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Report for 1895 and 1896, Hon. Mason S. Stone, State superintendent.
The report notes a great awakening of the people to school interests within the last few years. In 1894 the law of free text-books came into being, and along with them "free academic advantages to pupils resident in towns in which secondary schools are situated, recognition of college and secondary school graduates by exempting such from examination for teachers' certificates under certain conditions; State aid to summer schools for teachers." Only one more enactment seems to be needed, namely, "close expert supervision of the common schools."
Decrease in property valuation, a result of that in rural population, made burdensome school taxation, for the relief of which a 5 per cent tax law was enacted, the revenue of which was apportioned to the various towns to the number of legal schools maintained. It is claimed that in no other State can be found more prudent and benignant legislation toward maintaining the rural schools. The town system has become a fact, and is believed to secure comparative equality. The report says: "What the town system has done in Vermont in the solution of the rural school problem through the equalization of school advantages may be inferred in part by the discussion of transportation, small schools, schoolhouses, repairs, supplies, teachers, and free text-books."
The question of transportation is not yet in satisfactory solution on account of hesitancy in some communities in adopting it. It is suggested that the law, in that case, should be made mandatory.
Some diminution in the number of small schools has taken place, not as great as it should have been. It is contended that the State can better afford transportation in rural districts than allow such schools to be maintained. The three things that contribute to keep them small are such that increase is hardly probable. These are "the concentrating tendency of the people, diminution in the size of the New England family, and the completion of the common-school course at an earlier age than formerly."
The free text-book law has come into almost universal favor. Change in text-books every five years, a custom which has obtained during the last twenty-five years, has been followed by far less than the expense formerly incurred by it. Competition among publishers has enabled officials to purchase at satisfactory prices, and to obtain books as satisfactorily gotten up.
It is admitted that there is great need of a larger number of trained teachers, but this need is constantly diminishing. The report says:
"Teaching to-day is in a transition period, and is seeking a sound basis through a larger and better conception of educational principles. The change exhibits itself in the improved methods which have been readily accepted and applied."
It is noteworthy that the number of teachers who remain longer than one term of school continues to show much increase.
An earnest appeal is made for a law creating expert school supervision. This, it is claimed, is the only thing needed to render the educational system all that its most thoughtful friends wish it to be.
Further arguments are adduced from eminent sources in other States. The system was tried as far back as 1888, but was soon afterwards repealed. It did not meet with popular favor, partly because of partial failure on account of extent of territory and partly because the expense was considered too great for the amount of benefit accomplished. Yet it is contended that this benefit was far greater than was generally believed, and the restoration of the law, which the present system would render entirely practicable, is earnestly recommended. The subject is discussed at considerable length and in forcible terms.
In the average wages of teachers it is claimed that the State compares favorably with the others in New England. The manufacturing States, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connectient, are considerably higher, owing to greater expense in living and density of population. Wages of women have increased, while those of men have remained about the same. On this head the report says:
"This is due not to a change in the school administration of the State, nor to the superior system of examination established, but rather to the multitude of occupations open to women to-day offering greater compensation with less responsibility and unkind criticism. They have become the competitors of men in many of the trades and professions."
The State makes advance in the means of preparing teachers better for the several branches of school work; but it is urged that this could be made much greater by additional legislative action. At present are the teachers' meetings, reading circles, secondary schools, normal schools, institutes, and summer schools. Teachers' meetings in some communities where the superintendents are thoroughly compe
tent, do well, in others not. About four hundred teachers attended reading circles in 1895. In the matter of secondary schools, several of the high schools and academies availed themselves of opportunities extended by the law of 1895, whereby graduates of approved secondary schools who had received as many as thirty weeks' instruction in teaching may receive certificate of teaching without examination. Very much good has come forth in the operation of this law.
Reports are made of the three normal schools, at Castleton, Randolph, and Johnson. We quote from the extended observations made concerning them the following:
"As nearly 90 per cent of the schools of Vermont are ungraded schools, the true function of the normal school is to train and equip teachers for the country ungraded schools. But the normal schools fail in the attainment of the object for which they were established unless they send out graduates better equipped than the graduates of the secondary schools. The chief aim should be to teach teachers how to teach rather than to teach subject matter to teachers-the one makes them professional schools, the other makes them common schools. The normal schools can never reach their highest degree of influence, power, and popularity until the State assumes absolute coi trol and support. The schools can not well exist unless there be adequate State aid; and if the State furnishes the revenue of support, then ought it to have unrestricted management of the schools."
