ERIC Identifier: ED308686
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and
Gifted Children Reston VA.
Delivering Special Education: Statistics and Trends. ERIC
In 1975, when the U.S. Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped
Children Act (EHA) guaranteeing a free and appropriate education to all children
in the United States between the ages of 3 and 21, it was estimated that more
than 8 million handicapped children would need services. This digest presents
the most recent statistics regarding who is being served, how that population is
changing, and what trends are affecting special education today.
HOW ARE HANDICAPPED CHILDREN DEFINED FOR PURPOSES OF THIS
Handicapped children are defined by the Act as mentally retarded, hard
of hearing, deaf, orthopedically impaired, other health impaired, speech and
language impaired, visually handicapped, seriously emotionally disturbed, or
children with specific learning disabilities who, by reason thereof, require
special education and related services. (20 U.S.C. 1401 [a]). This definition
establishes a two-pronged criterion for determining child eligibility under the
Act. The first is whether the child actually has one or more of the disabilities
listed. The second is whether the child requires special education and related
services. Not all children who have a disability require special education; many
are able to and should attend school without any program modification.
WHO ARE THE STUDENTS SERVED?
According to the Tenth Annual
Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Education of the Handicapped Act
(1988), 4,421,601 children with handicaps were served during the 1986-1987
school year. Of these, 94.2% were served under EHA. This was an increase of 1.2%
over the 1985-1986 data. The number and percentage of each handicapping
condition served under Chapter 1 of the Education and Consolidation Improvement
Act--State Operated Programs (ECIA-SOP) and EHA Part B are shown in the
The most significant changes from the 1985-1986 school year were a 2.9%
increase (53,758) in students with learning disabilities, a 10.8% increase
(9,715) in children who were multiply handicapped, a 9.4% decrease (-5,484) in
children with other health impairments, a 3.2% decrease (-21,553) in children
with mental retardation, and a 17.2% decrease (-366) in children who were deaf
HANDICAPPING CONDITION, NUMBER, PERCENTAGE
Disabled, 1,926,097, 43.60%;
Speech or Language Impaired, 1,140,422, 25.80%;
Mentally Retarded, 664,424, 15.00%;
Emotionally Disturbed, 384,680, 8.70%;
Multihandicapped, 99,416, 2.20%;
Hard of Hearing and Deaf, 66,761, 1.50%;
Orthopedically Impaired, 58,328, 1.30%;
Other Health Impaired, 52,658, 1.20%;
Visually Handicapped, 27,049, .61%;
Deaf-Blind, 1,766, .04%.
WHERE ARE THESE STUDENTS RECEIVING THEIR SPECIAL
During the 1985-1986 school year, the majority of children and
youth with handicaps received special education and related services in settings
with nonhandicapped students. Over 26% received special education primarily in
regular classes. An additional 41% received special education and related
services primarily in resource rooms, while 24% received special education and
related services in separate classes within a regular education building. These
three settings accounted for over 92% of the placements; thus, most students
with handicaps were being educated in buildings with their nonhandicapped peers.
The remaining children and youth were educated in public separate day school
facilities (3.8%), private separate day school facilities (1.6%), public
residential facilities (1.0%), private residential facilities (0.4%),
correctional facilities (0.3%), and homebound or hospital environments (0.8%).
HOW MANY TEACHERS ARE NEEDED?
During 1985-1986, 291,954
special education teachers reportedly served children with handicaps. This was
an increase of 6% over the 1984-1985 school year. Furthermore, an additional
27,474 teachers were needed to fill vacancies, especially in the areas of
learning disabilities, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, and speech or
language disabilities. These four categories accounted for 87% of all teachers
needed. Approximately 10% of the teachers were needed for the categories of
other health impaired, hard of hearing and deaf, multihandicapped,
orthopedically impaired, visually handicapped, and deaf-blind.
WHAT STUDENTS WITH HANDICAPS ARE DROPPING OUT?
Special Education Programs data for the 1985-1986 school year showed that 56,156
handicapped students aged 16 through 21 dropped out of high school before
completing their education, at an average of 321 students a day. This number
represented about 26% of the total existing population of handicapped students.
The figure reflects an estimate of those who were actually known to have dropped
out and does not include youth who simply stopped coming to school or whose
status was unknown.
Age data for students with handicaps who drop out of high school show that
75% of those accounted for are dropping out between the ages of 16 and 18, at a
rate of a quarter of the population per year. The remaining 25% drop out between
the ages of 19 and 21. Students with learning disabilities are more inclined to
drop out of school than those from other disability groups; 26,644 such students
dropped out of school during the 1985-86 school year. Taken together, the number
of students with emotional disturbances and mental retardation who drop out
approximately equals the number of students with learning disabilities who drop
WHAT ARE THE TRENDS IN SPECIAL EDUCATION TODAY?
important trends are apparent in special education today. First, children with
handicaps are receiving special education services earlier. This trend reflects
a recognition that a child's ability to learn in school depends on skills he or
she learned as a toddler, for example, communicating with others or exploring
the environment. Since handicaps can delay the acquisition of these skills,
early special education is needed to provide a foundation for future learning.
To identify these young children and treat their disabilities, special educators
are working closely with hospitals, medical personnel, therapists, and social
workers. Family services are being provided to help parents understand their
child's handicap and its treatment, and preschool education is being provided in
homes and preschool educational centers. For many children, early educational
treatment of handicapping conditions can reduce or eliminate the need for
intensive special services later.
Second, although in the past many people with handicaps were considered
unable to contribute to society through gainful employment, today it is
recognized that even individuals with severe handicaps are willing and able to
work. Schools are assessing the abilities and talents of students with handicaps
and matching these abilities with potential occupations. More training in
vocational skills is being provided to students with handicaps, and programs are
being provided to assist them in the transition from school to community life
It is likely that emphasis on serving the needs of exceptional children will
continue and the information derived from current research will improve special
educational services even more in the future.
Ballard, J., Ramirez, B., & Zantal-Wiener, K. (1987). P.L. 94-142, Section 504, and P.L. 99-457. Understanding what they are and are not. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children. Jordan, J. B. (1988).
1988 special education yearbook. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
Part B (P.L. 94-142) of The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, Title 20 of the United States Code, Sections 1400-1420. Tenth annual
report to Congress on the implementation of the Education of the Handicapped Act 1988. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.