December 6, 2023


education gives you strength

What American education was like 100 years ago

Education has and continues to play an essential role in American society, and the first Department of Education—also known as Office of Education or Bureau of Education—was established in 1867 to document and promote the “condition and progress of education” in the United States.

In the early days of American history, educational attainment was seen as less of a priority than it is today. Child labor laws had not yet gone into effect, and many children were required to work, help out on the family farm, or contribute in other ways to the home. As time passed, however, education became increasingly important as a means of getting ahead financially and establishing oneself as a productive member of society.

To understand how American education has evolved over the last century, Stacker investigated historical education data and took a deep dive into a 1993 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report that documented 120 years of trends in U.S. education. The report, 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait, compiles statistical data, tables, and charts from 1870 to 1990 to evaluate how education has evolved over the years.

This gallery features U.S. trends in education over the last century from 1919 to 2019 by examining how factors like race, gender, age, geography, enrollment rates, and curricular requirements correlate with educational attainment levels for various groups within the U.S. population at public and private elementary, secondary, and postsecondary institutions.

Read on to find out how special education gained prominence in policy, when early literacy became a national priority, and how spending has increased per student in various U.S. educational institutions.

You may also like: Most and least educated states in America

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