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Transition: old wine in new bottles.

One of my favorite books within the special education literature was written several years ago by Sandra Kaufman. Sandra is the mother of three children, one of whom, Nicole, is a daughter with mental retardation. During Nicole's childhood, Sandra and her husband Matt struggled, often unsuccessfully, to find ways of dealing with Nicole's problems. When Nicole was in her early 20s, however, and living in her own apartment, Sandra went back to school and became associated with the anthropological studies of mental retardation being conducted by Robert Edgerton. As part of her work in this area, Sandra decided that she would conduct a "field study" of her own daughter. A book eventually emerged out of this effort, which Sandra entitled Retarded Isn't Stupid, Mom! (Kaufman, 1988).

Although Nicole's story covers the full span of her life, the essence of Kaufman's book deals with Nicole's transition from adolescence into adulthood. This transition, as you might expect, was a struggle, not only for Nicole but for her parents and siblings as well. Although the hopes and aspirations of all concerned often remained high, there were times when the pathway had so many obstacles that the temptation to give up became almost insurmountable. In one particularly poignant example, Nicole burst into tears after attempting to buy a card for a friend's wedding shower. After purchasing the card, she discovered that it was worded in such a way for a man to give to a woman. Nicole's despair was apparently very great as she contemplated one more piece of evidence of her self-perceived incompetence, which caused her to question her value as a human being.

Sandra recounted her own reaction to this incident through a conversation wiht Matt:

"How does she take it?" I cried. "Everywhere she turns, the world screams at her that she's inadequate. She's barred from all the fun that [her brother and sister] enjoy. She's denied privileges they are given as a matter of course. She's excluded from the better paying, more interesting jobs. She's told she's too incompetent to have a baby.... She can't even buy a card in a store without being mortified. No wonder she's despondent."

Matt stared out the front window.

"And then," I continued, "we add to her problems. 'Go to work every day. Plan your time carefully. Eat right. Go to bed early. Clean your apartment. Budget your money. Use birth control.' That's what she hears from dawn to dusk. It's all so ... rational, so middle class. Why does she have to live this way? Where is it written? Good God. She climbs mountains each day just to survive."

Matt looked at me. "So what are you saying?"

I shivered, "I guess I'm no longer sure I know what's best for her. There are many kinds of success. Maybe the best thing for her would b e all-night sessions with friends, a baby or two, SSI for income...."

He was incredulous. "Could you really accept that? An aimless life in which each day is lived for itself?" (Kaufman, 1988, pp. 132-133)

Sandra Kaufman's anguished question about what's best for Nicole cuts to the heart of the transition movement for people with disabilities. Six years ago, Madeleine Will (1984a) defined a "new" federal initiative called "transition": "The transition from school to working life is an outcome-oriented process encompassing a broad array of services and experiences that lead to employment." A year later, I argued (Halpern, 1985) that the goals of transition should never be confined to employment, but should encompass all appropriate dimensions of adult adjustment and involvement in the community. Now, in the 1990s we no longer debate the appropriateness of a broader set of goals for transition. Instead, we have more appropriately turned our attention to the question of how to make transition work in our local communities. We have acknowledged that transition, from the perspective of families, is not only about services and social goals. From a phenomenological perspective, transition is better defined as "a period of floundering that occurs for at least the first several years after leaving school as adolescents attempt to assume a variety of adult roles in their communities."



The question of how to make transition work is complex and must be addressed at several levels, including policy development, program capacity development, and program implementation in local communities. The issues being addressed were obviously not invented in 1984, and we have experienced several broad social movements during the past three decades that have attempted to deal with these issues. Like old wine in new bottles, these issues have been addressed with varying levels of success by each new approach that has emerged to attack the old issues.

Cooperative Work/Study Programs

During the 1960s, a popular approach that emerged to address these issues was the work/study program, conducted cooperatively between the public schools and local offices of state rehabilitation agencies (Halpern, 1973; 1974; Kolstoe & Frey, 1965). The general goal of these programs was to create an integrated academic, social, and vocational curriculum, accompanied by appropriate work experience, that was designed to prepare students with mild disabilities for eventual community adjustments. The administration of these programs was generally structured by formal cooperative agreements between the schools and the rehabilitation agency.

