How can educators meet statewide guidelines of providing a rigorous, CCSS-based academic education while adequately preparing students with moderate to severe disabilities for the vocational setting and postsecondary life?

While the Common Core Standards are currently in the process of being reworked and revamped, there are a particular subset of students whose futures are at stake: those with moderate to severe disabilities. Historically, students classified with moderate to severe disabilities were never expected to become productive members of society. In fact, many laws pre-1975 affirmatively excluded their participation in schools. To the extent they were schooled, they received training in trade and vocational skill development so they could become valuable members to the workforce. With the emergence of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), all students are now entitled to a “free, appropriate public education”. In today’s educational landscape, this now includes access to the general education curriculum and standards for even the most severely impaired students. For many of these students, achieving grade-level academic standards, even with the highest level of adaptation and accommodation is simply not feasible. As a result of the emphasis being placed on teaching rigorous academic content, students with disabilities are now losing out on the development of vocational skills and thus, employment opportunities.
This exhibit attempts to explore and provide some insight into the following question: How can educators meet statewide guidelines of providing a rigorous, CCSS-based academic education while adequately preparing students with moderate to severe disabilities for the vocational setting and postsecondary life? This debate should be at the forefront of special education because the reality is, not all of our students will be able to successfully achieve these rigorous standards, even after being revamped. However, if provided the opportunity, they may be able to develop exemplary vocational skills that better suit their cognitive abilities, personalities, and interests. It is imperative that we have this debate so as not to swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction from where it was circa 1910 to 1960. Having this debate and exploring this inquiry question is important because it helps stakeholders in vocational education critically engage and consider whether contemporary vocational education is meeting the educational needs of students with disabilities.


The artifacts within this exhibit were chosen for a two reasons. First, we wanted to provide a context and illustrate the contiguous history between vocational and special education. Some of the artifacts document the history and relevance of IDEA and its impact on preparing students with disabilities for postsecondary life. Second, we hope that viewers will gain a greater understanding of vocational education for students with disabilities and why it is important for them to acquire a comprehensive, skills-based education in order to prepare for a new generation of industrial leaders and workers. This inquiry question is significant because it relates to educational policy’s impact on how children with disabilities are treated in publicly funded institutions.


In summation, this inquiry question is pertinent because it provides a forum in which issues in disability studies can be discussed. In reading these artifacts, readers will be able to articulate and understand some of the issues facing students with disabilities and integrate proactive solutions that can help resolve these challenges. We hope that the reader will understand the critical importance of balancing state-mandated requirements of providing a rigorous, CCSS-based education with a quality vocational education for students with disabilities.

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Celebrating 35 Years of IDEA 

U.S. Department of Education, 2010

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the legislative foundation for all services that students with disabilities receive in public schools today. Prior to 1975, children with disabilities seldom became students due to laws that affirmatively excluded their participation in regular schools. At the 35th anniversary of its passage and after a number of reauthorizations, this video examined what the conditions were like before IDEA, and how its passage has forever changed the educational landscape for students with disabilities.


Hospital School – Caring for Disabled Children

Spectator Films, 1945

Hospital schools were an important part of the educational fabric in Britain circa 1945. These educational facilities contained rehabilitation rooms very similar to some of the OT/PT rooms our schools have today. These hospital schools are also some of the earliest examples of children receiving their education in the “usual term” despite their physical disabilities. Additionally, some of the earliest forms of differentiation can be seen, as children are grouped in wards according to their “standard and ability”. These schools also placed an emphasis on vocational training and trade skill development for children with disabilities. This video provides an early example of the blending between rehabilitation, academic education, and vocational training.


The Common Core is Tough on Kids with Special Needs

Katharine Beals, 2014

As currently designed and implemented, the Common Core Standards do not allow enough flexibility for students with cognitive disabilities. Restricting students to educational standards beyond their cognitive capacities substantially lowers their achievement levels. Despite the best efforts and intentions of the IDEA, forcing all students into the same, age-pegged standards deprives atypical students of optimized learning opportunities and attainable goals at their level of developmental readiness. In addition to focusing on attainable goals at their developmental levels, we need to continue to place emphasis on the importance of vocational preparation for students with disabilities.


Political Cartoon – Trade School

Steve Breen, 2012

This political cartoon highlights the debate that rages between vocational skills education and development vs. the pursuit of higher education. This debate can also be viewed through the lens of special education for students with moderate to severe disabilities. Due to the emphasis now being placed on providing special education students access to the general education curriculum and standards, less time is spent on developing key vocational skills necessary for them to become highly-valued members of the workforce, thus they are at a disadvantage when it comes to seeking employment.


