Imagine an ESE teacher interviewing one of their special education students for her upcoming IEP meeting, a frequent question they have to ask themselves is “Have we prepared her for the future?” In today’s schooling, we are driven to prepare our students for college. We set them up with advanced placement classes, have them take college entrance exams, and prep them for college applications. What happens though, if that student isn’t really college bound? Somewhere down the line we lost sight of the fact that not all students are cut out for college. Some don’t have the desire, some don’t have the need, and some, just don’t have the ability.
As harsh as it may seem to recognize that there are students that do not have the educational ability to go to college, not recognizing this is a greater disservice to them. As special education teachers, the students we work with, more often than not, fall into this category. So what do you do with them? Right now the trend and the mandate are to push them toward the same college path as other students. The present school system is gravely hindering these students ability to find a rewarding and successful path for their future. Some learning disabilities can be overcome, some can be worked around, but simply, some cannot. If a student struggles in high school and requires extensive accommodations to succeed, the likely hood of success in college is greatly reduced. Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act(IDEA) has helped to change the face of education for special needs students, and the No Child Left Behind act has moved toward a heavily integrated classroom, there is still a large population of students that are not receiving the best education to fit their needs. There will always be a population of students that will never be in the 100% percentile for educational expectations; they may not even make it to the 10th.
Now back to the student being interviewed. Let’s say she is a junior in high school. She has a processing disorder that has hindered her ability to take in information fast enough to really learn it. In school, we accommodate her by giving her directions multiple times, giving her extra time to study and complete work; we even reduce the amount of work expected of her. With these accommodations, she does ok. Not great, but she passes most of her classes. Since we as a school have been pushing her toward college, she has decided she wants to become a lawyer. Would law school give her these same accommodations? Would a law firm give her extra time to work on a case, or give half her case load to someone else? That is very unlikely. This is the disappointment we are setting her up for. Now the issue lies in what to guide her toward. Do we continue to push her toward a college education but try to steer her in a different direction. In effect, we’re saying “Hey, you could get in college, but you’re not smart enough for law school, so pick something else.”
What could we be doing instead? If we guided our students into areas more suited to their abilities from the beginning, their success rates would be so much higher. Perhaps she could be a clerk at a law firm, or a recorder. Neither of these positions requires a college degree, yet both are sought after positions. Perhaps this student should be shown a set of law books to help her understand the extent and depth of the reading and memorization that will be expected of her. Why must she be expected to suddenly be able to increase her learning ability for college? A person cannot simple outgrow a learning disability, so why set them up for intense struggle. If we prepare each child for their future, not just a future, than the future in general will be a better place.