History in the Making

The nationwide problem of inadequate school buildings that don't meet modern standards… The benefits of smaller class sizes for students and teachers… The use of staggered schedules to help alleviate space problems in crowded facilities… The wisdom of thorough planning to anticipate future school facility needs.

All are issues confronting administrators in the nation's schools and universities — and topics ripe for discussion on the pages of American School & University. And they have been examined here in recent months and years. But what may surprise you is that the above list of educational concerns was culled from the very first issue of this publication — 75 years ago.

Many things have changed since 1928, but a look at the inaugural issue of this publication shows that many things have stayed the same — especially the ongoing facility needs in U.S. schools and universities, and the efforts of forward-thinking administrators and architects to encourage better buildings and progressive business practices.

For three-quarters-of-a-century — first as a scholarly, encyclopedic tome that appeared once a year; now as a more digestible magazine that arrives every month — American School & University has been a conduit passing on that critical information to education administrators. As those writing in these pages have discussed the latest trends in school facilities design and construction, operation and management, their words have prodded leaders from the smallest rural school district to the most prestigious universities to run their institutions in ways that create environments where students learn most effectively.

A year before this publication debuted as The American School and University, the modern motion picture era began with the first “talkie.” The actors seen on the screen and the script that puts the words in their mouth are elements familiar to most people, but the roles of all the people out of the spotlight that make the movie possible are more obscure.

Likewise, the key players in education — teachers and students — and the curriculum and lesson plans that drive education forward in the classroom receive most of the focus — deservedly so. But schools and universities would find it tough to deliver a high-quality product without key contributions from the people out of the spotlight: designers who create imaginative spaces conducive to learning; builders who provide cost-effective facilities that bring those designs to life; facilities managers who make sure the building is safe and healthy; maintenance workers who ensure that the lights work, the heat is on and the floors are clean; purchasing agents who choose furniture and equipment that are comfortable and enhance a student's experience; technicians who know how to keep complicated computer systems running smoothly; security officers who work to create a safe haven for learning; financial managers who make sure scarce resources are directed where they are needed the most; and top administrators who have to constantly juggle priorities and reassess decisions as they oversee the entire operation.

American School & University is for those behind-the-scenes people in education who strive every day to make that show in the spotlight a better production. In the 1970s, Max Michelson, then AS&U's publisher, called it the less glamorous, but no less important half of education — “the half involved in allowing education to happen.”

For 75 years, AS&U has played a pivotal role in helping its readers allow education to happen, and it looks forward to many more years of the same.

In the beginning…

“To all those who are responsible for enlarging and maintaining America's educational facilities comes the occasional need for new plant and equipment, and the constant need for efficiency in the use and upkeep of existing buildings and ground.”

That was the stated rationale for the creation in 1928 of “an authoritative reference book covering both phases of this important field.” The American School and University was a hardbound yearbook densely packed with information about planning, design, construction and operation of educational facilities.

Throughout that first edition, themes familiar to present-day administrators and architects abound:

  • “Many buildings are still used that are inadequate if judged by our modern standards of school housing.”

  • “The best information we have concerning the size of classes in the United States… is that the median elementary class contains 38 pupils, the median junior high class 28 pupils and the senior high class 25 pupils… On the whole, small classes are a little more efficient than large classes in elementary school.”

  • “Communities… have resorted to half-day sessions, staggered schedules, or various other emergency devices designed primarily to increase the capacity of apparently congested buildings.”

  • “The most significant practice which has come into school planning in recent years is the anticipation of future needs.”

Other topics included in those early editions of AS&U were acoustics, fire safety, lighting, heating, landscaping, financial management, architectural character and proper maintenance.

Many articles contained hints of the technological innovations that would make school operations more efficient.

“Corn brooms, which were always more effective for stirring up dirt than for removing it, have been replaced by floor brushes and modern vacuum-cleaning apparatus,” one article states.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, K-12 public school enrollment was relatively flat — 25,678,000 in 1929, 25,434,000 in 1939 and 25,111,000 in 1949.However, high school enrollment rose significantly in the 1930s — from 4,399,000 in 1929 to 6,601,000 in 1939 — as young people who couldn't find work because of the depression opted to stay in school.

AS&U's recurring message to school officials in those early years was that an educational facility could be designed to enhance learning.

“Even today,” an article from 1935 says, “many classrooms are being planned where the only criteria used in guiding the planner are the number of square feet per pupil. Here and there, however, one finds the pioneer superintendent and architect who are thinking in terms of better adaptation of classroom space to the needs of the educational program.”

