Image of a early 20th century classroom
Early 20th Century Classroom

General Supervision of Schools.
State law has always provided for oversight of public schools. Between 1795 and 1856 elected town ' commissioners or superintendents of schools licensed teachers, distributed state aid, and compiled statistical reports. Locally-appointed County Superintendents of Schools oversaw the common school districts from 1841 to 1847. Their reports to Albany deplored the poor condition of the country schools. (A survey in 1842 found that most of them lacked outhouses and playgrounds.) An 1856 law abolished town-level supervision of common schools and established the elective office of Commissioner of Schools (one in each Assembly district, later one or more in each county). These School Commissioners had general authority over public education outside of cities and larger villages. They visited schools, examined and certified teachers, organized teachers' institutes, and established or altered school district boundaries. The School Commissioners were the local agents of and reported to the Superintendent of Public Instruction. An 1880 law permitted women to serve as School Commissioner, and a few did. While some of the School Commissioners were political hacks, many had teaching experience and worked hard at their jobs.

At the urging of farm groups, the office of School Commissioner was replaced in 1912 with the District Superintendent of Schools, appointed locally but paid by and responsible to the Commissioner of Education. Before 1942 the District Superintendents served five year, renewable terms; since then their terms have been indefinite. There were originally 207 District Superintendencies statewide; today there are 38. The duty of the District Superintendents, as Commissioner Draper wrote in 1912, was not "visitation" of the rural schools but rather "intelligent supervision." Between the 1920s and the 1950s the Superintendents were the Department's local agents in the intensive campaign to centralize rural schools. The Department continues to supervise occasional consolidations (and also, since 1945, annexations) of smaller central school districts; the Commissioner issues the order laying out the new district, prior to the final vote. In recent decades the District Superintendents have served as administrators of Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), and have also continued to represent the Commissioner.

School districts in cities and the larger villages have had their own superintendents since the mid-nineteenth century and were never under the jurisdiction of the School Commissioners or District Superintendents. Schools under city and village superintendents had considerable autonomy. In 1921-22 the Board of Regents made Regents exams optional in those schools, providing that they used tests of the College Entrance Examination Board or local exams approved by the Department. In later years many urban high schools prided themselves on giving exams that were more challenging than the Regents exams. City school superintendents, principals, and teachers were active in the Department's curriculum planning. However, Department inspectors spent almost all their time in the field visiting the smaller high schools or, by the 1920s, speaking at conferences of administrators and teachers. The Department's "hands-off' policy toward the city schools would change dramatically during the 1960s.

The Department's school "inspectors" were retitled "supervisors" in 1926, and by the 1930s consultative services to schools were being emphasized. Starting 1931 the finance division provided advice on accounting, auditing, and budgeting to newly-organized central rural school districts. By the end of the decade this service was offered to all districts, and new uniform accounting forms were adopted. The Department continues to provide various business services (including management studies) to school districts and the BOCES. The Department also reviews and approves plans for school construction so that they meet all local, state, and federal code requirements. The School Commissioners began approving school building projects in union free districts in 1864. This responsibility was given to the Commissioner in 1904. The function was first carried out in the Department's old inspections division, in a separate division after 1915. School construction reached new peaks during the mid- and later 1930s, because of district centralization and federal Depression aid, and again during the 1950s and early '60s, because of the post-war 'baby boom." School building standards were completely revised in the early 1950s, giving schools the "long, low" look they now display. The Department's school facilities unit also has general responsibility for the health, safety, and accessibility of schools statewide.

Transporting rural children to school became possible with the coming of automobiles, paved roads, and snow plows. Transportation of students in union free and central districts was required by a 1925 statute. A much disliked, often challenged 1930 law mandated common districts to pay half the cost of transporting their high school pupils. After 1929 District Superintendents approved the terms of transportation contracts, and the Department checked and filed them. Since 1942 the Department has formally approved bids for transportation contracts, reviewed school bus routes, and established standards for drivers and vehicles. Today, in all but the largest cities, school districts provide or contract for transportation of pupils if they live at a distance from their school.

