The Efficacy of Vocational Education for Students with Disabilities Concerning Post-School Employment Outcomes: A Review of the Literature
Michael W. Harvey
The Pennsylvania State University
Great Valley Graduate School
The economy of the United States is driven by the production and sales of goods and services with an emphasis on productivity. Employment and training of the nation's workforce is at the core of a strong economy. This is especially true in today's climate of high technology, e-commerce, real time demand, and intense global competition for market share. The focus of a productive workforce is never far from the discussion of economic success. With these factors shaping the new economy, the importance of a skilled and productive workforce in the United States is evident.
Transition from school to adult life for students with disabilities has dominated the field of special education for well over a decade (Phelps & Hanley-Maxwell, 1997). Students with disabilities are defined as those identified with one or more of the 13 disability categories specified in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and served by an individualized educational program (IEP) (IDEA P.L. 105-17). The central theme in special education transition has been an emphasis on productive post-school outcomes, primarily focused in the area of employment. The interest in transition is multi-faceted, but the most compelling reason is economic. Being gainfully employed and functionally independent is the "expected" post-school adult outcome in American society. The challenges associated with successful independence may be more problematic for individuals with disabilities (Dowdy, Carter, & Smith, 1990). This highlights the importance of successful transitional planning and programming for students with disabilities at the secondary level.
Phelps and Wermuth establish a conceptual framework for the investigation of effective educational practices in serving youth with disabilities (Phelps & Hanley-Maxwell, 1997). Key components of this framework include program administration, curriculum and instruction, comprehensive support services, formalized articulation and communication, and occupational experiences, placement, and follow-up. The efficacy of vocational technical education for students with disabilities reported in this review of the literature aligns with curriculum and instruction and occupational experience, placement, and follow-up. Postsecondary follow-up concerning employment status is used to assess the efficacy of vocational programming at the secondary level for students with disabilities. Assessing the efficacy of educational programs (specifically, special education and vocational education) that assist persons with disabilities in being gainfully employed and functionally independent is critically important to both public policy and educational practice.
Each study selected in this review originated after the implementation of formalized transitional service development within the field of special education (EHA Amendments of 1983, P.L. 98-199). A recap of legislative mandates in special education and vocational education that have influenced secondary programming and transitional planning for students with disabilities is outlined. Recommendations for future best practices in program and transitional planning for vocational special needs are also presented. Articles were selected on the basis of special education follow-up or follow along studies that identified secondary vocational education participation and reported employment as an outcome variable for assessment.
Background: Federal Legislative Mandates
Legislation in the United States in the areas of special education and vocational education has provided transitional services and vocational training opportunities to students with disabilities for several decades (Kochhar & West, 1995). Public Law 94-142, The Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EHA) was the most comprehensive piece of federal education legislation designed to serve students with disabilities since passage of the Vocational Education Act of 1963 (P.L. 88-210). With passage of the EHA, Congress ushered in a new era of commitment to educational programming for America's youth with disabilities, and provided the impetus for transitional services.
Subsequent EHA reauthorizations provided funds to establish demonstration projects concerning transitional services for youth with disabilities, best practice for replication of model programs, and, ultimately, a mandate for transitional services for all youth with disabilities at the secondary level (P.L. 98-199, P.L. 99-457, and P.L. 101-476). A generation of transitional services for youth with disabilities came with these changes and with the transitional mandate of the 1990 IDEA legislation (DeStefano & Wermuth, 1992). Secondary transitional services required under IDEA (P.L. 105-17) includes IEP team planning that focuses on programming and services to meet the individual student's preferences and interests concerning post-school activities. Mandated IDEA transitional planning and services are designed to become a coordinated set of activities within an outcome-oriented process that promotes movement from school to adult life. Concurrently, vocational education legislation under the Carl D. Perkins Acts (P.L. 98-524, P.L. 101-392, P.L. 105-332) established long-standing mandates for equal access, and high quality program offerings in vocational education for special population students, including those with disabilities (see Table 1). The current legislation under IDEA and The Carl D. Perkins Vocational Technical Education Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-332) also provides a natural link to more comprehensive civil rights afforded persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-336).
