Skip Navigation
archived information
Stay Up-to-Date:

Home > Ask A REL > Response

What evidence-based curriculum for schools exists to combat racism?

June 2020

Following an established REL Northeast & Islands research protocol, we conducted a search for recent research on evidence-based curriculum combating racism. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed curriculum in early childhood and K-12 educational settings. The sources searched included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response and we offer them only for your reference. Because our search for references is based on the most commonly used resources of research, it is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Dee, T. S., & Penner, E. K. (2017). The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1), p127-166.
    From the abstract: “An extensive theoretical and qualitative literature stresses the promise of instructional practices and content aligned with minority students' experiences. Ethnic studies courses provide an example of such "culturally relevant pedagogy" (CRP). Despite theoretical support, quantitative evidence on the effectiveness of these courses is limited. We estimate the causal effects of an ethnic studies curriculum, using a "fuzzy" regression discontinuity design based on the fact that several schools assigned students with eighth-grade GPAs below a threshold to take the course. Assignment to this course increased ninth-grade attendance by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points, and credits earned by 23. These surprisingly large effects suggest that CRP, when implemented in a high-fidelity context, can provide effective support to at-risk students.”
  2. Escayg, K. (2019) "Who's got the power?": A critical examination of the anti-bias curriculum. International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy. 13(6).
    From the abstract: “Ample research data indicate that young children recognize racial characteristics and subsequently exhibit both positive and negative racial attitudes toward their own and other racial groups. In the early childhood field, educators commonly adopt an anti-bias/multicultural curriculum to address such issues with young children and—with rare exceptions—such methods are subject to ongoing endorsement in the scholarly literature. This article, however, offers a more comprehensive critique of the anti-bias curriculum, including an analysis of the conceptual frameworks underpinning several of the associated teaching strategies. In addition, the present article illustrates how the anti-bias curriculum, though presented as congruent with the empirical evidence with respect to the education of young children and race, departs considerably from these data. Furthermore, the curricula under scrutiny fail to engage young children in critical discussions and classroom practices centering on: (i) power relations; (ii) racism; (iii) whiteness; and (iv) white privilege. This critique concludes with a preliminary conceptualization of anti-racism in early childhood education.”
  3. Hale, J. & Harris, R. (2017). Misunderstanding Progressive Pedagogy: Slave Auctions, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Perpetuation of White Supremacy in Our Classrooms. AERA Online Paper Repository, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (San Antonio, TX, Apr 27-May 1, 2017).
    From the abstract: “In light of the demand to make race a central part of our teaching and to incorporate the study and discussion of race into our systems of education, this paper examines the origins of race-based curriculum found in institutions of higher learning that influence social studies teaching in the public schools. More specifically, this research interrogates the disconnect evident in examples of harmful race-based teaching practices in the K-12 classroom by examining the intellectual trajectory and intersection of race, pedagogical theory and practice within teacher education programs. These well-intentioned teachers taught topics connected to race in very problematic ways, but ones that were still grounded in highly regarded student-centered and kinesthetic activities based on culturally relevant topics. This pedagogy is grounded within the framework of Progressive, Constructivist, Multicultural, and Culturally Relevant Education adopted by many colleges of education. Though such practices constitute the canon of education theory and pedagogy, they lead to problematic discussions of race that preclude much needed, structured and genuine discussions about race without appropriate professional development.”
  4. Martell, C. C. (2018). Teaching Race in U.S. History: Examining Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in a Multicultural Urban High School. Journal of Education, 198(1), p63-77.
    From the abstract: “In this interpretative case study, the researcher examined the beliefs and practices of three self-identifying culturally relevant social studies teachers related to their teaching of U.S. history at a racially and ethnically diverse urban high school. The teachers displayed beliefs and practices that were aligned with the core criteria of culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP), while also centering their U.S. history classrooms on race and racism. However, the teachers described and exhibited CRP through three different models: exchanging, discovering, and challenging. Despite these differences, the students reported a positive response to their teacher's use of CRP.”
  5. Saugher, Nojan. (2020). Why Ethnic Studies? Building Critical Consciousness among Middle School Students. Middle School Journal, 51(2), p25-35 2020.
    From the abstract: “The rising percentage of nonwhite students in the U.S. public school system accompanied by persistent educational debt and racial inequities presents an opportunity gap for many marginalized students. Scholars suggest that teaching ethnic studies curriculum with critical race pedagogy can help address the opportunity gap. Ethnic Studies centers on providing students educational access, relevance, and tools for social change. However, few studies examine how this curriculum affects middle school students. Based on qualitative analysis of a combination of different data sources such as student evaluations, writing samples, and teacher reflections, I found that an ethnic studies curriculum enabled middle school students to make meaningful connections to their lives and build academic and social confidence that promoted their success. It also encouraged them to develop their capacities for social action. I find that contradictory ideologies may arise from cultivating critical consciousness with regards to responses and recognition of injustices. Results suggest that teachers may help cultivate students' critical consciousness when they have the content knowledge and pedagogical tools to support their development.”
  6. Schultz, L. H., Barr, D. J., Selman, R. L. (2001). The Value of a Developmental Approach to Evaluating Character Development Programmes: An Outcome Study of "Facing History and Ourselves". Journal of Moral Education, 30(1) 3-27.
    From the abstract: “Finds that eighth grade students in Facing History and Ourselves classrooms show increases in relationship maturity and decreases in racist attitudes and self-reported fighting behavior relative to comparison students. Reports that the gains made by Facing History students in moral reasoning and in civic attitudes and participation were not significantly greater than the comparison students. (DAJ).”

