The history of education in the United States, or Foundations of Education covers the trends in educational philosophy, policy, institutions, as well as formal and informal learning in America from the 17th century to the early 21st century.
See also: Education in the Thirteen Colonies
The first American schools in the thirteen original colonies opened in the 17th century. Boston Latin School was founded in 1635 and is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States. The first free taxpayer-supported public school in North America, the Mather School, was opened in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1639. Cremin (1970) stresses that colonists tried at first to educate by the traditional English methods of family, church, community, and apprenticeship, with schools later becoming the key agent in "socialization." At first, the rudiments of literacy and arithmetic were taught inside the family, assuming the parents had those skills. Literacy rates were much higher in New England because much of the population had been deeply involved in the Protestant Reformation and learned to read in order to read the Scriptures. Literacy was much lower in the South, where the Anglican Church was the established church. Single working-class people formed a large part of the population in the early years, arriving as indentured servants. The planter class did not support public education but arranged for private tutors for their children, and sent some to England at appropriate ages for further education.
By the mid-19th century, the role of the schools in New England had expanded to such an extent that they took over many of the educational tasks traditionally handled by parents.
All the New England colonies required towns to set up schools, and many did so. In 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony made "proper" education compulsory; other New England colonies followed this example. Similar statutes were adopted in other colonies in the 1640s and 1650s. The schools were all male and all white, with few facilities for girls. In the 18th century, "common schools" were established; students of all ages were under the control of one teacher in one room. Although they were publicly supplied at the local (town) level, they were not free. Students' families were charged tuition or "rate bills."
The larger towns in New England opened grammar schools, the forerunner of the modern high school. The most famous was the Boston Latin School, which is still in operation as a public high school. Hopkins School in New Haven, Connecticut, was another. By the 1780s, most had been replaced by private academies. By the early 19th century New England operated a network of private high schools, now called "prep schools," typified by Phillips Andover Academy (1778), Phillips Exeter Academy (1781), and Deerfield Academy (1797). They became the major feeders for Ivy League colleges in the mid-19th century. These prep schools became coeducational in the 1970s, and remain highly prestigious in the 21st century.
Residents of the Upper South, centered on the Chesapeake Bay, created some basic schools early in the colonial period. In late 17th century Maryland, the Catholic Jesuits operated some schools for Catholic students. Generally the planter class hired tutors for the education of their children or sent them to private schools. During the colonial years, some sent their sons to England or Scotland for schooling.
In March 1620, George Thorpe sailed from Bristol for Virginia. He became a deputy in charge of 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) of land to be set aside for a university and Indian school. The plans for the school for Native Americans ended when George Thorpe was killed in the Indian Massacre of 1622. In Virginia, rudimentary schooling for the poor and paupers was provided by the local parish. Most elite parents either home schooled their children using peripatetic tutors or sent them to small local private schools.
In the deep south (Georgia and South Carolina), schooling was carried on by primarily by private venture teachers and a hodgepodge of publicly funded projects. In the colony of Georgia, at least ten grammar schools were in operation by 1770, many taught by ministers. The Bethesda Orphan House educated children. Dozens of private tutors and teachers advertised their service in newspapers. A study of women's signatures indicates a high degree of literacy in areas with schools. In South Carolina, scores of school projects were advertised in the South Carolina Gazette beginning in 1732. Although it is difficult to know how many ads yielded successful schools, many of the ventures advertised repeatedly over years, suggesting continuity.
After the American Revolution, Georgia and South Carolina tried to start small public universities. Wealthy families sent their sons North to college. In Georgia public county academies for white students became more common, and after 1811 South Carolina opened a few free "common schools" to teach reading, writing and arithmetic to whites.
Republican governments during the Reconstruction era established the first public school systems to be supported by general taxes. Both whites and blacks would be admitted, but legislators agreed on racially segregated schools. (The few integrated schools were located in New Orleans).
Particularly after white Democrats regained control of the state legislatures in former Confederate states, they consistently underfunded public schools for blacks which continued until 1954 when the United States Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.
Generally public schooling in rural areas did not extend beyond the elementary grades for either whites or blacks. This was known as "eighth grade school" After 1900, some cities began to establish high schools, primarily for middle class whites. In the 1930s roughly one fourth of the US population still lived and worked on farms and few rural Southerners of either race went beyond the 8th grade until after 1945.
Women and girls
The earliest continually operating school for girls in the United States is the Catholic Ursuline Academy in New Orleans. It was founded in 1727 by the Sisters of the Order of Saint Ursula. The Academy graduated the first female pharmacist, and the first woman to write a book of literary merit. The first convent established in the United States supported the Academy. This was the first free school and first retreat center for young women. It was the first school to teach free women of color, Native Americans, and female African-American slaves. In the region, Ursuline provided the first center of social welfare in the Mississippi Valley; and it was the first boarding school for girls in Louisiana, and the first school of music in New Orleans.
Tax-supported schooling for girls began as early as 1767 in New England. It was optional and some towns proved reluctant to support this innovation. Northampton, Massachusetts, for example, was a late adopter because it had many rich families who dominated the political and social structures. They did not want to pay taxes to aid poor families. Northampton assessed taxes on all households, rather than only on those with children, and used the funds to support a grammar school to prepare boys for college. Not until after 1800 did Northampton educate girls with public money. In contrast, the town of Sutton, Massachusetts, was diverse in terms of social leadership and religion at an early point in its history. Sutton paid for its schools by means of taxes on households with children only, thereby creating an active constituency in favor of universal education for both boys and girls.
Historians note that reading and writing were different skills in the colonial era. Schools taught both, but in places without schools, writing was taught mainly to boys and a few privileged girls. Men handled worldly affairs and needed to both read and write. It was believed that girls needed only to read (especially religious materials). This educational disparity between reading and writing explains why the colonial women often could read, but could not write and could not sign their names—they used an "X".
The education of elite women in Philadelphia after 1740 followed the British model developed by the gentry classes during the early 18th century. Rather than emphasizing ornamental aspects of women's roles, this new model encouraged women to engage in more substantive education, reaching into the classical arts and sciences to improve their reasoning skills. Education had the capacity to help colonial women secure their elite status by giving them traits that their 'inferiors' could not easily mimic. Fatherly (2004) examines British and American writings that influenced Philadelphia during the 1740s–1770s and the ways in which Philadelphia women gained education and demonstrated their status.
By 1664, when the territory was taken over by the English, most towns in the New Netherland colony had already set up elementary schools. The schools were closely related to the Dutch Reformed Church, and emphasized reading for religious instruction and prayer. The English closed the Dutch-language public schools; in some cases these were converted into private academies. The new English government showed little interest in public schools.
German settlements from New York through Pennsylvania, Maryland and down to the Carolinas sponsored elementary schools closely tied to their churches, with each denomination or sect sponsoring its own schools. In the early colonial years, German immigrants were Protestant and the drive for education was related to teaching students to read Scripture.
