ers will be needed in the first decade of the 21st century (National Center for Education Statistics, 2001).

There is currently a severe shortage of special educators and related personnel (Council for Exceptional Children, 2001). Nearly 98 percent of public schools currently report a shortage of special education teachers (Boyer, 2000). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of special education teachers is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2008. The Department of Labor attributes this employment growth to the increase in the enrollment of students with disabilities, legislation pertaining to the education and employment of people with disabilities, and education reform movements (National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education, 2001).

Changing Education Policies

The dividing lines between general education and special or gifted education, as we argue above, reflect the conditions of the entire educational system at any point in time. In the past two decades, several trends in public policy have exerted pressure on those lines, sometimes in competing directions. One of the more powerful influences is the political pressure for greater accountability and productivity in schools. While public commitment to the importance of elementary and secondary education as a social and economic equalizer remains strong, new strategies for achieving these goals have emerged.

Over the past two decades, there has been increasing emphasis on closing the achievement gaps between white and minority students and between the economically disadvantaged and the middle class. Previously, as Tyack and Cuban posited (1995), we tinkered with education reforms in a series of ongoing but unsuccessful efforts at achieving equality and excellence. Now there is increasing evidence that more substantial education reforms are needed, and many are being implemented. These include the imposition of high uniform standards and universal public accountability for student performance as well as increased flexibility and choice in how communities decide to educate students. New standards raise the bar for acceptable achievement and, all other things being equal, define the group of students who need special supports to meet expectations more broadly.


While there was initially little consideration of the impact of standards-based reform on students with disabilities (see NRC, 1997a), recent efforts have begun to address this issue. Changes in Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the 1997 amendments to IDEA include sev-

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