Oh Baby!

The end of World War II signaled the beginning of an era that would transform the nation's education system. Returning soldiers started families, and beginning in the 1950s, those children would begin filling classrooms at a dizzying pace. In addition, the prevalence of automobiles and modern highways allowed people to move farther away from central cities and forced school districts in those outlying areas to provide facilities to serve those families. And, the benefits provided by the G.I. Bill swelled the ranks on college campuses, putting a strain on higher-education facilities.

And administrators saw that the growing baby boom would require schools and universities to build more facilities. The 1950 issue of AS&U contained a report that sought to quantify the burgeoning school construction market. It reported than in 1949, 4,915 public-school and higher-education buildings were constructed at a cost of $1.4 billion.

In that initial report, AS&U saw an opportunity to hammer home its view that school design should aspire to enhance education.

“Reports showed that many plants were designed and constructed during 1949 with little creative planning and little variation from buildings constructed in the 1920s and 1930s,” the report states. “The communities in which such buildings were constructed are entitled to sympathy. They have spent their money and probably mortgaged their future for some time to come on buildings which are brand new, yet obsolete in terms of present-day education programs, design and technology.”

The following year, the school construction survey noted that 6,200 educational buildings were constructed in 1950, “more… than any other year in our nation's history.” The baby boom had officially arrived.

AS&U collected and published school construction data annually for several years, but the practice eventually was dropped. In 1975, the magazine relaunched the study as “The Official Education Construction Report.”

Educators could see the boom coming, but underestimated its scope and duration. Ray Hamon, chief of the school housing section of the U.S. Office of Education, wrote in AS&U that the shortage of school facilities “threatens to become chaotic unless immediate and drastic action is taken.”

He noted that K-12 enrollment was expected to peak at about 37 million in 1957; in fact, it continued to climb until 1971, when it reached 51.4 million.

Hamon estimated that $13.5 billion would be needed to build elementary and secondary school facilities in the 1950s, and another $5 billion for higher-education construction. Recognizing that small school districts might not have the wherewithal to pay for those facilities, he raised the specter of two issues that continue to be controversial today: district consolidation and state aid for school construction.

“Most local districts are not able to finance their needed school construction from local sources alone,” Hamon writes. “This situation would be improved, but not corrected, by combining districts into larger local administrative units… An urgent problem now facing state educational agencies is the provision of adequate amounts and the development of sound policies of administering state aid for capital outlay.”

As enrollment mushroomed and schools rushed to put up facilities, the topic of educational design and construction required more than a yearly look. American School & University converted to a monthly magazine in 1962 to provide administrators with more timely updates on school facilities and business.

Where have all the children gone?

Enrollment in elementary and secondary schools peaked in 1971 at about 51.3 million students and began a decline that would continue through 1984. Facilities once hopelessly congested were now being shuttered or were dramatically under capacity. The reversal was reflected in many AS&U articles: “What To Do With Surplus School Space,” “On Converting Excess Buildings,” “Hidden Opportunities in Declining Enrollment,” and “Yes, You'll Be Building Schools Again.”

In 1972, AS&U turned its attention to the issue of school maintenance when it published its 1st annual Maintenance and Operations Report. The report, now in its 32nd year, provided maintenance officials with valuable data on how much schools spend on maintenance and operations.

In the first report, the magazine addressed the problem of how inadequate support for maintenance was causing schools to defer necessary work.

“Education funds are low, taxpayers are resisting paying more, teachers are demanding that they get more, and the cost of educational supplies continues to climb,” the report states. “The result: money is taken from the maintenance and operations program, and the job of keeping school buildings open and running has to be done on less than what is needed.”

On the national stage, education began to receive more attention from policymakers. In 1979, the subject was elevated to cabinet-level status when it was removed from the auspices of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and became the Department of Education. In 1983, education-reform advocates sounded an alarm about the declining state of American education by releasing “A Nation at Risk.”

The 1980s also saw the birth of one of AS&U's most popular and essential features — the Architectural Portfolio. In the 1970s, AS&U sponsored an architectural competition for college and university facilities. In 1983, it decided to resurrect the idea. Opening up the competition to both K-12 and higher-education facilities, the Architectural Portfolio competition was inaugurated in 1983.

Since then, each year's Architectural Portfolio has established itself as the premier showcase for education design. The collection of citation-winning and other outstanding school designs is published each November and serves as a source-book used all year by administrators at schools and universities across the nation seeking creative solutions to school design issues.

