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History of Special Education (updated July 2003)

What is the history of the special education movement in America?

In the 1960s, advocates sought a Federal role in providing leadership and funding for efforts to provide a free appropriate public education, or FAPE, to children with disabilities. Congress took a step toward this in 1966 when it established the Bureau for Education of the Handicapped under Title VI of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act (ESEA). Subsequently, a number of initiatives earmarked small amounts of Federal funds for serving children with disabilities. As these programs proliferated, the Bureau recommended that they be codified under a single law (Martin, Martin, & Terman, 1996). The resulting Education of the Handicapped Act, P.L. 91-230, was passed in 1970.

During the same period— 1960s and early 1970s— began to pursue State laws that would require local education agencies (LEAs) to offer special education services to students with disabilities and that would provide partial funding for those services. Despite the passage of such laws in a number of States and the provision of some Federal funding through P.L. 91-230, many children with disabilities remained unserved or underserved by public schools (Martin, Martin, & Terman, 1996, p. 28). It was clear that further Federal legislation would be required in order to ensure that students with disabilities were provided FAPE.

Two landmark Federal court decisions, Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1971 and Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia the following year, established that

the responsibility of States and local school districts to educate individuals with disabilities is derived from the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (US Department of Education, 1995a, p. 1).

These decisions set the stage for the enactment of a major new law, and

. . . States joined advocates in seeking the passage of Federal legislation to provide consistency, Federal leadership, and Federal subsidy of the costs of special education (Martin, Martin, & Terman, 1996, p. 29).

By 1975, Congress had determined that millions of American children with disabilities were still not receiving an appropriate education, finding that more than half of the handicapped children in the United States do not receive appropriate educational services which would enable them to have full equality of opportunity (Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), Sec. 3(b)(3)). Public Law 94-142 was enacted to remedy this situation by requiring that all students with disabilities receive FAPE and by providing a funding mechanism to help defray the costs of special education programs (Martin, Martin, & Terman, 1996).

Today, IDEA includes broad mandates for the provision of services to all children with disabilities, from the first grader with a speech impairment to the junior high student with a history of emotional and behavior difficulties and the college-bound high school student who uses a wheelchair (Martin, Martin, & Terman, 1996). Despite the challenges involved in serving such a heterogeneous group, the key tenets of IDEA have remained intact since 1975 (US Department of Education, 1998). Although provisions have been added or amended in order to expand the provision of services to younger groups of children with disabilities, or to improve the quality of the services provided under the law, the four purposes of IDEA have remained essentially the same: 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 particular needs; to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents or guardians are protected; to assist States and localities to provide for the education of all children with disabilities; and to assess and ensure the effectiveness of efforts to educate children with disabilities (US Department of Education, 1995a, p. 1). (From the OSEP 22nd Annual Report to Congress, US Department of Education, 2001 http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/osep/index.htmlProducts/OSEP2000AnlRpt/)

Following are selected citations from the ERIC database and the search terms we used to find the citations.

You can search the ERIC database yourself on the Internet through either of the following web sites:

ERIC Citations

The full text of citations beginning with an ED number (for example, EDxxxxxx) is available:

  • In microfiche collections worldwide; to find your nearest ERIC Resource Collection, point your web browser to: http://ericae.net/derc.htm.
  • For a fee through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS): http://edrs.com, service@edrs.com, or 1.800.443.ERIC. (no longer available)

The full text of citations beginning with an EJ number (for example, EJxxxxxx) is available for a fee from:

