100 years of public education : a brief look at Georgia public education prepared to commemorate education's centennial year, October 13, 1970 to October 13, 1971

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~ brief look at ~eorgia public ebucation prepareb to commemoratr ebttcation ~ centennial pear ... <!&ctober 13, 1970 to <!&ctober 13,1971

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To most people, with the possible exception of some theologians and all astronomers, a century is a long time. One hundred years of activity in any field of human endeavor is widely considered a highly significant milestone, perhaps mainly because, as in the case of the 75th wedding anniversary (as high as they go) there comes a certain feeling of stability and permanance. One gets the feeling that perhaps the thing is here to stay.

One hundred years ago in October 1870, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill providing for a State Board of Education and a State School Commissioner, thus bringing a system of public education to the state for the first time. In this centennial year one does indeed get the feeling the thing is here to stay, and that this milestone is an appropriate occasion for looking back at where we've been and forward to where we want to go.

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One of the dominant characteristics of our first 100 years of public education has been change, just as change has been a dominant theme of the society which public education serves. Public education has been forced to change in Georgia by the compelling need to equalize educational opportunities between the urban and the rural areas of the state. It is, in fact, perhaps not too much to say that the history of public education in Georgia is essentially an account of the continuous attempt to provide educational opportunities to children in rural and economically deprived areas of the state equal to those enjoyed by children in the more affluent urban areas.

During its first quarter century, public education in Georgia was mainly
a local rather than a state responsibility. During this time state assistance
was provided only for elementary schools and was directly prohibited for high schools. The state constitution in effect at the time, in fact,
permitted only cities to levy a tax for the support of high schools, thus
beginning the tradition of unequal education for children in rural areas of the state which, despite tremendous advances, persists to this day.
(A special constitutional provision, however, enabled certain counties
to tax for the support of their high schools.)

The underlying reason for this inequality is the obvious disparate distribu-


tion of wealth between urban and rural areas. There is of course more

material wealth in the urban areas, thus more taxable property from


which funds for public education may be realized. But this is not the

whole story. Many experts in the field of taxation feel there is among

rural people an even greater distaste for taxation of any kind than exists

among urban people. And, as Abraham Lincoln said, "Public sentiment

is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it,

nothing can succeed."



During the 1900's a trend began which would continue down to our present time, with far--reaching positive effects on public education. During this time the General Assembly began passing education laws more frequently, many of which were designed to equalize educational opportunity. In 1911, for example, the State Board of Education was empowered to formulate rules and regulations for all public schools in the state and to distribute funds to the school districts. County boards of education were given the right to consolidate schools and to provide for transportation of students to and from schooI. In 1912, high schools were made a part of the statewide system of education.

During this period the Georgia Department of Education for the first time began to encourage local officials to do a better job in the construction of school buildings. M. L. Brittain, a Georgia Department of Education official, wrote in 1911 that
well-designed, well-built schools, with something of artistic grace and beauty manifest in structure and grounds, will have an influence for good not only upon pupils, but upon the entire community...... Preventable ugliness is a sin.....

Legislative acts to improve education came rapidly during this period. In 1917 a federal act--the Smith-Hughes Act--did much to promote programs of vocational education in the state. And in 1919 a state fund was set aside to assist in the establishment and maintenance of consolidated schools, thus beginning an attempt on the part of the state to reduce the number of small, inadequate schools in the state--an attempt which continues to the present and which may well constitute the most promising as well as the most controversial movement in public education today.
In 1923 a "Statewide School Survey" was held to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each school district. The results of the survey emphasized the disparity of educational opportunity available in city and rural areas. State Superintendent of Schools Nathaniel H. Ballard, writing in 1924, made an impassioned plea for equal educational opportunities for all children.
Education is the right of every child, regardless of his station in life or the locality in which he lives...... It is founded on the eternal principle of Justice and will prevail.
Before 1926 state education funds were distributed to the schools in such a way that the wealthiest counties received just as much state aid as the poorest counties. But in 1926 the General Assembly passed an act providing for additional state funds to help poorer areas provide better education to children.

