Bringing Organization to US Education: Late 19th to Early 20th Century

By the dawn of the 20th century, education, particularly completing primary education, was a norm. Due to the growth in education, there was a corresponding expansion in the courses taught. However, there was no unifying hand over schools or curriculum.

The lack of coordination over education led to problems. The amount of time needed for a class was different from place to place. A student would be placed in different grades depending on where they enrolled. Lastly, the courses offered were focused on a classical tradition even though few went on to college (this last problem was exacerbated not solved).

With the confusion came a push for reform. In order to bring change, several influential committees were formed in the early 20th to bring order to the chaos of education. The major committees include

  1. The Committee of Fifteen
  2. The Committee of Ten
  3. The Committee on College Entrance Requirements

The Committee of Fifteen

The Committee of Fifteen was not so much a committee om reformation as it was a counter-reformation committee. This committee rejected adding additional courses, focusing on children needs, and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching.

Instead, the Committee of Fifteen supported a support for the three R’s, and separate subjects. In terms of change they did support reducing elementary school from grade K-10 to K-8, and including manual training starting in grade 7.

The Committee of Fifteen put breaks on change but did not stop it. With other committees arose the push for more reform.

The Committee of Ten

The Committee of Ten brought strong, but conservative, change to education. They recommended nine academic subjects covering language, math, history, and science. They also recommended having several different tracks that students can study on depending on their goals.The tracks were classical, science and or language focused.

The Committee of Ten ignored the humanities (art, music, etc,), PE, and even vocational education believing that these subjects did not benefit the mind. The overall purpose of the curriculum was still college preparation. The impact of this committee can be seen in how secondary schools still focus on college preparation.

The Committee on College Entrance Requirements

The Committee on College Entrance Requirements simply reaffirmed what the Committee of Ten proposed. They also proposed the number of credits students should earn for particular subjects if they want to go to college.

The biggest contribution of this committee was the development of the “Carnegie Unit” which was in response to the credit hour proposal of the committee. Seat time in class was now a measure of knowledge of a subject. This idea has worked for over 90 years but is now being criticized as seat time does not lead necessarily to mastery.


Rapid growth led to a need for rapid organizations. The committees mentioned in this piece have had a tremendous impact on secondary education in the US. For most, going to high school is preparation for going to college. This mindset is due to these committees that met in the late 19th century.

The focus on college preparation may be due to the fact that these committees were lead by college-educated scholars whose passion was naturally the training of the mind. This singular focused has made education one-dimensional to this day. Whenever pushing for change in curriculum, the team needs to have a mixture of personalities and abilities to produce a balanced system. This was missing from these great committees. They had a great vision that applied strictly to a minority of the population.

2 thoughts on “Bringing Organization to US Education: Late 19th to Early 20th Century

  1. Pingback: Bringing Organization to US Education: Late 19t...

  2. Pingback: William Kilpatrick: The Project Method | educationalresearchtechniques

Leave a Reply