A Report on Vocational Training in Chicago and in Other Cities

Chapter 14: Purpose, Methods and General Results

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Special Investigator for the Sub-committee

The object of this investigation is to determine by specific tests the educational status of boys who leave school to go to work as soon as the law permits, regardless of their advancement in the grades.[1] Information was also gathered as to the boys' reasons for leaving school, the reasons for taking up the kind of work they were doing, the kinds of work they would like to follow for a life occupation, and the state of their intelligence on general topics.

The tests used

The character of the tests, and the best method of securing the desired information, were both difficult to determine. Several psychological tests were proposed, which it was hoped would be successful in revealing accuracy and quickness. It was soon realized, however, that the varying conditions under which these examinations would have to be made would vitiate the results along that line. Hence the psychological tests were abandoned. In the end the following plan was pursued

(1) A question blank not dissimilar to those used by many employment offices was prepared.

(2) A minimum sixth-grade arithmetic test with special practical features was used.

(3) An English test was set in the form of a questionnaire, answers to which revealed not only the state of the boy's knowledge of the use of the language, but also to some extent his ambition and

(273) his ethical conceptions. These papers were also graded for spelling and handwriting.

(4) Whenever time permitted an oral quiz was conducted, each youth being questioned for ten minutes in order to reveal his knowledge of simple matters of United States History and of Civil Government.

The method of conducting the tests

A definite period of time was allowed for each part of the examination. The whole time was a little less than two hours, and in a few cases where the employer furnished the information, rather than allow the boys to fill out our question blank, the time was still further cut down.

A regular order was followed in conducting this inquiry. The question blank was filled out first, the arithmetic was given next, then the English was given. This is mentioned because later it will be seen that a considerably larger number of boys were given the arithmetic than the English. This merely means that, in some instances. the time at our disposal was too short to examine the boys in more than one subject.

The difficulty of securing boys

So far as we knew, no such experiment as this had ever been undertaken and some method of securing the boys, whom we desired should take the tests, had to be devised. In this, much time was lost.

Boys' Clubs and Social Settlements, so far as we could learn of them, were investigated. But we found, for the most part, that the boys who were sufficiently well under control of the directors of these organizations so that they could be prevailed upon to do as they were asked in a matter of this sort, were usually under fourteen years of age and still in school. The older boys were suspicious of anything that smacked of former schooldays, and there was no way to coerce them.

The next move was to go directly to employers of boys of the type w e wanted and to ask their cooperation. There was a variety of reasons why most of them did not care to have anything to do with the undertaking. Some frankly said they were not interested. Others said they could not afford to have the work of their boys interfered with long enough for the tests to be given. Other objections were made, no doubt sincere, but often trivial.


On four separate occasions boys were offered pay slightly in advance of the amount received for an equal expenditure of time in their regular employment to take the tests out of work hours. This plan was a complete failure.

One would think that the offer of extra pay, which would not have to be accounted for at home along with the rest of the weekly wage, for an hour or two of mental labor would cause the boys to yield to the wishes of the investigator. The most discouraging proof that this was not the case was furnished at one of the larger establishments, when a hundred boys on Friday, tempted by the offer of 25 cents an hour, which would assure them a chance to see the Sunday baseball game, promised to stay the following noon to take the tests before leaving for their regular Saturday afternoon holiday. The next day, however, on the blowing of the twelve o'clock whistle, all departed from the building in great haste.

Whenever the employer made the matter optional with the boys, the low-grade youth. the investigation of whose intellectual life was our distinct purpose. refused to take the tests.

Our task was made more difficult by reason of the fact that, while the labor laws require the State Factory Inspector to keep a record of those concerns that employ young people from fourteen to sixteen years of age, those above sixteen are classed as adults. It was, therefore, necessary to discover by personal investigation where boys above sixteen were to be found. Boys above sixteen were those in whom we were especially interested, as they had usually been out of school for some time.

The successful lines of approach

The boys tested were obtained as follows:

(1) By the cooperation of sympathetic employers willing to give the time of the boys and to exercise a measure of authority to get them to submit to the tests.

(2) By the courtesy of Superintendent Young we were allowed to give the tests in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades in the night schools.

(3) Superintendent Young also gave similar permission, of which we availed ourselves, in regard to the Apprentice Schools, which were in session at this time.

A word of explanation is here given. The public night schools are conducted for the benefit of those people who can not avail

275) themselves of the advantages of the day schools. A large number of foreigners attend to be taught the English language. Then, for the benefit of those who had to drop out of the grades of the day school in order to go to work, a regular grade system is conducted leading to common-school graduation. It was with the sixth, seventh and eighth grades of the latter class that we dealt. These grades were made up chiefly of boys between the ages of fourteen and twenty. It was an easy matter to eliminate the papers of the girls and women and the few older men before our results were made up.

