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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bainbridge: No Law Student Left Behind

Stephen Bainbridge (UCLA), If Law Schools Were Serious About Evaluating Teaching Effectiveness, We'd ....:

NCLBOver at Prawfsblawg, Jennifer Bard runs the same old concerns about student evaluations up the flagpole one more time. She provides links to some of the vast literature on how lousy student evaluations are at measuring inputs. But who cares?

In 26 years of law teaching, I have yet to come across anybody in the legal academy who was really willing to face the hard reality that what matters are outcomes.

The question ought not to be how popular a given teacher is (which is what evaluations currently measure for the most part), but how well have our students learned the skills and knowledge they will need for practicing law. But how to measure that fact?

Well, how about a No Law Student Left Behind approach?

(Hat Tip: Greg McNeal.)

Legal Education | Permalink


The problem is, what do "outcomes" mean? If what students learn, I'm for it. If (as is often the case) it means "how profitable are they to law firms who then don't make them partner," not so much.

Posted by: michael livingston | May 7, 2014 2:54:24 AM

I don't think requiring basic solvency as an outcome for law school graduates is a lot to ask for, Michael. And yesterday you sad you were a conservative: shouldn't you be against massively wasteful government spending programs like GradPLUS and PAYE?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 7, 2014 6:43:37 AM

As Michael correctly notes, the question is: What outcomes? A fascinating study conducted at the US Air Force Academy was reported in Scott Carrell & James West, Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors," 118-3 Journal of Political Economy, 409-432 (June 2010), available at The authors concluded that students of less experienced professors did better than those of more experienced professors on the standardized examinations on the subjects they taught. But students of more experienced professors did better in subsequent courses. In other words, the latter appear to have been teaching students how to think and learn, not just the subjects they were assigned to teach.

We run into many of the same problems when we attempt to assess outcomes in legal education. Should we focus on bar passage? MSBE scores? Job placement? Earnings 10 years out? And to what extent are any such measured outcomes attributable to characteristics of the student body, not to value added by the school?

When Steve Bainbridge says "In 26 years of law teaching, I have yet to come across anybody in the legal academy who was really willing to face the hard reality that what matters are outcomes," I'm left with the impression that he may not be as familiar as he should be with what's going on outside the Top 14. Many of us care. And many schools have been reshaping their educational programs to improve outcomes. How to measure their success? Ah, there's the rub.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | May 7, 2014 6:59:41 AM

That's a lot of nebulous star-gazing, Ted, but the answer is pretty simple: can law school graduates make their student loan payments and have money left over for rent, food, child-rearing, transportation, etc? Keep in mind that Republicans are already targeting two of the three income-based repayment plans (PSLF and PAYE), and despite what a certain Georgetown professor believes, they are explicitly NOT part of students' MPNs. Can graduates pay their bills? Nothing else matters. I would suggest that if this is not the case, perhaps Congress should rewrite its lending laws to make law schools, so long the beneficiary of so much fiscal insanity, make up the difference between what students can repay and what they actually owe. I imagine that might get schools' priorities straight...

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 7, 2014 8:22:45 AM