‘co-teaching seldom raises student achievement’

by Grace

Few ideas have captured the imagination of special educators more than co-teaching, the practice of teaming a special education teacher with a general education teacher in a regular classroom for students with and without an IEP. The hope is that the general education teacher provides content expertise and the special educator provides modifications and accommodations to students with special needs (and perhaps all the children in the class).

Proponents of co-teaching extol it as ― the best of both worlds, because it ―brings children together rather than separates them and finally knocks down the walls between general education and special education.

Unfortunately, co-teaching is like dieting. Lots of people want to lose weight and look good in a bathing suit, but actually doing so is hard. National research indicates that co-teaching seldom raises student achievement.

I’ve not been impressed with the results when I’ve seen co-teaching up close.  It seems that the resources being used could be channeled into more efficient methods.  Teachers typically have very little say in any decisions to use co-teaching.

Something Has Got to Change:  Rethinking Special Education


Recent cutbacks at the nearby Mount Vernon school district

The layoffs mean that the district will have fewer classrooms staffed by two teachers.

Under the new approach, special-education teachers will only come into the classrooms that have a mix of nondisabled and special-education students for part of the day.

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6 Comments to “‘co-teaching seldom raises student achievement’”

  1. I have a friend who has a very gifted son, the same age as my oldest. He managed to get into the first grade classroom with co-teaching at our school, which is a very popular placement among parents of so-called “normal” kids. She raved about it. She said it was the only year that her son actually got the attention and appropriate work that he needed. The focus on individuation, which is key to that room, meant that her son’s needs were seen and addressed even though he did not have an IEP. I tried hard to get my oldest into that room, but wasn’t able to.

    On the other hand, I turned the placement down for my IEP kid. Why? Because most general SPED teachers don’t know anything about hearing impaired kids, much less kids with emotional issues from trauma. I preferred to have an itinerant teacher of the deaf come into a standard classroom. And the co-teaching model is noisy because too much is going on the classroom at once, which is difficult for a hearing impaired child.

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  2. “And the co-teaching model is noisy because too much is going on the classroom at once, which is difficult for a hearing impaired child.”

    Oh dear. And the noisy environment is probably not so hot for ADHD kids, either.

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  3. I’ve heard teachers promote co-teaching classrooms as offering special benefits to the “normal” kids, which I don’t doubt is the case. However, there are other more cost-effective ways for schools to address individualized needs of gifted students while not short-shrifting the special ed students. I agree with this paper’s point that co-teaching is often about making the educators feel good about themselves rather than about using methods that work.

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  4. I know you believe that tracking is more cost effective, and to some extent I agree, but it is never going to happen. Politically, it is just too unacceptable to most Americans. On my adoption mailing list, whenever school reform comes up, that idea is the one that sets everyone off in a flood of negative comments. Special programs for gifted kids also incur lots of negativity.

    I also don’t think tracking is a panacea or substitute for individuation, especially at the margins. Gifted kids vary in their abilities, so simply sitting them all down in one room and addressing them as a unit is not going to work. Very disabled children also differ quite a bit. I noted above my concern that a general SPED teacher would not have the expertise to work with my son. SImply plopping him in a room full of special ed students, all addressed as a unit by one teacher, would have been a disaster. This is why I do not believe that tracking would let us have huge class sizes, unless we were willing to accept a much less effective education.

    One thing I find interesting is that Montessori model, which I am a huge fan of, does allow for larger class sizes than the norm. For kids with any kind of special need, including gifted kids, I think that type of approach is the way to go.

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  5. “I also don’t think tracking is a panacea or substitute for individuation”

    Neither do I, but common sense tells me that a less diverse group of students would allow for better differentiation of instruction.

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  6. There are people out there who seem to think if we had tracking, we could have class sizes of 40 or more students, thus saving money. I really don’t think it would work out. Even at the college level, when you hit class sizes that large, they usually break them out into recitation groups, and have TAs to help out. Where I teach, we cap our classes at 25 so we can interact with the students effectively. While I would like to see some tracking, I still wouldn’t want my kids in classes any bigger than around 30.

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