unique to the current period of reform. Families, especially relatively well-off families, have been able to exercise school choice by choosing where to live. Within-district and cross-district choice plans (including magnet school options) were a common remedy selected by or imposed by courts on school districts as they struggled in the latter half of the 20th century to accomplish desegregation goals, but the existence of special public schools for students with particular academic or vocational talents and interests (like the Bronx High School of Science and the Aviation High School in New York) goes back much further.

Here, we simply note several distinguishing features of the current debate over choice and privatization options: the attention being paid to their potential for raising student achievement as well as for serving other educational purposes valued by Americans; the growing willingness of states and districts to try new institutional arrangements for providing publicly funded education; and the intensity of the controversy over the desirability of making these comparatively radical shifts in familiar patterns of educational governance.


A quarter of a century ago, a book entitled Indeterminacy in Education reviewed social science research generated in the first decade after the Coleman report and came to the conclusion that "educational policymaking is now in a state of indeterminacy. No satisfactory criteria exist by which to make important decisions regarding [among other things] school finance" (McDermott, 1976:1).

We are not yet certain about how to make schools better or how to deploy resources effectively. The hope that productivity studies might provide ready answers to public officials about how much money to allocate, under what circumstances, to whom to obtain specified academic outcomes is as yet impossible to fulfill. Still, our assessment of the last several decades of research and policy development on educational productivity makes us more optimistic than our mid-1970s predecessors about the prospects for making informed school finance choices.

The past 25 years worth of insights have generated a host of ideas about how to use school finance to improve school performance. Input-output research has heightened interest in policies affecting key variables that appear linked to student achievement, such as teacher quality and class size. The renewed involvement of economists in educational productivity studies has brought a long-absent economic perspective to school finance and has drawn attention to the lack of performance incentives and financial accountability measures in traditional school finance systems. Studies of effective practice have spawned a vigorous effort to make school reform actually affect what happens between teachers and students in classrooms, raising interesting questions about how school finance reforms, such as school-based management and teacher development, can influence the

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