NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 16, 2009

It's no secret that America's public schools, health care system and lawsuit industry are broken.  After decades of alarming reports and reform efforts, they still cost far more, and with worse results, than those of almost all other developed countries.  Why?  Because our institutions and their leaders are paralyzed by tangles of legal rules and a fear of being unfairly hauled into court, says lawyer-author-civic leader Philip Howard in his forthcoming book, "Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans From Too Much Law."

We will never fix our system unless American law is rebuilt to protect freedom in our daily choices, Howard continues.  Take for example, America's public schools:

  • Despite massive reform efforts, reading scores in elementary and high schools have stayed flat for almost 40 years; in that period, the ranking of American students has consistently fallen relative to their peers in other developed countries.
  • More than 40 percent of high school teachers have said they sometimes spend more time trying to keep order than teaching, and nearly 80 percent of middle and high school teachers said they have been threatened with lawsuits or accused of rights violations by students.
  • Another survey found that one in seven teachers in urban schools had been physically assaulted by students, some have been seriously injured.

How to fix all this?  Legislatures should "shove the rulebooks aside" and purge law from the routine daily life of schools, and liberate teachers and principals to act on their own best judgment, says Howard. 

Would this risk unfairness to some?  Sure.  But that would beat the unfairness to all students of disorderly classrooms and bad teachers.  As a check, independent committees of parents, students and teachers could be created to overturn disciplinary decisions and overrule unfair teacher firings, says Howard.

Source: Stuart Taylor, Jr., "Too Much Law Guarantees Unfairness," National Journal, December 20, 2008.


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