A successful history of—and the threat to—Public Education in the United States

06 Apr

I’m sure you’ve heard for years—even decades—that the public schools are failing; that teachers are lazy, incompetent and their labor unions are responsible for this so-called failure.

The solution: fire the teachers, close the public schools and get rid of the labor unions. Then turn education over to private sector corporations run by CEOs who only answer to their wealthiest stock holders. For instance, Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, the Walton family, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdock and a flock of Hedge Fund billionaires.

Let’s see what you think after we go back to 1779 and walk through 235 years of history to the present. It won’t take long—a few facts and a conclusion.

  • We’ll start with Thomas Jefferson in 1779, because he thought the US should have two education systems: one for the wealthy and one for everyone else.  As Jefferson said, we’ll “rake a few geniuses from the rubbish.”
  • The first public high school opened in Boston in 1820, and by the 1830s in the southern slave states laws were passed making it illegal to teach slaves to read.
  • In 1851, Massachusetts was the first state to pass a compulsory education law.

This video shows how the public schools started in the US, but the Prussian method of teaching kids shown in this video will change—watch 2nd video.

  • In 1870, 2% of the US population graduated from high school.
  • In 1896, the Southern States pass laws requiring racial segregation in the public schools. They can’t stop blacks and other minorities from attending public schools so they make sure these children attend separate schools and have less funding.
  • By 1900, the high school graduation rate reaches 6.4% and 6.2% of whites were illiterate compared to 44.5% of blacks and other minorities.
  • By 1918, all states have passed school attendance legislation, although until the 1930s, many were unsuccessful in enforcing their compulsory schooling laws. However, as the population increased, and as the demand for well-trained labor grew, the bureaucratic machinery for enforcement was created.
  • In 1938, for the first time, minimum ages of employment and hours of work for children are regulated by federal law.
  • By 1940, the graduation rate reaches 50.8% and only 2% of whites are illiterate compared to 11.5% of blacks and other minorities.
  • In 1945, at the end of World War 2, the G.I. Bill of Rights gives thousands of working class men college scholarships for the first time in U.S. history. In fact, I went to college on the Vietnam G.I. Bill.
  • By 1954, The Supreme Court unanimously agrees in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that segregated schools are “inherently unequal” and must be abolished. Forty years later, segregation is back and getting worse.
  • In 1955, Milton Friedman, the father of neo-liberal economics, envisions a school voucher system to slowly privatize public schools. His followers have never given up.

During the 1970s and 80s, public education evolves from the regimented Prussian model to focus on critical thinking and problem solving skills. But this will be reversed when President G. W. Bush enacts his “No Child Left Behind Act” and then under President Obama’s “Race to the Top” the process will speed up.

  • In 1979, 0.4% of whites are illiterate compared to 1.6% of blacks and other minorities.
  • After Ronald Reagan is elected president in 1980, his secretary of education William Bennett began an all-out war on teachers, teachers unions and public school districts. He calls democratically elected school boards and school districts “the blob”. Reagan also vetoed the Fairness Doctrine that for thirty-eight years required the media to offer the public an honest balanced reporting of important issues, and soon after the Fairness Doctrine was abolished conservative talk radio exploded across the country using cherry-picked facts to present biased opinions without balanced reporting.
  • In 1990, the high school dropout rate is 12 percent.
  • In 2007, 80.7% of Asians graduate from high school; 76.6% of Whites; 55.5% Hispanic/Latino; 53.7% of Black and 50.7% of American Indians.
  • In 2011, neoliberal President Obama with support from Bill Gates, Rupert Murdock (and other billionaires that include the Walton family and the Koch brothers) implement Common Core standards that leads to testing in 2014 that is designed to fail teachers and schools so the public schools may be legally labeled failures, closed, all teachers fired, and then corporations will take over teaching our children—taking all power away from parents and the democratic process, and these new private schools supported by the taxpayer will not be accountable to the people.
  • By 2011, the high school drop our rate has fallen to 7%—an improvement of 5% since 1990.
  • In 2012, for the first time in US history, a third of the nation’s 25 to 29 year olds have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and by age 24, 90% of Americans have earned a high school degree or its equivalent.
  • In the fall of 2013, a record 21.8 million students were expected to attend American colleges and universities, an increase of about 6.5 million since fall of 2000.

But even with all this success, in recent years, the Walton family has spent more than $1 billion toward efforts to “infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system.” Never mind that this money is mostly in states where no Walton family members live or have children in school. In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported that Bill Gates has spent $5 billion in his attempt to destroy public education with the same goal—the Walton’s and the other billionaires have—to fire public school teachers and close public schools.

In conclusion, the Common Core standards teach students what to think, not how to think. The Common Core is a return to the Prussian method of teaching children (see the 1st video) and there will be a double standard in education. There will be the underfunded public schools that end up teaching the most difficult, at risk children, as Jefferson said, “the rubbish”, and the private sector corporate schools will take students who are all on their way to college.

The billionaires listed in the first paragraph are pushing hard to achieve Jefferson’s vision.  For instance, Bill Gates has spent billions selling the lie of Common Core testing to Americans while other billionaires are pushing hard to close the transparent, democratically run public schools that are accountable to everyone and replace them with an elite, opaque private schools system that doesn’t answer to anyone but a CEO—all paid for by taxpayers.

Timeline for Crony Capitalist's War Against Public Education

Answer this question: Now that you know the brief but successful history of public education and the threats against it, tell me how the public schools are failing and prove it with more than an opinion.


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

Crazy is Normal FREE Promotion July 2016

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

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33 responses to “A successful history of—and the threat to—Public Education in the United States

  1. Lloyd Lofthouse

    April 6, 2014 at 11:32

    Reblogged this on Lloyd Lofthouse.

  2. maureenkeeney2013

    April 6, 2014 at 16:42

    Reblogged this on maureenkeeneyblog.

  3. Gerri K. Songer

    April 6, 2014 at 17:35

    Just one thing is missing here – the little fact that, according to the Evaluation of Charter School Impacts: Executive Summary (, students from privileged backgrounds were actually negatively impacted by attending Charter schools! They did worse when they left than they did when they started. Maybe the rich ought to get ahold of that little tidbit of information!! : )

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      April 7, 2014 at 07:17

      Thank you. I was hoping that there’d be comments adding to this brief history of public education in the US to mentioned anything important that was left out. There’s only so much you can say in a thousand words and even that’s long for most Internet surfers who have short attention spans and nervous fingers that want to move on to the next site. When I was taking workshops to learn how to Blog properly and reach the widest possible audience, we were told to keep our posts short, between 250 and 400 words on average, and include photographs, embedded videos and both internal and external links in every post. He said that if you have a lot of text without videos or photographs many cyber surfers will leave without reading a word. The photographs and videos are a way to hold them a bit longer and hopefully get them to read some or all of the post. The embedded links are there to boost search engine rank. It doesn’t do much good if someone is searching for topics on public education and your Blog doesn’t land on the first page of a Google search, because most people won’t look beyond that first page.

      I suspect that many parents who are in the top 5% (about 6 million households) are not aware of what a few billionaires in the top 0.1% are doing to the other 115 million American households. Even among the 442 U.S. billionaires, I think many don’t have a clear, educated idea of what’s going on. In fact, I think the opinions of these other billionaires are being formed on what the few are feeding them at great expense through the traditional media.

      There may be at most 20 billionaires who are funding this war against public education and feeding their cherry picked lies to the rest of us through the media they control or own. At the top of this parasitic pack is Bill Gates, the Walton Family and the Koch brothers who are probably spending the most to brainwash America.

      However, Lincoln said it best: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

      • Gerri K. Songer

        April 14, 2014 at 15:55

        Thank you so much for the information on blogging – that sure puts a damper on my tendency to drone on and on! : )

        You bring up such a good point – why do so few people understand what is going on right now? I’ve been asking myself many times, regarding many topics, why isn’t this on the news?

        It seems that the important information has, out of necessity for the sake of communication, gone underground. That is why I had a moment of paranoia when I read that Obama was ‘turning over our internet’ to other countries. This just doesn’t seem to be the country I grew up in!

        I have very much enjoyed your blogs – thank you for the invaluable information! I am sharing your information with nearly 2000 educators in two of the largest districts in IL – 214 and 211. I pray educators never stop learning, and that they come to know that God will always look after them!

      • Lloyd Lofthouse

        April 14, 2014 at 17:22

        Thank you.

  4. Joanna Best

    November 19, 2014 at 09:03

    good summary.
    Now to set each bullet point to a song!

  5. Ponderosa

    November 19, 2014 at 18:42


    The second video drips with irony. The teachers all babble on about how they imbue their students with critical thinking and problem solving skills. Blah, blah, blah. Everyone of them parroting what every other teacher says these days. In other words, not a drop of independent thinking on display. Cookie cutter minds –exactly what the Prussian system aimed to create! I guess it’s a good thing that we’re at least giving lip service to critical thinking, but the abject conventionality of their responses –and the cliched thought it reveals –makes me doubt their ability to think critically themselves, and, a fortiori, their ability to teach others how to be meaningfully critical thinkers.

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      November 19, 2014 at 19:37

      I wonder if the corporate, fake, public education reform movement has managed to also gut teacher training programs. If we keep getting 5-week wonders from programs like TFA, I’m sure that many of them will all have cookie cutter minds. During the devastating Whole Language approach to teaching writing and reading that swept California along with the parenting self esteem movement during the first half of the 1980s, I understand that teacher training programs in the state dropped classes on how to teach grammar and mechanics to children, and a decade later when that program proved a failure, as most that come from the top down without teacher involvement do, and grammar and mechanics returned to the classrooms, many of the younger English teachers had to go back and take night classes to learn the subject before they could teach it.

  6. Karen Koved

    November 19, 2014 at 19:11

    Thank you for this fascinating look at the history of pubic education. You have initiated a dialogue that is missing from our public discourse. I live in a suburb of NYC among the top 5% whom you “suspect are not aware of what the few billionaires at the top are doing to the other 115 million American households.” I can tell you from my own experience, that now that their children are being affected, they are “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” They are starved for this kind of information. The sleeping giant has been roused and is ready to roar. I have become their cyber-librarian, if you will, I link them to Diane Ravitch and her regular commentators (is that even a word?!) like you, who blog about the truth behind Race to the Top, Common Core,VAM, the injustice of poverty, and why we must protect teacher tenure. I assure you that I will send a link to this blog post to those in my network who know exactly what to do with it.

  7. eniaiometopopaideias

    November 20, 2014 at 03:28

  8. educationunderattack

    November 21, 2014 at 11:11

    Reblogged this on Education Under Attack and commented:
    Lloyd Lofthouse has written a brief history of public education, including information about the threats to public education. He start out by saying:
    I’m sure you’ve heard for years—even decades—that the public schools are failing; that teachers are lazy, incompetent and their labor unions are responsible for this so-called failure.

    The solution: fire the teachers, close the public schools and get rid of the labor unions. Then turn education over to private sector corporations run by CEOs who only answer to their wealthiest stock holders.
    I think you’ll find it an informative read.

  9. Vickey

    February 9, 2015 at 05:41

    Makes sense. The greed of a few is always going to be a threat to the freedom and quality of life for most people on the planet.

  10. Carissa

    February 9, 2015 at 07:06

    Excellent article. Keep writing such info.

  11. angela t

    February 12, 2015 at 07:07

    What’s happening to the public schools is a crime. Why are these crooks being allowed to get away with this?

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      February 12, 2015 at 08:19

      Yes, it is a crime and that crime is being driven by greed. It costs the states about $800 billion annually to run the almost 14,000 democratic public school districts foor the k-12 public schools in the U.S. that teach almost 50 million children—and half of those children live in homes that earn such low poverty wages from companies like Walmart that the qualify for food stamps.

      But these crimes are not being ignored. There are FBI investigations going on into corporate Charter schools in several states and the courts are also involved. And you can read about some of these fraud cases that have gone to court from this page at the federal Department of Education. The court cases are listed by year. The first one listed for 2015 says, “Former Charter School Principal Sentenced in Connection with MCAS Cheating Scheme. Boston, MA.,January 09, 2015. For 2014, there are about 40 listed.

      In fact, if you go to the bottom of the page, you can actually measure the growth of Charter School Fraud as the corporate reform movement bribed its way to more corporate Charter schools. In 2000, there were about 1,500 corporate Charter schools in the U.S. but now there are closer to 7,000 and these crooks are attempting to take over public school districts in entire cities and with support of Governor Cuomo in New York state maybe even the entire state.

      Here’s the link to the site:

  12. Kristi

    March 11, 2015 at 17:16

    Those greedy bastards!

  13. julius

    November 12, 2015 at 20:50

    How do we stop this?

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      November 13, 2015 at 07:36

      There are two ways to stop the threat to our community based and controlled, democratic, non profit, transparent public schools.

      A. at the ballot box
      B. In the battle field

      The choice is between ink or blood.

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    May 8, 2016 at 03:20

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  15. ragnarsbhut

    October 26, 2021 at 13:21

    Lloyd Lofthouse, the biggest threat to public education stems from government and teacher’s unions.

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      October 26, 2021 at 16:18

      Teacher unions are no threat to public education. Teachers’ unions have never been a threat. I was a public school teacher for thirty years and I belonged to one of those unions and the unions never told us how to teach or what to teach or what books we could use in our teaching. The only thing the teachers’ unions do is negotiate pay raises when the bosses refuse to give teachers one when district budgets are increased by states and to step in and protect us when we were bullied by the bosses.

      That was my experience for thirty years and nothing has changed.

      Blaming teacher’s unions and the federal is lying propaganda being spewed by the fake libertarian Koch network, the Wal-Mart Walton family, and FAKE news sites like Fox, that are the real threat to public education because they clearly want to be in charge of who teaches what to whom and what materials to use while profiting from it, too.

      Teachers’ unions support teachers. Those unions do not tell teachers what to teach. Teacher’s unions fight so teachers are free to teach children to think for themselves and to also teach children the facts that are the truth.

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      October 26, 2021 at 16:19

      If you continue to disagree with me and spew their propaganda and lies, I will delete your comments.


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