Learning Objectives

  • Gain a deeper understanding of the public decision-making process.
  • Develop knowledge of public structures like schools.
  • Develop group discussion skills and problem solving skills
  • Define and analyze school and curriculum problems.
  • Develop an understanding of coalitions and compromise as a means of conflict resolution



State Curricular Benchmarks   

        Strand III, Standard 1: Purposes of Government

        Strand III, Standard 2: Ideals of American Democracy

        Strand III, Standard 3: Democracy in Action

        Strand IV, Standard 1: Individual and Household Choices

        Strand V, Standard 1: Information Processing

        Strand VI, Standard 1: Identifying and Analyzing Issues

        Strand VI, Standard 2: Group Discussion

        Strand VII, Standard 1:  Responsible Personal Conduct




Utopia                          Diversity                                   Community

Coalition                       Consensus                                Compromise

Responsibility               Democracy                               School Reform



Time needed

This process should take approximately 40-50 minutes, depending upon the class.  However, this lesson can easily extend to two class periods if the teacher wants the lesson to go more in-depth.  Students often donít understand the process of how their school is funded, how the system of school reform works and how one goes about changing or modifying that system.  Ultimately, the goal of this lesson is to get students thinking about issues in their school and with the public school system in general.



Teaching Strategy

Break students into small groups, of about 4 to 5 students.  In these groups explain to them that what they are going to be doing is planning the perfect student-centered school.  They will need to think about curriculum, funding, assessment, discipline, etc.  You need to ask them pointing questions that will aid in their brainstorming process.  Questions could be similar to the following:

        What type of school is this going to be?  (public or private) (high school or middle school)

        What type of funding is needed for your chosen school?

        What will your school focus on?  Will it be a college-prep curriculum, a vocational curriculum, a curriculum based on the arts, etc.?

        What types of assessment will be used to gauge student learning?  Will there be standardized tests?  Will you have a portfolio assessment where the student can orally defend his/her ďbest workĒ?  Or will your assessment be teacher-chosen?

        Will there be ďsafety netsĒ (or ways to make up work) for those who donít pass your assessments?

        What will be the disciplinary measures of the school?  What code of conduct will you chose and how will you discipline those who donít follow that code?


Students will be quick to answer that the school should have no teachers, no discipline, and no tests.  However, you need to inform them that without these elements, there will be no funding.  One cannot have a school without funding.  Inform students that funding comes from the federal, state and local governments to fund and maintain schools.  If students donít take the regulated examinations, that money does not come to the school.  Students need to be informed that school funds come from property taxes and are different in differing areas. 


Establish a budget for each group and arbitrary prices on what the students suggest for the school.  This will show them that there are things which must take precedent in making decisions (a sample list is attached).  However, each budget does not have to be the same.  One can give one group an inner-city public budget, one a suburban public budget and one a private school budget and see what different things each group can do with the money.


Students will then work out their school and make decisions on what to keep and what to leave out.  Often students will want what they canít afford and have to make concessions to keep funding.  Students will inevitably bring up issues that are central to your school when planning their utopian school.  This is an excellent gauge for teachers as they can make note of these issues and address them in later lessons.



Assessment Recommendations

For this lesson, oral presentations, accompanied by a group paper, are the best way for assessing student progress.  This will give each student a chance to speak about their school.  It will also offer those who donít particularly like speaking in front of groups a way to communicate through the paper.




 Sample Budgetary List 


Give students 1,000,000 dollars to design a suburban public school (add $100,000 if you are taking standardized tests)


Give students 800,000 dollars to design an urban public school (add $100,000 if you are taking standardized tests)


Give students 1,600,000 dollars to design a private school




Teacher salary $20,000 - $40,000 (depending upon qualifications)


Building facilities           $200,000 for a basic building

                                    $300,000 for a building with carpet, nice classrooms and materials

                                    $400,000 for the above building with state of the art computers, security,

and really nice desks/chairs for students

                                    $500,000 for the best facility you could possibly imagine


Textbooks                    $3000 per grade level for computers and multi-media

            & materials       $3000 per grade level for books

$3000 per lab (this meaning science classes, music classes, art classes,

shop classes drama classes, gym classes and any other discipline which materials other than desks/books)

Additional items            $50,000 for a pool

                                    $20,000 for a catering service providing excellent food at cafeteria






                                    $50,000 for head administrator

                                    $50,000 for administrative staff

                                    $50,000 for school lawyer

                                    $10,000 state and local tax

$40,000 for additional staff and maintenance of school