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California Governor Signs Law to Create First State Ethnic Studies Curriculum

California will be the first state to create a guide to teaching classes on ethnic studies, after Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB2016, a law that requires the state to create, review, and adopt a model curriculum by the end of 2019. 

The new law had a long and convoluted journey through the state's legislative process: California Assembly member Luis Alejo, a Democrat, who introduced the bill, first worked on the topic as a legislative aide more than 14 years ago. A similar bill was passed by the state's assembly last year but was not signed by Gov. Brown.

More than two dozen California schools and districts are already offering ethnic studies courses. And a group of researchers at Stanford University found that ethnic studies courses were associated with improved academic outcomes and attendance for students in San Francisco. 

But the teaching of ethnic studies remains controversial, and just what content should be included in the courses is equally political. Even as California is embracing the subject, ethnic studies courses are still banned in Arizona, where legislators were concerned that the class encouraged Latino students to resent white people. And in Texas, the state's call for a textbook on Mexican-American studies yielded a textbook that critics are calling racist. 

The California law does not require high schools to offer the class. Once the model curriculum is finished, schools will be "encouraged" to offer an ethnic studies course as an elective.

Most ethnic studies classes are created by individual teachers or districts. Some cover one particular group's history or stories— say, Mexican-American history—while others cover multiple groups. Many are interdisciplinary, including literature, music, science and culture as well as history.

Advocates argued that creating a model template will help guide teachers and districts and ensure that classes are substantive and effective. 

"We did it! Sí, se puede! Sí, se pudo!!" wrote José Lara, the coordinating committee member of the Ethnic Studies Now! Coalition, in an email to supporters announcing the bill signing. 

Lara wrote that the law will help students learn and think critically about diverse histories, cultures, and sciences. The coalition will continue to advocate for school districts to adopt ethnic studies and examine the curricula that is being used in schools. 

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