The centerpiece of each cooperative agreement involved the assignment of a portion of each teacher's day (usually one half) to the role and duties of a work coordinator. This, in turn, led to a significant increase in the number of students who participated in work placements as part of their high-school program. The formal relationship between a local school and the vocational rehabilitation agency also facilitated the efficient referral of students to become clients of the rehabilitation agency, which in turn eased the transition of students from school to the adult community.

Despite the tremendous growth and prosperity of this program during the 1960s, it basically died during the 1970s, primarily as a consequence of two intrinsic flaws. The first of these flaws derived from the funding mechanism that was generally used to support the program. This funding mechanism involved certifying the teacher's time (and accompanying salary) spent being a work coordinator as "in-kind" state contribution of dollars to the rehabilitation agency's budget. Because the majority of the rehabilitation agency's budget comes from federal allocations, at a ratio of several federal dollars for each matching state dollar, this certification of an already existing expenditure (the teacher's salary) as "in-kind" matching dollars became a clever way of generating additional federal rehabitation dollars at no real additional expense to the state.

There was a hitch, however, in the federal regulations governing the certification of in-kind dollars for matching purposes. According to these regulations, if a person's salary from another agency was certified as rehabilitation matching money, then the proportion of that person's time represented by the "certified" salary had to be supervised by a representative of the rehabilitation agency. As you can imagine, school principals were not thrilled by the prospect of somebody other than themselves supervising their teachers. Although "creative" ways were often improvised for fulfilling this supervision requirements, it frequently emerged as a point of contention in the day-to-day implementation of the work/study agreement.

A second problem emerged from the "similar benefits" requirement of the 1973 amendments to the vocational rehabilitation act. This requirement, in a nutshell, stipulates that the rehabilitation agency cannot pay for services that are the legitimate responsibility of some other agency. Since the schools were not required to provide work experience to their special education students during the 1960s, the provision of this service could be construed as a rehabilitation service under the terms of the cooperative agreement, thereby providing a justification for the generation of federal matching rehabilitation dollars (so long as the supervision requirement was met). A dramatic change occurred, however, with the passage of Public Law 94-142 in 1975, which required that every child with a disability is entitled to "a free and appropriate public education." Interpreters of this new law determined that "work experience" could be construed as a component of an "appropriate" education during high school for many students with disabilities. Such an interpretation made it risky for the rehabilitation agency to purchase this service, because it might be regarded as the responsibility of the schools and would then be governed by the rules concerning similar benefits.

In combination with several other constraints, the supervision and similar benefits requirements of the rehabilitation legislation led to the near demise of the cooperative work/study program during the 1970s. The needs being addressed through the program, however, were still very much alive. A new movement came into being during this period of time called "career education," which held some promise for addressing the persistent needs. The old wise was about to receive a new bottle.

Career Education

Unlike the work/study movement, which focused on the delivery of services within a specific type of interagency agreement, the career education movement was much more general in its articulation and diffuse in its implementation. In fact, the initial impetus for career education did not even mention the needs of people with disabilities. The beginning of the career education movement is often identified as occurring in 1970, when Sidney Marland, then the Commissioner of Education, declared career education to be the top priority of the U.S. Office of Education. Almost immediately following this pronouncement, a federal initiative began to emerge, with the awarding of approximately $90 million in demonstration grants through funding structures that were already available under Parts C and D of the 1968 Vocational Education Act (Hoyt, 1982). Most of these grants were concerned with career education for the general population of students.

During the decade of the 1970s, the movement progressed in several directions, including increased federal visibility (although not accompanied by increased federal support), extension of the concept to include a clear focus on the needs of people with disabilities, and formal endorsement of the concept by The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) (Brolin, 1983; Cegelka, 1979; Hoyt, 1982). Each of these trends is worthy of comment.

