How schools have changed over the last 80 years

  • What we teach and in many cases how we teach it has changed, but so have schools themselves.
  • From trading chalkboards for Smart Boards, and notebooks for laptops, schools the 1940s looked very different than they do today.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Schools in the US have changed a lot over the years. Chalkboards have been updated to whiteboards and Smart Boards. Notebooks and textbooks have been replaced with laptops and iPads. Segregation was overturned by the Supreme Court, and students are demanding safe schools free of gun violence from today’s lawmakers.

Here’s what schools have looked like from the 1940s to the present day.


The students in a Seattle, Washington, high school duck for shelter beneath their desks during a mock air raid in 1942.


Student Dan Moss reports the news to younger students in a 4A classroom in Chicago, Illinois, in 1944. On D-Day, older students heard broadcasts, rewrote them for primary students, and reported to classrooms throughout the school.


A driving class at Chicago’s Lane Technical High School learns the meaning of highway signs and signals in 1947.


A class at Russell High school in Atlanta, Georgia, is shown listening to a radio broadcast coming from the Atlanta School system’s own radio broadcasting station in 1950.


Miss Sue Convery, Principal of Lafayette Grammar School in San Francisco, teaches students how to be choosy about which comics, radio programs, TV, and movies they spend their time consuming in 1951.


Mrs. Ella J. Rice, talks to one of her pupils, all of whom are white, in a third grade classroom of the Draper Elementary School in southeast Washington, D.C, in 1954. This was the first day of non-segregated schools for teachers and pupils in the District of Columbia public school system. Mrs. Rice was the only black teacher in the school.


Six black children completed their first week at Griffin School in 1955, the first Kentucky public school to attempt integration.


An unidentified African-American student sits inside a classroom at Clinton High School in the newly integrated school in Clinton, Tennessee, in 1956. She sits in a rear seat near the door and is separated by empty desks as the white children sit at the far side of the room.

There were only 12 African-American students attending the school at the time, which had been the scene of minor violence as a result of integration.


Arkansas National Guardsmen stand guard at Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957 to prevent violence over attendance at the school by nine black students.


Miss Gaylord Gibson teaches language arts to students at Front Royal, Virginia, in 1958, in an improvised classroom located in an old youth center building. These senior students spent their final year of high school in such classrooms because their public schools were closed in the state of Virginia’s fight against integrating them.


Jefferson Thomas, the only African-American student in Central High School, talks with an unidentified white student as they leave the school with other pupils. Thomas said it is the first time a student has chatted with him in such a friendly manner outside the classroom in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1959.


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A group of children saluting the American flag at a school in the Chinatown area of Manhattan, New York, in 1960.


Children play outside of the one-room school house at Madison, Maryland, in 1961. There was an assembly room in addition to the single classroom.


Opening day classroom in the Mary E. Branch number one school in Farmville, Virginia, in 1963. The school was operated by the Prince Edward Free School Association. Free schools in Prince Edward County were open for first time in four years.


First grade pupils sit around a table at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in Chicago, Illinois, in 1964.


Children read in a classroom at elementary school PS 219 in Queens, New York, in 1968.


A grammar school teacher in an integrated classroom in 1969.


A partial view of a class in one of Maria Montessori’s “works,” or kindergartens, in 1970.

Maria Tecla Artemisia Montessori was an Italian physician and teacher best known for founding the Montessori method of education, a child-centered educational approach that has since gained a global following.


Youngsters from Hillside Elementary school mill around a school bus as the day’s classes end in Berkeley, California, in 1971.


Children get instructions from teacher Barbara Friend during seventh grade French class at Junior High School 211 in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, New York, in 1972.


Gifted children at President Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles, California, work with small computers, rabbit skeletons, and microscopes. California was one of 10 states that had full-fledged education programs for the gifted in 1973.


Valerie Banks was the only student to show up for her geography class at South Boston High School on the first day of court-ordered busing to desegregate Boston’s schools in 1974. Most schools opened peacefully, though some minor disturbances were reported.


Gary E. Butler, left, exchanges rings with his bride, Christine N. McDuffie, during their wedding in an Atlantic County Vocational School classroom in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1975. The bride was a student there and didn’t want to miss a day of training. The Reverend William Barton officiated, and Wanda M. Rucker, in the background, was matron of honour.


