Results or Retrenchment: The Real Race in American Educational Reform

Introduction

Performance accountability and school finance adequacy are indeed promising reforms in American education. After all, the nation wants results. Its new rallying cry proclaims “no child left behind.” In principle, accountability and adequacy are ready-made for this task. Accountability establishes performance targets and organizes effort, focusing the vast educational enterprise on results; adequacy ensures resources sufficient to get the job done. Though they emerged separately, accountability and adequacy are logical complements and compelling in their marriage of public goals, constitutional obligations, governance structures, and educational resources.

Professors Liebman and Sabel find an additional promise in these reforms. As their analysis astutely demonstrates, accountability and adequacy grow out of and contribute to new forms of collective action between courts, legislatures, administrative agencies, and citizens, entities now jointly engaged in the pursuit of student performance. Kentucky and Texas provide compelling examples of the emergence of these new relationships and their effects on educational governance and policy. Based on these cases, Liebman and Sabel expect the new accountability framework to trigger a “race to the top” regarding effective school reform and thus improved student performance. Experience compels another view

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