School & classroom organizational structure (grammar)

This page identifies structural variables used to organize schools and classrooms, to consider how they affect schooling. It also includes a brief history of organizational changes meant to meet the needs of learners, teachers, communities, and economics to achieve certain outcomes of education efficiently. And lastly, a link to an example of how hard it is to change our historical grammar that reviews New Jersey's struggle to expand K-12 to preK-12.

Grammar of schooling is the organizational and pedagogical forms of schooling that have persisted over the years and resisted efforts to reform them, shaping the structure of teaching and learning in much the same way as grammar shapes language. (Tyack & Cuban)

A historical analysis of school organizations found the organization of classroom in schools can be described by several variables, some of which are more dominant than others and all have historic roots, which today may be advantageous or not, but some are more deeply rooted in today’s schools. These can include the following:


Displayed in this diagram:

Organization or grammar of school image



Let’s review these elements for a stereotypical grammar of schooling today:


Historical analysis

Historically schooling started with tutors and master craftsmen teaching a special task or skill to select apprentices or a select few for college prep in very small groups or often one on one. As schooling becomes more necessary, parents organize to hire tutors for larger groups of learners. Eventually groups become larger as schools have multiple classrooms and teachers. Class sizes and instructional methods are determined mostly based on economy and efficiency. This resulted in increased class sizes as well as multiple sections. Skills becoming subjects. Decisions on how to group students. Abilities being related to age. Progress associated with grade levels. Failure resulting in repeating grades and success leading to a diploma. Eventually failure caused large numbers of students being left behind so social promotion is initiated.

While social promotion means much older and younger learners are not grouped together, it increases the differences between abilities of learners in heterogeneous age groups. Therefore, ability grouping and putting learners into different tracks (college prep track, academic track, feral track, vocational track, remedial track …) is initiated to assist teachers by having more homogeneous groups to teach.

All of these different tweaks on organization were to achieve the purposes of education with schooling. Most, a missions that is merit based and egalitarian, to achieve an ideological vision by using principled procedures to guide decision making, set goals, and achieve outcomes that satisfy the community who provide the resources to achieve their (communities, parents, and learners) vision of education through schooling. All which is too often based on personal emotionally charged grammars, than based on research and wisdom of practice. Which appears to be an acceptable organization that is:


Changing organization or grammar

For an example of changing a part or variable of educational grammar or organization see New Jersey's decades long struggle to expand K-12 to preK and the legacy of Expanding access to preK and the legacy of Abbott v. Burke. in Kappan, September 27, 2021



Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes