History and Frequency of Special Education

by Lynell Nissley


Conservative Anabaptist schools bless many communities.  It is common for the average student in a private school to succeed academically beyond his average public-school peers.  At times, however, private schools need to humbly learn from public schools. The world of the exceptional learner is an obvious example.

Public Schools and IDEA

Public special education has evolved dramatically during the last generation.  Before 1975, public schools only accommodated 1 out 5 children with disabilities.[1]  Some students were institutionalized, and others simply were not allowed to attend school.  That changed in 1975 with the first version of what later became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  IDEA placed the burden on the schools to provide students with disabilities an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that allows them to access a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) within the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

Since then, there has been a significant growth in the number of students receiving special education, the awareness of disabilities, the understanding of disabilities, and the resources available to help these students.  In 1976-77, 8.3% of students were receiving special education. By 2000-01, this had grown to 13.3% of students.  Since 2000, the total numbers have stabilized and even dropped slightly to 12.9% in 2013-14.[2]

Educational Disability Categories

IDEA defined thirteen conditions under which a student could receive special education services.  The graph below illustrates most of these categories and the percent of students receiving services under each category.

IDEA is a federal law. However, each state specifies the details of how a child qualifies for special education in that state. In many states, students receive public special education services when they qualify based on these categories.  There are a few states that have added or renamed some of these categories, so you may hear different labels if you work with a school psychologist in your state.

Lessons for the Anabaptist Schools

Christians should be the biggest champions for acceptance of individuals with disabilities. “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col 3:11 ESV)  Acceptance involves loving these students as they are, and then doing everything we can to help promote their maximum growth.  Acceptance is never throwing up our hands and saying, “Oh well, that’s just how he/she is.”  Praise the Lord, God never does that with us.  Instead, He redeems us and challenges us and loves us and provides continual opportunities for growth.  We must do the same with our students.

Within our private schools, the representation of certain disabilities may vary.  For instance, some students with intellectual disabilities, autism, or multiple disabilities may attend public schools or specialized private schools.  Other categories, like emotional disturbance, may not be as common due to generally better home lives and less trauma exposure than children in public schools.  But for many of the categories—specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairment, other health impairment, developmental delay—our schools theoretically should encounter approximately the same percentages of difficulties.   Those four categories make up 9.6% of students in the public schools, which means approximately 1 out of every 10 students you encounter will need a significant level of support for some reason.

Are your eyes open and aware to which students need extra support?  For the sake of the next generation, please learn all you can about learning disabilities and find the resources your students need!

Previous posts by Lynelle about dyslexia:

Myths about Dyslexia

What is Dyslexia?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individuals_with_Disabilities_Education_Act

[2] https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=64

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