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The Rust Belt’s “Unfinished Business” of School Desegregation

Take a look at this column, published in Buffalo’s weekly Artvoice.

It reviews a book, Hope and Despair in the American City by Gerald Grant (Harvard University Press 2009), which examines school desegregation through metropolitan-wide school reorganization.

The premise? This work “compares the sorry recent history of Syracuse, New York with the glad success of Raleigh, North Carolina. One town tried desegregation within the boundaries of the old city and failed, and is dying, while the other town regionalized schools, and has been growing by leaps and bounds,” writes reviewer Bruce Fisher. (Fisher is the founding director of the Center for Economic and Policy Studies at Buffalo State College, where he is visiting professor of Economics. He lives in Buffalo and served as deputy county executive from 2000 to 2007. Nepotism alert: he’s also an old friend of my Dad’s.)

Metro-wide school districts are an intriguing idea. I’m not really familiar with school districts in the South, but apparently, “in the South, there are city districts and county districts, but not the little micro-districts that track closely to town boundaries. Unifying Raleigh with Wake County took a decision between two districts. In Erie County (New York), there are 29 school districts.”

Fisher explains, “Up until 1974, the trend was toward breaking down the barrier between city and suburb. Metro-wide schools early on proved dramatically successful in integrating poor and rich, black and white, urban and suburban kids, and the outcomes since then consistently prove that that success is academic as well as social. Test scores for kids of all income backgrounds and colors are much higher than in the isolated, city-only districts that are the norm throughout the Rust Belt; and in these metropolitan-wide districts, there is so high a level of civic engagement and popular support for maintaining the system that race- and class-based appeals for a return to segregation get voted down.”

The book identifies Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s as a turning point – for the worse.

This definitely sounds like an interesting book. “Gerald Grant’s short book tells this story very well. It is that rarity among policy tomes: a page-turner. The author interweaves his own experiences as a parent, teacher, and researcher into a coherent narrative of the forces that alternately evil and dim-witted politicians loosed upon the North,” Fisher says.

I’d love to hear the thoughts of anyone else who has read this.

-KG

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