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Ethnic studies education — May 2019


How does ethnic studies education affect the behavior and educational outcomes of minority students?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on the effect of ethnic studies education on students’ behavior and educational outcomes. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (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. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

Research References

Cammarota, J. (2007). A social justice approach to achievement: Guiding Latina/o students toward educational attainment with a challenging, socially relevant curriculum. Equity and Excellence in Education, 40(1), 87–96. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This article discusses how an experimental social science curriculum has influenced Latina/o students’ perspectives of their potential to graduate high school and attend college. The curriculum, which is called the Social Justice Education Project (SJEP), requires students to adopt a serious academic subjectivity to analyze and address social conditions that may undermine their future opportunities. The curriculum reflects graduate-level seminars in critical theory and participatory action research. Many students in the first cohort to participate in the program were labeled ‘at risk’ of dropping out. These students not only graduated but also excelled with the advanced-level course work. Their exposure to advanced-level work was the best measure for preventing their premature departure from high school as well as preparation for college. The article concludes with recommendations for how universities can work with local schools to foster the type of academic climate that is conducive to success.”

de los Ríos, C. V. (2017). Picturing ethnic studies: Photovoice and youth literacies of social action. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 61(1), 15–24. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This study uses photovoice to examine the ways in which Chicanx youths hone their critical and multimodal literacy skills in a secondary ethnic studies course. While the institutionalization of secondary ethnic studies courses swiftly expands in school districts across the United States, more research is necessary to understand the nature of these courses. This inquiry examines student photovoice compositions, participant observations, and in-depth semistructured interviews to ascertain some of the affordances of an ethnic studies course from the perspectives of participating students. The following question guides this paper: How do students articulate the importance of ethnic studies in their lives? Students’ creations of photovoice compositions allowed them to communicate ideas around ethnic studies in authentic ways that valued their cultural practices and resources. Findings highlight student literacies of social action across three domains: individual, community, and structural.”

de los Ríos, C. V., López, J., & Morrell, E. (2015). Critical ethnic studies in high school classrooms: Academic achievement via social action. In P. A. Noguera, J. C. Pierce, & R. Ahram (Eds.), Race, equity, and education: Sixty years from Brown (pp. 177–198). New York: Springer. Retrieved from with chapter available for purchase.

From the abstract: “This chapter explores three case studies of a critical pedagogy of Ethnic Studies with high-school students. The first of these cases explores students’ critical readings of federal legislation affecting their lives and futures and their organizing of social justice community posadas to raise awareness and create local solutions. The second case examines how a school utilized community resources to design a Community Cultural Treasures Project, a collaboration among educators, nonprofit arts organizations, and literacy directors that addressed local history and culture while honoring the voice of students. The final case study describes a 12-year project where high-school students used youth participatory action research (YPAR) to unpack issues of social and racial injustice in their neighborhoods, schools, and communities. Across each of these cases, we explore the connections between the teaching of Ethnic Studies and the development of literacies of power, social awareness, civic engagement, and academic achievement. We conclude the chapter with implications for pedagogy, policy, and praxis in city schools.”

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), 127–166. Retrieved from

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.”

Lewis, K. M., Sullivan, C. M., & Bybee, D. (2006). An experimental evaluation of a school-based emancipatory intervention to promote African American wellbeing and youth leadership. Journal of Black Psychology, 32(1), 3–28. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This study experimentally examined the effect of a school-based emancipatory intervention on the psychological and behavioral well-being of African American adolescents. Sixty-five eighth graders in an inner-city, predominantly Black school were randomly assigned to either receive the experimental intervention or a regular Life Skills course (the control condition). The class met three times a week for one semester. Growth trajectory modeling was used to test the extent to which the intervention affected students’ communal worldviews, individualism, school connectedness, motivation to achieve, and social change activities over time. Results indicated that the intervention positively affected each of these variables. Increased communalism and increased school connectedness mediated the relationship between the intervention and students’ motivation to achieve. Competitive individualistic orientation was a partial mediator for motivation to achieve. Implications for practice, policy, and research are discussed.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(“ethnic studies education” OR “ethnic studies” OR “ethnic studies curriculum”) AND (“outcomes” OR “achievement” OR “behavior”)]

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 and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2004 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 and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. 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.