The 14th Amendment's Impact on Education

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

The 14th Amendment dictates that states cannot discriminate against groups of people and must uphold the law equally to all. This amendment mandates equal treatment for minority students and students with disabilities within the realm of education. Learn more about the impact the 14th Amendment has had on education and how it brought an end to segregation within schools. Updated: 10/01/2021

14th Amendment

Elizabeth Eckford just wanted to get a good education. She wanted to go to Little Rock Central High School in her hometown, but she couldn't because she was black and Little Rock Central was all-white. Education for all people is so much a fundamental part of our society today that we can sometimes forget that it wasn't always that way. For many years, minority students weren't educated at all, and when they were educated, they were forced to go to schools that were subpar when compared to the all-white schools, like Elizabeth Eckford.

Segregation and other big issues in education are often talked about in relation to the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says that states must apply the law equally to all people and cannot discriminate against groups of people.

The Fourteenth Amendment was part of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Through several constitutional amendments, including the Fourteenth, the federal government set out to ensure the rights of all citizens, including the recently freed slaves. The Fourteenth Amendment was not specifically meant to apply to education, but it has had a great impact on education nonetheless. Let's look at two areas where the Fourteenth Amendment has been applied to the rights of students in public education.

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  • 0:03 14th Amendment
  • 1:21 Minority Students
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Minority Students

Elizabeth Eckford wanted to go to Little Rock Central High School. It was a good school back in the 1950s when Eckford was growing up, and she wanted to go there to get an education. But the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas were segregated. Eckford was black and so she was forbidden to attend Little Rock Central.

For nearly a century after the Civil War, black and white students in the American South attended separate schools. Segregation meant that many, many students just like Elizabeth Eckford had no choice in which schools they attended. Black schools were woefully underfunded compared to white schools, and students weren't able to transfer in to the all-white schools that would provide them with more opportunities.

All that began to change in 1954 when the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. the Board of Education applied the Fourteenth Amendment to education to declare that school segregation is illegal. As the case was argued, having separate schools for whites and blacks meant that the law was being applied differently to different groups of people. It was against the Fourteenth Amendment.

When the Supreme Court agreed that segregation was illegal under the Fourteenth Amendment, schools throughout the South began to integrate. Elizabeth Eckford did end up going to Little Rock Central High School, along with eight other black students, in the 1957 school year. But Brown v. the Board of Education isn't the only case where minority students have received benefits thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment.

In 1982, a school district in Texas began to charge the children of undocumented workers, most of them immigrants from Mexico, to attend public school. In Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court found that the children of undocumented immigrants had the right to attend public school free of charge, just like any other children in the U.S. Again, the courts decided that the Fourteenth Amendment meant that states could not have different education rules for different groups.

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