The history of American school reform helps us see what has made reform so ineffective. Reformers have continually tried to impose social missions on schools and then failed to accomplish them, because consumers – the families who send children to school – have had something entirely different in mind. Consumers have wanted schools to allow them to accomplish goals that are less noble socially but more resonant personally: to get ahead and stay ahead. The school system emerged as the unintended consequence of these consumer preferences, expressed through the cumulative choices made by families trying to fortify the future of their children through the medium of schooling.
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