The Neutralization of Special Education, Revisited
Neutralize-To counteract, nullify, or destroy the force, influence, effect, etc., of; render ineffective.
By most accounts, special education has made good progress in the past 40 years. Not that long ago, access to an appropriate educational opportunity was the primary issue for many children with disabilities, particularly those whose disabilities were severe. Today, all children with disabilities receive special education and related services. Some children benefit from a special education that includes curricular elements and instructional technologies that were unavailable just a few years ago, and increasing numbers of students with disabilities are included in general education classrooms. While special education can rightfully be proud of its accomplishments, the educational outcomes for many students with disabilities are disappointing. As a group, students with disabilities fare poorly on virtually every measure of academic achievement and social adaptation. Of special concern are the post-school adjustment outcomes for young adults with disabilities (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996; Frank & Sitlington, 2000). We believe that these poor outcomes for students with disabilities reflect not so much the field’s lack of knowledge about how to teach these students, as they are testament to education’s collective failure to systematically implement available knowledge. We believe that implementation of research-based teaching practices is hampered in part by widely held beliefs about the nature of teaching and learning that support incompatible and weak instructional practices. As a result, many children with disabilities are receiving a special education that is not nearly as effective as it could be. In essence, the potential effectiveness of the special education received by many of the more than six million children who participate in special education today is neutralized by the presence of weak approaches that are selected on the basis of ideology instead of research results.