Can Ethnic Studies Courses Reduce Racial Inequality as They Scale? Evidence from Three Research Practice Partnerships

Do ethnic studies courses reduce racial and ethnic inequalities in students’ academic and socio-emotional outcomes?

In collaboration with Albuquerque Public Schools, Los Angeles Unified School District, and San Francisco Unified School District, Penner and colleagues will conduct a mixed-methods, cross-site study to examine whether and how ethnic studies courses mitigate academic and socio-emotional inequalities experienced by students of color. These courses—which use culturally relevant pedagogy and content centered on the histories and experiences of marginalized racial and ethnic groups to foster critical social engagement—are likely to benefit all youth, but the benefits are expected to be greatest for marginalized youth of color. The team will use two quasi-experimental approaches to estimate the impact of ethnic studies courses on student outcomes, such as: 1) difference-in-difference models to compare outcomes of those who enrolled in ethnic studies to similar students who did not and 2) regression discontinuity models to exploit unique assignment mechanisms. They will examine differences in outcomes between African American, Latinx, Asian American, Native American, and White youth, as well as assess potential effects based on intersectional identities of race/ethnicity and gender, economic standing, and language minority status. Interviews, observations, and document analysis will provide insight into program implementation, as well as how and why the courses may reduce inequality. As states consider requiring ethnic studies courses for high school graduation, the study will inform local and national conversations among policymakers and practitioners.