Cover of Comparing Special Education by John G. Richardson and Justin J.W. Powell
Comparing Special Education
Origins to Contemporary Paradoxes
John G. Richardson and Justin J.W. Powell


360 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804760737
Ebook ISBN: 9780804779135

Request Review/Desk/Examination Copy


Excerpts and More

Winner of the 2012 Outstanding Book Award (Contemporary Issues in Curriculum category), sponsored by the AERA Division B.

In today's schools the number of students who receive additional resources to access the curriculum is growing rapidly, and the ongoing expansion of special education is among the most significant worldwide educational developments of the past century. Yet even among developed democracies the range of access varies hugely, from one student in twenty to one student in three. In contemporary conflicts about educational standards and accountability, special education plays a key role as it draws the boundaries between exclusion and inclusion.

Comparing Special Education unites in-depth comparative and historical studies with analyses of global trends, with a particular focus on special and inclusive education in the United States, England, France, and Germany. The authors examine the causes and consequences of various institutional and organizational developments, illustrate differences in forms of educational governance and social policy priorities, and highlight the evolution of social logics from segregation of students with special educational needs to their inclusion in local schools.

About the authors

John Richardson is Professor of Sociology at Western Washington University. He is the author of Common, Delinquent, and Special: The Institutional Shape of Special Education (1999).

Justin J. W. Powell is Senior Research Fellow at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), Germany. He is the author of Barriers to Inclusion: Special Education in the United States and Germany (2010).

"In an area of educational practice rife with nostrums and fruitless ideological controversy, this unique book identifies key issues that children with unusual needs pose for the enterprise of schooling."

—Robert Dreeben, University of Chicago

"Special Education for physically and mentally disabled children should not be taken-for-granted. From the earliest asylums and dungeons for the 'dumb, feebleminded, and insane,' through 19th century theories of eugenics, to the current paradox of mainstream educational inclusion yet with persistent stigma, Richardson and Powell present a sweeping and insightful comparative sociological history of the origins and development of Special Education. They show that the ways youth with special needs are defined and educated reflect core ideologies and political struggles at the heart of a society. There has never before been such a rich and penetrating study of Special Education—this is the authoritative sociological analysis of the topic."

—David P. Baker, The Pennsylvania State University

"Finally, a text that moves beyond comparative transnational studies in safe statistical mode. Richardson and Powell's insightful account pushes the methodological envelope, artfully illustrating how claims about nations, education, disability and children are quite literally patterned inventions to be questioned rather than naively applied. A monumental and pathbreaking must-read."

—Bernadette Baker, University of Wisconsin

"This is the most important book on special education to be produced for decades. Using historical and comparative information it demonstrates conclusively that a global commitment to inclusive education is leading to more graded, hierarchical systems in which regular education cannot function without an interconnection with special education, however this is defined and organized."

—Sally Tomlinson, University of Oxford