American public education differs from that of many other nations in that it is primarily the responsibility of the states and individual school districts. The national system of formal education in the United States developed in the 19th century. Jefferson was the first American leader to suggest creating a public school system. His ideas formed the basis of education systems developed in the 19th century.
The first American schools in the thirteen original colonies opened in the 17th century. Boston Latin School was founded in 1635 and is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States. The nation's first institution of higher learning, Harvard University opened in 1638. As the colonies began to develop, all the New England colonies began to institute mandatory education schemes. In 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony made "proper" education compulsory; other New England colonies followed. Similar statutes were adopted in other colonies in the 1640s and 1650s. The schools were all male, with few facilities for girls. In the 18th century, "common schools," usually ungraded appeared. Although they were publicly supplied, they were not free, and instead were supported by tuition or "rate bills."
After the Declaration of Independence, 14 states had their own constitutions by 1791, and out of the 14, 7 states had specific provisions for education. Jefferson believed that education should be under the control of the government, free from religious biases, and available to all people irrespective of their status in society. Others who vouched for public education around the same time were Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster, Robert Coram and George Washington. It was still very difficult to translate the concept to practice because of the political upheavals, vast immigration, and economic transformations. Thus, even for many more decades, there were many private schools, and charitable and religious institutions dominating the scene.
Teaching young students was not perceived as an end goal for educated people. Adults became teachers without any particular skill except sometimes in the topic they were teaching. The checking of credentials was left to the local school board, who were mainly interested in the efficient use of limited taxes. This started to change with the introduction of two-year normal schools starting in 1823. By the end of the century, most teachers of elementary schools were trained in this fashion.
Until the 1840s the education system was highly localized and available only to wealthy people. Reformers who wanted all children to gain the benefits of education opposed this. Prominent among them were Horace Mann in Massachusetts and Henry Barnard in Connecticut. Mann started the publication of the Common School Journal, which took the educational issues to the public. The common-school reformers argued for the case on the belief that common schooling could create good citizens, unite society and prevent crime and poverty. As a result of their efforts, free public education at the elementary level was available for all American children by the end of the 19th century. Massachusetts passed the first compulsory school attendance laws in 1852, followed by New York in 1853. By 1918 all states had passed laws requiring children to attend at least elementary school. The Catholics were, however, opposed to common schooling and created their own private schools. Their decision was supported by the 1925 Supreme Court rule in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that states could not compel children to attend public schools, and that children could attend private schools instead.
Little House on the Prairie, 'Back to School'
This mythical and fictional account (for example the real Ingalls family did not resemble the TV series) of schooling on the American so-called 'frontier' in the 1860-70s presents a number of popular images from the culture. This period represents the beginning of education for girls.
By 1900, 31 states required children to attend school from the ages of 8- to 14-years-old. As a result, by 1910 72 percent of American children attended school. Half the nation's children attended one-room schools. In 1918, every state required students to complete elementary school.
The States and Education
Individual states—rather than the federal government—have primary authority over public education in the United States. Eventually, every state developed a department of education and enacted laws regulating finance, the hiring of school personnel, student attendance, and curriculum. In general, however, local districts oversee the administration of schools, with the exception of licensing requirements and general rules concerning health and safety. Public schools have also relied heavily on local property taxes to meet the vast majority of school expenses. American schools have thus tended to reflect the educational values and financial capabilities of the communities in which they are located.
By the middle of the 20th century, most states took a more active regulatory role than in the past. States consolidated school districts into larger units with common procedures. In 1940 there were over 117,000 school districts in the United States, but by 1990 the number had decreased to just over 15,000. The states also became much more responsible for financing education. In 1940 local property taxes financed 68 percent of public school expenses, while the states contributed 30 percent. In 1990 local districts and states each contributed 47 percent to public school revenues. The federal government provided most of the remaining funds.
During the 1980s and 1990s, virtually all states have given unprecedented attention to their role in raising education standards. A federal report published in 1983 indicated very low academic achievement in public schools. This resulted in states taking up more responsibility and involvement. This report, A Nation at Risk, suggested that American students were outperformed on international academic tests by students from other industrial societies. Statistics also suggested that American test scores were declining over time. As a result, most states have implemented reform strategies that emphasize more frequent testing conducted by states, more effective state testing, and more state-mandated curriculum requirements.
Racial EqualityThe first Africans arrived as slaves in the American colonies in 1619. By the middle of the nineteenth century there were 4.5 million Africans in this country. The earliest education given to them was by the missionaries to convert them to Christianity. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts established many schools. The southern states opposed the education of Africans because these states were still favoring slavery. In spite of individual efforts, the education of Afro-Americans remained very low until Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The literacy rate that was around 5% in the 1860s rose to 40% in 1890 and by 1910 it was at 70%.
During the 1950s segregation by race in public and private schools was still common in the United States. The South had separate schools for African Americans and whites and this system had been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In the North no such laws existed, but racial segregation was still common in schools. Segregation usually resulted in inferior education for blacks. Average public expenditures for white schools exceeded expenditures for black schools. Teachers in white schools generally received higher pay than did teachers in black schools, and facilities in most white schools were far superior to facilities in most black schools.
In 1954 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
Despite vigorous resistance for many years by many southern states, by 1980 the federal courts had largely succeeded in eliminating the system of legalized segregation in southern schools.
Even after the court rulings, it was difficult to eliminate discrimination in practice. Many whites and middle class blacks had moved out of central cities by the 1970s, leaving poor blacks and rising populations of Hispanic Americans to attend urban schools. Native Americans, who had already lost all their lands to whites, also face the additional burden of poverty, which keeps them away from schools.
