In the late 1800's the question of the purpose of the American high school was divided between two main philosophies. Traditional educators saw high school as a college preparatory institution. This divided students into academic versus terminal students, often based on economic, social, and ethnic backgrounds. Others believed the high school should serve more as a people's school, offering a range of practical courses. The National Education Association addressed this issue by appointing a Committee of Ten in 1892 to establish a standard curriculum. This committee was composed mostly of educators and was chaired by Charles Eliot, the president of Harvard University. Eliot led the committee to two major recommendations. The first was earlier entry of some subjects. The second was the teaching of subjects for both college-bound and terminal students.

The Committee of Ten recommended eight years of elementary education and four years of secondary education. It defined four different curricula as appropriate for high school. The first two followed a classical trend: classical and Latin-scientific. The second two were more contemporary: modern language and English. Courses that are now considered basic like foreign languages, mathematics, science, English and history were included in each curriculum.

The significance of the Committee of Ten was its contribution towards liberalizing the high school by offering alternatives to the Latin and Greek classic curricula and the belief that the same subjects would be equally beneficial to both academic and terminal students. The goal of high school was to prepare all students to do well in life, contributing to their own well-being and society's good, and to prepare some students for college.


Ornstein, Allan C. and Daniel U. Levine. FOUNDATIONS OF EDUCATION. 5ed. Boston: Houghton, 1993. pp174-5.

Meyer, Adolphe E. AN EDUCATIONAL HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. 2ed. New York: McGraw, 1967. p. 408.

Prepared by Linda Weidner