The Apprentice Schools run three months in the year for the benefit of the apprentices of the Carpenters' Union of the city.

It is, therefore, seen that we found three types of boys, which groups are discriminated throughout our report: those in the night schools, those in the Apprentice Schools, and those out of school.

Method of grading

As remarked above, we did not deal with grades below the sixth in the night school, the reason being that these lower grades were made up almost entirely of people who had never had the opportunity to attend the day schools in this country, and the average age was too high for our purpose. In the sixth-grade night school we found boys who had left the fourth, fifth and sixth grades of the day school on having reached fourteen years of age. Assuming that a child should reach the eighth grade by the time that he is fourteen, these boys were all retarded when they left the day school, some more than others. These youths, who enter the sixth-grade night school in this retarded condition, are, if necessary, kept in this grade until they come up to standard. While the grading is sufficiently flexible to allow a boy who had formerly been only in the fourth grade day school to attend the sixth-grade night school, he will not be passed on to the seventh-grade night school as soon as the boy who was in the fifth grade when he left the day school.

In the seventh and eighth grades the pupils for the most part were less retarded on leaving the day school; their average age is slightly less than the average age of the sixth grade, and the grading is a little closer in the seventh and eighth.

The young people, therefore, who are in the night schools have just the advantage implied in that fact, over those who have left the public schools altogether at a corresponding grade.

Undoubtedly, for those who have attended the night schools dili-

276) gently for a considerable length of time, this advantage is very great. But in the making up of these tables the advantage over the boys out of school is offset by the facts:

(a) That many of those whom we tested had just entered the night schools.

(b) That many are very irregular in attendance.

(c) Some attend merely to have a place to spend their evenings, taking very little interest in their work.

(d) The night schools run for five months in the year and, theoretically, for two hours an evening. Practically owing to late arrivals, teachers are often unable to hold classes more than one hour and a half.

(e) A room in the night schools that fails to maintain an attendance of twenty pupils is closed. Therefore, in order to keep the necessary number, a pupil may be classified above his grade. Say a seventh-grader may be called an eighth-grader. In our tables, then, he is an eighth grader, whereas, had we met the same boy out of school his name would have gone down on the tables as a seventh-grader. The number of such cases, however, is not large.

The boys in the Apprentice Schools, both by the school authorities and in our tables, are classified according to the grades they held on leaving the public day schools. Whatever training they had received in the Apprentice Schools was, as regards its effect on their standing in our tables, clear gain. However, this was less than might be supposed. for the following reasons

(a) The schools are conducted only three months in the year.

(b) The tests were made just after the schools had commenced, so that the boys were not fresh in the work.

(c) Irregularity of attendance is even more pronounced here than in the night schools.

(d) The fact that the boys had been out of touch with schoolwork for some time before they were apprenticed had shifted the center of attention from schoolwork and rendered them careless and even resentful of it.

(e) The Apprentice Schools run three months in the winter each year for four years. Hence some of the boys had been in the school for three full winters, some for two, some for one,

(277) and some for only a few weeks. Yet their grading as sixth, seventh and eighth grades is unaffected by this varying duration of time in the Apprentice Schools.

The boys out of school were classified according to the grade held when they left school.

The average age of the different groups

I (night schools) seventeen years.

II (Apprentice Schools) nineteen years.

III (boys out of school) seventeen years.

In groups I and III the average age of the sixth grade was slightly greater than the average of either the seventh or eighth. This was not noted in group II.

Summary of results

Two main points stood out clearly in the arithmetic test

First.--The boys of the eighth grade were manifestly superior to those of the seventh, as were the seventh superior to the sixth, in a test which should have been worked by all.

Second.-- The boys who were in what might be termed a continuation school were ahead of the boys of the corresponding grades echo were out of school.

The same conclusions held, in general, for the other tests.

The occupation tables reveal that there is a great demand on the part of a large class of our population for trade, or commercial training, which is not offered in the schools of the city. The 205 boys in Group I (boys out of school) were asked if they could have stayed in school if they had cared to do so. More than 90 per cent said they had not left school because of the necessity of going to work, but that they were tired of school. When asked if they would have stayed in school, if they could have been getting trade training, fully 75 per cent said "yes."

As a considerable number of the boys were not willing to reveal the salary they were getting, no averages are published as to the salaries of these particular boys, but the writer interviewed ten employment managers of the larger establishments in the city, and an average of their figures would place the wage of boys between fourteen and sixteen at $4.25. Inasmuch as most of these boys had carfare to pay, and bought their noon lunch, the returns to the boys' families would hardly compensate for the loss of schooling during those years, in the majority of the cases.


  1. Statistics showing the number of children who leave school before graduation, and the grade reached by these children, are given in Chapter II.

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