Whatever Happened To the Dalton Plan?

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

When, where, and why did the Dalton Plan arise?

Begin with Helen Parkhurst. A 20th century educator much taken with the Progressive approach to schooling, she designed the Dalton Plan after World War I as a way of organizing instruction consistent with Maria Montessori’s and John Dewey’s ideas of individualizing all academic work and building school community. The core of the Plan was students making contracts with their teachers to study and learn content and skills.

Deeply concerned by the grouping and lock-step movement of children and youth in American schools, Parkhurst sought to reorganize classroom work so that teachers would be able to convert traditional age-graded schools and classrooms where whole-group teaching, 55-minute periods, textbooks, and tests prevailed into laboratories where individual students contracted with their teachers to work on topics that interested them. Students then would have to make decisions on what to study when, finishing assignments…

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