Every student faces a variety of obstacles and challenges in pursuit of formal education. It is the role of parents, educators and government to assist in the success of that pursuit. Special Education is a unique and sometimes complicated specialty area designed for those students who require additional support in reaching their educational goals. In order to be successful, educators must have the knowledge, ability, and resources necessary. It is also essential to accurately assess and to subsequently create a plan for success based on individual student needs. Because special education often involves more individual attention and programming, it is also necessary that adequate funding is made available within the school system.
Over the past forty years, significant progress has been made within the legal system in an effort to make public education more accessible to students with special needs. In 1975 Congress passed the Education for all Handicapped Children Act (EHA) which granted the right to receive a “free and appropriate education” and allocated federal funding toward programming (idea.ed.gov/explore/home). Prior to the passing of this bill, children with disabilities were often denied access to public education (Kauffman 61). The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 further barred discrimination and provided for public accommodations making schools more accessible to students with physical disabilities (Smith 432). In 2004 the EHA was modified and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) which is designed “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living (idea.ed.gov/explore/home).” The IDEA act has been instrumental in raising the bar for higher expectations of service. It also includes a plan for assisting students in transitioning from school life into successful adult living. In 2005, The No Child Left Behind Act provided further direction regarding qualifications of special education teachers (nichcy.org).
Due to the often complex and varied needs of special education students, it has been determined that teachers in this specialty area are required to obtain training and certification beyond a basic teaching degree. The IDEA act states that students qualifying for special education services be instructed by “highly qualified teachers,” which is defined broadly as holding a bachelor’s degree in teaching in addition to becoming certified by the state government (nichcy.org). States vary in terms of certification; they may require teachers to pass an exam, take additional college courses, or have a teaching degree with an emphasis in special education. Most states will allow teachers with a teaching certificate to become temporarily certified while working toward certification (idea.ed.gov/explore/home). It is also not uncommon for special education teacher to obtain a master’s degree in Special Education.
Funding for special education is provided to school districts by the federal as well as the state governments and is continually monitored and improved. Although States differ in their assumed responsibility for special education, most states appear to carry just under half of the costs of special education. States and school districts vary slightly in the use and allocations of funding based on local needs and mandates (csef.air.org).
In order to qualify for special education services, students are initially referred by a parent, teacher or another concerned party. Students are then provided with a cost-free assessment as outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (nichcy.org). In order to receive special education services children must have one of the following diagnosis; autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury or visual impairment (including blindness) (http://nichcy.org/disability/specific).
Once it has been determined that a child has a disability which qualifies them for special education, an Individual Education Program (IEP) is created to assist that student in reaching their educational goals in the least restrictive way possible. An IEP is an in depth written plan that outlines the student’s diagnosis as well as their strengths, abilities, academic achievements. It provides a detailed understanding of the challenges facing the student which may include physical disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders, and learning or developmental disorders. It further identifies the methods and approaches by which these challenges will be addressed in order to assist the student in meeting their educational goals. The goals are then outlined and stated in a way that is measurable and include functional as well as educational goals and needs. Goals are reviewed annually and include short term objectives. An IEP also includes how goals will be measured and when and how reports will be provided (Smith 52-60).
The type of instruction and class settings for students with special needs varies considerably depending on the abilities of the student. The diagnosis and assessment are used to determine what type of accommodations or modifications will be needed. The law requires that students are provided an opportunity to participate in the educational environment to the fullest extent possible which may require the use of adapted materials or equipment, modified classroom settings or modified teaching interventions. Once an assessment is completed and an IEP is developed, educators can utilize this information to provide the student with an education that is delivered in the “least restrictive environment” possible (Shelton 55). This means that whenever possible, students with disabilities are mainstreamed into the traditional school environment and provided assistance to facilitate learning that is as close to the standard curriculum as possible. Students may be mainstreamed into regular classrooms and provided simple assistance such as extra time or alternative classroom settings when testing, assistance with writing or reading, opportunity to skip selected subjects or to complete alternative shorter or simpler assignments. On the other end of the spectrum, students may need to be in a separate self-contained classroom or resource room where they are provided with much higher levels of support and assistance.
Special Education is a unique and complex area of specialty in education. Many advances have been made in the development and improvement of services provided by educators to allow students with special needs the same opportunity for formal education as other students. Children qualifying for services represent a wide spectrum of strengths and challenges. In order to provide all students with the same opportunity for learning, it is necessary to provide trained and qualified teachers as well as appropriate accommodations. Federal and state governments play an instrumental role in providing appropriate funding and setting expectations for quality services by continually working to modify and develop laws to protect the rights of all students to have access to no-cost quality education.
"CSEF/SEEP: Center for Special Education Finance & Special Education Expenditure Project." CSEF/SEEP: Center for Special Education Finance & Special Education Expenditure Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. <http://csef.air.org/>.
Kauffman, James M., and Daniel P. Hallahan. Handbook of special education. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 2001. Print.
"National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities”." National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities”. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. <http://nichcy.org/>.
Shelton, Carla F., and Alice B. Pollingue. The exceptional teacher's handbook: the first-year special education teacher's guide for success. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, 2000. Print.
Smith, Tom E. C.. Teaching students with special needs in inclusive settings. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998. Print.
"U.S. Department of Education. Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans." ED.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 1926. <idea.ed.gov/explore/home>.