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The History of our Public Schools
Wyandotte County, Kansas

1844
2012

 

 

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Published by the State Department of Public Instruction
120 East Tenth, Topeka, Kansas 66612
Copyright June, 1967

We are sincerely grateful to the Kansas State Department of Education for giving us permission to transcribe and provide online the history found in this publication.

Return to Index for Kansas Educational Progress, 1858-1967, by A. F. Throckmorton

The Middle Period
1915-1944

The major contributions to educational progress between 1915 and 1945, which might appropriately be referred to as the Middle Period in Kansas education, were innovations that laid the groundwork for major gains in later years.  Illustrative of these developments were: 

Other achievements of this period included legislation that created a State Department of Education, composed of the state superintendent and a state board of education, thus partially clarifying the relationship between those two branches of the state agency for education; enactment of a law that provided for the organization of rural high school districts; revision of a library law to require minimum purchases of books from approved lists for school libraries; and legislative action that annulled authority of the 105 county superintendents and the 86 first and second class city boards of education to certify teachers, thus leaving only the State Department of Public Instruction and the three teachers colleges with such authority. [Annotation:  At Hays, Emporia and Pittsburgh there are Kansas State Teachers' Colleges.  From The National Encyclopedia for the Home, School and Library, Vol. V., National Encyclopedia Company, Chicago, 1927. ]

Following the recommendations of State Superintendent W. Ross, the 1915 Legislature established the State Department of Education.  This legislation was designed to meet the state's educational needs arising from population growth, an increasing number of high schools, the expansion of institutions of higher education to prepare more teachers, the desirability of better procedures in the accreditation of high schools and teacher education programs, and the demand for improving instruction at all levels.

Prior to creation of the Department of Education, the statutes did not make clear where the duties of state superintendent and the state board of education began and ended.  In fact, policy making and a great deal of administrative authority had been in the hands of the state board of administrative authority had been in the hands of the state board with the state superintendent exercising leadership functions as best he could.  The 1915 legislation did clarify many points but most policy making and some administrative functions were left with the state board of education.

One significant feature of the law that created the Department of Education was failure of the Legislature to take seriously the constitutional provision that "The State Superintendent of Public Instruction shall have the general supervision of the common school funds and educational interests of the state . . ."  by placing such supervision and policy making powers in the hands of the state board of education.  However, the 1915 organization of the Department of Education was, for the most part, logical although later there were challenges to the constitutionality of giving the state superintendent a minor role in relation to the state board of education.  In 1947 and again in 1965, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled against delegation of legislative powers to certain boards, but did uphold the Legislature in delegating such powers to the state superintendent of public instruction.

In addition to creating the Department of Education, the Legislature made provision for enlarging the staff by authorizing the state superintendent to appoint elementary and two high school supervisors whose duties included a school visitation program as part of the accreditation procedure, in a move to improve instruction in the schools.  The state board of education also received an appropriation with which to employ a secretary who, in words of the statute, "shall be an expert in education."  The secretary was directed to serve as an inspector of colleges and secretary was directed to serve as an inspector of colleges and universities accredited by the state board of education, and have charge of all matters relating to teacher certification.

A major share of the credit for creation of the Department of Education and expansion of the state superintendent's staff of Education and expansion of the state superintendent's staff belongs to State Superintendent W. D. Ross.  He was appointed to that position in November, 1912, and, after election in that same month, continued in office until January, 1919.  In addition to the many programs initiated during his administration, he made many recommendations which did not materialize in action for many years.  Among these were his suggestions for expanding health and physical education programs in the schools, the establishment of a teacher retirement system which finally materialized in 1941, and for appointment of the state superintendent by a state board of education  This recommendation was carried out when the Kansas electorate, at the general election of 1966, approved the adoption of a constitutional amendment that provides for an appointive state commissioner of education.

One of the more significant responsibilities assigned the new Department of Education was the task of accrediting high schools.  The University of Kansas was the first accrediting agency for Kansas high schools, having administered that activity from the 1870's until enactment of the 1915 legislation.  Transfer of this authority to the Department of Education followed the criticism of public school officials, who charged that the University overemphasized college preparatory work in its accreditation program.

In 1876, the University issued a circular to all school boards urging establishment of high schools with a definite and uniform course of study.  A committee appointed by the Board of Regents prepared a three-year course of study that year.  The University catalog listed four accredited schools, the only standard being the adoption of a uniform course of study.  The four high schools schools listed as accredited were Atchison, Emporia, Lawrence and Winchester. 

