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Title: The High School Failures - A Study of the School Records of Pupils Failing in Academic or - Commercial High School Subjects
Author: Obrien, Francis P.
Language: English
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Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Philosophy, Columbia University

  Teachers College, Columbia University

Copyright, 1919, by FRANCIS P. OBRIEN


Grateful acknowledgment is due the principals of each of the high
schools whose records are included in this study, for the courteous and
helpful attitude which they and their assistants manifested in the work
of securing the data. Thanks are due Dr. John S. Tildsley for his
generous permission to consult the records in each or any of the New
York City high schools. But the fullest appreciation is felt and
acknowledged for the ready criticism and encouragement received from
Professor Thomas H. Briggs and Professor George D. Strayer at each
stage from the inception to the completion of this study.




1. The Relevance of This Study                                  1

2. The Meaning of Failure in This Study                         3

3. Scope and Content of the Field Covered                       4

4. Sources of the Data Employed                                 6

5. Selection and Reliability of These Sources                   8

6. Summary of Chapter, and References                          11


1. A Distribution of All Entrants in Reference to Failure      12

2. The Later Distribution of the Pupils by Semesters           14

3. The Distribution of the Failures--by Ages and by Semesters  14

4. Distribution of the Failures by Subjects                    19

5. The Pupils Dropping Out--Time and Age                       24

6. Summary of Chapter, and References                          27


1. Some Possible Factors--Attendance, Mental and Physical
   Defects, Size of Classes                                    29

2. Employment of the School Entering Age for the Purpose
   of Prognosis                                                31

3. The Percentage of Failure at Each Age on the Possibility
   of Failures for That Age                                    36

4. The Initial Record in High School                           37

5. Prognosis of Failure by Subject Selection                   39

6. The Time Period and the Number of Failures                  40

7. Similarity of Facts for Boys and Girls                      45

8. Summary of Chapter, and References                          45


1. Comparison of the Failing and the Non-failing Groups
   in Reference to Graduation and Persistence                  48

2. The Number of Failures and the Years Required to Graduate   49

3. The Number of Failures and the Semesters of Dropping
   Out, for Non-graduates                                      51

4. The Percentages That the Non-graduate Groups Form of
   the Pupils Who Have Each Successively Higher Number
   of Failures                                                 55

5. Time Extension for the Failing Graduates                    56

6. Summary of Chapter, and References                          57


1. Repetition as a Remedy for Failures                         60
   a. Size of Schedule and Results of Repeating.
   b. Later Grades in the Same Kind of Subjects,
        Following Repetition and Without it.
   c. The Grades in Repeated Subjects and in New Work.
   d. The Number and Results of Identical Repetitions.

2. Discontinuance of the Subject or Course, and the
   Substitution of Others                                      68

3. The Employment of School Examinations                       69

4. The Service Rendered by the Regents' Examinations in
   New York                                                    70

5. Continuation of Subjects Without Repetition or Examination  73

6. Summary of Chapter, and References                          74


1. Some Are Evidently Misfits                                  76

2. Most of the Failing Pupils Lack Neither Ability nor
   Earnestness                                                 77

3. The School Emphasis and the School Failures Are Both
   Culminative in Particular School Subjects                    81

4. An Indictment Against the Subject-Matter and the Teaching
   Ends as Factors in Producing Failures                       83

5. Summary of Chapter, and References                          85


1. Organization and Adaptation in Recognition of the
   Individual Differences in Abilities and Interests           87

2. Faculty Student Advisers from the Time of Entrance          89

3. Greater Flexibility and Differentiation Required            90

4. Provision for the Direction of the Pupils' Study            92

5. A Greater Recognition and Exposition of the Facts as
   Revealed by Accurate and Complete School Records            94

6. Summary of Chapter, and References                          96





As the measuring of the achievements of the public schools has become a
distinctive feature of the more recent activities in the educational
field, the failure in expected accomplishment by the school, and its
proficiency in turning out a negative product, have been forced upon
our attention rather emphatically. The striking growth in the number of
school surveys, measuring scales, questionnaires, and standardized
tests, together with many significant school experiments and
readjustments, bears testimony of our evident demand for a closer
diagnosis of the practices and conditions which are no longer accepted
with complacency.

The American people have expressed their faith in a scheme of universal
democratic education, and have committed themselves to the support of
the free public high school. They have been liberal in their financing
and strong in their faith regarding this enterprise, so typically
American, to a degree that a secondary education may no longer be
regarded as a luxury or a heritage of the rich. No longer may the field
be treated as either optional or exclusive. The statutes of several of
our states now expressly or impliedly extend their compulsory
attendance requirements beyond the elementary years of school. Many,
too, are the lines of more desirable employment for young people which
demand or give preference to graduates of a high school. At the same
time there has been no decline in the importance of high school
graduation for entering the learned or professional pursuits.
Accordingly, it seems highly probable that, with such an extended and
authoritative sphere of influence, a stricter business accounting will
be exacted of the public high school, as the great after-war burdens
make the public less willing to depend on faith in financing so great
an experiment. They will ask, ever more insistently, for facts as to
the expenditures, the finished product, the internal adjustments, and
the waste product of our secondary schools. Such inquiries will indeed
seem justifiable.

It is estimated that the public high schools had 84 per cent of all the
pupils (above 1,500,000) enrolled in the secondary schools of the
United States in 1916.[1] The majority of these pupils are lost from
school--whatever the cause--before the completion of their courses;
and, again, the majority of those who do graduate have on graduation
ended their school days. Consequently, it becomes more and more evident
how momentous is the influence of the public high school in
conditioning the life activities and opportunities of our youthful
citizens who have entered its doors. Before being entitled to be
considered a "big business enterprise,"[2] it seems imperative that our
"American High School" must rapidly come to utilize more of business
methods of accounting and of efficiency, so as to recognize the
tremendous waste product of our educational machinery.

The aim of this study is to trace as carefully and completely as may be
the facts relative to that major portion of our high school population,
the pupils who fail in their school subjects, and to note something of
the significance of these findings. If we are to proceed wisely in
reference to the failing pupils in the high school, it is admittedly of
importance that such procedure should be based on a definite knowledge
of the facts. The value of such a study will in turn be conditioned by
the scrupulous care and scientific accuracy in the securing and
handling of the facts. It is believed that the causes of and the
remedies for failure are necessarily closely linked with factors found
in the school and with the school experiences of failing pupils, so
that the problem cannot be solved by merely labeling such pupils as the
unfit. There is no attempt in this study to treat all failures as in
any single category. The causes of the failures are not assumed at the
start nor given the place of chief emphasis, but are regarded as
incidental to and dependent upon what the evidence itself discloses.
The success of the failing pupils after they leave the high school is
not included in this undertaking, but is itself a field worthy of
extended study. Even our knowledge of what later happens to the more
successful and the graduating high school pupils is limited mainly to
those who go on to college or to other higher institutions. One of the
more familiar attempts to evaluate the later influence of the high
school illustrates the fallacy of overlooking the process of selection
involved, and of treating its influence in conjunction with the
training as though it were the result of school training alone.[3]


The term 'failure' is employed in this study to signify the non-passing
of a pupil in any semester-subject of his school work. The school
decision is not questioned in the matter of a recorded failure. And
although it is usually understood to negate "ability plus
accomplishment," it may, and undoubtedly does, at times imply other
meanings, such as a punitive mark, a teacher's prejudice, or a deferred
judgment. The mark may at times tell more about the teacher who gave it
than about the pupil who received it. These peculiarities of the
individual teacher or pupil are pretty well compensated for by the
large number of teachers and of pupils involved. The decisive factor in
this matter is that the school refuses to grant credit for the work
pursued. The failure for a semester seems to be a more adaptable unit
in this connection than the subject-failure for a year. However, it
necessitates the treatment of the subject-failure for a year as
equivalent to a failure for each of the two semesters. Two of the
schools involved in this study (comprising about 11 per cent of the
pupils) recorded grades only at the end of the year. It is quite
probable that the marking by semesters would actually have increased
the number of failures in these schools, as there are many teachers who
confess that they are less willing to make a pupil repeat a year than a

By employing this unit of failure, the failures in the different
subjects are regarded as comparable. Since only the academic and
commercial subjects are considered, and since they are almost uniformly
scheduled for four or five hours a week, the failures will seem to be
of something near equal gravity and to represent a similar amount of
non-performance or of unsatisfactory results. There were also a few
failures included here for those subjects which had only three hours a
week credit, mainly in the commercial subjects. But failures were
unnoted when the subject was listed for less than three hours a week.

There are certain other elements of assumption in the treatment of the
failures, which seemed to be unavoidable. They are, first, that failure
in any subject is the same fact for boys and for girls; second, that
failures in different years of work or with different teachers are
equivalent; third, that failures in elective and in required subjects
are of the same gravity. It was found practically impossible to
differentiate required and elective subjects, however desirable it
would have been, for the subjects that are theoretically elective often
are in fact virtually required, the electives of one course are
required in another, and on many of the records consulted neither the
courses nor the electives are clearly designated.


As any intensive study must almost necessarily be limited in its scope,
so this one comprises for its purposes the high school records for
6,141 pupils belonging to eight different high schools located in New
York and New Jersey. For two of these schools the records for all the
pupils that entered are included here for five successive years, and
for their full period in high school. In two other schools the records
of all pupils that entered for four successive years were secured. In
four of the schools the records of all pupils who entered in February
and September of one year constituted the number studied. There is
apparently no reason to believe that a longer period of years would be
more representative of the facts for at least three of these four
schools, in view of the situation that they had for years enjoyed a
continuity of administration and that they possess a well-established
organization. The fourth one of these schools had less complete records
than were desired, but even in that the one year was representative of
the other years' records. The distribution of the 6,141 pupils by
schools and by years of entering high school is given below.

                                        IN THE YEARS            STUDIED

  White Plains, N.Y.             1908, '09, '10, '11, '12           659
  Dunkirk, N.Y.                  1909, '10, '11, '12                370
  Mount Vernon, N.Y.             1912                               224
  Montclair, N.J.                1908, '09, '10, '11, '12           946
  Hackensack, N.J.               1909, '10, '11, '12                736
  Elizabeth, N.J.                1912                               333
  Morris H.S.--Bronx             1912                              1712
  Erasmus Hall H.S.--Brooklyn    1912                              1161
                                                       TOTAL       6141

As it is essential for the purposes of this study to have the complete
record of the pupils for their full time in the high school, the 6,141
pupils include none who entered later than 1912. Thus all were allowed
at least five and one-half or six years in which to terminate their
individual high school history, of successes or of failures, before the
time of making this inquiry into their records. No pupils who were
transferred from another high school or who did not start with the
class as beginning high school students were included among those
studied. Post-graduate records were not considered, neither was any
attempt made to trace the record of drop-outs who entered other
schools. Manifestly the percentage of graduation would be higher in any
school if the recruits from other schools and the drop-backs from other
classes in the school were included.

No attempt has been made to trace the elementary school or college
records of the failing pupils, for our purpose does not reach beyond
the sphere of the high school records. In reference to the
differentiation by school courses, some facts were at first collected,
but these were later discarded, as the courses represent no
standardization in terminology or content, and they promised to give
nothing of definite value. As might be expected, the schools lacked
agreement or uniformity in the number of courses offered. One school
had no commercial classes, as that work was assigned to a separate
school; another school offered only typewriting and stenography of the
commercial subjects; a third had placed rather slight emphasis on the
commercial subjects until recently. Only four of the schools had pupils
in Greek. The Spanish classes outnumbered the Greek both by schools and
by enrollment. In the classification by subjects, English is made to
include (in addition to the usual subjects of that name) grammar,
literature, and business English. Mathematics includes all subjects of
that class except commercial arithmetic, which is treated as a
commercial subject, and shop-mathematics, which is classed as
non-academic. Industrial history, and 'political and social science'
are regarded along with academic subjects; likewise household chemistry
is included with the science classification. Economics is treated as a
commercial subject. At least a dozen other subjects, not classified as
academic or commercial, including also spelling and penmanship, were
taken by a portion of these pupils, but the records for these subjects
do not enter this study in determining the successful and failing
grades or the sizes of schedule. Yet it is true that such subjects do
demand time and work from those pupils.


The only records employed in this whole problem of research were the
official school records. No questionnaires were used, and no statements
of pupils or opinions of teachers as such were sought. The facts are
the most authoritative and dependable available, and are the very same
upon which the administrative procedure of the school relative to the
pupil is mainly dependent. The individual, cumulative records for the
pupils provided the chief source of the facts secured. These school
records, as might be expected, varied considerably as to the form, the
size, the simplicity in stating facts, and the method of filing; but
they were quite similar in the facts recorded, as well as in the
completeness and care with which the records were compiled. It may be
added that only schools having such records were included in the

After the meanings of symbols and devices and the methods of recording
the facts had been fully explained and carefully studied for the
records of any school, the selection of the pupil records was then
made, on the basis of the year of the pupils' entrance to the school,
including all the pupils who had actually entered and undertaken work.
(Pupils who registered but failed to take up school work were entirely
disregarded.) These individual records were classified into the failing
and the non-failing divisions, then into graduating and non-graduating
groups, with the boys and girls differentiated throughout. As fast as
the records were read and interpreted into the terms required they were
transcribed, with the pupils' names, by the author himself, to large
sheets (16x20) from which the tabulations were later made. There was
always an opportunity to ask questions and to make appeals for
information either to the principal himself or to the secretary in
charge of the records. This tended to reduce greatly the danger of
mistakes other than those of chance error. The task of transcribing the
data was both tedious and prolonged. This process alone required as
much as four weeks for each of the larger schools, and without the
continued and courteous cooperation of the principals and their
assistants it would have been altogether impossible in that time.

Some arbitrary decisions and classifications proved necessary in
reference to certain facts involved in the data employed in this study.
All statements of age will be understood as applying to within the
nearest half year; that is, fifteen years of age will mean within the
period from fourteen years and a half to fifteen years and a half. The
classification in the following pages by school years or semesters
(half-years) is dependent upon the time of entrance into school. In
this sense, a pupil who entered either in September or in February is
regarded as a first semester pupil, however the school classes are
named. As promotions are on a subject basis in each of the schools
there is no attempt to classify later by promotions, but the
time-in-school basis is retained. In reference to school marks or
grades, letters are here employed, although four of the eight schools
employ percentage grading. Whether the passing mark is 60, as in some
of the schools, or 70, as in others, the letter C is used to represent
one-third of the distance from the failing mark to 100 per cent; B is
used to represent the next third of the distance; and A is used to
express the upper third of the distance. The plus and minus signs,
attached to the gradings in three of the schools, are disregarded for
the purposes of this study, except that when D+ occurred as a
conditional passing mark it was treated as a C. Otherwise D has been
used to signify a failing grade in a subject, which means that the
grade is somewhere below the passing mark. The term 'graduates' is
meant to include all who graduate, either by diploma or by certificate.
Any statement made in the following pages of 'time in school' or of
time spent for 'securing graduation' will not include as a part of such
period a semester in which the pupil is absent all or nearly all of the
time, as in the case of absence due to illness.


By employing data secured only from official school records and in the
manner stated, this study has been limited to those schools that
provide the cumulative pupil records, with continuity and completeness,
for a sufficient period of years. Some schools had to be eliminated
from consideration for our purposes because the cumulative records
covered too brief a period of years. In other schools administrative
changes had broken the continuity of the records, making them difficult
to interpret or undependable for this study. The shortage of clerical
help was the reason given in one school for completing only the records
of the graduates. In addition to the requirements pertaining to
records, only publicly administered and co-educational schools have
been included among those whose records are used. It was also
considered important to have schools representing the large as well as
the small city on the list of those studied. Since many schools do not
possess these important records, or do not recognize their value, it is
quite probable that the conditions prescribed here tended to a
selection of schools superior in reference to systematic procedure,
definite standards, and stable organization, as compared to those in
general which lack adequate records.

The reliability and correctness of these records for the schools named
are vouched for and verbally certified by the principals as the most
dependable and in large part the only information of its kind in the
possession of the schools. In each of these schools the principals have
capable assistants who are charged with the keeping of the records,
although they are aided at times by teachers or pupils who work under
direction. In three of the larger schools a special secretary has full
charge of the records, and is even expected to make suggestions for
revisions and improvements of the forms and methods. In view of such
facts it seems doubtful that one could anywhere find more dependable
school records of this sort. It was true of one of the schools that
the records previous to 1909 proved to be unreliable. There is no
inclination here to deny the existence of defects and limitations to
these records, but the intimate acquaintance resulting from close
inquiry, involving nearly every factor which the records contain, is
convincing that for these schools at least the records are highly

However, there is some tendency for even the best school records to
understate the full situation regarding failure, while there is no
corresponding tendency to overstate or to record failures not made. Not
infrequently the pupils who drop out after previously failing may
receive no mark or an incomplete one for the last semester in school.
Although a portion or all of such work may obviously merit failure, yet
it is not usually so recorded. In a similar manner pupils who remain in
school one or two semesters or less, but take no examinations and
receive no semester grades, might reasonably be considered to have
failed if they shunned examinations merely to escape the recording of
failures, as sometimes appears to be the case when judged from the
incomplete grades recorded for only a part of the semester. A few
pupils will elect to 'skip' the regular term examination, and then
repeat the work of that semester, but no failures are recorded in such
instances. Some teachers, when recording for their own subjects, prefer
to indicate a failure by a dash mark or by a blank space until after
the subject is satisfied later, and the passing mark is then filled in.
One school indicates failure entirely by a short dash in the space
provided, and then at times there occurs the 'cond' (conditioned) in
pencil, apparently to avoid the classification as a failure by the
usual sign. One finds some instances of a '?' or an 'inc' (incomplete)
as a substitute for a mark of failure. Again, where there is no
indication of failure recorded, the dates accompanying the grades for
the subjects may tell the tale that two semesters were required to
complete one semester's work in a subject. Some of these situations
were easily discernible, and the indisputable failures treated as such
in the succeeding tabulations; but in many instances this was not
possible, and partial statement of these cases is all that is

How far these selected schools, their pupils, and the facts relating to
them are representative or typical of the schools, the pupils, and the
same facts for the states of New Jersey and New York, cannot be
definitely known from the information that is now available. It seems
indisputable, however, that the schools concerned in this study are at
least among the better schools of these two states. If we may feel
assured that the 6,141 pupils here included are fairly and generally
representative of the facts for the eight schools to which they belong
and which had an enrollment of 14,620 pupils in 1916; and if we are
justified in classing these schools as averaging above the median rank
of the schools for these states, then the statistical facts presented
in the following pages may seem to be a rather moderate statement
regarding the failures of high school pupils for the states referred
to. It must be noted in this connection, however, that it is not
unlikely that such schools, with their adequate records, will have the
facts concerning failure more certainly recorded than will those whose
records are incomplete, neglected, or poorly systematized.

A partial comparison of the teachers is possible between the schools
represented here and those of New York and New Jersey. More than four
hundred teachers comprised the teaching staff for the 6,141 pupils of
the eight schools reported here. Of these about 40 per cent were men,
while the percentage of men of all high school teachers in New Jersey
and New York[4] was about 38 for the year 1916. The men in these
schools comprised 50 per cent of the teachers in the subjects which
prove most difficult by producing the most failures, and they were more
frequently found teaching in the advanced years of these subjects. It
is not assumed here that men are superior as high school teachers, but
the endeavor is rather to show that the teaching force was by its
constitution not unrepresentative. It may be added here that few high
schools anywhere have a more highly selected and better paid staff of
teachers than are found in this group of schools. It is indeed not easy
to believe that the situation in these eight selected schools regarding
failure and its contributing factors could not be readily duplicated
elsewhere within the same states.


The American people have a large faith in the public high school. It
enrolls approximately 84 per cent of the secondary school pupils of the
United States. High school attendance is becoming legally and
vocationally compulsory. The size of the waste product demands a
diagnosis of the facts. This study aims to discover the significant
facts relative to the failing pupils.

Failure is used in the unit sense of non-passing in a semester subject.
Failures are then counted in terms of these units.

This study includes 6,141 pupils belonging to eight different high
schools and distributed throughout two states. The cumulative,
official, school records for these pupils formed the basis of the data

The schools were selected primarily for their possession of adequate
records. More dependable school records than those employed are not
likely to be found, yet they tend to understate the facts of failure.
It is quite possible that a superior school, and one with a high grade
teaching staff, is actually selected by the requirements of the study.


1. _Annual Report of United States Commissioner of Education for 1917._

2. Josslyn, H.W. Chapter IV, in Johnson's _Modern High School_.

3. _The Money Value of Education._ Bulletin No. 22, 1917, United States
   Bureau of Education.

4. New York and New Jersey _State School Reports for 1917_.




With no purpose of making this a comparative study of schools, the
separate units or schools indicated in Chapter I will from this point
be combined into a composite and treated as a single group. It becomes
possible, with the complete and tabulated facts pertaining to a group
of pupils, after their high school period has ended, to get a
comprehensive survey of their school records and to answer such
questions as: (1) What part of the total number of boys or of girls
have school failures? (2) To what extent are the non-failing pupils the
ones who succeed in graduating? (3) To what extent do the failing
pupils withdraw early? The following tabulation will show how two of
these questions are answered for the 6,141 pupils here reported on.

             ALL                        ALL

  Totals     6,141    3,573 (58.2%)     1,936    1,125 (58.1%)
  Boys       2,646    1,645 (62.1%)       796      489 (61.4%)
  Girls      3,495    1,928 (55.1%)     1,140      639 (55.8%)

From this distribution we readily compute that the percentage of pupils
who fail is 58.2 per cent (boys--62.1, girls--55.1). But this statement
is itself inadequate. It does not take into account the 808 pupils who
received no grades and had no chance to be classed as failing, but who
were in most cases in school long enough to receive marks, and a
portion of whom were either eliminated earlier or deterred from
examinations by the expectation of failing. It seems entirely safe to
estimate that no less than 60 per cent of this non-credited number
should[5] be treated as of the failing group[6] of pupils. Then the
percentage of pupils to be classed as failing in school subjects
becomes 66 per cent (boys--69.6, girls--63.4).

In considering the second inquiry above, we find from the preceding
distribution of pupils that 58.1 per cent (boys--61.4, girls--55.8) of
all pupils that graduate have failed in one or more subjects one or
more times. This percentage varies from 34 per cent to 73 per cent by
schools, but in only two instances does the percentage fall below 50
per cent, and in one of these two it is almost 50 per cent.

We may now ask, when do the failing and the non-failing non-graduates
drop out of school? Of the total number of non-graduates (4,205), there
are 2,448 who drop out after failing one or more times, and 1,757 who
drop out without failing. The cumulative percentages of the
non-graduates in reference to dropping out are here given.


  OF SEMESTER        1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8    9

  Per Cent         14.1  33.9  46.4  64.9  72.9  85.2  91.9  97.6  99.1


  OF SEMESTER        1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8    9

  Per Cent         61.1  78.0  85.9  92.1  94.5  98.4  99.5   ..    ..

Briefly stated, the above percentages assert that more than three
fourths of those who neither fail nor graduate have left school by the
end of the first year, while only 33.9 per cent of those non-graduates
who fail have left so early. More than 50 per cent of the failing
non-graduates continue in school to near the end of the second year. By
that time about 90 per cent of the non-failing non-graduates have been
lost from school. By a combination of the above groups we get the
percentages of all non-graduates lost by successive semesters.


  OF SEMESTER          1      2      3      4     5     6     7     8

  Per Cent           33.7   53.4   62.6   76.2  81.9  90.7  94.0  98.6

These percentages of non-graduates indicate that more than 50 per cent
of those who do not graduate are gone by the end of the first year,
but that there are a few who continue beyond four years without


Consideration is here given to the number of the total entrants
remaining in school for each successive semester, and then to the
accompanying percentages of failure for each group. The following
figures show the rapid decline in numbers.


  END OF SEMESTER     1      2      3      4      5      6    Graduate

  6,141 (Total)     4,723  3,893  3,508  2,935  2,697  2,234    1,936

  Percentages        76.9   63.4   57.1   47.8   43.9   36.4     31.5

As was pointed out in Section 3 of Chapter I, the above group does not
include any increment to its own numbers by means of transfer from
other classes or schools. We find, accompanying this reduction in the
number of pupils, which shows more than 50 per cent gone by the end of
the second year in school, that there is no corresponding reduction in
the percentage of pupils failing each semester on the basis of the
number of those in school for that semester.


  Semesters       1       2      3      4      5      6      7      8

  Per Cent      34.2    37.3   38.5   40.2   38.2   37.1   30.0   24.0

There is no difficulty in grasping the simple and definite significance
of these figures, for they tell us that the percentage of pupils
failing increases for the first four semesters, slightly declines for
two semesters, with a greater decline for two more semesters. These
percentages of failures are based on the number of pupils enrolled at
the beginning of the semester, and are accordingly lower than the facts
would really warrant since that number is in each case considerably
reduced by the end of the same semester.


That the failures are widely distributed by semesters, by ages,
and for both boys and girls, is shown in Table I.



  SEMES-                          AGES                      UNDISTRIB-
  TERS  12  13   14    15    16    17    18   19   20  21  22 UTED  TOTALS

   1 B.  0  20  321   650   575   167    34   16    2  ..  ..  10  1795
     G.  1  19  356   813   611   236    67    3    0  ..  ..  13  2119
   2 B. ..   2   95   423   534   256    57   27    4  ..  ..   5  1403
     G. ..   6   99   483   589   280    91    5    0  ..  ..   7  1560
   3 B. ..   0   17   267   443   363    96   22    5   0  ..   2  1215
     G. ..   1   28   318   548   317    99   15    0   2  ..   1  1329
   4 B. ..  ..    5   101   437   403   169   32    7   2  ..   5  1161
     G. ..  ..    4   102   475   425   160   39    6   2  ..   6  1219
   5 B. ..  ..    1    19   195   377   214   61   13   3  ..   6   889
     G. ..  ..    0    15   277   438   212   60   15   0  ..   3  1020
   6 B. ..  ..   ..     4    70   322   326   99   33   3  ..   6   863
     G. ..  ..   ..     9   117   407   349   78   33   4  ..   3  1000
   7 B. ..  ..    1     0    17   155   227  106   16   4   1   4   531
     G. ..  ..    0     2    14   200   299  127   38   0   0   3   683
   8 B. ..  ..   ..    ..     0    42   173  109   49   2  ..   5   380
     G. ..  ..   ..    ..     2    58   244  140   49  10  ..   3   506
   9 B. ..  ..   ..    ..    ..     0    31   32   18   1  ..  ..    82
     G. ..  ..   ..    ..    ..     4    39   67   31   5  ..  ..   146
  10 B. ..  ..   ..    ..    ..    ..     1   16    9   3   0  ..    29
     G. ..  ..   ..    ..    ..    ..     3   13   10   3   1  ..    30
     B.  0  22  440  1464  2271  2085  1328  520  156  18   1  43  8348
     G.  1  26  487  1742  2633  2365  1563  547  182  26   1  39  9612

  [Footnote A: The expression of the above facts in terms of percentages
  for each age group was found to be difficult, since failures and not
  pupils are designated. But the total failures for each age group are
  expressed (on p. 36) as percentages of the entire number of subjects
  taken by these pupils for the semesters in which they failed. Such
  percentages increase as the ages rise. A similar statement of the
  percentages of failure by semesters will be found on p. 41.]

Table I reads: the boys had 20 failures and the girls had 19 failures
in the first semester and at the age of thirteen; in the second
semester, at the age of thirteen, the boys had 2 failures and the girls
6. For each semester, the first line represents boys, the second line
girls. There is a total of 17,960 failures listed in this table. In
addition to this number there are 1,947 uncompleted grades for the
failing non-graduates. The semesters were frequently completed by such
pupils but the records were left incomplete. Their previous records and
their prospects of further partial or complete failure seem to justify
an estimate of 55 per cent (1,070) of these uncompleted grades as
either tentative or actual but unrecorded failures. Therefore we
virtually have 1,070 other failures belonging to these pupils which are
not included in Table I. Accordingly, since the number can only be
estimated, the fact that they are not incorporated in that table
suggests that the information which it discloses is something less than
a full statement of the school failures for these pupils. In the
distribution of the totals for ages, the mode appears plainly at 16,
but with an evident skewness toward the upper ages. The failures for
the years 16, 17, and 18, when added together, form 68.1 per cent of
the total failures. If those for 15 years are also included, the result
is 86 per cent of the total. Of the total failures, 65.7 per cent are
found in the first two years (11,801 out of the total of 17,960). But
the really striking fact is that 34.3 per cent of the failures occur
after the end of the first two years, after 52.2 per cent of the pupils
are gone, and with other hundreds leaving in each succeeding semester
before even the end of the eighth. In Table II we have similar facts
for the pupils who graduate.



  SEMESTERS    13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   TOTALS

     1     B.   0   66   84   60    5    2    3   ..   ..   ..    220
           G.   4   68  123   68   23    4    0   ..   ..   ..    290
     2     B.   0   30   95   96   41    3    2   ..   ..   ..    267
           G.   1   25  119  121   30   11    2   ..   ..   ..    309
     3     B.   0    6  108   98   71   22    1    3   ..   ..    309
           G.   1   15  101  158   78   20    5    0   ..   ..    378
     4     B.  ..    4   54  157  107   36    6    0   ..   ..    364
           G.  ..    1   45  186  143   51    7    2   ..   ..    435
     5     B.  ..    1   10   82  142   82   17    4    3   ..    341
           G.  ..    0    9  145  187   88   22    9    0   ..    460
     6     B.  ..   ..    4   34  158  139   32    9    2   ..    378
           G.  ..   ..    2   70  235  178   40   13    1   ..    539
     7     B.  ..    1    0   10  115  140   65    4    4    1    340
           G.  ..    0    2    7  130  187   69   19    0    0    414
     8     B.  ..   ..   ..    0   31  122   65   25    2   ..    245
           G.  ..   ..   ..    2   45  150   95   37    2   ..    331
     9     B.  ..   ..   ..   ..    0   24   23   13    1   ..     61
           G.  ..   ..   ..   ..    4   32   40   24    0   ..    100
     10    B.  ..   ..   ..   ..   ..    1   11    5    3   ..     20
           G.  ..   ..   ..   ..   ..    3   12    6    1   ..     22
  Summary  B.  ..  108  355  537  670  571  225   63   15    1   2545
           G.   6  109  401  757  875  724  292  110    4    0   3278

  [Footnote: In the facts which are involved and in the manner of reading
  them, this table is similar to Table I. The mode of the distribution of
  totals for the ages is at 17 in this table. Further reference will be
  made to both Tables I and II in later chapters of this study. (See
  pages 36, 37, 41, 42).]

A further analysis of the failures is here made in reference
to the number of pupils and the number of failures each.



  NO. OF                        SEMESTERS                        TOTALS
  FAILURES     1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8     9  10

    1    B.   459  430  375  352  271  221  157  113   22  11  2411
         G.   561  535  428  421  328  261  167  123   35   9  2868
                                            32.5%                    5279

    2    B.   271  242  211  206  149  144   79   68   19   4  1393
         G.   271  253  238  204  177  142  127   84   17   6  1519
                                            34.9%                    2912

    3    B.   144  106   81   73   59   60   45   27    6   2   603
         G.   207  103   81   75   75   83   52   38   20   3   737
                                             35%                     1340

    4    B.    83   39   33   30   27   32   10   10    1   1   266
         G.    95   50   38   35   27   39   19   19    3   0   325
                                            31.8%                     591

    5    B.     6    3    5    8    7    8    7    2    0  ..    46
         G.     3    2    6    5    1   10    6    5    1  ..    39
                                            55.3%                      85

    6    B.    ..   ..    3    3    0    1    1   ..   ..  ..     8
         G.    ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..  ..    ..
                                             25%                        8

  Tot.   B.   963  820  708  672  513  466  299  220   48  18  4727
         G.  1137  943  791  740  608  535  371  269   76  18  5488

Table III tells us that 459 boys and 561 girls have one failure each
in the first semester of their high school work; 271 boys and the same
number of girls have two failures in the first semester, and so on, for
the ten semesters and for as many as six failures per pupil. The
failures represented by these pupils give a total of 17,960. A
distribution of the total failures per pupil, and the facts relative
thereto, will be considered in Chapter IV of this study.

The above distribution of Table III is repeated here in Table IV, so
far as it relates to the failing graduates only.



  NO. OF                        SEMESTERS                      TOTALS
  FAILURES   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8     9   10

   1    B.  110  131  137  150  162  139  120  118   19   11  1097
        G.  136  142  181  200  197  180  121   89   20    3  1269
                                            50%                    2366

   2    B.   34   49   61   69   61   75   47   28   15    3   442
        G.   49   64   63   86   81   73   81   62   10    5   574
                                           53.2%                   1016

   3    B.   10   10   14   18   12   17   27   17    4    1   130
        G.   16    9   14   13   27   43   30   20   16    3   191
                                           67.6%                    321

   4    B.    3    2    2    3    4    8    6    5    0   ..    33
        G.    2    3    6    6    5   16    9   12    3   ..    62
                                           71.6%                     95

   5    B.   ..   ..    0    2    1    0    3    0   ..   ..     6
        G.   ..   ..    1    0    0    4    1    2   ..   ..     8
                                           78.6%                     14

   6    B.   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..    1    1   ..   ..   ..     2
        G.   ..   ..   ..   ..    0    0   ..   ..   ..    0
                                           100%                       2

  Tot.  B.  157  192  214  237  240  240  204  163   48   15  1710
        G.  203  218  265  305  310  316  242  185   49   11  2104

This table reads similarly to Table III. There is not the element of
continuous dropping out to be considered, as in Table III, until after
the sixth semester is passed, for no pupils graduate in less than three
years. The failures represented in this table number 5,823. This same
distribution will be the subject of further comment later on. It
discloses some facts that Table III tends to conceal, for instance,
that the greater number of graduating pupils who have 2, 3, 4, 5, and
6 failures in a semester are found after the end of the second year.


The following tabulation of failures will show how they were shared by
both boys and girls in each of the school subjects which provided the
failures here listed.


  Total      Math.  Eng.  Latin   Ger.  Fr.   Hist.  Sci.   Bus.   Span. or
                                                           Subj's.   Greek

  B.  8348    2015  1555   1523   917   473    571   850    424       20
  G.  9612    2300  1424   1833   812   588   1036  1013    593       13
  Per Cent
  of Total    24.1  16.5   18.7   9.6   5.9    8.9  10.3    5.6       .2

The abbreviated headings above will be self-explanatory by reference to
section 3 of Chapter I. The first line of numbers gives the failures
for the boys, the second line for the girls. Mathematics has 24.1 per
cent of all the failures for all the pupils. Latin claims 18.7 per cent
and English 16.5 per cent of all the failures. These three subjects
make a total of nearly 60 per cent of the failures for the nine subject
groups appearing here. But still this is only a partial statement of
the facts as they are, since the total enrollment by subjects is an
independent matter and far from being equally divided among all the
subjects concerned. The subject enrollment may sometimes be relatively
high and the percentage of failure for that subject correspondingly
lower than for a subject with the same number of failures but a smaller
enrollment. This fact becomes quite apparent from the following
percentages taken in comparison with the ones just preceding:


  Math.   Eng.   Latin   Ger.   Fr.   Hist.   Sci.   Bus.    Span. or
                                                    Subj's.    Greek

  17.3    24.0   11.9    8.5    6.8   10.2    12.5    8.3       .5

We note that the percentages for mathematics and English, which
represent their portions of the grand total of subject enrollments, are
virtually the reverse of the percentages which designate the amount of
total failures produced by the same two subjects. That means that the
percentage of the total failures produced by mathematics is really
greater than was at first apparent, while the percentages of failures
for English is not so great relatively as the statement of the total
failures above would alone indicate. In a similar manner, we note that
Latin has 18.7 per cent of all the failures, but its portion of the
total enrollment for all subjects is only 11.9 per cent. If the
failures in this subject were in proportion to the enrollment, its
percentage of the failures would be reduced by 6.8 per cent. On the
other hand, if the failures for English were in the same proportion to
the total as is its subject enrollment, it would claim 7.5 per cent
more of all the failures. In the same sense, French, history, science,
and the business subjects have a smaller proportion of all the failures
than of all the subject enrollments.

The comparison of failures by subjects may be continued still further
by computing the percentage of failures in each subject as based on the
number enrolled in that subject. Such percentages are here presented
for each subject.


  Latin   Math.   Ger.   Fr.    Hist.   Sci.  Eng.   Bus.    Span. or
                                                    Subj's.    Greek

  18.7    16.0    13.5   11.6   10.4    9.8    8.2    8.0       4.1

It becomes evident at once that the largest percentage of failures,
based on the pupils taking the subject, is in Latin, although we have
already found that mathematics has the greatest percentage of all the
failures recorded (p. 19). But here mathematics follows Latin, with
German coming next in order as ranked by its high percentage of failure
for those enrolled in the subject. History has the median percentage
for the failures as listed for the nine subjects above.

The failures as reported by subjects for other schools and other pupils
will provide a comparison which may indicate something of the relative
standing of this group of schools in reference to failures. The
failures are presented below for thirteen high schools in New Jersey,
involving 24,895 grades, as reported by D.C. Bliss[7] in 1917. As the
schools were reported singly, the median percentage of failure for
each subject is used here for our purpose. But Mr. Bliss' figures are
computed from the promotion sheets for June, 1915, and include none of
those who had dropped out. In this sense they are not comparable to the
percentages of failure as presented in this study. Yet with the one
exception of Latin these median percentages are higher. The percentages
as presented below for St. Paul[8] are in each case based on the total
number taking the subject for a single semester, and include about
4,000 pupils, in all the classes, in the four high schools of the

  [Footnote B: It is a significant fact, and one worthy of note here,
  that the report for St. Paul is apparently the only one of the surveys
  which also states the number taking each subject, as well as the
  percentages of failure. Percentages alone do not tell the whole story,
  and they do not promote the further utilization of the facts to
  discover other relationships.]

The facts presented for St. Louis[9] are for one school only, with
2,089 pupils, as recorded for the first half of the year 1915-16. All
foreign languages as reported for this school are grouped together.
History is the only subject that has a percentage of failure lower than
that of the corresponding subjects for our eight schools. The figures
for both St. Paul and St. Louis are based on the grades for all classes
in school, but for only a single semester. One cannot avoid feeling
that a statement of facts for so limited a period may or may not be
dependable and representative for all periods. The percentages for
Paterson[10] are reported for about 4,000 pupils, in all classes, for
two successive semesters, and are based on the number examined. For
Denver,[11] the records are reported for 4,120 pupils, and cover a
two-year period. The percentages for Butte[12] are based on the records
for 3,110 pupils, for one school semester. The figures reported by
Rounds and Kingsbury[13] are for only two subjects, but for forty-six
widely separated high schools, whose enrollment for these two subjects
was 57,680.


                   Math.  Latin  Ger.  Fren.  Eng.  Hist.  Sci.   Bus.

  13 N.J. H.S.'s.  20.0   18.0  16.0     ..  14.0   11.0    ..    11.5
  St. Paul         21.8   13.6  14.3   17.0  10.0   10.9   7.3    11.7
  St. Louis        18.0   [-------16------]  13.0    7.0  19.0      ..
  Paterson         23.1   21.6  23.4     ..  12.2   13.9  18.3     8.5
  Denver           24.0   21.0  12.0     ..  11.7   11.0  17.0    11.0
  Butte            18.6   25.0  24.0   32.6   5.4    7.0  13.0     8.4
  R and K          24.7     ..    ..     ..  18.5     ..    ..      ..
  Our 8 H.S.'s     16.0   18.7  13.5   11.6   8.2   10.4   9.8     8.0

In some schools the reports were not available for all subjects. It is
not at all probable, so far as information could be obtained, that the
failures of the drop-out pupils for any of the schools were included in
the percentages as reported above, or that the percentages are based on
the total number in the given subjects, with the exception of one
school. Moreover, it is certain for at least some of the schools that
neither the failures of the drop-outs nor the pupils who were in the
class for less than a whole semester were considered in the percentages
above. So far, however, as these comparisons may be justified, the
suggestion made in Chapter I that the schools included in this study
are doubtless a superior group with respect to failures appears to be
strengthened by the comparisons made above.

It becomes more apparent, as we attempt to offer a statement of
failures as taken from the various reports, that they are not truly
comparable. The bases of such percentages are not at all uniform. The
basis used most frequently is the number enrolled at the end of the
period rather than the total number enrolled for any class, for which
the school has had to provide, and which should most reasonably form
the basis of the percentage of failure. Furthermore, the failures for
pupils who drop out are not usually counted. Yet, in most of the
reports, the situation is not clearly indicated for either of the facts
referred to. Still more difficult is the task of securing a general
statement of failures by subjects, since the percentages are most
frequently reported separately for each class, in each subject, and for
different buildings, but with the number of pupils stated for neither
the failures nor the enrollment. The St. Paul report[8] is an exception
in this regard.

To present the full situation it is indeed necessary to know the
failures for particular teachers, subjects, and buildings, but it is
also frequently necessary to be able to make a comparison of results
for different systems. Consequently, in order to use the varied reports
for the attempted comparison above, the plan was pursued of averaging
the percentages as stated for the different classes, semesters, and
years of a subject, in each school separately, and then selecting the
median school thus determined as the one best representing the city or
the system. This method was employed to modify the reports, and to
secure the percentages as stated above for Denver, Paterson, and
Butte. Any plan of averaging the percentages for the four years of
English, or similarly for any other subject, may actually tend to
misstate the facts, when the percentages or the numbers represented are
not very nearly equal. But, in an incidental way, the difficulty serves
to emphasize the inadequacy and the incomparability in the reporting of
failures as found in the various studies, as well as to warn us of the
hopelessness of reaching any conclusions apart from a knowledge of the
procedure employed in securing the data.

The basis is also provided for some interesting comparisons by
isolating from the general distribution of failures by school subjects
(p. 19) the same facts for the failing graduates. That gives the
following distribution.


  Total       Math.  Eng.  Latin  Ger. Fr.  Hist. Sci.    Bus.   Span. or
                                                         Subj's.   Greek

  5803 B.      660   403    521   241  191   180  251      91        7
  6334 G.      782   347    673   257  240   410  394     162       12
  Per Cent
  of Totals   24.8  12.9   20.5   8.5  7.4  10.1  11.     4.3       .3


  As above    23.6  18.3   17.7  10.1  5.3   8.4  10.     6.3       .1

It is a noteworthy fact that the percentages of failure (based on the
total failures for the graduates) run higher in mathematics, Latin,
history, French, and science for the graduates than for the whole
composite number (page 19). The non-graduates have a correspondingly
lower percentage of failure in these subjects, as is indicated above.
The school influences in respect to the failures of the non-graduates
differ from those of the graduates chiefly in the fact that the
failures of the former tend to occur to a greater extent in the earlier
years of these subjects, since so many of the non-graduates are in the
school for only those earlier years; while the failures of the
graduates range more widely and have a tendency to predominate in the
upper years of the subject, as will be further emphasized in the later
pages of this report (see also Table IV).


Table V presents the facts concerning the time and the age at which the
failing pupils drop out of school. Table VI furnishes the corresponding
facts for the non-failing drop-outs.



                               AGES                         UNDIS-
  SEMESTERS   13   14   15   16   17   18   19  20  21  22  TRIB.  TOTALS

    1    B.    1   40   49   50   18    0    1   1  ..  ..    1   160
         G.    3   40   65   47   23    4    0   0  ..  ..    3   185
    2    B.   ..    9   56   88   56   22    6   2  ..  ..    3   242
         G.   ..    6   72  119   61   24    3   0  ..  ..    6   291
    3    B.   ..    4   30   40   23   10    7  ..  ..  ..    0   114
         G.   ..    3   35   51   32   13    7  ..  ..  ..    1   142
    4    B.   ..    1   16   66   86   34   16   2  ..  ..    3   224
         G.   ..    1   19   60   70   59   18   3  ..  ..    0   230
    5    B.   ..   ..    2   12   36   21    8   4  ..  ..    3    86
         G.   ..   ..    4   17   48   28    9   3  ..  ..    1   110
    6    B.   ..   ..    1    6   48   52   38  10  ..  ..    1   156
         G.   ..   ..    1   11   52   49   26   5  ..  ..    2   146
    7    B.   ..   ..   ..    2   12   35   21   7   0  ..    1    78
         G.   ..   ..   ..    2   15   21   15   4   1  ..    0    59
    8    B.   ..   ..   ..    0   10   23   19  19   2   0    2    75
         G.   ..   ..   ..    2   10   31   29  10   4   2    3    91
    9    B.   ..   ..   ..   ..    1    4    4   2  ..   1    1    13
         G.   ..   ..   ..   ..    1    6   12   4  ..   0    0    23
   10    B.   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..    1   3   3   1   ..     8
         G.   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..    4   3   3   1   ..    11
   11    B.   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   0   0   0   ..     0
         G.   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   2   1   1   ..     4
  Tot.   B.    1   54  154  264  290  201  120  50   6   2   14  1156
         G.    3   50  196  309  312  235  123  34   9   4   16  1292

Table V reads: In the first semester 1 boy and 3 girls drop out at age
13; 40 boys and 40 girls drop out at the age of 14; 49 boys and 65
girls, at the age of 15. In this table, as elsewhere, age 15 means from
14½ to 15½, and so on. Any drop-out, as for the second semester, means
either during or at the end of that semester.



  SEMESTER     13    14    15   16   17   18   19  20   21    TOTALS

    1    B.    17   118   141  106   39    3    4   1    1   430
         G.    11   159   235  160   51   19    4   4    0   643
    2    B.     0     7    49   50   18    7    3   0   ..   134
         G.     1     1    59   42   31   10    7   2   ..   163
    3    B.    ..    ..     7   16   11    5    1   0   ..    40
         G.    ..    ..    14   22   33   15    3   2   ..    89
    4    B.    ..    ..     5   13   11   10    1   0    1    41
         G.    ..    ..     7   20   31   16    2   1    1    78
    5    B.    ..    ..     1    2    9    1    2   0   ..    15
         G.    ..    ..     0    3   10    9    4   1   ..    27
    6    B.    ..    ..     1    4   14    3    2   0   ..    24
         G.    ..    ..     0    5   17   13    7   3   ..    45
    7    B.    ..    ..    ..    0    2    2    2   1   ..     7
         G.    ..    ..    ..    1    2    7    1   1   ..    12
    8    B.    ..    ..    ..   ..   ..    1    1   1   ..     3
         G.    ..    ..    ..   ..   ..    3    1   1   ..     5
    9    B.    ..    ..    ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   0   ..     0
         G.    ..    ..    ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   1   ..     1
  Tot.   B.    17   125   204  191  104   32   16   3    2   694
         G.    12   170   315  253  175   92   29  16    1  1063

Table VI reads similarly to Table V. The distribution of the age totals
for the pupils dropping out gives us medians which, for both boys and
girls, fall within the 17-year group for the failing pupils, but within
the 16-year group for the non-failing pupils. For Table V the mode of
the distribution is at 17, but for Table VI it is at 15. The
percentages of dropping out for each age group are given below. First,
all the pupils of Tables V and VI are grouped together for this
purpose, then the boys and the girls for Tables V and VI are considered
separately to facilitate the comparison of facts.


  Ages          13    14     15     16     17     18    19    20    21

  Per Cent     0.8   9.5   20.7   24.2   21.0   13.3   6.8   2.4   1.2

It is readily seen from the above percentages that, as would be
expected, the drop-outs are most frequent for the very ages which are
most common in the high school. There is no special accumulation of
drop-outs for either the earlier or the later ages. But, if in any
semester we consider the drop-outs for each age as a percentage of the
total pupils represented for that age, the facts are more fully
revealed, as is indicated below for certain semesters.


                 13    14     15     16     17     18     19     20    21

  Semester 1    6.8   18.2   23.1   32.6   38.3   35.0   40.0   40.0   ..
  Semester 2    4.0    8.1   14.8   18.3   22.2   30.0   40.0   33.0   ..
  Semester 4      0    9.0   11.8   12.5   16.5   24.6   35.2   50.0   ..

If these semesters may be taken as indicative of all, an almost steady
increase will be expected in the percentages of drop-outs as the ages
of the pupils rise. It follows, then, that the older ages have the
higher percentages of drop-outs when this basis of the computation is
employed. We may, however, make some helpful comparisons of the ages of
drop-outs for boys and for girls by merely using the percentages of
total drop-outs for the purpose.


             13     14     15     16     17     18     19     20    21

  Boys        0    4.6    12.5   22.8   25.1   17.4   10.3   4.3   1.9
  Girls      .2    3.8    15.1   23.9   24.1   19.0    9.5   2.6   2.2

Here it appears that, of all the boys and girls who fail before
dropping out, the school loses at the age of 14, for example, 4.6 per
cent for the boys and 3.8 per cent for the girls. As a matter of mere
convenience, the percentages for age 21 are made to include also the
undistributed pupils in Table V.


               13     14      15      16      17      18     19     20

  Boys        2.4    18.0    29.4    27.1    15.0    4.4    2.3    0.7
  Girls       1.1    16.0    29.6    23.8    16.4    8.6    2.7    1.6

These percentages are computed from the age totals in Table VI, just as
the ones preceding are computed from Table V. It seems worthy of note
here that close to 50 per cent of the non-failing drop-outs occur under
16 years of age, for both the boys and the girls; but that the number
of the failing pupils who drop out does not reach 20 per cent for the
boys or the girls in these same years. It is likewise remarkable in
these distributions that the percentages for boys and for girls show
such slight differences in either of the two groupings.


If to the recorded failures the virtual but unrecorded ones are added,
the percentage of failing pupils is 66 per cent. This percentage is
higher for the boys than for the girls by a difference of 6 per cent.

Of the graduating pupils, 58.1 per cent fail one or more times.

Of the non-failing non-graduates 78 per cent are lost from school by
the end of their first year. But the failing non-graduates have not
lost such a percentage before the end of the third year.

The percentage of pupils failing increases for the first four
semesters, and lowers but little for two more semesters. One third to
one half of the pupils fail in each semester to seventh.

In the distribution of failures by ages and semesters, 86 per cent are
found from ages 15 to 18 inclusive. Thirty-four per cent of the
failures occur after the end of the second year, when 52.2 per cent of
the pupils have been lost and others are leaving continuously.

Mathematics, Latin, and English head the list in the percentages of
total failures, and together provide nearly 60 per cent of the
failures; but English has a large subject-enrollment to balance its
count in failures.

Mathematics, Latin, and German fail the highest percentages on the
number of pupils taking the subjects.

In several subjects the percentages of failure based on the total
failures are higher for the graduates than for the non-graduates.

For the pupils dropping out without failure the median age is at 16,
with the mode at 15. For the failing drop-outs both the median and the
mode are at the age of 17. Nearly 50 per cent of the non-failing
drop-outs occur under age 16, but not 20 per cent of the failing
non-graduates are gone by that age. The percentage of drop-outs is
higher for older pupils.


5. Kelley, T.L. "A Study of High School and University Grades, with
Reference to Their Intercorrelation and the Causes of Elimination,"
_Journal of Educational Psychology_, 6:365.

6. Johnson, G.R. "Qualitative Elimination in High School," _School
Review_, 18:680.

7. Bliss, D.C. "High School Failures," _Educational Administration and
Supervision_, Vol. 3.

8. Strayer, G.D., Coffman, L.D., Prosser, C.A. _Report of a Survey of
the School System of St. Paul, Minnesota_.

9. Meredith, A.B. _Survey of the St. Louis Public Schools_, 1917, Vol.
III, p. 51.

10. _Annual Report of the Board of Education, Paterson, New Jersey_,

11. Bobbitt, J.F. _Report of the School Survey of Denver_, 1916.

12. Strayer, G.D. _A Survey of the Public Schools of Butte_, 1914.

13. Rounds, C.R., Kingsbury, H.B. "Do Too Many Students Fail?" _School
Review_, 21:585.




Any definite factors available for the school that have a prognostic
value in reference to school failures will help to perform a function
quite comparable to the science of preventive medicine in its field,
and in contrast with the older art of doctoring the malady after it has
been permitted to develop. Such prognostication of failure, however,
need not imply a complete knowledge of the causes of the failures. It
may simply signify that in certain situations the causes are less
active or are partly overcome by other factors.

Perhaps one of the simplest factors with a prognostic value on failure
may be found in the facts of attendance. Persistent or repeated absence
from school may reach a point where it tends to affect the number of
failures. It happened, unfortunately, that the reports for attendance
were incomplete or lacking in a considerable portion of the records
employed in this study. Consequently the influence of attendance is
given no especial consideration in these pages, except as explained in
Chapter I, that the pupil must have been present enough of any semester
to secure his subject grades, else no failure is counted and no time is
charged to his period in school. In this connection, Dr. C.H. Keyes[14]
found in a study of elementary school pupils that of 1,649 pupils
losing four weeks or more in a single year 459 belonged to the
accelerate pupils, 647 to those arrested, and 543 to pupils normal in
their school work. He accredits such large loss of time as almost
invariably the result of illness and of contagious disease. He also
says, "Prolonged absence from school is appreciable in producing
arrest especially when it amounts to more than 25 days in one school
year." But the diseases of childhood, with the resultant absence, are
less prevalent in the high school years than earlier. Furthermore, the
losses due to change of residence will not be met with here, for, as
explained in Chapter I, no transferred pupils are included subsequent
to the time of the transference either to or from the school.

The influence of physical or mental defects also deserves recognition
here as a possible factor relative to school failures, although this
study has no data to offer of any statistical value in that regard. A
few pupils in high school may actually reach the limits prescribed by
their 'intelligence quotient'[15] or general mental ability, or
perhaps, as Bronner[16] so interestingly points out, be handicapped by
some special mental disability. If such be true, they will doubtless be
found in the number of school drop-outs later referred to as failing in
50 per cent or more of their work; but we have no measurement of
intelligence recorded for them to serve our purposes of
prognostication. In the matter of physical defects alone, the report of
Dr. L.P. Ayres[17] on a study of 3,304 pupils, ten to fourteen years
old, in New York City, states that "In every case except in that of
vision the children rated as 'dull' are found to be suffering from
physical defects to a greater degree than 'normal' or 'bright'
children." The defects of vision, which is the exception noted, may be
even partly the result of the studious habits of the pupils.
Bronner[16] remarks on the "relationships between mental and physical
conditions," and also on how "the findings on tests were altogether
different after the child had been built up physically." But Gulick and
Ayres[18] conclude that it is evident from the facts at hand that if
vision were omitted the percentage of defects would dwindle and become
comparatively small among the upper grades. This would probably be
still more true for the high school; but this whole field has not yet
been completely and thoroughly investigated.

It would be very desirable to have ascertained the size of the classes
in which the failures were most frequent, as well as the relative
success of the pupils repeating subjects in larger or in smaller
classes. But, as such facts were unobtainable, it is permitted here
simply to recognize the possible influence of this factor. It seems
deserving in itself of careful and special study. From the standpoint
of the pupil, the kind of subject, the kind of teacher, and the sort of
discipline employed will tend to influence the size of class to be
called normal, and to make it a sort of variable. Thirty pupils is
regarded by the North Central Association as the maximum size of class
in high school.[19] Surely the size of class will react on the pupil by
affecting the teacher's spirit and energy. Reference is made by
Hall-Quest[20] to an experiment, whose author is not named, in which
829 pupils stated that their "most helpful teachers were pleasant,
cheerful, optimistic, enthusiastic, and young." If such be true then
the very large size of classes will tend to reduce the teacher's


A promising but less emphasized basis of prognosticating the school
success or failure of the pupils is found in the employment of the
school entering ages for this purpose. The distribution of all the
pupils (except 30 undistributed ones, for whom the records were
incomplete), according to entering age, is here presented,
independently for the boys and for the girls.


                                AGES                            Undis-
  Total     12    13     14     15    16    17   18   19   20  tributed

  2646 B.   16   211    820    900   497   148   23   10    7     14
  3495 G.    8   259   1124   1217   614   194   51   10    8     16

The entering ages of these 6,141 pupils are distributed from 12 to 20,
with 30 of them for whom the age records were not given. The median age
for all the entrants is 15.3. But in order to compare this with the
median entering age (14.9) of the 1,033 pupils reported by King[21] for
the Iowa City high school, or with the median entering age (14.5) of
1000 high school pupils in New York City, as reported by Van
Denburg,[22] it is necessary to reduce these medians to the same basis
of age classification. Since age 15 for this study starts at 14½, then
15.3 would be only 14.8 (15.3-.5) as by their classification. The
percentages of the total number of pupils for each age are given below.


              12    13    14     15     16     17    18    19    20
  Total      0.4   7.6   31.6   34.4   18.1   5.5   1.2       1.0
  Boys       0.6   8.0   31.0   37.8   18.8   5.6   0.8       1.1
  Girls      0.2   7.4   32.4   34.8   17.5   5.5   1.4       1.0

We see that 84 per cent of the pupils enter at age 14, 15, and 16, or,
what is perhaps more important, that nearly 40 per cent enter under 15
years of age. The similarity of percentages for boys and for girls is
pronounced. The slight advantage of the boys for ages 12 and 13 may be
due to home influence in restricting the early entrance of the girls,
thus causing a corresponding superiority for the girls at age 14. The
mode of this percentage distribution is at 15 for both boys and girls.

What portion of each entering-age-group has no failures? This question
and the answer presented below direct our attention to the superiority
of the pupils of the earlier entering ages. That these groups of
earlier ages of entrance are comprised of pupils selected for their
capabilities is shown by the successive decrease in the percentages of
the non-failing as the ages of their entrance increases, up to age 18.


  Totals         12     13     14     15     16    17    18    19    20

  1061 B.        11    102    320    309    186    56     9     4     4
  1575 G.         3    133    522    545    256    73    29     7     6
  % of                                                 -----------------
  Entrants     58.0   50.0   43.4   40.0   39.8  37.7         55.0

Here is definite evidence that the pupils of the earlier entering ages
are less likely to fail in any of their school subjects than are the
older ones. Those entering at ages 12 or 13 escape school failures
altogether for 50 per cent or more of their numbers. Those entering at
age 14 are somewhat less successful but still seem superior to those
of later entrance ages. It is encouraging, then, that these three ages
of entrance include nearly 40 per cent of the 6,141 pupils. There is,
of course, nothing in this situation to justify any deduction of the
sort that pupils entering at the age of 17 would have been more
successful had they been sent to high school earlier, except that had
they been able to enter high school earlier they would have represented
a different selection of ability by that fact alone. There is also a
sort of selection operative for the pupils entering at ages 18, 19, or
20, which tends to account at least partly for the rise in the
percentage of the non-failing for these years. It is safe to believe
that for the most part only the more able, ambitious, and purposeful
individuals are likely to display the energy required or to discern the
need of their entering high school when they have reached the age of 18
or later. The appeal of school athletics will in this case seem very
inadequate to explain their entrance so late, since the girls
predominate so strongly for these years. Then it may be contended
further that the added maturity and experience of those later entrants
may partly compensate for a lack of native ability, if such be the
case, and thereby result in a relatively high percentage of non-failing
pupils for this group.

It is readily conceded that the avoidance of failure in school work
serves as only one criterion for gauging the pupils' accomplishment. It
is accordingly important to inquire how the different age-groups of
school entrants compare with reference to the persistence and ability
which is represented by school graduation. A truly striking array of
percentages follows in reference to the question of how many of the
entering pupils in each age-group do graduate.


  Totals            12     13     14     15     16    17    18   19    20

   796 B.           14    115    290    253     99    20     2    1     2
  1140 G.            5    151    465    363    121    26     5    1     0

  % of Entrants   79.1   56.6   38.8   29.9   20.0   13.4  9.1  10.0  13.3

These percentages bear convincing testimony in support of the previous
evidence that the pupils of the earlier entering years are highly
selected in ability. Of all the high school entrants they are the 'most
fit,' the least likely to fail, and the most certain to graduate. The
percentage of pupils graduating who entered at the age of 12 is
approximately four times that of pupils who entered at the age of 16.
Thirteen is more than four times as fruitful of graduates as age 17;
fourteen bears a similar relationship to age 18; and the percentage for
fifteen is three times that for age 19, as is apparent from the above
figures. The fact that the decline of these percentages ceases at age
19 is probably due to the greater maturity of such later entrants.

When we make inquiry as to what portion of the graduates in each of the
above groups 'goes through' in four years or less, we get the series of
percentages indicated below.


  Ages                 12      13      14      15     16     17     18

  % of Each Group     84.3    85.7    75.8    79.5   84.3   80.4   100

It appears that the ones in the older age-groups who do graduate are
not so handicapped in reference to the time requirement for graduation
as we might have expected them to be from the facts of the preceding
pages. Perhaps that fact is partly accounted for by the not unusual
tendency to restrain the more rapid progress of the younger pupils or
to promote the older ones partly by age, so that by our school
procedure the younger and the brighter pupils may at times actually be
more retarded, according to mental age, than are the older and slower

Since the same teachers, the same schools, and the same administrative
policy were involved for the different entrance-age groups, the
prognostic value of the factor of age at entrance will seem to be
unimpaired, whether it operates independently as a gauge of rank in
mental ability, or conjointly with and indicative of the varying
influence on these pupils of other concomitant factors, such as the
difference of economic demands, the difference of social interests, the
difference in permanence of conflicting habits of the individual, or
the difference in effectiveness of the school's appeal as adapted for
the several ages. One may contend, and with some success, that the high
school régime is better adjusted to the younger pupils, with the
consequent result that they are more successful in its requirements.
The distractions of more numerous social interests may actually
accompany the later years of school age. In reference to the social
distractions of girls, Margaret Slattery says,[23] "This mania for
'going' seizes many of our girls just when they need rest and natural
pleasures, the great out-of-doors, and early hours of retiring." But
surely such distractions are not peculiar to the girls alone. The
economic needs that arise at the age of sixteen and later are often
considered to constitute a pressing factor regarding the continuance in
school. But VanDenburg[22] was convinced by the investigation, in New
York City, of 420 rentals for the families of pupils that "on the whole
the economic status of these pupils seems to be only a slight factor in
their continuance in school." A similar conclusion was reached by
Wooley,[24] in Cincinnati, after investigating 600 families, in which
it was estimated that 73 per cent of the families did not need the
earnings of the children who left school to go to work. The
corresponding report by a commission[25] in Massachusetts shows 76 per
cent. The same facts for New York City[26] indicate that 80 per cent of
such families are independent of the child's wages. But Holley
concludes,[27] from a study of certain towns in Illinois, that "there
is a high correlation between the economic, educational, and social
advantages of a home and the number of years of school which its
children receive." It will hardly be denied that even aside from the
relation of the family means to the school persistence, the economic
needs may have a direct influence on the failing of the children in
their school work, either because home conditions may be decidedly
unfavorable for required home study, or because of the larger portion
of time that must be given to outside employment, with its consequent
reduction of the normal vitality of the individual or of his readiness
to study. But, in spite of the possible interrelationship of these
factors, it still appears that the school entrance age of pupils will
serve as a valuable sort of educational compass to foretell in part the
probable direction of their later accomplishment.


We have considered at some length the prognostic value of the age at
entrance. Here we shall briefly consider the prognostic value of age in
reference to the time when failures occur and the amount of failure for
such age. If we were to total all the failures for a given age, as
shown in Table I, what part will that form of the total subjects taken
by these pupils at the time the failures occur? In other words, what
are the percentages formed by the total failures on the possibility of
failing, for the same pupils and the same semesters, considered by age
groups? The summary line of Table I gives the total failures according
to the ages at which they occurred. The number of pupils sharing in
each group of these failures is also known by a separate tabulation.
Then the full number of subjects per pupil is taken as 4½, since
approximately 50 per cent of the pupils take five or more subjects each
semester and the other 50 per cent take four or less (see p. 61). With
the number of pupils given, and with a schedule of 4½ subjects per
pupil, we are able to compute the percentages which the failures form
of the total subjects for these failing pupils at the time. These
percentages are given below.


  Ages     13     14     15     16     17     18     19     20     21

  %       36.6   38.0   37.9   40.9   40.8   41.2   41.3   42.0   42.7

  [Footnote: These percentages are computed from the data secured in
  Table I, as noted above.]

There is an almost unbroken rise in these percentages from 36.6 for age
13 to 42.7 for age 21. Not only do a greater number of the older pupils
fail, as was previously indicated, but they also have a greater
percentage of failure for the subjects which they are taking. It seems
appropriate here to offer a caution that, in reading the above
percentages, one must not conclude that all of age 14 fail in 38 per
cent of their work, but rather that those who do fail at age 14 fail in
38 per cent of their work for that semester. The evidence does not seem
to indicate that the maturity of later years operates to secure any
general reduction of these percentages. The prognostic value of such
facts seems to consist in leading us to expect a greater percentage of
failures (on the total subjects) from the older pupils who fail than
from the younger ones who fail. If it were possible to translate the
above percentages to a basis of the possibility of failure for all
pupils, instead of the possibility for failing pupils only, the
disparity for the different ages would become more pronounced, as the
earlier ages have more non-failing pupils. But this we are not able to
do, as our data are not adequate for that purpose.


For this purpose the pupil record for the first year, in reference to
failures, is deemed more adequate and dependable than the record for
the first semester only. Accordingly, the pupils have been classified
on their first year's record into those who had 0, 1, 2, 3, and up to 7
or more failures. Then these groups were further distributed into those
who failed 0, 1, 2, 3, and up to 7 or more times after the first year.
From such a double distribution we may get some indication of what
assurance the first year's record offers on the expectation of later
failures. Table VII presents these facts.

Table VII is read in this manner: Of all the pupils who have failures
the first year (805 boys, and 1,129 girls) 397 boys and 672 girls have
failures later, 105 boys and 130 girls have 1 failure later, 77 boys
and 98 girls have 2 failures later, while 68 boys and 63 girls have
seven or more failures later. The column of totals to the right gives
the pupils for each number of failures for the first year. The line of
totals at the bottom gives the pupils for each number of failures
subsequent to the first year.

The table includes 3,508 pupils, since those who did not remain in
school more than three semesters are not included (1,120 boys, 1,513
girls). Obviously, those who do not stay more than one year would have
no subsequent school record, and those remaining only a brief time
beyond one year would not have a record of comparable length. It seems
quite significant, too, for the purposes of our prognosis, that of the
2,633 pupils dropping out in three semesters or less only about 43 per
cent have ever failed (boys--46 per cent, girls--41 per cent). In
contrast to this, nearly 70 per cent (69.6) of those continuing in
school more than three semesters fail one or more times. Those who drop
out without failure, in the three semesters or less, constitute nearly
60 per cent of the total non-failing pupils (2,568), but the failing
pupils who drop out in that same period constitute less than 32 per
cent of the total who fail (3,573). This situation received some
emphasis in Chapter II and will be further treated in Chapter IV, under
the comparison of the failing and non-failing groups.



  YEAR          0     1      2     3     4     5     6    7+     TOTALS

  0      B.    397   105    77    50    47    37    24    68   805
         G.    672   130    98    60    53    27    26    63  1129
              1069   235   175   110   100    64    50   131       1934

  1      B.     46    43    34    33    35    21    15    46   273
         G.     65    43    53    33    33    19    17    67   330
               111    86    87    66    68    40    32   113        603

  2      B.     22    24    23    23    30    21    13    57   213
         G.     42    32    27    21    22    13    15    83   255
                64    56    50    44    52    34    28   140        468

  3      B.      7     5    16    10    10    13    10    30   101
         G.      8     9     7    10    17     6     7    41   105
                15    14    23    20    27    19    17    71        206

  4      B.      6     8     5     7     7    11     7    23    74
         G.      8     7     5     6    10     8     4    27    75
                14    15    10    13    17    19    11    50        149

  5      B.      3     1     0     2     1     5     3    11    26
         G.      5     9     5     6     5     4     2    14    50
                 8    10     5     8     6     9     5    25         76

  6      B.      0     1     4     2     1     1     1    10    20
         G.      2     1     2     2     6     2     0     6    21
                 2     2     6     4     7     3     1    16         41

  7+     B.      3     2     1     0     1     0     2     5    14
         G.      1     2     1     1     5     2     0     5    17
                 4     4     2     1     6     2     2    10         31

  Tot.   B.    484   189   160   127   132   109    75   250  1526
         G.    803   233   198   139   151    81    71   306  1982
              1287   422   358   266   283   190   146   556       3508

Referring directly now to Table VII, we find that 44.7 per cent of
those not failing the first year do fail later. Of all those who fail
the first year, 13.8 per cent escape any later failures. Of all the
pupils included in this table 15.8 per cent have 7 or more failures,
while of those failing in the first year 27 per cent later have 7 or
more failures. For the number included in this table 30.4 per cent have
no failures assigned to them.


 No. of F's. in First Year     1      2     3     4      5     6    7+

 Per Cent of Groups Having
 No Failures Later           18.4   13.7   7.2   9.4   10.5   5.0  12.9

About the same percentage of the boys and of the girls (near 60 per
cent) is represented in Table VII. The girls have an advantage over the
boys of about 8 per cent for those belonging to the group with no
failures, and of about 1 per cent for the group with seven or more

No unconditional conclusion seems justified by this table. In the first
year's record of failures there are good grounds for the promise of
later performance. We may safely say that those who do not fail the
first year are much less likely to fail later, and that if they do fail
later, they have less accumulation of failures. Yet some of this group
have many failures after the first year, and others who have several
failures the first year have none subsequently. Generally, however, the
later accumulations are in almost direct ratio to the earlier record,
and the later non-failures are in inverse ratio to the debits of the
first year.


From the distribution of failures by school subjects as presented in
Chapter II, this will seem to be the easiest and almost the surest of
all the factors thus far considered to employ for a prognosis of
failure. For of all pupils taking Latin we may confidently expect an
average of a little less than one pupil in every five to fail each
semester. For the entire number taking mathematics, the expectation of
failure is an average of about one in six for each semester. German
comes next, and for each semester it claims for failure on the average
nearly one pupil in every seven taking it. Similarly French claims for
failure one in every nine; history, one in every ten; English and
business subjects, less than one in every twelve. It will be noted that
the average on a semester basis is employed in this part of the
computation. Consequently, it is not the same as saying that such a
percentage of pupils fail at some time, in the subject. The pupil who
fails four times in first year mathematics is intentionally regarded
here as representing four failures. Likewise, the pupil who completes
four years of Latin without failure represents eight successes for the
subject in calculating these percentages. Every recorded failure for
each pupil is thus accounted for.

It was also noted in Chapter II that the percentages of the total
failures run higher in mathematics, Latin, history, and science, for
the graduates than for the non-graduates. This fact is not due to the
greater number of failures of graduates in the earlier semesters, when
most of the non-graduate failures occur, but to the increase of
failures for the graduates in the later years, as is disclosed in
Tables II and IV. Accordingly, we may say that those two subjects which
are most productive of school failures are increasingly fruitful of
such results in the upper years. This does not seem to be the usual or
accepted conviction. Certain of the school principals have expressed
the assurance that it would be found otherwise. Such deception is
easily explainable, for the number of failures show a marked reduction,
and the rise of percentages is consequently easily overlooked. It is
quite possible, too, that in some individual schools there is not such
a rise of the percentages of failure for the graduates in any of the
school subjects. In a single one of the eight schools reported here
neither Latin nor mathematics showed a higher percentage of failure for
the graduate pupils over the non-graduates. In the other seven schools
the graduates had the higher percentage in one or both of these


The statement that the number of failures will be greater for the
failing pupils who remain in school the longer time may seem rather
commonplace. But it will not seem trite to state that the percentage
of the total failures on the total subject enrollments increases by
school semesters up to the seventh; that the percentage of possible
failures for all graduating pupils increases likewise; or that the
failures per pupil in each single semester tend to increase as the time
period extends to the later semesters. Yet radical as these statements
may sound, they are actually substantiated by the facts to be


  Semester    1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10

  Per Cent  11.5  13.9  14.5  15.1  14.5  15.3  12.1   9.9  10.9   6.2

The 808 pupils who received no marks, and many of whom dropped out
early in the first semester, are not included in the subject enrollment
for the above percentages. Otherwise the enrollments taken are for the
beginning of each semester and inclusive of all the pupils. These
percentages rise from 11.5 in the first semester to 15.3 in the sixth
semester. Then the percentages drop off, doubtless due to the
increasing effect by this time of the non-failing graduates on the
total enrollment. The graduates alone are next considered in this


  Semester    1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10

  Per Cent   5.9   6.6   7.8   9.1   9.2  10.5   9.1   7.3   8.8   5.2

These percentages are based on the total possibility of failure, and
reach their highest point in the sixth semester, where the percentage
of failure is nearly twice that for the first semester. These same
facts may be effectively presented also by the percentages of such
failures for the graduates on the total subject enrollment for only the
failing graduates in each semester.


  Semester     1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9    10

  Per Cent   31.4  31.2  31.8  32.7  32.3  36.6  37.5  37.4  38.0  36.0

The percentages here are limited to the total possibilities of failure
for those graduates who do fail in each semester. They reach the
highest point in the ninth semester, with a gradual increase from the
first. The high point is reached later in this series than in the one
immediately preceding, because while the percentage of pupils failing
decreases in the final semesters (p. 14), there is an increase in the
number of failures per failing pupil (Table IV).

This increase of percentages by semesters for the graduates on the
total possibility of failure, as just noted, is due to an actual
increase in the number of failures for the later semesters. By the
distribution of failures in Table II more than 56 per cent of the
failures are found after the completion of the second year, in spite of
the fact that about 10 per cent of the pupils who graduate do so in
three or three and a half years. The failures of the graduates are
simply the more numerous after the first two years in school. That this
situation is no accident due to the superior weight of any single
school in the composite group, is readily disclosed by turning to the
units which form the composite. For these schools the percentages of
the graduates' failures that are found after the second year range from
40 per cent to 66 per cent. In only three of the schools are such
percentages under 50 per cent, while in three others they are above 60
per cent.

Further confirmation of how the increase of failures accompanies the
pupils who stay longer in school is offered in the facts of Table IV.
Here are indicated the number of pupils who before graduating fail 1,
2, 3, etc., times, in semesters 1, 2, 3, etc., up to 10. Of all the
occurrences of only one failure per pupil in a semester, 50 per cent
are distributed after the fourth semester. In this same period (after
the fourth semester) are found 53.2 per cent of those with two failures
in a semester; 67.6 per cent of those with three failures in a
semester; 71.6 per cent of those having four; 78.6 per cent of those
having five; and all of those having six failures in a single semester.
One could almost say that the longer they stay the more they fail.

The statements presented herein regarding the relative increase of
failures for at least the first three years in school are likely to
arouse some surprise among that portion of the people in the
profession, with whom the converse of this situation has been quite
generally accepted as true. Such an impression has indeed not seemed
unwarranted according to some reports, but the responsibility for it
must be due in part to the manner of presenting the data, so that at
times it actually serves to misstate or to conceal certain important
features of the situation. Since the dropping out is heaviest in the
early semesters, and since the school undertakes the expense of
providing for all who enter, it does not seem to be a correct
presentation of the facts to compute the percentage of failure on only
the pupils who finish the whole semester. Such a practice tends to
assign an undue percentage of failures to the earlier semesters, one
that is considerably too high in comparison with that of the later
semesters where the dropping out becomes relatively light. It is not
sufficient to report merely what part of our final product is
imperfect, instead of reporting, as do most institutions outside of the
educational field, what part of all that is taken in becomes waste
product. This situation is sufficiently grievous to demand further

In his study of the New Jersey high schools, Bliss states [28] that one
of the striking facts found is the "steady decrease of failure from the
freshman to the senior year." If we bear in mind that Bliss used only
the promotion sheets for his data, and took no account of the drop-outs
preceding promotion, and if we then estimate that an average of 10 per
cent may drop out before the end of the first semester (the percentage
is 13.2 for our eight schools), then the percentages of failure
recorded for the first year will be reduced by one-eleventh of their
own respective amounts for each school reported by Bliss, as we
translate the percentages to the total enrollment basis. As a
consequence of such a procedure, Bliss' percentages, as reported for
the second year, will be as high as or higher than those for the first
year in six of the ten schools concerned, and nearly equal in two more
of the schools. It is also evident that his percentages of failure as
reported for the junior and senior years are not very different from
each other in six of the ten schools, although there is no inclusion of
the drop-outs in the percentages stated. The only pronounced or actual
decrease in the percentages of failures as Bliss reports them, occurs
between the sophomore and junior years, and it is doubtless a
significant fact that this decided drop appears at the time and place
where the opportunity for elective subjects is first offered in many
schools. Yet apparently it has not seemed worth while to most persons
who report the facts of failure to compute separately from the other
subjects the percentages for the 3- and 4-year required subjects.

A rather small decline is shown in the percentages of failure for the
successive semesters, as quoted below for 2,481 high school pupils of
Paterson[29] (the average of two semesters), although these percentages
are based upon the number of pupils examined at the completion of the
semester. It may further be noted that these percentages do not follow
the same pupils by semesters, but state the facts for successive
classes of pupils. The same criticisms may be offered for the
percentages as quoted from Wood[30] for 435 pupils.


                     1      2      3      4      5      6      7     8

  Paterson         17.8   18.4   16.7   15.0   15.6   11.6    9.4   7.4
  Wood             24.5   14.5   29.5   30.0   31.0    7.9   16.2    ..
  OBrien (p. 41)   11.5   13.9   14.5   15.1   14.5   15.3   12.1   9.9

The above series of percentages tend to agree at least in showing
little or no decline in the percentages of failure for the first five
or six semesters in school.

Another tendency to conceal important features in relation to the facts
of school failures may be found in the grouping together of
non-continuous and continuous subjects, the latter of which are
generally required. F.W. Johnson found in the University of Chicago
High School[31] that the percentage of failures by successive years
indicated little or no decrease for mathematics and for English (which
were 3- and 4-year subjects respectively). The figures were based on
the records for a period of two years. In regard to St. Paul, it was
possible to compute similar information from the data which were
available.[32] The percentages of failure are presented separately in
each case for Latin, German, and French, not more than two years of
which are required in the schools referred to above. A contrast is thus
presented that is both interesting and suggestive.


                               1            2            3            4

  English                   18.1          9.5         18.4         14.4
  Math                      12.9         12.9         13.6          5.6
  Latin                     14.1          9.0          2.9           ..
  German                    12.4          7.4           ..           ..
  French                    14.3          9.6          3.1           ..


                            1      2      3      4     5     6     7    8

  English and Math        17.8   18.0   16.3   16.9   8.1  14.0   ..   ..
  Latin, German, French   17.6   17.5   15.1    7.6   3.0    ..   ..   ..

Apparently the full story has by no means been told when we simply say
that there is a general decline in the percentages of failure by years
or semesters. First, the failures of the drop-outs should be included,
so far as it is at all feasible; second, the percentage should be based
on the total enrollment in the subject, not on the final product, if we
wish to disclose the real situation; third, the continuous or required
subjects should be distinguished in order to give a full statement of
the facts. On page 41 are presented the percentages of failure for the
1,125 failing graduates alone, as found in this study, the greater
portion of whose work, as it actually happened, consisted of 3- and
4-year subjects continuous from the time of entrance, and for whom the
percentages of failure increase to the ninth semester.


Nowhere is there any definite indication that any of these factors of
prognosis operates more distinctly or more pronouncedly on either boys
or girls. Some variations do occur, but differences between the sexes
in personal attitudes, social interests, or conventional standards may
account for slight differences such as have been already noted. To
simplify the statement of facts, no comparison of facts for boys and
girls has, in general, been attempted where there was only similarity
to be shown.


The influence of non-attendance as a factor in school failure is partly
provided for here, but no statistical data were secured.

The percentage of physical and mental defects are doubtless
comparatively small for high school pupils except in the case of

The facts regarding size of classes were unobtainable.

The pupils are distributed by their ages of entrance from 12 to 20,
with the mode of the distribution at 15. The younger entering pupils
are distinctly more successful in escaping failure. They are also
strikingly more successful in their ability to graduate.

The older pupils who fail have a higher percentage of failure on the
subjects taken.

The first year's record has real prognostic value for pupils persisting
more than three semesters. But 57 per cent of those leaving earlier
have no failures. This includes nearly 60 per cent of all the
non-failing pupils, but less than 32 per cent of the failing ones have
gone that early.

Prediction of failure by subjects is relatively easy and sure, and the
later years seem more productive of this result.

The percentage of failure on the total possibility of failure increases
with the time period up to the seventh semester. The same facts are
true for the graduates when considered alone. Fifty-six per cent of the
failures for the graduates occur after the second year. The longer stay
in school actually begets an increase of failures. The boys and girls
are similarly affected by these factors of prognosis.


14. Keyes, C.H. _Progress Through the Grades_, pp. 23, 62.

15. Terman, L.M. _The Measurement of Intelligence_, p. 68.

16. Bronner, A.E. _Psychology of Special Abilities and Disabilities_.

17. Ayres, L.P. "The Effect of Physical Defects on School Progress,"
_Psychological Clinic_, 3:71.

18. Gulick, L.H., Ayres, L.P. _Medical Inspection in the Schools_, p.

19. _Standards of The North Central Association of Colleges and
Secondary Schools_.

20. Hall-Quest, A.L., in Johnson's _Modern High School_, p. 270.

21. King, I. _The High School Age_, p. 195.

22. VanDenburg, J.K. _The Elimination of Pupils from Public Secondary
Schools_, p. 113.

23. Slattery, M. _The Girl in Her Teens_, p. 20.

24. Wooley, H.T. "Facts About the Working Children of Cincinnati,"
_Elementary School Teacher_, 14:135.

25. _Report of Commission on Industrial and Technical Education_
(Mass.), 1906, p. 92.

26. Barrows, Alice P. _Report of Vocational Guidance Survey_ (New York
City), Public Education Association, New York City, Bull. No. 9, 1912.

27. Holley, C.E. _The Relationship Between Persistence in School and
Home Conditions_, Fifteenth Yearbook, Pt. II, p. 98.

28. Bliss, D.C. "High School Failures," _Educational Administration and
Supervision_, Vol. III.

29. _Annual Report of Board of Education, Paterson_, 1915.

30. Wood, J.W. "A Study of Failures," _School and Society_, I, 679.

31. Johnson, F.W. "A Study of High School Grades," _School Review_,

32. Strayer, G.D., Coffman, L.D., Prosser, C.A. _Report of a Survey of
the School System of St. Paul_, 1917.




It has been noted in section 1 of Chapter II that 58.1 per cent of all
the graduates have school failures. Here we mean to carry the analysis
and comparison in reference to graduation and failure somewhat further.
To this end the following distribution is significant.


                  The Non-failing                  The Failing
                Pupils--Graduating              Pupils--Graduating

  Totals       2568      811 (31.5%)           3573    1125 (31.5%)
  Boys         1001      307 (30.6%)           1645     489 (29.7%)
  Girls        1567      504 (32.1%)           1928     639 (33.0%)

We have presented here the numbers that graduate without failures,
together with the total group to which they belong, and the same for
the graduates who have failed. By a mere process of subtraction we may
determine the number of non-graduates, as well as the number of these
that fail, and then compute the percentage of the non-graduates who
fail. Thus we get 58.2 per cent (boys--62.5, girls--54.9) as the
percentage of the non-graduates failing. It is apparent at once that
this is almost identical with the percentage of failure for the ones
who graduate (Chapter II), but for the non-graduates the boys and girls
are a little further apart. It may be remarked in this connection that
no effort was made to include any of the 808 non-credited pupils among
the ones who fail. The inclusion of 60 per cent of this number as
potentially failing pupils, as was done in Chapter II, will raise the
above percentage of failing non-graduates by 11.5 per cent.

The above distribution of pupils enables us to determine what
percentage of the failing and of the non-failing groups graduate. These
percentages are identical--31.5 per cent in each case. The boys and
girls are further apart in the former group (boys--29.7, girls--33)
than in the latter group (boys--30.6, girls--32.1). It follows, then,
that the percentage who graduate of all the original entrants is 31.5
per cent. This fact varies by schools from 20.8 per cent to 45.4 per
cent. And such percentage is in each case exclusive of the pupils who
join the class by transfers from other schools or classes. Our
particular interest is not in how many pupils the school graduates in
any year, but rather in how many of the entering pupils in any one year
stay to graduate.

The greater persistence of the failing non-graduates, or the greater
failing for the more persistent non-graduates, has already been given
some attention in both Chapters II and III. In the following
distribution the non-graduates alone are considered. The number
persisting in school to each succeeding semester is first stated, and
then the percentage of that number which is composed of the non-failing
pupils is given.


                                      BY END OF SEMESTERS
                        1     2     3    4     5     6    7     8    9   10

  Total (4205)        2787  1957  1572  999   761   390  234   60   23    4
  Per Cent of
  Non-failing (41.8)  24.5  20.0  16.4 13.9  12.7   7.2  3.8  1.6    0   ..

Only 20 per cent of the non-graduates who remain to the end of the
first year (second semester) do not fail. Although the failing
non-graduates outnumber the non-failing ones when all the pupils who
finally drop out are considered, their percentage of the majority
increases rapidly for each successive semester continued in school.
That the non-failing non-graduates are in general not the ones who
persist long in school is shown by these percentages.


The following table shows how the number of failures are related to the
time period required for graduation. The distribution in Table VIII
shows a range from 1 to 25 failures per pupil, and a time period for
graduation ranging from 3 to 6 years. It is evident from this
distribution that the increase of time period for graduating is not
commensurate with the number of failures for the individual. By far the
largest number graduate in four years in spite of their numerous
failures. Nearly 70 per cent of the failing graduates require four
years or less for graduation. The number who finish in three years is
greater than the number who require either five and one-half or six
years. The median number of failures per pupil is 4. The pupils with
fewer than 4 failures who take more than four years to graduate are not
representative of any particular school in this composite, nor are
those having 10 or more failures who take less than 5 years to



   NO. OF                   YEARS TO GRADUATE
  FAILURES           3     3½    4     4½      5    5½      6    TOTALS

     0   Boys       20     23   244    12      8    ..     ..      307
         Girls      54     26   380    30     14    ..     ..      504

     1   Boys        2     10    59     7      2    ..     ..       80
         Girls       5      8    83    13      5    ..     ..      114

     2   Boys        2      2    64     7      7     0     ..       82
         Girls       2      3    88    11      8     1     ..      113

     3   Boys        0      6    27     5      4    ..     ..       42
         Girls       1      1    53     6      3    ..     ..       64

     4   Boys        1      1    44     0      8     1     ..       55
         Girls       4      6    57     8      4     1     ..       80

     5   Boys        0      1    41     2      3    ..     ..       47
         Girls       1      2    26     7      5    ..     ..       41

     6   Boys       ..      0    29     6      3    ..      0       38
         Girls      ..      1    29     3      8    ..      1       42

     7   Boys       ..      2    12     7      7    ..     ..       28
         Girls      ..      1    13     4      5    ..     ..       23

     8   Boys       ..      0    17     7      8    ..      1       33
         Girls      ..      1    16     9      7    ..      0       33

     9   Boys       ..      0     6     5      5     0      0       16
         Girls      ..      1     7     8      8     1      1       26

    10   Boys       ..      1     6     4      6     0     ..       17
         Girls      ..      1    14     5      2     1     ..       23

  11-15  Boys       ..      0     9    18     11     0      1       39
         Girls      ..      1    11    25     14     1      4       56

  16-20  Boys       ..     ..     2     2      4     1      1       10
         Girls      ..     ..     2     5      2     2      0       11

  21-25  Boys       ..     ..     1     0      0     1      0        2
         Girls      ..     ..     0     1      4     3      1        9

  Total  Boys       25     46   561    82     76     3      3      796
         Girls      67     52   780   135     89    10      7     1140

In reading Table VIII, we find that 20 boys and 54 girls who have no
failures graduate in three years; 2 boys and 5 girls fail once and
graduate in 3 years; 10 boys and 8 girls have one failure and graduate
in 3½ years, and so on. The median period is 4 years for those with no
failures and it remains at 4 for all who have fewer than 9 failures;
but the median time period is not above 5 years for the highest number
of failures.


The pages preceding this point have given evidence that the failing
pupils are not mainly the ones who drop out early. But we may still ask
whether the number of failures per individual tends to determine how
early he will be eliminated? This question calls for the facts of the
next table. In this table the semesters of dropping out are indicated
at the top. The failures range as high as 25 per pupil, and it is
evident that not all pupils have left school until the eleventh
semester. The distribution includes the 1156 boys and the 1292 girls
who failed and did not graduate; also the 694 boys and the 1063 girls
who dropped out without failing. The wide distribution of these
non-graduates both relative to the number of failures and to the time
of dropping out, is forcibly brought to our attention by the table
which follows.



  FAILURES     1    2    3    4    5    6    7   8   9  10  11   TOTAL

     0   B.  430  134   40   41   15   24    7   3   0  ..  ..  694
         G.  643  163   89   78   27   45   12   5   1  ..  .. 1063
     1   B.   35   53   25   33   14    9    1   1  ..  ..  ..  171
         G.   46   65   25   34   12   12    4   3  ..  ..  ..  201
     2   B.   52   58   18   30    8   17    5   6  ..  ..  ..  194
         G.   49   79   31   36   12   17    3   3  ..  ..  ..  230
     3   B.   43   41   22   28    9   10    5   1   0  ..  ..  159
         G.   54   52   19   34   18   17    0   6   1  ..  ..  201
     4   B.   27   31   13   32    7   11    9   2  ..  ..  ..  132
         G.   34   43   23   29   11   16    5   8  ..  ..  ..  169
     5   B.    3   13   14   30   11   16   11   4  ..  ..  ..  102
         G.    2   14   18   24    5   13    3   5  ..  ..  ..   84
     6   B.   ..   27    8   24   11   16   11   6   0   0  ..  103
         G.   ..   17   14   25   10   11    3   9   2   1  ..   92
     7   B.   ..    8    7    7    6   16    5   3   0   1  ..   53
         G.   ..    9    3   15    8    7    5   5   0   0  ..   52
     8   B.   ..    8    3   14    6   11    6   5   1   0  ..   54
         G.   ..   10    5   15    7   10    6   6   1   1  ..   61
     9   B.   ..    1    1    7    5    8    2   7   3   1  ..   35
         G.   ..    0    2    7    8    9    2   4   1   0  ..   33
    10   B.   ..    2    2   10    2    7    6  10   0  ..  ..   39
         G.   ..    2    1    6    5    9    4   4   0  ..  ..   31
  11-15  B.   ..   ..    1    8    7   27   14  22   5   2   0   86
         G.   ..   ..    1    5   12   22   20  23   9   6   2  100
  16-20  B.   ..   ..   ..    1    0    8    3   6   3   3   0   24
         G.   ..   ..   ..    0    2    3    3  12   6   2   2   30
  21-25  B.   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   2   1   1  ..    4
         G.   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..   ..    1   3   3   1  ..    8
  TOTAL  B.  590  376  154  263  101  180   85  78  13   8   0 1850
         G.  828  454  231  308  137  191   71  96  24  11   4 2355

Table IX reads in a manner similar to Table VIII: 430 boys and 643
girls, having failures, drop out in the first semester; 35 boys and 46
girls drop out in the first semester with a single failure; 3 boys and
2 girls drop out in the first semester with five failures each.

For a small portion of these drop-outs the number of failures is
undoubtedly the prime or immediate factor in securing their
elimination. It seems probable that such is the situation for most of
those pupils who drop out after 50 per cent or more of their school
work has resulted in failures. Yet a few of these pupils manage to
continue for an extended time in school, as the following distribution


                 1      2      3     4     5     6     7     8    9   10

  221 B.        81     69     17    24     7    15     4     2    1    1
  264 G.        98     68     20    35    14    10     5     8    5    1

  % of Total   36.9   28.2   7.6   12.2  4.3   5.2   1.9   2.0  1.2   .4

This grouping includes 485 pupils, or 11.5 per cent of the total number
of 4,205 drop-outs. But whatever the part may be that is played by
failing it is evident that it does not operate to cause their early
loss to the school in nearly all of these instances. It may be noted
here that it is difficult to find any justification for allowing or
forcing these pupils to endure two, three, or four years of a kind of
training for which they have shown themselves obviously unfitted. To be
sure, they have satisfied a part of these failures by repetitions or
otherwise, but only to go on adding more failures. A device of
'superannuation' is employed in certain schools by which a pupil who
has failed in half of his work for two semesters, and is sixteen years
of age, is supposed to be dropped automatically from the school. This
device seems designed to evade a difficulty in the absence of any real
solution for it, and harmonizes with the school aims that are
prescribed in terms of subject matter rather than in terms of the
pupils' needs. From the standpoint of the individual pupil his peculiar
qualities are not likely to be fashioned to the highest degree of
usefulness by this procedure. It simply serves notice that the pupil
must make the adjustment needed, as the school cannot or will not.

Notwithstanding the testimony furnished by the accumulation of failures
shown in Table IX, there are grounds for believing that for the major
portion of all the non-graduates the number of failures is not a prime
nor perhaps a highly important cause of their dropping out of school.
This conviction seems to be substantiated by the statement of
percentages below.


     0        1 or 0    2 or fewer   3 or fewer   4 or fewer   5 or fewer
  Failures   Failures    Failures     Failures     Failures     Failures

   41.8        50.6        60.7         69.2         76.4         80.8

The fact that nearly 81 per cent of the non-graduates have only 5
failures or less, taken in comparison with the fact that approximately
one fourth of the failing graduates have 8 or more failures, argues
that the number of failures alone can hardly be considered one of the
larger factors in causing the dropping out. In a report concerning the
working children of Cincinnati, H.T. Wooley remarks[33] that
"two-thirds of our children leaving the public schools are the
failures." This seems to suppose failing a large cause of the dropping
out. But this investigation of failure indicates that the percentage of
failure for those leaving is no higher than for the ones who do not
leave. A similar illustration is credited to O.W. Caldwell[34], who
makes reference to the large percentage of the failing pupils who leave
high school, without taking any recognition of the equally large
percentage of the failing pupils who continue in the high school.

There is in no sense any intention here to condone the large number of
failures simply because it is pointed out that they do not operate
chiefly to cause elimination from school. The above facts may lead to
some such conviction as that expressed by Wooley,[33] after giving
especial attention to those who had left school, that "the real force
that is sending a majority of these children out into the industrial
field is their own desire to go to work, and behind this desire is
frequently the dissatisfaction with school." A somewhat similar
conviction seems to be shared by King,[35] in saying that "the pupil
who yields unwillingly to the narrow round of school tasks ... will
grasp at almost any pretext to quit school." W.F. Book tabulated the
reasons why pupils leave high school,[36] as given by 1,051 pupils. He
found that discouragement, loss of interest, and disappointment affect
more pupils than all the other causes combined. Likewise Bronner
notes[37] that the 'irrational' sameness of school procedure for all
pupils often leads to "serious loss of interest in school work,
discouragement, truancy, and disciplinary problems." Still it may be
that the worst consequences of multiplied failures are not to those
dropping out. W.D. Lewis observes[38] that the failing pupil "speedily
comes to accept himself as a failure," and that "the disaster to many
who stay in the schools is greater than to those who are shoved out."
To the same point Hanus tells[39] us that "during the school period
aversion and evasion are more frequently cultivated than power and
skill, through the forced pursuit of uninteresting subjects." A pupil
who acquires the habit of failing and the attitude of accepting it as a
necessary evil may soon give up trying to win and become satisfied to
accept himself as less gifted, or even to accept life in general as
necessarily a matter of repeated failures. In a similar connection,
James E. Russell says,[40] "the boy who becomes accustomed to second
place soon fails to think at his best." Such psychological results in
regard to habits and attitude accruing from repeated failures are both
certain and insidious. And an education which purports to be for all
and to offer the highest training to each must abandon the inculcation
of attitudes of mind so detrimental to the individual and to the very
society which educates him.


By merely adding the columns of totals for Tables VIII and IX, we are
able to obtain the full number of pupils who have each number of
failures from 1 to 25. We may readily secure the percentages for the
non-graduates in each of these groups by referring again to the numbers
in the totals column of Table IX. The following series of percentages
are thus obtained.


  No. of Failures     0     1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8
  Per Cent          68.4  65.7  68.5  77.2  69.0  68.0  70.6  67.3  63.5

  No. of Failures     9    10    11    12    13    14    15    16    17+
  Per Cent          61.8  63.6  69.0  61.2  66.0  65.3  70.0  61.5  69.4

That these percentages would be higher for the non-graduates than for
the graduates (that is, above 50 per cent) would certainly be expected
by a glance at their higher numbers in every group of their
distribution. But it would hardly be expected by most of us that the
percentages would show no general tendency to rise as the failures per
pupil increase in number, yet such is the truth as found here. The
reverse of these facts was found by Aaron I. Dotey, with a smaller
group of high school pupils[41] (1,397), studied in one of the New York
City high schools. Still he also asserts that failure in studies is not
a cause of elimination to the extent that it is generally supposed to
be. We may gain some advantage for judging the general tendency of the
extended and varied series of percentages above, by computing them in
groups of larger size, thus yielding a briefer series, as follows:


  No. of Failures      0   1 to 4   5 to 8   9 to 12  13 to 16  17 to 25
  Per Cent           68.4   67.6     67.3      63.9     65.7      69.4

Not only do the percentages of non-graduates not increase relatively as
the numbers of failure go higher, but there is a slight general decline
in these percentages until we reach '17 or more' failures per pupil.
Then for '17 to 25' failures per pupil there is an increase of only 1
per cent over that for failures. The number of failures does not seem
directly to condition the pupil's ability to graduate or to continue to
in school.


We shall now inquire further what extension of time for graduating
characterizes the failing graduates in comparison with the non-failing

The distribution according to the period for graduation for the 1,936
pupils who graduate was shown by the summary lines of Table VIII. In
the same table the non-failing graduates are included (but distinct).
No pupil graduates in less than three years and none takes longer than
six years; 9.8 per cent of the number finish in less than 4 years; 19.7
per cent take more than 4 years. The small number that finish earlier
than four years may be due in part to the single annual graduation in
several of the schools. Some of the schools admitting two classes each
year graduated only one, and the records made it plain that some pupils
had a half year more credit than was needed for graduating.
Considering, however, that about 42 per cent of the graduates had no
failures, they should have been able to speed up more on the time
period of getting through. They were doubtless not unable to do that.
But some principals hold the conviction that four years will result in
a rounding out of the pupil more than commensurate with the extended
time. More than 35 per cent of those who did finish in less than four
years are graduates who had failed from 1 to 11 times. In the
conventional period of four years 77 per cent of the non-failing and 64
per cent of the failing graduates complete their work and graduate (see
p. 59, for the means employed). The percentages of non-failing
graduates for each time period are given below.


  Time Period in Years         3      ½      4      ½     5     ½    6
  Per Cent of Non-Failing    80.4   50.0   46.5   19.3  13.3   ..   ..

This continuous decline of percentages representing the non-failing
graduates shows that they have an evident advantage in regard to the
time period for graduating. Their percentages are high for the shorter
time periods and low for the longer periods. But by reference to Table
VIII we quickly find that the slight extension of the time period for
the failing graduates is not at all commensurate with the number of
failures which they have. The failures are provided for in various
ways, as Chapter V will explain. No striking differences are observed
for the boys and girls in any division of this chapter.


The percentages of graduates and of non-graduates that fail are almost

The percentages of the failing pupils who graduate and of the
non-failing pupils who graduate are identical (31.5 per cent); hence,
graduation is not perceptibly conditioned by the occurrence of failure.

The non-failing non-graduates do not persist long in school, as
compared with the failing non-graduates. The short persistence partly
accounts for their avoidance of failure.

As the number of failures per pupil increase for the failing graduates,
the time extension is not commensurate with the number of failures.

For 11.5 per cent of the non-graduates who fail in 50 per cent or more
of their work, failure is probably a chief cause of dropping out.

Failure is probably not a prime cause of dropping out for most of the
non-graduates, as 80 per cent have only 5 failures or fewer.

The worst consequences of failure are perhaps in acquiring the habit of
failing, and in coming to accept one's self as a failure. The number of
drop-outs does not tend to increase as the number of failures per pupil

The time period for graduating ranges from three to six years, with
approximately 79 per cent of all graduates finishing in four years or
less. The failing graduates take, on the average, a little longer time
than the non-failing, but not an increase that is proportionate to the
number of failures.

The boys and girls present no striking differences in the facts of
Chapter IV.


33. Wooley, H.T. "Facts About the Working Children of Cincinnati,"
_Elementary School Teacher_, Vol. XIV, 135.

34. Caldwell, O.W. "Laboratory Method and High School Efficiency,"
_Popular Science Monthly_, 82-243.

35. King, Irving. _The High School Age._

36. Book, W.F. "Why Pupils Fail," _Pedagogical Seminary_, 11:204.

37. Bronner, A.E. _The Psychology of Special Abilities and
Disabilities_, p. 6.

38. Lewis, W.D. _Democracy's High School_, pp. 28, 37.

39. Hanus, P.H. _School Aims and Values._

40. Russell, J.E. "Co-education in High School. Is It a Failure?"
Reprint from _Good Housekeeping_.

41. Dotey, A.I. _An Investigation of Scholarship Records of High School
Pupils_. High School Teachers Association of New York City. Bulletins
1911-14, p. 220.



The caption of this chapter suggests the inquiry as to what are the
agencies employed by the school for this purpose, and how extensively
does each function? The different means employed and the number
attempting in the various ways to satisfy for the failures charged are
classified and stated below, but the success of each method is
considered later in its turn. One might think also of time extension,
night school, summer school, correspondence courses, and tutoring as
possible factors deserving to be included here in the list of remedies
for failures made. The matter of time extension has already been partly
treated in Chapter IV, while the facts for the other agencies mentioned
are rather uncertain and difficult to trace on the records. However,
they all tend to eventuate finally in one of the methods noted below.


              Repeat   School Exam.                         Contin.   Both
  Total No.    the      Final or    Regents'   Discon. or     No     Repeat
  Failures   Subject     Spec.      Exam's.   Substitution   Repet.    and
                                                            or Exam.  Exam.
  8348 B.     3695        821        1333        2471         259      231
  9612 G.     5001       1025        1752        1929         249      344
  Per Cent
  of Total    48.4       10.3        17.2        24.5         2.8      3.2

It is obvious from these percentages that school practice puts an
inclusive faith in the repetition of the subject, as 48.4 per cent of
all the failures are referred to this one remedy for the purpose of
being rectified, although one school made practically no use of this
means (see section 5 of this chapter). We shall proceed to find how
effectively it operates and how much this faith is warranted by the
results. The cases above designated as both repeating and taking
examination (3.2 per cent) have been counted twice, and their
percentage must be subtracted from the sum of the percentages in order
to give 100 per cent.


We already know how many of the failing pupils repeat the subject of
failure, but the success attending such repetition is entitled to
further attention. Accordingly, the grades received in the 8,696
repetitions are presented here.


  Total Repetitions         A         B         C        D       INC.
  3695 Boys                 63       547      1863      1003     219
  5001 Girls                83       724      2510      1337     347
  Per Cent of Total        1.7      14.7      50.3          33.3

Less than 2 per cent of the repeaters secure A's, while only about 1 in
6 ever secures either an A or a B. The first three are passing grades,
with values as explained in Chapter I, and D represents failure. Of the
repeated subjects 33.3 per cent result in either a D or an unfinished
status. It is a fair assumption that the unfinished grade usually bore
pretty certain prospects of being a failing grade if completed, and it
is so treated here. There is a difference of less than 1 per cent in
the failures assigned to boys and girls for the repeated subjects.

The hope was entertained in the original plan of this study to secure
several other sorts of information about the repeaters, but these later
proved to be unobtainable. The influence of repeating with the same
teacher as contrasted with a change of teachers in the same subject,
the comparative facts for the repetition with men or with women
teachers, the varying results for the different sizes of classes, and
the apparent effect of supervised study of some sort before or after
failing, were all sought for in the records available; but the schools
were not able to provide any definite and complete information of the
sorts here specified.

_a. Size of Schedule and Results of Repeating_

It would seem plausible that the failing pupils who were permitted and
who possessed the energy would want to take one or more extra subjects
to balance the previous loss of credit due to failure. Then it becomes
important at once for the administrative head to know whether the
proportion of failures bears a definite relationship to the size of the
pupil's schedule of subjects. A normal schedule for most purposes and
for most of the schools includes, on the average, four subjects or
twenty weekly hours. In this study the schedule which each individual
school claimed as normal schedule, has been accepted as such, all
larger schedules being considered extra size and all smaller ones
reduced. For instance, in one of the schools five subjects are
considered a normal schedule even though they totaled 24 points, which
is not usual. But in the other schools a normal schedule includes the
range from 18 to 22 points irrespective of those carried in the
subjects outside of the classification included in this study; while
above 22 points is an extra schedule and below 18 a reduced schedule in
the same sense as above. For the most part this meant that five or more
of such subjects form an extra schedule, and that three form a reduced
schedule. In this manner all the repeated subjects are classed as part
of a reduced, a normal, or an extra sized schedule as follows.


  Total                         Reduced         Normal        Extra

  3695 Boys                       132            1762          1801
  5001 Girls                      164            2684          2153

  Per Cent of Total               3.4            51.1          45.5

This distribution indicates that relatively few of the pupils take a
reduced schedule in repeating. For the succeeding comparison with the
grades of extra schedule pupils, those having a normal or reduced
schedule are grouped together.


  Total Repetitions          A        B         C        D        ..

  1894 Boys                 34       259       894      541      166
  2848 Girls                44       361      1319      840      284
  Per Cent of Total        1.6      13.1      46.7          38.6

In this distribution are the grades for 4742 instances of repetition.
Of these, 38.6 per cent fail to pass after repeating. It is not
possible to say definitely how many of these pupils actually determine
their schedule by a free choice, and how many are restricted by school
authorities or by home influence. But certain it is that a policy of
opposition exists in some schools and with some teachers to allowing
repeaters to carry more than a prescribed schedule; and in most schools
at least some form of discrimination or regulation is exercised in this
matter. It will appear from the next distribution that a rule of
uniformity in regard to size of schedule, without regard to the
individual pupils, is here, as elsewhere, lacking in wisdom and is in
disregard of the facts.


  Total Repetitions          A        B         C        D        ..

  1801 Boys                 29       288       969      462       53
  2153 Girls                39       363      1191      497       63
  Per Cent of Total        1.7      16.6      54.5          27.2

Out of the 3,954 repeated subjects in this distribution, 72.8 per cent
secure passing grades, 27.2 per cent result in failures. This means
that the repeaters with an extra schedule have 11.4 per cent fewer
failing grades than the repeaters who carry only a normal or a reduced
schedule. They also excel in the percentage of A's and B's secured for
repeated subjects. In only one of the eight schools was the reverse of
these general facts found to be true. In one other school the
difference was more than 2 to 1 in favor of the extra schedule
repeaters as judged by the percentages of failure for each group. It
seems that at least three factors operate to secure superior results
for repeaters with heavier schedule. First, they are undoubtedly a more
highly selected group in reference to ability and energy. Second, they
have the advantage of the spur and the motivation which comes from the
consciousness of a heavier responsibility, and from which emanates
greater earnestness of effort. Third, it is probable that some teachers
are more helpful and considerate in the aiding and grading of pupils
who appear to be working hard. It is, at any rate, a plain fact that
those who are willing and who are permitted to take extra work are the
more successful. Excessive emphasis must not be placed on the latter
requirement alone, as willingness frequently seems to be the only
essential condition imposed.

_b. Later Grades in the Same Kind of Subjects, Following Repetition and
Without It_

Next in importance to the degree of success attending the repetition of
failing subjects is the effect which such repetition has upon the
results in later subjects of the same kind. By tabulating separately
the later grades in like subjects for those who had repeated and for
those who had not repeated after failure, we have the basis for the
following comparison of results. It should be stated at this point that
by the same kind of subject is not meant a promiscuous grouping
together of all language or of all history courses. But for languages a
later course in the same language is implied, with the single exception
that Latin and French are treated as though French were a mere
continuation of the Latin preceding it. Certain other decisions are as
arbitrary. Greek, Roman, and ancient history are considered as in the
same class; so are modern, English, and American history. The general
and the biological sciences are grouped together, but the physical
sciences are distinguished as a separate group. The various commercial
subjects are considered to be of the same kind only when they are the
same subject. All mathematics subjects are regarded as the same kind of
subjects except commercial arithmetic which is classed as a commercial
subject. All the later marks given in what was regarded as the same
kind of subject, are included in the two distributions of grades which


  Total                        A         B           C           D

  2788 Boys                   28        308        1441        1011
  3489 Girls                  33        307        1748        1401

  Per Cent of Total           .9        9.8        50.8        38.4

This distribution shows a marked tendency for failures in any subject
to be accompanied by further failures (38.4 per cent), not only in the
subjects for which it is a prerequisite but in subjects closely akin to
it. If this tendency to succeeding failures is really dependent upon
thoroughness in the preceding subject, then the repetition of the
subject should offer an opportunity for greater thoroughness and should
prove to be a distinct advantage in this regard. When we compare the
percentage of failures above with that in the following distribution,
we fail to find evidence of such an advantage in repetition. The
continuity of failures by subjects and the ineffectiveness of
repetition are pointed out by T.H. Briggs[42] as found in an
unpublished study by J.H. Riley, showing that after repeating and
passing the subjects of failure, 33 per cent of those who continued the
subject failed again the next semester.


  Total                        A          B           C          D

  1269 Boys                    5         102         639        523
  1191 Girls                   8         147         669        367

  Per Cent of Total           .5        10.1        53.1       36.2

Here the same pronounced tendency is disclosed for the occurrence of
other subsequent failures in the subjects closely similar. But for this
distribution of grades, secured without any preceding repetitions, the
unsuccessful result is 2.2 per cent lower than that found for those who
had repeated. This group is not so large in numbers as the one above,
and undoubtedly there is some distinct element of pupil selection
involved, for it is not easy to believe that the repetition should work
a positive injury to the later grades. Nevertheless, our faith in the
worth of unconditional repetitions should properly be disturbed by such

_c. The Grades in Repeated Subjects and in the New Work, for the Same
Semester and the Same Pupils_

If it is granted that the teachers of the repeaters are equally good as
compared with the others, then the previous familiarity with the work
that is being repeated might be expected to serve as an advantage in
its favor when compared with the new and advanced work in other
subjects. But the grades for the new and advanced work as presented
below, and the grades for the repeated subjects as presented earlier in
this chapter (section 1), deny the validity of such an assumption and
give us a different version of the facts.


  Total                        A           B           C          D

  11,029 Boys                 256        2225        5543       3005
  11,941 Girls                198        2064        6604       3075

  Per Cent of Total           1.9        18.6        53.1       26.4

The facts not only show a lower percentage (by 6.9 per cent) of
unsuccessful grades in the new work, but they also show a higher
percentage of A's, of B's, and of C's than for the repeated subjects.
There is definite suggestion here that often the particular subject of
failure may be more responsible and more at fault than the particular
pupil. Certainly uniformity and an arbitrary routine of tasks ignore
the individual differences of interests and abilities. But by their
greater and their repeated failures in the same deficient subjects (see
p. 66) these pupils seem to have reasserted stoutly the facts ignored.
They have been asked to repeat and repeat again subjects which they
have already indicated their unfitness to handle successfully. This
pursuance of an unsuccessful method is not good procedure in the
business world. The doctor does not employ such methods.

_d. The Number and Results of Identical Repetitions_

It has become apparent before this that some pupils fail several times
and in identical subjects because of their unsuccessful repetitions
after each failure. Final success might at times justify multiplied
repetitions, but in such instances it becomes increasingly important
that the repetition should eventually end in success after the subject
has been repeated two, three or four times. If such is not the result,
then the method is at best a misdirection of energy; or still worse it
is an irreparable error, expensive to the individual and the school
alike, which only serves to accentuate the inequalities and perversions
of opportunity imposed by an arbitrary requirement of the same
subjects, the same methods, and the same scheme of education for all
pupils alike, regardless of their capacities and interests. In using
the term identical it is intended to designate just one unit of the
course, as English I, or Latin II. The following table will disclose
the facts as to the success resulting from each number of such
successive and identical repetitions per pupil.



  NO. OF                   Grades              No              Per Cent
  REPET.           A     B       C      D     Grade   Totals    Failing
    1   Boys      62    532    1727    880     216     3117
        Girls     80    702    2329   1180     342     4633       32.5
    2   Boys       1     15     106     77       3      202
        Girls      3     17     154     89       2      265       36.6
    3   Boys      ..      0      26     33       0       59
        Girls     ..      5      19     36       3       63       59.0
    4   Boys      ..     ..       4     11      ..       15
        Girls     ..     ..       8     25      ..       33       75.0
    5   Boys      ..     ..      ..      2      ..        2
        Girls     ..     ..      ..      5      ..        5      100.0
    6   Boys      ..     ..      ..      0      ..        0
        Girls     ..     ..      ..      2      ..        2      100.0
  Tot.  Boys      63    547    1863   1003     219     3695
        Girls     83    724    2510   1337     347     5001

Although a smaller number of pupils make each higher number of
repetitions, a higher percentage of each successive group meets with
final failure in the subject repeated, and the facts are indicative of
what should be expected however large the numbers making such
multiplied repetitions. It seems almost incredible that pupils should
anywhere be required or permitted to make the fourth, fifth, or sixth
repetition of subjects so manifestly certain of leading to further
disappointment. It must be understood, too, that five and six
repetitions means six and seven times over the same school work. The
existence of such a situation testifies to a sort of deep-seated faith
in the dependence of the pupil's educational salvation on the
successful repetition of some particular school subject. It shows no
recognition that the duty of the school is to give each pupil the type
of training best suited to his individual endowments and limitations,
and at the same time in keeping with the needs of society. Such
indiscriminate repetition becomes a matter of thoughtless duplicating
and operates, first, to increase the economic, educational, and human
waste, where the school is especially the agency charged with
conserving the greatest of our national resources. Second, it operates
to fix more permanently the habit and attitude of failing for such
pupils, and bequeaths to society the fruit of such maladjustments,
which cannot fail to function frequently and seriously in the
production of industrial dissatisfactions and misfits later in life.
Such probabilities are merely in keeping with the psychological fact
that habits once established are not likely to be easily lost.
Indiscriminate repetition is an expensive way of failing to do the
thing which it assumes to do.

Surely one finds in the preceding pages rather slight grounds to
warrant the almost unqualified faith in repetition such as the school
practice exhibits (Table X), or in the importance of the particular
subjects so repeated. There may be evidence in this faith and practice
of what Snedden[43] calls the "undue importance attached to the
historic instruments of secondary education ... now taught mainly
because of the ease with which they can be presented ... and which may
have had little distinguishable bearing on the future achievement of
those young people so gifted by nature as to render it probable that
they should later become leaders." But such instruments will not lack
direct bearing on the productions of failures for pupils whose
interests and needs are but remotely served by such subjects.

A recent ruling in the department of secondary education,[44] in New
York City, denies high school pupils permission "to repeat the same
grade and type of work for the third consecutive time" after failing a
second time. And further it is prescribed that "students who have failed
twice in any given grade of a foreign language should be dropped from
all classes in that language." Our findings in this study will seem to
verify the wisdom of these rulings. Another ruling that "students who
have failed successfully four prepared subjects should not be permitted
to elect more than four in the succeeding term," or if they "have
passed four subjects and failed in one," should be permitted to take
five only provisionally, seems to judge the individual's capacities
pretty much in terms of failure. We have found that for approximately
4,000 repetitions with an extra schedule, however or by whomever they
may have been determined, the percentage getting A's and B's was
higher and the percentage of failing was substantially lower than for
approximately 4,700 repetitions with only three or four subjects for
each schedule. It does not appear that the number of subjects is
uniformly the factor of prime importance, or that such a ruling will
meet the essential difficulty regarding failure. The failure in any
subject will more often tend to indicate a specific difficulty rather
than any general lack of 'ability plus application' relative to the
number of subjects. The maladjustment is not so often in the size of
the load as in the kind or composition of the load for the particular
individual concerned. The burden is sometimes mastered by repeated
trials. But often the particular adjustment needed is clearly indicated
by the antecedent failures.


Earlier in this chapter appears the number and percentage of failures
whose disposition was effected by discontinuance or by substitution.
Twenty-four and five-tenths per cent of the failures were accounted for
in this way. This grouping happens to be a rather complex one. Many of
such pupils simply discontinue the course and then drop out of school.
Some discontinue the subject but because they have extra credits take
no substitute for it; others substitute in a general way to secure the
needed credits but not specifically for the subject dropped. Only a few
shift their credits to another curriculum. In some instances the
subject is itself an extra one, and needs no substitute. For the
graduating pupils only about 5 per cent of the failures are disposed of
by discontinuing and by substitution of subjects. This fact may be due
to the greater economy in examinations, or to the relatively inflexible
school requirements for completing the prescribed work by repetition
whether for graduation or for college entrance. In only one school was
there a tendency to discontinue the subject failed in. So far as
failures represent a definite maladjustment between the pupil and the
school subject, the substitution of other work would seem to be the
most rational solution of the difficulty.

A consideration of the success following a substitution of vocational
or shop subjects, to replace the academic subjects of failure, offers
an especially promising theme for study. No opportunity was offered in
the scope of this study to include that sort of inquiry, but its
possibilities are recognized and acknowledged herein as worthy of
earnest attention. In only two of the eight schools was any shop-work
offered, and only one of these could probably claim vocational rank.
Apart from the difficulty in reference to comparability of standards,
there were not more than a negligible number of cases of such
substitution, due partly to the relative recency in the offering of any
vocational work. In this reference a report comes from W.D. Lewis of an
actual experiment[45] in which "fifty boys of the school loafer type
... selected because of their prolific record in failure--as they had
proved absolute failures in the traditional course--were placed in
charge of a good red-blooded man in a thoroughly equipped wood work
shop." "The shop failed to reach just one." At the same time the
academic work improved. One cannot be sure of how much to credit the
type of work and how much the red-blooded man for such results. But we
may feel sure of further contributions of this sort in due time.


The school examinations employed to dispose of the failures are of two
types. The 'final' semester examination, employed by certain schools
and required of pupils who have failed, operates to remove the previous
failure for that semester of the subject. The success of this plan is
not high, because of the insufficient time available to make any
adequate reparation for the failures already charged. Of the 1,657
examinations of this kind to satisfy for failures, 30.7 per cent result
in success. The boys are more successful than the girls by 4.5 per
cent. This particular procedure is not employed by more than two of the
eight schools. The other form of school examination employed for
disposing of failures is the special examination, usually following
some definite preparation, and given at the discretion of the teacher
or department head. Its employment seems also to be limited pretty much
to two of the schools, because for most of the subjects the Regents'
examinations tend to displace it in the schools of the New York State
and City systems. As only the successes were sure of being recorded in
these tests we do not know the percentage of success attributable to
this plan of removing failures. It probably deserves to be credited
with a fairly high degree of success, for relatively few pupils (less
than 200) utilize it, and then frequently after some extra preparation
or study--such as summer school courses or tutoring. These two forms of
school examinations jointly yield 37.5 per cent of successes on the
number attempted, so far as such are recorded.


Whatever may be the merits or demerits of the Regents' examination
system in general for academic school subjects, these tests certainly
perform a saving function for the failing pupils, by promptly
rectifying so many of their school failures and thus rescuing them from
the burden of expensive repetition. A pupil's success in the Regents'
examination has the immediate effect of satisfying the school failure
charged to him. At the same time, it is possible, as is sometimes
asserted, that the anticipation of these tests inclines some teachers
to a more gratuitous distribution of failing marks as a spur to their
pupils to brace up and perform well in reference to the Regents'
questions. However, there is no trace of that policy found so far as
the schools included in this study are concerned. For the three New
Jersey schools considered jointly have a higher percentage of failing
pupils, and a slightly higher average in the number of failures for
each failing pupil than have the three New York State schools.

But it is more probable that the attitude referred to operates to
exclude the failing pupils from being freely permitted to enter the
Regents' tests in the failing subjects, and thus to restrain them from
what threatens to lower the school percentage of successful papers,
except that in New York City such discrimination is prohibited.[46] On
the percentages of success for these examination results teachers and
even schools are wont to be popularly judged. Annual school reports may
feature the passing percentage for the school in Regents' examinations,
with a spirit of pride or rivalry, but with no word of what that
percentage costs as real cost must be reckoned. It is interesting to
note in this connection that the percentage of unsuccessful repetitions
for the three New Jersey schools is 13.7 per cent lower than for the
three New York schools. In addition to this, for the latter schools 22
per cent more of the subject failures are repeated than for the former
ones mentioned. It is important also to bear in mind that the success
percentage for the Regents' tests is computed on the number admitted to
the examinations--not on the number instructed in the subject. The
regulations are flexible and admit of considerable latitude in matters
of classification and interpretation. Accordingly, if it happens
anywhere in the state that those who are the less promising candidates,
in the teacher's judgment, are debarred from attempting Regents'
examinations by failing marks, by demotion and exclusion from their
class, or by other means, the school's percentage of pupils passing may
be kept high as a result, but the injustice worked upon the pupil in
such manner is vicious and reprehensible. Yet the whole intolerableness
of the practice will center in the rule for exclusion of pupils from
these examinations because of school failure. No one can predict with
any safe degree of certainty that the outcome of any individual's
efforts will be a failure in the Regents' tests, even though he has
failed in a school subject. If failure should happen to result, it is
chiefly the school pride that suffers; if the pupil is denied a free
trial, he may suffer an injustice to aid the pretension of the school.
Our school sanctions are not characterized by such acumen or
infallibility as to warrant our refusing to give a pupil the benefit of
the doubt. He is entitled to his chance to win success in these
examinations if he is able, and it appears that only results in the
Regents' tests can be truly trusted to tell us that he is or is not
able to pass them.

The facts depicted here may lead to the belief that the recorded
success in Regents' examinations may sometimes be artificially high,
due to the subtle influences at work to make it so. In New York City
absence is the sole condition for debarring any pupil, since he must
have pursued a subject the prescribed time. Such a ruling is highly
commendable, and it should not in fairness to the pupil be otherwise
anywhere in the state. The following distribution discloses that 72.8
per cent of the 3,085 failing pupils who were recorded as taking the
Regents' examinations were successful, and that 78 per cent of those
succeeding passed in the same semester in which the school failure


                       Pass the         Pass a      Fail First,
                     Same Semester  Later Semester   then Pass   Only Fail

  1333 Boys               809            143            38          343
  1752 Girls              946            193            117         496
  Per Cent of Total                    72.8                        27.2

The divisions of the above distribution are distinct, with no
overlapping or double counting. Of the pupils who pass these
examinations in a later semester than that in which the failure occurs,
a major part belong to the two schools which restrict their pupils
mainly to a repetition of the subject after failing before they attempt
the Regents' tests. Otherwise many of them would pass the Regents'
examinations at once, as in the other schools, and would not need to
repeat the subject. It was pointed out in the initial part of this
chapter that 3.2 per cent of the instances of failure were followed by
both repetition and examination. In one of the two schools referred to
90.8 per cent of the pupils failing and later taking Regents'
examinations repeat the subject first. That most of such repetition is
almost entirely needless is suggested by the fact that only 2.1 per
cent more of their pupils pass, of the ones attempting, than of the
total number reported above, and that too in spite of the loss of
pupils' time and public money by such repetition. It may be, and
doubtless is, true that an occasional omission occurs in recording the
results after such tests have been taken, but, since it is the avowed
policy of each school to have complete records for their own constant
reference (excepting that the practice of the smallest of the five
units was not to record the Regents' failures, and for this school they
had to be estimated), the failing results would not be expected to be
omitted more often than the successes, so that only the totals would be
perceptibly affected by such errors.