Since the 1920s the state, not the federal government, has been legally responsible for education of Indians in New York. State support began in 1846, when the Legislature appropriated money to help build reservation schools. After 1864 these schools got regular state aid. Since 1954 adjoining central school districts have taught reservation students on contract with the Department. In the late 1930s the Department began encouraging (rather than discouraging) the teaching of aboriginal languages and culture. A Native American education unit was set up in 1972.

Universal School Attendance

Attendance figures were used to calculate all or part of Regents' aid to private academies starting in 1847. The advent of free public education in the 1860s provided the opportunity to promote, or to compel, regular attendance in the public schools. Decades passed before success was achieved. Average daily attendance was used to compute part of general school aid starting 1866, in the hope of encouraging attendance. An 1874 law required most children to attend school at least 70 days a year, but there was little means of enforcing this law. Growing public concern about child labor in factories and sweatshops helped persuade the Legislature to pass a strong compulsory attendance law in 1894. The law required children aged 8-12 to attend the full school year of 130 days; employed children aged 13-14 had to attend at least 80 days. The school year was increased to 160 days in 1896, 180 days in 1913, and has not changed since. The official school-leaving age was increased to 15 in 1916, 16 in 1936, and the end of the school year in which a person turns 16, in 1994. The 1894 attendance law required city and village districts to appoint truant officers, who could and did arrest truant pupils (over 25,000 arrests in 1903-04). To assist the truant officers, a biennial school census in the larger cities and villages was mandated in 1895; an annual census was required in all other districts with more than eight teachers starting in 1909. The Department's compulsory attendance division received monthly attendance data from every district (except cities) and could withhold state aid from districts with poor records. By the 1920s the Department stopped trying to coerce regular attendance. It now emphasized the child's right to an education and urged schools to cooperate with social workers and the courts. The old attendance and child accounting division was dismantled in 1937, and attendance and census functions were grouped with other school administrative services.

Since the 1920s the Department has promoted early childhood education. A five-year project funded by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Foundation reported in 1933 that "the time has come for the integration of the primary school, kindergarten and nursery school into one comprehensive program for young children.' A new bureau of child development and parent education organized modest-sized programs of care for preschool children of poor families during the Depression and World War II. The emergency Federal aid for these programs was not continued. Kindergartens dated from the 1880s and were common in city school systems by the 1920s, but state aid for them was not authorized until 1942. The vision of widened services to young children persisted. In 1966 new legislative funding permitted some districts to begin pre-kindergarten programs for children from poor households. This state-funded program (separate from federally-supported day child care) continues successfully to the present.

Regents Examinations and Curricula

From the beginning the Regents tried to maintain high standards in secondary schools. Grants from the Literature Fund were intended to support academic instruction. In 1817 and again in 1828 the Regents specified the texts or subjects that academies must teach to qualify for aid. Aid was restricted to those students who had passed local entrance examinations in the 'common branch" subjects of reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, and geography. Unfortunately, many academies lowered their standards in order to attract students and get state aid. Free high schools in the large cities experimented with uniform examinations. In 1864 the Regents, encouraged by Chancellor John V. S. L. Pruyn, decided to require public examinations of all students who sought admission to academies and high schools. A year later the Regents distributed the first preliminary" examinations.

Colleges were calling for higher standards in secondary schools, and an 1877 statute authorized the Regents to give "academic" examinations as a standard for high school graduation and college admission. The Regents exams were quickly adopted because they embodied high scholastic standards, and because academies and high schools had to use them to qualify for aid from the Literature Fund. Strict security measures-including the famous sealed envelopes and locked boxes-were in place by 1890. At their high point, in 1925, Regents high school exams were given in 68 different subjects. For many decades all higher-level Regents exams were rated, and diplomas issued in Albany.

