During early colonial years several laws were passed in favor of making education more common in society. The Massachusetts Education Law of 1647 was amongst those laws passed, requiring towns of fifty families to hire a schoolmaster who would teach their children to read and write (History, 2004). Additionally, towns of a hundred families were required to have a grammar schoolmaster, which created consistency in quality of education (History, 2004). It was at this point in our nation's educational history that formal schooling as we know it became more valuable, as well as desirable. Author Robin Cook stated, "Education is more than a luxury; it is a responsibility that society owes to itself" (Inspirational, 2003). Education became more of a social responsibility and educators were formally hired for the sole purpose of teaching the youth of a budding nation. Perhaps even more surprising, considering previous practice, is that they were paid to do so, either by the government or individual families (History, 2004). Formal schooling was becoming more of a personal responsibility and a priority taken seriously (History, 2004).
The years following the new legislative direction, some families sent their children to "Dame" Schools, which were set up in the homes of women in the community. Dame schools were widely popular for those who were unable to send their children to the one room schoolhouses. These women had both the time and inclination to teach students of all ages and levels and worked in exchange for a meager allowance, such as food, miniscule stipends, or practical supplies (History, 2004). Also, traveling Schoolmasters traversed across states to various towns to educate the children in an effort to contribute to the dream of social harmony via knowledge and literacy. Usually, families of the community would take turns housing and feeding their schoolmaster for the duration of his stay.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, Thomas Jefferson's influence on American public education was astronomical. Though Jefferson is well known for the Declaration of Independence and his presidency, he also played a very large role in laying the ground work for the Public Schools system that we are fortunate to have today (Conant, 1962). According to Jefferson, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and will never be" (Inspirational, 2003). In the late 1770s Jefferson served in the House of Delegates as part of the General Assembly of Virginia (History, 2004). While in the Assembly, he introduced a bill that would create a free system of tax-supported elementary education for all except slaves (History, 2004). He proposed the idea of free public education to take place over a period of at least 3 years for every white child. If parents wished to continue their child's education beyond 3 years time, they could then begin paying for it themselves (Conant, 1962).
In September of 1817 Jefferson proposed the "Act for Establishing Elementary Schools". His plan was to have schools which were locally controlled and supported largely by local taxes. In a speech he gave Jefferson explained: At