Who invented the US K 12 public education system? Horace Mann, a 19th-century educator and reformer, is widely credited with the idea. He recognized that industrial life was very different from rural, agricultural life. In 1820, Massachusetts opened the first tuition-free high school. The next year, Massachusetts and New York passed laws making formal schooling mandatory for all children. By 1918, all American children were required to attend school.
During the early nineteenth century, formal education was a local affair. Many children received only a few years of schooling. The literacy rate was higher than that of other nations, but it was below 99%. The US experienced racial divides, and the South had significantly lower educational attainment than the North. African Americans had lower literacy rates than whites. And, while the US had an egalitarian education system in the beginning, it was often difficult to achieve equality among races.
The US school system was modeled after that of other nations. It has evolved and refined over time to become the modern education environment that we know today. The principles that guided the establishment of this system are rooted in the history of redlining. For example, the US government segregated neighborhoods based on race. By federally backing some mortgages, it segregated previously integrated communities. Ultimately, whole neighborhoods of non-whites experienced significant decline in economic conditions.
What were its goals? The American Federation of Teachers union was formed in 1916 and later merged with the American Federation of Labor. The union fought for better wages and working conditions. It also fought for academic freedom and intellectual freedom, which was threatened during the McCarthy era witch hunts. The resulting law, Brown v. Board of Education, established the Department of Education as a cabinet-level agency.