By 1883, high schools desiring accreditation were required to send the University a copy of the adopted course of study in use and copies of examination questions.  Thirty-six high schools qualified for accreditation in 1886 with seventy-seven acquiring that status by 1896.  About that time there arose a demand for definite standards for school accreditation but it was not until 1905, when W. H. Johnson was appointed to serve as a high school visitor, that more effective accreditation procedures were adopted.  W. D. Ross, later to become state superintendent, was appointed to assist Johnson during the latter years that accreditation was administered by the University.

The accreditation standards, which were adopted by the state board of education in 1917 and revised in 1919 and 1924, provided for the classification of high schools.  The standards covered buildings and equipment, course of study, the teacher, graduation requirements, a limitation of four solids as a normal pupil load, length of school year, length of recitation, class size, and community support of the school.  Accreditation procedures changed but little between 1915 and 1955.

Standards adopted under the 1915 legislation for elementary schools were not used for accreditation purposes but to stimulate improvement by issuing certificates and door plates to schools as recognition for having met the prescribed standards.  There was little variation in the program of standardizing elementary schools until about 1945 when self-evaluation activities were initiated.

New Educational Developments

An innovation was added to Kansas education in 1917 with initiation of federally subsidized vocational programs.  In that year the Legislature authorized schools to participate in benefits provided under the Smith-Hughes law, which had been enacted that year by the United States Congress.  As early as 1900 a few high schools had expanded their programs to include some non-academic courses.  In his report of 1902, State Superintendent Frank Nelson said:  "Manual training and industrial education are coming, and coming soon."  This prediction began to come true just one year later when legislation was enacted authorizing first and second class cities to levy a tax of one-half mill, and other districts a tax of one mill, for industrial training schools of department.  The Legislature also appropriated $10,000 to help pay the cost of such programs on 1 50-50 matching basis in an amount not to exceed $250 to each participating school.  The state raised the appropriation to $25,000 in 1911.  These activities were forerunners of a marked expansion of vocational education in the 1960's.

Another advance made during this period was improvement of legislation relating to school libraries.  Kansas was only fifteen years old in 1876 when the Legislature saw the wisdom of providing school libraries, and authorized school districts to levy from one-half to two mills, depending upon valuation of the district, to be used for school library purposes.  These funds were to be used exclusively for the purchase of books in the fields of history, biography, science, and travel.  The district clerk was to serve as librarian unless the governing board appointed a competent person living in the district to perform that service.

This library law was revised in 1919 by expanding authority of the district board to purchase library books in the fields of arithmetic, geography, history, literature, biography, travel, and science.  In addition, the board could provide two monthly journals, one for primary and one for advanced grades.  State Superintendent Jess W. Miley recommended further amendment of the library law, which was acted upon by the 1925 Legislature.  Under that act, each school was required to expend annually at least five dollars for the purchase of library books from a list approved by the state superintendent.  If more than one teacher was employed by the district, this amount was to be expended for each class room.

This requirement has been hailed as stimulating library growth and development, but one might question the wisdom of withdrawing from school boards the authority to levy from one-half mill to two mills of tax for the support of school libraries as was provided in the 1876 legislation, and substituting the requirement that they expend only five dollars per teacher for that purpose.  The answer could be found in the thousands of one-room schools where library books were virtually non-existent because few school boards had made the library tax levies between 1876, when they were first authorized to raise such funds, and 1925 when purchase of library books became mandatory.

In addition to working for the 1925 library law, Superintendent Miley made many other recommendations for school improvement, among which were provisions for better prepared teachers, simplified tuition laws, increased support for vocational education, removal of inequities from tax laws, annuities for all teachers, legalization of junior high schools, improved qualifications and salaries for county superintendents, authority for community high schools to vote bonds for buildings, and authorization for the state board of education to participate in the approval of school building plans.  Most of these recommendations have long since found their way into law.

It was during the 1915-1944 period that the first elementary aid law was enacted.  In 1937, during the administration of State Superintendent W. T. Markham, legislation was enacted which provided that the state pay the difference between $675 in one-teacher districts and $27 per pupil in graded elementary districts, and the amount which the district could raise by a three-mill levy on the assessed valuation of the district.  Unfortunately, as school enrollment declined and district valuations increased, the formula under which these state funds were distributed resulted in state aid declining from $2,113,993 in 1937-38 to $1,200,681 in 1944-45.  However, this first provision for state aid from non-ad valorem sources was another innovation in financing Kansas schools which finally increased the amount of state support to $86,600,000 under the school foundation finance law in the school year 1966-67.

