Board approves first ethnic studies course

 The State Board of Education voted on April 13 to take steps to approve Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for an ethnic studies course focused on Americans of Mexican descent and to use a course originated by the Houston Independent School District as the basis for the standards.  

 This action will lead to the development of the first state standards for a high-school level ethnic studies course in Texas.  

 The specific standards will be presented for a preliminary vote at the board’s next meeting in June, with final approval expected in September. The course now called Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent rather than Mexican American Studies would become available for use in Texas classrooms in the 2019-2020 school year. 

 SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich said, “It is my sincere hope, and I believe I’m speaking for the entire board, that by encouraging the study of this beautiful and strong branch of our American family in a deeper way, we will engage and connect more of our Mexican American students in a way that is important for the future of the country.” 

  “America is and always has been a land of dreams and hopes where everyone has a vital part to play, where we can be both proud of our own story, culture and heritage and yet hold close to our hearts what it means to be deeply proud Americans” she said. 

  The board agreed to create a Mexican American Studies course in 2014 and placed it on a list for new course development. Most of the new courses placed ahead of it, such as courses on cybersecurity and  proper interaction with police officers, were mandated by the Texas Legislature.  

  Some school districts and charters are already teaching a Mexican American Studies course using an approved  innovative course  submitted by Houston ISD. This course, with only the course title changed by the SBOE, will be the starting point for the state standards. Other educators teach a similar class under broader state course titles such as Special Topics in Social Studies or Independent Study in English.  

 But teachers who testified before the board said that they have had to piece together the curriculum for these courses. Having state-approved TEKS will make it easier for teachers to teach the course and to share materials, they said. 

 The board also instructed Texas Education Agency staff to bring to the board for consideration any future comprehensive ethnic studies courses in Native-American Studies, Latino Studies, African-American Studies or Asian-Pacific Islander Studies that have been approved through the commissioner of education’s innovative course process.