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A History of Education in Kentucky

William Ellis

Publication Year: 2011

Kentucky is nationally renowned for horses, bourbon, rich natural resources, and unfortunately, hindered by a deficient educational system. Though its reputation is not always justified, in national rankings for grades K-12 and higher education, Kentucky consistently ranks among the lowest states in education funding, literacy, and student achievement. In A History of Education in Kentucky, William E. Ellis illuminates the successes and failures of public and private education in the commonwealth since its settlement. Ellis demonstrates how political leaders in the nineteenth century created a culture that devalued public education and refused to adequately fund it. He also analyzes efforts by teachers and policy makers to enact vital reforms and establish adequate, equal education, and discusses ongoing battles related to religious instruction, integration, and the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA). A History of Education in Kentucky is the only up-to-date, single-volume history of education in the commonwealth. Offering more than mere policy analysis, this comprehensive work tells the story of passionate students, teachers, and leaders who have worked for progress from the 1770s to the present day. Despite the prevailing pessimism about education in Kentucky, Ellis acknowledges signs of a vibrant educational atmosphere in the state. By advocating a better understanding of the past, Ellis looks to the future and challenges Kentuckians to avoid historic failures and build on their successes.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Topics in Kentucky History

Front Cover

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Series page

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pp. ii

Title page

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pp. iii

Copyright page

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pp. iv


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pp. v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

The idea for this book originated in a conversation between Thomas D. Clark, just a few weeks before he died, and Stephen M. Wrinn, director of the University Press of Kentucky. In their conversation about what books needed to be written about the history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Tom mentioned that something should be done about education. My name ...

Part 1. 1775 to the Beginning of the Civil War

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pp. 1

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Chapter 1. Tragedies, Blunders, and Promises: Creating a Public School System

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pp. 3-36

Settlers brought great hopes with them across the Appalachian Mountains and down the Ohio River into the “Kentucke” country. While efforts were made to develop schools, children, if they had literate parents, received a modicum of education at home. First settled by European Americans from the American colonies during the tumultuous 1770s,...

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Chapter 2. The Early History of Higher Education

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pp. 37-61

War and rumors of war, funding difficulties, reticent and sometimes rebellious students, underpaid and overworked faculty, sectarian strife, helpful as well as meddling alumni and supporters, and feckless and sometimes downright hostile legislators and governors are all problems we are familiar with today in higher education. Yet the same could be said for the earliest ...

Part 2. The Civil War to 1900

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pp. 63

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Chapter 3. Elementary and Secondary Education

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pp. 65-107

From 1860 and the election to the presidency of native son Abraham Lincoln, to 1900 and the turmoil surrounding the assassination of William Goebel, Kentuckians faced increasing challenges. The Commonwealth of Kentucky, based on its population, its economy, and its location, declined from being one of the major states in the Union to being one of the poorest, ...

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Chapter 4. Higher Education in an Age of Flux

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pp. 108-142

On August 7, 1869, Professor Joseph Winlock, director of the Harvard College Observatory, trained what was said to be the third-best telescope on a college campus into the heavens. With this twenty-five-hundred-dollar device, Winlock and a cadre of Harvard professors and scientists from the U.S. Coastal Survey gazed into the heavens and took eighty-five timed...

Part 3. 1900 to 1941

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pp. 143

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Chapter 5. Elementary and Secondary Education from the Progressive Era to World War II

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pp. 145-220

In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, the United States continued its chaotic, almost irrepressible, growth, becoming the industrial leader of the world and creating enormous wealth. With massive immigration and completion of the westward movement, the United States blossomed into a world power. Victory in the Spanish-American War, the spoils of war, ...

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Chapter 6. Higher Education in the New Century

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pp. 221-268

At the turn of the twentieth century, Kentuckians were influenced, indeed had been impacted for much of their history, by educational experiences beyond the classroom. In the broadest sense, education is “intergenerational, with adults teaching children.” Acculturation is the process whereby a person is incorporated into the larger group, absorbing the culture of his or her ...


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pp. 264-265

Part 4. World War II to the Mid-1980s

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pp. 269

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Chapter 7. Elementary and Secondary Education from World War II to the Threshold of Major Reform

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pp. 271-334

From the beginning of World War II, elementary and secondary education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky struggled to keep up with national trends. Casting its lot with the South after the Civil War handicapped the state educationally, particularly in “following the color line.” As throughout Kentucky’s educational history, there were, from time to time, moments of ...

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Chapter 8. Higher Education

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pp. 335-400

Most Americans heard about the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in the afternoon of Sunday, December 7, 1941, while listening to the radio. That’s how future governor Louie B. Nunn found out, while he was a student at Bowling Green Business College. Eastern senior ROTC student Ken Perry was lying in bed recovering from a broken leg suffered in the Morehead football game when he heard the..

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Epilogue. Whither Education in Kentucky?

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pp. 401-423

Education in Kentucky in the latter decades of the twentieth century could not help but change, owing to the forces both within the state and beyond that pushed for reform. Momentum built in the mid-1980s during the Collins administration, with the legislation of 1985 seemingly answering the cries of many for improvement in public school funding. The governor and ...


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pp. 425-490


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pp. 491-515

E-ISBN-13: 9780813129846
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813129778

Page Count: 546
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Topics in Kentucky History