At Insideschools, we’re used to hearing from worried parents. This fall, we’ve been flooded with emails from parents concerned that their high-achieving children have been placed in ICT, or integrated co-teaching, a classroom that mixes general education and special needs students with two teachers. One mother writes:
Today I found out [my son] was put into an ICT class. I have a big problem with this. My son already has reached the benchmark reading level needed at the end of 4th grade… Being in an ICT class, I believe, will only slow him down. What can I do?
Our advice: Take a deep breath. Years of research have shown that educating kids of different abilities together gives special needs students a huge boost and helps their gen ed peers develop important social-emotional skills without sacrificing academics.
Of course, just as school quality varies across New York City, some ICT classrooms will be excellent and some may struggle to find their stride. How well two teachers work together, the level of training and support from the principal, and a school’s available resources are some of the factors that can make or break ICT, says Maggie Moroff of Advocates for Children.
Still most educators and policy-makers agree that ICT serves an important purpose for all the kids in the room—strong students as well as those who need extra help. “When it works well, it’s brilliant,” Moroff says.
For a better understanding of exactly how ICT works, we’ve talked to the experts—parents, educators, advocates and officials—and let them weigh in on some common questions.
_ What is an ICT, or integrated co-teaching, classroom? _
Formerly known as CTT, or collaborative team-teaching, ICT classes are made up of about 60 percent general education students with up to 40 percent of kids who need some kind of extra support, be it for a learning difference, behavioral challenge or physical disability. To reach such a wide range of learners, ICT classrooms have two teachers who work together, and one has a certification in special education.
_ Why didn’t I know about ICT? _
The Department of Education (DOE) has many programs for children with special needs and unless you are an unusually proactive general ed parent, it’s easy to find yourself in the dark. Mark Alter, professor of educational psychology at NYU Steinhardt, says that schools haven’t done enough to educate parents about inclusion classes like ICT. “Parents need to be part of the decision-making, and they need to be informed,” he says.
At Manhattan’s selective NYC Lab Middle School, inclusion is an ongoing conversation, says Parent Coordinator Marilyn Coston. “We are proactive when it comes to our inclusion program and we stand by it.” The school begins talking about its programs on prospective parent tours and offers workshops on inclusion every fall for all parents.
My child is not special needs. Why was he chosen to be a part of a special needs class?
“There are careful considerations to the students being represented in ICT,” says Christina Foti, CEO of special education at the DOE. Often the gen ed students chosen are socially well-adjusted and academically high-achieving kids who teachers believe have a lot to offer their peers with special needs—and vice versa, she says.
Rather than seeing ICT as a negative, parents may consider it a chance to be part of a varied group of kids who all have different things to offer. A child with dyslexia may be a math whiz, for example, while a kid who has trouble sitting still might be a gifted musician. “If kids don’t meet people who aren’t like them they are never going to understand what it’s like to be different,” says Ellen McHugh of the advocacy group Parent to Parent.
_ My child is bright and was at the top of his class in gen ed. Will being in an ICT class this year slow down his learning? _
“All ICT classes use gen ed curriculum and have the same sense of academic rigor as we would expect in any other class,” says Foti. In fact, in some schools gen ed parents clamor for an ICT placement because kids get the benefit of two teachers and more individual attention. “It’s Common Core math,” jokes PS 41 mom Heather Campbell, whose two gen ed daughters have spent several happy years in ICT classrooms. “Do you want 25 kids divided by one, or 25 divided by two?”
_ Will being in an ICT class “look bad on my child’s record” for high school? _
Foti assures parents—and students—that being in an ICT class does not go on a child’s academic record.
_ How many years can a gen ed student be put into an ICT class? _
There is no limit to how many years a gen ed student can be put in ICT, says Foti. Skip Card, parent of a 5th-grader in Manhattan and a former writer for Insideschools who has written about ICT, notes that his daughter has been in ICT classes half of her elementary school years. Campbell’s eldest daughter has been in ICT four out of five years, and her youngest is three for three. They are all gen ed students.
_ If my child was put into an ICT class is there any way to get out of it? _
Before you try to run, you may want to consider the benefits ICT provides, says Foti. “We want our students to be full-fledged citizens of a diverse environment, accepting other kids in a diverse world,” she says. “The idea of getting away from that is nothing I would encourage a parent to do.” If you are still concerned, Foti says, you should talk to your school principal.
_ What if a student’s special needs cause problems for the others? _
While you will find all types of students in ICT classrooms, most gen ed parents worry about behavior. “There’s no such thing as a classroom that has no behavioral issues,” says Campbell. “But, I think ICT programs are especially well positioned to deal with it and to make it a learning experience.”
“Kids without IEPs have probably been just as much of a problem for my daughter, and overall those problems have been blessedly few,” echoes Card.
While finding innovative solutions should be an inherent goal of any ICT class, not every school or classroom has the tools and experience to make the model succeed. If you feel strongly that the situation isn’t working and your school is unresponsive or unable to help, Foti urges parents to contact the DOE’s new BFSCs (Borough Field Support Centers), created to offer support and supervision for NYC schools.
Stay tuned for more coverage of what’s working and what isn’t in ICT classrooms across the city.