Thursday, February 23, 2017

The National Vocational Act (Smith Hughes Act) signed into law.

The National Vocational Act was the first American law to provide a direct Federal role in high school education.  It was signed into law on this day, in 1917.

Student in technical high school, 1916.

The act was aimed at students who were going to work directly on farms but its scope was broader than that and it had the support of Labor, which helped cause it to pass.  It's stated purpose was to support those "who have entered upon or who are preparing to enter upon the work of the farm" and funding was provided for that goal.  It also included mandated the creation of a Board of Vocational Education in each state, which lead to some districts combining their existing board with that purpose and others having a separate board just for that purpose.

 Girls in automobile mechanics class, Central High, Washington D. C., 1927.

The act was a really significant development in terms of the evolution of the relationship between the states and the Federal government. There had been prior acts on the topic of education, including a vocational act that this was a successor to, but this was the first Federal provision to directly impose requirements upon a state in regards to education and the first to provide Federal funding to the states.  In these regards, this was a fairly revolutionary Progressive Era step and its one that lead to later broader steps, perhaps culminating in the creation of the US Department of Education in 1979. We are now so used to the concept of that cabinet level entity existing that its hard to imagine that its a relatively recent arrival in terms of Federal agencies.  It's start can be seen to exist with the passage of the Smith Hughes Act into law in this day, one hundred years ago as of this posting.

Seal of the Department of Education.

Every school district in Wyoming continues to have at least some vocational training.  Natrona County has a completely separate high school campus, recently built, for scientific and vocational training.

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