Congressional intent in these legislative mandates has been specific: youth with disabilities are to be provided a broad range of coordinated services to assist their transition from school to adult life (P.L. 105-17). Halloran and Simon (1995) conclude "the implied outcome of the transition services requirement of IDEA is for youth with disabilities to become well-adjusted, suitably employed members of their communities" (p. 95). The goal of successful independence, employment opportunity, and full access to American society for individuals with disabilities is both clear and pressing given the dynamics of today's economy and competitive workforce.
Employment Status for Persons with Disabilities
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1983) found unemployment among persons with disabilities to be between 50% and 75% as compared to only 7% among persons who were non-disabled (Gajar, Goodman, & McAfee, 1993). A 1987 Harris Telephone Survey, conducted with 1,000 disabled persons representing a cross-section of the population, had the following results: 67% of all Americans with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 64 were not working; working individuals with a disability were 75% more likely to be employed part-time; and 67% of those not working indicated that they wanted to work (Rusch & Phelps, 1987, p. 487). The Office of Special Education Programs reported in 1988 that individuals with disabilities continued to lag behind in almost all areas of economic activity under every indicator as compared to individuals without disabilities (Fairweather & Shaver, 1991).
Table 1 Education Legislation Supporting Training and Transitional Services for Students with Disabilities Federal Legislation Importance P.L. 98-199: Education Handicapped Act Amendments of 1983 Established funds for demonstration projects for transition for youth with disabilities under Section 602 "Secondary Education and Transitional Services for Handicapped Youth" P.L. 98-524: Carl D. Perkins Vocational Act of 1984 Assured equal access to special population students, including students with disabilities, to high quality vocational education programs with specific set-aside funding P.L. 99-457: Education Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986 Amendments continued Section 602 transitional services and provided additional funds to establish best practices and model programming for transitional services for youth with disabilities P.L. 101-392: Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act Allowed more flexibility to state and local agencies with budgeting and eliminated special populations set-aside funding. Still held requirements for equal access and provided for all 8th grade information concerning vocational education programming P.L. 101-476: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 Established mandate for transitional services for all students with disabilities age 16 years and older, 14 years old where appropriate, to include a written ITP outlining a coordinated set of activities with an outcome oriented process as part of the IEP P.L. 105-17: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 Expanded transitional mandate for all students age 14 to include program planning with a focus on the individual's course of study. Amendments also included an age of majority declaration P.L. 105-332: Carl D. Perkins Vocational Technical Education Act of 1998 Established guidelines to increase state accountability to make certain of equal access for special populations. Access was to include recruitment, enrollment, and placement activities
Source. Sarkees-Wircenski, M., & Scott, J. (1995).
Recent data reported by the National Organization on Disability (NOD) indicated that only 29% of respondents from a national sample of 1,000 individuals with disabilities age 18-6 were working full or part-time compared to 79% for persons without disabilities (National Organization on Disabilities, 1998). Additionally, 72% of the individuals with disabilities who were unemployed indicated that they would rather work. Employment statistics on work and disability for persons age 21 to 64 reported by the U. S. Census Bureau (1999) indicated that persons with severe disability had a 26% employment rate compared to a 77% employment rate for persons with non-severe disability and 82% employment rate for non-disabled Americans. Employment also varied based on the type and severity of the disability. Persons with hearing difficulty had an employment rate of 64%, sight related disability 44%, mental disability 41%, and 26% for those wheelchair bound or with serious physical disability (U.S. Census Bureau, 1999). These data raise concerns about the public investment in educational programming intended to serve this population, especially given the demand for labor and an unemployment rate that has consistently been the lowest (4%) in a decade (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2001).
The National Assessment of Vocational Education (NAVE) indicated that students with disabilities were participating in secondary vocational education at higher rates than their non-disabled peers and that vocational education participation was a significant factor concerning positive post-school outcomes for students with disabilities (NAVE, 1994a, 1994b, 1994c). The NAVE data suggested that both the legislative mandates of equal access to high quality vocational education and successful transition to adult life for students with disabilities were being achieved. However, despite legislative support the research concerning students' transitional outcomes, especially in the area of employment, has had mixed results.
