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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Fair Share for Our Schools: A Multidisciplinary Curriculum: Right to Education: Lesson 1
View the Short Video: Campaign for Fiscal Equality: Students Speak Out

Lesson Materials (word document)

Should there be a constitutionally guaranteed right to education?

This lesson is the first of three lessons in a small Social Studies unit on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity [CFE] lawsuit. The unit was formulated with the New York State curriculum in mind, to be used in an 11th grade class in U.S. History and Government, a 12th grade class Participation in Government class or an Advanced Placement US Government and Politics class. It is particularly suited for the study of state government.

The focus of this first lesson is the idea of a “right to an education.” The lesson examines the correlation between social class and status in the US, on the one hand, and the completion of post-secondary education, on the other hand. It discusses two crucial Supreme Court cases touching upon education – Brown v. Board of Education [1954], which outlawed de jure racial segregation in schools, and San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez [1973], which refused to extend the principles of Brown to establish a right to an education. The lesson then considers why the Court may have been reluctant to adopt a ‘positive right’ which requires governmental action, such as a right to education. It studies how the advocates for equity in education transferred their efforts to the state governments and courts, and how this resulted in CFE lawsuit in New York State. The lesson concludes with a discussion of how the CFE case has defined a “right to education” in New York.

The lesson plan was written in the format of a developmental lesson, with parallel columns of contents, the concepts and information students should be learning, and questions, which the teacher should employ to initiate student discussion and induce higher order student thought. Those questions could just as easily be used as a basis for leading a seminar discussion of the topic. The lesson plan contains two full days of material, so it should be edited down if the teacher wishes to teach it in one day.

Standard 1: History of the United States and New York [Commencement Level]
1. Students will describe the evolution of American democratic values and beliefs as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the New York State Constitution, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other important historical documents.

Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship and Government: [Commencement Level]
2. Students will trace the evolution of American values, beliefs, and institutions; analyze the disparities between civic values expressed in the United States Constitution and the United Nation Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the realities as evidenced in the political, social, and economic life in the United States and throughout the world; identify, respect, and model those core civic values inherent in our founding documents that have been forces for unity in American society; compare and contrast the Constitutions of the United States and New York State; and understand the dynamic relationship between federalism and state’s rights.

3. Students will analyze issues at the local, state, and national levels and prescribe responses that promote the public interest or general welfare, such as planning and carrying out a voter registration campaign.

4. Students will evaluate, take, and defend positions on what the fundamental values and principles of American political life are and their importance to the maintenance of constitutional democracy; take, defend, and evaluate positions about attitudes that facilitate thoughtful and effective participation in public affairs; participate in school/classroom/community activities that focus on an issue or problem; prepare a plan of action that defines an issue or problem, suggests alternative solutions or courses of action, evaluates the consequences for each alternative solution or course of action, prioritizes the solutions based on established criteria, and proposes an action plan to address the issue or to resolve the problem; and explain how democratic principles have been used in resolving an issue or problem.

Should there be a constitutionally guaranteed right to education?

Instructional Objectives
Students will be able to:

  1. explain why education is increasing important for Americans;
  2. explain how the fundamental rights of Americans are protected;
  3. describe the Supreme Court rulings in Brown v. Board of Education [1954] and San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez [1973], and explain how they have circumscribed the ‘right to education’ in the U.S. Constitution;
  4. define ‘negative’ rights and ‘positive’ rights, and explain the difference between the two conceptions of rights;
  5. take, evaluate and defend a position on whether positive rights should be guaranteed by the US Constitution;
  6. define ‘new judicial federalism’;
  7. explain how the protections of individual rights provided for in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights make up a floor rather than a ceiling for such protections, and how state courts may, based on the rights protected in state constitutions, provide additional protections;
  8. explain how the New York State Court of Appeals has used ‘new judicial federalism’ establish a ‘right to education,’ based on the State Constitution’s guarantee of a “sound, basic education”;
  9. describe the ruling of the New York State Court of Appeals in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York [1995], and explain how it established a right to education for New Yorkers;
  10. offer a reasoned opinion on what would be required to meet the constitutional guarantee of a “sound, basic education,” and on whether or not the Court of Appeals has identified all of the components of that education.

Do you play off the two adults in your life (father/mother, grandmother/mother, aunt/mother) in order to get what you want? Is there an analogy here with individuals who seek to obtain protections for their rights from both the US Supreme Court and state supreme courts?

To Lesson 2

Subject Areas:
Social Studies

Grade Levels:  9-12

About the teacher:

Leo Casey is currently Special Representative for High Schools at the United Federation of Teachers. Prior to his work at the UFT, he spent 14 years teaching Social Studies at Clara Barton High School in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, NY. During his teaching stint, his classes of inner city students regularly won New York City and New York State championships, and placed as high as fourth in the nation, in the national "We The People: The Citizen and the Constitution" competition. He has received several awards for his teaching, including being named the Social Studies Teacher of the Year in 1992 by the American Teacher Awards. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Toronto, and is the author of several published articles on politics and education.




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