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Free school movement

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Title: Free school movement  
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Subject: Brooklyn Free School, Alternative education, Scotland Road Free School, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Alternative school
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Free school movement

The free school movement, also known as the new schools or alternative schools movement, was an American education reform movement during the 1960s and early 1970s that sought to change the aims of formal schooling through alternative, independent community schools.

Origins and influences

Summerhill, the model for the first American free schools, 1993
As disenchantment with social institutions spread with [1] The movement's transference of ideas was tracked through the New Schools Exchange and American Summerhill Society.[1]

The definition and scope of schools self-classified as "free schools" and their associated movement were never clearly delineated, and as such, there was a wide variation between schools.[2] The movement did not cohere around a single ideology, but its "free schools" tended to fall into the binaries of either utopian cultural withdrawal from external concerns, or direct political address of social injustices.[1] Some schools practiced participatory democracies for self-governance.[1] The "free schools" movement was also known as the "new schools" or "alternative schools movement".[2] Author Ron Miller defined the free school movement's principles as letting families choose for their children, and letting children learn at their own pace.[3]


Allen Graubard charted the growth of the free schools from 25 in 1967 to around 600 in 1972, with estimates of 200 created between 1971 and 1972.[2] These schools had an average enrollment of 33 students.[2] Almost all of the first American free schools were based on Summerhill and its associated book.[4] Many of the schools were started in nontraditional locations, including parks, churches, and abandoned buildings.[3]

The movement peaked in 1972 with hundreds of schools opened and public interest in open education.[3]

Decline and legacy

The movement subsided with the rise of 1970s conservatism,[1] particularly due to the Nixon administration's education policies.[3]

The Huffington Post wrote in 2012 that "the movement is revving up again", citing Education Revolution's listing of over 100 free schools in America.[3] The schools are mostly private in America, and generally serve middle and upper-middle-class families.[3] Author Ron Miller credits the rise of standardization with grassroots interest in alternative schools.[3] CBS News reported in 2006 that the remaining free schools, while unknown in number, are "democratic", as the students share in the school's governance.[5]

Education historian Diane Ravitch said in 2004 that these schools function best for students from educated families due to the free schools' emphasis on individual contribution.[6] Victoria Goldman of The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools and Selective Public Schools and E. D. Hirsch, Jr. echoed similar thoughts, with Hirsch adding that "it doesn't work for children who haven't had those advantages."[7] Ravitch believed that the free schools' values would conflict with predominant student testing trends.[6]

Schools still operating

A number of schools founded during the Free school movement period of the late-60s/early-70s are still in operation. These include:


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h
  2. ^ a b c d Graubard 1972c, p. 1.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g
  4. ^ Graubard 1972c, p. 2.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^


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