How to best serve students with disabilities? This has long been the question that has teachers and educators probing for the best possible practices to serve special education students. In comparison to early philosophies and academics, the special education field did not come about until the nineteenth century. Though fairly young, special education has had a fascinating history. With some of the earliest special education recordings dating back to the early 1800’s, the gains made in special education are nothing short of remarkable.
The backgrounds of special education along with historical legislative mandates have undoubtedly changed this field and what is to come of its future. The progression of special education in the United States was slow during the nineteenth century. At this time, it was often believed that adults and children with disabilities could not be productive members of society. One distinguished philosopher, Edouard Seguin, challenged this belief by creating a structured learning environment and developing sensory, academic, and physical skills (Friend, 2008).
In 1875, a public school in Cleveland, Ohio was the first to establish a special class; others soon followed in cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia (Friend, 2008). As education evolved, educators decided that students needed to be presented with instruction that better met their individual needs. It was during the twentieth century that special education became more prominent in the form of ungraded classes. (Friend, 2008) Moving through the twenty-first century our country had several significant court cases, mandates, and laws that changed the face of special education.
“Special education has consistently been the most litigated area in education, possibly due to insufficient knowledge of key components of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” (Katsiyannis & Herbst, 2004, p. 106). With cases such as Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas and Mills v. Board of Education, being won by advocating parents, the federal law was also doing its part to make sure the rights of specials needs students were being upheld.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was the first federal law protecting the rights of students with disabilities. It provided funding and assistance to states, helping schools to build programs for students with disabilities (Friend, 2008). With the advancement of education it is not at all surprising that several of the early federal laws applying to special education had to be reauthorized. The Individuals with Disabilities Educations Act was amended in 1990, 1997, and again in 2004.
These revisions cleared up issues with consistency between educational laws, due process and parental rights, and ensuring evidence based practices are used in instruction (Friend, 2008). The evolution of special education over the past two hundred years proves that it will continue to change and improve. In the past decade, amendments made to IDEA and other educational mandates have stressed the significance of parental rights and involvement in the special education process.
“Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by—strengthening the role and responsibility of parents and ensuring that families of such children have meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children at school and at home”(Conroy, Yell, Katsiyannis, & Collins, 2010, p. 1). With the active involvement of parents, the possibility of more court cases and litigations could be an issue school districts face.
School districts and special education teachers must be meticulous in this process and adhere to the federal laws put in place. The collaboration of federal law, education systems, and parents is a trend that has been prominent in the most recent years of education and one that will continue to be emphasized. Inclusion into the general education classrooms has been another emergent trend in the past years. Inclusion can be summed up as special education students receiving curriculum instruction within the general education classroom.
With the development of inclusion, general education teachers and special educators are collaborating to provide the most appropriate instruction in the least restrictive environment. Lorna Idol describes four forms of inclusion: consulting teacher services, cooperative teaching in the classroom, supportive resource programs, and instructional assistants (Idol, 2006). The first form, consulting teacher, allows the special education teacher to serve as a consultant to the general education teacher.
A variety of co-teaching takes place between the two teachers in the form of cooperative teaching. One of the more popular forms of collaboration comes in the form of specialized resource rooms. In this approach it is vital for the special educator and classroom teacher to work together to ensure the content being taught in the resource room is supporting what is being taught in the general education classroom. The fourth and perhaps most commonly used form of inclusion is the assistance of a paraprofessional in the general education classroom (Idol, 2006).
The movement into inclusion will call for more teamwork and cooperation between special education and general education. The history of special education has proven to be one of many changes and developments. Students with special needs will always be a part of the educational system and with the growth and emergence of varying disabilities it is vital to find the best and most appropriate methods to teach these students. Understanding the history of this field and the possibilities of its future is imperative to its continuation and development.
References Conroy, T. , Yell, M. L. , Katsiyannis, A. , & Collins, T. S. (2010, October). The U. S. Supreme Court and Parental Rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Focus on Exceptional Children, 43(2), 1-16. Retrieved from http://ehis. ebscohost. com. library. gcu. edu:2048/ehost/detail? sid=0b88163b-9e2a-4c61-a021-11f3dc4691f2%40sessionmgr4&vid=5&hid=116&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#db=a9h&AN=56543226 Friend, M. (2008). Key Concepts for Understanding Special Education.
In Special Education: Contemporary Perspectives for School Professionals (2nd ed. , pp. 1-65). Retrieved from http://gcumedia. com/digital-resources/pearson/2008/special-education_-contemporary-perspectives-for-school-professionals_ebook_2e. php Idol, L. (2006, March/April). Toward Inclusion of Special Education Students in General Education. Remedial and Special Education, 27(2), 77-94. Retrieved from http://ehis. ebscohost. com. library. gcu. edu:2048/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer? sid=0b88163b-9e2a-4c61-a021-11f3dc4691f2%40sessionmgr4&vid=15&hid=115.
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