The Reported Efficacy of Vocational Education
The literature reviewed for this study concerning follow-up and transitional outcomes for students with disabilities who participated in secondary vocational education yields four central themes. These themes include: the percentage of students with disabilities participating in secondary vocational education programming; the post-school employment rates for students with disabilities; the status of employment for students with disabilities and job satisfaction; and the value of vocational education in relationship to post-school employment outcomes for students with disabilities. A comprehensive listing of the literature reviewed can be found in the Appendix.
Percentage of Students with Disabilities Participating in Secondary Vocational Education Programming
Secondary vocational education for students with disabilities appears to be a popular course of study. Eleven of the 15 studies in this review of literature indicated that at least 60% of students with disabilities participated in vocational education while in high school (Fardig, Algozzine, Schwarz, Hensel, & Westling, 1985; Frank, Sitlington, Cooper, & Cool, 1990; Frank, Sitlington, & Carson, 1991; Harvey, 1998; Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985; Hasazi, Johnson, Hasazi, Gordon, & Hull, 1989; Mithaug, Horiuchi, & Fanning, 1985; Schwarz & Taymans, 1991; Sitlington & Frank, 1990; Sitlington, Frank, & Carson, 1992; Wagner, 1991). Two studies (Fardig et al., 1985; Schwarz & Taymans, 1991) had samples that had 100% vocational education participation. Students in the Fardig et al. (1985) study completed at least one year of vocational or pre-vocational education. The 23 members of the Schwarz and Taymans (1991) study completed a vocational technical education program as part of their high school course of studies.
Wagner (1991) found that 65% of students with disabilities from the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students (NLTS), a national database of more than 8,000 students with disabilities constructed in 1987 by SRI International for the U.S. Department of Education, had taken a vocational education course in their most recent year of high school. Additionally, Wagner (1991) reported that 86% of these students had taken an occupationally specific vocational education course. Harvey (1998) reported that 64% of students without disabilities and 68% of students with a disability from a sub-sample of 7,007 respondents of the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) had participated in some level of vocational-technical education while in high school. The NELS study was conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Data was collected at two-year intervals beginning with a base-year national sample of over 24,000 eighth grade students in 1988 and continuing through 1994, the two-year postsecondary follow-up point (Harvey, 1998).
Shapiro and Lentz (1991) reported the most modest vocational education participation rates, at 36% of LD students in 1985-86 and 32% of LD students in 1986-87). These findings are representative of the design of this particular study. Schalock et al. (1992) indicated that mean credit hours of vocational education for students in their sample were 21.8 for students with learning disabilities and 15.0 for students labeled mentally retarded.
Mithaug et al. (1985), Fardig et al. (1985), Schwarz and Taymans (1991), and Wagner (1991) reported that males had higher participation rates than females. These studies indicated that males had a 60-65% participation rate in vocational education compared to 35-40% for females. Wagner (1991) found similar participation rates between males and females in general vocational education classes (65% for males vs. 64% for females) but significant differences were noted in occupationally specific vocational education participation (85% for males vs. 64% for females). Additionally, Wagner noted that males took approximately 4 hours of vocational education per week, on average, compared to an approximate 3 hours per week for females.
The Post-School Employment Rates for Students with Disabilities
The majority of studies in this literature review reported overall post-school employment rates for students with disabilities at 50% or higher (Fardig et al., 1985; Fourqurean & LaCourt, 1990; Harvey, 1998; Hasazi et al., 1985; Hasazi et al., 1989; Mithaug et al., 1985; Schalock et al., 1992; Schwarz & Taymans, 1991; Sitlington et al., 1992). Full-time employment rates for students with disabilities varied (see Appendix). Several studies (Fourqurean & LaCourt, 1990; Hasazi et al., 1985; Schalock et al., 1992) indicated full-time employment rates of 56-67% among respondents who were employed. Fardig et al. (1985) reported 44% full-time employment and Mithaug et al. (1985) reported 32% full-time employment. Heal and Rusch (1995) concluded that less than one half of their sample was employed full-time.
