Leaders A (75%)
Groups A (100%)
Events A (75%)
History F (14%)
Opposition F (0%)
Tactics B (57%)
Content A (63%)

Grade levels A (100%)
Current events F (0%)
Civics A (100%)
Other movements A (100%)
Context A (75%)

Items the State Requires
: Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, James Meredith. Groups: CORE, SCLC, SNCC. Events: 24th Amendment, 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Act, Brown, Montgomery bus boycott, Freedom Rides, Little Rock, March on Washington. History: Poll taxes. Tactics: Tactics.

Grade A means New York includes at least 60% of the recommended content and sets higher expectations for its students than other states.

Survey of Standards and Frameworks
New York’s Learning Standards for Social Studies contain four sample tasks related to the civil rights movement. Text elaborating upon social studies standard one (History of the United States and New York) mentions the civil rights movement: “Based on a study of key events in United States history, such as the American Revolution, the Civil War, the women’s suffrage movement, and the civil rights movement, discuss how at least two core civic ideas, such as individual rights and the consent of the governed, have been forces for national unity in this diverse society.”

One sample task for standard one asks students to “read Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and discuss how this letter expresses the basic ideas, values, and beliefs found in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.” Another sample task asks students to investigate “Rosa Parks’ decision to challenge the Jim Crow laws in Alabama in 1955.”

A final sample task suggests that students “investigate how Americans have reconciled the inherent tensions and conflicts over minority versus majority rights by researching the abolitionist and reform movements of the nineteenth century, the civil rights and women’s rights movements of the twentieth century, or the social protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s.”

Elementary and Middle School
Grade 5:
Martin Luther Ling, Jr. is included in a list of holidays students should understand for effective citizenship.

Grades 7-8: Unit eleven (“The changing nature of the American people from World War II to the present”) in the middle school social studies core curriculum deals directly with the civil rights movement. The relevant parts of the content outline are excerpted here along with their associated “Connections.”

C. Civil rights movement placed focus on equality and democracy
1. Important executive and judicial decisions supported equal rights
2. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) overturned legal basis of segregation.
3. Activists and leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. developed strategies to secure civil rights for African-Americans,
4. Women, Native American Indians, and others also sought greater equality.
5. Supreme Court moved to protect individual rights: Miranda v. Arizona (1966), Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969).
D. Self-confidence of early postwar years eroded by series of events.
1. Assassinations of major leaders: Kennedy, King
2. Nation split over involvement in Vietnam War
3. Groups in society turn to violence to reach their goals.
4. Resignation of President Nixon
5. Oil crisis and skyrocketing inflation
• Analyze the conflict between federal and State law concerning the issue of school desegregation, using primary source documents.
• What method did minority groups use in their attempts to gain equal rights?
• Create a poster indicating the significant people and events in the struggle for equal rights of a particular minority group.
• Suggested Documents: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s address at the Lincoln Memorial (1963): “I have a dream. . . ,”; Kennedy’s inaugural speech; song, “We Shall Overcome”

High School
For high school, the Core Curriculum continues its Content/Connections layout, reproduced here. Because the Core Curriculum explains that items contained in the “Content” column are included on the Regents exams, only items in that column were coded as required.

The high school curriculum begins with a lengthy list of Supreme Court cases students should understand. Among those are several civil rights cases, including Brown.

U.S. History: While the high school Core Curriculum mentions “Truman and civil rights” in the content column of Unit Six (“The United States in an Age of Global Crisis”), it does not directly require students to learn about desegregation of the armed forces.

More extensive coverage is found in Unit Seven (“World in Uncertain Times: 1950-Present”). The relevant parts of the content outline are excerpted here along with their associated “Connections.”


II. Containment and Consensus: 1945-1960
C. Domestic Policies
2. Civil rights

a. Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier
b. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954
c. Beginnings of modern civil rights movement
(1) Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott
(2) Little Rock: school desegregation
(3) Segregation in public transportation ruled     unconstitutional
(4) Sit-ins: nonviolent tactic
(5) Civil Rights Act of 1957
III. Decade of Change: 1960s
A. The Kennedy Years
1. The New Frontier: dreams and         promises  
a. Civil rights actions
(1) James Meredith at the University of Mississippi
(2) Public career of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Birmingham protest (“Letter from Birmingham Jail”)
(3) Assassination of Medgar Evers
(4) March on Washington
B. Johnson and the Great Society
3. Continued demands for equality: civil rights movement

a. Black protest, pride, and power
(1) NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People): legal judicial leadership, Urban League
b. Case studies
(1) SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee): sit-in movement among college     students
(2) SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference): promote nonviolent resistance, sit-ins, boycotts
(3) CORE (Congress of Racial Equality): “Freedom Riders”
(4) Testing of segregation laws
(5) Others: Black Muslims; prominence of Malcolm X: advocating separation of races, separate state in the United States
(6) Civil unrest: Watts riot, 1965, as example; Kerner Commission
(7) Assassination of Malcolm X (February 1965)
c. Legislative impact
(1) Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 1964), modifications since 1964
(2) 24th Amendment (eliminating poll tax)
(3) Voting Rights Act, 1965
(4) Court decisions since 1948           upholding or modifying preferential   treatment in employment; equal access to housing; travel and accommodations; voting rights; educational equity
(5) Fair Housing Act, 1968

Students should understand that in spite of the victory of the forces of integration in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, there was much resistance to a broader application of the principle of integration. Students should study various specific events in the civil rights movement from 1955 to 1965.

—Students should understand that the 1960s witnessed protest movements of peoples of diverse backgrounds (African-Americans, women, Hispanic-Americans, Native American Indians).

—Compare and contrast the civil rights movement after 1965 with the earlier phase (1955-1965) in terms of (1) goals, (2) leadership, (3) strategies, and (4) achievements.

—To what extent did the civil rights movement influence the demands for equality on the part of Hispanic- Americans and Native American Indians? How successful were their efforts?

Additional Documents
In addition to the state standards and curriculum, New York’s Regents Exams provide a glimpse into the extent that knowledge about the civil rights movement is valued by the state. Twenty-three of the state’s United States History and Government Regents Examinations are available on the website of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Assessment Policy, Development and Administration. These exams, from January 2004 through January 2011, each average two questions about the civil rights movement out of 50.

With some modifications, New York’s social studies content standards and core curriculum could be models for the rest of the country. The state paints a detailed picture of the civil rights movement, coving major leaders, groups and events fairly comprehensively. Unfortunately, New York leaves out much of the opposition to the movement, covering none of our rubric’s recommended content. This has the unfortunate effect of making the movement seem inevitable while hurting students’ ability to make sense of continuing racism and civil rights struggles.

Overall, these are among the top standards in the country—a few changes would dramatically diminish their excessive periodization, complicate their narrative, and lift the state’s grade dramatically.