Sometimes Jenny throws tantrums, frustrated because she can't read, surrounded by other second-graders who can.

Todd demands a lot more than his share of the teacher's attention, shouting almost inclherently while the other children giggle.

On the playground, the kids sometimes taunt Allen. They shout, "L-D, L-D." Learning-disabled.

Joey has normal intelligence, but cerebarl palsy makes him drool when he east. He look strange to other children and they tend to leave him alone as he lurches down the hallway.

These are painful glimpses from a new educational controversy, the federal effort to guarantee an education to the nation's handicapped children -- as far as possible in regular classrooms.It started, as did so many federal initiatives, with good intentions, the Congress legislating where angels had feared to tread.

But the law has created as many problems as solutions, bringing friction between local school districts and Washington, between parents and schools and sometimes between teachers and teachers, to say nothing of the effects on children.

When President Ford signed this legislation more than two years ago, he complained about its boundless ambition. "Unfortunately, this bill promises more than the federal government can deliver." He signed it, nevertheless, and the good intentions became a promissory note that is proving very hard to make good.

The experience is not unilke that of the War on Poverty and other Great Society initiatives from the 1960s, when Washington set out to make the world a better place, not fully realizing that some would wind up suffering so that others might benefit.

As in those other battles, to be sure, there have been victories. Mattie T., another cerebral palsy victim, soon will be in school for the first time in her 14 years in Mississippi. Barbara, a pigtailed beauty once diagnosed trainably retarded, turned out to need mainly a new hearing aid, and at the age of 10 is learning to talk for the first time.

But there are enormous gaps between promise and delivery so far, between legislated good will and the actual effect on the lives of nearly 6 million children.

The arguments for bringing handicapped children out of the attics and into the public schools were in many ways similar to those for racial integration: separate facilities were never equal; isolation bred fear and agner and prejudice; undeveloped human beings were a waste of national resources. Yet the effort has sent more parents into court and more school officials home with headaches recently than ever before.

"In 10 years, when we've figured all this out and have experience, it'll be a wonderful thing," said Lois Karasik of the National Education Association. "Right now, as many people are suffering as are benefiting while we find out how to do it."

The laws -- P.L. 94-142 and Sec. 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act -- require school districts to provide the "handicapped" (whover they might be)with "free, appropriate" education (whatever that is) in the "least restrictive" environment possible (whatever that means).

Critics of the way things are going say that the handicaped often are being mislabeled, miseducated and misplaced as school officials try to comply with the new laws without spending much new noney. There isn't much new money to spend, they argue, in relation to the need.

"The feds are continually mandating programs without full funding for them," complained Ed Keller of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. "This law considerably raised the aspiration levels for everyone out there... but if a handicapped child costs twice as much as the average pupil [to educate], where is the money going to come from?" Apart From the Rest

NED R., for example, sits a little apart from the rest of his fourth grade class in a Maryland grade school, doing division problems on his typewriter instead of in a notebook like the others. With cerebral palsy, he can't control his hands well enough to write. On a recent afternoon he was nearly in tears because he couldn't fine any division sign on the machine.

His teacher had to figure it out and show him how, then Ned laboriously continued his lesson. Meanwhile, others in his class watched idly or waited for the teacher to get to them.

Another member of the class, white-faced Malcolm, bone thin, prepared to go to lunch with the school's two special education teachers. Malcolm has a heart condition that requires him to be accompanied everywhere by an adult, even to the bathroom.

More teacher time, more equipemtn, special attentions -- plus ramps, elevators, modified buses, braille testbllks, tape recorders and other items. There must be specialists to do the "individualized education plan" that the law requires for every youngster, a document evaluating the handicap, the short-range educational goals and the long-range prognosis.

With the agreement of the parents -- which may have to be litigated -- the school district then must supply the education or finance it elsewhere. Since residential special education can cost $5,000 to $40,000 a year per child, the natural tendency is to keep the youngster in the regular scholl system if possible.

But while some districts have been finding, evaluating and educating disabled children for years, others had never considered the idea before the 1975 law, and so had no programs available. "The school system is not a system, it's 16,000 independent school districts," said Edwin Martin, director of the U.S. Bureau of Education for the Handicapped (BEH).

Uncle Sam agreed to pay 5 percent of whatever extra costs arose last year from educating a disabled child, with the figure rising to 40 percent by 1982. The full $254 million was appropriated and spent in fiscal 1978, but this year's $804 million is short of the authorization. Even the full amount, educators say, would be little incentive for beginning new programs and less incentive for finding more handicapped children to put in them.

