Increasingly we are seeing a trend around the country for schools to reduce the number of paraprofessionals and classroom aides and reallocate those monies into other areas. I hear calls of alarm from many parents and community members who see this as a move detrimental to our special-education population. However, there are actually many benefits to this new progressive philosophy.
While assigned with the best of intentions, paraprofessionals, particularly one-on-one classroom aides at the secondary level can sometimes actually be detrimental to the educational and social progress of a child. Studies have shown that students who have a one-on-one aid with them throughout the day, interact less with their peers. They tend to be isolated socially and their opportunities for normal emotional and social growth are slowed. These students also interact less with the classroom teacher and more of their instruction comes from their assigned aide.
In addition, traditionally, the special education teachers have had much of their contracted time monopolized by paperwork, reports, and meetings. As the amount of paperwork has increased for special educators, it has shifted more and more student interaction, student instruction, and student support, to paraprofessionals and classroom aides.
Many school districts are trying to correct this problem. They are training other adults, either those already in the building or bringing in outside people, to handle the paperwork involved with special education. Often times this task is being reassigned to guidance counselors or others who can be trained to complete it. This then frees up these highly-trained special education teachers to have more time for direct interaction and instructional time with the students who need their expertise the most.
Schools are also reducing the number of direct student aides. This reduction can allow more resources for small class sizes. It then shifts more responsibility for instruction to the regular classroom teacher, with the support of the special educators. It makes more sense to maximize student time with the adults who are certified and the most highly skilled in instructional methodology.
So while from the outside, reducing the number of paraprofessionals and classroom aides may be seen by the public as detrimental, it is in fact often times for the betterment of the special education children. All children are best served when schools utilize their certificated regular and special education teachers for the education of the children. Train outside people to complete the paperwork required.
The challenge at this point for administration and superintendents is to help the public and the parents understand that the move, while it may appear to be motivated simply by cost-cutting, Is actually motivated by the best interest of the students.