Is “Adequacy” a Valid Concept?

Kansas is certainly not the only state to be sued by school districts unhappy with the amount of money they’re getting. The state of Washington, for example, is being sued for the third time.

Such lawsuits, says one observer of education policy, depend on four questionable assumptions:

1.     The state needs to spend more money on education, and doing so will improve academic achievement.
2.     The state is already spending current education dollars as efficiently and effectively as possible.
3.     The actual cost of educating every child in the state to standard can be determined and fixed.
4.     It is beneficial for judges and courts to order the legislature to make specific education policies.

I’d say that Kansas has similar problems.

On the question of “the actual cost,” the commentary has this to say:

In making its case against the state, the NEWS [school district] coalition points to the fact that not all students are passing the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). This, the plaintiffs argue, proves the constitution has been violated and the legislature is failing to provide all students a quality basic education.

NEWS is asking the court to order the legislature to determine the actual cost of bringing all students to standard, and then to pay that cost.

Unfortunately, this request may be impossible to fulfill. Determining what it costs to make sure every student masters basic education material has never been done, simply because there is no school in the nation that can guarantee 100 percent success with students. Students are unique and, yes, human. Many factors, including their own motivation and aptitude, impact their educational success, and these cannot all be controlled by policy.

No education system and no amount of money can guarantee equal outcomes. What they can do is provide equal opportunities, and those opportunities can be based on proven best practices showing what works well when it comes to meeting the needs of unique students.

The idea that a given level of performance can be guaranteed if only funding is “adequate” is folly.

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