High School Transition Plans Must Include Career Technical Education

High school special education students are required to have a transition plan written into their Individualized Education Plan or IEP. The high school counselor, special education teacher, and the IEP Committee must make certain that there is a plan to prepare students for life after high school. This particularly makes sense because special education students have a very poor graduation rate from high school and very few go on to graduate from college. High schools understand this reality and invented a new concept for special education students called a Certificate of Completion. This certificate is less than a high school diploma and does not require career technical education. For the special education population this is an inadequate solution for their high school education. They require a practical transition plan to prepare them for their future after high school.

The cold reality is most IEP’s check off this requirement by a vague statement that the students should go on to adult education or a community college. This solution to the IEP requirement demonstrates a lack of acceptance of responsibility by the high school. It is wrong for high schools to avoid taking responsibility for providing special education students with an occupational education. They ignore the reality that these young people require substantial technical skills to become employable. Deferring this part of special education student’s education is morally wrong. The reality is the great majority of special education students will never go on to adult education or community colleges. Thus, the high schools in reality, are shirking their responsibility to these vulnerable children.

This is particularly a problem since the high school dropout rate of special education students is disproportionately high. High school career technical education and career academies engage young people and retain them in high school. For high schools not to utilize this motivation of young people to provide them with an appropriate education is a travesty. Unfortunately, the high schools and special education departments are given a mission to increase the rate of graduation of special education students. This high school graduation goal has worked to diminish the number of special education students enrolled in career technical education. This inappropriate goal leaves an enormous number of special education students leaving high school with no employable skills. This is a disaster for these young people that no one talks about. It is a hidden national disaster.

The largest group of high school special education students by far is the learning disabled or LD students. The largest subgroup within the LD group is the students with reading disabilities. Even though many of the students have above-average intelligence, they don’t do well in high school. The reading disability makes it difficult to do well in high school’s academic setting. Today’s testing mania makes it even more difficult for them. Thus, these kids do not do well in the required courses required for high school graduation. The reading disability makes it difficult to perform homework. Help at home varies from great to nothing. The education system grinds on these kids making them take academic courses where they have no chance of succeeding.

This lack of success in academic high school courses is in sharp contrast to career technical education. Many special education students love working with their hands. They do well in auto technology, machine technology, and construction. Some of the students enjoy working with people and do well in marketing and hospitality courses. Others have a flair for art and do well in animation, graphics, and design. The point is they must obtain a high level of job skills while they’re still in high school so they can go to work when they leave high school. It is essential not to lose these kids to gangs, crime, prostitution, drugs, and jail.

American high schools must take responsibility for systematically providing occupational education to the majority of special education students. Clearly, there is a minority of special education students who are too severely disabled to succeed in high school career technical education. This does not mean that the majority of these kids should not be served appropriately by high schools in America. Once educational leaders understand the issue, they will agree the best high school format to accomplish this mission is the career academy. The career academy will assure that every student obtains a four-year sequence of career technical education that leads to an employable skill.

Special education leaders, high school administrators, and school boards must learn that the IEP transition plan is not just a check off for some unspecified future organization. The concept of transition must become the responsibility of the high school itself. It is not fair to the kids or their families to defer this responsibility. These responsible leaders must review high school IEP’s and update the transition piece to require the high schools to provide occupational education. In reality, the educational establishment shouldn’t let these kids go until they have a certified job skill. The reality is they really should start on the transition plans in middle school for students to learn about occupations they might like to prepare for as part of their high school experience. The leaders of high schools in America can no longer abrogate their responsibility to this vulnerable population.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on Amazon.com

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on Amazon.com
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