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Academic review questions benefits of California ethnic-studies curriculum

The scholarly review comes as concerns continue to mount on the development of California’s Ethnic Studies curriculum, which has been accused of containing anti-Semitic material.

The flag of California. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The flag of California. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Thirty-five academics have found serious methodological flaws and a significant lack of evidence in the research hailed as the rationale for developing California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, which has been accused of containing anti-Semitic material.

“We are deeply concerned with the misrepresentation of social-science research that is used to support claims of the benefits of ethnic studies courses in the Introduction and Overview to the Third Field Review of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC),” wrote the academics to California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and president of the State Board of Education Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond.

The ESMC touts four scholarly articles as evidence that an ethnic-studies curriculum will result in positive academic and social outcomes for students. However, after reviewing the four articles, the academics noted serious problems in the research and concluded that “none of these papers provides sufficient evidence for the claims that are attributed to it.”

The flaws included numerous methodological and design limitations, including that many of the findings were too insubstantial to form the basis of a generalized claim, many of the conclusions were based on small-scale qualitative and descriptive studies resulting in unreliable results, researchers failed to control for self-selection, and relatively few of the studies relied on an experimental design involving treatment and control groups to support the credible causal inference.

“It is unconscionable that with so much at stake, the State Board of Education would mislead California citizens into believing that bold claims about the benefits of ethnic-studies courses for K-12 students are supported by considerable and robust empirical evidence when this is simply untrue,” concluded the scholars.

The scholarly review comes as concerns continue to mount on the development of California’s Ethnic Studies curriculum.

Last year, AMCHA organized a letter from 80 organizations that urged California Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto a bill, AB 331, that would have mandated high school students take a course based on the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, and he did. However, a new bill has recently been introduced in the state legislature to replace AB 331.

“Since this curriculum was first introduced, we have warned of the dangers of its effects on both Jewish students and all students,” stated Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, AMCHA’s director and co-founder.

“Based on years of experience fighting bigotry, we fear that instead of its intended goal of educating and uniting, this curriculum, which has adopted a highly politicized Critical Ethnic Studies framework, will have the opposite effect of pitting students against each other and will lead to increased divisiveness and polarization. With the discovery that ESMC’s foundational claims are baseless, we call on California legislators to carefully consider what it means to pour tens of millions of taxpayer dollars into mandating courses that have not been proven to benefit students either academically or socially, and instead, may very well harm them.”

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