The Consulting Teacher Model: Risks and Opportunities

Article excerpt

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. …