Possibly as a result, educators have not found as many new disabled youngsters as expected.

The BEH estimated in 1975 that one in eight schoolchildren was handicapped, or 5.7 million out of the nation's 45 million kids. The nationwide "child find" effort, however, has come up nearly 2 million short of that figure.

This obviously might have serious implications for future funding for the law, as well as for other education programs that could use the stille larger sums which education offcils have been expecting to spend in this area is coming years. The experts, however, insist the children are out there waiting. Who They Are

WHO ARE the handicaped? The law says deaf, blind, retarded, physically disabled and learning-disabled children, among others, are handicapped, but it does not say how much of a hearing loss means deafness and how much stammering is disabling. Parents may not want their child labeled handicapped, teachers dread the paperwork involved in getting each new child classified.

"If I were honest about it, I could find a little something wrong with almost every child here," said Michelle Krantz, a special education teacher at the Waverly, Md., Elementary School. She tries to give some extra attention to pupils not on her official list, since that costs her less time than filling out all the forms would, she said.

Many disadvantaged children have been ignored or mislabeled in the racist past. "If you are a learning problem and you are black, the teacher is likely to deal with you as a discipline problem or retarded, but if you are white you'll be learning-disable," said Dan Yohalem of the Children's Defense Fund (DEF) in Washington.

In Mississippi, last in the nation in education spending, Mattie T. and 26 other handicapped children had to go to court to get any notice at all. Mattie's parents, according to the complaint in U.S. District Court in Mississippi, told the Como Elementary School in Morth Panola that the cerebral palsied child had been certified able to attend classes in a regular school, and asked that the school bus stop one-third of a mile from their home be moved closer. No arrangements were made, and Matti T. has never attended school.

James M., according to the same filing, spent two years in first grade and three years in second grade at East Tate Attendance Center in Mississippi, and was finally told not to come back. He was never evaluated, never received any services and, when finally examined in 1974, was found to be severely retarded.

A federal judge last summer ordered Mississippi to get these children in school, and compliance is now being workde out with the parents of Mattie T. and the others.

"We're only now seeing people going into the courts," said Yohalem of the CDF, which filed the Mississippi case. "Most are people whose kids have special needs that the system either doesn't recognize or doesn't provide adequate services for." Providing those services, of course, is expensive and exhausting.

As Fred Weintraub of the Council for Exceptional Chiildren put it, "One way to avoid compliance with the law is not to find the children." Teachers' Fears

TEACHERS WERE among the most worried when the law came in, even though many of them had lobbied strongly for it. They feared severely handicapped children would arrive in a flood, demanding specialized help the teachers were not trained to give and taking valuable instruction time and attention away from normal students.

"I was really worried about it last summer before I took this class, but I just decided I was going to do it," said Linda Cline, who has 14 children receiving some special services in her class of 38 second-graders at Waverly School. It isn't easy.

"I'm just exhausted by the end of the day and I couldn't do this every year," said Cline. "It takes a lot of energy to take care of them all."

Peggy Denton's class across the hall has seven children with handicaps, all of whom spend some time with special education teachers but most of the time with Denton. "You just do the best you can," she said.

Judy Singleton and a part-time teacher together handle 36 "resource children" daily, bringting them out of regular classes at Longfellow Junior High School in Falls Church, for an hour of special attention. "I feel guilty every day about not having time to do my job properly, and I'm seriously thinking about leaving the field," she said.

"The new priority is on paperwork... I try to work with the other teachers as much as possible, but some of them don't like the special kids; they think they're slow or dumb or weird.

"It's special education's fault. For so long we took these kids out of the classroom nd told the other teachers that only we could handle the problems. Now we bring them back and say, 'Yeah, you can cope after all.' It's not that simple."

Like most special education professionals today, Singleton sees main-stream education as the most desirable way for the disabled and the ordinary to learn to live together, provided backup services are available. Only children who can handle the ruckus and academic level of regular classrooms should be in them, while disabled children needing skilled individual attention will get it elsewhere, if the law works as intended. It has not always worked as intended.

"For 20 years I fought to get my two [retarded] children into regular schools," said Dorothy Gauchat, who founded Our Lady of the Wayside residential programs for the retarded in Avon, Ohio. "Now I'm fighting to keep these others out."