Following waves of German Catholic immigration after the 1848 revolutions, and after the end of the Civil War, both Catholics and Missouri Synod Lutherans began to set up their own German-language parochial schools, especially in cities of heavy German immigration: such as Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee, as well as rural areas heavily settled by Germans. The Amish, a small religious sect speaking German, are opposed to schooling past the elementary level. They see it as unnecessary, as dangerous to preservation of their faith, and as beyond the purview of government.
Spain had small settlements in Florida, the Southwest, and also controlled Louisiana. There is little evidence that they schooled any girls. Parish schools were administered by Jesuits or Franciscans and were limited to male students.
In the 17th century, colonists imported schoolbooks from England. By 1690, Boston publishers were reprinting the English Protestant Tutor under the title of The New England Primer. The Primer was built on rote memorization. By simplifying Calvinist theology, the Primer enabled the Puritan child to define the limits of the self by relating his life to the authority of God and his parents. The Primer included additional material that made it widely popular in colonial schools until it was supplanted by Webster's work. The "blue backed speller" of Noah Webster was by far the most common textbook from the 1790s until 1836, when the McGuffey Readers appeared. Both series emphasized civic duty and morality, and sold tens of millions of copies nationwide.
Webster's Speller was the pedagogical blueprint for American textbooks; it was so arranged that it could be easily taught to students, and it progressed by age. Webster believed students learned most readily when complex problems were broken into its component parts. Each pupil could master one part before moving to the next. Ellis argues that Webster anticipated some of the insights associated in the 20th century with Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Webster said that children pass through distinctive learning phases in which they master increasingly complex or abstract tasks. He stressed that teachers should not try to teach a three-year-old how to read—wait until they are ready at age five. He planned the Speller accordingly, starting with the alphabet, then covering the different sounds of vowels and consonants, then syllables; simple words came next, followed by more complex words, then sentences. Webster's Speller was entirely secular. It ended with two pages of important dates in American history, beginning with Columbus' "discovery" in 1492 and ending with the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, by which the United States achieved independence. There was no mention of God, the Bible, or sacred events. As Ellis explains, "Webster began to construct a secular catechism to the nation-state. Here was the first appearance of 'civics' in American schoolbooks. In this sense, Webster's speller was the secular successor to The New England Primer with its explicitly biblical injunctions." Bynack (1984) examines Webster in relation to his commitment to the idea of a unified American national culture that would prevent the decline of republican virtues and national solidarity. Webster acquired his perspective on language from such German theorists as Johann David Michaelis and Johann Gottfried Herder. He believed with them that a nation's linguistic forms and the thoughts correlated with them shaped individuals' behavior. He intended the etymological clarification and reform of American English to improve citizens' manners and thereby preserve republican purity and social stability. Webster animated his Speller and Grammar by following these principles.
Higher education was largely oriented toward training men as ministers before 1800. Doctors and lawyers were trained in local apprentice systems.
Religious denominations established most early colleges in order to train ministers. New England had a long emphasis on literacy in order that individuals could read the Bible. Harvard College was founded by the colonial legislature in 1636, and named after an early benefactor. Most of the funding came from the colony, but the college began to build an endowment from its early years. Harvard at first focused on training young men for the ministry, but many alumni went into law, medicine, government or business. The college was a leader in bringing Newtonian science to the colonies.
The College of William & Mary was founded by Virginia government in 1693, with 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) of land for an endowment, and a penny tax on every pound of tobacco, together with an annual appropriation. It was closely associated with the established Anglican Church. James Blair, the leading Anglican minister in the colony, was president for 50 years. The college won the broad support of the Virginia planter class, most of whom were Anglicans. It hired the first law professor and trained many of the lawyers, politicians, and leading planters. Students headed for the ministry were given free tuition.
Yale College was founded by Puritans in 1701, and in 1716 was relocated to New Haven, Connecticut. The conservative Puritan ministers of Connecticut had grown dissatisfied with the more liberal theology of Harvard, and wanted their own school to train orthodox ministers. However president Thomas Clap (1740–1766) strengthened the curriculum in the natural sciences and made Yale a stronghold of revivalist New Light theology.
New Side Presbyterians in 1747 set up the College of New Jersey, in the town of Princeton; much later it was renamed as Princeton University. Baptists established Rhode Island College in 1764, and in 1804 it was renamed Brown University in honor of a benefactor. Brown was especially liberal in welcoming young men from other denominations.
In New York City, the Anglicans set up Kings College in 1746, with its president Samuel Johnson the only teacher. It closed during the American Revolution, and reopened in 1784 as an independent institution under the name of Columbia College; it is now Columbia University. The Academy of Philadelphia was created in 1749 by Benjamin Franklin and other civic minded leaders in Philadelphia. Unlike colleges in other cities, it was not oriented toward the training of ministers. It was renamed the University of Pennsylvania in 1791. The Dutch Reform Church in 1766 set up Queens College in New Jersey, which later became known as Rutgers University and gained state support. Dartmouth College, chartered in 1769 as a school for Native Americans, relocated to its present site in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1770.
All of the schools were small, with a limited undergraduate curriculum oriented on the classical liberal arts. Students were drilled in Greek, Latin, geometry, ancient history, logic, ethics and rhetoric, with few discussions, little homework and no lab sessions. The college president typically tried to enforce strict discipline. The upperclassmen enjoyed hazing the freshmen. Many students were younger than 17, and most of the colleges also operated a preparatory school. There were no organized sports, or Greek-letter fraternities, but many of the schools had active literary societies. Tuition was very low and scholarships were few.
The colonies had no schools of law. A few young American students studied at the prestigious Inns of Court in London. The majority of aspiring lawyers served apprenticeships with established American lawyers, or "read the law" to qualify for bar exams. Law became very well established in the colonies, compared to medicine, which was in rudimentary condition. In the 18th century, 117 Americans had graduated in medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland, but most physicians learned as apprentices in the colonies.
The trustees of the Academy of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) established the first medical school in the colonies in 1765. In New York, the medical department of King's College was established in 1767, and in 1770 it awarded the first American M.D. degree.
"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves."
After the Revolution, northern states especially emphasized education and rapidly established public schools. By the year 1870, all states had tax-subsidized elementary schools. The US population had one of the highest literacy rates in the world at the time. Private academies also flourished in the towns across the country, but rural areas (where most people lived) had few schools before the 1880s.
In 1821, Boston started the first public high school in the United States. By the close of the 19th century, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones.
Over the years, Americans have been influenced by a number of European reformers; among them Pestalozzi, Herbart, and Montessori.
By the early 19th century with the rise of the new United States, a new mood was alive in urban areas. Especially influential were the writings of Lydia Maria Child, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and Lydia Sigourney, who developed the role of republican motherhood as a principle that united state and family by equating a successful republic with virtuous families. Women, as intimate and concerned observers of young children, were best suited to the role of guiding and teaching children. By the 1840s, New England writers such as Child, Sedgwick, and Sigourney became respected models and advocates for improving and expanding education for females. Greater educational access meant formerly male-only subjects, such as mathematics and philosophy, were to be integral to curricula at public and private schools for girls. By the late 19th century, these institutions were extending and reinforcing the tradition of women as educators and supervisors of American moral and ethical values.
The ideal of Republican motherhood pervaded the entire nation, greatly enhancing the status of women and supporting girls' need for education. The relative emphasis on decorative arts and refinement of female instruction which had characterized the colonial era was replaced after 1776 by a program to support women in education for their major role in nation building, in order that they become good republican mothers of good republican youth. Fostered by community spirit and financial donations, private female academies were established in towns across the South as well as the North.
Rich planters were particularly insistent on having their daughters schooled, since education often served as a substitute for dowry in marriage arrangements. The academies usually provided a rigorous and broad curriculum that stressed writing, penmanship, arithmetic, and languages, especially French. By 1840, the female academies succeeded in producing a cultivated, well-read female elite ready for their roles as wives and mothers in southern aristocratic society.
The 1840 census indicated that of the 3.68 million children between the ages of five and fifteen, about 55% attended primary schools and academies. Many families could not afford to pay for their children to go to school or spare them from farm work. Beginning in the late 1830s, more private academies were established for girls for education past primary school, especially in northern states. Some offered classical education similar to that offered to boys.
Data from the indentured servant contracts of German immigrant children in Pennsylvania from 1771–1817 show that the number of children receiving education increased from 33.3% in 1771–1773 to 69% in 1787–1804. Additionally, the same data showed that the ratio of school education versus home education rose from .25 in 1771–1773 to 1.68 in 1787–1804. While some African Americans managed to achieve literacy, southern states largely prohibited schooling to blacks.
Teachers, early 1800s
Teaching young students was not an attractive career for educated people. Adults became teachers without any particular skill. Hiring was handled by the local school board, who were mainly interested in the efficient use of limited taxes and favored young single women from local taxpaying families. This started to change with the introduction of two-year normal schools starting in 1823. Normal schools increasingly provided career paths for unmarried middle class women. By 1900 most teachers of elementary schools in the northern states had been trained at normal schools.
Given the high proportion of population in rural areas, with limited numbers of students, most communities relied on one-room school houses. Teachers would deal with the range of students of various ages and abilities by using the Monitorial System, an education method that became popular on a global scale during the early 19th century. This method was also known as "mutual instruction" or the "Bell-Lancaster method" after the British educators Dr Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster, who each independently developed it about 1798. As older children in families would teach younger ones, the abler pupils in these schools became 'helpers' to the teacher, and taught other students what they had learned.
Upon becoming the secretary of education of Massachusetts in 1837, Horace Mann (1796–1859) worked to create a statewide system of professional teachers, based on the Prussian model of "common schools." Prussia was attempting to develop a system of education by which all students were entitled to the same content in their public classes. Mann initially focused on elementary education and on training teachers. The common-school movement quickly gained strength across the North. Connecticut adopted a similar system in 1849, and Massachusetts passed a compulsory attendance law in 1852. Mann's crusading style attracted wide middle-class support. Historian Ellwood P. Cubberley asserts:
- No one did more than he to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian, free, and that its aims should be social efficiency, civic virtue, and character, rather than mere learning or the advancement of sectarian ends.
An important technique which Mann had learned in Prussia and introduced in Massachusetts in 1848 was to place students in grades by age. They were assigned by age to different grades and progressed through them, regardless of differences of aptitude. In addition, he used the lecture method common in European universities, which required students to receive instruction rather than take an active role in instructing one another. Previously, schools had often had groups of students who ranged in age from 6 to 14 years. With the introduction of age grading, multi-aged classrooms all but disappeared. Some students progressed with their grade and completed all courses the secondary school had to offer. These were "graduated," and were awarded a certificate of completion. This was increasingly done at a ceremony imitating college graduation rituals.
Arguing that universal public education was the best way to turn the nation's unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens, Mann won widespread approval for building public schools from modernizers, especially among fellow Whigs. Most states adopted one version or another of the system he established in Massachusetts, especially the program for "normal schools" to train professional teachers. This quickly developed into a widespread form of school which later became known as the factory model school.
Free schooling was available through some of the elementary grades. Graduates of these schools could read and write, though not always with great precision. Mary Chesnut, a Southern diarist, mocks the North's system of free education in her journal entry of June 3, 1862, where she derides misspelled words from the captured letters of Union soldiers.
By 1900, 34 states had compulsory schooling laws; four were in the South. 30 states with compulsory schooling laws required attendance until age 14 (or higher). As a result, by 1910, 72 percent of American children attended school. Half the nation's children attended one-room schools. By 1918, every state required students to complete elementary school.
Religion and schools
As the nation was majority Protestant in the 19th century, most states passed a constitutional amendment, called Blaine Amendments, forbidding tax money be used to fund parochial schools. This was largely directed against Catholics, as the heavy immigration from Catholic Ireland after the 1840s aroused nativist sentiment. There were longstanding tensions between Catholic and Protestant believers, long associated with nation states that had established religions. Many Protestants believed that Catholic children should be educated in public schools in order to become American. By 1890 the Irish, who as the first major Catholic immigrant group controlled the Church hierarchy in the U.S., had built an extensive network of parishes and parish schools ("parochial schools") across the urban Northeast and Midwest. The Irish and other Catholic ethnic groups intended parochial schools not only to protect their religion, but to enhance their culture and language.
Catholics and German Lutherans, as well as Dutch Protestants, organized and funded their own elementary schools. Catholic communities also raised money to build colleges and seminaries to train teachers and religious leaders to head their churches. In the 19th century, most Catholics were Irish or German immigrants and their children; in the 1890s new waves of Catholic immigrants began arriving from Italy and Poland. The parochial schools met some opposition, as in the Bennett Law in Wisconsin in 1890, but they thrived and grew. Catholic nuns served as teachers in most schools and were paid low salaries in keeping with their vows of poverty. In 1925 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that students could attend private schools to comply with state compulsory education laws, thus giving parochial schools an official blessing.
Schools for Black students
Further information: Black school, Education of freed people during the Civil War, and History of education in Missouri
In the early days of the Reconstruction era, the Freedmen's Bureau opened 1000 schools across the South for black children. This was essentially building on schools that had been established in numerous large contraband camps. Freedmen were eager for schooling for both adults and children, and the enrollments were high and enthusiastic. Overall, the Bureau spent $5 million to set up schools for blacks. By the end of 1865, more than 90,000 freedmen were enrolled as students in these schools. The school curriculum resembled that of schools in the North.
Many Bureau teachers were well-educated Yankee women motivated by religion and abolitionism. Half the teachers were southern whites; one-third were blacks, and one-sixth were northern whites. Most were women but among African Americans, male teachers slightly outnumbered female teachers. In the South, people were attracted to teaching because of the good salaries, at a time when the societies were disrupted and the economy was poor. Northern teachers were typically funded by northern organizations and were motivated by humanitarian goals to help the freedmen. As a group, only the black cohort showed a commitment to racial equality; they were also the ones most likely to continue as teachers.
