2. Evidence-Based Practice in Education

Writers at the National Center on Response to Intervention (NCRTI)  (http: //www.rti4success.org) in April, 2010, tackled the nettlesome problem of evidence-based practice in education.  (“The National Center on Response to Intervention is housed at the American Institutes for Research and works in conjunction with researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Kansas. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The Center’s mission is to provide technical assistance to states and districts and build the capacity of states to assist districts in implementing proven models for RTI.”)  Author(s) are not identified.

Definitions are set forth: 

“We refer to an evidence-based intervention in this document as an intervention for which data from scientific, rigorous research designs have demonstrated (or empirically validated) the efficacy of the intervention. That is, within the context of a group or single-subject experiment or a quasi-experimental study, the intervention is shown to improve the results for students who receive the intervention. Research-based curricula, on the other hand, may incorporate design features that have been researched generally; however, the curriculum or program as a whole has not been studied using a rigorous research design, as defined by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”  Hence, RTI should use procedures having foundations in scientific studies.

It strikes us as odd  (cf. 1. Evidence-based Practice in Education), however, that we have not seen the science history of RTI reported.  Why not provide a critical historical analysis of the empirical basis for RTI?  Studies of effective intervention could be woven into the review to help readers know what good evidence looks like. Scattered reports indicate RTI is an old idea coming to the surface again.  If it is just that, the authors owe us a “review of the literature” for a recitation of the “evidence” to date. 


We have true concerns history is repeating itself!

President Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and introduced his concept of the Great Society and his “War on Poverty.”  He pushed through 
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965, which included provisions under Title 1.  Title 1 was aimed at helping at-risk poor children who might be handicapped.  Additional programs were developed with susequent changes in ESEA.  Money was given to states to fund programs.

The money flowed under the supervision of the U. S. Department of Education to general education programs and eventually special education programs.  General education remedial programs were established to provide programming to help at-risk children.

General education took the money but largely failed to deliver the desired remedial programs. To critically evaluate current RTI programs one must start with Title 1 mistakes.

Window looking out.

Tiers Revisted

Teachers never learned how to teach special needs children and it is hard to say whether classroom remedial efforts ever worked.  Current reports indicate regular classroom teachers are deficient in differential teaching methods.  Tier I now looks like it is validating the old failed strategy of counting on teacher improvement to provide differential instruction. They do not like doing it.  Calling it  Tier I will not change that fact.

Study committees were established to review the progress of needy children but this was nothing more than a bookkeeping exercise to write down unsolved problems. Teachers were to document special strategies they used but this was only a cursory effort.  Teachers do not like going to meetings before school to get advice on teaching strategies.

Under Title I children got special help outside the classroom.  They sat in hallways at small tables reading to reading specialists or volunteers, or maybe someone came into the classroom to give extra help. How much has this method helped needy learners? Calling it Tier 2 only changes the name of the method.  When the method fails it will tempt decision makers to move the children to Tier 3.

Teachers over-referred to special education and it became a grand remedial  program to replace Title 1 supports.  Poor children were simply shunted out of general education in a manner that recreated the circumstances ESEA 1965 sought to overcome.  Now we seem to be surprised to learn there are too many black children in special education.  Now Tier 3 is the gateway to special education and it is not clear they are protected by RTI procedures.  


The three-tier structure is history repeated, and that history is full of mistakes.  

Segregation is the motive, however collective we want to make it.  We want to keep handicapped, poor, immigrant, black and Navajo children out of the regular classroom.  We prefer compliant white and asian females.  Boys can stay in the classroom as long as they are not disruptive.  Otherwise, they have to go to special ed.  

So we have plenty of evidence of what does not work and it should be recited when we talk about RTI.  RTI is only a mechanism, no matter how well it is justified on the engineering side, to do something we have failed to do in the past.  Reviewing mistakes in hypothesis testing is the essence of science.

Counter Argument


“But the present RTI model includes dynamic assessment, data-driven decisions and group processes.”

There is no basis for optimism here.  There is no reason to believe American schools can implement this high-level model when history teaches us they could not handle a linear model of discrete decisions and personnel assignments.  It takes five years to do these programs well, and that is with competent and committed school leadership.  Presently, about 60% of American schools have started RTI-like programs and mature versions are hard to find.


What we have is utopian thinking.


Definition of UTOPIA


1: an imaginary and indefinitely remote place


2: often capitalized : a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions


3: an impractical scheme for social improvement



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