Federal visibility for the career education movement was clearly enhanced in 1974 when the Office of Career Education was established within the U.S. Office of Education. The legislative mandate for the movement was crystallized in 1977 with passage of P.L. 95-207, the Career Education Implementation Incentive Act. In addition to providing a general impetus to career education, this act also specifically mentioned people with disabilities as an appropriate target population for services that would be facilitated through the act.

In 1976, the Division of Career Development was approaved as a 12th division of The Council for Exceptional Children. In 1978, CEC formally endorsed the concept of career education through the publication of a position paper on the topic. The significant involvement of this organization in the career education movement laid the foundation for preserving the movement in special education irrespective of federal involvement. Such a foundation was indeed needed in 1982, when P.L. 95-207 was repealed by Congress, consistent with a preplanned federal intent to use this legislation only as a source of "seed money" to nourish the development of the movement (Hoyt, 1982).

When one reflects on the accomplishments of the career education movement--and these accomplishments were many--it is interesting to observe that a commonly accepted definition of "career education" never did emerge. Definitions that emerged from the field ranged from a narrow focusing of goals on the preparation of students for paid employments to a much broader concern with all aspects of adult life. Attempting, perhaps, to mediate between these two positions, the policy adopted by CEC contains elements of both extremes:

Career education is the totality of experiences through which one learns to live a meaningful, satisfying work life. Within the career education framework, work is conceptualized as conscious effort aimed at producing benefits for oneself and for others. Career education provides the opportunity for children to learn, in the least restrictive environment possible, the academic, daily living, personal-social and occupational knowledge and specific vocational work skills necessary for attaining their highest levels of economic, personal and social fulfillment. The individual can obtain this fulfillment through work (both paid and unpaid) and in a variety of other societal roles and personal life styles including his/her pursuits as a student, citizen, volunteer, family member, and participant in meaningful leisure time activities. (Position Paper, 1978).

In many ways, the career education movement can be viewed as an expansion of the work/study movement that preceded it. The work/study movement was fairly narrow in its goals, generally restricted to secondary education, largely focused on serving students with mild mental retardation, typically implemented in programs reserved for students with disabilities, and formally structured as an interagency collaboration. The career education movement was diffuse in its goals, oriented to both elementary and secondary education, available to students with and without disabilities, implemented in both regular and special education environments, and broadly structured as a general education movement. Both movements were spawned through opportunities presented by federal legislation and were nurtured largely through federal financial participation. The work/study movement died as an inadvertent consequence of federal legislation and regulation, and the career education movement was intentionally disowned as a federal initiative. Both predecessors left a legacy for the emergence of the transition movement in the 1980s.


Only 2 years after the repeal of the Career Education Implementation Incentive Act in 1982, a new federal transition initiative emerged on the scene (Will, 1984a) in the form of a "position paper" from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). The essence of this paper involved the articulation of a "transition model," which has come to be known as a "bridges" model. This model describes three types of services (bridges) that are needed to facilitate the transition from school to work.

The first bridge, labeled "transition without special services," refers to the use of generic services available to anyone in the community, even if special accommodations are necessary within these services for people with disabilities. Postsecondary education, such as that provided in a community college, is mentioned as a prime example of a generic service.

The second bridge, "transition with time-limited services," refers to specialized, short-term services where the presence of a disability is usually required to qualify a person for access to the service. Vocational rehabilitation is offered here as an example.

The third bridge has been labeled "transition with ongoing services." As the model developers point out, this bridge did not in 1984 represent a widely existing service delivery system. Exemplified by "supported employment," it was relatively new (Will, 1984a, 1984b) and had made its presence known primarily in demonstration projects that were themselves supported by federal grants and contracts. The rehabilitation amendments of 1986, however, identified supported employment as a regular program, paving the way for an increased funding level over time.

