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Special education and the regular education initiative: basic assumptions.

Special Education and the Regular Education Initiative: Basic Assumptions

ABSTRACT: The regular education initiative (REI) is a thoughtful response to identified

problems in our system for educating low-performing children, but it is not a detailed blueprint

for changing the system. Educators must achieve consensus on what the REI actually proposes.

The authors infer from the REI literature five assumptions regarding the roles and

responsibilities of elementary regular classroom teachers, concluding that these teachers and

specialists form a partnership, but the classroom teachers are ultimately in charge of the

instruction of all children in their classrooms, including those who are not succeeding in the

mainstream. A discussion of the target population and of several partnership models further

delineates REI issues and concerns. * Our purpose in this article is to contribute to the national dialogue about the regular education initiative (REI). We identify what we view as one set of assumptions underlying the initiative and examine their implications for two central issues: (a) the target population to be served and (b) the nature of the classroom partnership between general education and specialized services in educating that population. We also test our assumptions on several partnership models and conclude the article by raising certain issues that warrant further examination.

We hope that our analysis will stimulate discussion within the educational community about the meaning of the REI and, for now at least, deflect attention from value judgments about whether the initiative itself is good or bad, until there is some consensus about what the REI actually is. We invite others to continue this conversation, sharing their agreement or disagreement with our perceptions.


Problems in instructing low-achieving children are as old as education. In recent years, the educational community, from policy makers to parents, has increasingly focused attention and concern on one segment of the educational universe--that is, what Wang, Reynolds, and Walberg (1987) have called the "second system," that aggregation of categorical programs designed to improve our public schools' services to children who have difficulties learning in the mainstream. Serious problems identified in this second system range from what happens to individual children (e.g., unacceptable progress and improper classification) to what happens to the entire public school system (e.g., fragmentation, wasted resources, and loss of local control).

In her article, "Educating Students with Learning Problems: A Shared Responsibility," Will (1986) cited four main problems with the current system of special education: 1. Services for special and remedial children

seem hopelessly fragmented in distinct

categorical programs. This fragmentation

not only impairs the programs'

effectiveness, but also causes children who need

services to fall through the cracks created

between the separate programs. 2. Special and regular education operate as a

dual system in which the responsibility for

educating students with learning problems

falls to the special programs, while the role

of classroom teachers and building

administrators is weakened. Special programs often

remove students from regular classrooms for

services and fail to coordinate their

instruction with that of the regular classroom. 3. Students in special programs who are

segregated from nonhandicapped peers may

be stigmatized, suffering negative

consequences ranging from lowered self-esteem

to unhealthy attitudes toward learning. 4. Rigid eligibility requirements associated

with special programs create conflicts

between parents and school personnel, who

may disagree about a student's placement

in a particular program.

Will proposed several solutions for these problems, all of which are designed to serve students effectively in the regular classroom. Among the proposed solutions are (a) returning administrative control to school principals for managing and coordinating categorical services; (b) increasing instructional time; (c) providing a support system for teachers, including building-based support teams, team teaching, and inservice training; and (d) using new approaches, such as curriculum-based assessment, cooperative learning, and personalized curricula.

Gartner and Lipsky (1989), Lilly (1986), Reynolds, Wang, and Walberg (1987), Stainback and Stainback (1984), and Wang, Reynolds, and Walberg (1986) have taken similar positions. Collectively, these authors present an argument that has been referred to as the regular education initiative, or REI. Whole issues of special education journals have been devoted to this topic. A TED-CEC (1986) task force reviewed the published work constituting the REI and identified over 250 questions that must be addressed before the initiative becomes operational. It is clear from the attention generated by the REI that there is both large-scale agreement that the way we educate low-achieving children is seriously flawed and large-scale disagreement about how to make it better.

From our reading of the REI literature, it appears that although there is enormous validity in the many thoughtful responses to the initiative, they are somewhat premature. They are based on the belief that the REI is a well-defined plan, fixed in amber, that will be visited upon the field of education without adequate analysis of its implications; careful review of its feasibility; reality checks with general education (Kameenui, 1989); and enough attention to the specific demands of certain settings, such as secondary schools (Schumaker & Deshler, 1988), and certain populations, such as students classified as behavior-disordered (Braaten, Kauffman, Braaten, Polsgrove, & Nelson, 1988). In some instances, critics have reacted to specific intervention models as though they were the REI; most notably, because Wang and colleagues have been among the most prominent REI proponents, their specific model, the Adaptive Learning Environments Model (ALEM), has been considered the only model being propounded.

