and so the focus of debate can more easily concentrate on the assumptions themselves, not the calculations flowing from them.

An Empirical Search for What Is Instructionally "Adequate"

This strategy determines a level of acceptable pupil performance or proficiency specified as adequate, and then identifies school districts or schools which achieve the desired goals. The level of resources expended by such school districts is then deemed to be adequate. "The underlying assumption is that any district should be able to accomplish what some districts do accomplish" (Augenblick, 1997:4). Skeptics may contend that such deductive strategies are based upon past and existing expenditure patterns which may themselves be products of unfair and perhaps unconstitutional school finance plans, and thus these strategies lead to recommendations for the underfunding of education. However, the actual spending levels determined by research to be associated with desired levels of pupil performance seem to achieve the goal in mind. In effect, what successful districts spend, however unconstitutional or inadequate they may appear when examined without reference to outcomes, has sufficed to obtain the performance ends desired. Hence, these dollar amounts must be presumed to be "adequate," provided their statistical derivation has fully controlled for the non-school resource factors (like student family background characteristics) that are also known to affect academic achievement. In reality, as with the statistical model discussed previously, this strategy runs a greater danger of leading to over-funding of education, because it relies on data from all districts that produce adequate outcomes, including those that produce adequate outcomes inefficiently.3

The empirical approach is described in detail in a 1995 investigation undertaken by Augenblick, Alexander, and Guthrie for the state of Ohio, and then revised in a report by Augenblick in 1997 (Augenblick et al., 1995; Augenblick, 1997). It initially involved constructing a representative pool of Ohio school districts, comprised of all Ohio districts save those which were characterized by high and low extremes of property wealth and per-pupil spending. Once such outliers had been removed, remaining districts were ranked by a composite of student performance measures in reading, mathematics, writing, and science. Districts whose average student performance was at the 70th percentile or higher on most measures were defined as providing a minimally adequate education.

Augenblick et al. (1995) next examined instructional arrangements of the districts which met the performance criteria. These districts' mixes of instructionally related components such as ratio of professionals to pupils, class sizes, school sizes, and course offerings were distilled and taken to be instrumentally exemplary for districts attempting to reach specified levels of achievement. These exemplary conditions and practices can be taken as a model instructional program, one empirically verified by student performance. It then becomes possible to assign costs to these empirically derived instructional components.

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