In addition, many states and districts are changing their style of teaching and the materials they use with students, trading in traditional text-heavy materials for those created with the “universal design for learning” philosophy. According to the National Center on Universal Design for Learning, UDL “provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone—not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.”
Although parents often play an important role in securing special education services for their children, much of the responsibility of helping students with disabilities succeed in the classroom falls to teachers. No Child Left Behind and IDEA require special education teachers to be “highly qualified” in special education as well as in the subjects they teach. General educators, who typically have more experience teaching a specific subject area, must be able to work effectively with students with special needs, but they are not required to be highly qualified to teach students with disabilities.
A critical issue facing states is the need for more federal dollars for special education. They note that the 1975 law authorized federal funding of “up to 40 percent” of the national average of per-pupil expenditures—and lawmakers and educators commonly refer to the 40 percent target as “full funding.” In 2011, federal funding accounted for about 16.5 percent of public education spending on students with disabilities.
At the state level, regardless of the level of funding from the federal government or the condition of their own budgets, states must spend the same or more each year on special education to insulate students with disabilities from the political and economic vagaries of budgetary cycles. In recent years several states have asked the federal Education Department to waive this requirement, and some have been...