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Faculty & Research

Thomas Hehir

Professor of Practice, Emeritus

Thomas Hehir

Degree:  Ed.D., Harvard University, (1990)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]


Tom Hehir served as director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs from 1993 to 1999. As director, he was responsible for federal leadership in implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Hehir played a leading role in developing the Clinton administration's proposal for the 1997 reauthorization of the IDEA, 90 percent of which was adopted by Congress. In 1990, he was associate superintendent for the Chicago Public Schools, where he was responsible for special education services and student support services. In this role, he implemented major changes in the special education service delivery system, which enabled Chicago to reach significantly higher levels of compliance with the IDEA and resulted in the eventual removal of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights as overseer. Hehir served in a variety of positions in the Boston Public Schools from 1978 to 1987, including that of director of special education from 1983 to 1987. An advocate for children with disabilities in the education system, he has written on special education, special education in the reform movement, due process, and least restrictive environment issues. Hehir's books include: New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice; Effective Inclusive Schools: Designing Successful Schoolwide Programs; and How Did You Get Here?: Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard.

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Areas of Expertise
Sponsored Projects


Multi-state Study of the Identification and Placement of Low-income Students in Special Education (2015-2016)
Spencer Foundation

Previous research has documented over-identification of African American and Latino students in special education (Losen & Orfield, 2002). To date, there has been little empirical research on the potential inappropriate over-identification among low-income students. To better understand opportunities for low-income students in general and special education, we propose to examine the likelihood that low-income and non-low-income students are identified for special education services and once identified, are placed in segregated classrooms. Building off of initial research in Massachusetts that indicated over-identification of low-income students in special education (Hehir, et al., 2014), the proposed study will extend to four additional states to determine if over-identification for low-income students is an issue of concern for educators across multiple states. Specifically, we will ask: Question 1: What is the probability that low-income students be identified for special education compared to the probability that non-low-income students be identified for special education? Are there differences by disability category or race? Question 2: What is the probability that low-income students with disabilities receive a substantially separate placement compared to the probability that non-low-income students receive a substantially separate placement? Are there differences by disability category or race? The results of this study will provide educators and policymakers with a deeper understanding of the role that income-status plays in special education identification and placement. With this new understanding of the patterns of identification and placement, states can detect potential over-identification, improve educational opportunities for low-income students, and ensure special education resources are used appropriately.

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