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2005 National Leadership Summit on Improving Results for Youth

Session Notes

The following notes are of general sessions held at the 2005 National Leadership Summit. See also presentations of concurrent sessions.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Welcome and Opening Remarks

Dr. David Johnson, Director, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, University of Minnesota

Dr. Johnson welcomed Summit participants on behalf of the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET); the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education (DOE); and the Summit planning group, which included representatives of 23 federal agencies and national organizations. He said that the Summit was a good example of interagency collaboration and that participation of federal government leadership underscored the importance of the event. Response to the Summit exceeded expectations, with 525 people and 50 Leadership Teams, including teams from 46 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Pacific Rim entities, and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs registered. In addition, more than 100 content experts and facilitators participated.

The National Leadership Summit complements several other national initiatives, including the Rehabilitation Services Administration’s first National Transition Conference (which took place immediately following the National Leadership Summit); the National Governors Association’s Improving Outcomes for Young Adults with Disabilities Policy Academy; the President’s New High School Initiative (a $1.5 billion initiative to improve education results for high school students); the Content Center on High Schools of the DOE’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education; development of the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regulations (; and the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Youth Transition Demonstration Projects.

Dr. Johnson announced that the new National Standards for Secondary Education and Transition for All Youth would be introduced at the Summit. The National Standards were developed by National Alliance for Secondary Education and Transition, a national voluntary coalition of more than 40 organizations. The National Standards comprise five framing areas: schooling, career preparatory experiences, youth development and youth leadership, family involvement, and connecting activities. This Framework is presented in the Transition Toolkit for Systems Improvement, which includes standards and quality indicators for each framing area; a compilation of supporting evidence and research; and tools for self-assessment, priority-setting, and action planning.

Since NCSET was established in 2000, it has received strong interest in its work and has developed many useful products, Dr. Johnson said. For example, the NCSET Web site receives 18,000 hits from more than 800 visitors daily; 24 Capacity Building Institutes involving a total of more than 2,000 people have been convened nationally since 2001; more than 175 publications, including briefs, Essential Tools, and teleconference notes have been produced; and E-News, NCSET’s electronic newsletter, is disseminated to more than 5,000 people twice a month.

Dr. Johnson acknowledged the work of NCSET staff in planning the Summit. He then introduced Dr. Troy Justesen, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), DOE, and Dr. Pam Mazerski, Associate Commissioner in the Office of Program Development and Research, U.S. SSA.

Dr. Troy Justesen, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education

Dr. Justesen told Summit participants that the Summit would provide an opportunity to improve the entire system of services for persons with disabilities. Helping young people move into adult life poses many challenges. Success has been seen in special education and in improving the quality of services for students with disabilities. However, many young people move directly to the Social Security rolls after school and few young people with disabilities go on to postsecondary education or employment. He noted that little evidence-based practice exists in the field of transition and that the DOE is investing in transition services as well as in research to better understand how to improve transition to adulthood. Dr. Justesen also commended the Summit planners and participants for their work in the area of transition.

Dr. Pam Mazerski, Associate Commissioner, Office of Program Development and Research, U.S. Social Security Administration

Dr. Mazerski said that youth transition is a top priority at SSA. Innovative demonstration projects are underway at seven sites in six states. One of the changes being made at SSA is to think of success for young people as not just transitioning off the Social Security rolls, but as maximing individuals’ economic security. SSA staff is working closely with DOE staff in this area.

Dr. Johnson introduced Dr. Harold Hodgkinson, the keynote speaker. Dr. Hodgkinson, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), is a widely known lecturer and analyst in the area of demographic issues and education, and is author of 12 books and more than 200 articles.

Opening General Session — “The Future Is Already Here!”

