Public Education History

The first American public school was authorized on 2 January 1643 by the Town of Dedham in the Massachusetts Bay Colony - nearly 150 years before the establishment of the United States.

The Regents of the University of the State of New York was established on 1 May 1784. The first accrediting agency in the United States, it is partly a collective of public and private schools, libraries, museums, etc.; and it includes as its most important organ the New York State Department of Education.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 established a mechanism for funding public education in the United States. Until at least the 1840s, however, most schools continued to be privately owned and operated.

The Michigan Legislature establishes the Michigan State Normal School in 1849, the first teacher-training institution west of Albany, New York, and only the sixth in the nation. Elevated to collegiate status within a few years, the Michigan State Normal College became Eastern Michigan College in 1956, and Eastern Michigan University in 1959. Founded as a co-educational institution, it was the first institution of higher learning to serve both men and women in Michigan, and one of the first in the nation.

Coeducation and the emergence of modern high schools; the expansion of compulsory education. The growth of extracurricular activities (1850s-1950s). The principle of equality in education, generally and especially as between the sexes, becomes a standard to achieve.

Separate Roman Catholic and Jewish schools come to be established in the mid-nineteenth century, first in New York City and later across the country. This was in response to the overly anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish positions presented by most textbooks used in public schools throughout the nation, in the interest of promoting Protestant hegemony throughout the United States.

The United States Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was a hallmark in American education law. It overturned the 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson which had found that public schools segregated by race were permissible so long as the instruction in both systems was equal. The immediate effect was more symbolic than real, however. The schools that were racially segregated before 1954 were still racially segregated afterward. But they were all part of the same local school system instead of separate districts, and the psychological effect of the decision upon the public was ultimately much more important than the lack of any immediate, real effect. Most schools in America were not segregated at the time, and most of those that had been gradually became as desegrated as they could get, given the overall composition of the community. Those public schools that aggressively refused to desegregate into the 1970's were forced to do so by means of desegregation busing in the affected parts of the country.

Congress finally passed the G.I. Bill of Rights in 1944. As a result, many veterans of the Armed Services attended undergraduate and graduate school after World War II who previously could not have afforded to do so. This was the first step in a broad social equalization of American higher education and, through that, of American business management and the elite professions of law and medicine.

The State of California implemented a comprehensive "Master Plan" for higher education in 1959, which was initially successful in helping to provide higher education to as many Californians as were qualified and wanted to pursue it. It was seriously undermined in over the next 20 years, however, by a number of factors. First, in the sixty years since the end of World War II, California's population has more than quintupled, but the infrastructure of the state - including its educational system - did not grow proportionately to the rise in population to adequately service the needs of the state (and the infrastructure is still trailing markedly behind the rest of the nation as California enters the twenty-first century). Second, the California State College system transforming itself into the California State University, which was never anticipated by the institutional stratification components of the Master Plan. Third, the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 severely, and negatively, impacted the funding of all public education in the state, including public colleges and universities. As a consequence of these three principle factors, and other less important ones, the California Master Plan is largely regarded now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, as a well-intended idea that ultimately failed because its framers neglected to realize that all things change over time - whereas the Master Plan implicitly presumed that change would not occur.

In 1964, broad access to higher education was further guaranteed by the creation of Title IV Federal Financial Aid Programs. Many state governments also created their own programs.

The Department of Health, Education and Welfare was reorganized under the Carter administration as the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. The new federal Education Department began operation in 1980.