Reform of Public Education

Cassidy Kenefick

Leaders & Their Contributions

Horace Mann

Horace Mann was the first secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education and established the first state-supported teachers' college. Mann and his followers believed that education could end the domination of capital and labor. They also believed that it could protect democracy because educated people would be in office. Horace Mann of Massachusetts led the common school movement in the early 1800s, in which public schools were financed by local property taxes. Mann also emphasized positive reinforcement instead of punishment. Horace Mann was the father of public education.


Mann worked for:

  • improved schools.

  • mandatory student attendance.

  • a longer school year.

  • increased teacher preparation


Henry Barnard

Henry Barnard was instrumental in legislation that created a state board of common schools. Serving as secretary of that board, he founded and edited the Connecticut Common School Journal and Annals of Education (1838–42) and established the first teachers’ institute (1839). In 1843 Barnard was called to Rhode Island to make a study of that state’s schools, and in 1845 he became the state’s first commissioner of education.


Henry Barnard worked for:

  • a new education system in Rhode Island
  • a new education system in Connecticut
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Goals & Tactics

The goal of Reform of Public Education was to make education available to all children in the United States. Many people, including Horace Mann, believed that public education was the key to developing our country and improving the quality of life for the people. Other than just providing education, the goal of Reform of Public Education was to improve schools in general. Another goal was make attendance in schools mandatory and increase the length of the school year.

Major Achievements

By the beginning of the Civil War over fifty percent of children were enrolled in school which was a major improvement. Allowing free schooling to children was one of the best improvements made within the United States during this time period. The public then began to support the education system even though it increased taxes. State departments of education were formed and teacher were trained to improved the quality of teachers. Public schools began to flourish during the Industrial Revolution. By the time of the Civil War, with 94% of population of the North and 83% of the population in the South, the U.S. had one of the highest literacy rates in the world.