Local School Reform Agendas:
Changing the Rules of the Game
DURING THE 1990s, courts ceased mandating desegregation initiatives in San Francisco, Denver, and Boston; in Los Angeles, the courts allowed the school district to develop a voluntary desegregation plan in the 1980s. Our field research centered on these critical periods as communities emerged from local desegregation struggles to search for new school reform agendas. As these local policy agendas shifted, “the rules of the game” changed and groups perceived different sets of gains and losses in the educational policy arena. Since Latino and Asian groups were not visible, active players in school reform coalitions in most cities, shifting rules brought unknown consequences for them. To better understand the consequences of these local reform agendas, we trace the development of new reform initiatives as they unfolded in Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and assess how changing the rules of the game in local education affected new school constituencies.
School reforms are context specific: National reform initiatives such as charter schools or site-based management take on distinctively local meanings and designs when implemented. Or, as Larry Cuban puts it, “Schools change reforms as much as reforms change schools” (1998, 455). These reform initiatives, therefore, are moving targets evolving over time and space rather than static programs that mean the same thing always and everywhere. Also, not all members of racial and ethnic groups share the same understandings of these reforms or necessarily anticipate similar consequences. To claim that some reform will benefit or harm Latinos or Asians or blacks or whites is to overlook