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A normal school is a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers. Its purpose is to establish teaching standards or norms, hence its name. Most such schools are now called teachers' colleges; however, in some places, the term normal school is still used.
In 1685, John Baptist de La Salle, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, founded what is generally considered the first normal school, the École Normale, in Reims. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, normal schools in the United States and Canada trained primary school teachers, while in Europe, normal schools educated primary, secondary and tertiary-level teachers. The first public normal school in the United States was founded in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1839. It operates today as Framingham State University.
In the United States, teacher colleges or normal schools began to call themselves universities beginning in the 1960s. For instance, Southern Illinois University was formerly known as Southern Illinois Normal College. The university enrolls more than 26,000 students and has its own university press, but still issues most of its bachelor degrees in education.
Many famous state universities, such as the University of California, Los Angeles were founded as normal schools. In Canada, such institutions were typically assimilated by a university as their Faculty of Education offering a one- or two-year Bachelor of Education program. It requires at least three (usually four) years of prior undergraduate studies.
The term "normal school" originated in the early 19th century from the French école normale. The French concept of an "école normale" was to provide a model school with model classrooms to teach model teaching practices to its student teachers. The children being taught, their teachers, and the teachers of the teachers were often together in the same building.  Although a laboratory school, it was the official school for the children—primary or secondary. 
In Finland, normal schools are under national university administration, whereas most schools are administered by the local municipality. Teacher aspirants do most of their compulsory trainee period in normal schools and teach while being supervised by a senior teacher.
In France, a two-tier system developed since the Revolution: primary school teachers were educated at départemental écoles normales, high school teachers at the Écoles normales supérieures. Nowadays all teachers are educated in instituts universitaires de formation des maîtres. The Écoles Normales Supérieures in France and the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa no longer specialize in teacher training.
The terminology is still preserved in the official translations of such schools in China since the early 20th century, Beijing Normal University being the first. A Chinese normal university (Chinese: 師範大學; pinyin: shīfàn dàxué, abbreviated 師大; shīdà) is usually controlled by the national or provincial government.
In Taiwan, the four national normal universities (located in Taipei, Taichung, Changhua, and Kaohsiung) prepared secondary school teachers (although they have become de facto liberal arts universities in the late 20th century). There were also about ten Taiwanese provincial teachers' colleges (Chinese: 師範學院; pinyin: shīfàn xuéyuàn, abbreviated 師院; shīyuàn, literally "normal colleges") that originated as normal schools established by the Japanese. After the retrocession of the island, they were renamed provincial normal schools before becoming provincial teachers' colleges. In the early 1990s, these teachers' colleges came under national control and by the mid-2000s (decade) were all renamed "universities of education" (教育大學) or simply "universities" to signify their comprehensive training.
In Naga City, the Philippines, one can find the oldest normal school for girls in the Far East, the Universidad de Santa Isabel. It is a sectarian school run by the Daughters of Charity. The first secular normal school was founded in 1901 by the Thomasites, the Philippine Normal School. It was converted into a college in 1949 and was elevated to its present university status in 1992 as the Philippine Normal University, . In 2009, it was named National Center of Excellence for Teacher Education by virtue of Republic Act 9647.
In the United States
In 1823, the Columbian School, the first normal school in the United States, was founded in Concord, Vermont by the Reverend Samuel Read Hall. Influenced by similar academies in Prussia and elsewhere in Europe, American normal schools were intended to improve the quality of the burgeoning common school system by producing more qualified teachers.
Sixteen years later the first state-funded normal school was founded in Lexington, Massachusetts, thanks largely to the efforts of education reformers such as Horace Mann and James G. Carter. Shortly after its founding that school moved to Framingham, Massachusetts. Today, Framingham State University is recognized as the oldest, continuously operated public normal school in the United States.