Dr. Harold Hodgkinson, Senior Fellow, Institute for Educational Leadership

Dr. Hodgkinson presented an overview of demographic trends that are impacting education in the U.S.. He began by saying that in 1900, the average American was 21 years old and lived to age 47. Today, the average American is age 39, and life expectancy is about 80 years. Fertility rates are also decreasing, so the end result is an aging population. He emphasized that education and transition planning should be viewed as a continuum that begins at birth and continues into a person’s older years. The preschool and kindergarten years have an important impact the rest of a person’s life. “Much of what goes on in the first few years of life will determine everything else,” he said.

Dr. Hodgkinson presented the following facts relevant to education and the transition of youth with disabilities to adulthood.

Gaps between subpopulations:

  • Math and reading achievement gaps exist between whites and racial/ethnic minorities and between low-income and higher-income people.
  • The wealthier parents are, the more likely by far that their children will go to college.
  • The lower a family’s income, the greater the percentage of income that must be spent on a child’s college education.
  • As a person’s education level increases, so does his or her lifetime income.

Children with disabilities:

  • Twelve percent of children ages 5 to 20 (5.2 million children) have physical or mental disabilities.
  • Few children who enter special education leave special education during their school years.
  • With new disability diagnoses (e.g., attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity) being used, the number of children with disabilities has increased greatly. The number of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers being served through IDEA has also increased.
  • The number of special education teachers and related services personnel has increased since 1977.
  • The number of students with disabilities who take the SAT and the percentage of first-time college freshmen who report having a disability have increased.
  • The cost of educating students with disabilities is much higher than for students without disabilities.
  • One-third of students with disabilities do not finish high school.
  • Half of emotionally disturbed young people are arrested at least once within three to five years after leaving school.

High school graduation and college entrance:

  • The U.S. is tenth worldwide in high school graduation rates.
  • The U.S. has a low rate of high school graduation and college entrance, compared to that of other developed countries. Among the states, the highest rate of high school graduation and college entrance is less than 60% and the lowest rate is less than 30%.
  • Investments in higher education vary widely across states.
  • High school graduation and higher education enrollment rates for males in all racial/ethnic groups are dropping greatly. In many developed countries, women are more likely than men to graduate from college.
  • Patterns of college education are changing. Compared to the past, more students today are female, age 24, and part-time students with jobs and families; more will finish their four-year degrees in five years; and more will graduate with large debt. These trends also apply to persons with disabilities.
  • federal financial aid has shifted from grants to loans in recent decades, and most Pell grants are now given to community college students in need.
  • Community college tuitions are much less than four-year college tuitions and community colleges provide a good option for many students because they are stepping stones to bachelor’s and advanced degrees. Associate degrees are also considered a good credential.

Demographic shifts and population mobility:

  • Birth rates vary widely by race/ethnicity and wealth. Birth rates are lower for white women than for African-American and Hispanic women, and lower for high-income women than for low-income women.
  • The proportion of middle income people is declining, and the proportions of wealthy and poor people are increasing.
  • Twenty-two percent of children in the U.S. live in poverty, the highest of any developed country.
  • Population, wealth, and education levels are unevenly distributed across the U.S., and the states are becoming increasingly differentiated.
  • The U.S. has twice as many births as deaths, creating the “Palm Beach effect.” Age 65 is no longer considered “old.”
  • The U.S. is becoming increasingly ethnically diverse, and ethnic identity is becoming more blended, so it is difficult to gather data about different racial/ethnic groups. Diversity is greater in the south and southwest states than in the northern and midwestern States.
  • The family/household structure is changing. Only 51% of U.S. families are headed by married couples, and the number of gay and lesbian parents is increasing.
  • Each year, 43 million people in the U.S. move from one place to another, including within their states. Some states have high mobility rates, while others are very stable. High mobility can diminish special education and transition program success.
  • Many states are experiencing population decreases and, as a result, are losing representatives in Congress and federal funding; other states are increasing the number of their congressional seats and their federal funding. In the last election, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Arizona each added two congressional seats, while New York and Pennsylvania lost two seats.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Youth Panel Discussion

Moderator: LeDerick Horne, Somerset, NJ

The second day of the National Leadership Summit opened with a panel discussion by four inspiring young people with disabilities who offered their perspectives on how to help youth achieve positive results. The youth panelists were:

Mr. Horne, the panel moderator and a young person with a disability himself, asked the panelists to respond to a series of questions. Highlights are presented below.

