Popular Science Monthly/Volume 85/July 1914/Waste in Elementary and Secondary Education

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THE test of efficiency is being applied to every form of organized activity. Methods of procedure in commerce, manufacture and government are being studied to discover the causes of waste and on the basis of these studies new methods are being devised to eliminate waste in time and effort. The same tests are being applied to our religious, philanthropic and educational organizations. A typical illustration is seen in the investigation made by the Bureau of Municipal Expenditures for the public schools of the city of New York. Another illustration in the field of higher education is afforded by the state of Kansas in which a commission has recently been appointed to study the efficiency of the various institutions of the state with a view to such a reorganization as will avoid the waste involved in the present duplication of equipment and instruction. Similar tests are being made in other school systems and in single institutions. But all of these, though most significant, represent somewhat isolated and local conditions.

At the same time, however, the efficiency of our entire system of elementary and secondary schools is being called in question. A committee of the department of superintendents of the National Education Association on Economy of Time in Elementary and Secondary Education appointed in 1911 is investigating the problem. Their preliminary reports indicate that a thorough study of the situation is being made which may be expected to form the basis for important changes.

The history of education in this country shows that our system of organization, assigning eight years to elementary, four years to secondary, and four years to collegiate education, was not based on any rational theory, but was rather the result of accident. Each type sprang up in a large measure independently of the others, in response to distinct social demands, and a satisfactory adjustment of these independent parts to the needs of a coherent and efficient system of education has not yet been made.

In no other country is a similar organization found. Germany may be cited as typical with three years devoted to elementary, nine years to secondary, and four years to university education. The American college with two years of secondary work and two years of university work is unique. It is a significant fact that the Japanese, who have shown wonderful skill in selecting and adapting to their needs the best in western civilization, have modeled their new school system, not upon ours, but upon that of European countries. While there is a presumption in favor of the majority, the ultimate test to be applied to these differing types of organization is that of efficiency.

It is difficult to apply exact scientific comparisons to educational systems in countries with different social conditions. The age test is the most obvious to be applied. In a bulletin of the U. S. Bureau of Education on the "Age and Grade Census of Schools and Colleges," Strayer has shown that in ninety-three colleges having more than one hundred students each, the average age[1] of graduation is about twenty-three years. Statistics of ages of graduation from medical schools confirms this figure. The average age of medical candidates in 1912 at the following institutions was: Western Reserve, 27.9; Harvard, 27.2; Rush, 27; California, 27; Johns Hopkins, 26.4; Cornell, 26.4. The average age of students graduating in medicine at these institutions in 1912 was thus about 27 years. As a collegiate degree is required for admission to the medical schools at Western Reserve, Harvard and Johns Hopkins, it appears that medical students in these institutions completed their college courses at about the age of twenty-three. In a recent bulletin of the Bureau of Education, the age at which students complete the course in medicine is given as follows: France, 23; Germany, 23; Great Britain, 23; Netherlands, 24; Switzerland, 23; United States, 26. There is then a difference of at least two years in the ages at which physicians are ready to enter upon active practise in this and European countries. Counting twenty-three years as the average age for completing the college course, the average age of students entering college in this country is seen to be about nineteen years, which, in the absence of more exact knowledge, may be assumed as about the average of graduation from high school. The average age of graduation from the German gymnasium is about nineteen. The gymnasium course is generally regarded as equal in content to our high-school course plus two years of our college course. With this assumption, it will be seen that at the close of the period of secondary education our youth are about two years behind those of Germany. While it is not possible to test for purposes of exact comparison the training received by the graduates of our high schools with that of the German student with two years of his gymnasium course still before him, it is probably not far from the truth to say that not merely in relative time, but also in actual intellectual training, our high school graduates are two years behind those at the corresponding period in the German schools.

Now from the point of view of efficiency this apparent waste of two years is a matter of prime importance. What are the causes of waste? Where does it occur? How may it be checked? These are questions of great educational significance.

