Teaching the Movement: The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States 2011 compared the content required by each state’s standards to a rubric reflecting a body of knowledge that civil rights historians and educators consider core information. A state whose requirements matched every item on the rubric earned a score of 100 percent.
No state received a score higher than 70 percent; the average grade was an F. Sixteen states did not require any instruction about the civil rights movement. Other states received poor grades because they gave short shrift to the topic, seeing it as a story important only in the South or to African-Americans. This is a troubling failure to recognize that the civil rights movement is a crucial part of our story, deeply rooted in 400 years of American history. It didn’t occur only in the South, and it certainly affected people far beyond the South.
Encouragingly, 46 states and Washington, D.C., have now adopted the Common Core Standards. These standards call for all students to read more informational and nonfiction texts, including (at least in grades six-12) texts in history and social studies. In addition, 20 states and 15 professional organizations are considering a set of common content standards.
The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States 2011 was motivated by a growing concern that the civil rights movement is receding from lived cultural experience into historical memory. Its findings received considerable national and local attention by media and policymakers interested in education policy. Many people were interested in finding a way forward from the current morass—if state standards should be improved, they asked, how should we improve them?
This report takes the standards for Alabama, Florida and New York—the top-ranking states in our earlier report—and makes revisions that would raise their scores to 100 percent. These revised standards provide comprehensive coverage of the civil rights movement. The District of Columbia standards were revised as well, so that we could illustrate a way to raise a low-scoring state’s standards—the District scored a “D” in our earlier report—to a level of excellence.