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The Evolution of the High School in America


by Joseph Murphy — 2016

The narrative in this article runs as follows. As the political, social, and economic environments that surround the American high school undergo seismic shifts, they create new forms of secondary education. We report that the environmental conditions between 1890 and 1920 were such that most of the pillars that anchored the American high school prior to the 20th century were swept away. New scaffolding for how classrooms should function, how schools should be organized and managed, and how the school–community relationship should be defined was constructed. By the early part of the 20th century, the high schools the nation had known for the previous three centuries were mostly gone. Over the 30 years, the social, economic, and political environments that envelop education have begun to reshape the American high school once again. Pressures accompanying the evolution to a post-industrial economy have introduced new understandings of what society expects from its secondary schools. Political and social revolutions are also pushing the high school toward fundamental changes. The biblical aura of the 20th century organizational and management playbooks for high schools are being rewritten under an onslaught of post-professional, post-public monopoly views of schools, how they work, and how they need to be shepherded to success.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 13, 2016, p. 1-18
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 20555, Date Accessed: 12/12/2017 6:52:20 PM

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About the Author
  • Joseph Murphy
    Vanderbilt University
    JOSEPH MURPHY is the Frank W. Mayborn Chair at Vanderbilt University. His research is in the area of school improvement. His most recent book is Creating Productive Culture in Schools (with Daniela Torre).
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