Educating children with disabilities is among the most challenging—and emotionally fraught—pieces of the public school system’s mission. Against a backdrop of legal mandates and complex interactions with parents, special educators must deliver a “free and appropriate public education” that satisfies both the paperwork requirements of federal law and the specialized needs of vulnerable students.
It’s no small task. Students with disabilities number over 6 million nationwide and make up about 13 percent of the overall school population. The federal government alone spends over $12 billion a year on special education programming. And while statistics are both dated and hard to come by, states and school districts are believed to spend at least twice as much of their own money on students with disabilities.
Much of the discussion around special education focuses on long-running disputes over regulations, funding, and legal due process. This special report takes a different tack, focusing on the schoolhouse level, with an eye toward the experience of educators and students alike.
Education Week‘s journalists and researchers examine the crucial supply pipeline for special education teachers, a field where shortages and staffing pressures can affect morale and effectiveness.
We profile the key role of collaboration in classrooms where co-teaching strategies put specialists and grade-level teachers together in complementary teams.
We unpack the delicate relationship between parents and school administrators, which can enhance—or inhibit—the quality of education received by needy students.
We discuss the growing role of technology in providing specialized tools for the classroom and in connecting parents to online resources and community support.
And we highlight the voices of students who offer critical insights into how the special education system has helped, or fallen short, in preparing them on the path toward college and careers.
For additional data and highlights about the state of special education nationally, look for the magnifying glass icon throughout this report.
—Mark W. Bomster,
Executive Project Editor
A version of this article appeared in the December 05, 2018 edition of Education Week as Special Education: Practice & Pitfalls