Have a special education question? There are numerous helpful websites that provide quick answers, from understanding the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan to figuring out what “RTI” means.
Background Information for Reporters
- Wrightslaw.com provides information on special education law and advocacy, including a helpful glossary of key terms.
- Specialeducationguide.com offers resources for those wanting to wade through special education jargon. The site also has a good roundup of links for disability-focused organizations.
- Understood.org is also a helpful resource for basic special education questions, and provides an overview of the 13 disability categories under IDEA.
The U.S. Department of Education maintains several datasets relevant to special education, which are ripe for analysis:
- The National Center for Education Statistics offers a number of data tables on special education, including disability type and educational setting, which can be found here under Chapter 2.
- The Civil Rights Data Collection provides entire datasets for download, as well as tools to pull specific reports. For example, the discipline report includes data on suspensions, referrals to law enforcement, transfers to alternative schools and use of physical restraint and seclusion.
- State-level data files cover a variety of topics. For example, reporters can use the “Child Count and Educational Environments” dataset to analyze whether students in certain disability categories are more likely to spend their days secluded from general education peers. In the “Discipline” dataset, reporters can analyze student suspensions and expulsions, broken out by disability and demographic. Dozens more data tables can be found here.
- At the federal ED Data Express, reporters can use the download tool to create custom datasets using a number of variables, such as performance on math or reading tests by students with disabilities.
- The Elementary/Secondary Information System is a web application from the National Center for Education Statistics. The table generator allows reporters to customize their own datasets.
- On the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Shortage Area database, reporters can investigate special education teacher shortages.
The U.S. Department of Education also posts an annual report to Congress on the implementation of IDEA, which can be found here. Additionally, the federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) supports the Center for Parent Information and Resources, which offers helpful tools, such as this data webinar.
Reporters should also become familiar with online databases maintained by the states and local districts they cover. If a national database includes data aggregated from a state or local level, that means those entities maintain such data. Therefore, even if it is not posted publicly, reporters may obtain the data under a public records request from a state education department or local district.
Here are several other helpful resources:
- The National Center for Special Education Research provides a bounty of research that reporters can search for by topic.
- The National Center for Learning Disabilities produces research and can be a helpful source for finding experts to speak with.
- The American Institutes for Research is active on special education issues and provides expertise in several areas, including through the National Center on Intensive Intervention.
- The PACER Center is a parent training and information center for families with children who have disabilities.
- Several research universities have strong special education programs, including Vanderbilt University, The University of Florida and The University of Kansas.
- Experts may also be found through disability-specific advocacy groups, such as:
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
- The International Dyslexia Association
- Autism Speaks
- The Arc, which advocates for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities
- The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates works to protect the legal and civil rights of students with disabilities. Its member directory includes attorneys and special education advocates.
- There is a National Association for Special Education Teachers and a National Special Education Advocacy Group, a professional association for special education advocates.
Updated May 2021.