ASCD California

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  • 04/05/2021 3:01 PM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)

    In an unusual admissions year, California’s selective universities more closely evaluate students

    And saw a record number of diverse applicants without requiring SAT or ACT scores for admittance

    COLLEGE & CAREERS

    APRIL 5, 2021
    ASHLEY A. SMITHANDLARRY GORDON

    COURTESY COLLEGE SPRING

    Students participate in a college admissions test preparation program by CollegeSpring in Oakland, California, prior to the coronavirus lockdown. The pandemic has raised questions about how to make test preparation and access fair and equal for all students.

    After an unprecedented year and a surge in applicants, some of California’s more selective universities say they are expecting a more diverse freshman class this fall without the barrier of SAT or ACT scores.

    March and April are when students across the state and country typically learn admissions decisions from their prospective colleges and universities. But the pandemic upended the admissions process, often eliminating standardized test requirements and generating an avalanche of applications that threatened to overwhelm admission systems.

    Admissions officers were forced to figure out how to evaluate grades on high school courses taken online during the pandemic, and how to evaluation extracurricular activities in a senior year when students weren’t in school.

    But the changes may result in benefits as admission officers reviewed students who never would have qualified — or applied — in any other year.

    “We saw an increase in the quality of our applicant pool this year,” said Brandon Tuck, the director of admissions on the Cal Poly Pomona campus, one of the state’s more selective schools. Selectivity is typically measured by the percentage of students who are admitted to a university. In general, the lower the percentage, the more selective the school.

    Without relying on an SAT or ACT score to admit students, Tuck said the process for admissions officers has been a more rewarding job experience than in the past. Unlike past years, admissions officers weren’t forced to cut off students who had interesting life experiences and backgrounds, or even high grades, just because they didn’t meet the SAT score requirements.

    While most University of California campuses followed a more “holistic” process of evaluating students before the pandemic, at the 23-campus California State University the lack of SAT/ACT scores changed the admissions process for those campuses where the test had been a cutoff for who was considered for admissions.

    For many students, taking the SAT or ACT in schools and testing centers proved impossible with shelter-in-place orders in effect. Many testing centers cut back on even offering the exam during the pandemic. And although some colleges had begun allowing test-optional admissions prior to the pandemic, thousands of universities chose to drop or make the exams optional.

    The focus on everything else — grades, extracurricular activities, personal essays — gave many students, particularly women and students from underrepresented groups, the opportunity to apply to colleges that they never would have considered before.

    While it’s all tough to predict, college officials say they expect some of these students will be offered admission and enroll.

    Across the UC’s nine undergraduate campuses, the sheer number of applications from underrepresented racial groups rose significantly, but their proportion of the overall application pool did not. Latinos comprised 38% of UC applicants for a second year in a row and Blacks increased slightly from 6% to 7% over last year.

    Universities’ decisions to offer test-optional admissions “made an impact on me saying I wanted to apply to more schools,” said Alexis Ayala, a senior at Coliseum College Prep who has a weighted 4.54 GPA and an unweighted 3.95 GPA but didn’t score well on the PSAT practice test.

    Ayala, who identifies as low income and Latino, applied to 11 universities, including University of California, Berkeley, UCLA and the University of Southern California — all of which have accepted him into their 2021 freshman classes. Acceptances have been going out to students for weeks.  

    “The writing and essays helped me,” he said. “It helped the admission counselor or anyone looking at my essays to see a picture of me.”

    Lifting the controversial exam requirement

    The SAT and ACT have long been criticized for being biased against low-income and some underrepresented students while higher income students could pay for expensive test preparation and tutoring which could help raise their scores.

    Last May, the UC Board of Regents made the historic decision to become the largest public institution to not require the SAT and ACT when making admission decisions. (A Superior Court order later stopped the UC system from even considering optional test scores.) The 23-campus California State University system followed with a decision last April to temporarily suspend SAT and ACT admission requirements for fall 2021 and, in January, for the fall 2022 class.

    Colleges worry that the increased demand is fueled mainly by each student applying to many institutions.

    Many students were likely accepted elsewhere leaving admissions officers wondering about “what schools they would like to attend,” said Steve Hyman, associate vice president for enrollment management for San Diego State University. The university got 67,500 applications, a 5% hike over last year. It put 6,000 students — 2,000 more than last year — on waiting lists.