The Regents exams were (and are) unique in the nation. The Department was proud of studies done in the 1920s and '30s which indicated that high scores on the exams were good predictors of success in college. However, steps were taken to reduce the complexity and expense of the exam system. After 1906 Regents exams were not offered in first- and second-year language courses. In 1927 one third of the high school exams were discontinued. The Department even proposed eliminating the preliminary exams, given in the seventh and eighth grades. Many school administrators objected to the proposal, and the preliminary exams continued to be offered until 1959. The Regents in 1937 approved the proposal of the State Examinations Board and the Department for comprehensive Regents examinations. The first of these were given in foreign languages, followed by English (1951). Consolidation of Regents exams approached its practical limit by the end of the 1960s. The Board of Regents in 1972 accepted, with some dissents, the Commissioner's recommendation to continue the Regents high school exams and the Regents diploma, pending the development of alternative student assessment programs. In 1996 the Regents designated the exams as the general testing standard for high school graduation, and the less demanding high school competency exams (given since 1978) were scheduled to be discontinued.

The Regents exams were accompanied by curricula, outlined in published syllabi and teacher's guides. The first Regents high school syllabus was issued in 1880. After a decade of experimentation, the program of Regents exams, certificates, and diplomas was stabilized in 1890. Semi-official course outlines for elementary schools were first prepared by School Commissioners during the 1880s; the Department of Public Instruction issued an official version in 1896. Revised, expanded syllabi for elementary and secondary education followed every few years, with a trend toward integrated course sequences in particular subject areas. After 1910 separate syllabi were issued for each subject. The early curricula emphasized learning and reciting of facts, lots of them, with the aim of instilling "mental discipline' (if nothing else). A significant acknowledgment of the value of learning from experience was the institution in 1905 of formal laboratory work in high school science courses.

Recommended curricula and teaching methods changed dramatically after the 1920s, as part of the nationwide movement to fit education to the child's social and intellectual development. The new approach was proposed by the assistant commissioner for elementary education and the association of school superintendents in 1927, and outlined in the Department's "Cardinal Objectives of Elementary Education,' issued in 1929. The unit-organized, activity-centered teaching methods recommended by the "Cardinal Objectives" were widely adopted by schools during the 1930s. A new manual for rural school teachers (1933) was the Department's first major guide to what was termed "progressive education." In 1940-41 the Department reviewed and applauded the results of a six-year experimental "child-centered" curriculum in selected New York City elementary schools. The "social studies"-an amalgam of history, geography, civics, and economics-were given a central place in a new secondary school curriculum approved by the Regents in 1934. Unified syllabi for the social studies were completed by the mid-1940s. An outline for secondary school social studies praised the "democratic way of life' and aimed to prepare young people for harmonious participation in the society and economy in which they found themselves.

After World War II the Department's curriculum and teaching experts emphasized conceptual understanding and the tools and skills of learning. However, political and intellectual trends also renewed educators' interest in curriculum subject matter. Social studies tended to stress citizenship education in the 1940s and '50s, international affairs in the 1960s and '70s, and multiple cultural perspectives in the 1980s and '90s. During the 1960s the Department ran a center for international programs to help educators understand non-western cultures. The secondary school science curriculum was revised in the late 1940s, after a generation of relative neglect. The first science syllabus for the elementary grades had been issued in 1931, and teaching of science on that level was finally mandated in 1958, because of public concern over Soviet successes in space technology. Revised biology syllabi incorporated new knowledge in genetics and ecology; physics syllabi took account of discoveries in the sub-atomic realm. By the 1950s algebra, geometry, and trigonometry were being merged into integrated mathematics courses. In the 1960s "new math" came and went. Around 1970 some special projects attempted "the humanization of the curriculum and the school as a whole," stressing social and environmental problems. Summer schools for the arts, established in 1976, gave instruction to students with special talents in music, drama, dance, and art.

Today the Department issues a catalog listing nearly three hundred curriculum publications, almost all of them produced or revised since the Regents Action Plan to Improve Elementary and Secondary Education was adopted in 1984. The State Examinations Board (first organized in 1906) appoints committees of teachers to prepare questions for Regents exams and to advise on development of syllabi. Curriculum development is a multi-step process involving needs assessment, project planning, research and drafting, and field review and testing. Curricula are implemented with the help of a network of advisers, set up in 1985.