When the Republicans came to power in the Southern states after 1867, they created the first system of taxpayer-funded public schools. Southern Blacks wanted public schools for their children but they did not demand racially integrated schools. Almost all the new public schools were segregated, apart from a few in New Orleans. After the Republicans lost power in the mid-1870s, conservative whites retained the public school systems but sharply cut their funding. 
Almost all private academies and colleges in the South were strictly segregated by race. The American Missionary Association supported the development and establishment of several historically black colleges, such as Fisk University and Shaw University. In this period, a handful of northern colleges accepted black students. Northern denominations and their missionary associations especially established private schools across the South to provide secondary education. They provided a small amount of collegiate work. Tuition was minimal, so churches supported the colleges financially, and also subsidized the pay of some teachers. In 1900, churches—mostly based in the North—operated 247 schools for blacks across the South, with a budget of about $1 million. They employed 1600 teachers and taught 46,000 students. Prominent schools included Howard University, a federal institution based in Washington; Fisk University in Nashville, Atlanta University, Hampton Institute in Virginia, and many others. Most new colleges in the 19th century were founded in northern states.
In 1890, Congress expanded the land-grant program to include federal support for state-sponsored colleges across the South. It required states to identify colleges for black students as well as white ones in order to get land grant support.
Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute was of national importance because it set the standards for what was called industrial education. Of even greater influence was Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers, led from 1881 by Hampton alumnus Booker T. Washington. In 1900 few black students were enrolled in college-level work; their schools had very weak faculties and facilities. The alumni of Keithley became high school teachers.
While the colleges and academies were generally coeducational, until the late 20th century, historians had taken little notice of the role of women as students and teachers.
Influence of colleges in 19th century
Summarizing the research of Burke and Hall, Katz concludes that in the 19th century:
- The nation's many small colleges helped young men make the transition from rural farms to complex urban occupations.
- These colleges especially promoted upward mobility by preparing ministers, and thereby provided towns across the country with a core of community leaders.
- The more elite colleges became increasingly exclusive and contributed relatively little to upward social mobility. By concentrating on the offspring of wealthy families, ministers and a few others, the elite Eastern colleges, especially Harvard, played an important role in the formation of a Northeastern elite with great power.
The progressive era in education was part of a larger Progressive Movement, extending from the 1890s to the 1930s. The era was notable for a dramatic expansion in the number of schools and students served, especially in the fast-growing metropolitan cities. After 1910, smaller cities also began building high schools. By 1940, 50% of young adults had earned a high school diploma.
Radical historians in the 1960s, steeped in the anti-bureaucratic ethos of the New Left, deplored the emergence of bureaucratic school systems. They argue its purpose was to suppress the upward aspirations of the working class. But other historians have emphasized the necessity of building non-politicized standardized systems. The reforms in St. Louis, according to historian Selwyn Troen, were, "born of necessity as educators first confronted the problems of managing a rapidly expanding and increasingly complex institutions." Troen found that the bureaucratic solution removed schools from the bitterness and spite of ward politics. Troen argues:
- In the space of only a generation, public education had left behind a highly regimented and politicized system dedicated to training children in the basic skills of literacy and the special discipline required of urban citizens, and had replaced it with a largely apolitical, more highly organized and efficient structure specifically designed to teach students the many specialized skills demanded in a modern, industrial society. In terms of programs this entailed the introduction of vocational instruction, a doubling of the period of schooling, and a broader concern for the welfare of urban youth.
The social elite in many cities in the 1890s led the reform movement. Their goal was to permanently end political party control of the local schools for the benefit of patronage jobs and construction contracts, which had arisen out of ward politics that absorbed and taught the millions of new immigrants. New York City elite led progressive reforms. Reformers installed a bureaucratic system run by experts, and demanded expertise from prospective teachers. The reforms opened the way for hiring more Irish Catholic and Jewish teachers, who proved adept at handling the civil service tests and gaining the necessary academic credentials. Before the reforms, schools had often been used as a means to provide patronage jobs for party foot soldiers. The new emphasis concentrated on broadening opportunities for the students. New programs were established for the physically handicapped; evening recreation centers were set up; vacation schools were opened; medical inspections became routine; programs began to teach English as a second language; and school libraries were opened.
Dewey and progressive education
The leading educational theorist of the era was John Dewey (1859–1952), a philosophy professor at the University of Chicago (1894–1904) and at Teachers College (1904 to 1930), of Columbia University in New York City. Dewey was a leading proponent of "Progressive Education" and wrote many books and articles to promote the central role of democracy in education. He believed that schools were not only a place for students to gain content knowledge, but also as a place for them to learn how to live. The purpose of education was thus to realize the student's full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good.
Dewey noted that, "to prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities." Dewey insisted that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change and reform. He noted that "education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.". Although Dewey's ideas were very widely discussed, they were implemented chiefly in small experimental schools attached to colleges of education. In the public schools, Dewey and the other progressive theorists encountered a highly bureaucratic system of school administration that was typically not receptive to new methods.
Booker T. Washington was the dominant black political and educational leader in the United States from the 1890s until his death in 1915. Washington not only led his own college, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, but his advice, political support, and financial connections proved important to many other black colleges and high schools, which were primarily located in the South. This was the center of the black population until after the Great Migration of the first half of the 20th century. Washington was a respected advisor to major philanthropies, such as the Rockefeller, Rosenwald and Jeanes foundations, which provided funding for leading black schools and colleges. The Rosenwald Foundation provided matching funds for the construction of schools for rural black students in the South. Washington explained, "We need not only the industrial school, but the college and professional school as well, for a people so largely segregated, as we are.... Our teachers, ministers, lawyers and doctors will prosper just in proportion as they have about them an intelligent and skillful producing class." Washington was a strong advocate of progressive reforms as advocated by Dewey, emphasizing scientific, industrial and agricultural education that produced a base for lifelong learning, and enabled careers for many black teachers, professionals, and upwardly mobile workers. He tried to adapt to the system and did not support political protests against the segregated Jim Crow system. At the same time, Washington used his network to provide important funding to support numerous legal challenges by the NAACP against the systems of disenfranchisement which southern legislatures had passed at the turn of the century, effectively excluding blacks from politics for decades into the 1960s.
In most American cities, Progressives in the Efficiency Movement looked for ways to eliminate waste and corruption. They emphasized using experts in schools. For example, in the 1897 reform of the Atlanta schools, the school board was reduced in size, eliminating the power of ward bosses. The members of the school board were elected at-large, reducing the influence of various interest groups. The power of the superintendent was increased. Centralized purchasing allowed for economies of scale, although it also added opportunities for censorship and suppression of dissent. Standards of hiring and tenure in teachers were made uniform. Architects designed school buildings in which the classrooms, offices, workshops and other facilities related together. Curricular innovations were introduced. The reforms were designed to produce a school system for white students according to the best practices of the day. Middle-class professionals instituted these reforms; they were equally antagonistic to the traditional business elites and to working-class elements.
