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In 1965, the federal government began to play a major role in funding public education. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (P. L. 89-10) provided the first federal support for education. In 1966, the Act was amended (P. L. 89-750), and the Bureau for Education of the Handicapped was established in the United States Office of Education to administer research, educational and training programs supported by the federal government.

The National Advisory Council on Disability was also established. The first federal grant program for the education of children with disabilities at the local level was created.

Federal funding for public education and for children with disabilities was important in its own right – more money for education. It also brought local education under federal civil rights protections. This became increasingly important in the 1970s.

The changes in the 1960s were basically structural. They put the mechanisms in place that could have an impact over the long term. In the short term, the President's Committee continued to recognize that there was a long road ahead. In 1967, the PCMR reported that half of the nation's 25,000 school districts offer no classes for pupils having special learning problems and needs.

Girl and woman in a classroom

Developments in the early 1960s not only focused on the integration of students with disabilities into the public system. Leaders in the field of special education also advocated for the development of a range of special education placements so that at least some students would be integrated into public schools and classrooms.

The early 1960s also saw the introduction of a continuum of placements ranging from least restrictive to most restrictive was introduced (Reynolds, 1962).

In 1970, the continuum (placements along straight line) was described as a cascade (an inverted pyramid) (Deno, 1970). In the cascade, the least restrictive setting was at the top and broadest part of the pyramid indicating more students would be placed in the least restrictive environments.

The most restrictive settings were at the bottom and narrowest point of the pyramid, indicating the fewest students would be placed there. The principle of least restrictive environment was included in court rulings in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Two boys in a classroom