Why do we need schools that offer special education?

The bottom line is that every child learns differently, whether they have typical learning needs or if he or she is an individual with special needs. In order for a child with special needs to reach his or her full potential, however, that child may need extra support; this can come in the form of additional attention from the teaching staff, smaller class sizes, and in some cases one-on-one support that will help the child meet his or her individualized learning goals.

For many years, children with disabilities have fallen through the cracks in the educational system. Before the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was enacted in 1975, U.S. public schools accommodated only 1 out of 5 children with disabilities.[1] Until that time, many states had laws that explicitly excluded children with certain types of disabilities from attending public school, including children who were blind, deaf, and children labeled “emotionally disturbed” or “mentally retarded.”[2] At the time the EHA was enacted, more than 1 million children in the U.S. had no access to the public school system.[2] Many of these children lived at state institutions where they received limited or no educational or rehabilitation services.[3] Another 3.5 million children attended school but were “warehoused” in segregated facilities and received little or no effective instruction.[2]

In 2004, however, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).,  IDEA is a United States federal law that governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities. It addresses the educational needs of children with disabilities from birth to age 18 or 21[5][6] in cases that involve 14 specified categories of disability.

In defining the purpose of special education, IDEA 2004 clarifies Congress’ intended outcome for each child with a disability: students must be provided a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that prepares them for further education, employment and independent living.[7]

Under IDEA 2004:

  • Special education and related services should be designed to meet the unique learning needs of eligible children with disabilities, preschool through age 21.
  • Students with disabilities should be prepared for further education, employment and independent living.

As of 2006, more than 6 million children in the U.S. receive special education services through IDEA.[4]