“If agreement can be reached on standards for student achievement, and if conditions can be created in schools and school systems all over the country in which those standards are internalized and made the centerpiece of educators’ and students’ efforts, a good probability exists that curriculum, professional development, textbooks, and, eventually, teacher preparation can be changed so that the entire system is working toward the standards.”
- Lauren B. Resnick & Katherine J. Nolan, “Standards for Education,” in Debating the Future of American Education: Do We Need National Standards and Assessments? Ed. Diane Ravitch 1995 Brookings Institution: Washington, D.C. 

Although many state standards for teaching the civil rights movement are weak or non-existent, we should not lose hope for reform. 

A national effort that involves 20 states and 15 professional organizations, including the National Council for the Social Studies and the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, has been working since 2010 to develop common state standards for social studies. Their meetings have expanded to include Social Studies Assessment Curriculum and Instruction (SSACI), a collaborative of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). 

States regularly work to improve their content standards and frameworks. Many states review their standards annually or semi-annually. Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and others are currently revising or scheduled to soon begin revision of their social studies standards and assessments. Others have, on occasion, entirely revised their standards with an eye to best practices modeled elsewhere. The District of Columbia’s standards, drawn from California and Massachusetts, received a high grade of 90 percent in Fordham’s comprehensive evaluation despite receiving low marks for their vague coverage of the post-World War II era (and receiving a D, with a grade of 28 percent, in The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States 2011). 

This report presents four sets of model standards as exemplars for coverage of the civil rights movement. These standards stemmed from three major criteria: comprehensiveness, ease of adoption and conformity to best practices modeled in the field. 

Rather than write new standards from scratch, we chose to revise the relevant sections of the standards of four jurisdictions: Alabama, New York, Florida and the District of Columbia. We chose Alabama, New York and Florida because they were the best standards we saw in our national evaluation. We wanted to illustrate how these standards could be revised to make them outstanding. We chose to use the District of Columbia standards to show that even low-scoring standards could be made excellent with a few content and organizational changes. 

Because we were trying to create a comprehensive set of requirements, we revised the standards so that they would receive a grade of 100 percent using the criteria from The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States 2011. These model standards suggest ways these four different states might benefit from a few changes. The changes, however, are not prescriptive: there are many ways to achieve such a grade on our metric. Any state’s standards could be constructively revised to achieve a perfect score. 

These four sets of standards were revised with the goal of keeping as much of their original language as possible. New or revised content is highlighted in gray; most of the original standards remain in some form. It is our hope that this will create easily adopted models. 

The revisions are written to conform to the best practices we found in the field and across the states reviewed for our research for this report and for The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States 2011. They cover the nine essential areas we identified in the 2011 report: events, leaders, groups, history, obstacles, tactics, connection to other movements, connection to current events and connection to civic participation.