John Dewey, an early proponent of progressive education, maintained that schools should reflect the life of the society. He suggested that the schools take on such responsibilities as the acculturation of immigrants in addition to merely teaching academic skills. Dewey also proposed a number of specific curricular changes that had strong impact on subsequent reformers. At his Laboratory School in Chicago, for example, Dewey developed (1896–1904) a method in which younger student groups worked on a central project related to their own interests. The division of more advanced work into units organized around some central theme was an attempt to adapt the method to the academic needs of older children.
Other efforts to reorganize the schools included the Gary plan, developed (1908–15) in Gary, Ind. Devised to utilize the school plant more efficiently, to provide opportunity for more practical work, and to coordinate various levels of schooling, the plan divided the school building into classrooms and space for auditorium, playground, shops, and laboratories. Two schools ran simultaneously in this space so that every facility was in constant use. The school day was eight hours long, and schools were open six days a week. The Gary plan was widely adopted. The Dalton plan (1919), at Dalton, Mass., subdivided the work of the traditional curriculum into contract units, which the student undertook to accomplish in a specified amount of time. The Winnetka plan, established (1919) at Winnetka, Ill., separated the curriculum into the subjects handled by the Dalton technique and used the cooperative method of creative social activities developed by Dewey.
A prominent experimental school was established by Francis Parker at the Cook County Normal School (Chicago, 1883). The Horace Mann School (New York City, 1887), the Lincoln School (1917) at Teachers College, Columbia Univ., and the experimental school (1915) at the State Univ. of Iowa were other notable progressive institutions. Activities programs were designed to supply certain aspects of progressive education to those schools in which more radical adjustments were not possible; the activities included clubs, student self-government, and school publications.