Helping students before they fail

Children shouldn’t have to struggle before their individual needs are met within public schools across the country.

That premise is the foundation of a proactive approach to education, designed to assist educators in providing support for all students, as opposed to a “deficit-based approach” where students must fall behind first, according to Elise Frattura.

Frattura, associate professor and chair of the Department of Exceptional Education in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Education, is co-facilitating an Educational Leadership Academy (1-credit) and Leadership for Social Justice Institute (3-credit) to assist schools in transforming from a model that often marginalizes children who struggle to Integrated Comprehensive Services (ICS), a model that increases the academic and emotional success of all students.

Frattura is working in collaboration with Colleen Capper, professor in the Department of Leadership and Policy Analysis at UW-Madison. The first academy and institute are being held at UW-Madison this summer. The next will be held at UWM in the summer of 2013.

Replacing the deficit model

Frattura and Capper are offering two summer Leading Proactive High Achieving Schools for All Students programs in 2012.The Educational Leadership Academy (1 credit) is set for Sunday, Aug. 5, from 4-6:30 p.m., and Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 6 and 7, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. All sessions are at the Pyle Center at UW-Madison.The Leadership for Social Justice Institute (3 credits or noncredit) is set for Monday-Friday, July 30-Aug. 3, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the UW-Madison School of Education on Bascom Hill.For additional information go to or email Capper at

Children who are labeled as special education, English-language learners or otherwise “at risk” are “disproportionately pulled out of classes for help, which takes away from their instructional minutes,” says Frattura.

Often, students eligible for these special services are of color, living in poverty, English-language learners and/or in transient families. Spending a large part of their day leaving the classroom for special instruction can make them feel different, less accepted and disconnected from other school activities.

Most of all, it’s not working, says Frattura.

“If you compare groups of kids who are pulled out of class, they are falling behind the kids who are not being pulled out of a comprehensive educational experience. Bottom line, the more a child is pulled for intervention from the core curriculum, the further behind they are.

“It’s a deficit model, like bypassing preventive care and waiting until someone needs medical treatment before intervening.”

With ICS, regular and specialist teachers work together to meet student needs within the classroom. For example, instead of pulling English learners out of the classroom during a language arts lesson, students learning English might be integrated into small groups of other students based on interests rather than a “label,” with an ESL teacher providing support.

The integrated approach

The upcoming academy and institute are based on a number of books and articles Frattura and Capper have written on how to provide ICS for all learners. Such integrated models are not radical; they are logical, say the two researchers.

“What we have been doing [the segregated model] is radical and perpetuates the marginalization of students of poverty, of color, English as a second language, and students identified with a disability,” says Frattura. “It also perpetuates the over-identification of students in need,” she adds.

A number of districts currently involved in ICS, including Stoughton, New Berlin, Madison and Waukesha, have assisted in planning the upcoming academy, and many others are attending.

Stoughton Area School District, for example, has been steadily decreasing the achievement gap, increasing its graduation rate, decreasing the identification of students eligible for special education and increasing the overall performance of all students, says Frattura.

To use the ICS model successfully, schools and districts have to commit to a proactive infrastructure that focuses on student learning needs, according to Frattura. Next, classroom teachers must increase their capacity to teach a diverse range of learners. At the same time, regular and specialist teachers must work collaboratively to proactively support ALL children within the classroom, integrating them into flexible learning groups.

It can be achieved with existing resources and doesn’t have to be more expensive, say Frattura and Capper.

In an article on comprehensive service delivery published in “Remedial and Special Education,” Frattura and Capper note that research shows special programs cost 130% more than general education. The data also show that the more students are segregated from other students, the more costly their education, according to the article.

They compare it to parking an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff to help those who fall over, rather than stationing someone at the top to prevent people from toppling over in the first place. The prevention is more cost-effective.

However, integrated service delivery requires a commitment from the entire school and support from the district. “Where it’s successful, staff and leadership believe in equity and social justice for each student,” says Frattura.

“We have to have all the adults at the school working to improve things for the kids. It will be less expensive and less obstructive, a much more holistic sharing of expertise. It’s using shared knowledge to help students expect success.”

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