decisions. Rather, it is that making those choices would seem to force the courts to get into issues that are too much a matter of political judgment.

Still, one should not unduly despair about the limits of judicial power. For one thing, courts imposing equity remedies on states in wealth discrimination cases have also not had smooth sailing. In Texas, for example, the Texas Supreme Court had to reinsert itself into the problem several times as the legislature continually failed to enact a reform that met the court's standard. Indeed, this is the same lesson to be learned from the first two decades of public school desegregation litigation. Faced with "massive resistance" by Southern states, the courts had to endure seemingly endless legal battles before the regime of school segregation finally fell.

Of course, many today believe that the fight to obtain true equality of educational opportunity for blacks has never been won. Now some hope that educational adequacy litigation can be harnessed, at least in part, in furtherance of that goal. If so, this new wave of court-ordered reform could turn out to be, through a very convoluted route, the real legacy of Brown.

It remains to be seen, however, just how insistent the courts that have handed down educational adequacy decisions will be. Perhaps, as in the race area, the judges will turn out to be more effective at striking down blatant violations of clear norms of fairness than they are at bringing about genuinely equal educational opportunities that satisfy the original victim class.


Educational adequacy has strengths and weaknesses both as a legal theory and as a principle for guiding educational policy. By exposing the shortfall between what students now receive and what they really need, it can lay bare the gap that the states must fill if they are to have a chance to match reality with their own common rhetoric—that all children (or at least most children) can genuinely be taught to the high standards that will be critical for success in the twenty-first century. Because the adequacy notion aspires to ambitious educational outcomes across the board, inherent in it is the necessity that school finance arrangements take into account the special needs of some children, the high costs some schools face, and so on. Moreover, although we are doubtful that lawyers will win a national commitment to adequacy in the courts, the more that states embrace the concept, the more pressure there is likely to be on the federal government to assist children in those states that have insufficient fiscal capacity to provide sufficiently for their own pupils.

Furthermore, at least in its predominant view, educational adequacy does not stand in the way of some communities providing, and thus some children attaining, even more than the high-minimum sought for all. Although this inequality is apparently acceptable—even welcome—to most supporters of the educational adequacy theory, it is a glaring unfairness to those who cling to the principle

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement