What’s Ahead for Special Education?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines special education as “Specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.” Nowadays, the success of special education seems to be at an all-time high. However, what does the future hold for special education?

Beginning of Special Education

Special education, as we now know it, did not exist until the mid-twentieth century. Children with cognitive disabilities were usually not enrolled in schools and had to be educated at home. This greatly put them at a great disadvantage as it deprived them of the opportunity of socializing with other children. Also, this prevented the kids from getting quality that their non-disabled pers freely enjoyed.

Toward the latter part of the nineteenth, and at the beginning of the twentieth century, some schools sprung up which were established exclusively for kids with disabilities. These schools were very expensive, and only kids from very rich families could attend. Also, while these schools provided the opportunity to learn for the kids who could afford to enroll, the subjects offered were limited, and the atmosphere was rather discriminatory and segregated. In the end, the quality of education in these schools was still lower than what was obtained in regular schools.

Enactment of IDEA and its Impact on Special Education

In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) was signed into law. This federal act mandated all states to ensure that students living with disabilities get access to the best possible education as a prerequisite for receiving federal funds. Later, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was created from EAHCA, and it arguably laid the foundation for organized special education in the United States.

With the IDEA, children with disabilities can now enjoy the same quality of education that their peers enjoy. For as much as their disabilities can permit, these kids with disabilities can attend the same schools as able-bodied kids, perform the same activities, and interact with them. The standards of special schools created exclusively for kids with handicaps have also increased, and kids from poor families can attend, thanks to IDEA.

Future of Special Education – Threats to IDEA

In recent years, IDEA has played significant roles in providing quality education for children with disabilities. Several policies have been made over the years to enhance special education in our country. For example, during President Obama’s administration, the government increased federal protection for disabled schoolchildren by issuing some policy letters such as the Equity in IDEA Regulation.

However, with the present administration’s current regulatory leanings, it is expected that all policy guidance will be reviewed. As a result, stakeholders are concerned that some of the policy guidance which has so served special education well may be rescinded. For example, it has been announced that the Equity in IDEA Regulation has been put on hold for another two years. This could be dangerous as it could cause special education to deviate from the promising path it is currently treading.


It is hoped that many of the current policy letters will not be revoked. Should they be revoked, they are mere guidelines set to help in achieving the objectives of the policies concerning special education. States can continue to follow them in keeping up with the good work being done in the special education sector.

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