1647 – the Massachusetts Law of 1647 was passed. This legislative act was also known as the Old Deluder Satan Act and decreed that every town in which 50 or more families lived had to hire a teacher who would educate the local children. Every town of 100 families or more should establish a Latin grammar school.
1848 – Roberts versus City of Boston. This lawsuit was an important case raising the question of school segregation through the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court did not find a constitutional basis for it. Roberts, a black father of a girl attending an underfunded all-black school was the first to criticize the segregated approach to education.
1862 – the First Morrill Act which is also referred to as the “Land Grant Act” was passed. This law donated public land to states which were expected to use this land for maintaining at least one college on it. A lot of prominent state universities were established after the enactment of this law (Alexander & Alexander, 2005, p. 65).
1896 – Plessy versus Ferguson. This lawsuit was important because it proclaimed the “separate but equal doctrine” which became a legislative basis for the practices of racial segregation of private institutions, including schools. Even though the institutions could be segregated only on the condition that the blacks are provided with equal facilities, the facilities for the Afro-Americans were of poor quality.
1917 – the Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act. This legislative act not only promoted vocational education for students who wanted to work on the farms, but also separated the vocational education from the rest of the curriculum. Emphasizing the importance of developing certain practical skills, vocational teachers diminished the value of theory and almost excluded it from the curriculum.
1947 – Mendez versus Westminster School District. The United States Supreme Court concluded that segregation of Mexican and Mexican American students into separate schools was unconstitutional and violated the Fourteenth Amendment. This lawsuit became an important predictor of the future prohibition of racial segregation nationwide.
1954 – Brown versus Board of Education Topeka. This lawsuit put an end to the “separate but equal doctrine” of segregation of the institutions and racial discrimination against the black population. The United States Supreme Court declared that state-sponsored segregation was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, particularly its Equal Protection clause. The decision of the lawsuit Plessy versus Ferguson (1896) was overturned.
1958 – the National Defense Education Act (NDEA). This act regulated the funding of educational institutions at all levels. The federal control was effective for improving the funding of higher education and had an impact on the structure of the curriculum. Though the NDEA is frequently explained with the Space Race of the 1950s, it was beneficial for fostering the development of national education (Mondale & Patton, 2001).
1967 – the Bilingual Education Act. This law reformed federal legislation regarding the use of the language of minorities in the school curriculum. This act enabled the districts in which the ability of students to speak English was limited to establish bilingual education programs to comply with students’ needs (Franciosi, 2004, p. 162).
2001 – the No Child Left Behind Act. To receive federal funding for public schools, the states need to develop standardized assessments of academic skills for students of certain grades. Each state is free to set individual standards for its schools. Still, the results of tests are used to evaluate the performance of schools that had to restructure their curricula.
Alexander, K. & Alexander, D. (2005). American public school law. Belmont, CA: Thomson West Publishing.
Franciosi, R. (2004). The rise and fall of American public schools: The political economy education in the twentieth century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Mondale, S. & Patton, S. B. (eds.). School: The story of American public education. (2001). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.