Skip to main content

Education Policy

This timeline provides milestones for education and education policy in the United States.

1635First Public School Opens In Boston

The town of Boston in the Massachusetts Bay colony founds the first publicly supported school, the Boston Latin School. Three signers of the Declaration of Independence – John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Robert Treat Paine – will graduate from the secondary school; Benjamin Franklin is a dropout.

1639First Public Elementary School Opens

Four years after the Boston Latin School opens, Mather Elementary School, the first public elementary school, opens in Boston in the Massachusetts Bay colony. The school is named after Richard Mather, an American Congregational minister who emigrated to Boston from Britain.

1647Boston Establishes First Public School System

Boston Public Schools in the Massachusetts Bay colony becomes the first public school system in the colonies.

1751First College Not Affiliated With A Church Opens

Founded by Benjamin Franklin as the Academy of Philadelphia and the Charity School of Philadelphia, this first nonsectarian institution of higher learning opens. Previously, all institutions of higher learning have been run by churches. By 1755, Franklin and the board of trustees will secure a charter for the College of Philadelphia, led by Provost William Smith. The school will become the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League university.

1779Jefferson Proposes Funding Va. Public Schools

Thomas Jefferson proposes a system of free schools for all children in Virginia that is to be publicly supported through the tax system. Although Jefferson’s plans for universal education are not adopted by the state government at this time, his idea for publicly funded schools will form the basis of public education developed in the 19th century.

1812N.Y. Creates First Schools Superintendent’s Office

New York State, under the direction of Mayor DeWitt Clinton, creates the first office of superintendent of schools to which Gideon Hawley is appointed. In the coming years, Hawley will oversee the development of New York’s first school districts.

1816Indiana’s Constitution Calls For Free Public Schools

After Congress grants statehood to the Territory of Indiana, state delegates create a constitution that includes a provision for free public schools. “Knowledge and learning, generally diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement; and to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”

1817First School For The Deaf Opens

Thomas Gallaudet, along with Mason Cogswell and Laurent Clerc, opens the first school for the deaf in Hartford, Conn. The school is called the Connecticut Asylum for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. Today, it is called the American School for the Deaf. Gallaudet’s son, Elliot Minor Gallaudet, runs the school in the early years and opens what today is called the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

1818Court Recognizes Autonomy Of Private Schools

New Hampshire seeks to take control of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and turn it into a public college. But the trustees, who want Dartmouth to remain private, sue. The case, Trustees of Dartmouth v. Woodward, will reach the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818. In a 5-1 decision, the Court will rule that a private educational institution cannot be taken over by a state against its will. The decision permits private institutions to exist side by side with public institutions and to solicit private gifts and grants for support.

1821First High School Opens In U.S.

The first American high school is established in Boston, Mass. Called the English Classical School and renamed the English High School in 1824, the school seeks to meet the educational needs of working-class boys who do not plan to attend college. Subjects include English, mathematics, history, science, geography, philosophy, bookkeeping and surveying.

1826First High School For Girls Is Opened

Through the influence of the Rev. John Pierpont, the first high school for girls opens in Boston but quickly closes because of a lack of support. In 1851, Superintendent Nathan Bishop will propose a Normal School to train young women to become elementary school teachers. Developed by Horace Mann, Normal Schools were established in 1839 as teacher training academies to provide raise and ensure the level of quality for teachers. In 1852, Girls’ High School will be established in Boston.

1827Massachusetts Establishes Public High Schools Statewide

The Massachusetts legislature passes a law, An Act to Provide for Instruction of Youth, requiring all towns with 500 or more families to set up free, public high schools. The law leads to the creation of public schools across the country as other states follow Massachusetts’ lead.

1829First School For The Blind Is Founded

The Perkins School for the Blind, the first American school of its kind, is founded in Boston, Mass. The school, which is the alma mater of Helen Keller, continues to operate today.

1833First Coed College Opens

With the efforts of female education pioneers such as Mary Lyon, Catherine Beecher, Almira Phelps and Emma Willard, the first coeducational college, Oberlin College, is founded in Ohio.

1836McGuffey Readers, First Modern Textbooks, Are Published

This seven-book series, which covers subjects from zoology to British poetry, becomes the most popular textbook in U.S. history with more than 120 million copies sold through the 1960s. The series uses repetition as a teaching technique and is the first textbook series to increase the difficulty levels as students progress through the books. Although the series is still used today in some school systems, popularity of McGuffey Readers fades after the 1960s.

1837Horace Mann Creates Common Schools In Mass.

Prominent American educational reformer Horace Mann becomes the first secretary of the state Board of Education in Massachusetts and supervises the creation of a statewide common-school system. Under this publicly funded system of education, all young white children are provided schooling. The curriculum is uniform for all students. In 1855, schooling will be provided for black children.

1837First Women’s College Established

Mary Lyon, a chemist, educator and a leader of the movement for girls’ secondary education, founds the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Mass., to offer girls from all social and economic backgrounds the opportunity for a college education. The school opens to counteract the prejudices of the era that considered women as less able to learn science, math and other academic subjects. Today, the school continues to operate as Mount Holyoke College, a liberal arts school for women.

