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State lawmakers consider strategies to prepare teachers for ethnic studies mandate

A state public hearing Wednesday focused on helping California teachers prepare to teach ethnic studies.

Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside) chaired the Committee on Higher Education hearing at the campus of Cal State San Bernardino.

Education experts from across the state testified. They provided ideas on how best to recruit and retain teachers who are people of color and experienced with working in diverse communities.

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Since 2018, Michael Dominguez has created a curriculum for ethnic studies teaching certificates at San Diego State University.

He told the committee, “Ethnic studies is a unique and distinct field and a discipline that engages with questions and academic definitions of race, ethnicity, culture, identity, and power. If we fail to ensure that teachers are prepared to engage with those content topics, there is considerable harm that can be done to students, schools, and communities.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 101 into law last October. It was authored by Assemblymember Medina and makes California the first state to require all students to complete an ethnic studies course for high school graduation.

Assembly member James Ramos (D-Highland) is also on the committee. On Wednesday, he defended the passage of the new mandate. “There have been some different opinions on ethnic studies. It is not something that is erasing history because you can’t erase history that has never been taught correctly in the state of California,” Ramos said.

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Right now, teachers with a social studies single-subject credential are possibly the most qualified to teach ethnic studies. But there will be much more to lesson plans in the future to educate students on community, cultures, and the diversity of marginalized people.

“Making sure that we follow what our assemblyman and chair Medina put in AB 101 is extremely important so that all of our students know that they belong, and it is their history and their California,” said Eloise Gomez Reyes, Assembly Majority Leader.

One idea for attracting new teachers is to pay them for the four to five months they do their student teaching. Currently, they are expected to put their lives on hold and work for free. The assembly committee is also considering allowing college graduates with an ethnic studies degree to go straight into a classroom without additional certification.

Whatever is decided has to be in place by the 2025-26 school year, as required by the new state law.

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