Key findings concerning the post-school employment of students with disabilities who participated in vocational education compared to non-participants are reported by Frank et al. (1990), Frank et al. (1991), Hasazi et al. (1985), Hasazi et al. (1989), Shapiro and Lentz (1991), Sitlington and Frank (1990), and Wagner (1991). Most studies reported higher percentages of employment for students who participated in vocational education. Hasazi et al. (1985), Hasazi et al. (1989), and Wagner (1991) reported that students with disabilities who participated in vocational education had significantly higher levels (+13% - 48%) of post-school employment compared to students with disabilities who did not take vocational education. Students with disabilities who took mainstreamed vocational education programming and received special education services in a resource room had 9% higher employment rates compared to students with a disability served in resource rooms that did not participate in vocational education. Additionally, those who took mainstreamed vocational education programming and received special education services in a special class setting had 11% higher employment rates compared to non-vocational education participants served in the same special education settings. Frank et al. (1990) and Shapiro and Lentz (1991) indicated that vocational participants actually had lower post-school employment rates at certain follow-up points compared to non-vocational participants. However, Shapiro and Lentz also indicated that employment rates for individuals with learning disabilities increased over time. Other studies (Frank et al., 1991; Sitlington & Frank, 1990) reported no statistically significant differences in employment rates.
Males generally had higher employment rates than females. Several studies reported an 11% or greater discrepancy in post-school employment between males and females (Frank et al., 1991; Hasazi et al., 1985; Hasazi et al., 1989; Sitlington et al., 1992; Sitlington and Frank, 1990). A 33% difference was reported by Hasazi et al. (1985). The one exception concerning competitive employment was reported by Frank et al. (1990). They indicated that females were competitively employed at 71% compared to 68% for males.
The Status of Employment and Job Satisfaction for Students with Disabilities
Full- and part-time employment rates are an important indicator of post-school transitional success but tells only a part of the story. Other indicators are important to consider when evaluating success in post-school transition for students with disabilities. These key indicators include job type, wage earnings, job satisfaction, and the critical issues associated with employment as experienced by the disabled. Job type and status was reported by Fourqurean and LaCourt (1990), Frank et al. (1990), Frank et al. (1991), Hasazi et al. (1985), Schalock et al. (1992), Schwarz and Taymans (1991), Sitlington and Frank (1990), and Sitlington et al. (1992). Occupations most frequently listed by respondents in these studies were service occupations, laborers, clerical and sales positions, agriculture and farming, construction, and manufacturing jobs. Service occupations were reported by 28-39% of respondents and laborer positions were identified by 27-39% of respondents as their primary occupation. Sitlington and Frank (1990) reported that 21% of the respondents in their Iowa sample were employed as operators and/or craftsmen and that only an additional 3% were in higher status jobs. Hasazi et al. (1989) indicated that persons with disabilities had higher levels of unemployment, less wage earning, fewer benefits, worked fewer hours, and were employed in jobs requiring lesser skills than their non-disabled peers.
Wage earnings were reported in several studies (Fardig et al., 1985; Frank et al., 1990; Frank et al., 1991; Harvey, 1998; Hasazi et al., 1985; Hasazi et al., 1989; Mithaug et al., 1985; Schalock et al., 1992; Schwarz & Taymans, 1991; Shapiro & Lentz, 1991; Sitlington & Frank, 1990). Findings generally parallel those of lower status employment positions. The majority of studies reported hourly wages between $3.35 and $5.00 per hour, not adjusted for inflation (Frank et al., 1990; Frank et al., 1991; Hasazi et al., 1985; Hasazi et al., 1989; Schwarz & Taymans, 1991; Sitlington & Franks, 1990). Wages reported generally represent the minimum wage at the time of data collection. Annual employment incomes reported also point to the fact that earnings were relatively low for these respondents. One important finding in this review of the literature, however, was that participants in secondary vocational education had higher wage earnings than those who did not take vocational education while in high school (Harvey, 1998; Hasazi et al., 1985; Schalock et al., 1992). Males were reported to earn higher wages than females (Frank et al., 1990; Frank et al., 1991; Harvey, 1998: Hasazi et al., 1989; Schwarz & Taymans, 1991; Sitlington & Frank, 1990).
