The following is from the Annual Report (#18) of the Board of Education, Saint Louis Missouri, in 1872 - including the Superintendent's discussion of their high school's system of promotion.

This is the first of two excerpts from the Annual Report. This is focused on the evils of the standard promotion system - which was not yet standard in most of the country, but which was becoming increasingly so. With no further delay, the words of Dr. W. T. Harris:

"The High School course is divided into four classes, the work laid down for each occupying one year in its accomplishment. (See Appendix, p. xcv.) The fact that each High School class is expected to begin its work in September and complete it in June, indicates at once the condition of things that I have already alluded to in this report. Such a course of study is "nailed to the calendar," and its progress is rigid and determined by the lapse of time, and not by the progress of the pupil. If a pupil is sick and unable to attend school for ten weeks, he finds, on his return, that there is no class just ready to admit him. The class which he left is now ten weeks in advance of him, and to make up this work and at the same time to do the regular work of the class is too difficult. If it were possible, it would prove a superiority of individual work over work in a class.

"The pupil is probably obliged to enter the next class below, but this class is thirty weeks behind his present acquirements, and his ten weeks' sickness has thus cost him a year's progress. On entering the lower class, however, he finds himself going over familiar ground, and gets careless in his work. By the time his present class arrive at the work from which he was broken off by sickness the previous year, he has acquired a loose habit of study, and is likely to fail on the first difficult study that he encounters. Two failures are pretty sure to complete his discouragement and cause him to leave school. Another case: A pupil, for some reason, is not quite able at the close of the year to pass the standard for admission to the next class, and is accordingly obliged to join the class below. He is set back just one year at once. He might have lacked five weeks' study or ten weeks' study—scarcely more than this—of completing the work of his class. But for this he is obliged to lose nearly a year more than was really necessary. It must be remembered that these are not isolated instances, but that the number of each class who ought to be separated, for one reason or other, from the part of the class that does the work of the grade thoroughly, is about one-third of the entire number. In order to avoid this evil of putting back pupils, there is a strong temptation to let them pass on at a low standard. The consequence of such a course is that each class is impeded in its work by the presence of a number who are not «qual to the performance of their tasks.

"These evils are not confined to the classes of the High School; they extend to the higher classes of the District Schools. Inasmuch as the examination for admission to the High School is to occur in June, the first grade's work of the District School must be completed at that time, and hence must be commenced in September of each year. This fact in turn influences the time of beginning and completing the work of the second grade. The tendency of all this is to produce a system of classification throughout the entire course of the District Schools similar to that in the High School. In this case classes would follow each other at intervals of a year, and the difficulty of properly assigning those who should be classified in grades between those established exists throughout the entire system. In many sections of the country—in Ohio and New York, for example—this very practice prevails. A promotion takes place once or twice a year, on occasion of a general written examination by the superintendent. Those who "pass" go on; those who fail fall back to the lower class or leave school altogether."
"...developing special opportunities for the gifted does not require large sums of money or a great enrollment. It does require both political support and educational leadership. The first makes educational change possible; the second gives it form and direction. Of the two, leadership from professionals in the school system seems the more important component, since by calling attention to the need for a differentiated curriculum the educator can begin rousing community support and focus that support by offering special program suggestions.


"For the purposes to which this report addresses itself, educational leadership comprises two components: First, recognition that compulsory adherence to standard curriculum can actually damage the exceptionally talented youngster,and a determination to build into the school as much administrative flexibility as possible; and second, ingenuity in working with such students and their teachers to fashion a pedagogically sound substitute for the standard program.

Administrative Flexibility

"Both the expansion of knowledge and the proliferation of professional specialization have forced the schools to convey more information and to convey it more efficiently. Schools have more to teach; they must do it faster, and hence better. They have been forced to investigate ways of enabling students to learn on their own, rather than requiring them to sit in classrooms for fixed periods of time while the teacher dispenses knowledge. Furthermore, knowledge is increasing at such a rate that teachers cannot be retrained fast enough to keep up with the old method of "teaching by telling." Hence they have to concentrate on helping the children develop the skills they will need to keep renewing their learning in the years ahead."

The year was 1968.

The quote is from a report to President Johnson on "Gifted Persons," probably the least cited of this field's national reports! Roughly 16 appearances in a casual Google search, mostly providing one sentence from the report (and mostly the same sentence). It shows up in zero libraries in WorldCat.

Four years later, under Nixon, the Marland Report was produced. It's available free online, and sits in more than 400 libraries.

The Marland Report's definition of gifted had a huge impact - and still retains some impact. The Task Force's report mostly has faded into obscurity, if it was ever out of obscurity. The next entry picks up the Report where this one left off.

White House Task Force on the Education of Gifted Persons (1968). Talent development: An investment in the nation's future. (A report to the President). Available through the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library.



February 2017



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