Challenges of Urban Education

Huge numbers of newcomers from the countryside and from abroad crowded into New York's cities between the 1820s and the 1920s. During that century, economic and social conditions increasingly favored the cause of mass elementary education-basic literacy and numeracy. Though the gap between rich and poor was increasing, cities over the long term grew in size and overall wealth. They could and did tax themselves to build and staff public schools, even though those schools were often overcrowded. Family ties were strong, though many families were broken up-by death, seldom by divorce. Schools, churches, synagogues, fraternal lodges, union halls, and neighborhoods offered family-like social bonds that promoted, rather successfully, positive codes of behavior. The crime rate steadily declined (from the 1860s through the 1940s), increasing safety and security for the young.

Since the 1940s urban education has faced increasingly serious obstacles. The cities have lost population and wealth, relative to the inner and outer suburbs. The general increase in personal wealth has stalled since the 1970s, and New York is losing its economic preeminence in the United States. Urban crime rates climbed sharply from the 1950s through the '80s, endangering public safety. Family ties and private social networks appeared to be somewhat weaker everywhere, not just in the inner cities. Yet the schools and colleges are expected to teach the young much more, for more years, than ever before, to supply skilled workers for a highly competitive labor market. And the cities and schools of New York have received a large influx of new immigrants from the American South, from Puerto Rico, and from many other countries. The children of those newcomers need to be educated to become productive, responsible citizens-a task for both the school and the community.

Racial separation had long been present in New York's public school system. Schools for African-Americans had existed in a few places since the eighteenth century, and such schools were specifically authorized by statutes passed in 1841 and 1864. A couple dozen communities operated "colored" schools during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Laws of 1873 and 1900 (passed at the urging of blacks) forbade discrimination in access to schools on account of race. However, state courts held in 1883 and 1900 that the separate schools for "colored children" were constitutional if they provided facilities equal to those for whites. The statute permitting separate schools for blacks was repealed in 1938. In 1944 Commissioner George D. Stoddard ordered the closing of the state's last all-black school, in Rockland County.

From a small presence in the later nineteenth century, New York's City's African-American population increased steadily during and after the two World Wars. The black population also grew in Rochester, Buffalo, and other larger cities. The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education established a constitutional principle that racially segregated schools are inherently unequal. Commissioners James E. Allen, Jr., and Ewald B. Nyquist led the Regents and the Department in a twenty-year long campaign to desegregate and integrate New York's urban school systems. In 1957 the Department set up a division of intercultural relations to administer New York's anti-discrimination legislation (the Educational Practices Act of 1948) and to help school districts achieve "racial balance.' A Regents' policy statement of 1960 condemned racial segregation in the public schools and praised "equal educational opportunity." A statewide survey counted 307 elementary schools in New York City (59 outside the city) in which the enrollment was over half Negroes. A Commissioner's advisory committee recommended integrating schools across entire districts, without regard to neighborhood boundaries.

In June 1963 Commissioner Allen directed every school district to report its policy and plan for eliminating racial imbalance. When progress was unsatisfactory in several New York City suburban districts and the Buffalo district, the Commissioner ordered them to implement plans for school desegregation; the courts upheld his authority to issue these orders. By 1968 twenty-two districts had programs to achieve racial balance. However, in 1969 the increasingly skeptical Legislature barred the assignment of pupils to particular schools "for the purpose of achieving equality in attendance ... of persons of one or more particular races," without the approval of the local board of education. During the early 1970s Commissioner Nyquist ordered several more urban districts to desegregate their schools. The Department reviewed applications for federal grants to overcome "minority group isolation.' Staff also assisted Buffalo in desegregating its schools, under a federal court order issued in 1976. However, after more than a decade of effort and controversy, school desegregation had not produced any definite overall improvements in pupil performance in innercity schools.