The target of the OSERS transition model, as I mentioned before, has been restricted to "employment." Perhaps anticipating some concern about the narrowness of this goal, the choice of employment is justified in words such as the following (Will, 1984a):

This concern with employment does not indicate a lack of interest in other aspects of adult living. Success in social, personal, leisure, and other adult roles enhances opportunities both to obtain employment and enjoy its benefits. (p.1)

The focus on employment as a central outcome of effective transition provides an objective measure of transition success. (p.2)

What the author of this policy seemed to be suggesting was that the nonvocational dimensions of adult adjustment are significant and important only in so far as they contribute to the ultimate goal of employment. Whether or not one agrees with the restricting of transition goals to employment, the impact of this policy was swift and deep. Almost immediately following publication of the OSERS policy on transition (Will, 1984a), requests for "transition" proposals began to appear in a wide array of federal programs dealing with disability. This trend was enhanced through the introduction of transition and supported employment components into new legislation that pertained to people with disabilities. The newest amendments to P.L. 94-142, now called the "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (P.L. 101-476), contain several important new initiatives in the area of transition, including the requirement that all IEPs address transition goals no later than the student's 16th birthday.

Comparison of the Three Movements

Because of transition movement is still in full force today, it is impossible to evaluate the impact of the movement from an historical perspective. Certain comparisons with the work/study and career education movements, however, allow us to examine the transition movement within the broader context of its antecedents.

The transition movement's early focus on employment was narrower than the stipulated goals of either the work/study or career education movements. All three movements acknowledged that the dimensions of adult adjustment extend beyond employment, but only the transition movement adopted a clearly restrictive position on this issue. The reason for this restrictive position was not a lack of appreciation for the complexity of adult adjustment. Rather, it was the sense of the policymakers that a more limited objective would be more feasible, fundable, and easier to evaluate than a program with multiple objectives.

In a similar "restrictive" vein, both the transition and work/study movements focused their efforts on the limited time span of high-school years through early adulthood, whereas the career education movement covered a much broader span of human development. On the other hand, the transition movement provides the broadest focus on the types of adult service agencies that need to be directly involved in the partnerships with the public schools in order to facilitate the movement from school to work.


Where, then, do we stand after 30 years of programs that have been designed to prepare young people with disabilities for adult roles in their communities? A candid answer to this question is that we still have a long way to go. In the area of curriculum and instruction, we are still frequently deficient in what we teach, how we teach, and where we teach. Curriculum content still tends to focus too much on remedial academics and not enough on functional skills. Instructional design often ignores the issues of maintenance and generalization without which we have no reason to believe that the skills being taught in the classroom will be used in the community settings where they are relevant. The location of instruction is frequently in the school-based classroom, even though a community-based setting would often be more appropriate.

Other concerns, in addition to curriculum and instruction, leave us less than satisfied with the current state of affairs. Integration of high-school students with disabilities into the mainstream remains a cloudy issue, both with respect to its desirability and its implementation. Too many students drop out, and those who remain often receive a meaningless certificate of attendance rather than some form of useful diploma. Transition planning is often ineffective or even nonexistent. The array of adult services is insufficient to meet the needs of those who leave school, and parents or other relatives must often assume the lifelong role of case manager for their child or children with disabilities.

These unresolved issues and concerns can be addressed in several ways.

1. New policies can be developed to structure the ways that we think about needs and priorities.

2. The capacity to address unresolved issues and concerns can be enhanced through legislation, resource allocation, and careful planning for the development of new programs and services.

3. New programs and services can be implemented, evaluated, and refined in local communities, drawing on the policy-development and capacity-building efforts that provide a foundation for local activities.

All three levels of effort--policy development, capacity buildings, and the effective implementation of new programs--can be enhanced through the collection and dissemination of appropriate follow-along information that documents the experience of students while in school, and the outcomes that they achieve after leaving school. All of these efforts to address the unresolved problems of transition must work in tandem if widespread impact is eventually to occur.


