On October 8, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 101 into law, making California one of the first states to require ethnic studies in order to receive a high school diploma. Incoming high schoolers in California public high schools will need to take at least one semester of ethnic studies to graduate. With the passing of this bill, ethnic studies will become a required course for all high schoolers in California, beginning in 2025. Up to this point, ethnic studies have been encouraged in schools, but have never been required for graduation at the high school level. The curriculum students will be using is open to adjustments, meaning schools are allowed to modify the curriculum as long as it is approved by the state.
What is AB 101?
AB101, which amends the Education Code of California, was signed by Governor Newsom on Friday, October 8, 2021. With this new law passed, ethnic studies will be a required course for California high schoolers to graduate. This law comes into effect so that all high schoolers graduating in 2030 will have taken one of these courses on ethnic studies, beginning in the 2025-2026 academic year. The Daily Californian reports, “Assemblymember Jose Medina introduced AB 101 to include a one-semester ethnic studies course in high school diploma requirements, starting with high school students graduating in the 2029-2030 school year. The bill aims to broaden education opportunities, teach students about the variety of communities across the state and prevent course bias.”
The passing of this bill is the beginning of curriculum changes in ethnic studies for Californians, yet this is not the first time that ethnic studies as coursework has been introduced to California schools. In Forbes, Kimberlee Speakman states that the California Board of Education approved guidelines to help develop curricula for classroom ethnic studies. California desires to highlight the different perspectives that have shaped the state’s history. In his letter, Governor Newsom writes, “The bill [AB 101] also expresses the Legislature’s intent that courses should not include portions of the initial draft curriculum that had been rejected by the Instructional Quality Commission due to concerns related to bias, bigotry, and discrimination.” This bill exists to expand the perspectives of high school students in the state of California.
The Reasons for Ethnic Studies
In his letter addressing the California State Assembly, Newsom writes, “Ethnic studies courses enable students to learn their own stories, and those of their classmates, and a number of studies have shown that these courses boost student achievement over the long run–especially among students of color.” Newsom’s reason for passing the bill is to enrich Californian students in the diversity of their histories. The hope is that this course will broaden students’ perspectives, making them proud of their heritage while learning to respect the backgrounds of others. “After years of advocacy and vocal opposition from an array of lawmakers and organizers, the curriculum set to be taught in schools will help students understand the contributions of Black, Latino, Asian, and indigenous Americans, along with other groups that have faced discrimination and marginalization in the U.S.,” writes Dorman in Business Insider.
So how do you fill the requirement?…
After signing the bill, the California legislature passed guidelines for ethnic course requirements. In public schools, the requirement will be for one semester’s coursework in ethnic studies. However, a private school may extend this coursework time to a year, and this would be allowed and encouraged. The California legislature writes, “This bill would add the completion of a one-semester course in ethnic studies, meeting specified requirements, to the graduation requirements commencing with pupils graduating in the 2029-2030 school year, including for pupils enrolled in a charter school. The bill would expressly authorize local educational agencies, including charter schools, to require a full-year course in ethnic studies at their discretion.”AP California states, “Earlier this year, the state Board of Education approved a model ethnic studies curriculum that offers dozens of suggested lesson plans and instructional approaches. The curriculum is not mandatory, but schools can choose from its lesson plans or use it as a guide to design their own.” Although the curriculum is not clearly defined, there are some main tenets that the California legislature has expressed this curriculum form will cover. AP California continues to mention the diverse ethnic groups which would be included in these courses. These are the general guidelines for the curriculum that the state wishes to implement in the upcoming coursework.
At the closing of his letter addressed to the California legislature regarding the passing of this bill, Governor Gavin Newsom writes, “America is shaped by our shared history, much of it painful and etched with woeful injustice. Students deserve to see themselves in their studies, and they must understand our nation’s full history if we expect them to one day build a more just society.” AB101 will change the way curriculum is formed in California, and the timeline in which material is taught. High school students graduating in 2030 will have more of a background in ethnic studies than current students.
Written by Natalia