In 1968-69 public and Department attention largely focused on the demands for "community control" of New York City schools. In 1964 Commissioner Allen had recommended a "4-4-4" plan for New York City's public schools, with integrated middle schools and new comprehensive high schools in campus-like settings. The city was very slow to implement this plan. In 1967, three experimental community school districts were set up in New York City, with support from the Ford Foundation. In the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district an extralegal local board of education became engaged in a bitter controversy with the United Federation of Teachers regarding teacher transfers. Three city-wide teachers' strikes occurred in the fall of 1967, and Commissioner Allen worked with the city authorities to bring the union to an agreement that protected teachers' rights and temporarily turned the Brownsville district over to a state-appointed trustee. In 1968 the Legislature passed a compromise New York City school decentralization law which abolished the temporary districts; provided for permanent community school districts to run elementary and middle schools; replaced the city school superintendent with a chancellor having increased powers; and continued a city-wide board of education.

Commissioner Ewald B. Nyquist shared Allen's commitment to mandatory school desegregation. At first a majority of the Regents were willing to support him, though they much preferred voluntary integration. However, by the early 1970s the political climate for education was definitely changing. The Taylor Law (1967) permitted both school teachers and state workers to unionize. The New York State Teachers Association merged with the United Federation of Teachers to form the powerful New York State United Teachers (1972). Legislative redistricting enabled the Democrats to take control of the Assembly in 1975, and for the first time in generations that party had the deciding vote in the election of new Regents. (The Board had been strongly Republican.) Legislative and Budget staff became increasingly involved in negotiating state aid for schools, and the Governor and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly made the crucial budget decisions. The old Education Conference Board, consisting of the School Boards Association, Council of School Administrators, New York State Teachers Association, and other groups, lost the influence it had wielded since the 1930s.

By the mid-1970s the Regents and the Department were under intense political and fiscal scrutiny. In 1973 the Governor made a controversial proposal for an independent "inspector general" to oversee the public education system. He did establish an Office of Education Performance Review (abolished by a new administration in 1975). A majority of the Legislature disliked mandatory busing of children to accomplish school integration. In 1974 the Legislature reduced Regents' terms of office, with the avowed aim of replacing pro-busing incumbents. The internal balance of the Regents changed, and in 1976 a majority of the board voted to dismiss the Commissioner, the first time this had ever occurred. However, new state and federal programs to assist disadvantaged children were by now well established; the emphasis of education policy had shifted from "equal opportunity" to "equal outcome.'

Experimental state programs for urban education in the early 1960s included Project ABLE, helping schools staffs to identify and assist talented minority students; and the School to Employment Program (STEP), combining work and school for potential high school dropouts. The Department's concern for the cities was emphasized in the Regents' policy and plan for urban education, adopted in 1967. A center on innovation in education, supported by federal money, promoted educational programs to achieve integration and educational opportunity regardless of race or class. An ambitious Urban Aid program was authorized by the Legislature in 1968 to 'revitalize" city school systems, through programs of special instruction and community involvement. Urban aid for special projects was based on numbers of pupils with low reading scores or from poor families. This aid supplemented the fast-growing federal aid for educationally disadvantaged pupils, under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Urban Aid was replaced in 1974 by aid for pupils with special educational needs (PSEN). PSEN aid was based on the number of students with low scores on reading and math tests, and was available to any district, urban, suburban, or rural. The Department was required to report to the Legislature on the impact of compensatory education programs. Auditors severely criticized some aspects of state and local administration of PSEN aid, but PSEN aid did target and reach schools with under-performing students. PSEN aid was later administered jointly with Federal aid under ESEA Title I, and eventually was replaced by aid for pupils with compensatory educational needs (PCEN).

Statewide Standards for Students and Schools

For decades the Regents syllabi and examinations were the means by which the Department set standards for secondary schools and assessed pupil achievement. However, a parallel, non-Regents secondary school program emerged. Starting 1906 high schools were authorized to issue a local diploma to students who had not taken and passed Regents exams. After 1922 high schools in city and village superintendencies could substitute other tests for the Regents exams. The first Regents rules setting basic and elective courses of study in secondary schools (grades 7-12) were adopted in 1934. (English, social studies, health, and physical education were the only courses required of all students.) Minimum course requirements for the local high school diploma were somewhat strengthened in 1947. During the 1950s and '60s integrated course sequences for grades K-12, the first ever, were developed.

