How the 20th Century Changed American Education
At the turn of the 20th century, the basic principles and foundations for public education had already been set. The concepts of free, universal, and compulsory education had developed deep roots. States could persuade parents to provide education to their children, although they could not require parents to send their children to public schools. Parents continued to have the option to choose to send their children to religious schools, private schools, or public schools. Although the basic principles for public education formed the framework for educational evolution in America, private enterprise in education continued to flourish. In fact, under the Establishment Clause, the private parochial schools continued to receive public financial support.
The Establishment Clause is a provision of the First Amendment that prohibits the government from creating any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause not only forbids the government from formally establishing a sanctioned religion, but also prohibits government actions that unfairly favor one religion over another. It also forbids the government from unjustly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.
The multiage, multigrade, single-room schoolhouse had virtually disappeared at the start of the 20th century but still existed in a number of small rural districts. During the early years of the 20th century, the prevalent model of schooling was an 8-year elementary school and a 4-year high school. In 1910, a different structure for schooling was introduced, based on a six–three–three system.
This schooling model entailed 6 years of elementary school education, 3 years in junior high school, and 3 years in senior high school. Early childhood education also underwent a massive change, with provisions made for preschooling and an increasing number of teachers, nannies, and daycare workers producing learning materials and teaching children aged 5 years and younger. This initiative remained mostly in the private domain but represented the first steps toward what we know as kindergarten education today.
The 20th century also saw a series of reforms that changed what schooling looked like. To learn more about how education grew over the 1900’s into the system it is today, check out our other articles on the history of the American school system.