    UC Berkeley saw a 27% spike in freshman applications, to 112,820. However, the campus expects the size of its new freshman class to remain about the same as it was last fall — 6,200, limited by funding and space.

    Although the increase in enrollments mean this was “an unusual year” for deciding which applicants to accept, the process did not drastically change, said Abby L. Jones, UC Berkeley’s deputy director of undergraduate admissions.  Like most other UC campuses, it already had instituted a system of looking at multiple aspects of a student’s background, not just test scores and grades.

    However, reviewing applications without standardized testing and possibly one semester without traditional grades “really forced us to dig into the information that we did have,” she added. “Students were always more to us than how a score or one semester’s worth of grades defines them.”

    Some private universities also saw a surge in applications but not all could tie the increase to their decision to go test optional this year. Many said they always had the option of going beyond students’ test scores in considering their applications.

    At the University of Southern California, 70,971 first-year students sought admission this year but only 8,804 got offers this week, a historic 7% record increase from 2019 and a 20% increase from last year. The freshmen class includes more Latinos — 18% of admits — and Black students — 8%, according to USC.

    Across the CSU system, applications dropped about 3% for this fall, but a few campuses saw significant growth.

    At Cal Poly Pomona, the 8% increase in applications brought in students who didn’t apply when the SAT was required including many Hispanic, Native American and female students in college STEM majors. It also means a longer waitlist. “We’re at capacity for a lot of our programs,” said Tuck, the admission’s director. The campus only has 3,800 freshman and 3,800 transfer seats available this year.

    More than test scores

    “This has been the toughest year for schools and colleges to have to make these adjustments since they could not rely on the metrics they relied on before,” said Jayne Fonash, past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and a private counselor in Virginia. “They were learning as they were doing it.”

    Campuses that chose to be “test-optional” welcomed students submitting an SAT or ACT score if they were able to sit for the exam.

    Many other colleges went “test-blind,” which meant they did not students’ test scores even if they submitted them. Those campuses relied more heavily on other factors. That meant examining students’ high school GPA, the quality of classes they took, the grades they got in those classes, personal essays and questionnaires, extracurricular activities, work experience and recommendations.

    One important feature on the UC application this year was the extra space at the bottom of the four required personal insight statement essays. In past years, students were able to use that for any additional information but this year they could include explanations of how “extraordinary circumstances related to Covid-19” impacted them and their education.

    Kimberly Pascual, a graduating senior from Skyline High in Oakland, said she’s confident it was her essays that put her over the top for admission to the five UC and six of the seven CSU campuses she applied to. She’s currently on a waitlist at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but was admitted to UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside and UC Davis.

    Kimberly Pascual, a graduating senior from Skyline High in Oakland,

    Pascual, who identifies as Southeast Asian, has a 4.3 GPA and has three years of internships focused on social justice and education under her belt. She said she could not sit for the SAT because of testing cutbacks during the pandemic. She did take the practice SAT, but scored 1010, which is “not high enough for the really selective schools,” she said.

    More forgiving because of pandemic

    Pascual said she doesn’t test tell well and was relieved not to have to take the SAT. “But also, there were so many more students applying that it made everything more nerve-wracking because I knew it would be more weight on my essays and extracurriculars. So, I put my all into these essays because grades alone wouldn’t cut it.”

    What made admissions more difficult was how to evaluate pass or no-pass high school courses. “We adopted credit or no credit policy on our own campus,” said Hyman of San Diego State. “We understand students were going through challenges with remote learning.”

    Where a letter grade wasn’t available, admission officers examined the courses students selected along with other factors like personal essays.

    At UC Riverside, which also stopped using test scores, admissions officers were challenged by inconsistencies in how high schools graded students during remote learning. The university, which saw freshman applications increase nearly 7% to 52,560 for 4,900 seats, is giving a second look to students with some pass/no pass grades that made them less competitive than they would be otherwise, explained Emily Engelschall, UC Riverside’s director of undergraduate admissions and interim associate vice chancellor of enrollment services. “We just want to make sure that students are not being disadvantaged because of what the pandemic did the last semester of their junior year,” she said.