Interest in new statewide pupil assessment tools grew during the 1920s and '30s, and in 1940 the Department began to issue standardized reading and math progress tests for general use in the middle and upper grades. Schools also employed national standardized tests. Falling student test scores became a statewide concern by the later 1960s and '70s. New state tests measured the extent of the problem and helped set minimum standards. Federal aid (ESEA Title 1) enabled the Department to develop Pupil Evaluation Program (PEP) tests to measure reading, writing, and math skills in grades 3, 6, and 9, starting in 1965-66. After 1978 new basic competency tests in reading, writing, and math were given to all high school students, and passage of the tests became the minimum standard for the local high school diploma in 1979-81. (Critics asserted that the tests were either too hard, or too easy.)

The Department also increased its oversight of schools. Since 1955 there had been a program to review and re-register new secondary schools after their initial registration. In 1975 this process was extended to older, permanently-registered high schools, and all high schools were to be visited twice every ten years. In 1961 the Department started a cooperative, voluntary review service to assess a district's educational program and remedy deficiencies (New York City was the first district to be reviewed). The Department had an increased presence in New York City's new community school districts, established in 1968. Urban aid programs of the early 1970s were coordinated by an office of urban school services. In 1970 the Department established a unit to visit and assist private and parochial schools, which now received some state aid for state-required tests and reports.

Beyond improved assessment and increased oversight came initiatives to reform schools. In the later 1960s the short-lived center on innovation in education sought to develop the 'capabilities of school administrators and teachers for inducing change.' Commissioner Nyquist's "Redesign in Education" program of 1968-72 gave a few pilot districts some extra resources and relief from regulation, in order to encourage the school and community to find ways to improve student achievement. After 1978 the Department's Resource Allocation Plan coordinated the delivery of federal, state, and local resources to selected school buildings where pupils performed poorly in the new Regents competency tests. Department staff cooperated with school building administrators and teachers in a common effort to raise pupil achievement by identifying problems and developing solutions to them.

Commissioner Gordon Ambach brought the three streams of tests, standards, and school review and improvement into the Regents Action Plan to Improve Elementary and Secondary Education, approved in 1984. The stated purpose of the Action Plan was to provide all students with the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge they would need for "their 21st century lifetime.' The Action Plan increased academic course loads and required high school graduates to demonstrate competency in English, mathematics, science, global studies, and U.S. history and government Students who failed in these subjects received remedial instruction. School districts were required to prepare and make available to the press and the public a yearly comprehensive assessment report (CAR) for each school building, giving data on enrollment, attendance and dropout rates, and student performance in state tests. After 1987 a new system of school registration review targeted schools having unfavorable assessment reports or other signs of failure. Schools placed under registration review (SURR), virtually all of them in New York City, prepared comprehensive school improvement plans, with help from teachers and parents. Schools failing to improve were warned that they could have their registration revoked, although none were. In sum, the Regents Action Plan and the ensuing regulations and programs were the most comprehensive articulation of the Regents' power to establish standards for elementary and secondary education, since the original high school registration and examination system had matured in the 1890s.

The New Compact for Learning, developed by Commissioner Thomas Sobol and adopted by the Regents in 1991, built on the Action Plan of 1984. The New Compact was the Regents' broadest statement of educational philosophy since the Regents' Inquiry reports of the late 1930s. It embraced a number of themes, all of them aimed at raising school standards and performance: statewide goals for schools; a challenging program for all students; mutual responsibility of local school administrators, teachers, parents, and the community for school and pupil performance; Department support for school initiatives, and intervention when schools were in danger of failing. A Commissioner's regulation requiring "participation of parents and teachers in school-based planning and shared decision making" embodied a key principle of the Compact, and was implemented in 1994.

The Office of Elementary, Middle, Secondary, and Continuing Education has been reorganized to provide increased, direct services to schools. In 1988 a new, short-lived Office of School Improvement and Support was set up to administer special aid and advisory programs for under-performing schools and students, with an emphasis on family and community relations. In 1991-92 the requirements of the New Compact brought a more drastic reorganization: the divisions and bureaus were abolished, and new staff "teams" for policy, central services, and regional services were assembled. Many employees believed that staff specialties were ignored and team responsibilities uncertain; schools found the new organization confusing. Another, partial, reorganization in 1995 has retained the regional services teams but restored three program clusters: 1) curriculum, instruction, assessment, and innovation; 2) finance, management, and information services; and 3) work force preparation and continuing education. These three groupings continued older functional groupings dating back to the 1950s. The New York City and regional services teams are responsible for the current programs of direct support and technical assistance for local educational programs: conducting school quality reviews, assisting schools under registration review, implementing shared decision-making, coordinating health and family programs, and general monitoring and technical assistance.

