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Common schools typically taught "the three Rs" (reading, [w]riting, and [a]rithmetic), history, geography, and math. There was wide variation in regard to grading (from 0-100 grading to no grades at all), but end-of-the-year recitations were a common way that parents were informed about what their children were learning.
Although common schools were designed by Horace Mann to be nonsectarian, there were several fierce battles, most notably in New York and Philadelphia, where Roman Catholic immigrants and Native Americans objected to the use of the King James Version of the Bible. Even without Bible readings, most common schools taught children the general Protestant values (e.g., work ethic) of nineteenth-century America.
Common school era
The common school era is viewed by many education scholars to have ended around 1900. In the early twentieth century, schools generally became more regional (as opposed to local), and control of schools moved away from elected school boards, and towards professional control. Because common schools were not special-purpose districts, voters often decided in called elections to join independent or unified school districts.
Cremin, Lawrence (1980). American Education: The National Experience. New York: Harper Collins.
Kaestle, Carl (1983). Pillars of the Republic: Common schools and American society, 1780-1860. New York: Hill and Wang.
Katz, Michael (2012). Reconstructing American Education. Cambridge: Harvard.24-57.