Critical issues of employment and job satisfaction ratings were addressed by a number of studies (Harvey, 1998; Mithaug et al., 1985; Schawarz & Taymans, 1991; Schalock et al., 1992; Shapiro & Lentz, 1991). Most respondents reported that they "somewhat to very much" liked their job (Harvey, 1998; Mithaug et al., 1985; Shaprio & Lentz, 1991). Schwarz and Taymans (1991) reported that 61% of respondents had difficulty in finding a job and none reported being promoted in their job. Schalock et al. (1992) reported that 73% of respondents had never changed jobs, while Mithaug et al. (1985) indicated that 36% of respondents had changed jobs at least once. These authors also reported that 72% of respondents indicted having no problems on the job, 35% reported no wage raises, 16% had quit a job, and 13% had been fired.
Value of Vocational Education in Relationship to Post-School Employment Outcomes for Students with Disabilities
Conclusions concerning the efficacy of vocational education for students with disabilities and post-school employment were mixed. Several studies concluded that secondary vocational education for students with disabilities provided positive labor market advantage (Fourqurean & LaCourt, 1990; Harvey, 1998; Hasazi et al., 1985; Hasazi et al., 1989; Mithaug et al., 1985; Schalock et al., 1992). Others reported no significant differences between post-school levels of employment between vocational participants and those who were non-participants, concluding that vocational education was a poor predictor of post-school employment (Fardig et al., 1985; Frank et al., 1990; Frank et al., 1991; Heal & Rusch, 1995; Schwarz & Taymans, 1991; Shapiro & Lentz, 1991; Sitlington et al., 1992; Sitlington & Frank, 1990).
Shapiro and Lentz (1991) also pointed out that no more than 50% of respondents who took vocational education had any significant job match with their area of vocational training over any wave of follow-up data collecction (6-12-24 months post-school). They concluded "one major implication of these findings raises questions about whether training in specific trades in vocational-technical programs is a good strategy for students in general, and students with learning disabilities in particular" (p. 58). Heal and Rusch (1995) reported that personal characteristics appeared to be the best predictors of post-school employment for students with disabilities.
Hasazi et al. (1989) indicated that vocational education was a stronger predictor of post-school employment for students with disabilities than for non-disabled students. Schalock et al. (1992) reported that hours in vocational programming was a positive predictor of more weeks employed, hours worked per week, wages earned per hour, and annual salary. Harvey (1998) reported that vocational education participants had significantly higher employment earning and hours worked compared to non-vocational participants and that students with disabilities who took vocational education had overall more positive employment outcomes compared to students with disabilities who did not take vocational education while in high school. Fifty-seven percent of the Hasazi et al. (1985) respondents indicated that vocational education classes were very useful and 40% reported that their vocational instructor was instrumental in helping them find employment. Wagner (1991) concluded that:
National Longitudinal Transition Study findings suggest that secondary vocational education is one educational intervention that appears to hold potential for positive school performance as well as positive school outcomes. Across several of the in-school and post-school outcomes we have examined, students who were enrolled in occupationally oriented vocational education were significantly more likely than non-participants to register positive outcomes, independent of characteristics of the students who enrolled. Students who took occupationally oriented vocational courses had significantly lower absenteeism from school and a significantly lower probability of dropping out of school. (p. 28-29)
Findings from the NAVE suggest that vocational education participation is a significant contributor to positive post-school outcomes for students with disabilities. The NAVE reports are powerful indicators concerning the efficacy of vocational education for students with disabilities. This review of literature revealed mixed findings regarding the effectiveness of vocational education on subsequent post-school employment for students with disabilities, with at least seven studies reporting marginal to no effect.
