The Public Interest

Community control vs. school integration - the case of Detroit

William R. Grant

Summer 1971

NEW YORK and Detroit are the only big cities in America that have decentralized their public school systems in order to establish community control. Many people can still recall the bitter conflict over decentralization that raged in New York during the autumn and winter of 1968, involving an extended teachers’ strike, intense racial and ethnic hostility, and a bewildering tangle of educational, political, and legal issues. The experience of Detroit—with the nation’s fourth largest public school system of 290,000 students—in 1969 and 1970 is less widely known but perhaps even more important. For here the central issue was framed—and resolved—with a directness and clarity unusual in American politics. The issue was simply whether, as a practical matter, community control is compatible with racial integration. And the unequivocal answer in Detroit was no.

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