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University of Pennsylvania

American Education Reform: History, Policy, Practice

University of Pennsylvania via Coursera


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Discover what shapes how we talk about schools today by exploring the history of U.S. education reform. Engage with the main actors, key decisions, and major turning points in this history. See how social forces drive reform. Learn about how the critical tensions embedded in U.S. education policy and practice apply to schools nationally, globally— and where you live.


  • The Colonial Period and Early Republic
    • This module looks at the sources of education in Colonial America; factors that motivated the acquisition of literacy in the colonies; formal educational institutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; post-Revolution republican visions of free public schools; characteristics of elementary schools in the early Republic; and Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia Academy.
  • The National Period
    • This module takes up the accelerating market economy between 1815 and 1850; the Second Great Awakening and its spur to social innovations; Horace Mann’s paean for “common” schools; Whigs and the common school movement; Catholic opposition to common schools; the suppression of black literacy in the antebellum South; and nineteenth-century academies.
  • Postbellum Period
    • This module considers the post-Civil War expansion of the common school and the reality behind the myth of the “Little Red Schoolhouse”; the educational gains made by blacks during the Reconstruction period and the limits white supremacists put on blacks’ educational progress after Reconstruction; the Hampton/Tuskegee model of industrial education for blacks and the role of northern industrial philanthropists; Plessy v. Ferguson and Jim Crow schooling in the South; the Carlisle Indian School; and the early progress of the American high school.
  • The Progressive Era
    • This module looks at the Progressive movement writ large; the U.S. settlement movement as a source of urban school reform; the changes “administrative progressives” effected in the governance of urban school districts; the influence of the U.S. Army’s World War I intelligence- testing program on the American school system; social efficiency schooling and its theoretical foundations; the Committee of Ten, 1892–93; the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, 1918; and Booker T.Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.
  • John Dewey and the Pedagogical Progressives
    • This module takes up the major characteristics of Dewey’s Laboratory School at the University of Chicago, 1896–1904; the role of reflective thinking in Dewey’s theory of knowledge; Dewey’s conception of the school as a social center; Dewey’s disengagement from public schools after 1904; William Heard Kilpatrick and the pedagogical progressives’ distortion of Dewey’s theory; and the cornerstones of Dewey’s educational philosophy.
  • The Depression Era
    • This module looks at the New Deal’s contribution to the education of American youth; the impact of the Great Depression on education; social reconstruction and the schools; schools as social centers, community centers, and community schools; the Nambé School, New Mexico; the Arthurdale School, West Virginia; and Benjamin Franklin High School, East Harlem.
  • Post-World War II
    • This module takes up the Cold War and education; the conservative attack on “life adjustment education”; McCarthyism and the New York City schools; federally sponsored New Curricula, late 1950s–1960s; the “radical romanticists”; the post-Brown struggle for racially integrated schools; the Ocean Hill–Brownsville conflict; and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
  • Post-1983
    • This final module addresses the rise of school choice and charter schools; markers of the evolving (expanded) federal role toward standards and accountability in public schools; significant reauthorizations of Title I of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA); the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002; the critique of charter schools; school district portfolios of school choice; Teach for America and others markers of teaching as a semi-profession; and post-NCLB developments, including Race to the Top, Common Core Standards, and online learning.

Taught by

John Puckett and Michael Johanek


4.5 rating, based on 8 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at Coursera based on 103 ratings

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  • This was a great course! I enjoyed the easy-going "lectures" that covered the important aspects of each time period. The course helped me to see American education on a timeline and to understand how it has developed and changed over the years. I wish I had taken more notes along the way, but if I get the chance to take the course again, I will be sure to do so.
  • Anonymous
    I am from Latin America and, at first, was hesitant to take these course since it focused on the US. However, since a lot of students came from other countries, the forums were filled with comparisons between education systems all over the world. Th…
  • Anonymous
    The content was well-presented, quizzes were quick to take, and I got a good overview of how education has changed throughout the history of the United States. I appreciated the instructors' enthusiasm for the topic.
  • Loved it. Learned so much even though I have my Masters in Education. Great Professors and teaching leads to great learning. Great class..Monika Utrecht
  • Anonymous
    The lectures are easy to understand and the assessments are helpful to actually use your knowledge by refering to your own experiences.
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  • Evan Dudzik

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