1838Massachusetts Establishes Public Teachers’ Colleges

Massachusetts establishes three state-sponsored Normal Schools for the training of teachers. The schools get their names from the fact that they provide certain standard – or normal – teaching methods to ensure the quality of teaching is consistent.

1848First Municipally Funded High School For Girls Opens

The Girls Normal School is established as the first secondary public school for girls in Pennsylvania and the first municipally supported teachers’ school in the United States. It continues to operate today as a magnet high school called the Philadelphia High School for Girls, or Girls High.

1852Massachusetts Passes Mandatory School Attendance Law

The state of Massachusetts passes the first laws requiring school-age children to attend elementary school. Today, every state has some form of compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 and 16. Most laws allow for home schooling and other alternatives to traditional classroom schooling.

1854First Kindergarten Opens In U.S.

Margarethe Meyer Schurz, a German immigrant, establishes the first kindergarten in Watertown, Wis. The school, which primarily served the German community, is conducted in German. Schurz will later meet teacher Elizabeth Peabody in Boston and inspires her to establish the first English-speaking kindergarten.

As a teenager in Germany, Schurz attended classes taught by kindergarten founder Friedrich Froebel on his theories about educating children. He used games, songs, stories and group activities to teach children about cooperation and ease the transition to school.

1855Law Requires Integration Of Public Schools In Massachusetts

The Massachusetts legislature passes the “Bill for school desegregation by the Board of Aldermen and the Committee of Public Instruction.” Passed after a decade-long effort by black parents and their white allies, the bill states that “in determining the qualifications of scholars to be admitted into any public school, or any district school in this Commonwealth, no distinction shall be made on account of race, color, or religious opinions of the applicant or scholar.” The bill is signed into law.

1857National Education Association Forms

The National Teachers Association joins the National Association of School Superintendents and the American Normal School Association to form the National Education Association (NEA). The organization is initially formed to improve teaching standards and school practices for schools at all levels, including the preparation of teachers, the length of the school year, libraries, physical facilities and graduation requirements. Today, the NEA is the largest teachers union in the nation.

1857National Teachers Association Is Formed

Forty-three leaders from ten state teachers associations organize the National Teachers Association in Philadelphia, with the primary purpose of improving and making standard the curriculum used in secondary schools. The organization is the forerunner to the National Education Association, the nation’s largest professional teachers union.

1860First English-Speaking Kindergarten Opens

Elizabeth Peabody founds the first English-speaking kindergarten in Boston, Mass., after learning of Friedrich Froebel’s theories on kindergarten education. She later becomes a leader in the kindergarten movement.

1861First Black Teachers’ Organization Forms In Ohio

In Springfield, Ohio, a group of black educators forms the Ohio Colored Teachers’ Association — the first recorded organization of black teachers.

1862Congress Grants Land To Each State For A University

The Morrill Act, first proposed by U.S. Rep. Justin Morrill of Vermont in 1857, grants each state 30,000 acres of federal land for each senator and representative it has. The land is to be used for the endowment and maintenance of at least one college for agriculture and mechanical arts. The construction of these land-grant colleges will not occur until after the Civil War. A second Morrill Act will be passed after the Civil War to extend the original act’s provisions to Southern states.

1867Federal Government Creates Office Of Education

The federal Office of Education is created to help states develop stronger schools. The office, now known as the U.S. Department of Education, today administers federal funding for schools and federal laws affecting education, such as the No Child Left Behind Act. Since the 1960s, it has also played in important role in making education accessible to all people regardless of race, gender, economic status, or physical or mental disability.

1868College For Newly Freed Slaves Opens

Gen. Samuel Armstrong opens the first school of higher learning for newly freed slaves, the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, Va., with the aid of the American Missionary Association. The school also will admit American Indians as students. It continues operate today as Hampton University. Booker T. Washington will become one of its most famous graduates.

1868First Vocational School Opens

The nation’s first vocational school, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, opens in Worcester, Mass., after the Civil War. Its founders – John Boynton, Ichabod Washburn and Stephen Salibury II – want to create a school that combines academics with hands-on learning in science and engineering to prepare young men for careers in the many growing industries. The school continues to operate as a university today.

1870First Public High School For African Americans Established

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, originally the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth and later M Street High School, is founded in Washington, D.C. It is the first public high school for African Americans in the United States and the first public high school for any student in the District of Columbia. The school honors Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), a writer who lived in Washington at the turn of the 20th century.

1873St. Louis Offers First Publicly Funded Kindergarten

The St. Louis Board of Education, with the support of Superintendent William T. Harris, votes to offer kindergarten classes to the children of German immigrants. Initially established to provide native-language instruction to immigrants and to protect ethnic identity, the program offers the first publicly funded kindergartens in the United States. Classes are taught only in German.

1874Local Property Taxes Can Be Used To Pay For Public Schools

A group of Kalamazoo, Mich., residents sue the city to stop collection of a property tax to pay for public schools. The state legislature had passed a bill that specifically allowed local governments to do so. The Michigan Supreme Court, in a case that becomes known as “The Kalamazoo Case,” upholds the right of government to tax its citizens to pay for public education. Other communities across the country will begin to impose local taxes for education.

