Giving Compass’ Take:
• Robin Lake and Travis Pillow argue that schools are failing to serve students with unique needs and that school reform should focus on better serving these students.
• What schools are serving students with unique needs well? What support do schools in your community need?
The public education system must prepare all students to solve the problems of the future. But for many students, the system is not rising to the challenge.
While high school graduation rates are at an all-time high, completion and dropout statistics for students with disabilities remain dismal. The latest federal education statistics show fewer than two-thirds finished high school with a standard diploma. A fifth either dropped out of school or aged out without receiving a credential. This educational shortfall manifests in the workforce. Less than a third of working-age people with disabilities are employed, compared to 74 percent of people without disabilities. More than 10 million working-age Americans with disabilities are outside the workforce. A growing number of companies are looking for ways to draw on these Americans’ talents.
Beyond students with disabilities, other student populations have unique needs that existing public school systems remain ill-equipped to meet:
- High-achieving, low-income students often fall behind their peers who have similar abilities but greater economic means. They are less likely to be identified for gifted programs or have access to challenging coursework.
- Students who are not native English speakers often struggle to find high-quality academic programs tailored to their needs.
- The number of American public school students who were homeless rose by more than 38 percent between 2009 and 2014.
- Researchers have estimated that 50 percent of children in foster care drop out of school. College attendance and completion rates for foster children substantially lag behind those of their peers.
- Few jurisdictions have coherent policies designed to meet the unique academic needs of “twice exceptional” learners who may have extraordinary gifts in some areas and require support in others.
The struggles of these students, along with those of countless other “square pegs” — independent thinkers, nonconformists, students who are exceptionally creative — cry out for approaches that can better match talent with opportunity. It’s hard to forecast all the demands the age of agility will place on the next generation, but it’s a safe bet that creative problem-solving, bilingual communication skills, and unconventional thinking will all be in high demand; we cannot afford to throw away these talents. Further, solving for the needs of these complex learners may help the public education system get it right for everyone.
Read the full article about students with unique needs by Robin Lake and Travis Pillow at The 74.
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