    (The UC system allowed pass/no pass in the high school courses taken last spring and summer that are required for admission, known as A-G.)

    At UCLA, which received a record 139,493 freshman applications this year, up 28% from the year before, officials initially thought that the admissions process would be more difficult without using standardized test scores at all. The campus has so far admitted 10.5% of its applicants. That could inch up once offers go out to  students on the waitlist, but is expected to remain below last year’s 14% admission rate.

    While those test scores were only one of 14 factors in the application review, they helped confirm a student’s abilities and placed their GPA in context, officials said. However, Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, UCLA vice provost for enrollment management, said she “was very pleased to learn” that the 250 application reviewers “felt fairly competent in their ability to read without standardized test scores.” These application reviewers include full-time admissions employees and specially-trained former and current high school counselors hired for the evaluations.

    Beyond academics, UCLA looks for “evidence of resilience, persistence, drive, passion and creativity,” Copeland-Morgan said.

    While the pandemic banned many group activities such as sports and theater, admissions officers looked at what students did in the first three years of high schools in an effort to discern what Copeland-Morgan called “a pattern of engagement.” “We had three years of activities to evaluate those students on,” she said.

    And during the lockdown, many students, she added, were committed to finding “alternative ways to pursue their passions and community interests” such as Zoom political campaigns or in-person food drives.

    At least for one of California’s most selective colleges, deciding admissions is forever changed, said Tuck, Cal Poly Pomona’s admission director. “This is what we want to do going forward. We don’t want to go back. We want to look at the entire student when we look at our admissions process. We don’t want to boil it down to just two data points. Yes, it’s more work, but it’s rewarding, and we feel good about it.”


  • 03/22/2021 7:04 PM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)

    California adopts CDC’s recommendation to reduce social distancing in school to 3 feet

    Change could significantly increase number of students who can attend class at the same time

    CORONAVIRUS

    MARCH 19, 2021
    JOHN FENSTERWALD
    4 COMMENTS

    Updated March 20 to note that the California Department of Public Health posted the social distancing revisions on its website; updated March 21 to include more information about the San Diego County lawsuit..

    In alignment with new federal guidance, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health have halved  the minimum social distancing requirement in schools from 6 feet to 3 feet.

    REVISED GUIDANCE

    The following wording on social distancing in a classroom was amended on March 20, 2021:

    Maximize space between seating and desks. Distance teacher and other staff desks at least 6 feet away from student and other staff desks. Maintaining a minimum of 3 feet between student chairs is strongly recommended. A range of physical distancing recommendations have been made nationally and internationally, from 3 feet to 6 feet.

    “Considerations for schools implementing a shorter physical distancing policy between students: focus on high mask adherence—if there are doubts about mask adherence, consider more robust physical distancing practices; consider enhancing other mitigation layers, such as stable groups or ventilation; maintain 6 feet of distancing as much as possible during times when students or staff are not masked (e.g., due to eating or drinking).”

    The change may enable many school districts to resume full-day, in-person instruction before the end of this school year, instead of having to remain in full distance learning or resorting to a hybrid model, with fewer students at one time attending fewer hours per week, because of distancing constraints.

    Aides to Newsom briefed representatives from school organizations late Friday about several rules changes, and the California Department of Public Health announced them on Saturday.

    The revisions, which will also enable middle and high schools in counties with high rates of Covid infection to reopen sooner, should help resolve a lawsuit that parent groups from six school districts in San Diego County filed against the state and their districts. The lawsuit charged that state public health officials failed to provide a scientific rationale behind stricter reopening rules. Last week San Diego County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Freeland agreed and issued a temporary injunction against the state, pending a hearing on April 1.

    On Friday, the CDC shored up the parents’ case when it officially released the guidance that recommended keeping students in elementary grades a minimum of 3 feet apart. That would also be the standard in middle and high schools, unless Covid-19 infection rates are high — the equivalent of California’s purple tier — and schools are not keeping students in separate cohorts. Under those conditions, the social distancing would increase to 6 feet.

    The California Department of Public Health’s revised guideline is simpler: 3 feet social distancing is “strongly recommended” but not required, as long as other safety measures are in place and enforced. These include requiring students and staff to wear masks, install proper ventilation and have contact tracing and virus detection protocols in place. Covid vaccinations also must be offered to all school staff before the reopening of schools. Social distancing will increase during lunch and breakfast to 6 feet, under the new state guidelines.

