I haven't seen any evidence that the availability of schooling in the 18th century was miniscule compared to today. Where did you read this? From my understanding, educating children has been a high priority since the beginning of 17th century colonies. IIRC, the original model for American education was imported from England-which was traditionally quite successful (until the politicians got their hands on it, of course). Gatto's work is interesting and available free here: http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/toc1.htm
In response to your rep question, "Thanks for being respectful. When did Gatto argue that public school students were consistently turning out really intelligent?", he said that this was during the 18th century. He cites Bastiat, who was impressed by the knowledge American school children had at the time after his visit to America.