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Too Many School Districts
There are approximately 127,000 separate school districts in the United States. Each of these districts is free to decide on the type and quality of education offered, subject only to general State laws and regulations and the limits of available funds. Altogether there are about 424,000 local school board members; in 12 States school board members outnumber the teachers.
The large number of small school districts is responsible in many States for thousands of one-teacher rural schools with very small enrollments. A study completed in 1934 recorded nearly 44,000 schools in which the attendance per school ranged from 3 to 17 pupils. Because of the small enrollments, the average annual cost per pupil in such schools ranged from $80 to $200, larger amounts than were spent per pupil in many good city schools, although the quality of schooling provided in the small schools was in most cases far from good. Nearly one-quarter of the teachers in the one-teacher rural schools of the Nation have had no education beyond high school. Seven out of eight have had no more than two years of training beyond high school.
In these days of rapid communication and larger community areas, there is no excuse for the system of rural school district organization existing in most States. The system is wasteful of money and of human effort. It is largely responsible for poorly trained and poorly paid teachers, limited courses of study, lack of constructive supervision of teaching, the worst school buildings, and countless other deficiencies. In other words, the system gives poor results at a high cost for the service rendered. But unless the rate of progress is increased, it will take half a century to eliminate defective district organization. Handicapped Children Are Neglected
Some 2,500,000 children of school age in the United States are at present handicapped in some way that necessitates facilities for their education in addition to those provided for the education of other children. They are the blind, the nearblind, the crippled, the hard-of-hearing, the speech-defective. Not more than oneeighth of these children are receiving the attention necessary to make their education a success.
A majority of the handicapped children can be made capable of self-support if they are given a fair chance to obtain an education. To neglect this opportunity is to place an unfair burden on the children themselves and to make them an expense to the community throughout their lives.
Twenty-six States have laws concerning special classes for some types of handicapped children, but no State is providing funds large enough to meet the needs of these children. In rural areas practically nothing is being done to provide suitable education for handicapped children. Negro Schools
In most of the States where there are separate schools for Negro children, the schools for white children are below the national average, yet Negro schools are only about half as well supported as the white schools. Because of the economic relationships that exist between the two races, the low level of education among Negroes is a severe burden not only on themselves but on all who employ them or deal with them. Even in Northern States, the large influx of Negroes from the South makes the quality of their previous training a matter of vital importance to the localities where they live and work. Uneven Development of School Service
The outstanding impression from the survey of the schools throughout the United States is one of very uneven development.
Elementary school service of some sort is available in most communities, but the quality of the service varies greatly. The major problem of the elementary schools is one of providing financial support where it is now inadequate. Improvement is needed in many respects, such as the preparation of teachers, the organization of school districts, and the supervision of instruction. But the methods of securing improvement in elementary schools are well known; the major factor that now prevents such improvement is a lack of adequate financial support.
High schools developed later than elementary schools. Many States have not yet accepted the obligation of making a high school education universally available. In consequence, high schools offer many special problems and present a picture of even greater diversity than do elementary schools.
High School Expansion
Nothing in the evolution of American education is more striking than the development of the public high school. Nothing like it has ever happened before in any other country.
As late as 1890 in the United States less than 4 percent of the young people of high school age were enrolled in public high schools. At present, more than 60 percent are enrolled. There are now some 25,000 public high schools in which 230,000 teachers instruct 6,000,000 boys and girls. In 1937 the annual number of graduates passed the million mark.
For the country as a whole, the period of extraordinary high school expansion appears to be coming to an end. But some growth in high school enrollments will continue for a time, particularly in those areas where high school attendance is still low.
There are about half as many young people of high school age as there are children of elementary school age. In 1935-36 high school enrollments in six States were over 40 percent of elementary school enrollments, but in eight States at the opposite end of the scale they were less than 20 percent of elementary school enrollments.
In view of the great unemployment among youth, it is abvious that many young people are out of school either because high schools are not available or because the available high schools are not suited to their needs.
In planning the work of the high schools, a central place should be given to their major task of preparing young people of high-school age for useful, selfsustaining adult life. Many changes are necessary to meet the gradual advance in the school-leaving age from its present average level of 16 years to the coming average level of 18 years.
The high schools must also assume much more responsibility for young people and adults who have left the regular school program. Most of the 900,000 young people who drop out of high school each year without being graduated are in need of further education. Many of them would respond if the right kind of part-time school programs were provided. Private Schools
To complete the picture of elementary and secondary education in the United States, it should be noted that there are about 12,000 private elementary and secondary schools. Nearly two-thirds are controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, and about one-sixth are under other church auspices. Private schools enroll about one-tenth of the total number of elementary-school pupils and about one-sixteenth of the total number of high-school pupils. In general, these schools meet standards set by public authorities. Most States recognize the public service they are rendering by granting tax exemption to those that are nonprofit making in character.