She said school officials recently insisted that the new law requires public classrooms for two of her charges "who are blind and deaf, comatose, living with tubes hooked up... It goes from one extreme to the other, first nothing at all and then too much [from the state]. Society isn't ready with the programs when they take these kids out of state hospitals."

Helen Weick of Fairfax is awaiting a state appeals board ruling on her insistence that her daughter Sara needs more than the school district is willing to provide. Born 4 1/2 years ago with a cleft palte, partial vision, hearing loss and retardation, Sara was in a "noncategorical" preschool program for multiple-handicapped children until last year.

Such programs are common, typically including a variety of approaches for a group of disparate youngsters, but some critics call them excuses for "warehousing" the disabled. Weick argues that this class, which involved 12 other children and four adults working with them, was too stressful for Sara and did not really deal with her hearing problem. "She needed a more specialized and constructed setting8" Weick said.She removed Sara from school last June.

Now Sara is not in school at all. "They said that what they had was appropriate for the and that there was nothing else," Weick said, "but there are very few children like this one." Need for Discipline

OF COURSE, every child is unique. In their anxiety and guilt over disabled children, parents often clash with so-called experts over what is best for the child.

Joey R. lurches unsteadily down the Waverly hall, his cerebral palsied limbs requiring great effort to control. At home and in his former special school, no one expected him to do much for himself, even though his mind is that of a normal fourth-grader. At Waverly, however, the special education teachers insist he at least wipe his own face when he is eating, a skill he knows but refused to perform on occasion, they said.

"It's hard for parents to impse discipline on children like him, but going to school in the mainstream means they have to learn the social graces if they can," said "waverly principal Michael Kline.

Still, Joey sits alone in the cafeteria during most lunchtimes.

Asked what it meant to be learning-disabled, Allen R., a seventh-grader at Longfeelow, said, "It means you need a little help in some things."

He made the honor roll at Longfellow this term despite his problems with the mechanics of writing and spacing words. He spends an hour a day in the "resource room" with Judy Singleton and four other students, learning to sequence thoughts, listen and to associate ideas. The rest of the day he spends in ordinary classes.

For more seriously handicapped students, mainstreaming can be tougher. The deaf are the most concerned.

"Education is more aural than visual. If you don't have additional support like a sign [language] interpreter in the classroom, then even if the kid is a tremendous lip reader he's only going to catch 20 or 30 percent of what's going on," said Mike Deninger, coordinator of the P.L. 94-142 program at Gallaudet College, Washington's premier school for the deaf. "That means tremendous frustration and anxiety."

He estimated that only 20 to 30 percent of the nation's hearing impaired will profit from mainstreaming under the usual minimal support conditions. A similarly small percentage of the retarded can handle regular classes, according to most experts; the danger is that inexperienced school districts, wanting to save money, will be placing some of them wrongly in the mainstream for several years to come.

"If the school districts want to put a child in a mainstream school instead of a specialized class, they can say it's 'less restrictive,' but what they mean is 'less expensive,'" said Jeanne Novotny, president of the Maryland State Society for Autistic Children. 700 Complaints

ONE OF mainstreaming's major critics is McKay Vernon, professor of psychology at Western Maryland College. "I don't think the American people will pay the huge financial cost of implementing this law appropriately," he said. "The kinds of things needed are extremely expensive... and the training needed to make the right decisions just hasn't occurred... the law feeds the pathological psychological need of the parents to have a 'normal' child."

Nonetheless, the law is ther and it is being implemented, however erratically. The Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, enforcing the requirement of equal access to jobs and education for the handicapped, had received nearly 2,000 complaints by Oct. 1,700 of them involving education.

The issues include whether the handicapped are entitled to 12-month schooling at state expense; what kind of fire alarm is required at schools with deaf children; whether schools should be required to prepare children for mainstreaming later if they are not ready for it now.

In one Texas case, the handicapped kids' course in "industrial arts" involved cleaning the cow barn in which they were housed. A New York district gave its disabled students a short day in order to double-use its buses and save money. Some experts worry that more attention is being paid to filling out the forms and meeting the letter of the law -- "staying out of jail," as one official put it -- than to educating the youngsters.

Handicapped adults, however, seem unanimous in approving the generous impulse behind the new laws.

"There's only one way for us all to get used to each other and that's by exposure," said Leslie Milk, executive director of a group called mainstrem. With a crippled arm, she had felt sorry for herself as a child.

"I thought until I entered regular school that I was the only girl in the world who couldn't grwo up to be a ballerina," she said.