Of first importance among the causes of waste is the lack of coordination between the separate parts of our organization. Until recently the requirements which the college has made upon the high school have not been based upon any comprehensive view of the increasing scope and of the methods of secondary education. College courses have not been built upon the work of the high school. College instructors have failed to utilize some of the training which the student has received, and have complained loudly over the lack of what they have assumed a high school ought to give. An attitude of superior wisdom has furnished a cloak by which college instructors have concealed their ignorance of educational theory and practise. But with the changed attitude on the part of the high-school teachers from that of complaisant acquiescence to college domination to one of bumptious officiousness, we have suddenly come upon a situation that is full of promise for increased efficiency through better understanding. A new and strange spectacle in educational history was presented last year when the University of Chicago invited secondary-school teachers to visit its class-rooms for a period of several weeks, and based a two days' series of departmental and general conferences upon a critical discussion by these teachers of the methods of the university class-rooms. Another important step is being taken this year in the visitation by junior college instructors of high-school classes in Chicago and near-by towns, not in a perfunctory manner for an hour or two, but for successive days. It is safe to say that we shall soon be able to avoid no small waste at this point, due to a lack of knowledge and appreciation on the part of both school and college instructors of the work done on the opposite sides of the arbitrary line which has separated them.

But lack of coordination and the waste incident thereto is not found alone at the point of transition from high school to college; it is equally marked between the elementary school and the high school. The ignorance of the methods and content of high-school courses displayed by college instructors is, if possible, exceeded by the lack of definite knowledge displayed by high-school instructors of what goes on in the grades below. The abrupt change from the class-room organization of the elementary school with the careful supervision of the pupil's study to the departmental organization of the high school where so much emphasis has been placed upon home study and so little attention has been given to the method of the pupil's study, together with the sudden introduction of the pupil to so many new subjects, has been responsible in no small degree for the enormous percentage of failure and elimination in the early part of the high-school course. Again a prolific source of waste is found in the lack of correlation between different departments, particularly in the high school, of which a more detailed discussion will be given later.

Another source of waste is found in the character and training of our teachers. This will be seen most clearly by a comparison with the situation in the German schools. Candidates for positions in German secondary schools must hold certificates for a full course in one of the secondary schools and must have done three years' work in a German university. The doctor's degree is not required, but is held by a large number. Searching examinations are required of all to determine both the preparation for teaching special subjects and also the professional fitness of the candidates. The latter examination includes psychology, philosophy, the history of education and the principles of pedagogy. Three grades of positions are recognized, each with its corresponding examination. These examinations presuppose a more extensive training in the specific subjects than is required of teachers in our high schools. It is obvious that only those with professional as well as specialized training may find a place among the teachers of the German secondary school. But the passing of the examination is not all that is required of a candidate for a gymnasial position. In most parts of Germany he is required to spend two years in further preparation, the seminary year (seminar Jahr), usually in connection with some gymnasium or university, and a trial year (probe Jahr), during which he gives from eight to ten hours of instruction weekly without pay, under the guidance of the director and the department teacher. If he has met the exacting standard required during these two preliminary years of special professional training and experience, and has finally presented a satisfactory thesis of a professional character, he is given a certificate authorizing his appointment to teach in a secondary school.

I have presented these detailed facts regarding the requirements for teaching in the German secondary schools in order to indicate clearly one cause of waste in our own school system. Some cities require of candidates for high-school positions graduation from college and some professional training; the state of California requires for a high-school certificate a college training and one year of professional training. But even the highest requirements do not equal those which are practically universal in Germany, and in most parts of our country the scholastic requirements are low and there is no professional requirement whatever. A large number of our high-school teachers of both sexes enter upon teaching not with the expectation of making it a life work, but because it offers the most convenient means of earning a living until some more attractive opening is offered into the fields of matrimony or business. So long as the requirements for high-school positions are so low we must expect our ranks to be filled by teachers of meager training, and often without serious purpose. While there are a large number of teachers in our schools well trained and professionally expert, it is apparent that the results secured must be far short of what might be expected if our schools were taught by uniformly well trained teachers.

