We Need a Better Transition Program

7 Nov
The way NCLB is currently structured and the way schools are really pushing and driving, now is the time to straighten out the transition-to-work emphasis, especially for those students who are older than 18.  I currently have 2 that should have/could have graduated at 18, but they are being served in the public school system in my classroom.  Is the focus on academics the best thing for them at this age?  Certainly not for my students or those with more moderate intellectual disabilities.  The unemployment rate for students with disabilities runs 80-90%, and this is because school systems are ill-equipped for this task.  Public high schools are being pushed and pressured to offered a curriculum that prepares all students for college.  The large vocational programs that were in place in the 1970′s and ’80′s are now long gone and are largely replaced by more academic space or by computer labs. 
 
So on top of the demands for offering the regular education curriculum for all of my students, I am also having to try to offer some sort of meaningful job/employment services and skills.  These skills are not aligned with the basic core academic standards that I am supposed to be using in order to teach.  The daily living skills are also not aligned to core standards.  And yet, when I submit lesson plans, they must include the state academic standards and must somehow align.  This is the basic problem that NCLB brings to the local school system.  We are not doing that good of a job in the core mission of academics and we are also tasked with teaching some sort of meaningful vocational skills. 
 
The problem is that the least restrictive environment for a 16 year-old is not the same as it is for a 20 year-old.  And yet, that is exactly how it works in our school system.  Regular students are either working or going to further their education while students with severe disabilities have no other choice but to remain in the same building, in the same classrooms with the same teachers until they age out at 21+ years of age.  Other students have moved on while those with severe disabilities are stuck.  And for all of my training and background I simply do not have the resources to offer everything to everyone all the time.  When NCLB first started impacting those of us who taught this population, there was a lot of talk about aligning our goals with the standards.  We were to just take what we were already doing and find some way to make it fit into the regular curriculum.  Some things work more natural than others.  For instance, speaking and communicating are part of almost every task we do and that easily aligns.  We can count things that approach an algebra standard.  However, when we get into the real meat and guts of a high school academic curriculum, very little fits into what a student with severe disabilities does in the real world and in real life.  Geometry, American literature, physical science and world cultures are not very relevant to them.  That doesn’t mean they can’t learn it or that we can not teach them.  But when a skill has to be taught 500-1500 times in order to be mastered, is that the best use of our time?  To be sure, teaching the core content takes alot of creativity and is sometimes even fun.  It does, in fact, reflect just what their peers are doing, only at a more basic level.
 
However, at the age of 18, that is no longer true.  Their peers or not still in high school.  They have moved on, and so it is that the students with severe disabilities should also move on.  The present academically focused atmosphere of NCLB arguably serves its purpose but there gets to be a point where is becomes an even more serious impediment and liability.  Students need to be preparing for work outside of school.  They need to get outside of the bell schedule, outside of class changes and out of their desks.  They need to be in a seperate place where the focus is solely on transitioning to work.  The regular high school is not trhe least restrictive environment for students who are 19-21+.  They need to be in a place better suited to train them towards goals that will better serve them outside of the constraints of NCLB.  A student could opt to continue to work towards the regular credentials, of course, but there should also be another option besides spending the entire 7-8 years after middle school in one building, in one room.  This simply turns high school SID/PID rooms into yet another version of institutionalization.  No other population of student gets handled and treated this way.
 
To that end, we do need to do a better job of including our students in the regular education setting, even if it is for a modified period of time.  At the present time, the opportunity for discimination is entirely too rampant.  I have voiced concern about mainstreaming and inclusion before.  But after waking up to some issues with being discriminated against, I realize that the only way to combat it is to always be around and in everyone’s face.  Plus, for my part, if they won’t let me get away from SID/PID than perhaps I can gain access to the regular education classroom by getting my students placed there.  Suddenly I become a more critical part of the landscape as teachers scramble trying to figure out what to do with these kids.
 
So two things need to happen: 1.) Make a final drive towards full inclusion 2.) Establish a place for those who graduate from high school to be served until they are aged out, where the emphasis is vocational skills rather than the core standards mandated by NCLB.
 
It’s really going to be up to parents to make demands toward this, though.  I’m speaking as both teacher and parent but know that as an employee of the school system my voice can more easily be squelched.  Plus this might not be something other parents want, so I’m curious about that.  Should we more fully include those with severe and profound disabilities? 
 
I will say to you parents that the regular school system is simply too poorly equipped to offer your student the vocational training that he/she really and truly needs.  The mission of the school system is to educate students according to the state curriculum standards.  That will always come first, and everything else is extra, regardless of what is put on the IEP.  We can write lovely goals and a lovely transition plan but that neither compels nor empowers us to carry out those plans.  The IEP is pretty much toothless in areas that do not align with NCLB.  If it does not address the state curriculum, I’m going to have a hard time carrying it out because the law clearly mandates what I’m required to do — teach to the standards.  And I do not have sufficient time to even do that very well.  So guess what happens to those goals, objectives and transition plans?  They are being sidelined.
 
Under IDEA, all students are entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE)  However, NCLB has totally changed the definition of “appropriate.”  It is all about the state mandated curriculum and meeting standards of performance mandated by the federal government.  So you may want your child to learn some functional skills like tying his/her shoe, going to the bathroom, do some sorting, assembling or other vocational/life skill tasks.  However we at the school are under serious constraints of time and resources.  I’m going to do my best for the students that I have, and their parents but this is not the same business that it was when I started or even 2 years ago.  The shift has been focused and radical. 
 
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4 Responses to “We Need a Better Transition Program”

  1. calliemae November 10, 2008 at 1:05 pm #

    I agree with you on the fact that transition needs to be an important standard and step. We need to bring the unemployment statistic down from 90% and the only way to do that is to teach life, social, and vocational skills. I’m not saying to not teach any core standards but if by age 20 these skills are not being met, it won’t help the student in the real world at all. However knowing how to go to and from work will be quite useful.

  2. Daniel Dage November 15, 2008 at 2:32 pm #

    I agree, but in the meantime there are kids falling through the cracks and ending up with nothing because they have no real world skills. The more college oriented the curriculum gets, the more worthless it seems to become as far as basic day-to-day survival. You have lots of kids that can do calculus but none of them can change the oil in their car or balance their checkbooks.

  3. Nathalie Palmer November 23, 2008 at 10:46 pm #

    I met a studen some weeks ago. She has a mild disability and has been shoveled into an inclusive classroom with a bunch of normal kids who snicker at her compulsive outbursts. This child is forced to remain in an inclusive classroom, despite pleas from her parents to have her removed and place in a vocational skill program – which would be more conducive to her interest and development.

    How can the enforcers of NCLB not see that some students can never be adequately served in a ‘book learning’ oriented class setting? I agree with you, there seem to be no recourse for the skill oriented students in our school system. Everything is about meeting content and academic standards..Our students are not being adequately prepared for the real world at all.

    Such a shame!!!

  4. Anonymous December 30, 2008 at 9:46 pm #

    I agree that at some level NCLB is actually a negative for some students. Not only that even higher functioning disabled students need “functional skills” taught in the school setting especially when the child is in an inclusive environment.

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