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Supervised Correspondence Study for High School Pupils

by H. Z. Wooden & Paul R. Mort - 1929

There has been no study that has brought out the inadequacy of the small high school more clearly than the study made by Dr. John Rufi[1] of certain high schools in Pennsylvania. This study provides a challenge to school people to make those adaptations in school organization which will correct a most unsatisfactory situation. Here and there over the country experiments are cropping up which offer great promise for correcting this situation. Familiarity with the new individual-instruction techniques is leading school administrators to devise ways and means of using them to advantage.


There has been no study that has brought out the inadequacy of the small high school more clearly than the study made by Dr. John Rufi[1] of certain high schools in Pennsylvania. This study provides a challenge to school people to make those adaptations in school organization which will correct a most unsatisfactory situation. Here and there over the country experiments are cropping up which offer great promise for correcting this situation. Familiarity with the new individual-instruction techniques is leading school administrators to devise ways and means of using them to advantage.

A most promising step in the employment of these techniques is the use of correspondence courses developed by colleges and universities and correspondence schools. The writer has found such courses in use in small high schools and in small continuation schools. The purpose has generally been that of offering to boys and girls courses which otherwise could not be offered by the small school. In many cases there was no interest in the use of these courses for college entrance. There was therefore no limitation placed upon the school in choosing its source of materials.

One of the most outstanding experiments along this line is the well-known Benton Harbor plan, developed by Superintendent S. C. Mitchell of Benton Harbor, Michigan. The primary purpose of the Benton Harbor plan is to provide vocational training both for high school pupils and for citizens of the community. In the case of the pupils it supplements but is not substituted for the regular high school work. The Benton Harbor schools have a cooperative arrangement worked out with the American School of Chicago, the International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the Meyer Both Company, a school of Commercial Art of Chicago. This relationship adds over two hundred possible courses of a vocational nature to the average high school curriculum, the completion of any one of which grants to the pupil a special diploma from the correspondence school.

Superintendent Wooden, in conjunction with his high school principal, Mr. R. V. Goodrich, developed a somewhat similar experiment in enlarging the scope of the existing high school curriculum. One of the purposes which Mr. Wooden wished to serve was that of providing additional courses which could be counted toward college entrance. In this he first found some difficulty with the State Department of Public Instruction. After further development of this plan, however, the State Department of Public Instruction endorsed the experiment by permitting supervised correspondence study, both academic and vocational, for credit toward high school graduation. The plan now includes a list of more than one hundred possible semesters of work chosen from the correspondence study departments of Chicago, Columbia, Indiana, and Wisconsin Universities.

When one considers the steps along this line that have been taken by state authorities in some countries, notably Australia and New Zealand, one marvels at the fact that this type of activity has not long since become a major function of state departments of education.

Supervised correspondence study for high school pupils in Butler, Indiana

It is a universally accepted axiom of American education that one of the major purposes of the modern high school is to meet the needs and interests of its boys and girls. The larger city high schools have been able to realize in a rather extensive measure this fundamental ideal and purpose, but with the smaller communities nothing comparable to an approach to the solution of individual differences has long been in existence either in theory or practice. The fact that the vast majority of the high schools of the United States are really small high schools adds significance to the problem. The average small high school, regardless of its educational philosophy, is actually preparing its pupils with an educational equipment designed for use in college. If equivalent educational opportunity is ever to be realized the small high school must appreciably enlarge and enrich its curriculum. This new curriculum must provide for all pupils an educational background which will fit them for their future environment as effectively as its present curriculum now fits a limited number for the colleges and universities.

The attempt to meet the needs and interests of all the boys and girls of a small community presents a real financial problem. It must be done without very materially increasing the teaching staff, the size of the school plant, or the amount of equipment. At the same time it must provide for the interests of any one pupil regardless of whether or not any other pupil in the school has like interests. In view of the fact that thousands of men, women, boys, and girls are enrolled in correspondence study through various colleges, universities, and private correspondence schools this field commands our attention as a possible solution.

With very little study it is at once recognized that correspondence study is in no wise prohibitive. In fact the per capita cost is often less than that of many courses now being offered in the high school. It can be administered easily, leaving only in question its effectiveness. But neither can that be well questioned long. Its value is already established, and full college credit is often given for hundreds of courses offered by a large number of colleges and universities. Prominent educators endorse it enthusiastically, but perhaps none more so than the late President Harper of Chicago University, when he said, "It is a safe statement to say work done by correspondence is equal to the work done in the classroom, and I may go even farther and say that there is a larger portion of high grade work done by correspondence than in the classroom."

