What Is General Education?

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General Education is the program of education that typically developing children should receive, based on state standards and evaluated by the annual state educational standards test. It is the preferred way of describing its synonym, "regular education." It is preferred because the term "regular" connotes that children receiving special education services are somehow "irregular."

General Education is now the default position since the passage of the reauthorization of IDEA, now called IDEIA (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act.) All children should spend a significant amount of time in a general education classroom, unless it is in the best interest of the child, or because the child is a danger to him/herself or others. The amount of time a child spends in the general education program is part of his or her Placement.

Once again, General Education is the curriculum designed for all children which is meant to meet state standards, or if adopted, the Common Core State Standards. The General Education program is also the program which the state's annual test, required by NCLB (No Child Left Behind,) is designed to evaluate. 

IEP's and "Regular" Education

​In order to provide FAPE for special education students, IEP goals should be "aligned" with the Common Core State Standards. In other words, they should show that a student is being taught to the standards. In some cases, with children whose disabilities are severe, IEP's will reflect a more "functional" program, which will be very loosely aligned with the Common Core State Standards, rather than directly linked to specific grade level standards. These students are most often in self-contained programs. They are also the most likely to be part of the three percent of students allowed to take an alternate test.

Unless students are in the most restrictive environments, they will spend some time in the regular education environment. Often, children in self-contained programs will participate in "specials" such as physical education, art, and music with students in the "regular" or "general" education programs. When assessing the amount of time spent in regular education (part of the IEP report) time spent with typical students in the lunchroom and on the playground for recess is also credited as time in the "general education" environment. 


Until more states eliminate testing, participation in high stakes state tests aligned to the standards is required of special education students. This is meant to reflect how the student performs alongside their regular education peers. States are also permitted to require that students with severe disabilities are offered an alternate assessment, which should address the state standards. These are required by Federal Law, in the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary education act) and in IDEIA. Only 1 percent of all students are allowed to take an alternate test, and this should represent 3 percent of all students receiving special education services.

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Webster, Jerry. "What Is General Education?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/general-education-glossary-term-3110863. Webster, Jerry. (2020, August 27). What Is General Education? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/general-education-glossary-term-3110863 Webster, Jerry. "What Is General Education?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/general-education-glossary-term-3110863 (accessed June 1, 2023).