There is great news coming out of Washington DC these days. The number of students with special needs graduating in four years is at an all-time high at 62% of the class of 2013- from a low of 23% in Mississippi to a high of 80% in Arkansas. Problem is, got my diploma, but what happens now.
For many high school graduates with disabilities the answer is far less than satisfying.
The federal law IDEA that requires an education at public expense for those students with disabilities, also requires that the kids be provided with a transition program to launch them into the real world.
Awakening is for many of these graduates the launch pad is sending them flying over a cliff.
Many transition programs are the equivalent of dragging one chicken leg through multiple pots of water and calling it chicken soup. Few schools have identifiable transition specialists that carry individual caseloads. Instead, these professionals hold general family meetings and distribute information. Once the student graduates there is no one to do the hand holding to walk families through the new bureaucratic maze. Families are given informational brochures about the adult services that are available in their communities. What they learn very quickly is that these are services for which the graduate is eligible but not at all entitled. This situation is very unlike the pre-21 special education services to which the students were entitled in school. In the adult services world there are few rights; and programs look a lot like a Dickens' movie, "more porridge please".
Schools need to focus on a students realistic strengths. People with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student population; yet they represent 25% of people in their age bracket who get in trouble with the law. What can the person with disabilities actually do? Can he stand on his feet for eight hours? Can she handle a rapid fire environment? And PLEASE can we ditch the totally unrealistic aspirations of being in a rock band, being a star athlete and other dreams that don't even come true for typical kids. Most teachers do not even know what can be available for students. They are concentrating on improving test score and have not a clue what is needed for work place scores. Kids are taught to follow the rules, let the grown ups work it out. Mom and dad are not going to be on the college campus, in the interview office, or at the job site. A grad can wave that diploma at a college prof or future employer all he or she wants, but it won't get the job done. Now the trouble starts.