« PreviousContinue »
ble to the wants of any particular district or school. The same document was afterwards abridged and distributed widely, as one of the “Educational Tracts," over the state. I have secured the building of at least one school-house in each county, which can be pointed to as a model in all the essential features of location, construction, warming, ventilation, seats and desks, and other internal and external arrangements.
During the past two years, more than fifty school-houses have been erected, or so thoroughly repaired, as to be substantially new—and most of them after plans and directions given in the above document, or furnished directly by myself, on application from districts or committees. Some of them will be described in the account of the schools of the several towns to be given in the Appendix.
13. By encouraging the introduction, and aiding in the selection of school apparatus and libraries.
Much of the inefficiency of school education of every grade is mainly owing to the want of such cheap and simple aids for visible illustration, as every district can supply, and of modes of communication based upon and adapted to such apparatus, which every teacher of ordinary intelligence can acquire and practise, and especially in reference to elementary principles. With many children, their education, so far as books are concerned, terminates with the schoolroom, from the want of access to a library. These two wants I have aimed to supply to some extent. The value of many schools in the state under the same teacher has been doubled by the introduction and use of the blackboard, of the slate by small children, of outline maps in teaching geography, and other cheap forms of visible illustration. More than one thousand volumes have been purchased for school libraries, on more advantageous terms than the same number of books could have been purchased in smaller lots, by several committees acting independently of each other.
14. By Lyceum, Lecture, and Library Associations.
In taking an inventory of the means of popular education in the state, this class of institutions, which help to supply the defects of early elementary education, and carry it forward where under the most advantageous circumstances the public school must leave it, and furnish the means of self-culture to all, whatever may have been their opportunities of acquiring knowledge, could not be omitted. I have in all cases availed myself of these avenues when open to me, to reach the public mind, and in turn have aimed to further their objects. During the ensuing winter, an effort will be made to secure a course of popular lectures in every large village, and to establish a library of at least four hundred volumes in every town in the State which is not now supplied. By creating a taste, and forming habits of reading in the young, by diffusing intelligence among all classes, by introducing new topics and improving the whole time of conversation, and imparting activity to the public mind generally, these lectures and books will silently but powerfully help on the improvement of public schools, and all other educational institutions and influences.
15. By preparing a draft of a school act.
In pursuance of a resolution of the General Assembly, passed at the January session, 1844, I drew up a bill for an act respecting public schools, in which the various public and special acts on the subject were examined. revised and consolidated, and such additions engrafted as my observations on the practical operation of existing laws showed to be desirable or necessary. This bill was referred, in May, to the Committee of Education in the House, and by that Committee amended in a few particulars. On their motion, at the same session, I made an explanation of its various provisions, and especially of such features as were novel and likely to be misunderstood, before the two Houses of Assembly, the substance of which will be found in the Appendix, (Number vır.) That the relations of the bill to previous laws on the subject, and to the ability of the several towns to maintain an efficient system of public schools, might be clearly understood, I prepared a chronological review of all the legislation of the state on the subject, (Appendix, Number v1.) and a Table, (Number wi.) exhibiting the population, valuation, and present expenses of each town as far as ascertained. The bill thus prepared and explained in all its details and relations, passed the House of Representatives, and in the Senate was ordered to be printed and circulated among the school committee and people. In June, 1845, its further consideration was resumed in the Senate, after having been carefully revised by a committee of that body, and passed by a large majority. It received the same action in the House, and became a law, although its operation was postponed till after the next session of the General Assembly (October,) which has just closed, and now, on the 1st of November, it is the school system of Rhode Island, (Appendix, Number ix.)
I have thus presented a rapid and imperfect account of my own proceedings, as Agent of Public Schools, in the absence of any specific directions as to the mode and measures to be pursued in the act providing for my appointment. Although the measures which have been adopted have, it is believed, increased the amount of public interest and information on the subject, and thus imparted increased activity, regularity and usefulness to the system as it was, still a revision of the laws, at once simple and thorough, was indispensable to secure the advance in public opinion which has thus far been made, and to remove the obstacles which prevented the children of the state “ from receiving the best education which those schools can be made to impart," as will, I think, be made evident under the remaining division of this Report.
[To be continued.]
REPORT OF COMMISSIONER OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
III. I. Defects in the laws relating to Public Schools as they were.
In connection with the principal defects of the laws relating to Public Schools, as shown in their practical workings, I will point out briefly the provisions in the new act by which it is hoped these defects will be obviated or supplied.
