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The US K-12 Public Education System

The US K-12 public education system was first instituted in 1837 when Massachusetts Secretary of State Horace Mann advocated for reform in the country’s schooling system. He promoted universal public education with professionally trained teachers and free elementary education. By 1870, public elementary schools were offered in all states and the country’s literacy rate was the highest in the world. Before 1880, there were few or no schools in rural areas. Until the mid-19th century, most states adopted similar policies, including “normal schools” to train professional teachers.

While Jefferson’s idea of a universal, free, and publicly funded educational system became popular in the 18th century, it did not actually come into practice until the 19th century. Public schools were often run by ministers and were free to attend. Government funds were also used to establish these schools. However, the US K-12 system still requires a teacher to educate all children. Unlike most other nations, Massachusetts’ public schools can serve as a model for schools anywhere.

While Horace Mann is the father of the modern American school system, it was his son Harry who introduced the modern approach to education. He emphasized a systematic system and set curriculum of core knowledge. He founded the first public school in the U.S. in the early 19th century. The concept of K-12 public schools was introduced in the early 19th century. At that time, Ohioans were starting to show interest in a public school system.

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