Vocational and Adult Education

Academic subjects dominated the secondary school curriculum during the nineteenth century, although some rural academies had courses in surveying and bookkeeping. Vocational education developed first in the big city school systems. An 1848 law required the New York City board of education to offer free evening schools for apprentices and others who could not attend day school. By the 1860s "night schools" were well established. During the 18702 and '80s many city high schools added courses in drawing and 'manual arts." Introductory "industrial arts" and vocational "industrial training' courses were authorized by an 1888 statute. During the 1890s "home science' and "commercial" subjects were added to the high school curriculum. Starting 1898 Regents exams were offered for commercial, "manual training, and "domestic science" courses.

Business and farm interests and labor unions all lobbied for more vocational education. Statutes passed in 1908-09 provided state aid for vocational teachers and authorized city and union free districts to set up "general industrial schools" and more specialized "trade schools," with advisory boards. Evening schools in many cities offered free elementary and/or secondary instruction in vocational subjects (including homemaking for girls) for pupils over age sixteen. After 1918 technical high schools, offering a more academic curriculum, were established in the largest cities. The Wilmot Law of 1913 required youths aged 14-16 who quit school to go to work to attend part-time "continuation schools"; all the big cities had these schools during the 1920s and '30s. The federal Vocational Education Act (Smith-Hughes Act) of 1917 made monies available to state boards of vocational education (in New York, the Board of Regents) to train young men to work in war factories. The federal support for vocational education has continued and increased to the present.

Before 1920 enrollments in vocational schools and courses were small, because the system was developing and because school administrators had a strong preference for college entrance programs. During the 1920s, '30s, and '40s enrollments in industrial arts and business courses, part-time continuation schools, two-year trade schools, and industrial and technical high schools increased greatly. The Department's efforts were led by Lewis A. Wilson, long-time assistant commissioner for vocational and extension education and later Commissioner. The first four-year syllabus for business subjects appeared in 1925, and distributive education was introduced with federal funding in 1937. Every central rural school district was required to offer home economics; many also offered courses in agriculture. High school industrial arts courses were broadened to include materials and technologies beyond woodworking. A 1935 statute made all the industrial and technical schools full high schools, and increased industry presence on advisory boards. The larger cities had many adult occupational extension classes. Apprentice training programs were particularly active in New York, Rochester, and Buffalo.

The Department developed new types of adult education. In the 1920s it began helping businesses and industries across the state to develop their own employee training programs. Around 1940 the Department organized extensive training programs for state and local government employees. During the Depression years the bureau of adult education cooperated with state and federal relief agencies to offer emergency adult education courses statewide. During World War II the same Department staff worked with the State War Council to organize job training for 750,000 men and women working in war factories. General high school education for young adults was first provided in evening high schools established in New York City before World War 1, and in Rochester, and Buffalo during the late 1920s. High school equivalency (GED) exams began to be offered in 1947, initially to help World War 11 veterans obtain their diplomas. Between 1945 and 1962 special state aid was provided for adult secondary education programs.

After 1945 growth in the vocational education programs in the cities resumed, but statewide needs became more apparent. Federal and state aid did not keep pace with costs. Attempts to extend adult industrial education to smaller communities did not succeed very well. Decreases in state aid caused a rapid decline in the adult industrial education programs in the later 1950s. Rural high schools generally offered only basic shop and office courses. just a few counties had established vocational education and extension boards (VEEBS, authorized under a 1926 law) to teach occupational courses. The boards of cooperative educational services (BOCES), authorized by a 1948 law, were intended to help fill this gap by offering vocational and other instruction that smaller districts alone could not provide. After 1967 the BOCES constructed and operated occupational education centers. The rise of community colleges and the expansion of the SUNY agricultural and technical institutes during the 1950s and '60s provided, for the first time, a wide range of postsecondary vocational education opportunities outside the large cities.

