Dalton Plan

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The Dalton Plan is an educational concept created by Helen Parkhurst. It is inspired by the intellectual ferment at the turn of the 20th century. Educational thinkers such as Maria Montessori and John Dewey influenced Parkhurst while she created the Dalton Plan. Their aim was to achieve a balance between a child's talent and the needs of the community.

Helen Parkhurst[edit]

The American teacher Helen Parkhurst (1886-1973) developed at the beginning of the twentieth century the Dalton Plan to reform the then current pedagogics and the then usual manner of classroom management. She wanted to break the teacher-centered lockstep teaching. During her first experiment, which she implemented in a small elementary school as a young teacher in 1904, she noticed that when students are given freedom for self-direction and self-pacing and to help one another, their motivation increases considerably and they learn a lot more. In a later experiment in 1911 and 1912 Parkhurst re-organized the education in a large school for nine to fourteen year-olds. Instead of each grade, each subject was appointed its own teacher and its own classroom. The subject teachers made assignments: they converted the subject matter for each grade into learning assignments. In this way, learning became the students’ own work; they could carry out their work independently, work at their own pace and plan their work themselves. The classroom turned into a laboratory, a place where students are working, furnished and equipped as work spaces, tailored to meet the requirements of specific subjects. Useful and attractive learning materials, instruments and reference books were put within the students’ reach. The benches were replaced by large tables to facilitate co-operation and group instruction. This second experiment formed the basis for the next experiments, those in Dalton and New York, from 1919 onwards. The only addition was the use of graphs, charts enabling students to keep track of their own progress in each subject. From now on it was called the Dalton Plan. [1]

In 1921 en 1922 Parkhurst explained the theory of the Dalton Plan in a series of articles published in “The Times Educational Supplement” and in her book “Education on the Dalton Plan”. It can be reconstructed as follows. The Dalton Plan is an “efficiency measure”: “a simple and economic reorganization of the school” (Parkhurst, 1922, 46). Lockstep teaching is not efficient, because: it is the teacher who does all the work. The Dalton Plan “creates conditions which enable ... the learner to learn” (34). Learning is the same as experience: “Experience is the best and indeed the only real teacher” (152). The school has to provide for sufficient experience. This cannot be achieved by keeping students as passive recipients, separating them from one another, holding them in one place, requiring them to remain silent, making them learn lessons by heart and subjecting them to whole class recitation. We can provide for experience through the “liberation of the pupil” and the “socialization of the school” (46). In the Dalton Plan, freedom is the opportunity to do the schoolwork oneself, to organize it oneself (how where and when) and to carry it out at one’s own pace, particularly to do it undisturbed and to work with commitment and concentration. Self-activity brings about experience. Something similar applies in the Dalton Plan to interaction and co-operation. When students are permitted to interact and work freely with one another and with teachers, in varying groups, in varied locations, with varied resources and materials, they come into contact with one another, the teachers, the subject matter and the learning materials in different ways. This means more experience and consequently more learning. [2]

World wide[edit]

In the nineteentwenties and nineteenthirties, Dalton education was spread throughout the world. There is no certainty regarding the exact numbers of Dalton schools, but there was Dalton education in America, Australia, England, Germany, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, India, China and Japan. Particularly in the Netherlands, China and Japan, Dalton education has remained in existence. In recent years there has been a revival of international interest. It crops up again, for instance, in England, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Netherlands is the country with the highest density of Dalton schools. At the moment (2013) there are five hundred; most of them elementary schools. Comprising five percent of all elementary schools, Dalton education is by far the largest educational reform movement in the Netherlands. And, contrary to Montessori, Jena Plan and Waldorf education, it is steadily on the increase. The only Dalton school in the USA, is the school that Helen Parkhurst founded herself in 1919, and which she was subsequently to direct for more than twenty years: the Dalton School in New York. It is a renowned school. But today its fame is not due to its origins as an experiment in progressive education: the Dalton School is one of the most expensive private schools in New York. [3]


Parkhurst's specific objectives were as follows:[4]

  1. To tailor each student's program to his or her needs, interests and abilities.
  2. To promote each student's independence and dependability.
  3. To enhance the student's social skills.
  4. To increase their sense of responsibility toward others.

She developed a three-part plan that continues to be the structural foundation of a Dalton education:[4]

  1. The House, a social community of students.
  2. The Assignment, a monthly goal which students contract to complete.
  3. The Laboratory, a subject-based classrooms intended to be the center of the educational experience. The laboratory involves students from fourth grade through the end of secondary education.

Students move between subject "laboratories" (classrooms) and explore themes at their own pace.

Introduction in UK[edit]

On May 27, 1920, a very enthusiastic article describing the working of the Dalton Plan in detail was published in the Times' Educational Supplement. Parkhurst "has given to the secondary school the leisure and culture of the University student; she has uncongested the curriculum; she has abolished the teacher's nightly preparation of classes and the child's nightmare of homework. At the same time the children under her regime cover automatically all the ground prescribed for examinations 'of matriculation standard,' and examination failures among them are nil."

The Dalton Plan is a method of education by which pupils work at their own pace, and receive individual help from the teacher when necessary. There is no formal class instruction. Students draw up time-tables and are responsible for finishing the work on their syllabuses or assignments. Students are also encouraged to help each other with their work. The underlying aim of the Dalton Plan is to achieve the highest mental, moral, physical and spiritual development of the pupil.

In the spring of 1921, English headmistress Rosa Bassett went to the Children's University School and stayed with Parkhurst. They spent hours talking about education. Parkhurst found Bassett in complete agreement with her ideas: "She was Dalton," Parkhurst wrote 50 years later. She described Bassett and Belle Rennie as the two people in England who were most enthusiastic and most helpful about the introduction of the Dalton Plan.

It was in 1922 that the UK Board of Education gave official approval and many hundreds of schools in England adopted some form of the Dalton Plan. That same year Parkhurst published Education on the Dalton Plan. In time it was claimed that there were a thousand "Dalton" schools in Japan, another thousand in India, and many in the Soviet Union, Poland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.


Today there are a number of schools around the world and that employ variations of teaching methods based on the Dalton Plan. Most of the schools listed below interpret the Dalton Plan according to their needs. In some cases, they retain only a minimal part of the original Dalton Plan.[5] Currently, the only schools that have strong affiliation with Helen Parkhurst's Dalton School in New York are Dalton Tokyo and Dalton Nagoya.



  • Europaschule, Wien


  • Basisschool De Kleine Icarus, Gent
  • Basisschool De Lotus, Gent
  • Basisschool Dalton 1 Hasselt
  • Basisschool Dalton 2 Hasselt
  • Middelbare Dalton school VanVeldeke Hasselt


Czech Republic[edit]

  • ZŠ a MŠ Chalabalova, Brno
  • ZŠ a MŠ Husova, Brno
  • ZŠ a MŠ Křídlovick, Brno
  • ZŠ a MŠ Mutĕnická, Brno
  • ZŠ Rájec-Jestřebí
  • Gymnázium Slovanské námĕstí, Brno
  • ZŠ Benešova Třebíč
  • Základní škola, Brno
  • Základní škola Brno, Brno







United Kingdom[edit]

United States[edit]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]