FOR the first time since Sputnik was orbited in 1957, education is a major political issue. The warning by the National Commission on Excellence in Education that the schools -- and our society -- are threatened by "a rising tide of mediocrity," and similar appraisals by other national study panels have made the public aware that the condition of the schools cannot be taken for granted. The question now is, can the momentum for school improvement be sustained?
All the recent reports have complained that national indicators of academic achievement and of literacy have fallen over the past twenty years, despite the vast expansion of our educational system. Educators disagree about why this is so and even whether the measures of achievement are valid, but there is no doubt that the trend has been