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The passing of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) in 2001 was the beginning of two very different kinds of public education: that which we call compensatory education and that which we call mainstream education. While the former originated under NCLB, the latter has roots dating back to the early 20th century when compulsory schooling laws were enacted throughout the country. While both types of education have had their share of criticism, there are some things that all parents need to know about compensatory education before their children begin school this fall.

  1. Compensatory education is not remedial education.

The terms “compensatory” and “remedial” are often used interchangeably, and for the sake of clarity, I will refer to them as such. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two: compensatory education is designed to enhance student achievement in the general curriculum (what we call mainstream or traditional education) while remediation is designed to help students catch up in specific academic areas that are lacking due to poor performance on standardized tests or other factors. NCLB made it clear that remediation is not part of the overall educational mission; rather, it is designed to correct such specific deficiencies. There is also a difference of opinion on how much emphasis should be placed on remedial instruction. Some educators believe that all students need to have access to remedial instruction.

  1. Compensatory education offers a lot of flexibility for parents and students.

The main goal of compensatory education is to provide students with an opportunity to work at their individual levels before moving on to the general curriculum, thereby increasing the likelihood that students will make progress in these areas and ultimately complete school at more than an average rate. Another goal is to give teachers the tools they need to address specific academic needs. Parents who choose this route can be assured that they will not be required to pay tuition fees or contact hours, and they do not have to contact a school counselor or enroll their child in special programs.

  1. Compensatory education does not cover everything your child will learn at school; it addresses only those aspects of school that are “new” for your child.

Compensatory education is designed for students with more advanced learning needs than the general curriculum. It is NOT designed to cover everything that your child will learn during the school year. Rather, it is a curriculum that addresses only those aspects of school that are “new” for your child. Your child will not be required to sit through lectures in subjects he or she already knows nor read materials he or she has already mastered. Compensatory education is simply a means of accelerating the learning process by providing additional help and support to students already behind their peers in certain academic areas.

  1. With compensatory education, your child’s teacher will most likely be teaching multiple grade levels of learning.

Due to the wide range of needs among students, most schools allow teachers teaching in the compensatory track to teach multiple grade levels at once. For example, a kindergarten teacher may be teaching first grade in the morning and second grade in the afternoon. So while your child will be receiving instruction at an average pace, your child’s teacher may be teaching an entire class (for example, all first graders) all at once as well as working with some students individually on materials that are appropriate for their level and grouping them according to these needs.

These are things you need to know about compensatory education in 2013. If your child is a high achiever in one area and finds it difficult to make academic progress outside of this area, you may want to investigate the possibility of special education options. However, if your child is just slow on average and needs additional support, compensatory education may be an excellent alternative for your family.