Voices in Education

"Platooning" Touches a Nerve
Reaction to my story on efforts to departmentalize elementary education around the country has come fast and furious since it was published in this month’s Harvard Education Letter (see “Platooning Instruction”).

In particular, a flurry of emails and calls have come from Palm Beach County, one of the districts implementing departmentalization. As it turns out, shortly after I finished the story, the school board there faced a meeting where 1,000 protesters demanded relief from the district’s reform package that included departmentalizing in addition to some other changes.

Designed by a new chief academic officer, Jeffrey Hernandez, the reform package included frequent assessments, a new timeline for teaching academic benchmarks, and the deployment of school monitors, as well as departmentalized instruction (also known as “platooning”) for grades three through five in nearly all of the district’s elementary schools.

The protest focused primarily on the frequent assessments and the new pacing schedule for teachers, according to parent Lisa Goldman, who emerged as a key spokesperson for disgruntled parents and teachers after she created a popular Facebook page called Testing is not Teaching!, which, as of this writing, has 7,728 fans.

Two days after the school board meeting, Superintendent Art Johnson announced that the reforms would no longer be a district mandate and that each school would be able to determine whether and how to implement them.

What that means for elementary school platooning remains to be seen.

Ironically, Goldman says her own children’s experience with departmentalization has been positive. All four benefited from the teaching structure at Wellington Elementary School, where teachers not only departmentalize instruction, but they also stay with the same group of students for three consecutive years.

“I liked it. It worked for my children,” she says.

But she adds that some students need the consistency of having one teacher, and some teachers prefer to be the generalists they were trained to be. “It does not work for every child,” she notes. “It does not work for every teacher.”

What has your experience with departmentalization been – as a parent, teacher, or administrator?

About the Author: Lucy Hood is a freelance education writer based in Raleigh, NC.