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The History of Special Education in the U.S.

the history of special education in the U.S.

Students have not always had the right to special education. Before 1961, the United States did not publicly educate any children with any disabilities. If a child had cognitive or emotional disabilities, deafness, blindness or needed speech therapy, parents had to educate their children at home or pay for private education. Parents began the process of securing public education by creating advocacy groups for their children. They met with teachers and politicians, and by 1965 Lyndon B. Johnson began signing off on acts designed to expand public education and its funding purposes.

The Laws That Created Special Education

In 1975, the United States voted to ensure that all children, regardless of their differences, should have access to free public school education. This law was called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This act helped bring federal funds into schools to help them create special education for children who did not learn the same way as general education students. Later, this act became what we now call the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004. Lawmakers have amended this act many times to incorporate what schools and families learn about how best to serve children. The U.S. has moved from keeping all children with disabilities in isolated classrooms to inclusive classrooms where children of all abilities can learn from and with each other.

Protecting the Rights of Children With Disabilities

The law requires schools to provide appropriate education to all students in the least restrictive environment possible. This means, for example, it is illegal to separate children in wheelchairs or with other assistive equipment from children who do not require such assistance. All children enjoy the right to an education and the chance to build successful lives. This means that children have a right to learn in diverse classrooms where every student has something different to offer. It is important for schools to be true microcosms of the outside world so that students learn to treat everyone with respect. Special education helps all students find their voices and share them in their own ways.

Giving Families and Caregivers a Voice in Their Children’s Education

Most children have families or caregivers who love and care about them in ways no one else can. This means that these families and caregivers need to have voices in the discussion of their children’s education. Families and caregivers take part in every decision in special education as the children’s advocates to make sure that there is respect for everyone in the learning process, including the children.

Helping Teachers Identify Need and Provide Appropriate Special Education

When teachers manage inclusive classrooms, they need to have clear plans, including best practices, strategies and goals for each child. Special education laws ensure that educators, administrators and families have this in writing, before a child even becomes a member of a special education team.

Cost Should Not Outweigh Education

The biggest controversy surrounding special education has always been the cost. It is much more costly to educate children with disabilities because they require more time and resources than a general education child does. However, this should never be a reason to reduce the quality of education for any child. Education has changed significantly over the past 10 years, but the laws regarding special education have not. Many of the new standards encourage inclusive classrooms, where students of all abilities can learn together. Teachers who become special education specialists are likely on the ground floor of developing better and more effective education for students with special needs.

Learn about the Arkansas State University online MSE in Special Education — Instructional Specialist program.


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