have little current understanding of challenging content and skills or effective methods of teaching to them, in part owing to a national history of low expectations and low-level curricula, particularly for minority and low-income students (Louis Harris and Associates, Inc., 1992). Disparities in grading procedures have contributed to a lack of comparability of grades, especially between schools in high-poverty areas and those that are more affluent. For example, achievement test score surveys have shown that students who receive "A" grades in lower-income schools score at about the same level on independent tests as "C" students in higher-income schools (U.S. Department of Education, 1993). Thus, while students in lower-income schools believe they are succeeding to some high level, as do their parents and presumably their teachers, in fact they are scoring at what would be an average to low level in middle-income schools (Tyson-Bernstein, 1988, and U.S. Department of Education, 1993).
7. Individual school reform has a long, complex, and unhappy history in the United States. School reform has looked much like a field at twilight with some 85,000 fireflies in it—one for every public school in the country. For each effort at "reform" or "restructuring," a light blinks on, only to blink off again in a relatively short time. What does the metaphor suggest? To us it suggests that schools blossom into change under the right circumstances, under the charismatic leadership of the right principal, or under the guidance of a change agent, such as Hank Levin or Ted Sizer or Jim Comer (Sizer, 1992; Levin, 1987; and Comer et al., 1987–1988). Over time, however, most such schools lose the support system that helped them begin the change process. Principals change jobs, supportive teachers move away, school district policies change, financial support dwindles, schools lose their momentum, and the light goes out. Study after study indicates that schools in which quality and effectiveness increase over three to four years have trouble maintaining those gains long-term (Cuban, 1990; David, 1990; Elmore and McLaughlin, 1988; and Fuhrman and Elmore, 1990). We believe this pattern is not simply one of regression but a phenomenon of the lack of organizational structure and of consistent goals and purpose that is endemic in our fragmented education system—thus, the last general finding.
8. The education system often does little to support change or to sustain schools that appear to be effective. Our education system is highly fragmented, dominated by belief in "magic bullets." New reforms constantly replace one another as new governors, secretaries of education, district superintendents, and school principals take office. Simultaneously, leaders at the federal, state, and locals levels may each adopt a different reform strategy, creating further confusion throughout the system. Sometimes these changes are made for thoughtful substantive reasons, sometimes for entirely political reasons. It is little wonder that many teachers are skeptical of reforms and prefer to close their doors and continue business as usual (Smith and O'Day, 1990).
These eight findings and others helped shape the rationale behind Goals 2000 and the new ESEA. Both pieces of legislation were conceived to support