The Binet Scale for Measuring Intelligence and Retardation

Edmund B. Huey, 1910

In 1904, the French Ministry of Education tasked psychologist Alfred Binet with devising a method that would determine which students did not learn effectively from regular classroom instruction so they could be given remedial work. The need for a definitive measure of intelligence arose because of the establishment of special classes for “mental defectives” in the schools of France. We can see the evolution of the debate surrounding special education: in 1910, we were initially concerned with identifying special needs children. In 2016 and beyond, we are debating how best to address their needs and position them for high levels of achievement in today’s competitive landscape.


The troubled history of vocational education

Emily Hanford, 2016

The artifact describes some of the shortcomings and disadvantages of having a vocational education without exposure and learning in traditional academics, especially in the high school setting. Additionally, this artifact highlights the historic purpose of vocational education, as demonstrated through the legislative passing of the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. The artifact relates back to the inquiry question as it details the troubled history of vocational education and its eventual linkage to special education through student tracking. As such, the artifact raises the question to teachers, policy makers, and parents alike as to whether vocational education constructively meets the needs of students with disabilities in the twenty-first century.


History twenty-five years of progress in educating children with disabilities through IDEA

U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, 2016

The artifact describes the 25 years of progress in educating students with disabilities through the enactment of Public Law 94-142, commonly known today as the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). This artifact introduces insights as to why this law was necessary due to the historical mistreatment of many children with disabilities in the public school system. Subsequently, this artifact sheds light on explaining various key milestones in improving educational access for children with disabilities. As such, the artifact also raises questions as to how the IDEA may be improved to further assist in bringing justice for students with disabilities.


Current challenges facing the future of secondary education and transition services for youth with disabilities in the US

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition January, 2004

The artifact focuses on the current challenges in the future of secondary education and transition services for youth with disabilities in the United States. This artifact is intended to raise insights and discussion between teachers and parents on issues concerning current and future challenges facing secondary education and transition services for students with disabilities. The issues discussed in this artifact provides greater insight for both teachers and parents in how current challenges facing students with disabilities in secondary education and transition services can be addressed.


Severe Disabilities (Education and Individuals with Severe Disabilities: Promising Practices)

June E. Downing and Stephanie MacFarland, 2010

This article begins by describing the importance of education. It states that education is especially significant for individuals with severe disabilities. The author delves into the misconceptions and preconceived notions regarding moderately-severely individuals with disabilities. In the past, individuals with disabilities have been assumed to be unable to learn and have been held to low expectations for progress. Several studies have shown this to be false. All individuals can learn, but the way in which they learn can vary greatly. For example, individuals with disabilities learn as through direct instruction, as well as through observation of non-disabled classmates. They have also been proved to learn a variety of skills such as the ability to dress themselves, eat independently, and do laundry. The next part of the article discusses the need of qualified teachers to pioneer this learning process. Since moderately to severely individuals with disabilities require specifically catered plans for development, teachers need to have very specific skills and training. Some of these skills include communication skills development, positive behavior support, and collaborative teaming. In 2004, the United States regulated this need by imposing Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. This act serves to ensure that special education students are receiving the proper type of education, from properly qualified individuals. The rest of the article describes different forms of teaching methods designed to aid students with disabilities. These include systemic instruction, individualized responsive learning, active family involvement, and collaborative teaming.


Planning for Life After Special Education

Law Office 15, Northeastern University School of Law December; 2012

The “Planning for Life After Special Education” manual outlined a checklist for post-secondary education. It was similar to the post-secondary preparation article, but was more of a condensed informative list. It provides parents with an aesthetically simple presentation of what should be expected or done. The list covers events prior to, during, and after the transition. This includes preparation for college admission and success, accommodating for specialized transition services, knowing different educational options, and continuous challenge and growth for the student. This bottom of the article also includes sources for specific topics and information. This is essential because it is a useful tool for parents with disabled children. Often specific disabilities or impairments will require detailed instructions, some of which may be difficult to find. The article is essentially an easy-to follow list followed by a pool of sources. It is compact and easily accessible on a mobile platform, and will be an excellent asset for parents. Preparing our students has to also stem from the homes where the parents need to have an input.


Preparing Students with Disabilities for Postsecondary Education

Washington Association on Postsecondary Education and Disability (WAPED), December 2014

This article discussed post-secondary transition for students with disabilities. In other words, it described how to help these students better prepare for life after high school. The article mentions several factors to consider, both present and future. First, parents should take note of what the student is currently interested in. This can help link students to after school activities or programs that assist in transitional services. Also, it will help parents plan for the future. Parents must keep track of information surrounding these plans. This includes any applications, requirements, education options, financial needs, and housing arrangements. Also, every school district must provide a 504 coordinator, a special needs coordinator, and connections to transitional services agencies. As Phil Mention in his common core artifact the CCSS does not allow any flexibility for our students. In order to discuss any post secondary transitions we have to link both vocational training and CCSS together in order to make a difference.