Did you have an opportunity to contribute during your IEP meetings?

One of the panelists said that as a student at a school for visually impaired persons, she expected to be able to speak for herself. However, she was told that not much more could be done for her, and the IEP team would not listen to her needs. Fortunately the social worker, who was also the transition specialist, did listen and encouraged her to speak up and follow her own decisions. In contrast, the other members of her IEP team said they thought she should stay in high school until she was 21.

Another member of the panel recalled that she had participated in IEP meetings since she was in the fourth grade, and that the IEP team, including her parents, was supportive. However, “They were talking about me but not with me,” she recalled. She said that her motivation for becoming more involved in the conversation was the presence of another blind person, her rehabilitation services counselor.

A third panelist reflected that he began attending IEP meetings in the eighth grade. “It was really tough to hear all the negative stuff being said about me,” he said. “Then I began to speak up for myself. When I was a senior in high school, I was able to run my whole IEP meeting.”

Mr. Horne emphasized the importance of focusing on students’ assets and strengths in IEP meetings. He also suggested that IEP reports be written clearly and as tools that students can understand and use.

Have you had difficulty receiving accommodations, and if so, what did you do?

One panelist responded that in high school, the only accommodation she received was being allowed to keep an extra copy of textbooks at home, but her mother had to read the material to her because she is visually impaired. At college, she is not getting accommodations. She has given the faculty a copy of her IEP stating that she should get extra time for testing. One English instructor gave her extra time and was willing to enlarge the type on the course materials. In a subsequent English class, she was given extra time for testing, but not large-type materials or other services like dictation. The University’s disabled student services staff said that they could not make accommodations—that her instructors were responsible for making them. Another panelist reported that her school’s disability services office did not contact her and does not reach out to students with disabilities.

Why did you choose the college you selected?

One panelist said he chose his college because it offers very good accommodations. Another panelist said she considered her university’s programs, campus life, and atmosphere before its ability to accommodate her needs. “Whatever field I go into, I’m probably going to have to provide some of the accommodations myself if I’m going to be competitive,” she said. “I went to college getting my own accommodations so I could be as self-sufficient as possible.”

Do you have mentors outside of your family who really believe in you?

A panelist commented that it took 15 years for experts to diagnose her disability and that she used to get very discouraged. One of her counselors supported and challenged her, and “saw a talent in me that I didn’t think I had. To this day she’s one of my best friends.”

What is the one thing you want professionals to do for you?

The youth panelists stressed that they want adults to listen to them. “When [young people with disabilities] come to you and let you know what their disabilities are and what accommodations they need, listen to them. Listen to what they need and how they want it done,” one panelist advised. Another panelist urged professionals to “Keep the youth involved and let them have an equal say in what they want to do with their lives.”

The panelists also recommended that professionals recognize young people’s differences and encourage them to have high expectations. “There are so many kinds of disabilities and issues. Recognize all of them and work with a strength-based approach. Expectations are low. No one thinks we’ll go to college or do anything, and that’s just not true,” one person said.

Another panelist suggested that adults “Encourage your students to imagine what is possible. When we think about disability, sometimes the logistics of getting by every day can be boggling. Partner imagination with action.” She also suggested helping students to gain experience within the larger world and to network with people within and outside of the disability community.

Comments from the Assistant Secretary of Labor

Dr. Roy Grizzard, Assistant Secretary, Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor

Dr. Grizzard began by saying that he was pleased to participate in the National Leadership Summit with young people with disabilities and with those who are working “in the trenches.” He noted that it is important that wheelchairs, augmentative communication devices, canes, and interpreters not define who people are. “It would be a shame to bypass some of the brightest minds of the future simply because they are defined by their disabilities not their abilities,” he said.

