Chat with us, powered by LiveChat education | Gen Paper

The History of American Schooling
Photo of a brick schoolhouse.
Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to

Analyze how geographical differences influenced public education during the colonial period.
Describe developments in the 19th century that influenced contemporary schools.
Trace the history of teacher education.
Describe efforts to reform schools in the 20th century.
Identify four educational philosophies involved in school reform in the 20th century, and explain their impact on curriculum development and teacher practices.
Evaluate the role of the government in public education.
Identify key legislation that has affected U.S. education.
Explain the historical context behind the standards-based reform movement.

We are fond of telling each other that this is a period of change, that we are at the parting of the ways. Then we tell each other that people have always said this in every age. Finally, we add that this really does seem rather more of a turning-point than usual, that, in fact, it is a genuine nodal point. Certainly it seems hard to find a time when there were quite so many new educational methods flying about.
—Sir John Adams, Sometime University Professor of Education at the University of London, 1927

Before embarking on any new career, it is advantageous to study that profession’s historical roots to gain a perspective of its present and its future. By studying the history of American education, we glean not only an understanding of its current status but also a glimpse of its future. Of course, accurately predicting the future for teachers is near impossible, but an understanding of events, themes, and issues can give clues as to what might happen.

As you read, you may notice that many educational issues and challenges facing U.S. education today have been ongoing concerns. For example, since colonial times, educators have wrestled with how best to educate students and, since the nation’s founding, the proper role of the federal government—if any—in education. Underlying these unsettled issues is this question: How do we ensure that each child in the United States receives the best possible education?

2.1 Colonial Schools

The first colonial schools in the United States were established by immigrants who left Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries in search of a better life. These early settlers emigrated for various reasons and eventually formed 13 colonies along the North Atlantic seaboard. These colonies were divided into three geographic areas: New England colonies, middle colonies, and southern colonies. Each region perceived the role of education somewhat differently, mainly depending on the population’s reasons for settling there and the environmental conditions the settlers encountered.
New England Colonies

In the New England colonies, particularly the Massachusetts Bay colony, the Puritan religion was the dominant force in government and education. The Puritans were ardent followers of the religious teachings of John Calvin and thus had been persecuted in their native England, where the Church of England reigned. In England, any individuals or groups who criticized church doctrine or refused to convert were considered insubordinate. Consequently, the Puritans fled to the New World to find a refuge in which to practice their religious beliefs. (Keep in mind that the Puritans did not come to the Americas to promote religious tolerance; on the contrary, their intent was to establish their church as the rightful one.)

Puritans strongly believed that the aim of education was to teach children to read the Bible so they could learn “proper” conduct (which was deemed mandatory for salvation). The curriculum consisted of the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic (the “three R’s”) and righteous conduct. Most children in colonial America were schooled at home. However, some women opened dame schools in their homes that could provide basic instruction to boys and girls for a small fee. These schools offered much-needed day care to parents at a reasonable cost.
Photo of a hornbook, with the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer.

Time Life Pictures/Contributor/Getty Images
The hornbook, a wooden paddle with important basic materials for students, was one of the first learning tools for students in early American educational history. Hornbooks contained scripture, rules of grammar, numbers, and other basics for memorization.

In the 1600s, local schools called town schools were started, particularly in New England. A town school was usually a one-room schoolhouse built on land donated by the town. Colonial teachers were usually male. Discipline in these town schools was harsh and frequent (particularly by today’s standards). Schoolmasters used fear, intimidation, ridicule, and corporal punishment to guarantee students’ conformity and obedience. Teaching methods were mainly memorization and recitation. For example, students would stand in front of the class and recite lengthy passages from memory. It should be noted that girls were often excluded from education because Puritan elders (who were males) failed to see merit in educating young girls whose destiny was marriage and motherhood. Girls could, however, enroll in dame schools.

Textbooks in colonial days were a far cry from those of today. The hornbook was a small piece of wood in the shape of a paddle that could be hung around the student’s neck. It contained the alphabet, numbers, and the Lord’s Prayer. The hornbook was laminated with an erasable and reusable transparent sheet made from a cow’s horn. After students mastered the basic skills from the hornbook, they advanced to the New England Primer, which contained various lessons with a moral intent, such as, “The idle fool is whipt at School.” The New England Primer was first published in 1690; it remained the main reading text until the turn of the 19th century.

The Massachusetts Bay colony passed the Massachusetts Act of 1642, which made parents responsible for educating their children. This piece of legislation is considered the first educational law in U.S. history. Five years later, the church elders passed a second law, the Massachusetts Act of 1647, referred to as the Old Deluder Satan Act, to ensure children were receiving adequate instruction to resist the cunning tricks of the Devil. The following year, the first property tax was levied to support local education. The Old Deluder Satan Act made local communities responsible for the education of their young people. This law specified that each town of 50 households or more had to hire a schoolmaster who would agree to teach a curriculum steeped in Puritan values.

In addition, towns of 100 households or more were expected to provide Latin grammar schools for local boys. Their aim was to provide a classical background for young men preparing to compete for entry into such institutions of higher education as Harvard and Princeton. Latin grammar schools were created specifically for the sons of the upper social classes who were expected to take on leadership positions in the community and beyond once they had completed their college studies. Training for the ministry was important as well. The first Latin grammar school was founded in Boston in 1635. Today’s prep (preparatory) schools are similar in philosophy to early Latin grammar schools.

By the early 1700s, colonial leaders began to question whether an elementary education was sufficient to prepare young men in the community for adult roles. To better serve civic needs, English grammar schools were established. The major distinction between an English grammar school and a Latin grammar school was the curriculum: English grammar schools offered applied courses such as engineering and accounting, whereas Latin grammar schools offered classical courses in Greek and Roman literature.
Middle Colonies

The middle colonies—Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland—were inhabited by people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, which meant that their reasons for migrating to America (unlike their Puritan neighbors’) were mixed. Settlers came from Portugal, Spain, Belgium, France, Italy, and England. Numerous faiths and sects were found among the colonists: Jews, Roman Catholics, Quakers, Dutch Reformed, Baptists, and Lutherans. Perhaps because of this diversity, settlers in the middle colonies tended to be more tolerant of differing religious beliefs and practices of other people.

It is not surprising that schools in the middle colonies were as varied as their residents. Because populations were less concentrated throughout the middle colonies as opposed to New England towns, community schools were rare. As a result, many denominations established schools based on their religious faith, called parochial schools. For example, the Dutch Reformed Church created a network of private schools in the colony of New York. By the 18th century, the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Philadelphia had set up coeducational schools for their children. In Quaker schools, unlike in most other parochial schools, children of all faiths were welcomed. Native American and African-American children were also accepted in Quaker schools.

Along with parochial schools in the middle colonies, there were Latin grammar schools, English grammar schools, and academies, which provided students with education beyond an elementary level. Benjamin Franklin established the first academy in Philadelphia in 1751. Academies offered a full range of courses that satisfied the academic requirements for those students who were going to college as well as for those who were not. By providing two curriculum tracks in one school (i.e., academic and vocational), academies eliminated the need for separate Latin and English grammar schools.

In the latter half of the 18th century, academies—based on Franklin’s model—grew in number. These original academies became the forerunners of today’s secondary schools. In time, academies became more classical than practical in orientation. In spite of this, the concept of vocational education (school-to-work) has remained a major component of modern secondary school curricula.
Southern Colonies

The lifestyle in the southern colonies, contrasted with that of the other colonies, closely resembled the stratified social system existing in England. The relationship between the mother country and the southern colonists was more conciliatory because most English settlers came to the southern colonies for economic, not political or religious, reasons.

Colonists in the southern colonies engaged in commerce or farming for their livelihoods. Wealthy landowners began importing slaves from Africa to work the fields. Sprawling southern plantations placed neighbors at a distance, which made local schooling impractical. As a result, generally only children from affluent families received formal education. To illustrate, the sons of planters were either taught by tutors or sent to private boarding schools. In terms of higher education, wealthy landowners usually sent their sons to European universities or to Harvard College in Boston.

