Introduction: The Changing Social Contours of Urban Education

  • John L. Rury


There is a widespread belief today that city schools are an unrelenting dilemma. Just the mention of urban education can conjure images of disorder, negligence, and low academic achievement. Problems of the city schools find their way into the news: drug abuse, gang violence, teenage pregnancy, and dismal test scores. Middle-class urbanites often send their children to private institutions or to magnet schools to keep them away from the problem-plagued public systems. Big city schools are seen as serving the students left with no alternatives.1


Public School School System Urban School American City Urban Education 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    It is important at the outset to define “urban,” as it can take a number of different meanings. The term urban in this discussion and the remainder of the book refers to large American cities, most of which today lay at the center of metropolitan areas. For discussion of the term and an introduction to relevant theory and research in connection with education, see John L. Rury and Jeffrey Mirel, “The Political Economy of Urban Education,” in Michael Apple, ed. Review of Research in Education 22 (Washington, DC: AERA, 1997) pp. 49–110.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    This point is perhaps most graphically demonstrated in Jeffrey Mirel’s prizewinning study of the Detroit schools. See Jeffrey E. Mirel, The Rise and Fall of an Urban School System, Detroit, 1907–1980 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) especially ch. 2.Google Scholar
  3. Also see the essays in John L. Rury and Frank Cassell, Seeds of Crisis: Public Schooling in Milwaukee Since 1920 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993) especially chs. 1, 3, 4, 5, & 6.Google Scholar
  4. Also see David L. Angus, Jeffrey Mirel, and Maris Vinovskis, “Historical Development of Age Stratification in Schooling” Teachers College Record Winter 1998 90(2): 211–236.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    The best study of urban education at this time is Carl F. Kaesde, Evolution of an Urban School System: New York, 1750–1850 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973) chs. 1 & 2.Google Scholar
  6. Also see Stanley K. Schultz, The Culture Factory: Boston’s Public Schools, 1790–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973) ch. 1,Google Scholar
  7. and Farley Grubb, “Educational Choice in the Era before Free Public Schooling: Evidence from German Immigrant Children in Pennsylvania, 1771–1817” Journal of Economic History 1992 52(2): 363–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 6.
    Diane Ravtich, The Great School Wars, New York City, 1805–1973: A History of The Public Schools as Battlefield of Social Change (New York: Basic Books, 1974) Part One; Kaestle, Evolution and an Urban School System, ch. 6;Google Scholar
  9. Selwyn Troen, The Public and the Schools: Shaping the St. Louis System, 1838–1920 (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1975) chs. 1 & 2.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    On the early development of the urban school superintendent, see David B. Tyack and Elisabeth Hansot, Managers of Virtue: Public School Leadership in America, 1820–1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1982) Part One.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    David B. Tyack, The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974) Part One;Google Scholar
  12. Barbara Beatty, Preschool Education in America: The Culture of Young Children from the Colonial Era to the Present (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995) ch. 6; Troen, The Public and the Schools, ch. 5;Google Scholar
  13. Marvin Lazerson, The Origins of Urban Education: Massachusetts, 1870–1930 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971) ch. 2;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Herbert M. Kliebard, The Struggle for the American Curriculum, 1893–1958 (New York: Routledge, 1995) ch. 2.Google Scholar
  15. 9.
    Perhaps the best discussion of this era can be found in Tyack, The One Best System, Part 2. On Catholic schools, see James W. Sanders, The Education of an Urban Minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833–1965 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977) Part One.Google Scholar
  16. 10.
    Tyack, The One Best System, Parts 4 & 5; Raymond C. Callahan, Education and the Cult of Efficiency (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962) chs. 4 & 5.Google Scholar
  17. 11.
    For an overview of urban development during this time, see Eric H. Monkkonen, America Becomes Urban: The Development of U.S. Cities & Towns, 1780–1980 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988) ch. 3.Google Scholar
  18. 12.
    Harvey Kantor and Barbara Brenzel, “Urban Education and the ‘Truly Disadvantaged’: The Historical Roots of the Contemporary Crisis, 1945–1990” Teachers College Record 1992 94(2): 278–314;Google Scholar
  19. also see Harvey Kantor, and Robert Lowe, “Class, Race, and the Emergence of Federal Education Policy: From the New Deal to the Great Society” Educational Researcher 1995 24(3): 4–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 13.
    Alejandro Portes and Rubén G. Rumbaut, Immigrant America: A Portrait (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990) chs. 1 & 2;Google Scholar
  21. Alejandro Portes, Rubén G. Rumbaut, Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001) ch. 1.Google Scholar
  22. 14.
    Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison, The Deindustrialization of America: Plant Closings, Community Abandonment, and the Dismantling of Basic Industry (New York: Basic Books, 1982) passim;Google Scholar
  23. William Julius Wilson, When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor (New York: Knopf, 1996) Part One, also see Wilson’s earlier work, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) passim.Google Scholar
  24. 15.
    William W. Goldsmith and Edward J. Blakely, Separate Societies: Poverty and Inequality in U.S. Cities (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992) ch. 4; Kantor and Brenzel, “Urban Education and the ‘Truly Disadvantaged,’” 310–312.Google Scholar
  25. 16.
    On these points, see Nathan Glazer, “The Real World of Urban Education” Public Interest 1992 106: 57–75;Google Scholar
  26. Paula D. McClain, “Thirty Years of Urban Policies: Frankly, My Dears, We Don’t Give a Damn!” Urban Affairs Review 1995 30(5): 641–644;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lee Sigelman and Jeffrey R. Henig, “Crossing the Great Divide: Race and Preferences for Living in the City versus the Suburbs” Urban Affairs Review September 2001 37(1): 3–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 17.
    On the low state of public opinion regarding big city school systems, particularly regarding perceptions of bureaucratic control, see Dan A. Lewis and Kathryn Nakagawa, Race and Educational Reform in the American Metropolis: A Study of School Decentralization (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995) ch. 1.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John L. Rury 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • John L. Rury

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations