Public school reform and school board policy in Painesville, Ohio: 1850-1920
Darrow, Warren Richard
Gruber, Ira D.
Master of Arts
In recent years historians have displayed renewed interest in the history of education. Accompanying this revival in the field of educational history is a more critical examination of the development and goals of public education in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Scholars are new skeptical of the long-accepted belief that the history of public schools is a story of unqualified progress. Although recent scholarship has added greatly to the historical picture of public schools and school reform, these writings are focused for the most part on public education in large urban areas. Excellent studies of schools in Boston, New York, St. Louis, Portland, and other major cities exist, but systematic studies of education in smaller cities or towns are few. This thesis examines public education in one small city, Painesville, Ohio. A study of education in a small community should not, however, ignore the historiography of urban school reform. City and town were not separated by an impenetrable barrier. Educational developments in one area could certainly affect other locations regardless of population. In addition, decisions of state legislatures relating to public schools could apply to both city and village. Thus, the first chapter of this thesis is devoted to the literature on public school reform. Although most of the works considered deal with either urban schools in general or with education in particular cities, they provide a basis for comparison with events in Painesville. Since the purpose of this thesis is to study education in a specific city over several decades, the second chapter provides a brief history of Painesville. County histories, the Painesville Telegraph, and census records supplied most of the information. This historical sketch of the town defines the context within which educational adjustments took place. Rather than attempt a comprehensive account of public education in Painesville, the focus of this study is primarily on the board of education and on the organizational changes in the school system. Chapters three and four describe the policy and membership of the school boards and trace the structural changes in the school system. The school board is an appropriate object of study for this is the body that debated and formulated public school policy. Board members decided which educational changes were needed by the community. Fortunately# the minutes of school board meetings, beginning with the first meeting in 1851# survive intact. This valuable source records educational leaders and the issues they held important. Census records and references in the newspaper give some important information about board members themselves. School reform in Painesville in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries paralleled changes in large cities, but the reasons for changes were not the same for both places. In large urban areas centralized school systems resulted in part from the pressure of numbers. Political leaders also used bureaucratic school systems to counter the social diversity and the potential cultural threat brought by immigration. Painesville*s citizens placed their schools under a central administration in 1851 and over the next seventy years the school board further developed a bureaucratic or centralized system characterized by professional administrators and by codified rules. But in Painesville the motivation for change stemmed primarily from a desire to emulate the progressive educational reforms found in large cities# not from the pressures of urbanization. Some influential people in Painesville wanted an efficient, centralized school system. The reason for the "progress" of the town's schools was not the pressure of social change, rather it was the symbolic importance that these influential people attached to modern public schools.