Response from Bev Johns, Jim Kauffman, and Ed Martin
[ See The Concept of RTI: Billion-Dollar Boondoggle at http://spedpro.org ]
1. We welcome thoughtful dialogue on the broad issue of multi-tiered education, including RTI, MTSS, and other frameworks that elaborate education, general and special (see especially the second paragraph of The Concept of RTI). The reply seems, to us, pejorative in tone, an unfortunate characteristic given the fact that we all seek to strengthen instruction for all children but, being special educators, especially those with special educational needs.
2. We point out that in well-controlled applications by researchers, RTI has had positive outcomes, but also observe that wide-spread adoption without the active and intensive support of external researchers, extensive training, etc. seems unlikely to obtain that result. As the Alternative Facts pdf of the Consortium for Evidence-Based Early Intervention states, "An Institute of Education Sciences guidance document on RTI by many of the same researchers (Gersten et al., 2009) reported that implementation of RTI in controlled settings with guidance from individuals with expertise external to the school (e.g., researchers) was effective for improving reading skills, especially in grade 1."
3. Our concern about the current direction of special education is that despite good intentions, prompt identification and provision of effective instruction seems to have become secondary in importance, and prolonged failure is required rather than avoided (recent revelations about special education in the Houston schools in Texas and in schools in many other States may be relevant here).
4. The concept of RTI was presented in IDEA in 2004, was soon widely adopted in many schools, and became used in too many cases as a tactic of delaying special education, prompting a memorandum from OSEP in 2011 (January 21). In 2015, a letter (October 23) from OSERS explained that MTSS and PBIS are, actually, another form of RTI: "For those students who may need additional academic and behavioral supports to succeed in a general education environment, schools may choose to implement a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS), such as response to intervention (RTI) or positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS)."
Alternative Facts states: "In 2013, math and reading scores for fourth and eighth graders reached a new high on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Dropout rates are down and college attendance is up, especially for African- American and Latino students. This is real and meaningful progress. However, we cannot claim the same progress for students with disabilities for whom the achievement gaps continued to widen (our emphasis). On the NAEP, from 2009 to 2013, proficiency levels decreased for students with disabilities while they increased for non-disabled students, making the gap in proficiency larger between the two groups."
5. The proponents of change, particularly of drastic change, must bear the burden of proof that that change works in the absence of researchers' presence. The proponents of RTI seek to make that case, and we would welcome such findings.
The lack of perfection is no reason for change, as certain changes most certainly make things worse than the status quo.
We are in favor of the status quo only when a proposed alternative produces no better outcomes. Such improved outcomes must be observed when the intervention is brought to scale and is no longer a phenomenon that occurs only when researchers carefully control implementation.
Again, we do hope for additional, reasoned, discussion of special education's many issues, including frameworks for serving students with special educational needs.