1892Committee Of Ten Develops First National Standards

The National Education Association appoints a Committee of Ten to examine high school curriculum issues and make recommendations about methods, standards and programs. The committee’s recommendations, which influence the Committee on College Entrance Requirements founded in 1895, support the teaching of traditional subjects such as Latin, Greek, English, modern languages, mathematics, the physical sciences, the biological sciences, history and geography. The committee also supports an eight-year elementary school followed by a four-year high school and recommends that all subjects be studied for one period each day of a five-day school week.

1894Harvard Introduces Elective Courses In College

Harvard president Charles W. Eliot leads a movement for developing elective courses in college. Harvard requires a minimum of French or German, English composition and some work in physics and chemistry but allows students the freedom to select all other courses. Although at the time, many educational leaders oppose the elective system, leading universities and higher education innovators gradually will adopt the system. As a result, universities will add additional subjects to their curricula, such as history, sociology, psychology and economics.

1895Committee On College Entrance Requirements Founded

The Committee on College Entrance Requirements is created by the National Education Association to clarify how secondary schools are to prepare students for higher education. The committee concludes that secondary schools should focus on preparing students for life and for college or other teaching schools. They make recommendations for the number of classes in different subjects and for what should be required for college admission.

1897Dewey Introduces Concept Of Progressive Education

Philosopher John Dewey writes his first education text, My Pedagogic Creed, which introduces the notion of progressive education – that education should not be rote learning but learning by doing. In 1916, he will write his most famous work, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, in which he argues that schools should not simply prepare students for careers, but must teach them how to live in a democracy.

1897National Congress Of Mothers Is Formed

Founded by Alice McClellen Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, this Washington lobbying group focuses on education, health and safety issues related to children and youth. The organization will become today’s National Parent Teachers Association, which has over 6 million members.

1900College Entrance Examination Board Established

The Committee on College Entrance Requirements establishes the College Entrance Examination Board, which promotes a specific number of both English and math units that are to be taken in high school before entry into college.

1904National Colored Teachers Association Is Created

The National Colored Teachers Association is created by J.R.E. Lee, dean of the Academic Department of Tuskegee Institute. Renamed the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools in 1907, the organization serves as a teachers’ union and advocacy group until it merges with the National Education Association in 1964.

1904First College For Black Women Opens

Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator and social reformer, founds the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Florida. The school is dedicated to providing advanced education for African American women. Eventually, the school will merge with the Cookman Institute of Jacksonville and become Bethune-Cookman University, which continues to operate today.

1909Vocational Education Movement Grows

As part of the fast-growing vocational school movement, reformers and philanthropists such as Frank Parsons and Pauline Agassiz Shaw establish the Vocation Bureau of Boston and the Breadwinner’s Institute in an effort to provide financial aid and counseling for children who want to go to vocational schools. Parsons is considered the founder of the vocational guidance movement.

1909Reformer Ellwood Cubberley Advocates Tracking Students

Ellwood Cubberley, dean of the School of Education at Stanford University, writes several books challenging the way in which schools are run. Beyond urging greater administrative efficiency, he is one of the first educational reformers to push for the now more common (and controversial) practice of tracking students according to ability. He said: “We should give up the exceedingly democratic idea that all are equal…one bright child may easily be worth more to the national life than thousands of those of low mentality.”

1909Education Reformers Open First Middle Schools

School districts in Columbus, Ohio, and Berkeley, Calif., establish the nation’s first junior high schools, pushed by educational reformers who want to diversify children’s education and provide teenagers with a smoother transition between elementary school and high school.
Typically, the elementary school is reduced to six years. Junior high is grades 7 and 8, and senior high is grades 9 through 12. Today, some public schools have expanded middle schools to include grades 6 or 9 or have returned grades 7 and 8 to elementary schools.

1911First Montessori School In U.S. Opens

Based on the educational theories of Maria Montessori, Montessori schools are organized so each child takes the initiative in choosing from a range of available materials and activities in a carefully prepared classroom environment. The teacher, who plays a less directive role than in a conventional classroom, allows the children to learn on their own and provides help only when needed.

1917Federal Law Passed To Aid Vocational Education

Congress passes the Smith-Hughes Act, which provides federal aid to the states to train high school teachers in vocational education and to pay their salaries. To obtain the funding, the states must match the federal grants on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Congress also authorizes the creation of the Federal Board of Vocational Education. Two years later, the board will be assigned the additional task of supervising the training of people with disabilities.

1918Mississippi Is Last State To Require School Attendance

Sixty-six years after Massachusetts passed its law, Mississippi becomes the final state in the nation to enact mandatory school attendance, at least at the elementary school level.

1918NEA Commission Revises Teaching Standards

The National Education Association appoints a Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education to review teaching standards. The commission issues the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, which change the standards adopted by the Committee of Ten in 1892. The principles recommend that classroom topics be relevant to modern life and that students of differing abilities should be taught a different curriculum and tracked according to their ability.

1921NEA Endorses District-Wide Salary Structure

As a result of the National Education Association’s endorsement, school districts begin to pay teachers based on a district-wide schedule linked to years of experience and education level rather than on individually negotiated salaries. By 1951, 98 percent of teachers will be paid according to a schedule. This change is seen by teachers as a significant professional advancement. More recently, educational reformers have proposed that teacher salaries be based on a merit system, in which compensation would increase when teachers reach certain standards of performance.

