Accessible Frameworks: What Public Education Can Learn from Legal Tech
January 13, 2023
From 2020 to 2022, at least 300,000 American public school teachers left the profession. They moved into other industries due to a lack of teacher support, demanding work conditions, low wages, and a variety of personal reasons. The hardest decision when one considers leaving the classroom is saying goodbye to the students. It is a gut-wrenching feeling that makes you wonder if you are making the right decision. As a former teacher and administrator of a New York City Charter School for almost a decade, I can speak to this feeling from firsthand experience.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress recently showed plunging public school enrollment and an overall decline in reading and math levels across the country. Students from underrepresented and marginalized communities are mainly taking the brunt of this hit. The surge in career shifts for K-12 educators was certainly exacerbated by COVID, but this shift also reveals more significant systemic issues. These recent statistics result from an ongoing application of one-size-fits-all curricula tied to the concept of “learning loss.” This approach to public education only exacerbates the racial inequalities at the forefront of American educational policy.
During my time as a visual and media arts teacher and former Deputy Dean of Special Education, I witnessed the power of integrating anti-oppressive practices into the way we teach our kids.
Anti-oppressive practices include:
Identifying our implicit biases as educators to lift students’ voices from various social identities.
Establishing inclusive spaces for students to feel secure in their learning community.
Exploring unconventional approaches to teaching curricula.
This led me to an essential question: How can the public education system meet students where they are and provide them with the resources necessary to effectively navigate the world around them?
In my role as a UX/UI designer for A2J Tech, I’ve seen how providing innovative approaches to accessing legal information can invigorate the learning process. And I believe the education system can grow by looking at the work Legal Tech is doing.
Equitable Access to Resources
Equitable access to resources is a critical issue in both the legal and education sectors, as it determines who has the opportunity to learn and seek justice. Legal tech empowers individuals to find the resources they need and access legal services. For instance, when Southwest Airlines canceled more than 60% of their flights during the 2022 holiday season, A2J Tech created PayMeSouthwest.This website helps affected individuals understand their rights and request timely refunds and reimbursements. This means people can access these resources on their own terms rather than depending on traditional gatekeepers or intermediaries. Essentially, this is a democratization of the learning process and a significant model for creating more accessible and differentiated education.
In the education sector, equitable access to resources is essential for ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn and succeed. This includes access to quality teachers, educational materials, technology, counseling, tutoring, and extracurricular activities–but most crucially, a way for students to seek resources and learn on their own terms. Students might seek resources directly from their phones on YouTube, TikTok, Wikipedia or even AI applications. Integrating these platforms into the classroom allows for the student’s preferred method of learning to be normalized and can potentially aid educators in closing the achievement gap.
Design for Justice
Legal tech user interface platforms are designed with the user's needs in mind, with room for experimentation and innovation. These platforms use illustrations, videos, and multimedia to explain legal concepts and emotionally support users going through difficult legal processes. In special education, we call this differentiation–a creative application of different learning systems and models to accommodate the student's needs.
Public school teachers are often stifled by the concept of "teaching to the test" and utilizing pre-made curricula. Like UX/UI designers, educators should be empowered to put the needs of the "user" first. The creative use of design within public education is a powerful way to engage and empower students, particularly those who are traditionally labeled as "marginalized" or "disadvantaged." For example, educators can use virtual reality or gamification to communicate complex concepts in a more accessible and relatable way to children.
Bringing Collaborative Teams Together
Collaborative teams allow for sharing multiple perspectives and experiences, leading to more effective solutions. Organizations ranging from legal aids to law firms can partner with tech companies like A2J to create products that help reimagine the future of the legal system. For clients in Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan, and Massachusetts, A2J has launched a series of Legal Kiosks to provide access to legal services, including virtual hearings, applications for legal help, and printers directly within the communities people live in. The development of Legal Kiosks was made possible with the collaborative effort from legal aid organizations, their existing network of social service organizations, and A2J.
A collaborative approach can also be applied to public education, particularly in the context of addressing systemic inequalities and improving outcomes for underserved students. This can involve using technology to connect educators and students across different locations for free remote education conferences, sharing resources and expertise through online forums, and working together to create more inclusive learning models. At a policy level, this collaborative approach could look like bringing together national educational policymakers and local under-resourced schools to develop a more holistic approach to addressing the needs of these communities.
The departure of many American public school teachers and declining public school enrolment highlights systemic issues in the education system. By adopting practices used in legal tech, the education system can work towards providing more equitable learning opportunities for all students and give support to educators who are rightfully asking to be heard and recognized for their expertise. With a flexible toolkit of resources, design, and collaborative tools, the education system can harness the power of legal-tech inspired approaches to meet students where they are and create new definitions of effective learning.