Report for 1893 and 1894, Hon. C. W. Bean, superintendent of public instruction.
The report consists in great part of recommendations of changes in the school law, and of elaborate, thoughtful argumentation in their behalf. Among these is one for dispensing with the board of county examiners having less than 30 school districts and that the work done by them be assigned to county superintendents. Others are regarding teachers' examinations for certificates, record books for school districts, the empowering school district boards to employ teachers for terms of two years, and devoting a portion of the school fund to the purchase of free text-books, for reference and general school libraries, for a specified minimum per capita of school fund, for arrangement of courses of study in all schools from the primary to the university, etc.
The State University is represented to be advancing with great rapidity. The legislature two years back removed charges for tuition, since when enrollment has risen from 140 to 468. The Agricultural College and School of Science also is doing well. The General Government endowed the former with 90,000 acres of land, and the latter with 100,000, the value of which, although less than half has been selected and approved, is rated at over a million dollars.
The report regards normal schools as the most important item in the whole educational machinery, and the question is argued at much length, and appeal made for the speedy creation of at least three of such institutions, and the abolishment of the normal appendage to the university, where, it is contended, it has no rightful place. The school at Vancouver for defective youth is in good hands and doing much of the good that was expected from it. The records show that there are not far below 200 in the State, about 100 of whom are in this institution. It is recommended, for several reasons given, that it be entirely separate from that for the deaf and blind. Good account is rendered of the State Reform School under the direction of Professor Westerndorf.
The three sources from which school revenues are derived are the permanent State school fund, taxes levied by county commissioners, and those special, levied by boards of school districts. The apportionment of these funds is a subject of frequent discussions among the people generally. These are given in the report, which contends that it should be based upon average daily attendance, which in that case would be greatly increased.
The report for 1895 and 1896 is from the same superintendent, C. W. Bean, esq. The number of school children in average daily attendance increased about 5,000, number of schoolhouses being now over 1,800, though there has been some decrease in the value of school property.
Among the recommendations and changes in the school law are to make the district the unit for taxation, to make a prescribed minimum rate in district taxation, to levy a tax to reduce district inequalities, to require every district by local taxation to provide its own school buildings, and purchase its own text-books out of the list chosen by the board of education, who contend with publishers about uniform prices; requiring higher educational qualifications in superintendents, abolish
county examining boards in counties with less than thirty teachers, and prohibit creation of new districts containing less than some specified number of pupils.
There has been some increase in average school duration and a slight decrease in teachers' wages. Upon the whole, during the last two years as much retrenchment was made as was possible in avoiding infliction of too great injury, although the report considers the reduction of teachers as a misfortune.
It is claimed that the State University is being brought in touch with the various preparatory schools. To the State Agricultural College have been added a school of pharmacy, one of dairying, and one of farming. Extremely popular is the winter course for farmers and fruit growers, when lectures are attended by more than 200. The two normal schools at Ellensburg and Cheney are earnestly recommended for more liberal support by the State.
As far as practicable, a course of study for ungraded schools has obtained. An extended, earnest argument in favor of free text-books is made by the superintendent, citing many States that have adopted it and found it a great benefit; another yet more elaborate on the many various means that have been devised for the raising of school revenues. The subject is admitted to have many difficulties in its striving toward accurate, satisfactory solution.
Report for 1895 and 1896, Hon. Virgil A. Lewis, State superintendent.
It is claimed that in providing for free schools the greater portion of the State's revenue is devoted to this end. After a minute tabulation of statistics of the two years, showing increases and decreases in the various items, attention is called to what are termed " units of school administration," of which there are two "minor," that is, "two units of school government, and upon the administration in these depends almost entirely the success of the State's educational work." The first is the magisterial district." Says the report:
"In it the administration of all school law is in the hands of a board of education elected by the people, and a board of trustees in each subdistrict, appointed by the board of education. The powers and duties of each are defined by the general school law of the State. These magisterial districts owe their existence to the provisions of the general State law. By the provisions of section 1 of Article VII of the first constitution it was declared every county shall be divided into not less than three nor more than ten townships, laid off compactly as practicable with reference to natural boundaries.' In compliance with this constitutional provision the legislature passed an act on the 31st day of July, 1863, containing a schedule in which were named prominent men in each county whose duty it was made to divide the several counties as required by the constitution. By an act of the legislature December 10, 1863, these townships were declared to be school districts," etc. This provision was incorporated into the present constitution founded in 1872. The superintendent urges that the schools under this provision be made graded by the board of education.
