RTI in a Time of Staff Cuts: Ideas to Provide Quality Interventions With Less…

The recent Great Recession has resulted in significant budget cuts for school districts across America. In the face of diminished resources and staff cutbacks, many schools are wondering how they will be able to move forward in implementing RTI. Unfortunately, funding projections in the majority of states suggest that reduced school budgets and staffing levels may become ‘the new normal’ for at least the next two to three years—if not longer.


While there are no easy answers to the problem of RTI underfunding and staff downsizing, schools can consider creative strategies to allow them to continue to deliver intensive student interventions of high quality. Such ideas would include expanding the pool of non-instructional personnel (including volunteer tutors), adopting schedule changes that make more efficient use of existing staff, and allocating scarce teaching resources to those early grades where those resources will have maximum long-term impact in promoting student achievement.


Expand the pool of non-instructional ‘interventionists’.  While classroom and content-area teachers can deliver interventions with a high degree of quality, the amount of time that they have available to serve as interventionists is like gold—a finite and very limited resource.  However, schools can expand their pool of interventionists by tapping non-instructional personnel, recruiting tutors from outside the school setting, or even making use of public-school students (Burns & Gibbons, 2008). While finding non-instructional staff, adult volunteers, or students to serve as interventionists is important in building the school’s capacity to deliver RTI services, it is of course also crucial that these individuals be trained in appropriate intervention techniques or programs and that they receive regular supervision and support. As a general rule, tutors with non-instructional backgrounds would not be expected to teach new academic skills; rather, they are best suited to use evidence-based intervention strategies or programs designed to build student fluency or proficiency in specific academic areas. The potential pool of interventionists can include:
  • Special-area and non-instructional personnel. Support staff members (e.g., school psychologists, guidance counselors), special-area teachers  (e.g., art, music, physical education), and paraprofessionals (e.g., teaching assistants) with available time in their schedule can all help to deliver interventions. A useful exercise for the school is to review the building personnel roster and compile a list of those staff with non-instructional or special-area assignments. The work schedules and duties of each staff member on the list would then be reviewed to determine if that staff member has any open time to deliver small-group or individual interventions.
  • Adult volunteers. Schools can develop a cadre of adult volunteers as another means to expand the interventionist pool. Parents, community-service organizations, and graduate training programs that seek school placements for their students are all potential sources for adult volunteers.  The HELPS program (Begeny, 2009) is an example of a free, effective intervention package to promote reading fluency that could be used by both non-instructional school personnel and volunteer tutors. Training and teaching materials for HELPS are available at http://www.helpsprogram.org.
  • Public-school students. An underused source of intervention help that schools should not overlook is their own students, who can serve as cross-age or same-age peer tutors. Cross-age peer tutors are older students who work with younger children.  An example of a cross-age peer tutoring program is described in the free Kids as Reading Helpers manual (Wright, 2004), available at http://www.interventioncentral.org/index.php/downloads. Same-age tutors are usually recruited to work with other students in the same classroom or grade. One well-known evidence-based program that uses same-age peers as tutors in reading and math is Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) (e.g., Sáenz, Fuchs, & Fuchs, 2005; What Works Clearinghouse, 2007).
Use a ‘floating RTI’ schedule to coordinate interventions and employ staff more efficiently.  A common challenge when implementing RTI building-wide is to find the time in a student’s schedule when supplemental RTI services (Tier 2 or 3) can be provided. Adoption of a ‘floating RTI’ period (Burns & Gibbons, 2008) can solve the scheduling problem as well as make more efficient use of teaching staff. In the ‘floating RTI’ solution, each grade level schedules a daily RTI block of at least 30 minutes. Additionally, no grade level’s RTI time overlaps with that of any other grade level. NOTE: The figure below shows how floating-RTI time might be scheduled in a school:
One advantage of the floating-RTI scheduling option is that classroom teachers can take on the role of providing Tier 2 (supplemental, group-based) intervention services. Students would be grouped by need across different classrooms within the same grade. Some classroom teachers could work with small groups of students during the RTI period while those children in their class not requiring RTI services go to other classrooms for appropriate review or enrichment activities.  Another advantage of the floating-RTI scheduling model is that supplemental intervention providers such as reading teachers can move from grade to grade, providing push-in or pull-out Tier 2 intervention services during each grade-level’s RTI period—allowing these professional to work more efficiently and with fewer potential scheduling conflicts.
Assign scarce intervention resources to the earlier grades.  When deciding how to allocate limited staff time to provide intervention, schools should assign those intervention resources preferentially to the primary grades (e.g., K-3) to ensure that struggling learners there have adequate support before considering the needs of the intermediate or secondary grades  (Foorman, Breier, & Fletcher, 2003). Channeling intervention support to earlier grades generally leads to stronger student outcomes at a lower cost. A dose of teacher or paraprofessional intervention time applied at grade 1 to address a reading delay, for example, will typically lead to significantly greater growth than if that same scarce dose of intervention time is applied at grade 4. As a more general principle, when schools have discretion in how they assign intervention support, that support should usually be pushed down to the earliest grade possible to magnify its later impact on student achievement and school success.
For the foreseeable future, the stark reality is that many schools will be asked to implement RTI with reduced staff. However, these schools can at least partially compensate for staff reductions and preserve the quality of their RTI intervention programs by expanding the pool of non-instructional personnel and volunteer tutors, adopting schedule changes that make more efficient use of remaining staff, and preferentially assigning teaching and intervention resources to early grades.


  • Begeny, J. C. (2009). Helping Early Literacy with Practice Strategies (HELPS): A one-on-one program designed to improve students’ reading fluency. Raleigh, NC: The HELPS Education Fund. Retrieved from http://www.helpsprogram.org
  • Burns, M. K., & Gibbons, K. A. (2008). Implementing response-to-intervention in elementary and secondary schools. Routledge: New York.
  • Foorman, B. R., Breier, J. Il, & Fletcher, J. M. (2003). Interventions aimed at improving reading success: An evidence-based approach. Developmental Neuropsychology, 24, 613-639.
  • Sáenz, L. M., Fuchs, L. S., & Fuchs, D. (2005). Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies for English language learners with learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 71(3), 231–247.
  • What Works Clearinghouse. (2007). WWC Intervention Report: Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS). Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/WWC_PALS_071607.pdf
  • Wright, J. (2004). Kids as reading helpers: A peer tutor training manual. Retrieved from http://www.interventioncentral.org/index.php/downloads