By the 18th century, a few Latin grammar schools and English grammar schools could be found in the South; however, tuition fees prevented children from middle- or low-income families from attending. The concept of public education for all children was clearly not a consideration in the southern colonies.
Exclusion of Minorities From Mainstream Education

Indeed, poor children in colonial America were typically excluded from mainstream education. For example, even though academies opened their doors to all children, most youngsters were excluded because of tuition costs. Even town schools in the New England colonies relied on tuition. Clearly, the idea of universal education at the public’s expense was not a reality for the majority of children.

In addition to children from low-income families, most minorities in colonial America were excluded from receiving a formal education. For example, African-Americans, Hispanics, and females for the most part were denied equal access to education. Girls were usually excluded from education beyond the primary years because the dominant view was that women would have their husbands to take care of them and motherhood did not necessitate extensive schooling. In the 1700s, however, girls were permitted to enroll in English grammar schools.

Native Americans received education from the early missionaries, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. The underlying reason for their education was to assimilate Native Americans into the European-American culture and convert them to Christianity. While those Native Americans who chose to enroll in school usually did not continue to an advanced level, Dartmouth and Harvard Colleges both encouraged their attendance with special programs.

Hispanic children were educated mainly in Catholic schools and missions. Because most parochial schools were established in low-income areas, facilities were inadequate and instruction limited. African-American children fared poorly with respect to education. Before the Civil War, many southern statutes prohibited schooling for the children of slaves. For those African-American children who were able to obtain an education, it was usually only in the basic subjects.

This mistreatment of minority children is so blatant and offensive by today’s standards that it is difficult to even imagine how it could have happened. But before we become too indignant, we need to honestly appraise where we are now with regard to minority education. As you may have observed or experienced, even in today’s schools, many minorities are being shortchanged and discriminated against based on color, religion, culture, gender, sexual orientation, income, or disability.

2.2 19th-Century Schools

By the beginning and middle of the 19th century, changes were taking place in the United States that would subsequently reform the educational system. The United States was moving from being an agrarian nation to being an industrial nation. Industrialization, coupled with an influx of immigrants during the 1840s and 1850s, prompted Americans to rethink the purposes of education. It became apparent that to ensure that people would be gainfully employed and properly acclimated into American culture, schooling would have to be more accessible. Education was perceived as the vehicle to successfully assimilate children of immigrants into the dominant culture. As an example, teaching kindergarten-age children along with their German immigrant parents became a goal of educators and wealthy society women in the eastern half of the country. However, the education stories for different groups of people during the same era could be quite different. For example, Chinese men who immigrated to the western United States to work in agriculture or railroad building during the same period left their wives and children at home, planning to return to them once they had saved sufficient money. Nevertheless, there were a few education leaders who believed that there should be a “common” experience for everyone.
Common School Movement

The time was ripe for a reformer such as Horace Mann (1796–1859) to gather support for ideas that would eventually improve the educational system. Mann was trained in law and served in the Massachusetts state legislature. He was instrumental in establishing the state’s first board of education; in 1837, Mann became secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education. Mann persuasively argued that education is an inalienable right of every citizen and that it is the states’ responsibility to make it available to children at the public’s expense. In effect, Mann advocated that every child be provided with free schooling at the elementary level.

Mann’s dynamic ideas became the backbone of what was known as the common school movement. During his career, Mann worked diligently to create a network of elementary schools that would expose all children to a common culture. Mann believed that a public school system driven by a common curriculum would be the best means to ensure that children from various religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds were appropriately assimilated into American culture.

With the election of Andrew Jackson to the White House in 1828, the middle class had scored a victory. Because Jacksonian Democrats endorsed public education, Mann gained federal support for his crusade. Mann and like-minded proponents believed public education would lessen the gap between the rich and the poor. They contended that an educated workforce would stimulate the economy, create jobs, and reduce unemployment (which, in turn, would reduce crime). It was presumed that public education had the potential to remedy a myriad of political, social, and economic problems plaguing the United States.
Daguerreotype of Horace Mann.

Everett Collection/Everett Collection/Superstock
A daguerreotype of Horace Mann. Mann was influential in pioneering “common schools” and one of the nation’s first teacher-training programs at Framingham State University in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Despite the compelling arguments of Mann and others, not all Americans favored common schools. Questions were voiced: Who would control these schools? Where was the money coming from to support these schools? Were they practical? Many argued that universal education was a misuse of allocated resources, because most children would work in factories or on farms upon graduation. Further, when it became known that local taxes would be the primary source of revenue, public opposition against common schools intensified. Some argued the unfairness of taxing childless couples and elderly people to defray educational costs. Because of the obvious disparities in personal income among certain regions and locales, many forewarned that this disproportional income tax base would create inequities in education.

Finally, common schools were resisted by some religious leaders, particularly Catholics, who perceived public education as a threat to parochial control. Even though Mann did not espouse a single denomination for the schools, common schools tended to promulgate Protestant values, which naturally offended Catholic sensibilities. With an influx of Catholic immigrants in the mid-19th century, Catholics began establishing a large network of private schools throughout the nation for their children.

Despite the apparent opposition to common schools, the number of schools grew between 1830 and 1865. And in the ensuing decades after the Civil War, enrollments continued to climb steadily. As towns became more populated, smaller schools were combined into larger school districts, which proved to be more cost effective. Individual states began passing laws making school attendance compulsory, or required.

Before we examine other history of education milestones in the 19th century, think about Mann’s ideas in relation to today. Which of his ideas are still with us? Which are still causing arguments? What do you think education would be like today if common schools, or something like them, had never been created?
Education for African Americans

Educational opportunities for African Americans began to change in the late 19th century, although efforts (and legislation) for true equality would remain decades away. In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, intended to be in place for one year once the Civil War had ended. Typically known simply as the Freedmen’s Bureau, its purpose was to assist freed slaves in obtaining land, jobs, fair civic treatment, and education. Before President Ulysses Grant closed it in 1872, the Freedmen’s Bureau was responsible for establishing schools for African Americans throughout the South. However, these schools were perceived as “Northern meddling” and therefore were not endorsed by most whites. Schools in the South were segregated by race; after the Civil War, whites and blacks continued to attend separate schools according to so-called Jim Crow laws. These state laws, named after a character in an 1830s minstrel song, were intended to keep races apart in public facilities. The white community contended that schools, although “separate,” were “equal.” In reality, this was hardly the case. Jim Crow laws prevented African Americans from advancing economically and participating fully in a quality life.

In 1896, the legality of Jim Crow laws was challenged in Plessy v. Ferguson. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine of Jim Crow laws as constitutional. Although Plessy v. Ferguson centered on segregated railroad cars, white school boards used the court’s decision to justify the continuance of segregated schools. This fateful court decision was a major setback for African-American students, who continued for another 60 years to be segregated in so-called “separate but equal” schools.

In the latter half of the 1800s, a few colleges and universities allowed blacks to attend. Two African-American men who greatly influenced the education of blacks during the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century were Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois. Philosophically speaking, these men could not have been further apart with regard to views on education for black Americans.

Booker T. Washington (1856–1915), born a slave, educated at Hampton Institute, and the founder of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, believed the aim of education was to prepare black children for work. In this vein, Tuskegee offered vocational education for blacks. Washington surmised that the two races could live in harmony if blacks would not threaten the economic prosperity held by whites.

On the other hand, W. E. B. DuBois (1868–1963), a Ph.D. graduate of Harvard, rejected the notion that blacks were to be educated solely for work in blue-collar, semi-skilled jobs. Instead, he favored a liberal arts education for those African Americans who would be competing with whites as equal partners in the workplace. DuBois became an active leader in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909. DuBois assumed a high profile in the struggle for political equality. The majority of whites, however, were not ready at that time to accept African Americans as peers.
Education for Native Americans

The conclusion of the American Revolution in 1783 led to renewed efforts to evangelize Native Americans while providing them with Christianity-based education. All efforts were complicated by the assertive settlements on Indian land by white speculators, settlers, traders, and trappers (Reyner & Eder, 2004). At the same time, some Native American populations, most notably the Choctaw and Cherokee, accepted educational opportunities as a way of potentially saving their cultures and even ensuring their survival. Bilingual education and the creation of a written language were notable accomplishments.

