Publicly funded secondary education did not truly exist in Ohio until the passage of the Ohio School Law of 1849. Before this time, there were no public high schools. Parents had to pay tuition at a private academy for their children to attend beyond elementary school. Most parents, especially those from working-class backgrounds, could not afford to send their children to these private institutions.
As a result of the lack of publicly supported secondary schools, the type of education available to Ohio children was limited. Public schools, formally established in 1825 at the urging of Caleb Atwater and Nathan Guilford, taught basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. Teachers also usually stressed deportment. Because boys were needed to help in the fields, schools were rarely open for more than a few months a year. Most students did not obtain any more than an eighth-grade level of education, and many pupils never advanced that far. There were no laws requiring students to go to school during this era, and parents often needed their children to help with farm chores.
If parents desired their children to have additional education, they would have to pay tuition at a private academy. Investors would form a company to establish such a school. Tuition allowed the investors to earn some financial benefit from their investments. The first institution to utilize the term high school, was Elyria High School, in Elyria, Ohio, in 1830. Very quickly most major cities and towns also included high schools. These institutions were privately financed.
Publicly financed secondary schools originated with the Ohio School Law of 1849. Based on the Akron School Law of 1847, the Ohio School Law called for the establishment of school districts across Ohio. A locally elected board of education would handle the business affairs of each district. The board of education was to establish elementary schools at first. Once demand for secondary schools increased, local boards of education were to construct high schools. Due to the vagueness of the law, many communities did not deem there to be sufficient demand within their districts until after the American Civil War. Nevertheless, the Ohio School Law established the framework for Ohio's schools today.