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IDEA: Core Concepts & Highlights

When Congress enacted the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA-97), they issued a "wake up call" to school boards and school administrators -- improve special education outcomes!

Special education is "a service for children, not a place where they are sent."

Core Concepts

IDEA-97 emphasizes three core concepts:

(1) the involvement and progress of each child with a disability in the general curriculum including addressing the unique needs that arise out of the child’s disability;


(2) the involvement of parents and students, together with regular and special education personnel, in making individual decisions to support each student’s educational success, and

(3) the preparation of students with disabilities for employment and other post-school activities.

Highlights of IDEA-97

Here are some highlights of IDEA 97 -

  • Schools Must Use Effective Practices and Research-Based Methods
  • Schools Must Use Effective Early Intervention Techniques
  • Roles of Parents and Teachers Strengthened
  • IEPs Must Have "Measurable Annual Goals" to Monitor the Child’s Progress
  • Parent Must Be Included in All Decisions About Evaluations, Eligibility, IEPs, Placement
  • Parent’s Concerns and Information Must be Considered in Developing IEPs
  • Parent Must Be Advised About Child’s Progress or Lack of Progress Toward IEP Goals
  • Regular Education Teachers Are Members of the IEP Team
  • Children with Disabilities Will Be Integrated into Regular Education Classes
  • Children with Disabilities Will Be Involved in the General Curriculum

Before IDEA-97 was enacted, special education often focused on "school issues" - teaching children to conform to school rules and learning what is expected of them in the student role.

Is this the purpose of special education?
Not according to IDEA 97.

Findings and Purposes

Congress found that "Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities." (20 U.S.C. Section 1400(c). (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, p. 19)

Congress also found that special education has been "impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities." More than 20 years of research has demonstrated that special education can be more effective by:

  • having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general curriculum to the maximum extent possible
  • strengthening the role of parents and ensuring that families have meaningful opportunities to participate in their children's education at school and at home
  • ensuring that children benefit from education and that special education can become a service for children, not a place where they are sent
  • providing special education and related services and aids and supports in the regular classroom whenever appropriate
  • ensuring that all personnel who work with children have skills and knowledge and receive high-quality, intensive professional development
  • providing pre-referral interventions to reduce the need to label children as disabled in order to provide services (20 U.S.C. Section 1400(c)(5). (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, p.20-21)

Children must be taught basic reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic skills so they can work, continue their education, and live independently.

IDEA 97 requires schools to provide transition services so children will be prepared for life after school.

Note: The citations in this article are from Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, published in 1999 by Harbor House Law Press.

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