Themes of Interest


Sorting through the literature of special education, asymmetrical issues find a way to one’s attention. Below are some issues in no special order.  Your comments will help identify worthy topics not discussed at other sites.


The strongest theme is a paradox.  How can the well-documented over-identification of at-risk school children for special education be so consistently ignored by educators?  A piece of the answer is that few adults advocate for children.  Adults advocate for adults.  Professional groups advocate for their members, not the children served by their members.

How does one explain this kind of report?:

“Gender Disparity: Boys v. Girls in Special Education discusses why boys outnumber girls in special education classes in a ratio of 2:1. Gender disparity in special education is a severe problem which is increasing as there are relatively few male educators. Male educators are needed in the educational system to counteract female teachers’ tendencies to send male students to special education based upon behavioral characteristics, not upon educational disabilities……”

(Gender Disparity: Boys v. Girls in Special Education , Jennifer J. Haggerty, University of Missouri at Kansas City, School of Law)

The use of “disproportionality” as a term separate and apart from “overidentification” helps mask problems of framing issues.  This loads up the issue as a civil rights issue and not one of following good educational theory and practice.  Talk of disproportionality diverts attention from the complex job of eligibility determination.

School SLPs have no background in the topic of over-identification and therefore are vulnerable to being a part of the problem.

“Struggling Children”

Clinical education gives emphasis to clinical populations and associated statistical distributions.  But education defines groups by learning characteristics and associated statistical distributions.  Hence, clashes.  Children with speech and language impairments are distributed along the continuum of reading ability.  To help struggling children, we must understand their true nature.

Add in that complaints about children who “do not pay attention,” are “lazy,” “handicapped” or “slow learners,” and we find other dimensions for grouping children.  Confounded classification affect the educational experiences children receive.  Then throw in minority status, where some educators are biased against them and you have a mess.

Window looking out.

Hybrid speech-language pathology for school practice sorts out some of these issues.


Many children have biological deficits affecting linguistic and cognitive processing and learning.  Central to processing is the phonological mechanism, the “faculty of articulate speech” as Paul Broca called it.  It is a basis of thinking, understanding, reading, speaking and writing.  It should be regarded as a component of educational instruction.  We can simplify clinical management with models taking into account cognitive-linguistic processing.


School SLPs complain about burnout and professional groups try to help them.  It is real and prevalent but a distraction from solutions empowering SLPs to solve their own problems through accurate and appropriate caseload management.  SLPs can cut down on the number of children needlessly recommended for special education, and the number of children needlessly retained in special education.  They can consider moving away from “pull out” management and moving toward collaboration in prevention programs like Response To Intervention.

SLP Education

It is difficult to know where and how school speech-language pathologists are supposed to acquire the significant body of knowledge associated with IDEA 2004 and related education laws.  This is not information to pick up in a workshops conveying “hot topics.” It is a pre-service body of knowledge that must be guaranteed of all graduates taking school employment, to “protect the public, ” as it were. Moreover, this information should not be farmed out to the college of education, for now it has become basic to theory and application in assessment and intervention, as in “progress in the general curriculum.”  But who is responsible? Is someone asleep at the switch?

Overlapping Federal Guidelines

IDEA and NCLB administered by the same federal agency confound our understanding of how to help “struggling children” and prevent overidentification of  non-disabled minority children.  Black children, native American children and Hispanic children  “struggle” from poverty, discrimination and poor instruction as much as they do “pathology.”

Then we have RTI moving forward in the nation’s schools.  Both general education and special education claim it, only to further confuse best practice for helping children with learning problems.  “Tier 3” is the new black hole of special education evaluation, while it serves the same old purpose of getting “hard to teach” children out of the classroom.


One of our themes at SSP is that school speech-language pathologists along with other specialists do not consider among their special education placement criteria the potential of negative impact on long-term academic success.  It seems routine.  He or she has an “artic problem” so give the test and make the placement.  All seems innocent.  However, we have no data on whether being singled out as a special education child carries with it a stigma and impairs motivation to achieve.”  Language and learning disabled children are known to drop out of high school and have more social and employment problems in life.  Non-disabled peers make fun of children in special education.


Over the 100  years of school speech therapy, the notion of professional groups advocating to the pubic, government and business is a relatively recent development.  Members pay for this service with their dues.  Members need much more input on advocacy campaigns and techniques.  More information is needed on the effectiveness of professional advocacy compared to known alternative strategies.  Certainly priority and message focus are critical.

