California became the first state to establish an ethnic studies graduation requirement for public high schools when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 101 on October 8, according to EdSource. Starting with the class of 2030, the state’s 1.7 million public high school students (including charter schools) will need a semester-long ethnic studies class to graduate.
“America is shaped by our shared history, much of it painful and etched with woeful injustice,” Newsom wrote in his signing message. “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.”
School districts are expected to start offering the courses by the 2025-2026 academic school year. Individual districts are ultimately in charge of what they choose to teach but can select from the sample lessons in the nearly 900-page model curriculum approved by the California Department of Education.
California school districts already offered hundreds of ethnic courses electives with some, like the San Diego, San Francisco, Fresno and Los Angeles Unified school districts, making the classes a requirement long before the statewide requirement.
Previous drafts of the state’s teaching guide and local districts’ efforts to establish ethnic studies curriculums have faced criticism over curriculum content.
In 2019, AB 101’s teaching guide was sent back for revision with concerns of being too left-leaning, full of academic terminology and lacking in Jewish American, Sikh and Armenian history, according to CalMatters. This preliminary plan only covered the four groups — African Americans, Chicanos and Latinos, Native Americans and Indigenous people and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — that had already been the focus of higher education ethnic studies.
Continuing disagreements over the high school curriculum were cited as a reason for Newsom’s veto of an earlier draft of the bill in 2020, as reported by EdSource.
Opponents of earlier drafts of the curriculum and attempts to require the course for graduation in local school districts cited concern over the promotion of “critical race theory”, an academic concept that argues that racism is ingrained in America’s laws and institutions. The final version of AB 101 was passed with overwhelming approval in both the Assembly and Senate. The five diversity caucuses of the California State legislature stated unanimous support, writing in a joint statement that, “Requiring ethnic studies in high school is an integral part of cultivating a classroom environment that is accepting of diversity.”