The Best vs. Appropriate Education Rights

March 16, 2015

Reviewed August 15, 2019

young boy reading during sundown

What Exactly Does an “Appropriate” Education Mean? Both federal and state laws give parents the right to be equal participants in the educational decisions involving their child. Parents understandably want their child to receive the best education possible.

But what does the law say about the school’s obligation to educate students with disabilities? Does the school have to provide the best?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) states that children with disabilities are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Over the years, many court cases have centered on what makes a child’s special education services “appropriate.” The case of Hendrick Hudson School District v. Rowley was the first IDEA (then called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act) case to be heard by the Supreme Court and is still considered to be the most influential in how courts interpret whether a child is receiving an appropriate education.

What does IDEA require?

While IDEA does not specifically define the characteristics of an “appropriate” education, it does require that the child will meaningfully benefit from their educational program. However, schools do not have to provide the “best” educational program, nor does the program have to be designed to maximize a child’s potential.

Since what is an appropriate education is different for each child, looking at how the word is used in the context of the law can help parents understand to what the child is entitled, and to advocate for programs and services that will benefit the child.

IDEA states that a free appropriate public education is one “that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” Therefore, even though the educational program doesn’t have to be “the best,” it must be developed with these requirements in mind.

How does the student’s IEP fit in?

Additionally, the law requires the IEP to include specific, measurable goals and objectives that address the child’s needs across various areas such as academic, functional, social/emotional and others. When goals and objectives are measurable, parents can determine whether a child is meeting them and therefore benefitting from the program and services being provided.

Is the program appropriate for my child?

If a parent disagrees with the school district or isn’t sure if a child’s program or services are appropriate, the parent can request an independent evaluation at the expense of the district. Sometimes parents choose to pay for their own evaluator to assess the child’s program or to determine if a child needs a specific service or instructional methodology in order to meaningfully benefit from their education.

For help in understanding parental rights in the special education process, please feel free to contact Autism New Jersey at 800.4.AUTISM or

More on Education Rights

More than Merely De Minimus – The Endrew decision established a significantly higher standard for students with disabilities.