Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law

Chapter 5, "Bureaucracy Can't Teach"
Philip Howard
W.W. Norton & Co.
January 2009

Although much attention has been paid to the unique cultures of high-performing charter schools (see here and here, for starters), Philip Howard applies a new lens: legal. Why, the accomplished attorney asks, can't teachers more easily instill a "Work Hard, Be Nice" (à la KIPP) culture at any school? His answer: legal regulations. They are, he concludes, the ultimate hurdle to creating a strong school culture. Howard first walks the reader through the sea of rules governing everything from pedagogy to classroom cleaning procedures. As he shows, legal considerations often prevent teachers from disciplining and removing students. Teachers' lack of control over routine and classroom management leaves them demoralized, disengaged, and unable to support a larger school culture. What would he do differently? Let teachers manage their classrooms and couple that independence with a system of thoughtful accountability, such as setting out criteria for student discipline. Not a bad start, but let's keep our eye on the objective data. As David Whitman showed us in Sweating the Small Stuff, there's no zero-sum game at these high-performing charters when it comes to academic quality--as measured by test scores--and a strong culture; instead, the two go hand-in-hand. You can buy the book here.

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