Co-Teaching: How to Make This Marriage Work in Front of the Kids

Article excerpt

The demands placed on school districts have galvanized the development of a relatively new educational kid on the block--co-teaching. As a result of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the even more recent mandates of the newly revised Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, which defines "highly qualified" in new ways, it has become increasingly important for schools to utilize their resources using more effective and creative means. Time has taught us that students pulled from general education classes and taught in a resource setting do not benefit from the instruction of content area teachers. We also know that all general education teachers do not possess the expertise to meet the learning differences posed by students with disabilities. Co-teaching has become one of many collaborative strategies that schools are looking at in an effort to meet the needs of all students within this educational framework that we call school (Villa, Thousand, & Niven, 2004; Snell & Janney, 2005).

As a result of these mandates, there has been a mad scramble to place two teachers in the same room at the same time and call it co-teaching. Despite the fact that specific models exist and that there are a multitude of how-to books and articles on the subject, co-teaching is regarded as a way to address the letter of the law rather than as a really fun, exciting, and valuable teaching technique to be used in conjunction with other inclusive strategies for the purpose of meeting the needs of all students in an inclusive school community. Co-teaching teams have been forced into the general education classroom where veteran teachers feel insulted to have a special education teacher placed in the room with the expectation that they both teach content area critical concepts. Special education teachers are frustrated because they have been left homeless, having their room taken from them, and have been thrust into a classroom that has been resided in by a veteran language arts, math, history, or science teacher who knows what to teach and how to teach it. The outcome of this dubious union is often a marriage that crumbles in front of the kids because the time and care needed to nurture and sustain it has not been provided.

Research Findings

Research findings have yielded mixed results on the effects of co-teaching. Some studies have indicated that students with disabilities showed larger gains in math and equal gains in reading when compared to students receiving pull out services (Bear & Proctor, 1990), and that consultation plus co-teaching was as effective as other service delivery models (Schulte, Osborne, & McKinney, 1990; Marston, 1996). Boudah and colleagues (1997) found that performance of students with high-incidence disabilities worsened during co-teaching. Other studies have indicated that for high-risk students (Dieker, 1998) and students with learning disabilities (Rice & Zigmond, 1999; Welch, 2000), co-teaching is an effective practice. Even with these mixed results, 77% of middle schools are using some form of co-teaching.

Teacher Survey

The author conducted a study of the attitudes and concerns of secondary teachers from 15 urban and suburban districts in and around Seattle, Washington. Using a structured interview format, general and special education teachers were asked to reply to a series of open and closed ended questions. Participation was anonymous and interviews were conducted on a 1 to 1 basis. Teachers were asked to share their opinions as well as factual information about the effects of co-teaching. Anonymity protected the views of supporters as well as complainers.

The majority of the teachers surveyed did not participate voluntarily and most had no prior planning before engaging in the co-teaching process. Co-teaching proponents would argue that both of these features are necessary for a successful experience. Seventy-seven percent of the teachers surveyed said that co-teaching influenced student achievement. …