Would primary schools be more successful if, like secondary schools, they used specialist teachers for particular classes?
A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports on an experiment that tried to establish just that. In
Houston, Texas, 50 elementary schools were randomised into treatment or
control groups. Treatment schools altered their timetables to have
teachers specialise in subjects such as maths,
science, social studies, and reading based on each teacher’s strengths
(assessed by the school principal). A class might be taught by one
teacher for maths and science, and another for reading and social
studies. Other classes had one teacher for maths, another for reading,
and a third for science and social studies.
The results were negative. In the first year,
schools with specialist teachers saw an effect size of -0.07 on maths
and reading achievement. Over the first two years, the effect size was
-0.05 for maths and -0.04 for reading, with the maths result
statistically significant. For children in special education, the results were even worse, with an impact of -0.15 for reading and -0.20 for maths.
A teacher survey measured views on lesson planning, teacher
relationships with students, enjoyment of teaching, and teaching
strategies. Teachers in treatment schools were
significantly less likely to report providing tailored instruction for
their students. All other survey outcomes on teaching strategy were
statistically identical between treatment and control.
Source:The 'Pupil' Factory: Specialization and the Production of Human Capital in Schools, National Bureau of Economic Research (2016)