Vollmer’s List: The Increasing Burden Placed on America’s Public Schools

 

 

 

 

 

From the beginning of my journey through the land of public education, I was shocked by how much we had added to the curriculum since the first schools were established. In order to keep track of the additions, I developed a decade-by-decade list of all the academic, social, and health responsibilities that have been heaped upon our schools. I called my work product the “Increasing Burden on America’s Schools,” but it has since become known across the country simply as Vollmer’s List.

I found that for a long time we added nothing. The Massachusetts Puritans who started it all assumed that families and churches bore the major responsibility for raising a child. Their mandate to the teachers was simple: teach basic reading, some writing and rudimentary math skills, and cultivate values that serve a democratic society (some history and civics were implied). In the mid 1700s, Benjamin Franklin added some science and geography, but the curriculum remained focused for 260 years.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, politicians, professors, business leaders, and members of the clergy began to see public schools as a logical site for both the assimilation of immigrants and the social engineering of the citizens of the new industrial age. The policy elite began to expand the curriculum and assign additional duties. That trend has accelerated ever since.

From 1900 to 1910, we shifted to the school responsibilities related to:

  • Nutrition
  • Immunization
  • Health (Activities in the health arena multiply every year.)

From 1910 to 1930, we added:

  • Physical education (including organized athletics)
  • The Practical Arts/Domestic Science/Home economics (including sewing and cooking)
  • Vocational education (including industrial and agricultural education)
  • Mandated school transportation

In the 1940s, we added:

  • Business education (including typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping)
  • Art and music
  • Speech and drama
  • Half-day kindergarten
  • School lunch programs (We take this for granted today, but it was a huge step to shift to the schools the job of feeding America’s children one third of their daily meals.)

In the 1950s, we added:

  • Expanded science and math education
  • Safety education
  • Driver’s education
  • Expanded music and art education
  • Stronger foreign language requirements
  • Sex education (Topics continue to escalate.)

In the 1960s, we added:

  • Advanced Placement programs
  • Head Start
  • Title I
  • Adult education
  • Consumer education (purchasing resources, rights and responsibilities)
  • Career education (occupational options, entry level skill requirements)
  • Peace, leisure, and recreation education [Loved those sixties.]

In the 1970s, the breakup of the American family accelerated, and we added:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse education
  • Parenting education (techniques and tools for healthy parenting)
  • Behavior adjustment classes (including classroom and communication skills)
  • Character education
  • Special education (mandated by federal government)
  • Title IX programs (greatly expanded athletic programs for girls)
  • Environmental education
  • Women’s studies
  • African-American heritage education
  • School breakfast programs (Now some schools feed America’s children two-thirds of their daily meals throughout the school year and all summer. Sadly, these are the only decent meals some children receive.)

In the 1980s, the floodgates opened, and we added:

  • Keyboarding and computer education
  • Global education
  • Multicultural/Ethnic education
  • Nonsexist education
  • English-as-a-second-language and bilingual education
  • Teen pregnancy awareness
  • Hispanic heritage education
  • Early childhood education
  • Jump Start, Early Start, Even Start, and Prime Start
  • Full-day kindergarten
  • Preschool programs for children at risk
  • After-school programs for children of working parents
  • Alternative education in all its forms
  • Stranger/danger education
  • Antismoking education
  • Sexual abuse prevention education
  • Expanded health and psychological services
  • Child abuse monitoring (a legal requirement for all teachers)

In the 1990s, we added:

  • Conflict resolution and peer mediation
  • HIV/AIDS education
  • CPR training
  • Death education
  • America 2000 initiatives (Republican)
  • Inclusion
  • Expanded computer and internet education
  • Distance learning
  • Tech Prep and School to Work programs
  • Technical Adequacy
  • Assessment
  • Post-secondary enrollment options
  • Concurrent enrollment options
  • Goals 2000 initiatives (Democratic)
  • Expanded Talented and Gifted opportunities
  • At risk and dropout prevention
  • Homeless education (including causes and effects on children)
  • Gang education (urban centers)
  • Service learning
  • Bus safety, bicycle safety, gun safety, and water safety education

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, we added:

  • No Child Left Behind (Republican)
  • Bully prevention
  • Anti-harassment policies (gender, race, religion, or national origin)
  • Expanded early childcare and wrap around programs
  • Elevator and escalator safety instruction
  • Body Mass Index evaluation (obesity monitoring)
  • Organ donor education and awareness programs
  • Personal financial literacy
  • Entrepreneurial and innovation skills development
  • Media literacy development
  • Contextual learning skill development
  • Health and wellness programs
  • Race to the Top (Democratic)

This list does not include the addition of multiple specialized topics within each of the traditional subjects. It also does not include the explosion of standardized testing and test prep activities, or any of the onerous reporting requirements imposed by the federal government, such as four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates, parental notification of optional supplemental services, comprehensive restructuring plans, and reports of Adequate Yearly Progress.

It’s a ponderous list. Download a copy

Each item has merit, and all have their ardent supporters, but the truth is that we have added these responsibilities without adding a single minute to the school calendar in six decades. No generation of teachers and administrators in the history of the world has been told to fulfill this mandate: not just teach children, but raise them!

 

“Responsibilities are added to the Increasing Burden every year,” says Vollmer on his website. He invites readers to submit new or previously existing mandates that are missing from the list above. Go to http://www.jamievollmer.com/list.html to add to the list.

Or join in a conversation here. Tell us what are you and your neighbors doing to reclaim the education of your children. 

 

Re-posted by permission. Photo by Editor B.

About the Lead Author

Jamie Vollmer
Jamie Vollmer
Jamie Vollmer is an award-winning champion of public education, and the author of the highly acclaimed book Schools Cannot Do It Alone. He has spent the last twenty years working with school districts, education associations, foundations, and chambers of commerce across the nation to halt the erosion of public trust and build support for America’s public schools. His primary goal is to help educators and their allies remove the obstacles to progress and create schools that unfold the full potential of every child. He is the proud recipient of the 2010 Learning and Liberty award, presented by the National School Public Relations Association in recognition of his “outstanding efforts to strengthen school/community partnerships.” Vollmer is not a professional educator. He became involved with school reform after careers in law and manufacturing. He worked in the firm of former United States Congressman William Cramer until 1985 when he relocated to Iowa to become director of franchise operations for the Great Midwestern Ice Cream Company. The company was proclaimed by People magazine to make the “Best Ice Cream in America!” He ultimately became the company’s president. In 1988, he was invited to serve on the nationally recognized Iowa Business and Education Roundtable. After two years as a volunteer, he changed careers and became the Roundtable’s Executive Director. He remained in that post for three years after which he formed the education advocacy firm, Jamie Vollmer, Inc. Once a harsh critic, Vollmer has become an articulate friend of America’s public schools. His presentations combine statistics, logic, and humor to energize and encourage educators, business leaders, and community groups to work together to build successful schools. In addition to his book Schools Cannot Do It Alone and numerous articles, Mr. Vollmer has written and produced the videos Why Our Schools Need to Change, Teachers are Heroes, and Building Support for America’s Schools. He has served on the boards of the National PTA and the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

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