A public relations gap revolves around the simultaneous use of “speech therapy” and “speech pathology” to identify practitioners.  In schools perception is reality.  Educators think of “speech therapists” working on articulation problems.  They do not realize “speech-language pathologist” have amazing background in language and cognitive assessment and intervention, and the background to address developmental literacy issues.

The best advocacy has come from day-to-day SLPs doing excellent work in school settings.

The role of the school speech and language pathologist has been changing steadily since 1990.  This message is not reaching educators and parents.  Website authors need to move forward with constructing a modern image for school speech-language pathology.  Too many continue to talk in a manner suitable for 1980.


Around 1990, a small group of academics began to recommend more SLP involvement in school literacy.  Literacy was seen as a part of language.  Yet school SLPs say they never received university instruction on literacy programming.  They are obliged to try to learn about it through continuing education rather than pre-service education.  At the same time federal regulators and school administrators seem to have virtually no appreciation of the claim SLPs can engage in reading instruction.

A top down professional review of literacy policy, academic instruction, research, public advocacy and best practice needs to be conducted.  Care must be taken not to advocate for literacy involvement without coordination with the academic centers.


It is difficult to know how we are setting priorities for supporting school SLPs.  A cursory look at history suggests, that although the number of school SLPs has passed 75,000, agency support remains about the same as it was in 1970.  Shouldn’t more money be put into school support and services?  One  office staffed by a junior officer seems meager.  It suggests a lower priority compared to other functions receiving significant financial support from school SLPs.  It is an old pattern to under-support the school office.

Least Restrictive Environment

Continued use of the “pull out” model of service delivery exclusively needs critical evaluation.  It is an old tradition that is out of line with the modern requirements of IDEA 2004 and earlier legislation.  SLPs should grade their intervention activities on a continuum of placements favoring those yielding the smallest impact on the opportunity to learn with non-disabled peers.

Consultation and collaboration are alternatives.

Exits From Special Education

Shameful is the retention of children in special education when they do not belong there, especially when school personnel complain they have too many children to see.  “Shameful” is a strong word but the facts justify its use.   Children who are stuck in special education indefinitely are less likely to graduate from high school.  Proposed changes in No Child Left Behind signal some new awareness of the problem of the “black hole” of special education.  Placement of non-disabled minority children violates their FAPE rights, and continues to be a civil rights problem that should embarrass anyone working in schools.

Every SLP child should have a three-year evaluation from top to bottom, with an eye toward dismissal.

Every parent should be told up front the purpose of SLI placement is to assist and then exit as soon as possible.

Gray skies in Paris

History of the Profession

In 1960 professors said “speech therapy is a young profession.”  No longer.  In the meantime we lack searching and prophetic scholarship on our past, present and future.

Below the surface are stresses and strains in the evolution of the profession glossed over by eternal optimism.  In many ways we are still “speech therapists” circa 1975.  The language revolution is half-baked.  And issues of language, learning and education have yet to surface.  Public policy in a civil rights era has not been properly considered in the shaping of  SLP rights and responsibilities.  There are too few professors to support the scope of practice.  There are too few retired professors who speak for the future.  We are no longer a profession of noble physicians who study speech problems in their patients.

There needs to be celebration of the successes.   Indeed, from humble origins the profession of communication disorders and sciences has been astonishing.  It has spread around the world with good outcomes.  There is a true need to help the communicatively impaired.

Response To Intervention

At the time of IDEA 2004 renewal there was advocacy for a different kind of remedial education plan for struggling children, RTI.  The U. S. Department of Education has gone along with it, and it will likely receive support in the renewal of No Child Left Behind.  For SLPs it represents a change in role configuration.  First, dynamic assessment rather than one-time assessment is the target mode.  Second, collaboration is necessary.  Third, modification of pull out service delivery is  essential.  Fourth, helping with reading instruction.  All four of these “skill sets” are lacking in the typical school SLP.

These skills are not typically found within the traditional graduate curriculum.  The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association favors RTI but it is uncertain whether it will advise the academic centers to teach to the four new skill sets mentioned.

