risk that policy makers will overestimate the prospects for finding technical or mechanical answers to the question of how much adequacy costs. In fact, the meaning of educational adequacy will always be to some extent a matter of policy judgment, and the amount of funding required for any given level of educational adequacy cannot be determined with any precision given the absence of a well-defined production function and given the imprecision with which many educational outcomes are measured. At the most fundamental level, major questions remain regarding the meaning of adequacy. Is it a narrow, low standard or a wide, high standard? Does it focus attention on disadvantaged students, or does it contribute to improving achievement for all students? These are not technical questions for which scientific answers can be quickly provided. They require difficult political judgments and may be subject to public resistance.

Policy makers may also fail to recognize that any level of funding that is adequate for schools with a typical mix of students will need to be adjusted to account for the additional costs of educating students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Failure to make such adjustments could be detrimental to the goal of breaking the nexus between family background and student achievement. The problem, however, is that development of such cost indices is still in its infancy. In addition, failure to adjust figures for additional factors, such as geographically related cost-of-living differences, also could be detrimental to disadvantaged students to the extent that they live in cities with above-average costs of living, and hence with above-average employee remuneration related to factors outside the schools' control.

Finally, the definition of funding adequacy could be pegged so low as to trivialize the concept; alternatively, adjustments could be set so high for urban areas that such areas would have no incentive to use resources in a cost-efficient way. Although some researchers have been trying to incorporate differences in the efficiency with which districts operate into their estimates of need-based adjustments, much work remains to be done before that research can be used by policy makers.

On balance, however, the committee judges the new focus on adequacy of funding to be desirable and notes that efforts to ensure adequate funding will be necessary regardless of other changes that are made to the finance system.

PROMOTING FAIR SPENDING AND REVENUE RAISING

The new attention to the adequacy of funding does not eliminate concerns about disparities in funding across districts or schools. Indeed, the more successful strategies to make dollars effective in generating student achievement are, the greater will be the achievement consequences of any remaining disparities in cost-and need-adjusted funding levels.

However, reasonable people are likely to disagree about the extent to which efforts should be made to reduce or eliminate such disparities. One view is that



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