In the late 19th century, however, languages, values, and customs were seen by the federal Indian Affairs office as in need of replacement. Tribal languages were abolished from schools to be replaced by English-only instruction. Native American children were placed in boarding schools away from their families to minimize “their Native influences” (Klug & Whitfield, 2003, pp. 31–32). While these schools were originally close to children’s homes, even on the reservations, greater distance soon became the norm. Abuses of students, including even starvation, became common. The unfortunate boarding school system continued well into the 20th century, although a 1928 national report that uncovered abuses led to the replacement of boarding schools with community day schools.
Education for Latinos

Latino education, on the other hand, was primarily concentrated in what later became New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California—the “frontier” outposts of Spanish settlement, as most Spanish settlement of Florida had come to an end in the early 19th century. In the New Mexico region, earlier generations of Native Americans had resisted exploitation by Spanish settlers: The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 had been one of the deadliest anti-European insurrections ever (MacDonald, 2004). Fewer settlers remained in New Mexico after that, but, by the early 19th century, formal schools began to appear. These schools were largely for the children of military men and included Catholicism classes, writing, reading, and counting. Only men were permitted to teach, although, in the convents, nuns helped teach each other. Students who wanted advanced education typically left to attend universities in Spain.

The Texas region did not fare as well: There were fewer schools, and those that existed depended on finding teachers with no expectations of a living wage. Not surprisingly, curriculum was irregular at best and teacher preparation poor. In the California region, a version of the New England dame schools arose, with the in-home teacher referred to as an amiga (friend). In addition, some public education appeared with military men as the schoolteachers. However, most education during this Spanish colonial period was connected to the Catholic missions.

Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821 would affect schooling throughout the Southwest. New Mexican legislators considered public schools critical to having an educated citizenry. Thus, the middle of the 19th century produced laws for educating the full public, although funding was hard, if not impossible, to arrange.

In 1848, the United States annexed much of the present-day Southwest after its victory in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), prompting Anglo settlers to begin to move into Texas particularly. U.S. goals became more established in education as in other parts of the culture. For example, the settlers’ general preference for Protestant religions over Catholicism led to a rejection of the long-established alliance between the Catholic Church and public schools. In Texas, after it achieved statehood in 1845, English became the required language for schooling, and Latinos were less likely to be hired as teachers. Through much of the rest of the 19th century, however, rural schools especially ignored the English-only requirement, and eventually both Spanish and English were officially accepted. (In addition, German settlers argued successfully for their own language to be included as well.)

While Texas, originally a slave state, experienced disruption of its schools during the Civil War and beyond, California moved ahead to create a healthy public school system throughout the 19th century. In California as in Texas, however, there was an ongoing battle between Anglos, who argued for English-only schools, and Latinos, who argued for bilingualism. New Mexico and Arizona both were accepting of bilingual education throughout the century.
Early Childhood Education
Photo of young kindergarten students in Germany.

Associated Press/Jens Meyer
The German concept of kindergarten, or “children’s garden,” is one of the most familiar and universal ideas in education.

Early childhood education in the United States did not become a recognized specialty area until the latter half of the 19th century. To trace its roots, we would have to look back to Europe during the 18th century. The influential Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) wrote that young children should be allowed to play freely, exposed to the rigors of academics only when they were sufficiently ready. His ideology influenced a Swiss educator named Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1747–1827), who agreed that play was important but thought that it should be more guided and structured. Pestalozzi hypothesized that children learn best through sensory manipulation and experimentation.

To test his theory, Pestalozzi started a school on his farm for orphans and poor local children. There, students were given freedom to actively explore their environment and to learn by doing. Unfortunately, Pestalozzi’s lack of business sense ensured the failure of his endeavor. Later opportunities, however, gave him second chances and more, and over time his international fame grew. Much of what Pestalozzi introduced in his schools persists today: education for children of all social classes, girls receiving as much education as boys, and the use of concrete, manipulative materials (Krogh & Slentz, 2011).

Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852), a German educator influenced by both Rousseau and Pestalozzi, introduced the concept of a kindergarten, “a child’s garden,” to Europe in 1837. Froebel is referred to as the “father of the kindergarten.” According to Froebel, kindergarten teachers should be kind and nurturing, and schools should be warm and inviting with lots of sensory experiences. (This is rather commonsense to us but was not in those days, when children were seen as little more than “miniature adults.”)
Spotlight: The Montessori Environment
Learn more about Maria Montessori’s philosophy and approach by exploring what is known as Montessori’s “prepared environment.”

Critical Thinking Questions

As noted in the video, time in a Montessori classroom is unstructured. What do you think the pros and cons might be for letting children choose their own schedule for having snack, taking a nap, learning something academic, or enjoying play time?
The materials you observed children interacting with in the video are largely unchanged from their origins a century ago. In what ways do you think they are appropriate or inappropriate for today’s children? And why?

When large numbers of Germans immigrated to the United States in the mid-19th century, the concept of kindergarten came with them. In 1856, the first German-speaking kindergarten was established by Margarethe Schurz in Watertown, Wisconsin. Four years later, Elizabeth Peabody established the first English-language kindergarten in Boston. In 1873, the first public kindergarten was founded by Susan Blow in St. Louis. The mid-19th-century kindergarten movement contained some of the same elements as the common school movement, with its focus on Americanization. Kindergartens were created in larger cities where large groups of immigrants lived and were designed in part to Americanize not only the children but their parents as well.

One important person who left a permanent mark on early childhood education was Maria Montessori (1870–1952), the first female physician in Italy. Montessori became concerned about the educational needs of cognitively challenged children when assigned as a medical intern to the University of Rome’s psychiatric clinic. Refuting the notion of a fixed intelligence, she sought to enrich the children’s world by designing environments that offered ample tactile and sensory stimulation.

Montessori agreed with Pestalozzi that the senses should be developed before abstract learning is provided, and many of her practical teaching ideas were adapted from Pestalozzi and Froebel. In time, she expanded her success with children at the clinic to the creation of day-care centers with a strong learning component. Like Pestalozzi and Froebel before her, Montessori found international fame and a following of teachers who wanted to learn from her. Ideas she contributed included freedom of movement and child choice of materials, structured materials for the newest and youngest children, real tools for real work, and—perhaps most important—minimal adult supervision (Krogh & Slentz, 2011). Eventually, Montessori education was created for older students as well.

With the exception of a brief decline in popularity in the 1930s and 1940s, Montessori instruction has been endorsed by many preschools and schools in the United States. To this day, Montessori education remains a major force in early childhood education.

2.3 The Rise of Teacher Education

Before the spread of the common school, teachers received no formal training. Mostly males, with little more education than their students, held the position of teacher. Being a teacher was a temporary job. With the common school movement in public education in the 19th century came a need for more teachers who were better trained. Thus, the first institution for the preparation of teachers emerged. This institution was called a normal school, so named for instructing prospective teachers in the “norms” (or accepted ways) of teaching. The first state-supported normal school was established in 1839 in Lexington, Massachusetts.

For the most part, the founding of normal schools in the southern states did not occur until much later. Functioning as a “post-elementary, quasi-secondary school” (Urban, 1990, p. 61), a normal school consisted of a two-year program for the training of elementary teachers. Primarily unmarried females were attracted to these normal schools, which offered an avenue for viable employment until marriage. Generally, the curriculum of a normal school focused on pedagogy—the systematic study of teaching and the application of teaching methods and instruction—with some attention devoted to the content of the subjects to be taught.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, as high schools developed more widely, the need for training teachers in secondary education arose. Greater knowledge of subject areas was necessary. Thus, most normal schools expanded into state teachers’ colleges, which consisted of four-year programs.

At the same time, the certification of teachers shifted from the local level to the control of state boards or departments of education. Previously, teachers with or without normal school completion could be hired at a local school board’s discretion. When the states assumed more control of this process, they initially issued general teaching certificates, but by the 1920s, specialized certificates for different areas and levels were commonplace.

Eventually, state teachers’ colleges evolved into state colleges and later universities. These institutions of higher education offered expanded programs in more than just teacher preparation. Within universities, however, colleges or schools of education were usually given lesser prestige and existed on the fringe. This devalued position negatively affected many efforts to professionalize teaching.

