Are Two Teachers Better Than One?

Education Next recently published a piece from Nathan Jones and Marcus A. Winters exploring the research on the effect of co-teaching on students with and without disabilities. Excerpts from the piece appear below:

For nearly 50 years, special education law has mandated that students with disabilities be served in the “least restrictive environment” possible. This often takes the form of an inclusive classroom, or a general education classroom where students with disabilities learn alongside their non-disabled peers. In some cases, inclusive classrooms are co-taught by a general education teacher and a special education teacher who share planning and instructional responsibilities.

The logic behind co-teaching is intuitively appealing. Co-teaching reduces the student-teacher ratio, and the presence of two educators, each with distinctive expertise, should make it easier to connect students at a range of abilities to grade-level content. But how well does this approach actually work on the ground? Do students with disabilities benefit from the presence of an additional teacher in the classroom? And how does co-teaching affect learning for students without disabilities?

We examine a decade of test scores for students in Massachusetts, where co-teaching has experienced rapid growth, and find positive effects on academic achievement for students with and without disabilities in the years they are enrolled in co-taught classes. For students with disabilities, attending a co-taught classroom boosts test scores by 2.6 percent of a standard deviation in math and 1.6 percent of a standard deviation in reading, on average. For students without disabilities, test scores improve by 1.2 percent of a standard deviation in math, while reading scores are not affected. This is the case even though students without disabilities who never participate in a co-teaching classroom have higher math and reading scores, on average, than their peers who do. At the same time, the gains we find are much smaller than those reported in prior research on co-teaching.

Whether the impact of co-teaching can be improved by encouraging more consistent application of best practices in co-teaching is an important area for future research.

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