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Parents and Teachers Say Schools Leave Handicapped Unprepared for Jobs

October 6, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ Parents and educators believe disabled children are getting a better education than a decade ago, but a majority feels public schools are still not preparing them adequately for jobs or college, a poll finds.

Ninety-four percent of educators and 77 percent of parents of handicapped children said disabled youngsters are faring better in school since passage in 1975 of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. The federal law conferred most of the educational rights such youngsters now have.

Only 11 percent of parents and 15 percent of teachers and other educators said schools are doing an excellent job preparing handicapped students for jobs after high school. And only 15 percent of both groups polled said schools are doing an excellent job in preparing students for education beyond high school.

The poll results are included in ″A Report Card on Special Education,″ a survey of attitudes toward education for the handicapped. Louis Harris and Associates conducted the survey for the International Center for the Disabled, based in New York, and the National Council on Disability. A copy was given to The Associated Press on Friday.

Many teachers and principals expressed lack of confidence in their expertise in dealing with disabled children.

Nearly half the regular classroom teachers surveyed said they have two or more handicapped students in their classes. But just 40 percent of those said they had training in special education, and only 32 percent felt confident of their decisions affecting handicapped children.

″Both educators and parents are saying that schools are not preparing these students for college or jobs. When you think about the state of education, as bad as the quality of schooling is for nondisabled children, to hear that it’s worse for the handicapped is pretty shocking,″ said Thomas Mehnert, assistant survey director for the International Center for the Disabled.

A total of 702 public school educators for the handicapped were interviewed by telephone, including special ed directors, school principals, and both regular and special ed classroom teachers.

One thousand parents and 200 handicapped students also were interviewed by telephone. The sample was designed to represent students with the 10 disability types defined by the federal law, as well as their parents.

The margin of sampling error was plus or minus two percentage points for questions asked of everyone in the survey. It ranged up to 14 points for questions that could be directed only to various subgroups.

About 4.4 million handicapped students attend special education programs offered by U.S. public schools, according to latest federal statistics.

Fred Weintraub, executive director of the Council for Exceptional Children in Reston, Va., and an architect of the 1975 federal special education statute, said the survey generally verified that there is ″an incredibly high happiness rate″ among those served by special ed.

But he added: ″We have real shortages of well-trained special ed personnel and it’s going to get far worse if we don’t do anything about it. Because of those shortages, we are seeing all kinds of creative groupings of children - for example, programs designed for learning disabled kids forced to include emotionally disturbed kids. So you have teachers with skills in one working with some of those kids, but not others.″

Among the survey’s other findings:

- 61 percent of parents said they knew little or nothing about their rights under key federal laws such as the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, or the 1975 law that gave students the right to ″a free, appropriate education in the least restrictive environment″;

- over half the parents surveyed, 56 percent, said they had to struggle to get the education their children needed, 36 percent said they had considered filing complaints, and 10 percent said they had done so;

- over 70 percent of parents gave positive marks to educators’ attitudes toward handicapped children, physical access to school facilities, and efforts by schools to integrate disabled and non-handicapped children;

- 78 percent of handicapped students said they find their work interesting and 88 percent called their teachers helpful. But 18 percent of their parents consider the quality of academic programs worse in their school for handicapped children;

- 97 percent of handicapped students said they made friends at school, but 42 percent felt they were teased more often than other children.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The complete report is available from ICD for $15 plus $2 postage, at 340 East 24th Street, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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