Letter From Rockfordrnby Scott P. RichertrnBreakin’ Up Is Hard To Dornjfter the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court ofrnAppeals officially declared that the Rockfordrnschool-desegregation lawsuit wouldrncome to an end on June 30, 2002 (seernletter From Rockford, June), many Rockfordiansrnsimply assumed that a return tornlocal control would soke all of our problems.rnBut even when court-orderedrnspending has ended, the Rockford schoolrndistrict w ill still shell out over $9,000 perrnstudent, test scores will shll be lower thanrnthc- were when the lawsuit began, andrnstudents will still attend schools where violencernis an everyday occurrence. Just asrnthe 800-pound gorilla of judicial taxationrnpreented many of us from seeing thatrnthe school district’s non-court-orderedrnspending has increased dramatically overrnthe past 12 ears, die draconian “remedies”rnordered by the federal district courtrnobscured tlie reality that Rockford’srnschools, even without federal intervenhon,rnwould likely have undergone a majorrncrisis oer the past decade.rnThe problems faced by District 205rnare rooted not in racism, as the court alleged,rnbut in school consolidation. AsrnBill Kauffinan writes in his book. WithrnGood Intentions? Reflections on the Mythrnof Progress in America, “The number ofrnschool districts in America has free fallen:rn127,531 in 1932; 83,718 in 1950; 40.520rnm I960; 17,995 in 1970; 15,709 m 1980;rn14,556 in 1992.” hi the space of 60 years,rnduring which the population of the UnitedrnStates rose by over 60 percent, thernnumber of school districts plummeted byrnoer 88 percent.rnHere in Rockford, the school-consolidationrncraze began even earlier, aboutrn1914. Each roimd of consolidationrnbrought more school closings, more busing,rnless parental involvement, more reliancernon state and federal funding. FinalK,rnin 1989, it brought the closing ofrnWest High School and a court orderrn5using tor racial balancing. mandating busing forrnTodaw District 205 encompasses overrn170 scpiare miles, and 27,000 studentsrnare enrolled in 39 elementary schools,rnsix middle schools, and only four highrnschools. That is one high school per 42.5rnsquare miles. The district considers arnschool’s “walk zone” to be anvwherernwithin a radius of 1.5 miles —an area on-rnK’ slightly over seven square miles. E’er)’-rnone else must be bused.rnMy own experience as a public-schoolrnstudent was ver)’ different. In the midst ofrnthe consolidation frenzy, something remarkablernhad happened in my hometownrnin West Michigan: We deconsolidatedrnour school district. When myrnfather yvas growing up. Spring Lake wasrnpart of the Grand Haven school district.rnAhhough he attended elementar schoolrnin Spring Lake, he was bused across thernGrand River to Grand Haven for juniorrnhigh and high school. But in the mid-rn60’s, the Spring Lake school district wasrnspim off from Grand Haven. Over thernne.xt 30 years, despite the fact that SpringrnLake and Grand Haven are dcmographicallyrncomparable, the schools in m-rnhometown consistently outperformedrnGrand Haen’s schools academically.rn(Grand Haven had the adantage inrnsports.) The biggest differences? GrandrnHaven’s district was ten times as large asrnSpring Lake’s, and Grand Haven spentrnmore money per pupil than we did.rnAs Bill Kauffman writes,rna growing, by now impressivelyrnstout body of evidence indicatesrnthat small schools —”those enrollingrnno more than 400 studentsrnin high school, for instance” —rn”may provide better educationsrnthan their larger counterparts, as arnfunction (at least in part) of theirrnsniall size.”rnBy that standard, in fact, the Spring Lakernschool district was on the large side, withrnabout 600 students in high school.rnIf die evidence indicates that smaller isrnbetter, why has there been such a relentlessrnpush for school consolidation? Proponentsrnused to argue that larger districtsrnare “more efficient” (at what?) and thatrnthey save money (District 205 is the thirdlargestrnin Illinois, and per-pupil costsrnrank among the top ten). Today, however,rnthey are more likely to justify’ creatingrnmassive Columbine-st}’le schools for socialrnreasons, combining consolidationrnwith desegregation.rnGary Orficld, the co-director of thernCivil Rights Project at Harard and an expertrnwitness for the plaintiffs in the Rockfordrnschools case, told Gannett News Servicernon July 17 that “ha yer- few states dornwhite students have significant contactrnwith non whites. We have a ver)’ seriousrnproblem when the now-majority grouprnisolates itself from minority groups.” Anotherrnsociologist, John Logan of the University-rnof Albany, argued that this situationrnpresents an educational problem:rn”We expect children will have to succeedrnin a multiethnic, multiracial world, butrnwe’re raising them in school districtsrnwhere they don’t get that multiracial experience.”rnOrfield attacked the ver)’ conceptrnof smaller, neighborhood schools,rntelling Gannett that, “if the promise of returningrnto neighborhood schools meansrnsystematic inequalit)’, the cormtrv oughtrnto know about it,” and urging the mediarnto devote more attention to the issue.rnhi the school desegregation and consolidationrnbatties, the true intentions ofrnthe proponents of “multiculturalism” andrn”diversity” are laid bare. Wiat could bernmore diverse than an American publicschoolrnsystem composed of small neighborhoodrnschools? To the extent that ethnicrnneighborhoods still exist, such schoolsrncould be become centers of particularrnethnic cultures—this one, Swedish; thatrnone, Polish; the one a few blocks over,rnMexican. Despite their rhetoric, however,rnmultieultiiralists woidd be horrified byrnsuch schools. They really want the “products”rnof public schools to be the culhiralrnequivalent of the Unitarian UniversalistrnChurch: generically American —liberal,rnrootless, interchangeable. Anyone with arndifferent vision of education is, ipso facto,rna “racist”—which is why Ted Biondo andrnPatti Delugas (the outgoing “conservatives”rnon the Rockford school board) darernnot mention the possibilitv’ of breaking uprnDistrict 205. ‘ crnSEPTEMBER 2001/31rnrnrn