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Using an “Educational Model” – a Way to Deny Services?

by Pam Wright

What is the difference between a medical model and an educational model? I was asked a question recently that intrigued me, so I did a little research.

When school personnel say they cannot provide services because they follow an educational model, what does that mean?

Medical Model: I googled “medical model” and found this definition: “Medical model  is the term cited by psychiatrist Ronald D. Laing in his The Politics of the Family and Other Essays (1971), for the “set of procedures in which all doctors are trained. This set includes complaint, history, physical examination, ancillary tests if needed, diagnosis,  treatment, and prognosis with and without treatment. . . The medical  model drives research and theorizing about physical or psychological  difficulties on a basis of causation and remediation.”

I found other definitions that were similar.

Educational Model: When I googled “educational model,” I found dozens of models, none similar, some rather odd: the Reflective Teaching Model; the  “Customer Service” Model of Education; the “banking model of  education” in which teachers “deposit” information and skills into  students. “The Nazi Model for Outcome Based Education” argues that OBE (outcome-based education) robs students of the ability to think independently. Some models were blends – a core curriculum and values model.

I didn’t find any educational model that described “a set of procedures in which all teachers/educators/practitioners are trained.”

Cases of Educational Malpractice

Over the years, students have brought educational malpractice cases. In most cases (link below), courts ruled that there are no common procedures that teachers are expected to know and use. Because there are no common standards of practice, courts have ruled that cases about educational malpractice (v. cases against plumbers, lawyers, barbers) must fail. Occasionally, a plaintiff won in a trial court, but their victory was reversed on appeal.

The question came from an SLP who is trained to use the medical model. As a psychologist, I was trained to use the medical model. Schools of education do not train aspiring teachers to use the medical model and are often hostile to suggestions that they do so.

We get emails from physicians who don’t understand why a school won’t accept their (medical) diagnosis that a child has a disability and needs special education, but insists that the child must have an “educational diagnosis.” Educators are not qualified to make diagnoses.

My questioner hit the nail on the head when she wrote, “it [an educational model] seems to be used to decrease/eliminate services and/or change service providers from an SLP to a teacher who is part of a primary service delivery team.”

I think the insistence on an “educational diagnosis” from individuals who are not trained to diagnose has the same effect as the “education model” – a way to deny a service.

The Larger Question – Common Standards

But I’m pondering the larger question: If there are no common standards of practice that all teachers are expected to know and adhere to, is teaching a true profession?

If teachers don’t know how to:

  • define a problem
  • obtain a history
  • use objective tests to get baseline data
  • use this information to develop a preliminary diagnosis
  • implement an intervention (treatment)
  • test to see if the intervention (treatment) is having the desired outcome
  • adjust the intervention to increase effectiveness or select a different, more effective intervention

. . . how can we improve the education our children receive?

“Educational Malpractice in the USA” by Ron Standler considers the reasons behind the failure of educational malpractice cases and offers ideas about how to turn things around:

You also may be interested in this article by Douglas Carnine, Why Education Experts Resist Effective Practices (and What Would it Take to Make Education More Like Medicine).

Thanks for asking a question that made me ask questions!

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19 Comments on "Using an “Educational Model” – a Way to Deny Services?"


Sometimes denial of services is a blessing in disguise. It can prevent potential damage and discrimination that is prevalent in our poorly funded and overwrought Special Education system. The belief that a system that is incapable of making ethical decisions regarding diagnoses, would be capable of providing competent services to students with disabilities is folly. If a student is so markedly impacted as to be unable to access any educational benefit without specially designed instruction, it may be worth the risk. But for most students, doing “poorly” in general education may be preferable to damaging educational placements and their associated stigma, low expectation, discriminatory practices and generally poor outcomes.


Educators do not provide treatment or cures for medical problems. They provide intervention to allow children with special needs to access the curriculum. I have often had an M.D. write a prescription for therapy that should be provided through medical insurance. Or for an assistive listening device for a student because they think it would be helpful, although the student does not have a disability.


How can we improve the education our children receive? Check out 3 areas of great promise converging on student-centered education:

1) Response-to-Intervention Model (medical/research type model)
2) STAR Framework, Process and Protocol (Powerful Teaching and Learning)
3) DSRP it! (ThinkWorks); “Thinking at Every Desk”



Can somebody explain to me why when a doctor writes an order for a child to wear a collar at certain times of the school day it is followed to the letter. Yet when this same doctor states that this same child needs a certain type of therapy it is dismissed because the school doesn’t agree with it? Why is that allowed?



Behavior of a child with Autism can vary depending on the child with Autism. My child has no behavior issues at home or at school as far as being a loving, child. When a child has autism and their cognitive age is less than that of a 2 or 3 year old and they are in kindergarten it can present problems with understanding and following directionsetc. So, to answer Paul’s question parenting does begin at home but when a child can not function independently at all eating, bathing, knowing danger,potting, etc. It will have affects on the child in school. Education is to help in ALL areas not just academics. Mental disability stands for what it says, not failure in parenting.