1926SAT Is Developed

The College Entrance Examination Board, formed in 1902 by a consortium of Ivy League colleges, introduces the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, in which students are tested on a single set of multiple-choice questions. The SAT, developed further in the 1920s by a commission directed by Princeton University psychologist Carl Brigham, is designed to predict, along with grades, a student’s chance of success in college. Today, more than two million students take the exam each year. Along with the ACT assessment tests, SAT results are used widely by colleges to help choose which students are admitted.

1935Iowa Every-Pupil Tests Created For K-8

The Iowa Every-Pupil Tests, now named the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS), is a voluntary testing program for students in kindergarten through eighth grade provided to school districts by the College of Education of the University of Iowa. The ITBS tests, which assess vocabulary, reading, mechanics of writing, work-study skills and mathematics, allow administrators to compare student achievement in their district with other students around the country.

1944GI Bill Gives Education Aid To WWII Veterans

Congress passes the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, otherwise known as the GI Bill of Rights, which provides World War II veterans with unemployment benefits, loans to buy homes, and grants for education for those who want to continue their education after service in the armed forces. The bill is intended to reward veterans’ service to their country and to help them financially while they find a job.

1946Congress Passes National School Lunch Act

During World War II, Congress passes the National School Lunch Act, which provides funding and food for school lunch programs. Research soon demonstrates that providing students with proper nutrition improves their learning and psychological development. The school lunch program is now seen as an important mechanism to ensure that all children are mentally and physically ready to learn.

1947Educational Testing Service Created

The Carnegie Foundation, in conjunction with the College Board and American Council on Education, creates the Educational Testing Service to administer the SAT and the Graduate Record Examination to evaluate students applying for college and graduate degree programs. By the 1960s, the service will expand its role to include the administration of aptitude testing for all levels of education, including elementary school.

1950Dick And Jane Readers Feature Whole Language Theory

Dick and Jane Readers, based on new research on teaching and learning, consist of specially written stories with controlled vocabularies in which words are repeated on each page enough times that students can remember them. The Whole Language Reading Theory emphasizes the meaning of texts over the sounds of letters. The readers are extremely popular through the 1970s.

1950Law Provides Federal Aid To Certain Districts

Since the majority of school funding has historically come from local property taxes and the federal government is exempt from local taxes, Congress passes the Impact Aid program. This program provides federal funds to those school districts where the federal government owns significant property, such as American Indian reservations, national parks or other large federal properties.

1955‘Why Johnny Can’t Read’ Urges Return To Phonics Method

Rudolf Flesch’s “Why Johnny Can’t Read” becomes a national bestseller that shakes the educational community. The book argues that the see-and-say method (or whole language method)of teaching reading, popular in the 1950s, is hurting students. Flesch argues for a return to phonics, which teaches the association of sounds with letter identification and which emphasizes sounding out unfamiliar words. The debate over the best way to teach reading – phonics, whole language theory, or modifications of each – continues today.

1958National Defense Education Act Targets Math, Science, Foreign Language

During the Cold War and after the Soviet Union launches the spacecraft Sputnik, policymakers fear that American students are falling behind in math and science. In response, Congress authorizes the National Defense Education Act, which provides federal aid to state and local school districts to improve the teaching of math, science and foreign languages.

The act also creates the first federal loans to students who want to pursue higher education and launches the College Work-Study Program. The program provides federal assistance to colleges and universities to create jobs that enable students to earn money for tuition and living expenses.

1960Open School Movement Begins

Open schools (also known as informal schools or open classrooms) operate under the central theory that children want to learn and will do so naturally if left to their own initiative. The open classroom is marked by learning areas, often without walls. Students are free to move from area to area, learn at their own pace and enjoy unstructured periods of study. Developed in Britain, this school model becomes popular in American elementary schools in the 1960s. But by the mid-1970s, open classrooms will be criticized by those advocating a return to a more traditional emphasis on reading and writing fundamentals and more structured classrooms.

1962Economist Milton Friedman Introduces Idea Of Tuition Vouchers

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman writes “Capitalism and Freedom,” in which he suggests that instead the local school districts offering neighborhood-based schools, the government should offer parents vouchers – financial aid for elementary and secondary education – to use at any public or private school they choose. Applying free-market principles to education remains a hotly contested policy issue today.

1963Congress Increases Funds For College Expansion

Calling access to higher education for Americans necessary for the “welfare and security” of the nation, Congress passes the Higher Educational Facilities Act, which makes funds available for the construction and expansion of buildings at colleges and universities. Grants, which have to be matched by other funding, are made available to all higher education institutions.

1965Law Expands Federal Role In Education To Aid Low-Income Students

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, providing funds for textbooks, instructional materials and other services in both public and private elementary and secondary schools. The primary purpose of the act is to ensure that children from low-income families have access to sufficient educational materials.

Also included was $100 million for research in the field of education, to be administered by the U.S. Office of Education. Congress has extended the law repeatedly with its 2002 extension known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

1965Head Start Is Launched

Head Start, a federal education program, gives grants for preschool education for low-income students. Designed to help break the cycle of poverty, the program provides education enrichment to young children so they can enter school with similar skills as higher-income students. Head Start is enthusiastically received by education and child-development specialists, community leaders and parents. It quickly expands to serve families in urban and rural areas in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. territories.

