Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Paraprofessionals: The Future of K-12 Education

School paraprofessionals are in an increasingly precarious position due to major changes in education and the economy--their story is very telling about two major trends affecting US education. Over the last several years I have been involved with the training of school-based paraprofessionals, and got to see how social, economic, and educational trends affect their lives.

Paraprofessionals are generally known as teachers' aides and provide a spectrum of services to classroom teachers. The main distinction of paraprofessionals is that they cannot initially teach a new concept or skill. They can provide physical or academic assistance to an individual student, reteach in small groups, provide translations, and help with classroom management. Unlike custodial stuff or food service workers, the majority of the paraprofessional's time is spend in direct contact with students--from ages 3 to 21.

There are two major trends that are meeting in the world of paraprofessionals.

1) Outsourcing and privatization--Though paraprofessionals typically make significantly less than teachers, they often have comparable benefits packages. Privatization makes sense to school districts looking to cut expenses. There are hundreds of news articles on the privatization of paraprofessionals throughout the United States, and a good summary in District Administrator.

2) Increasing Population of Students with Special Needs-- typical schools are become more inclusive of students with special needs. There is both a civil rights imperative and a financial one for school districts, as it generally costs more to send a student to out-of-district placement. With an increasing population of students with varying disabilities in local schools, there comes an increase in the need for human intervention in the form of paraprofessionals.

The problem is that these two forces are often at odds. Parents and advocates of students with special needs frequently oppose the perceived lowering of quality that privatization brings (see news stories from Hawthorn NJ, and Westmoreland, PA, as examples).

The growing trend of inclusive education, budget battles at local school districts, and the responses the private sector will all factor into the future of the educational paraprofessional.

 Photo credit, some rights reserved "New Classroom" by Bart Everson
Article first appeared in LinkedIn Pulse, by Christopher Shamburg 

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