We see the REI somewhat differently. Proponents of the REI have forcefully articulated the problems that are the source of this initiative. However, beyond a call for a partnership (which is not spelled out) and less restrictive, more mainstreamed, education for at-risk students and those with disabilities, the REI is largely without definition. As Pugach and Johnson (1988) wrote, "It [the REI] is now part of our jargon with little consideration of its meaning and the assumptions it embraces." Even the target population of this initiative has never been clearly specified. In our view, the REI is an impressionistic sketch, drawing in broad strokes both the nature of the problems requiring attention and possible solutions. It is not an architectural blueprint.

We believe the REI offers a provocative way to focus our thinking about better ways to organize and provide services even though it is not a carefully detailed plan that specifies the bricks and mortar, the building schedule, the use of resources, and the personnel needed to build a structure. Based on this view, it is also clear that the REI could eventually be expressed in many ways, incorporating combinations and permutations of the best that the field has to offer in effective services. But we are a long way from even laying the foundation for this effort.

Even before asking critical questions about the eventual REI structure, we must look carefully at the assumptions underlying the REI. Large policy questions, operational issues, and even microeconomic analysis should be deferred until the educational community agrees that it understands what the REI actually is, based on its underlying assumptions. That is necessary because, first, without understanding the assumptions, it is impossible to know what questions to ask. Second, no matter what form the REI eventually takes throughout the educational system, its foundation will govern what the structure looks like and how it operates.


We have attempted to identify and discuss one set of assumptions, those governing expression of the REI at its most basic level--that is, the classroom and school. Specifically, we focus on the responsibilities of the elementary school regular classroom teacher; these assumptions are based on our reading of the REI literature, which disclosed two major themes.

Coordinating Support Programs at the School Level

In an effort to reduce duplication and wasted resources, coordination of support programs can eliminate the confusion created by categorically organized services. We examined elements of this theme in a recent article, concluding that students served in many of the categorical programs have similar enough instructional needs to justify a unified, consolidated program of services for low-achieving students (Jenkins, Pious, & Peterson, 1988).

Educating Students in General Education Classrooms

Just as the REI would return to building principals authority for distributing resources, it returns to classroom teachers responsibility for educating children with learning problems.

The assumptions that we detail here are never explicitly stated in the literature on the REI. Rather, they are inferences drawn from reading the literature cited earlier. We recognize that others may not agree with these inferences, but our purpose is to flesh out the assumptions that underlie this initiative and to work toward a consensus about classroom teachers' responsibilities under the REI and how these differ from traditional practice. In general, we can infer from the REI literature that regular classroom teachers are charged with responsibility for the following: 1. Educating all students assigned to them.

Both parents and professional educators

assume that when a student is assigned to a

classroom, the classroom teacher

automatically incurs primary responsibility for the

student's education. Although many parties

have a role in a child's education, the

classroom teacher has the ultimate

responsibility. Academic learning is first, of course;

but there are secondary responsibilities as

well. Normally developing students fall at

different points along a broad range of social

and emotional development. Those with less

social and emotional maturity exhibit

behaviors that interfere with their own and their

classmates' learning and lead to

unsatisfactory interpersonal relationships. Teachers

are expected to manage the behavior of

children as long as it falls within the broad

range of behaviors found in typically diverse

classrooms. 2. Making and monitoring major instructional

decisions for all the students in their class.

Major decisions include what to teach, when

to teach, and how to teach. Some states and

local school districts provide guidelines

about the content, materials, and sequence

of instruction; but it is the classroom teacher

who makes not only most of the major but

also the day-to-day decisions--even if an

aide, a volunteer, or another student actually

delivers instruction. For children who are

not succeeding, the teacher's responsibility

begins with identifying those who need

help, obtaining additional assessment

information, and, with specialists, developing a

remedial plan that includes long-range and

intermediate goals. The classroom teacher

is responsible for selecting the curriculum

materials of instruction and making

instructional decisions, including who will teach

lessons, what content will be covered at

what pace, and how often the child's

progress will be measured. The teacher is

expected to monitor progress and adjust the

child's program based on these data. The

framework for these decisions is found in

the developmental curriculum of the regular

classroom. 3. Providing instruction that follows a normal

developmental curriculum. Normal

developmental curricula in the basic skills areas are

designed to bring students to a level of adult

competence. Designers of normal

developmental curricula do not always agree on the

particulars (e.g., sequence, materials, and

tasks), but each curriculum provides a

sequence of lessons designed so that

students who attain the learning objectives will

eventually reach a point of adult proficiency

or competence. The teacher's role is to

implement the developmental curriculum,

adapting its particulars when children's

progress is discrepant from what is normally

expected and seeking help with these

adaptations from specialists. 4. Managing instruction for diverse

populations. Classrooms are heterogeneous;

typically, they contain students whose

achievement levels vary by at least one grade level.

Many classrooms include students whose

achievement levels differ well beyond two

grade levels. Jenkins, Jewell, and Leicester

(1990) reported that students' reading

proficiency in fourth-grade classrooms varied

by a factor of 5. That is, the best reader in

the classroom was five times more proficient

than the worst reader. Similary, Jenkins,

Pious, and Peterson (1990) found that

fourth-grade teachers across 19 schools

reported that reading ability in their

classrooms spanned an average of 5.5 grade

levels, ranging from an average low of

mid-second grade to an average high of

beginning eighth-grade reading. Such

variation in achievement has always been

present and likely will continue; schools are

expected to educate despite the problems

posed by heterogeneity. Teachers are

encouraged to manage diversity by forming

more homogeneous groups, by providing

individualized help when necessary, or by

seeking additional instructional resources. 5. Seeking, using, and coordinating assistance

for students who require more intense

services than those provided to their peers.

This assistance may come from other

classroom teachers and support staff, such

as remedial and special educators and school

psychologists. U.S. educational policy

reflects extraordinary sensitivity to the needs

of individuals with learning problems. Over

the years, federal, state, and local education

agencies have created a host of special

programs to assist students with special

needs. Although these programs have

traditionally operated outside of the classroom,

the thrust of the REI is to bring their services

into the mainstream setting. In the words of

Will (1986), ". . . we need to visualize a

system that will bring the program to the

child rather than one that brings the child

to the program".

According to the assumptions that we have read into the REI, the essence of the initiative is the authority and responsibility given the classroom teacher for educating all students assigned to him or her. Even though the teacher calls on and coordinates support from specialists, he or she is in charge. This has significant implications for two critical issues: Who should be educated in the regular classroom? What is the nature of the partnership between regular and special education?


Given the regular teacher's responsibilities, we will attempt to identify the target group for services in his or her classroom, drawing on several hints in the literature. The program fragmentation lamented by Will (1986) and Reynolds et al. (1987) suggests that many children who are recipients of services from various special programs are a target group for the REI. Categorical programs include, most prominently, special education and Chapter I, but bilingual, migrant, and various remedial education programs also have been mentioned.


Will (1986) referred to "children who are having learning difficulties, including those who are learning slowly; those with behavioral problems; those who may be educationally disadvantaged; and those who have mild specific learning disabilities, and emotional problems; and perhaps, as we improve our knowledge, those with more severe disabilities". Wang, et al. (1987) referred to children "at risk of being placed in special, compensatory, and other categorical programs," and children "who do not prosper in the regular education system". Reynolds et al. (1987) described students who are "difficult to teach," and "require greater than usual educational support". They excluded from participation in the REI "children who are deaf, blind, severely disturbed, or deeply retarded in cognitive development". Stainback and Stainback (1984) and Gartner and Lipsky (1989) indicated that all children, no matter how severe their handicaps, should be served in one consolidated educational system.

Although somewhat lacking in precision, the student descriptions, along with the listing of various categorical programs, provide a reasonably clear picture of the upper end of the student population targeted in this initiative (that is, the students exhibiting less severe problems in learning or behavior). In regard to learning, the picture is of students who are not on grade level, likely somewhere below the 40th percentile on achievement measures, and progressing at a slow enough rate to prompt regular classroom teachers to seek assistance. The picture includes students who are eligible for federal, state, and local remedial or compensatory education programs, students whom a teacher might consider for referral to special education, and students who have been referred and found eligible for special education services. In regard to social and emotional problems, the upper end of the REI population includes students whose behavior is sufficiently disturbing and objectionable to prompt teachers to undertake a deliberate effort either to teach more appropriate behavior or to manage the problem through behavioral or environmental modifications.

Much more precision about the upper end of the REI target population is impossible because both local and state education agencies vary greatly in their provision of special programs. Many states fund their own remedial assistance programs, as do some individual school districts. Thus the achievement level needed for students to qualify for "special services" will vary from locale to locale, as will the achievement level of the "unserved" special needs population. The idea is to help schools work more effectively with students who might be at risk for failure. Thus attempts to establish quantifiable criteria for the upper end of the REI target group would be not only an unnecessary and wasted effort, but probably also a futile one.

