• Chapter 6 1909-1932: The Age of Uniformity and the Battle Between Old School and Progressive Educators

    The hallmarks of this era are defined by:

    1) the expansion of high schools

    2) standardization in coursework

    3) teacher training and certification

    4) compulsory attendance

    5)administrative supervision.  

    Improvement in transportation enabled school consolidation, which in turn, facilitated the implementation of uniformity.  Characteristic of cultural change and transition, those who rode the wave of progress butted heads with traditionalists. It was no different in education.  American society was changing. In 1917, the nation stepped onto the world stage with its entrance into WWI,thereby emerging as an upcoming world power.

    Simultaneously, the country would  be wracked by a global economic crisis --West Virginia feeling its impact earlier than the rest of the nation as coal prices dropped and mines shut down.  Additionally, this era witnessed the peak of the oil and gas industry, and in its subsequent downturn, correlated with a retreat of population from the area.  In the 1910 census, the population of Wetzel County peaked at 23,855 and continued to decline through much of the 20th century.   During this era, all these developments contributed to  changes in education..

    High schools and compulsory education

    The expansion of high schools across the state is often seen as the “most important development” of this time.  During the 1907-1908 school year, 79 high schools dotted the state.  Of those, graduates from only twelve were admitted, unequivocally, to West Virginia University.  Due in part to a misunderstanding regarding the purpose of high school work, the standards practiced at most  lacked higher education admission prerequisites. Some advocated vocational education, while others believed high schools should be preparatory schools for university.    

    In 1908, the legislature passed a law facilitating the establishment of high schools in those communities with schools containing four or more rooms.  The 1908 law, and subsequent compulsory education laws, led to a rapid expansion of the number of high schools throughout the state.  After WWI the state boasted 164 high schools. Enrollment in high school jumped from 4,900 in 1909-10 to 18,512 in 1919-20.  Comparatively, West Virginia ranked low, 43rd in the nation, for high school enrollment. This was due in part to the state's child labor laws, some of the most lax in the nation, where many children were already working before  reaching high school age. Prior to 1908, the law prohibited children younger than fourteen from working during school terms. However, the law was flagrantly violated.  The “New School Code” of 1908 raised the age to fifteen.  In 1911, an additional law required fourteen to sixteen year olds to seek a superintendent’s permission to be excused from regular attendance.  Even after passage of these laws, the difficulty persisted in keeping children in school, especially boys.  In 1919-1920, this would manifeste as a high school gender gap in attendance, as low as 4.9 boys answering the roll to every ten girls.

    With the outbreak of war, a new movement swept across the nation -- Americanization.  Schools were utilized to indoctrinate the populous with American ideals. In 1917, the legislature passed laws to establish night schools, requiring all working 14-16 year olds to attend.  After WWI, the legislature readdressed compulsory education laws, subsequently recording an attendance increase by 37,000 the following year. The trend continued into WWII.

    With high schools continuing to be erected, the creation of a separate bureaucracy -- the Division of High Schools within the Department of Education -- emerged to manage them.  At its helm would be the office of a state supervisor of high schools whose main responsibility would be to advise local boards in establishing new high schools. By 1911, these new schools were ranked according to first, second or third class status (dependent upon the number of years of work offered, i.e. two or three years)  But perhaps the most important job of the state supervisor was the role in establishing a standardized course of study at the high school level.   This would prove to be essential for statewide conformity in education and was not limited to merely the high school level.  

    Graded Course of Study

    During the previous era of transition the graded course of study was developed (refer to Alex L. Wade’s work in the previous chapter).  Nevertheless, implementation was slow and spotty, particularly in the more rural areas. In 1908, with the establishment of a state board of education , the administrative apparatus was now in place to push for statewide curricular uniformity across all levels of education.  Additionally, the legislature mandated this board to create a uniform course of instruction.  Previously employed elementary manuals would now be revised. Up to this point, a high school curriculum had never been drafted. After convening in committee to revise the primary curriculum, a decision was made to create one for the high school curriculum. In 1910,the result would be a State Board publication: “A Manual Containing the Graded Course of Study for the Elementary and High Schools of West Virginia.”

    The elementary manual was specifically geared towards -- though not limited to -- rural, single teacher, one-room schoolhouses.  It outlined a suggested daily program of instruction with classes broken into grades 1-3, 4-6, and 7-8 (See Appendix L). The manual also presented an outline of studies, prescribing particular subjects per grade level, further broken into specific content for each subject per grade level.  Additionally, maximum and minimum achievement standards were prescribed for classification and promotion of students.

