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California Ethnic Studies Requirement Relies On Questionable Studies, Distorted Data

California Ethnic Studies Requirement Relies On Questionable Studies, Distorted Data

“make the stunning claim that the ethnic studies course causes an average increase of 1.4 GPA points, miraculously turning C students into B+ students”

The studies actually claimed that an ethnic studies course raises a student’s GPA.

From Tablet Mag:

Studies Fail to Support Claims of New California Ethnic Studies Requirement

Last fall, when California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a measure that could require every California public high school student to take an “ethnic studies” course to graduate, he alluded to two studies commonly cited by advocates to justify the measure, claiming the research shows that ethnic studies courses “boost student achievement over the long run—especially among students of color.”

The studies—one from 2017 by Thomas Dee of Stanford University and Emily Penner of University of California, Irvine, the other a follow-up from 2021 by Dee, Penner, and Sade Bonilla of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst—purport to show that ninth-grade students who took an ethnic studies course in San Francisco public schools experienced dramatic short-term and long-term academic benefits. The studies also make the stunning claim that the ethnic studies course causes an average increase of 1.4 GPA points, miraculously turning C students into B+ students.

But the experiment on which these conclusions are based is so muddled, and the data reported is so ambiguous, that in fact they support no conclusion, either positive or negative, about the effects of this particular ethnic studies course in these particular schools and times. Indeed, not even the lead author claims that the studies provide a basis for establishing ethnic studies mandates for all students. Nevertheless, a proposal to make ethnic studies a prerequisite for admission to the University of California—currently before the UC Academic Senate—uses the results of both the 2017 and 2021 studies to claim that “by requiring all future UC applicants to take an ethnic studies course, UC can uplift the outcomes of students of color.”

Social science research often generates controversial results, because particular findings can often be legitimately interpreted in multiple ways. This is not the case here. There are well-established, objective methods for evaluating the effects of new programs, and reporting upon and interpreting the results of those evaluations. Those methods were not followed in the Dee-Penner-Bonilla research. The work they present fails many basic tests of scientific method, and it should not have been published as written, much less relied upon in the formulation of public policy.

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Comments

“Social science” is an oxymoron. These areas are not “science” because different people have different opinions and get different results, usually because their results mirror their opinions. These areas should be called “social studies.”

In a real “science,” there should be correct answers and incorrect answers. For example, if two scientists measure the speed of light and get different results, then at least one of them is wrong. Sometimes answers (as in quantum mechanics) are probabilistic, but still there are correct probability distributions and incorrect ones.

henrybowman | April 2, 2022 at 4:52 pm

I don’t understand why the methodology here isn’t obvious.
Force a student to take a “gut course” (styrofoam) where s/he is guaranteed an easy A if she just regurgitates the teacher’s opinions, and of course her GPA will go up.
The study claims the effect is permanent, but the evidence for that claim is so weak as to be in “ice cream sales cause violent-crime” territory.
This is just the 2020s version of participation trophies.

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