AUSTIN, Texas ― The Texas State Board of Education voted Wednesday to create statewide standards for classes on Mexican-American studies, handing a major victory to educators and activists who have pressed for wider adoption of such courses for the past five years.
The vote makes Texas the latest state to embrace ethnic studies, which some education researchers credit with boosting student achievement in minority-majority schools by engaging cultures often ignored in traditional curricula and emphasizing critical thinking skills. On Wednesday, the Board of Education’s conference room was packed with teachers, students and researchers, clamoring for the state to set the standards needed to make the classes more widely available in Texas.
“I wouldn’t even begin to do it just to tell you how historic this moment is in Texas,” board member Ruben Cortez told HuffPost.
Wednesday’s vote is technically preliminary but is expected to be finalized at a meeting on Friday.
Educators first began pressing for a statewide course in 2013. More than half of the Texas public school population is Hispanic. But instead of creating a state standard, the Republican-dominated Board of Education opted to let local school districts create their own classes.
Dozens of districts took them up on the offer, and educators pooled resources to improvise the new classes.
But while roughly 35 schools in Texas now have courses in Mexican-American studies, the lack of statewide standards left teachers spending more time creating redundant curricula than engaging students with it, according to testimony offered Wednesday. And without a state standard to follow, some courses were out of sync with similar U.S. history classes, one teacher said.
An existing Mexican-American studies course in Houston public schools will be used as a model to develop the state standard. At the request of conservative Board of Education member David Bradley, the course will be named “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.” Bradley contended that hyphenated terms like “Mexican-American” are divisive, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
The movement to bring ethnic studies to public schools gained national attention in 2010 when Arizona Republicans passed a law banning a Mexican-American studies program in Tucson. They argued that it bred discrimination against white people and politicized the classroom. A federal judge struck down that law after a two-week bench trial last year.
But while the Arizona case wound its way through the courts, California took the opposite approach, mandating the creation of an ethnic studies model to serve public schools in 2016. Even before that, several school districts ― including the state’s largest ones in Los Angeles and San Francisco ― had begun offering such classes.
Last year, Indiana passed a law requiring public schools to offer ethnic studies.