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Prior to the 1930's, public education in Georgia had been mainly supported
by local taxation rather than by statewide taxation. But during the
thirties it become obvious that if educational opportunities in the state were to be equalized, it would have to be done with money coming from statewide rather than from local sources alone.
So in 1937 there was passed the first of three momentous pieces of legislation which would represent the greatest advances made by public education in Georgia in its first 100 years. The act was called the "Equalization of Education Act," (or the "Seven Months School Law.") It guaranteed students and teachers a seven months school term and a minimum state salary scale for teachers, provided that the State Board of Education would allot teachers to the local school systems, and provided state funds for pupil transportation. In guaranteeing teachers at least seven months of employment per year and a minimum salary no matter where in the state they taught, the act gave the State Board of Education the power it needed to require adequate qualifications and certification and provided the incentive needed to encourage teachers to train more fully.
The result was an immediate upgrading of teacher qualifications--a trend which continues. In the 10-year period between 1939 and 1949, the number of teachers in Georgia with at least four years of college increased from roughly 7,500 to 11,500, making for better education in all areas of the state.

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Few laymen appreciate the tremendous effect the development of pupil transportation has had on the availability of educational opportunities throughout the state. Before 1937 pupil transportation had been mainly a function of local school systems. The nature of the service provided is indicated by the report of a state superintendent of schools who wrote in 1900 that
Three Jersey wagons were employed at about $8 per month to haul the girls and the little children from convenient points near their homes in the several communities to the schoolhouse each day.
The Equalization Act of 1937 authorized the Georgia Department of Education to give transportation aid to local systems, resulting in educational advantages being made available to students which might not have come in any other way. The advent of sound pupil transportation programs made possible school consolidation, resulting in larger schools with more courses and better teachers. In 1947 the General Assembly put all pupil transportation in the state under the supervision of the State Board of Education, resulting in more uniform statewide regulations leading to greater safety in the transportation of children.

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A trend toward increased regulation and control of education by the state becomes apparent at this point. Perhaps some view this as a questionable trend, but there can be little doubt that it has resulted in increased educational opportunities for children in rural areas. Increased regulation and control by the State Board of Education, coupled with greater financial support of public education from the state level, has through the years directly resulted in tremendous educational advantages to rural children.

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Modern pupil transportation programs doomed the small country school
to obsolescence. No longer was there any educationally sound reason
for children to attend poorly staffed, poorly equipped small schools with their totally inadequate educational programs. A relatively short bus ride enabled students to attend a school large enough to have an adequate number of teachers and the necessary equipment and facilities (such as laboratories and libraries) which make the difference between an inadequate and an adequate educational program. The remarkable part of
this story is the fact that the adequate school program in the large school costs less per pupil than the inadequate program in the smaller
Consolidation of small schools has been a widespread trend throughout the history of education in Georgia. In 1938, for example, it was noted that no less than 246 schools had been eliminated during the previous two years!
But many communities, unfortunately, vehemently oppose school consoli~ dation on grounds that loss of their local school will harm their community. James S. Peters of Manchester, long-time chairman of the State Board of Education, replies pointedly that "Schools are operated for the benefit of children, not for the benefit of communities."
Other educational advances in the state during the 1940's included the creation of a visiting teacher program, which resulted in an additional 60,000 children attending school daily; the beginning of certification of high school counselors; the beginning of a requirement by the State Board of Education that all new school sites must be approved by the Board, and the addition of the twelfth year of high school, which was used to bring about needed modernization of the curriculum.


The most radical reorganizational improvement of public education in Georgia came in 1949, when the General Assembly passed (with only one dissenting vote in the Senate and two in the House) the first "Minimum Foundation Program for Education."
The MFPE law was essentially another attempt to equalize educational opportunities in the state. The primary means it used was to distribute state school funds in a way which would achieve greater equality.
Other advancements realized under this first MFPE law were improvement in teacher certification requirements, 10 months of employment for teachers instead of seven, and the moving of teaching toward the status of a true profession in several areas, such as equal recognition for all teachers (no matter what subject or grade level they teach), equal recognition of white and Negro teachers, and cessation of certification of teachers with less than two years of college.
During the first five years under the MFPE law, the number of teachers in the state with four years or more of college advanced by 21 percent. By 1961,90 percent of teachers had four years of college or more.
The MFPE law also resulted in a $200,000,000 building program which added 13,000 new classrooms in 1,200 new buildings or additions to buildings. This building program made possible much-needed consolidation and the accompanying improvement of educational programs.

