During the 1930–1940s, the Progressive Education Association’s Eight-Year Study ushered in an era of secondary school experimentation, establishing an organizational process (the cooperative study) and introducing a research methodology (implementative research) for educational renewal. Cooperative studies embraced a democratic ideal that participants would work together for a greater good and maintained a fundamental belief that a diversity of perspectives, coupled with open discourse, would serve to better develop educational practices. Although no unified theory was established for cooperative study, activities focused on problem-solving were intended to expand teachers’ abilities rather than to establish a single method for the dissemination of educational programs. Implementative research was grounded in a faith in experimentation as an “exploratory process” to include gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and discussing data, and sought to determine the validity (in contrast to reliability) of programmatic interventions. Drawing on 1930s progressive education high school practices, more than a hundred selected secondary and post-secondary schools throughout the United States—public and private, large and small, Black and White, rural and urban—participated in national and regional cooperative studies, funded primarily by the Rockefeller Foundation’s General Education Board. Experimental projects included the Progressive Education Association’s Eight-Year Study (1930–1942), consisting of 30 sites with 42 secondary schools (and 26 junior high schools) throughout the United States; the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the Southern States’ Southern Study (1938–1945), consisting of 33 White secondary schools in the American Southeast; the American Council of Education’s Cooperative Study in General Education (1938–1947), consisting of 25 colleges throughout the United States; and the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools for Negroes’ Secondary School Study (1940–1946), consisting of 17 Black secondary schools in the American Southeast. These cooperative studies served to explore and further develop progressive education practices at the secondary and post-secondary school level.
The intent of the 1930s–1940s cooperative study projects was to develop school programs that would attend to the interests and needs of adolescents without diminishing students’ chances for further education. Guided by “Eight-Year Study progressivism,” cooperative study staff placed great trust in the ability of teachers to address complex issues, belief in democracy as a guiding social ideal, and faith in thoughtful inquiry to create educational settings that nourished both students and teachers. Based on these fundamental themes, many cooperative study schools adopted what became a distinctive view of progressive education with correlated and fused core curricula, teacher–pupil planning, cumulative student records, and summer professional development workshops. Notions of “success” for these projects prove difficult to ascertain; however, innovative forms of curriculum design, instructional methodology, student assessment instruments, and professional development activities arose from these programs that served to influence educational theory and practice throughout the mid- and late-20th century. Perhaps equally important, cooperative study, along with implementative research, displayed the importance of educational exploration and school experimentation, implicitly asserting that a healthy school was an experimental school.