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The Ever Increasing Burden
on America’s Public Schools (PRINT VERSION)

This is a story about America and America’s public schools. Specifically, it’s about how we, as a society, have changed what we ask our public schools to do. How we respond to this story will affect everyone’s future whether or not we have children in school.

America’s first schools appeared in the early 1640s. They were designed to teach young people—originally, white boys—basic reading, writing, and arithmetic while cultivating values that served a new democratic society. The founders of these schools assumed that families and churches bore the major responsibility for raising a child. During the 1700s, some civics, history, science, and geography were introduced, but the curriculum was limited and remained focused for 150 years.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, America’s leaders saw public schools as the logical place to select and sort young people into two groups—thinkers and doers—according to the needs of the industrial age. It was at this time that we began to shift non-academic duties to the schools. The trend has accelerated ever since.

From 1900 to 1910, we shifted to the school responsibilities related to:.

  • Nutrition
  • Immunization
  • Health (Activities in the health arena multiply every year.)

From 1910 to 1930, we added:.

  • Physical education (including organized athletics)
  • The Practical Arts/Domestic Science/Home economics (including sewing and cooking)
  • Vocational education (including industrial and agricultural education)
  • Mandated school transportation

In the 1940s, we added:.

  • Business education (including typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping)
  • Art and music
  • Speech and drama
  • Half-day kindergarten
  • School lunch programs (We take this for granted today, but it was a huge step to shift to the schools the job of feeding America’s children one third of their daily meals.)

In the 1950s, we added:.

  • Expanded science and math education
  • Safety education
  • Driver’s education
  • Expanded music and art education
  • Stronger foreign language requirements
  • Sex education (Topics continue to escalate.)

In the 1960s, we added:.

  • Advanced Placement programs
  • Head Start
  • Title I
  • Adult education
  • Consumer education (purchasing resources, rights and responsibilities)
  • Career education (occupational options, entry level skill requirements)
  • Peace, leisure, and recreation education [Loved those sixties.]

In the 1970s, the breakup of the American family accelerated,
and we added:.

  • Drug and alcohol abuse education
  • Parenting education (techniques and tools for healthy parenting)
  • Behavior adjustment classes (including classroom and communication skills)
  • Character education
  • Special education (mandated by federal government)
  • Title IX programs (greatly expanded athletic programs for girls)
  • Environmental education
  • Women’s studies
  • African-American heritage education
  • School breakfast programs (Now some schools feed America’s children two-thirds of their daily meals throughout the school year and all summer. Sadly, these are the only decent meals some children receive.)

In the 1980s, the floodgates opened, and we added:.

  • Keyboarding and computer education
  • Global education
  • Multicultural/Ethnic education
  • Nonsexist education
  • English-as-a-second-language and bilingual education
  • Teen pregnancy awareness
  • Hispanic heritage education
  • Early childhood education
  • Jump Start, Early Start, Even Start, and Prime Start
  • Full-day kindergarten
  • Preschool programs for children at risk
  • After-school programs for children of working parents
  • Alternative education in all its forms
  • Stranger/danger education
  • Antismoking education
  • Sexual abuse prevention education
  • Expanded health and psychological services
  • Child abuse monitoring (a legal requirement for all teachers)

In the 1990s, we added:.

  • Conflict resolution and peer mediation
  • HIV/AIDS education
  • CPR training
  • Death education
  • America 2000 initiatives (Republican)
  • Inclusion
  • Expanded computer and internet education
  • Distance learning
  • Tech Prep and School to Work programs
  • Technical Adequacy
  • Assessment
  • Post-secondary enrollment options
  • Concurrent enrollment options
  • Goals 2000 initiatives (Democratic)
  • Expanded Talented and Gifted opportunities
  • At risk and dropout prevention
  • Homeless education (including causes and effects on children)
  • Gang education (urban centers)
  • Service learning
  • Bus safety, bicycle safety, gun safety, and water safety education

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, we added:.

  • No Child Left Behind (Republican)
  • Bully prevention
  • Anti-harassment policies (gender, race, religion, or national origin)
  • Expanded early childcare and wrap around programs
  • Elevator and escalator safety instruction
  • Body Mass Index evaluation (obesity monitoring)
  • Organ donor education and awareness programs
  • Personal financial literacy
  • Entrepreneurial and innovation skills development
  • Media literacy development
  • Contextual learning skill development
  • Health and wellness programs
  • Race to the Top (Democratic)

And we have not added a single minute to the school calendar in six decades!

The contract between our communities and our schools has changed. It’s no longer “Help us teach our children.” It’s “Raise our kids.” No generation of teachers and administrators in history has had to fulfill this mandate. And each year, the pressure grows.

Social and economic conditions demand that we unfold the full potential of every child. Our futures are tied to their success as never before.But this is a job for all of us. Everyone, in every community, must help remove the obstacles to student success. We must recognize our common interests, and do our part to help our schools create the graduates and citizens we need. Our schools cannot do it alone.

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