Policy Implications for Special Education

All children, including those with special needs, need access to high quality, free, and appropriate public education. While special education provides valuable services to many students, it historically has been troubled by poor student outcomes, disproportionate representation of minority and low-income students, and social isolation of students from the mainstreamed school population (4, 7). Yet through careful reform, special education has the potential to serve as the fundamental conduit for academic inclusion and success for children with special needs (4). Opportunities for academic achievement, school engagement, social development, and quality of life for students enrolled in special education can be maximized by policies promoting:

  • Screening and early intervention: Systematic screening and early identification of special needs for young children (infant to pre-school), and provision of diverse early intervention strategies – such as learning exercises tailored for implementation at home, at school, and in peer group settings. (1, 2, 3)
  • Family-oriented approaches: Educational assessments and intervention strategies that are culturally appropriate and collaborative with  families, e.g. assessments administered in native languages, cultural competence training for special education staff, development of accessible community resources for academic support. (3, 4)
  • Social/academic inclusion: Provision of maximum opportunities for social and academic inclusion of special education students with the mainstreamed student population. (5)
  • Closing the achievement gap: Standards-Based Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) can help special education students reach grade-level achievements and close the achievement gap with mainstreamed students, by focusing on state academic standards and tailoring teaching methods to each student. (10, 11) Similarly, the “Response to Instruction and Intervention” (RTI2) approach to education helps students maintain grade-level curriculum as much as possible, by providing different levels of intervention to at-risk students, depending on their individual needs. (12)
  • Adequate staffing: Employment of sufficient, well-qualified special education professionals and classroom aides. In California, special education teachers cannot have more than 28 students. (1, 6, 9)
  • Sufficient funding to support staffing, staff retention, and necessary resources for special education services, as well as a federal funding structure for special education that distributes resources to districts equitably. (8)

Sources for this Narrative:

  1. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs: IDEA 2004 (2010) http://idea.ed.gov/
  2. Early School Transitions and the Social Behavior of Children with Disabilities: Early Findings from the Pre-Elementary Educational Longitudinal Study (PEELS) Institute of Educational Sciences, National Center for Special Education Research (2007) http://ies.ed.gov/ncser/pubs/20093016/index.asp
  3. What You Need to Know about IDEA 2004 Response to Intervention (RTI): New Ways to Identify Specific Learning Disabilities. (2009) Wrightslaw http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/rti.index.htm
  4. Skiba, R.J Et. al. Exceptional Children; Achieving Equity in Special Education: History, Status, and Current Challenges. Exceptional Children; Spring 2008; 74, 3; Education Periodicals. http://www.tdsb.on.ca/wwwdocuments/programs/Equity_in_Education/docs/Achieving%20Equity%20in%20Special%20Education%20History,%20Status,%20and%20Current%20Challanges.pdf
  5. Access for Students with Low-Incidence Disabilities: The Promise of Universal Design for Learning. (2009) National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum, Education Commission of the States http://www.ecs.org/html/offsite.asp?document=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cast.org%2Fsystem%2Fgalleries%2Fdownload%2Fncac%2FLowIncidenceReport_101305.pdf+++ , Center for Applied Special Technology http://www.cast.org
  6. CASE Discussion on Best Practices on Highly Qualified and CASE Position Statement on Highly Qualified. (2004) Counsel of Administrators of Special Education. http://www.casecec.org/archives/position.asp
  7. Wagner MM, Blackorby J. Transition from high school to work or college: how special education students fare. The Future of Children. 1996;6(1):103-120.; 616 http://futureofchildren.org/publications/journals/article/index.xml?journalid=57&articleid=342
  8.  Minow, M. L. (2001). Funding mechanisms in special education. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum.http://www.cast.org/publications/ncac/ncac_funding.html
  9. Information Regarding Pupils with Disabilities. (2009) CA Department of Education. http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/cs/k3/consider.asp
  10. National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2008). Advocacy Brief: Understanding the Standards-based Individualized Education Program. http://www.ncld.org/publications-a-more/parent-advocacy-guides/understanding-the-standards-based-iep
  11. Department of Education. (2007). Rules and Regulations: 34 CFR parts 200 & 300: Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged; Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); Final Rule. http://www2.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/finrule/2007-2/040907a.pdf
  12. California Department of Education. (2008). Response to Instruction and Intervention RT2. http://pubs.cde.ca.gov/tcsii/ch2/responsetointerven.aspx