18. The History of School Speech Pathology

SLP Preparation for IDEA

School pathologists were not prepared for Public Law 94-142 in 1975 during the period of great social unrest. One reason was that academic preparation did not favor innovative school practice.  It favored the medical orientation referred to as speech therapy. Speech pathology students going into schools had to retrofit their training to make it fit the educational setting. Their primary tool for coping with change was articulation therapy in a small room. 

1965 Certification Requirements 

In 1965 SLP coursework was traditional with no language content  to speak of. Speech pathology followed a medical approach. Courses such as “cleft palate” and “cerebral palsy” were standard. Hearing science was a good fit because it emphasized medical causes and instrumental analysis.  Coursework looked like this:

“60 semester hours 

18 semester hours in Foundation areas 

24 semester hours in major area; no specific language or aural rehabilitation course 


6 semester hours in minor area

Maximum of 6 hours of practicum”

School speech correction was not fully consistent with the medical model.  Since 1947, the professional association had been called The  American Speech and Hearing Association reflecting the speech therapy philosophy. The 1965 standards were in effect until 1973, when some linguistic and psycholinguistic content was added.  

Clinical practicum in 1965 followed the traditional curriculum emphasizing the “diagnosis and treatment” of speech disorders.  Clinical practicum weighted heavily in favor of articulation, voice and fluency.  Articulation therapy was the starting

“275 hours of practicum 

200 in major area 

25 in minor area 

30 hours in assessment 

25 hours in articulation, voice, language, fluency 

“significant amount in audiological evaluation and rehabilitation”

point for clinical experience. As hours accumulated, students worked with voice and stuttering clients.  Language therapy consisted of naming lessons with mentally retarded patients. Lip reading lessons were given to hearing patients. The majority of hours were earned in the college speech and hearing center, in small rooms in the format of one-on-one treatment.

(Bernthal, 2007, ASHA Summit, http://www.asha.org)

Deeper Philosophy Divide

A second reason why speech pathologists were not prepared for Public Law 94-142 in 1975 was a deep philosophical division over differences between speech therapy and school speech pathology. Speech and hearing departments in 1965 did not teach to educational principles, research and issues. Students who wanted to work in schools acquired background in colleges of education. Faculties were heavily committed to the traditions of speech therapy and applied medical science. In the 1970s they resisted the language movement.

The divide can be traced to earlier times when the nascent profession was dominated by medical academic thinkers.   Charles Van Riper in 1981 chronicled some of the early issues.

Early Issues 

The American Academy of Speech Correction established in 1925 was composed of high-minded academics and theoreticians but the profession was not thriving. At the 1930 convention, there was debate over how to advance the profession. Pauline Camp, a state supervisor of speech correction in Wisconsin, appealed to the Academy to train speech correctionists.  “If we can put a speech correctionist in almost every school system, and certainly there is sufficient need for one, then many of our survival problems will vanish and our growth will be amazing.”

Van Riper reports opposition from founding members:  “They pointed out that the Academy originally had been intended to consist of scholars who would share with each other their research and insights, and that opening up the membership to a large number of teachers of speech correction in the public schools would inevitably dilute the quality of the organization.”  (ASHA Magazine, November 1981 Volume 23:11, pp. 855-858; reprinted http://www.mnsu.edu). The bias against school speech pathologists was in place.

Lesser Colleagues 

The viewpoint that speech correction teachers were lesser colleagues persisted and influenced faculties.  In the 1970s it was common for academic advisers to say to speech pathology majors, “Yes, take student teaching, you might need a school job some day.”  The value center of the profession was to land a job in a hospital to work with doctors. “If you can’t work in a hospital, you might have to fall back on school jobs.  Say your husband is transferred and all you can get is a school job.” 

Professor John Bernthal prepared an historical review of speech-language pathology certification dating back to 1926.  There were differences of opinion on standards and academic degrees throughout the years but no concerns about school practice and how certification standards might be written to improve public school service.  The basic curriculum was the speech therapy core, having its medical orientation.  Education subject mater was not meant to be represented in the core. It was taught outside of the department as elective material and it was left up to education to decide what was important to majors.


When The ARC finally reached its goal, of inclusion of all children in American schools in 1975, speech pathology was heavily invested in traditional practices having little or no relevance to the knowledge required for changes brought on by law. There was no Pauline Camp in the 1960s to bring full stature and respect to school employment.  Graduates were on their own to face federal mandates affecting their duties and the clinical models they brought from speech and hearing departments. It was up to them to learn whatever education threw at them, on a sink or swim basis.

It comes out of the early era of professional development that school speech and language pathologists were second class.

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