The History of Education in the United States

The history of education in the United States of America can be divided into the following seven periods:

  1. Early Puritan New England of the 16th century;
  2. National plans for the founding of public education;
  3. The movement for a mass school;
  4. Development of secondary schools;
  5. Criticism of the school and its reform after the Second World War;
  6. School reforms of the 60-90s.
  7. Modern tendencies of education.

The Puritans, newcomers from England, have always believed that the family plays a vital role in the younger generation’s education. They thought that every person from birth has a vocation for some activity to perform more successfully than others. The creation of Latin grammar schools was followed by the creation of a network of general education and private vocational schools (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2017, p. 77). There, the students were taught writing, arithmetic, subjects that were necessary for obtaining various professions. Harvard College was founded in 1636 based on the English University of Cambridge’s model and laid the foundations of higher education in America (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2017, p. 76). This college has made an enormous contribution to the history of American education. The second college founded in New England was Yale, following the example of Dutch universities with a strong focus on religious education. I was amazed at how many different educational institutions existed even at the beginning of the formation of educational programs and institutions.

After the revolution of the 17th century and the conquest of independence, American society was concerned with preserving the freedom it had won. Educating citizens in public schools was the main goal, which sparked a powerful movement to create an affordable mass school in the first half of the 19th century. I found it interesting how strong the relationship between changes in the education system and the accompanying historical processes is. There was an active process of creating a compulsory education system for all children on a national scale. The last quarter of the 19th century was marked by the development of the importance of high school and lively debate about curriculum and mass high school.

Significant changes in American history took place towards the end of the 18th century. After the end of the Civil War, the progressive bourgeois-democratic trend of political thought grew and became more robust, reflected in the curriculum’s content (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2017, p. 95). In 1852, Massachusetts passed the universal compulsory primary education act, and by 1918 all states had similar laws. At the beginning of the twentieth century, schools have introduced career guidance as an area of ​​work with students (Forneris, 2019). Psychological tests were the primary method for determining professional inclinations.

Iin the 1950s, it became apparent that secondary education is essential not only for the prosperity of an individual but also for the protection and survival of an entire nation. There was a growing understanding of the anti-constitutional nature of racial segregation in education. After the 1960s, political leaders were concerned about the effectiveness of education for the country’s economic prosperity (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2017, p. 102). By the beginning of the 1970s, it became evident that the mass school was not an effective pedagogical institution which required changes to the school curriculum (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2017, p. 106). It does not provide a full-fledged education for the younger generation. In the early 1980s, the criticism of schooling focused on funding shortfalls. America’s transition from the industrial to the post-industrial era required a radical reform of the entire public education system. Modern curricula focus students’ attention on developing creative and critical thinking skills.


Forneris, J. (2019). The history of career guidance. Career Trend.

Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2017). Curriculum: Foundation and issues. Pearson.

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1. ChalkyPapers. "The History of Education in the United States." September 11, 2022.


ChalkyPapers. "The History of Education in the United States." September 11, 2022.