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, policy, and data sciences students from multiple professional schools with the knowledge, skills, and mindsets needed to lead, counsel, and foster deep structural change, end racial disparities, and enhance equity in public school and other systems to learn and change. CPRL does this by providing affordable, high-quality legal and policy 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, families, and students with ideas, tools, practices and advocacy programs promoting 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 and suddenly made more urgent by dislocations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Driven by the demands and ideas of the affected communities, and 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 improve 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 operation 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, 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 equitably  transforming the public systems and social-sector organizations that deliver public education.

Course Description

Participants in this Clinic will engage in:

  1. A comprehensive seminar in the design, governance, regulation, democratic operation, and equitable transformation of PK-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; cultural and racial literacy; 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, advocacy organization, philanthropy, or other non-profit serving children.

The seminar and skills components of the clinic 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 interfacing with clients throughout the nation. When projects involve site visits and travel, expenses are covered by CPRL. 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. Elizabeth Chu, CPRL's Senior Director of Quality and Improvement, Dr. Kimberly Austin, and a series of guest speakers. Consulting projects are guided by a team of experienced, full-time directors who bring extensive experience in PK-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 PK-12 organizations under the guidance of experienced Project Directors;
  • CPRL placement support services to help interested students obtain attractive legal 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

  • Nationally recognized civil rights and school improvement organizations (multiple projects) - Designed novel federal and state constitutional strategies, drafted legal complaints, identified promising plaintiffs and state and/or district defendants, and conducted comprehensive data analysis and factual investigations on behalf of (1) children of color and in poverty in one of the largest US states with some of the largest achievement gaps in the nation; and (2) students lotteried out of high performing schools of choice and assigned to chronically underperforming schools in school districts in another large US state;
  • New York State Education Department (multiple projects) - Designed, co-led and provided legal guidance to a three-year-long training program for the most comprehensive state-level school integration effort in the nation, working with two dozen racially and ethnically segregated districts to develop, pilot, and improve integration plans that are consistent with federal and state legal requirements; contextualized to the needs and conditions of each district; designed and carried out with broad and meaningful participation by parents, teachers, and community groups; and culturally responsive and sustaining;

  • Camden (NJ) City School District - Provided district leadership with legal and policy recommendations for reorganizing the district’s schools and workforce in support of one of the most successful school district turnaround efforts in modern US history;

  • Louisiana Department of Education (multiple projects) - Evaluated the legality and effectiveness and recommended improvements of the broadest state-level initiatives in the nation to (1) provide publically funded early childhood education to all children in poverty; (2) encourage districts to adopt and support them in implementing high-quality instructional materials and aligned professional learning for teachers; and (3) offer distance-learning options to rural and other public school children statewide who lack access to rigorous academic programming;
  • Cleveland (OH) Metropolitan School District - In support of another important school district turnaround, designed and assured the legality under federal and state laws and regulations of (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.

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 a virtual interview.

A limited number 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 supporting the PK-12 education sector.

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 on the application.

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:

NYU LAW Alumni

Julia Skwarczynski (Student in the Clinic Fall 2022, TA Spring 2023)
Jack Quaglino (Student in the Clinic Spring 2023, TA Fall 2023, Spring 2024)
Calia Anderson (Student in the Clinic Fall 2021; TA Spring 2022)
Robert McCarthy (Student in the Clinic Fall 2022, TA Spring 2024)
Nathan Small (Student in the Clinic Fall 2022)
Brianna Arscott Grant (Student in the Clinic Fall 2021; TA Spring 2022)
Tian Lei (student in the Clinic Fall 2019; TA Spring 2020)
Luke Pizzato (student in the Clinic Fall 2019; TA Spring 2020)
Grace McCarty (Student in the Clinic Fall 2018; TA in Spring 2019, Fall 2019, and Spring 2020)

* 14 credits comprised of 7 clinical credits (which qualify as ABA experiential learning credits) and 7 academic seminar credits. Students may not take more than one of the 14-credit, semester-long clinics Education Sector Policy and Consulting Clinic - PBSP (LW.12446 / LW.12447) and the Pro Bono Scholars Program Clinic-Education Advocacy (LW.12518 / LW.12401).

If you are interested in using the Clinic to satisfy a writing requirement, please consult the Clinic faculty.