Hybrid Speech-Language Pathology

With the onset of IDEA 1997 tacitly the profession of speech-language pathology was obliged to accept a new model of practice for schools.  For a child to be evaluated for special education placement, impact on the general curriculum became a criterion for placement.  Hence, in principle an SLI child whose academic skills were on grade level no longer qualified for placement.  Of course, this standard was bent and placements continued.  But the principle stood.

Pressure has been building on the SLP role to function in a way supporting progress in the general curriculum.  collaborative preschool programs, for example, with a reading focus, puts SLPs into the business of dynamically assessing speech, language and reading progress as it relates to measured classroom performance.

Moving away from the medical phonetic model of the early 1960s is also a scientific question.  “Learning” is a construct to be embraced apart from “pathology.”  All school SLPs take courses in language “development” based on how children learn to talk and think.  School achievement is grounded in speech and language acquisition.  Therefore, hybrid modeling fits the facts of “speech communication” as an “adaptive behavior.”  It should fall within the framework of theory and research.  School psychologists have adapted quite well to multiple roles in education.

Caseload Management

Teachers have two national unions to bargain for adequate class size.  SLPs have no such union.  State by state they have organized efforts to limit caseload size.  Whereas 40 pupils is an acceptable caseload, most school therapists see many more, some over 100.

Research suggests SLPs  tend to have less job satisfaction as caseload size increases, and clients make less progress.  The larger the caseload, the less likely it is progress will be adequate for early dismissal. There is not even time to prepare the dismissal paperwork.

SLPs compensate by working longer hours but eventually that is a deadend.  With 100 clients a year, there is no meaningful hope.

An original suggestion here has received little traction, and it is to reduce the number of children misplaced in caseloads as SLI children.  Apparently, professionals have a little stomach for admitting they are illegally placing children in special education through faulty evaluation procedures.  Educators ignore the topic.  So do state departments of education.   SLPs could admit and retain fewer children if they wanted to.  It is a piece of cake.  But so far the evidence is that they would rather hope for more speech therapy personnel than to act.

A frontal attack on the problem of caseload size is to evaluate for “disproportionality” of minority placements.  Study the caseload to see how many non-disabled minority children are listed.  Dismiss those who shouldn’t be in.  Done!

Education Speech-Language Pathologyy

Academic centers continue to offer the classic generic graduate program in communication disorders and sciences.  For practice in schools, the core is stretched beyond limits.  There are courses taken in education but SLP students are not very good at making connections with this material as it pertains to real practice.  For example, they might study the history of special education without connecting it to the civil rights act of 1964 or the origination of Public Law 94-152.  They might not see the issue of potential civil rights violations within their own caseload.

Without looking at language and learning as a platform for educational achievement, school SLPs will not understand why cognitive principles predict generalization of learning from speech therapy to classroom literacy, and the reverse.


Money influences best practice as much as best practice influences results.  Under-funded federal mandates is an old problem.  State legislatures jumping in with budget cutting is a current issue.  Local superintendents shuffling the deck in budget debates means program changes flying in the face of principle.  For special educators and related services personnel it boils down to troubling rumors in the hallway.

During the current economic depression, in 2011, MONEY TRUMPS BEST PRACTICE!

It is the one “practical problem” school SLPs know nothing about that makes a difference in the discussion of caseload size.

Open-Source Blogging

No doubt blogging SLPs must reflect on the quality and availability of information on the internet.  Traditional publishers too often have not thought through internet publishing standards, and they tend to rely on old habits and practices.  The bottom rung of democracy is best served when citizens speak to issues they see every day and know about.

We are concerned about the interface between traditional journal protections and openness on the world-wide web.  Scholars submit free material for publication and publishers lock this information up, presumably to protect profits. Neither authors nor the public is protected by this practice.  Tax payers pay for the internet, and scholars make money by advancing their careers through reputation.  Society pays because knowledge is blocked where it could save lives.

We are in a period like the one faced by black musical performers who were paid only for the recording sessions in which their songs were published.  They received no later residuals and they no longer owned their songs.  Songs were covered by white performers who made money from them, and the “catalogues” were later sold like a commodity.  This problem was addressed and repaired somewhat.

All speech, hearing and language articles should be on the internet with free access. This would have the effect of improving practice because of the distribution of a genuinely good knowledge base.  Educators now do not often refer to communication disorders research.