There are probably but few high schools of one hundred fifty pupils or less actually providing more than two or three rather limited curricula. At present the Butler High School has pupils enrolled in the following very flexible four-year courses: College Preparatory, Commercial, General, Vocational Agriculture, and Vocational Home Economics. Each of these embodies generous opportunities for electives.

These courses already involve the indicated number of semesters of instruction in the following branches:

Agriculture 10

Home Economics 8

Art 2

Latin 4

Commercial 10

Mathematics 8

English 8

Music 2

French 4

Science 6

Health 2

Shop 2

Social Science 8

This is made possible through the regular classroom teaching, supplemented by supervised correspondence study. Some of the correspondence courses provide credit toward high school graduation and some do not. The ratio of enrollment in the Butler school between the credit and non-credit courses is about twelve to one.

A careful study is made of each high school pupil enrolling in the Butler school. This begins with an eight-page questionnaire filled out by parent and pupil concerning home life, physical record, social life, school life, possible choice of vocation, and a study of the various vocations, their possibilities and requirements. This becomes a continuous record for the period of enrollment, and is usually supplemented by a personal interview with pupil or parent or both, and by such special tests as the principal may deem it wise to use. Those pupils demonstrating interests and abilities in fields outside the regu- I lar high school curriculum are referred to the vocational counselor for guidance.

The vocational counselor acts in the capacity which his title indicates, and also as coordinator between the correspondence school and the pupil. The pupil pays no tuition for enrollment privileges, in no way enters into any contracts, and has no contact with the correspondence school except through the vocational counselor. The only cost to the pupil is for books and such supplies as are ordinarily considered pupil property. In the vocational courses not taken for credit, a bill is submitted to the coordinator once each month for books, supplies, and lessons corrected. He collects for the books and regular supplies from the pupil, and turns over the bill for the balance (cost of instruction and special supplies) to the superintendent's office for payment by the Board of Education. Inasmuch as the International Correspondence Schools and the American School allow credit for any portions of their courses in which equivalent work has been done in the regular high school classes, the pupil omits these, thereby saving time and money for himself and the high school. In no non-credit course is a bill submitted to the Board for omitted or unfinished portions. In the credit courses under the Butler plan, semester units are contracted for in advance by the coordinator and paid for by the Board of Education.

Pupils spend from forty-five to ninety minutes per day in supervised study under the direction of the vocational counselor. Unusual difficulties encountered are referred to the proper high school department for assistance. In the cases of beginning French or other foreign language a regular teacher in the system who is also licensed in the designated subject is assigned the task of tutoring and testing for the proper pronunciation of the language which is being studied. This is sometimes supplemented by use of special phonograph records designed to furnish the necessary phonetic drills.

No special effort is made to interest pupils in the courses, but, from the interest manifested by the students, and the quality of work which they are doing, it may well be assumed that the courses are popular. It is gratifying to note that elections are being made wisely, the high school enrollment is increasing, and, due to better classification possibilities, the morale and scholarship of the student body are satisfactory.

For those city schools which draw tuition pupils from the rural population of the community the plan possesses distinct financial advantages. The Butler High School is drawing many pupils who every day drive to Butler from three to eight miles (one way) farther than would be necessary to reach other neighboring high schools of similar size. Were there no other motive back of the plan it might be justified on financial grounds alone as a good business proposition, because it means increased revenues in transfer tuition far in excess of the cost of the entire project. But that is not all. The Butler schools anticipate much greater benefits of more far-reaching consequence to be derived in the future by both pupil and school, when once the I operation of the plan has reached maximum efficiency, and a better understanding of its possibilities and limitations is gained by community and student body.

Any small high school, however limited in size, with a high ideal of service to its community, may be assured that the adoption of some such plan will greatly enhance its opportunities of approximating that ideal.



1 Rufi, John. The Small High School. Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1926.



"Coöperation between a Correspondence School and a Public High School." By Thomas Diamond. Educational Review, 71: 37-41.

"Popular Education Through Correspondence." Report by Christian Science Monitor. School Review, 33:166-68.

"Instruction by Correspondence for Isolated Australian Children." School and Society, 27:685-86.

"Isolated Children Receive Instruction by Correspondence." By the Director, Department of Education, Western Australia. School Life, 12:188-89.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 30 Number 4, 1929, p. 447-452
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 5695, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 10:34:29 AM

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About the Author
  • H. Wooden
    Superintendent of Schools, Butler, Indiana

  • Paul Mort
    Associate Professor of Education, Teachers College

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