One may rightly be permitted to speculate a bit here as to the most
probable reaction of the pupil in regard to his respect for the school
standards and for the judgment and opinion of his teacher, when he so
readily and repeatedly passes the official state tests almost
immediately after his school has classed his work as of failing
quality. Perhaps it becomes easier for him to feel that failure is not
a serious matter but an almost necessary incident that accompanies the
expectations of the usual school course, just as gout is sometimes
regarded as a mere contingency of ease and plenty. If such be true, and
the evidence establishes a strong probability that it is, then it is
not a helpful attitude to develop in the pupil nor one of benefit to
the school and to society.


A limited number of records were available in one school for the pupils
who failed in the first semester of a subject, and who were permitted
to continue the subject conditionally a second semester without first
repeating it. Not all pupils were given this privilege, and the
conditions of selection were not very definite beyond a sort of general
confidence and promise relative to the pupil. The after-school
conference was the only specific means provided for aiding such pupils.
But 52 per cent of such subjects were passed in this manner, and the
subsequent passing compensated for the previous failure as to school


                                 A         B         C          D

  259 Boys                      ..         7        133        119
  249 Girls                     ..         3        119        125
  Per Cent of Total             ..              52              48

A difference of judgments may prevail as to the significance of these
facts. Although the passing grades secured are not high, 52 per cent
have thus been relieved from the subject repetition, which on the
average results in 33.3 per cent of failures, as has been noted in
section 1 of this chapter.

A much more ingenious device for enabling at least some pupils to
escape the repetition and yet to continue the subject was discovered in
one school, in which it had been employed. Briefly stated, the scheme
involved a nominal passing grade of 70 per cent, but a passing average
of 75 per cent; and so long as the average was attained, the grade in
one or two of the subjects might be permitted to drop as low as 60 per
cent. Then in the event of a lower average than 75 per cent, it might
be raised by a new test in the favorite or easiest subject, rather than
in the low subject. By this scheme the grades could be so juggled as to
escape repetition or other direct form of reparation in spite of
repeated failures, unless perchance the grades fell below 60 per cent.
By a change of administration in the school this whole scheme has been
superseded. But it had been utilized to the extent that the records for
this school showed practically no repetitions for the failing pupils.


Among the school agencies for disposing of the failures, repetition of
the subject is the most extensively employed.

Thirty-three and three-tenths per cent of the repeated grades are
repeated failures.

Few of the repeaters take reduced schedules.

The repeaters with an extra schedule are more successful in each of the
passing grades, and have 11.4 per cent less failures than repeaters
with a normal or reduced schedule.

In the later subjects of the same kind, after failure and repetition,
the unsuccessful grades are 2.2 per cent higher than for a similar
situation without any repetition.

The grades in new work for repeaters are markedly superior to those in
the repeated subjects, for the same semester.

As the number of identical repetitions are increased (as high as six),
the percentage of final failure rapidly rises.

The emphasis placed on repetition is excessive, and the faith displayed
in it by school practice is unwarranted by the facts.

Relatively few of the failing pupils who continue in school discontinue
the subject or substitute another after failure.

School examinations are employed for 10.3 per cent of the failures,
with 37.5 per cent of success on the attempts.

The Regents' examinations are employed for 17.2 per cent of the
failures, of which 72.8 per cent succeed in passing, and in most cases
immediately after the school failure.

Of those who continue the subject of failure without any repetition 52
per cent get passing grades.

No form of school compensation can be considered as adequate which does
not adapt the treatment to the kind and cause of the malady, as
manifested by the failure symptoms.


42. Briggs, T.H. Report on Secondary Education, U.S. Comm. of Educ.
Report, 1914.

43. Snedden, D. In Johnson's _Modern High School._ II, 24, 26.

44. Official Bulletin on Promotion and Students' Programs, 1917, from
Assoc. Supt. in Charge of Secondary Schools, for N.Y. City.

45. Lewis, W.D. _Democracy's High School_, p. 45.

46. Ruling of Board of Supt's., New York City, June, 1917.



In view of the fact that some of the pupils do not fail in any part of
their school work, there is a certain popular presumption that failure
must be significant of pupil inferiority when it occurs. That
connotation will necessarily be correct if we are to judge the
individual entirely by that part of his work in which he fails, and to
assume that the failing mark is a fair indication of both achievement
and ability. Although the pupil is only one of the contributing factors
in the failure, nevertheless it happens that cherished opportunity,
prizes, praise, honors, employment, and even social recognition are
frequently proffered or withheld according to his marks in school.
Still further, the pupil who accumulates failures may soon cease to be
aggressively alive and active; he is in danger of acquiring a
conforming attitude of tolerance toward the experience of being
unsuccessful. Therefore it is particularly momentous to the pupil,
should the school record ascribed to him prove frequently to be
incongruous with his potential powers. It has already been pointed out
in these pages that the failures frequently tend to designate specific
difficulties rather than what is actually the negative of 'ability plus
application.' This does not at all deny that in some instances there
appears to be the ability minus the application, and that in other
cases the pupils are simple unfitted for the work required of them.


There is a strong presumption that many of the 485 pupils who failed in
50 per cent of their school work and dropped out (reported in Chapter
IV) represent misfits for at least the kind of school subjects offered
or required. One cannot say that even hopeless failing in any
particular subject is a safe criterion of general inability, or that
failure in abstract sort of mental work would be a sure prophecy of
failure in more concrete hand work. It is altogether probable that some
of the individuals in the above number were not endowed to profit by an
academic high school course, and that others were the restless ones at
a restless age, who just would not fit in, whatever their abilities.
But even of these pupils a considerable number display sufficient
resourcefulness to satisfy many of their failures and to persist in
school two, three, or four years. There are perhaps at least a few
others who, without failing, drop out early, prompted by the conviction
of their own unfitness to succeed in the high school. Yet collectively
this group is by no means a large one. This conclusion is in harmony
with the judgment of former Superintendent Maxwell, of New York
City,[47] who stated that "the number of children leaving school
because they have not the native ability to cope with high school
studies, is, in my judgment, small." Likewise Van Denburg[48] reached
the conclusion that "at least 75 per cent of the pupils who enter (high
school) have the brains, the native ability to graduate, if they chose
to apply themselves." With many who fail not even is the application
lacking, as the facts of section 2 will seem to prove.


When we take into account that by the processes of selection and
elimination only thirty to forty per cent of the pupils who enter the
elementary school ever reach high school,[49] it is readily admitted
that the high school population is a selected group, of approximately 1
in 3. Then of this number we again select less than 1 in 3 to graduate.
This gives a 1 in 9 selection, let us say, of the elementary school
entrants. For relatively few general purposes in life may we expect to
find so high a degree of selection. Yet in this 1 in 9 group (who
graduate) the percentage of the failing pupils is as high as that of
the non-failing ones, and the percentage of graduates does not drop
even as the number of failures rise. So far as ability is required to
meet the conditions of graduation they are manifestly provided with
it. Following this comparison still further, the failing pupils who do
not graduate have an average number of failures that is only .6 higher
than for the failing graduates (4.9-4.3); but barring those
non-graduates considered in section 1 of this chapter, the average is
practically the same as for the failing graduates. Moreover, the
failing non-graduates continue in school, even in the face of failure,
much longer than do the non-failing non-graduates. That gives evidence
of the same quality to which the manager of a New York business firm
paid tribute when he said that he preferred to employ a high school
graduate for the simple reason that the graduate had learned, by
staying to graduate, how to 'stick to' a task.

The success of the failing pupils in passing the Regents' examinations
does not give endorsement to the suggestion that they are in any true
sense weaklings. That they succeed here almost concurrently with the
failure in the school testifies that 'they can if they will,' or
conversely, as regards the school subject, that 'they can but they
won't.' Of course it is possible that differences in the type of
examinations or in the standards of judgment as employed by the school
and the Regents may be a factor in the difference of results secured.
The great difficulty then seems to resolve itself into a technical
problem of more successfully enlisting the energy and ability which
they so irrefutably do possess in order to secure better school
results, but perhaps in work that is better adapted to them. Again, the
success with which these pupils carry a schedule of five or six
subjects, besides other work not recognized in the treatment of this
study, and retrieve themselves in the unattractive subjects of failure
pleads for a recognition of their ability and enterprise. Their
difficulty is without doubt frequently more physiological than
psychological, except as they are the victims of a false psychology,
that either disregards or misapplies the principles which Thorndike
terms the law of readiness[50] to respond and the law of effect, and
consequently depend largely on the one law of exercise of the function
to secure the desired results.

Some additional evidence that the failing pupils can and do succeed in
most of their subjects is provided by their earlier and later records,
as disclosed by the total grades received for the semester first
preceding and the one next following that in which the failure occurs.
There were of course no preceding grades for the failures that occur in
the first semester, and none succeeding those that occur in the last
semester spent in school. It is quite apparent from the following
distribution of grades that these pupils are far from helpless in
regard to the ability required to do school work in general.


  Total                        A           B           C          D

  13,857 Boys                 315        2883        6668       3991
  17,264 Girls                245        2868        9509       4642

  Per Cent of Total           1.8        18.5        52.0       27.7


  Total                        A           B           C          D

  14,724 Boys                 319        2772        7406       4227
  16,942 Girls                281        2788        9114       4759

  Per Cent of Total           1.9        17.7        52.1       28.3

More than 20 per cent of the grades in the former and nearly 20 per
cent of the grades in the latter distribution are A's or B's, 52 per
cent more in each case are given a lower passing grade, while
approximately 28 per cent in each distribution have failing grades.
Though some tendency toward a continuity of failures is apparent, there
is also evident a pronounced tendency in the main for pupils to
succeed. That these same pupils could do better is not open to doubt.
Teachers in two of the larger schools asserted that with many pupils a
kind of complacency existed to feel satisfied with a C, and to consider
greater effort for the sake of higher passing marks as a waste of time.
Such pupils openly advocate a greater number of subjects with at least
a minimum passing mark in each, in preference to fewer subjects and the
higher grades, which they claim count no more in essential credit than
a lower passing grade. That attitude may account for some of the low
marks as well as for some of the failures shown above, even though the
pupils may possess an abundance of mental ability.

Still another element, apart from the real ability of the pupils,
which is contributory to school failures is found in punitive marking
or in the giving of a failing grade for disciplinary effect. It is
probably a relatively small element, but it is difficult to establish
any certain estimate of its amount. Numerous teachers are ready to
assert its reality in practice. Two cases came directly to the author's
personal attention by mere chance--one, by the frank statement of a
teacher who had used this weapon; another, by the ready advice of an
older to a younger teacher, in the midst of recording marks, to fail a
boy "because he was too fresh." The advice was followed. Such a
practice, however prevalent, is intolerable and indefensible. If the
school failure is to be administered as a retaliation or convenience by
the teacher, how is the moral or educational welfare of the pupil to be
served thereby? It is certain to be more efficacious for vengeance than
for purposes of reforming the individual if employed in this way. The
Regents' rules take recognition of this inclination toward a perversion
of the function of examination by forbidding any exclusion from
Regents' examinations as a means of discipline. Many teachers cultivate
a finesse for discerning weaknesses and faults, without perceiving the
immeasurable advantage of being able to see the pupils' excellences. In
one school there was employed a plan by which a percentage discount was
charged for absence, and in some instances it reduced a passing mark to
a failing mark. This comes close to the assignment of marks of failure
for penalizing purposes, which is unjustified and vicious.

It is certain that some of the pupils are failures only in the narrow
academic sense. Information in reference to a few such cases was
volunteered by principals, without any effort being made to trace such
pupils in general. One of the pupils in this study who had graduated
after failing 23 times, was able to enter a reputable college, and had
reached the junior year at the time of this study. Two others with a
record of more than 20 failures each had made a decided success in
business--one as an automobile salesman and manager, the other in a
telegraph office. It is not unrecognized that the school has many
notable failures to indicate how even the fittest sometimes do not
survive the school routine. Among such cases were Darwin, Beecher,
Seward, Pasteur, Linnaeus, Webster, Edison, and George Eliot, who were
classed by their schools as stupid or incompetent.[51] In reference to
the pupil's responsibility for the failures, Thorndike remarks[52] that
"something in the mental or social and economic status of the pupil who
enters high school, or in the particular kind of education given in the
United States, is at fault. The fact that the elimination is so great
in the first year of the high school gives evidence that a large share
of the fault lies with the kind of education given in the United
States." Some of the facts for those are not eliminated so early are
still more definitely indicative that something is wrong with the kind
of education given, as the facts of the following section seem to point


As soon as we find any subject forced upon all pupils alike as a school
requirement we may be quite sure that it will not meet the demands of
the individual aptitudes and capacities of some portion of those
pupils. As a result an accumulation of failures will tend to mark out
such a uniformly required subject, whether it be mathematics, science
or Latin. It was pointed out in section 4 of Chapter II that Latin and
mathematics, although admittedly in charge of teachers ranking with the
best, have both a high percentage of the total failures and the highest
percentage of failures reckoned on the number taking the subject. In
both regards there is a heaping up of failures for those two subjects,
but furthermore there is an arbitrary emphasis culminating in these two
subjects beyond any others excepting that English is a very generally
required subject. In reference to these two required subjects the
pupils who graduate are not more successful than those who do not. When
the emphasis is on the teaching of the subject rather than on the
teaching of the pupil there is no incongruity in making the subject a
requirement for all, but both are incongruous with what psychology has
more lately recognized and pointed out as to the wide range of
individual differences. A similar situation is evidenced by the
percentage of failure in science as reported for the St. Louis high
school in Chapter II. A year of physics had been made compulsory for
all, and taught in the second year.[53] Its percentage of failures
accordingly mounts to the highest place. Mr. Meredith, who conducted
that portion of the survey, rightly regards the policy as a mistake,
and recommends that the needs of individual pupils be considered.

It is indeed striking how failures of the pupils are grouped under
particular subjects of difficulty, and how the pupils fail again and
again in the same general subject. No educational expert would seem to
be needed to diagnose a goodly number of these chronic cases of failing
and to detect a productive source of the whole trouble if only the
following distribution were presented to him.


  No. of
  Times     1     2    3    4     5    6   7   8   9   10   11   12   14

  Boys    2852  1416  425  196   73   25   2   4   1    1    1    0    1
  Girls   2812  1722  501  250   98   31   7   8   3    1    0    3    0

By 'same subjects' the same general divisions are designated, as
English, Latin, mathematics. We may be led to note first that a major
portion of the above distribution of pupils belongs to those who fail
but once in the same subject; but then we note that by far the greater
number of failures comprised by that distribution belong to those who
fail two or more times in the same subject. To state that fact more
specifically, 68.5 per cent of the total 17,960 failures involved in
this study are made by two or more failures in the same subject, while
31.5 per cent of the failures belong to a more promiscuous and varied
collection of failures, of not more than one in any subject. It will be
noted here that some subjects do not have a greater continuity than one
year or even one semester on the school program. Such subjects provide
the least possibility of successive failures in the same field. A
further analysis shows that the failures incurred by three or more
instances occurring in the same subject form 33.6 per cent of the
entire number; and that 18 per cent of the total is comprised of four
or more instances of failure in the same subject. There is small
probability that such a multiplication of failures by subjects will
characterize the subjects which are least productive of failures in
general, and such is not the case in fact. Latin and mathematics are
again the chief contributors, and this would seem to be a fact also for
those schools quoted from outside of this study, for purposes of
comparison in Chapter II.

The above distribution speaks with graphic eloquence of how the school
tends to focus emphasis on the subject prescribed and then to demand
that the pupil be fitted or become fitted to the courses offered. Such
heaping up of failures will more likely mark those subjects which seem
to the pupil to be furthest from meeting his needs and appealing to his

In two of the schools studied, an X, Y, and Z division was formed in
certain difficult subjects for the failing pupils, by which they take
three semesters to complete two semesters of work. This plan, as judged
by results, is obviously insufficient for such pupils and tends to
prove further that the kind of work is more at fault in the matter of
failing than is the amount. Frequently a pupil who fails in the A
semester (first) will also fail in the X division of that subject as he
repeats it, while at the same time his work is perhaps not inferior in
the other subjects. The data for these special divisions were not kept
distinct in transcribing the records, so that it is not possible to
offer the tabulated facts here. There are numerous recognized
illustrations of how some pupils find some particular subject as
history, mathematics, or language distinctively difficult for them.


The evidence already disclosed to the effect that the high school
entrants are highly selected, that few of the failing pupils lack
sufficient ability for the work, that they have manifested their
ability and energy in diverse ways, and that particular subjects are
unduly emphasized and by the uniformity of their requirement cause much
maladjustment, largely contributing to the harvest of failures, seems
to warrant an indictment against both the subject-matter and the
teaching ends for factoring so prominently in the production of
failures. There is clearly an administrative and curriculum problem
involved here in the sense that not a few of the failures seem to
represent the cost at which the machinery operates. This is in no sense
intended as a challenge to any subject to defend its place in the high
school curriculum, but it is meant to challenge the policy of the
indiscriminate requirement of any subject for all pupils, allowing only
that English of some kind will usually be a required subject for the
great majority of the pupils. It is simply demanded that Latin and
mathematics shall stand on their own merits, and that the same shall
apply to history and science or other subjects of the curriculum. So
far as they are taught each should be taught as earnestly and as
efficiently as possible; but it should not be asked that any teacher
take the responsibility for the unwilling and unfitted members of a
class who are forced into the subject by an arbitrary ruling which
regards neither the motive, the interest or the fitness of the

This indictment extends likewise to the teaching method or purpose
which focalizes the teachers' attention and energy chiefly on the
subject. Certain basic assumptions, now pretty much discredited, have
led to the avowed teaching of the subject for its own sake, and often
without much regard to any definite social utility served by it. This
charge seems to find an instance in the handling of the subject of
English so that 16.5 per cent of all the failures are contributed by
it, without giving even the graduate a mastery of direct, forceful
speech, as is so generally testified. Strangely enough, except in the
light of such teaching ends, the pupils who stay through the upper
years and to graduate have more failures in certain subjects than the
non-graduates who more generally escape the advanced classes of these
subjects. The traditional standards of the high school simply do not
meet the dominant needs of the pupils either in the subject-content or
in the methods employed. Some of these traditional methods and studies
are the means of working disappointment and probably of inculcating a
genuine disgust rather than of furnishing a valuable kind of
discipline. The school must provide more than a single treatment for
all cases. In each subject there must be many kinds of treatment for
the different cases in order to secure the largest growth of the
individuals included. This does not in any sense necessitate the
displacement of thoroughness by superficiality or trifling, but on the
contrary greater thoroughness may be expected to result, as helpful
adaptations of method and of matter give a meaningful and purposeful
motive for that earnest application which thoroughness itself demands.


The pupil is but one of several factors involved in the failure, yet
the consequences are most momentous for him.

The pupils who lack native ability sufficient for the work are not a
large number.

The high school graduates represent about a 1 in 9 selection of the
elementary school entrants, but in this group is included as high a
percentage of the failing pupils as of the non-failing ones.

The success of the failing pupils in the Regents' examinations, and
also in their repeating with extra schedules, bears witness to their
possession of ability and industry.

In the semester first preceding and that immediately subsequent to the
failure, 72 per cent of all the grades are passing, 20 per cent are A's
or B's. Many of them "can if they will."

The early elimination of pupils, the number that fail, and the notable
cases of non-success in school are evidence of something wrong with the
kind of education.

The characteristic culmination of failures for Latin and mathematics
can hardly be considered a part of the pupils' responsibility.

Of all the failures 68.5 per cent are incurred by instances of two or
more failures in the same subject.

Much maladjustment of the subject assignments is almost inevitable by a
prescribed uniformity of the same content and the same treatment for

The traditional methods and emphasis probably account for more
disappointment and disgust than for valuable discipline.


47. Maxwell, W.H. _A Quarter Century of Public School Development_, p.

48. Van Denburg, J.K. _The Elimination of Pupils from Public Secondary
Schools_, p. 183.

49. Annual Report of the U.S. Commissioner of Education, 1917.

50. Thorndike, E.L. _Educational Psychology_, Vol. II, Chap. I.

51. Swift, E.J. _Mind in the Making_, Chap. I.

52. Thorndike, E.L. _Elimination of Pupils from School_, U.S. Bull. 4,

53. Meredith, A.B. _Survey of the St. Louis Public Schools_, 1917, Vol.
III, pp. 51, 40.



It is not the purpose of this chapter to formulate conclusions that are
arbitrary, fixed, or all-complete. There are definite reasons why that
should not be attempted. The author merely undertakes to apply certain
well recognized and widely accepted principles of education and of
psychology, as among the more important elements recommending
themselves to him in any endeavor to derive an adequate solution for
the situation disclosed in the preceding chapters. The significance of
those preceding chapters in reference to the failures of the high
school pupils is not at all conditioned by this final chapter. Since as
a problem of research the findings have now been presented, it is
possible that others may find the basis therein for additional or
different conclusions from the ones suggested here. For such persons
Chapter VII need not be considered an inseparable or essentially
integral part of this report on the field of the research. Indeed the
purpose of this study will not have been served most fully until it has
been made the subject of discussion and of criticism; and the treatment
that is recommended here will not necessarily preclude other
suggestions in the general effort to devise a solution or solutions
that are the most satisfactory.

