Education Sector Policy and Consulting Clinic

LW.12446 / LW.12447
Professor James S. Liebman
Open to 2L and 3L students
Maximum of 4 students per semester
Fall and Spring semesters
Held at Columbia University
14 credits*
No pre- or co-requisites


The Center for Public Research and Leadership (“CPRL”) is a partnership of top professional schools that prepares a diverse pool of law, business, education, and policy students from multiple professional schools around the US with the knowledge, skills, and mindsets needed to enable public school and other systems to learn and change. CPRL does this by providing affordable, high quality multidisciplinary research and consulting services to public school systems and nonprofit organizations committed to improving the lives of children of color, from low-income households, or otherwise traditionally underserved. CPRL projects aim to empower a broad network of elementary, secondary, and post-secondary educators, leaders, and stakeholders with ideas, tools, and practices that support transformative change through accelerated learning from their own efforts and experience.

CPRL’s program is responsive to a massive restructuring of public-service delivery currently underway in the United States. Staffed by broadly interdisciplinary teams of accomplished and motivated professionals, the most successful of these new federal, state and local reforms are replacing outmoded public bureaucracies with “learning organizations” committed to using public problem-solving techniques to enhance their will and capacity to enhance the lives of members of the nation’s most underserved populations. Nowhere are these changes more important and promising, yet also challenging and controversial, than in the governance, management and democratic accountability of the nation’s public schools. CPRL enables its students and the clients they serve to address these challenges through a learning stance that yields creative, novel, and ambitious solutions to complex public problems.

Students in this full semester, 14-credit Clinic work with talented and committed upper-level graduate students from Columbia, Dartmouth, Michigan, NYU, Penn, Princeton, Stanford, Vanderbilt, University of California at Berkeley, Yale and elsewhere. Through seminar sessions, skills training, and project work, the Clinic (available in fall and spring semesters) immerses students in the theory and practice of managing, governing, and transforming the public systems and social-sector organizations that deliver public education in the U.S. and abroad.

Course Description

Participants in this Clinic will engage in:

  1. A comprehensive seminar in the design, governance, regulation, democratic accountability, and systematic transformation of P-12 school systems and allied public- and social-sector organizations.
  2. Skills training in a range of twenty-first century problem-solving competencies, including working in diverse teams to address multi-dimensional problems; design and systems thinking; collaborative inquiry; quantitative and qualitative analysis and measurement; organizational macro- and micro-design; project and product management; client-centered and policy-focused information gathering; and the presentation of professional advice to government and social-sector clients.
  3. A high-priority, professionally guided consulting project on which an interdisciplinary team of graduate students provides research, design, strategic planning, and/or implementation support on matters that combine legal, regulatory, management, policy, governance, and/or technological issues crucial to the mission of the client organization—typically, a state department of education, school district, charter management organization, social-services agency, or other non-profit serving children.

The classroom components of the course are front-loaded in the semester to prepare students and give them, their teams, and their team leaders ample time to conduct client-focused project work, including by visiting clients on site in the New York City area and throughout the US and Brazil. (travel expenses are covered by the Clinic). Team assignments are based on student preferences and skills as well as client needs.

The course is taught by an accomplished team of professionals, including Columbia Law professor and former senior official at the New York City Department of Education James S. Liebman, CPRL Executive Director Dr. Liz Chu, CPRL Senior Director of Research Strategy Dr. Kimberly Austin, and a series of guest speakers. Consulting projects are guided by a team of experienced directors employed full-time by the Clinic who bring extensive experience in P-12 law, education, management consulting and other professional endeavors. These directors assure that the project work is both challenging and achievable by the student teams, and they provide students with intensive one-on-one feedback and personalized professional development and mentorship.

Course Components

  • Full semester course load of 14 credits, including        
        ○    Approximately 50 seminar hours over 14 weeks;
        ○    Approximately 28 hours of focused skills training over 14 weeks;
        ○    Average of 24 hours/week working on consulting teams for P-12 organizations under the guidance of experienced engagement managers;
  • A culminating paper reflecting on the work performed on behalf of the client and on the broader institutional context in which the work occurred, drawing on the critical and theoretical perspectives introduced in the seminar portion of the course;
  • CPRL placement support services to help interested students obtain attractive professional and management-level jobs in the education sector, along with mentorship and networking opportunities to enhance leadership skills.
  • Tuition support awards for a limited number of students who demonstrate exceptional merit and need.

