Does Co-Teaching Work?

By Christina A. Samuels — August 19, 2008 1 min read
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The 12,500-student West Aurora district in Illinois plans to expand its co-teaching model this school year, and the teachers involved seem all for it:

West Aurora High School teacher Nancy Brown can't wait for the school year to start. "It's the first time in a long time that I've been so excited," she said. The cause of Brown's excitement? A new and improved collaborative teaching program that West High will debut this school year, where special education and general education students will learn side by side in classes taught by two teachers. Brown and nine other teachers have been preparing all summer, learning new classroom strategies for teaching in tandem. Paula Kluth, a nationally recognized expert in integrating classrooms, conducted a two-day seminar this week with the teachers that ended in a chair-burning ceremony. "It symbolizes getting out of that chair ... and taking a more-hands on approach to learning," explained Crysta Morrissey, the district's director of special education.

Wow, I wish I could have been there for the chair burning!

The last time I wrote about co-teaching, John Wills Lloyd, a special education professor and fellow blogger, pointed me to the “Current Practice Alerts,” a joint initiative between the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division for Learning Disabilities and the CEC’s Division for Research.

Right now, co-teaching gets a “use caution” label from the groups:

The research base on the effectiveness of co-teaching is woefully inadequate. While there are many resources available to tell practitioners how to do it, there are virtually no convincing data that tell the practitioner that it is worth doing. Research is still needed to determine whether students with disabilities experience a wider range of instructional alternatives in co-taught classes than would be possible in a class taught by just one teacher; whether their participation and engagement levels increase in co-taught classes; and whether co-teaching enhances performance outcomes for students with disabilities. The jury is still out - but the research to date does not suggest any academic advantages to the co-teaching model.

The full “practice alert” on co-teaching can be found here. (pdf)

Edited to add: As I read the practice alert, one question that comes to mind for consideration is how co-teaching might compare to what a school was doing before implementing such a model. The research gathered for the report says that co-teaching in elementary schools appears to be “as good as” what is commonly called a “resource room” or “pull-out” style of teaching, but no better.

But if some children in a particular school had little or no access to the general curriculum before co-teaching, perhaps there is a positive value in such a program. And I imagine that could be a positive effect on students when teachers are enthusiastic, and perhaps an intangible benefit for kids when school personnel believe that responsibility for all students rests with all teachers, not just a few. A hard thing to measure though, for sure...

As always, I certainly welcome the views of practitioners; please feel free to add them to the comments.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.