Over the years, legislation has greatly changed the face of education in the United States, especially in terms of literacy. NCLB in particular focuses specifically on improving reading and language in its Reading First initiative. In addition to focusing on early interventions, it also requires the use of scientifically based reading research (SBRR). What that means for teachers and students is that the materials being provided by publishers has to use SBRR. This provides a higher quality product with which educators can teach. Instead of providing materials that seem good, the publishers need to have data to back up their products. In addition to higher standards for literacy materials, more focus is being placed upon early intervention. According to the reading, IDEA allows districts to spend up to 15% of their budget on early intervention, meaning that many disabilities can be prevented or minimized before the effects become lasting. While not perfect, the legislation that has been put in place has served to focus the educational communities attention on literacy while also providing an equal education for students of all abilities.
When I started teaching in 2008, I worked as a third grade teacher in rural South Carolina. During my time there, I used the South Carolina state standards to guide my language arts instructions. My only previous experience with standards were the Michigan GLCE's, so I was actually happy with the standards with which I was expected to work. They were specific enough that I knew exactly what needed to be taught, but also not so extensive that I felt overwhelmed. This allowed me to teach a few things at a deeper level than I would have been able to with the GLCE's, where I felt I need to gloss over certain areas in order to focus on the needs of the class with which I did my student teaching. In 2011, I relocated to accept my current job at a private school in Michigan, again teaching third grade. This school had made the transition from GLCE's to CCSS, so I was expected to follow the new standards. Upon reviewing the CCSS, I actually really liked them. They were similar to the standards that I used in South Carolina in that they allowed me to teach the content more deeply than with the GLCE's. I still use the CCSS and I have to say that I do not have a complaint about them. I feel like they do a good job of guiding my instruction without mandating the exact way the material needs to be taught. I can focus on the needs of my students and still fulfill the requirements of the standards. To be fair, however, I have had very little experience using the CCSS with special needs and ESL students. I work at a parochial school that does not have the funds to support special education services, so those students typically choose to go to the public school. If I were teaching students with special needs, I might feel differently about the standards.
On paper, I think that the RtI model is an excellent way to address students with learning disabilities. If a problem can be solved in the general education classroom, then by all means, it should be. Why would you start with intensive interventions if the problem can be solved within the confines of the general classroom? It makes sense to use the continuum of increasing levels of intensity until a solution can be found. When implemented properly, I am sure that the RtI model would be extremely effective. The problem, in my experience at least, is that districts have not been properly trained in how to use the RtI model. In both of the schools in which I have worked, the success or failure has been left up to the individual classroom teachers who have not been trained in how to manage RtI. In both cases, I was essentially presented with a pyramid chart and told to "do RtI". It almost seems that in order to be effective, there needs to be someone in charge of managing RtI and following up with teachers and support personnel to ensure that interventions are taking place
According to Forman and Nixon, academic skills, experience, content knowledge, and professional development are all factors that contribute to the quality of a teacher. While important, I feel like even teachers who are deficient in one of the areas listed can still be successful if given the proper support within their school and the proper attitude towards teaching. Unfortunately, not all teachers have that support or demeanor. More likely, the quality of a teacher does have an effect on student learning. In the article, Forman and Nixon explain that disadvantaged schools are less likely to have high quality teachers. To me, this is essentially a double-whammy for those schools. They are starting with a tougher demographic, plus they lack the teachers needed to overcome the deficiency. Hopefully the requirements of NCLB for highly qualified teachers will help to shrink the gap.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!