The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District board got to experience the complexity involved with changing its graduation requirements at a Monday, Jan. 9, meeting, as they move forward with plans to add an ethnic studies class for all freshmen starting next school year.
The school board members received an update from administrators on how the district plans to adjust its graduation requirements to include the new course without increasing the total number of classes that students need to take to receive a diploma.
The current proposal would change the sequence of freshman and sophomore year social studies classes, while leaving junior and senior year the same.
On a technical level, the district would remove five credits of global studies and five elective credits, which would be replaced with ten credits of ethnic studies. Five credits generally equate to one semester of a class.
In practical terms, the plan would mean that students would take ethnic studies as ninth graders, pushing the current freshman world studies course into sophomore year. That would mean eliminating an existing one-semester "contemporary world issues" class that sophomores take to fulfill the global studies requirement, which the district is proposing to remove.
Under the existing system, sophomores typically take contemporary world issues for one semester and then a semester of health. Tenth graders wanting a more challenging option take Advanced Placement world history, European history or human geography, which are all year-long classes. The first semester fulfills the global studies requirement and the second semester counts as an elective. They then typically take health online, during summer break or in a different year.
Under the new proposal, sophomores would take world studies or AP world history, European history or human geography. These AP classes would now fulfill the world studies requirement, Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Teri Faught told the Voice. All students would have to take health at a different time.
Faught told board members on Monday that staff was considering removing the five-credit global studies requirement in part because it was a hold-over from a standardized test that is no longer administered.
The district added global studies as a one-semester graduation requirement roughly 15 years ago because at the time there wasn't a sophomore history class, which was causing problems when students took a state-mandated social studies test at the end of sophomore year, known as the STAR test, Faught said.
The decision to add ethnic studies next year comes ahead of a state requirement that will take effect in the 2025-2026 school year for all districts to have students take at least one semester of ethnic studies. MVLA is planning to teach a full-year ethnic studies course for all freshmen starting this fall. The district is piloting the course in the current school year as an elective.
District staff have described ethnic studies at past meetings as the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity, with an emphasis placed on the experiences and contributions of people of color.
While Faught told board members that the current plan is to eliminate the one-semester global studies requirement and one semester of an elective, she made clear that things could change. Staff plan to bring a final proposal back to the board at its next meeting on Monday, Jan. 23.
The district has considered a range of alternative options, including integrating ethnic studies into an English class, making it part of the U.S. History class that juniors take and eliminating the health graduation requirement altogether.
Faught noted that combining ethnic studies with another subject area could make the course lose some of its impact. She added that the staff want it to be a freshman course, because of the expected benefits in increasing student engagement and their sense of belonging, as well as seeing themselves and their peers represented in the curriculum.
Board members on Monday mulled various ideas for how to fit the ethnic studies class into the graduation requirements. Board president Phil Faillace suggested having students take one semester of ethnic studies and then one semester of a blended civics/ethnic studies class. Students currently take a semester of civics and a semester of economics in their senior year. Faillace told the Voice that under the idea he suggested, the civics/ethnic studies blend would become a freshman year class.
Board member Catherine Vonnegut said that rather than melding ethnic studies into an existing class, she favored the district's suggestion to remove five credits of an elective class.
The district currently requires 60 elective credits to graduate. Electives include classes like engineering and student government, as well as any courses taken above and beyond the graduation requirements. For instance, only two years of math is required to graduate. If a student takes more, as many do, those count towards their elective requirements.
What board members generally agreed on was that no matter what decision they made, balancing competing interests is complex and that adding more required classes reduces students' choices.
"There are so many new subjects being developed and new ideas being considered," Faillace said. "If they are all turned into requirements, I don't know when kids are going to have any free time."