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In order to be fully included in the educational process and to reduce barriers to learning, parents of a child with Cerebral Palsy work closely with the educators in the special education program to optimize their child’s potential for lifelong learning. Understanding the value of education and the purpose of special education provides the basis for collaboration.
Measuring the value of education
Most anyone with school children has been, or will be, asked, “Why do I have to learn all this stuff that I’ll never use?”
“Because I said so,” may not be the best response.
Helping children understand the impact that an education will have on every aspect of their adult lives may suffice and trigger more studying. It’s especially important for children with Cerebral Palsy to understand because they generally have to work harder to reach their highest learning potential.
Fortunately, educators and lawmakers are working together to ensure that all children receive equal access to all that public education has to offer.
So, what is the value of education, you ask?
The short answer: Researchers, educators, lawmakers and civil rights leaders say it’s the key to success, happiness, health and peace.
According to the Global Partnership for Education, “Education is one of the most important investments a country can make in its people and its future.’’
The world organization also says that education provides critical skills and tools to:
- Provide a standard of living
- Attain employment
- Fight the spread of diseases
- Reduce mother and child mortality
- Advance technology
- Create a greener planets
- Make the world a better place
The results are limitless. Educated minds bring great value to the communities in which they live and the industries in which they serve.
Brief history of education
The educational system has roots in ancient times – about 3500 BC – as evidenced by the first known hieroglyphic alphabet.
During the mid-1800s, public education took a front row seat in the political arena thanks to Horace Mann, a state senate president, of Franklin, Mass.
Mann saw value in giving equal education opportunities to everyone. He said learning was a way to increase wealth of individuals, communities, the state and the country, as a whole.
He spearheaded the formation of the first state board of education and established training institutes for teachers. He also extended the school year and gathered support to build schools, purchase books and pay teachers.
Mann was at the forefront of the compulsory school attendance model that required all children to attend school. Its passage in Massachusetts in 1852 inspired other states to adopt similar models. Mississippi was the last state to get on board in 1917. Since then, the government has maintained a lead role in the creation of the public education system we now have.
The nation’s most sweeping education law, the Elementary and Secondary Act – better known as No Child Left Behind – passed in 1965. The promise: To set a high bar for all students and to protect the most vulnerable.
While the federal government does not regulate how or what states and schools teach, it is responsible for ensuring that all students get the tools necessary to prepare them for the real world.
“History shows that without some kind of accountability, states and districts do not always meet the needs of the most vulnerable students,’’ wrote US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in an Washington Post editorial.
Today, every child has the right to a free public education. In fact, compulsory education standards require that all children go to school. Ages vary by state as to when a child should start school and graduate. Most range in age from 6 to 18.
Parents who don’t make their child attend can be fined or given community service or jail time, depending on individual circumstances.
The introduction of special education
It wasn’t until the 1960’s when President John F. Kennedy took office that the government took a strong stance on special education. Prior to Kennedy’s push, special education was considered by many to be taboo. Children who had even mild disabilities were often untreated and ignored by society, in general. Many were sent to institutions to live in segregation.
Kennedy’s urging led to the creation of special education laws, including two landmark civil rights decisions that protect the rights of people with disabilities.
The first was the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, adopted in 1975. This legislation later developed into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, or IDEA. In short, the legislation requires that all public schools provide equal access to education for children with disabilities. In addition, educators must provide an educational plan with parent input that matches as closely as possible to the educational experience of the general student population.
More recent revisions require that the progress of students in special education programs be measured against their attainment of new state academic standards – the same standards required of the general student population.
The second landmark decision was the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or ADA, which assures citizens with disabilities receive full participation in nearly all segments of society – at school, in the work environment, in public forums, and out in the community.
What is special education?
The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities defines special education as follows:
“Special education is instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. This means education that is developed to address that child’s specific needs in order to achieve his or her highest learning potential. Since each child is unique, it is difficult to give a sweeping example of special education. It is individualized for each child. It can consist of early intervention programs to identify specific needs related to physical abilities and educational challenges, evaluations, adaptive techniques and tools to enhance those abilities, transition plans and guidance throughout the process.
An Individualized Education Evaluation, or IEE, is first performed to evaluate a child for special education program eligibility. Special education laws include guidelines that teachers, parents and students must follow so that each eligible child has a specific plan, called an Individualized Education Plan or IEP, in place.
The purpose of the IEP is to identify specific learning challenges and establish a plan to address the student’s unique needs. The goal is to provide the child an opportunity to learn in the the least restrictive environment so they can ultimately thrive to the best of their ability when transitioned into adulthood. The process allows students with disabilities to remain in public school until they reach the age of 21 years.
Parents are equal partners with educators and specialists (i.e., medical providers, psychologists, occupational and physical therapists) in creating and implementing what will become the blueprint that focuses on educational needs and the tools that will be provided throughout secondary and high school.
The value of special education
Like general education, special education opens doors to all possibilities. With specially-designed instruction that utilizes adaptive devices, benchmarks, supplementary aids and services, program modifications, peer-involved learning environments and progress evaluations, children with disabilities can become adults who pursue degrees, attain careers, achieve goals and set records.
The collaboration between general and special education
Throughout the last decade, nearly every state has implemented standard-based reforms so that all students – including students with disabilities – are held to high standards of learning. The Individuals with Disabilities Act explicitly stresses the importance of providing access to the general curriculum, so that students with disabilities can meet the educational standards that apply to his or her peers. The preferable environment to learn is the general curriculum classroom. However, educators do have other options that include special or contained classrooms for those with disabilities that require personal attention, individualized instruction, or technical assistance, if even for a portion of the school day.
Additionally, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires that all school children, including individuals with disabilities, reach or exceed minimum proficiency on state academic standards and assessments.
The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition in 2003 reported that general education and special education teachers were starting to work together to develop better initiatives among the entire array of instructional services.
The benefits of general classroom exposure
The list of education benefits for children with disabilities is long, according to Kids Together, Inc., a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “promote inclusive communities where all people belong.” It includes:
- Increased social initiations, relationships and networks
- Peer role models for academic, social and behavior skills
- Increased achievement of IEP goals
- Greater access to general curriculum
- Enhanced skills
- Increased inclusion in future environments
- Higher expectations
- Increased parent participation
Research also shows that children without disabilities receive similar benefits when participating in an inclusive environment. In addition to the benefits above, students without disabilities have an increased appreciation and acceptance of individual differences, a better understanding and acceptance of diversity, and are well-prepared for adult life in an inclusive society.
Every child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Some children require aids and supports. Parents are urged to research and meet with educators in the public and private sectors to decide the appropriate education path to meet their child’s needs.
About Special Education
- The Value of Education
- Special Education Legislation
- Special Education Options
- Eligibility for Special Education
- Special Education Assessments
- Special Education Planning Team
- Special Education Services
- Types of Special Education Plans
- School Transitions
- Dispute Resolution
- School Nutrition Programs
- Adaptive Sports in the Public School System