Study says Florida a leader in teaching civil rights movement

By | 10.07.11 | 8:05 am

The Southern Poverty Law Center logo (Pic via guidestar.org)

“Teaching the Movement: The State of Civil Rights Education 2011,” a Southern Poverty Law Center study, shows that most states fail when it comes to teaching the U.S. Civil Rights movement to students. Florida earned an A for its curriculum.

The study (.pdf) “examined state standards and curriculum requirements related to the study of the modern civil rights movement for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.”

The study indicates that “only three states—Alabama, Florida, and New York—earned a grade of A,” that is “the state includes at least 60% of the recommended content.” Florida achieved a score of  64 percent.

A closer analysis points out that “Florida has a strong set of civil rights-related history standards that could be improved with a few modifications,” adding that the state “is setting high expectations and following through with end-of-course exams matched to those expectations. With a few changes, the state could have model standards for teaching the civil rights movement.”

“Teaching the Movement” states that “generally speaking, the farther away from the South—and the smaller the African-American population—the less attention paid to the civil rights movement. Sixteen states do not require any instruction whatsoever about the movement. In another 19, coverage is minimal.”

An overview of the study’s results show:

  • Sixteen states do not require any instruction at all about the movement. These states — along with 19 others whose coverage is minimal — received grades of F.
  • Three states — Arizona, Arkansas and Massachusetts — earned a D.
  • Six states — Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia — earned a C.
  • Four states — Georgia, Illinois, South Carolina and the District of Columbia — earned a B .

The study highlights that while 43 states have signed on to a Common Core State Standards for English and math, “such support and consensus is not likely to happen for history.” In 2010, the Florida Department of Education approved “the adoption of the Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts and Mathematics.”

Common Core standards “clearly communicate what is expected of students at each grade level,” but as the Southern Poverty Law Center study points out, “the only way to measure the nature of our common expectations about student knowledge of the civil rights movement is to look at state standards and frameworks.”

According to the National Council for Social Studies, 18 states — Florida is not included — and 15 organizations have been meeting “to discuss working together on Common State Standards for Social Studies.”

Teaching the Movement adds that the “civil rights movement is one of the defining events in American history, providing a bracing example of Americans fighting for the ideals of justice and equality.”

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