20th Century Education


    As the 19th century was the Progressive era, the 20th century was inclusivism and the idea of education for all.  Kindergartens were in most public school programs by 1910. State controlled free public education was the rule.  School attendance was mandatory, education was universal. Public schools did not force parents to use the public schools, so parochial schools and other private schools were viable options.  All racial, religious and ethnic groups should have access to the same type of education in the same type of setting.  Education in the early preschool years flourished  with  early childhood development programs and on the other end of the spectrum higher education after  high school became more  attainable for many.

Junior High Schools
bullet1909 - present
bulletbegan in California
bulletGrades 7-9 to better prepare for high school

Middle Schools

bullet1950 - present
bulletGrades 6-8 / designed to meet the needs of preadolescents
Education in the Southern States
bulletIn 1912, the Southern States made of 34% of the United States' population but received only 3% of the education funding.
bulletde jure school segregation - segregation by law
bulletde facto segregation - segregation defined by society


bulletFounded in 1909
bulletBrown v Board of Education - separate is not equal.
bulletSupreme Court declares de jure school segregation violates the 14th Amendment
bulletBussing - In 1971, the case of Swann V. Charlotte decided that changing the lines of a school district in order to bus students to integrated school is allowed under the Constitution.


Photo Gallery - Desegregation

On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren announced the court’s unanimous decision: “It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity…is a right which must be available to all on equal terms. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”




"Segregation was wrong when it was forced by White people, and I believe it is still wrong when it is requested by Black people." 

 Coretta Scott King



Public education

Milestones in American public education in the 20th Century

Eleanor Roosevelt's thoughts on public education

From 1900 to 1996 the percentage of teenagers who graduated from high school increased from about 6 percent to about 85 percent.  

By the middle of the 20th century, most states took a more active regulatory role than in the past. States consolidated school districts into larger units with common procedures. In 1940 there were over 117,000 school districts in the United States, but by 1990 the number had decreased to just over 15,000. The states also became much more responsible for financing education. In 1940 local property taxes financed 68 percent of public school expenses, while the states contributed 30 percent. In 1990 local districts and states each contributed 47 percent to public school revenues. The federal government provided most of the remaining funds.



By the 1920s, the invention of the automobile let states consolidate schools into larger districts.  School buses allowed for the expansion of the public school system by transporting  students in rural areas to school.  The first school buses were horse-drawn.  Our modern school bus came about in the 1950s.



Private Education

In 1925, the Supreme Court ruled, in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, that states could not compel children to attend public schools, and that children could attend private schools instead.  Instruction is provided for various religious denominations.  Education could be provided exclusively for the wealthy.  This was seen as an alternative for any group that finds the available forms of education unsatisfactory.

I American Private Schools



Native American Education

In 1924, the Bureau of Indian Affairs controlled education until the 1970s.  After this, Reservation Schools became community-run under the local Department of Education.

Native Americans have the highest drop-put rate at 39%.  In 1998, the Integrity Task Force was formed to research the problems associated with the drop-out rate.

Hispanic American Education

Hispanics attended religious mission schools and secular public schools.  In 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Act was passed by Congress to help disadvantaged children achieve higher standards in education.  This provided new educational support for the Hispanic community.  Bilingual education programs were added to many schools.  However, the Act was denounced in California and Arizona, where Hispanics were the fastest growing segment of the population.

Asian American Education

Exclusionary Acts

bullet1882 - Chinese
bullet1930- Filipinos

Suffered from school segregation until 1946.  Detention Camps held 110,000 Japanese Americans during WWII.

After the Vietnam War, Asian Immigration greatly increased.  Today, Asian Americans make of 3% of the population (7 million people).

In 1974, the Supreme Court found, in Lau v. Nichols, that schools must not discriminate against individuals who do not speak English.  Non-speaking immigrants in public schools have the rights of:

bulletEqual Educational Opportunities
bulletSufficient Special Instruction

Respect for teachers


Following WWII

With the onset of the Baby Boom, there was a need for larger schools and more teachers.  Integration began to become the standard, and the number of public schools increased dramatically.

Both Kennedy and Johnson allocated massive amounts of dollars to breaking the cycle of poverty; and education was one of the areas receiving some of these funds. Programs such as Head Start, Job Corps, subsidized school lunches, and Title One began during this time.

In 1975 Congress passed PL 94-142 requiring a free appropriate education for all handicapped children. This law required that handicapped children be educated to the best of their ability and that they have an individualized educational plan written to suit their specific needs. In this same year, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act took effect requiring that access to programs (in particular sports programs) not be denied on the basis of gender. Prior to the implementation of this law, females had only limited opportunities to participate in school sports because the funding (if it was provided at all) was not provided at the same level as it was for male sports programs.

During the 1980s and 1990s, virtually all states have given unprecedented attention to their role in raising education standards. A federal report published in 1983 indicated very low academic achievement in public schools.  This resulted in states taking up more responsibility and involvement. This report, A Nation at Risk, suggested that American students were outperformed on international academic tests by students from other industrial societies. Statistics also suggested that American test scores were declining over time. As a result, most states have implemented reform strategies that emphasize more frequent testing conducted by states, more effective state testing, and more state-mandated curriculum requirements.


Technical and scientific literacy

The Sputnik Era in Education

National Defense of Education Act



Visit some 20th Century Schools

Native American Boarding Schools

Iron Hill School (1923 - African American School)

Little Rock High School (1927 - infamous for riots of 1957-58 when integrated)

Meet the People behind 20th Century Education

John Dewey

W.E.B. DuBois

Assignment Page

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If there is inaccurate information on this page,
please send correction or comments to: lrcdesk@chesapeake.edu