Adding Ethnic Studies to High School Curricula Improves Performance and Graduation Rates

New research shows that enrolling ninth graders who are struggling academically in an ethnic studies course greatly improves the likelihood those students will graduate from high school and enroll in college. In one California school district, ninth graders with a grade-point average of 2.0 or under were automatically enrolled in an ethnic study course. The research showed that enrollment in ethnic studies substantially increased high school graduation, attendance, and the probability of enrolling in college.

Sade Bonilla, assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Thomas S. Dee of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University, and Emily K. Penner of the School of Education at the University of California Irvine, conducted the research on the longer-term effects of ethnic studies requirements.

Supporters say ethnic studies courses give students a better sense of who they are and a sense of belonging in the larger American community. “The current debate about critical race theory is regrettably dishonest and politically-driven,” Dr. Bonilla said. “There is overlap between the theory and ethnic studies in that the curricula use a critically aware and historical perspective of prior events and the systems we have in place today.”

“Our results point to this approach having important impacts on students’ high school graduation and college enrollment which is critically important given the relevance of educational attainment on economic success and other socially relevant outcomes like civic engagement and mental health,” Dr. Bonilla added.

The full study, “Ethnic Studies Increases Longer-Run Academic Engagement and Attainment,” was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. It may be accessed here.


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