Transition is an important concept, not just for individuals with disabilities but for all young people, Dr. Grizzard stressed. Many young people fall through the cracks and are unsure of what direction to take when it comes time for high school graduation. A seamless, strong transition program is vitally important for all young people, but is particularly important for young people with disabilities so that they can move smoothly from secondary education into postsecondary education that will lead to employment, or to job training and then employment. Transition planning should not begin when a person is 18, 19, 20, or 21 years old. It should begin when a student first enters school, and students should play an active role in education and transition planning from an early age.

“I believe we have a long way to go, but I also believe equally that young people are coming to the transition stage in 2005 better prepared educationally than they have been in the past,” Dr. Grizzard said. “Because of advancements in technology and accommodations, there are vistas and avenues open to young people that have never been there before.”

Students with disabilities are now being integrated fully into instructional programs, and technology is leveling the playing field for them. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act and IDEA are helping to open doors to education and employment.

Dr. Grizzard closed his remarks by saying that ODEP offers internships in the Washington area, is instrumental in organizing disability mentoring days in communities nationwide, and sponsors an internship program at 180 colleges and universities nationwide. He encouraged Summit participants to become involved in these programs and thanked them for their efforts on behalf of young people.

Comments from the Assistant Secretary of Education

Dr. Susan Sclafani, Assistant Secretary, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education

Dr. Sclafani said that the DOE staff is very much concerned about and aware of the challenges of transition and that Summit participants had taken a positive step by coming together to discuss these challenges and to generate plans for addressing them. She noted that important parts of the planning process include listening to young people and giving them a greater voice in their futures. “We want every child to be a success story,” she said. “The focus on results is critical....We’ve got to raise our expectations for all students and give them full opportunity to explore their strengths and move forward.”

Dr. Sclafani emphasized the importance of continuous improvement in postsecondary transition and workforce development. DOE efforts to develop smaller learning communities encourage more personalized experiences in large schools. In addition, the Department’s career and technical education community helps students to enter career pathways and helps adults to receive a high school diploma or get other education they need to succeed. The nation must reinvent the organization and structure of schools—for example, by offering alternative high school schedules that meet students’ dual needs for education and employment. Furthermore, internships can help students to develop strong communication skills, problem-solving skills, and a positive work ethic.

In closing, she commented that “If we always do what we always did, we’ll always get what we always got.”

Refining a State Strategic Action Plan: A Case Example

Throughout the two-day National Leadership Summit, 50 teams representing 46 States, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Pacific Rim entities, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and youth met in a series of productive small-group dialogue and planning sessions. During those sessions, the teams refined the strategic action plans that many of them had initiated during the first Summit, held in September 2003. They also had the opportunity to meet with content experts who could answer questions and provide advice in specific areas of interest to them.

Since the 2003 Summit, the Idaho team—which includes representatives of the state’s education, commerce, and labor departments; the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation; a technical college; the University of Idaho; the University of Western Washington; a parent advocacy group; and a community-based disability organization—has met regularly together and with a broader group to move their agenda forward. In preparation for the Summit, in February 2005 the team assessed the state’s progress toward goals and identified strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for planning and continuous improvement using the self-assessment tool in the Transition Toolkit for Systems Improvement developed by NASET.

At the 2005 Summit, the Idaho team reviewed its progress and honed its priorities and action steps for improving secondary education experiences and postschool outcomes for youth with disabilities. The team discussed three priority areas and relevant action steps, including:

  • To encourage development of community-level interagency councils that would strengthen linkages to address transition issues. Three pilot communities statewide will be selected to receive technical assistance and training, and will then serve as models for other communities.
  • To address youth development in terms of self-determination, self-advocacy, and informed choice, including incorporating these topics in the agenda of a State Youth Leadership Summit.
  • To explore data collection and use issues, including identifying data sets available through various state agencies, tapping the NLTS2 data, and determining what data are needed to measure progress toward the quality indicators set forth in the National Standards for Secondary Education and Transition.