It is unclear what the ASHA mission is for school speech-language pathology.  A starting point for change would be to decline from calling school SLPs “stakeholders” and “school-based” — examples of Washington-speak.  More to the substance, it is unclear how leadership for school practice is understood and organized.  The ASHA voice is masked in the din of discontinuous activity.  The current leadership approach is a bulletin board service, where SLP panels meet to develop guidelines, or SLPs write in with ideas, later to be published with a legal disavowal at the bottom.  “We didn’t really say this, and if we did we don’t take any responsibility for what we said.”  One is left with reverberation and almost no historical and policy perspective.

Culturally and Linguistically Diversity

By the middle of the 21st century, the U.S. population will have shifted to a multicultural environment for government and education.  Yet this topic continues to be an enrichment topic in the field.  SLPs do not regard it as a core to the SLP curriculum and scope of practice.  It is something to be learned as a means of enriching one’s clinical point of view in the sense of the “educated person.”  Current SLPs are dead center in the middle of school overidentification of at-risk children.   They are key evaluators nationally and locally.  There should be some consequence to the enrichment process, namely, increasing the quality of eligibility decision-making.  Of course the same can be said of other education and related services personnel.

Doctoral Education

Doctoral education has fallen into disrepair.  This fact works against the community of school speech-language pathologists.  Whereas school SLPs hold the majority in the field, the number of doctoral degrees held is pitiful.  This goes back to the early history of the practice, where speech correction teachers were de-valued.  The doctoral degree is needed to advance careers and to elevate school practice.  It could provide a source of school research, on site, which now is negligible.

We seemed to have reached a point of saying, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” The clinical doctorate is badly needed and one has to disagree with the pure academics who are likely holding to the old ideas put forward by elite founders who did not wish to advance education more than a little. Education has the D. Ed., and from all indications it is a degree which serves it well. School SLPs are equally smart and capable, and they should have the means of advancing their careers in an arena which holds degrees in high esteem.  Instead of continuing education, doctoral education would be a better investment for leadership development and income.

2000 years of history and the site of the French Revolution.

Boutique Speech-Language Pathology

The idea is that if you own a designer purse you are well dressed.  The wild pursuit of “hot topics” is a kind of junk science.  It clutters the mind and takes us off course.  It entails a degree of magical thinking.  As we disseminate ideas, if we utter the words and put the ideas out there thinking will stick.  Only one example is collaboration.  If our incantations include the word enough, somehow school SLPs will do it.  Never mind we hardly know what we are talking about.  We point to what Jane Smith did at her middle school in Cleveland, Ohio.  Nothing comes out of it except Jane is happy to have her picture published.  In the meantime we talk about evidence-based practice as though it means something to most of us.  One judge once said: “Repetition of an argument does not strengthen it.”  And who benefits from a one-time workshop in Orlando?  And does the quality of information improve if it is repeated on a social media platform?  Or is the message more profound it if it is announced on social message distribution system?  Fad communications compound the difficult task of communicating high quality clinical information systematically.

Coco Chanel with model, circa 1950, Paris.

plus ça changeplus c’est la même chose

 (The more things change the more they stay the same.)

Alphonse Karr, Les Guepes, 1849

Educational Doctorate

An urgent need for the future.  The M.A. degree with the Cs has been regarded as the terminal academic standard.  It is obsolete for the future.  Too much weight is put on continuing education as a substitute for academic advancement. School SLPs could take care of continuing education through degree work plans.  A cooperative degree program for the D. Ed. would solve a lot of issues of preparation and leadership. More SLPs should be directors of special education and program design experts.  School SLPs have accepted low expectations for advancement.  When their caseloads are high, they feel stuck in them. This is historic and arbitrary. School psychologists have flexible educational requirements including the doctorate.


The administrative management of educational speech-language pathology needs a total overhaul.  That means fresh thinking and reform.  The last generation of school SLPs didn’t get crucial and timely assistance.

a. To examine or go over carefully for needed repairs.
b. To dismantle in order to make repairs.

“Overhaul” defined by the FREE DICTIONARY points us toward (a) and the view that school speech-language pathology should retain good measures and good practice but it should be examined carefully for Needed Repairs.  

A starting place is recognition one cannot talk about school practices as disembodied techniques and skills apart from how ASHA policies impact the processes of educating and informing SLPs.  The medical model bias is a problem.