    The CDC, which initially had recommended social distancing of 6 feet, made the change because of new U.S. and international studies that showed not only that Covid transmission has been low in schools where students are required to wear masks, but also that it didn’t make an appreciable difference whether social distancing was 3 feet or 6 feet.

    The most persuasive evidence was from a Massachusetts study of 250 school districts serving half-million students with nearly 100,000 staff. The study was conducted over 16 weeks in the fall and winter. Researchers found no significant distinction in the spread of the virus in districts with 3 feet compared to those with 6 feet social distancing. Masks are universally required in Massachusetts.

    “Now that there is substantial evidence pointing to the fact that 3 feet of distance doesn’t cause higher rates of Covid-19, it will be possible to bring more students back to full in-person schooling, even with the current school infrastructure,” a co-author of the study, Elissa Schechter-Perkins, a professor of emergency medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, told The 74.

    The change in policy coincides with the reopening of schools in many California districts and the beginning of planning for resumption of full in-person instruction in the fall. With transmission rates quickly falling over the past month, only 11 counties, primarily in the Central Valley and rural areas, remain in the purple tier, where the rates of infection are highest. The rest are in orange or red, in which both elementary and secondary schools are permitted to open.

    Newsom made $2 billion in funding conditional to the phasing in of in-person instruction by April 1.

    Under the most recent state department of health guidance, issued in January, the state was requiring the 6-foot distancing where feasible, with a 4-foot minimum when creating hybrids and cohorts was not possible. County health officials have interpreted that differently, with some permitting 4 feet and some sticking with 6 feet.

    For districts where many parents have said they’d rather continue with distance learning than transition to a partial reopening under a disruptive hybrid schedule of half-days or alternate weeks, halving the distancing requirement could make a big difference. A 6-foot distancing model requires a 36-square-foot bubble, while a 3-foot distance requires only a 9-square-foot bubble, mathematically permitting quadruple the number of students in a classroom. That would permit a full return to school instead of a maximum of 12 to 15 students in a typical classroom — parents and teachers willing.

    The timing of a return to school in many districts may be contingent on renegotiations with employee unions. For those districts that tied the reopening to state public health guidelines, reopening may be easier than those that already have made reopening contingent on other criteria, such as community infection rates or complete protection from a two-shot vaccination.

    Also, parents who believe it is unsafe to send their kids back this year with the 6-foot rule — from a third to more than half, depending on the district or community — may not be persuaded by studies that say it’s now safe at 3 feet. At least for the rest of the current school year, districts must provide distance learning as an option.

    On Friday, California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd issued an ambivalent response to the CDC’s new guidance.

    “Having quickly looked at today’s announcement, this move from 3-foot distance for students in schools will be among myriad challenges for our large urban school districts and those that haven’t yet prepared to fully implement the necessary, multilayered mitigation measures that the CDC says are essential regardless of the spacing between students in classrooms. School districts must follow through on implementing all those safety measures including vaccinations, wearing masks, handwashing, sanitization, adequate ventilation and testing and tracing,” Boyd said in a statement.

    “We can’t let our guard down now. Using these safety protocols, we can regain the confidence needed to teach and learn in classrooms. Additionally, public health officials have rightly cautioned, the new variants are a concern.”

    One person who questions whether adopting the CDC’s policy alone will go far enough — even though that’s what she and about 650 other physicians called for in a letter — is Jeanne Noble. Noble, associate professor of emergency medicine at UC San Francisco, and director of UCSF’s Covid response, was an organizer of the letter, which was sent to Newsom and Mark Ghaly, secretary of California’s Department of Health and Human Services, hours before aides disclosed that Newsom planned to do what they asked.

    While pleased that Newsom “is listening to the science,” she said, “Given that some school districts are already noting that they do not intend to revise their hybrid plans based on this policy change,” Newsom “must not shy away from” ordering in-person instruction a full five days a week for all of the state’s children.

    “It is my hope that he issues such a mandate by April 1 so that our middle and high school students are back in the classroom for full time instruction for the last 10 weeks of this academic year,” she said.

