A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 17 2012

Housing and the Achievement Gap

It’s been almost 2 months since my last post. This is the longest I’ve been away. Law school is keeping me as busy as I was in the classroom.

Anyways, I thought I’d share an interesting article I came across today–one that connects to both education reform and what I’ll be doing this summer:Forum Looks at How Housing Can Help Close Achievement Gap.”

I appreciate the fact that the event brought education and housing advocates together. We need more inter-issue collaboration if we truly intend to improve our schools and communities. Let me reflect:

One thing that led me to law school was a realization that no matter how crucial education is, limits exist as to what can be achieved within the classroom. Negative out-of-classroom circumstances often superseded the positive things happening within the school building. Though I still wholeheartedly believe that providing every child with an excellent education is the most effective way to put people on paths to opportunity and success, I believe that more can be done to consider education placed within the broader context of other pressing social issues.

Viewed neutrally, the law is nothing but a set of rules that organizes conduct in our society. If people are consistently acting in a way that we consider “bad”, we can change a rule that incentivizes them or compels them to act “good.” This is a view oriented towards compliance: make sure that people are staying within the borders of what is acceptable.

But I see more to the law than that. Viewed optimistically, law is a tool for social change, for creating a fair society (as Rawls would call it, “justice as fairness”). Law is not simply about making sure that people stay within the bounds of what we deem to be good behavior. It is about how our society should look and the changes we should adopt to realize that vision. Rather than a means to ensure compliance, law is a way of endowing and protecting rights–as a way, counterintuitively, to liberate people.

It is all too easy, however, to focus on changing the rules in a target “sphere” without considering the impact that changing rules in other spheres will have on that sphere. Simply put, we forget that these various sets of rules comprise a full, interconnected system. People who want to fix education focus exclusively on rules of education (e.g. establishing how schools are funded, what disciplinary powers adminstrators have over students, the appropriate hours for school, curriculum, graduation requirements). But other avenues matter too.

It is this attraction to understanding the “system”–the complex set of rules that govern society–that drew me to a career in law. I hope to see how the different “spheres” affect each other. And I think my legal education is helping me do that. But to become even more creative, I’ll need to “leave” the education bubble temporarily.

I’m making my first foray into another sphere this summer. I’ll be working on housing/foreclosure litigation on behalf of low-income families at a legal services organization in Bridgeport, CT. I intend to serve my clients to the best of my abilities, but also to learn more about how housing–or the lack of it–in turn affects educational achievement. I think the experience will be particularly interesting given that Bridgeport’s school district ranks 161st out of CT’s 165 school districts.

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2 Responses

  1. Coach K

    I really like the term “economic integration” in that article – could be a very positive next step!

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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