BASIC CAUSES OF UNEQUAL OPPORTUNITY
A large measure of opportunity for all is considered fundamental to American democracy. Yet satisfactory educational opportunities are found in only a few places where circumstances are unusually favorable.
A basic difficulty is the way the tax system is organized to provide money for schools. At the time when it was decided that schools should be supported at public expense, the property tax was the principal source of public revenue. Schools now receive an increasing amount of support from other types of taxes, but over three-quarters of the annual cost of public education still is met through property taxes, levied chiefly by local school boards and other local taxing agencies.
Because of this situation, the fortunes of education rise and fall with the ability and willingness of property owners to pay taxes. No other great social service is dependent so largely upon so unsatisfactory a tax base.
Most of the 127,000 local school districts raise their taxes separately. The larger the number of districts and the smaller their average size, the less likely is any reasonable relationship between amount of wealth and number of children. In several States the richest districts with the same effort could provide $100 or more per child for every $1 provided by the poorest districts.
Actual expenditures do not vary as much, because in most States the poorest districts tax themselves much more heavily than the richest districts. Many States also provide part of the cost of education through funds raised through general State taxation. Even so, in a number of States expenditures per classroom are 12 to 15 times as high in some districts as in others. In many States the variation in expenditures between rich and poor districts on a classroom basis is about 6 to 1. In only a few States, with large State school funds, is the variation as little as 3 to 1.
Inequality within States can be lessened through vigorous action by State governments, but the States individually can do little to equalize opportunity among the States. It is therefore particularly important to compare opportunities in the various States. State Expenditures for Schools
There is no entirely satisfactory way of determining differences in educational opportunity. In general, however, there is a very high relationship between the amount of money spent per pupil and the amount and quality of service provided. Marked differences exist in the amounts which the various States spend for the education of each school child.
Figures 1 and 2 show the extent of the differences among States in the amounts spent in 1935–36, the latest year for which information is available. In three States, the amount spent per pupil in average daily attendance was less than $30. In three others at the opposite extreme, the amount was over $115, or nearly four times as much. These amounts are average expenditures within the respective States and include both State and local funds. They also include Federal grants to the States for vocational education classes in the public schools, although those grants amounted to only about one-half of 1 percent of all expenditures for elementary and secondary education in 1935–36.
Many important factors in educational opportunity are closely related to the differences in average expenditures among the States. Examples are the length of the school term; the proportion of young people of high-school age who are enrolled in high school; the average salaries of teachers; the value of public school property; the quality and amount of school equipment and instructional materials; and the extent to which health and welfare services are provided for children in school. Lack of Balance in the Educational Load
Financial support for education through State and local taxation would produce fairer results if the variation in the number of children to be educated were not so great. As demonstrated by Figure 3, the adults of the Southeast carry a burden of child care and education about 80 percent greater than that carried by the similar age group of adults in the Far West. In nine States, of which six are in the Southeast, there were, in 1930, over 600 children 5 to 17 years of age per 1,000 adults 20 to 64. In six States—New York, Illinois, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and California—there were fewer than 400 children 5 to 17 years of age per 1,000 adults 20 to 64.
These differences in the ratio of children to adults are to a large extent the result of differences in the relative number of rural and urban people in the various States. Figure 4 shows for the country as a whole the ratios of children to adults on farms, in towns and villages under 2,500 population, in cities between 2,500 and 100,000 population, and in cities above 100,000 population. In nearly every State the adult group in rural areas has to educate proportionately a far greater number of children than the adult group in cities.
The farm people not only have a relatively large number of children to support and educate, but they must also carry that load on incomes which average much lower than those of city people. In 1930 the farm population was responsible for the care and education of 31 percent of the Nation's children, but the farmers received only 9 percent of the national income. In the Southeastern region, the farm group had the care of approximately 4,250,000 children age 5 to 17, with only 2 percent of the national income. At the other extreme, the nonfarm population of the Northeast, with approximately 8,500,000 children age 5 to 17, had 42 percent of the national income-21 times as much income vailable with which to educate only 2 times as many children. The Ability of the States to Support Schools
The relative ability of the States to support schools varies directly in proportion to the amount of funds they are able to raise through taxation per child of school age. The actual amounts they do raise through taxation cannot be used as a measure of relative ability, since some states levy heavier taxes than others.