    Impact on San Diego lawsuit

    Scott Davison, a co-director of the Carlsbad Parent Organization, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit against the state and six San Diego County districts, said he was “elated” that the California Department of Public Health moved so quickly to revise the reopening guidelines.

    “The combination of the lawsuit and the CDC changes pushed the dam over,” he said. “The timing was more than we had hoped for.”

    In suspending the state’s social distancing rules, Judge Freeland’s temporary injunction also ordered the six districts to show why they shouldn’t open up schools to full-time instruction. They will file their response by Thursday in advance of a hearing on April 1. The districts are Carlsbad, Oceanside, Poway, Vista and San Marcos, all unified districts, and the San Dieguito Union High School District.

    Davison agreed with Noble that some districts will likely continue with previous hybrid plans, notwithstanding the new 3-foot recommendation, and said he expected more lawsuits to force them to expand reopening now.

    One of the provisions that the lawsuit successfully challenged prohibited middle and high schools from reopening until the county level of infections declined to the red tier, while allowing elementary schools to open in the purple tier. The new state regulation allows any school to reopen when the average daily rate of new infections falls below 25 new cases per day, which is in the upper range of purple.

    Currently, only 11 of 58 counties, mostly rural, remain in purple, so the change will affect few students. However, in the event of another surge, the new regulation will enable schools to remain open until the rate of community infection is very high.


  • 03/17/2021 3:12 PM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)

    A final vote, after many rewrites, for California's controversial ethnic studies curriculum

    State Board faces deadline to pass curriculum that districts can choose how to use

    RACE AND EQUITY

    MARCH 17, 2021
    JOHN FENSTERWALD
    3 COMMENTS

    CREDIT: JOSE MEDINA/A61.ASMDC.ORG

    Assemblyman Jose Medina, author of a bill requiring an ethnic studies to graduate from high school, speaks to the Assembly Education Committee in 2019. With him is Alberto Camarillo, emeritus professor of history at Stanford, one of the founding scholars of the field of Mexican American history and Chicano Studies.

    On Thursday, the State Board of Education will adopt an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum for high schools that is four years, four drafts, three public vetting periods and 100,000 comments in the making.

    EVOLUTION OF CALIFORNIA'S ETHNIC STUDIES MODEL CURRICULUM

    Assembly Bill 2016, requiring an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, signed into law September 2016

    State Board of Education guidelines for an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, September 2018

    Members of the Advisory Committee on the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, January 2019

    The first draft of the draft Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, June 2019

    The third draft of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, November 2020

    Final recommended changes to the draft Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, March 2021

    Final recommended changes, line by line, comparison with existing text, March 2021

    Had they more time and an endless reservoir of patience, the board, the California Department of Education and the Instructional Quality Commission, which reports to the state board, could have continued to refine what and how ethnic studies should be taught. But the Legislature set an April 1 deadline to pass the model curriculum, and more iterations would not resolve the irreconcilable differences between its staunchest advocates and critics.

    The model curriculum, while voluntary for districts to adopt, is intended to build upon ethnic studies courses already offered as electives in hundreds of high schools. Two of the state’s largest districts indicated they intend to require an ethnic studies course for graduation: Fresno Unified next year and Los Angeles Unified in 2022-23.

    Reinforcing the growing movement is research showing the power of ethnic studies to engage Black and Latino students is compelling, though limited. Most often cited is a 2014 study by Stanford University professors Thomas Dee and Emily Penner of struggling 9th-graders in San Francisco. That report, soon to be updated, showed that taking ethnic studies taught by skilled instructors led to significantly improved attendance, grades and credits.

    Over the past two years, the language of ethnic studies — white privilege, implicit bias, white supremacy — has seeped into everyday speech. Searing events outside of California — police killings of Blacks, insurrectionists on Capitol Hill wielding Confederate flags, violent attacks on Asian Americans, blatant efforts to disenfranchise minority voters — have underscored the need for ethnic studies courses, as the draft document states, to “address the causes of racism and other forms of bigotry … within our culture and governmental policies.”

