"The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum"

Dee, T.S., & Penner, E.K. (2016). The causal effects of cultural relevance: Evidence from an ethnic studies curriculum. American Educational Research Journal, pp. 1-40.
DOI: 10.3102/0002831216677002


An extensive theoretical and qualitative literature stresses the promise of instructional practices and content aligned with minority students’ experiences. Ethnic studies courses provide an example of such ‘‘culturally relevant pedagogy’’ (CRP). Despite theoretical support, quantitative evidence on the effectiveness of these courses is limited. We estimate the causal effects of an ethnic studies curriculum, using a ‘‘fuzzy’’ regression discontinuity design based on the fact that several schools assigned students with eighth-grade GPAs below a threshold to take the course. Assignment to this course increased ninth-grade attendance by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points, and credits earned by 23. These surprisingly large effects suggest that CRP, when implemented in a high-fidelity context, can provide effective support to at-risk students.