1965Congress Passes Higher Education Act

Congress passes the Higher Education Act, which allocates money for the acquisition of books and other library materials in colleges, as well as for improving and extending teacher education programs, strengthening programs related to community problems such as housing and poverty, and for giving low-interest loans to needy students. These loans can be canceled if the student works in certain public service professions after graduation, including full-time teaching of children with disabilities in a public or nonprofit elementary or secondary school system. This act also authorizes loans and grants to institutions of higher learning for bringing facilities into compliance with the Architectural Barriers Act and creates the National Teachers Corps, a federal program aimed at recruiting and training minority teachers.

1967Free School Movement Begins

Parents and students across the country push for smaller alternative schools where families participate in choosing the curricula and running the schools. Between 400 and 800 “free” schools – some privately operated, others begun within larger school systems – will open between 1967 and the late 1970s. Inside and outside the alternative schools, there are heated debates over the degree of freedom students should have, how to balance students’ interests and what many consider essential knowledge and skills such as literacy, and whether small, isolated alternative schools are serving the larger goal of education reform or merely hiding from it. Most of these schools eventually fall victim to recurring questions about how to “structure” the schools and the wider push for the teaching of reading and writing fundamentals.

1968Congress Passes Bilingual Education Act

Passed in response to growing immigration and an energized civil rights movement, the Bilingual Education Act provides federal funding to encourage local school districts to incorporate native-language instruction. English as a Second Language courses, English immersion courses and bilingual programs emerge. Most states follow the federal model and enact bilingual education laws, providing state funding for these programs or at least decriminalizing the use of other languages in the classroom.

1969National Assessment Of Educational Progress Begins

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as “the Nation’s Report Card,” is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what U.S. students know and can do in various subject areas. Operating under the authority of the U.S. Department of Education, assessments are conducted periodically in reading, mathematics, science, writing, U.S. history, civics, geography, and the arts.

1970Practice Of Mainstreaming Students Introduced

Introduced in the 1970s, mainstreaming is an educational practice that places students with and without learning disabilities in the same classroom. The practice is also referred to as inclusion education. The debate over how best to teach students of differing abilities continues.

1970First Federally Funded Magnet Schools Open

With the assistance of $6 million in federal funds, Minneapolis, Minn., opens four elementary schools and one high school with different organizational designs and allows parents to choose their child’s school. Educators base the program on the theory that students learn in different ways and that students are more likely to succeed in schools geared to their learning method with other students with similar learning needs.

By the 1970s, these schools (called magnet schools) will prove their ability to attract interested students regardless of race or background. They will become an effective, non-compulsory method of desegregating school districts, and courts are quick to encourage their use. By 1980, most major cities will feature magnet schools, particularly for students’ talents in one or a variety of areas. While considered widely successful, some educators question whether magnet schools take away some of the brightest students from their local schools and reduce the quality of education provided by those schools.

1971Court Permits Busing To End Segregation

The U.S. Supreme Court decides in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education that busing is allowed to desegregate public schools and remedy past discrimination.

1971Calif. School Funding Based On Property Taxes Rejected

Before 1971, California public schools are funded by local property taxes. In two major decisions, Serrano v. Priest I and Serrano v. Priest II, the California Supreme Court finds that the system of school funding that relies exclusively on property taxes violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause.

The court says the system discriminates against poor communities that have a significantly smaller tax base to support their schools than wealthier communities. In response, the state legislature passes a law designed to equalize school revenues by increasing state funds for poor communities. The law also caps revenues in wealthier districts and redistributes some of the local property taxes from wealthier areas to poor districts. Critics decry the cap on revenues in high-spending districts because they say that many poor children who live in wealthier areas actually receive less funding per pupil.

1972First Federal Grants Provide College Aid To Lower-Income Students

Congress passes the Basic Educational Opportunity Grants program – today called Pell Grants. Administered by the U.S. Department of Education, Pell Grants do not need to be repaid. They are awarded to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or professional degree and are a base of financial aid to which aid from other federal and non-federal sources might be added.

1973Education Is Not A Right Guaranteed In U.S. Constitution

In this challenge to the Texas property tax scheme that meant that schools in low-income areas received significantly less per-pupil funding than higher-income areas, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that the disparate funding does not violate the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. In San Antonio v. Rodriguez, the Court holds that education is not a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution and thus the state need only provide a rational reason to support its policy. After this decision, legal challenges to differences in educational funding are brought under state constitutions in state courts with varying results.

1973N.J. High Court Finds Inequity Violates State Constitution

In two important rulings, Robinson v. Cahill and Abbott v. Burke, the New Jersey Supreme Court finds that the inadequate educational opportunities provided to students in poor urban school districts violate the state constitution’s guarantee of a “thorough and efficient” education. As a result of these cases, and nearly three decades of litigation that follow, the state is ordered to improve the education system and provide additional financial resources to urban districts. These cases, and the resulting legislative reforms, become a model of school funding reform.

1973Rehabilitation Act Requires Schools To Be Handicap Accessible

Congress passes Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by employers and organizations that receive federal financial assistance, including hospitals, nursing homes and most schools. The act requires that schools receiving federal aid must not exclude or deny individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services and must remove physical barriers and make themselves accessible to students with disabilities. The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights enforces the law.

