• By Ruth Youn • IDRA Newsletter •  February 2023 •

Ethnic studies courses positively influence the trajectory of a student’s academic journey. These courses teach the experiences, perspectives and contributions of Indigenous, Black, Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander, and Latino communities in U.S. history. Course content ranges from comprehensive studies of one specific community to comparative surveys of various communities.

Researchers have consistently found these courses improve students’ academic and psycho-social outcomes, like self-actualization, reduced attrition and increased performance on standardized assessments for all students, particularly students of color and those living in poverty (Dee & Penner, 2017; Cabrera, et al., 2014; Bonilla, Dee & Penner, 2021).

This is especially true when the course includes diverse student groups, teaches directly about racism, provides opportunities for dialogue across racial and ethnic lines, and is aimed at helping students grapple with multiple perspectives (Sleeter & Zavala, 2020).

Despite the incredible advantages students gain from ethnic studies coursework, few states offer a comprehensive statewide curriculum. Fortunately, Georgia approved creation of an ethnic studies course in 2008. In 2020, the state approved five more courses: African American/Black Studies, American Indian Studies, Asian American Studies, U.S. Latinx Studies, and Women’s Studies.

However, several barriers prevent ethnic studies coursework from being fully implemented in Georgia. For example, the courses are categorized as electives and do not have to be offered by schools. Even where these courses are offered, students may not be able to enroll if they lack space in their schedules for elective credits, despite the demonstrated benefits for students who may be struggling academically.

Additionally, individual school districts must secure additional funding to write new curricula and supply training to educators. And many educators have not had training in the specific pedagogies for the philosophy and framework for ethnic studies courses.

This creates obstacles both for school districts and students amid budget cuts, widespread teacher burnout and state classroom censorship laws legislation since 2021 discouraging educators from teaching topics like those included in ethnic studies courses.

To make these courses and sustained benefits accessible to Georgia schools and students, IDRA recommends the Georgia General Assembly do the following.

  • Categorize ethnic studies as core credits for graduation. Encourage students to enroll in ethnic studies by making them count as a social studies credit to fulfill graduation requirements.
  • Codify inclusive curriculum in the Georgia state standards. Student benefits compound if culturally inclusive curricula are incorporated into standards across the K-12 continuum.
  • Repeal Georgia’s classroom censorship laws (SB 226/Act 719, HB 1084/Act 720). These laws silence educators, mandate the adoption of inaccurate concepts and points of view, prohibit truthful classroom conversations, and punish schools that allow students and educators to engage critically with the impact of systemic racism and marginalization in this country (IDRA, 2022; GCACC, 2022).

Georgia schools will better contribute to the social-emotional, academic and future career success for all Georgia students by making these courses and sustained benefits accessible.


Bonilla, S., Dee, T.S., & Penner, E.K. (September 2021). Ethnic Studies Increases Longer-Run Academic Engagement and Attainment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118 (37). e2026386118; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2026386118

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.

Dee, T.S., & Penner, E.K. (2017). The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1), 127-166.

GCACC & IDRA. (February 1, 2022). HB 888, HB 1084, SB 375 & SB 377 Seek to Censor Classroom Conversations and Strip Funding from Georgia Students. Georgia Coalition Against Classroom Censorship & IDRA.

IDRA. (April 8, 2022). Georgia Legislature Secures Education Wins in Funding but Loses Diverse Curriculum and Discourse – 2022 Georgia General Assembly Wrap-Up. IDRA Georgia Education Policy Update.

Sleeter, C.E., & Zavala, M. (2020). Transformative Ethnic Studies in Schools: Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Research. Teachers College Press.

Note: The articles in this issue of the IDRA Newsletter feature the research and policy advocacy of IDRA’s education policy fellows. The IDRA Education Policy Fellows program is a nine-month fellowship designed to provide real-world training to advocates who represent the communities most impacted by state-level education policymaking. Get more information about the program, including how to support the fellows’ work.

Ruth Youn is an IDRA education policy fellow. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at ruth.youn@idra.org.

[©2023, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2023 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]