Establishment of academic standards for early 20th century Texas high schools : the University of Texas affiliated schools program

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Nicol, Karon Jean

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The first high schools in Texas were impressive phenomena in that frontier state. They were, in large measure, simple pretensions and elements of local boosterism. Their academic quality varied as widely as did their names as “colleges”, “institutes”, and “high schools”. Only a few graduates of these fragile institutions sought admission to the few fledgling universities in the state. However, the state legislature’s establishment of the University of Texas quickly prompted changes in the state’s secondary schools. Indeed, fewer than a dozen high schools were in operation when the University of Texas convened its initial class in 1883. The university’s faculty ix soon discovered that very few individuals who sought admission were prepared to undertake its standard courses of study. Consequently, in 1885, the university’s regents authorized the faculty to visit the state’s high schools and to affiliate those that offered sufficiently substantial course work as “feeder” or “auxiliary” schools to the university. This plan of affiliation, later known as accreditation, promised that graduates of affiliated high schools would be exempt from the University’s entrance examinations. For most of the established high schools and those that later were organized in the state, their possible affiliation with the university of Texas became a prize sought by their principals and governing boards of trustees. This dissertation depicts the procedures involved in the affiliation process (1885-1917), both by applicant high schools and by administrators of the program and university faculty members. It highlights the steady increase in the number of Texas high schools judged to be worth of university affiliation for about two decades as well as the withdrawal of affiliation from high schools whose academic standards deteriorated and the discouragement of small, rural schools whose programs obviously were weak from applying for affiliation. Importantly, also highlighted are the standards employed for affiliation of high school mathematics course offerings. The curriculum field of mathematics allows illustrations of both continuity and transitions in academic standards over time within the affiliated schools program. This report draws its basic evidence from the project’s records for more than 250 early Texas high schools now housed in the Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.



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