The Consulting Teacher Model: Risks and Opportunities
The consulting teacher model for delivering service to special education students is one that has garnered increasing attention in the special education literature and in state offices of education in the 1980s (Haight, 1984; Idol, 1986; Idol-Maestas, 1983; Idol, Paolucci-Whitcomb, & Nevin, 1986; Lilly & Givens-Ogle, 1981; West & Brown, 1987). Although the model has been discussed since the early 1970s (McKenzie et al., 1970), over the last several years books and entire journal issues have addressed themselves to the topic, among them the summer 1985 issue of Teacher Education and Special Education (Blankenship & Jordan, 1985), the February 1981 issue of Behavioral Disorders (Nelson, Neel, & Lilly, 1981), and the report of the National Task Force on School Consultation, Collaborative School Consultation (Idol, 1986). The model is in use statewide in several states, among them Idaho, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Other states, such as Utah and Washington, are experimenting with the model in certain schools and districts.
Consulting teaching has been described as "a process for providing special education services to students with special needs in which special education teachers, general education teachers, other school professionals, or parents collaborate to plan, implement, and evaluate instruction conducted in general classrooms for the purpose of preventing or ameliorating students' academic or social behavior problems" (Idol, 1986, p. 2). In other words, it is a special education service geared primarily to students and teachers in the mainstream, with the intent of reducing the need for pullout special education services.
The consulting teacher model is a natural outgrowth of the special education thrust to broaden the continuum of services for handicapped students, so that services are available in the least restrictive environment appropriate to a given student's needs, and so that those who are capable of functioning in regular classrooms can be educated in mainstream settings. The model is also an outgrowth of a decade of disillusionment with the rising numbers of low achieving students who have been mislabeled as handicapped and with the lack of special services for millions of other slow learning students who are not so labeled. Finally, the model has gained momentum from the recent regular/special education initiative at the federal level (Will, 1986a and 1986b), spurring more intensive involvement of regular education in the problems of underachieving students.
In crucial ways, what is also driving interest in the model is the reality that special education budgets are higher in many states than political and economic realities can sustain, and state administrators are looking for ways to cut or contain special education costs. Many administrators assume that the consulting teacher model of service delivery will be more cost-effective than existing models, presuming that consulting teachers can reach more children in need of special help than can pullout teachers and without the discontinuities of programming or the need for extra space in which to serve them. The net result of these various catalysts for change is that the consulting teacher model is being touted as a model whose time has come.
Nonetheless, as with other models that have been adopted wholesale in a wave of enthusiasm--notably the resource model in the 1970s--premature and uncritical adoption can lead to as many problems as the model was meant to solve. Commentators such as Haight (1984) have pointed out some of the problems of role confusion between consulting teachers and other special education teachers, notably resource teachers.
This article continues the dialogue between advocates and skeptics, addressing such issues as cost-effectiveness, program evaluation, funding mechanisms, adminstrative goals, and structural incentives, along with role definition, caseload management, and training requirements. The purpose of the article is not only to review the hope and the hazards of the consulting teacher model but also to illuminate the need for caution and care by state policy makers prior to any adoption of the model on a statewide basis.
WHAT THE MODEL IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT
According to those who have studied the potential of the model, consulting teaching is not designed to have the special educator delivering special education instruction in the regular classroom (Idol, 1986). Whereas a special educator, especially one in a school with few special education students, might be a resource teacher for part of the day and a consulting teacher for the remainder, the pure consulting teacher model itself is essentially one of indirect service to students (Idol, 1986; Lilly & Givens-Ogle, 1981).
The benefit of the model derives from its collaborative dimension, with regular and special education teachers planning together and sharing responsibility for instructional outcomes. If the special education teacher merely "takes over" for the regular teacher and instructs a certain number of children for a portion of the regular teacher's day, the chances to share are diluted and the particular skills of the consulting teacher underutilized. In addition, "turf" conflicts may arise, in which it is not clear who is responsible for the performance of given students. While the special educator may want to model certain methods or strategies of instruction, using the class as a whole or a portion thereof, and may want to engage in team-teaching for limited purposes, the ultimate goal is to enable the regular education teacher to successfully instruct children with special needs. The goal is not to relieve the regular education teacher from the responsibility for teaching difficult students.
The consulting teacher is also not the equivalent of a resource teacher who simply spends more time consulting with the regular classroom teacher. In spite of overlapping roles, there are also significantly different skill requirements. A resource teacher's training tends to be focused on (a) diagnosis, instruction, and continuing evaluation of special education students who are referred for pullout services and (b) coordination of special and regular classroom programming for those students. The resource teacher is expected to determine when to adapt regular curriculum materials and methods and when to substitute more specialized and intensive instructional interventions. Although consulting may be part of the role of resource teachers (Brown, Kiraly, & McKinnon, 1979; Dugoff, Ives, & Shotel, 1985; Evans, 1980), surveys over the last decade suggest that resource teachers have only limited time and ability to consult on even those matters directly affecting the actual children whom they teach in pullout programs (Brown et al., 1979; D'Alonzo & Wiseman, 1978; Evans, 1980; McLoughlin & Kelly, 1982; Speece & Mandell, 1980). Given the demands of direct instruction, it may be unrealistic to expect resource teachers to assume consulting responsibilities beyond those required for management of the IEP process. (See Friend, 1984.)
In contrast, the consulting teacher obviously must consult more or less continuously. To do so successfully requires excellent inter-personal communication and teaming skills with other adults, suggesting the need for high-level training in collaborative problem-solving skills. Problem solving in the regular classroom requires not so much the mastery of highly specialized techniques for hard-to-teach learners as mastery of questioning, listening, and strategizing skills. It also requires familiarity with the regular curriculum, the demands of large group instruction, and the possibilities for curriculum adaptation and behavioral change in the regular room. As Sabatino (1972) pointed out over 15 years ago, the role of a consulting teacher extends into the regular classroom more than that of the standard resource teacher; …