As far back as the late 1800s, U.S. physics teachers expressed many of the same ideas about physics education reform that are advocated today. However, several popular reform efforts eventually failed to have wide impact, despite strong and enthusiastic support within the physics education community. Broad-scale implementation of improved instructional models today may be just as elusive as it has been in the past, and for similar reasons. Although excellent instructional models exist and have been available for decades, effective and scalable plans for transforming practice on a national basis have yet to be developed and implemented. Present-day teachers, education researchers, and policy makers can find much to learn from past efforts, both in their successes and their failures. To this end, we present a brief outline of some key ideas in U.S. physics education during the past 130 years. We address three core questions that are prominent in the literature: (a) Why and how should physics be taught? (b) What physics should be taught? (c) To whom should physics be taught? Related issues include the role of the laboratory and attempts to make physics relevant to everyday life. We provide here only a brief summary of the issues and debates found in primary-source literature; an extensive collection of historical resources on physics education is available at https://sites.google.com/site/physicseducationhistory/home.

1.
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Meltzer
and
Valerie K.
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458
(
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David E.
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and
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Charles K.
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(
Government Printing Office
,
Washington, DC
,
1884
), pp.
116
118
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4.
Harvard University
,
Descriptive List of Experiments in Physics. Intended for Use in Preparing Students for the Admission Examination in Elementary Experimental Physics
(
Harvard University
,
Cambridge, MA
,
1887
), p.
5
. Hall developed these ideas in more detail in
Alexander
Smith
and
Edwin H.
Hall
, “
The Teaching of Physics in the Secondary School
,” in
The Teaching of Chemistry and Physics in the Secondary School
(
Longmans, Green
,
New York
,
1902
), pp.
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377
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5.
R. A.
Millikan
, “
The aims and needs of high school physics
” [Symposium on the Purpose and Organization of Physics Teaching in Secondary Schools, XI],
School Sci. Math.
9
,
162
167
(
1909
).
6.
See, for example,
H. L.
Terry
, “
The new movement in physics teaching
,”
Educ. Rev.
37
,
12
18
(
1909
);
H. L.
Terry
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,”
Sci.
31
,
731
734
(
1910
). See also Ref. 5.
7.
C. R.
Mann
, “
What is industrial science?
Sci.
39
,
515
524
(
1914
).
8.
C. R.
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,
C. H.
Smith
, and
C. F.
Adams
, “
A new movement among physics teachers
” [Circular I],
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14
,
212
216
(
1906
);
John F.
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, “
Science teaching by projects
,”
School Sci. Math.
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,
225
232
(
1915
).
9.
N. B.
Henry
, Ed.,
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(
University of Chicago Press
,
Chicago
,
1947
), pp.
28
35
and 208-214;
Archer Willis
Hurd
,
Coöperative Experimentation in Materials and Methods in Secondary School Physics
(
Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University
,
New York
,
1933
), p.
18
.
10.
J. R.
Zacharias
, “
The work of the American Physical Science Study Committee
,” in
International Education in Physics: Proceedings of the International Conference on Physics Education
,
UNESCO House, Paris
,
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, edited by
Sanborn C.
Brown
and
Norman
Clarke
(
MIT Press
,
Cambridge, MA
,
1960
), p.
41
.
11.
Project Physics
,
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,
1971
), p.
3
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and
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,
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13.
For example, see
President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
,
Report to the President, Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future
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Executive Office of the President
,
Washington, DC
,
2010
), p.
15
.
14.
See Ref. 8 and
C. R.
Mann
,
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(
Macmillan
,
New York
,
1912
), pp.
41
72
.
15.
Fred D.
Barber
, “
The present status and real meaning of general science
,”
School Rev.
23
,
9
24
(
1915
).
16.
See Ref. 7 and
Millikan
, “
The elimination of waste in the teaching of high school science
,”
School Sci. Math.
16
,
193
209
(
1916
).
17.
David E.
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and
Ronald K.
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,”
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80
,
478
496
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).
18.
Raymond A.
Serway
and
Jerry S.
