History of Education in Virginia

The Syms School was founded in 1635, as the first free school in the Americas, but this was not the first attempts at establishing an education system. The first attempt was a move in 1619-1620 by the London Company to begin a school to educate Indian children in Christanity. The second attempt, known as the "East India School" was meant to educate white children in the colony of Virginia. Virginia was a frontrunner in education during the colonial period, by continuing to establish schools and colleges, such as The College of William and Mary in 1693. Thomas Jefferson wanted a "Bill for More General Diffusion of Knowledge" to create a universal public education, but some of the planters at the time did not want tax money to go to educating poor children. The first free public school systems were established around 1851, and Thomas Jefferson started the first public university, The University of Virginia in 1819. In addition to the free schools, there was also a system of "pay schools." These were mostly funded by parents of a community, and they also had control over the school as a community. These became known as field schools, because they were often built in a field by the community. The teachers were also selected by the community, and were typically clergy in the church or community. These schools were also not run in the winter months. Privately funded education also included private tutors or boarding schools abroad for the richest of the families. Now, Virginia has 137 school districts that are governed by 134 local school boards. Within these districts, there are around 1,900 schools that provide an education for over one million students.