Sarah Bard, second from left, in class at the School of American Ballet in New York City in 1976.

The Association of American Dance Companies listed 350 members in 1976, though not all of professional calibre, compared to 132 in 1966.


Terri Thompson, 11, leads her fourth grade class in a short prayer at the start of the day in a public school in the Dorchester section of Boston in 1980. Massachusetts law required teachers to ask the students if anyone would like to offer prayer for the class. Any student who did not wish to participate could leave the classroom.


Betty Ellis, a 40-year-old school teacher and first woman soccer linesman in the US, with her students in Santa Rosa, California, in 1981.


San Jose High School students line up for a turn in a classroom-turned-game room in 1982. The video arcade games were placed in the high school as an experiment to raise money and produced about $US200 in three weeks.


Gary Hart, Democratic presidential contender, talks to five-year-old Lee Elder at the Garden Day Care Center Nursery School in New York in 1984. Hart made a campaign stop at the nursery school on the day of the New York presidential primary election.


Rock musician Sammy Hagar at the New School in New York City in 1985 teaching a driving course to a group of MTV contestants.


Fifth graders of the John Swett Alternative School sing and act out a song for Philippine President Cory Aquino during her visit to the school in San Francisco, California, in 1986. Aquino talked to the children about freedom on the last day of her trip to the United States.


Rosewood Elementary School students in Los Angeles, California, listen to a presentation by police officer Greg Boles in 1987. The presentation was part of Los Angeles police department’s Project D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), which launched in 1983.


Second graders from P.S. 27 in New York, pet a salamander at the Bronx Zoo in 1988. There, New York City elementary school children got a few hours to experience science the way scientists do: by touching, observing and experimenting.


Alicia Custodio, a volunteer for Upward Fund, an organisation that runs after school programs in East Harlem, New York, helps two children with the use of a computer in 1989.


Tom Payne, an instructor at the Saturday School program at Coppin State College in Baltimore, Maryland, gets his students involved in his “Weird Facts” reading class in 1990.


Six grade teacher Peggy Reilly and her class have a spirited discussion about the US war efforts in the Persian Gulf in 1991 at Walker Elementary School in San Diego, California.


Hillary Rodham Clinton reads the book “There’s An Alligator Under My Bed” to Delois Cunningham’s kindergarten class at Public School 31 in Buffalo, New York, in 1992, while campaigning for Bill Clinton’s presidential nomination.


Fourth-grader Rocio Belmontes, 10, left, and Juan Patino, 10, attend an in-class counseling session at Naranja Elementary School in Florida in 1993. Counselors helped students deal with stress caused by the destruction of their homes by Hurricane Andrew.


Melville High School teacher Rodney Wilson sits on the desk in his classroom in 1994 in St. Louis County, Missouri. Wilson announced to his history class that he is gay. Once considered taboo, Wilson was among a growing number of teachers across the country who chose to discuss their sexual orientation in class.


Ricky Lattimer, 8, with physical therapist Donna Smith, right, lies down on an alphabet mat in a kindergarten class at the W.R. Croman Elementary School in Troy, Pennsylvania, in 1995. Seated at left is Sally Van Noy, learning support aide. Ricky was one of the students with learning disabilities and various handicaps included in regular classrooms at the school.


Tiffany Brown, 13, a student at J. Hayden Johnson Junior High School in Washington, DC, takes notes during a single-sex class in 1996. Single-sex schools have always existed, but teaching boys maths, science and English separately from girls was new in public schools. More than a dozen states tested the concept.


Ernest Adams, 8, right, yawns while Vice President Al Gore talks to a group of elementary students inside a classroom at Davidson Elementary School in 1997 in San Bernardino, California.


President Bill Clinton gives his weekly radio address from inside a trailer used as a classroom at Glenforest Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia, in 1998. Clinton urged Americans to vote for candidates for Congress who will pass his school construction initiative that Republicans rejected.


Students practice their keyboarding skills at Richardson Independent School District’s Forest Lane Academy in Dallas, Texas, in 1999. The importance of technology had long been stressed by former State Board of Education Chairman Jack Christie of Houston, who two years before publicly suggested that it could be time to redirect textbook funds into buying laptop computers and easily updated software.


