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Oregon Considers Ethnic Studies Standards

The last two years have seen states and districts around the country begin to add requirements and create standards for ethnic studies.

Oregon is the latest state to consider whether K-12 public schools should teach ethnic studies. A bill that would require the state's education department to create a set of ethnic studies standards has been moving through both houses of the state's legislature this session.

Like other states' attempts to develop ethnic studies curricula, this one has drawn some negative attention from conservatives. One state legislator said earlier this year that while he understood the focus on racial minorities, he was concerned about the bill's focus on on "social minorities," such as people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

While ethnic studies has a decades-long history in higher education, if Oregon's bill becomes law it would be one of the first states to have such standards. California lawmakers decided to create the first statewide ethnic studies curriculum late last year. And an Indiana law that requires high schools to offer ethnic studies electives will go into effect in July.

Individual schools and districts have offered such programs for longer: The Minneapolis Post recently examined an ethnic studies initiative in Minneapolis Public Schools.

Even once laws are passed, it can be tricky to find curricula and make sure teachers are prepared to teach the subject. In Texas, for instance, the only textbook that was offered when the state put out a call for Mexican-American studies resources was decried as racist by educators and activists. (It described Mexican immigrants as lazy, for instance.) But the San Antonio Express-News recently published an op-ed on how that textbook created new attention to resources for ethnic studies in Texas.

The conversation about how and where to teach ethnic studies is also going on in higher education: At Harvard, for instance, the university's history department is planning to add an ethnic studies concentration for the first time next year, decades after advocates first pushed for the school to consider the subject. 


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