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El Rancho might have answers for LAUSD Ethnic Studies plan

Michael Janofsky | November 20, 2014

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Jose Lara, El Rancho Unified board VP and LA Unified teacher

Jose Lara, El Rancho Unified board VP and LA Unified teacher

El Rancho Unified, a small, majority Latino school district of a dozen schools in Pico Rivera, is way head of LA Unified in setting up an Ethnic Studies program, which the LA Unified board approved just this week.

By next year in El Rancho, a high school course in Ethnic Studies will be required for graduation, and district officials are studying how to weave a ethnic studies material into the elementary school curriculum for use soon after.

The LA Unified board took a first step in the same direction this week, approving a plan to have Ethnics Studies as a high school graduation requirement by the 2018-2019 school year.

But in passing the resolution, big questions went unanswered, presumably left for a task force appointed by Superintendent Ramon Cortines to answer within the coming months.

One person task force members might interview for insight is Jose Lara, who addressed the board in supporting the resolution. Lara is vice president of the El Rancho Unified School Board, Dean at Santee Education Center (an LA Unified high school) and a member of the United Teachers Los Angeles board.

In an interview with LA School Report, he addressed how some of the uncertainties in LA Unified are playing out in El Rancho.

Q: Wouldn’t a class in Ethnic Studies come at the expense of students not taking another course?

A: Not necessarily, he said. “Students who pass all their courses in 9th through 12th grade have room for two more courses,” he said. “For them, it wouldn’t replace anything.” It’s only students who fail more than two courses who would lose another subject to accommodate a semester of Ethnic Studies, he added.

Q: Will El Rancho’s Ethnic Studies course be taught within existing departments, like English or Social Studies, or will they stand alone?

A: “They will be stand-alone courses,” he said, pointing out that there are already 11 such classes approved in LA Unified. “More can be developed.”

Q: The resolution passed by LA Unified noted that 92 different languages are spoken by district families. How can you assure that all ethnic groups are contemplated by the new courses?

A: “Each school site will decide what they want,” he said. “Schools in east LA may want Chicano studies, but a school like Lincoln High” — which has 26 percent of Asian students — “might want Asian studies included. Each school can decide what fits best.”

The LA Unified resolution passed, 6-1, and Cortines jumped on the bandwagon right away, telling the members that he and Ruth Perez, the deputy superintendent for instruction, “accept the challenge.”

“We’ll come back to you in January, laying out how we see it,” he said. “Then you can debate it.”

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