Back to the future

In the mid-1980s, the decline in school enrollment bottomed out. From a low of 44.9 million in 1984, the numbers have climbed every year since. In 1997, it reached 51.7 million, surpassing the high of the baby-boom years, and is expected to top out in 2005 at nearly 53.9 million. School districts now had to face the double whammy of finding facilities to address the resurgence in student population, and coping with facilities built in the previous boom years that were aging not so gracefully.

The national attention on education grew as President George Bush held an educational summit in 1989 with the nation's governors in Charlottesville, Va., that led to the creation of national education goals. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who led the educational summit, succeeded Bush as president and continued to make education a priority.

Publication of the book, Savage Inequalities, and release of a U.S. General Accounting Office report on the deteriorating condition of the nation's school facilities focused greater attention on the inadequate state of the nation's school infrastructure and how it prevented students from performing at their best. AS&U addressed the issue many times through a series of reports entitled “Facilities Impact on Learning.” Articles examined how better daylighting, better acoustics, smaller class sizes and indoor air quality can improve the learning environment for students and teachers.

The 1990s also saw a technological revolution in schools. Computers, infrequently seen in classrooms and rarely tapped for their full potential, became ubiquitous in schools. President Clinton's vow to connect every classroom to the Internet, backed up by billions of dollars in subsidies from the E-rate, accelerated the technological transformation of schools. AS&U expanded its coverage to examine how the growth of technology in schools and universities could help administrators streamline their purchasing, run their buildings more efficiently, and manage construction and maintenance more effectively.

Security was an issue that the magazine had covered for years, but the topic became more critical for administrators as increasingly bloody examples of school violence shocked the nation. In 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., shot 12 students and a teacher to death and wounded 23 others before killing themselves, and nearly every school in the nation began to reassess its crisis plan and security setup. Through regular feature articles and several special supplements, AS&U kept administrators informed of strategies and equipment that could help schools lessen the likelihood of a violent attack, from without or within.

The 1990s also saw significant changes for AS&U. In 1991, the magazine decided to expand on the popularity of the Architectural Portfolio with a second design competition — the Educational Interiors Showcase, which focuses on specific interior elements of a school facility rather than an entire facility.

As was the case with most publishing operations, AS&U began to complement its print publication with a presence on the World Wide Web. The site, www.asumag.com, provides administrators access to the magazine's archives and offers a daily digest of the latest headlines in U.S. education. In addition, www.SchoolDesigns.com — an electronic database of hundreds of newly constructed and recently modernized education facilities projects — was introduced. In 2001, AS&U created an e-mail newsletter, Schoolhouse Beat, to provide administrators and planners yet another avenue to keep abreast of the latest in school facilities and business news.

A look ahead…

If the past 75 years are any indication, school and university administrators will continue to wrestle with many of these issues on American School & University's 100th anniversary and beyond. Facilities will deteriorate and need replacement, populations will shift and demand that schools be built to serve them, institutions will struggle to find enough money in the budget to maintain their physical plant efficiently, educators will learn more about how students learn and try to incorporate that into building designs.

But the future has surprises for us that none of us can predict. Fifteen years ago, no one had heard of the World Wide Web or could predict the revolutionary changes it has brought to schools and society at large.

“It's very hard to predict how a school facility will be used 25 years from now,” says Steven Adamowski, former superintendent of schools in Cincinnati and now a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri — St. Louis. “So, you need to have flexibility in design.”

Based on the rapid changes seen in the last decade, it is safe to say that future changes in education will be driven in large part by technology. As computers and online connections become as commonplace in a school as desks and notebooks, schools and universities will capitalize on technology to reach more students and teach them in different ways. And that will lead to changes in the kinds of facilities a school or university needs.

“Students won't have to be in the same room at the same time,” says Gary Miller, associate vice president for distance education at Penn State University. “There will be fewer classroom sessions, because students will be working online together.”

That might mean that fewer school facilities will be needed — or it might mean that different kinds of students will be filling those facilities.

“There may not be fewer schools than there are now,” says Miller, “but we will need to have fewer schools than we would otherwise have needed to address the growing need for lifelong education. People will need to keep coming back for more education.”

As technology becomes ubiquitous and faster, more students, whether in elementary or secondary school, or adult learners seeking to retrain themselves or upgrade their skills, will be able to take classes from their homes or workplaces. But Miller says it's unlikely that distance education and online learning will cause traditional schools and campuses to vanish.

“Is distance education right for every campus?” asks Miller. “I would argue that it is not. Some schools may have a mission that is centered on an on-campus environment.”

