Progressive Era

The progressive era in education was part of a larger Progressive Movement, and extended from the 1890s to the 1930s. The era was notable for a dramatic expansion in the number of schools and students served, especially in the fast-growing metropolitan cities. After 1910 that smaller cities began building high schools. By 1940, 50% of young adults had earned a high school diploma.

In most American cities, Progressives looked for ways to eliminate waste and promote the Efficiency Movement in the schools by emphasizing growth and the use of expertise. For example, in the 1897 reform of the Atlanta schools the school board size was reduced, the power of ward bosses was eliminated. the power of the superintendent was increased, centralized purchasing made for economies of scale, standards of hiring and tenure in teachers were made uniform, architects designed school buildings in which the classrooms offices, workshops and other facilities related together, and curricular innovations were introduced. The reforms were designed to grow an increasingly complex school system according to the best of national practices. The reforms were instituted by middle-class professionals equally antagonistic to the traditional business elites and to working-class elements.

Gary Plan
The "Gary Plan" was implemented in the new steel city of Gary, Indiana, by William Wirt, the superintendent 1907-30. It emphasized highly efficient use of buildings and other facilities, and was adopted by over 200 cities around the country, including New York City. Wirt divided students into two platoons—one platoon used the academic classrooms, while the second platoon was divided between the shops, nature studies, auditorium, gymnasium, and outdoor facilities, then the platoons rotated position. Word set up an elaborate night school program, especially to Americanize the new immigrants. The introduction of vocational educational programs, such as wood shop, machine shop, typing, and secretarial skills proved especially popular with parents who wanted their children to become foremen and office workers. By the Great Depression, most cities found the Gary Plan too expensive, and abandoned it.

Dewey and Progressive Education
The leading educational theorist of the era was John Dewey (1859-1952), a professor at the University of Chicago (1894–1904) and from 1904 to 1930 at Teachers College, of Columbia University in New York City. Dewey was a leading proponent of "Progressive Education" and wrote many books and articles to promote the central role of democracy in education. He saw schools not only as a place to gain content knowledge, but also as a place to learn how to live. The purpose of education was not so much the acquisition of a predetermined set of skills, but rather the realization of the student's full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good. Dewey notes that, "to prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities." Dewey insisted that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change and reform. He notes that "education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.". Although Dewey's ideas were very widely discussed, they were implemented chiefly in small experimental schools attached to colleges of education. The problem was that Dewey and the other progressive theorists encountered a highly bureaucratic system of school administration that in general was not receptive to new methods

Black education
Booker T. Washington was the dominant black political and educational leader in the United States from the 1890s until his death in 1915. Washington not only led his own college, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, but his advice, political support, and financial connections proved important to many black colleges and high schools across the country. He was a leading advisor to major philanthropies, such as the Rockefeller, Rosenwald and Jeanes foundations, which provided funding for leading black schools and colleges. Washington explained, "We need not only the industrial school, but the college and professional school as well, for a people so largely segregated, as we are.... Our teachers, ministers, lawyers and doctors will prosper just in proportion as they have about them an intelligent and skillful producing class." Washington was a strong advocate of progressive reforms as advocated by Dewey, emphasizing scientific, industrial and agricultural education that produced a base for lifelong learning and enabled careers for many black teachers, professionals, and upwardly mobile workers, while downplaying political protests against the segregated Jim Crow system.