    The Board created the high school course as a “tentative” program, knowing it would need to be “revised” through trial and error.  Additionally, the manual set standards for admissions and graduation requirements for both two, three and four-year high schools. The curriculum would include English, History, Science, Foreign Languages, Industrial and Commercial Arts, and Art.  At this point, it  included both collegiate preparatory classes and vocational studies, posturing the aim of the high school curriculum  to prepare students culturally and vocationally for adulthood.

    By 1912, in separate elementary and high school manuals, the Board issued revised guidelines and continued to keep the manuals separate thenceforth. The 1912 manuals featured increased detail in the curriculum requirements and schedules (See Appendix M).  The manuals basically “extended [the] directions and suggestions” of the 1909 manual.   The high school manual added courses such as music, drawing, and typewriting.  

    By WWI, and shortly thereafter, public sentiment began to change on what role high schools should play in educating older children.  Pressure increased to move away from pre-collegiate work to more vocational education. In 1917, the legislature passed the Smith-Hughes act, thus expanding vocational education.  Latin was replaced with modern foreign languages like Spanish and French (German fell out of favor during WWI). But by 1921 the release of the new “Course of Study for Junior and Senior High Schools” witnessed the contraction of foreign languages, higher mathematics, music and art, and subsequent expansion of offerings in home economics and industrial arts classes.

    The shift from the role of high school as a college preparatory institution to one of a vocational training center was most pronounced during this time.  The struggle between the Old School traditionalists and Progressive educators reached an apex during this time. The former aspired high schools to develop into the bridge between elementary public schools and the University.  The latter longed to see high schools become the vocational training grounds for the masses, to cut truancy, and put an end to child labor.  

    In the end, the Progressive educators proved victorious in the battle over curriculum. Regardless, in 1927, the state would adopt another high school course of study which would embed vocational courses throughout the curricular years, with “more simple” and generalized curriculum throughout to meet the needs of a larger attendance group.  While these moves facilitated the rise in high school attendance, they also lowered the standards of curriculum for those who wished to seek higher education.  On the flip side, these changes helped facilitate the consolidation of rural districts by increasing the number of children who now saw high school as more accessible and palatable to their needs.  



    In 1908, during a special session of the legislature, a law was passed which began the process of consolidation of schools.  The statute said,

    Boards of education may, upon the petition in writing of seventy-five per cent of the voters of the sub-district affected, abolish and sub-district and consolidate the school or schools therein with the school or schools of one or more other sub-districts, and provide for the conveyance of pupils to and from school at public expense under such rules and regulations as they may prescribe.

    In the 1909-1910 biennial report the state superintendent lists 19 reasons to favor consolidation when possible.  Included are better administrative supervision at all levels, better teachers with specified training, longer terms, better facilities, greater class choice,  improved roads, better attendance, and lower operational costs.  In 1908, just after the law’s passage, the first consolidations were facilitated with transportation by horse drawn buggies.  Nevertheless, consolidation took a while to gain traction. In 1910, only 93 rural schools-- out of 6,674 statewide-- had been exchanged for 52 new graded schools, with anywhere from two to twelve rooms.  By 1916 there seemed to be a shift in the pace of consolidation. By then, 300 rural schools had been closed throughout the state, thus making consolidation a movement in and of itself. This was facilitated in part by another act of the legislature  allowing boards to consolidate without first getting 75 per cent voter approval. Even though WWI led to a pause in consolidation, it was renewed in 1919 and was expedited with the construction of more and better roads.

    Teacher training and certification

    Just as there was contention between Old School and Progressive educators concerning curriculum at the high school level, so too concerning the training and certification of teachers.  Traditionalists believed the focus should remain on rote memorization, “discipline, character, and scholarship.”  They praised the rigor of the examinations to have whittled away unqualified teachers, ranking people according to their cognitive ability.  Progressive teachers endeavored to focus on teaching methods, to insist on training in pedagogy rather than brutal exams -- the latter’s focus  on content, the former’s on classroom management.  

    Eventually, the Old School teachers would lose this battle.  The system moved away from the “rigid” examinations to a methodology based upon famous educational philosophers, such as John Dewey and others who believed in the development of critical thought instead of memorization of facts.  There were casualties in this transition, including examinations, graded certifications, and county teacher institutes.  

