District of Columbia
Leaders F (13%)
Groups F (0%)
Events B (58%)
History F (14%)
Opposition D (25%)
Tactics D (29%)
Content D (24%)
Grade levels A (100%)
Current events F (0%)
Civics F (0%)
Other movements A (100%)
Context B (50%)
Items the State Requires
Leaders: Martin Luther King Jr. Events: 24th Amendment, 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Act, 1968 Civil Rights Act, Birmingham, Brown, Little Rock. History: A. Phillip Randolph. Opposition: White resistance. Tactics: Black Power, tactics.
GRADE D means the District of Columbia includes at least 20% of the recommended content and should review and revise its standards.
The District of Columbia’s Social Studies Pre-K through Grade 12 Standards discuss the civil rights movement in several grades. While they do not require much specific content, they do contain many suggested examples of leaders, groups and events students should understand.
Elementary and Middle School
Grade 1: Like many states, the District of Columbia requires students to learn about Martin Luther King Jr. as part of a requirement to understand national holidays.
Grade 3: Students are asked to “Identify and research outstanding statements of moral and civic principles made in Washington, D.C., and the leaders who delivered them, that contributed to the struggle to extend equal rights to all Americans.” This requirement is followed by a list of non-required examples that includes Martin Luther King Jr.’s Lincoln Memorial addresses of 1957 and 1963, as well as Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’ speech at the Poor People’s March.
Grade 5: The roots of discrimination and segregation— including Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan—are included in Reconstruction rather than as part of the civil rights movement. The Klan is mentioned again in the Jazz Age. For the civil rights movement, the Standard’s “Broad Concept” asks that students “describe the key events and accomplishments of the civil rights movement in the United States.” It contains the following detailed learning expectations:
• Describe the proliferation of the civil rights movement of African-Americans from the churches of the rural South to the urban North.
• Explain the role of the NAACP.
• Identify key leaders in the struggle to extend equal rights to all Americans through the decades (e.g., Mary McLeod Bethune, Ella Jo Baker, César Chávez, Frederick Douglass, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, Charles Houston, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Carlos Montes, Baker Motley, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Eleanor Roosevelt, Reies López Tijerina).
• List and describe the steps toward desegregation (e.g., A. Philip Randolph’s proposed 1941 March on Washington, Jackie Robinson and baseball, Truman and the armed forces, Adam Clayton Powell and Congress, and the integration of public schools). • Explain the growth of the African-American middle class.
Grade 11: In their study of U.S. history, students are asked to “analyze the origins, goals, key events, and accomplishments of [the] civil rights movement in the United States.” The related learning outcomes reach well beyond the civil rights movement to encompass a variety of struggles:
• Explain the roots of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement in the legal struggles and largely interracial coalition building of the 1940s (e.g., CORE and NAACP Legal Defense Fund).
• Describe the diffusion of the civil rights movement of African-Americans from the churches of the rural South to the urban North, including the resistance to racial desegregation in Little Rock and Birmingham, and how their advances influenced the agendas, strategies and effectiveness of the quests of Native Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans for civil rights and equal opportunities.
• Describe the birth and the spread of the Chicano Movement, from New Mexico to Denver to Washington, DC. And analyze its moderate and more militant arms (e.g., Brown Berets, United Farm Workers, Mexican American Political Association and Raza Unida).
• Explain the role of institutions (e.g., the NAACP; the Warren Court; the Nation of Islam; CORE; SCLC; League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC; the National Council of La Raza, or NCLR; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF; the National Puerto Rican Coalition; and SNCC).
• Describe the legacies and ideologies of key people (e.g., A. Philip Randolph, Dolores Huerta, Raúl Yzaguirre, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Jo Baker, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X).
• Outline the steps toward desegregation (e.g., Jackie Robinson and baseball, Harry Truman and the armed forces, and Adam Clayton Powell and Congress) and the integration of public schools, including Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education and Bolling v. Sharpe.
• Trace the identification of rights of immigrant populations (non-English speakers) by examining a series of legal decisions from the Supreme Court (e.g., Hernández v. Texas, Méndez v. Westminster, Plyler v. Doe, Lau v. Nichols and Keyes v. Denver).
• Explain the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the 24th Amendment, with an emphasis on equality of access to education and to the political process.
• Describe the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965 and the effect of abolishing the national origins quotas on the demographic makeup of America.
• Analyze the women’s rights movement launched in the 1960s, including differing perspectives on the roles of women, the National Organization of [sic] Women, and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
In addition, the movement gets some treatment in ancillary standards: The discussion of World War II includes a requirement to learn about A. Philip Randolph; another standard requires students to “[e]xplain the rise of the Dixiecrats and the Southern Manifesto, which set the stage for the ultimate exodus of Southern whites from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.” A later one requires students to “Describe the Black Power and black studies movements (e.g., the Black Panthers; Organization Us; black-themed film, music and art; and the birth of academic black studies).”
Grade 12: Students discuss Brown and Bakke in their required one semester Principles of U.S. Government class, where they are required to “explain the controversies that have resulted over changing interpretations of civil rights” by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The District of Columbia’s standards miss the opportunity to require core knowledge about the civil rights movement. They adopt a legislative and legal focus while omitting key movement activities. Students must learn about the 24th Amendment, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Civil Rights Act, but are not required to learn about the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington or the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The only required leader is Martin Luther King Jr. and the district requires students to learn about no groups other than the NAACP, which predated the civil rights movement.
The district’s social studies standards have been highly praised elsewhere, including by the Fordham Institute’s survey, The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011, which awarded them a rare A-. That review noted, however, that the district’s post-World War II standards were not exceptional. Failure to set high standards for the civil right movement is very much to the detriment of the diverse student population of the nation’s capital.