Menu Close

Recent early education news and updates

In the News

There is no constitutional right to a high-quality public education. Should there be?


September 18, 2017
Valerie Strauss
The Washington Post

In 2004, Congress declared Sept. 17 as Constitution Day, a federal holiday that requires all schools that receive federal funding to offer some type of “educational program” on the Constitution, though it doesn’t define what that should be (and it doesn’t have consequences for those that don’t). The effort to establish the day was led by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who died in 2010.

Why is the holiday on Sept. 17? It was the last session of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, during which the final version of the newly written Constitution was signed by 39 delegates.

Since then, schools at every level have taken different approaches to teaching the Constitution on this day — or a day close to Sept. 17 if the holiday falls on a weekend, as it does this year. Some hold constitutional fairs, others offer formal lessons. There are numerous online lessons available for teachers and students, including some by the National Archives, which suggest ways to teach six big ideas about the Constitution.

Though schools are charged with teaching the Constitution on this holiday (and presumably, on other days as well), public education is not mentioned in the document, with that responsibility left to the states. There is no federal right to a high-quality public education.

Should there be? This post is an argument in favor. It was written by Noliwe Rooks, director of American studies at Cornell University, and who was for 10 years the associate director of African American studies at Princeton University. She is the author of three books, including “Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education,” out this month.