The "Gary plan" was implemented in the new industrial "steel" city of Gary, Indiana, by William Wirt, the superintendent who served from 1907–30. Although the U.S. Steel Corporation dominated the Gary economy and paid abundant taxes, it did not shape Wirt's educational reforms. The Gary Plan emphasized highly efficient use of buildings and other facilities. This model was adopted by more than 200 cities around the country, including New York City. Wirt divided students into two platoons—one platoon used the academic classrooms, while the second platoon was divided among the shops, nature studies, auditorium, gymnasium, and outdoor facilities. Then the platoons rotated position.
Wirt set up an elaborate night school program, especially to Americanize new immigrants. The introduction of vocational educational programs, such as wood shop, machine shop, typing, and secretarial skills proved especially popular with parents who wanted their children to become foremen and office workers. By the Great Depression, most cities found the Gary plan too expensive, and abandoned it.
Great Depression and New Deal: 1929-39
Public schools across the country were badly hurt by the Great Depression, as tax revenues fell in local and state governments shifted funding to relief projects. Budgets were slashed, and teachers went unpaid. During the New Deal, 1933–39, President Franklin Roosevelt and his advisers were hostile to the elitism shown by the educational establishment. They refused all pleas for direct federal help to public or private schools or universities. They rejected proposals for federal funding for research at universities. But they did help poor students, and the major New Deal relief programs built many schools buildings As requested by local governments. The New Deal approach to education was a radical departure from educational best practices. ¨ It was specifically designed for the poor and staffed largely by women on relief. It was not based on professionalism, nor was it designed by experts. Instead it was premised on the anti-elitist notion that a good teacher does not need paper credentials, that learning does not need a formal classroom and that the highest priority should go to the bottom tier of society. Leaders in the public schools were shocked: They were shut out as consultants and as recipients of New Deal funding. They desperately needed cash to cover the local and state revenues that it disappeared during the depression, they were well organized, and made repeated concerted efforts in 1934, 1937, and 1939, all to no avail. The conservative Republican establishment headed collaborated with for so long was out of power and Roosevelt himself was the leader in anti-elitism. The federal government had a highly professional Office of Education; Roosevelt cut its budget and staff, and refused to consult with its leader John Ward Studebaker. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) programs were deliberately designed not teach skills that would put them in competition with unemployed union members. The CCC did have its own classes. They were voluntary, took place after work, and focused on teaching basic literacy to young men who had quit school before high school.
The relief programs did offer indirect help. The CWA and FERA focused on hiring unemployed people on relief, and putting them to work on public buildings, including public schools. It built or upgraded 40,000 schools, plus thousands of playgrounds and athletic fields. It gave jobs to 50,000 teachers to keep rural schools open and to teach adult education classes in the cities. It gave a temporary jobs to unemployed teachers in cities like Boston. Although the New Deal refused to give money to impoverished school districts, it did give money to impoverished high school and college students. The CWA used "work study" programs to fund students, both male and female.
The National Youth Administration (NYA), a semi-autonomous branch of the WPA under Aubrey Williams developed apprenticeship programs and residential camps specializing in teaching vocational skills. It was one of the first agencies to set up a “Division of Negro Affairs" and make an explicit effort to enroll black students. Williams believed that the traditional high school curricula had failed to meet the needs of the poorest youth. In opposition, the well-established National Education Association (NEA) saw NYA as a dangerous challenge to local control of education NYA expanded Work-study money to reach up to 500,000 students per month in high schools, colleges, and graduate schools. The average pay was $15 a month. However, in line with the anti-elitist policy, the NYA set up its own high schools, entirely separate from the public school system or academic schools of education. Despite appeals from Ickes and Eleanor Roosevelt, Howard University–the federally operated school for blacks—saw its budget cut below Hoover administration levels.
In 1880, American high schools were primarily considered to be preparatory academies for students who were going to attend college. But by 1910 they had been transformed into core elements of the common school system and had broader goals of preparing many students for work after high school. The explosive growth brought the number of students from 200,000 in 1890 to 1,000,000 in 1910, to almost 2,000,000 by 1920; 7% of youths aged 14 to 17 were enrolled in 1890, rising to 32% in 1920. The graduates found jobs especially in the rapidly growing white-collar sector. Cities large and small across the country raced to build new high schools. Few were built in rural areas, so ambitious parents moved close to town to enable their teenagers to attend high school. After 1910, vocational education was added, as a mechanism to train the technicians and skilled workers needed by the booming industrial sector.
In the 1880s the high schools started developing as community centers. They added sports and by the 1920s were building gymnasiums that attracted large local crowds to basketball and other games, especially in small town schools that served nearby rural areas.
In the 1865–1914 era, the number and character of schools changed to meet the demands of new and larger cities and of new immigrants. They had to adjust to the new spirit of reform permeating the country. High schools increased in number, adjusted their curriculum to prepare students for the growing state and private universities; education at all levels began to offer more utilitarian studies in place of an emphasis on the classics. John Dewey and other Progressives advocated changes from their base in teachers' colleges.
Before 1920 most secondary education, whether private or public, emphasized college entry for a select few headed for college. Proficiency in Greek and Latin was emphasized. Abraham Flexner, under commission from the philanthropic General Education Board (GEB), wrote A Modern School (1916), calling for a de-emphasis on the classics. The classics teachers fought back in a losing effort.
Prior to World War I, German was preferred as a subject for a second spoken language. Prussian and German educational systems had served as a model for many communities in the United States and its intellectual standing was highly respected. Due to Germany being an enemy of the US during the war, an anti-German attitude arose in the United States. French, the international language of diplomacy, was promoted as the preferred second language instead. French survived as the second language of choice until the 1960s, when Spanish became popular. This reflected a strong increase in the Spanish-speaking population in the United States, which has continued since the late 20th century.
The growth of human capital
By 1900 educators argued that the post-literacy schooling of the masses at the secondary and higher levels, would improve citizenship, develop higher-order traits, and produce the managerial and professional leadership needed for rapid economic modernization. The commitment to expanded education past age 14 set the U.S. apart from Europe for much of the 20th century.
From 1910 to 1940, high schools grew in number and size, reaching out to a broader clientele. In 1910, for example, 9% of Americans had a high school diploma; in 1935, the rate was 40%. By 1940, the number had increased to 50%. This phenomenon was uniquely American; no other nation attempted such widespread coverage. The fastest growth came in states with greater wealth, more homogeneity of wealth, and less manufacturing activity than others. The high schools provided necessary skill sets for youth planning to teach school, and essential skills for those planning careers in white collar work and some high-paying blue collar jobs. Claudia Goldin argues this rapid growth was facilitated by public funding, openness, gender neutrality, local (and also state) control, separation of church and state, and an academic curriculum. The wealthiest European nations, such as Germany and Britain, had far more exclusivity in their education system; few youth attended past age 14. Apart from technical training schools, European secondary schooling was dominated by children of the wealthy and the social elites.
American post-elementary schooling was designed to be consistent with national needs. It stressed general and widely applicable skills not tied to particular occupations or geographic areas, in order that students would have flexible employment options. As the economy was dynamic, the emphasis was on portable skills that could be used in a variety of occupations, industries, and regions.
