Sacramento city schools to roll out ethnic studies pilot beginning 2016

Proposal cited minority students’ lack of engagement with high school literature, history classes

The fourth most diverse school district in the nation is finally adding an ethnic studies graduation requirement—in 2020.

The Sacramento City Unified School District's Board of Trustees unanimously approved the proposal from its Student Advisory Council on June 4. The proposal will create an ethnic studies pilot program for fall 2016.

In collaboration with community organizations, local university professors and college students, the council cited research that minority students feel culturally disconnected from the standard curriculum in high school classes, particularly in literature and history classes. Students also reported little interaction between different ethnic groups on campus.

Approximately 80 percent of district students identify as students of color. There's also a significant English-learner population—with at least 44 recognized languages—and large European immigrant populations to boot.

Jonathan Tran, an organizer with Hmong Innovating Politics and a past school board candidate, worked on the ethnic studies campaign. He said such courses improve campus climate and graduation rates.

“Students begin to see themselves in the curriculum,” he said. “They become more invested in the subject they're studying.”

In a last-minute amendment to the proposal, the new requirement will be monitored by the district's High School Graduation Task Force, a relatively new committee that hasn't been meeting.

The task force will be responsible for making sure ethnic studies courses satisfy graduation requirements, and incorporating ethnic-studies elements in classes across the board.

Director Theresa McEwen said the task force is currently on hiatus and awaiting new assessments from Common Core implementation.