Home Education The Dynamics of Opportunity in America
–1895: Expansion and Professionalization
In the period of 1865–1895, public schooling underwent more expansion and professionalization. Urban school systems acquired professional superintendents and became the model for well-run schooling. Testing, long before the IQ vogue, served superintendents as a way to monitor quality among teachers and schools. Teacher training began in newly developed “normal schools” and shorter-term “teachers institutes.” The effect on educational opportunity is not easy to quantify, but enrollments, attendance, and length of school year continued their upward trajectory. Toward the end of this period, public high schools outnumbered private academies but were still predominantly the preserve of middle class students, the children of professionals, shopkeepers, engineers, office workers, accountants, skilled craftsmen, and others (on testing, see Reese 2013; on the expansion of elementary education, and information on academies, see Goldin and Katz 2008, 129–62).
The 'Progressive' Era: Redefining Equal Opportunity
Local reformers praised their high schools as the “keystone of the arch,” or the “capstone” of a “perfect system.” Reformers praised these new secondary schools as an institution of meritocracy, free and open to all. High school students were predominantly female (about 60 %) in the late nineteenth century, though the increasing restriction of child labor in the manufacturing sector meant that more working-class boys stayed in school as the new century unfolded. The percentage of 14to 17-yearolds in school grew from 11 % in 1900 to 32 % in 1920 and became the modal experience at 51 % in 1930 (Simon and Grant 1970; on the development of high school, see Reese 1995; Krug 1964; Rury 2005, 84–89).
As the proportion of youth in high schools increased, it became apparent that not all students were preparing to go to college. This generated a great deal of thought about what curricula were appropriate for students with different educational and occupational futures. These discussions occurred in an era when theorists of human behavior were placing great emphasis on heredity, when racism was increasing in social relations, and an imperialist foreign policy thrust the United States into the development of colonies. Standardized student testing moved from its mid-nineteenthcentury roots to its hereditarian embrace with IQ tests, all putting a genetic hue on the emerging version of meritocracy (see Reese 2013; Kaestle 2012, 93).
Educators talked about “hand minded” and “brain minded” children and their different needs. In an explicit revision of equal opportunity, they developed different curricula for different children. Reflecting a growing conviction among educators, Stanford's Ellwood Cubberley (1909, 57) declared that people should reject the “exceedingly democratic idea that all are equal, and that our society is devoid of classes.”
Many saw the creation of collegiate, general, vocational, and commercial tracks as steps forward for democracy: These different curricula would augment equal opportunity by providing an appropriate high school education for everybody. This was the era of corporate capitalism; in this context, democracy required not only participation and citizens' education but also expertise, science, and efficiency. Whatever the merits of this new concept of equal opportunity—and we should not think it merely as a hypocritical justification for inequality—it was compromised by biased predictions of students' futures, too often arising from their race, gender, ethnicity, and social class.
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