Foreword to the Original Edition
The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities sets forth in clear and concise terms a vision and plan of action for the future of the education of children who are blind or visually impaired, as well as those who have additional disabilities. In these tumultuous times, in which opinions abound concerning the best ways of implementing reform throughout all levels of our educational system, a document such as this shines forth like a beacon, establishing clear-cut, timely, and attainable goals toward which we all should strive.
The eight goals, which comprise the heart of this Agenda and are set forth in this document, reiterate in a simple yet thorough manner the very same concepts that are at the core of our efforts to bring about lasting and effective education reform at the U.S. Department of Education—ensuring that each individual student receives the free and appropriate education to which he or she is entitled under the law.
Along with our efforts, school districts and states around the nation are actively engaged in education reform. Using our Goals 2000 and the School to Work initiatives in concert with the tenets of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as a framework for change, educators throughout the country are promoting comprehensive strategies for education reform based on high academic and occupational standards, improving teaching, and strengthening family involvement. To ensure that children with disabilities benefit from these reform efforts, our experience has taught us that we should strive for a system of education that helps all children, including children with visual impairments, to learn to high standards.
We have learned that our reform efforts should include
- challenging standards and aligned assessments for all children;
- comprehensive state and local reform plans;
- high-quality professional development aligned to the standards;
- comprehensive technical assistance; and
- whole school, rather than categorical, reform efforts.
We envision an education system that would set higher expectations for all students, give all students the opportunity to learn to challenging standards, and take responsibility and be accountable for the success of all children. To the extent appropriate, students with disabilities would have access to the same curricula aligned with the state's content standards that other students are receiving and, with reasonable accommodations, be included in state and local assessments. The needs of students with disabilities would be considered as part of state and local planning for regular education and not regarded solely as special education's responsibility. All teachers (both regular and special) would be trained to teach to high standards.
The goals set forth in this publication—which call for assessments by trained and competent professionals, quick referrals to a full array of appropriate services, appropriate pre-service and in-service training for professionals, parental involvement, and individualized programming—will help fuel this reform movement for visually impaired individuals in positive and meaningful ways.
These goals bring together the combined knowledge and best thinking of hundreds of parents, service providers, individuals with visual impairments, and family members. This combined effort from such a diverse and expert group of individuals will help all of us measure ourselves and our progress over the next five years. It is critical that we continually evaluate our efforts with as much objectivity as possible, because we must do our best to ensure that blind and visually impaired children are given every opportunity afforded to nondisabled children. These goals will help make that evaluation happen in real and concrete ways across the country.
As we move toward the 21st century, our society is changing and growing at an ever-increasing rate. We must ensure that our children can change and grow with it so that they are not left behind, but instead fully participate in every aspect of mainstream societal life. If the children of today and tomorrow are to succeed in this way, then we must set high standards for them, for ourselves, and for our programs. We must expect children to learn to a high level of competency, so they can compete successfully and confidently in the global 21st century society that is fast approaching.
For our part, we will continue to work with all of you—parents, visually impaired persons, educators, school administrators, and legislators—to bring about equality of opportunity in education, employment, and community living. We too share your commitment and your desire for the greatest level of success our children can achieve. Each of these eight goals, these eight signposts and watchwords of wisdom, is a broad brush stroke that will form for us a picture of equality and opportunity. Taken together, they paint a picture of the future, a future based on increased positive outcomes. These goals paint a picture of the future in which all children, regardless of their disability, can achieve to their highest potential, because they have been given every opportunity and aid we can bring to bear and a future in which professionals are held accountable for doing the job the law intends for them to do. These goals stand as a hallmark of what we want for our children, because they are the same things we want for ourselves. We can expect no less.
Judith E. Heumann
Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services