In order to graduate from high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, students will now have to take an ethnic studies course, thanks to a decision by the district on Tuesday. Responding to pressure from the Ethnic Studies Now coalition, board members Bennett Kayser, George McKenna, and Steve Zimmer brought a resolution to commence honoring the ethnic studies requirement starting in the 2015-16 school year.
Subjects admissible for the requirement include Mexican-American Studies, African-American History, Literature of Minorities in America, and Asian Studies. Only 19 of the 94 high schools in LAUSD offer ethnic studies courses, according to CBS Los Angeles.
El Rancho Unified in Pico Rivera, a much smaller district that is comprised of less than 10,000 students, already requires ethnic studies courses for high school graduation. LAUSD has over 152,000 students.
Jose Lara, the coordinator of Ethnic Studies Now, said roughly 50 community organizations in Southern California and scattered professors around the U.S. have backed his mission. He opined, “Studies have shown that curriculum at L.A. Unified and throughout the nation is Euro-centric. So many voices are forgotten, voices of Latinos, Asian Americans, African Americans, are forgotten in our history books.” His organization states that about 700 students out of the 152,000 in LAUSD are enrolled in ethnic studies courses, although 90% of the students are non-white.
Ethnic Studies Now had started a petition in the fall to force LAUSD to consider their cause. It read:
We, the undersigned, support the effort to make the successful completion of an A-G approved Ethnic Studies course a high school graduation requirement in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
According to the data from the California Department of Education, LAUSD only offers Ethnic Studies courses at 19 out of 94 of its senior high schools. Because of this limited access, only 691 out of a total of 152,507 high school students in LAUSD are taking Ethnic Studies courses, despite the fact that over 90% of LAUSD is comprised of students of color whose shared experiences are marginalized and forgotten in the mainstream curriculum.
It is time that all LAUSD students have access to Ethnic Studies courses — courses that speak to students who have felt invisible and marginalized, to inspire and motivate them in their education, so that they learn their own history, engage actively in their own learning, and connect in meaningful ways to the larger community. Research has shown that a well-developed and well-thought-out Ethnic Studies curriculum has positive academic outcomes for students.