Friday, March 6, 2009


When I first started teaching, over ten years ago, it was called "Twelve-to-one-to-one." I had two of them in my five-class schedule. They were special-education history classes. Designed to desegregate special ed. students, they mixed or 'integrated' labeled students with the non-labeled student body. In order to address the requirements of each students IEP (Individualized Education Program) a special education teacher shared the room with me as well as a teacher's aid. There was a target ratio of special ed. to regular students. Each class was supposed to have twelve special ed students, managed by one special ed teacher, hence the name; Twelve (special ed. students) to one (special ed teacher) to one (class). Each class was also supposed to be populated with strong students from the rest of the student body.

It worked.


But sometimes it was an unmitigated disaster and, had my child been in that class, labeled or not, I would have picketed the schoolboard with my hair on to get him or out.

When it worked it was because the class took on a cooperative spirit and everyone, teachers, aids and, most of all, students, worked together.

But when it didn't, any motivated student was held prisoner for forty minutes, Monday through Friday. A culture that embraced failure could hijack that class and the rest of us were like passengers on a doomed flight whose downward trajectory inexorably led to the cold hard judgment of the Regents Examination in Global History and Geography.

We, the special ed teacher and I, were lucky if half the kids passed that exam.

The Twelve-to-one-to-one model went through a kind of metamorphosis. Stage one was filled with optimism. The people in charge not only knew what they are doing, they cared about the finished product and were invested in its success. They hand-picked the students for the class being careful to weed out students who didn't care or had no chance of passing the Regents exam.

Stage two saw a handoff. The people who invested themselves in the program received their payout in promotions and lovely jobs elsewhere which left Twelve-to-one-to-one in the hands of other administrators who either didn't understand it or had other priorities. The program began a long meandering slog across the deserted plains of academia into the dismal chasm of public education. The students in the program changed. Lack of motivation became the unifying trait of students selected for Twelve-to-one-to-one. The ratio of special ed to regular students changed, too. Instead of a ceiling of twelve special ed. students per class, it became sixteen and eighteen and more. Instead of addressing this issue, the name was quietly changed to "Integrated."

Stage three was probably the longest stage of all and, sadly, the least productive. The Integrated classes, as they were called, existed and that, it seemed, was enough for them to continue to be. For year upon year, they just were.

Only a major upheaval can change a program like this. Thus is the momentum or inertia (depending on how you look at it) of a large public high school.

Enter 2009.

And twelve-to-one-to-one is on the chopping block.

The sad thing is that it is being cut because it is seen as an inefficient way to meet the needs of students as dictated by Federal and State law. It will save money to cut this program but the needs of the students are a bit of an afterthought. Efficient allocation of funds is the guiding principal, here.

In time, a program that once worked will be relegated to the academic scrap pile of ideas that didn't work. Of course, the reality is that in education everything works when people really want it to work. If nobody wants it to work, it dis-Integrates.


  1. In Louisiana they call it inclusion. I taught the special ed half of 7th and 8th grade inclusion math for two years. Not good. In my classes there would be two teachers, about 20 regular ed students and about 10 special ed students.

    Special ed students are behind (usually due to being labeled as 'special' rather than actually being 'special') and thus need a different curriculum at a different pace than regular ed students. Even if we give them accommodations (read: calculators) they are unable to keep up. Ignoring the differences in your students' abilities is a good way to sanitize education but not a good way to make it work. By 7th and 8th grade the educational system, among other things, has produced enough intellectual disparity that we must differentiate instruction to a significant degree. Teaching to visual, verbal and kinesthetic learners pays lip service to differences among students but it's barely the tip of the iceberg. My students needed slow and deliberate objectives.

    An example- I could teach a student how to change a fraction into a decimal. You simply divide the top number by the bottom number and write down what your calculator shows you. But unless I spend three days teaching the concept of 'parts of a whole' and how fractions, decimals and percents relate to this, there's not even a point in my student knowing how to convert. Regular ed students (to generalize) don't need that reinforcement and will do fine applying their new skill to a word problem on the standardized test. My student will have no idea when that particular skill is supposed to be used. The difference in pacing that results from such remediation is the single biggest obstacle to the success of inclusion. . . not to mention ridicule, teachers' biases, legal issues, behavioral issues, class size

  2. It's funny how we end up at the same point of wondering if the goal is attainable or worth attaining for some students. I would love to remove the stigmatizing notion that doing more is better than doing less and that faster is better than slower but there is a judgment at the end of the day or year or education.
    That being said, I love what you wrote and I am sure your students came out ahead of where they would have been had you not put in the time to analyze their needs and try to deliver something appropriate rather than allow them to 'succeed' in the educational sense but not the practical sense.