Major federal support for student and adult programs now comes through the Vocational Education Act of 1963 and the Adult Education Act of 1966. During the 1970s the Department oversaw programs under the Manpower Development and Training Act and the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). After 1968 the federal aid for vocational education programs included special allotments for disadvantaged and handicapped students. The state plan for vocational education was revised, and the advisory council was reorganized to better serve groups with special needs. During the 1980s the Department developed new occupational education proficiency exams and completely rewrote syllabi to reflect economic and technological change in business, industry, and health care. State funds support the General Education Development (GED) testing program and the related Employment Preparation Education (EPE) program for persons over twenty-one seeking a high school diploma. Adult Centers for Education and Support Services (ACESS) combine education and job training for adults. Special aid for adult literacy programs was authorized in 1962 and augmented by federal funds after 1966. State-funded work place literacy programs have been functioning since 1987. The Education, Social Services, and Labor Departments cooperate in job training and development for welfare recipients, through the Education for Gainful Employment (EDGE) program. The federal job Training Partnership Act of 1982 provides funds for training unskilled, needy youths and adults, while Even Start is a unified family literacy program for children and adults. The federal School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 links state agencies, local schools, colleges, businesses, organizations, and unions in a major effort to achieve a universal, high-quality school-to-work transition system.'

Physical and Health Education; Nutrition Programs

After 1884 schools were required to teach human physiology and hygiene, and the Department became responsible for annual medical inspections of pupils in 1913. A 1916 statute required that all students receive physical training (including "elementary marching') as recommended by the State Military Training Commission. Permanent pupil medical inspection and (civilian) physical education programs were set up in the 1920s. After 1950 health services were grouped with other pupil services such as guidance. Recent decades have seen increasing illegal drug use and sexually transmitted diseases among school pupils. New York has obtained federal monies for drug abuse control programs in schools since 1973. A statewide HIV-AIDS awareness program began in 1987, in cooperation with the Department of Health. A consultant panel advises the Commissioner on medical, health, physical fitness, and nutrition needs of school pupils.

The first statewide school nutrition program was the distribution of surplus foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, during the early 1940s. The National School Lunch Act of 1946 provided for federal-state-local funding of a general school lunch program. Federally-funded breakfast programs for poor children began in 1969 and were expanded in 1976. The Department oversees school cafeteria business operations and nutrition planning, and approves and audits payments to schools. Major federal funding for these programs comes to New York under the School Lunch, School Milk, and Child Nutrition Act.

Education for Non-English Speakers

New York City schools began offering English language classes for immigrants in the 1880s. By the turn of the century these classes enrolled tens of thousands of men and women. A 1910 law authorized city and village districts to offer free evening English language classes for adults. Moved by the widespread anti-foreigner hysteria during and after World War 1, the Legislature required city and larger village districts to offer night school classes for immigrants and illiterates and to compel eligible youths aged 16-21 to attend. The Department took direct control of this program in 1919. These 'Americanization" classes were returned to local control in 1921, and some state aid was provided for them. Starting in 1923 the Department administered Regents literacy exams and each year issued thousands of literacy certificates to naturalized citizens, qualifying them to vote. These literacy and citizenship programs now became part of general adult education.

The first modern state aid for educating children who did not speak English was authorized in 1955. The Bilingual Education Act (1968) provided federal grants for bilingual and English as a second language (ESL) instruction. New York statutes of 1968 and 1970 authorized instruction in a native language other than English, declared state policy of insuring "the mastery of English by all students in schools," and specifically authorized bilingual instruction, for up to three years, for pupils with limited English proficiency. Department policy on bilingual education was established by a Regents' position paper in 1972. The Department developed new LEP regulations and curriculum in 1982. A bilingual education unit, established in 1969, coordinates programs for the two hundred thousand school children in New York who have limited proficiency in English.


Last Updated: November 25, 2008