Student Summer Scholars


A Fight So Impassioned: The Struggle Over School Consolidation in Michigan, 1950-1970

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During the years following the Second World War, Michigan’s public schools experienced a period of significant redefinition. Schools in the present-day are also facing a similar set of curricular and financial challenges. This paper argues that far from being a new issue, the wave of rural school consolidations, suburban expansions, and greater role for state government in educational policy reflects a profound shift in the culture of education in Michigan. Initially during the 1950s, declining enrollments in rural districts and the demand for new services such as special education and vocational training prompted state officials to take a more direct role in education policy. The struggle over consolidation in local communities highlights the contentious nature of balancing services with limited financial resources. To coordinate these new services and to provide support and oversight, the state created Intermediate School Districts as mediating agents between communities and state government. Driven by the imperatives of the Cold War, an increasing unease about the performance of American students internationally, and the growing crisis in urban centers, these entities took on greater and greater roles in Michigan’s education policy. At the same time, newly formed suburban districts utilized the changes in legislation to establish new districts on the periphery of urban centers often defined by ethnic and class separation. Though often handled in a technocratic and bureaucratic fashion, these policies belied the difficult community and individual choices faced by those dealing with these transformations.