Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Report: Mexican-American Studies Breed Better Academic Performance

Studies show offering a culturally relevant education -- including courses in Mexican American studies and a mariachi band -- can improve academic performance among Mexican American students. Source: Flickr/ Justin Wagner (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Student participation in Mexican-American studies can be linked to better outcomes on state standardized tests and increased chances of earning a high school diploma, according to a recent report by the University of Arizona. 

The university researchers’ findings, published in the December 2014 edition of the American Educational Research Journal, reveal students’ chances of completing high school increased nearly 10 percent.

The study comes after the Arizona state legislature passed HB 2281 in 2013, eliminating the Tucson Unified School District’s MAS program, deeming the curriculum too political

Nearby California, however, is taking notice of the statistics. By 2019, every student in the Los Angeles Unified School District will be required to take one semester of an ethnic studies course to graduate. 

“…Ethnic studies courses are quickly catching the attention of California school board members eager to improve student engagement,” reports Annie Gilbertson of KPCC in Southern California. “EL Rancho Unified in Pico Rivera was the first to require students to take classes in ethnic studies. LAUSD followed suit in November and, less than a month later, San Francisco Unified pledged to offer ethnic studies at every high school.”

Teacher Jose Lara saw the need to expand ethnic studies after previously disinterested students flourished in his African-American and Mexican-American history courses at his south Los Angeles school, he told Gilbertson. “If it’s not about them, they aren’t interested.” 

When I was reporting in Lubbock, Texas, I had several chances to observe the mariachi program at one of the high schools in my coverage area. I heard similar sentiments from staff involved. 

Lauryn Salazar, an ethnomusicologist in the Texas Tech University School of Music, told me Mexican-American students benefit from having cultural relevance tied to their education, and schools with mariachi programs saw higher academic achievement among the demographic.

Similarly, I blogged in September about another study that found teens who maintain strong ties to their Latino cultures perform better academically and adjust more easily socially. They were less likely to display aggressive behavior and engage in alcohol or substance abuse, according to the University of North Carolina study