Education Reform

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In the 1840s, rural schools were not large buildings with many classrooms like most schools today. Schools were small and had only one room where one teacher taught students of all ages. Children between the ages of five and twenty-one were allowed to go to school. Children attended school until their parents wanted them to stop. This was because parents often needed their children for work on the farm, or in shops, stores, or local factories. Girls could usually stay in school until they were seventeen or eighteen, since they were not expected to go to work like the boys. By 1840, the school year averaged eight months in length. Some schools were open for only six or seven months. The school year was divided into two terms: a winter term from November to March, and a summer term from May to late August or early September.

In 1840 the one-room school offered its students ungraded classes in a variety of subjects. Students, or scholars, as they were often called, were not divided into different grade levels as they are today. The teacher had to place students in groups based on their reading and spelling levels at the beginning of a term. It was a big job for just one teacher to teach all the subjects to children of different ages in a one-room schoolhouse. Students learned the basic academic subjects such as math, reading, writing, science, and history.

In 1837, Horace Mann of Massachusetts became secretary of that state’s board of education. He reformed the school system by increasing state spending on schools, lengthening the school year, dividing the students into grades, and introducing standardized textbooks. School reformers wanted to improve education because they believed that schooling would create responsible citizens, unite society, and prevent crime and poverty to prevent an illiterate electorate from voting. During his first twelve years, Horace Mann forges a consensus, which doubled state funding to education and teacher salaries. Fifty new...
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