Although as noted above consolidation has been resisted in many communities, during the 10 years following the passage of the first MFPE law, the total number of schools in the state declined from 3,906 to 1,930 at the same time that enrollment was soaring by a total of 230,798! And during the same period, three-fourths of the Negro schools in the state were abolished and one-teacher schools all but vanished. Another major step forward came in 1951 when the General Assembly authorized the Georgia Department of Education to establish programs for exceptional children in the state. And by this time the Georgia Department of Education had also begun what was to become possibly the largest library of educational films and tapes in the world.

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In 1953 the "Georgia Education Journal" editorially stressed that the
MFPE law provided a minimum program of education in the state, not an adequate program, and called for the latter.
Then in 1963 Carl Sanders became governor. Sanders' position on the importance of education was made crystal clear when he referred to education as the "single most important factor in determining the economic and social well-being of a state."
Sanders, who came to be known as the "education governor," was instrumental in securing passage of Senate Bill 180--the new Minimum Foundation Program for Education. (And the session of the General Assembly which passed Senate Bill 180 came to be known as the "education legislature."
According to the "Georgia Education Journal," Senate Bill 180 may become the most important, as well as ambitious, program directed toward the improvement of education in the history of the state.
Changes made by the law included an improved plan for alloting teachers, including a more liberal assignment of personnel to local systems; a minimum salary schedule for teachers;

the establishment of area vocational-technical schools; support for educational television to provide statewide coverage; increased funds for school buildings; provision for students to cross county lines for attendance in other
systems under certain conditions; Governor's Honors Program for gifted students; aid for lunchroom, vocational and twelve-months school programs; provision for more leadership personnel in school systems, including
curriculum directors, visiting teachers, principals, counselors, and librarians, over and above the regular classroom teachers allotted to the system.
One indication of the effect of both the new and the old M FPE laws is found in the fact that between 1949 (the time of the passage of the first M FPE law) and 1968, the qualifications and certification of teachers in Georgia rose dramatically. In 1946, only 40 percent of the state's teachers had a baccalaureate degree or higher. But by 1968 the figure had risen to an astronomical 97.7 percent, leaving only a scant .7 percent of teachers with two years of college or less.
And during the 1967-68 school year, 99 percent of the teachers in
city systems had a baccalaureate degree or higher, compared to 97 percent in county systems, indicating there was indeed a large
degree of success in equalizing educational opportunities.

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In the same year that Senate Bill 180 was passed (1964), using powers which it granted, the State Board of Education contracted with George Peabody College for Teachers to study the organization of public schools in the state.
The recommendations made at the end of the study surprised few educators. Among the recommendations were these
School systems in the state should be reorganized to include from 15,000 to 20,000 pupils, with 10,000 recommended as a minimum. (Only 13 of Georgia's 194 school systems had 10,000 pupils at that time.)
School systems in the state should be reorganized to include from 15,000 to 20,000 pupils with 10,000 recommended as a minimum. (Only 13 of Georgia's 194 school systems had 10,000 pupils at that time.)
A "standard" high school should contain 800 to 1,200 students, with a minimum-maximum range of 500 to 1,500. The twelfth grade should have an enrollment of at least 100.
Elementary schools should have at least one teacher per grade, with a desired range of from 400 to 600 pupils and a maximum of 720.
The report came to be known as the "McClurkin (or Peabody) Report," and its main theme was clear: Larger schools and larger school systems are able to give children a broader, richer, higher-quality educational opportunity at lower cost per pupil.
(It should be pointed out that the McClurkin Report placed greatest
emphasis on the need for larger local school systems for the most
efficient and economic administration of the public schools.) 37

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Another section of Senate Bill 180 gave the State Board of Education its first authority to establish standards for the state's schools. So in 1966 the Board adopted and published its first set of "Standards for Georgia Schools."
The adoption of Standards was another step forward in the attempt to upgrade and equalize educational opportunities in the state. Consolidation efforts were promoted, qualifications for system superintendents were upgraded and higher salaries were paid to teachers and other staff members with superior certification. Also, schools were required to offer more courses.

Substantial progress has been made during the relatively short time Georgia's schools have been operating under the "standards." In 1967, 49.11 percent of the state's schools were rated "standard," and in the following year 63.73 percent had attained that rating.


Two of the more promising alternatives to the radical reorganization of the schools proposed by the McClurkin Report have been area vocational high schools and the "shared services" concept. Both are further attempts to offer greater educational opportunities to children in rural areas.

