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Since the introduction of PL-142 the Special education system has received both praise and criticism. Special Education Programs are an essential component to our educational system. The current special education system has aided many people but improvements are desperately needed as rates of enrollment increase and the number of special education teachers' decrease. The growth in the number of special education students is the topic of conversation among educators all across the country.
The purpose of this investigation is to discuss the increase in the American special education population. We will discuss the factors that have contributed to the increase including; the effect of PL-142 on the growth of the special education population early identification of special needs, the additional conditions that qualify students for special education, the placement of low achieving students in special education programs, accountability reforms, pressure from parents, the disproportionate amount of minorities that are placed in special education programs and the disproportionate amount of males that are placed in special education. Let us begin our investigation by discussing the increase in the Special Education.
Increases in the Special Education Population
In 1980 the U.S. Department of Education spent $821,777 on special education programs, by 2001 funding of Special Education programs had increased to $5,814,825. (Digest of Education Statistics, 2001) This substantial growth in spending can be attributed to the increasing special education population in the nation's public schools. According to a report, created by the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education, there are currently 6 million students between the ages of 3 and 21 in special education programs around the country. This is a substantial increase in the special education population when compared to the 3.7 million students that made up the same population during the 1976-77 school terms; this is an increase of 65%. (Horn and Tynan, 2001)
The graph to the right, provided by the National Education Association, depicts funding and population increases in special education for the years spanning 1991 to 2010. As you can see it is expected that the special education population will begin to decrease by 2007. However, the cost of funding special education is expected to increase in the years to come.
The report entitled, "A New Era: Revitalizing Special Education for Children and Their Families" (2002) explains that special education students drop out of high school at a rate that is 50% greater than that of their peers. The report also estimates that the amount of students with specific learning disabilities has increased by 300% since 1976.
Horn and Tynan explain,
In 1976-77, at the inception of IDEA, 796,000 children, or 22% of the total special-education population, were identified as having a specific learning disability. By 1997-98, that number had grown to 2,726,000, or 46% of the total number of students in special education -- an increase of 233% since 1976-77. In contrast, the number of children in all of the other disability categories combined increased only 13% during the same time period." (Horn and Tynan 2001)
Additionally, the president's report states that many of the students that are part of the special education population do not have a learning disability, but rather they have not been taught how to read. The Commission found that 40% of the special education population falls into this category.
According to an article published in Exceptional Children, Russ et al. (2001), explains that the special education population has grown by 47% in the years spanning 1977 to 1995. While at the same time the general education population decreased by 2%.
The article goes on to explain that the growth of the special education population has had a profound effect on educators. The article explains that nearly 90% of special education educators are overwhelmed by the amount of students that they are expected to teach. In fact, "A nationwide analysis of caseloads for teachers of students who are severely emotionally/behaviorally disturbed found state averages ranged from 3 to 35 students per teacher. A 1999 Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) survey of special educators revealed caseloads ranging from 4 to 154 students per teacher." (Russ et al. 2001)
Retention of special education teachers is vitally important because it takes a great deal of time and money to train new special education teachers. The fact of the matter is special education teachers have to deal with a great deal of stress. This is particularly true of those that work with children that have emotional disorders. Teachers find it hard to cope with the emotional rides that these students are on.
A study conducted in 1998 found that inexperienced teachers had the most difficulty adjusting to their new environment. Loeb and Stempien (2002) explain that, "novice special educators reported different problems from their beginning colleagues in general education. They often described themselves as insufficiently prepared, frustrated, and exhausted. (Loeb and Stempien 2002)
Many in the profession have abandoned it because of large case loads. Special education teachers have some of the highest attrition rates of any profession in the country. Russ et al. (2001) explains,
Louis Harris and Associates (1988) found that 60/0 to 80/0 of general educators turned from teaching to other professions. The attrition rate among special educators has appeared considerably higher than their general education counterparts (Billingsley, 1993; Lauritzen, 1997). Singer (1993) found 10% of all special educators left teaching and revealed that the average special educator abandoned education as a profession within 6 years of beginning teaching." (Russ et al., 2001)
The shortage of special education teachers is sure to grow as the special education population continues to increase in the years to come. It is with certainty that I declare that a shortage of special education teachers in the future could be devastating to the educational community. The federal government and state agencies must understand the factors that contribute to the growth of the special education population and seek to eradicate or reduce these factors.
There are several factors that have contributed to the increase in the special education population, including; the effect of PL-142 on the growth of the special education population, early identification of special needs, the additional conditions that qualify students for special education, the placement of low achieving students in special education programs, accountability reforms, pressure from parents, the disproportionate amount of minorities that are placed in special education programs and the disproportionate amount of males that are place in special education programs. The following sections of this paper are going to explain how these factors have contributed to the growing number of special education students.
The effect of PL-142 on increases in the special education population
Horn and Tynan (2001) explain that prior to the 1950's the federal government did not mandate or monitor the education of students with special needs. Prior to the 50's the federal government only awarded grants to certain residential facilities which housed disabled individuals. The government also gave grants to organizations that sought to teach individuals that were deaf or blind. (Horn and Tynan, 2001)
The law known as Education of All Handicapped Children Act or PL-142 and later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, did not come about until 1975. Horn and Tynan (2001) report that,
This landmark legislation mandated that children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Critical components of the law include requirements for an initial evaluation to determine eligibility for services and accommodations, individual education planning, the provision of individualized services, and procedural safeguards to ensure the active involvement of a child's parents." (Horn and Tynan, 2001)
This act was needed and appreciated by parents and students that suffered with disabilities. The program gave those with disabilities the right to attend public schools and to receive the same level of education as their non-disabled peers. However, the implementation of this program proved to be a more difficult feat than anyone ever imagined. Much of the problem with implementing the special education program came about because of the lack of understanding that many in the profession had about the skills and level of professionalism that it would take to implement such a program in our nation's schools.
Early Identification of Special Needs and Conditions that qualify students for special education are both byproducts of PL-142. The legislation forced schools to begin to assess children at an early age and it also broadened the conditions under which students could be enrolled in special education programs. Both of these factors have contributed to the growth of the special education population in our nation's public schools. Now, let's take a look at both of these factors.
Early Identification of Special Needs
PL-142 requires that all disabled children be granted access to a free education. This requirement has greatly impacted the need to assess the development of students at an early age. State agencies want to ensure that they comply with the law so many states have implemented various programs to identify special needs students. In addition…[continue]
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