May/June 2000 | Volume 51, Issue 3
James Conant’s well-publicized campaign for comprehensive high schools. In 1959, aided by a large grant from the Carnegie Corporation, Conant, a former president of Harvard University, wrote The American High School Today . He recommended eliminating small schools and tracking students into different programs on the basis of their ability. Not only was the book widely hailed and a number one bestseller, but Conant got a cover story in Time . Today Americans are trying to figure out how to downsize the educational factories bequeathed to us since Conant, how to cut these huge institutions back to human scale so that the adults know who the kids are.
What was known in the 1920s and 1930s as the Winnetka program. The superintendent of the Winnetka Public Schools, Carleton Washburne, got his teachers to develop individualized learning programs so that every student got the instruction he or she needed to succeed. Washburne was a progressive educator, but his successful program disappeared because it was too academic for the progressives of that era.