I know, for example, that Tom Lehrer (the comedian) went to Harvard at 15 and he said that during WW2 especially, this was not particularly unusual. It is my impression that in the 1930s and 1940s, this was how academically-gifted kids were dealt with although it was largely discontinued because of the obvious social issues that would arise although if enough kids were skipped they would have company. Even today this seems to happen occasionally but I am wondering if the practice predated the 1930s and when it was phased out.

EDIT: Very interested in non-USA information also.

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    VtC unless you can present evidence that it was common. Note that age hasn't always been tied with grade - in the Federalist period one entered college when one could pass the exam - could be quite young. Please demonstrate prior research. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 2 '17 at 1:30
  • When did they divide kids up by each year of birth? – John Dee Nov 2 '17 at 2:05
  • I think the question isn't historical. – John Dee Nov 2 '17 at 2:06
  • @JohnDee: How is it remotely not historical?? If someone said, in Civil War times, it became common because of the need for educating young men fast to replace those who had gone to war, would your comment have been made? – Jeff Nov 2 '17 at 5:23
  • @Robert Columbia: Please don't add spurious tags to already answered questions. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 10 '18 at 14:08

Skipping grades and other forms of "meritocracy were almost brought to an end by Progressive Education that started in the late 19th century, and picked up steam in the 1920s. As late as the publication of Herman Wouk's "City Boy" (1928), it was commonplace, but fell out of favor shortly thereafter. In the early 1890s, an 11 year old immigrant, Mary Antin, was forced to start school in the first grade, but "skipped" to the sixth grade in one year. This would not happen nowadays.

"Traditional" education, which held sway in the 19th century in America, was a carrot and stick affair. ( won't go into the 18th century since there was no "USA" for most of the century. A student either knew things associated with a certain grade level, or s/he didn't. If not, the student was "held back." If "advanced" for their age, students were pushed forward into groups with older people. That meant that in any given grade, there could be people of several age levels. Prior to the beginning of the 20th century, before "universal" education, children would start school at different ages, and by that fact alone would reach a given grade at different ages, so no one thought anything of it then.

The theme of the "progressive" education was that the purpose of education was to help students progress in life, not in school, so that schooling was the means to an end, not an end of itself. This coincided in America with "universal" education. For a "life" educational project, it helps to have students of roughly the same age and experience, not academic ability. That meant that classes would be homogeneous by age, and heterogeneous by educational accomplishment (the reverse of traditional education). But the "progressive" educators had an answer for that; teachers were supposed to treat students as individuals and teach them at the "own" levels, not as members of a class. That's possible when you have small class sizes, typically no more than 25-30. The teacher's other function, equally important to education, was to conduct "group" activities.

So skipping grades went out of fashion when the idea of sorting students by age replaced the idea of sorting them by academic achievement. It became somewhat popular during and shortly after World War II, when society placed a premium on "efficiency" (even at the collegiate level, George Bush Sr. completed a four year program at Yale in two and half years). But "progressive" education regained its hold by the 1950s.

Additional source: Hyman Rickover, "American Education: A National Failure."

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    You are joking with "teachers were supposed to treat students as individuals and teach them at the own levels" I hope. I was skipped once, and probably should have been skipped three times. I was bored nearly to tears until 4th year university, in Physics! In Grade 11 I wrote the Grade 12 math exam after a single 15 minute conversation with an older classmate, and got 75%. There is nothing worse for a child than to bore them; and constantly tell them how bright they are for not working hard (since everything is trivially easy) and still getting good grades. ... – Pieter Geerkens Nov 2 '17 at 2:51
  • I was over 30 before I even began my learning experience for a good work ethic. And, I have at least one learning disability - dysgraphia - and possibly a second - exceptional difficulty processing audio information into long term memory. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 2 '17 at 2:53
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    @PieterGeerkens: The question was about the USA. You're Canadian, I believe. And the Canadians do these things better. If I were writing about say, the US army in World War I or II, you'd probably think, "these are NOT the people that won the battle of Passchendaele." And you'd be right. – Tom Au Nov 2 '17 at 2:55
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    Unfortunately, no; and worse it seems, year by year. It is forbidden in Ontario, and has been for over 25 years, to teach Elementary School students their times tables. How can it be possible to perform polynomial factoring in Grade 9 without the times tables firmly committed to memory? And I had to learn them from flash cards because of my second learning disability. Fortunately my 4th Grade teacher believed in them – Pieter Geerkens Nov 2 '17 at 2:56
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    Remember that for progressives, "individual" is a dirty word. People should hot have individual traits - they should only express the thoughts, emotions and opinions that align with the progressive movement. so "teachers were supposed to treat students as individuals" is progressive speak for "vigorously punish opinions contrary to the movement; suppress dissent and eradicate unapproved diversity." @pieterGeerkens – Mark C. Wallace Nov 2 '17 at 11:54

As far as I know it still very rarely happens. I had several uncles who skipped a year, in high school. Not straight from primary school or first year high school to university. And that still happens too, though very rarely. At least in the Dutch educational system.

It is rare enough to hit the news when it does. I recall such a promotion happened last year or the year before. A student went from pre university (atheneum or gymnasium in the Dutch system) to university.

I can't give any links, but it does happen. Don't know about the US system, so I can't help you out there. It certainly wasn't common. My uncles skipped classes in the time period given (1910-1940), it happened more often on primary schools. Back then it wasn't unusual (but certainly not common) if a gifted child skipped a grade in (a Dutch) primary school.

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