Ethnic Studies Will Be in California High Schools, and It’s Mandatory


Jeffrey Barragan

Arroyo High School in El Monte, California is one of thousands of High Schools in the State that will have to add ethnic studies courses to its curriculum.

Ethnic studies courses are now a requirement for all high school students in California. On Friday, Oct 8, 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom passed Assembly Bill AB 101, a bill that makes ethnic studies classes a graduation requirement.

California is the first state in the United States to pass a mandatory ethnic studies course for high school students. Ethnic studies is the study of race, ethnicity, and nationality, and even social class. It focuses on topics related to the experience of minority races and ethnicities, and how it plays a role in shaping society and societal constructs, communities, and individuals. The course requirement will apply to both public and private schools in the State.

The Demographics of California

Ethnic studies courses in California high schools are a big step in providing more than just white US history to students. According to the most recent estimates by the US Census Bureau, California is continuing to become an increasingly minority-majority state. Hispanic or Latinxs make up 39.4% of the State’s population. Followed by Asians who make up 15.5%, then Blacks who make up 6.5%, and finally Native Americans who make up only 1.6% of California’s population. 

In other words, over 63% of the population of California is considered a racial minority. In comparison, those who identify as “White alone, not Hispanic or Latino” only make up 36.5% of the State’s population.

Ethnic Studies in California High Schools

The Bill will add one semester of ethnic studies classes to the required curriculum of 9 – 12 grade students. But as part of AB 101, schools will have the ability to extend the requirement of ethnic studies to an entire school year. The course will become mandatory beginning at the start of the 2025-26 school year. And it will officially be a graduation requirement for the Class of 2030.

Students will be able to complete the requirement by taking already existing ethnic studies courses. In addition, school districts and other related governing school boards can also develop a locally based ethnic studies course. Students may also get to complete ethnic studies as part of the A–G requirements needed to attend a University of California or California State University.

High schools have historically only focused on the whitewashed version of history. And they have largely ignored Latinx, Asian, Black, and Native American history in the US. Some schools in California and the US offer ethnic studies, but it isn’t the majority of schools.

Assembly Bill AB 101 will change that by making ethnic studies more accessible to all students in California. At the same time, ethnic studies will provide students with critical and relatable courses in a state with a minority-majority population.