Thursday, January 24, 2008

History of American Special Ed

The Future of Children Website maintained by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution includes many excellent resources for students of education policy in America. One article provides a very clear discussion of the history of Special Education in this country.

Special education of individuals with disabilities in America dveloped as almost an afterthought, not fully coming into the national policy picture until the early 1970s. What does this say about the way our country has historically viewed those with disabilities? In your opinion, have our views changed in the last 30 years?

Following the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1974 (IDEA), marked improvements were seen in graduation rates, employability and college enrollment and success for students with disabilities. Clearly, investing in the human capital of this group has paid off for not only for the individual but for society as a whole. But, has the return on investment been worth the high cost of educating these students? Current policies may reveal what our society thinks about this issue.

As the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) requirement goes into full effect this year, many special education students will not be able to gradute high school despite their completion of required coursework and meeting the goals set forth in their Individualized Education Plans.
Laying aside the personal impact, what will happen to society's investment in educating these students when they are shut out of college and vocational programs, or better career paths? The high fail rate is also likely to have an effect on the views we collectively hold about "the disabled."

In order to look at the effect of the CAHSEE on special education students, I am proposing a study that looks at drop-out and graduation rates for these students as well as college admissions data. I would like to compare current data to data collected prior to the CAHSEE requirement. Dr. Domina has suggested looking across states with and without similar requirements. What might be the benefits and drawbacks of such an analysis? Which outcome variables would you include beyond those listed? Do you believe that a study of public data is sufficient, or would a case study design provide more helpful information?

- Janice Hansen, ED261

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