Over 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? Have the ABA and AALS come up with a list of practice relevant courses. Require every law teacher to teach at least one practice relevant course off the list (no more larding your entire teaching schedule with Law and the Visual Arts or Law and Medieval Icelandic Blood Sagas). Develop a nationwide standardized test for each course on the list. Require all law students to sit for the standardized exam for each subject they take. Publish the results for each school on a free website, so prospective law students can compare how effectively different faculties teach the subjects in which they have the most interest. Have each school post the scores for each teacher on their intraweb, so that enrolled students can make more informed choices. Let disclosure do the rest.
I understand that No Child Left behind is controversial. I understand that teaching to the test is not ideal. But I also understand that measuring outcomes is always most controversial to the people who will be held accountable. Look at all the whining from teachers' unions about linking pay to performance on tests. Can you imagine the whining we'd get from the legal academy if this idea were widely accepted?
Of course, this idea has no hope. Because law school faculties aren't yet ready to get serious about the harsh reality that we a business and businesses require metrics by which to hold their employees accountable.