Interdisciplinary organization at the high school level: a study of perceived desirability and barriers

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Virginia Tech

The purpose of this study was to assess the perceived desirability of implementing an interdisciplinary organization at the high school level and to determine barriers to implementing such a reorganizational plan. Educators in 35 Virginia high schools with enrollments exceeding 1500 students participated in this study. A total of 491 (51.6%) administrators, counselors, and teachers returned the survey. Differences in attitudes, and relationships between response and position and between response and subject area were determined through mean scores, analyses of variance, and chi-square statistics.

Of the educators surveyed, 26% expressed some dissatisfaction with the departmental organization in meeting their professional needs, and 40% indicated dissatisfaction with the departmental organization in meeting the needs of their students. Educators expressed overall acceptance of an interdisciplinary organization with no significant differences in responses across positions or subject areas.

Most-desired components were (1) students making connections among disciplines, (2) small and large group instruction, and (3) teachers sharing ideas and materials. Least-desired components were (1) teachers participating in recruiting and selecting new teachers, and (2) availability of leadership positions on the team. Where significant relationships were found between response toward specific components and position, administrators and counselors consistently responded more favorably than teachers. By subject area, English teachers' response towards specific components were consistently the most favorable, and mathematics teachers' responses the least favorable.

Educators were evenly divided regarding the probability of implementing an interdisciplinary organization in their school. Educators perceived the most formidable barriers to such restructuring as (1) lack of facilities for small and large group instruction, (2) lack of space, and (3) inadequate financing.

It was concluded that the real benefits of such restructuring were in areas other than academic achievement (e.g., support for beginning teachers, peer coaching, flexible scheduling and grouping interrelating curricula). It was recommended that interdisciplinary organizations should be implemented in high schools, and proponents of such restructuring should promote psychological and social benefits to students and teachers, rather than focusing on academic achievement.