Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


The Eight Year Study Begins

In October of 1930, the Progressive Education Association established the Commission on the Relation of School to College, placing Wilford M. Aiken as chair of what would be the most comprehensive study in the history of the curriculum field. The purpose of the Commission was to engage in long-term studies of the relevance of high school curriculum and education and its impact on success or failure in college admissions and success. Up until this point, colleges and universities required a strict adherence to a "traditional" curriculum couched in the study of the canon and disciplinary approaches to the sciences and mathematics. Beginning with a pilot study of eighteen high schools in 1930, the Commission found that the "relevancy" of the traditional high school curriculum was questionable, that student-centeredness was absent in pedagogical approaches, that there was a lacking vitality and significance in the curriculum, and that high school education was marked by purposelessness. With this in mind, the Commission set out to make changes in the curriculum, but first it had to show that the entrance requirements for college admissions and success were not inherently linked to academic success.

By 1932, the Commission found 300 colleges and universities who were willing to work with the study. These institutions agreed to admit high school students participating in the eight year study and waive the strict curricular entrance requirements. Several high schools across the United States, representing public and private institutions, large and small student bodies, and schools servicing different sectors of the country applied to participate in the study. By 1933, curriculum revision had taken place in all of the schools.

The Director of Research for the Evaluation Staff for the Eight-Year Study was Ralph W. Tyler. In later years, Tyler's work would make some of the most profound impacts on the field of curriculum in the century with the publication of Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (1949). Tyler was a staunch advocate of the scientific study of education.

Although none of the students who participated in the Eight-Year Study went on to make a profound impact on the colleges or universities they attended, and although the findings of the Eight- Year Study were hardly revolutionary, some of them were indeed significant. First and foremost, the Eight-Year Study determined that college success is not predetermined by high-school curriculum requirements. Secondly, students at more experimental schools tended to perform more highly than less experimental schools--despite such hardships as economic poverty. Also, the Eight-Year Study found that integrative approaches to the curriculum--rather than breaking it down into disciplines--produced highly favorable results. In the end, however, the Eight-Year Study fell in the shadow of World War II, and its outcomes and impact were minimal.


Pinar, W., Reynolds, W., Slattery, P., and Taubman, P. (Eds.) (1995). Understanding Curriculum.. New York: Peter Lang.

Prepared by Alison Kreider (UCLA)

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