Descriptions like "difficult to teach" and "require greater than usual educational support" are broad enough to include students with very mild needs, as well as students whose needs are at the severest levels imaginable. Indeed, Will's description of students with learning problems leaves the door open for including more severely handicapped students in the partnership effort. Although Reynolds et al. (1987) excluded the most severely handicapped students from their proposal, Gartner and Lipsky (1989) and Stainback and Stainback (1984) included them. Disagreement among REI proponents about inclusion of students with severe disabilities points out the ambiguities in both the intent and nature of this initiative.

Our approach to determining the REI student population is to rely on the five assumptions about regular education classroom responsibilities that we have derived.

Under the REI, classroom teachers are responsible for teaching, with help, any student whose educational program is based on a developmental curriculum. In elementary schools, students are expected to pursue a universal developmental curriculum focusing on reading, writing, and arithmetic. In secondary schools, there is greater curricular diversity, where students' interests and talents play a more pronounced role in selecting a course of study. But even secondary schools require specific courses for graduation. These courses could be construed, at a minimum, to constitute a universal developmental curriculum.

Using the Assumptions to Define the Target Group

What do our assumptions about the responsibilities of regular classroom teachers suggest? They establish the benchmarks for determining which students should be educated in regular classrooms. If teachers are responsible for educating all students who are assigned to a developmental curriculum, even students who learn slowly and require special assistance, then only students who are following a developmental curriculum should be assigned to the regular classroom.

We believe that the intent of the REI is to empower classroom teachers and hold them responsible for the education of all students in their program, to give them the authority and assistance needed to educate a diverse population in the ordinary curriculum of the common school. Under this framework, the classroom teacher is in charge, making instructional decisions, requesting assistance, assigning instructional duties to support personnel, collaborating with other professionals (e.g., additional reading teachers and social skills trainers) who work in the classroom. The teacher is in charge of orchestrating the major elements of his or her students' education. How would this apply to handicapped students?

Students With Mild Disabilities.

1. Students with learning disabilities and mild

mental retardation. Students currently

classified as having a learning disability or

having mild to moderate mental retardation

would receive all instructional services in

the regular classroom, if their Individualized

Education Programs (IEPs) call for a normal

developmental curriculum. That is, students

whose multidisciplinary team judges them

to have a reasonable chance of attaining

minimal competency in the basic skills -- reading,

writing, spelling, and arithmetic -- by

the time they leave school would be

educated in a developmental curriculum and

automatically retain membership in the

regular classroom. But what if, in the team's

judgment, the student requires additional,

supplemental instruction beyond that

ordinarily given to average-achieving students,

or requires instruction at a different pace,

or from a developmental curriculum

different from that used by the majority of regular

students in the class? In these cases, the

team (which includes the child's teacher)

would inform the building principal that

additional resources are needed for this

student. No matter what resources were

added (e.g., a remedial reading teacher), the

classroom teacher would still make the

major instructional decisions, monitor

progress, and maintain responsibility for

providing a program aimed at ensuring that

students achieve the goals and objectives

agreed on by the multidisciplinary team.

On the other hand, if the team decides

that a child is very unlikely to achieve

minimal competency, for example in

reading (this is a major decision and presumably

would be arrived at only when the child had

failed to make reasonable progress under

strong instructional conditions), it might

recommend a nondevelopmental

curriculum, one that focused, for example, on a

limited, functional reading vocabulary or

possibly included no reading instruction at

all. With that decision, the child is placed

in a separate program (at least for reading)

taught by a special education teacher who

assumes primary responsibility for the child's

education. 2. Students with emotional and behavioral

handicaps. Under the REI, the majority of

students who have behavior or conduct

disorders would remain in regular

classrooms. Sometimes classroom teachers would

need advice on how to help a student

overcome a conduct problem, a social skills

deficit, or a problem involving classroom

work habits or attention. Formal procedures

for obtaining help in problem solving must

be available for teachers to access other

professionals such as teaching colleagues

(Pugach & Johnson, 1988), behavior

consultants (Fuchs et al., 1989), or building-level

support teams (Chalfant, Pysh, &

Moultrie, 1979). If students are identified

who require intensive, direct social skills

instruction, then the principal, who is

responsible for managing resources, might

acquire an instructional program and related

training for the classroom teacher or locate

and bring expert help to the classroom.

In some circumstances, a student's

social and emotional development may be

so extraordinary discrepant from the norm that he or she requires a comprehensive nontraditional program. As in those situations where an academic deficit is severe, a multidisciplinary team would examine the evidence that a student's social and emotional development is so seriously off course that the student cannot succeed in the regular classroom, despite outside consultation for the classroom teacher and direct skill instruction for the student. Under these circumstances, a multidisciplinary team would recommend placement outside of the mainstream.

