Educational Policy: Practical Implementation of Education Legislation

Article excerpt

Public education in the United States has undergone profound fundamental changes in scope and focus over the past 40 years. Social, political, and professional influences that drive these changes interact in an interdependent manner to both shape and reflect one another. Of particular relevance are issues related to the integration (or segregation) of individuals with disabilities within society at large, the degree to which schools are held responsible for providing an education to all children, expectations for the nature and quality of that education, our nation's changing demographics, and changes in education-related professions. It is only by understanding the framework of these changes that we can move from past practice patterns to those that reflect current legislation, research, and best practice.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 is actually the latest in a string of reauthorizations of the Elementary and secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. ESEA was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson as one of his offensives in the war against poverty in the sixties. This law provided substantial monetary funds for K-12 general education to schools serving children from lowincome families. Today, NCLB is still designed to provide education to children who are economically disadvantaged but it also includes a broader commitment to accountability, standards, and teacher quality to facilitate high standards for and academic achievement of all children by the year 2014. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 is the most recent reauthorization of the Education of All Handicapped Children (EHA) Act of 1975, Public Law 94-142, signed into law by President Gerald Ford. Prior to enactment of this special education legislation, 3.5 million of our nation's children with disabilities did not receive an appropriate public education, and one million children with disabilities were not allowed to attend school at all because their disability was regarded as a barrier to free appropriate public education (FARE) (President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). Now, 6.8 million students with disabilities, ages 3-21, receive FARE in the least restrictive environment (LRE) (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). These two pieces of education legislation form the backbone of how we practice the art and business of education in America's public schools.

During our progression as a nation and world leader, we have moved from an agricultural, to an industrial, to an information processing society. Information processing requires knowledge and technology which in turn require high standards for educating our nation's children. As a nation, we pride ourselves on the strength of our convictions for freedom for all people to live, work, and play in their communities, and on the democratic government that ensures this freedom. The health of this democracy is nurtured by an educated workforce who can provide the skills and knowledge needed by corporate, manufacturing, and service industries to keep the economy strong. This same educated workforce makes decisions about elected leaders who develop policy and design legislation that affect everything we do. Our educated workforce consists of all people-all races, ethnicities, languages, and learning abilities. Our education laws, both general education (NCLB) and special education (IDEA), generate the members of this workforce. Today, our education laws require education implemented with high expectations and high standards for all children-because we believe that all children can learn, and that all children can grow to adulthood to join the ranks of our educated workforce.

In this issue of Perspectives on Language and Literacy, you will learn about legislation that can provide the framework for you to improve your practice in order to improve the academic achievement of the students you serve. The articles are written from a variety of professional perspectives that run the gamut from policy to implementation, and ensure relevance and application to a wide variety of professions. …