More Dearborn Public School students next year will be in blended classrooms where special education and general education students and teachers mix.
The district has used the co-teaching model for years and really stepped up the number of such blended classrooms about six years ago, administrators told the school board on Monday night.
“Next year we are really looking to ratchet it up,” Supt. Glenn Maleyko said.
Already in the district, all high school students who are on a path to graduation are in general education classes, said Michael Shelton, director of special education.
Co-teaching is a model where a regular teacher and a special education teacher work together to instruct a single class. It is an “effective model for meeting individual student needs especially for students with special needs,” Shelton said.
To work well, the classroom has to be run differently, not with one teacher instructing, but with varied teaching models. Both teachers also need training on co-teaching and time to plan lessons together.
“The classes do look a lot differently,” Maleyko said. “However, they can benefit not just the special education students but other struggling students, as well.”
To help, the district needs to provide a framework, such as aligning class schedules and planning time, Shelton said.
The hope next year is to shift more special education support to the elementary level. The district also wants to ensure that teachers are using researched-based strategies, Maleyko said.
To that end, the board agreed to hire Anne Beninghof as a consultant. The co-teaching expert will provide professional development for teachers and administrators.
She will be paid about $35,000 for 10 days of professional development services.
Jill Chochol, an executive director of student achievement, said at the elementary school level, special education students tend to be clustered in small groups within the regular classroom. The special education teacher then helps out in those classrooms for part of the day, spending more time in rooms with more special needs students.
“Starting at the elementary school the goal is prevention,” Chochol said. “Some students are identified for special education because they have fallen too far behind academically, even if they do not have any diagnosed issues.”
Trustees asked several questions about how general education teachers are expected to handle the special education students in addition to their regular education pupils.
Chochol and Shelton both said a special education teacher is there to help, albeit only for part of the day. Special education teachers also are able to help other struggling students in the classrooms even if they have not been identified for special education services, Shelton said.
“We are jumping in to help all our students,” Shelton said.
Chochol said teachers have adjusted to the idea of co-teaching. Research shows that students included in regular education classrooms do much better academically, she said.