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  • Writer's pictureLisa Marfisi

Traditional vs. Progressive - Which educational philosophy is right for your child?

When selecting a school for your child, one of the first things you need to figure out is if you are looking for a traditional school or a school with a progressive educational environment.

Learn about the key differences between traditional and progressive education philosophies, including teaching methods, curriculum, assessment, classroom structure, student-teacher relationships, and school culture. Find out which approach aligns best with your family's values and goals to help your child thrive.

Traditional vs. Progressive Education

Traditional and progressive schools are two distinct educational philosophies that differ in several key areas. You don’t necessarily have to pick one or the other. Many schools use a hybrid approach and take the best from each style of teaching. Before you can choose what is best for your child and your family, you first need to understand the differences between the two philosophies.

Here are some of the main differences between the two.

Comparing Traditional and Progressive Teaching Methods:

Comparing Traditional and Progressive Education

Traditional schools tend to focus on teacher-led instruction, memorization, and standardized testing. In contrast, progressive schools often emphasize hands-on, project-based learning, and student-centered teaching methods. In general, students are more passive learners in traditional schools and active learners in progressive environments.


Students doing science experiment

Traditional schools typically follow a structured curriculum that covers core subjects like math, science, English, and social studies while also focusing on critical thinking. Textbooks and tests have a more prominent role in Traditional schools. Progressive schools may have a more flexible and interdisciplinary curriculum that allows students to explore their interests and passions through project based learning while still following curriculum guidelines and covering subjects like math, science, English and social studies. They also have a social/emotional curriculum.


Report cards have letter grades, narrative assessments are more lengthy.

Traditional schools often use standardized tests and grades to assess student learning and progress. In contrast, progressive schools may use more varied and informal forms of assessment, such as portfolios, presentations, and student-led conferences, even videos and performances. Report cards from progressive schools might not have letter grades. Instead, they will contain written assessments. Academic achievement and individual academic success is celebrated more at traditional schools. For example, the honor list is posted.

Classroom structure differs by Educational Philosophy:

Traditional vs. Progressive Teaching Styles

Traditional schools tend to have more structured and formal classroom settings, with students seated in rows and the teacher at the front of the room. Progressive schools may have more flexible and collaborative classroom structures, with students working in small groups or on individual projects.

Student-teacher relationships:

In traditional schools, the relationship between students and teachers is often more formal and hierarchical. In progressive schools, the relationship is typically more informal and collaborative, with teachers serving as mentors, coaches and facilitators of learning. In a traditional school, teachers are called by their last name, but in a progressive school, teachers and administrators often go by their first names.

Traditional vs. Progressive School Culture:

Students in a traditional school often wear uniforms or abide by a dress code. Students in a progressive school usually wear casual clothing (but also have a dress code.)

Traditional vs. Progressive School Culture

Overall, traditional schools tend to prioritize academic rigor, discipline, and adherence to established norms and practices. In contrast, progressive schools emphasize creativity, critical thinking, and student empowerment in addition to strong academics. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, and it's up to each family to determine which educational philosophy aligns best with their values and goals.

If you would like to learn more about these philosophies or you want help with figuring out which type is best for your child, contact Lisa Marfisi today!


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