1974Schools Required To Help Non-English-Speaking Students Overcome Language Barriers

Relying on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits race and ethnicity-based discrimination, the U.S. Supreme Court in Lau v. Nichols requires schools to take “affirmative steps” to overcome language barriers impeding children’s access to the curriculum.

1974First Experiment With School Choice Begins

The New York City School System had been divided for years into smaller districts. The district that included the Harlem neighborhood had some of the lowest performing schools in the system. In 1974, a relatively new superintendent wins the support of teachers and principals to launch an effort to let parents choose which public school within the district they want their children to attend. He also implements several other measures such as giving the individual schools more flexibility in determining their programs.

1975U.S. Helps Pay Costs For Students With Disabilities

President Gerald Ford signs into law the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, in 1990) to provide financial assistance to states and school districts to subsidize the extra costs of educating children with disabilities. In order to receive federal funds, states must develop and implement policies that ensure a free appropriate public education to all children with disabilities. Among other things, the law requires that an individualized assessment and plan be developed for each disabled child.

1977Modern Home School Movement Begins

The movement for home schooling gains popularity with the publication of John Holt’s magazine Growing Without Schooling and a number of influential books, including Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society,” Charles E. Silberman’s “Crisis in the Classroom: The Remaking of American Education,” and John Holt’s “What Do I Do Monday?” Parents began to lobby for changes in state laws that prohibit home schooling.

1978Calif. Cuts Property Taxes, Changes School Funding

Proposition 13 is a state constitutional amendment that reduces property tax rates by 57 percent. Because a considerable portion of school budgets are funded with local property taxes, the state of California responds by increasing state funds for schools. The change in funding results in a reduction of overall education spending of between 9 percent and 15 percent. The state’s education spending goes from among the top 10 states to the bottom 10. This change sparks a nationwide debate concerning the benefits of local vs. state funding of schools.

1978University’s Minority Quotas Struck Down

In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that it is unconstitutional for the University of California, a public university, to impose a quota for minority applicants, meaning that a certain number of admission slots were reserved for minorities. At the same time, the Court says it is constitutional for the university to consider race or ethnicity as one of many factors in deciding whom to admit.

1979W.Va. Court Say Education Is Basic Right

In 1975, a group of West Virginia parents brought suit arguing that their children were receiving an inadequate education in violation of the state constitution’s education and equal protection clauses. In 1979, in Pauley v. Kelly, the state Supreme Court holds that education is a fundamental right under the state constitution and sends the case to a lower court to determine whether the school system “develops, as best the state of education expertise allows, the minds, bodies and social morality of its charges to prepare them for useful and happy occupations, recreation and citizenship, and does so economically.” In 1982, after a lengthy trial, the lower court will rule that the state is failing to meet that standard and issues a blueprint for overhauling the system. The court will watch over the state’s public school system until 2003, when oversight will be discontinued.

1979Department Of Education Given Cabinet-Level Status

Congress elevates the Department of Education to a more prominent role in the federal government: The secretary of education is included in the president’s cabinet.

1981Congress Gives New Aid For Disadvantaged, Disabled Children

Congress passes the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act, which amends the earlier Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Chapter 1 of this law is the primary source of federal aid to elementary and secondary schools across the country. It authorizes funds to help school districts meet the special educational needs of children in low-income areas and to provide compensatory education services for children with disabilities.

1982Reagan Calls For Abolishing Education Dept.

In his State of the Union speech, President Ronald Reagan calls for the end of the Department of Education. Reagan says he believes that decisions about education should be made at the local level and that the federal government should play only a minor role in the nation’s schools. The speech stirs a debate in Congress. In the end, the department is funded, although at lower levels than in the past.

1982Home Schooling Legal In Most States

The home-school movement grows steadily through the 1980s, driven largely by Christian conservatives who believe that public school curricula are not reflecting their values. By 1982, 40 states have laws allowing home schooling. By the beginning of the 1990s, all states will allow home schooling, and by 2004, about 2 percent of American children are taught at home.

1983‘A Nation At Risk’ Report Calls For Sweeping Education Changes

The National Commission on Excellence in Education releases “A Nation at Risk,” a report highly critical of the declining performance of students in American public schools. In response, states and local districts adopt initiatives intended to raise student achievement. The federal government supports some of these efforts by focusing public attention on school reform and providing improvement grants. Among other things, the report said: “If an unfriendly power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.”

1983University Of Chicago Project Creates ‘Everyday Mathematics’

The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project creates “Everyday Mathematics,” a K-12 curriculum that emphasizes reading, problem-solving, everyday applications of math, and the use of calculators, computers, and other technologies. Through this curriculum, which is intended to raise expectations for achievement in math, more students are exposed to higher mathematics, which had been reserved only for the most advanced.

1983States Can Give Tax Credits For Education Expenses, Including Religious Schools

In Mueller v. Allen, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Minnesota law that offers a tax credit to families for their children’s education expenses, including tuition, textbooks and transportation. Since many of the families were taking the tax credit for expenses related to religious education, advocates challenged the law as a violation of the First Amendment’s mandate to separate church and state. The Court says that because the credit is made available to any family for educational expenses and not specifically targeted to those families sending their children to private, religious schools, there is no constitutional violation.

