History of American Education
 
 
 
The information on this page is an outline of data presented in a number of classes about the history of education.  It should be used for reference material.  Depending on the specific class, a student may be held responsible for data not included here.  Conversely, there may be data included here that was not discussed in a specific class.
           For more information, try http://www.ed.gov/offices/OUS/fedrole.html

 
Colonial Period      (1642 - 1776)

 
  Goals of Education -- 
Train students in religious beliefs and practices. Teach students to be self-reliant and responsible members of God's church and the community.
 
  What was taught?
Reading, writing, and arithmetic -- so that children could read the Bible for themselves, as well as public notices.

Courses with a religious content, e.g., Bible, Latin, and the classics. 

Basically, the colonists modeled education after all that they had ever known -- the European way.

Religious faith demanded the development of manners and morals. 

The moral development of children was the responsibility of the community and paramount to the curriculum of "public" schools.

  Other Data
Public schools were mainly a part of life in New England and  closely related to the Puritan church and Protestant ideas.

Harvard was the first college in the colonies.  Only boys attended and they did so to become ministers, lawyers, or physicians.

Massachusetts was the first state to have a public school system.  Horace Mann, who had had a distinguished career as a politician, became the first superintendent.

  Who went to school and for how long?
Both girls and boys learned to read, write and compute in New England.  They attended school in the "meeting house" which was also used for public meetings and church.
 Important law
Old Deluder Satan Act -- said that any town of 100 families are more must provide a system of public education for its children.  By learning to read, write, and compute, one could  make a living, take care of one's affairs, read public notices,  and (if you were an adult male) vote.

This was the first law in America to mandate public education. It derives its name from the idea the an idle mind is "the devil's  workshop."  An education aided a Christian in avoiding temptation and corruption.

 
  What about the rest of the colonies?
In the South, tutors were hired for the wealthy.  Boys, and sometimes girls, were sent to boarding school during  puberty.  Boys who wanted to go to college were sent back to England, or attended William and Mary.

In the Middle Colonies, different religious groups sponsored private schools, e.g., Catholics, Quakers. There were some public schools in the areas closest to New England.

 
What is our heritage from this era of educational history?
Reading, writing, and arithmetic are still considered the most important things in the curriculum, especially through 8th grade. 

Schools are still expected to support, either overtly, or covertly, the mores of the community by teaching children and young people to be polite, of good character, and valuable members of the economic and political community.


 
The National Period      (1776 - 1870)

 
  Goals of Education -- 
The principle goal of education became preparation of young  people to be active citizens of the new democratic nation.
 
  What was taught?
Reading, writing, and arithmetic remained important,especially in elementary schools.  However, new subjects came into the curriculum, e.g., geography, accounting, surveying, business.Inculcating the ideals of the new nation was paramount. Schools became important places of socialization and acculturation.
 
  Other Data
 
Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and Noah Webster were important leaders in this era.
The development of a distinct American culture was critical.  Having a literate society was important to the development and maintenance of the democracy. 
 
  Who went to school and for how long
Both girls and boys could attend school.
Both stayed longer.  Beyond the basics, schooling was seen to be functional, important to the development of the society and the economy.

More colleges were established and one attended college to become a better person, not just to be a professional. The college graduates were still looked to for leadership 

As the west was opened, what came to be known as "the little red school house" style of education became a norm.  The frontier areas did the best they could for their children, which meant that school met when it could, where it could, and the teacher was often whoever was available who had more education than other individuals in the settlement.  School consisted of all the children. It was not until the turn of the century that the idea of separate grade levels became a norm. 

The equivalent of a sixth-grade education was considered admirable.  Being able to read and write and maintain one's  business affairs was the norm for men in society.  Many women remained illiterate.

African-Americans, as well as other minority groups, were often denied equal access to an education.  It was the children of these who went to work in factories and on farms as soon as they were capable.

 
 Important laws
It was at this time that the Northwest Ordinance was passed. It outlined how new states would be brought into the union. It is still valid today. Among other things, territories were to set aside land and funding to maintain a public school system.