A third source of waste is found in the short tenure of position prevalent among the teachers in our schools. This again may be seen most clearly by contrasting the situation in Germany. Once appointed to a position in Germany, with few exceptions, the teacher remains in the same school until he dies or is retired on pension. The following statistics of the Prussian secondary schools for 1894 are cited by Bolton ("The Secondary School System of Germany," p. 119):

Total number of positions 7 .302
Number of new teachers 233
New teachers first position held 225
New teachers from other positions 8
Total number leaving 209
Called to other positions 2
Choosing other occupations 42
Number retiring 8
Retired on pension 98
Number of deaths 59

This remarkable permanency of tenure is made possible by the exacting methods of testing candidates which prevents the unfit from securing positions in the schools. Conditions in our schools are in marked contrast. Dr. Jessup in a paper recently read at the secondary-school conference of the University of Chicago reported recent investigations bearing on this point. In Indiana for 1912 the median tenure of 186 superintendents was 2.16 years, and for the past fifty years in that state about half the positions were open every other year. In Iowa for 1912 the superintendents of 250 accredited schools had a median tenure of two years, and 40 per cent, were new to their position that year. Including schools not on the accredited list, the condition was still more striking, showing that of 768 schools considered, 46 per cent, of the positions were open last year, and 70 per cent, of the superintendents of these schools had been in their positions two years or less. High-school principals show the same tendency to short tenure. Bolton declares that in Wisconsin about one third of the high-school principals change position every year. Jessup states that of 183 principals in Indiana high schools in 1912, 45 per cent, were new to their positions. In towns of 25,000 population or over, one third of the principals were new to their positions. The same condition holds among high-school teachers. That it is not confined to small schools or particular states is seen from the following statistics of schools on the list of the North Central Association for 1912: In Wisconsin 46 per cent, were new to their positions; in Colorado, 44 per cent.; in Missouri, 37 per cent.; in Iowa, 37 per cent.; in Indiana, 40 per cent.

In a recent study of "The Social Composition of the Teaching Population" (Teachers College Contributions to Education, No. 41) based upon reports of 5,215 teachers from twenty-two states, including rural, town and city schools, Dr. Coffman finds the median number of years men teachers have taught, irrespective of location and of position, is seven; for women, it is four. These figures represent the total years of teaching and take no account of the number of positions occupied by each teacher. Tenure of position in city schools is much longer than in the country. Of 1,248 teachers in city schools, Dr. Coffman finds that the median city school man has taught twelve years in the city; the median city school woman has taught seven years in the city. Commissioner Harris in his report for 1904 published the results of reports from a much larger number of teachers from 398 cities of 8,000 inhabitants and over, including twenty-nine cities of over 100,000 inhabitants. He found that, in cities of 8,000 inhabitants and over, the median man had taught eleven years and the median woman nine years, and that both the median man and the median woman had taught seven years in their present positions. In cities of 100,000 inhabitants and over, the median teacher had taught ten years and had occupied the same positions eight years. It is obvious that even under the most favorable conditions the average tenure of position is short. Dr. Coffman also has statistics bearing on the youthfulness of teachers, showing that 52.9 per cent, of men teachers and 73.8 per cent. of women teachers are under thirty years of age. Sex has a potent bearing upon the question of tenure in position. German secondary teachers are all men, while in this country a very large majority are women. No exact material is available to show the effect of this constant changing of teachers. It is apparent that it greatly lowers the efficiency of our schools. The short tenure of superintendents and high-school principals hardly allows them to become adjusted to the new conditions in each position filled, not to speak of the possibility of working out any constructive educational policy, which must require years to be of real value.

Having discussed the causes of waste, there remains for us to consider the means by which it may be eliminated. I shall consider such remedies as are involved (1) in a readjustment of our school organization, (2) in a change in the methods and (3) in a reorganization of the materials of instruction.

Many experiments have been tried in the reorganization of the elementary and high schools and are in more or less successful operation in various parts of the country. These involve such combinations as a six-year elementary school followed by a six-year high school; a seven-year elementary and a five-year high school; and a six-or seven-year elementary school, a junior high school of one to three years, and a senior high school. All of these combinations, however, still include a total of twelve years in the period of elementary and high-school training and are based upon the assumption that these new types of organization are better adapted to the physical and psychological development of the child. Whatever benefits are claimed as a result have not been in the saving of time in elementary and secondary education.