    Related

    More Changes Proposed For California’s Ethnic Studies Curriculum To Strengthen ‘Balance’

    But with the public’s increased sensitivity to racism have come misunderstandings of what ethnic studies is, said Manuel Rustin, a high school history teacher in Pasadena Unified, who chaired the subcommittee of the Instructional Quality Commission that oversaw the drafting of the model curriculum. He now chairs the commission, which advises the state board on state academic standards, curriculum frameworks and textbooks and course materials.

    “Many people who say they are in support of ethnic studies want perhaps multicultural studies or some other way of exploring culture and race, but in a way that’s less critical of actual systems of power,” which is fundamental to a course in ethnic studies, he said. And the continued pressure to make ethnic studies something that it isn’t “has been the really unfortunate part of this whole experience.”

    The most complex disagreement is foundational: Should teaching about past and current racial inequities and injustices be done primarily through the lens of white supremacy, the deliberate oppression by whites in America to gain and maintain power?

    That is the underlying principle of critical race theory, which developed in the 1980s as an academic theory to explain exclusionary zoning and government-sanctioned discriminatory mortgage regulations. It is now applied more broadly to explicit and implicit racism. The model curriculum identified it as a “key theoretical framework and pedagogy” for ethnic studies.

    Rustin believes that’s appropriate. “Ethnic studies without critical race theory is not ethnic studies. It would be like a science class without the scientific method then. There is no critical analysis of systems of power and experiences of these marginalized groups without critical race theory.”

    Lori Meyers, a 1st-grade private school teacher in the Bay Area, agrees that critical race theory may be a legitimate way to view the impact of race and racism. But it must not be “the only tool in the toolbox,” she said. To make that case, she co-founded Educators for Excellence in Ethnic Studies and has become its primary voice.

    “I’m concerned about critical race theory being the underlying pedagogy when its underlying philosophy is that one group is oppressing another,” she said. “When students are told that the privileges that they have are all based on race that make them dominant or oppressors over other people, that’s a discriminatory practice. It pits groups against each other and is going to create hostility and tensions.”

    Meyers said she supports ethnic studies: “We need to learn the authentic history of what’s going on in our country. A lot of that is not taught right now. We need to have a greater understanding of each other.” But critical race theory will not lead to an appreciation of the contributions of multiple cultures that the Legislature envisioned with ethnic studies, she said.

    A controversial first draft

    The 2016 law, authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, ordering the creation of an ethnic studies curriculum, left it to the Instructional Quality Commission to define what ethnic studies should be while indicating that it should be guided by “core values of equity, inclusiveness, and universally high expectations.”

    The law also said that college faculty from ethnic studies departments and K-12 teachers who teach it should participate in writing the document. And that is who wrote the first draft.

    It was largely a K-12 imprint of a college-level elective in ethnics studies, and an heir of the Third World Liberation Front, the student movement of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans whose five-month strike at San Francisco State University led to the nation’s first college ethnic studies course in 1969.

    The reaction to the first draft was strong and voluminous. Critics called it doctrinaire, ideologically left-wing, and unsparingly harsh toward whites and capitalism. Jewish groups objected that anti-Semitism, which has been on the rise, wasn’t mentioned in the draft, but Israeli persecution of Palestinians was.

    In August 2019, State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond sent the first draft back for a rewrite. “A model curriculum should be accurate, free of bias, appropriate for all learners in our diverse state and align with Governor Newsom’s vision of a California for all. The current draft model curriculum falls short and needs to be substantially redesigned,” she wrote in a short statement, also signed by board members Ilene Straus and Feliza Ortiz-Licon.

    A year later, in a separate but related issue, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have mandated that high school students take an ethnic studies course as a graduation requirement. The model curriculum was “insufficiently balanced and inclusive,” and still needs to be revised, he said in his veto message.

    Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, has reintroduced the bill this year.

    In subsequent drafts, the guiding principles of the model curriculum were retained. They include critiquing “empire-building in history and its relationship to white supremacy, racism and other forms of power and oppression” and challenging “racist, bigoted, discriminatory, imperialist/colonial beliefs and practices on multiple levels.” And the revisions reaffirmed that the history, cultural heritage and struggles of four marginalized groups — African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans — should be the primary focus of a course.

    But responding to thousands of letters charging that their stories had been ignored, department of education drafters and the Instructional Quality Commission added lessons on other groups, including Sikh, Armenian, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Laotian and Jewish Americans, leaving it up to districts to figure out how to cram it all in a semester.