Vocational education has been reported to make a significant difference in post-school employment for students with disabilities when it was occupationally specific and directed at labor market needs. Although general vocational education was of some value educationally, it appeared to have less impact concerning employment outcomes for students with disabilities. It is important to note that although some positive impacts on post-school employment for persons with disabilities have been observed, the employment status for this population nationally has remained relatively stagnant. This fact is alarming given that the U.S. has experienced some of the best economic and positive unemployment statistics in recent history.
The findings from this literature review support the NAVE claim that students with disabilities are participating in secondary vocational education at a high rate. Additionally, several studies indicated that many students with disabilities were participating in occupationally specific vocational training (Frank et al., 1990; Frank et al., 1991; Sitlington et al., 1992; Sitlington & Frank, 1990; Wagner, 1991). Other studies reported that respondents placed a high value on vocational education as an important part of their high school experience (Fourqurean & LaCourt, 1990; Mithaug et al., 1985; Wagner, 1991).
The majority of studies in this review showed that students with disabilities who participated in vocational education while in high school generally had higher employment rates compared to those who took no vocational education (Frank et al., 1990; Frank et al., 1991; Harvey, 1998; Hasazi et al., 1985; Hasazi et al., 1989; Shapiro & Lentz, 1991; Sitlington & Frank 1990; Wagner, 1991). Comparative indicators of wages, hours worked, weeks of employment and annual income suggested that secondary vocational education provided labor market advantage to students with disabilities.
Seven studies reviewed indicated that most students with disabilities reported low wage, low status post-school employment positions Despite this, respondents reported general job satisfaction (Harvey, 1998; Mithaug et al., 1985; Shapiro & Lentz, 1991). These findings are overall encouraging, but point to the fact that there is a significant need for continued improvement in employment outcomes for students with disabilities.
The legislative mandates, as outlined in IDEA and the Carl D. Perkins Act, are clear: equal access to vocational programming, educational opportunities, and transitional services with outcome-oriented processes must be provided for all students with disabilities. The importance of independence and gainful employment in relationship to students with disabilities and economic success is a major focus of the legislated mandates, transitional process, and follow-up literature.
This study found that students with disabilities are accessing vocational education at the secondary level and that there are recognized post-school employment results. Secondary vocational education for students with disabilities was found to provide labor market advantage for vocational participants. Higher rates of employment, wage earning, hours and weeks employed and annual incomes were strong indicators of secondary vocational education's positive impact for students with disabilities. Additionally, follow-up data indicated that there was overall job satisfaction reported by respondents.
The inconsistencies in post-school employment results concerning the specific findings of each study in this review suggest that further research is needed to assess the efficacy of secondary vocational education related to post-school outcomes for students with disabilities. Information that specifically identifies which students with disabilities are being served in what type of vocational technical education programs would provide a clearer picture of postsecondary outcomes. Additionally, researchers should construct postsecondary employment outcomes concerning employment rate, wage earning, hours worked, job satisfaction, and occupational area in specific terms that define these variables in the language used in labor market analysis. Specifically, wage earning should be identified in relation to prevailing minimum wage status at the time of research reporting.
The data suggest that we are making progress in meeting the mandates of IDEA and Carl D. Perkins legislation. It is equally important to note that we can and must strive to do better, given the educational mandates and employment status of persons with disabilities. There is a clear need for ongoing follow-up to assess transitional outcomes and secondary planning and program efficacy. The data from this study could be used as a benchmark for future research in this area.
Rojewski (1991) concluded that follow-up study of special needs graduates and non-graduates of vocational training programs concerning employment status are among the top 30 priority areas in future directions for vocational special needs education research. Several of the authors reviewed recommended continued follow-up research to further assist in program assessment, improvement, and successful transitional outcomes for students with disabilities (Hasazi et al., 1985; Mithaug et al., 1985; Schalock et al., 1992; Shapiro & Lentz, 1991; and Wagner, 1991). Building the body of literature through efficacy studies in transitional planning and vocational education for students with disabilities is needed to continue to shape best practice in the field of vocational special needs. Enhancing job skills and employability for persons with disabilities entering the competitive workforce should be the goal of secondary vocational education for students with special learning needs.
