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Rebell: 'Adequacy' Movement Is Alive and Thriving

To the Editor:

Contrary to the assertions of Alfred A. Lindseth ("A Reversal of Fortunes: Why the Courts Have Cooled to Adequacy Lawsuits," Commentary, Sept. 12, 2007), the education-adequacy-litigation movement is alive, well, and achieving extraordinary successes. At a time when school integration seems to have fallen off the nation’s radar, these cases have: kept alive the ideals of Brown v. Board of Education, established the courts as a venue for advancing those ideals, established objective criteria for adjudicating conflicts around school funding, and—the ultimate litmus test—improved educational opportunities and student outcomes.

Following its adequacy litigation, during the 1990s, Kentucky rose from 48th to 30th nationwide in per-capita education spending and achieved dramatic gains in student test scores, particularly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In Massachusetts, as recently noted in The Boston Globe, court-mandated increases in school spending have led to impressive gains in scores on math and English tests, including for black and Latino students. And in New Jersey, adequacy litigation has helped the state achieve the nation’s highest graduation rates, with black male students exceeding the national average graduation rate for all students.

Mr. Lindseth says that courts are “cooling” to the adequate-education idea, but neglects to mention that most of the recent cases he cites were lower-court opinions, and, in many of these, the courts dismissed the cases for abstract jurisdictional reasons without even conducting a trial. With higher courts yet to weigh in, the fact remains that virtually every court that has actually looked at the evidence has determined that kids are being hurt by underresourced schools, that their constitutional rights are being denied, and that something must be done.

Costing-out studies are gaining credibility, not losing it, as Mr. Lindseth says. Important new studies were just undertaken in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania, among others. Although a healthy debate continues as to the virtues of the competing methodologies, all of these transparent efforts to focus on children’s needs are a vast improvement over the previous way that most states allocated their education funds—through backroom political deals.

Courts alone cannot ensure meaningful educational opportunity for all children. But without the courts’ prodding, legislatures by and large will not. Instead of engaging in partisan attacks, Mr. Lindseth and his ideological allies should join us in trying to identify effective ways that the judicial, legislative, and executive branches can work cooperatively to meet the needs of millions of low-income and minority children who are still being denied the educational rights that Brown v. Board of Education promised them over half a century ago.

Michael A. Rebell
Executive Director
Campaign for Educational Equity
Teachers College
Columbia
University
New York
, N.Y.

The letter appears in Vol. 27, Issue 05, Pages 33-34 of Education Week.

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