Movers and Shakers in American Education
The education system is ever changing. Political climates, changing attitudes, and continuing research of how students learn will ensure that the education system remains ever changing. There are many important figures and events that have shaped our current education system and will continue to shape the education system of the future. Four of the most important influences were Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey and the No Child Left Behind Act, without these influences we would not have our current education system. Thomas Jefferson was the founding father with the loudest voice in support of education. He proposed the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge which would establish a system of free public elementary schools (Webb, Metha & Jordan, 2013). The bill also provided for a boarding school with a more advanced curriculum that would be available, by scholarship, to the brightest of the poor as well as the traditional children of the wealthy (Webb et al., 2013). The top students attending school on scholarship would also receive a scholarship to the College of William and Mary (Webb et al., 2013). Perhaps, it was these inclusions of scholarship that caused the defeat of the bill in the Virginia legislature. Although the bill was defeated it is still an important part in the history of education because it shed light on the fact that in order to be a successful democratic society education was important for everyone, not just the wealthy. Horace Mann felt that every person had the right to a good education and that it was the duty of the government to make sure that education was provided (Webb et al., 2013). He was a big supporter of the common school and through his political campaigns to form a state board of education he helped to shape the current school system across the country (Webb et al., 2013). He later served in the Massachusetts state board of education and established a yearly report concerning the happenings and conditions regarding the education system along with his recommendations. These reports were spread across America and influenced many states with regard to their own education systems (Webb et al., 2013). Mann was very concerned with reforming the school system, especially with regards to the training of teachers. He felt that teachers were not being properly prepared to instruct their students, because of this he established normal schools, where teachers could receive professional instruction, the first school of this type (Webb et al., 2013). Mann was a dynamic force in education at a time when the common school movement was spreading rapidly across the country, his beliefs and actions spread throughout America and shaped the education system, many of the parts of the education system he helped form are still in place today. John Dewey was a leader of the progressive movement, he felt that using a child-centered curriculum focused on things like problem solving was the key to improving education in America (Webb et al., 2013). Dewey felt that by promoting intellectual thinking through problem solving, students not only learned more but were better prepared to become productive members of a democratic society (Webb et al., 2013). Dewey posited that students need to be challenged in all aspects, not only intellectually, but emotionally, physically and socially as well (Webb et al., 2013). Though a system of free schools had been establish in America, he felt learning was a lifelong process, it didn’t end when a student left the classroom. That is why he stressed putting the child at the center of education, making sure they had the tools needed to become dynamic members in the community (Webb et al., 2013). His work and influence helped reform the education system, progressivism would shape a generation of students and later when anti-progressivists arose his influence would lead to the creation of a new type of curriculum, one based on standards, a curriculum that is still in place today. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is the largest federal education program ever put into place. NCLB required all states to develop standards for math and reading and that by 2014 all students should show proficiency when tested in those standards (Webb et al., 2013). Schools are expected to make adequate yearly progress toward having all students proficient in the standards. If a school fails to make adequate yearly progress it is subject to consequences including budget changes, removal of teachers, formulation of new curriculum and possibly even closure of the school (Webb et al., 2013). The reasoning behind NCLB was that if teachers were held accountable for students’ test scores they would try harder. A few of the problems associated with NCLB are a lack of funding, no definition of proficient, and the fact that many studies have shown that although test scores are improving no transferrable learning or skills have been attributed to the new standards (Webb et al., 2013). Though the public has called for reform in the education system, with the 2014 deadline looming it would appear that NCLB has failed while at the same time has given the federal government and unprecedented place in the classroom. The No Child Left Behind Act had a sweeping impact on the education system over the last decade and will most likely continue to influence the education system for many years to come. As the world continues to change, so too will the education system. The political climate will continue to shape legislature regarding education, new research will suggest new forms of teaching or testing or some other aspect that affects education. Popular opinion will continue to change ensuring that education will never stop changing. One thing will remain the same, the importance of the influence of historical figures and events. Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey and the No Child Left Behind Act may not be around to help shape the current education system but their influence will continue to be felt and in that way can help shape the future of education in America.
Webb, L.D., Metha, A., & Jordan, K.F. (2013). Foundations of American education (7th ed.). Columbus, OH: Pearson