Prevention Policy

The profession of school speech-language pathology should revise and improve its policies on the prevention of communication disorders to properly include especially the goal of reducing the over-identification and / or disproportionality of special education placements.  IDEA 2004 should be observed and the public should know SLPs are doing the right thing:

“The State must have in effect, consistent with the purposes of 34 CFR Part 300 and with section 618(d) of the Act, policies and procedures designed to prevent the inappropriate overidentification or disproportionate representation by race and ethnicity of children as children with disabilities, including children with disabilities with a particular impairment described in 34 CFR 300.8 of the IDEA regulations.[34 CFR 300.173] [20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(24)]“


“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931)

 “They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob, When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job. They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead, Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time. Once I built a railroad; now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime; Once I built a tower, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?”


ASHA Organization

In November of 2013, we are delving into ASHA organizational patterns to determine why ASHA does not respond to school curriculum trends. It is not a mild problem. It is systemic and deeply embedded in the history of structural patterns owing to the founders views and values. In the meantime curriculum development for school personnel is lost in a sea of boards, committees, panels, expert groups, vice presidents, directors, governmental affairs, executives, building projects, human interest stories and membership surveys mattering not at all. On top of it all, ASHA is formerly divided into subdivisions whose leaders must meet with one another and negotiate ASHA business. Member elections produce a revolving door of decision makers who do not have time to understand what is happening at their meetings. ASHA can’t find the bridge between autocracy and democracy. It responds with hundreds of meaningless documents seldom edited for relevance.

May, 2014

The research is confirming the organizational problems ASHA faces. In essence the accreditation wing defined by CAA operates in isolation from the public relations wing defined by the non-profit organization under the supervision of the Board of Directors. BOD members even say they “collaborate” with the CAA to promote change. Who is in authority? Clearly the ASHA president on paper is the key to proper administration. In half-light the role of the chief executive officer remains vague. The president needs to be the chief executive officer with a renewable 3 year contract. We in schools need accountability when years go by without solutions. The chief executive officer must be the chief administrative officer.

Girl Scouts Marching on Main Street.

Girl Scouts Marching on Main Street.

The president must have regular reports of accountability from CAA. The Bylaws need to say the president is in charge, not that the president “cooperates” to set the agenda. The president must do the business of the Association with an agenda for all. The president should put aside pet ideas and projects to write about in the ASHA Leader. There needs to be a vision for the profession articulated by the president. An open “state of the profession” should be addressed at each yearly ASHA meeting, and members should have a chance for meaningful suggestions.

June, 2014

Key to reform is to create a different role for the president of ASHA. Deep historical uncertainty over the roles of the Director and the President lingers, and is codified in the Bylaws. We must have leadership accountability. Period. Someone must be clearly in charge of all business on behalf of the membership. The notion of collaboration masks the authority issues. Kenneth Johnson did much as the strong executive leader but that role turned out to be inappropriate for the Association. The president must have full authority and responsibility so we know where the buck stops. All this is clear and central to reform.

July 2014

There is no reason to believe now after much thought on the topic that school speech-language pathology in America should not have its own organization. ASHA simply does not do much for school SLPs, especially for the money they contribute to ASHA. It is the plight of audiology to some extent, but audiology has been persistent. Otherwise, we would all be under the umbrella of swallowing disorders as stated in the mission statement.

March, 2015

Many of the earlier posts in retrospect were about wondering why a large national wealthy professional organization achieved a high degree of impotence in many areas of functional service to school members? Why important topics were raised and discussed only to be neglected for years and years. Confusing was mask of public relations and marketing yielding the impression that ASHA “is on top of it all.”

Finally we asked the right question hidden right in front of us. Who is responsible for decisions? Who is accountable?

Clearly the Board of Directors has and is failing to get the job done.

Yes, we can talk about all kinds of side issues, such as the roles of the CEO and the 250 members of the Washington professional staff but it does come back to the BOD.

March 2015

Rather than viewing professional education as a science-best practice framework, it now appears to us it is a marketing-public relations domain. Hence, for example, scope of practice expands inappropriately because ASHA makes sure the “product line” covers all novel pathologies, applications and public trends.

May 2015

Thanks for ASHA visitors. I notice many of our comments and suggestions have been used in making changes. For off the record correspondence, use We can talk about ideas.

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