For The Record

The nation’s longstanding approach to education federalism is in dire need of disruption, according to Richmond Law professor Kimberly Robinson. The substantial state autonomy favored by the current balance of local, state, and federal power comes at the expense of the nation’s educational goals, particularly the goal of ensuring “that all students receive equal access to an excellent education,” she writes.

Her argument, as laid out in her paper “Disrupting Education Federalism,” published by Washington University Law Review, earned the 2016 Steven S. Goldberg Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Education Law. The award, presented annually by the Education Law Association, recognizes an outstanding scholarly work that has an impact on education law.

“My scholarship challenges the assumptions, laws, and policies that keep the United States locked into deeply entrenched patterns of educational inequality,” Robinson said. “By challenging these assumptions, laws, and policies, I hope to encourage new avenues for reforms that insist that every child receive equal access to an excellent education.”

In The Enduring Legacy of Rodriguez: Creating New Pathways, co-edited with Charles Ogletree Jr. of Harvard Law School and published by Harvard Education Press, she examines the ramifications of the landmark Supreme Court case that held that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee a right to education. The book also encourages innovative thinking on closing the educational opportunity gap.

In her paper, she proposes restructuring educational policy “to embrace greater federal leadership and responsibility for a national effort to provide equal access to an excellent education.” Among the challenges she identifies is a lack of sufficient political will to address persistent opportunity and achievement gaps. She acknowledges the breadth of the reforms she is proposing.

“My proposed theory is intentionally unapologetic in its comprehensive and aspirational scope,” she writes.

But the cost of our current inequalities is too high to continue bearing, she argues. Citing research by the Council on Foreign Relations, she writes, “Closing achievement gaps would both greatly increase the nation’s economic growth and lead to future economic strength and competitiveness of the U.S. economy.”