Public schools were funded and supervised by independent districts that depended on taxpayer support. In dramatic contrast to the centralized systems in Europe, where national agencies made the major decisions, the American districts designed their own rules and curricula.
Teachers and administrators
Early public school superintendents emphasized discipline and rote learning, and school principals made sure the mandate was imposed on teachers. Disruptive students were expelled.
Support for the high school movement occurred at the grass-roots level of local cities and school systems. After 1916, the federal government began to provide for vocational education funding as part of support for raising readiness to work in industrial and artisan jobs. In these years, states and religious bodies generally funded teacher training colleges, often called "normal schools". Gradually they developed full four-year curriculums and developed as state colleges after 1945.
Teachers organized themselves during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1917, the National Education Association (NEA) was reorganized to better mobilize and represent teachers and educational staff. The rate of increase in membership was constant under the chairmanship of James Crabtree—from 8,466 members in 1917 to 220,149 in 1931. The rival American Federation of Teachers (AFT) was based in large cities and formed alliances with the local labor unions. The NEA identified as an upper-middle-class professional organization, while the AFT identified with the working class and the union movement.
Main article: History of higher education in the United States
At the beginning of the 20th century, fewer than 1,000 colleges with 160,000 students existed in the United States. Explosive growth in the number of colleges occurred at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, supported in part by Congress' land grant programs. Philanthropists endowed many of these institutions. For example, wealthy philanthropists established Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, Vanderbilt University and Duke University; John D. Rockefeller funded the University of Chicago without imposing his name on it.
Land Grant universities
New York, constituent state of the United States of America, one of the 13 original colonies and states. New York is bounded to the west and north by Lake Erie, the Canadian province of Ontario, Lake Ontario, and the Canadian province of Quebec; to the east by the New England states of Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut; to the southeast by the Atlantic Ocean and New Jersey; and to the south by Pennsylvania. The capital is Albany.
Until the 1960s New York was the country’s leading state in nearly all population, cultural, and economic indexes. Its displacement by California beginning in the middle of that decade was caused by the enormous growth rate that has persisted on the West Coast rather than by a large decline in New York itself. Texas overtook New York as the second most populous state in 2000. Still, New York remains one of the most populous states in the country, and its gross economic product exceeds those of all but a handful of countries throughout the world.
New York is situated across a region of contrast—from the Atlantic shores of Long Island and the skyscrapers of Manhattan through the rivers, mountains, and lakes of upstate New York to the plains of the Great Lakes region. With canals, railroads, and highways, New York is a principal gateway to the west from the Middle Atlantic and New England states and a hub for travel to and from much of the country. The cities of the state—from New York City through Albany, Utica, and Syracuse to Rochester and Buffalo on the Great Lakes—and their suburbs are home to more than four-fifths of all New Yorkers.
Both the New England and the Southern colonies had a great deal more to do with the movement toward revolution and with stabilizing the new country during its early decades than did New York, but, once the state’s growth got under way, it attained a breakneck pace. The state—and New York City in particular—remains the centre of much of the country’s economy and finance, as well as of many formative impulses in American art and culture, and the influence and image of both are major elements in national political life. However, the overwhelming presence of New York City has tended to divide the state socially and politically, causing long-standing problems for both the city and the state. Area 54,555 square miles (141,297 square km). Population (2010) 19,378,102; (2017 est.) 19,849,399.
Although New York state is inextricably linked with New York City in many people’s minds, the state has a wide range of geographic and climatic conditions. During at least a part of the last Ice Age, most of New York was covered by glaciers; the only exceptions were southern Long Island, Staten Island, and the far southwestern corner of the state.
The movement of the glaciers left New York with nine distinct physiographic regions. Each has its own characteristic landforms, with distinctive geologic structures and patterns of erosion. In the northeast the Adirondack upland is characterized by the highest and most rugged mountains in the state, reaching 5,344 feet (1,629 metres) at Mount Marcy and 5,114 feet (1,559 metres) at Algonquin Peak of Mount McIntyre. With the exception of some forestry activities, the region’s main economic value is for recreation. A large part of it has been designated as a wilderness preserve by the state.
The St. Lawrence Lowlands extend northeastward from Lake Ontario to the ocean along the boundary with Canada. Within this area are three subdivisions: a flat to gently rolling strip of land along the St. Lawrence River; a range of hills south and east of the plain; and, farther south and east, a long, narrow plain dotted with lakes.
The Hudson-Mohawk Lowland follows the Hudson River north from New York City to Albany and then turns west along the Mohawk River. The Hudson valley, between the Catskill Mountains on the west and the Taconic Range on the east, is from 10 to 20 miles (15 to 30 km) wide; the Mohawk valley reaches widths of 30 miles (50 km). Those routes provided access from New York City and New England into the hinterland of New York. Cutting pathways through the mountains of central and western New York, these rivers became the state’s avenues of commerce, serving first as the basis of the Erie Canal and later as the route of the New York Central Railroad and of the Governor Thomas E. Dewey (New York State) Thruway.
To the east of the Hudson River lies the New England Upland, extending eastward into Massachusetts and Connecticut and southward across the lower Hudson valley into Pennsylvania.
Two small regions complete the geographic picture in southeastern New York. The Atlantic Coastal Plain, which extends from Massachusetts to Florida, takes in Long Island and Staten Island. A small finger of the eastern Piedmont region juts up from New Jersey for some distance along the west bank of the Hudson.
The Appalachian Highlands, the largest region in New York, comprises about one-half of the state, extending westward from the Hudson valley to the state’s southern and western boundaries. The Catskill Mountains (the peaks of which reach some 2,000 to 4,000 feet [600 to 1,200 metres]), the Finger Lakes Hills area, and the Delaware River basin are located in this region. The Catskills, with their mountains and lakes, are primarily a recreation area. The Finger Lakes region also provides many opportunities for summer and winter sports, and its valleys provide excellent grasslands for dairying. The Delaware basin is a mixed-farming area.
A plateaulike region known as the Erie-Ontario Lowlands lies to the north of the Appalachian Highlands and west of the Mohawk valley and extends along the southern shores of the Great Lakes. It is composed of lake plains bordering the Great Lakes that extend up to 30 miles (50 km) inland from the lakes. Because of the moderating influence of the lakes on the weather, the region has become an important fruit-growing area. Between the lake lowlands and the western reaches of the Adirondacks and north of Oneida Lake lies the Tug Hill Upland, which is one of the least-settled parts of the state because of its poor soil and drainage and its excessive winter snow conditions.
Among New York’s special geographic features are its two major shorelines: some 130 miles (210 km) bordering the Atlantic and 370 miles (600 km) on Lakes Erie and Ontario; in addition, the western shore of Lake Champlain stretches along the northeast corner of the state. The state also has some 8,000 lakes and 9 major rivers. The Hudson and Mohawk rivers have played the most important roles in the state’s history, but the Genesee and Oswego, flowing northward into Lake Ontario, also have been important. The Delaware, Susquehanna, and Allegheny drain the southern and western portions of the state and provide a large part of New York City’s water supply. The East River connects Long Island Sound with New York Bay and separates Long Island and Manhattan. The most dramatic of the waterfalls that dot the state is Niagara Falls, a source of much hydroelectric power as well as one of the major scenic attractions of the Northeast.