Additional Organizations to Consult

What Works Clearinghouse (WWC).
From the website: “The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education. Our goal is to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. We focus on the results from high-quality research to answer the question "What works in education?" Find more information about the WWC.”

Selected reference:
Facing History and Ourselves was found to have no discernible effects on behavior and knowledge, attitudes, and values.

Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) Hub at the Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative (EJ-ROC).
From the website: “The Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative (EJ-ROC) at the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools brings together researchers, data and policy analysts, and community organizers to provide critical research, data, policy and strategic support for the education justice movement.”

Selected reference:
Transforming Our Public Schools: A Guide to Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education. (2020). NYC Culturally Responsive Education Working Group and the Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative (EJ-ROC) at the NYU Metro Center.

Facing History and Ourselves.
From the website: “At Facing History and Ourselves, we believe the bigotry and hate that we witness today are the legacy of brutal injustices of the past. Facing our collective history and how it informs our attitudes and behaviors allows us to choose a world of equity and justice. Facing History's resources address racism, antisemitism, and prejudice at pivotal moments in history; we help students connect choices made in the past to those they will confront in their own lives. Through our partnership with educators around the world, Facing History and Ourselves reaches millions of students in thousands of classrooms every year. Independent research studies show that experience in a Facing History classroom motivates students to become upstanders in their communities, whether by challenging negative stereotypes at the dinner table, standing up to a bully in their neighborhood, or registering to vote when they are eligible. Together we are creating the next generation of leaders who will build a world based on knowledge and compassion, the foundation for more democratic, equitable, and just societies.”

Selected reference:
How do we know it works? Researching the impact of Facing History and Ourselves since 1976. (2019) Evaluation Department, Facing History and Ourselves.

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
From the website: “The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a professional membership organization that works to promote high-quality early learning for all young children, birth through age 8, by connecting early childhood practice, policy, and research. We advance a diverse, dynamic early childhood profession and support all who care for, educate, and work on behalf of young children. The association comprises nearly 60,000 individual members of the early childhood community and more than 50 Affiliates, all committed to delivering on the promise of high-quality early learning. Together, we work to achieve a collective vision: that all young children thrive and learn in a society dedicated to ensuring they reach their full potential.”

Selected reference:
Derman-Sparks, L.; LeeKeenan D. & Nimmo, J. (2015). Building Anti-Bias Early Childhood Programs: The Role of the Leader. Young Children, 2015(70, 2).

Selected reference:
Cole, K.; Verwayne, D. (2018). Becoming Upended: Teaching and Learning about Race and Racism with Young Children and Their Families. Young Children, 2018(73, 2).