Severely Handicapped Students. We believe that with sufficient personnel and material resources, it would be possible to deliver an appropriate instructional program in the regular classroom to any students, no matter what their curriculum goals, no matter how severe their handicap, with the possible exception of students who are given to extreme violence and aggression. But that in our view is not the intent of the REI. It would not be fair to regular classroom teachers (or their students) to hold them responsible for teaching all possible skills, for example, basic discriminations, mobility, self-care, community living, sign language, speech reading, and Braille reading. Students requiring these services would be placed in special classes. The line needs to be drawn somewhere to protect teachers from unrealistic demands and to assure parents of normally achieving students that their children will prosper.


The assumptions we have identified have implications for a second major issue: the partnership between regular education and "second system" specialized services. Nothing in the REI is more impressionistic, or poorly defined, than the call for a partnership between these two sets of service providers. It is here that REI proponents must give the most careful, precise framing to the initiative so that people know what exactly is meant and what can be debated. At the moment, there are only drifts of ideas. According to Will (1986):

The heart of this commitment is the search for

ways to serve as many . . . children [with

learning problems] as possible in the regular

classroom by encouraging special education

and other special programs to form a

partnership with regular education. The objective of

the partnership for special education and the

other special programs is to use their

knowledge and expertise to support regular

education in educating children with learning


Although it is possible to read an infinity of operational meanings into this statement, Wang and Walberg (1988) have narrowed the range of options considerably by stating: "But neither the paper by . . . Will . . . nor our writings call for `merging' categorical programs under the `aegis of general education.' ... The GEI [REI] is not aimed at eliminating or subordinating special education services".

It is possible to view partnerships in terms of broad systems having equal or shared power, without subordination; for instance, at the state level, the person responsible for general education and the person responsible for special services might be of equal rank, with equal power in the state structure. Further, special education is not necessarily subordinate in a school setting where special education teachers work outside the regular classroom and are in charge of their own defined areas of responsibility. However, it is far from easy to visualize an equal partnership between classroom teachers and specialists when the educational setting is the mainstream classroom, where questions about ownership of problems and hegemony are paramount. Is it possible to support general education without being in a subordinate role? More broadly, if one system is supposed to support another, is it not fair to assume that the system being supported takes precedence over others? The very vagueness of the REI language, and what we see as possible contradictions among its proponents, have caused us to reflect on the nature of partnerships and what we derive about partnerships from the REI.

In general education, some partnership models include team teaching, in which teachers share responsibility for a group of students in a subject area, and cross-class grouping, in which responsibility for certain students shifts depending on the grouping arrangement. Both in team teaching and in cross-class grouping, one teacher takes primary responsibility for a group of students for a specified period or subject area. In other sectors, one might consider such partnerships as job-sharing, where two people stake out certain areas of responsibility within one role; or a law firm where partners may prepare for a trial together but one individual retains overall responsibility; or a business where executives who have their own zones of authority collaborate on a common enterprise and report to the chief executive officer.

If, as we read it, the REI assumes that the main setting for instruction is the regular classroom, and if the initiative calls for more than merely reducing or eliminating pull-out programs, its very essence involves the question of who does what in the classroom and, even more important, who is finally responsible and accountable for the well-being of everyone in that setting. We do not see "in-class" or "pull-in" services (Jenkins & Heinen, 1989), which simply transport resource programs into regular classrooms, as instances of REI models. When resource personnel come into the classroom to deliver the same instruction they would have delivered in the resource room, they have not formed a new partnership with regular educators. They have merely changed the location of instruction, retaining the same partnership (or lack of it) that currently exists between regular and resource teachers.

Likewise, certain team teaching arrangements would seem to fall outside of the REI. For example, if a specialist were to take full or primary responsibility for a subgroup's reading instruction, even if the instruction occurred within the regular classroom, the situation is virtually identical to traditional pull-out programs where the classroom teacher has transferred responsibility to a resource or remedial teacher.

As our assumptions about the classroom teacher's responsibilities indicate, it is clearly the classroom teacher, not the specialist, who is responsible for the progress of all students. In even the most collaborative consultation models, the classroom teacher can decide whether or not to use the procedures or materials recommended, and thus ultimately makes the critical instructional decisions.