    In 1908, the legislature changed the way certifications were granted, the trend being a shift from exams and classes of certifications.  Teachers could now get certified without having to take an examination. The new requirement would be a degree from state normal schools and university.  Additionally, that same year, the legislature authorized the issuance of separate high school and primary certifications. As par with the 1908 law in establishing high schools and curriculum, the legislature pushed for certification for  high school course work. By 1911, the legislature began authorizing emergency certificates to help fill vacancies. By 1915, certificates were issued to teachers who had graduated from teacher training high schools and had completed a “short course” at a state normal school.  Also that same year certificates were issued for specific subjects at the high school level.  The trend was to abolish the graded school certificates, class 1, 2, and 3, which were reliant on the examination process.  By 1921, the name of the person in charge of certification changed from the “supervisor of examination” to “supervisor of teacher-training,” a telltale that the reliance on test scores was on its way out in the certification process.   

    In 1921, the state department of education issued a teacher-training course manual  This circular lays out a program of teacher certification that relies heavily,  not on content training, but on teaching methods-training, . In fact, the bulk of the course work is in methods and management, as well as classroom experience, an aggregative calculation of semester hours.  In contrast, academic coursework was whittled down to units or half-units.  But this manual only added to the various means by which a teacher could become certified.  The process of attaining certification was a hodgepodge of examinations, course curriculums at high school and state normals, emergency certifications, and university degrees. By the end of the decade a new program for teaching certification, one which attempted to create a uniform singular system of certification across the state, was debuted.  This system focused on teacher training. It was ineffective, leaving open various avenues to gain certification.


    Changes in administration

    As mentioned in the previous chapter, in 1908 the state legislature created the six-member State Board of Education .  This entity took over the role of the state board of examiners and was given the mandate to create courses of study for all levels of education.  Eventually it would take over the duties of the Board of Regents, the State Book Commission, and the Vocational Board. By the 1920s it had control of all school policy, teacher certifications, curriculum, establishment of new schools and textbook approvals.  

    The state board of education realized  the weakest link in the education system:   the lack of effective supervision in rural school districts.  These areas often suffered from high teacher turnover and underqualified teachers.  In 1910, counties began employing rural district supervisors. Additionally, the legislature created a position: state supervisor of rural schools.  By 1915, district supervisors were required to have certification among other qualifications. Because of the increased popularity of district supervisors, the legislature legally authorized the employment of district supervisors in addition to expanding their role as  executive officer of district boards. However, by 1927, the district supervisors had fallen out of favor.

    In their place, county superintendents gained more power.  By the end of the era, since more power had been vested in them, county superintendents were required to hold special certification to hold their positions.  Trustees, who had much power in the previous era, were now confined to very limited powers equivalent to a building custodian. Many people were apprehensive of the growing power of supers and wished that power would be vested in a district board with all counties being consolidated into a district system.  We will see that their wishes would come true, not so much because of general consensus, but rather due to economic necessity.   


    Ambler, Charles H. A History of Education in West Virginia: From Early Colonial Times to 1949. Huntington:  Standard Printing & Publishing Company.  1951.

    Biennial report 1908/1910 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.31951000849119z;view=1up;seq=105 Accessed 4.3.19.

    “Biennial report 1918/1920, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.319510008491246;view=1up;seq=30 Accessed 4.3.19.

    Clopper, E.N. “Pamphlet No. 86, National Child Labor Committee.” Child Labor in West Virginia. 1908. http://www.wvculture.org/hiStory/labor/childlabor05.html Accessed 4.3.19.

    Forstall, Richard L., “West Virginia, Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900-1999” https://www.census.gov/population/cencounts/wv190090.txt Accessed 4.3.19.

    Educational Directory of 1907-1908,  https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015062335305;view=1up;seq=10 Accessed 4.3.19

    Marsh, J.F., “Circular of Information Concerning the Teacher Training Course in High Schools and Issuance of State Certificates to Graduates of Private and Denominational Schools of West Virginia.” The State Board of Education. 1921.  https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t8df7h110;view=1up;seq=5 Accessed 4.4.19.

    Rice, Otis K. and Stephen W. Brown. West Virginia: A History. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.1993.

    Shawkey, M.P., “Biennial Report of the State Superintendent of Free Schools of West Virginia for the Two Years Ending June 30, 1910.” Charleston: The News-Mail Company. 1910. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015062794717;view=1up;seq=155 . Accessed 4.28.19.

    Shawkey, “A Manual Containing the Graded Course of Study for the Elementary and High Schools of West Virginia.” West Virginia Board of Education.  1909. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112069125349;view=1up;seq=99 Accessed 4.4.19.

    Shawkey, M.P. “A Manual Containing the Courses of Study for the High Schools of West Virginia,” West Virginia Board of Education. 1912 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiuo.ark:/13960/t7hr05d9r;view=1up;seq=5 Accessed 4.4.19;