The writing of the Constitution solidified the role of states in education via the 10th amendment.  The First Amendment, which provided for, among other things, separation of church and state, was designed to prevent the government from forcing any one religious belief upon the citizens of the country. 

Although the Bible was read regularly and prayers said in schools well into the mid-20th Century, school leaders realized that what had been taught as good "Christian"  behavior had to be reformatted into the teaching of manners and character in the new nation.  Being a good citizen was all important.

The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 provided funds to establish state universities whose mission was primarily the preparation of individuals in the fields of agriculture and mechanics.  Many also served as "normal" schools, as well,  which meant they prepared people to be teachers.

 
  What about education throughout the nation?
New England and the northeast seaboard continued to lead the nation in educational achievement.  The South, especially, lagged behind, largely because of its rural nature, its staunch adherence to state (and individual) rights, and the predominance of the plantation and landed gentry that remained until after the Civil War.
Because so many in the South felt a loyalty to England -- where most still had roots, they continued to look to western Europe as a model, as opposed to joining the building of a  united nation, i.e., a new creature.
 
What is our heritage from this era of educational history?
 
Reading, writing, and arithmetic are still considered the most important things in the curriculum, especially through 8th grade.

The McGuffey reading series came into existence, largely to replace the Bible as a principle text for schooling.  An unintended consequence was the stratification of school into  "grades" paralleling the volumes of the reading series. 

Education was seen as the great equalizer in this new democracy.  It served to "Americanize" the masses.  It still serves in that capacity. Education would be free.

Education was stratified into grades, levels of schooling, etc.


 
The Industrial Era  (turn of century, 1880-1920s)

 
  Goals of Education -- 
The idea of child-centered curriculum was catching on.  The idea that there might be more than one kind of curriculum was taking hold, as more teenagers stayed in school longer and needed  new skills.
 
  What was taught?
The three R's still dominated elementary education, but the idea of organized public education beyond elementary education was becoming evident.  The concept of the junior high was born.
National organization of education became important.  Education, more than ever, became the way to acculturate new Americans. 
General affluence and innovation that characterizes this era, in general, worked its way into education, as well.  Beautiful edifices were built in major cities to house impressive high schools.  Extra-curricular activities became popular.  School was becoming a true "institution" in the American society.  Like churches, banks, government buildings, and housing areas, school districts became a common demarcation of communities.
 
  Other Data
The ideas of Pestilozzi and Thorndike were critical to the development and change of attitudes about curriculum and education at this period of time.  The days of John Dewey were just beginning.  The idea that play could be used to teach, that curriculum should be age-appropriate, was catching on.
The Committee of Ten's report in 1894 marked the first delineation of what students should "take" in school.  In was followed in 1918 with the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education which broaden the concept from specific courses to broad goals or ideas, known as the  Cardinal Principles:
--  health
--  command of fundamental processes
--  worthy home membership
--  vocation
--  citizenship
--  worthy use of leisure time
--  ethical character

Latin was dropped as a requirement.

Administrators began to take the lead in curriculum, replacing the influence of college professors.

The National Education Association was the only educational group in the nation, aside from the academic societies.

 
  Who went to school and for how long?
 
By this time, school was the norm in towns and cities.  In rural areas, the schedule was much more flexible, and both boys and girls stayed in school fewer years.

Vocational education became an important part of junior high and high schools for boys and home economics for girls.

Immigrants flocked to schools, which were free for their children, unlike in the old country and used education as a way to climb the economic and social ladder.

Although there were more schools for African Americans, they were still separate and unequal.