As of practical bearing upon the solution of this important problem, I shall describe in detail an experiment in the elementary and high schools of the school of education of the University of Chicago which has already resulted in the complete elimination of one year from the elementary school and which we expect will ultimately eliminate a second year from the period of secondary education in the high school and junior colleges of the university. These schools occupy a peculiarly advantageous position for the conduct of such an experiment, being private schools unhampered by connection with a large school system and having faculties composed of teachers of rather more than ordinary professional training and interest, so organized that it is possible to treat the various stages of elementary and secondary education as a continuous process. The schools are large enough, having over 800 pupils from the homes of the immediate vicinity, to make the experiment typical and of value to other schools and communities.

It should perhaps be stated, at this point, that the program of the university elementary school contains considerable material that is not found in most schools. of similar grade. This includes either French or German, which all the pupils take continuously from the beginning of the fourth grade. Much attention is also given to nature study, including, in addition to work in the school gardens, considerable physics, hygiene, zoology and botany. A good deal of emphasis is also laid on instruction in the manual arts and in various industries, such as sewing, weaving, cooking, woodworking and printing. It should be understood that the effort to save time has not involved the elimination or curtailment of any of this work which is regarded as equally important with the other subjects of instruction.

That considerable time has been wasted in elementary schools by teaching material of no practical and little educational value is certain. Arithmetic offers a good illustration in which one may find, from examination of text-books or by consulting the memory of his own school days, a good deal of material of a highly specialized sort which is of no practical value to the pupils, and much more material whose only purpose is to serve as a basis for intellectual gymnastics, the value of which is highly questionable. By far greater waste is involved in the common practise of extended reviews in the upper grades by which each teacher has felt it necessary toward the end of the year to round out her pupils for the work of the year to come. This is not infrequently supplemented by another period of review at the beginning of the following year. The practise of devoting most of the last half of the eighth grade to a comprehensive review of the entire work of the elementary school is very common. It is a matter of common observation that these reviews are not interesting to the pupils and it may be concluded that they are ineffective from the fact that high-school teachers generally complain of the deficient preparation shown by the classes that come up from the lower schools. To such an extent is this recognized that a widely used text-book in first-year Latin frankly devotes a large number of pages to English grammar to be taken up at the opening of the year before attacking the intricacies of the Latin tongue.

For the purpose of a better understanding of the material and methods employed in the university schools, about three years ago a series of conferences was begun between the teachers of the high school and of the later years of the elementary school. The material of the seventh and eighth grades and of the first year of the high school was gone over in detail. It was found at once that time was wasted in the repetition of work already done and in the failure to utilize fully some of the training already given in an earlier grade. These departmental conferences, including English, history, mathematics and modern languages, were continued at frequent intervals for a period of one or two years, and at less frequent intervals have become a part of the regular school procedure. They resulted in a thorough understanding, on the part of the teachers of both schools, of the content and method of the work of both the elementary and high schools, and made it possible for the eighth grade to enter the high school last autumn with more than half of the first year's work already accomplished and for the present seventh grade to enter the high school next autumn, thus fully eliminating the eighth grade.

In this connection it may be interesting to discuss somewhat in detail the steps taken to effect this readjustment in the different departments.

In modern languages, children have for many years begun either French or German in the fourth grade and have continued this during the remainder of the elementary school. There is no doubt that pupils at this age take up the study of a spoken foreign language with great interest and advantage. They do not take it up in the same way as it is usually taught to pupils of older years but by the end of the elementary-school course they have made very substantial progress in the use of the language in speaking, writing and understanding. We had been accustomed in the high school to carry these pupils forward in their chosen language in special classes, but they were given little substantial credit for their previous work and not infrequently found themselves before they had completed the high-school modern language courses, in the same classes as those who had begun their modern language work in the high school. The time spent in the elementary school in the study of French and German was, to some degree for all and to a very large degree for some, absolutely wasted. The modern language conferences resulted in modifications in the work and more particularly in the attitude of the teachers in both schools. Elementary teachers have been giving instruction this year in first-year high-school classes, and high-school teachers have come in frequent contact with the modern language work of the elementary school, and next year will conduct classes in the lower grades. The result has been that pupils from the elementary school will next year go on with the regular work of the second-year high-school classes in modern languages, equally well trained with the pupils who began their language work in the high school, and superior to them in their feeling for the language and in their ability to pronounce it accurately.

