school finance decisions on the educational needs of students, once ruled "judicially unmanageable" by several courts, may now be an achievable objective.

These developments highlight the importance of exploring what is known about what is called the adequacy movement: how adequacy is defined, what court imperatives are driving it, how states are responding to it, and what conceptual and technical challenges will have to be overcome in implementing adequacy-based school finance systems. A key challenge (addressed more fully in the next chapter) is whether current knowledge about how to improve student achievement is strong enough to make it possible to design a school finance system that fosters this objective.

POSSIBLE MEANINGS OF ADEQUACY

Despite the absence of consensus on the definition of educational adequacy, a good sense of how it differs from other approaches to equity can be obtained by examining it in terms of the five key definitional distinctions mentioned in Chapter 3.

Adequacy is exclusively focused on schoolchildren and does not embrace taxpayers as objects of concern. Conceptually, the unit of analysis could be the individual child or the school, but in practice (especially as litigators have so far employed it in school finance cases), it has been applied to school districts. If education funding becomes more school-based than district-based in the future, as some reformers urge, the unit of analysis for adequacy would probably shift to the school level as well.

One of the major differences often cited between adequacy and other definitions of equity is the former's emphasis on outputs and outcomes. Attorneys have tended to make a distinction between equity and adequacy, defining equity as input focused and adequacy as output focused. As Berne and Stiefel (1999) point out, however, in principle it is entirely possible for inputs, outputs, and outcomes to be equitable or inequitable and for inputs, outputs, and outcomes to be adequate or inadequate.1

Adequacy does indeed place far more emphasis on outputs and outcomes than wealth neutrality or spending equalization; in fact, the latter approaches pay virtually no attention to the results of schooling. For definitional purposes, however, the key characteristic of adequacy seems to be less the input-output distinction and more its greater emphasis on absolute rather than relative stan-

1  

 Berne and Stiefel cite the remedy applied in the settlement of Abbott v. Burke, 710 A.2d 450 (N.J. 1998), in New Jersey as an example of how the courts, through the concept of adequacy, may possibly join outputs, inputs, and processes. In New Jersey, the remedy has focused on resources, curricular offerings, and support services available to poor districts relative to wealthy ones. While the idea is to provide an adequate education for children in poor districts, the method for achieving this involves a focus on the details of programs, teacher quality, and technology.



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