The Council of State Governments

In 1971, the Council of State Governments adopted the statute; a connection was established and common ground for special education policy was now in place. The statute developed closely modeled what would become PL 94-142 and facilitated the passage of the law (Crockett and Kauffinan, 1999, pp. 55-56). Civil rights attorney, Tom Gilhool, the salesperson, represented PARC and provided legal insights that forged a consent agreement with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that gave rise to the notion of a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities and the least restrictive environment preference.

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), enacted in 1975, but not in effect until 1977, has brought a world of change to the activities of our schools, and most particularly to the lives of children with intellectual challenges and their families. It codifies Mills and PARC, and moves well beyond the cases in the rights it affords to intellectually challenged students. Both of these cases involved the exclusion of hard-to-handle challenged students. The Mills case, in particular, demonstrated the extent to which schools used disciplinary measures to bar children from the classroom.

There, school officials had labeled four of the seven minor students’ behavioral problems, and had excluded them from classes without providing any alternative education for them or any notice to their parents. Moreover, these legislative and social environments formed solid basis under today’s school reform movements. Such issues like testing and disabilities in special education which are declared by No Child Left Behind Act and IDEA are extensively debated now. The NCLB requires schools to disaggregate data, including students with disabilities as a subgroup.

This increased scrutiny of the performance of students with disabilities as a group is a move away from the individualization of programming that was the foundation of the IDEA since its enactment. The purpose of the IDEA has evolved to providing meaningful access to the general education programs for students with disabilities, a purpose that is being met by the Act. NCLB requires the general education programs include in their reporting, and as such in their thinking and planning, the results of students with disabilities. The question of the adequacy of the programs established for students with disabilities is more complex.

Those who feel that the programs are not adequate point to the number of states out of compliance, disproportionate representation of minority and gender groups, and limited adult outcomes for students with disabilities. Others point to the success of the programs instituted under IDEA in terms of rising graduation rates with corresponding decreases in the dropout rate for students with disabilities, increased participation in statewide testing programs, and increased the numbers of students with disabilities attending college after graduation.

The continuing debate is evidence of effectiveness of the IDEA. In 1975, it would have been difficult to imagine the complexity of special education and related service programs available to students with disabilities that exist today. The additions of provisions, such as assistive technology, transition services, and inclusion in statewide accountability measures, have brought meaningful access to the general education curriculum to students with disabilities.

And the issues raised in 50s a 70s are moral, historical and psychological backgrounds to reform activism in special education. School reform movements take their advantage of and keep to the beaten track of Special Education Law enactment.


Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U. S. 483 (1954). Crockett, J. B. , & Kauffinan, J. M. (1999). The least restrictive environment: Its origins and interpretations in special education. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Cookson, P. W. (1995). Goals 2000: Framework for the new educational federalism. Teachers College Record. 96. 3, 405-417.