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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Literacy & Math

April 2018

Question:

What does the research say about teacher “platooning” (that is, a teacher specializing in a particular subject) at the elementary school level?



Response:

Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on teacher “platooning” (that is, a teacher specializing in a particular subject) at the elementary school level. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to student achievement. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Baroody, A. E. (2017). Exploring the contribution of classroom formats on teaching effectiveness and achievement in upper elementary classrooms. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 28(2), 314–335. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1139570

From the ERIC abstract: “This study examined the contribution of classroom format on teaching effectiveness and achievement in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. Secondary data analyses of the Measures of Effective Teaching database included 464 US classrooms. Classrooms were defined as self-contained if a generalist teacher provided instruction on all subjects and departmentalized if a specialist teacher provided instruction on a specific subject. Beginning-of-the-year classroom-level covariates were compared. Both ELA and mathematics self-contained classrooms had larger class sizes, served more students of color, served students with lower initial achievement, and had teachers with fewer years of teaching experience but more likely to have a Master’s degree. Regression models were used to determine if classroom format predicted teaching effectiveness and achievement while controlling for beginning-of-the-year classroom-level covariates. Departmentalization had a small positive association with higher teaching effectiveness ratings in ELA classes. Classroom format was not a significant predictor of achievement in ELA or math.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Bastian, K. C., & Fortner, C. K. (2018). Is less more? Outcomes for subject-area specialists in elementary grades. Paper presented at the 43rd annual Association for Education Finance and Policy conference, Portland, OR. Retrieved from https://aefpweb.org/sites/default/files/webform/AEFP_ESspecialization_FINAL.pdf

From the abstract: “While subject-area specialization is common practice in secondary grades, little is known about its incidence and impact in elementary schools. In this study, we use data from North Carolina elementary schools to assess which teachers specialize and whether specialization benefits student achievement. We find that specialization is prevalent in upper elementary grades—approximately 25 percent of 4th grade teachers and 37 percent of 5th grade teachers specialize—and that schools assign relatively more effective teachers to specialize. Student achievement results indicate that specialization is not leading to its theorized benefits in mathematics and reading. Specialists are no more effective than their generalist peers and are less effective than they were before specializing. School-level achievement in mathematics and reading does not improve with more specialization. Science results are different and show benefits to specialization. These findings question the use of specialization but invite continued research to more fully assess its impact.”

Brobst, J., Markworth, K., Tasker, T., & Ohana, C. (2017). Comparing the preparedness, content knowledge, and instructional quality of elementary science specialists and self‐contained teachers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 54(10), 1302–1321. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1160722

From the ERIC abstract: “In this article, we report on the results of a study comparing the preparedness, content knowledge, and instructional practices of elementary science specialist (ESS) teachers with those of a matched sample of self-contained elementary teachers. Analysis of survey data collected for the two groups indicated that ESS teachers were more likely than self-contained teachers to hold science content degrees. ESS teachers scored significantly higher than self-contained teachers on self-reported measures of the following: preparedness to teach science and engineering content; familiarity with science standards; knowledge of students’ strengths and weaknesses in science, having enough time to meet students’ needs in science and having enough time to plan for all the subject areas that they teach. ESS teachers also scored significantly higher than self‐contained teachers on selected measures of science content knowledge. Finally, in comparison to self-contained teachers, some elements of ESS teachers’ science lessons were better aligned with our chosen framework for quality elementary science instruction. Regression analyses suggested that these differences in quality of science lessons could be predicted based on the different amounts of time that ESS and self-contained teachers are respectively afforded for planning and teaching science. Implications are provided for future research into elementary science specialization as well as professional development support for all teachers of elementary science.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Chan, T. C., & Jarman, D. (2004). Departmentalize elementary schools. Principal, 84(1), 70–72. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ693835

From the ERIC abstract: “In elementary schools today, most students receive their education in a single classroom from one teacher who is responsible for teaching language arts, social studies, math, and science. The self-contained classroom organization is predicated on the assumption that an elementary school teacher is a Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades who is equally strong in all areas of the elementary curriculum. Yet we know intuitively that most classroom teachers are not multi-talented, and that they have no choice but to teach in some areas where they have no fundamental interest. One attempt to address the pitfalls of the self-contained classroom organization is through departmentalization. In this setting, teachers teach in their area of specialization and students move from one classroom to another for instruction.”

Chan, T.C., Terry, D., & Besette, H. J. (2009). Fourth and fifth grade departmentalization: A transition to middle school. Journal for the Liberal Arts and Sciences, 13(2), 5–13. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/facpubs/618/

From the abstract: “The difficulties involved in the transition for students leaving elementary school, where there typically exists little departmentalization, to the middle school, where departmentalization is the primary structure, have often been noted by scholars. While some studies cited in this work indicated a decrease in student achievement with the implementation of departmentalization, this approach should not be categorically rejected. In this regard, this study examines how elementary students can begin to be better prepared in fourth and fifth grades to enter the departmentalization system.”

