A Policy Analysis of the Russian Special Education Standards Project

By Irina Vodonos


My research focuses on a recent development in Russia’s special education policy: the creation of special education standards (known as the SFGOS), a state-funded project of the Russian Academy of Education. Work on this project began in 2008 and is currently ongoing. If approved, these standards would regulate the instructional content, learning outcomes, and educational environment for schoolchildren with disabilities.

I offer an analysis of the SFGOS project that takes into account several criteria commonly used in public policy analysis, such as adequacy, equity, efficiency, and political and administrative feasibility. My analysis of the adequacy, equity, and efficiency issues is informed by the history of special education in Russia; the international conventions and domestic legislation on education and disabilities adopted by Russia in the past 20 years; the standards-based reform that is taking place in Russia’s general education classrooms; and the small but increasingly vocal movement of disability rights advocates fighting for inclusive education for Russian children with disabilities. Information is drawn from literature and from stakeholder interviews. To evaluate the feasibility issues, I apply Paul Sabatier’s and Hank Jenkins-Smith’s “advocacy coalition framework” to investigate whether a viable advocacy coalition has formed around the SFGOS project, or, barring that, around special education reform in Russia in a more general sense. I also use John Kingdon’s “policy window” theory to examine whether a significant opportunity for enacting the SFGOS or other special education reforms currently exists or may be coming up in the near future.

At this stage in the research, I expect that the SFGOS project will score low on short-term efficiency but high on long-term efficiency, medium to low on political feasibility, and low on administrative feasibility. Its performance against the criteria of adequacy and equity is more challenging to predict. Equity concerns are particularly salient because, while implementing the SFGOS may increase equity in some respects, it may also lead to certain inequities. For example, while the SFGOS will increase equity in overall access to education by mandating that no child can be denied schooling because of their disability, it may inadvertently prevent some students from developing their full academic potential and cause them to graduate with a degree that will severely limit their future opportunities.