And, just as some students don't perform well in a classroom environment, some students will find that an online setting is not the best method for them to learn.

“Online education puts a greater responsibility on individual students,” says Miller. “They can't just sit in the back of a class and not participate.”

Other trends popular in school construction and design will continue, says Adamowski, such as facilities that reach out beyond the school community to society at large.

“I don't think we can afford single-purpose school facilities,” he says. “It needs to be a whole school-community movement.”

In Cincinnati, Adamowski led the school district to share facilities with the YMCA, the local police and the local public library. Shared facilities might bother administrators who are accustomed to having total control of their facilities, but Adamowski says that attitude is outdated.

“Leases and who pays what — all that can be worked out,” he says.

Adamowski also says many struggling school districts will have to adopt new management strategies if they want to be successful in the future.

“Administrators tend to run large urban districts like small ones,” he says. “It doesn't work. Schools should be focused on their core business, which is education, and break up the bureaucracy. They need to get rid of poorly performing schools and replace them with ones that work.”

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

Still on the job

H.B. Plant High School, which opened in 1927 in Tampa, was designed “with simplicity, frankness and dignity,” wrote architect Franklin O. Adams in the first edition of “The American School and University” in 1928.

And like this publication, the high school is still around after 75 years. Built for $384,000, the school is now undergoing extensive renovation and restoration — at a cost of about $12 million.

A report from the Tampa Preservation Society says Plant High School “exemplifies exceptional qualities in architectural design, planning concepts, architectural artisanry and craftsmanship.”

Alice Sutton, a project manager for the Hillsborough County, Fla., district, says the renovation project has tried to preserve the building's architectural significance and restore some original features that had been altered or hidden over the years.

Windows that had been closed off in the 1970s in an attempt to improve energy efficiency have been reinstalled; stained-glass windows that had been covered up in previous renovations were restored; and the improvements to the auditorium were guided by a desire to maintain the original architectural elements.

“We paid special attention to the auditorium,” says Sutton.

But after 75 years, some parts of the school could not be salvaged. Wood floors damaged by termites had to be replaced, and ceilings had to remain lowered from their original height to accommodate lighting. The school's gymnasium, which was built during the Great Depression as a Works Progress Administration project, was torn down and replaced.

With its makeover nearly complete, Plant High School combines the tradition of the past with the excitement of the new.

“The exterior of the building looks the same as when it was built,” says Sutton. “It looks like the same high school my father graduated from in the 1940s.”

U.S. Population 128 million 288 million
School districts 127,531 14,559
Number of school buildings 247,000 94,112
K-12 enrollment 28,070,000 53,566,000
Number of degree-granting institutions 1,410 4,182
Enrollment in degree-granting institutions 1,100,737 15,608,000
Education construction expenditures (new) $500 million $22.5 billion

Educational milestones and sidelights from the past 75 years: The '20s, '30s and '40s


1928: The inaugural issue of American School & University is published.


1929: The stock market crashes, marking the beginning of the Great Depression.


1930: The first “Dick and Jane” reading primers are published.


1931: Five children and a driver freeze to death in Colorado when their school bus is marooned in a blizzard.


1933: African-American historian Carter Woodson publishes “The Mis-education of the Negro,” an examination of the harmful effect of schooling on black students.


1936: Educator Maria Montessori publishes an English version of “The Secret of Childhood,” which discusses the research that led to her child-centered approach to education.


1937: A natural gas explosion in New London, Texas, destroys the New London School and kills 298 students and teachers.


1940: The Crow Island School opens in Winnetka, Ill., and soon wins honors for its advanced elementary school design.


1942: Anne Frank leaves school in Amsterdam, goes into hiding from the Nazis and begins writing her diary.


1944: The Servicemen's Readjustment Act, better known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, is enacted and subsidizes college education for millions of military veterans.

1944: The United Negro College Fund is created to raise money and provide services for private black colleges.


1945: World War II ends, and the postwar baby boom will swell school enrollment numbers for 25 years.

Educational milestones and sidelights from the past 75 years: The '50s


1954: The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, declares that the doctrine of “separate but equal” school systems that segregate black and white students is unconstitutional.


1955: Rudolph Flesch publishes “Why Johnny Can't Read,” which says the reading deficiencies of American youth stem from lack of phonics instruction.


1956: Autherine J. Lucy, an African American, enrolls in graduate school at the University of Alabama, but is suspended after three days because of threats from angry mobs.

