If reducing the number of children enrolled in special education is a worthy goal, then the 5,400-student Bedford school district in Michigan has made great strides.
According to an article in the Toledo Blade, the district started a response-to-intervention program to try to address special education enrollment, and the number of students deemed eligible for special education services is dropping.
But educators there say that the push to enroll students in general education classes may lead to overburdened general education teachers.
But some teachers worry general education teachers will be overwhelmed with the number of students who are returning to the classroom, specifically students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Students have been overdiagnosed with ADHD in the past, stretching special education resources, said Colleen Jan, president of the Bedford Education Association. She said she is worried these students are being "siphoned off" into Section 504 programs, meaning they still would qualify for accommodations that general education teachers would be expected to provide. "I'm worried that kids are going to be falling through the cracks with general education teachers spread too thin," she said. She said many teachers have voiced their concern about this over the years, especially since their teacher evaluations are based in part on student performance.
I should note that response to intervention is not meant to prevent students from receiving needed special education services. The interventions are intended to shore up areas of academic weakness early, so that students don’t slip so far behind that they end up being diagnosed erroneously with learning disabilities when they really have been victims of poor instruction. The RTI process is intended to separate true cognition problems from instructional problems.
This story does get at what is a real issue: are general education teachers being properly trained in order to adequately educate students in their classrooms who may have a variety of different needs? And what is the role of the special education teacher in a response-to-intervention world? As RTI spreads, expect more districts to wrestle with these issues.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.