Justice in Schools is a new research and teaching project designed to help educators, policy makers, and philosophers grapple productively with dilemmas of justice in schools. 

Educators and educational policy makers are faced with ethical dilemmas on a regular basis.  For example:

  • If a teacher has an hour to devote to class planning, should she create an extension activity for her high-achieving students, find appropriate leveled texts for her struggling readers, or revise the main learning activity in order to align better with the newly-adopted Common Core?  To whom does she owe the most, and why?
  • A school has adopted a disciplinary policy based on “shout-outs,” demerits, and clear rewards and punishments.  The policy was developed collaboratively by administrators, teachers, parents, and students.  In reviewing the policy at the end of the first year, the school leadership team discovers that white and Hispanic girls have received a disproportionate number of rewards, while black boys have been suspended for demerit accumulation at three times the rate of other students.  What should the team do?
  • Urban districts around the country have been closing schools because of shrinking student population, aging physical plants, and budget cuts.  District leaders often target “failing schools,” with low levels of student achievement and high dropout rates, for closure.  These school closures disproportionately affect low-income students of color, disrupting their education and tearing apart communities.  But keeping these schools open costs millions of dollars the district doesn’t have, especially since these schools are often the hardest and costliest to improve.  As budgets and student populations continue to shrink, but students’ and communities’ needs continue to grow, what would a just district-wide school improvement and closure policy look like?

Currently, educators and policy makers tend to wrestle with these dilemmas on their own, with little guidance or even acknowledgment that ethical considerations are an essential part of their work.  Justice in Schools (JiS) is designed to affirm that ethics matter, and then to help educators and policy makers reason through the dilemmas they face.  JiS doesn’t necessarily provide answers.  Rather, Justice in Schools helps educators and policy makers ask the right questions, offers shared language to talk about the ethical choices they face, and provides frameworks and heuristics through which they can understand others’ points of view.

Moral, political, and educational theory serve as important sources of shared language and ethical frameworks.  In part, Justice in Schools helps bring these theoretical resources to those practitioners who work in and with schools.  However, moral and political theory have also generally been developed to specify what the world would ideally be like, if people behaved in truly moral ways toward one another, and if institutions were designed to be truly just.  These theoretical insights are important.  But they fail to address many of the most important questions that educators and policy makers wrestle with because they don’t explain how justice can be implemented under unjust conditions or in unjust contexts.  Each of the dilemmas above, for example, is grounded in at least one starting injustice: that teachers and schools districts do not have the resources to meet all of their students’ needs, for example, or that race and class continue to structure students’ educational opportunities.  Justice in Schools helps moral, political, and educational theorists ask the right questions about justice in non-ideal contexts, develops new language to talk about educational ethics, and provides empirically-informed frameworks for developing a philosophically rigorous and pragmatically useful theory of educational justice.

Justice in Schools pursues these aims by using normative case studies--complex, empirically-researched ethical practice and policy dilemmas--of justice in schools.  To learn more about the normative case study method, to read and comment on normative case studies we are currently developing, or to offer your own dilemma of justice, please explore our website further!