Each of these approaches to facilitating change is worthy of extended discussion and analysis. Much has also been written about these various approaches, particularly those that involve capacity building and new program implementation. Perhaps the area that is least often considered is the set of conditions that influence the development of policy. Nearly 20 years ago, when I was a relative newcomer to our profession, I had the good fortune to be invited by Michael Begab toa conference on the sociology of mental retardation. At this conference, the gifted sociologist Amitai Etzioni made an interesting observation about the relationship between "special interest" concerns, such as the field of disability, and the broader concerns of society as a whole. He admonished us to avoid myopia, lest we become so caught up in our narrow concerns that we neglect to understand and respond to the broad social problems and issues that exert great influence on our society as a whole. He used the

metaphor of attempting to cross the ocean in a 16-foot wooden boat with a 10-horsepower motor. For such a voyage to have even a chance of being successful, one must move with the waves and not against them.

Relevant Social Issues

If Etzioni was correct in his thinking, to make significant headway with the problems of transition for young adults with disabilities, we must first understand the broad social issues that have an impact, or a potential impact, on our narrower set of concerns. As one way of addressing this purpose, I spent a 3-month period (March-May, 1990) doing a very informal study of "relevant social issues." My method involved carefully reading newspapers and news magazines and cutting out and collecting anything that seemed in any way relevant to me at the time. I eventually gathered several hundred clippings and did an informal content analysis of my collection, which yielded the following categories: educational reform, our current health care crisis, increasing levels of poverty in our children, the movement of our society toward increased ethnic diversity, and the growing social implications of financing and managing our federal budget deficit. I have chosen to discuss educational reform to illustrate the influence of the broad social context on policy development that pertains to transition for students with disabilities.

Educational Reform

Much has certainly been written and discussed on the topic of educational reform over many years. In collaboration with the National Governors Association, a recent framework for crystallizing at least some of the major concerns was provided by President Bush in his 1990 State of the Union message. As part of this message, he outlined his preference for six national goals to be met by the year 2000. These goals were then embellished 15 months later with a set of proposed strategies in a document entitled America 2000: An Education Strategy (Bush, 1991). The goals include the following:

1. Every American child must start school prepared to learn, sound in body and sound in mind.

2. The high-school graduate rate in the United States must increase to no less than 90%.

3. All Students in Grades 4, 8, and 12 will be tested for progress in critical subjects.

4. American students must rank first in the world in achievement in mathematics and science.

5. Every adult must be a skilled, literate worker and citizen, able to complete in a global economy.

6. Every school must be drug free and offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.

Many of these goals have either clear or potential relevance for the transition programs that are of concern to us. We are concerned about functional illiteracy, and approximately 20% of the entire adult American population is unable to perform basic math calculations or read at a rudimentary level of effectiveness. We are concerned about high-school dropouts, and approximately 30% of all American students drop out of school. The commonality of concerns is easy enough to identify, and the examples that emerged in the news clippings were quite numerous. Some seemed to have particularly important ramifications for our narrower set of interest. For example:

* Should vocational apprenticeship programs, such as those found in Germany, be developed as a strong and viable alternative to the college preparation programs that are the cornerstone of high schools in our country?

* Should the federal government get into the business of determining and measuring minimum education competencies?

* Can all students be educated together, or is some sort of tracking system desirable?

* Should schools be the instruments of social reform, or should they stick to the business of education?

* What should be the role of parents in dealing with the education of their children?

Vocational Apprentice Programs. Although vocational education programs in the United States have a long history of their own, some interesting aspects of the vocational apprentice program in Germany have received recent public attention from the national syndicated columnist, William Raspberry, who visited these programs, along with a contingent of educators from Indiana. He introduced this topic with his perceptions of the haphazard manner in which many American youngsters begin their work careers:

Typically, they leave high school to look for work wherever they can find it--sometimes with help from family friends, sometimes going full time into jobs in which they worked apart time during high school. Only after a succession of random jobs, it seems, do they stumble upon something with real career potential--a permanent job with clear prospects for advancement that pays enough to support a family. . . . The delayed transition to adulthood signals to the youngsters that, no matter what we say, there is little real relationship between what they learn in school and their ability to make their way in the world.