Vocational education at the secondary level should be given strong consideration by transitional planning teams for students with disabilities. Secondary vocational education programming can lead to positive post-school employment and labor market advantage for students with disabilities.
The legislated mandates of IDEA and the Carl D. Perkins Act are clear. Educators need to put these mandates into appropriate best practice to successfully serve students with disabilities in vocational settings. This means that IEP transitional planning teams, which include vocational educators, must strictly adhere to the following key concepts:
- Vocational teachers need to be present at IEP meetings to represent their technical training area, address occupation skills, labor market needs, and program accommodation/modifications.
- IEP transitional planning teams are required to explore student's interests and preferences concerning post-school transitional goals. In doing so, programming and services need to be based on realistic outcomes, especially in employment.
- Matching student interest, ability, and realistic job opportunities in local labor markets should govern vocational program placements and accommodations as part of secondary transitional services for students with disabilities.
All stakeholders need to promote and support post-school employment opportunities for students with disabilities as they transition to competitive employment and adult life.
Follow-up research concerning post-school employment and vocational special needs is essential. On-going efforts and data analysis from well-defined research are needed to shape public policy and educational services for this population.
Michael W. Harvey is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at The Pennsylvania State University in Malvern, PA. He can be reached at email@example.com
Appreciation is extended to Dr. Rodney Custer for his advice and editorial comments.
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Wagner, M. (1991). The benefit of secondary vocational education for young people with disabilities: Findings from the national longitudinal transition study of special education students(Report No. EC 300 485). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International, Contract 300-87-0054. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 334 739)
Table A1 Studies Reporting a Relationship Between Post-school Outcomes and Secondary Vocational Education for Students with Disabilities Study Sample Vocational Participation Findings Mithaug, Horiuchi, & Fanning (1985) n=234 graduates of special education programs in 1978 and 1979 in Colorado 77% took vocational education while in high school 69% employed: 32% full-time and 29% part-time employment reported by respondents Fardig, Algozzine, Schwarz, Hensel, & Westling (1985) n=113 former mildly disabled special education students from 4 rural counties in Florida 100% participated in one year or more of vocational or pre-vocational training 55% employed: 44% full-time and 7% part-time employment reported by respondents Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe (1985) n=462 former students with mild disabilities who exited from 9 Vermont school districts from 1979-1983 (n=301 surveyed) 60% took vocational education in high school 55% reported working in paid employment: 67% full-time, 61% vs. 45% employment reported for vocational participants versus non-vocational participants Hasazi, Johnson, Hasazi, Gordon, & Hull (1989) n=133 former students from 9 Vermont school districts from 1984-85 (n=67 students with disabilities and n=66 non-disabled students) 65% students with disabilities and 55% non-disabled students took vocational education while in high school 1986: 82% non-disabled vs. 63% students with disabilities employed; 75% vocational education participants vs. 27% non-vocational education participants were employed and 1987: 85% non-disabled vs. 62% students with disabilities employed; 71% vocational education participants vs. 44% non-vocational education participants were employed Fourqurean & LaCourt (1990) n=215 former students with disabilities exiting from Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in Texas in 1986-88 Specific vocational education participation not reported 56% employed full-time or part-time and 19% full-time students with 3% homemakers Sitlington & Frank (1990) n=911 former LD students from 15 Area Educational Agencies in Iowa classes of 1984 and 1985 (n=892 surveyed) 61% took specific vocational training, 35% took general vocational training, 4% took no vocational education 78% who took specific vocational training, 78% who took general vocational