The adjustment in English was comparatively easy. It was found that here there was considerable unnecessary repetition of material. By eliminating this and securing definite progress at each point in the course it was found possible to promote the eighth grade directly into the second-year work in high-school English. The class thus promoted this year is proving one of the best of our divisions in second-year work.

In mathematics, as I have already indicated, there is likely to be much waste. By eliminating this much may be saved, but the most effective results in mathematics teaching can not be secured without recasting our material for the upper grades of the elementary and the earlier years of the high school. Much material from constructive geometry and the use of the equation in securing the value of the unknown quantity could be introduced into the grades naturally and with advantage to the pupil at the time, which would result in a considerable saving at the point at which formal algebra and geometry are taken up, with tremendous toll of failure, in the high school. In our own high school the material of the first two years has been thoroughly reorganized, interweaving elementary elgebra, plane geometry and some trigonometry, in a way to secure a more unified and sequential development of mathematical knowledge and power without the waste involved in the usual method of breaking this material up into the usual arbitrary divisions. While the introduction into the grades of the geometric and algebraic material referred to above has not been fully secured, we succeeded last year in giving our eighth grade fully one half of the first-year high-school mathematics. This year the eighth grade is taking the entire first-year high-school work in mathematics and in the monthly uniform tests which have been given to all our first-year mathematics classes, have every time stood well above the average of the regular high-school classes.

The elementary school, as already indicated, gives much attention to elementary science. In the high school a course in general science has been organized which is required of first-year pupils. It was found, on investigation, that this first-year science course was uninteresting and of little value to pupils of our own elementary school by reason of its repetitious nature. These pupils are now allowed to omit this course and take either in their first year or later some of the specialized science courses designed to follow the general introductory course.

A similar lack of coordination in manual training, in which our own elementary-school pupils took the same work as those who had had no previous manual training, has also been remedied.

By using whatever the pupils bring from the elementary school and building upon this their first work in the high school, we have secured a high degree of correlation between the work of the two schools, which has resulted in reducing to a minimum the shock of change from one school to the other. By reducing the amount of unnecessary reviewing and the repetition of material in successive years we have saved one year from the elementary school without undue forcing of pupils, without loss of anything of value, and with positive gain in the mental attitude and habits of the pupils.

It is probably neither possible nor desirable to save still further time from the elementary school. There remains for us to consider the period of secondary education. It should be observed at the outset that the four-year high-school course does not represent the actual range of secondary education either as regards the natural development of the pupil or as regards the material and method of instruction. Most of the work of the first and much of that of the second year in college is secondary, both in content and method. In earlier times when the range of subjects taught in high schools and academies was small and the college requirements were few in number and specific in content, the student on entering college continued in the same subjects and from the same point at which his work had ended in the lower school. But with the greatly expanded scope of high-school courses and the corresponding increase in the range of subjects accepted for admission to college, it has become necessary for the college to offer elementary courses in almost every subject of the curriculum. We find in college beginning courses in Greek, French, and German, and in Latin the courses corresponding to the second and third year of the high school; elementary courses in all sciences; in mathematics one half the courses offered in any first-class high school; and in history a repetition of most or all the work of the high school.

The practise of colleges to admit students with conditions sometimes equivalent to a year or even more of high-school work indicates the acceptance on the part of the college faculties of the fact that the first year or more of the college course is concerned with secondary work. The latest statistics of the colleges and universities of the North Central Association illustrates this.

This table shows that of the seventy-three institutions on the list of

Units Required No Conditions Allowed One Condition Allowed One and One Half Conditions Two Conditions Allowed Three Conditions Allowed No Rule Total
14 1 0 1 1 0 0 3
15 4 19 8 27 5 2 65
16 0 0 0 2 2 1 5

the association, although all but three require fifteen or more units for admission, in only four are fifteen units actually required, while twenty-two admit students with fourteen units; eight with thirteen and one half units; twenty-nine with thirteen units; one with twelve and one half units; and six with twelve units. If this represents the practise of the stronger colleges of the Middle West, it must be true that many institutions are admitting students with even less units of preparation.