With these changes in the education of teachers have come changes in the professional nature of teaching. Normal schools engaged in the very specific purpose of teacher training. Today we speak of teacher education, which has a broader, more encompassing connotation. Course work in teacher education comprises not only the practical study of teaching training, but also philosophical and psychological studies. Teacher education extends from the preservice (before practice) to the inservice (engaged in practice) levels of teaching. Teacher education, unlike teacher training, recognizes the lifelong nature of learning to teach.

2.4 20th-Century Schools: Efforts Toward Reform and Competing Philosophies

At the turn of the 20th century, questions were being raised about the quality of the teaching force, and there was an emerging interest in how to improve the training of American teachers. Researchers commenced to systematically examine the best teaching practices so that colleges of education could improve teacher education, which resulted in courses in pedagogy. Training in pedagogy led to further scientific inquiry by scholars to determine the best teaching practices. The resulting changes to school curriculum—the specific content that students are taught—reflected different philosophical orientations and educators’ efforts to answer various questions: What is the purpose of education? Is the aim scholarship, or is it to ensure that children grow into secure and independent adults who are happy? Is there a constant body of knowledge to be learned, or does information change over time?

To help you consider answers to questions such as these, this textbook contains a series of hypothetical scenarios titled Case in Point—visit your e-book for a more interactive experience. These case studies aim to show how theory might be combined with practice, demonstrating that the two can and should be linked for successful teaching. The first of these scenarios, Case in Point: Philosophy Made Practical, illustrates how individuals’ educational philosophy can influence important policy and curriculum decisions.
Secondary Education: A Broader Curriculum

By 1920, mandatory school attendance laws were in effect in every state. Indeed, Horace Mann’s dream of offering an elementary education to all children had become a reality. But what about high school education? What was the status of secondary education by the turn of the century? Let’s backtrack a moment to the latter half of the 19th century to address this question. During the 1800s, a high school education at public expense was not a reality. However, this would change in 1874 with Stuart v. School District No.1 of the Village of Kalamazoo. In the famous Kalamazoo case, a Michigan court upheld a school district’s decision to use tax money to support a high school. This case would establish a precedent for public funding of secondary schools.
Photo of a brick historic high school in Harrisburg, PA.

Henryk Sadura/iStock/Thinkstock
After states implemented legislation to establish elementary education, they turned their attention to secondary schools.

Up to this point, secondary education catered to capable students who were preparing for college. This is known as the tracking system: The college-bound follow one track, taking one set of courses, while those seeking other career options follow another. This system still persists today, despite criticisms that tracking automatically disadvantages students who choose, or are funneled into, the non-college track.

In 1892, the Committee of Ten was formed by the National Education Association (NEA) to study secondary education. This group recommended that secondary schools offer a traditional and classical course of study with few electives. Each course was to meet one hour four to five times per week for a year and would earn students one credit unit, known as a Carnegie unit. A certain number of units would be required for graduation and admission to college. As you can see, the focus was on entry to higher education.

The scope of the high school curriculum would change dramatically in the 1900s from its original emphasis. To illustrate, in 1918 the NEA assembled a group of educators to study the current state of high school education in the United States. A report was published, called the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education (National Education Association, 1918). The following goals were set for inclusion in the curriculum:

Command of fundamental academic skills
Worthy home membership
Vocational preparation
Worthy use of leisure time
Ethical character

From this report, we see how the high school curriculum was broadened to include teaching personal and social skills in addition to academic skills. In the Great Depression of the 1930s and later in the 1940s, a “life-adjustment” curriculum evolved. The idea of schools as social organizations—in other words, responsible for helping students adjust to and function in society—began to surface. Social dance, debate, clubs, drama, art, and music began to be part of the school routine. Public high schools with a comprehensive curriculum spread during the 20th century as enrollments in secondary education increased. In the early 1980s, however, President Ronald Reagan became concerned that schools had lowered their academic standards and had also taken over responsibilities of the home with a curriculum that included drivers’ education, sex education, social dance, parenting, and so on. He commissioned a report to study the status of public education—the first time this would be done in U.S. history. The results, which will be discussed later, would shock the nation and spur further reform.
Progressivism: A Focus on Students

The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education report would lend strength to an emerging movement called progressivism. Progressivism refers to a holistic approach to education—the whole student with all of his or her interests and abilities must be taken into account when planning the curriculum or delivering instruction. Progressivists believe that education should prepare children for independent thinking in a democratic society.

John Dewey (1859–1952) and William H. Kilpatrick (1871–1965) were progressivist educators who contended that students learn best when actively participating in their own learning. Dewey, in particular, would become one of the most influential educators of the first half of the 20th century. Born in Burlington, Vermont, Dewey taught at the University of Chicago and later at Columbia University. In 1896, Dewey established a laboratory school at the University of Chicago to test his experimental ideas that classrooms were learning laboratories. A prolific writer and educator, Dewey had a tremendous impact on education in the 20th century. Dewey supported a child-centered curriculum that takes children’s needs into consideration. His belief that students learn by doing (i.e., experiential learning) was a central tenet of his progressive and pragmatic philosophy.
Spotlight: Progressive Reform
In 1899, John Dewey attacks the status quo and introduces what becomes known as progressivism in education.

Critical Thinking Questions

In arguing that education should focus on the whole child, Dewey included cognitive, social, psychological, and physical development. In your opinion, how are schools doing today in addressing the education of the whole child?
In what ways do schools today reflect, or improve upon, Dewey’s views, and in what ways have they regressed?
As your text explains, Dewey’s view was that schools should foster independent thinking to prepare students for life in a democratic society. How much independent thinking do you think is appropriate for students, and at what age should they be allowed independent decision-making in school? Why?

Dewey described several progressive schools in his book Schools of Tomorrow (1915). Although there were differences among progressive schools in how to “connect” a child with his or her environment, Dewey contended that in general these schools and teachers were “working away from a curriculum adapted to a small and specialized class” toward one that was more “representative of the needs and conditions of a democratic society” (Dewey, 1915, p. 288). All children, he argued, should be prepared for democratic living, not just those who are college bound.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the laboratory school became the prototype of progressive education for many suburban and city schools. Dewey proposed a child-centered curriculum with instruction geared to children’s interests; instruction was less teacher directed and more student directed. Class participation and experiential learning were paramount to learning how to function in a democracy. As you might guess, students became active (rather than passive) participants in their own learning. Dewey’s followers founded the Progressive Education Association, which heavily influenced education in the United States and internationally as well. In sum, Dewey’s brand of progressivism favored the scientific approach to learning and the child’s role in the context of society.

By the beginning of World War II, progressivism came under attack by conservative groups who claimed that schools had abdicated their role by allowing students too much freedom and autonomy over their own learning. By the 1950s, critics blamed progressive educators for too much emphasis on social adjustment and not enough on academic rigor, which many claimed was the cause of declining student achievement. Progressives were accused of watering down academic standards by offering a lax curriculum that resulted in poor test scores nationally. Some right-wing groups branded progressives as anti-American or communists.

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into space. As history’s first-ever spacecraft, the tiny satellite convinced Americans that the country’s education was in need of reform. In many people’s eyes, Sputnik demonstrated that the United States’ ability in the sciences might not be the world’s best, contrary to what many Americans believed at the time. This wake-up call led to a nationally supported increase of educational funding through the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958. With $1 billion dedicated to education reform, much of the funding focused on students who showed promise in science, mathematics, and foreign languages. Money earmarked for specific educational programs for “gifted and talented” students was made available. Institutions of higher education received grant money to improve teacher and counselor education.

All this spelled a temporary end to progressivism, at least in regard to federal funding. Although the influence of Dewey may not be as strong today as it was in its heyday, many progressive ideas have survived. Group work, student projects, self-discovery activities, and field trips are a few progressive ideas that are still used in today’s classroom.
Perennialism: One Curriculum for All
A photograph of Mortimer Adler.

Associated Press/Charles Knoblock
Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Proposal argued for a liberal arts education that would stress Western philosophy and European classics. He created a list of “Great Books” that were designated as required reading.

Despite the national focus on education reform brought on by 1958’s NDEA, there was still room for other philosophies to emerge. Unlike progressivism, the educational philosophy of perennialism espoused a more uniform liberal arts education for all students, stressing Western philosophy and European classics, as well as the basic subjects of reading, writing, and mathematics. In a perennialist curriculum, there would be minimal choice, or electives. R. Maynard Hutchins (1899–1979), a central figure in American perennialism, believed that education should have one purpose: scholarship. For perennialists, the purpose of education is to develop rational thought in students to enable them to adopt traditional values that will perpetuate the European-American culture; truth is absolute and human nature constant.

In the 1930s, Hutchins, in an effort to revive classical education, developed with fellow perennialist Mortimer Adler (1902–2001) a list of “Great Books” from European and American literature that they designated as required reading (Hutchins, 1954). In 1982, Adler published The Paideia Proposal, espousing a liberal arts education for all students.
Essentialism: Teacher Knows Best

Another 20th-century educational philosophy was essentialism, which stresses the importance of sharpening students’ intellectual abilities so they can become rational, upstanding members of society. In the 1930s, William C. Bagley, a leading spokesperson for essentialism, proposed that the “essential” purpose of education is to help students acquire basic knowledge required to be successful in a democratic nation.

Essentialism is similar to perennialism, yet there are distinctions. An essentialist takes a more practical approach. An essentialist curriculum goes beyond the basics and the “Great Books” to include skills necessary for competing in a technologically advanced, global economy. The curriculum and the classroom are controlled by the teacher (Bagley, 1941). The teacher, as the authority, is expected to enforce rules and administer punishments for misbehavior.

In the 1980s, proponents of essentialism would play a major role in a call to reform known as “back to basics.” Fueled mainly by the report A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), many critics argued that education had become too “soft,” resulting in poor achievement scores. Public pressure demanded that schools return to the three R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Social Reconstructionism, Critical Pedagogy, and Existentialism: Radical Notions

While perennialism and essentialism seemed to propose a return to education’s roots, other 20th-century philosophies proposed an even more radical rethinking of the nature of education—even more so than progressivism did. In fact, social reconstructionism developed in the mid-20th century among a faction of progressivists who had lost patience with the delayed efforts to implement societal reform. Theodore Brameld (1904–1987), considered the father of social reconstructionism, looked for a society of tolerance and peaceful co-existence. George Counts (1889–1974) viewed such social reform as a primary aim of education and promoted the idea of school-based community service as a way to achieve this end.

Then, in the 1960s, there emerged a philosophy of education known as critical pedagogy. It was based on the more general philosophy of critical theory, which seeks to confront and assess the ideological, social, and historical forces that create culture. Those who embrace the application of critical theory to education (critical pedagogy) believe that students need to learn to understand, challenge, and critique their culture and education in the same way. Both teacher and student should understand that education isn’t neutral or apolitical but is shaped by the culture in which it is created. Largely fathered and inspired by the Brazilian Paulo Freire (1921–1997) and promulgated in education by Henry Giroux (1943–), this view of learning “addressed issues of providing individuals with tools to engage in self-empowerment, to strengthen democracy, and to become involved in social transformation” (Rendon, 2009, p. 15). Critical pedagogy welcomed people from all walks of life, genders, and multiple views of reality, wisdom, and truth, giving each a voice within the classroom. The influences of critical pedagogy and social reconstructionism are felt today in the broader acceptance of students and teachers from all these various orientations.

Social reconstructionists would include objectives in the curriculum that would instill noble ideals and erase social injustices such as prejudices and discrimination. Because most human prejudices are rooted in misinformation or inadequate knowledge, students would be offered opportunities to mingle with people who are culturally different. Community service projects would be viewed as optimal ways to increase students’ exposure to a wide range of people. Many high schools in the 1990s began experimenting with the concept of community service as a way to expand students’ worldview beyond self. Working in soup lines, for example, would give students a chance to see homeless people as real people with real problems. They would then be encouraged to be more proactive as citizens and work to solve societal problems.

Another broader philosophy that proposed rethinking education was existentialism, which suggests that reality is what one makes of it. Although existentialism can be traced to the writings of 19th-century philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosophy gained popularity in the mid-20th century thanks to the work of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and psychologist Carl Rogers. A. S. Neill and Van Cleve Morris were among those who applied existentialism to education.

Existentialism perceives a quest for truth as futile, because life to the existentialist has no absolute meaning. If meaning does exist, it is a product of one’s creation. Finding meaning in one’s life is an individual choice. Reality, then, is nothing more than what is perceived to be real from that person’s perspective. Because reality is an individual interpretation, no one can give meaning to another person. Each individual fabricates a personal reality. The existentialist believes that you can choose to see meaning in your life or not; it is really up to you.

As such, those who favor an existentialist approach in education believe in personal responsibility. Students need to create meaning in their own lives; no one will, or should, create meaning for them. Furthermore, students must accept that there are consequences for their actions. Jean-Paul Sartre (1957) wrote, “[E]xistentialism’s first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him” (p. 16).

Existentialist educators might suggest an array of electives that would encourage self-expression in students. The British A. S. Neill’s school Summerhill, which he founded in 1921, epitomized that existential philosophy of freedom and choice. Students of all ages were permitted to attend classes when, or if, they chose. Children and faculty had equal votes when school issues arose or plans were to be made. While Neill gave academic support to students planning to take high school graduation examinations, a pure existentialist would challenge the notion of required subjects for graduation, claiming that it robs students of choice. An existential curriculum would be thought provoking—it would afford students an opportunity to question and find personal solutions to problems.

Whether teachers are conscious of it or not, they think and act according to philosophical viewpoints. Use Table 2.1 to review the competing 20th-century philosophies discussed in this section before considering which philosophy aligns most with your own in Building Your Portfolio. Then, read the situation described in Case in Point: Philosophy in the Teachers’ Lounge to see how your colleagues’ philosophical viewpoints might manifest themselves in real life.
Table 2.1: 20th-century philosophies
Philosophy Basic tenets Goals of education Associated educators and philosophers
Progressivism Holistic approach: Teach the whole child To prepare students for independent thinking in a democratic society John Dewey, William Kilpatrick
Perennialism Liberal arts education for all, Western philosophy and European classics, few electives To develop rational thought leading to traditional values to perpetuate European-American culture R. Maynard Hutchins, Mortimer Adler
Essentialism Emphasis on liberal arts plus skills necessary in technologically advanced, global economy; teacher is the authority; “back to basics” To dispense basic knowledge required to be successful in an advanced democratic nation William C. Bagley, “back to basics” proponents
Social reconstructionism Learning through community service projects To instill noble ideals, to erase social injustices Theodore Brameld, George Counts
Critical pedagogy Students build own meaning from their learning; teachers facilitate the process To create critically thinking and socially active individuals Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux
Existentialism Students create their own meaning; encourage self-expression with an array of electives To teach personal responsibility and give students freedom of choice Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Carl Rogers, A. S. Neill, Van Cleve Morris
Building Your Portfolio

Read the following descriptions of teaching practices within the educational philosophies discussed in this chapter.

Progressivists believe people are basically good. Thus, a progressivist teacher would try to bring out the best in students. Classrooms would be open and inviting places with minimal structure. Children would be encouraged to think critically and solve problems. Progressivism supports an interdisciplinary approach to curriculum and a child-centered teaching approach. A progressivist would encourage students to develop unique talents and skills. Open-ended questions would be posed to facilitate higher levels of cognitive thought in students. Progressivist educators embrace a student-centered approach to curriculum and instruction. In effect, the process of learning (or the search) is more important than the final outcome.
A perennialist would have students select books from the list of “Great Books” in an effort to improve their intellect and character. Students would be taught how to reason logically and ethically. Teachers would assume a “take charge” kind of approach in their classrooms. Although students would be invited to participate in scholarly discussion and free sharing of ideas, they would not be allowed to undermine a teacher’s authority.
An essentialist would provide a highly structured curriculum with very few electives. The lecture approach would be the predominant pedagogy. Class discussions would be infrequent. Students would be given ample drill and practice to memorize important facts. An essentialist curriculum emphasizes the practicality of certain courses such as accounting and computer science and a worldview that is essentially European American.
Social reconstructionists design projects for students to encourage them to become incensed by inequities in the system. Teachers would object to any form of literature that perpetuates negative or harmful stereotypes and explain to their students why the material is offensive. Students would be encouraged to protest societal and political wrongs. Students would be permitted to challenge the status quo by freely expressing their opinions in class. Creative and unconventional thinking would be rewarded.
An existentialist teaches personal responsibility by having students pay consequences for their actions. For example, an existentialist would not lecture students on the merits of using study hall to study. Instead, students who waste valuable time at school would earn lower grades. In addition, other students might well complain that such students are holding the class back. (This happened at Summerhill.) In due time, students begin to understand that teachers don’t give grades—students earn marks by their actions. Existential teachers help students make good decisions in the future by allowing them freedom to make poor choices now. Existential teachers assist students to find individual meaning from their experiences. They understand that each child’s interpretation will be a unique rendition.