When the college was established in 1854 as the Rhode Island State Normal School, its goal was to provide teacher preparation to young people from Rhode Island. With the dedication of a new building in 1898, the institution began a period of steady growth, evolving first into a teachers' college, the Rhode Island College of Education. In the 1958-59 academic year the college moved to its current Mount Pleasant campus, and in 1959 was renamed Rhode Island College to reflect its new purpose as a comprehensive institution of higher education. With an enrollment predominantly from Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut, the institution historically has served as a "College of Opportunity" for first-generation college students.
The first normal school west of the Appalachian Mountains in the United States was the Michigan State Normal School, now Eastern Michigan University. It was created by legislative action in 1849 and opened in Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1853. Harris–Stowe State University, now a state university in Missouri, was founded by the St. Louis public school system in 1857 and claims to be the oldest normal school west of the Mississippi River. The first state-authorized normal college to open west of the Mississippi River was Winona State Normal School, now called Winona State University. Opening in 1858, its creation was one of the first acts of the newly formed Minnesota Legislature.
The State of Illinois passed an act to establish a normal school on 18 February 1857, and proposals were submitted to locate the new school in Batavia, Bloomington, Peoria, and Washington (in Tazewell County). Bids were opened by the State Board of Education in Peoria on 7 May 1857 and the offer from Bloomington, Illinois, was accepted. The normal school was located near the village of North Bloomington, which later was renamed Normal in honor of the school. The school, originally known as Illinois State Normal University (ISNU), is now known as Illinois State University.
The first normal school in what is now considered the Southwest was opened in 1879 as Sam Houston Normal Institute (now Sam Houston State University). Finally, the first state-run normal school on the West Coast was the Minns Evening Normal School, created in 1857 to train teachers for San Francisco's schools. It was taken over by the State of California in 1862 and became the California State Normal School (now San Jose State University).
The Lowry Normal School Bill of 1910 authorized two new normal schools in Ohio—one in the northwestern part of the state (now Bowling Green State University) and another in the northeastern part (now Kent State University).
In Latin America
Early normal schools in Latin America include several in Mexico, such as the Escuela Normal de Enseñanza Mutua de Oaxaca (1824), the Escuela Normal Mixta de San Luis Potosí (1849), the Normal de Guadalajara (1881), and the Escuela Normal para Profesores de Instrucción Primaria (1887). The Mexican normal school system was nationalized and reorganized by the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Secretariat of Public Education) under José Vasconcelos in 1921.
Perhaps the oldest continually operating normal school in Latin America is the Escuela Normal Superior José Abelardo Núñez, founded in Santiago, Chile, in 1842 as the Escuela de Preceptores de Santiago under the direction of the emininent Argentine educator, writer, and politician Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. The first normal school in the Dominican Republic was founded in 1875 by Puerto Rican educator and activist Eugenio María de Hostos. In Argentina, normal schools were founded starting in 1852, and still exist today and carry that name. Teachers training is considered higher education and required a high school diploma, but normal schools have the particularity of granting four year teacher degrees while at the same time hosting secondary and primary school students (and sometimes kindergarten and pre-school). Teachers-to-be do intense practical training in the schools annexed to the higher education section.
Other Latin American nations have long traditions of normal schools. In Panama, the Escuela Normal Juan Demóstenes Arosemena was founded in Santiago de Veraguas, Panama in 1938. In Colombia, normal schools were primarily associated with women's religious schools although in modern times have admitted men, thus forming escuelas normales mixtas (mixed normal schools). In Paraguay, they are known as Instituto de Formación Docente.
- "Oxford English Dictionary". Retrieved 2007-12-11.
- Fussell, Paul (1983) Class: A Guide through the American Status System. New York: Touchstone.
- Reginald Edwards (Fall 1991). "Theory, History, and Practice of Education: Fin de siècle and a new beginning". McGill Journal of Education. 26 (3).)
- "école normale". Retrieved 2007-12-11.
- Samuel Read Hall Biography at the Old Stone House Museum website, Retrieved on 2009-07-03
- Normal Schools - History of American Education Web Project, Retrieved on 2007-03-08.
- Eastern Michigan University. "A Brief History of EMU". Retrieved 2007-12-18.