California ethnic studies bill delayed 1 year after initial criticism over proposed curriculum

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AB 331, a California bill that aims to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement across California public and charter schools, is now pending after Assemblymember Jose Medina, D-Riverside, elected to make it a “two-year bill,” according to a press release Thursday.

Medina’s decision was prompted by recent criticism on the first draft of the proposed ethnic studies curriculum, according to the press release. Medina, the bill’s author, has delayed a vote on AB 331 and hopes to continue revising and advocating for the bill.

“I strongly believe in the tenets of Ethnic Studies and continue to assert that it is time for California to make the subject a requirement for all students,” Medina said in the press statement. “It is not a question of whether the subject itself is necessary but rather, how do we ensure the curriculum is comprehensive, rigorous, and inclusive enough.”

The California Department of Education, or CDE, is currently in charge of developing its proposed Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum through the Instructional Quality Commission.

According to CDE guidelines, the curriculum model must be written as an adaptable guide that reflects student demographics. It must also give examples of courses that meet the current UC and CSU A-G requirements.

The African American studies department at Berkeley High School, or BHS, is currently the only one of its kind in the United States and offers their students a “unique learning environment,” according to its website. Ethnic studies teacher Alice Bynum said that while BHS has courses to meet the proposed requirements, all schools should teach African American history “extensively.”

“Given that the Common Core does not specify what social science subject freshmen should study, there is space in the curriculum for states to choose ethnic studies,” Bynum said in an email. “Many school districts have already gone in this direction, and the proposed bill seems to (be) following a movement that has already started, rather than disrupting a homeostasis with some drastic change.”

Bynum added that she supports the decision to delay the bill, because it will allow for understanding and support to grow. It could also enable schools to teach material that meets individualized student needs.

African American history teacher Spencer Pritchard stated that the bill is important in a “multicultural world” because understanding people’s history affects how people interact.

Pritchard added that AB 331 would add another requirement toward graduation and help “alleviate” the current system of its “shortcomings.” However, it would be important to take the time to make the bill more complete, according to Medina.

“Because of recent controversy, I did not feel comfortable having the senate vote on a curriculum that is not finished,” Medina said. “I look forward to next year and how (AB 331) will be a benefit to all California students at the high school level.”

Clara Rodas is the lead race and diversity reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ClaraRodas10.