Dwayne Parham, a former special education student, doesn’t mince words when asked about his life since graduating from Springfield High School with a modified diploma in 2005. The 21-year-old, who suffers from ADHD and a learning disability, describes his existence today as
kind of lame…. It’s really hard for me to learn stuff, and nobody wants to take the time to work with me.
Adrift, he says he spends his days sitting at home.
Parham is hardly alone. This year when the state released its annual special education report card, a requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Act, it found that more than a quarter of special education students had not held a minimum wage job or attended post-secondary education a year after leaving high school.
State educators say the survey, the first in which the state has attempted to track the post-school outcomes of special education students, will later be broken down into further detail, allowing school districts specific information on each surveyed former student’s situation in hopes that the information will help schools improve future graduates’ lives. (Similar data is not kept for non-special ed students.)
Special education includes a broad swath of students — Oregon’s more than 72,000 special ed students fall into 13 categories of disabilities ranging from learning disorders to mental retardation — making the diversity of outcomes immense. Nevertheless, the report card’s findings do raise a series of important questions applicable to the system as a whole: What is life like after special education? What opportunities exist for meaningful work and engagement after graduation? What programs and resources are helping improve the transition from high student to adulthood?
Are you a graduate of a special education program or the parent of an adult child who attended special ed? Do you teach in a high school special ed or transition program? What has your experience been? What proved most successful in preparing you, your child or students for life after special ed? What should be improved?
- Erik Coleman: 2007 graduate of Thurston High School and part-time student at Lane Community College
- Jackie Burr: Secondary transition specialist at the Oregon Department of Education
- Arlene Jones: Administrative coordinator for Family and Community Together and the mother of a 22-year-old woman with a cognitive disability
- Christopher Murray: Associate Professor of Special Education at the University of Oregon
- Sharon Swan: Mother of a 24-year-old woman with cerebral palsy