The importance of economy of time in education has long been recognized by representatives of the higher institutions. A notable discussion of this subject from the point of view of the university is found in the proceedings of the National Educational Association for 1903, participated in by Ex-Commissioner Brown, Presidents Eliot, Butler, Harper, Dean West, and others. President Eliot urged that the boy be prepared to enter college at eighteen and that the college course be reduced to three years. A saving of two years was to be secured not by reducing the content, but "by better organization of the whole course of education from the beginning to the end, by better methods of teaching, and by large and early freedom of choice among different studies." At Harvard it has become possible for the abler and more diligent students to secure the baccalaureate degree in three years by accomplishing in that time the work formerly done in four years by all students receiving the degree. President Butler, insisting upon the importance of preserving the integrity of the college, urged that the student should be prepared to enter college at the age of seventeen, or in some cases at sixteen. To preserve the college he proposed "to fix and enforce a standard of admission which can be met normally by a combined elementary and secondary-school course of not more than ten years well spent and to keep out of the baccalaureate course purely professional subjects pursued for professional ends by professional methods." For students intending to pursue professional courses later, however, he regards the four-year college course too long. "Pedagogs," he says, "suppose that the more time a boy spends in school and college the better; educators know the contrary." "There should be," he continued, "a college course two years in length, carefully considered as a thing by itself and not merely the first part of a three-year or a four-year course, which will enable intending professional students to spend this time as advantageously as possible in purely liberal studies." This principle has been successfully carried out in many of our universities. President Harper also regarded it as important to preserve the four-year college course, but thought sixteen or seventeen the desirable age for entering college.

From an investigation on the "Changes in the Age of College Graduation" published in the Report of the Commissioner of Education for 1902, the author, W. Scott Thomas, proposes three possible means of reducing the period of education:

First, cut off one year from the college course, without lowering the entrance requirements; secondly, in view of the far greater efficiency of the secondary school, reduce the entrance requirements to college, and retaining the four year's course, permit the boy to enter college a year younger; thirdly, drop one year from the college course, increase the length of the actual weeks of residence and instruction to thirty-eight or forty, and endeavor to disabuse the mind of the average collegian of the belief that college is a place to dawdle and loaf four years for the sake of a degree that he does not earn, but which he generally gets just the same.

The discussion has recently been resumed by President Judson of the University of Chicago. It is fair to interpret his laconic statement that "The best thing to do with the freshman year is to abolish it" as meaning that the period of secondary instruction should be reduced by one year. Whether this be done by shortening the periods now administered by the high school or the college is of less importance.

The problem is clearly stated: assuming that two years must be eliminated from the period of elementary and secondary education, find the years. It is plain that this can be done only by a careful study of the material and methods employed and a reorganization of the work of the period involved. It is a study involving not only the twelve years which have preceded the college course, but also the earlier part of the college course itself. Having found it possible to eliminate one year from the elementary school, the problem is reduced one half. I am confident that conferences of high-school and college teachers in foreign languages, English, mathematics, history and science, going over the materials and methods of secondary work in the same careful manner employed by the departments in the university schools above described, could easily eliminate a year by the avoidance of duplication and closer coordination of courses.

In the matter of foreign languages all will agree that it is much better for the elementary work to be done in the high school. In fact, there is abundant evidence m the practise of European countries and in some schools in this country that the study of foreign language may be begun advantageously before the high-school age. With improved methods in the high school and better correlation between high school and college, it should be possible for students to complete the elementary work in foreign language and either drop the study on entering college or go on with more advanced work without the repetition of any work already done. Against the elimination of elementary work in foreign language in college it may be urged that with the great variety of subjects included in the high-school curriculum many students will complete their high-school courses without foreign languages, and as colleges require a certain amount of foreign language of all candidates for a degree, they must either offer elementary courses or throw the student back upon the high school for a still longer period of preparation. But as the student who goes to college must either present foreign language for entrance or take it up on entering college, it would be altogether to his advantage to induce him to take it up in the high school. And this could in most cases be accomplished, particularly if he could know that it would result in the saving of time.

