By Diane Ravitch
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Additional resources for Brookings papers on education policy, 1999
In Detroit, the Great Depression and the demands of World War II began the downward spiral of the school system by fracturing the political base of the system, devastating its finances, severely constraining its budgetary options, introducing new, powerful political forces, and contributing to the evisceration of academic standards within the high schools. In making this argument, I am not dismissing the importance of race in the modern history of urban education. Rather, I am arguing that racial conflict exacerbated problems that had been festering for years but did not cause these problems.
Department of State Abigail Thernstrom, The Manhattan Institute and Massachusetts State Board of Education Joseph P. C. S. S. S. S. C. Charter Schools Stephanie Soler, Progressive Policy Institute Heidi Steffens, National Education Association Miguel Satut, W. K. S. S. House Committee on Education and Workforce Ann Rubenstein Tisch, Young Women's Leadership School Peter Torres, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands James Traub, New York Times Michelle Wendy, Young Women's Leadership School Page 1 Introduction DIANE RAVITCH In organizing the Brookings conference on urban education, special acknowledgment must go to Howard Fuller, former superintendent of the Milwaukee public schools, who brought together several of his colleagues: Debra McGriff, former superintendent of the Detroit public schools; Walter Amprey, former superintendent of the Baltimore public schools; and Rod Paige, superintendent of the Houston public schools.
In examining the history of public education in the Rust Belt cities, I use examples that mainly come from research I have been doing on the Detroit public schools. In many ways, Detroit is a representative Rust Belt school system. Its history closely tracked the urban school trajectory with a rapid rise to excellence in the first half of the twentieth century, followed by a dramatic decline. Detroit participated in (and in some cases led) virtually every important reform effort involving urban schools, including a remarkably successful period of change in the Progressive Era, concerted efforts to educate a huge population of poor and immigrant children between the 1910s and 1930s, a major political and curricular transformation in the 1930s and 1940s, a massive influx of African American students in the second half of the century, high-profile experiments in desegregation and decentralization in the 1960s and 1970s, and large-scale programmatic changes and school restructuring in the 1980s and 1990s.