Examples of Past Projects

  • America Achieves - Developed contractual and governance options for fostering inter-state and inter-district collaboration in the creation of new data-systems;
  • Camden City School District - Advised district leadership on legal and policy implications of various mechanisms for reorganizing the district’s schools and workforce;
  • Cleveland Metropolitan School District - Designed (i) a comprehensive system of qualitative and quantitative measures of school effectiveness to provide schools with actionable improvement data and increase public accountability, and (ii) a process for annually identifying schools for improvement steps and restructuring, consistent with federal and state regulations;
  • Louisiana Department of Education - Created a system for assuring the legality of different distance-learning options for public school children statewide, and for evaluating the effectiveness of the distance-learning programs and their implementation;
  • New York Appleseed - Developed a plan for using the community-driven creation of new schools in areas of New York City undergoing rapid gentrification to expand and maintain social integration of schools without violating legal restrictions on race-based decisions making;
  • Raise Your Hand Texas - Proposed a framework and identified legislative and necessary regulatory changes for maximizing the equitable distribution of funds to, and the autonomy and accountability of, schools and districts undertaking comprehensive improvement efforts.

Application Procedure

Students who are interested in this Clinic should fill out and submit the standard application, resume and law school transcript using CAMS, the online application system. CPRL will notify selected applicants who will be invited for an in-person interview. Interviews will take place at Columbia Law School.

A limited number of two types of scholarships are available for exceptional students to apply to their semester’s tuition in return for a legally enforceable commitment to work full time for three of their first five years after graduation in a public or nonprofit job in the P-12 education sector. Students may apply for up to a $20,000 CPRL Scholar Award in exchange for this commitment in any country, or they may apply for up to $30,000 Scholar Award with the commitment to this type of work in Brazil. Both awards are distributed based on need and merit. As awards of last resort, they take into consideration any other educational aid that students have been or will be awarded. If you wish to apply for either of these CPRL Scholar Awards, please answer question #4 and submit a separate statement in CAMS of up to 400 words and 1-page maximum, describing your merit and need.  As to merit, please explain your expected contribution to fulfilling CPRL’s mission to prepare talented graduate students for careers enhancing the education sector’s capacity for constant improvement on behalf of public school children.

Contact Information

Feel free to email CPRL with any questions regarding the clinic.

Student Contacts

Students interested in learning more about the course may contact the following NYU Law students and graduates, each of whom took a prior version of the Clinic in the indicated years:

Mike Arrington (current 2L; in the Clinic Fall 2018; TA in Spring 2019)
Grace McCarty (current 2L; in the Clinic Fall 2018; TA in Spring 2019)
Juliet Eisenstein (current 3L; in the Clinic Spring 2018; TA in Fall 2018)
Grace Do (current 2L; in the Clinic Spring 2019)

Allison Zimmer (NYU Law graduate; in the Clinic in Spring 2017)
Harry Black (NYU Law graduate; in the Clinic in Fall 2016; TA in Spring 2017)
Ke Wu (NYU Law graduate; in the Clinic in Fall 2016; TA in Spring 2017)
Angela Wu (NYU Law graduate; in the Clinic in Spring 2016)
Jennifer De Jesus (NYU Law graduate; in the Clinic in Spring 2016)
Alexis Piazza (NYU Law graduate; in the Clinic in 2014-15)
Collin Moore (NYU Law graduate; in the Clinic in 2013-14)

* 14 credits comprised of 7 clinical credits and 7 academic seminar credits. Students may not take both of the 14-credit, semester-long clinics that cover aspects of education law (Education Advocacy Clinic and Education Sector Policy and Consulting Clinic). If you are interested in using the Clinic to satisfy a writing requirement, please consult the Clinic faculty.