The Idaho team discussed the need for local-level resource mapping, both to promote interagency collaboration within communities and to determine what resources exist in individual communities. The team members agreed that involving youth with disabilities in gathering information about local resources and creating resource directories would benefit communities. These activities would not only help align services, but also would help youth to build circles of support.

The group also discussed the concept of self-determination, agreeing that it is not possible to write a common definition for the term because its meaning differs according to each person’s perspective. Even among youth, self-determination has different meanings, depending on age, type of disability, and level of independence. Nevertheless, the group concurred, it would be important to develop guiding principles that acknowledge different perspectives and definitions of self-determination.

On the second day of the Summit, the Idaho team invited three content experts to share their knowledge. Joan Wills, director of the Center for Workforce Development at IEL, discussed funding and resource mapping issues; Curtis Richards of the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth at IEL spoke about youth development issues; and Debra Hart of the Institute on Community Inclusion in Boston presented an example of a community-level resource mapping effort.

At the close of the Summit, the Idaho team took home a more focused strategic action plan, refined action steps to help meet priorities, and a renewed sense of the team’s potential to meet its purpose: “To ensure that youth with disabilities experience a collaborative, comprehensive system that facilitates a smooth transition from secondary school to adult life.”

Dialogue and Planning Session Report-Outs by Region

At the close of the Summit, a representative of each region presented priority issues identified by selected States. Priority issues listed included:

Mountain Plains Region (including the Bureau of Indian Affairs):

  • Increase student and family involvement in IEP process—Improve/increase youth leadership
  • Develop a data system for continuous improvement and use this data to improve transition planning
  • Expand interagency collaboration around the transition system, services, and policies

Northeast Region:

  • Collect and analyze data
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses of existing data collection systems
  • Analyze plans and federal reporting requirements
  • Increase interagency collaboration
  • Identify best practices in state interagency collaboration
  • Increase mentoring activities and opportunities to increase self-advocacy

Western Region (including the Pacific Rim entities):

  • Increase transition services and interagency linkages
  • Design youth development for informed decision-making
  • Develop postschool outcomes data tracking systems and a communications process
  • Review and improve secondary education curricula and vocational education

Mid-South Region:

  • Improve collaboration and interagency communication
  • Develop mechanisms to improve data sharing for collecting and maintaining postschool outcomes data
  • Increase representation of youth with disabilities at state and local levels

Southeast Region (including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico):

  • Increase interagency collaboration to facilitate state, regional, and local partnerships that work
  • Improve outreach to stakeholders for information dissemination
  • Develop creative ways to involve youth—youth development/youth leadership

North Central Region:

  • Define the sources of data and develop a cross-agency data sharing system longitudinal process for gathering postschool information
  • Use action plans to coordinate a state system at all levels to improve interagency collaboration and a seamless system
  • Make available ongoing professional development across agencies, including leadership development

Youth Focus Group:

  • Enhance self-advocacy by creating more groups of advocates to educate school and community staff
  • Improve access to college by increasing support services, influencing student governments, and developing other ways to connect with other students
  • Make assistive technology services available, have more reliable methods of transportation, eliminate waiting lists for services, and change attitudes to be more positive

The participants noted that many of the priorities have remained consistent since the first Summit in 2003, and acknowledged that systemic changes take time. They also noted an increased emphasis on collection of data that can be instrumental in decision making at the local and school levels.

Closing Remarks

Dr. Johnson thanked the participants and said that the 2005 National Leadership Summit had been a very rich experience for everyone involved. NCSET staff will analyze the priorities identified by the Leadership Teams to develop broad strategies to meet needs. He commended Dr. Richard Horne and Rhonda Basha of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor, for their contributions to planning the National Leadership Summit.

Dr. Bonnie Jones, OSEP, thanked the NCSET staff for organizing the Summit and challenged them to begin working with federal government partners to plan another one. She said that the presence of more than 500 participants at the Summit helped move the issue of transition into the consciousness of federal government leaders. “You have had an impact by your sheer presence here,” she said.


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