1984Carl D. Perkins Vocational-Technical Education Act Enacted

The Vocational Education Act requires each state to designate a portion of its vocational education funds for services to youth with disabilities and to target money to those school systems that serve the largest number of disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. Among the programs funded are the Business-Labor-Education Partnership for Training Program; the Tech-Prep Education Program; and the Vocational Education Lighthouse Schools Grant.

1987‘Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know’ Is Published

Challenging the widely accepted idea that the primary task of education is to teach students how to think, E.D. Hirsch writes a controversial book that lists the 5,000 essential facts people must know to live in our society. The book kick-starts a new round of debates on what should be taught in the public schools.

1989Nation’s Governors Meet For First Education Summit

President George H.W. Bush convenes the nation’s governors for the first National Summit on Education. The result is that Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) is given an official endorsement by the governors and the president. In contrast to the traditional content-based curriculum, OBE creates specific outcomes or achievements that students should be able to demonstrate after completing a certain period of education.

The theory is that educators are not responsible solely for presenting information; in the end, they are responsible for the absorption of the information. Therefore, educational guidelines should define what the learner is accountable for, rather than telling teachers how to teach or students how to learn. Critics argue that repeated testing of students, to measure whether they have completed the required learning, forces teachers to teach to the test and undervalues critical thinking skills.

1990Congress Expands Support For Students With Disabilities

Congress amends the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children by passing the Individuals with Disabilities Act. The law is the primary source of federal aid to state and local school systems for instructional and support services to children with disabilities. Among other things, the law requires participating states to furnish all children with disabilities a free, appropriate education in the least restrictive setting. Funding is available for preschool, elementary and secondary education. A “free, appropriate education” includes special education programs and related services such as speech pathology, psychological services, recreation and counseling.

1991Afrocentric Schools Reintroduced

Afrocentric schools, which begin to appear in the mid-1970s, are governed by the idea that African-American children will thrive if their schools build self-esteem, focus on African-American heritage, and are taught by African-American teachers who can be role models. Scholar Molefi Asante’s book, The Afrocentric Idea, reintroduces this method of education and marks the reemergence of Afrocentric schools in the United States.

1991Minnesota Passes First Modern Charter School Law

In an effort to increase public school choice, Minnesota is the first state to adopt charter school legislation that allows the creation of public charter schools – schools that receive public funds but are run separately from the larger school system and are not required to meet all of its administrative regulations. The idea behind charter schools is that freedom from government regulation results in important curriculum innovations, increased community involvement, and overall improvements to public education.

1992Nation’s Largest Private School Management Firm Founded

Chris Whittle, former publisher and founder of Channel One, begins Edison Schools Inc. The company contracts with school districts to manage all aspects of the schools they run – administration, curriculum and technology. The company becomes the largest private management firm operating public schools in the nation.

1992Baltimore District Is First To Try Private Management

The City of Baltimore is the first large urban school district to bring in a private company to run some of its public schools. Education Alternatives Inc. is hired to manage nine public schools and contracts with Sylvan Learning Systems to tutor students who have fallen behind. Despite disappointing results from privatizing the Baltimore schools, the movement to hire private management companies to run public schools gains momentum.

1992New York City Expands Public School Choice

Chancellor Joseph Fernandez lets parents choose to send their children to any of the city’s public schools provided there is space at the school they choose. To apply, parents must write a letter to the superintendent and get approval from system administrators. If they are denied, parents can appeal to the chancellor. Transportation is not provided for students who choose schools outside their neighborhoods, although reduced-rate public transit is available.

1993Minneapolis Hires Private Firm To Run Its Public Schools

In the largest test of private management, the City of Minneapolis, Minn., hires Public Strategies Group Inc. to run all of its 75 public schools serving 44,000 students. The superintendent of the school district is replaced by the CEO of the company.

1994Goals 2000 Seeks To Set National Standards

President Bill Clinton signs Goals 2000: Educate America Act, an education bill that sets specific standards for schools to reach by 2000. Goals include: All children arrive at school “ready to learn”; high school graduation rates raised to 90 percent; competencies tested in a variety of subjects in grades 4, 8 and 12 to ensure U.S. students are first in the world in math and science; every adult has the literacy skills to compete in the global marketplace; appropriate training and support provided to teachers; and more parental involvement in the schools.

The law also establishes a national standards board to review national and state standards and develop voluntary national standards in various subjects.

1994Controversy Points To Difficulty In Creating National Standards

The National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA under the guidance of the National Council for History Standards issues high school standards for teaching history. The standards, developed with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the U.S. Department of Education, are criticized by Lynne Cheney, former head of NEH, who denounces them as “politicized history” and argues that they are not positive enough about the United States’ achievements. As a result of the controversy, many states develop their own standards for history and American government.

1995Report Links Smaller Classes In Early Grades To Achievement

The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early Grades, established and funded by the Tennessee Legislature, finds that smaller classes – those of no more than 17 students – made a significant difference in the academic achievement of students. The largest impact was among younger students with benefits less certain in higher grades. The study prompts education reformers to push for smaller classes.

1996Conn. Court Says Minority Students Denied Equal Education

In Sheff v. O’Neill, the Connecticut Supreme Court finds that the isolation of primarily minority students in the Hartford school system denies students rights to an equal education guaranteed by the Connecticut Constitution. After the appointment of a committee to assess remedies, the Connecticut legislature will pass three major changes: regional and statewide school choice; interdistrict programs in which students have opportunities for interaction with students of differing backgrounds; and increased funding for charter and magnet schools.