ERIC Search Terms Used

disabilities OR special education


educational history

ED395447 EC304842
The Education of Students with Mental Retardation in the United States.
Armstrong, Carl E.
EDRS Price - MF01/PC01 Plus Postage.
Language: English
Geographic Source: U.S.; New Mexico
Journal Announcement: RIEOCT96
This paper reviews the education of students with mental retardation in the United States and offers recommendations to improve their instruction. It begins by discussing the American Association on Mental Retardation's definition of mental retardation and incidence/prevalence data. Disagreements about the definition and incidence data are noted. The history of the treatment and education of individuals with mental retardation in this country is briefly reviewed from the 18th century to the present, noting early institutions, evidence of maltreatment in institutions such as the involuntary sterilization of patients, the gradual provision of educational services to these students, and eventual legal access to regular school programs. Current policies and programs are critiqued, noting these students' continuing lack of access to regular classrooms. Advantages of mainstreaming (such as equal or better academic performance by students with disabilities) and disadvantages (such as lack of individual attention) are discussed. The paper recommends that general education teachers be trained to deal effectively with all students having disabilities and that schools provide supportive services to general education teachers who have students with disabilities in their classrooms.
Descriptors: *Definitions; Educational History; *Educational Needs; *Educational Policy; Educational Practices; Elementary Secondary Education; Incidence; *Inclusive Schools; *Mental Retardation; Teacher Education; Teacher Role

EJ506622 EC611491
History of Deaf-Blind Education.
Collins, M. T.
Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, v89 n3 p210-12 May-Jun 1995
Special issue: Deaf-Blindness.
ISSN: 0145-482X
Language: English
Journal Announcement: CIJNOV95
This chronology lists highlights in the history of deaf-blind education from 1789 to 1995. Events covered include those concerning early special schools in Europe and the United States and trends in service delivery. Emphasis is on federal legislative actions since 1968.
Descriptors: *Deaf Blind; Delivery Systems; *Educational History; Educational Legislation; Educational Trends; Elementary Secondary Education; Federal Legislation; *Special Education

EJ601269 EA536933
Ten Events That Shaped Special Education's Century of Dramatic Change.
Morse, Timothy E.
International Journal of Educational Reform; v9 n1 p32-38 Jan 2000
Document Type: JOURNAL ARTICLE (080); POSITION PAPER (120)
Language: English
Journal Announcement: CIJAUG2000
Special education's progress was shaped by establishment of the Cuyahoga County Ohio Council for the Retarded Child (1933); the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (1975), "Brown v. Board of Education" (1954); "Sacramento City Unified School District v. Rachel H." (1994); coinage of "learning disabilities" (1963); and five other events. Descriptors: *Child Advocacy; *Court Litigation; *Educational History; *Federal Legislation; *Special Education; Elementary Secondary Education
Identifiers: Brown v Board of Education; Council for Exceptional Children; *Education for All Handicapped Children Act; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; *Legal History

EJ465365 EC606136
A Brief Look at the Learning Disabilities Movement in the United States.
Hammill, Donald D.
Journal of Learning Disabilities, v26 n5 p295-310 May 1993
ISSN: 0022-2194
Language: English
Journal Announcement: CIJNOV93
This article describes the development of the learning disability (LD) movement from 1800 to the present. It examines the ideas that contributed to the theoretical basis preceding the formation of the LD movement, legislation and events that established LD as a specific area of study and contributed to its growth, and a glimpse into the future.
Descriptors: *Educational History; Educational Research; Elementary Secondary Education; Federal Legislation; *Foundations of Education; *Futures (of Society); Interdisciplinary Approach; *Learning Disabilities; Theories

ED458756 EC308704
Learning Disabilities: Historical Perspectives. Executive Summary.
Hallahan, Daniel P. and Mercer, Cecil D.
EDRS Price MF01/PC01 Plus Postage.
Availability: http://www.air.org/ldsummit/ .
Sponsoring Agency: EDD00017 Special Education Programs (ED/OSERS), Washington, DC.
Language: English
Document Type: HISTORICAL MATERIALS (060); CONFERENCE PAPERS (150) Geographic Source: U.S.; Virginia
Journal Announcement: RIEAPR2002
Although the federal government's involvement in learning disabilities through task forces, legislation, and funding has been evident only since the 1960s and 1970s, the roots of learning disabilities can be traced back to the early 1800s. Learning disabilities are one of the newest categories officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, but the origins of the concept are long-standing. This paper summarizes a report that investigates the history of learning disabilities and divides this history into five periods: European Foundation Period (1800 to 1920); U.S. Foundation Period (1920 to 1960); Emergent Period (1960 to 1975); Solidification Period (1975 to 1985); and Turbulent Period (1985 to 2000). It argues that during the most recent period, circumstances have solidified the field while several issues have also threatened to tear the field apart. It points out that from 1976-77 to 1998-99, the number of students identified as having a learning disability has doubled to more than 2.8 million, representing just over half of all students with disabilities. Controversies over identification and inclusion are discussed. The paper also discusses research advances that have resulted in breakthroughs in knowledge about how children learn to read and what constitutes effective reading programs.
Descriptors: *Clinical Diagnosis; *Educational History; *Educational Practices; *Educational Trends; *Federal Legislation; *Learning Disabilities; Disability Identification; Elementary Secondary Education; Evaluation Methods; Student Evaluation
Identifiers: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