Raspberry then presented his viewpoint, which praised the potential of Germany's apprentice program to address these issues that he had raised. The essence of this program, as he reported it, involves a refocusing of the last 2 or 3 years of public education to include 3 or 4 days a week pursuing an on-the-job apprenticeship, with only 1 or 2 days a week in the classroom. There are 380 apprenticeable skills in Germany, and the minimum compentencies are standardized across the country. Government regulates the standards, and employers have no obligation to participate in the program.

But the employers do, in fact, participate. They pay for the cost of training even though there is no obligation, or even expectation, that the apprentice will continue to work for the employer who provides the training. "Employers consider the training expenses an unremarkable investment in the competency of Germany's work force and, therefore, an investment in their own long-term survival." Many companies train far more people than they have any possible of ever hiring. Raspberry speculated that the employers are motivated to participate because they have real control over what is taught and how skills are taught. As for the value of this approach, he asked rhetorically, "Who would you rather have teach your child a job: A master craftsman or a school teacher?"

The extended involvement of the business sector in the educational enterprise is a topic of intensifying discussion in our country, with many businesses expressing a strong interest in participating. As we continue to explore innovative ways for businesses to become integrally involved in the education of all students, new models and opportunities likely will emerge that provide good opportunities for students with disabilities. To continue with the imagery of Etzioni's metaphor, this may be a wave worth catching.

Federal Involvement in Minimum Competencies. The federal government has entered the business of education in many ways. P.L. 94-142 and the OSERS transition initiatives are obvious examples in our field. The minimum competency strand of educational reform, however, has begun to explore the limits of federal intervention in education.

In response to President Bush's goal of testing student achievement in Grades 4, 8, and 12, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) voted in December 1989 to ask Congress for a substantial expansion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test that it has been operating for the past 20 years. The purpose of this expansion would be to develop new and better tests to address the President's goal. Opposition to this proposal has been strong and from many sources including the National Congress of Parents and Teachers Association (PTA), the Council of Chief School Officers, the National Education Association, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

The voices of opposition present several arguments. The multiple-choice formats that trend to dominate standardized tests measure only certain kinds of learning that emphasize fact recall. Because there are no commonly accepted definitions of minimum competency, developing as single standardized form of assessment is impossible. If the outcomes of such assessment are used to distribute sanctions and rewards, schools will slavishly pursue good scores regardless of their educational relevance.

The NAGB, of course, has some arguments of its own. Without accountability, they assert, society has no way of evaluating educational outcomes. Furthermore if schools are allowed to develop their own assessments, they will tend to set easy standards that make their programs look good.

It is too early to predict the outcome of this controversy. The potential impact on transition programs for students with disabilities is also uncertain. If a national competency assessment program is strengthened, will this result in a raising of minimum competency standards and increased difficulty in earning a high-school diploma, thereby decreasing the number of special education students who can earn a diploma? On the other hand, would a good set of standardized measures help to provide a valid paradigm for evaluating the impact of instruction and distributing financial resources to education programs? The eventual outcome of this debate will most certainly affect transition programs for students with disabilities.

Tracking and Mainstreaming. The issue of student tracking is not new to the field of special education. The concept of educating students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment was a cornerstone of P.L. 94-142, and the mainstreaming movement and regular education initiative (REI) have emerged as attempts to embody this concept. As we all know, these attempts have not been uniformly supported within special education, with both the success and appropriateness of such efforts being challenged, especially at the secondary level.

Concerns about mainstreaming have also emerged from the perspective of regular education. Within this context, the issue is often expressed as a concern about the appropriateness of tracking systems for organizing classroom instruction. A recent opinion presented by the syndicated columnist, Paul Greenberg, (1990, April 22) provides a perspective on this issue. He stated:

The latest fad in Educanto is to eliminate "tracking," the grouping of students by ability. Such an approach might make sense to simple laymen like you and me, but the eudcationists have just about decided that it's ineffective--not to say elitist, racist, fascist and possibly even old-fashioned. Can any more serious indictment be imagined? . . . The newest approach is to throw kids together regardless of ability or knowledge; it is assumed that the superior knowledge and skills of the sharpest will rub off on the the rest. Uh-huh. This is the kind of assumption that would make Pollyanna look like a hard-bitten cynic. . . . In the days of the one-room school house, older or brighter students often took charge of the younger ones, rather than being challenged by new material. It had its advantages, but not that many. Mainly it was a matter of necessity. . . . Are we, in the name of progress, headed back to that system? If so, you can be sure it'll be given some multisyllabic name (how does "cooperative learning" sound?) and hailed in educational journals as a great advance. Educanto marches on.

