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America's schools are doing it all

By Dr. Edward Costa

East Longmeadow Schools Superintentdant

America's public schools started in the late 1600s. During these ages, schools were responsible for teaching basic reading, writing, arithmetic and to cultivate shared values in society.

Over the next one hundred years, science and geography were eventually added to the core of basic fundamental courses. This core of five essentials basically remained unchanged for over 200 years.

During the 1900s, society started assigning additional responsibilities to schools- a trend that has continued and accelerated ever since. Between 1900 and 1950, nutrition, immunization, health, practical arts, physical education, athletics, vocational education, home economics and agriculture, school transportation, business education, and half-day kindergarten were all added responsibilities to America's public schools. Another significant addition during this half century was the addition of the school lunch programs- a responsibility to take over the feeding of America's children one-third of the daily meals.

In the 1950s and 1960s, schools added safety education, driver education, foreign languages, sex education, advanced placement programs, preschool, Title 1, adult education classes, consumer education, career education, and recreation education.

During the 1970s and 1980s schools added special education, Title 9 regulations, drug and alcohol abuse programs, parent education, behavior adjustment education, character education, environmental education, women's studies, and African-American studies, keyboarding and computers, global education, ethnic education, multicultural education, non sexist education, English as a second language education, teen pregnancy awareness education, early childhood education, full-day kindergarten, after school clubs and programs, at-risk programs, alternative education, stranger-danger programs/DARE, anti smoking programs, and sex abuse and prevention programs. During this time the school breakfast program was added responsibility to school districts- now taking over two-thirds of the daily meals for all of American children.

The 1990s and 21st century added conflict resolution programs, HIV & AIDS education, CPR training, inclusion classes, tech prep programs, school-to-work programs, anti-gang education, bus safety education, and bicycle safety education. More recently, we have now burdened American public schools with politically-charged, high-stakes testing. All of this, with basically the same calendar and same length of school day.

We do it all! One of these days, America needs a very frank national discussion on what we want and expect for our children from public schools. I think the "Jack of all Trades" model, and the "Keep Adding to the Pot" model needs fixing if American schools are expected to excel in the future. I wonder if business and industry could survive with this model? I think not.

I want to thank and give credit to my friend Mr. Jamie Vollmer for his writing on American Schools. I used his data in my article with permission.