Studies and Data on Special Education

A variety of resources provide global analysis for policy making in special education. The Special Education Elementary Longitudinal Study (SEELS) was a study of school-age students funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education and was part of the national assessment of the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 97). From 2000 to 2006, SEELS documented the school experiences of a national sample of students as they moved from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school. One important feature of SEELS was that it did not look at students' educational, social, vocational, and personal development at a single point in time. Rather, it was designed to assess change in these areas over time.

Since 1992, the Center for Special Education Finance (CSEF) has addressed fiscal policy issues related to the delivery and support of special education services throughout the United States. CSEF conducted The Special Education Expenditure Project (SEEP) the fourth such project sponsored by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and its predecessor to examine the nation’s spending on special education and related services in the past 40 years. Eight SEEP studies are available on the Web.

IDEA requires that the Department of Education report annually on the progress made toward the provision of a free appropriate public education to all children with disabilities and the provision of early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities. The 27th Annual Report consists of two volumes, and is electronically available.

On October 3, 2001, President George Bush established a temporary Commission on Excellence in Special Education to collect information and study issues related to Federal, State, and local special education programs with the goal of recommending policies for improving the education performance of students with disabilities. The President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education (PCESE) delivered its report to President Bush on July 1, 2002.

Data on the impact of regional special education programs is varied, and some research suggests results depend on how informed administrators are when making decisions regarding mainstreaming or inclusion programs. One study showed considerable benefit from inclusion in a secondary school, with students reporting a disability as an attribute rather than a stigma. Another showed an increase in baseline standardized test scores among students assigned to a resource room, along with special education teachers reporting dissatisfaction with the quality of special education knowledge among general education teachers and a general feeling of isolation among colleagues. Though, at least one group of special education teachers reported satisfaction in this role, noting that it helped them relate to their students. Special education programs, when implemented by qualified professionals and competent administrators, has been shown to lead to long-term positive benefits to communities such as students with special needs able to lead more independent lives, prepared to enter the work force, and develop positive relationships among their peers.