1998Decision Allowing Tuition Vouchers For Religious Education Stands

In 1993, the State of Wisconsin passed a school voucher law that offered low-income families up to $5,000 to attend any nonreligious school – public or private – in the city of Milwaukee. Over time, the program was expanded to include religious schools as well. That triggered a lawsuit in which, in 1998, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled the school-voucher plan did not violate the First Amendment’s church-state separation clause. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, allowing the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling to stand.

1999Florida Is First To Pass Statewide Tuition Voucher Law

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signs the first of several education measures that allow parents of students in “failing schools” to use state vouchers to pay for the education of their children in another school, if it has space. Students can choose a public, private, religious or nonreligious school.

Opponents challenge the plan as a violation of the constitutional concept of separation of church and state and provisions in the Florida Constitution that forbid public money from going to support any private school. In 2004, a midlevel state appellate court will decide that the plan violates the state constitution.


1999Florida Ends Affirmative Action In Public Education

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signs the “One Florida” initiative, ending racial and sex preferences for admission to state universities and for awarding state contracts. The initiative also guarantees that public school students in the top 20 percent of their classes will be admitted to state universities and will be given preference for receiving need-based financial aid from the state.

2002No Child Left Behind Law Introduces Major Education Reforms

President George W. Bush signs the No Child Left Behind Act, a sweeping education reform law that reauthorizes and revises the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The new law requires states to develop a plan to identify poorly performing public schools and establish educational standards that all students must meet. States must annually test students in grades 3 through 8 in reading and math, as well as test students once during grades 10 through 12.

Schools that fail to make “adequate yearly progress” toward state proficiency standards must permit students to transfer to better-performing public schools. If poor performance continues, schools are also required to offer supplemental services to students, such as private tutoring. Schools that persist in low performance must then implement corrective actions, such as replacing certain teachers or adjusting the curriculum, or they risk being restructured or taken over by the state.

The law establishes requirements for all public school teachers to be “highly qualified” in their specialized subject areas by the end of the 2006 school year. The law also recommends that schools experiment with merit pay to retain the best teachers.

2002Court Says Tuition Vouchers Can Be Used For Religious Schools

As the debate over school choice intensified, Ohio sponsored a pilot project in Cleveland in which tuition vouchers were given to low-income families to help pay for their children to attend the school of their choice. More than 90 percent of children whose families received the financial aid used it to attend a religiously affiliated school. A group of taxpayers sued, arguing that the program violated the Constitution’s mandate to separate church and state.

Unlike the Wisconsin case in 1998, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court rules that the voucher program is constitutional. The Court finds that families are allowed to use the aid for any public, private, religious or nonreligious school they choose.

2004Texas A&M University Abolishes ‘Legacy’ Admissions

Texas A&M University says it will immediately end its legacy program because it is not consistent with a merit-based admissions policy. Under the program, children, grandchildren and siblings of alumni received four additional points out of a possible 100, giving them an advantage over similarly qualified applicants who were not related to alumni. In 2003, Texas A&M acknowledged the legacy program had been the deciding factor for more than 300 white applicants but many fewer black and Hispanic applicants in the last two years. Texas A&M is the first major university, public or private, to end a full-fledged legacy program.

2004U.S. Examines Quality Of Charter Schools

The U.S. Department of Education completes a comprehensive report on the progress and quality of the nation’s charter schools. The study looks at 6,000 fourth graders in both traditional public schools and charter schools and compared math and reading skills. The charter school students scored worse in both subjects. Despite these disappointing results, the charter school movement remains strong and is one of the strategies promoted in the federal No Child Left Behind law.

2010Obama Calls For Overhaul Of No Child Left Behind

President Barack Obama proposes broad changes in the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, which affects nearly 100,000 public schools. His plan keeps the required annual reading and math tests, but would replace the requirement that every child reach proficiency in reading and math. Instead, his goal is for all students to graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.

The law’s pass-fail school grading system would be replaced with one that would measure individual students’ academic growth and judge schools based not on test scores alone but also on indicators such as pupil attendance, graduation rates and learning climate.

2020Appeals Court: Constitutional Right to Literacy

In a landmark ruling in Gary B. v. Whitmer, a federal appeals court says that children have a constitutional right to literacy. Students in five Detroit schools sued the state of Michigan, saying that teacher shortages, out-of-date textbooks and deteriorating buildings prevented them from learning to read. The ability to read and write is “essential” for a citizen to participate in American democracy, according to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. It said the Detroit students had been deprived of an adequate education, violating the 14th Amendment.

2021Title IX Protects Transgender Students, Education Dept. Says

The Education Department says that transgender students are protected under Title IX, a law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools. Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona said: “Students cannot be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.” The ruling was based on a Supreme Court ruling last year that said protections in the Civil Rights Act against discrimination in the workplace extended to gay and transgender people.

2021Student-Athletes Win Ruling On Education Payments

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rules in National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston that the NCAA cannot bar relatively modest payments to student-athletes, a decision that underscored the growing challenges to a college sports system that generates huge sums for schools but provides little or no compensation to the players. The decision concerns only payments and other benefits related to education.