The second unit is named "The independent school district;" these, not being under the provision of general law, are under those of special statutes, and are controlled by a board of education, who act also as trustees. The superintendent insists that in each of these independent school districts should be established a high or graded school with a complete course of study, and claim that when these recommendations are adopted the foundation of the State's educational work will be complete.
This is followed by an extended account of State certificates and the State board of education, a circular of information for school officials, publishers of schoolbooks and their prices, and general reports of free schools with various programmes of daily exercises.
Attention is called to the resolutions of the West Virginia Educational Association in favor of a "uniform course of instruction for the first two years of all high schools throughout the State subject to extension by the several boards of education." The preamble reads thus:
"Whereas there is need of unifying the educational forces of the State so as to bring about harmony between the courses of study of the common schools, the graded schools, the high schools, the normal schools, and admission to the academic courses of the university: Therefore, resolved," etc., and hope is expressed that the legislature will pass a bill in pursuance of these ideas.
Cordial acknowledgments are rendered for the aid received from the Peabody fund, which was expended in compliance with the terms of bestowment, which were limited to the training of teachers; that is, to the normal schools and teachers' institutes.
Report for 1895 and 1896, Hon. J. Q. Emery, State superintendent.
The considerable increase in the amount paid to teachers is claimed to indicate better instructors and longer terms of schools. On the whole, this superintendent insists that these have improved every way within the last ten or fifteen years in teaching force, in building, and other items in the system. Very few are without teachers who have had advantages above district ungraded schools. Very great good has resulted from the increase of teachers' institutes. Improvement is claimed also for ungraded schools, because of the advanced sentiments in general growing out of such institutes and other associations, and more intelligent, vigilant supervision of county superintendents, leading to better-systemized instruction.
The following is a summary of the superintendent's observations on this head: "To summarize, these are a few lines along which we may mark the progress which is being made, viz: The attendance of pupils, the interest of patrons and citizens in the material equipment of public schools, demand for more thoroughly trained teachers, the increase of a more intelligent use of a course of study, and the growing appreciation of the value of good books for general reading as an adjunct of the school in promoting general intelligence and good citizenship."
The report has some very interesting observations regarding urban and country schools. The former, although with well-trained and experienced teachers, are trammeled partly by the too early leaving school on the part of considerable numbers, and partly by the greater indulgences allowed to children in villages than in rural districts. Yet the superiority of these schools works injury to the rural by the frequent drafts upon their classes, and greatly diminishing the number of their pupils. The report makes several recommendations tending to better the condition of things in these country schools. One is the consolidation of small and sparsely populated school districts and the transportation of pupils to and from the schoolhouses when they live too far to walk the distance; another is to provide for better inspection; another is a different method in distributing school funds, with view of bringing about as great equalization of cost as possible. The report also opposes the district as the only or the principal unit of taxation because of its smallness, variableness, and liability to be controlled by narrow, selfish considerations. It recommends also greater encouragement of kindergartens.
Other changes are commended. What now is particularly needed is that teachers make themselves familiar with the books in the library, so as to help pupils in making selections.
Much praise is bestowed upon the marked advance of the free high schools, of which there are now 197, as many as 8 being added within the last two years. Most of these are in towns and villages. Towns, as such, have thus far taken little advantage of the law.
The following is taken from observations under the head, "Manual-training departments:"
"By chapter 358, laws of 1895, the legislature authorized any board of education in the State having charge of a high school to establish and maintain a department of manual training in connection with the schools under its control and management, and further enacted that the expense of maintaining such department be provided for in the same manner as expenses for maintaining high schools are provided for." The superintendent is to advise and assist in the organization, and the work has made substantial progress.
The State has been liberal in care of the deaf, with whom both the sign and oral methods are employed. At the beginning of the year 1895 there were four of these schools. At the time when this report was made thero were nine.
A long space is devoted to physical training in normal schools. It includes photographs of pupils at various stages of development, and is in all respects highly interesting. The seventh of these normal schools was established in 1895.