New York soils can be grouped into categories based on their parent material. One of the most productive groups is found in regions of lime-rich glacial till. Where drainage is good and the terrain not too steep, these soils are excellent for agriculture. They occur in a broad belt across the state and into the Hudson valley. Another lime-rich soil group is found in areas that were formerly glacial lake beds, such as the Erie-Ontario Lowlands and large parts of the Hudson and St. Lawrence valleys. Soils of this group are fine-textured and are characterized by level topography. Where drainage is not a problem, these soils are quite suitable for agriculture. Alluvial soils, formed from the sediments of glacial meltwater and the floodwaters of present-day streams, are found in many valley bottoms, especially in the Appalachian Highlands and along the Mohawk and Hudson rivers. Most of Long Island is also covered by alluvial soils, which often have excellent productive potential. Other soils less suitable for agriculture are derived from lime-poor glacial till, such as those north of the major limestone outcroppings near Lake Ontario, or from material that is too shallow or coarse, such as those in the rugged mountainous areas of the state or in the sandy region west and north of Albany.
The early Dutch settlers found that New York’s climate fell far short of their expectations. Since Manhattan is actually Mediterranean in latitude, these early settlers were rather bewildered to encounter its snowy, freezing winter weather. If Manhattan was uncomfortably cold and wet in the winter months, the rest of the state must have been an even greater disappointment.
Average July temperatures range from 77 °F (25 °C) in New York City to 64 °F (18 °C) at Indian Lake in the Adirondacks; averages in January range from 33 °F (0.5 °C) on Long Island to 14 °F (−10 °C) at Stillwater Reservoir in the Adirondacks. These figures represent the extremes, but there are substantial differences in climate between New York City and upstate Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. A tendency to cloudiness across the state results in few completely clear days.
Precipitation ranges from 32 to 45 inches (810 to 1,140 mm) a year, with the Catskills receiving the greatest amount, while the Erie-Ontario Lowlands receive the least. The region around Syracuse receives an unusual amount of lake-effect snow (an annual average of about 115 inches [2,900 mm]) because of its location near Lake Ontario; the Buffalo area, on Lake Erie, is also renowned for its annual heavy snowfalls (averaging some 95 inches [2,400 mm]).
Plant and animal life
More than three-fifths of New York state is forested woodland. Some 150 kinds of trees, including such southern species as the tulip tree (yellow poplar) and sweet gum, are found in the state. Most woodland, however, is dominated by a small number of northern hardwoods, chiefly beeches and sugar maples in association with species of ash, basswood, cherry, birch, red maple, oak, and, occasionally, conifers such as white pine and hemlock. The spruce-fir association found in extensive parts of the Adirondacks and the largely oak-dominated forests in southeastern New York are the major exceptions to the northern hardwood forests.
Small mammals such as deer mice, eastern cottontails, snowshoe hares, woodchucks, gray squirrels, muskrats, and raccoons are common. Larger mammals include white-tailed deer, beavers, and black bears. New York is host to numerous migratory birds. Year-round residents include eastern meadowlarks, American goldfinches, cardinals, eastern bluebirds, cedar waxwings, bluejays, several kinds of woodpeckers and owls, red-tailed hawks, ruffed grouses, mallards, and common house sparrows, introduced to North America from Europe in the early 1850s.
Since the colonial period much of New York’s growth has resulted from immigration, both from other states and from abroad. Before the American Revolution the Dutch, English, Scots, and Germans were the primary settlers; they were followed in the first half of the 19th century by New Englanders spreading across developing parts of upstate New York and into Westchester county and northern Long Island. The influx of European immigrants came first from the northern and central parts of the Continent and later from southern countries.
The primary countries of origin are Italy, parts of the former Soviet Union (notably, Russia and Ukraine), Poland, Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Many of today’s New Yorkers either are foreign-born or have parents who were born abroad, and a significant percentage of people are from a great number of other parts of the world besides Europe and Canada. Nearly half of the population is Roman Catholic, and about one-tenth is Jewish.
The nonwhite portion of the population grew significantly during the 20th century. The first large-scale influx of African Americans from the Southern states occurred during World War I, but it was small compared with the migration that occurred during and after World War II. In 1940 only 4.4 percent of the population was nonwhite, but by the beginning of the 21st century the proportion had increased to about one-sixth, concentrated in the state’s metropolitan areas and, within those areas, in the central cities. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, many immigrants of African descent came from diverse areas in the Caribbean and Africa, and they represent different religions, linguistic groups, and social backgrounds.
Puerto Ricans are another group that has had a significant impact on the economy and culture of New York since World War II. Economic depression in Puerto Rico led to heavy migration to the continental United States, chiefly to New York, during the 1950s and early ’60s. Later economic recovery resulted in a considerable reduction in migration, the number of entrants being largely offset by the number of returnees to Puerto Rico. Several hundred thousand people of Puerto Rican origin now reside in the state, mostly in New York City. Dominicans and other Latinos have added to the number of Spanish-speaking immigrants.
The cultural and social distinctions between various parts of New York state have diminished. Upstate cities, for example, are nearly as varied ethnically as New York City. Certain cultural and social characteristics introduced by early settlers remain visible and, to some degree, still influence lifestyles. During the colonial period and for a number of years after the American Revolution, New England was a major source of migrants to New York, and there are traces of the New England influence, particularly in the architecture and small-town planning of the northern shore of Long Island and in northern Westchester county. The Dutch influence around Albany remains in little more than place-names and street names, plus some preserved or rehabilitated Dutch architecture. German and Scottish settlers have left their mark in the Schoharie valley and parts of the Hudson and Mohawk valleys (German), in Orange and Ulster counties, and in the Cherry Valley area (Scottish).
The distinction between upstate and downstate is normally along political lines—upstate, conservative; downstate, liberal. Political differences are matched by social differences. Downstate is divided between New York City and the suburbs, and within the city differences between the boroughs are important. Although Manhattan has many low-income residents, it is more characterized as a centre for sophisticated lifestyles and liberal politics. In the outer boroughs are relatively stable ethnic neighbourhoods and communities in the process of changing their ethnic or racial makeup; they tend to be more conservative than those in Manhattan but generally are oriented toward the Democratic Party. The suburbs are dominated by white middle- and high-income families living in detached houses, though the income spread in the suburbs has increased, and the inner suburbs are beginning to resemble the city’s outer boroughs.
The rural upstate areas must be distinguished from the upstate cities and their suburbs. Rural New York remains conservative both politically and socially. The city regions vary from relatively sophisticated Rochester, with its heavy concentration of white-collar technical and managerial employees, to the more conservative Syracuse–central New York area. Buffalo, with its emphasis on heavy industry, has a large blue-collar population.
