Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Hard Times and an Uncertain Future: Issues That Confront the Field of Emotional/behavioral Disorders

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Hard Times and an Uncertain Future: Issues That Confront the Field of Emotional/behavioral Disorders

Article excerpt


In this article, I examine challenges to better preparing teachers of students with emotional/behavioral disorders (E/BD). Foremost among these challenges is the lack of agreement regarding a conceptual framework upon which to build quality prevention/intervention practices; instead, various authorities advocate disparate approaches, not all of which have empirical support. I assert that unresolved issues surrounding translating scientific research into classroom practice further hinder efforts to apply the most efficacious intervention options, as does our failure to exert control over the infrastructure of public education and the context in which we serve students with E/BD. Finally, I offer some modest proposals for removing obstacles to better preparing those who serve students with E/BD.


Rarely are we at a loss for challenges--now is no exception. One initiative that poses a major challenge to ensuring quality education to students with emotional/behavioral disorders (E/BD) is standards-driven education. General education has long adhered to an egalitarian philosophy, predicated on the notion of the greatest good for the greatest number of students; whereas, special education has focused on individual pupil performance (Hardman & Mulder, 2003). Not surprisingly, vastly differing considerations have shaped decisions regarding education priorities and allocation of resources to address those priorities. Aside from occasional rhetoric, the general education community has given scant attention to the heterogeneity of variance within the student population. However, concern over poor academic achievement prompted the U.S. Congress to enact legislation aimed at forcing schools to ameliorate the problem. With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, emphasis shifted from voluntary to involuntary compliance with the mandate to assure that all students' evidence satisfactory annual progress reflected by performance on high stakes tests. As a result, two once sharply contrasting education philosophies are far less transparent; however, given our lack of control over what transpires in general education, blurring the boundaries between general and special education puts students with E/BD in an extremely vulnerable position (Nelson, 2003).

Recently, a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post (November 10, 2003), sponsored by the United States Telecom Association, extolled the virtues of market-driven competition, characterizing it as better than costly regulations and asserting that it has triggered a wave of consumer choice and innovation. As I see it, there are troubling parallels between the business world and evolving policy as it relates to public education and teacher education. At the same time Congress is promulgating more rigorous academic standards, we are witnessing a major reduction in regulations governing teacher licensure, down to nothing more than a criminal background check and a passing score on tests of content knowledge. The loosening of standards to accommodate a market-driven approach is tantamount to deregulation of teacher education, further imperiling educational prospects of students with E/BD. In all, we face a mix of philosophical, legislative, and programmatic challenges to serving students with E/BD effectively. In examining the current scene, I chose to discuss briefly the following issues: (a) our conceptual framework, (b) the strength of our scientific base, (c) the quality of teacher preparation, and (d) the teaching/learning environment itself.

The Adequacy of the Conceptual Framework By Which We Operate

Plato wrote that we live in shadows and search for the light of truth. As our field evolves and we search for truth, we are encumbered by the fact that we lack some of the defining characteristics of most professions--we have no canons or overarching principles, no unifying philosophy, except as it relates to a commitment to serving students. …

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