The Role of Specialists in the REI Partnership

If the regular classroom teacher's role under the REI comprises the responsibilities we have identified, what, then, is the role of the specialist? As we read it, the REI implies a distinction between two types of specialists: (a) specialists who support the regular classroom teacher and (b) special teachers who function as classroom teachers for exceptional children in special classrooms. Stated differently, the REI identifies support specialists who, along-side classroom teachers, assist students with learning problems in the mainstream, and special classroom teachers who work in their own classrooms with students who fall outside of the REI framework. Under the REI, support specialists provide instruction to students with special needs in general education classrooms, not in their own classrooms.

If the assumptions we have derived correctly represent the REI, the traditional role of teachers regarding external specialists would require redefinition under this initiative. Classroom support personnel (such as resource teachers, learning disabilities specialists, reading specialists, and behavior specialists) would no longer take responsibility for particular students because classroom teachers would maintain responsibility for educating all students in their classrooms.

Just as the homeowner, not the architect or carpenter, is in charge of remodeling a home, the teacher, not the specialist, is in charge of the classroom. The homeowner approves the plan, keeps an eye on how the work is progressing, and makes any important decisions that are likely to affect the outcome of the project. When problems arise, the architect or carpenter may suggest solutions, but the homeowner retains the final authority. After all, the homeowner, not the carpenter, will be living in the home. The homeowner refrains from telling the carpenter how to hammer the nails or use a saw, but regularly inspects the quality of the workmanship, checks on progress and timeliness, and oversees the selection of materials used in construction.

At the same time (to continue the analogy), most homeowners would be unwise to take on supervising and managing the building of a skyscraper. They lack the background and knowledge to take charge of such a project. A supervisor or general contractor with the proper background is needed for this type of building project. Likewise, credentialed classroom teachers have been certified to teach basic skills in a developmental curriculum. Typically, they do not possess the background needed for more specialized, nontraditional curricula, nor should they be held accountable for a nontraditional education. Instead, specialists in nontraditional education such as special education classroom teachers are responsible for instruction in mobility, signing, speech reading, and functional academic skills for students who fall outside the boundaries of the REI.

Although partnership is generally considered a good educational strategy, it is a very poorly defined term. And, as noted by Greer (1989), ". . . not all partnerships work, too few work well, and many are superficial, both in their conception and execution". We read the spirit of the REI as follows: the classroom teacher and the specialist form a partnership in terms of instruction, but the classroom teacher is ultimately in charge. This does not mean that the support partner's role is necessarily downgraded or undervalued. Certainly the support teacher's role is critical; the specialist contributes importantly and directly to students' success. If we are wrong in this reading of the REI, then there is the strong possibility that the initiative propounds something that is little different from what now exists in most elementary schools, where responsibility is divided and problems of ownership are pervasive.

An analysis within the general issue of partnership may help to clarify this difficult concept. Here, we examine several model partnerships of shared responsibility to identify their proximity to the REI, keeping in mind our reading of the initiative.

Existing Models of Partnership Between Special and Regular Education

Where do specific models fall on the continuum between traditional practices and the REI? In our view, the issue goes beyond where instruction occurs, although the self-contained classroom is clearly the emblematic example of the historical division of responsibilities. For purposes of this analysis, however, we anchor traditional practices in the resource room rather than the self-contained classroom, because, at least on paper, there is some expectation that the regular classroom teacher and resource room teacher will share responsibility for a given child. Unfortunately, what happens in practice is often very different: the classroom teacher is not only not in charge, but may be so distanced from what is happening in the resource room as to be outside the decision-making process. As noted by Allington and Johnston (1986), Haynes and Jenkins (1986), and others, the lack of congruence between the two settings can be found in their use of different curricula, the two teachers' failure to consult on planning, and a general lack of information about what goes on in the other setting. But some of the same elements can be found in cases where instruction by support teachers occurs within the regular classroom, as in some pull-in programs. The key questions one must ask focus on the issue: Who's in charge?

Numerous service-delivery models have been developed over the years to strengthen the capacity of general education to deal with student diversity. These models vary significantly in the way classroom and support personnel share instructional responsibility for special education students. Some of the newer models clearly embody the spirit of the efforts to reform the general education system, along lines consistent with the REI.

Consultation Models. These models include prereferral intervention programs like Teacher Assistance Teams (Chalfant et al., 1979) and Mainstream Assistance Teams (Fuchs et al., 1989), as well as consultant teacher programs like the Consulting Teacher (Egner & Lates, 1975; McKenzie, 1972; McKenzie et al., 1970) and the Resource/Consulting Teacher (Idol-Maestas, 1981; 1983; Idol-Maestas, Lloyd, & Lilly, 1981). Consultation models are based on notions of shared responsibility; that is, specialists and classroom teachers collaborate in efforts to assist students who have learning or behavior problems. In summarizing research supporting consultant models, Nevin and Thousand (1987) concluded: "Teachers in schools with a consulting teacher assumed more direct roles and engaged in more direct activities with handicapped learners' referral, assessment, curriculum development, implementation of teaching/learning activities, and evaluation when compared to their counterparts". We believe that these consultation models are designed to empower regular classroom teachers to deal with student diversity in ways that are consistent with the REI.

