By James Hoyt
KU Statehouse Wire Service
TOPEKA – The House Education Committee passed a bill Monday that would require the Kansas Board of Education to develop state standards for ethnic studies in grades seven through 12.
HB 2207 calls for the state board to establish criteria, materials, and guidelines that local school boards may use within existing history, social studies or civics programs, but it would not mandate that teachers begin including ethnic studies in their curricula, said Rep. John Alcala, D -Topeka, who introduced the bill.
The bill defines ethnic studies as “an interdisciplinary enterprise which acknowledges that race and ethnicity are social and cultural forces in the United States and around the world.” The bill specifically includes “the experiences of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, Latinos and Native Americans.”
Alcala said he was pleased with the bill’s passage but wants to leave its implementation to educators.
“I’m comfortable with what they do . . . based off of an educational decision as opposed to just a legislative decision,” Alcala said.
Dr. Ken Weaver, dean of the Teachers College at Emporia State University, said the advantage of implementing standards at a state level is the existence of a common ground for each school board.
“You’re going to get homogeneity. You’re going to have the same standards that will be implemented in the middle and high schools across the state with some degree of fidelity,” Weaver said.
Weaver said he appreciated the fact the bill isn’t written as a mandate.
“It’s just an encouragement, as you review these many different history textbooks with different emphasis, that it is important for the future of Kansas to have our children be steeped in and have some appreciation and background of these different ethnicities that populate our state,” Weaver said.
One of the amendments made to the bill added a clause to state that textbooks and classroom materials selected can’t “promote social justice remedies.”
“Certainly, I have no problem with making sure we appreciate the contributions of people in backgrounds that are diverse that made our country what it is today,” Rep. Jerry Lunn, R – Overland Park, said. “I do get concerned about them picking materials that are overly focused on things such as social justice, which I’m hearing a lot of these days.”
Alcala described the bill as the first step in a process of developing a more robust ethnic studies system in Kansas schools.
“I’d like to come back next year in ‘phase two’ and look at collecting data from some of the large school districts and a couple of smaller school districts to see the kind of impact that it has on attendance and grade scores,” Alcala said. “You have got to start somewhere.”
The bill now goes to the Senate.
-Edited by Leah Sitz