If We Won't Help Special Needs, Who Will?
The National Assessment of Vocational Education reports that individuals with special needs are over-enrolled in vocational education. The Forum in the September Vocational Education Journal expresses the viewpoint that special needs students take up too much of a vocational instructor's time at the expense of the majority of students. Congress is blocking a proposed amendment to Perkins regulations that would improve disadvantaged students' access to vocational education programs.
These are important issues that should be addressed immediately so we can separate truth from fiction. First, though, we should focus on what vocational education really is trying to do for special populations students.
There are several questions that need to be answered:
1. Are more SP students served in vocational education because of Perkins funds, or are more Perkins funds available to programs because of better identification and services for these students?
2. Has the percentage of SP students enrolled in vocational education increased because it has become a "dumping ground" or are there just more SP students in the overall population?
3. Do SP students really belong in vocational education or are there other programs that will provide the training these students need to become productive taxpayers?
4. Have SP students completed vocational education programs that give them the academic and occupational skills they need to work in a technologically advanced society, or have they completed programs with only enough skills to get minimum-wage jobs?
First, it is important to identify the SP students enrolled in vocational education. The Perkins Act says they are "individuals with disabilities, educationally and economically disadvantaged individuals (including foster children), individuals of limited English proficiency, individuals who participate in programs designed to eliminate sex bias and individuals in correctional institutions."
The primary purpose of identifying this segment of the population for special attention and help is to prepare them for the emerging workforce and to enable them to become productive citizens, not to enroll them in any specific program. What educational discipline, other than vocational education, has this as its primary objective?
Are these students likely to pursue a four-year degree? They can and do if their test scores are acceptable, their performance levels are sufficient and they receive proper counseling along with grants or loans they may need to pursue such education goals. …