Douglas H. Fuchs Talks About the “10% problem”

Fast Breaking Papers Commentary, April 2011

Douglas H. Fuchs
Photo: Vanderbilt University, Steve Green

Article: The "Blurring" of Special Education in a New Continuum of General Education Placements and Services

Authors: Fuchs, D;Fuchs, LS;Stecker, PM
Volume: 76, Issue: 3, Page: 301-323, Year: Sp. Iss. SI SPR 2010
* Vanderbilt Univ, Peabody Coll, Dept Special Educ, Peabody 228,230 Appleton Pl, Nashville, TN 37203 USA.
* Vanderbilt Univ, Peabody Coll, Dept Special Educ, Nashville, TN 37203 USA.
* Clemson Univ, Dept Special Educ, Clemson, SC 29631 USA.

Douglas H. Fuchs talks with and answers a few questions about this month's Fast Breaking Paper paper in the field of Social Sciences, general.

SW: Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

It addresses an important educational and social problem, long neglected by many researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. Specifically, the educational community fails completely to teach roughly 10% of the kindergarten through 12th grade student population (about 5 million children) because it lacks the knowledge, resources (materials, access to training, time), or both. My colleagues and I refer to this as the "10% problem."

We explain in the paper how current trends in educational service delivery are not likely to solve the 10% problem. We call for a different way of thinking about service delivery, professional development, and professional roles of those who work in the nation's schools. I speculate that the popularity of the paper may have something to do with the direct manner in which we examine these issues.

SW: Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

In the paper, we synthesize knowledge but we do not describe a quantitative (e.g., meta-analytic) synthesis. Nor do we attempt a comprehensive integration of all that's known on the topic. Rather I'd hope our effort is seen as a scholarly position paper on what it takes to successfully teach the nation's most difficult-to-teach students and on the implications of this for educational practice and policy.

SW: Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman's terms?

"Will our country care about the 10% of children and youth requiring intensive instruction, and new forms of instruction, so they may grow and become productive members of society?"

For decades, there has been a serious underestimation of the instructional needs of about 10% of the school-age population. This underestimation has led many local and state school administrators and policymakers in Washington to believe that virtually all students can and should be educated in regular classes with minimal support from instructional experts.

This belief, in turn, has contributed to the disappearance of instructional expertise. Many colleges' and universities' schools of education have shared this perspective and, as a result, they discontinued programs to prepare educators and clinicians who were capable of helping children and youth with very serious learning problems. Large numbers of such students are now left high and dry. In many elementary, middle, and high schools across the country there is literally no adult with the knowledge and skills to help them.

Our paper reviews the work of researchers, including our own research efforts, to accelerate the academic progress of the lower 10% of the student population. This research, we argue, indicates that effective instruction for such students must be intensive. "Intensive instruction" is research based—it is delivered daily for sustained periods by skillful educators—and it is data-based, meaning that the children's responsiveness to instruction is frequently monitored and, when progress is insufficient, the instructional regimen is modified.

We look carefully at current models of educational service delivery and judge them to be incapable of providing the intensity of instruction necessary to successfully teach the 10%.

SW: How did you become involved in this research, and how would you describe the particular challenges, setbacks, and successes that you've encountered along the way?

Before becoming an educational researcher, I was a classroom teacher and school psychologist. Such experiences helped me recognize the severity and complexity of many children's learning problems. For my first 15 years in educational research, my colleagues and I worked closely with classroom teachers in the elementary grades to develop instructional programs in reading and math.

Although several of these programs proved effective for many, they were ineffective for 10%-20% of students. Over time, my colleagues and I became increasingly interested in students who were non-responsive, or minimally responsive, to generally effective instruction.

SW: Where do you see your research leading in the future?

Conventional wisdom is that effective curricula (e.g., textbooks) and instructional programs should be skills and knowledge based. Knowing which skills to teach in what order is presumably key, irrespective of domain (e.g., reading, math, science, social studies). For most students, this makes sense. For the 10%, it does not.

Effective instruction for them, I believe, must be based on both skills to be taught and their cognitive and linguistic characteristics. Knowing how to infuse knowledge about a student's cognitive/linguistic characteristics in an instructional program becomes the general research question. If educational researchers eventually answer this question, they will have succeeded in developing a kind of "personalized education" in much the same way as we now talk about 'personalized medicine."

SW: Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

Will our country care about the 10% of children and youth requiring intensive instruction, and new forms of instruction, so they may grow and become productive members of society?.End

Douglas H. Fuchs, Ph.D.
Professor and Nicholas Hobbs Chair in Special Education and Human Development
Peabody College of Education & Human Development
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN, USA



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