1. The want of a systematic digest of the existing acts of Assembly, both general and special, with such alterations and additions, especially in reference to the organization of school districts, as would dispense with all special legislation in future, and embrace within itself clear and precise directions for carrying all its own details into effect; and the whole separated into general divisions, each embracing, under a comprehensive and expressive head, all the law on one particular branch of the subject.
The law respecting public schools was found scattered through upwards of forty acts of a general or special nature; and in all that relates to the powers and duties of school districts, was so imperfect as to preclude any decisive action on the part of the inhabitants of any district, towards the improvement of their schools or school-houses, without some special legislation in their favor. The new act is so framed as to render
reference to a particular part a matter of great facility; and occupies less space than the special acts relating to the building of schoolhouses alone, passed since 1839.
2. The restriction placed upon the towns as to the amount of money to be raised by taxation for school purposes, and upon the
power to vote a moderate compensation, if it should be necessary or thought advisable, to secure the services of able and faithful school committees, or at least of one such committee-man in a town, for the discharge of duties which require intelligence, skill, fidelity, time, and, not unfrequently, some pecuniary sacrifice.
This restriction is now removed, and each town not only decides for itself the extent to which the power of taxation for school purposes shall be carried beyond the sum necessary to secure its proportionate share of the State appropriation, but is also at liberty to provide for the faithful application of these funds, and the vigilant and responsible supervision of the schools—the very life of any system-by voting a moderate compensation to one or more of the committee entrusted with these duties. Under any system of public schools, the duties of supervision are numerous, and under a system whic aim to reach the highest standard of public education, their faithful performance requires reflection, and time—more reflection and more time, than those men who are best qualified to do the work well, can bestow gratuitously. I cannot therefore forbear to express my regret that a general provision, securing a moderate compensation for one school officer in each town, payable partly out of the town, and partly out of the State appropriation, inserted in the original draft of the School Act, was struck out in committee. It is to be hoped, that every town, or at least all the large towns, will in the outset take all the steps which may be necessary to secure the intelligent, vigilant, and constant supervision of all their schools; and among these steps, I have no hesitation in naming the appointment of a single officer, or a subcommittee of not more than two, who shall be entrusted with the executive duties of the school committee of the town, and receive a moderate compensation for the time devoted to these duties.
3. The omission of any effective check on the creation of small and weak districts, by the minute subdivision of the territory of a town, on any territorial division of a village, or compact district, where schools of different grades, or one school with different departments, according to the age and attainments of the scholars, can be established.
This omission is supplied in the existing law, by forbidding the formation of any new district with less than forty children between the ages of four and sixteen; and by arresting the further territorial subdivision of large districts, except with the approbation of the Commissioner
of Public Schools, or the special action of the Assembly.
4. The absence of such conditions to the enjoyment by any town or district, of any portion of the State appropriation for the
encouragement of public schools, as would lead to the raising of the same or a larger sum by the town, district, or individuals, for the same object, and thus secure at once the necessary means, and the public and parental interest, which are required for the adequate support and vigilant supervision of public schools.
By the new Act, it is made a condition precedent to drawing the State appropriation, that the towns shall
raise at least onethird as much as they respectively receive. The sum named in the original draft was the amount appropriated by the State. This sum, increased by the avails of a moderate rate-bill, or tuition, payable by the parents or guardians of the children attending school, would have placed the districts of Rhode Island in a more favorable condition to command the services of good teachers, than those of any other state, except Massachusetts.
5. The want of such a rule or rules for distributing the funds appropriated to school purposes, as should secure to every child in the weak, as well as in the strong districts, from year to year, the opportunity of obtaining that degree of education which a school taught for the minimum period by a teacher of the standard qualification fixed by law, can impart, and at the same time promote the regular and punctual attendance at the public school, of all the children of a district or town.
This defect is now in part remedied by directing that the amount received from the State, shall be denominated teachers' money," and shall be divided among the districts, one-half equally, and the other half according to the average daily attendance in each district, during the year next preceding, leaving each town to direct in what way any other money, either raised by tax or derived from any other source, shall be appropriated. It is to be hoped, that a sense of justice,-a large view of the whole subject, will prompt every town to aid the small districts, whenever it is expedient to continue the organization of such districts, to that extent which shall be necessary, with their own resources, to continue a public school at least eight months in the year, under a well-qualified teacher. The rule of distribution, as originally drafted, was to apportion so much of the school-money equally among the districts, as should enable every district to keep a school for the period fixed by law; and one half of the remainder, according to the average attendance during the year, and the other half, according to the amount voluntarily raised in the district, towards the wages of teachers, over the amount received from the State or town. This rule would secure an: equality of school privileges for all the children of the town, up to the standard recognized by the law; and operate as a premi