California educators want another stab at creating an ethnic studies curriculum for high school students, and it looks like they'll have an extra year to do it.
Tony Thurmond, the state's schools superintendent, announced plans Monday, Sept. 16, to revise and improve a proposed curriculum model that earlier this year was criticized as politically biased, misleading and anti-Semitic.
The California Department of Education plans to hold sessions with ethnic studies teachers and others to get feedback on what should be in the curriculum. They'll also hold "listening sessions" across the state "to hear from the approximately 200 districts that have successfully implemented an ethnic studies curriculum," Thurmond said in a news release.
A commission scheduled to meet Friday to consider the draft soon might get more time to revise the curriculum. The California Legislature last week approved a bill that would extend the deadline to complete the draft until 2021. That bill is pending Gov. Gavin Newsom's signature.
"We're expecting the governor to sign it. I'm glad they're going to take more time," said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, D-San Fernando Valley.
"I hope they will hear from a much broader section of folks, not just those on the advisory committee," Gabriel said. "Expanding that group, getting broader feedback will push this in a more positive direction so we can have a curriculum that everyone can feel good about."
Gabriel is vice chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, which last July sent a letter to the California Department of Education criticizing the draft ethnic studies model.
The original proposal, critics said, omitted the Jewish experience – instead singling out Israel for criticism and reinforcing negative stereotypes about Jews – and failed to discuss anti-Semitism.
The State Board of Education soon after said that the draft "falls short and needs to be substantially redesigned." Thurmond called for a press conference on Aug. 14, where, flanked by members of the Jewish Caucus, he agreed that the curriculum draft needs to be revamped.
Some critics want more than a curriculum overhaul.
"The primary concern is not the content but the process of creating curriculum which was clearly infused with political ideology," said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the Santa Cruz-based AMCHA Initiative, which monitors anti-Semitism on college campuses across the United States.
"A lot of it depends on who those experts are that they're consulting," Rossman-Benjamin said Tuesday.
Among the critics of the draft curriculum was Jose Medina, D-Riverside, a member of the Jewish caucus and a former ethnic studies teacher. Medina authored AB 331, which would make ethnic studies a requirement for high school graduation. But following the controversy on the draft proposal, he made his legislation a "two-year bill," placing it on hold until next year.
"It is not a question of whether the subject itself is necessary. But, rather, how do we ensure the curriculum is comprehensive, rigorous, and inclusive enough. This underscores the importance of taking the time necessary to ensure we get the curriculum right," Medina said in a statement Aug. 22.
Meanwhile, a group calling itself "Save CA Ethnic Studies" is circulating a petition online. The petition seeks to keep the current model curriculum draft "with some revisions, focused on the histories and social justice struggles of communities of color in the U.S." By Tuesday afternoon, the petition had garnered more than 6,460 signatures.