It appears from the analysis made in Chapter VI of the pupils'
capability and fitness relative to the school failures that it is
impossible to make any definite apportionment of responsibility to the
pupils, until we have first frankly faced and made an effective
disposition of the malfunctioning and misdirection as found in the
school itself. It does not follow from this that any radical
application of surgery need be recommended, but instead, a practical
and extended course of treatment should be prescribed, which will have
due regard for the nature and location of the ills to be remedied.
Anything less than this will seem to be a mere external salve and leave
untouched the chronic source of the systematic maladjustment. It is not
assumed that a school system any more than any other institution or
machine can be operated without some loss. But the failure of the
school to make a natural born linguist pass in a subject of technical
mathematics is perhaps unfortunate only in the thing attempted and in
the uselessness of the effort.

We must take into account at the very beginning the fundamental truth
stated by Thorndike,[54] that "achievement is a measure of ability only
if the conditions are equal." Corollary to that is the fact that the
same uniform conditions and requirements are often very unequal as
applied to different individuals. The equalization of educational
opportunity does not at all mean the same duplicated method or content
for all. That interpretation will controvert the very spirit and
purpose of the principle stated. Any inflexible scheme which attempts
to fashion all children into types, according to preconceived notions,
and whose perpetuity is rooted in a psychology based on the uniformity
of the human mind, simply must give way to the newer conception which
harmonizes with the psychic laws of the individual, or else continue to
waste much time and energy in trying to force pupils to accomplish
those things for which they have neither the capacity nor the
inclination. It is accordingly obligatory on the school to give
intelligent and responsive recognition to the wide differentiation of
social demands, and to the extent and the continuity of the individual
differences of pupils.


If the school failures are to be substantially reduced, the teaching of
the school subjects with the chief emphasis on the pupil must surely
replace the practice of teaching the subjects primarily for their own
sake. This 'subject first' treatment must give place to the 'pupil
first' idea. No subject then will overshadow the pupil's welfare, and
the pupil will not be subjected to the subject. Education in terms of
subject-matter is well designed to produce a large crop of failures.
Neither the addition or subtraction of subjects is urged primarily,
but the adaptation and utilization of the school agencies so as to make
the pupils as efficient and as productive as possible, by recognizing
first of all their essential lack of uniformity in reference to
capacities and interests,--not only as between different individuals,
but in the same individual at different ages, at different stages of
maturity, and in different kinds of subjects. This conception precludes
the school employment of subjects and methods for all alike which are
obviously better adapted to the younger than to the older. Neither does
it overlook the fact that the attitude of more mature pupils toward
authority and discipline is essentialy different from that of the
younger boys and girls; that a subject congenial to some pupils will be
intolerable and nearly if not quite impossible for others; or that an
appeal designed mainly to reach the girls will not reach boys equally
well. In brief, the treatment proposed here is neither radical nor
novel, but it is simply the institution of applied psychology as
pertaining to school procedure. What the more modern experimental
psychology has established must be utilized in the school, at the
expense of the more obsolete and traditional. Psychology now generally
recognizes the existence of what the general school procedure implies
does not exist, namely, the wide range of individual differences.

The situation clearly demands that our public schools shall not, by
clinging to precedent and convention, fall notably behind industry and
government in appropriating the fruits of modern scientific research.
As the doctor varies the diet to the needs of each patient and each
affliction, so must the school serve the intellectual and social needs
of the pupils by such an organization and attitude that the selection
of subjects for each pupil may take an actual and specific regard of
the individual to be served. The change all important is not
necessarily in the school subject or curriculum, but rather a change in
the attitude as to how a subject shall be presented--to whom and by
whom. The latter will also determine the character of the pupil's
response and the subject's educational value to him. By securing a
genuine response from the pupils a subject or course of study is
thereby translated into pupil achievement and human results. The
authority of the school is impotent to get these results by merely
commanding them or by requiring all to pursue the same subject. An
experience, in order to have truly educational value, must come within
the range of the pupils comprehension and interest. Quoting Newman,[55]
"To get the most out of an experience there must be more or less
understanding of its better possibilities. The social and ethical
implications must somewhere and at some time be lifted very definitely
into conscious understanding and volition." The pupil's responsiveness
is then much more important both for securing results and for reducing
failures than is any subject content or method that is not effective in
securing a tolerable and satisfying sort of mental activity.


Not only the failure of pupils in their school subjects but the failure
also of 13 per cent of them to remain in school even to the end of the
first semester, or of 23.1 per cent to remain beyond the first semester
(Tables V and VI)--of whom a relatively small number had failed (about
¼)--make a strong appeal for the appointment of sympathetic and helpful
teachers as student advisers from the very time of their entrance. One
teacher is able to provide personal advice and educational guidance for
from 20 to 30 pupils. The right type of teachers, their early
appointment, and the keeping of some sort of confidential and
unofficial record, all seem highly important.

Superintendent Maxwell mentioned among the reasons why pupils leave
school[56] that "they become bewildered, sometimes scared, by the
strange school atmosphere and the aloofness of the high school
teachers." There is a strangeness that is found in the transition to
high school surroundings and to high school work which certainly should
not be augmented by any further handicap for the pupil. There are no
fixed limitations to what helpfulness the advisers may render in the
way of 'a big brother' or 'big sister' capacity. It is all incidental
and supplementary in form, but of inestimable value to the pupils and
the school. A further service that is far more unusual than difficult
may be performed by the pupils who are not new, in the way of removing
strangeness for those who are entering what seems to them a sort of new
esoteric cult in the high school. The girls of the Washington Irving
High School[55] of New York City recently put into practice a plan to
give a personal welcome to each entering girl, and a personal escort
for the first hour, including the registration and a tour of the
building, in addition to some friendly inquiries, suggestions, and
introductions. The pupil is then more at home in meeting the teachers
later. Here is the sort of courtesy introduced into the school that
commercial and business houses have learned to practice to avoid the
loss of either present or prospective customers. Some day the school
must learn more fully that the faith cure is much cheaper than surgery
and less painful as well.


The recognition of individual differences urged in section 1
necessitates a differentiation and a flexibility of the high school
curriculum that is limited only by the social and individual needs to
be served, the size of the school, and the availability of means. The
rigid inflexibility of the inherited course of study has contributed
perhaps more than its full share to the waste product of the
educational machinery. The importance of this change from compulsion
and rigidity toward greater flexibility has already received attention
and commendation. One authority[57] states that "one main cause of
(H.S.) elimination is incapacity for and lack of interest in the sort
of intellectual work demanded by the present courses of study," and
further that "specialization of instruction for different pupils within
one class is needed as well as specialization of the curriculum for
different classes." There must be less of the assumption that the
pupils are made for the schools, whose regime they must fit or else
fail repeatedly where they do not fit. Theoretically considerable
progress has already been made in the differentiation of curricula, but
in practice the opportunity that is offered to the pupils to profit
thereby is curtailed, because of the rigid organization of courses and
the uniform requirements that are dictated by administrative
convenience or by the college entrance needs of the minority. The only
permissible limitations to the variables of the curriculum should be
such as aim to secure a reasonable continuity and sequence of subjects
in one or more of the fields selected. One of the chief barriers to a
more general flexibility has been the notion of inequality between the
classical and all other types of education. This assumption has had its
foundations heavily shaken of late. The quality of response which it
elicits has come to receive precedence over the name by which a subject
happens to be classified. "France has come out boldly and recognized at
least officially the exact parity between the scientific education and
the classical education."[58] Indeed one may doubt whether this parity
will ever again be seriously questioned, because of the elevation of
scientific training and accomplishment in the great world wars as well
as in its adaptation for the direct and purposeful dealing with the
problems of modern life. Especially for the early classes in the high
school does the situation demand a relatively flexible curriculum, else
the only choice will be to drop out to escape drudgery or failure.
Inglis maintains that the selective function of the high school may
operate by a process of differentiation rather than by a wholesale
elimination.[59] The pupil surely cannot know in advance what he is
best fitted for, but the school must help him find that out, if it is
to render a very valuable service, and one at all comparable to the
success of the industrial expert in utilizing his material and in
minimizing waste. The junior high school especially aims to perform
this function that is so slighted in the senior high school. Yet
neither the organization nor the purpose of the two are so far apart as
to excuse the helplessness of the latter in this important duty.

There is apparently no constitutional impediment to a still further
extension of the principle of flexibility and to the minimizing of loss
by what has been a costly trial and error method of fitting the pupils
and the subjects to each other. Short unit courses are not unfamiliar
in certain educational fields, and they lend themselves very readily to
definite and specific needs. Their usefulness may be regarded as a
warrant of a wider adoption of them. Although they are as yet employed
mainly for an intensive form of training or instruction to meet
specific needs of a particular group in a limited time,[60] the
principle of their use is no longer novel. A unit course of an
extensive nature is also conceivable, for instance, a semester of any
subject entitled to two credits might allow a division into two
approximately equal portions. If then both teacher and pupil feel, when
one unit is completed, that the pupil is in the wrong subject or that
his work is hopeless in that subject, he might be permitted to
withdraw and be charged with a failure of only one point, that is, just
one-half the failure of a semester's work in the subject--or one-fourth
that for a whole year with no semester divisions. Even if this scheme
would not work equally well in all subjects, it implies no extensive
reorganization to employ it in the ones adapted. It is not incredible
that, as the people more generally understand that physics, chemistry,
and biology have become vital to national self-preservation and social
well-being, their emphasis as subjects required or as subjects sought
by most of the pupils may lead to a high percentage of failures, such
as is found for Latin and mathematics usually, or for science as
reported in St. Louis, where it was required of all and yielded the
highest percentage of failures. Now the teaching of most sciences by
the unit plan will comprise no greater difficulty than is involved in
overcoming text-book methods and the conservatism of convention. The
project device, as employed in vocational education, will also lend
itself in many instances to the unit division of work. The first
consequence of this plan will be a reduction of failures for the pupil
in those subjects whose continued pursuit would mean increased failure.
The second consequence may be to relieve teachers of hopeless cases of
misfit in any subject, for if the pupils no longer have intolerable
subjects imposed on them the teachers will come to demand only
tolerable work in the subjects of their choice. The third consequence
will probably be to encourage pupils to find themselves by trying out
subjects at less risk of such cumulative failures as are disclosed in
section 3 of the preceding chapter.


The forms of treatment suggested in the first three sections of this
chapter for the diminution of failures will find their natural
culmination of effectiveness in a plan for helping the pupils to help
themselves. This has been notably lacking in most school practice.
Every improvement of the school adaptation still assumes that the
pupils are to apply themselves to honest, thorough study. But the high
school must bear in mind that good studying implies good teaching. It
cannot be trusted to intuition or to individual discovery. Real,
earnest studying is hard work. The teachers have usually presupposed
habits of study on the part of the pupils, but one of the important
lessons for the school to teach the pupil is how to use his mind and
his books effectively and efficiently. Even the simplest kinds of
apprenticeship instruct the novice in the use of each device and in the
handling of each tool to a degree which the school most often
disregards when requiring the pupil to use even highly abstract and
complex instrumentalities. The practice of the school almost glorifies
drudgery as a genuine virtue. E.R. Breslich refers to this fact,[61]
saying, "so it happens that the preparation for the classwork, not the
classwork itself burdens the lives of the pupils." The indefensibleness
of the indiscriminate lesson giving consists in the fact that it is not
the load but the harness that is too heavy. The harness is more
exhausting and burdensome than the load appointed. The destination
sought and the course to be followed in the lesson preparation are very
many times not clearly indicated, lest the discipline, negative and
repressive though it be, should be extracted from the struggle. The
fact is that discouragement and failure are too often the best of
testimony that teachers are not much concerned about how the pupil
employs his time or books in studying a lesson. The point is
illustrated admirably by the report in the _Ladies Home Journal_, for
January, 1913, of a request from a hardworking widow that the teacher
of one of her children in school try teaching the child instead of just
hearing the lessons which the mother had taught.

Directing the pupils' study is sometimes regarded as a more or less
formalized scheme of organization and procedure, which requires extra
time, extra teachers, and a lesser degree of independence on the part
of the pupils. But here too the important things are differentiation
and specific direction as adapted to the needs of the subject, the
topic or the pupils. It must be insisted that supervised study is not
the same thing in all schools, in all subjects, or for all pupils. In
other words, its very purpose is defeated if it is overformalized. An
experiment is reported by J.H. Minnick with two classes in plane
geometry,[62] of practically the same size, ability, and time allowance
for study, which indicated that the supervised pupils were the less
dependent as judged by their success in tests consisting of new
problems. The pupils also liked the method, in spite of their early
opposition, and no one failed, while two of the unsupervised class
failed. William Wiener also speaks of the wonderful self-control which
springs from the supervised study program.[63] As to the need of extra
teachers for the purpose there is not much real agreement, since the
plans of adaptation are so different in themselves. Increased labor for
the same teachers will rightly imply greater renumeration. Colvin makes
mention of the additional expense imposed by the larger force of
teachers required.[64] But J.S. Brown finds that the failures are so
largely reduced that with fewer repeaters there is a consequent saving
in the teaching force.[65] With a faculty of 66 teachers, he reports 38
classes in which there was no failure, and a marked reduction of
failures in general by the use of supervised study. It is interesting
and significant to note here that by allowing 100 daily pupil
recitations to the teacher the repeated subjects reported in this study
would require 87 teachers for one semester or 11 teachers for the full
four years. This fact represents more than $50,000 in salaries alone.
Buildings, equipment, heat, and other expenses will more than double
the amount. But such expense is incomparable with what the pupils pay
in time, in struggles, and in disappointment in order to succeed later
in only 66.7 per cent of the subjects repeated. As none of the eight
schools provided anything more definite than a general after school
hour for offering help, and which often has a punitive suggestion to
it, the possibility of saving many of these pupils from failure and
repetition by the wise and helpful direction of their study is simply
unmeasured. A conclusion that is particularly encouraging is reported
by W.C. Reavis to the effect that the poorer pupils--the ones who most
need the direction--are the ones that supervised study helps the
most.[66] There is nothing novel in saying that good teaching and good
studying are but different aspects of the same process, but it would be
an innovation to find this conception generally realized in the school


It is unfortunate that the detailed and complete records which tell the
whole story about the failures in the school and for the individual are
found in relatively few schools, even when on all sides business
enterprises find a complete system of detailed records, filed and
indexed, altogether indispensable for their intelligent operation and
administration. The school still proceeds in its sphere too much by
chance and faith, forgetting mistakes and recalling successes. This is
possible because there is no question of self-support or of solvency to
face, and because neither the teachers nor the institution are in
danger of direct financial loss by their waste, duplication, or
failures. In the absence of records it is always possible to calmly
assume that the facts are not so bad as for other schools which do
report their recorded facts. The prevailing unfamiliarity with
statistical methods may also favor a skepticism as to their proper
application to education, since it is not an exact science. But the
fact remains established that it is always possible to measure
qualitative differences if stated in terms of their quantitative

Admirable and complete as are the records for the many schools of the
minority group possessing them, their more general value and
information are still quite securely hidden away in the files which
contain them. Peculiarly interesting was the surprise expressed by the
principals at the extensive and significant information which their own
school records provided, when they received individual reports on the
data collected and tabulated for this study. Yet they received only the
portions of the tabulations which seemed most likely to interest them.
The principals do not have the time or the assistance to study in a
collective way the facts which are provided by their own records, but
they are entitled to much credit for so courteously cooperating with
any competent person for utilizing their records for approved purposes
and in turn sharing their results with the school. To proceed wisely in
the administration of the school we must have a chance to know and
discuss the facts. It is not possible to know the facts without
adequate records. The absence of evidence gives prominence to opinion
and precedent. Accordingly, it is entirely incredible that the number,
the repetition, and the accumulation of failures would remain unchanged
after a fair exposition and discussion of the evidence presented in a
collective and comprehensive form. It may be necessary to admit that a
few teachers will hold opinions so strong that they will discredit all
testimony not in support of such opinions. But the high school
teachers in general seem fairly and earnestly disposed, even about
revising their notions concerning the truth in any situation. In regard
to the relative number and time of the failures, the actual and
relative success in repeated work, the advantage of repetition for
later work, the relation of success to the size of the schedule, the
influence of the number of failures on graduation, and numbers of other
vital facts, it could be said of the teachers in general that they
simply knew not what they were doing. They even thought they were doing
what they were not. The school records must be disclosed and utilized
more fully if their value and importance are to be realized. It will be
a large source of satisfaction if this report helps to direct attention
to the official school records, from which a frequent 'trial balance'
will help to rectify and clarify the school practice. Both are needed.


The contributing factors found in the school must first be remedied,
before responsibility for the failures can be fairly apportioned to the

The provision of uniform conditions for all is based on the false
doctrine of the uniformity of the human mind. Such conditions may prove
very unequal for some individuals, and achievement is not then a real
measure of ability.

By applying a functioning psychology to school practice, more
adaptation and specialization are required to meet the individual
differences of pupils.

No change of subjects is in general necessitated, but a change of the
attitude which subjects pupils to the subjects seems essential.

The genuineness of the pupil's response depends on the pupil and the
subject. A policy of coercion will usually beget only dislike or

Properly selected student advisers, appointed early, may transform the
school for the pupil, save the pupil for the school, and his work from

A relatively high degree of flexibility and specialization of the
curriculum will help the pupil find what he is best fitted for, and
thereby minimize waste. This will include a virtual parity between the
classical and scientific subjects.

The reduction of some subjects to smaller units will tend to facilitate
flexibility and a reduction of failures.

The provision of directed study will help the pupils to help
themselves. Good teaching demands it. The harness is often heavier than
the load. Failures are inevitable.

The plan of study direction must be varied according to the varying
needs of pupils, subjects, and schools. The poorer pupils are aided
most. They are made even more reliant on themselves. The reduction of
failures tends to balance any added expense.

Records adequate and complete should be a part of the business and
educational equipment of every school. The exposition and use of these
facts as recorded will then give direction to school progress, and
dethrone the authority of assumption and opinion.


54. Thorndike, E.L. _Individuality_, pp. 38, 51.

55. Neuman, H. _Moral Values in Secondary Education_, United States
Bureau of Education Bulletin, No. 51, 1917, pp. 18, 17.

56. Maxwell, W.H. _A Quarter Century of Public School Development_,
p. 89.

57. Thorndike, E.L. _The Elimination of Pupils from School_, U.S.
Bureau of Education Bulletin, No. 4, 1907, p. 10.

58. Farrington, F.E. _French Secondary Schools_, p. 124.

59. Inglis, A. _Principles of Secondary Education_, p. 669.

60. Committee of N.E.A. _Vocational Secondary Education_, U.S. Bureau
of Education Bulletin No. 21, 1916, p. 58.

61. Breslich, E.R. _Supervised Study as Supplementary Instruction,
Thirteenth Yearbook_, p. 43.

62. Minnick, J.H. "The Supervised Study of Mathematics," _School
Review_, 21-670.

63. Wiener, W. "Home Study Reform," _School Review_, 20-526.

64. Colvin, S.S. _An Introduction to High School Teaching_, p. 366.

65. Brown, J.S. _School and Home Education_, February, 1915, p. 207.

66. Reavis, W.C. "Supervised Study," in Parker's _Methods of Teaching
in the High School_, p. 398.


FRANCIS PAUL OBRIEN was born at Overton, Pa., November 12, 1885.

He received his early education in the village school of Overton, Pa.,
and graduated from the high school at Wilkesbarre, Pa., in 1904. He was
a student at Lafayette College, Easton, Pa., receiving the Bachelor of
Arts degree in 1908. He was a graduate student at Teachers College,
Columbia University, from 1915 to 1918, receiving the degree of Master
of Arts in Education in 1916.

During 1908-09 he was high school teacher of science and history at
South River, N.J.; 1909-10, principal of the high school, and 1910-15
superintendent of schools at South River, N.J.

He received honors and held offices in college as follows: Competitive
prize scholarship at Lafayette College, and junior oratorical prize at
the same college, 1907; officer in college debating club, 1907-1908;
vice-president of Y.M.C.A., Teachers College, 1907; member of Columbia
chapter, Phi Delta Kappa, 1917.

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