American Public Education Law
reviewed by Richard Fossey - February 22, 2008
Educational administration as an academic field has been intensely criticized in recent years as a discipline lacking in rigor or focus. Arthur Levine, author of the 2005 study, Educating School Leaders, wrote that collectively, educational administration programs are the weakest of all the programs at the nations education schools (p. 13). Levine charged that [t]he typical course of study for the principalship has little to do with the job of being a principal. In fact, it appears to be a nearly random collection of courses (Levine, 2005, p. 27).
As accurate as Levines criticisms might be (and a number of commentators agree with him), the discipline of Educational Administration contains at least one coherent and useful area of study within its typical collection of graduate-school coursesthe field of education law. In fact, Levines report noted that school principals ranked school law highest on a list of typical courses offered in Educational Administration programs in terms of its value to the principals job (p. 29). And the school law course was also ranked highest in terms of quality among all the principal-preparation courses that were ranked in Levines study.
That should not be surprising. Over the years, the discipline of Educational Administration (or Educational Leadership as the field is commonly called) has produced a number of stellar school-law scholarspeople whose work is recognized and respected beyond the narrow world of Educational Administration programs and whose research is solidly grounded in the world of practice. Joseph Beckham of Florida State University, Martha McCarthy of Indiana University, Charles Russo of the University of Dayton, and Perry Zirkel of Lehigh University are among the fields leading scholars; but the list of distinguished academicians who research and write in the field of education law is a lengthy one.
In addition to a large group of eminent scholars, the field of education law has produced an abundance of high-quality classroom teaching texts. Among the outstanding school law texts are American Public School Law (2005), by Kern and David Alexander; Ruetters The Law of Public Education (2006), by Charles Russo; Teachers and the Law (2007), by Louis Fischer, David Schimmel, and Leslie Stellman; Public School Law: Teachers and Students Rights (2008) by Steven Thomas, Martha McCarthy and Nelda Cabron-McCabe; and Michael LaMortes School Law: Cases and Concepts (2007).
Given the number of good school law textbooks that are already on the market, an education law scholar must be bold indeed to add a new school law text to this crowded field. A new text in this area would need to be truly distinctive and unusual in order to be useful. Therefore, David C. Bloomfields work, American Public Education Law, is worthy of notice; because Bloomfield has in fact added a useful and a distinctive school law text to an already distinguished group of books.
First, Bloomfields book does an exceptional job of explaining legal terminology, the judicial processes, and the application of important federal statutes, making it a good text for introducing the novice to the field of education law. A glossary of legal terms follows each chapter of the book, and other legal terms are defined at appropriate places in the text narrative. An entire chapter is devoted to important federal legislation on education: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, No Child Left Behind Act, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. For non-lawyers, the intricacies of federal legislation and regulations are often the hardest aspect of education law to grasp. Bloomfield has done a masterful job of introducing students to the structure of law and to the way that state legislation, federal legislation, and state and federal court cases operate to shape the legal environment that public school educators inhabit.
Second, Bloomfield has embedded his text with short case studies that describe typical situations that educators frequently confront during their workdays, and then he follows these cases with a discussion of the appropriate legal principles that apply to the particular case situation. Bloomfield calls this approach Fact and Find, and it is a useful way to encourage discussion among students and to challenge them to problem solve by applying the correct legal principle to the specific facts of a particular school situation.
Third, Bloomfield deliberately chose to write a text with a minimum of cases, making the instructional approach of his book quite different from the typical casebook that is the mainstay of most education law courses. As Bloomfield explains in Chapter 1 of his book, students can now find important legal documents and secondary sources on the internet, making it less necessary for a student to have a lengthy textbook full of published court opinions.
As Bloomfield puts it:
[H]uge legal case books are dinosaurs. A primer of this sort does not need to reprint dozens of lengthy cases and other resources cited within. Here, about a dozen cases, drastically edited, provide a taste of the treasures that can be found in the complete opinions. (p. 15)
Instead of reading dozens of cases in a casebook of edited judicial opinions, students are free to find the entire documents in the legal databases provided by most universities. This exercise is well worth the trouble, Bloomfield observes, since gaining facility at legal text reading is a necessary skill even for lay people dealing with public education issues . . . (pp. 16-17). Bloomfields text contains a list of useful free law-oriented websites where students can engage in their own research and read unedited court opinions.
Throughout Bloomfields text, the author implicitly challenges the student to become knowledgeable in education law and to use that knowledge to act and make decisions in the school environment. The law is not a list of dos and donts, Bloomfield tells his student readers. Rather, the law provides the basis for action based on a thorough knowledge of the facts.
Bloomfield concludes the first chapter of his book with this challenge:
So rise from your paralysis! You are in charge! Facts in hand and ready to navigate the Cascade of American Public Education Law, you are the master of your own educational destiny. There is no hiding from the legal aspects of public education, but there is no choice but to act with as much gusto and legal knowledge as possible. (p. 16)
In short, Bloomfield has accomplished a very difficult feat. In a market of exceedingly good teaching texts on the subject of education law, he has produced something new and useful. Instructors will find the book particularly suitable for introductory courses in education law at both the undergraduate and graduate level. And for those of us who continue to teach with huge legal case books that are dinosaurs in Bloomfields opinion, Bloomfields short and useful book can be utilized as a valuable supplementary text.
Alexander, K., & Alexander, M. D. (2005). American public school law (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson West.
Fischer, L., Schimmel, D., & Stellman, L. R. (2007). Teachers and the law (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
LaMorte, M. W. (2007). School law: Cases and concepts (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Levine, A. (2005). Educating school leaders. Washington, DC: Education Schools Project.
Russo, C. J. (2006). Reutters The Law of Public Education (6th ed.). New York: Foundation Press.
Thomas, S. B., McCarthy, M., & Cabron-McCabe, N. H. (2008). Public school law: Teachers and Students Rights (6th ed.). Columbus, OH: Allyn & Bacon.