Present educational finance policies can be construed to be in violation of the equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment. Assisted by the National Urban Coalition, the authors of this book have compiled a great deal of information and analysis on school services in the state of Michigan—information which may typify such services throughout the country. Their research was conducted initially to serve as evidence in a suit filed by the Detroit Board of Education which alleged discrimination in the state's distribution of resources to schools: "It may be that the courts will be persuaded to act on the matter, or it may be that the logic of the interpretation will nevertheless be effective in convincing state legislatures themselves of the need to act. In any event, it is our position that the specific arguments made to courts and legislative bodies should embody research of the type illustrated by this book."
One purpose of the book is to define equality of educational opportunity, which it does by exposing the roots of financial inequality. An exceptionally skillful analysis reveals underlying patterns of resource dispersal to schools and how these patterns affect not only the quality of education, but also matters such as job opportunity, personal income, and social mobility. The book sets up a conceptual chain that links socioeconomic status, school services, and school achievement with success in later life—making it quite clear that poor neighborhoods have poor schools and that good education in America is a prerogative of the middle and upper classes. Although this is not a totally new observation, it assumes a more precise form here as the authors pursue each link in the chain to specify the exact extent and effect of services on children in a major school system.
Schools and Inequality falls somewhere between studies that emphasize the influence of social environment at the expense of school services, and the cost-quality type of study, which has been interpreted to mean that low pupil performance can be improved simply by injecting more money into the system. It takes into account both the school's social context and the quality of services offered to him, making an effort to come closer to the true effects of schools upon student performance.
The book concludes with specific proposals for financing schools for equal opportunity and suggests means for implementing such a program, stating, for instance, that a significant change would be to shift state support from school districts to individual schools as units of expenditure. Concurrently the authors call for a new definition of what constitutes a school, envisaging a place "...in which a battery of diagnostic procedures is pursued. This process...should be sufficiently thorough so as to be able to prescribe for a child a host of educational experiences tailored to his particular capabilities and deficiencies."