LAWRENCE — University of Kansas researchers have landed a grant to help improve educational outcomes and employment prospects for young people with disabilities. They will partner with educators to help students develop goals and realize their options for competitive employment after they finish school.
Karrie Shogren, professor of special education and co-director of the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities within the Schiefelbusch Institute for Lifespan Studies is the principal investigator on a two-year, $250,000 grant from the Institute of Education Sciences. Michael Wehmeyer, professor of special education and director of KU’s Beach Center on Disability and co-director of the KUCDD, is co-principal investigator. They will build on a partnership with educators in Rhode Island and hope to take their success to educators nationwide.
Since 2015, the researchers have been training Rhode Island educators and partnering with the state’s Department of Education and Rhode Island College to improve self-determination training and post-school employment outcomes for students with disabilities. Through the partnership, teachers in the majority of the state’s school districts have implemented the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction. The approach trains teachers how to work with students with disabilities to set and attain their own goals for their future, both in education and in anticipation of competitive employment opportunities, community living and other areas for their lives after they complete school.
During the first year of the grant, researchers will randomly select half of the state’s districts and train educators there to implement an additional curriculum, Whose Future Is It Anyway, to train teachers to work with students in developing their own transition plan from school to the next phase of their life, whether it includes further education, competitive employment or other goals.
“After this year we’ll look at the data and find out if it is more effective to use both models,” Shogren said of the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction and Whose Future Is It Anyway. “We think it will be, but we’ll have the data to prove it, and then we’ll be able to train all teachers in using both models.”
The researchers will also analyze data on the number of students with disabilities who graduate and if they go on to competitive employment. They will also publish research findings, write policy briefs for Rhode Island’s educators and work to make the findings available for states across the country, in partnership with Rhode Island College and the Rhode Island Department of Education.
“Other states are looking for models to address these issues,” Shogren said. “Hopefully this will help show effective ways we can help teachers, schools and states improve their educational outcomes.”
The project comes in the wake of a 2014 U.S. Department of Justice consent decree with Rhode Island. The department found the state had been violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by providing only or primarily “sheltered employment” options for thousands of individuals with disabilities. The jobs, which often had individuals performing menial tasks for subminimum wages, violated the ADA in limiting individuals’ access to integrated employment. The ruling enforces the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Olmstead v. L.C., which requires individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be served in the most integrated setting appropriate.
Previous research showed that very low percentages of Rhode Island’s students with disabilities had set goals for competitive employment after school. Since the ruling, KU researchers have trained about 90 percent of the state’s teachers in implementing the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction and helped make them aware of competitive employment opportunities and how best to work with their students to make them aware as well and to allow them the opportunity to set goals for their own futures.
“We know that integrated, competitive employment is a valued goal, but very few students were setting goals to achieve competitive employment,” Shogren said. “Through this project, teachers are going to learn more about how to support this outcome by promoting self-determination. All of those pieces will be working together to help improve educational outcomes.”