaged? Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Earnings among Young Men and Women without a College Education,” was released Dec. 21, 2022, in the journal Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, published by the American Sociological Association. It provides the first detailed look at the earnings of young adults with no college experience as their working lives take shape.

In recent years, about one-third of young Americans have stopped their education after high school. That projects to roughly 1 million less-educated young people every year entering a job market that increasingly requires advanced education and training to earn even a middle-class salary. LatinX and Black people are over-represented in this group.

To understand their experience, Oh and colleagues Daniel Mackin Freeman and Dara Shifrer from Portland State University studied data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009, tracing racial and ethnic earnings disparities among men and women who had never attended college. In 2016, they were in their early 20s.

“Striking” was the word the authors used to describe the earnings gaps revealed in the core data:

  • Young Asian American men with no college education earned an average of $24,837 in 2016, followed by white men at $22,056 and Latinx men at $17,984. Young Black men averaged just $12,573 — barely half the wages earned by Asian Americans and whites.
  • A similar, but less severe, disparity was evident among young women with no college experience. White women on average earned $14,766, followed by Latinx women at $12,465, Asian American women at $10,935 and Black women at $10,871.
  • The gap between these women and men was vast, with young Black women on average earning only 44 cents for every dollar earned by Asian American men with similar levels of education.

Exploring the impact of race and gender discrimination

How to explain these racial and gender gaps in earning?

Oh said the data did not allow the researchers to determine the causes. They did find, however, that a range of possible factors — from family background and home location to high school grades and criminal records — rarely account for the earnings gaps.

But, he explained, racial discrimination in the workforce cannot be ruled out as the cause.

Oh suggested that complex social and economic factors may sort people of color into lower-paying job sectors, but the estimated earnings gaps among groups of people in the same occupation are still dramatic. These earning disparities, he said, may reflect employer bias against women and Black men.

The findings “suggest that, like their more educated counterparts, young non-college-educated women may face pernicious earnings discrimination in the labor market, regardless of their race/ethnicity,” the authors wrote.

They added: “The results may indicate that employers devalue the work of young Black men without a college education to a greater degree than they do the work of white, Latinx, and Asian men without a college education.”

According to Oh, the pay disparity between Asian and white men on one side and Black men on the other may actually be worse than the data suggest. A disproportionate number of young men who did not go to college are Black. A disproportionate number of young Black men have been incarcerated, he explained, and incarcerated men were not tracked in the survey data.

“And so, our findings on the earnings gap are conservative — it may be larger,” he said.

The new study opens up a range of new questions for Oh and other researchers. Understanding the experience of the young workers would require more targeted surveys and in-person interviews. Those would allow the researchers to understand whether discrimination is to blame, and if so, how it works, Oh said.

“I hope the contribution of our research is to make people ask why we have these striking earnings gaps,” he said. “Then, rather than wasting time blaming workers’ choices or attitudes, we might get further by identifying discriminatory labor market processes.”

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Activism

New Progressive School Board Majority Halts School Closures

The schools that remain open are Brookfield Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Grass Valley Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, and Korematsu Discovery Academy, and Hillcrest K-8, will maintain its middle school.

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Photo by Tony Daquipa, Oakland Voices.
Photo by Tony Daquipa, Oakland Voices.

By Ken Epstein

The newly elected progressive majority on the Oakland Board of Education voted this week to save five schools that a previous school board had approved for closure at the end of this school year.

The schools that remain open are Brookfield Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Grass Valley Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, and Korematsu Discovery Academy, and Hillcrest K-8, will maintain its middle school.

Voting for the decision to rescind the closures were Board President Mike Hutchinson and VanCedric Williams, joined by new board members Valarie Bachelor and Jennifer Brouhard.

Boardmembers Sam Davis and Clifford Thompson voted no, while Nick Resnick abstained. Board President Hutchinson authored the resolution to halt the closures.

The previous board had voted last February to close or consolidate 11 schools over two years, including the five that were saved this week.

However, the closures were met with a community uprising that lasted for months, including protests, marches, walkouts, a hunger strike that received national attention and a one-teachers strike. Powered by that energy, two new progressive school board members won their elections, joining Boardmembers Williams and Hutchinson to create the anti-closure majority.

Uncertain at this point is how state overseers, which have long pressed the district to close schools, will respond to this board decision.

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