Greenberg's stinging sarcasm is hardly a careful or fair evaluation of tracking or mainstreaming, but it does represent an important public perception that needs to be addressed. The issue gets even cloudier when we consider the legal requirement that tracking, if it is done, must be nondiscriminatory. The basic concern that seems to be involved in this debate is how to achieve excellence in education for all students, while acknowledging that their needs, abilities, and educational goals are diverse. In any case, it seems almost certain that decisions concerning tracking and cooperative learning in regular education will spill over into decisions concerning mainstreaming and REI for students with disabilities.

Schools and Social Reform. One of the three columns written by Raspberry about the apprentice program in Germany raised an interesting companion issue about the role of schools as instruments of social reform. His beginning sense of this issue emerged from an awareness that amateur sports in Germany have no connection with educational institutions, which relieves the schools of any responsibility for such budget-draining items as sports stadiums, uniforms and equipment for athletes, bands and cheerleaders, buses to transport these people to events, and coaches' salaries. He also noticed that German schools did not tend to support any form of school transportation, lunchrooms, or most extracurricular activities. His conclusion?

One of the reasons German youngsters seem more serious than ours is that German schools are more businesslike and career-oriented than ours. While there are exceptions, schools are for those who want to learn something and are not used as day care centers or personality enrichment programs.

Schools in the United States, of course, tend to move in a completely different direction. Good schools are often viewed as those that "do it all." School personnel are expected not only to teach, but also to transport, feed, coach, counsel, advise, and support student development in a myriad of extracurricular activities. Furthermore, schools are expected to play a major role in solving serious social problems, such as drug abuse, child abuse, poverty, health problems, and teen-age pregnancy.

For example, beginning in October 1990, a new federal law requires all teenage parents on welfare to enroll in a high-school completion program if they don't already have a diploma or a GED. Failure to comply will result in a dramatic reduction of welfare benefits. These high expectation for our schools to serve as a major agent of social change are likely to remain intact for a long time. As the debate concerning school responsibilities unfolds, each decision to maintain or expand these multifaceted responsibilities will have obvious fiscal and programmatic implications. At some point, both money and energy will run out. Programs for students with disabilities will have to compete for both resources.

Role of Parents. The role of schools as agents of social change cannot be separated from the role of parents. The relationship is almost symbiotic; a partnership is most desirable, but whatever the schools don't do will be foisted upon parents, and vice versa. What, then, is a proper delineation of responsibilities?

Public sentiment seems to place a majority of this responsibility upon the schools. Columnist Mike Royko (1990, April 16) takes issue with this sentiment through a dialogue with his fictitious blue collar philosopher, Slats Grobnik.

"Where did President bush find this dummy?" asked Slats Grobnik, looking up from his newspaper.

Oh, let's leave poor Dan Quayle alone.

"I don't mean Quayle. It's this secretary of education."

Ah, you mean Lauro Cavazos.

"Yea, whatever his name is. What a klutz."

That's rather harsh appraisal. After all, the man is our nation's highest education official. Show some respect.

"Yeah? Haven't you read what he said about high school dropouts?"

I know that it is considered a grave crisis, particularly among minority groups, so Bush has set up task forces to look into the problem.

"Nah, I mean the latest. This guy Cavazos went to one of these task force meetings and talked about whose fault it is that so many Hispanic kids drop out of school."

I assume he blamed the school systems, as everyone does.

"Yeah, he mentioned that. But he didn't stop there. He started talking like a looney. . . . He said that it's not just the schools that aren't doing their job, it's the parents of the dropouts."

I don't understand. Why are you calling him a dummy? You've been saying the same thing for years.

