Category Archives: Response to Intervention


In Education, Why RTI is Doomed to Fail!

We have posted a good many field reports on RTI start up programs and organizational systems.  From the beginning there were doubts.  The intuition was it was all too slick! Here are some accumulated factors suggesting it is going to be a long haul home.

1. Current financial hardships are jerking school districts off course as to innovative special programs.

2. Only approximately 60% of American schools have started RTI-like programs and the majority are in the early stages of implementation.

3. School organization models with discrete personnel and job function categories are not well suited for interactive, collaborative and data-driven decision making.

4. The complexity of RTI programming requires top school leadership, five-year commitments and integration leadership by top managers.

5.  In 2009, field reports by the U. S. Department of Education for the implementation of RTI in 14 western states showed uneven attention to detail, differing outcomes, and poor response to minority concerns (cf., 7. RTI Success).

6. The civil rights underpinnings to general education remedial support programs are lost upon the current generation of educators.

7. The aim of reducing the number of children needlessly placed and retained in special education is not strongly endorsed as a justification for RTI.

8. General education dominates the leadership of RTI programs in a somewhat non-collaborative manner leaving special education in a weak position to shape policies and procedures.

9. Influential commercial enterprises push technology as a total solution to the problem of helping disadvantaged children.

10. School boards are slow to buy into making RTI a priority when it is crucial to the problem of raising overall school performance.

11. RTI duplicates partly the failures of past Title 1 programs wherein at-risk children were sent off to special education needlessly.

12. Authors of RTI models do not address the history of bias against ethnic minorities, immigrants, the handicapped and poor children.

13. The structures created by IDEA and ESEA statutes work at cross-purposes so fundamental issues of learning differences and needs are not addressed.

14. RTI is a voluntary program so eventually financial incentives will wash out and motivation will fall.

15.  Children who are difficult to teach will always be pushed toward the most exclusionary programs regardless of perfect program design.

16.  RTI models are utopian in sentiment.

17.  There is a lack of commitment to integrating knowledge of cultural and linguistic  differences into school philosophy regarding instruction.

18. The U.S. Department of Education has too  many competing agenda to push RTI acceptance as a system for reducing disproportionality.

Girl Scouts Marching on Main Street.


26. Special Education Overidentification: “Struggling Children”

From 2009 to 2011 we see articles making reference to “struggling children” in American public schools.  Renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act has brought out discussion of this group of children who have academic difficulties according to test norms.  The common denominator is academic difficulty and history says these are Title I children.  

Many were non-disabled children put in special education for remedial support rather than intervention.  Referrals from general education to special education started the process of overidentification.  RTI is proposed as a new applied program to prevent premature placements in special education.

RTI and TIER 3 – Yesterday’s Special Education?

In the popular press stories review the successes of response to intervention in helping “struggling children” in American schools.  A close look at such reports indicates not much is said about Tier 3. 

Tier 3 brings in “specialists” but who they are, exactly, is not typically stated.  The children in Tier 3 are not in special education but might be.  It appears they are given interventions by special education and related services personnel (speech therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, recreation therapists) who cross the line into general education in this special way.

Solving the problems of Tier 1 and Tier 2 instruction duplicates partly Title 1 programs, and this territory is familiar to teachers.  But this curious hybrid creature called Tier 3 gets little attention.

Girl Scouts Marching on Main Street.

At the same time there is no mention of how Tier 3 assessments and decisions will reduce the number of non-disabled minority children who often are placed in special education.

Old habits die hard.  Will non-disabled minority children be segregated in Tier 3 without FAPE protection?

RTI is exciting these days, but it masks the continuing problem of troublesome at-risk children being moved out of the classroom down the slippery slop toward special education placement.  Pressure comes from regular classroom teachers who, while sincere, do not want “hard-to-teach” children to deal with.  Their bias favors compliant female students who are able to stay on grade level.  Minority boys are more likely to arrive at Tier 3 for the special procedures.

Without an exact accounting of Tier 3, RTI is a  two-legged stool.

15. “Struggling Children”

The Elementary and Secondary Education act is being studied for reauthorization. President Obama in 2010 released his blueprint for reform.  Graduation from high school is a key aim.  It falls on related service personnel and special education teachers to move beyond IEP goals to long-term success. 

The section on education of students with disabilities is a summary of main points.

“While the primary funding for programs specifically focused on supporting students with disabilities is through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the ESEA reauthorization proposal will increase support for the inclusion and improved outcomes of students with disabilities. The proposal will help ensure that teachers and leaders are better prepared to meet the needs of diverse learners, that assessments more accurately and appropriately measure the performance of students with disabilities, and that more districts and schools implement high- quality, state- and locally determined curricula and instructional supports that incorporate the principles of universal design for learning to meet all students’ needs.” 

Lion on top of cabinet

Inclusion is an old idea coming back into focus.  Some school administrators see it as a money saver.  Reformers see it as a way of cutting down on the overidentification of non-disabled minority children.  The arguements are not based on science but on opinions.

We support universal design of learning to move away from discrete population programming.

16. RTI Success

Dick Nitsch, director of pupil services, reports (The Herald Times Reporter, January 2011) that  the Two Rivers School District in Wisconsin is at work implementing a Response To Instruction program making use of the three-tier model suggested by national experts and The No Child Left Behind Act.   “Response to Intervention (RtI) is an intervention framework that is designed to help students who may be struggling in core academic areas, for example language arts and math. The components of RtI have been underscored in the No Child Left Behind Act and have recently been added as a major component to the state of Wisconsin’s learning disability eligibility criteria.” 

Tier III (intensive) level of intervention provides more intensive services and targeted interventions…[and] typically involve the use of  specialists (for example Title I reading, special education, etc.)…” 

The overall plan is operated within general education.  No mention is made of how RTI data are used to place children in special education within the framework of IDEA 2004.  No mention is made of SLP participation.



15. RTI Success

The State of Minnesota has reported in 2010 on efforts to save money while reducing the drain from special education placements, particularly in the category of learning disability.  Improving reading is one key to preventing over-identification.  Success was recorded in the St. Croix River Education Districts:

 “Since the St. Croix River Education Districts (SCRED) have been using the Response to Intervention model for more than a decade, it is possible to evaluate results. The record shows that from 1996 to 2003 classifications for “learning disability” dropped from 4.2 percent to 4.1 percent for all Minnesota children. In the SCRED districts the percentage went from 4.4 to 2.5 amid general agreement that Response to Intervention spelled the difference. That is a 43 percent reduction in identifying children as special education.”

14. RTI Success

Commercial organizations originating RTI solutions are widespread.  Here is a profile for Spectrum K12 Solutions:

“Spectrum K12 partners with educators and administrators who strive to Move Every Child Forward®. Working collaboratively with districts of all sizes, we deliver a Student Achievement Management solution suite that manages, administers and prescribes the personalized learning process and data required for all students: in general, compensatory, gifted or special education; pre-K through graduation and beyond. Spectrum K12 is the market leader in providing Student Achievement Management, Response to Intervention (RTI) and Special Education software solutions, serving 11% of the U.S. K12 student population including 20 of the top 100 school districts in the United States. Our award-winning software has driven personalized learning to over 5 million students in 29 states. For more information visit”

13. RTI Success

A notice by Lexia Learning Systems, headquartered in Concord, Massachusetts, lays out the advantages of its computer software program to enhance literacy acquisition. “To boost the performance of struggling readers and improve reading proficiency for all students, more than 700 schools and districts in Illinois have turned to the Lexia Reading® software program.”

The system promotes early intervention to prevent later reading problems. It is technology based. Students use computers to work independently on over 900 activities.

At Walter S. Christopher Elementary School, Principal Mary McAloon reports wide applications of Lexia Reading for struggling children with different needs:

“McAloon notes that Lexia Reading’s data reporting features make a significant impact, helping with writing IEP goals, organizing reading groups, collecting information for Response to Intervention (RTI) and planning meaningful differentiated instruction.”

McAloon says the children love their time on Lexia. “It is rare that a teacher ever has to bring them back to task. Furthermore, they willingly come before school starts and stay after school to work on the program. That’s what gets me excited about the future in education — engaging students, challenging students, and helping students succeed.”

12. RTI Success

Anne Brown, writing for the Morning Sun (Michigan) in 2010, reports on the use of RTI in Isabella County Schools. Not all Michigan schools are required to use RTI but here it is already producing good results along several lines.

Principal Phyllis Hall reported an RTI-like program has been in place for five years: “Hall said four years ago, 17 students were held back. The following year there were 11, then four, and last year only one student had to repeat a grade.”

The three tier method is followed. “At Shepherd Middle School, RTI methods are used to keep as many students in tier I as possible.” Teachers observe and test to see if they are keeping up. Emphasis is placed on homework completion.

The theme of prevention of learning problems and special education placement comes through loud and clear. The goal is to keep struggling children in the classroom with adjustments to help them keep pace. Special education children also spend as much time in the regular classroom as possible.

“Assessments occur at all grade levels, and help faculty and staff to intervene immediately so the learning gap doesn’t get so big that the student qualifies for special education, when they may not have if the learning issues were caught and addressed earlier.”

11. RTI Success

Gary Henry, writing for the Paris-Beacon News in 2010, reports on an RTI program in Hume, Illinois, at the Newman Grade School. Hume is a town with less than 400 residents. The RTI program is mandated. It is for struggling students who are falling behind their peers but should not go immediately to special education. The focus will be on reading.

The Shiloh Board of Education received a progress report on what the Newman Grade School curriculum committee was doing to implement RTI. “The Shiloh School District is organized by attendance centers and all of the district’s prekindergarten through second grade students are taught at Newman.” Progress evaluation is supported by online testing.

Final plans will be made over the summer.