In the 1960s both racial and economic imbalances were becoming more prominent in the Ann Arbor schools, and the flash point for the school district was Jones Elementary School, which was 75% black. Given the lack of fair housing laws and enforcement, and the fact that the schools were primarily neighborhood-based, the segregation is not surprising. (Now, Jones School is Community High School.) Jones School was closed in 1965, and at the time, an advisory committee recommended that no school have a population that was more than 25% black.
The discussions around desegregation continued, and continued, and continued, for the next twenty years. A 1979 committee developed a desegregation plan, and that desegregation plan was passed by the school board in 1980 but was overturned after a hotly-contested school board election. In the early 1980s, Ann Arbor had several schools that were considered by state guidelines to be "racially imbalanced" but the school board was unable to deal with the issue. For instance, Newport and Freeman schools were largely white, while Dicken and Northside were largely black. Bryant and Clinton schools were just a few blocks from each other, but Bryant was largely black and Clinton was largely white. A "Committee on Excellence" was formed, and they issued their report on August 23, 1985. At that point, 19/26 elementary schools (or 73%) did not meet the recommended range for racial composition. The report is available online through the University of Michigan library.
Although the report was "tweaked" by the school board, its major recommendations were approved:
Each building in the district shall have a student population which reflects the racial composition of the community. There shall be a black population in each building that ranges between 12% and 27% of the building enrollment. (p. 4, emphases added)The committee noted that this range met state guidelines, but was actually more restrictive, because the state was recommending a range of 2-32% black, and the committee felt that was too wide of a range.
Supporting recommendations included closing schools to both achieve racial balance and maximize efficiencies and changing from a K-6, 7-9, 10-12 school setup to a K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 setup. In addition, they recommended that the Open School program--which had been split between two schools--be given its own home in a school that was destined to be closed.
The idea was that, in 1985, there were 26 elementary school principals overseeing schools with an average of 260 children, and that by 1986 there would be 20 principal overseeing schools with an average of 380 children, despite the fact that the schools only included grades K-5 rather than grades K-6.
It is worth noting that at the time of these discussions, the "racial balance" discussion was almost exclusively a discussion about the black and white populations. The Asian and Hispanic/Latino populations in Ann Arbor have expanded tremendously since then, but in 1984, the Asian population was highly centered on North Campus and concern was expressed that if all of the students from North Campus were sent to one school, it would create a "third world ghetto."
The report (which I found interesting) discusses a lot of the same issues we discuss today: labor relations, the racial achievement gap, ways to support low-achieving schools, student assessment, alternatives to tracking, magnet schools, the savings that would come from school closings, professional development for teachers, and more.
Given the great demand for Ann Arbor Open today, I had to laugh when I read this:
The elementary Open School Program should be housed in a single site adequate in size to accommodate all the students who wish to enroll in the program. The process of selecting students by lottery should be eliminated. (p. 29, emphases added)Not all of the recommendations were accepted, but most of them were. One that was not was the closing of Forsythe Junior High School.
I will talk more about what happened to the schools that closed later, but the schools that closed as general program schools included: Newport, Bach, Stone, Bader, Freeman, Clinton, and Lakewood. In the late 1990s, there were some more changes, but if you've ever wondered:
- why Bryant is a K-2 school paired with Pattengill, a 3-5 school;
- why kids from Glencoe Hills get bussed to Burns Park, even though several schools are geographically closer;
- why the Open School has its own building;
- or why we have middle schools that are grades 6-8...
Read more about the goals of desegregation and reducing the achievement gap and whether they worked here.
Information in this post came from the Report of the Committee on Excellence of Education (1985), as well as Ann Arbor Observer articles from March 1985, December 1985, and June 1986, and Ann Arbor District Library records.