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The State of Special Education

New to special education? Here's a primer.


Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act is passed. US government mandates special education.

6.7 Million

The number of special education students served in public district and charter schools throughout the United States. 13% of the student population.


The number of disability categories for which students can qualify for support — from ADHD and Dyslexia, to Autism and Down Syndrome, to Lupus and Depression.


Students are evaluated by a school psychologist and a special education teacher to determine if disabilities affect academic performance. If so, students are re-tested every 3 years to assess eligibility.

Individual Education Plan (IEP)

Every student with special eduction services has a personalized learning plan that is updated each year by their special education teacher.

Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

The term used to describe the mandate that all students must be educated in the 'best' possible setting.

"I was in hell, or its equivalent. Specifically, I was in an IEP meeting for my 14-year-old daughter..." — Tracy Thompson, Parent, The Atlantic, 2016

Public School vs Private School

  • Public schools are mandated to provide special education to all students, as they receive federal funding.

  • Private schools do not receive federal funding and thus, are not required to provide special education supports.

  • Some private schools, however, are specifically designed for students with learning disabilities.

88% of School Administrators

The percentage of school leaders who reported not having training as a special education teacher in a survey completed in California

Transition Plan: 16 Years Old

The age when special education teachers must create transition plans for post-high-school needs, including goals for jobs and/or college or independent living.

"It was a full time job advocating for [my son]." — Chris Bradley

63% of students

The percentage of special education students in general education classrooms for 80% or more of their school day.


The first year California credentialing programs started mandating that special education content be included in general education training.

IEP Team

Student, Parents, Special Education Teacher, General Education Teachers, School Administration, Service Providers (Occupational, Speech, Physical Therapists, Counselor, and more - as needed)


During the 2015-2016 school year there was just 1 special education teacher for every 17 students with qualifying disabilities.

"Special educators often feel they don't have enough support from administrators and colleagues. They also say they don't have the tools they need to do their jobs, or the physical space to do it." — Bonnie Billingsley, Virginia Tech, Professor of Education, 2019

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