Monday, December 22, 2008

What RTI Shouldn't Be

The next big thing on the horizon in my life (after my daughter's next round of medical tests, and the budget cuts, and lobbying in Olympia, and trying to get the WEAPAC numbers up, and getting my car fixed, and trying to save members' jobs, and....) is a presentation that I'm giving at the spring WERA conference on implementing RTI in my elementary school. I'm coming at it from a union president perspective--e.g., these are the roadblocks that teachers can see and put in front of you, this is how you get around those roadblocks--so this article from the December 10th Education Week on a symposium that the NEA held on RTI is the kind of article that I'm particularly interested in right now.

It's also the kind of article that drives me absolutely bat*hit crazy. Consider:

“We really do see [RTI] as a way of transforming the way we do business,” said Patti Ralabate, a special education policy expert for the NEA. “But too often, these kinds of initiatives are done as a top-down approach.”

The symposium is one of the first steps the NEA plans to take to help increase the capacity of teachers to engage in RTI programs as they spread through school districts, Ms. Ralabate said.
See, this is when I think the union gets in trouble--when they try to be something that they're not. The NEA's involvement with RTI should be in writing contract language, advocating for the needs of sped teachers, and maybe even program evaluation. What the NEA should not be doing is trying to increase the capacity of teachers, because any kind of professional development that the NEA could do towards RTI is guaranteed to be laughably deficient.

A far more likely model is that the NEA will train some people, who will train some Uniserv staff, who will have knowledge that they take with them out into the field. Maybe it gets used, maybe it doesn't. A far more likely scenario is that RTI gets interpreted by the school districts in a number of different ways and that an area wide/state wide consensus develops on what RTI is and that then becomes the model.

Point is, the NEA should be an informational piece. I don't think they can guide this idea with any real ability.

Later on:

The challenge with RTI, however, is in making sure general education teachers understand how it works, and how to properly administer the interventions, supporters say. Teachers must also juggle the small-group work of RTI along with their other classroom responsibilities.

RTI shifts the focus to student progress, not student labels, David Prasse, the dean of the education school at Loyola University of Chicago, told the group gathered in Washington for the NEA-sponsored symposium, held Nov. 24.

But to be carried out successfully for classroom teachers, RTI “cannot be an add-on,” he said. Instead, it must be seen as a natural part of good classroom instruction.
This is when the defensive barriers start going up big time, because many teachers pick up on the if/then pretty quickly:

If this is a part of regular classroom instruction, then I'm not going to get any more help for the additional things they'll ask me to do.
If they're not going to give me the resources to make this work the way they want, then I'm not going to do it.

If this is a part of regular classroom instruction, then I'm already doing it.
If it really mattered, I'd be doing it already.
If it really mattered, then they'd be doing it for me.

The fundamental, then, is to not present RTI as a matter of, "This is what good teachers do," because the false premises inherent in a loaded statement like that will kill the idea before it even has a chance to get to fruition.

Oh, but there's more:

Abraham H. Jones, a special education resource teacher for the Christina district in Wilmington, Del., also stressed the importance of RTI as work that is done in the regular classroom.

“It’s a general education initiative, and it needs to remain in the general education classroom,” Mr. Jones said. Educators should work on promoting RTI through pamphlets and brochures as well as professional development, so that it can become better known to more teachers, he said.
Are you f'ing kidding me? A pamphlet?

And this, too, is what drives the regular education classroom teachers mad--it's very, very easy to dismiss RTI as nothing but a sham to keep kids from getting referred to special education, and when you go to your regular ed teachers and ask them to make efforts that have historically been the province of special education ( like measuring data, planning interventions, small group instruction) you're doing nothing but feed into that perception.

My personal belief here is that you've got to have two dual structures in place: PLCs, or some sort of team level meeting where data sharing becomes the norm, and a useful pre-referral team that can analyze that data for the teachers--and maybe even collect it for them--with the understanding that it might be useful for a special education referral at some point. If your pre-referral team is just a rubber stamp of bad ideas off of the web (i.e., "Have you tried having Little Johnny sit somewhere else in the room?"), then you need to reform your crap structure before you try to superimpose something like RTI on top of them. Similarly, if you're not making a connection between the resources and knowledge of your special ed teachers and the new work that you're asking the regular ed teachers to do, then you're really neglecting what could be your most awesome resource.

Recommended Reading: the blog at the RTI Action Network, where some of the important questions are discussed. They don't seem to get a lot of traffic, yet, but I think they're off to a capable start.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couple of things:

First, I'm evidently more cynical than you (if that is fathomable).

I see what NEA is doing as:

- running to the front of a parade already underway

- investing a nickle in education content ("brochures") and 95 cents in marketing ("Ed Week symposium and member marketing). The priority demonstrates that the goal isn't the reform, but the perception of involvement among key audiences.

As an aside, your analysis of the chicken-egg nature of policy reforms is keen.


10:32 AM  

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