"I know, but I'm not the secretary of education, or the president, or a mayor or any other politician or mucky-muck. So it's OK for me to say it. But this stiff don't seem to know that what he said is a big no-no."

But if he believes it to be true, and if you agree, why shouldn't he come out and say it?

"You're as dumb as he is. I'll tell you why. Because this ain't the old days. We got a new set of rules now. When there is a problem--or a grave crisis, like they call it--you gotta blame society, or the government or the one I like the best--the failure of institutions. You never blame people. But what this guy went and did is blame people. And that's against the rules. So that's why he's a dummy. He don't know how to play the game."

Slats goes on to point out that politicians who don't play by the rules eventually lose their jobs.

Royko's blue collar philosopher may be on to something important here. If our needed educational reforms can only be accomplished with the assistance of parents, and if some parents want to abdicate this responsibility, and if policymakers are afraid or unable to confront the issue, many of the problems that currently bedevil the schools will remain unresolved. Students with disabilities, of course, will be caught up in the vortex of these unresolved problems, which must inevitably have an impact on the opportunities that are available within special education and transition programs, whether or not parents of students with disabilities are actively involved in these programs.


This short excursion in the area of educational reform, of course, is only one example of many general social concerns that set the parameters and conditions for the development of policy concerning transition programs in our field. A similar analysis of other concerns, such as the health care crisis in the United States, would undoubtedly yield other insights into policy issues that are likely to affect transition programs. The outcomes of policy development in these broader social issues will provide definite opportunities and limitations for structuring the changes that we are attempting to implement in our narrower field of concern.

Within this narrower field, we have already learned a great deal about how to improve program capacity and how to implement specific programs that take advantage of this capacity. Our literature is full of many fine examples of such efforts. From the perspective and influence of broad policy, however, the transition movement of the 1980s may or may not be the program of the 1990s that will emerge to address the needs of adolescents with disabilities as they prepare to move into adulthood. The transition movement, if it remains viable, should be responsive to the broad issues and concerns of our general society. If "transition" eventually disappears as a rallying call for programs, however, this should not be cause for alarm. Something new will undoubtedly take its place, because many of the underlying problems being experienced by adolescents and young adults with disabilities are likely to remain in need for further attention. If necessary, the old wine will find yet another new bottle.


Brolin, D. (1983). Career education: Where do we go from here? Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 6, 3-14.

Bush, G. (1991). America 2000: An education strategy. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Cegelka, P. (1979). Career education. In M. Epstein & D. Cullinan (Eds.), Special education for adolescents: Issues and perspectives (pp. 155-184). Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill.

Greenberg, P. (1990, April 22). Latest "educationist" fad on the wrong track. The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR), p. 3C.

Halpern, A. (1973). General unemployment and vocational opportunities for EMR individuals. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 80, 81-89.

Halpern, A. (1974). Work-study programs for the mentally retarded: An overview. In P. Browning (Ed.), Mental retardation: Rehabilitation and counseling (pp. 120-137). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.

Halpern, A. (1985). Transition: A look at the foundations. Exceptional Children, 51, 479-486.

Hoyt, K. (1982). Career education: Beginning of the end, or a new beginning. Career Development of Exceptional Individuals, 5, 3-12.

Kaufman, S. (1988). Retarded isn;t stupid, Mom! Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Kolstoe, O., & Frey, R. (1965). A high school work-study program for mentally sub-normal students. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Position paper on career education. (1978). Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.

Royko, M. (1990, April 16). Education secretary takes a risk. The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR), p. 9A.

Will, M. (1984a). OSERS programming for the transition of youth with disabilities: Bridges from school to working life. Washington, DC: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education.

Will, M. (1984b). Supported employment for adults with severe disabilities: An OSERS program initiative. Washington, DC: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education.

ANDREW S. HALPERN (CEC Chapter #216) is a Professor in the Division of Teacher Education at the University of Oregon, Eugene.
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Title Annotation:special education students' transition from adolescence to adulthood
Author:Halpern, Andrew S.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:Quality is in the eye of the beholder.
Next Article:Special education in South Korea.

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