Chang, F. C., Muñoz, M. A., & Koshewa, S. (2008). Evaluating the impact of departmentalization on elementary school students. Planning and Changing, 39(3/4),131–145. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1150563

From the ERIC abstract: “The increasing accountability demands are leading some districts to departmentalize or consider departmentalizing at the elementary school level (Delviscio & Muffs, 2007). Departmentalization allows teachers to specialize and teach one content area in-depth which may, in turn, lead to higher accountability test scores. Although, due to accountability pressures, schools may feel it is more important to departmentalize, this might not be the best way to improve school connectedness and its outcome--student success. In fact, unless combined with looping, a departmentalization model decreases the amount of contact time between students and teachers, which, in turn, may decrease the likelihood that students feel attached to their teachers. Previous research indicated that students who feel closer to their teachers have fewer behavior problems and higher gains in academic skills (Pianta & Stuhlman, 2004; Silver et al., 2005). The current study examined the relationship between departmentalization and student connectedness to school. Findings indicated that a departmentalization model, where a student interacts with multiple teachers, does not necessarily facilitate the establishment of a caring classroom where students feel connected. If we agree that students’ connectedness to school is intimately related to academic success, then it is imperative to move to a whole-child approach where teachers are aware of each student’s learning style.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

DelViscio, J. L., & Muffs, M. L. (2007). Regrouping students. School Administrator, 64(8), 28. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ775463

From the ERIC abstract: “Good teachers were shying away from accepting 4th-grade positions because of the growing accountability pressures that were being unfairly brought to bear on that grade level. Highly publicized reports of the state’s new battery of standardized assessments were scaring off applicants. To address the personnel needs while more fairly sharing the accountability load for these critical 4th-grade tests, the leadership at Bishop Dunn Memorial School in Newburgh, New York, devised an innovative instructional arrangement that borrows from both looping and departmentalization concepts. This article describes the new program and its benefits.”

Hood, L. (2010). “Platooning” instruction: Districts weigh pros and cons of departmentalizing elementary schools. Education Digest, 75(7), 13–17. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ873651

From the ERIC abstract: “To platoon or not to platoon? That’s the question facing Irving Hamer, Deputy Superintendent of Academic Operations, Technology and lnnovation for the Memphis City Schools. This year for the first time, the state’s achievement test, Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), will include algebraic concepts on the 5th-grade test. Of the district’s 351 5th-grade teachers, not one majored in math. So that means the teaching of algebra at grade 5 will most certainly be done by people who don’t have extensive math preparation. That doesn’t mean they won’t be able to teach what’s required, but the thinking on the part of the administration is that maybe one way to get higher-order math in the 5th grade would be to departmentalize the 5th grade and make sure math is being taught by the most able math teachers in a 5th-grade configuration. Platooning is nothing new. Middle and high schools have long been divvying up instruction according to subject area, with students rotating to different rooms headed up by different teachers for different subjects. Applying that idea to elementary schools, long the bastion of a one-teacher-per-classroom model, is new. Elementary school teachers are trained to be generalists who spend the entire year with one group of about 25 kids and teach them the gamut of subjects--math, science, social studies, and language arts. Conventional wisdom has been that younger students benefit from the stability and continuity provided by having the same teacher every day all day for the whole year. Departmentalizing is a cost-neutral way of upgrading instruction because no additional teachers need to be hired and professional development can instead be focused on fewer teachers.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Jacob, B. A., & Rockoff, J. E. (2012). Organizing schools to improve student achievement: Start times, grade configurations, and teacher assignments. Education Digest, 77(8), 28–34. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ982513

From the ERIC abstract: “Proposals for school reform often focus on large and sometimes controversial systemic changes, such as charter schools, accountability standards, and changes to the way teachers are hired, fired, and compensated. Although these reforms may offer great opportunity to improve student outcomes, they may also be costly, face substantial implementation challenges, or lack definitive supporting evidence. At the same time, school boards may overlook relatively simple changes in the way schools are organized and managed that could impact student achievement in positive ways. In a new paper for The Hamilton Project, the authors present evidence on several organizational changes that could provide significant “bang for the buck” in student achievement. While simple, these changes have the potential to improve K-12 student performance substantially. To illustrate the value of making decisions about school organization based on evidence on student achievement, the authors explore three organizational changes: (1) starting schools later for middle school and high school students; (2) using K-8 schools rather than junior high or middle schools or taking other steps to minimize the disruptive transitions; and (3) assigning teachers to the same grades and subjects from year to year. The authors’ proposals are not meant to transform public education radically. It may be surprising, however, that the magnitudes of the benefits of these organizational achievements relative to their costs rival the cost effectiveness of other far more sweeping reforms. The purpose of the proposal is to point out that all these small decisions about the organization of schools and school days impact student achievement, and that these types of choices need to be carefully scrutinized by school districts.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Parker, A., Rakes, L., & Arndt, K. (2017). Departmentalized, self-contained, or somewhere in between: Understanding elementary grade-level organizational decision-making. Educational Forum, 81(3), 236–255. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1142095

From the ERIC abstract: “Recent trends indicate a move away from self-contained classrooms and toward content-focused departmentalization in elementary schools. This study takes a snapshot of the existing organizational structures used in elementary schools in one district and explores administrators’ beliefs and practices regarding this phenomenon. Our findings suggest administrators base their decisions to organize grade levels on various factors, including their own experiences, contextual dynamics, and personal perceptions of outcomes for students and teachers.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Strohl, A., Schmertzing, L., & Schmertzing, R. (2014). Elementary teachers’ experiences and perceptions of departmentalized instruction: A case study. Journal of Case Studies in Education, 6, 1. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1060635

From the ERIC abstract: “This case study investigated elementary teachers' experiences and perceptions during a trial year of departmentalized instruction in a rural south Georgia elementary school. To inform their decision about whole-school departmentalization for the future, school administrators appointed twelve first through third grade teachers to pilot the instructional model for one school year. This case study utilized data collected from focus group interviews, individual interviews with departmentalized teachers, teacher journals, and questionnaires. The experiences and perceptions of the departmentalized teachers informed the study about perceived positive and negative attributes of departmentalized instruction, self-efficacy beliefs, and experiences of a shift in instructional models. Aligning with related literature, findings revealed teacher preference for the departmentalized instructional model over the self-contained model due to lighter workload, more focused and higher quality instruction, and increased self-efficacy.”

Methods

Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Departmentalized + descriptor: “elementary education”

  • Platoon*

  • Specialization + descriptor: “elementary education”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.