Last fall, California Gov. Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 101, a mandatory K-12 Ethnic Studies requirement authored by Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside). The governor vetoed Medina’s controversial previous version, Assembly Bill 331, saying it was “insufficiently balanced and inclusive” and would need heavy revision in order to receive his signature, the Globe reported. So what changed the governor’s mind? Was the new version now sufficiently balanced and inclusive?
Not at all. According to an education consultant who spoke with the Globe in 2021, “The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, loaded with Marxist ideology, is already sewing deep divisions among peoples, and generally maligns people of European descent and Christianity.” And that’s not all.
Thousands of Californians, including Holocaust survivors, petitioned Governor Gavin Newsom to veto Assembly Bill 101, saying, “It goes against everything real education stands for – and it is dividing the world into ‘us and them.’”
“Ethnic studies is not a discipline; it is political activism, and is training students to be foot soldiers,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder and Director of the AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America. “The model curriculum the state has been working on is activism and an agenda that would feature in curriculum particularly harmful to Jewish kids,” Rossman-Benjamin said.
In addition to the vehement objections by the AMCHA Initiative, two studies cited by Ethnic Studies advocates to justify the new law claiming the research shows that ethnic studies courses “boost student achievement over the long run—especially among students of color,” relied on poor statistical methods, according Professor Abraham Wyner a data scientist at University of Pennsylvania, and Law Professor Richard Sander, of UCLA.
In a March 29 article at Tablet Mag, the two professors say the studies “purport to show that ninth-grade students who took an ethnic studies course in San Francisco public schools experienced dramatic short-term and long-term academic benefits.”
Professors Wyner and Sander say “the publication of these two astoundingly shoddy works and their importance to the ethnic studies movement should raise the alarm—not only that the editing and peer-review process at these two journals needs overhauling, but that California parents are not being told the truth about a potentially significant change in the education of their children.”
“The studies—one from 2017 by Thomas Dee of Stanford University and Emily Penner of University of California, Irvine, the other a follow-up from 2021 by Dee, Penner, and Sade Bonilla of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst— also make the stunning claim that the ethnic studies course causes an average increase of 1.4 GPA points, miraculously turning C students into B+ students.”
“The experiment on which these conclusions are based is so muddled, and the data reported is so ambiguous, that in fact they support no conclusion, either positive or negative, about the effects of this particular ethnic studies course in these particular schools and times. Indeed, not even the lead author claims that the studies provide a basis for establishing ethnic studies mandates for all students,” Professors Wyner and Sander report.
“So much of leftist education policies is built on research quicksand, with little rigorous science to support everything from universal government preschool to student mask mandates,” Lance Izumi, Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute told the Globe. “The so-called ‘research’ to support the supposed student achievement benefits of ethnic studies is no different. The significant methodological flaws in the pro-ethnic studies ‘research’ render this ‘research’ no better than propaganda used to support a left-wing ideological agenda.”
Professors Wyner and Sander also noted there was a small number of students involved in the studies and an issue of data reporting because the studies’ authors said they cannot share their data, because it is administrative data for which they needed to sign a confidentiality agreement. “This is a serious shortcoming,” the professors reported. “Without some form of data sharing, it is impossible to replicate or even deeply understand a scholar’s results, and the high rate of nonreplicability in social science studies has been widely recognized in recent years as a serious problem.”
The two professors conclude “the articles are shrouded in a great deal of highly technical jargon. The methods employed appear to be highly sophisticated, but the results are cherry-picked, model checks aren’t made, and the fundamental absurdity of reporting such large effect size is ignored. One needs to read closely, and to be familiar with how regression discontinuity analysis is properly done, to readily see the authors’ sudden jumps in logic, and their errors of methodology and analysis.”
And, “most unfortunately, review standards are often weakest on topics of strong ideological valence. The controversy over mandated ethnic studies courses is a new and fraught topic; editors and reviewers sympathetic to a particular conclusion may either ignore weaknesses in an article, or assume that anything that seems odd in the analysis simply reflects their own incomplete understanding of the authors’ methods, rather than a serious defect.”
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