Administrators: The Secret to Special Education Scheduling

I am wondering if rather than calling my blog “Rapacious Learning” I should call it “Confessions of a Rapacious Learner”.  If you ever think I am judging bad practice in my blogs, please understand that just about everything I am now critical of are things I once did myself.  And this is the segue I will use to move us into the trials and tribulations of special education scheduling.

Basically, scheduling for special education generally happens something like what is described in the following scenarios.

Scenario #1: Students receive one class period a day or one class period every other day of special education.  This class is called something like Study Skills and incorporates instruction in all goal areas.  It is for the Level 1 student who attends all regular classes and has this time for supplemental instruction.  In some districts, a student may have her/his LRE rate doubled because one building has every other day Study Skills (middle school, for example) and the other school (high school, for example) has every day Study Skills.  This is often the case in high schools when they do not offer alternate day classes in their schedule.

Scenario #2: Students receive their special education time by goal area.  Each goal area is allotted minutes on page F and the student goes to the special education classroom for the designated minutes.  The special education teacher has to work out the time with each regular education teacher and, often, the special education teacher gets their time with students when it works for the general education teacher, which does not allow for grouping for instructional need.

Scenario #3: Once the special education schedule is done, it ends up that one of the special education teachers does not have any students scheduled into their Study Skills class during 4th or 6th period.  This is not realized until the first week of school.  At that time, the decision is made to have the special education teacher co-teach a Science class and a Social Studies class even though there is no common planning time for those teachers.

Scenario #4: Every student with a behavior goal in the building has a Social Skills class they go to every-other-day.  This is the instructional piece of the behavior goal.  The class has nine students and they all receive the same instruction.

Look familiar?  It is very familiar to me as this is the way I have seen it done and the way I did it myself when I was an administrator.  We fit the student into the schedule instead of making the schedule fit the student.  When a student gets to middle school and high school and has Level 1 services, the needs of the student are seldom even discussed; they just go into the special education catch-all class where every special education student is scheduled.

Here are some guidelines for special education scheduling.  They are not easy to follow, but it is imperative that this becomes a priority for schools.

  • Students should only be pulled out of core instruction when they are going to receive direct, purposeful, and effective specially designed instruction. If the student goes to the special education room for 40 minutes a day and spends 30 minutes doing a worksheet while the teacher works with other students with different needs during that time, the student should only go to the room for 10 minutes.
  • Special education instruction should move the student forward in the core curriculum. Although the instruction may be in an isolated skill area, the instruction should have an impact on the bigger picture skills such as comprehension.  Special education teachers must know the core curriculum to be effective.  Remember, Tier 2 and 3 interventions only matter if they move the student forward in Tier 1.
  • Special education teachers should not have to negotiate time with the regular education teachers without the support of the administrator. Having a school-wide RTI time helps with this issue tremendously, although you may still need to find time for special education SDI outside of the RTI time.  Students should not miss vital core curriculum instruction when they go to the special education room.
  • Co-teaching is not supported by research at this time. You heard me and I said it out loud.  This does not mean co-teaching is not effective, it means that we implement this model so poorly in so many instances that the results are not there.  If you are going to have a special education teacher co-teach in a classroom, make sure this is done with thoughtful planning.  The teachers must be given time to collaborate, the special education teacher must have knowledge of the core content, and the special education teacher has to function as more than a glorified paraprofessional.
  • I know this one is a huge sacred cow and it is one that I have personally not come to support easily; stop giving high school credit for special education SDI classes. This causes students to spend more time than they need in the special education room and, oftentimes, it ends up being a study hall with support.  If the student needs help with their assignments, this is often not the best place for this to happen anyway. I have been in many an IEP meeting where the student has to stay in special education because “they need those credits to graduate”.  Again, high schools that have a seminar/RTI time get around this because all students have the same designated time for enrichment and support.
  • DO NOT have a one-size-fits-all class for students with behavior goals. This is another thing I loved and lived for many years.  First of all, these kids don’t have the same instructional needs when it comes to behavior.  Second of all, kids with chronically disruptive behaviors have a difficult time learning in the abstract.  The best model is to provide a couple of short, targeted lessons per week that are individualized (could be created by a teacher and delivered by a para) and then consistently reinforced throughout the day.  By far the best success I ever had with behavior instruction was at a large, urban, middle school where I functioned as a behavior interventionist and could instruct and reinforce all day long within the general education setting.

And, most importantly, whatever you do, make sure you are always focused on results.  Is the student making progress with the services being provided?  If not, you need to have a schedule that allows for things to be flexible as needed to ensure that the services provided are getting results for every student.

(July, 2015)