Current Challenges Facing Secondary Education and Transition Services: What Research Tells US

By Johnson, David R.; Stodden, Robert A. et al. | Exceptional Children, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Current Challenges Facing Secondary Education and Transition Services: What Research Tells US


Johnson, David R., Stodden, Robert A., Emanuel, Ellen J., Luecking, Richard, Mack, Mary, Exceptional Children


Beginning with the Reagan administration in the mid-1980s, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of SpecialEducation and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), stressed the importance of improving transition services nationally. Since this time, the federal government has assumed a crucial role in stimulating state and local efforts to improve transition services through a variety of policy, interagency, systems change, model demonstration, and research efforts. Specific language on transition was included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990, and again in the IDEA Amendments of 1997. From this federal legislation, regulations were established requiring state and local education agencies specifically to address the school and postschool transition service needs of students with disabilities. These needs would be met through coordinated planning among special education parents and students, general education, and community service agencies.

Progress in creating comprehensive and responsive secondary education and transition services has, however, been slow and inconsistent across states and school districts nationwide. This situation has occurred despite the supporting influences of federal legislation and mandates, the availability of research on effective secondary education and transition models and practices, and the emphasis placed on interagency collaboration as a means of helping young people achieve positive postschool outcomes (Hasazi, Furney, & DeStefano, 1999; Johnson & Sharpe, 2000). A variety of recent policy and educational reform initiatives have also added to the challenges public schools must now face in addressing the secondary education and transition needs of youth with disabilities.

This article presents findings from research that identifies key issues influencing the implementation of the federal transition requirements of the IDEA Amendments of 1997 and policies at the state and local levels; examines the impact and implications of recent general education reform initiatives on secondary education and transition services; and presents the major policy, system, and other challenges that must be addressed over the next several years. These challenges have broad implications for special education and its relationship with general education, and a wide range of community agencies and organizations responsible for supporting youth with disabilities as they make the transition from high school to postsecondary education, employment, independent living options, lifelong learning, and other aspects of adult life.

EMERGENT POLICY INFLUENCES ON THE PROVISION OF SECONDARY EDUCATION AND TRANSITION SERVICES

Since the mid-1980s, the efficacy of public education programs has been challenged by policymakers, business leaders, professionals, and the general public. Whether the impetus for reform comes from a perception of "falling behind" our international counterparts, as asserted in A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983); not producing youth prepared for the labor market, as in the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS, 1991); or "falling short" of providing equitable opportunities to all U.S. children, as documented in The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America's Youth and Young Families (Grant Foundation, 1988), the consensus seems to be that there are serious things wrong with public education, that the problems are systemic rather than programmatic, and that nothing short of major structural change will fix these problems (Cobb & Johnson, 1997; Thurlow & Johnson, 2000). While these concerns initially focused on improving general education, there are now efforts to closely align special programs with emerging general education reforms (e.g., Elmore & Rothman, 1999; McDonnell, McLaughlin, & Morison, 1997). …

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