Beginning in the 20th century, much internal migration took place within the state. Higher- and middle-income whites moved to the suburbs, leaving low-income whites and African Americans within the central cities. Likewise, much economic activity, notably manufacturing and the headquarters of corporations, also moved to the suburbs. This movement of people and economic activity resulted in an urban crisis familiar across the United States: an increasing need for the cities to combat crime and other symptoms of poverty, coupled with the removal of the social and economic resources to do so. Although New York City’s population began rebounding in the late 20th century and the economic strength of the state’s large metropolitan areas generally has been growing, the cities’ poor increasingly have been unable to participate in the prosperity and seem likely to slip still farther behind.
New York state’s economy ranks among the largest in the world and accounts for a significant portion of the gross domestic product of the United States. In addition, since the early 21st century, New York’s economic policy has improved its business climate by encouraging the building of new and expanded corporate facilities and increasing the number of new jobs. However, in many ways New York’s economy is similar to those of the other Northeastern states. The service sector predominates, though manufacturing is also important. Although the economies of other states are growing more rapidly, New York still has great economic strength. The state has, for example, a complex network of nearly every form of transportation. Its resources of electrical power for domestic and commercial use are enormous, including conventional coal- and oil-burning thermal plants, hydroelectricity from the Niagara region, and a large nuclear capability.
State government plays both regulatory and promotional roles in the economy. The Public Service Commission controls the rates charged by public utilities, and the Division of Housing and Community Renewal encourages the development of affordable housing and community preservation programs. The Department of Commerce aids in attracting new economic activity to the state, providing information and assistance to industries seeking to locate there, giving financial support to local communities interested in developing industrial parks, and offering other incentives to encourage the location of more industries within such areas.
New York tends to have somewhat lower unemployment rates during downturns in the national economy than does the rest of the country, but it also recovers less rapidly. This is largely a result of the state’s economic mix and its heavy dependence on nonmanufacturing activities.
Almost one-fourth of New York’s workforce is unionized, about double the national average. Unionization has grown rapidly in the service sector among such government employees as teachers, sanitation workers, police, and firefighters. The nature of labour-management relations varies considerably from industry to industry, with workers in construction and the garment and apparel industries wielding great power. The state legislature frequently devotes attention to the field of labour relations, particularly public-sector employee relations.
Farmland covers nearly one-third of the state’s land area; about three-fifths of New York’s farmland is cropland. Dairying is the most important source of farm income, providing more than one-half of the total. Other important sources of farm income are poultry and eggs, livestock products, fruits, vegetables, and field crops. The state raises a variety of horticultural specialties, including nursery products, crops grown in greenhouses, flower bulbs, and seeds, and it competes with Vermont in the production of maple sugar. The fruit and vegetable farms supply the food-processing industry with such products as apples, cherries, peaches, currants, strawberries, tomatoes, peas, beans, sweet corn, and cabbage. There is also a long-standing winemaking tradition that began commercially in the state in the early 1800s. New York is one of the country’s largest wine producers; particularly well known for their wines are the Hudson valley and Finger Lakes regions.
Manufacturing, services, and taxation
A declining proportion of New York’s workforce is engaged in manufacturing activities. In 1947 more than one-third of the state’s employed population was in manufacturing, but by the early 21st century that proportion had dropped to only about one-tenth of the total. New York’s service and manufacturing economy remains diverse. It includes financial services; printing and publishing; fashion, apparel, and textiles; food processing; optics and imaging instruments; computer hardware and software; biomedical and chemical products; industrial, electric, and electronic machinery and systems; and transportation equipment and distribution services.
There is some economic specialization within different parts of the state. Services and activities related to finance, insurance, and real estate are more concentrated in the New York City metropolitan area than in upstate New York. Buffalo is strong in heavy industry, while Rochester dominates the manufacture of photographic and optical equipment and is primarily responsible for the state’s strong position in instrument production.
Syracuse ranks high in the state in the production of primary metals, machinery, and paper and allied products, as well as in educational employment. The Utica-Rome area specializes in machinery and primary metals, while the Albany-Troy-Schenectady area is strong in the production of paper and allied products. Albany, as the state capital, leads in government employment. Binghamton, the site of a forerunner of the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), has a concentration of employment in the computer and business-machine field.
New York state residents pay one of the highest per capita tax rates in the United States, a system made possible by the state’s relatively healthy economic base. The state imposes income, sales, business, and excise taxes. Local revenues are derived mainly from property and sales taxes. The broad state base plus the widespread use of local sales taxes allows New York to rely less on local property taxes than do other large or heavily populated states. Since the late 20th century, the size of New York’s government has been reduced through consolidation and privatization, prompting a series of tax cuts designed to make the state more competitive economically.
A great part of New York’s economic advantage is its location on important natural transportation routes and facilities that connect urban centres within and without the state.
The Erie Canal, opened in 1825, tied New York City and its port to Buffalo and the westward-expanding country. The main railroad system followed the route of the canal, with feeder lines that jutted north and south into the remainder of the state. After World War II the limited-access Thruway stretched from New York to the Pennsylvania state line, passing through Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. The basic paths of these main transportation routes are not substantially different from those that were used by the state’s original settlers.
With the completion in 1918 of the New York State Barge Canal System (now called the New York State Canal System), which incorporated the old Erie Canal, New York had the country’s most extensive inland waterway system. The canal system stretches some 520 miles (840 km) and has more than 50 locks. Although it is an important means for moving bulk goods—particularly petroleum products, a major share of the freight hauled—the tonnage it carries annually has dropped considerably.
The railways first challenged the supremacy of the canal as a carrier of goods. Beginning in the mid-19th century with the establishment of the New York Central Railroad, a system was built that tied New York’s major cities to Chicago, Boston, Montreal, and other urban centres. Although the number of passengers carried has declined, the railroads remain important handlers of freight. Much of this freight originates via the facilities of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, still one of the largest and busiest port complexes in the United States, handling about one-tenth of all the country’s imports and a large proportion of all immigrants to the United States.
Central to the highway system are the limited-access highways. The Thruway connects at Albany to the Adirondack Northway, which extends northward to Canada. In central New York a major highway runs from the Pennsylvania state line to Canada, passing through Binghamton, Syracuse, and Watertown. At Syracuse this route intersects with the Thruway, maintaining the city as a transportation hub and accounting in large part for its economic viability. Another limited-access expressway extends across the southern tier of the state. On Long Island a set of east-west highways ties the island to New York City, New England, and upstate New York.
The New York City metropolitan area, with its combination of subways, buses, and railroads, has the most complex commuter system in the country. The vast New York transit system provides intracity passenger transport. Commuter railroads serve suburban Long Island, Westchester county, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Many of these transportation networks were brought under the control of a single agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in 1968.
The three largest airports in the New York City metropolitan area are John F. Kennedy International, La Guardia, and Newark Liberty International, in New Jersey. Other airports providing national and international service are located in Albany, Buffalo, Islip, Rochester, and Syracuse, among others, and the state has a number of regional and county airports.