Sarah Dicke, a student at Lincoln High School in Lincoln, Nebraska, uses a virtual classroom in which all the material for the class are online, and communicates with her teacher via email in 2000. Dicke, 18, was one of a growing number of students turning to the internet to complete courses required for high school graduation or to get an early start on college.


Mason Heights Elementary first grade student Gabe Richardson takes a break from his lunch in 2004 in Mason, Ohio.


Joanne Anthony uses a whiteboard instead of the traditional chalkboard while teaching an elementary school class at the Southeast Academy of Scholastic Excellence in Washington, DC, in 2002. In the early 2000s, chalkboards were slowly being replaced by modern whiteboards that could also be utilised for virtual computer screens.


Sixth-graders Ryan Cornie, left, Evan Albright, and Eric Marvin, right, all age 12, work together on the computer in their English class Thursday afternoon in 2003 at Kimberly Middle School in Kimberly, Idaho. The school’s sixth-grade classes were divided up into separate classes, one for boys and one for girls, for the core classes of maths, science, English, and social studies. Administrators said that there were less classroom problems as a result of the change.


US Senator James Jeffords reads to students at the South Royalton Elementary School in South Royalton, Vermont, in 2004. Jeffords visited the school in conjunction with an essay contest asking students what freedom means to them.


Kasandra Herrera, 6, reads a book in Spanish in Bianca Alvarez’s dual language first grade classroom at Northwest Elementary School in Dodge City, Kansas, in 2005.


Stephanie Mueller works at a standing desk in an experimental classroom at Elton Hills Elementary School in Rochester, Minnesota, in 2006. Obesity researchers from the Mayo Clinic wanted to learn whether classrooms really need desks, or if being able to move around helps students fight obesity while they learn.


Language arts teacher Julia Austin instructs students against using instant messaging slang in their essays at Stonewall Jackson Middle School in Orlando, Florida, in 2007.


Students from the Louisa May Alcott Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois, water herbs in the school’s garden in 2008. The garden, sponsored by the nonprofit Organic School Project, was part of a larger national movement to teach children healthy eating.


Tiffany Miller teaches her fourth grade class at Bauder Elementary School in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2009. A growing number of classrooms ditched the traditional classroom chairs in favour of stability balls as a way to improve student posture and attention.


Teacher Keenan Haley teaches a curriculum about nutrition and agriculture at the Sharon Elementary School in Sharon, Vermont, in 2010.


Students at the Bertschi School in Seattle, Washington, walk past a glass-topped channel that allows collected rainwater to flow through their classroom in the school’s new science building. The building is one of several dozen nationwide that recycles and manages rainwater and waste water on site.


Nkomo Morris, a teacher at Brooklyn’s Art and Media High School, works on her classroom computer in 2012 in New York. Morris, who teaches English and journalism, said she has about 50 current and former students as Facebook friends. That could be a problem if new rules instruct teachers not to friend students.


Junie, a therapy dog at Prospect High School in Illinois sits in a classroom. The 18-month-old golden retriever was one way this school tried to help students cope with a rise in stress, anxiety, and panic attacks. Many say these issues are a problem in schools across the country.


Then-President Barack Obama records seventh graders at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland, on a classroom iPad before speaking to them about his goals of connecting students to next generation broadband and wireless technology.


Students are served breakfast at the Stanley Mosk Elementary School in Los Angeles, California, in 2015. The number of breakfasts served in the nation’s schools has doubled in the last two decades, a surge driven largely by a change in how districts deliver the food. Instead of providing low-income students free or reduced-price meals in the cafeteria, they’re increasingly serving all children in the classroom.


Kindergarten school teacher Shannon Raftery poses for a photograph in her classroom as she prepares it for the upcoming school year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2016. Raftery raised funds through crowdfunding to supplement the money she took out of each paycheck to pay for classroom supplies.


Kindergarten teacher Susan Cody (left), of the Northwest Primary School in Rutland, Vermont, shows newly arrived Syrian refugee Dania Khatib, 5, around a classroom as her mother and father watch. The parents fled Syria in 2012 and the family lived in Turkey before arriving in Rutland.


Students walk out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as part of a nationwide protest against gun violence in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, following the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February.

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