Progressivism and Curriculum Differentiation: Special Classes in the Atlanta Public Schools, 1898-1923

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1989


Addressing the Atlanta Board of Education at its January 1898 meeting, Superintendent William F. Slaton called for the adoption of a regulation to "prevent children of dull minds and weak intellects from remaining 3 or 4 years in the same grade." Their presence, Slaton stated, was leading "to the annoyance of the teacher and detriment of the grade."' This call to deal with low achieving students was not the only recommendation to alter existing school policies and programs that the city's Board of Education heard that year or the next. In his annual reports for both 1898 and 1899, Slaton called on the Board of Education to introduce vocational education into Atlanta's course of study to meet the needs of high school students who, as he put it, "are bread-winners early in life and subsequently heads of families."2 And during May 1899, the Board of Education received proposals urging it to introduce physical education into the curriculum and to establish kindergarten classes in several of the city's schools.3 Here were the first stirrings of Progressive educational reform, which would lead in Atlanta, as in other urban school systems, to a differentiated program, including vocational education and guidance, kindergartens, junior high schools, and special classes for handicapped children.