Earlier this month, The Education Trust-West released a report, “The Majority Report: Supporting the Educational Success of Latino Students in California,” detailing how the state’s largest ethnic group is performing in K-12 schools.
Some of the key findings from the report are as follows:
- 80% of the state’s Latino school children are of Mexican descent;
- The high school dropout rate for Latino students has dropped from 27% in 1994 to 13% in 2015;
- Only three out of ten Latino high school graduates are eligible for public university admissions;
- Latino students in California are still often tracked away from college prep courses;
- Are less likely to feel connected to their school environment;
- And are sometimes perceived as less academically capable than their White or Asian peers.
Given that so many of the Latino school children are of Mexican descent and feel disconnected to their educational environment, I thought about the power of Chicano and Latino studies and how it needs to be woven into the K-12 curriculum in California. In Tucson, Arizona, the local school district offered Mexican American studies from the late 1990s until 2011 when it was banned because Arizona Republicans felt threatened by the curriculum.
Mexican American Studies Can Help
Researchers at the University of Arizona found that students in Tucson who were able to participate in the Mexican American studies courses were more likely to graduate and to pass standardized tests that they had failed previously.
In California, Stanford University researchers studied the impact of ethnic studies in schools in San Francisco between 2010 and 2014, they found that attendance increased by 21 percentage points, grade-point averages increased by 1.4 points, and students in ethnic-studies courses covering discrimination, stereotypes, and social-justice movements earned 23 more credits toward graduation than their classmates who were not enrolled in similar courses. The largest gains were reported in male and Latino students, including math and science courses, so ethnic studies has benefits that can carry over into the STEM curriculum.
Ethnic studies, and Chicano (Mexican American) studies in particular, is eye opening for our youth. It creates a more inclusive classroom, and it is self-affirming. I have friends who have been out of public K-12 school for 20 years or more, but they can remember what they felt like when someone put a Sandra Cisneros book in their hands or when they read Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima. Because our stories, our history, and our perspectives have been written out of the textbooks or painted with a colonial lens that favors Spanish conquest instead of indigenous history and knowledge, many students don’t know much about our rich history here in the U.S. or throughout the continent.
Empower Students To Know Their History
Mexican American studies can help students feel more connected to their school environment because they are studying their history, their literature, and their art. It can help build bridges with students from other ethnic groups and create a demand for African American studies, Asian Studies, and a more robust Native American studies. This knowledge cannot be scheduled away for a designated month a few times per year; it has to be woven into the all of the major subjects and taught throughout the school year. If the courses are culturally relevant, students are going to take a greater interest in the subject matter.
Latino students in California could feel more empowered and start to perform better when they are exposed to their history. This could help lessen any perception that these students are academically inferior.
Where Ethnic Studies Stands as a Policy in California
Last year, Governor Brown signed a bill that ordered the creation of a model ethnic studies course for each high school in the state. San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles already have ethnic studies as a graduation requirement. But these are just single courses. We need this knowledge to be woven into all subjects so that the whole curriculum is culturally relevant to the student population. This could involve lessons and assignments about accomplished scholars of color in science, Mesoamerican cultures and mathematics, Chicano poetry, African-American inventors, and more. It’s up to the teacher and instructional staff to take the lead in terms of how to incorporate these concepts in the classroom, but it also requires that students and parents demand a culturally relevant curriculum.
She has worked in the non-profit sector, in the K-12 system, and in higher education in various capacities. When she's not writing stories or working on media projects, Adriana trains instructors to teach online at the University of California, Irvine.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Irvine and a master’s degree in public policy from Claremont Graduate University.
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