Faughn
,
Holt McDougal Physics
(
Holt McDougal
,
Orlando
,
2012
);
Paul W.
Zitzewitz
,
David G.
Haase
, and
Kathleen A.
Harper
,
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(
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill
,
Columbus, OH
,
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).
19.
John Elbert
Stout
,
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(
University of Chicago
,
Chicago
,
1921
), pp.
106
and
224
.
20.
Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year Ended June 30, 1909
(
U.S. Department of the Interior
,
Washington, DC
,
1910
), Vol.
II
, pp.
1123
1124
;
Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year Ended June 30, 1910
(
U.S. Department of the Interior
,
Washington
,
1911
), Vol.
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, p.
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;
also see
Mann
,
The Teaching of Physics
[Ref. 14], pp.
21
22
.
21.
Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1889-1890
(
Government Printing Office
,
Washington
,
1893
), Vol.
2
, p.
1391
.
22.
See supporting online material for detailed calculations, at https://sites.google.com/site/physicseducationhistory/.
23.
T. D.
Snyder
and
S. A.
Dillow
,
Digest of Education Statistics 2012
(
NCES
,
Washington, DC
,
2013
), p.
189
.
24.
G. Stanley
Hall
, “
How far is the present high-school and early college training adapted to the nature and needs of adolescents?
School Rev.
9
,
649
665
(
1901
);
G. Stanley
Hall
, “
Some criticisms of high school physics, and of manual training and mechanic arts high schools, with suggested correlations
,”
Pedagog. Semin.
9
,
193
204
(
1902
).
25.
Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1889-1890
(
Government Printing Office
,
Washington, DC
,
1893
), Vol.
II
, p.
1391
;
Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year Ended June 30, 1910
(
U.S. Department of the Interior
,
Washington
,
1911
), Vol.
II
, p.
1187
; and supporting online materials.
26.
Kim
Tolley
,
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(
RoutledgeFalmer
,
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,
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), pp.
149
176
;
John Francis
Latimer
,
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(
Public Affairs Press
,
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,
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), p.
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.
27.
Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1889-1890
(
Government Printing Office
,
Washington
,
1893
), Vol.
2
, pp.
1390
1392
and 1490-1492;
Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1899-1900
, Vol.
2
(
Government Printing Office
,
Washington, DC
,
1901
), pp.
2131
2139
, 2147-2155, 2163-2168, 2469, 2474, and 2478-2479;
Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year Ended June 30, 1910
(
U.S. Department of the Interior
,
Washington, DC
,
1911
), Vol.
II
, pp.
1174
1204
, 1249, and 1258;
Biennial Survey of Education, 1920-1922, Bulletin, 1924, No. 14
(
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,
Washington, DC
,
1925
), Vol.
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, pp.
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601
.
28.
W. G.
Whitman
, “
A physics course for girls
,”
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9
,
146
148
(
1909
);
W. G.
Whitman
, “
Adaptation of the course in physics to the needs of girls
,”
School Sci. Math.
10
,
494
498
(
1910
);
Willis E.
Tower
, “
An experiment: The teaching of high school physics in segregated classes
,”
School Sci. Math.
11
,
1
6
(
1911
);
Elizabeth Duval
Littell
, “
Practical physics in private schools for girls
,”
School Sci. Math.
12
,
673
677
(
1912
).
29.
Kenneth E.
Brown
and
Ellsworth S.
Obourn
,
Offerings and Enrollments in Science and Mathematics in Public High Schools 1958
[Bulletin 1961 No. 5] (
U.S. Department of HEW, Office of Education
,
Washington, DC
,
1961
), p.
36
.
30.
S.
White
and
C. L.
Tesfaye
,
Female Students in High School Physics: Results from the 2008-09 Nationwide Survey of High School Physics Teachers
(
American Institute of Physics
,
College Park, MD
,
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), pp.
1
2
.
31.
S.
White
and
C. L.
Tesfaye
,
High School Physics Courses & Enrollments: Results from the 2012–2013 Nationwide Survey of High School Physics Teachers
(
American Institute of Physics
,
College Park, MD
,
2014
), pp.
1
3
; also see Ref. 1.
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