training, 69% who took no vocational education were employed as reported at one year follow-up Frank, Sitlington, Cooper, & Cool (1990) n=425 former MR students from 15 Area Educational Agencies in Iowa classes of 1984 and 1985 (n=318 surveyed) 41% took specific vocational training, 41% took general vocational training, 18% took no vocational education 61% who took specific vocational training, 68% who took general vocational training, 66% who took no vocational education were employed as reported at one year follow-up Frank, Sitlington, & Carson (1991) n=293 former BD students from 15 Area Educational Agencies in Iowa classes of 1984 and 1985 (n=200 surveyed) 41% took specific vocational training, 44% took general vocational training, 15% took no vocational education 51% who took specific vocational training, 54% who took general vocational training, 39% who took no vocational education were employed as reported at five year follow-up Shapiro & Lentz (1991) Two cohort groups: 1985-86 n=151 (n=54 LD voc. ed. participants, 51 LD non-voc. ed. participants, 46 non-LD regular HS students) and 1986-87 n=130 (n=42 LD voc.ed. participants, 42 LD non-voc. Ed. participants, 46 non-LD regular HS students) former students in eastern Pennsylvania 1985-86: 36% LD voc.ed. participants, 34% LD non-voc. ed. participants, 30% non-LD regular HS students and 1986-87: 32%=42 LD voc.ed. participants, 32% LD non-voc. ed. participants, 36% non-LD regular HS students 1985-86: 6 months: LD-voc. 77%; LD-no voc. 86%; no-LD HS 85% 12 months: LD-voc. 97%; LD- no voc. 97%; no-LD HS 86% 24 months: LD-voc. 91%; LD no-voc. 90%; no-LD HS 86% 1986-87: 6 months: LD-voc. 91%; LD-no voc. 87%; no-LD HS 73% 12 months: LD-voc. 93%; LD-no voc. 96%; no-LD HS 85% Schwarz & Taymans (1991) n= 23 former LD high school vocational education program completers in 1986, 1987, 1988 from an east coast inner city school 100% completed a vocational technical education programs as part of their high school coursework 78% were employed, 77% for 6 months or less, only 2 reported employment in their area of vocational training Wagner (1991) n=8,000 National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students (NLTS) conducted by SRI in 1987 (n=5,263) 65% of sample indicated taking some form of vocational education; 86% indicated taking occupationally specific coursework in most recent year of high school 46% employed at 2 year follow-up, of those not in postsecondary education 51% who participated in voc. ed. vs. 38% for non voc. ed. participants were employed in paid jobs Sitlington, Frank, & Carson (1992) n=938 former LD/BD/MR students from 15 Area Educational Agencies in Iowa classes of 1985 and 1986 (n=811 surveyed) 59% specific vocational education, 36% general vocational education, and 5% no vocational education participation while in high school 77% LD, 58% BD, and 62% MR former special education students were employed with 12% LD, 22% BD, and 21% MR former students reported unemployment Schalock, Holl, Elliott, & Ross (1992) n=298 former LD and MR special education students who graduated between 1979-1988 from a special education program, Education Service Unit #9 in Nebraska LD students averaged 21.8 hours of vocational education and MR students averaged 15.0 hours of vocational education while in high school 77% employed full-time or part-time, 60% employed full-time and 17% employed part-time Heal & Rusch (1995) Using the NLTS, n=3,357 with actual n=2,405 respondents reporting employment status representing 22% of out-of school youth in NLTS with reported employment data Specific vocational education participation not reported Coding of employment status: 0=unemployed/sheltered workshop; 1=part-time up to 35 hrs. per week; 2=full-time > 35 hrs. per week. Mean employment M=.68 less than half of respondents employed full-time Harvey (1998) n=24,599 National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS:88-94) study sample n=7007: non-disabled no vocational education 27%, non-disabled vocational education 49%, disabled no vocational education 7%, disabled vocational education 17% 64% of non-disabled students participated in secondary vocational education while in high school, 68% of students with disabilities participated in secondary vocational education while in high school Employment rate-Annual earnings-Weekly hours worked: non-disabled no vocational education 30%-$6,622-34 hrs, non-disabled vocational education 49%-$8,377-36 hrs, disabled no vocational education 46%-$6,873-36 hrs, disabled vocational education 55%-$8,603-38 hrs
Note: LD = Learning Disabilities, BD = Behavioral Disorder, MR = Mentally Retarded, P = Physical, P/C = Perceptual/Communication.