Improving Special Education… Without Going Over-Budget

These are not my ideas, but after reading about them in the latest Marshall Memo, I gotta say, they make a lot of sense.  In their Education Week article “Improving Special Education in Tough Times,” Stephen Frank and Karen Hawley Miles discuss a number of money-saving ways to improve special education.

The first that resonated with me was reallocating funds from one-on-one aides to better coaching for teachers.  They say having an aide “does not always promote student independence, effective inclusion, or academic support.”  I have been lucky to work with some really talented support teachers, and while they do a great job of helping students do their work, they do not, as a general rule, help students to become increasingly independent.  Often, I’ve seen the opposite happen.  With such intense one-on-one support, students become more dependent on the aide’s help, and less willing to believe in themselves.

As a classroom teacher, what I’ve always wanted is for our aides to be as skilled at leading guided reading groups or math groups as I am.  I want a clone!  Someone who will help me meet with twice the number of guided reading groups, or meet with the groups I have twice as often.  But that’s not in an aide’s job description, and our support staff members don’t have the level of training needed to fill that role.  Plus, going back to the budget, we don’t have the money to give them more training or to hire certified teachers in those roles.

Frank and Miles suggest that teams of teachers work to group their students and move them around during the day according to need.  Intervention/extension time!  Yes!  Instead of just getting more bodies into classrooms, put the teachers you have to better use.

And with the money saved from decreasing support staff, they recommend increasing coaching for teachers.  I am all for that.

They also suggest hiring dual-certified teachers, and, as Kim Marshall put it, “blurring the distinction between regular-education and special-education instructors.”  That is a really interesting idea.  Some of my colleagues have been dual-certified, and I’ve always wondered if that changes outcomes for students.

Their other suggestions — stressing the importance of teacher collaboration and formative assessments — are familiar ones.

I would love to have new options to present at IEP meetings besides just giving a student more help.  And I’d love to feel more empowered to meet their needs in my classroom, with the help of my grade level team and some top-notch coaching and professional development.

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