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Education policy in America Research Paper

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One of the similarities between the education policy in England and that in America is their focus on the students who are in the most need of educational assistance, children with disabilities. The United States has distinct policies and legislation that target children with disabilities.

Special education legislation has been a vital part of education policy in the United States since the early 1970s. These policies will be described in this paper, which seeks to explore the first American legislation specifically designed to protect American disabled children in school, namely the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA). This legislation mandated a federal right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).

To obtain federal funding, states had to comply with the EAHCA. The EAHCA included specific eligibility criteria for special education services. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) built on the illegal to discriminate against persons because of their disabilities.

Although a civil rights act, “Section 504 is also used to develop education plans for students who meet the section 504 definition of a disability, rather than an IDEA definition.” Section 504 not only prohibits state departments of education and local school districts from developing policies that limit disabled children from participating in assessments, it also prohibits denying these students the benefits accrued from participating in these assessments, namely promotion to the next grade, and ultimately graduation.


ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act

EAHCA: Education for All Handicapped Children Act

FAPE: free and appropriate public education

IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

IEE: Independent Educational Evaluation

IEP: Individualized Education Program

LRE: least restrictive environment

NRC: National Research Council


With the passage in 1975 of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which is now referred to as the Individual with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA, what was previously a collage of programs for students with disabilities began transformation into an actual national system of services.

In the period between 1993 and 1994, there were enrolments of 5.37 million students and an estimated national expenditure in excess of $32 billion for the development and full implementation of special education programs and related services for students with disabilities. This marked the biggest undertaking by K-12 education in over 20 years, since about 40% of the education budget was directed to special education from 1967 to 1991.

Although protection for students with disabilities continues to be enhanced through the passage of such legislation as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, the substantial student growth and new investments in special education programs have also led to heightened levels of public scrutiny (Parrish, 1996).

The current era of competitive budget slashing whereby governors, federal legislators, and presidential candidates continuously engage in declaration battles of proposed cuts in various programs in the public sector is not new to the fiscal policies in relation to special education were facing increased public attention.

Concerns with the costs and financing of special education have received extensive national publicity over the past several years through prominent outlets such as well known blogs and newspaper columnists.

In addition to issues related to special education costs, other policy issues, such as increased emphasis on placing special education students in general education classrooms and the need for greater fiscal flexibility in relation to local program design, have resulted in exceptional fiscal reform activity in special education. This paper aims at providing a brief overview of the special education programs, with particular interest in the effect of IDEA on children with autism (Chaikind, Danielson, & Brauen, 1993).


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the primary federal legislation that addresses educational needs of children with disabilities, including autism. According to previous research, there are over 1.5 million people in America living with a particular kind of autism disorder, with about one tenth of them being children. This is an indication of the urgency with which there has been an increasing concern with the education of autistic children.

Children with autism or any other disability rely on the IDEA to formulate polices that will seek to tackle the unique issues that they encounter.

According to the act, all children with disabilities should be provided with the right kind of free public education. In addition to this, the act demands that all disabled students be included in the individualized education program (IEP), in programs that involve academic assessments, both at the district and state level. Another factor that the act demands is the positioning of students in an environment that does not imit their growth, but instead seeks to augment their adaptability (Putnam, Spiegel, & Bruininks, 1995).

Literature Review

There is an intersection between NCLB and the educational disability policies, and a divergence of opinion, as to whether the expectations established in NCLB yield positive or negative results for students with disabilities. While it is vital to uphold high expectations for students with disabilities, the bar that has been set by NCLB and the high stakes testing movement is unrealistic and unfair, leaving students with disabilities “behind” by further stigmatizing them.

The policy outlines that NCLB affects students with disabilities. To start with, students with disabilities ought to be taught the general education curriculum by highly qualified teachers using research-based strategies. Secondly, students with disabilities are expected to learn challenging academic content.

Thirdly, the students with very few exceptions are expected to take and pass the grade level State tests. And lastly, the test scores of students must be reported and must be counted in school and district ratings. According to the objectives indicated above, it is clear that the special education mantra that ‘All Children Can Learn’ has been changed to ‘All Children Can Learn to High Standards (Ohio, 1994).’

As part of NCLB, there are state-wide evaluations that need to be performed. High school exit exams have become a major part of the accountability culture, and have developed in tandem with NCLB. “For states using high stakes testing, the test becomes both the state’s exit requirement for students and the state’s assessment instrument measuring NCLB’s students’ annual yearly progress” (Ohio, 1994).

High school exit exams are extremely important, because they determine whether a student will graduate from high school. High stakes assessments often unfairly discriminate against students with disabilities. This is because a majority of school districts fail to provide disabled children with early, intensive remediation.

