United States legislative changes, such as those described by federal laws such as Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) reauthorized in 2004 (Pub. L. No. 108-466) and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 (Pub. L. No. 107-110), require that students with increasingly diverse learning characteristics have access to and achieve high academic performance in the general education curriculum. The changing demographics of the United States have also played a role in diverse learning characteristics of the American learners in classrooms today. With an educational system that serves approximately 76,355,000 students, 30,982,000 or 40.58% are of an ethnically diverse background and 5% of school age children have a disability (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008).
These changing legal requirements and student demographics in United States educational systems combine pointing to the need for increased collaborative planning and teaching among school personnel attempting to comply with these legal mandates to serve all students fairly and equitably in general education classrooms. Co-teaching is an approach that helps educators meet both IDEIA and NCLB mandates, and is defined as "two or more people sharing responsibility for teaching some or all of the students assigned to a classroom" (Villa, Thousand, & Nevin, 2008, p. 5). In schools within the United States, co-teaching often involves general education and special education teachers working together in one classroom and used as a supplementary aid and service that can be brought to general education to serve the needs of students with (and without) disabilities through IDEIA. Co-teaching requires a re-conceptualization and revision for traditional teacher preparation.
Recent studies show the benefits of co-teaching arrangements for students, teachers, and school organizations (Nevin, Cramer, Salazar, & Voigt, 2008; Villa, Thousand, & Nevin, 2008; Schwab Learning, 2003). At the secondary level, co-teaching has been found to be effective for students with a variety of instructional needs including learning disabilities (Rice & Zigmond, 1999; Trent, 1998); high-risk students in a social studies class (Dieker, 1998) and in a language remediation class (Miller, Valasky, & Molloy, 1998). This research indicates that co-teachers can structure their classes to use more effectively the research-proven strategies required of the NCLB Act of 2001. For example, Miller et al. (1998) described how a co-teacher team (a special educator, a general educator, and two paraprofessionals) blended whole-class and small-group instruction, peer teaching, and small cooperative learning groups to provide language remediation strategies and activities within the general education curriculum resulting in increased literacy achievement for their students. Positive student learning outcomes such as these encourage administrators, advocates, and state departments of education to adopt cooperative models such as co-teaching for the effective education of students with disabilities as well as students with differentiated learning needs based on ethnicity, culture, and language barriers (e.g., Arguelles, Hughes, & Schumm, 2000).
Other researchers are cautious about the claims for effectiveness of co-teaching methods. For example, Zigmond (2004), reporting on preliminary results of co-teaching in inclusive science classrooms at six high schools, found little difference in the amount of time students spent working on task, interacting in small groups, or interacting with the teachers. Rarely have researchers or practitioners analyzed the impact of co-teaching on other variables. Because the primary focus of this paper is on meeting teaching standards in the United States, international literature is not addressed. Interested readers are referred to UNICEF which has funded several international projects on inclusive schools and the Teaching and Learning Research Programme in the United Kingdom with its inclusive education component. …