CORE ACADEMIC SUBJECTS- The term core academic subjects' means English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography.
20 U.S.C. section 7801.
The relevance of defining core academic subjects is that under the IDEA and NCLB, a special education teacher who teaches core academic subjects to students with disabilities must be "highly qualified" in the subject he/she teaches. To meet the requirements, the teacher must be "highly qualified" as a special education teacher, meaning that he/she meets the certification, education and licensing requirements under the IDEA and state law, plus meet the requirements to be considered "highly qualified" in the subjects themselves. This does not apply to teachers who are exclusively teaching students who are assessed using alternative achievement standards.
Special education teachers in self-contained classroom settings may be teaching multiple subjects to their students. The IDEA addresses this situation by setting specific standards relevant to any special education teacher who teaches two or more core academic subjects exclusively to students with disabilities. Those teachers meet applicable standards if they either (i) meet the requirements of NCLB for highly qualified teachers; (ii) for teachers who are "not new," demonstrate competence in all of the core academic subjects in which the teacher teaches in the same manner; or (iii) for teachers who are new and are "highly qualified" in math, language arts or science, demonstrate competence in other core academic subjects in which the teacher teaches. 20 U.S.C. section 1401 (10)(D).
Students with disabilities need to learn and progress in core academic subjects, and the purpose of incorporating these requirements into the IDEA was to ensure that students with disabilities have the same right to competent, qualified instruction in the core academics as their non-disabled peers.