Direct-Service Models. These models include the Adaptive Learning Environments Model (Wang, 1980; 1981; Wang, Gennari, & Waxman, 1985), the Integrated Classroom Model (Affleck, Madge, Adams, & Lowenbraun, 1988), the Co-Teaching/Team Teaching Model (Budoff, 1988a, 1988b), and the Mount Vernon Model (Jenkins & Jenkins, 1989) as well as others. Direct-service models have been developed to educate special and remedial education students within the general education classroom. In each model, the general education teacher is supported by additional professional or paraprofessional personnel to implement instructional programs for special-needs students in the mainstream. However, the classroom teacher in each of these models maintains the primary responsibility for the instructional program of all students assigned to his or her charge.

Although teachers may receive help from specialists and even delegate some teaching to them, they are still in charge: the teacher makes and monitors the instructional decisions, implements the prescribed curriculum, and makes the necessary adjustments in the programs based on data to improve student outcomes.

Several consultation and direct service approaches currently in use seem to fall within the framework of the REI as defined by the five assumptions. They are distinct from traditional approaches because of the authority and responsibility given classroom teachers, not just location of services.


This interpretation is not without flaws, in particular a lack of quantitative rigor and a precise definition of developmental curriculum. Children's right to an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment could be abused (Kauffman, 1989). Further, this approach raises questions about the capability of the current educational system to accommodate these changes.

Qualitative Versus Quantitative Judgments

The approach to identifying students who fall within the REI is qualitative rather than quantitative. It avoids specifying achievement levels or social-emotional development levels that would be used by multidisciplinary teams to recommend a student's placement outside of the regular classroom.

However, there are two reasons to recommend this approach. First, a precise, valid, quantitative solution is impossible given our current level of sophistication either in measuring achievement and social-emotional development, or in predicting future performance based on those measurements. Second, circumstances differ in every case depending on the number and talents of service providers (teachers, specialists, and consultants), the student's willingness to participate, and the student's family characteristics and living conditions outside of school.

Given the complexity of the decision making, we would rather trust the judgment of thoughtful professionals than resort to a simple formula that could be reliably applied, but that is blind to other important considerations. Moreover, the system allows for the provision of special services to children in regular classes--without necessarily labeling or classifying them as disabled. Removal from the regular classroom would occur only when children could not be helped by the classroom teacher and a cadre of support personnel. We do not see the REI as an attempt to dilute services, but to place them under the auspices of the classroom teacher.

Developmental Curriculum

A basic tenet of this interpretation of the REI is that classroom teachers are responsible for the education of every child whose course of studies can be accommodated by a developmental curriculum. Would professionals be able to reach agreement on which curricula are developmental and which are not? To do this, they would first need to define basic skills levels that satisfy minimum competency or "adult" functioning. Second, they would need to examine the graded tasks of the curriculum and judge whether a student who accomplished these tasks is likely to have achieved minimum competency. According to these two criteria, virtually all commercial basal reading programs would qualify as developmental curricula.

One example of a nontraditional (i.e., nondevelopmental) curriculum is the Edmark Reading Program, which targets a limited sight vocabulary for instruction. General education classrooms do not use such programs, whose scope is seriously restricted, because such programs are not designed to produce proficient, competent (i.e., adult) readers. One possible test for judging whether a curriculum qualifies as developmental is to note whether general education classrooms use it. Most reading and math instructional programs that are currently used in special and remedial education would qualify as developmental because they pass two tests: (a) they include graded tasks which, if accomplished by the student, will result in at least a minimum competency level, and (b) they are the same programs that tend to be used in general education classrooms. Parenthetically, we must add that teachers must modify or adapt most developmental curricula if they are to be used successfully with remedial and special education students; but even with modification they are developmental curricula.

A related problem involves the judgment that a student should not follow a developmental curriculum, but one that has a more limited scope. Currently, most professionals try to step around this decision. It seems clear, however, that for some students, especially those with "moderate" cognitive disabilities, a developmental basic skill curriculum has not been effective. Failure to make the hard decision--to place a student in a nondevelopmental curriculum--probably does considerable harm. Whenever in doubt, however, teams should place students in a developmental curriculum, rather than arbitrarily stunt growth by limiting exposure to learnable skills.

