Exploring the impact of ethnic studies pedagogy on African American identity and empowerment in Oakland

Ethnic Studies has emerged as highly impactful for bolstering academic expectations and outcomes for students of color in K-12 education. In 2018, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) implemented a mandatory elective ninth-grade Ethnic Studies course, citing research that affirms its positive impacts, including higher GPAs, better attendance and lower suspension rates. This qualitative study explores the impact of Ethnic Studies on African American high school students’ perceptions of their own academic and cultural identities. Utilizing Ethnic Studies pedagogy as a conceptual framework, data collected from curriculum planning documents, professional development sessions, and student focus groups were analyzed to explore the impact of the course on students’ perspectives, and whether the goals, purposes, and design of the OUSD Ethnic Studies program aligned with their experiences. This study offers insights that will help educators bolster African American student success with an effective Ethnic Studies curriculum and pedagogy.