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Ethnic studies classes in S.F. surprisingly successful (features Thomas Dee's research)

January 13, 2016
San Francisco Chronicle
A study by Thomas Dee and a postdoctoral fellow compared educational performance of students who took a course in ethnic studies with similar students who did not.
Jill Tucker

Taking a ninth-grade ethnic studies course boosted the grades, attendance and course completion rates of San Francisco students who started high school with an academic record that indicated future failure, according to a newly released Stanford University study.

In fact, the academic benefits of the course were so significant, the researchers who conducted the Stanford study said they were shocked by their own findings.

The study found struggling students who took ethnic studies went on to compile a C-plus average in their freshman year, compared with a D average for similar students who didn’t take such a course. The ethnic studies students completed four more semester courses than the other students and had nearly perfect attendance, the Stanford researchers found.

Ethnic studies focuses on cultural awareness, ethnic identity and making students aware of race-based oppression. A handful of districts, including Los Angeles, require the course for graduation, but critics have attacked it as racially divisive. Arizona has banned such courses from public schools.

In San Francisco, school district officials created ethnic studies as a pilot program in 2010 and expanded it to all high schools this year, hoping it would make school more relevant to the city’s largely nonwhite student body.

School board members believed the course would help students feel more engaged, and that in turn, the students would enjoy greater long-term success. They saw the Stanford findings as vindication for their hunch. ... 

The Stanford study was led by Professor Thomas Dee, director of the school’s Center for Education Policy Analysis....

“No one was more surprised by these findings than I've been,” Dee said. “I don't know when my own research has surprised me more.”

Read the entire article at the San Francisco Chronicle website. (Password may be needed.) Stanford Graduate School of Education also posted its own story about the research. In addition to his research on ethnic studies, another study by Dee and colleagues on the impact of teacher evaluations in Washington DC was featured in a news release available on the GSE website. He also recently published an op-ed in the Guardian about a paper on the mental health benefits of delaying kindergarten a year for certain children.

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