Law, Education, and Hard-Driving Reform

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4 Responses

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  2. Ben Superfine says:

    I think it’s clearly the case that there needs to be a confluence of forces at several different levels to leverage effective educational reform. A good example of this is in Kentucky in the late 1980s – businesses, grassroots groups, media, the courts, and the state legislature managed to come together through the litigation of a school finance lawsuit, and this ultimately resulted in ground-breaking legislation on the back end. But at the same time, the consensus didn’t last for long, and implementation of the law is a whole other story. I worry that a real confluence of these differently oriented groups and legal forces may simply not be sustainable and may sadly be at random moments when the moons just align.

    As for the current strategy of the Obama administration (including Race to the Top), the program has leveraged some legal changes so far. But there are serious questions about the actual structure of the program and the quality of states’ responses. The focus on charter schools simply isn’t supported by empirical research as any sort of magic bullet (or any reform that’s better as a whole than public schools) – charter schools are more of a political middle ground. The focus on data-driven, teacher accountability has several problems as well, ranging from our capacity to accurately gauge instruction to the extent to which these systems will actually incentivize teachers to do better work. It’s important not just to line up the politics and the law, but to make the legal framework as grounded in strong empirical evidence and theory as possible.

  3. Craig Livermore says:


    Your points are very valid. I am equally concerned about the ability to keep coalitions together, especially without clear lines of authority, which is increasingly the case in Newark. Ultimately that is why I favor legal meta-structures that create accountability and incentives which are able to encourage the expansion of the most effective models over time.

    I agree that charter schools aren’t a magic bullet. I do not believe the most insightful supporters of charters have claimed they are (although some have), and I am not sure President Obama and Arne Duncan have claimed them to be a panacea as much as they are criticized to have done so. Charter models will be most helpful when we find a way to hold charters more accountable, and find a way to more strongly support the models that are working.

    I would actually argue that the legal framework should be agnostic on substantive matters of instruction and pedagogical philosophy, but that we should hold schools accountable for national skills assessment standards on the back end. There will always be a mishmosh of research and philosophy regarding pedagogy. I think we would be better served when a competitive legal superstructure is created that supports the expansion of effective creativity, and truly holds accountable models, whether charter, public or other, that are not working.

  4. Karen says:

    This was helpful. It’s nice to see that other people see the importance of this. Great post guys!