A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

History: Free Public High Schools in New Jersey

High schools in New Jersey started in the big cities -- Newark in 1836, and Trenton in 1842. Unfortunately, each local district established its own approach to post-common school education, yielding little agreement on what a high school might teach, or even whether a particular school district wanted to provide education beyond grammar school. Many communities didn't want to pay higher taxes just to fund a "poor man's academy", so little was done outside of the big cities to provide free education past the eighth grade.
The system of free public schools in New Jersey is based on the Free School Law of 1871. About fifty years earlier, the State School Fund had been an effort to help townships educate the poor. Between 1817 and 1871, the state abolished pauper schools, tuition payments, and the funding of sectarian schools and gave us school districts, local superintendents of schools, school boards, state tax education apportionments, and, of course, the beginnings of local school taxes.

In 1905, State Superintendent of Schools Charles J Baxter sent a letter to local school districts, pointing out that they had a constitutional mandate to provide free education to students up to and including the age of eighteen under the Free School Law of 1871. In the letter, Baxter told districts this could be accomplished either by operating a high school within an individual district or by making arrangements with a nearby district to accept their students. Baxter threatened to withhold the state school aid apportionment of any district which failed to comply.

Monmouth County Schools Superintendent John Enright tested eighth grade graduates of Matawan and Raritan townships and found five Matawan twp graduates eligible to study in high school. "These graduates have a high school course to finish before they are graduates from the school. They are simply leaving the grammar school department to undertake the studies of the high school department.The granting of diplomas this time is something new and an incentive for the younger scholars to continue along and work hard to obtain them. This marks the close usually of the ninth year work. Sometimes scholars cannot stay in school after passing from the grammar to the high school department and some of them would be as proud of a diploma obtained in that way as if they had taken the entire course and become full fledged graduates."   (26 May 1898 edition of The Matawan Journal)

County Superintendent Enright gathered the local school boards in December 1907 to explain new state rules on fees charged to sending districts as well as maximum high school tuition and daily attendance charges. (12 Dec 1907 edition of The Matawan Journal)

The Matawan-Aberdeen Public Library has some dated but still useful books on this subject:
  • The New Jersey High School: A History, by Robert D Bole and Laurence B Johnson (1964) (974.9 B)
  • Elementary Education in New Jersey: A History, by Roscoe L West (1964) (974.9 W)
  • Education in New Jersey 1630-1871, by Nelson R Burr (1942)