A substantial amount of variation permeated progressivism, but experimental and scientific approaches ran prominently through the movement. Progressivism presupposed the desirability of the cultural assumptions and organizational model advocated by Horace Mann and the friends of education. One advantage of his model was that it provided clearly articulated career paths for people who wanted to work in school systems. Another advantage was that uniform goals and curricula were possible.
Progressivism had a strong reform component because the professional/ bureaucratic model also presented difficulties. One of these was alienation between what students experienced in school and in the cultures of their homes and communities. Progressive educators called for expanding the curriculum, especially as changes in the economy eliminated jobs that preteens and teenagers had traditionally held. The economic phenomenon alone produced burgeoning enrollments, especially at the secondary level. Progressives like John Dewey were not enthusiastic about standardized tests for sorting the mass of pupils, but in practice testing, "ability grouping," and tracks of differentiated curricula became standard scientific features of school systems.
Progressives tended to favor women's education and more equitable treatment of working class children and of those from minority cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. Progressives did not always insist on full equality. Different curricula for working class children and those from middle class backgrounds was a de facto feature of school systems that progressives did not criticize. Different curricular emphases for males and females were also a standard feature of most progressive schools. The scientific testing movement discriminated against minority children, immigrant children, and those from working class backgrounds.
Finally, progressives were not of one mind about how to improve working conditions for teachers. Parker opposed unions, Dewey and Haley favored them, and Young accepted them. The gulf between teachers as low-paid workers in the knowledge factory and administrators as better- paid supervisors widened under progressive leadership.