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Fall 2022 Seminar

Advanced Seminar: Systemic Change in Education

Prerequisite: Prerequisites for this course include one or more of the following: Lawyering for Justice, Art of Social Change, Education Law and Policy, and the Education Law Clinic.

Exam Type: No Exam

This advanced seminar will explore strategies for pursuing systemic change in public education, focusing on the goal of transforming schools so that they prepare all students to become active and effective participants in the American democratic system. The seminar will begin with a case study of the recent Cook v. McKee litigation, in which 14 Rhode Island students sought a federal court order declaring a constitutional right under the fourteenth amendment to “a meaningful educational opportunity adequate to prepare them to be capable voters and jurors, to exercise effectively all of their constitutional rights, including the right to speak freely, to participate effectively and intelligently in a democratic political system and to function productively as civic participants in a democratic society.” Although the District Court and the First Circuit ultimately dismissed the complaint, both courts acknowledged the significance of the issues the students had raised, and the case has led to significant improvements in civic education in Rhode Island. This litigation has also influenced the national discussion regarding the need to improve civic preparation of students in response to current challenges to the nation’s democratic culture, as attested by the 10 major amicus briefs that were submitted to the First Circuit.

Students in this seminar will engage in a semester-long inquiry into alternative strategies that advocates might use to pursue the meaningful educational opportunity sought in the case. Specifically, using a conceptual model of system change lawyering developed by the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), students will research the potential viability of initiating a constitutional litigation campaign in a number of state courts, based on specific language regarding students’ positive rights to an “adequate” or “thorough and efficient’ education that appears in many state constitutions. In contemplating this approach, the seminar will encourage students to engage in an iterative cycle of analysis and planning, in which they analyze constitutional theory and practice in the state courts and investigate problem identification, theories of change, remedy design, strategic and tactical options, and evaluation of results. To ground this analysis, the seminar will introduce concepts and insights from multiple theoretical domains, including: democratic theory, the theory of rights, trauma theory, school culture theory, and theory related to diversity, pluralism and racial equity. As a final research project, seminar participants will prepare case studies that assess various states’ potential as jurisdictions for bringing state-based constitutional litigation to pursue students’ right to meaningful democratic education.

Note: Seminar meetings will take place at 23 Everett Street, Room 202