48 20th Century

Twentieth Century Milestones in Education: Towards a More Inclusive Education for All

Veronica Montalvo


In the United States, the start of the twentieth century marked a movement towards the inclusion of more people than ever into the educational system. In 1900, close to six percent of teenagers graduated from high school (Thattai, 2001). States attempted to increase that number by making that goal more accessible through the construction of more high schools in both urban and rural localities (Wolfe, 2001). Laws were passed that made school mandatory for children until elementary school; later it became obligatory until the child became sixteen years old (Thattai, 2001). However, a good and equal education was not yet widely available to all Americans. Marginalized groups hovered at the fringes of the educational system. African-Americans received unequal and inferior educations as compared to that of whites, as did other minorities and students with limited-English-proficiency (LEP). Women were discriminated against, as well as the handicapped, in being fully included in the educational system. Major developments in the twentieth-century education system include various rulings and acts that promoted a fair and equal education for Americans that had been neglected and marginalized.

G.I. BILL of 1944

Established in 1944, the G.I. Bill was designed to provide assistance to veterans returning from World War II. Although the educational provisions within the Bill were originally intended as “another form of unemployment relief,” the educational system experienced a drastic change in its perception by Americans (Clark, 1998, p. 173). Prior to the influx of veterans in colleges and universities, a college education was perceived as being a privilege of the wealthy and a mark of high status. The veterans returning from WWII were viewed as everyday men, and to see and hear about them going to college broke down that perception and made the dream of a college education more of a reality for all Americans (Clark, 1998). According to Hess and McGuinn (2002), “Education gained a new prominence after World War II” (p. 76). More students were graduating from high school and going to college after the G.I. Bill passed (Hess and McGuinn, 2002).

Aside from changing the perception of college education and increasing enrollments, the G.I. Bill led to the growth of community colleges and vocational schools (Wolfe, 2001). The 2.2 million veterans utilizing the educational benefits of the G.I. Bill (Bound and Turner, 2002) demanded a curriculum with classes more similar to what they had been exposed to in the military. Practicality was a vital aspect in their desired education, and schools responded by creating vocational programs to suit their needs (Clark, 1998). The G.I. Bill impacted future generations by making college more accessible to the average citizen and by causing the expansion of the college curriculum.


In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. The decision marked the beginning of more educational opportunities for African-Americans, but these opportunities were still severely limited. The Supreme Court declared that schools must desegregate, but did not make a deadline or any guidelines as to when it must be complete (Carson, 2004). A decade after the decision, less than 10% of black students were attending an integrated school (Ravitch, 2000). Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, the government used funds to force schools to desegregate or risk losing their funding (Carper, 2001), and by 1980, the practice of legal segregation for the most part had ended (Thattai, 2001).

Hear a student recount reactions to Brown.

Despite the long delay in achieving the goal of desegregation, the message that Brown delivered impacted the educational system and future policy in civil rights (Carson, 2004). Brown revealed the potential for other minority groups to begin the struggle for equal educational access (Gándara, Moran, and García, 2004). Equal and fair education began to be viewed as “the birthright of a free citizenry” (Hess and McGuinn, 2002, pp. 76-77), and more groups began demanding that right.


The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 sought to equalize the education opportunities for all children. As the start of federal government grants to states for education (Hess and McGuinn, 2000), the law attempted “to compensate in some sense for disadvantages due to inequities in the social system” (Wolfe, 2001). President Johnson hoped that increasing and equalizing education for all children would one day rid the country of poverty (Easley, 2005). Funds were provided to the states for services for poor and minority students (Baker, 2001) as well as for “school library resources, textbooks, and other instructional materials for school children” (Digest of Education Statistics, 2006). In 1967, Title VII authorized grants to be given for programs for LEP students (Baker, 2001). More than giving funds for different programs for the poor and minorities, ESEA along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 aided in providing funds for the desegregation of southern schools who had refused to do so (Ravitch, 2000), more than a decade after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. ESEA served to make an equal education more obtainable for all classes and races.


The place of women within the educational system was limited in terms of opportunities and the material being taught. The Civil Rights Movement during the ‘60s and ‘70s led women to protest more and demand equality in education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 included the requirement that grants be given to the states in order for them to work towards that gender equality in education, and in 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments was passed (Marshall, 2002). Title IX required that there be gender equality in schools that received money from the government and that “curricula should not stereotype girls’ and boys’ interests and careers” (Marshall, 2002, p. 712). In spite of the worthwhile objectives of Title IX, it was a feeble mandate. No penalties existed for schools that refused to comply, and a way to even supervise them was not set up until a quarter of the century after the passage of Title IX (Marshall, 2002).

In 1974, the Women’s Educational Equity Act (WEEA) was passed. This act provided a financial backbone to Title IX with funds granted to the schools and agencies in order to fulfill the goals of Title IX (Women’s Educational Equity). Title IX and WEEA made great strides in opening up more doors to education for women in the twentieth century.


The place of handicapped children in schools improved in the twentieth century. Almost five percent of students have a mental disability (Gunning, 2008), and with the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act, they are able to receive a better education (Keyes, Hanley-Maxwell, and Capper, 1999). The name later changed to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), but the goal of guaranteeing an education to disabled students remained the same (Keyes, Hanley-Maxwell, and Capper, 1999). A “free appropriate public education” or FAPE requires that “special education and related services are provided at public expense” (McLaughlin and Thurlow, 2003, p. 436). Disabled children must be placed in the least restrictive environment possible, meaning that their educational environment is as close to that of their nondisabled classmates as possible (Keyes, Hanley-Maxwell, and Capper, 1999). Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are used to monitor the learning disabled student’s progress, and in 1997, assessments became mandatory for disabled students in order to make the schools more accountable for the students’ progress (McLaughlin and Thurlow, 2003). If necessary, accommodations in the assessments may be used (Gunning, 2008). Thanks to IDEA, more disabled students are graduating than if IDEA had not been passed (Special Education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).



The twentieth century achieved a great deal in terms of including more groups that had been previously excluded or marginalized. A great deal still remains to be done in making education truly equal and accessible to every American, but the foundation has been laid for more work in the twenty-first century. Each American deserves to have equal educational opportunities, and as society progresses and more policies are created, that goal may be achievable.


1. In 1956, what type of education might most African Americans in the Deep South likely have received?   

a. A separate but equal education to that of whites

b. A better education but still in segregated schools

c. An inferior education compared to that of whites

d. An education that was rapidly improving since 1954

2. After 1975, in what kind of learning environment are handicapped children found?

a. Separate classrooms where they are taught basic skills

b. A school day split between a special education class and a regular class

c. Full integration into regular classrooms with nondisabled students

d. Separate schools that can accommodate their needs more

3. In 1970, women’s education most likely included what class?

a. Physics

b. Auto repair

c. Calculus

d. Home economics

4. After World War II, which belief supported the passage of the G.I. Bill?

a. Veterans returning home would be mostly unemployed

b. Veterans would be eager to further their education while working

c. There would be a surplus of jobs and veterans could be picky

d. Veterans would probably not use the benefits anyway

5. What type of classes would most likely appeal to the returning WWII veterans?

a. Art history

b. English composition

c. Mechanics

d. Psychology


1. B 2. B 3. D 4. A 5. C


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