Potential for Abuse

The proposed system gives a fair amount of discretion to classroom teachers, principals, and multidisciplinary teams. These people will sometimes arrive at bad decisions or may even deliberately abuse the system to rid themselves of responsibility for students whom they find unappealing because of race, physical characteristics, or personality. Parent participation in decision making about obtaining additional resources or about placement out of the regular classroom can serve as one check. Careful selection of the multidisciplinary team and the building-based support team can serve as another. The potential for abuse under the REI, however, is no greater than what exists under the current system.

Readiness for the REI

Many questions should be answered to determine whether a school is ready for the REI. * To what extent do classroom teachers accept

the five responsibilities given them in this

analysis? * To what extent do principals have sufficient

knowledge about instruction and learning to

distribute resources across classrooms so that

students with special needs can be

accommodated and served effectively? * To what extent are "specialists" (e.g.,

remedial reading and math teachers, and

learning disability teachers) able to

collaborate and communicate with classroom

teachers and relinquish to them final authority

regarding instructional decision making? * To what extent are multidisciplinary teams

prepared to require hard evidence that

students have received high-quality direct

instruction from classroom teachers and

support staff? * Are multidisciplinary teams prepared to

decide that students will not develop

competency in basic skills during their school

career, and recommend that the students be

segregated from their regular classroom

peers? The main question, of course, is, How ready for the REI is this country's educational system? Results of a recent study by Jenkins and Leicester (1990) suggest that classroom teachers will need assistance in developing and implementing specially designed instruction for low achieving students. Many problems with the REI are foreseeable, but that is no reason to reject the intiative. As Reynolds (1988) reminds us, the current system is not without its own problems, many of which are as serious as those presented by the REI.


According to the present analysis, the REI is built on five critically important but, until now, implicit assumptions about the responsibilities of regular classroom teachers. We have tried to make those assumptions explicit, to put them in neon. Recognizing and understanding the assumptions are essential if we are to determine who the REI target population is and the readiness of the current educational system to accommodate this initiative. The basic message of the REI is that classroom teachers should be responsible for the education of all students in their charge, and building principals should be authorized to distribute resources for children who have learning problems. Under the REI, teachers are given authority over all instruction in their classrooms. In a sense, this is a heavy burden. However, classroom teachers should not be (and cannot reasonably be) made responsible for students who follow nontraditional curricula. There are limits to the demands that can be placed on classroom teachers.

The REI would also change the role of specialists, such as remedial reading and learning disability teachers. In the current system, children receive instruction from specialists who operate independently of the classroom. More often than not, communication between specialists and classroom teachers about critical educational and instructional matters is minimal, if not entirely absent (Allington & Johnston, 1986; Haynes & Jenkins, 1986). This would change under the REI, because classroom teachers would be held responsible for students' progress, and they could not afford to relinquish programs to others, no matter how specialized their skills.

One final REI issue that will require full discussion by professionals is the blurring of the distinction between regular education on the one side, and special and remedial education on the other. Should remedial and special education retain an identifiable status within general education? Within Public Law 94-142, the concept of specially designed instruction implies that services to students with disabilities must be distinguishable from "non specially designed instruction," or general education. In total mainstreaming models, however, it is difficult to identify the specially designed instruction--that is, the instruction unique to students with disabilities. Other hard questions need to be answered here: * Does the REI mean that all students in total

mainstreaming classes are receiving

specially designed instruction, and would

legally require an individual educational plan,

or does it mean that special education has

lost its identity? * Would any attempt to merge special

education within general education (Gartner &

Lipsky, 1989; Stainback & Stainback, 1984)

be blocked by the lobbies who have

succeeded in obtaining resources for students

with learning problems? * Alternatively, in a merged system, could a

way be found to ensure that hard-won

resources were retained and that students

with learning and behavior problems

received those resources?

Our reading of the REI revealed five assumptions; some educators certainly will disagree with this analysis. In any event, the REI's assumptions about regular classrooms, whatever they are, must be made explicit if this initiative is to be understood, tested, and evaluated. Once understood, the REI can be put to the litmus test: Can REI models match or improve on the educational outcomes of current programs for regular students, as well as those at risk or those with disabilities?

JOSEPH R. JENKINS is Professor of Special Education; CONSTANCE G. PIOUS is Coordinator of Publications, Experimental Education Unit; and MARK JEWELL is a doctoral student in Special Education, University of Washington, Seattle.
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Author:Jenkins, Joseph R.; Pious, Constance G.; Jewell, Mark
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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