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The regular education initiative and patent medicine: a rejoinder to Algozzine, Maheady, Sacca, O'Shea, and O'Shea.

The Regular Education Initiative and Patent Medicine: A Rejoinder to Algozzine, Maheady, Sacca, O'Shea, and O'Shea


It is apparent from their commentary that Algozzine et al. misread or misinterpreted our position on important points. For example, from the following sentence, Algozzine et al. chose to quote only the part we enclose here in brackets: "We do agree that [the mainstream is most appropriate for many handicapped students] and that no students should be removed from the regular class until it is clear that effective programming cannot be provided there" (Braaten et al., 1988, p. 23). Our argument is not that segregation is always better than integration or vice versa, nor that interventions with students with behavioral disorders can never be successful in general education. Our argument remains that integration is not always appropriate for all students and that integration is particularly difficult for students with behavioral disorders; integration is, we suggest, inappropriate for some students.

We suggested that students with behavioral disorders are underidentified. Algozzine et al. say of us, "They fail to point out, however, how identifying them will solve their problems." We do not believe that merely identifying these students will solve much of anything. However, we believe that not identifying them will not solve their problems, either. But identifying them may be a necessary first step toward solving their problems.

In response to their claim that "The authors offer no advice . . . about how to address the `painful and endemic ills' that plague special education other than by placing more students in it," we refer readers to the conclusions of our original paper: We support research, we do not prescribe a single remedy, and we do not suggest more segregation as a solution.

We are unable to interpret the statements of Algozzine et al. regarding overidentification; their comments on prevalence and service rates represent self-contradictory positions. One of the reasons their discussion of this issue is problematic is that they ignore the way in which students with behavioral disorders are included by proponents of the REI in the categories "all students" or "mildly handicapped." Given our previous citations on this issue and the recent findings of the Institute of Medicine (1989) that at least 12% of children under the age of 18 have serious mental, behavioral, or developmental problems, half of them severe, we fail to see how professional equivocation about the fact of underidentification can be justified.


We think that Algozzine et al. simply do not understand the complexities of the REI as a political movement. For example, they suggest that the REI is embodied only in Will's (1986) paper; we believe otherwise. Her commentary is open to many different interpretations, although it appears to have been used as a rationale for reform proposals consistent with the Reagan administration's policy objectives (Kauffman, 1989). The REI is a varied set of reform proposals sharing a common theme--special education pullout programs of all kinds have been discredited for most or all students with special needs, whereas evidence supports the effectiveness of fully integrated programs in general education for most or all students with disabilities (see our original article: CCBD, 1989; see also Kauffman, 1989, for citations).

The REI is primarily a political strategy, not a reform movement based on rigorous policy analysis, reliable empirical data, or careful logical analysis. In fact, politically popular reform proposals, including the REI, emphasize the adoption of approaches to teaching that are known to fail with students who have learning problems (Carnine & Kameenui, 1990). We question whether educational decisions should be primarily political.


Few proponents of the REI have singled out behavioral disorders for special comment, other than to imply that these disabilities can be effectively addressed by methods used for all disabilities. The category "behavioral disorder" typically has been lumped, implicitly or explicitly, with other conditions, usually those considered mildly handicapping.

Biklen and Zollers (1986), for example, ostensibly discussed advocacy in the field of learning disabilities. Nevertheless, their discussion included students with mild disabilities--indeed, all students--with no qualifications. Their discussion included "pupils who do not fit in, who perform poorly, who are unlikable, or who are otherwise problematic". In their criticism of pullout programs for students with mild disabilities (not explicitly restricted to those identified as having learning disabilities), Biklen and Zollers stated: "The strongest case against special education outside the regular class for mildly handicapped students is that it does not work". Further, they stated without qualification, "all types of students can be accommodated in ALEM [Adaptive Learning Environment Model] classrooms".


We believe that the problems of students identified as having behavioral disorders are typically severe, not mild. Many students have mild disorders, but they are not typically identified for special education or mental health services (cf. Institute of Medicine, 1989; Morse, 1985). We think this fact likely accounts for the difficulty of generalizing from slow-learning students and those with mild mental retardation or learning disabilities to those with behavioral disorders (cf. Fuchs, Fuchs, Fernstrom, & Hohn, in press). Our argument is this: many students with behavioral disorders have problems for which many interventions designed for mild disabilities are inappropriate.


It is obvious from their comments that Algozzine et al. failed to note the varied meanings and implications of our patent medicine metaphor. The definitions of patent medicine include, according to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and treatises we consulted, "false," "pretentious but unsound," "quack," and "nostrum" (cf. Coleman, 1975; Young, 1961). Today, the federal government requires that patent medicines include warnings to consumers, including the warning "not to rely on [these] medications as a simple solution to what may be a complex problem requiring the help of professionals" (Petrakis, 1981, p. 110). Some patent medicines may work, but they do not work for everything. The ailments for which they work tend to be minor, and there is considerable danger in misrepresenting their value for serious illnesses.

What we see too often in our field today is reliance on testimonial evidence and impatience with the scientific process--the classic leap to judgment that characterizes patent medicine in its most dangerous guise. The REI is only one example of the argument, "But patent medicine works." In response to a review of research that questions the value of assertive discipline (Render, Padilla, & Krank, 1989), McCormack (1989) not only claimed "But practitioners say it works!" but stated that "It is not necessary for research to support . . . that `any particular educational approach' works before an administrator makes a program decision".

Algozzine et al. concluded: "Special education today cannot afford the luxury of accepting only prescribed interventions that have been demonstrated to be effective". We maintain our belief that we cannot afford the luxury of testing only what has been prescribed, but that we must not "accept" (prescribe for other than research purposes) what has not been tested. We disagree with proponents of the REI who maintain that pullout programs can be dismissed as ineffective for all types of students or that alternative integrated plans are known to be effective for all students (e.g., Biklen & Zollers, 1986; Gartner & Lipsky, 1989). Calls for experimental trials are desirable--but then the experiments must be judged by the criteria of the research community (Bryan & Bryan, 1988; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1988).

JAMES M. KAUFFMAN is Professor of Education, Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville. SHELDON BRAATEN is Coordinator of Harrison Secondary School, Minneapolis Public Schools, Minnesota. C. MICHAEL NELSON is Professor of Education, Department of Special Education, University of Kentucky, Lexington. LEWIS POLSGROVE is Professor of Education, Department of Special Education and Institute for the Study of Developmental Disabilities, Indiana University, Bloomington. BARBARA BRAATEN is Behavior Specialist, Anwatin Junior High School, Minneapolis Public Schools, Minnesota.
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Title Annotation:Comment
Author:Kauffman, James M.; Braaten, Sheldon; Nelson, C. Michael; Polsgrove, Lewis; Braaten, Barbara
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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