Take some time to write down which philosophy and teaching practices resonate the most with you. Explain why. If you find yourself adhering to more than one philosophy, explain potential benefits or drawbacks of merging different philosophies. Base your explanations as possible on your experiences in school and on your upcoming experiences as a teacher. Is there congruence between your philosophy as a prior student and as an upcoming teacher? If not, what are the differences? To what do you attribute this discrepancy or lack thereof?

2.5 Governmental Reforms

Historical documents tell us that the authors of the Constitution understood quite well that the strength of a democracy depends on educated voters. However, they failed to mention education directly in the Constitution. Many historians have speculated that because of adverse experiences with powerful governments in Europe, the Constitution’s authors may have been nervous about creating a strong centralized government that would diminish the role of the states.

Although the states were granted authority over education, the federal government retained an interest in education. To illustrate, under the nation’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, the federal government passed the Land Ordinance Act (1785) and the Northwest Ordinance (1787) to ensure that children living in the western territories would receive an education. To accomplish this, the federal government surveyed the land west of Pennsylvania and north of the Ohio River and divided it into townships. Each township was further divided into sections, and the 16th section of every township was designated for schools. This concern about the schooling of children on the frontier accentuated the central government’s interest in education.
Photograph of the Sputnik 1 satellite.

Copyright Bettman/Corbis/AP Images
One effect of the Soviet launching of Sputnik was an increased commitment by the United States to science and engineering in secondary and post-secondary education.

Throughout American history, the federal government has continued to show interest in matters regarding education. In fact, at certain times the central government and the federal courts have been extremely involved in education. The extent of involvement is usually contingent on the prevailing political, economic, and social climate of the nation. One example—and a major turning point for American education—was the 1957 launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union, as discussed earlier.

Another example was the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act in 1944, commonly called the “G.I. Bill of Rights,” passed by Congress to provide federal funding for the education of veterans returning from World War II. Similar educational benefits were extended to veterans from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and, more recently, to veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of 2013, the “Post 9/11 G.I. Bill” had provided education funds to more than 1 million people. In fact, you may well be one of the students receiving this funding.

Some have speculated that the omission of education in the Constitution was a deliberate effort by the Founding Fathers to curb the sovereignty of the federal government. As you read about major legislation in the history of U.S. education, consider the following questions:

Do you think the Founding Fathers’ choice was a wise decision?
In hindsight, would a centralized educational system have been more efficient?
Would there have been fewer inequities in education and inequalities in facilities if there had been a centralized educational system?
Do you think schools are more sensitive to community needs when they are run by state and local governments?

Civil Rights Legislation

In the late 1960s, social conditions in the United States shifted people’s attention to children who were being overlooked in education. One development during this time was an increased awareness that children, especially minority children, were receiving inferior education. As mentioned earlier, Jim Crow laws allowed separation of races in public facilities, including schools. These laws continued to be upheld as constitutional until the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which struck down the “separate but equal” clause as unconstitutional. The schools were instructed by the Court to desegregate “with all deliberate speed”—in other words, as quickly as possible while maintaining law and order. Many school districts, particularly in the South, used delaying tactics to resist compliance. Subsequently, many black children remained in inferior schools for many years following the 1954 court decision.
Spotlight: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
Brown v. Board of Education was the Supreme Court case that led to racial integration of schools in 1954. As you watch this video, think of the various lasting effects this decision has had on education in the United States.

Critical Thinking Questions

If the Supreme Court had designated a specific required time frame for integration rather than allowing “all deliberate speed,” what do you think would have happened? In what ways would the outcome have been more positive or more negative?
In what ways will your teaching experience be different from that of a 1940s teacher due to Brown v. Board of Education?

The delay to desegregate, along with other apparent inequities in the system, became the impetus for legislation over the next two decades to redress social and political injustices. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or national origin. It ended unfair voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, workplaces, and institutions that served the general public. And it finally marked national recognition of the earlier Brown decision.
ESEA and Low-Income Families

Compensatory programs help students with special needs “compensate” for deficits or barriers they may experience, such as poverty, physical and mental disabilities, or language. For example, as part of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” campaign, compensatory programs such as Head Start and work-study and on-the-job training programs were funded by Congress to help disadvantaged youngsters overcome educational barriers. In general, the 1960s saw legislative acts targeted at children from low-income families and children with special needs.

In 1965, the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration Act, which eliminated earlier restrictions based on quotas. Before that time, many ethnic groups and nationalities had to wait for permission to immigrate; access was based on the percentages of persons currently living in the United States. By eliminating quotas, immigrants who had traditionally been underrepresented in the total population were now free to enter without delays. As a result, there was an influx of people immigrating to the United States, which meant U.S. schools witnessed an increase of school-age children who could not speak English. In 1968, the U.S. Congress passed the Bilingual Education Act, which allocates funds to schools to establish English as a Second Language (ESL) programs to assist these children whose native language is not English. (Such programs are today more commonly known as Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages [TESOL] in recognition of the fact that even very young children may well speak more than one language before they begin to learn English.)

By far the most comprehensive federal legislation to date is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) passed in 1965 as a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Through amendments and reauthorizations over the years, this law has become a substantial source of income for the nation’s public schools. A sizable portion of ESEA’s budget is reserved for educating low-income students through the act’s Title I. The 1965 decision for providing such support was based on research showing that high-poverty students were most likely to score lowest on achievement tests.

Under Title I requirements, assistance can be provided for a school-wide program or, instead, for targeted individual children. Targeted students might be recent immigrants in need of learning English, from situations in which they have been neglected or abused, or in need of encouragement to stay in school rather than drop out. Although Title I provides funds to preschool through 12th grade, improvement in reading capabilities is a primary goal of Title I programs. As such, it is responsible for the highest percentage of funds (60%) going to elementary schools.
Title IX and Gender Equality

Title IX of the Education Amendment Act, passed by Congress in 1972, prohibits gender discrimination in educational settings receiving federal monies. In the years since then, two areas of civil suits have predominated. First, students have been granted leeway in filing civil suits against schools for sexual assault and harassment, the argument being that a student who is sexually assaulted or harassed is deprived of equal and free access to education, or to an education free from discrimination. The second area, and probably the one most familiar, requires equal athletic provisions for females and males in any educational institution that receives federal funds. The “equal and free access” argument holds in these cases as well.
Education for Students With Disabilities
Photo of two students, one in a wheelchair, in front of a school building.

Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Thinkstock
The Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed in 1990, helps to protect disabled students at private schools. Previous legislation focused on public schools and government funding specifically.

In an effort to protect the civil rights of handicapped individuals in public schools, Congress passed the Vocational Rehabilitation Act (1973), which declares that handicapped people in the United States should not be excluded or denied benefits from any program or activity receiving federal assistance. To ensure persons with disabilities were not discriminated against in the workplace, reasonable accommodations had to be made. Students with disabilities attending public schools are protected under Section 504. Any public school failing to comply with the federal guidelines stands in danger of losing federal monies.

In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142) was passed to provide federal funding to schools to ensure that all students receive a “free and appropriate education.” In October 1990, PL 94-142 was superseded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which specifically protects the civil rights of handicapped children. Under the law, each child receives an individualized education plan (IEP) that spells out educational programs and services appropriate for that particular child’s special needs. Under these laws, all students who have a disability are entitled to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). This means that students with special needs receive the services they require free of charge. It should be noted that although IDEA protects children with disabilities in public schools, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—passed by Congress in 1990—covers all citizens with disabilities in the workplace. Thus, the rights of disabled children attending private schools are protected as well.

