Growth of Public Schools

After the Revolution, an emphasis was put on education, especially in the northern states, which rapidly established public schools. The US population had one of the highest literacy rates at the time. Private academies flourished in the towns across the country, but rural areas (where most people lived) had few schools before the 1880s.

In 1821, Boston started the first public high school in the United States. By the close of the 19th century, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones.

Over the years, Americans have been influenced by a number of European reformers; among them Pestalozzi, Herbart, and Montessori.

The school system remained largely private and unorganized until the 1840s. Public schools were always under local control, with no federal role, and little state role. The 1840 census indicated that of the 1.8 million girls between five and fifteen (and 1.88 million boys of the same age) about 55% attended primary schools and academies.[36] Beginning in the late 1830s, more private academies were established for girls for education past primary school, especially in northern states. Some offered classical education similar to that offered to boys.

Data from the indentured servant contracts of German immigrant children in Pennsylvania from 1771-1817 showed that the number of children receiving education increased from 33.3% in 1771-1773 to 69% in 1787-1804. Additionally, the same data showed that the ratio of school education versus home education rose from .25 in 1771-1773 to 1.68 in 1787-1804. While some African Americans managed to achieve literacy, southern states prohibited schooling to enslaved blacks.

Teachers, early 1800s
Teaching young students was not perceived as an end goal for educated people. Adults became teachers without any particular skill except sometimes in the topic they were teaching. The checking of credentials was left to the local school board, who were mainly interested in the efficient use of limited taxes. This started to change with the introduction of two-year normal schools starting in 1823. By the end of the century, most teachers of elementary schools were trained in this fashion.

Mann reforms
Upon becoming the secretary of education in Massachusetts in 1837, Horace Mann (1796–1859) worked to create a statewide system of professional teachers, based on the Prussian model, of "common schools," which referred to the belief that everyone was entitled to the same content in education. Mann's early efforts focused primarily on elementary education and on preparing teachers. The common-school movement quickly gained strength across the North. Connecticut adopted a similar system in 1849, and Massachusetts passed a compulsory attendance law in 1852.

Arguing that universal public education was the best way to turn the nation's unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens, Mann won widespread approval from modernizers, especially among fellow Whigs, for building public schools. Indeed, most states adopted one version or another of the system he established in Massachusetts, especially the program for "normal schools" to train professional teachers.

Compulsory laws
By 1900, 31 states required children to attend school from the ages of 8- to 14-years-old. As a result, by 1910 72 percent of American children attended school. Half the nation's children attended one-room schools. In 1918, every state required students to complete elementary school.

Religion and schools
As the nation was majority Protestant in the 19th century, most states passed a constitutional amendment, called Blaine Amendments, forbidding tax money be used to fund parochial schools. There was anti-Catholic sentiment related to heavy immigration from Catholic Ireland after the 1840s, and a feeling that Catholic children should be educated in public schools to become American. Irish established parochial schools not only to protect their religion, but their culture.

Catholics and German Lutherans, as well as Dutch Protestants, organized and funded their own elementary schools. Catholic communities also raised money to build colleges and seminaries to train teachers and religious to head their churches. Most Catholics were German or Irish immigrants or their children, until the 1890s when large numbers began arriving from Italy and Poland. By 1890 the Irish, who controlled the Church in the U.S., had built an extensive network of parishes and parish schools ("parochial schools") across the urban Northeast and Midwest. The parochial schools met some opposition, as in the Bennett Law in Wisconsin in 1890, but they thrived. In 1925 the US Supreme Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that students could attend private schools to comply with compulsory education laws.

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