Below is the history of American public schools in the early 19th century through the 21st century.
At the start of the 19th century, American families rely on agriculture for their livelihood in which every member of the family, including the children had to work hard in order to survive. Most of them grew up without proper school or education. Children’s lives were focused around the family farm and helping their parents with the daily chores. Children would go to school only in the months where farms weren’t harvesting or planting which left them with less time for school (Kansas Historical Society, 2013). Too much work often prevented children from attending school which are the main reasons why the length of school year was much shorter during these times. Classes began at 9:00am and ended at 4:00 pm. The length of school term was eight months which was divided into Two-month fall term which falls in September and October, Four-month winter term that falls in mid-November to mid-March and Two-month spring term which falls in April and May (Grosboll, 2013).
In a one-room school setting which is heated by a wood or coal stove during winter, children sat in rows by grade and brought their lunches in gallon buckets.
Child labor was also common where some were hired to work for other farmers to earn extra income. “Many children were sent to the factory to help support their families. The workday was long the jobs were often unsafe and unhealthy for young workers” (Kansas Historical Society, 2013). The first child labor law was enacted in Kansas in 1905 in which it defined, “the employment of children under fourteen in factories, packinghouses or in or about mines was absolutely forbidden” (Gagliardo, 1932). The law also enforced children between the ages of eight and fourteen to attend school for at least 12 weeks a year.
In earlier years, women were inferior to men and have no legal identity. They were not allowed to attend school and have no right to vote. The Industrial Revolution created economic opportunities for them by working in mill towns and industrial cities. They earned less of what men earned and their working conditions are unsanitary and dangerous. “The low wages, long hours and poor working conditions women workers have faced in the 19th century intensified in the early 20th century, provoking a much more widespread women’s labor reform movement” (National Women’s History Museum, 2007).
1920 - 1930
1940 – 1970
Primary and Secondary education became more standardized and organized and properly funded. However, education was put aside because young men quit school to enlist in World War II. After the war, there was a need for larger schools and more teachers. To facilitate the increasing number of school children, small school districts were integrated into larger districts for a lesser burden of higher capital and administrative costs (Gelbrich, 1999). Through integration, public school increased dramatically. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended the segregation and guaranteed voting rights to African-American through the culmination of the long struggle of Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X. All citizens of all genders were given the privilege to avail of educational programs such as Head Start, Jobs Corp, subsidized school lunches and Title One. “Kennedy and Johnson allocated massive amounts of dollars to breaking the cycle of poverty and education “(Gelbrich, 1999). Implementation of The Educational Amendments Acts in 1972 required access to programs and sports activities on all citizens regardless of gender. Women are now allowed to participate in sports activities at the same level with men.
1980 – 1990
In 1983, the National Commission in Excellence on Education claimed that the country is at risk because of an ill-education system where students were not learning enough due to uneven standards. Mediocrity in Elementary and High School called for a significant reform in public education. As a result, “school reform movements gained momentum and a number of states passed laws requiring higher standards and expectations for students” (Gelbrich, 1999). Despite of the nation’s economic difficulty and social unrest, reform on public schools were a top priority. Goals 2000 was established to focus on student curriculum and performance standards involving school readiness, school completion, student achievements, mathematics and science comprehension, adult literacy as well as a safe and drug-free school (Richter, 1999).
One of the main issues of the education system in the country is that students in the country spend lesser time in school compared to other industrialized nations. Since 1930’s, the length of school days has gone up to 180 days in a fiscal year in which it has not been changed for more than a century. The idea of adding more school days may not essentially prove to improve the learning system, but the Secretary of Education claimed that the country’s school day, week and year is too short which may have affected the learning process of students. By conducting natural experiments, researchers have found out the effects of time spent on learning. “This new body of evidence, to which we have separately contributed that extending time in school would in fact likely raise student achievement” (Hansen & Marcotte, 2010). However, researchers were faced with the issues in producing evidence in the length of school year being a choice variable in which longer school year needs greater resources. These recommendations were faced with further arguments and debates from parents, administrators, politicians, educators and students. Discussions vary from blaming the federal state and lawmakers for insufficient appropriation of resources to educators, to blaming the parents for lack of participation. Evaluation tests on Program for International Student Assessment revealed that, “the US ranks behind sixteen other economies including Poland, Estonia and South Korea in terms of student literacy” (Kenny, 2012). While it is true that American students ranked behind their counterparts in other countries, the main problem lies with the parents. Parents should play a vital role in making a difference in their children’s education. Other discussions include concerns of teachers on additional compensation. Longer day would result to additional pay which means that, “basic pay should be increased proportionate to the increase in the length of the day” (Whitehorne 2009). Lengthening the school schedule may not guarantee success but one example presented by Brooke Charter Schools in Roslindale was effective. The school held classes from 7:45am to 4:30pm and added two weeks in August had resulted to high performance in reading, math and science. Others further believe that extending the school year would need a major investment and a strong political will. The Commission on Education claimed it would cost $66 million statewide just by adding one day to Massachusetts’ school calendar (Crawford, 2013). Teachers, parents, students and community leaders should weigh things and maximize the possibilities to obtain a positive result in improving the country’s educational system.
“Children in Kansas -1890s – 1920s”. Kansapedia: Kansas Historical Society. February, 2013. Web. October 14, 2013.
Crawford, A. “Should The School Year Be Longer”? The Boston Globe. June 2, 2013. Web. October, 14, 2013.
Drowne, K, Huber, P. The 1920s. Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. Westport, CT. 2004. Web. October 14, 2013.
Gagliardo, D. “A History of Kansas Child-Labor Legislation” Kansas Collection: Kansas Historical Quarterlies, August, 1932. Web. October 14, 2013.
Gelbrich, J. “The Second Half of the 20th Century: Post World War II And Beyond”. American Education. Oregon State University, School of Education. 1999. Web. October 15, 2013
Grosboll, S. “History of the Marshall Center School: Uni Museums. June 12, 2013. Web. October, 15, 2013.
“Presents: A History of Women In Industry”. National Womens” History Museum. Web. 2007. October 14, 2013.
Richter, J. “Education Goals 2000: Helping Schools Meet High Standards”. SparkAction. December, 12, 1999. Web. October 15, 2013.
Sonnenberg, William. Elementary and Secondary Education, 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait. Chapter 2, Vol. 1. U.S, Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. United States. January 1993. Web. October 14, 2013