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Study of Indiana teachers reports elementary specializations reduce teacher efficacy

According to a study of Indiana Department of Education data, specializations among teachers in elementary classrooms reduces teacher efficacy.

According to a study of Indiana Department of Education data, specializations among teachers in elementary classrooms reduces teacher efficacy. (WFIU/WTIU News)

A study from researchers at the University of Missouri reports specializations among elementary school teachers lead to lower teacher effectiveness. 

The paper, co-authored by NaYoung Hwang and Brian Kisida of the University of Missouri’s Harry S. Truman School of Government and Public Affairs, uses administrative data from the Indiana Department of Education to estimate the effects of teacher specialization. 

“We find that teacher specialization leads to lower teaching effectiveness in math and reading,” the study said. “The negative effects are larger when teaching students who are more likely to experience difficulties in school.” 

The research pulls data from 2010-2011 through 2016-2017 school years. The data includes student demographics and standardized test scores from students in grades three through five. 

Subject-area specialization has the potential to increase teacher and school effectiveness by leveraging and developing a teacher’s subject expertise, according to the study. However, this tends to increase student-teacher ratios and causes student and teacher relationships to weaken. 

“Although specialization is conceptually alluring because it can capitalize on teachers’ comparative advantages,” Hwang and Kisida said, “It does not seem to benefit students.” 

A student in a classroom with a teacher who teaches all subjects can establish a solid student-teacher relationship – better than a relationship between a student and teacher together for only a portion of the school day. Strong student-teacher relationships are crucial for student growth, according to the study. 

A teacher in a specialized subject might not have the time to learn a particular student’s weaknesses and strengths, the study said. The findings suggest teachers should focus on establishing student-teacher relationships.

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