Public Schools

Welcome to the Watertown Public Schools website. Watertown is located in beautiful Litchfield County, nestled in the Berkshires, with a population of approximately 21,000.

State schools, called public schools in North America and many other countries, are generally primary or secondary schools mandated for or offered to all children without charge, funded in whole or in part by taxation.

While such schools are to be found in virtually every country, there are significant variations in their structure and educational programs. State education generally encompasses primary and secondary education (kindergarten to twelfth grade, or equivalent), as well as post-secondary educational institutions such as universities, colleges, and technical schools that are funded and overseen by government rather than by private entities. The position before there were government-funded schools varied: in many instances there was an established educational system which served a significant, albeit often elite, sector of the population; these systems were often funded by religious institutions. The introduction of government-organised schools was in some cases able to build upon this established system, and often both systems have continued to exist, sometimes in a parallel and complementary relationship and other times less harmoniously.

State education is inclusive, both in its treatment of students and in that enfranchisement for the government of public education is as broad as for government generally. It is often organised and operated to be a deliberate model of the civil community in which it functions. Although typically provided to groups of students in classrooms in a central school, it may be provided in-home, employing visiting teachers, and/or supervising teachers. It can also be provided in non-school, non-home settings, such as shopping mall space.

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Colonial New England encouraged its towns to support free public schools funded by taxation. In the early 19th century Massachusetts took the lead in education reform and public education with programs designed by Horace Mann that were widely emulated across the North. Teachers were specially trained in normal schools and taught the three Rs (of reading, writing, and arithmetic) and also history and geography. Public education was at the elementary level in most places. After the Civil War (1861–1865), the cities began building high schools. The South was far behind northern standards on every educational measure and gave weak support to its segregated all-black schools. However northern philanthropy and northern churches provided assistance to private black colleges across the South. Religious denominations across the country set up their private colleges. States also opened state universities, but they were quite small until well into the 20th century.

During Reconstruction, the Office of Education was created in an attempt to standardize educational reform across the country. At the outset, the goals of the Office were to track statistical data on schools and provide insight into the educational outcomes of schools in each state. While supportive of educational improvement, the office lacked the power to enforce policies in any state. Educational aims across the states in the nineteenth century were broad, making it difficult to create shared goals and priorities. States like Massachusetts, with long established educational institutions, had well-developed priorities in place by the time the Office of Education was established. In the South and the West, however, newly-formed common school systems had different needs and priorities. Competing interests among state legislators limited the ability of the Office of Education to enact change.

State education is generally available to all. In most countries, it is compulsory for children to attend school up to a certain age, but the option of attending private school is open to many. In the case of private schooling, schools operate independently of the state and generally defray their costs (or even make a profit) by charging parents tuition fees. The funding for state schools, on the other hand, is provided by tax revenues, so that even individuals who do not attend school (or whose dependents do not attend school) help to ensure that society is educated. In poverty stricken societies, authorities are often lax on compulsory school attendance because child labour is exploited. It is these same children whose income-securing labour cannot be forfeited to allow for school attendance.

The term "public education" when applied to state schools is not synonymous with the term "publicly funded education". Government may make a public policy decision that it wants to have some financial resources distributed in support of, and it may want to have some control over, the provision of private education. Grants-in-aid of private schools and vouchers systems provide examples of publicly funded private education. Conversely, a state school (including one run by a school district) may rely heavily on private funding such as high fees or private donations and still be considered state by virtue of governmental ownership and control.