On Thursday, the Sacramento City Unified School Board unanimously approved the Student Advisory Council’s (SAC) resolution to make Ethnic Studies a high school graduation requirement. As Board President Darrel Woo remarked, “this is probably the most important vote I will ever cast as a school board member.” The Board’s approval is the culmination of months of research and planning by the District’s student-led council and Sacramento’s Ethnic Studies Now (ESNS) Coalition. HIP has been a proud member of the ESNS and we are overjoyed to see the community come together to help SCUSD celebrate and harness its diversity. While the implementation process will not be easy, we are proud that SCUSD has chosen be a leader in an increasingly diverse California. Ethnic Studies, in particular, is important to us because it has touched each HIP Organizer’s life.
Student Led. Student Driven. Student Power.
While the idea of making Ethnic Studies a graduation requirement had been floated around by various activists for a while, a tangible proposal did not materialize until a small team of passionate SCUSD students took the lead.
The Student Advisory Council is composed of student representatives from each of SCUSD’s thirteen high schools. At the beginning of the school year, the SAC set out to understand how high school students in Sacramento wanted to improve in their schools. Using a Youth Participatory Action-Research method, the SAC collected several hundred surveys from high schools students from throughout the District. When the survey results were tabulated, the SAC discovered that a significant portion of the student population felt their educational experience lack cultural relevance and that school violence driven by race relations was becoming too prevalent. Based on the results, the SAC drew a strong correlation to the absence of relevant curriculum to the growing challenges of their multicultural campuses. It should be noted that SCUSD is the fourth most diverse district in the entire nation, where 4 out of every 5 students is a student of color. With mentorship from District Staff, in particular, Youth Services Specialist Mark Canero, the SAC concluded that establishing Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement would give students the culturally relevant curriculum they thirst for, while also helping the District harness its diversity to create greater cross-cultural understanding.
Once the decision to pursue Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement was made, the SAC set out to make this a reality. They met with school board members to get an initial feel for how receptive the Board would be. They met with community leaders to build widespread and diverse support. They met with college students to help gather over 2,500 signatures. They met with professors from Sacramento State and UC Davis to learn more about existing Ethnic Studies curriculum. They met with District staff to learn about the logistics involved with changing graduation requirements.
After months of brainstorming, meetings and deliberating--the SAC presented an incredibly thoughtful, well-researched, evidence-based and community-supported resolution before the Sacramento City Unified School Board on May 21st.
It takes a village.
Working alongside the SAC was a coalition of community members who were equally passionate about making Ethnic Studies a reality. Similar to efforts in Oakland, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Ethnic Studies Now - Sacramento (ESNS) originated from a shared vision of making Ethnic Studies more available to students in SCUSD and beyond. The coalition originated from a significant contingent of Chicano/Chicana and Ethnic Studies professors from the local institutions of higher education. They were primarily interested in elevating Ethnic Studies in secondary education and reducing educational disparities affecting Latinos and other students of color. The Association of Raza Educators - Sacramento Chapterwas the first organization to support the SAC’s initiatives. Their unique expertise in developing Ethnic Studies curriculum and teacher training programs fast tracked the campaign--giving the students an eager and deep reservoir to pull from.
Soon organizers from throughout Sacramento would join the effort--lending their ideas and strategies to push the campaign and draw in more stakeholders. In total, over 26 community organizations signed on to a letter supporting Ethnic Studies that was delivered to the Superintendent and School Board:
- Asian Resources, Inc.
- Association of Raza Educators - Sacramento Chapter
- Black Parallel School Board
- California Faculty Association
- Dream. Develop. Do.
- Full Circle Project of Sacramento State
- Hmong Innovating Politics
- Hmong Mien Lao Community Action Network (HMLCAN)
- Hmong Women's Heritage Association
- Iu-Mien Community Services
- La Familia Counseling Center, Inc.
- Sacramento Area Congregations Together (SacACT)
- Sacramento Immigration Alliance
- Alpha Kappa Delta (CSUS)
- Alpha Kappa Psi (CSUS)
- Alpha Phi Omega (CSUS)
- Chi Rho Omicron (CSUS)
- Delta Chi (CSUS)
- Delta Sigma Pi (CSUS)
- Dominican University - Student Athletic Advisory Committee
- Kappa Psi Epsilon (CSUS)
- M.E.Ch.A. de Sac State
- Samahang Pilipino
- UC Davis Cross Cultural Centers
What will Ethnic Studies look like in Sacramento?
According to the resolution, Sacramento’s Ethnic Studies course will be developed and proposed by January 2016 and accepted by April 2016. Ethnic Studies will be slowly phased-in beginning Fall 2016 and reach full implementation by Fall 2019. The goal is to maintain a community oriented process for the development of the curriculum and graduation requirement--but that progress remains to be seen (more about this below).
In developing the Ethnic Studies resolution, ESNS and SAC researched curriculum and courses throughout California to use as building blocks for Sacramento’s course. In particular, we looked at courses that met A-G requirements so that students would be able to use their Ethnic Studies class towards applying for college. In the state of California, there are about 80 of these types of courses. As stated in the resolution, Sacramento’s Ethnic Studies courses will be fully A-G eligible to make it easier for students to fit the class into their already packed schedules.
Additionally, the resolution takes into consideration the need to prepare teachers for this new curriculum. Teachers will receive comprehensive training, professional development and certification through programs like Sacramento State’s Ethnic Studies Teacher Training Credentialing Consortium. Teacher buy-in is essential for successful implementation so we are encouraged that the California Teacher's Association has already approved a resolution in support of Ethnic Studies.
Ethnic Studies is an LCAP Priority
This was the question most often asked: how are you going to pay for it?. San Francisco Unified School District estimated the cost of implementing ethnic studies at $500,000 annually. This number will likely be be lower since SFUSD has 19 high schools compared to 13 in SCUSD.
In previous years, funding or the lack thereof has been the reason for eliminating programs or not creating new ones (or closing schools). However, because of Proposition 30 and the improved health of the California state budget, SCUSD will have more dollars than it is has had in over a decade. The only stipulation that comes with increased funding is that districts are required to explain how they plan on spending those dollars in a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). With more money at their disposal, there are ample resources to fully fund Ethnic Studies, but it will require the school board making it a priority.
In the days leading up to last Thursday’s vote, our Coalition was made aware of some very troubling suggested amendments that would undermine funding for Ethnic Studies through the LCAP. Thankfully, School Board Member Jessie Ryan--who represents one the most diverse regions in the District, stepped in to reject this language and ensure that Ethnic Studies would remain a LCAP priority. Without Board Member Ryan’s leadership in stopping these hostile amendments, Ethnic Studies would have to relegated to searching for “alternative funding” outside of the LCAP.
So What Happens Next?
Now that the Ethnic Studies resolution has been approved, here comes the hard part: actually getting it implemented. In another last minute amendment, Superintendent and staff required that “ethnic studies [would] be integrated into the work of the SCUSD Graduation Task Force as they make recommendations for proposed changes to the current graduation requirements.” Unfortunately, according the District’s website, the so-called “high school graduation task force” hasn’t met since December 2013 and it has yet to make any recommendations to the Board. The ESNS Coalition and SAC are cautiously optimistic. We are incredibly thankful for the Board tremendous leadership but we are also very weary that Ethnic Studies implementation will get bogged down in the bureaucratic process. HIP will continue to be a proud partner of the ESNS Coalition. We will be steadfast in our commitment to seeing Ethnic Studies in Sacramento City Unified fully realized because "No History, No Self. Know History, Know Self."