 
  Important laws
The Smith-Hughes Act infused large amounts of money into school districts to provide vocational education.  Cooperative extension programs were started nation-wide to help adults who had not had the advantage of a high school education.  This marked the first entrance of the federal government into the curriculum of local schools.  It also marked a large improvement in the curriculum and equipment available in schools.
  What about education throughout the nation?
Rural areas in general, and the South, in particular, lagged behind the rest of the nation in the growth of public education.  The Smith-Hughes Act and the Morrill Act, however, improved the access to higher education by a broader portion of the population.  They also solidified the idea that higher education could be for something other than a "liberal arts" pursuit.  For the first time, a mass of "ordinary" people participated in higher education.  It was no longer, nor would it ever be again, just for the wealthy.
What is our heritage from this era of educational history?
For the first time a national curriculum was defined in terms other than credits for specific courses, giving the idea that local schools could define their classes any way they wished.  A curriculum was not just courses, it was concepts and interrelated ideas.

Vocational education and adult education took their place in our country's educational system.

A large majority of politicians believed that the federal government did have a vital role to play in public education, despite the 10th amendment and local jurisdiction.


 
The Progressive Era  (1920 - 1950)

 
  Goals of Education -- 
Education was for everyone.  The idea that there was more than one way to learn became common place.  Children did not learn like teenagers who did not learn like adults.

The most important reason to become educated was to facilitate one's adaptation to change.

 
  What was taught?
The basics were still important.  The role of extra-curricular activities increased.  Electives, such as foreign languages, music, physical education and art were added to the curriculum.

The concept of testing as a way of measuring one's aptitude was introduced.

 
  Other Data
This era saw the emergence of famous schools of education, e.g., University of Chicago, Peabody, Columbia University, and those schools, of course, had their famous professors.

One cannot discuss progressivism in education without mentioning  John Dewey.  Dewey believed, among other things in a child-centered curriculum.  He believed that education was absolutely crucial for the maintaining of a democracy.

Also, often associated with this time period, is Ralph Tyler.  He is most noted for the Eight-Year Study and the development of the concept that evaluation is a critical component of curriculum development.

Both men lived into their 90's.  Therefore, their influence spans many eras of education. Tyler died in 1994 and still taught at both the University of Chicago and Stanford when he died. 

 
  Who went to school and for how long?
 
More young people than ever before were staying in school. During the Depression, going to school was a guarantee that one would have at least one square meal a day. 

When men went off to fight W.W.II, girls stayed in school longer and took advantage of the absence of the males to go to college and start careers. 

  Important laws
Education across the nation was taking advantage of the Morrill Land Grant program and the Smith-Hughes Act. The idea of the GI Bill was making its way through Congress.
 
  What about education throughout the nation?
The major change during this time was who was added to the rolls in schools everywhere.  More girls stayed in school longer; schooling was improved for the poor and those of color.
What is our heritage from this era of educational history?
The idea that the general masses might make it not only through high school but to college was solidified.

Testing became a reality, not only as an everyday event to see what students could remember that they had been told, but 
also as a predictor for one's aptitude in a future endeavor, such as college or a career.

The Eight-Year Study, although lost amidst the angst of war, has emerged in recent years as the inspiration for modern-day reform movements.  It has both its supporters and avid critics.


 
Contemporary Secondary Education      (1950-1983)

 
  Goals of Education -- 
To prepare American students to be the first in the world at everything.  The U. S. was to be a world leader economically and politically.  It was the only major nation to emerge without much damage after the war.

The Communist scare became an all encompassing pervasive  threat to anyone who might be a free thinker.  Many teachers lost their jobs for speaking out.  The curriculum was purged of anything that might put the U. S. in a negative light. Patriotism (or the appearance of it in an idealized form) was    very important. 

 
  What was taught?
Many more electives entered the curriculum.  Sputnik spawned a new emphasis on science and math. 
 
  Other Data
The prevailing attitude about who could be educated was forever changed.  Men who were from poor families had flourished under the military system during the war and women had done well to manage things on the home front. People of color, e.g., Native Americans, Japanese, African-Americans, had distinguished themselves during the war. 

The concept of who should stay in school through high schools and go to college was forever altered. Curriculum development was tied to the works of  Jerome Bruner, among others.  James Conant developed the idea of the comprehensive high school. Curriculum everywhere suffered from McCarthyism.

