Should the Best Practices Initiative Rank Schools?

There has been a lot of chatter on the national clinic listserv about how to reply to the US News & World Report surveys.   How do any of us who  have not taught at another school really know how good their teaching is or how “best” their practices are?  Should the Best Practices group form their own evaluation process?  Should schools be ranked according to how well they prepare students to practice law?  or how well they evaluate and monitor their own teaching and curriculum?  Even if we wanted to rank schools, how could we do so without falling prey to the same kind of biases and flaws which pervade the US News process?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Mary

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One Response

  1. I don’t support rankings for both pedagogical and political reasons. But many of those same reasons make it imperative to create some other method of quality-based distinctions among schools, programs and/or clinics.

    Many in the legal academy agree that US News & World Report rankings fail to make meaningful comparisons among law schools. But applicants and others want help making distinctions. And as tuition rises faster than inflation, the calls for greater transparency, accountability and outcomes reporting in legal education, just gets louder. In short, we must figure out new measures and reporting methods.

    Some would protest that such an approach requires comparing apples to oranges. But teaching and practice are all about making comparisons and evaluations. We select who is admitted to our law schools, who gets promoted to tenure, who gets an “A-“ vs. a “B”, which law schools are worthy of accreditation. Indeed, faculty and senior administrators’ jobs constantly require such quality distinctions. Think of it as comparing Granny Smith, Washington, and Fuji apples, not comparing, let alone ranking apples in relation to Tuesdays.

    For starters, I propose that we develop a series of benchmarks for different programs (such as financial aid and pro bono) and curriculum (for example, simulation and live-client clinics). Reward those who hit them with the equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. This process would not punish those who don’t meet the standard. The evaluation would allow schools to play to their strengths by pursuing seals for different aspects of a legal education, thus enabling schools to reach for and satisfy particular benchmarks that match their strengths. The goal would be to support innovation and also articulate measures that best predict a quality learning experience.

    As Rosie the Riveter said, “we can do it.” It’s just a matter of finding the right tools to describe and compare the jobs each of us does every day.

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