|A brief history of . . .Education in Wisconsin
This statement, part of the Ordinance of 1787 which established a temporary government for the Northwest Territory, provided the ideological basis for school laws passed by the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature in 1839, 1840, 1841, and 1843. These laws regulated the formation of school districts, allowed for levying some local taxes for school support, and required commissioners to conduct teacher examinations and school inspections.
Early Wisconsin schools were community based and locally controlled, and often needed private funding to supplement meager public support. Communities took it upon themselves to organize for the education of their children. Often school instruction took place in the local church or some other public building, although many communities constructed facilities for use as schools. Some communities hired teachers, but often the teacher would collect at least some of her own wages directly from the families of her charges.
Article X of the Wisconsin Constitution, adopted in 1848, provided for free public district schools for all children between the ages of four and twenty, required local taxes for school support, provided for a school fund and distribution of the fund on the basis of school population, and provided for a state superintendent. Michael Frank was enlisted to codify the school laws, and Wisconsin's free public school system was introduced in 1849.
Michael Frank was also instrumental in establishing the first free public high school in Wisconsin, which was opened in Southport in 1849. Generally, education for those students who wished to attend a University was provided by private academies. The movement towards providing public education from elementary through University gained steam after Southport, and by 1856 eleven more high schools were established at other sites in the state. However, it wasn't until 1875 that a free high school law was passed.
Despite the citizens of Wisconsin's interest in the education of their children, many children did not attend school. According to an 1873 a report on truancy and attendance laws by State Superintendent Samuel Fallows, between forty and fifty thousand Wisconsin children did not attend school at all in 1870. Citizens cited several reasons, including the need to have older children help on farms, inadequate schoolhouses and poor teachers, and the long distances some students had to travel to reach a school--on bad roads and sometimes in bad weather. However, many argued that education should be made compulsory since paying taxes, which were used for educational purposes, was compulsory.
The first compulsory attendance law was passed in 1879. It was difficult to enforce though, and in 1889 the Bennett Law was passed. The Bennett Law required that children between the ages of 7 and 14 attend public or private school at east 12 weeks of the year, with a monetary penalty for noncompliance. There was another, more controversial component of the Bennett Law, which required children be taught in the English language. In many Wisconsin communities, due to the immigrant population, teaching took place at least partly in a language other than English due to the immigrant population. There was opposition to this requirement, and the law was repealed in 1891 and replaced with a new law dealing strictly with attendance.
Doudna, Edgar G. The Making of Our Wisconsin Schools, 1848-1948. Madison, Wis.: State Centennial Executive Committee, 1948.
Stearns, J.W. The Columbian History of Education in Wisconsin. State Committee on Educational Exhibit for Wisconsin, 1893.
Patzer, Conrad E. Public Education in Wisconsin. Madison, Wis., 1924.
|Created on: April 17, 2000