As for English, it is a recognized fact that the first college courses in composition and literature are of an elementary character, quite within the reach of the high school to accomplish in the time now devoted to the study. This as recognized by the practise of some colleges which allow the better trained pupils credit for these courses on proving by examination, and in some cases by the recommendation of their high-school instructors, that they are competent to go on with more advanced work. First-class high schools are able to give the preparation required for the present college courses in three years. A great gain would be made in training high-school pupils in the effective use of the vernacular both in speaking and writing, if not only the teachers of English, but those of all subjects, would come to share in this training. At present the pupil feels that high standards of form are required only in the English class rooms. If in history, science and other subjects, the same standards of form in the notes and papers and in spoken language were required as in the English classes, our students would be better prepared for college in less time than is now devoted to the work. Many papers required in other departments might also be used to meet the requirement for written work in English, thus saving time which the pupil devotes to the preparation of themes used by the English teacher alone.

In science, the preparation at present required by colleges is doubtless of a more specialized form than our high schools can profitably give to the large number of pupils who will never enter college. It should be possible, however, to organize courses in high school of the highest value to the students as a training in the materials and method of science, which could also form the basis for further work in college without going over again the same ground covered in the high school. High-school science would be more profitable in itself as well as for college preparation if the various courses in the high school were organized in a more unified and progressive sequence. Their value as preparation for further courses in college would be greatly enhanced if college teachers could become well acquainted with the aim and method of high-school science.

The situation in history may be described as similar to that of the sciences. Of both history and science, it may rightly be said that some and often all the work of a student has been taken in the earlier years of the high school when he was too immature to pursue the subject in any other than a most elementary manner. In this case repetition is not only necessary, but desirable, if the student is to take up these subjects in college. Repetition is not necessarily wasteful if it be from a different point of view and for the sake of developing more advanced work. But elementary college courses in which pupils who have already covered the same ground in high school are taught together with those who have had no previous training in the subject force the conclusion that the time spent in either the high school or the college is wasted.

If our colleges are to continue to offer in their various departments elementary work which may be as well done in the high school, economy of time might be secured by allowing high-grade students credit for a certain amount of this work, even though they had already been allowed admission credit for the same work. Given a certain minimum of required work involving continuity, say ten units in four subjects with not less than two in any one, the likelihood of success in college depends more upon a student's ability and habits of work than upon his presentation of any fixed number of additional units. A study of the records made in the Harvard Medical and Law Schools by graduates of Harvard College, published by President Lowell in the Educational Review (1912), showed that the quality of work in these professional schools corresponded very closely with the work done by the same student in college and was influenced very little by the type of courses pursued during his college course.

There is no doubt that a student entering college with thirteen units secured with a high grade is better fitted for a successful college course than one entering with fifteen units secured with a low grade. A very serious obstacle to efficiency in high-school work is found in the lack of incentive offered to able pupils to do their best. Most of the administrative machinery of our schools and much of the teaching energy are spent in an effort to lift the indifferent and incompetent over the barrier of a passing grade, while the able or exceptional pupil is allowed to acquire the habit of being satisfied with attainment far below his capacities. In most schools it is not regarded as good form to secure high grades. The "gentleman's grade" has come to be recognized as well below the median. Distinctions resulting from good scholastic records are usually petty and unsubstantial and make small appeal to students in general. The position of valedictorian is not held in sufficient esteem to induce many boys and girls to pay the price of four years of. hard study. A few schools have adopted the plan of giving extra credit for high grades. In the university high school we give 1.2 units for a year's work with a grade of A, 1.1 units for a grade of B, 1 unit for a grade of C, and.9 unit for a grade of D. A substantial reward is thus secured for excellent work and a corresponding loss for work of low grade. We have observed a steady improvement in the quality of our work since the adoption of this system of awarding credit. Several students will be graduated in June who would not otherwise be able to do so, exceptional students having secured in two years since the adoption of the plan two full units of excess credit. What attitude the college will take toward such cases I do not know, but I am convinced that this student with only thirteen units on the usual basis for reckoning admission credits is by all means the best prepared student in the entire class. With the rapidly growing tendency for college authorities to place the responsibility for the decision as to the fitness of pupils to enter college upon the high school, I see no reason why students should not be accepted from properly accredited schools a limited part of whose credits have been given because of exceptionally good work.

