When It's Your Own Child: Views From Parents About Special Education

The stigma is disappearing, but what remains is the problem of getting the right services to the right kids at the right time.

Views From Parents About Special Education, Part 3

One of the key provisions of IDEA is mainstreaming special needs students into regular classrooms. A majority of special ed parents (56 percent) believe mainstreaming helps special-needs children academically and another 12 percent say it has little effect. Mainstreaming was viewed as detrimental to special needs students by nearly a quarter of the parents surveyed (24 percent).

Measuring up

The widespread support nationwide for raising academic standards was shared in large measure by special ed parents both in the current survey and in Public Agenda's Reality Check 2002 survey, which included a subgroup of special ed parents, released earlier this year.

Nearly 8 in 10 parents in the new survey said their schools should pay a lot more attention to the academic progress of students in special education. In the earlier Reality Check survey, special ed parents opposed by a 67-28 percent margin the practice of "social promotion," in which a struggling student is moved on to the next grade rather than held back.

One mother during a Public Agenda focus group for the current survey complained, "...my son had four D's and they were more than willing to send him to the next level without giving him any extra help. That's failing the kid."

Asked if their children should be expected to pass an exit exam testing their basic skills and knowledge in order to graduate, 34 percent said their child should pass the same test as other students and 50 percent said they should pass the same test but with some accommodations.Only 4 percent said their child should be excused entirely and 11 percent said their child should be given an easier test.

Among high school parents, 82 percent expect their child to graduate with a standard diploma. By a 43-27 percent margin, more parents believed the day would come when their children would no longer need special education services, while 29 percent said it was too early to tell.

Some unhappy parents

While most parents give special education good marks, Public Agenda found considerable unhappiness among a substantial number of special ed parents. For many families, frustrations have reached a point where one in six parents (16 percent) say they have considered taking their school to court.

Nearly four in 10 of the parents surveyed (38 percent) say their child would perform better with better teachers. Similarly, 39 percent said their child's special education program was either failing or needed improvement as a good source of information, 35 percent expressed frustration in getting the special education services their child needed, and 33 percent said their school was doing a fair or poor job giving their child the help they need.

A sizable 34 percent of high school parents feel their school needs to do a better job preparing their child for life after graduation and 11 percent fail their schools in this regard.


In preparing When It's Your Own Child, Public Agenda conducted three focus groups and four in-depth interviews with parents of special needs students, and 13 in-depth interviews with experts in special education. The report is based on a national random telephone survey conducted between April 12 and May 11, 2002 of 510 parents of K-12 public school children who have special needs. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. The report was prepared by Jean Johnson and Ann Duffett.

There are many categories of disabilities that special-needs children may have. Parents in the sample named: specific learning disabilities,ADD or ADHD, speech or language impairments, mental retardation or emotional disturbance, hearing or vision impairments, autism or other disabilities.

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