Proposed Ethnic Studies Curriculum for California Schools Relies on Flawed Scholarship
None of the cited research papers provides sufficient evidence for the claims of positive academic and social outcomes for students
April 8, 2021
The case against Assembly Bill 101, a law that would require ethnic studies be a part of the high school curriculum in the state's public schools, was made by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of the Amcha Initiative in the San Diego Tribune. AB 101 will be heard before the California Assembly Education Committee this week. The Amcha Initiative is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to combating anti-Semitism on school campuses. Rossman-Benjamin's contention is that the entire curriculum is based on flawed research and the state should not spend money to institute teaching that will not accomplish its avowed goals: to produce greater academic achievement and to provide social harmony.
AB 101 is based on the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) recently approved by the state's Board of Education. Central to the curriculum is the philosophy of critical race theory - that all of history is comprised of one group seeking to oppress another group.
Since common sense would tell any reasonable person that teaching youth to view each other as belonging to groups that are either victims or oppressors would not lead to social harmony (or boost scholastic achievement), the ESMC makes sure to include research allegedly backing its claims.
The problem is the research is flawed and doesn't prove what it claims to prove.
Central to the ESMC's claims, is the research of CSU Professor Emerita Christine Sleeter in which she declares there is evidence that a "well-designed and well-taught ethnic studies curricula have positive academic and social outcomes for students."
According to Rossman-Benjamin, "Sleeter's claim has played a central role in justifying almost every piece of public policy related to the teaching of ethnic studies in California schools."
However, a review of Sleeter's research by 35 scholars experienced in designing, implementing, and analyzing scholarly publications concluded, "We have found that none of these papers provides sufficient evidence for the claims that are attributed to it." Seriously methodological flaws and design limitations in Sleeter's work delegitimized her conclusions.
Other researchers cited in the ESMC, Thomas Dee and Emily Penner, themselves hesitated to draw definitive conclusions from their work. The 35 scholars who had already discredited Sleeter agreed, noting "significant methodological limitations that rendered their results wholly insufficient to support the ESMC's broad claims of academic achievement," according to Rossman-Benjamin.
The State Board of Education says they received 57,000 comments on the proposed curriculum. What they don't add is that tens of thousands of these comments were deeply critical. Normal people understand that you don't create a unified, harmonious society by dividing people into tribes and then illustrating how much they have harmed each other.
Rossman-Benjamin concludes her argument by exhorting lawmakers to avoid "pouring hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into required courses that have not been proven to benefit students either academically or socially, and may well harm them, will be a disaster for our students and our state."