Another means for increasing the efficiency of school work is in the improvement of class-room methods. One of the most frequently reiterated complaints made by high-school and college teachers is that our pupils do not know how to study. They certainly do not in most cases, and those who do have not consciously been taught the art by their teachers. Each teacher who makes the complaint lays the fault upon the teachers in the grades below and recognizes no responsibility on his own part for teaching this neglected lesson. The teacher of Cæsar thinks it so important to get his pupils through the four books which long tradition has assigned to his year's work, that he has no time to lose in teaching his pupils how to study. Let those who can not keep the pace fall by the wayside! And the dead scattered along the road each year are as numerous as those who fell in the most sanguinary of Cæsar's campaigns in Gaul. The usual practise of daily assignments of home work to be done under varying and often most unfavorable conditions, followed by a period spent in an ineffectual attempt to secure anything approaching an adequate and coherent recitation of the day's assignment, affords little incentive to the bright pupil and little training to the dull one. The method is most ineffectual so far as the mastery of the immediate material is concerned[2] and breeds slipshod, if not dishonest, habits of work and of thinking. Some valuable experiments have been made recently, showing that without any home study at all, by devoting the class period to careful teaching followed by work under the direction and supervision of the teacher, more actual ground can be covered and better results secured at the end of a given time, than under the usual recitation method. This method has been employed in Latin in several New Hampshire schools, in which the classes have covered in three years the amount of work usually done in four, and the fourth year has been given to the reading of college authors in an amount and with a facility which is surprising. And all this has been done with much less than the usual elimination of pupils by failure. When teachers of the upper years of the elementary school and the first year of the high school come to realize that it is more important that pupils learn right habits of work than that they get through a certain number of pages in a text-book we shall find that the actual accomplishments measured in material mastered will be greater, that school work will be done with far greater zest, and, what is more valuable, that the pupils will have acquired methods of study which will greatly increase their efficiency in the more advanced work of later years. It is this method of teaching instead of hearing recitations which, more than any other single cause, characterizes the work of the German schools and makes possible the greater accomplishment during the period of secondary education.

Our present school day and year could be considerably lengthened with great gain in efficiency and without danger of overtaxing the pupil's strength. Much recreational and occupational activity has been added to the work of the school without any corresponding addition to the time spent in school. With the greater variety and interest secured by improved methods of teaching, and with much less work assigned for home study, a longer day would add greatly to the pupil's attainment in a given number of weeks. If, in addition, the long period of vacation with its accompanying dissipation of the results already secured, could be reduced, it is not unreasonable to expect that three years would be sufficient for the accomplishment of what is now done in four. The large number of pupils who now voluntarily attend vacation schools in our large cities suggests the conclusion that many students would welcome such an extension of the school year.

To summarize this discussion briefly. Waste in our elementary and secondary education is due chiefly to: (1) a lack of coordination between the separate parts of our school organization; (2) to the lack of training of teachers; and (3) to the short tenure of position of teachers. A remedy may be sought in: (1) a readjustment of our school organization; (2) in the elimination of unnecessary reviews and repetitions; (3) in improved methods of instruction; (4) by furnishing substantial incentive to better work on the part of the pupils; (5) and by lengthening the amount of time given to instruction during the school year.

Any effective treatment of the problem will depend upon the recognition of the fact that we are dealing with a unified process extending through the entire period of elementary and secondary education. The problem can be solved only when teachers employed at every point in the process, including the instructors in the early years of the college course, devote serious attention, not merely to the small sphere of their immediate activity, but to the materials and method of the entire period involved.

  1. Harry Pratt Judson, "Waste in Education Curricula," School Review, Vol. 20, page 435.
  2. See the article "Teaching High School Pupils How to Study," by Ernst R. Breslict in the School Review XX: 505-15.