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Making Money Matter: Financing America's Schools
used to frame the issues and their consequences rather than to obtain conclusive evidence on what is right and what is to be done" (Levin, 1976:140). Concomitantly, we have the responsibility, as Levin pointed out, to consider where, along with social science research, aspects of the world that cannot be quantified or analyzed in a social science setting should also be considered. Ultimately, given our charge, we also have the responsibility to advise policy makers—on the basis of both our review of the evidence and our judgment—if and when a strong case can be made for changes in the educational finance system to make it more effective, efficient, and fair.
While it is appropriate for a committee such as ours to evaluate school finance in light of the knowledge that can be gained from formal research and the testing of scientific hypotheses, it is important to make explicit our opposition to substituting scientific authority for other forms of authority when circumstances do not justify that response.
The danger that a school finance report grounded in scientific authority will be misunderstood or misused is perhaps greater at a time, such as the present, when there is a strong desire to harness finance to the task of improving school performance but uncertain knowledge about how best to accomplish this. Some (e.g., Wise, 1976) argue that a sobering example of what can happen can be seen in the history of school finance in the aftermath of the 1966 report, Equality of Educational Opportunity (Coleman et al., 1966). This famous 1960s presentation of social science research found little connection between school resources and the educational achievement of students and a much stronger relationship between student achievement and family circumstances. As it and subsequent research along the same lines came to be used in the policy and legal arenas, the absence of a relationship between resources and achievement frequently became an argument against putting more resources into schools or reducing the wide disparities in spending on students across and within states and school districts. As Wise (1976:xiv) described it, school finance disputes were "transformed by the use of social science into an educational reform effort. As the school-effectiveness question is raised, it has appeared that school finance reform cannot proceed unless educational reform is guaranteed." Rather than use the results of research as an excuse for inaction, the appropriate response to the absence of clear guidance from science may well consist of invoking other sources of legitimate authority as touchstones for evaluating finance reform proposals—for example, an appeal to ideas about what constitutes basic fairness in a just society.
By focusing attention on scientific authority as a guide to education finance reform, we do not intend to prejudge the extent to which the use of this authority is warranted. Indeed, another objective of this report is to inform policy makers and others about how the present state of research can and cannot serve as a useful source of knowledge for action.