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Drawing upon rarely examined archival data, Peterson demonstrates that widespread public backing for the common school existed in Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco. He finds little evidence of systematic discrimination against white immigrants, at least with respect to classroom crowding and teaching assignments. Instead, his research uncovers solid trade union and other working-class support for compulsory education, adequate school financing, and curricular modernization.
Urban reformers campaigned assiduously for fiscally sound, politically strong public schools. Often they had at least as much support from trade unionists as from business elites. In fact it was the business-backed machine politicians—from San Francisco's William Buckley to Chicago's Edward Kelly—who deprived the schools of funds. At a time when public schools are being subjected to searching criticism and when new educational ideas are gaining political support, The Politics of School Reform, 1870-1940 is a timely reminder of the strength and breadth of those groups that have always supported "free" public schools.