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U.S. News & World Report Overhauls Law School Rankings Amid Backlash

After facing some high-profile criticism for its annual ranking of the top law schools, U.S. News & World Report has decided to make wholesale changes to its ranking process, the publication announced recently.

In addition to its formal announcement, the publication sent separate messages to law school deans and prospective law students as well as shared the results of its “multi-week engagement” between data journalists working on the rankings and a cohort of law school deans.

U.S. News & World Report and its journalists have an important job–to inform the public, to hold powerful institutions accountable and to foster a free and fair exchange of ideas. In the past few weeks, U.S. News has engaged more than 100 deans and representatives of law schools as part of our review of our Best Law Schools ranking. We listened to their recent feedback and are developing ways to be responsive, while maintaining our independence, mission, and purpose,” said Kim Castro, editor and chief content officer for U.S. News & World Report.

In November, Harvard Law School Dean John Manning wrote to students about the school’s decision to stop actively participating in the publication’s rankings. Manning cited a conflict between the study’s incentives and methodologies with the school’s own commitments and principles. Among some of the problematic areas Manning noted include perceived conflicts with principals associated with socio-economic diversity, fair financial aid considerations and the selection of public interest fellowships.

He said, done well such rankings could benefit families and students considering which schools will meet their needs. “However, rankings can also emphasize characteristics that potentially mislead those who rely on them and can create perverse incentives that influence schools’ decisions in ways that undercut student choice and harm the interests of potential students,” he wrote.

Duke Dean Kerry Abrams echoed some of those concerns. “ … we believe that the U.S. News law school rankings are having a detrimental effect on legal education,” Abrams said. “The rankings rely on flawed survey techniques and opaque and arbitrary formulas, lacking the transparency needed to help applicants make truly informed decisions.”

From Twitter 

Min Jin Lee @minjinlee11

"It took a boycott of selective law schools for U.S. News & World Report to change its ranking system. The most selective colleges and universities should boycott, too."

According to U.S. News, changes are generally made incrementally each ranking cycle, but the planned alterations going forward are far more substantive. Among some of the major changes in the rankings will include a reduced reliance on “peer assessment surveys” of lawyers, judges and academics and a greater reliance on “outcomes measures.”

“While we know it is challenging for diverse institutions to be ranked across a common data set, we all have the same goal–to provide the best information to prospective students so they can make one of the most important decisions of their careers. U.S. News is committed to this purpose,” added Eric Gertler, executive chairman and CEO in a statement.

The publication has been analyzing various education fields for more than three decades, according to the announcement.

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