Educational advocacy, learning disabilities advocacy     Internet Special Education Resources
Special Education & Learning Disabilities Resources: A Nationwide Directory

Overcrowding the Special Needs Classroom with Adults

By Sharman Word Dennis, M.Ed.

When people discuss overcrowded classrooms, they are usually referring to a large number of children in the classroom. This discussion will focus on the overcrowding of the classroom with adults.

I recently had the opportunity to visit a child, for whom I advocate, in his classroom. Let me provide you with the setting. His classroom is a "self-contained" classroom with a sign on the door that states "Multiple Disabilities", in an elementary school in an urban school District. The school district serves about 70,000 students in their school system. The diagnoses for the children in this classroom are intellectual disabilities, speech disabilities and behavioral issues. The children are five to eight years of age.

When I went to visit "my child", there were eight students in the classroom with five adults. One head teacher and four "dedicated aides" What are dedicated aides and how did they get to this classroom? It is hard to find a job description for "dedicated aides" and the ones employed by this system have no job description. "Dedicated aides" are essentially "an instructional aides who works one on one with a student with special educational needs".

The decision at the IEP meeting determines the assignment of a "dedicated aide" (see article of December 15, 2008). Many dedicated aides assigned to children are the result of an attorney request, but in this classroom, the teacher had requested each dedicated aide, and she was in the process of requesting another dedicated aide. Do dedicated aides receive training and is it adequate? Often not much, in this school the "dedicated aides were not included in the same training as instructional aides until a special education coordinator made the request.

These dedicated aides are working with children who have special educational needs. In this school system, do they meet the standards of NCLB? This is what IDEIA 2004 states in their alignment with NCLB:

Section 300.156(b)(2)(iii), consistent with section 612(a)(14)(B)(iii) of the Act, does specifically allow paraprofessionals and assistants who are appropriately trained and supervised, in accordance with State law, regulation, or written policy, to assist in providing special education and related services to children with disabilities under the Act. However, this provision should not be construed to permit or encourage the use of paraprofessionals as a replacement for teachers or related services providers who meet State qualification standards. To the contrary, using paraprofessionals and assistants as teachers or related services providers would be inconsistent with the State's duty to ensure that personnel necessary to carry out the purposes of Part B of the Act are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained. Paraprofessionals in public schools are not directly responsible for the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities; rather, these aides provide special education and related services to children with disabilities only under the supervision of special education and related services personnel. We believe the provision in Sec. 300.156(b)(2)(iii) sufficiently ensures that paraprofessionals and assistants are adequately supervised and further clarification in these regulations is unnecessary.

The majority of these "dedicated aides" do not meet the requirements of IDEIA 2004 or NCLB. These requirements state that supervision is required. In this classroom, when I asked the question "who was in charge?" the teacher indicated that she has no say in what the "dedicated aides" do. She indicated that the coordinator of special education was responsible for the aide. Of course, the special education coordinator indicated that teachers take the lead for their aides. DRAMA!

Sharman Word Dennis is an educational advocate and the CEO of Global Enrichment Solutions, LLC a company that provides advocacy, training, evaluations, therapeutic services and tutoring. Visit call 202-882-2533 or e-mail

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


Educational advocacy, learning disabilities advocacy     Return to ISER Home