1956: Crow Island School in Winnetka, Ill., is selected by 50 architects and scholars as first among schools in an Architectural Record poll that named the “most significant buildings in the past 100 years of architecture in America.”


1957: Arkansas National Guard troops prevent black students from enrolling in the all-white Central High School in Little Rock. President Eisenhower calls in federal paratroopers, and with their protection, nine black students begin attending classes at the school.

1957: The Soviet Union launches the Sputnik satellite into space, prompting calls for U.S. schools to reform and improve science education.


1958: A fire at Our Lady of Angeles Catholic School in Chicago kills 92 students and three nuns, injures dozens of others, and prompts improved fire-safety measures at schools across the nation.

1958: The U.S. National Defense Education Act authorizes federal aid to strengthen science, mathematics and foreign-language instruction.


1959: James Conant, former Harvard University president, argues in “The American High School Today” that schools needed to be larger (400 students for a four-year school) to be more effective.

Educational milestones and sidelights from the past 75 years: The '60s


1961: McDonald's, a quickly growing fast-food hamburger chain, establishes Hamburger University in a basement in Elk Grove Village, Ill., to teach its personnel the various aspects of operating one of the restaurants.


1962: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that states cannot force students to pray in public schools.

1962: James Meredith, accompanied by federal marshals, becomes the first African American to be admitted into the University of Mississippi.


1965: The Elementary and Secondary School Act establishes Title I federal funding to meet the needs of educationally deprived children.

1965: President Johnson announces the creation of the Head Start program to provide educational and other services to preschool children from low-income families.

Educational milestones and sidelights from the past 75 years: The '60s


1968: The Architectural Barriers Act requires facilities designed, built, altered or leased with federal funds to be accessible to persons with disabilities.


1969: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that students in public schools have free speech rights to wear armbands in protest of the Vietnam War.

1969: “Sesame Street” premieres on public television with the aim of improving the school readiness of children aged 3 to 5.

Educational milestones and sidelights from the past 75 years: The '70s


1970: Four students at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, are shot to death by National Guard soldiers during an antiwar protest.

1970: Eleven days after the Kent State killings, a student at Jackson State University in Mississippi and a 17-year-old high school student were killed by police trying to break up a Vietnam War protest on the Jackson State campus.


1972: Federal legislation creates Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, which bans sex discrimination in educational institutions.


1973: The U.S. Supreme Court rejects a school funding equity challenge in Texas, leading most subsequent lawsuits over funding equity to turn to state courts.


1974: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school desegregation plans could not require the participation of students from other school districts, exempting suburban districts from a role in desegregating urban schools.

Educational milestones and sidelights from the past 75 years: The '70s and '80s


1975: President Ford signs legislation opening military service academies to female applicants.

1975: The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) mandates that public schools must provide a free and appropriate education to all children with disabilities.


1979: President Carter signs legislation creating a cabinet-level U.S. Department of Education, underscoring the growing role of the federal government in schooling.


1980: The first 62 women graduate from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.


1985: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that public school teachers cannot be assigned to teach in parochial schools.

Educational milestones and sidelights from the past 75 years: The '80s and '90s


1989: President Bush and the nation's governors hold an education summit in Charlottesville, Va., and begin developing National Educational Goals to achieve by the year 2000.

1989: Channel One begins to offer free television equipment to schools that promise to show students a 12-minute, ad-sponsored news program targeted to teenagers.


1990: The Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990 requires colleges and universities to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses.

1990: The Americans with Disabilities Act is signed into law, which requires facilities to be accessible to people with disabilities.


1993: Two students at the University of Illinois create Mosaic, the first popular program for browsing the World Wide Web.


1994: President Clinton sets a goal of having every classroom in the nation connected to the Internet.

Educational milestones and sidelights from the past 75 years: The '90s and '00s


1995: The Citadel, an all-male public military school in Charleston, S.C., enrolls its first woman.

1995: The U.S. General Accounting Office releases “School Facilities: Condition of America's Schools,” which estimates that $112 billion is needed to bring U.S. public school facilities to good overall condition.


1996: The Telecommunications Act of 1996 establishes the E-rate, which provides government subsidies to schools and libraries that install technology and telecommunications infrastructure.


1999: Two students at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., shoot 12 students and a teacher to death, and wound 23 before killing themselves


2002: President Bush signs the “No Child Left Behind” Act, an education reform measure that allows students attending “failing” schools to transfer to better-performing schools.

2002: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that a Cleveland program that allows school vouchers to be used at religious schools does not infringe upon the constitutional separation of church and state.

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