Special Ed Legal Consults
Charting a Course Toward A Better Outcome

Blog

Special Ed Legal Consults Blog

Is “education” just academics?

When we talk about our children’s education, we usually think about academics.  Is your child learning his or her ABC’s?  Is your child learning math skills?

However, getting a good education is more than just getting good grades in English, math, social studies, and science. 

Education is really focused on preparing our children to be good citizens.  As a special education attorney dedicated to helping families of children with special needs for more than 20 years, I am relieved that Congress and courts have recognized that education is more than just academics.

Congress has clearly stated that a primary purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) is to:

“…prepare them [children with disabilities] for further education, employment, and independent living…”

students working together.jpeg

What does this mean?  Here are some examples:

  • A student with autism acts out because she has deficits in communication.  She needs a program with intensive behavioral services such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (“ABA”) as well as speech therapy to teach communication skills (oral and/or with assistive technology).  Communication skills are vital for success in further education, employment, and independent living.

  • A high school junior with emotional disturbance suffers from significant anxiety.  She withdraws from participation in class and has trouble interacting with peers.  Her program should include social skills instruction as well as mental health services.  Being an active participant in group work at school, and preparing for collaboration with her team of coworkers in the future, are vital requirements for future success.

  • A first grade student with ADHD is repeatedly sent home for talking out of turn and interrupting the class.  The student needs positive behavioral interventions as well as coping skills to regulate his emotions, so he can learn at school with his peers.  He needs these skills to succeed in school as well as have gainful employment.

  • A 7th grade girl with a significant intellectual disability needs instruction in daily living skills, which may include instruction in hygiene, safety, behavior on community outings, and adaptive functioning to prepare her for more independence as she gets older.

  • A 3rd grade student with dyslexia is receiving specialized instruction to improve his reading skills.  He also needs help to become more comfortable sharing ideas with his peers.


Courts have broadly interpreted “education” and “educational needs” to include academic, social, health, emotional, communicative, physical and vocational needs.

Common Core Standards have been adopted by many states, including California.  In addition to core academic subjects, these standards highlight skills to sustain conversations, ask and answer questions, and engage effectively in collaborative discussions.  These skills are crucial not just in academics but to enable our children to work in teams, engage in community activities, and have meaningful social lives.

So when you look at your child’s grades in academic classes, also think about the other components of an education that will prepare your child for further education, employment, and independent living.