Superintendent Markham's administration also was marked by the contribution he made to the improvement of instruction in Kansas schools.  Prior to World War II most teaching was textbook oriented because that was the traditional source of instructional material, and the supply of other sources was limited.  It was, therefore, a pioneer venture when the Department of Public Instruction published the first elementary course of study that was not based on the textbook.  The new course, developed by Miss May Hare an elementary supervisor in the Department of Education, was published in 1934, introducing Kansas teachers to the social studies concept that presented history, civics, geography, and some phases of science in unfamiliar patterns.

Unfortunately, few elementary teachers were prepared, either by schooling or experience, for this approach to teaching.   Moreover, instructional materials with which to carry on the new program were not available in thousands of small elementary schools.  At that time most of Kansas was rural.  In those areas patrons and teachers alike, who had been taught under the textbook method, resisted the innovation and for several years "social studies" was all but a subversive term.

By 1950, when more teachers had the benefit of some college preparation and the social studies approach became better understood, there was general acceptance of the new concept.  Today, Superintendent Markham and Miss Hare are highly regarded for having broken with tradition by introducing methods of teaching now almost universally used.  Publication of the Unit Program in Social Studies also served to introduce a five-year study and research project in which all state institutions of higher education and the State Department of Education participated.  Results of these studies in the field of curriculum were published in a series of bulletins that cover lines of research on growth stages of children, innovating practices at the elementary level, innovating practices at the secondary level, ways and means of determining scope of the curriculum, the purposes and aims of education, present curriculum practices in Kansas, and differing philosophies of education underlying curriculum programs.

Before the project was fully completed, Mr. markham, who stood for reelection in 1938 was defeated.  The loss of his leadership, widespread opposition to the social studies guides, and pressures for return to textbook instruction by subjects all but shelved the studies which, with aggressive leadership, could have served as a model for curriculum improvement thirty years ago.

Enactment of legislation that provided for a state teacher retirement was another forward step taken during the middle years, 1915-1944.  Passed in 1941, during the administration of State Superintendent George McClenney, the law laid foundations for a program that, by 1965, provided substantial benefits which, coupled with social security for which teachers became eligible in 1955, improves the lot of retired teachers and other school employees who are eligible to participate.

Although the foundations for educational improvement were laid between 1915 and 1944, that period was marked by controversy and other unfortunate developments.  C. O. Wright, in a history of the Kansas State Teachers Association, describes at some length differences that developed between the executive secretary of the Association and two state superintendents:  W. D. Ross, who served from 1912 to 1919 and his successor, Lorraine Elizabeth Wooster, who held the post from 1919 to 1923.  Non-professional attitudes toward state officials in both the administrative and legislative branches of government over a period of years may have contributed to delaying educational reforms that finally were achieved in the 1960's.

State Superintendent Lorraine Elizabeth Wooster was the center of controversy during much of her administration.  Conflict with the state board of education led to the courts.  One of the unfortunate developments involved administration of vocational education programs, which were under jurisdiction of the state board of education.  This arrangement had been approved by the Legislature as a condition to qualifying for federal benefits under the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917.  Although Superintendent Wooster was ex-officio chairman of the state board, she objected to the setup and refused to sign vouchers covering expenditures from vocational funds.  Mandamus action was brought against her and the Supreme Court ordered that she sign the vouchers.  It seemed both legal and logical that the superintendent, as chairman of the board, should sign vouchers and other documents pertaining to official business.  However, with removal of the state superintendent from the state board of education in 1945, it became highly inconsistent to require his signature on the documents of an agency of which he was not a member.  Therefore, the Legislature relieved him of that responsibility in 1953.  Kansas' unique position with two departments of education, one for vocational programs and one for other public school services, has been established for fifty years.  These two agencies will be consolidated under the State.  These two agencies will be consolidated under the State Board of Education authorized by the Educational Amendment approved in 1966.

Another unfortunate incident of the 1915-1944 period occurred in 1933 when it was discovered that the school fund commission held an estimated $1,000,000 in forged bonds.  The fund suffered no loss because of the forgeries, but the state treasurer was convicted because of his connection with the forgeries, and two other state officials were impeached by the Legislature.  However, they were acquitted and State Superintendent George Allen, an ex-officio member of the school fund commission, was absolved of all personal responsibility.

Return to Index for Kansas Educational Progress, 1858-1967, by A. F. Throckmorton

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 02-Jan-2012

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