History influences what gets noticed and neglected, priorities and assumptions, and how decisions are made about what is just and unjust. As Tyack and Cuban (1995) noted, “History provides a whole storehouse of experiments on dead people. Studying such experiments is cheap . . . and it does not use people (often the poor) as live guinea pigs” (p. 6). In this chapter, I explore the development of school reform in urban school districts with a specific focus on four eras: the Common School era (1820–1860), the progressive era (1890–1950), the Civil Rights Era (1950–1980), and the accountability and market-based reform era (1980–present). In each period, social and economic issues influenced reform agendas. The role of the principal evolved and became a middle management position used by superintendents to implement top-down reform.