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Political Method of Evaluating the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 and the Several Gaps of Gap Analysis



Political Method of Evaluating the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 and the Several Gaps of Gap Analysis




Bibliographic Citation

48 Law & Contemp. Probs. 7 (1985)


This article argues that an evaluation of Public Law No. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA)1 (and by analogy any other social program), should consist of six elements discussed in the following pages: a synthesis of empirical research on the implementation of EAHCA relative to reformist objectives (what happened?); a political explanation of the implementation "gap" revealed in these empirical studies (whose interests were served?); an assessment of how the policy instrument chosen for the EAHCA ("legalization") contributed to the implementation gap (what were the realistic limits of change?); a discussion of the standards appropriate as normative yardsticks against which to evaluate the law (reformist versus politically realistic standards); an overall evaluation of the EAHCA in light of the standards developed in the preceding section; and some recommendations about what should be done now. As a connected whole, these topics comprise a "political method" of social program evaluation, 2 a method with two essential components: a descriptive idea that implementation is a process of political adjustment among competing interests, and a normative idea that the political interests revealed during implementation must be given some normative significance. Evaluations which ignore the descriptive fact of political adjustments are usually formalistic, concerning themselves with the meaning of legal language rather than the fates of affected individuals and organizations. 3 Evaluations which ignore the normative significance of political adjustments fall into either of two antithetical fallacies: the ideological fallacy (or "gap analysis"), which assumes the ethical primacy of reformist objectives, ignoring the ethical claims of competing interests, 4 or the sociological fallacy, which assumes the ethical primacy of actual behavior. 5 Evaluations also must be pragmatic. Before judging what has occurred, and before recommending reform, one must develop a theory of the possible. For this reason, the limits of social change through legalization will be discussed in section II B. The two major parts of this article correspond to the two major components of a political evaluation: a descriptive political analysis of the implementation of the EAHCA (pr4pvided in part II) and a normative discussion of success, failure, and the need' for reform (provided in part III). Part II offers a description and explanation of what happened during the implementation of the EAHCA (what program adjustments occurred and which political interests were responsible for them). The product of that effort is a picture of implementation as a mosaic of human interests and intentions, a dynamic equilibrium struck from the ethical, economic, political, and organizational goals and resources of the people and organizations concerned with special education. 6 Part III begins with this political analysis and evaluates what happened in light of it. Looking at special education implementation as a human interaction, the questions are whether it was a constructive interaction and how future intervention should try to change the interaction.