EJ431345 EC601159
Classic Articles: A Reflection into the Field of Mental Retardation.
Heller, H. William; And Others
Education and Training in Mental Retardation, v26 n2 p202-06 Jun 1991
ISSN: 0013-1237
Language: English
Document Type: JOURNAL ARTICLE (080)
Journal Announcement: CIJJAN92
A panel of 178 leading special educators identified seminal articles in the area of mental retardation. The top 25 articles (dated from 1941 to 1984) were identified and compared to a similar study which identified seminal articles in the broader area of special education with 3 articles appearing on both lists.
Descriptors: *Educational History; Elementary Secondary Education; *Mental Retardation; *Publications; *Special Education

ED326328 PS019271
A Historical Review of Early Intervention.
Kunesh, Linda G.
North Central Regional Educational Lab., Elmhurst, IL. 1990
Sponsoring Agency: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED), Washington, DC.
Contract No: 400-86-0004
Available From: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 295 Emroy Avenue, Elmhurst, IL 60126 (Order Number ECE-903, $4.00).
EDRS Price - MF01 Plus Postage. PC Not Available from EDRS.
Language: English
Document Type: HISTORICAL MATERIAL (060)
Geographic Source: U.S.; Illinois
Journal Announcement: RIEAPR91
The separate yet related fields of early childhood education, compensatory education, and early childhood special education have formed the roots of early intervention. All three fields have contributed to the formation of a rationale for early intervention. This paper traces the history of early intervention. The first section reviews four movements in early childhood education: (1) the kindergarten movement; (2) the Montessori movement; (3) the nursery school movement; and (4) the day care movement. The second section reviews the history of compensatory education pertinent to young children. Early childhood special education is reviewed in the third section. The fourth (and final) section reviews the contributions of selected theorists and researchers that have provided the bases for a rationale for early intervention and have influenced the three fields of education mentioned above. It is argued that the events and individuals discussed have paved the way for what is now considered a "Zeitgeist," that is, the trend of thought and feeling that early intervention is indeed a viable strategy for reducing or eliminating the risk of academic failure for large numbers of children. A list of 173 references is included. Descriptors: Compensatory Education; Day Care; *Early Childhood Education; *Early Intervention; *Educational History; *Educational Theories; Kindergarten; Montessori Method; Nursery Schools; *Special Education; Young Children Identifiers: Montessori Schools; *Research Results

EJ563966 EC618842
Sam Kirk: The Man Who Made Special Education Special.
Minskoff, Esther H.
Learning Disabilities Research and Practice; v13 n1 p15-21 1998
Document Type: JOURNAL ARTICLE (080)
Language: English
This tribute to Samuel Kirk, an early leader in the field of learning disabilities, focuses on his conceptualization of the diagnostic-prescriptive approach and his work on cognitive processing and intra-individual differences. His work is seen as leading to the recognition of the importance of early intervention, the role of process training, and the principle that all children can learn.
Descriptors: *Cognitive Processes; *Cognitive Psychology; *Diagnostic Teaching; *Educational History; *Learning Disabilities; *Special Education; Early Intervention; Elementary Secondary Education
Identifiers: *Kirk (Samuel)

ED396470 EC304849
Special Education Finance: Past, Present, and Future. Policy Paper Number 8.
Parrish, Thomas B.
American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences, Palo Alto, CA. Center for Special Education Finance.
May 1996
Sponsoring Agency: Special Education Programs (ED/OSERS), Washington, DC.
Contract No: H159G20002
EDRS Price - MF01/PC02 Plus Postage. Language: English
Geographic Source: U.S.; California
Journal Announcement: RIENOV96
Target Audience: Policymakers; Administrators; Practitioners
This monograph offers an overview of historical trends in the funding of special education programs, examines current issues, and considers directions for the future. After an introductory section, a section on historical perspectives notes trends in federal and state funding since 1975. A table shows the current funding formulas used by each state. Section 3 discusses federal fiscal policy issues including: census-based funding, fiscal disincentives for least restrictive placements, the "incidental benefit" rule, blended funding and service provision, and poverty adjustment. Section 4 evaluates various interrelated factors driving future fiscal policy at the state level, including: rising enrollments, rising expenditures, restrictiveness resulting from public aid differentials, and lack of program flexibility at the local level. Tables detail enrollment trends and trends in expenditures per student. Section 5 offers a case study of two key features of Florida's funding system--its system of "mainstreaming weights" to allow funding for students in general education classes, and its Exceptional Student Education Finance Program Model which uses a limited set of cost factors based on the severity of student need and the intensity of support required. The final section considers the future of special education finance, noting expected growth and such trends as reduction of incentives for student identification, increased integration across categorical program areas, greater local discretion and parent involvement, needs- based funding systems, and results-based accountability.
Descriptors: *Disabilities; *Educational Finance; *Educational History; Educational Trends; Elementary Secondary Education; Enrollment Trends; Federal Aid; *Financial Policy; Futures (of Society); Government Role; Pilot Projects; School Based Management; *Special Education; State Aid; State Federal Aid; State School District Relationship; *Trend Analysis
Identifiers: Florida; *Funding Formulas; State Policy

EJ538653 UD519859
Approaches to Parent-Teacher Relationships in U.S. Early Childhood Programs during the Twentieth Century.
Powell, Douglas R.; Diamond, Karen E.
Journal of Education, v177 n3 p71-94 1995
Theme issue titled "Early Education and Care in the U.S. during the Twentieth Century."
ISSN: 0022-0574
Language: English
Journal Announcement: CIJJUN97
Examines parent-teacher relationships in early childhood programs, including those for children with disabilities, across five eras of the 20th century. The general approaches have been the earlier tendency to view parents as learners in need of information and the recent trend to involve them in program decision making.
Descriptors: Disabilities; *Early Childhood Education; *Educational History; *Information Needs; Parent Education; Parent School Relationship; *Parent Teacher Cooperation; *Participative Decision Making; Partnerships in Education; Program Implementation

EJ604975 EC624631
Assessment of Young Children with Special Needs: Foundations for Tomorrow.
Fewell, Rebecca R.
Topics in Early Childhood Special Education; v20 n1 p38-42 Spr 2000
Document Type: JOURNAL ARTICLE (080); POSITION PAPER (120)
Language: English
NOTE: Theme Issue: Early Childhood Special Education in a New Century: Voices from the Past, Visions for Our Future.
Journal Announcement: CIJOCT2000
This article begins with the state of assessment of young children with special needs in the 1960s and traces changes through the end of the century. The embrace of multiple assessment measures, including standardized, norm-referenced measures and informal, functional measures is discussed and development of ecologically valid assessments is explained.
Descriptors: *Diagnostic Tests; *Disabilities; Educational History; *Environmental Influences; *Evaluation Methods; *Student Evaluation; Early Childhood Education; Informal Assessment; Performance Based Assessment; Special Needs Students
Identifiers: Functional Assessment

EJ468103 UD517459
The Institutional Genesis of Special Education: The American Case.
Richardson, John G.; Parker, Tara L.
American Journal of Education, v101 n4 p359-92 Aug 1993
ISSN: 0195-6744
Language: English
Journal Announcement: CIJDEC93
Explores the historical context and institutional linkages that contributed to the genesis of special education early in the twentieth century. The conflict between the compulsory attendance mandate and practical aspects of educating everyone is reviewed, and early linkage between special education and the male reformatory is recounted. Descriptors: Access to Education; *Attendance; *Compulsory Education; *Correctional Education; *Educational Development; Educational History; Educational Practices; Elementary Secondary Education; Equal Education; Models; Regular and Special Education Relationship; *Special Education; *United States History

