U.S. history textbooks for high schoolers are lacking when it comes to covering the Latino experience, a report by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and Latino civil rights organization UnidosUS found.
The two institutions designed the project in fall 2022 and released the findings this month. The report, which Hopkins in a news release dubbed the “first comprehensive analysis” of its kind, discovered that 87% of key moments in Latino history weren’t covered in the textbooks reviewed. Books that did touch on those historical moments only described those Latino experiences in five sentences or fewer.
Researchers focused on five states with significant Latino student populations — New Mexico, California, Texas, Florida and New York — and two with smaller Latino demographics, Iowa and West Virginia. They identified commonly used textbooks in those areas and settled on five high school U.S. history textbooks and one Advanced Placement U.S. history book.
“Research is clear that high-quality, knowledge-building materials are the foundation of academic achievement,” said Ashley Berner, director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, in a news release. “Although Latino students represent more than a quarter of the 50.8 million K-12 public school students in the United States, until this study, we hadn’t known the extent, quality, and variety of opportunities students have to understand the Latino story.”
Some of the states in the study don’t require high schoolers to learn early U.S. history, which is part of the reason the study found limited coverage of Latino history in textbooks. For example, in Texas, Florida, New Mexico and Iowa, high school curriculums cover Reconstruction, which started in 1863, to present day.
The only common thread in Latino history among all reviewed textbooks was Sonya Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
The report also found that only 28 of 222 topics that researchers deemed important were covered well in these textbooks. The topics explored in the most depth were related to purchasing land from Mexico and Latin American foreign policy. Several historical events, like the Mexican-American War, racial segregation and the U.S. acquisition of Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal, were left out.
“The American Latino experience must be accurately depicted to our young people in the classroom if we want them to grow up in a society that recognizes and values the contributions made by people of color,” José Gregory, a U.S. history teacher who consulted on the project, said in the release.
The report made several recommendations on how to improve the teaching of Latino history in high school classrooms. Researchers urge policy-makers to implement social studies teaching throughout the K-12 experience and prioritize content materials that are inclusive. They also recommend that teachers choose supplemental materials that will help expose students to more Latino-focused content.
Efforts to diversify curriculums have come under fire this year. Hopkins’ recommendations come after College Board’s AP African American Studies pilot course became the center of nationwide controversy with politicians fighting about what they believe children should be taught in schools. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly criticized the course’s material, and College Board removed requirements to teach about Black Lives Matter, queer studies and reparations. College Board announced last month that it would continue to make changes to the course framework.
The Hopkins and UnidosUS study acknowledges that other scholarly work has led to “efforts to ensure better representation of the African American experience in the K-12 classroom. This project seeks to broaden those efforts to include the Latino experience as well.”
The report points out that U.S. classrooms include nearly 14 million Latino students: “This work is urgent.”
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