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Law Students Left Behind: Law Schools’ Role in Remedying the Devastating Effects of Federal Education Policy

By Sandra L. Simpson. Full Text.

Due to the unintended consequences of misdirected federal education policy, students come to law school with underdeveloped critical thinking and cognitive adaptability skills. As the products of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and its progeny, students educated in the United States after 2002 excel at memorization and multiple-choice exam strategies but were not afforded the practice needed to fully develop other critical professional attributes. This is problematic as these are the very characteristics law students need to be a successful student and lawyer. Further, legal employers are demanding their new lawyers possess these capabilities upon graduation from law school. The Uniform Bar Exam may also be substantially changing to test these essential qualities.

Because federal education policy, exemplified by NCLB and its progeny, has the effect of encouraging memorization and narrowing the K–12 curriculum, students experienced a less holistic education which would have given them more training in and practice of necessary professional skills. These statutes’ focus on high-stakes testing has created holes in the K–12 education.

This Article analyzes these vital skills, discusses what led up to the federal statutes and policy, focuses on the federal statutes at fault, and explores what higher education is doing to address the deficits. The Article then argues law schools and professors can and should assist their students in developing these attributes by adapting teaching methods, improving institutional and classroom assessments, and broadening the curriculum. Law schools owe that to their students. The educational background of their law students has changed, making static legal education outdated. Drawing on interdisciplinary methods, education law and policy, educational science, and models from undergraduate institutions, the Article makes theoretical and concrete suggestions to help law students bridge this educational gap.