Most federally mandated desegregation efforts have been aimed at increasing educational achievement among African American students. However, many educators cite continued inequality in educational opportunities for Hispanic American students.
A musical summary of the history of racial segregation in schools.
A History of Public Education in the United States
Wikipedia on the history of education in the United States
The Contemporary Education System in the USA: Structure and Culture
In the United States of America school attendance is compulsory for students through age 16 in most states. Children generally begin elementary school with kindergarten (K) at age five and continue through secondary school (grade 12) to age 18. Typically, the elementary school years include kindergarten through grades five or six, and at some schools through grade eight. Secondary schools – known as high schools in the United States – generally include grades nine through 12. (Structure of U.S. Education)
The contemporary American high school has long loomed large in the public culture. The popular musical Grease, the television series Happy Days, and movies like Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause depicted the light and dark sides of schools in the 1950s. Recent popular entertainments with high school settings range from films like Mean Girls, Juno, Election, and High School Musical to such hit TV shows as Beverly Hills 90210 and Saved by the Bell. To this I would add The Breakfast Club, The OC, and Elephant.
The most illiterate cities in the United States. 23 million American adults are functionally illiterate and 13% of all American 17-years-olds are functionally illiterate.
Illiterate Digest Index
- 1. Miami FL: 63%
- 2. East LA CA: 57%
- 3. East St. Louis IL: 56%
- 4. Compton CA: 55%
- 5. Newark NJ: 52%
- 6. Brownsville TX: 50%
- 7. Union City NJ: 50%
- 8. San Fernando CA: 49%
- 9. Camden NJ: 49%
- 10. Detroit MI: 47%
- 11. Laredo TX: 47%
- 12. East Orange NJ: 46%
13. Gary IN: 46%
- 14. East Palo Alto CA: 45%
15. Orange NJ: 45%
16. Passaic City NJ: 45%
17. Paterson NJ: 45%
- 18. Augusta GA: 43%
- 19. Elizabeth NJ: 42%
20. Atlantic City NJ: 42%
- 21. Miami Beach FL: 41%
22. Hartford CT: 41%
23. East Chicago IN: 41%
- 24. South Miami Heights FL: 40%
Source: The National Institute for Literacy
The NALS found a total of 21-23 percent - or 40-44 million - of the 191 million American adults (defined as age 16 or older) at Level 1, the lowest literacy level. Although many Level 1 adults could perform many tasks involving simple texts and documents, all adults scoring at Level 1
In 1990 over 40 percent of black students in the South attended majority-white schools. Now less than 30 percent of students do. (Racial Segregation Today)
Planning expert Myron Orfield discusses the history and current state of school segregation in Minnesota.
Education in The USA and Sweden; Some Comparisons
Please Discuss the accuracy of this passage.
"In 1842, the Swedish parliament introduced a four-year primary school for all children in Sweden, "Folkskola". In 1858 grade 1 and 2 became "Småskola" and the children started school at the age of seven. In 1878 two grades of "folkskola" were added. Some schools also had grade 7 and grade 8 of "folkskola", called "Fortsättningsskola". Schooling in Sweden became mandatory for 7 years in the 1930s and for 8 years in the 1950s. Today, Swedish children have 9 mandatory years in school - from August the year the child turns 7 to June the year the child turns 16."Compare this to the description of the history of schooling in the United States above.
The history of adult education in Sweden is interesting when one considers its implications for democracy (informed and critical opinion), employment and class.
The role of free schools in both the USA and Sweden is an area for comparisons and contrasts.
See The Swedish Model: Making Money Out of Education
Education and Media in the United States
The Public Broadcast Service offers a wide variety of educational programs for free. WGBH in Boston is one of the largest producers of educational programming, including American Experience, Masterpiece Theater, Nova, Antiques Roadshow and Frontline.
Starting November 1, 1999, the PBS underwriting guidelines required all announcements to say "This program was funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a cooperative agreement from the United States Department of Education a Ready to Learn system and by contributions to your PBS station from Viewers Like You. Thank You!" (Wikipedia)
Sesame Street is perhaps the most successful children's program in the world in terms of distribution, longevity and audience numbers.
Long-term Implications of the Education System in the U.S
"Of course, no matter how innovative our schools or how effective our teachers, America cannot succeed unless our students take responsibility for their own education. That means showing up for school on time, paying attention in class, seeking out extra tutoring if it’s needed, and staying out of trouble. And to any student who’s watching, I say this: don’t even think about dropping out of school. As I said a couple of weeks ago, dropping out is quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country, and it is not an option – not anymore. Not when our high school dropout rate has tripled in the past thirty years. Not when high school dropouts earn about half as much as college graduates. And not when Latino students are dropping out faster than just about anyone else. It is time for all of us, no matter what our backgrounds, to come together and solve this epidemic."The national results in international comparisons have often been far below the average of developed countries. In OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment 2003, 15 year olds ranked 24th of 38 in mathematics, 19th of 38 in science, 12th of 38 in reading, and 26th of 38 in problem solving. In the 2006 assessment, the U.S. ranked 35th out of 57 in mathematics and 29th out of 57 in science. Reading scores could not be reported due to printing errors in the instructions of the U.S. test booklets. U.S. scores were far behind those of most other developed nations. While US teens perform poorly on these Programme for International Student Assessment tests, which emphasizes problem solving, US fourth and eighth graders tested above average on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study tests, which emphasizes traditional learning. (Wikipedia)
President Barack Obama, Talking on Education March 2010.
For a humorous account of comparisons between Sweden and the United States see Jon Stewart