The State University continues to make great strides. Students have gone from 443 in 1885-86 to 1,598 in 1895-96. The largest number is in the College of Letters and Science, which includes also the schools of economics, political science, and history. In this (the College of Letters and Science) there has been a great increase of women students, greater, indeed, than that of men. The proportion of the former to the latter in 1886-87 was 116 to 221; in 1896-97 it was 327 to 491.
The following extract shows some facts that are highly interesting and significant: "It can not be said that the problem of coeducation presents many difficulties. The old query as to whether the health of young women would bear the strain of a university course has been swept away by the energetic hand of experience; so, also, has the doubt as to whether scholarship would not suffer from the presence of women in the classes. It is settled, not only here but elsewhere, that the general health of young women is better at the time of graduation than at the time of entrance, and that the average scholarship of young women is higher than that of young men."
There are some difficulties, however, the report admits, one being the "tendency to excessive recreation." It is suggested that an official be appointed to be styled "dean of the woman's department." At present the university has no control over the deportment of the large majority, who live in clubs and boarding houses. Yet the superintendent says, "It is a pleasure to add that in general none is needed."
Report for 1895 and 1896, Miss Estelle Reel, superintendent of public instruction. Complaint is made of the lack of sufficient facilities for obtaining correct and reliable statements of school statistics, subordinate officials being slow and often inexpert in rendering accounts to county superintendents. The difficulty lies partly in objections to the provisions which district treasurers and clerks are required to observe, which to some of them seem needlessly exacting and onerous. The law requires these officials to report to the voters of the district at the annual district meeting on the first Monday in May, and afterwards on the first Monday of September to report to the county superintendent. This added burden is much complained of, and delay and laxity are the consequences.
Yet increments are reported in several lines. The number of schools in 1894, 379, increased to 425 in 1896, of teachers from 407 to 465, and of pupils 1,272. Attendance of children is better than ever before. School buildings have gone from 257 to 306. But the average of wages has decreased; also the cost of tuition to some extent. Under operation of the act of 1895 for reduction in the number of school districts, they have been brought down to 182. Notwithstanding reduction in the salaries of county superintendents, high praise is bestowed upon their diligence and efficiency. The report argues strongly for the adoption of a uniform course of study for the whole State. It has already been adopted in several of the counties with signal benefit.
Much praise is bestowed upon the county institutes. The good results from regular reading of educational magazines and like publications lead the superintendent to urge every teacher in the State to subscribe for them.
The superintendent is earnest, like her predecessor, in the matter of free text-books, and commends the following arguments made by the latter in one of his reports. After carefully studying the question, noting the experiences in other States where the system prevails, the following summary of benefits is given:
"First. A gain of from 25 to 40 per cent on first cost.
"Second. A gain of at least 33 per cent in the time the book will be in proper
condition to use.
"Third. Considering first cost and time of use, there is a gain of about 50 per cent in cost to the community.
"Fourth. The classes are uniformly supplied at the proper time and with the proper text-books.
"Fifth. The very unpleasant distinction between rich and poor is avoided. "Sixth. Increased attendance.
"Seventh. Schools are more successfully graded.
"Eighth. A State or county system is more easily carried out.
"Ninth. A very great and unnecessary expense to teachers is avoided "
Inasmuch as adoption of the system in general will be, in all probability, delayed by consideration of the great expense which the first outlay must necessarily incur, the report recommends for the present that the matter be left to the voluntary action of the several districts.
Attention is called to the extremely onerous duties of the State superintendent's department. This official, in addition to being school superintendent, is ex officio a member of the board of trustees of the State University, secretary of the State board of charities and reform, and secretary and register of the State board of land commissioners. Without seriously complaining, the superintendent uses the following sufficiently pertinent language:
"The law authorizes a contingent which allows the heads of other departments to appoint such clerks for their office as they deem advisable, and it is not easy to discern the wisdom of the restrictions placed upon the clerical assistance afforded to this department."
The university is reported to be advancing. The trustees this year did away with what was styled the "subpreparatory class." The standard has been considerably raised, and some valuable accessions have been made to the faculty.
Much benefit is claimed to have come already from the State Teachers' Association, which was formed in the year 1891.
Quite a liberal grant of land was lately made to the State Agricultural College. To guard against the hindrances probably attaching to judicious disposal of land in large quantities, it was provided that selections be made of tracts not less than 160 acres, nor more than 640.