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS).
From the website: “Our Vision: A world in which all students are educated and inspired for lifelong inquiry and informed civic action. Our Mission: The mission of the National Council for the Social Studies is to advocate and build capacity for high-quality social studies by providing leadership, services, and support to educators.”

Selected reference:
Resources for Teaching About Racism, Racial Injustice, and Human Rights. (2020). National Council for the Social Studies.

National Education Association EdJustice (NEA EdJustice).
From the website: “NEA EdJustice engages and mobilizes activists in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education. Readers will find timely coverage of social justice issues in education and ways they can advocate for our students, our schools, and our communities.”

Selected reference:
Black Lives Matter at School – Resources. (2020). National Education Association EdJustice.

Selected reference:
Racial Justice in Education: Resource Guide. (2018) National Education Association.

Rochester City School District.
From the website: “Mission: In a partnership of family, school, and community, our mission is to provide all students equitable access to a high quality education and graduate students who are prepared to become productive members of society. We are committed to supporting cultural and linguistic diversity, deep student engagement, and the pursuit of lifelong learning.”

Selected reference:
Black Lives Matter at School: A Day of Understanding and Affirmation. Instructional Resource Toolkit for School Staff. (2018). Rochester City School District.

Teaching For Change.
From the website: “Teaching for Change provides teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write, and change the world. By drawing direct connections to real world issues, Teaching for Change encourages teachers and students to question and re-think the world inside and outside their classrooms, build a more equitable, multicultural society, and become active global citizens. Our professional development, publications, and parent organizing programs serve teachers, other school staff, and parents. Our main focus is national and we have dedicated programs in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.”

Teaching Tolerance. https:///
From the website: “Our mission is to help teachers and schools educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Teaching Tolerance provides free resources to educators—teachers, administrators, counselors and other practitioners—who work with children from kindergarten through high school. Educators use our materials to supplement the curriculum, to inform their practices, and to create civil and inclusive school communities where children are respected, valued and welcome participants.

Our program emphasizes social justice and anti-bias. The anti-bias approach encourages children and young people to challenge prejudice and learn how to be agents of change in their own lives. Our Social Justice Standards show how anti-bias education works through the four domains of identity, diversity, justice and action.

A project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance was founded in 1991 to prevent the growth of hate. We began by publishing Teaching Tolerance magazine and producing films chronicling the modern civil rights movement. Today, our community includes more than 500,000 educators who read our magazine, screen our films, visit our website, participate in Mix It Up at Lunch Day, use our curriculum or participate in our social media community.”

Selected reference:
Social Justice Standards: The Teaching Tolerance Anti-Bias Framework. (2016) Teaching Tolerance.

Zinn Education Project.
From the website: “The Zinn Education Project promotes and supports the teaching of people's history in classrooms across the country. For more than ten years, the Zinn Education Project has introduced students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula. With more than 110,000 people registered, and growing by more than 10,000 new registrants every year, the Zinn Education Project has become a leading resource for teachers and teacher educators.

The empowering potential of studying history is often lost in a textbook-driven trivial pursuit of names and dates. We believe that through taking a more engaging and more honest look at the past, we can help equip students — and all of us — with the analytical tools to make sense of and improve the world today. For a more complete description of our approach, read why teach people's history.

Our website offers free, downloadable lessons and articles organized by theme, time period, and grade level. Based on the approach to history highlighted in Howard Zinn's best-selling book A People's History of the United States, our teaching materials emphasize the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping history.

The Zinn Education Project is coordinated by two non-profit organizations, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change, that have spent decades developing and providing social justice resources for teachers.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

Culturally relevant education

Ethnic studies curriculum

Multicultural education

Anti-bias education

Racial justice curriculum

Teaching race

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of the publication: References and resources published for the last 6 years, from 2015 to present, were included in the search and review.

Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including WWC, ERIC, and NCEE.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types – randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc.; (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Northeast & Islands Region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, US Virgin Islands, and Vermont), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands at Education Development Center. This memorandum was prepared by REL Northeast & Islands under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0008, administered by Education Development Center. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.