Progressive Education: How It's Different


School is a preparation for life.

Learners are passive absorbers of information and authority.

Teachers are sources of information and authority.

Parents are outsiders and uninvolved.

Community is separate from school, except for funding.

Decision-making is centrally based and administratively delivered.

Program is determined by external criteria, particularly test results.

Learning is linear, with factual accumulation and skill mastery.

Knowledge is absorbed through lectures, worksheets, and texts.

Instruction is linear and largely based on correct answers.

Disciplines, particularly language and math, are separated.

Skills are taught discretely and are viewed as goals.

Assessment is norm-referenced, external, and graded.

Success is competitively based, derived from recall and memory, and specific to a time/place.

Focus is on product.

Intelligence is a measure of linguistic and logical/mathematical abilities.

School is a task to be endured.


School is a part of life.

Learners are active participants, problem solvers, and planners.

Teachers plan learning experiences that foster critical thinking.

Parents are recognized as providing support for the school program.

Community is an extension of the classroom.

Decision-making is shared by all staff members.

Program is determined by mission, philosophy, and goals for graduates.

Learning is spiral, with depth and breadth as goals.

Knowledge is constructed through play, direct experience, and social interaction.

Instruction is related to central questions and inquiry, often generated by the children.

Disciplines are integrated as children make connections.

Skills are related to content and are viewed as tools.

Assessment is benchmarked, has many forms, and is progress-oriented.

Success is determined through application over time, through collaboration.

Focus is on process not just product.

Intelligence is recognized as varied, includes the arts, and is measured in real-life problem-solving.

School is a challenging and fun part of life.

Modified from Independent Schools, a magazine of the National Association of Independent Schools