Educational Adequacy as Legal Theory: Implications from Equal Educational Opportunity Doctrine

24 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2005

Date Written: September 23, 2005


Evolving school finance litigation theory reflects an evolving equal educational opportunity doctrine. Decades ago race and school desegregation litigation forged the initial modern understanding of equal opportunity. More recently, school finance litigation displaced desegregation litigation as the major instrument for enhancing equal educational opportunity. Within the school finance litigation movement equity theory understood equal educational opportunity from the perspective of school resources, principally per pupil spending. Current school finance litigation theory - adequacy - approaches the equal educational opportunity doctrine with an eye towards results, notably student academic achievement. If my central claim that adequacy litigation is the most recent judicial articulation of an evolving equal educational opportunity doctrine is correct, an understanding of adequacy litigation requires some understanding of educational opportunity. Society's unending quest for greater educational opportunity, at least since the mid-twentieth century, implies a robust role for state and federal courts. Advocates' reliance on the courts for a drive toward enhanced educational opportunity, however, places critical - and increasingly uneasy - institutional stress on the judiciary. As a consequence, adequacy litigation's future efficacy relies partly on the equal educational opportunity doctrine's stability as well as the courts' institutional capacity to achieve desired educational policy changes.

Suggested Citation

Heise, Michael, Educational Adequacy as Legal Theory: Implications from Equal Educational Opportunity Doctrine (September 23, 2005). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-028, Available at SSRN: or

Michael Heise (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

308 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
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