In addition, IDEA requires that the placement of disabled students must be in the least restrictive environment (LRE): “An appropriate education may comprise education in regular classes, education in regular classes with the use of related aids and services, or special education and related services in separate classrooms for all or portions of the school day” (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). Simply put, these children should remain in the regular classroom as much as possible and as it is beneficial, rather than be segregated from peers in resource rooms or separate schools. Originally referred to as mainstreaming, this is now generally known as inclusion. Passage of PL 94-142 and IDEA were, in large part, responsible for making teachers aware that they would become responsible for including children with cognitive and other challenges in the larger classroom society.

Students with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) are special needs children who have not always been welcome in schools. In recent years, the court system has had to intervene to ensure that these children are not discriminated against in public schools. Under the provisions of Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), courts have ruled that children with AIDS cannot be denied access to a public school education.
Assess Yourself

Are you prepared to uphold equality in education? What does “equality in education” mean to you?
Do you anticipate struggling to work with diverse students effectively?
What aspects of your background and upbringing might influence how you interact with students who are unlike you? (“Unlike you” might refer to such traits as race, social class, intelligence level, or family values.)

A Nation at Risk

As noted, many compensatory programs in the 1960s and 1970s were funded with federal dollars. However, by the 1980s many of these compensatory programs, such as Title I bilingual education, school-to-work transition programs, and free lunch programs for disadvantaged students, came under public scrutiny by policymakers who questioned whether these programs were cost effective. Was there sufficient evidence to claim that compensatory programs and other entitlements were making a measurable difference in students’ learning?

In August 1981, U.S. Secretary of Education T. H. Bell created a blue-ribbon commission called the National Commission on Excellence. The commission was charged with examining the quality of education in the United States and delivering a report to the nation. On April 26, 1983, the commission released a report titled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. This report would prove to be a watershed moment for education in the United States. The opening paragraph to the report clearly identified the perilous state of the United States’ educational system:

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility . . . the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur—others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983, p. 1)

In their research, the commission found that less than a third of high school students were completing algebra and only 6% completed calculus. Additionally, remedial college math courses had increased by 72% over a 5-year period, signaling the dire predicament of schools and the fact that students were not being prepared for post-secondary education. Poor classroom management was severely affecting instruction and reducing reading instruction in elementary school by as much as 80%. The report specifically identified the need to develop “high standards rather than minimum ones” and the fact that the “minimum” requirement had become the “maximum” expectation for learning in schools.

This report generated an enormous sense of urgency to improve the educational system of our country. The groundswell of energy that emerged from the report helped to fuel what is now called the standards-based education movement. That is, states and districts across the country responded with a range of reforms that focused on improving instruction and student performance by developing standards for learning (Resnick & Zurawsky, 2005).

Coincidentally, in the early 1980s, the United States was also struggling with a weak economy while other countries were seeing tremendous economic growth. This added to the pressure to improve the educational system because it raised concerns about the United States’ ability to be globally competitive and questioned whether our students would be able to compete in a growing marketplace. Countries such as Germany and France were considered models because they had unified and cohesive national curricula (Hamilton, Stecher, & Yuan, 2008; Resnick & Resnick, 1985).
The Standards-Based Education Movement

As a result of these pressures, states began developing education standards to serve as guideposts for what students should learn in school. The standards were meant to become anchors for other educational policies, including curriculum, testing, professional development, and accountability, which were thought to increase the quality of instruction and help with the coherence of educational policies (Superfine, 2011). The emphasis behind the movement toward standards-based education was simple—schools should be held accountable for students’ learning.

It was thought that standards could improve achievement by helping to clearly delineate the content to be taught and the type of performance expected from students. In addition, they were believed to have the potential to raise the quality of education by establishing clear expectations for students and showing them what is necessary to succeed. If goals are clearly outlined and presented, students will understand that their teachers are trying to help them meet externally defined standards, and parents will know what is expected of their children academically.

The standards-based movement was a transformational shift in education, raising the expectations for students and providing increased accountability. As this movement gained steam and states developed and implemented standards, four major principles took shape. These tenets continue to resonate as essential components in the current education debate on improving American education:

There must be a public process to engage stakeholders to develop standards.
Assessments need to be developed that provide clear targets for students and for teachers.
Instructional programs need to be implemented that focus on teaching the standards,
An accountability system needs to be developed that assesses learning of the standards (Resnick & Zurawsky, 2005).

In 2002, Congress passed a landmark piece of legislation, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, proposed by the George W. Bush administration as an update and reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) then in effect. As the name of the revised law implies, no child was to be left behind or allowed to fail. This legislation required states to define and implement stringent accountability standards and prescribe increasing penalties for schools that failed to meet the standards enacted in a state. To add complexity to the mix, many of the accountability measures enacted during this period occurred at a time when state budgets were running a deficit and additional resources were not added to school budgets to help them produce the results the laws required. In fact, many states and districts saw their level of education funding reduced.

The variety of accountability measures under NCLB led to high-stakes testing becoming more important. The results of these standardized tests, which students in schools across the United States, from elementary to high school, take each year, are made public and used as a barometer to judge a school’s effectiveness (Education Week, 2011). These high-stakes tests are used by federal, state, and local governments to determine if a school is failing or high performing, that is, making sufficient annual yearly progress (AYP).

In 2011, under President Barack Obama’s leadership, and with Congress’s failure to reauthorize a revised NCLB, a different approach was taken toward making improvements. Now, NCLB was to be more flexible, offering states the opportunity to propose alternative routes to excellence. By early 2012, the first 10 applicant states had been approved for more flexible approaches and grants to fund them. The Obama administration’s approach to fostering excellence was titled Race to the Top (RTTT), and states found themselves altering their various education laws as they applied for funding. The first grants were awarded to 11 states in 2011.
Photo of President George W. Bush with students on a stage.

Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite
Recent administrations have tried to address issues of school accountability in education by promoting plans such as No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top. Critics of these campaigns have pointed to their tendency to focus on standardized test results, and the tendency of state curricula to “teach to the test.”

By 2012, an early childhood version had been added to RTTT, and the first nine states had been chosen to receive those grants. Their intent was better collaboration between agencies and stakeholders to bring a more focused approach to pre-elementary education. Another 2012 effort permitted school districts, rather than just states, to apply for RTTT grants, and the first ones were awarded in December 2012 to 55 districts in 11 states. Flexibility, accountability, and creativity were to be rewarded. Successful proposals included one from Miami that would place math centers in every middle school. Others included an increased focus on charter schools, a model highly approved by the Obama administration.

The whole concept of a standards-based movement has been controversial, particularly as it has played out over time. Organizations and states that might welcome NCLB or RTTT at the outset—particularly the money attached—could well change their views as associated requirements become unpopular. By the time RTTT replaced the Bush administration’s model, 47 of 50 states had protested at least some aspect of NCLB. Opposition also had come from organizations such as the National Education Association, the National School Boards Association, and the National Conference of State Legislatures. Complaints included under-funding, flawed standardized tests, and the punitive nature of the law rather than its promised supportiveness. Another outcome of the need for schools to perform well on standardized tests has been a trend toward “teaching to the test,” that is, focusing the curriculum on expected test questions rather than on a wider variety of topics (Popham, 2003). This has meant that when low-performing schools are required to focus on teaching the basics, their students miss out on the richer curricula of higher-performing schools.

Over the past decade and more, this has been a criticism of not only the Bush years’ NCLB requirements, but also of the more “flexible” RTTT approach of the Obama administration. Oppositional organizations and concerned states see that, in order to receive RTTT waivers from the federal government for meeting the NCLB requirements, the result is usually a newer requirement that the state sign on to the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). The CCSSI focuses solely on English language arts and mathematics; some of the details and implications of the Common Core will be discussed in Chapter 6, as this reform can have far-ranging effects on how teachers approach curriculum and assessment. However, here again is a situation in which states initially created and approved an approach to excellence in education but lost enthusiasm as the federal government inserted itself into design and process. Opponents fear that this development is dangerous to state sovereignty of education; supporters agree that this may be the case but that it is a small price to pay for creating a high level of educational excellence nationally.
Assess Yourself

As you have seen, teachers must be committed to improving the educational system for young people. They continually search for ways to ensure that all children receive quality education. Would you be interested in deciding the future of our educational system? Are you willing to fight the battles facing education today?
How do you feel about the standards-based movement and the idea of “teaching to the test”? Have you experienced “teaching to the test” in a classroom? Might it be necessary for successful test scores?

