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Average public sentiment has no real opportunity for vigorous action when the township is split up into ten or twenty infinitesimal political units. This extreme localization of administration inevitably tends to breed irresponsibility of the worst sort, and school offices are very apt to become mere perquisites used solely for selfish personal ends.
(2) The “district system” is much more expensive in proportion to what it accomplishes than a more centralized system. By means of it hundreds of schools in every State in which it exists are kept in operation which really ought to be abandoned. The school reports are full of evidence to this effect.: It is not at all unusual to find from one to two hundred schools in a State in which the average attendance is less than ten pupils. In the Massachusetts Report for 1873 (p. 16) an instance is given where a school was taught some months for the solitary benefit of one scholar, at an expense of $60. The Pennsylvania Report for the same year (p. 135) instances a district in which the school was composed solely of members of one family. Cases nearly or quite as bad frequently occur under the “district system.” The system evidently stands condemned on the ground of economy.
(3) The “district system" enormously increases the number of officials. The following typical quotation well illustrates this point: “We have in Illinois in round numbers 20,500 teachers, for whose employment and supervision 34,602 directors—supposing that each district has but three -and 8,000 trustees and treasurers seem necessary, making in all 42,602 school officers. Counting the boards of education in districts with over 2,000 inhabitants, it is certainly
1 Cf., for example, Mass. Sch. Rep., vol. 2, p. 30; N. 7. Sch. Rep., 1894, appen. dix, p. ix.
2 There were 3387 districts in New York having an average attendance of 10 or less pupils during the school year 1894-5.
not too much to say that 4,300 school officers, or one-eightieth part of the population of the State, are to be kept in office for the schooling of 750,000 children, or one school officer for every 20 children, and when we except the city of Chicago, one school officer for ever 15 children.'
(4) Closely connected with the above defect is the increase in the number of school elections which the “ district system” begets. And no class of elections causes more feuds and animosities than school elections. The smaller the territory and the pettier the office, the greater are the enmities and strife engendered.
(5) The “ district system” occasions glaring and unjust inequalities in school taxation and school privileges. Unquestionably the intent of the school law of the various States is that school taxes and school privileges shall be uniform; but even a cursory study of the State school reports reveals the most ridiculous inequalities in these respects, even in different parts of the very same township. In most of the States the principle of taxing the wealthier parts of the State for the benefit of the poorer is well established. The State school fund and the State school tax is apportioned to the various counties or towns according to some uniform plan, generally in proportion to the number of children of school age or the number of ratable polls; but under the “district system” the principles comes far too short of effective application. Even as regards the further distribution of State moneys among the various districts, the poorer districts manifestly receive by far too small a share when the distribution within the township is according to either of the above plans. But this is not all of the inequality. The State tax
* II. Sch. Rep., 1885-6, p. ccxii.
? I have counted all told more than 30 plans of distribution within the township in the different States. The most usual plans besides those noted above are (1) the number of families; (2) the number of able-bodied persons over 21 years of age; (3) the number of houses; (4) equal amounts.
is generally only a small part of the actual cost of the schools. Most of the money is raised by district taxation, and precisely here is where the inequality presses most heavily." This leaving the poorer districts to shift for themselves gives rise to shockingly meagre school privileges in many cases. In almost any county or town in any State where the “ district system” exists, there are some districts in which school is held only long enough to draw the State money. In fact this auction plan seems to be in high repute in some sections of the country, and consequently we frequently find that within the very same town one child can attend school only 12 weeks, while another in a different district can attend 36 weeks. Furthermore, in one district children are well taught, in another near by they are grievously mistaught; in one district they can sit in cheerful and healthful school-rooms, and have the advantages of good libraries and apparatus; in another just the reverse is true.
(6) The " district system” does not admit of any continuous and steady school policy. Committees are generally chosen for short periods, and the changes of teachers are correspondingly frequent and hap-hazard. Furthermore, committees are seldom elected because of their fitness or familiarity with present educational needs, but are in fact generally conspicuously unfit. The result is that school policy is spasmodic, and continuity is lost in the maelstrom of petty district politics.
(7) It does not admit of any effective system of grading or classification.
(8) It bars out all really effective supervision. (9) It fosters boundary quarrels.
Such then are the principal weaknesses and defects of the extremely decentralized "district system.” That they are
It is not at all unusual to find one district paying 5 to 8 times the per capita tax of an adjoining district, and for about the same privileges.
now being very generally recognized and discussed is proven by the fact that the recent school reports of many States frequently refer to them and condemn the district system. And the defects of the system are not only being recognized quite generally, but are also being actually checked and overcome. Even in Massachusetts, the State where the system originated, attempts were early made to check and regulate its evil tendencies. As early as 1824 and 1826' laws were passed in that State requiring every town to annually choose a school committee which should have a general supervision of all the town schools, and which could determine the text-books to be used and control the examining and licensing of teachers for the whole town. It was not long before the educational leaders began to despair of any effective regulation of the system, and began to work for its abolition. For many years the State board of education through its secretaries kept up a continuous fire against it, and as a result a permissive law was passed in 1853, authorizing school committees to discontinue districts unless the town voted triennially to continue them. This law was repealed in 1857. In 1859 3 the “district system” was summarily abolished, but this law was also soon repealed. Ten years later, in 1869, the system was again abolished, but this law was practically repealed the very next year by allowing any town to reëstablish the system by a two-thirds vote. Finally, however, in 1882,4 the system was again abolished, and this compulsory law still remains unrepealed. It thus appears that the “district system” died a hard death in Massachusetts, its native home. For many years, in many places, its abolition had been stoutly opposed as the entering
Laws, Feb. 18, 1824, and Mar. 4, 1826. 2 Acts 1853, ch. 153. 3 Acts 1859, ch. 252.
Acts 1882, ch. 219. Only 45 towns were really affected by this law. All the rest had voluntarily abolished the system under the earlier permissive act.
wedge to centralization and despotism, and backwoods orators had for long eloquently appealed to the memories of Patrick Henry and the heroes of Lexington and Bunker Hill in its defense, but all their warnings and pleadings did not avail to keep this anomalous administrative monstrosity alive.
In other States also the question of abolishing the “district system" has been almost constantly agitated for over half a century. As a result at least twenty-three States' have already abolished the system in whole or in part, and bills looking to this end have been introduced into quite a number of other States during the present decade. These facts and a careful study of the State school reports and other sources shows that the almost unanimous verdict of those who have given this subject most careful study is uuqualifiedly against the decentralized "district system" and in favor of thorough and complete control by a higher body, sometimes the town, sometimes the county, sometimes the State. The " district system” is evidently doomed.
1 Al., Ark., Ct.. Fla., Ind., Ia., La., Mass., Me., Minn., Miss., N. H., N. J., N. D., 0., Pa., R. I., S. D., Tenn., Tex., Va., Vt., Wis.