Children with special educational needs are also not taught the skills they must master to pass these tests. When students fail, they are either not promoted or kept from graduating from school” (Ohio, 1994). While high stakes tests arguably pose a problem for all students, for students with disabilities these tests are discriminatory.

The very laws that were designed to protect disabled children are not accomplishing their purpose. The Department of Education recently addressed this inequity, by providing more flexibility for educators in providing modifications and alternate assessments for students with disabilities (Ohio, 1994).

Under IDEA and section 504, accommodations and alternate assessment systems must be made available to disabled students. The interplay between high stakes testing and special education comes to a head when the subject of modification or exemption is addressed. Under IDEA, the

IEP team determines what accommodations must be made for students with disabilities so that they can participate in the assessments across the state. Litigation regarding disability testing has been filed in numerous states, with some states such as Alsaka, recording victories for the students with disabilities In other states, the claims of students with disabilities have been set aside. However, the fact that this issue has been litigated, illustrates that this is an area of the law that is far from settled.

Policies determining the placement of a child

Placement decisions are governed by the least restrictive environment (LRE) legal requirement. Decisions to place a child in a more restrictive environment should only be made after considering and determining that less restrictive environments with special education, related services and other supports cannot meet the student’s needs. Students should not be placed in environments that are more restrictive than necessary to meet their educational needs.

Placements for students with disabilities should be in the school they would attend if nondisabled or as close to their home as possible. These decisions are made by a team of people, including District personnel, the parents, the child, if appropriate, and others when appropriate who meet to develop a written individualized education program (IEP).

The purpose of an IEP meeting is to bring together, in a collaborative and problem-solving manner, those persons with knowledge of and responsibility for the child’s educational needs to determine what is appropriate to meet the student’s needs. Every effort should be made to reach agreement, keeping the child’s needs in mind.

It is appropriate for the team to agree to implement those areas where there is agreement and/or to implement the IEP for an agreed upon period of time. Either the parent(s) or District staff may request that the matter be resolved through District informal dispute resolution, State mediation, or State due process hearing with option for mediation.

State Special Education Finance Issues

There are many issues affecting the federal fiscal policy that are prominent in the states, where a number of interrelated factors appear to be driving future fiscal policy. The first is rising enrolments of students in the special education services, which has resulted in an increase in the level of scrutiny of special education programs due to the high expenditure and frequency of demand.

Some of this growth is driven by rapidly expanding preschool enrolments, as well as the recent growth in special education for the birth- through- 2 populations through the relatively newly authorized federal Part H program for infants and toddlers. There are also increasing expenditures to match the growth in special education enrolment. The third concern is the restrictiveness resulting from public aid differentials.

These issues are coupled with the expressed need for greater flexibility in the use of special education funds being heard from many district-level administrators. Although the IDEA clearly calls for services to be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate, large disparities in the percentages of special education students in general education classrooms are observed across the states.

The fourth concern is with regard to the lack of program flexibility at the local level. The need for greater flexibility at the local level is a major issue for future state reform. Some states are incapable to use special education funds to support certain types of instructional interventions outside of separate special education programs or classes, or in some cases entirely outside any form of special education (Ohio, 1994).

The Special Education Process

Since the needs of each student with a disability are unique, special education policies and procedures set forth a process to determine a child’s FAPE. The first step in the process involves a written request for a special education assessment that is made by a parent or school staff member.

This is followed by the development of a special education assessment plan. The parent is then provided with the special education assessment plan within 15 calendar days of receipt of request, in order to provide their approval and return it for assessment and preparation of a report. An IEP meeting is then scheduled and team members later notified within 10 days prior to the scheduled date of the meeting, which is held within 60 calendar days of receipt of the signed special education assessment plan.

The IEP is implemented immediately, and the parent is provided reports on student’s progress as often as parents of general education peers are provided reports on student progress. IEP meeting is held to review its appropriateness within one year of the previous IEP meeting (Chaikind, Danielson, & Brauen, 1993).


Chaikind, S., Danielson, L. C., & Brauen, M. L. (1993). What do we know about the costs of special education: A selected review. The Journal of Special Education , 26(4), 344-370.

Ohio, D. v. (1994). Feds eye major changes to IDEA. The Special Educator , 10(13), 206-207.

Parrish, T. B. (1996). Special Education Finance: Past, Present, and Future. Palo Alto, CA: Center for Special Education Finance.

Putnam, J. W., Spiegel, A. N., & Bruininks, R. H. (1995). Future directions in education and inclusion of students with disabilities: A Delphi investigation. Exceptional Children , 61(6), 553-576.

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