Death comes to high school

My high school produced a Rhodes Scholar, Willie Bogan. At least one CEO of a well-known company, Robert Holland Jr. A prominent professional poker player, Kenna James. A lauded bass guitarist, Bill Laswell. A Nieman Fellow (that would be me).

It won’t be producing anymore. The high school will shut down in September.

They’re going to the high school that was our arch-rival when I was there, about ten miles away in Marshall (and bless them for taking in our student body). Marshall has held up better than Albion in Michigan’s long economic decline.

I’m in a kind of shock. My community’s population started dropping in the late 1960s, going from about 12,000 residents when we moved there in the 1960s to about 8000 now. The district has lost 800 students to other districts under a school choice program. The school district loses budge t money with each one of those students, weakening the school further. Market purists would argue that this is as it should be; people go where they can get the best opportunity. My family talked about sending me to a different high school when I was there, after a tax increase failed and classes were cut.

But schools are supposed to be about something other than markets. They reflect our larger community, our civic will. They also reflect our civic ills. Albion is the only community between Battle Creek and Jackson with a significant minority population, which some suggest is the reason for the flight to other schools. I haven’t been in my high school during the school year for probably 30 years, so I have no idea what the student body is like now, but I would guess it’s no longer 70 percent White. I can safely say that if school choice had been an option when I was there, friends of mine would have gone to other, whiter schools in the area.

Once clumps of students started leaving, network effects would naturally kick in. It was likely a combination of market forces, civic ill and network effects that drove the departure of those 800 children.

My high school was not a great school; it didn’t have Advanced Placement courses or a particular bent towards college prep. About 28 percent of the student body went on to some form of higher education. I went to the University of Chicago, a classmate got into Princeton, a number of others went to good small colleges in Michigan and elsewhere.

After this year, nevermore.

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