Summary & Resources
Chapter Summary

The history of American schooling is vast and complex. This chapter has provided a condensed overview that covers the colonial times to the present day. The New England colonies established schooling from the 1600s, both in dame schools and in town schools. The middle and southern colonies, with their more diverse populations, created diverse models of schooling such as parochial schools, Latin grammar schools, and English grammar schools. The common school movement of the 19th century led to a more universal model of attendance. Nevertheless, throughout the colonial period and well into the 20th century, education was problematic for African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and females. The middle of the 19th century saw the introduction of kindergarten with the influx of Germans into much of the United States. Teacher training became an issue as more children stayed in school throughout the secondary years and the German kindergarten model required teachers with an understanding of younger children. Competing models of education emerged throughout the 19th and 20th centuries: progressivism; perennialism; essentialism; social reconstructionism with its subset, critical pedagogy; and existentialism.

Governmental reforms became more numerous and intrusive throughout the 20th century despite the absence of education as a topic of the Constitution. At the end of World War II, government funds supported continuing education for returning veterans. The National Defense Education Act responded to the Soviet Union’s leadership in space, and civil rights legislation provided a number of acts and laws that altered the look of public schools in ways that continue today. Most notable currently are programs based on standards–based education as defined first by the George W. Bush administration and then by that of Barack Obama.
Questions for Further Critical Thinking & Reflection

Much of the history of American public education involves enforcing prevailing U.S. culture and customs and encouraging minority groups to assimilate. Do you consider assimilation to be a purpose of education? What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of this perspective and philosophy?
Is assimilation still the prevailing approach in contemporary schools and society? When international students come to American schools, have you observed the local students trying to learn from them about their culture or, alternatively, expecting the foreign students to acclimate to their way of life? What might be the positive and negative effects of each point of view?
Has public education lived up to the expectations held by Mann and his devotees? Why or why not? Did the common school philosophy uphold its intended promises? Cite evidence to support your position.
Has universal education mitigated class distinctions found in the United States? Why or why not? Based on your experience, have you found that some schools are better than others depending on the locale? If so, what is the answer to this dilemma? If not, what do you think is responsible for creating such equality?
Reflect on this 1945 quotation from George S. Counts (one of the founders of social reconstructionism): “We have had unsurpassed faith in the worth and power of learning . . . [a]nd the great champions of democracy throughout our national history have insisted that the survival of our free institutions requires an educated people. . . . Today, when confronted with difficult personal or social problems, we are inclined to turn to education as an unfailing solution. This disposition is manifest at the present time” (Counts, 1945, p. 17). What do you think Counts was referring to when he made this assertion in 1945? Does his assertion apply to us today? What personal and social problems do we face? Should we expect schools and education to take up the slack when things are not going well in society? Why or why not?
History is basically a perceptual (not a literal) interpretation of what transpired in the past. Historians (like authors) select events and gather facts and decipher them based on their personal histories. What is your interpretation of the history of American education? Should American educators be proud of their heritage, or has it failed to live up to U.S. democratic values and ideals? How does your answer affect your perspective, and ultimately your future actions, in a classroom full of students?

Web Resources

Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. The University of Michigan’s Center for Learning and Teaching provides information on how to write a teaching philosophy as well as numerous statements of philosophy statements.

Ed.Gov. The United States Department of Education sponsors a website with an enormous cache of helpful information, including information on No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Federal policies, research studies and their findings, national initiatives and reforms, and history are all represented.

Teaching Resources at Ed.Gov. Among the many resources available at is this one specifically for teachers. The link “Teaching and Learning Resources (free)” provides materials, including videos, related to classroom teaching.
Additional Resources

There are many books that provide interesting and insightful historical views of education. Here are a few to get you started.

Fleming, M. (Ed.). (2000). A place at the table: Struggles for equality in America. Montgomery, AL: Teaching Tolerance.

Lomawaima, K. T., & McCarty, T. L. (2006). To remain an Indian: Lessons in democracy from a century of Native American education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Neill, A. S. (1960). Summerhill: A radical approach to child rearing. New York: Hart Publishing Company.

Rendon, L. (2009). Sentipensante pedagogy: Educating for wholeness, social justice and liberation. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Key Terms

Click on each key term to see the definition.


A school that provides an education beyond elementary grades. The curriculum includes an academic track for students preparing for college and a vocational track for those preparing for work. The first academy was established by Benjamin Franklin in 1751 and is considered a forerunner of today’s secondary schools.

common school

The name for Horace Mann’s concept of a network of publicly funded elementary schools that exposed students to a “common” culture and curriculum.

compensatory programs

Federal programs that attempt to help schoolchildren overcome social and economic barriers such as poverty, neglect, and other forms of deprivation. Project Head Start, Title I, and school-at-work programs are examples of compensatory education programs.

critical pedagogy

Teaching methodology and curriculum that encourages students to find their own meaning in learning through thinking critically. Seen by its proponents as a route to increased democracy and a more just society.


Refers to the specific content of what students will be taught.

dame school

Primary-level education as taught at home by women, primarily during the American colonial period.

Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142)

A federal law passed in 1975 providing federal funding to schools to ensure all children receive a “free and appropriate education.” It was amended in 1990 by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which extended access to public education to all children with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

A federal act that funds American education while not permitting a national curriculum. Originally signed into law in 1965, it is reviewed and reauthorized every 5 years.

English grammar school

A school that provided a post-primary, practical education for boys not intending to attend college; created during the American colonial era.


An educational philosophy similar to perennialism (and also influenced by idealism and realism) that focuses on scholastic subjects (core knowledge) that will develop students’ intellectual abilities and subsequently produce good citizens.


A philosophy that suggests that reality is what one makes of it. Its origins can be traced to the writings of 19th-century philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, and it gained popularity in the mid-20th century thanks to the work of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and psychologist Carl Rogers.

high-stakes testing

State-wide or national standardized tests given to students that determine the students’ future placements, teachers’ future hiring, and schools’ future funding.

individualized education plan (IEP)

A provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that requires an individualized plan for each child who receives special education, detailing short-term and long-term learning objectives, services, and evaluative methods.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

A federal law passed in 1990 that expanded the provisions of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

Latin grammar school

A college preparatory school for boys in which Latin and Greek were core subjects; created during the American colonial era.

least restrictive environment (LRE)

Refers to the idea that students who qualify for special education are to remain in the regular classroom with peers as much as possible (i.e., inclusion) rather than being segregated in resource rooms or separate schools.

National Defense Education Act (NDEA)

A federal law passed in 1958 in response to the launching of the Soviet satellite Sputnik in 1957. This act poured massive amounts of money into education to enhance math and science programs and to identify and encourage gifted and talented students to pursue majors in the hard sciences.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001

Update of the earlier Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Required states to implement accountability standards and prescribe increasing penalties for schools that failed to meet their state’s standards.

normal school

A 19th- and early 20th-century American institution that trained teachers in the “norms” (or accepted ways) of teaching. The first state-supported normal school was founded in 1839 in Lexington, Massachusetts.


The systematic study of teaching and the application of teaching methods and instruction, that is, how to teach.


An educational philosophy in which truth is absolute that seeks to develop student intellect and appreciation for classical literature, humanities, and the fine arts.


Refers to a holistic approach to education; the whole student with all of his or her interests and abilities must be taken into account when planning the curriculum or delivering instruction.

Race to the Top (RTTT)

An update of the NCLB Act. Requirements were made more flexible with states providing opportunities to create alternative routes to excellence.

social reconstructionism

An educational philosophy that tries to ameliorate societal ills. The teacher’s role is to raise students’ political and social consciousness and to find ways to tackle social problems that plague the country such as crime, poverty, homelessness, inequality, and violence.

Title I

Federal assistance made available to schools with a large number of children from low-income families. Title I (formerly Chapter J) is included in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Title IX

A provision of the Education Amendment Act, passed by Congress in 1972, that prohibits gender discrimination in educational settings receiving federal monies. Students can file civil suits against schools for sexual harassment.
Chapter 2 Flashcards

error: Content is protected !!