In most states, the requirements for teaching about the civil rights movement are grossly inadequate to non-existent. The average score across all states and the District of Columbia was 19%, for an average grade of F.
Sixteen states require no instruction at all about the civil rights movement. A majority of states earned Ds or below, with 35 earning Fs.
Only three states, Alabama, Florida and New York, received an A. Only Georgia, Illinois and South Carolina received a B. Six states received a C for a low pass, even when a score of just 30% was required to earn a C and a score of 50% was required for a B. Four states received a D.
In awarding letter grades, we opted to scale grades to recognize the full range of standards quality, so that the states with the most rigorous standards—even if they didn’t cover more than 70% of recommended content—received A’s. In part, this was because these requirements have never been extracted and assessed before. Also, we needed a way to more effectively recognize effort on the part of lower-scoring states. There are significant qualitative differences among the states scoring less than 50% on our rubric: Arizona’s score of 22% represents requirements to learn about movement figures and landmarks such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, integration of the armed forces, Jim Crow, literacy tests, poll taxes and nonviolence. West Virginia earned its 6% score by requiring students to learn only about King and linking the civil rights movement to other movements.
Table 2 breaks out the scores for each state in terms of the rubric’s major categories: leaders, groups, events, causes, obstacles, tactics and context of coverage. There is considerable variance among the content categories. Scores are highest in the leaders category, with an average score of 21%. The lowest average score, 8%, is in the opposition category. The average content grade is extremely low, only 14%.
Average context scores were higher, with states averaging 25%, or about one in four, of the following categories:
• Did the state’s coverage of the civil rights movement include connections to other social movements? This was true in 23 states.
• Did it link the civil rights movement to current events and concerns? Seven states made this linkage explicit in their standards.
• Was civil rights movement coverage incorporated into civics instruction so that, for example, students were encouraged to apply the lessons of the movement when forming their own ideas about effective citizenship? Five states made this explicit connection.
• Did the state reserve teaching about the civil rights only to high school or did it incorporate it into other grades (not including a mention of King in the frequent unit on national holidays in the early grades)? Fifteen states made connections prior to high school.
Scoring for these context categories was liberal. If the civil right movement was mentioned in a state’s civics curriculum, for example, this was enough to count as inclusion, even though a mention is obviously not the same as thoughtful integration. Since this is the first analysis of this kind, we made an overarching decision to err on the side of states; we were not looking to fail any states.
State Grades at a Glance
Each state has a Report Card showing the scores for each rubric category as well as the overall grade for the state. In addition, the civil rights movement-related content included in each state’s standards and frameworks is reported in detail.*
Reading the Report Card
Grades: Each state earned an A, B, C, D or F based on its percentage score (0-100%). The highest possible score was 100 percent, which would mean that a state requires all of the recommended content needed for a thorough grounding in history of the civil rights movement. Letter grades were assigned on a scale that recognizes the best efforts.
The state includes at least 60% of the recommended content. Even though these states can do more to ensure that students have a comprehensive understanding of the civil rights movement, they set higher expectations than other states.
The state includes at least 50% of the recommended content. These states should do more to ensure that students have a comprehensive picture of the civil rights movement, but did demonstrate a commitment to educating students about it. Standards were clear but limited.
The state includes at least 30% of the recommended content. These states have significant additional work to do to ensure that students have a satisfactory, comprehensive picture of the civil rights movement. In general, these states are missing content in more than one key area—covering the movement in patches rather than systematically. Standards are often jumbled.
The state includes at least 20% of the recommended content. These states should significantly revise their standards so that students have a satisfactory and comprehensive picture of the civil rights movement. In general, these states are missing content in several key areas, covering the movement incidentally or haphazardly.
The state includes none or less than 20 percent of the recommended content. Sixteen of these states do not require students to learn about the civil rights movement at all. Those that do require movement-related instruction miss essential content in most of the key areas. These states should substantially revise their standards so that students have a satisfactory and comprehensive picture of the civil rights movement.
Categories. Each state received a score for specific content students should learn. We divided this content into six categories: events, leaders, groups, causes (history), opposition and tactics. Content contributed to 85% of a state’s overall score.
The remaining 15% was allotted to how the state contextualized the movement. Here, we looked at whether instruction spanned several grade levels, whether teachers were required to connect the movement to other social movements and to current events, and whether it was included in civics standards.