To the Editor:
Several letter-writers have responded to my Commentary “A Reversal of Fortunes: Why the Courts Have Cooled to Adequacy Lawsuits” (Sept. 12, 2007), claiming that adequacy litigation is alive and well. I must admire their optimism, but one must also face the facts. None seriously disputes the central thrust of my essay that plaintiffs have lost or been disappointed in 14 of the last 15 adequacy decisions. Nor do any of them offer any of their own reasons for this remarkable turnabout.
Michael A. Rebell (Sept. 26 2007) states that the “higher courts [have] yet to weigh in” on “most” of the cases I cite. In fact, only five of the 15 decisions I cite are on appeal, hardly “most” of them. With respect to the results in adequacy cases, none cites any studies showing significant success in improving student outcomes.
Mr. Rebell also states that Kentucky’s National Assessment of Educational Progress score increases were “dramatic” in the years following its adequacy litigation. Kentucky’s scores did increase some, but NAEP scores increased in almost every state during that period. What he fails to mention is that Kentucky’s NAEP increases for both its white and black students fell short of the average increases in the nation, even while its spending was climbing from 48th to 30th among the 50 states.
He also cites New Jersey’s statewide graduation statistics as an example of the success of such remedies. However, the New Jersey remedy is not statewide, but limited to the 30 Abbott districts, and even the staunchest proponents of the remedy have not claimed significant improvement in student performance in the high schools of those districts.
Alfred A. Lindseth
To the Editor:
Kudos to Alfred A. Lindseth for his assessment of adequacy lawsuits. He produced five reasons some courts have changed course in awarding additional taxes to be spent on failing schools, centering on such factors as the courts’ acting outside of their purview and money not being the answer. Education reform activists knew this all along, of course, and I would like to think that our judges are at least as smart as the rest of us. This leads me to a sixth reason, which I believe has the most validity: politics.
My own experience with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit here in New York has brought me to this more cynical understanding. The lawsuit was initiated at the beginning of the tenure of Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican. The suit, and the impossible financial burden it imposed on the state, was a thorn in the side of Gov. Pataki throughout his tenure. The school district that was to benefit from the $9 billion was that of New York City, a Democratic stronghold. Several other big-city districts attempting to ride the CFE’s coattails were also heavily Democratic. These districts were already spending double what many surrounding suburban and rural school districts were, and it is my belief that the additional money was intended to bolster unions’ political strength and their participation in Democratic Party politics.
But the real clincher in my determination of this political component was that New York’s highest court wasted no time reversing the lower court’s ruling, possibly so that newly elected Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat (and formerly the state attorney general), wouldn’t be hamstrung by the same financial burden that his Republican predecessor was saddled with.
A version of this article appeared in the October 17, 2007 edition of Education Week as Clarifications and Kudos On ‘Adequacy’ Commentary