How State Government Involvement Shaped 20th Century Education
Much of today’s American school system precipitated from the reform and legislation of the 20th century. The importance of a good education became more and more apparent over the course of the century, prompting more endeavors on the part of the government to enforce oversight and direction.
In the 20th century, most states made it compulsory for young people to attend school until their 16th (or in some cases their 17th) birthday. Although the first compulsory school attendance law was enacted in 1852 in Massachusetts, more than a third of the states did not enact compulsory school attendance laws until the 20th. One outcome of compulsory school attendance laws was a substantial increase in the number of high schools in the nation. Although the Great Depression and other economic strains later raised doubts about the viability of compulsory education, students across the nation continue to abide by compulsory school attendance laws.
By the mid-20th century, states played a more active regulatory role in schools. Some states consolidated smaller school districts by combining them into one larger school district. Consolidation was an efficient means or states to establish uniformity across schools in the state. In 1940, there were a total of 117,000 school districts in the United States. By 1990, there were approximately 15,000 districts. States also began to take on more responsibility for financing education, from around 30% in 1940 to 47% in 1990.
The greater involvement of the states became more evident during the 1980s and 1990s. Interest in raising education standards was growing, especially after a 1983 federal report highlighted the low academic achievement of students in public schools. The report, titled A Nation at Risk, highlighted the falling performance of American students on international tests when compared to their international peers. The report precipitated a number of new reforms in the states that focused on both curriculum revisions and effective assessment.
Just how helpful increased state involvement in school affairs has been is up for debate, but there’s no question that the involvement has been in some way majorly impactful. To learn more about how the 20th century has shaped modern education and how governmental guidance has impacted schools, check out our other articles on the subjects.