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Draft Ethnic Studies Curriculum Criticized, “Substantial” Redesign and Revisions Appear Likely

August 26, 2019

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond joined with leaders of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus at a special news conference on August 14 to address concerns and talk about revisions to the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.

Thurmond stated in the meeting that greater balance was needed in the curriculum to more accurately reflect the experience and contributions of Jewish Americans and to address anti-Semitism that has existed historically and that continues to persist in modern-day times.

“Revisions to the model curriculum will be recommended to highlight the Jewish community and other ethnic groups in addressing the types of inequities that the curriculum seeks to help undo,” Thurmond said.

Along with Superintendent Thurmond, in attendance were Senator Benjamin Allen, District 26 (D-Redondo Beach) and Chair of the Jewish Caucus; Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, District 45 (D-Van Nuys) and Co-Chair of the Jewish Caucus; Assemblymember Jose Medina, District 61 (D-Riverside); Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, District 19 (Oxnard); and Assemblymember Marc Berman, District 24 (D-Los Altos). All expressed deep concern with the first draft of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum and their support for additional revisions.

Assemblymember Medina introduced AB 331 in January to mandate Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement in all California high schools. Senator Allen is a recent member of the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), which is scheduled to review public comments and proposed edits to the model curriculum’s first draft in September.

Immediate next steps will include transmitting the more than 5,000 written public comments that were submitted to the IQC that will consider making changes to the draft before sending it to the State Board of Education which has the final authority to make changes and adopt a draft.

Thurmond said that the CDE will pursue all options to correct the issues, including meeting with other stakeholder groups, asking the legislature for more time if needed to complete the draft and if needed, starting a new draft. Edits will be recommended with the potential of additional writers and ethnographers being utilized. Thurmond, along with Senator Allen and fellow legislators, expressed confidence the first draft would be fixed.

“This first draft of the Ethnic Studies curriculum was created from a framework that focuses on the contributions of African-Americans, Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Native-Americans based on the kind of historic perspective of how ethnic studies has been traditionally viewed and taught at universities and colleges in the United States. Sadly, when it comes to history, we have witnessed high rates of anti-Semitic behavior against Jewish-Americans in the past and in recent times,” Thurmond said. “There was never any intent from the authors to articulate the draft in ways that would be offensive.”

The day before State Superintendent Thurmond’s news conference, three members of the State Board of Education issued a terse statement indicating that revisions would be made to the draft ethnic studies curriculum.

State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond, Vice President Ilene Straus and Board Member Feliza Ortiz-Licon issued the following statement:

“Ethnic studies can be an important tool to improve school climate and increase our understanding of one another. A model curriculum should be accurate, free of bias, appropriate for all learners in our diverse state, and align with Governor Newsom’s vision of a California for all. The current draft model curriculum falls short and needs to be substantially redesigned.

“Following the Instructional Quality Commission’s review and response to all public comments, a new draft will be developed for State Board of Education review and potential approval. The Board will ultimately adopt an ethnic studies model curriculum that aligns to California’s values.

The draft ethnic studies curriculum was also criticized by editorials in the Los Angeles Time, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications.

All recommended revisions will be reviewed at the next IQC meeting on September 20, 2019. An additional public comment period may be scheduled after the September IQC meeting.

Source: California Department of Education, EdBrief staff.

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