 
  Who went to school and for how long?
More people went to school than ever.  The Baby Boomers created a growth in the number of schools and the activities therein. Schools were criticized for students' low performance on tests.

African-Americans and Native-Americans, as well as people  living with handicapping conditions were allowed into regular public schools.

 
  Important laws
The GI Bill put an abundance of people into college who would have never been there before. This caused curriculum planners and educational theorists to rethink their ideas about who should be allowed in college. 

Brown v Board of Education of Topeka Kansas changed schools forever.  Dual school systems were erased.  Busing, magnet schools, and other efforts to force the integration of the schools all changed how schooling was done. 

National Defense Act which came about after Sputnik poured millions of federal dollars into education at all levels, in particular in the areas of math and science.

Title IX, which said that funding for sports, and other special activities, has to be equalized has been significant. 

 
  What about education throughout the nation?
Although the process of desegregation is often associated with the South, discrimination and prejudice is pervasive throughout the country.

In some areas, e.g., California, the emphasis has been on including those for whom English is not their first language. In some areas of the nation, educating the Native Americans   has changed.  Every where schools have had to deal with the  right of all children to a free and public education, opening the doors of schools to masses who have either been in special facilities in the past or who simply never went to school.

Title 9 has equalized, somewhat, the right of females (and males in some cases) to equal access to sports and other activities.  The effect upon professional sports and the Olympic movement, as well as college sports, has been phenomenal.

 
What is our heritage from this era of educational history?
The concept of social reconstruction was pushed upon public schools via desegregation.  The fallout from that is still with us as we seek to include ALL students between ages 4 and 21 in some sort of public school setting.

The comprehensive high school is very much with us. Although the concept has long been considered flawed, it is efficient and cost expedient. 

The civil rights movement affected schools as profoundly as it did any other area of society.  Boys take courses traditionally reserved for girls, for example.  Girls wrestle and play football.  Schools have had to make themselves barrier free to accommodate for people living their lives  in wheel chairs or with some other challenge. 


 
The Reform Era    (1983 to present)

 
  Goals of Education -- 
Prepare out students to compete in a global economy and live in an ever more interdependent, technological world. 
 
  What was taught?
Schooling is as dynamic as ever.  Testing is more dominant than ever.  Most states have instituted some sort of exit test, if not texts to be administered at various age levels.  What is on the tests is driving the curriculum.

Technology -- from VCR's to the Internet -- have profoundly affected what happens in schools.

To survive in today's economy, everyone must have more than 12 years of education and must have the skills to be life-long learners as knowledge grows exponentially every day.

 
  Other Data
The A Nation at Risk Report issued by Terrel Bell in 1983 sounded the alarm than clamored that our kids are not as smart as students in other countries. The report might not have gotten such attention had it not been for several key books, and many articles released between 1983 and 1985.

E. D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy (1)(2)
Ernest Boyer's High School 
John Goodlad's A Place Called School 
Ted Sizer's Horace's Compromise 
William Bennett's James Madison High School
Paul Gagnon What Should Children Learn

  Who went to school and for how long?
For the first time in our history, nearly 100% of school-aged children are in a school somewhere.  Over 90% graduate from public school.
 
  Important laws
From the A Nation at Risk Report, governors across the nation took on education as their project.  Let by then Governors Bill Clinton and Lamar Alexander, the governors and President George Bush signed the National Goals
 
  What about education throughout the nation?
Various states led the nation in reforming their education systems.  The South was affected more than any other area. Graduation requirements were increased.  Test scores published in newspapers.  Teachers tested.  Class size restrictions established.

National academic societies and groups developed national standards for each of the discipline areas.  States used those to build their own curriculum guides. And, thus we have arrived at the high-stakes testing frenzy of today -- tests based on standards.

What is our heritage from this era of educational history?
This is where we are.  Goal Three of the National Goals has  driven the development of national standards which are now  being used as the basis for national testing and textbook development. Accountability has become the name of the game.

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