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Support Ethnic Studies Programs

No matter our race, background, or zip code, most of us want our neighborhood public schools to inspire imagination, cultivate curiosity and critical thinking, and ensure our children can live fulfilling lives. Students should not have to look much further than their own classes to find mentors or materials with roots in their own community. Ethnic studies draws upon many disciplines to foster cross-cultural understanding. Educators, students and parents are coming together to include voices and stories of the diverse ethnicities that have contributed to the history and culture of the United States to prepare students for understanding and impacting our complex world.

Movement Grows to Require Ethnic Studies in Public High Schools, Despite California Veto

January 22, 2021

A national movement grows

A few large public school districts like Philadelphia and San Francisco created ethnic studies courses before the Arizona ban. But between 2013 and 2018, districts up and down the West Coast like SeattlePortlandOaklandSacramentoLos Angeles and San Diego adopted courses and established departments. In some cases, these school systems made taking ethnic studies classes a graduation requirement.

During the same period, ethnic studies programs and courses also began popping up in AustinAtlantaChicagoBridgeport, Connecticut and Providence, among other cities.

State legislation

The current struggle in California highlights how K-12 ethnic studies has become a matter of state policy too. Since the 2012 ban in Arizona, nine U.S states—California, Connecticut, Indiana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington—and the District of Columbia have passed laws or policies that establish standards, create committees or authorize courses for K-12 ethnic studies specifically, or multicultural history more generally.



Educators push back locally against invisibility of Native Americans in schools

February 25, 2020

By Félix Pérez, photo above of Alaska Native teacher Kristi McEwen with Native dance paraphernalia.

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Information about Native Americans is either completely absent from public schools or relegated to brief mentions, inaccurate portrayals or negative stereotypes, concludes a groundbreaking analysis of state efforts to deliver high quality, contemporary and tribally specific educational content about Native peoples into K-12 classrooms.

“The invisibility of Native peoples and the erasure of contemporary Native Americans’ contributions, innovations, and accomplishments in K-12 education fuels harmful biases in generation after generation of Americans who grow up learning a false, distorted narrative about Native Americans in most schools,” according to the report by the National Congress of American Indians.



Ed Dept. Threat to Middle Eastern Studies Program Deprives Educators, Students, Says Teacher

October 4, 2019
By Félix Pérez

In what is being described as an “overly ideological” overreach that could stifle academic freedom, the U.S. Education Department has threatened to strip the funding of the Duke-University of North Carolina Consortium for Middle Eastern Studies.

Tinisha Shaw, a member of the first cohort of teachers to go through the yearlong program, says the criticism by Betsy DeVos’ department that the consortium didn’t present enough “positive aspects” of Christianity, Judaism and other religions reflects a lack of understanding of the program.

“Never in one conversation or in any of the sessions – because I am a Christian and my grandmother’s a preacher and my momma’s a preacher — never, not once, was there anything said against Christianity or Judaism,” says Shaw, a 13-year teacher granted a consortium fellowship during the 2016-17 school year along with 20 other teachers from North Carolina. “A lot of times there were even discussions about how Christianity and Judaism and Islam work together,” adds the Greensboro educator.


What's in a school name?

More than 100 schools across the country are still named after Confederate leaders, and over a quarter of those have predominately African American student bodies. In many communities, students, educators, parents and community activists are increasingly challenging whether Americans should continue to honor in public places people who fought to perpetuate human slavery.

These efforts gained momentum in the summer of 2017, as pressure mounted in state after state to remove Confederate monuments. Many students and educators took inspiration from these efforts, and began to look at the names of their schools.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a mother and daughter sparked an effort to change a school name from honoring the president of the Confederacy; students voted overwhelmingly to name the school after Barack Obama. In Minneapolis, students are driving an effort to rename Patrick Henry High School, after learning that the school’s namesake and revolutionary leader was also a slave owner.

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In some instances, rather than re-naming an existing school, activists have organized to influence the process for naming a new school. In April 2018, the Montgomery County, Md., Board of Education voted to name a new elementary school after Bayard Rustin, a gay African-American activist who worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., making the school the first in the state to be named after an openly gay person.


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Community Campaign Key to Passage of Bill Requiring Ethnic Studies Curriculum in CT High Schools

August 5, 2019
By Michael Blain

All Connecticut high schools will be required to offer an elective course in African American, Puerto Rican and Latino history by 2022 under a bill passed by the state General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont in June.

Passage of the bill follows months of organizing and mobilizing by students, educators and advocacy groups, including impassioned testimony by more than 200 people at a public hearing in March. The hearing featured testimony from dozens of students; no one testified in opposition.

“This bill is important to me because knowing your history gives importance and a sense of identity and self worth,” testified Shane Brooks, a student at the Science & Technology Magnet High School and New London High School in New London, CT. “Going to a public school with a lack of African American studies being taught in the school system made me feel irrelevant and unheard.”




By Kate Snyder

One of the great opportunities in education is to find a way to challenge students to critically think about their own experiences and about the experiences of others. One of the main tenets of Ethnic Studies curriculum is to have students understand different systems of oppression, not just race.

“Ethnic Studies and social justice are a critical lens through which we can get a new perspective on history, so we are not doomed to repeat it,” said Ivan Viray Santos, who, with his colleagues from the New Haven Unified School District in California, was instrumental in developing high school curriculum for Ethnic Studies Departments, including an Ethnic Studies/Social Justice pathway with some classes available as early as the 7th grade.

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Building Power in Our Communities

Ready to get active and be the superhero our students deserve in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education? Then join the NEA EdJustice League!

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Ethnic Studies Toolkit

Check out the resource toolkit at EthnicStudiesNow.com that was helpful in campaigns to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement at two of the largest school districts in California.

View the Toolkit

1619 Project

Links to the New York Times #1619 Project and related resources to guide discussion around this touchstone journalism.

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This series by James W. Loewen, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Vermont, tackles problems in history that we often teach wrong — and how these are barriers to racial justice.

Read the Series