Preparing for ethnic studies implementation

The California Department of Education held a webinar, “Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Train the Trainer Certification,” on Aug. 2 to review the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC), district implementation guidance, instructional guidance, sample lessons and topics, and resources developed by local educational agencies.

Assembly Bill 101 requires that all districts begin offering an ethnic studies course by the 2025–26 school year and establishes its place as a graduation requirement beginning in 2029–30.

The ESMC focuses on the four traditional pillars of ethnic studies — African American, Latino/Chicano, Native American and Asian American/Pacific Islander studies — and CDE staff emphasized there is also intersection with many other identities in the model curriculum.

“Examining these four disciplines gives students the opportunities to learn of the histories, cultures, struggles and contributions to American society of these historically marginalized people,” said Mike Torres, executive director of the Instructional Quality Commission and the CDE Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division. “These are stories that have often been untold in traditional U.S. history courses. Given our diversity here in California, we know that every community has its own ethnic makeup, so the model curriculum has built in flexibility to local educational agencies so they can adapt the curriculum to reflect their own diverse communities and classroom demographics.”

Requirements of AB 101

In addition to requiring that high schools offer ethnic studies courses beginning in 2025–26 and the completion of a one-semester ethnic studies course to earn a diploma, AB 101, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021, includes further clarifying requirements.

  1. A course that does not use ethnic studies as its primary content shall not be used to satisfy the requirement.
  2. A student taking an ethnic studies course to satisfy the graduation requirement can also accrue credit for coursework in the subject that the course is offered (for example, a Chicano Studies class might also fulfill an English requirement).
  3. The curriculum, instruction and instructional materials shall:
    1. Be appropriate for use with pupils of all races, religions, nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, and diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, pupils with disabilities and English learners
    2. Not reflect or promote, directly or indirectly, bias, bigotry or discrimination against any person or group of persons on the basis of any protected category
    3. Not teach or promote religious doctrine
  4. The legislative intent of the bill is that old drafts of the model curriculum will not be used.
  5. If adopting a locally developed course, districts must bring the proposed course to the board of education twice to allow for public comment to be fully considered. This requirement does not apply if the district is using an existing course, such as one approved as meeting the A-G requirements for UCs and CSUs by another district.
Support and resources

Chapter 2 of the ESMC covers district implementation and best practices. Key considerations for district and site administrators include:

  • Ensure that district and site administration support the development of the program, and that the local governing board is fully briefed on the project. District support is critical to the successful implementation of any new instructional program.
  • Develop a definition of what ethnic studies means to the district.
  • Ensure alignment of the district course(s) to state and local policy, district resources and community needs. Determine the type of program that is being implemented. Sample questions can include: Is this a semester or year-long course or set of courses? Will the course be a stand-alone ethnic studies course, or will an existing course be modified to incorporate ethnic studies content, skills and principles?
  • Consider the local history, demographics and particular needs of the district or site’s students and their respective communities, including recognition of the Indigenous Peoples wherever a course is being taught. Consult with local tribes.
  • Develop a clear funding model that includes the resources available for the program and how those resources will be allocated.
  • Be grounded and well versed in the purpose and impact of ethnic studies.
  • Ensure that students receive appropriate and nondiscriminatory instruction and materials.
  • Identify committed teachers and instructional supports.

Since the State Board of Education only adopts instructional materials for grades K-8, the model curriculum also includes a section on selecting instructional materials.

In January 2023, the San Diego County Office of Education was awarded a two-year contract from the CDE to lead professional learning in ethnic studies for the state. SDCOE, in partnership with the Riverside County Office of Education and with the support of county office regional leads that encompass the entire state, will lead the California Regional Ethnic Studies Collaborative (CRESC) project.

The overarching goal of Project CRESC is to improve academic outcomes for all students through building a statewide, regional and local system of support for ethnic studies implementation in schools. Project goals include developing and delivering robust and effective professional learning opportunities to build the capacity (awareness, knowledge and skills) of educators to support and expand ethnic studies courses; and curate, develop and expand ethnic studies resources shared on an online ethnic studies hub.

In addition, the Los Angeles COE offers an Ethnic Studies Adoption Toolkit to provide school districts with a process for developing, adopting and/or integrating high-quality ethnic studies programming, based on the guidelines of the ESMC in order to meet the high school graduation requirement.