Testimony of IDRA – Presented by Morgan Craven, J.D., IDRA National Director of Policy, Advocacy and Community Engagement before the Texas State Board of Education, November 13, 2019
Dear Members of the Texas State Board of Education:
The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) is an independent non-profit organization with the mission of ensuring that all students have access to excellent and equitable public schools that prepare them for success in college. We believe that culturally-relevant pedagogy and curricula that encourage meaningful learning about the lives and contributions of communities of color are critical parts of excellent and equitable schools. We urge members of the SBOE to approve the proposed Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for a new African American Studies course.
In 2018, the SBOE approved Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies – the first course in the Texas Ethnic Studies course catalog. Today, there are students and educators across the state engaging in critical discussions about Mexican American history and culture (See IDRA’s Mexican American Studies Course Locator Map at https://idra.news/MASmap). The state-approved course provides a standard curriculum and resources for educators and signals the value that Texas places on the inclusion of ethnic studies in schools.
Each year, IDRA convenes families, school district personnel, and advocates for a full-day bilingual (English and Spanish) event called the Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Parent Institute. This year, educators, students, parents, and grandparents discussed the importance of Mexican American Studies programs and other curricula and pedagogical methods that affirm and teach the histories of people of color in the United States.
Educators, many of whom had been teaching Mexican American Studies courses or incorporating lessons on Mexican American dance, literature, politics, culture and history into their teachings before the official adoption of the Mexican American Studies course, described the benefits of the courses and lessons for students and entire classroom climates. They emphasized the importance of lessons that remove bias from teaching and provide an accurate reflection of students’ histories (see event video).
At the institute, a parent and grandparent spoke about the positive and culturally-sustaining impact of intergenerational learning, including the language and cultural preservation they witnessed through the new and engaging conversations they had with their daughter and granddaughter who took a Mexican American studies course.
Finally, a student described the confidence she gained from her Mexican American Studies course, saying that she felt not just like a student, but like a “young scholar” who was no longer held to a low standard in school. She said that every student should take the course, but acknowledged many students are not demanding access to ethnic studies courses because they do not know that they need or want them. Finally, the student described the importance of learning the history of the traditions that she practices with her family at home, how “beautiful” her culture is, and how she has gained an appreciation for those who have struggled to preserve their culture throughout history.
The experiences of teachers, families and students are consistent with other research about the positive impact of ethnic studies courses and culturally relevant pedagogy:
- Following the passage of an Arizona state law that eliminated the Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District, researchers examined standardized test results and high school graduation rates for students who took the courses. They found that Mexican American Studies courses were related to improved academic achievement for students: participation in the program was significantly related to an increased likelihood of standardized test passage and high school graduation. (Cabrera, et al., 2014)
- Researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education studied attendance and academic outcomes among students who participated in ethnic studies courses in the San Francisco Unified School District. They found that attendance increased by 21 percentage points and grade point averages (GPA) increased by 1.4 grade points among the students encouraged to participate in the courses. There were notable increases in GPAs related to math and science and the improvements were focused among boys and Latinx students. (Tomas & Penner, 2016)
- A study of students enrolled in ethnic studies courses in Kailua High School, in Hawaii, showed positive outcomes. Among other skills, students developed “(1) a critical academic consciousness; (2) personal agency in the identity construction process; and (3) inter-personal prejudice reduction. (Makaiau, et al., 2019)
The addition of an African American Studies course in the state-approved Ethnic Studies course catalog will have a significant and positive impact on students across the state. All students will be able to gain valuable knowledge about the rich history of African Americans and engage in critical discussions about the important contributions African Americans have made in the United States and around the world. African American students in particular will benefit from seeing their own culture discussed and valued in the school setting and will feel more connected to their schools, teachers and peers.
Beyond the value to individual students, courses like African American and Mexican American studies help to create welcoming school climates overall. When students see themselves in what they are taught in schools, they are more engaged and create deeper connections to their campuses. Research on culturally-relevant pedagogy emphasizes the power of teaching and curricula to transform how students relate to their schools and understand what they are taught (Ladson-Billings, 1995). These connections are critical to creating safe and supportive schools that prepare all students for success.
We urge SBOE members to adopt the proposed TEKS for a new African American studies course, ensure that all related materials and textbooks are accurate and engaging, and continue to consider the expertise and experiences of families, students, and other advocates who are working in their communities to ensure that schools are excellent and equitable for all learners. Please consider IDRA a resource in this endeavor.
Cabrera, N.L., Milem, J.F., Jaquette, O., Marx, R.W. (2014). “Missing the (Student Achievement) Forest for All the (Political) Trees: Empiricism and the Mexican American Studies Controversy in Tucson,” American Education Research Journal. http://aer.sagepub.com/content/51/6/1084
Dee, T., & Penner, E. (2016). “The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum,” NBER Working Paper No. 21865. Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research. https://www.nber.org/papers/w21865
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491. https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312032003465
Makaiau, A., Glassco, K., Honda, F., Rehurer, D., Hishinuma, E., Kida, L., & Mark, G. (2019). “Ethnic Studies Now: Three Reasons Why Ethnic Studies Should Be a Requirement for High School Graduation in the United States,” The Oregon Journal of the Social Studies. https://www.academia.edu/38986891/Ethnic_Studies_Now_Three_Reasons_Why_Ethnic_Studies_Should_Be_a_Requirement_for_High_School_Graduation_in_the_United_States
The Intercultural Development Research Association is an independent, non-profit organization, led by Celina Moreno, J.D. Our mission is to achieve equal educational opportunity for every child through strong public schools that prepare all students to access and succeed in college. IDRA strengthens and transforms public education by providing dynamic training; useful research, evaluation, and frameworks for action; timely policy analyses; and innovative materials and programs.