ED351366 TM019185
Historical Trends: State Education Facts, 1969 to 1989.
Grymes, John A.; Harwarth, Irene Baden
National Center for Education Statistics (ED), Washington, DC. Aug 1992
216p.; For first edition, covering 1975-1985, see ED 297 483.
Report No: NCES-92-093
ISBN: 0-16-038002-2
Available From: U.S. Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents, Mail Stop: SSOP, Washington, DC 20402-9328.
EDRS Price - MF01/PC09 Plus Postage.
Language: English
Geographic Source: U.S.; District of Columbia
Journal Announcement: RIEMAR93
Government: Federal
For the second time, the National Center for Education Statistics has prepared a report that brings together comparable data concerning several key education characteristics, by state, region, and outlying area for a consecutive 21-year period. Characteristics examined in this report for public elementary education and secondary education include: (1) enrollment; (2) children with disabilities served under IDEA-B and Chapter 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; (3) regular high school graduates; (4) number of teachers and staff; (5) ratio of pupils to teachers and staff; (6) teacher salaries; and (7) expenditures. In addition to the multiple comparisons, the report presents percentage change comparisons at 20-, 10-, and 5- year intervals. Each of the tables in this publication is combined with two charts that show changes for each state in the 1970s and 1980s. Included are two sections: (1) public elementary education and secondary education (includes 16 tables and 32 charts); and (2) higher education (includes 25 tables and 50 charts). Three appendixes contain tables of data concerning the U.S. population in 1969-89, the estimated school-aged population for 1970-89, and selected price indices; a list of definitions; and a guide to sources.
Descriptors: Charts; Comparative Analysis; Compensatory Education; Disabilities; Educational Finance; *Educational History; Educational Trends; Elementary Secondary Education; *Enrollment; Expenditures; High School Graduates; *National Surveys; *Public Schools; Public School Teachers; *School Statistics; *State Surveys; Tables (Data); Teacher Salaries; Teacher Student Ratio; Trend Analysis

EJ626421 EC627370
Reflections and Perceptions: My Third of a Century in the Field of EBD.
Guetzloe, Eleanor
Preventing School Failure; v45 n2 p65-68 Win 2001
Language: English
Document Type: JOURNAL ARTICLE (080); POSITION PAPER (120)
Note: Featured Topic: The Twenty-First Century: Blueprint for the Future.
Journal Announcement: CIJNOV2001
A professor of special education specializing in students with emotional or behavioral disorders (EBD) reviews her career from 1966 to the present noting the influence of the literature, authorities, and Public Law 94-142. Changes during this time identified include more effective interventions and increasing danger from student weapons. She urges more effective collaboration with other agencies, keeping children with EBD in school, and maintaining sufficient and qualified personnel.
Descriptors: *Disabilities; *Educational History; *Educational Trends; *Personal Narratives; *Special Education; *Trend Analysis; Agency Cooperation; Behavior Disorders; Educational Legislation; Elementary Secondary Education; Emotional Disturbances; Intervention; Staff Role; Violence

EJ650505 EC630496
Mainstreaming to Full Inclusion: From Orthogenesis to Pathogenesis of an Idea.
Kavale, Kenneth A.
International Journal of Disability, Development and Education; v49 n2 p201-14 Jun 2002
Language: English
Note: Special Issue: The Slow Learning Child: 25 Years On.
Journal Announcement: CIJDEC2002
This article traces the trend towards greater integration of students with disabilities into general education from its origins in mainstreaming to the present call for full inclusion. A review of research concludes that the necessary attitudes, accommodations, and adaptations are not yet in place for full inclusion.
Descriptors: *Disabilities; *Educational History; *Inclusive Schools; *Regular and Special Education Relationship; *Social Integration; *Student Placement; Educational Change; Elementary Secondary Education; Federal Legislation; Mainstreaming

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