Focus Areas

Social Studies


Social studies education helps students understand the world they live in, so they can make informed decisions about issues affecting them, especially when they grow older. Through social studies, students develop historical thinking and literacy as a way of navigating our world.

The term “social studies” includes primarily history, geography, civics, economics, ethnic studies and sociology. But, it also deals with materials from other subjects including ethics, psychology, philosophy and anthropology.


Civics education teaches students to think critically, develop research skills, assess and synthesize information, and present coherent arguments based on data: skills for a lifetime of engagement in our society. As Thomas Jefferson said:

“The qualifications for self-government are not innate. They are the result of habit and training.”

The California State Board of Education approved criteria for California students to earn a new Seal of Civic Engagement, an incentive aimed at encouraging active and ongoing citizenship.

To earn the seal, students must demonstrate excellence in civic learning, participation in civics-related projects, contributions to their community, and an understanding of the United States Constitution, the California Constitution, and the American democratic system. Students may earn the seal on a transcript, diploma, or Certificate of Completion. California history and social science teachers worked in partnership with the California Department of Education (CDE) to develop the initial requirements.

State Seal of Civics Engagement 

Under direction of the State Board, the California Department of Education worked to ensure that the criteria approved today are accessible to all students, support rigorous and continuous civic engagement, promote diversity and inclusion, engage young students, reflect an interdisciplinary approach, and recognize civil disobedience as a form of civic engagement.

The criteria are:

  1. Be engaged in academic work in a productive way
  2. Demonstrate a competent understanding of U.S. and California constitutions; functions and governance of local governments; tribal government structures and organizations; the role of the citizen in a constitutional democracy; and democratic principles, concepts, and processes
  3. Participate in one or more informed civic engagement project(s) that address real-world problems and require students to identify and inquire into civic needs or problems, consider varied responses, take action, and reflect on efforts
  4. Demonstrate civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions through self-reflection
  5. Exhibit character traits that reflect civic-mindedness and a commitment to positively impact the classroom, school, community, and/or society.


The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, adopted by the California State Board of Education in March 2021, is aimed at empowering students by illuminating the often-untold struggles and contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino/a/x Americans, and Asian Americans in California. The document includes University of California and California State University A-G-approved ethnic studies course outlines and lessons that expand beyond the four traditional disciplines of ethnic studies to help local districts tailor a course to meet local student needs.

Additionally, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation in October 2021 making California the first state in the country to require students to complete a semester-long course in ethnic studies to earn a high school diploma, starting with the high school class of 2030.

What is Ethnic Studies?

Ethnic studies examines the histories, experiences and cultures of various racial and ethnic groups and explores race and ethnicity in various social, cultural, historical, political and economic contexts. It also provides an opportunity for students to learn of the histories, cultures, struggles, and contributions to American society of these historically marginalized peoples which have often been untold in US history courses.

Ethnic studies advocates cite improved student outcomes, critical thinking, self-esteem and student engagement while increasing connection between students of different backgrounds. One of the leading papers on ethnic studies, The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum, indicates that participation in ethnic studies can reduce dropout rates and improve student achievement and that “culturally relevant teaching, when implemented in a supportive, high-fidelity context, can provide effective support to at-risk students.”