    They dropped a glossary with obscure terms like hybridities (a mixture of Eastern and Western cultures), and nepantla (an Aztec language term for in-between-ness). They expunged back stereotypes about Jews, and, in an attempt at shuttle diplomacy, moved a lesson about the Palestinians back and forth between a section on lesson plans and an appendix.

    Additional passages reemphasized the state board’s 2018 instructions that the model curriculum promote critical thinking and rigorous analysis, align with the state’s existing history/social studies framework and promote civic engagement. They highlighted the importance of seeking multiple points of view and a balance of perspectives.

    The final changes

    The massaging of language continued in the final draft that the state board will review this week. Most of the 300-plus recommended changes are minor. But several stand out.

    • A new footnote to the introduction would state: “At the college and university level, Ethnic Studies and related courses are sometimes taught from a specific political point of view. In K-12 education it is imperative that students are exposed to multiple perspectives, taught to think critically and form their own opinions.”
    • A section in the chapter on guides for instruction notes that it’s important to build trust when probing personal and “unique and often sensitive material.” But a warning that would have grabbed a teacher’s attention would be removed: “Engaging topics on race, class, gender, oppression, etc., may evoke feelings of vulnerability, uneasiness, sadness, guilt, helplessness, or discomfort, for students not previously exposed to explicit conversations about these topics.”
    • In the chapter on lesson plans, a section on highlighting the 1960s Black Power, American Indian, anti-war, Chicano and Women’s Liberation movements proposes adding, “Acknowledge the pros and cons of any movement discussed.”
    • The proposed lesson “Important Historical Figures Among People of Color” would be deleted out of recognition there would be disagreement no matter who’s on the list. It would have included radical sociologist Angela Davis and activist and author Mumia Abu-Jamal, serving a life sentence for a murder that supporters believe he didn’t commit. Not on the list: the late civil rights hero John Lewis or Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice.

    The combination of changes angered the 20 college professors, teachers and writers of the first draft. In a Feb. 3 letter to the state board, they asked to have their names removed from the acknowledgment section because the integrity of the curriculum had been compromised “due to political and media pressure.” They urged the board and the Department of Education “not to give in to the pressures and influences of white supremacist, right wing, conservatives” like Educators for Excellence in Ethnic Studies and “multiculturalist, non-Ethnic Studies university academics and organizations now claiming ‘Ethnic Studies’ expertise.”

    But newly named California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a former Assembly member from San Diego adept at negotiating compromises, said she sees the final draft as a victory. Weber, who was an Africana Studies professor at San Diego State University for 40 years before her election to the Legislature, wrote in a CalMatters commentary, “As to be expected, there are critics of the curriculum on all sides. But I would not have staked my years as an ethnic studies instructor and advocate by voting for this model if I did not believe it maintained fidelity to the principles of the discipline and would benefit the students of California.”

    The board’s adoption of the model curriculum will not end the disagreements. If anything, they will intensify on a local level. It will now be left to individual school districts to decide how to approach sensitive, potentially controversial issues. Districts that had been hoping for a complete, state-prescribed package of lesson plans will be disappointed.

    California’s model curriculum is not a full curriculum — just guidelines that lay out goals and principles of ethnic studies, suggested lesson plans and instructional approaches and a list of ethnic studies courses already meeting UC and CSU course credit requirements, with a bibliography to come. Districts can pick and choose whatever they want. Newsom is proposing $5 million in the 2021-22 state budget to help prepare teachers to teach the subject.

    A half dozen members of the advisory group behind the first draft have joined others to create their own organization, the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Coalition, to promote what they consider the purer version of ethnic studies to school districts in California. With the support of United Teachers Los Angeles, they’re calling on Los Angeles Unified to revise its decade-old ethnic studies curriculum, which Bay Area teacher Meyers and others view as a more inclusive, less contentious approach to the subject.

    Meanwhile, groups like Educators for Excellence in Ethnic Studies, and, on a national level, the New York-based Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, are monitoring districts’ deliberations and fighting what they consider harmful applications of critical race theory in the classroom.

    “It’s a complicated document; for many districts it will be a great resource,” Rustin said of the final product. “In the end, it’s just a resource to use at their discretion.”


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