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First authorized in 1965, the area vocational high schools offer a comprehensive program of academic and vocational education designed to give students a saleable vocational skill which will enable them to profitably go to work directly after high school. Under the program schools in certain predominantly rural areas are designated as "area" schools, and may serve students brought in by bus from their "home" schools in the area for a half-day of vocational instruction. (There are now 18 such schools in the state.)

Under the "shared services" concept, local systems cooperate in providing themselves with services they would not be able to afford on their own. Such services usually emphasize curriculum consultants who specialize in setting up new, special programs, such as programs for handicapped children. But the shared services projects are by no means confined to such services, and may offer testing specialists, audiovisual repair, cooperative purchasing and a host of other services.

One such project is called the "Ninth (Congressional) District Educational Services Center." Located in the tiny North Georgia town of Cleveland, the Center serves 22 counties, 28 school systems, 202 schools, over 3,000 teachers and more than 95,000 pupils. C. T. Battle, director of the financial services division of the Georgia Department of Education, calls the Center "one of the most outstanding......projects in Georgia...... This project should become a model project for other areas of the state." (Several other similar projects are operating in various parts of the state.)

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One of the most important advances in public education in Georgia has been the establishment of 25 area vocational-technical schools throughout the state, where students just out of high school can learn vocational skills. Here is a listing of the schools, their locations, and the years in which they were established.

1943 1947 1961
1962 1963

North Georgia Technical and Vocational School, Clarkesville
South Georgia Technical and Vocational School, Americus
Augusta Area Vocational-Technical School Columbus Area Vocational-Technical School Albany Area Vocational-Technical School
Coosa Valley Area Vocational-Technical School, Rome
Marietta-Cobb Area Vocational-Technical School DeKalb Area Vocational-Technical School, Clarkston Swainsboro Area Vocational-Technical School Valdosta Area Vocational-Technical School Thomas Area Vocational-Technical School, Thomasville


- - - - - ... , ...... '''" ......

1964 1965 1966
1967 1968 1970

Moultrie Area Vocational-Technical School Upson County Area Vocational-Technical School, Thomaston
Waycross-Ware County Area Vocational-Technical School
Macon Area Vocational-Technical School Savannah Area Vocational-Technical School Athens Area Vocational-Technical School Troup County Area Vocational-Technical School, LaGrange Griffin-Spalding Area Vocational-Technical School Lanier Area Vocational-Technical School, Oakwood Walker County Area Vocational-Technical School, Rock Spring
Atlanta Area Vocational-Technical School Pickens County Area Vocational-Technical School, Jasper
Carroll County Area Vocational-Technical School Carrollton
Ben Hill-Irwin Area Vocational-Technical School, Fitzgerald-Oci IIa


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Public education in its first 100 years in Georgia can perhaps be briefly summarized as having done the job, but not as well as it should have been done. Few of the state's educators, when questioned in private, express the opinion that the state's schools are doing as good a job as they could. But most do feel that steady progress has unquestionably been achieved.
That progress has come most dramatically in the three great pieces of educational legislation discussed earlier--the "Equalization Act" of 1937, the first "Minimum Foundation Program for Education" of 1949, and the "new" MFPE law passed in 1964.


What direction should public education in Georgia take during its second hundred years? To State Superintendent of Schools Jack P. Nix the answer is obvious:
Public education in its second 100 years in Georgia must
move with all possible speed to upgrade the minimum foundation program for education so that it becomes an adequate foundation program for education. We must insure that every child in every section of the state has the opportunity to obtain the type of excellent public school education which is absolutely essential for a successful life in our modern world.

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Scene from Educational Television Centennial Program "First Man in Space" Scene from Educational Television Centennial Program Scene from Educational Television Centennial Program Taylor School, Bacon County, Alma, Georgia Dr. M. L. Brittain, State School Superintendent 1911-1922 Jackson High School, Jackson, Georgia, picture from "The Marionette," 1924 yearbook of Jackson High Butts County, old elementary school, Stark, Georgia First Blue Bird school bus, built in 1927 Painting of a school room by Winslow Homer State Office Building circa 1938 Scene from Educational Television Centennial Program Dr. James S. Peters Old school in Quitman City System Photo used for centennial poster Scene from Educational Television Centennial Program Jack P. Nix, State Superintendent of Schools