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School Years (Also Early and Transition): Change in the Community and New/Innovative Models

Presented by: Kathleen Mary Huebner, Ph.D., Pennsylvania College of Optometry, Karen Wolffe, Ph.D., American Foundation for the Blind, Co-Chairs of the National Agenda; and Drs. Anne L. Corn, Vanderbilt University and Susan J. Spungin, American Foundation for the Blind, National Agenda Steering Committee Members

Contact: Dr. Kathleen M. Huebner                                   Dr. Karen Wolffe

Pennsylvania College of Optometry                                American Foundation for the Blind

Department of Graduate Studies                         2109 Rabb Glen St.

8360 Old York Road                                                    Austin, TX 78704

Elkins Park, PA, 19012                                           USA   

USA                                                                            (512) 707-0525

215-780-1360                                                                         (512) 707-8227

215-780-1357 Fax                                                      wolffe@afb.net


Introduction- What is the National Agenda?

Before we begin, we would like to acknowledge the other two co-chairs of the National Agenda, Donna Stryker and Brunhilde Merk-Adam.  These are two parents of children with visual impairments who play a critical leadership role with the National Agenda.  Their thoughts are represented below and their energy and spirits are with us today.

The National Agenda is a concept and a process.  It is a set of common goals designed to improve the quality and quantity of appropriate educational opportunities for infants, children and youth who are blind or visually impaired.  It is a grass-roots effort of collaboration that emphasizes parent and professional collaboration and partnerships.

Its efforts and success are not dependent on funding as there is no national or federal funding to support it.  This does not mean that agencies, organizations, and individuals do not financially support various activities, because they do. National organizations, state and private agencies, and individuals share financial responsibilities.  Each state acquires funding needed to support its own activities.   The majority of the needed funds come from state and local efforts, because after all, this is where the majority of the work occurs.  The success of this model depends on a shared vision of commitment and unification that the common goals are important to the success of all children with visual impairments.

Historical Development

The National Agenda (NA) was first conceptualized and developed in the early 1900’s. It came about from the realization that many infants, children, and youths in the United States were not receiving the quality and quantity of specialized education services needed specific to their needs.  It was, in part, professionals in the field of blindness, parents and consumers response to a National Education Agenda, by the then President of the United States, that addressed the needs of children in the United States that did not have disabilities.

The initial team drafting the NA first proposed 19 possible goals that were evaluated nationwide by professionals, parents, and adults with visual impairments using two criteria:

  1. Would the goal, if achieved, have a major positive impact on the education of youngsters with visual impairments; and
  2. Would the goal be achievable by the year 2000.

Using a Likelihood-Impact Analysis process, the 8 most critical and potentially achievable goals were identified.  Major national organizations with expertise, commitment and resources were invited to be National Goal Leaders.  The NA therefore represents a broad consensus of how the educational programs in the United States need to change.  At first, there was an advisory committee comprised of parents, professionals and consumers, and two co-chairs, a parent and a professional.  Today, the advisory committee is now a national steering committee comprised of parents, consumers and professionals and there are four co-chairs consisting of two parents and two professionals.  Many individual states have adopted a similar model to address the specific goals in most need of attention.

n         The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities was published in 1995 (Corn, Hatlen, Huebner, Ryan, & Siller, 1995). This little blue book, defines what needs to occur in the education of youngsters with visual impairments from early childhood through high school in order for them to be successfully integrated into society. It provides a brief explanation about the need for and the development of the NA. It presents each goal statement, explains it briefly, and provides suggested strategies for achieving each of the goal. In addition, the goal leaders are identified, as well as the original advisory committee members and there is a list of organizations that officially endorsed the NA. The NA book is available from AFB Press in New York, USA and also through the Texas School for the Blind’s website at www.tsbvi.edu/agenda

 The Eight Original and Newly Revised Ten Goals of the NA

Although most of this presentation will focus on the original eight goals (as the revised and additional goals were just recently voted upon in May of 2002) they are all presented here. 

ORIGINAL GOAL 1.  Students and their families will be referred to an appropriate education program within 30 days of identification of a suspected visual impairment.

NEW GOAL 1 Students and their families will be referred to an appropriate education program within 30 days of identification of a suspected visual impairment.  Appropriate quality services will be provided by teachers of the visually impaired.

ORIGINAL GOAL 2. Policies and procedures will be implemented to ensure the right of all parents to full participation and equal partnership in the education process.

NEW GOAL 2  Remains the same

GOAL 3. Universities, with a minimum of one full-time faculty member in the area of visual impairment, will prepare a sufficient number of educators of students with VI to meet personnel needs through the country.

NEW GOAL 3 Universities with a minimum of one full-time faculty member in the area visual impairment, will prepare a sufficient number of teachers and O&M specialists for students with visual impairments to meet personnel needs throughout the country.

GOAL 4. Service providers will determine caseloads based on the needs of students and will require ongoing professional development for all teachers and orientation & mobility instructors.

NEW GOAL 4 Caseloads will be determined based on the assessed needs of students.

GOAL 5. Local education programs will ensure that all students have access to a full array of placement options.

NEW GOAL 5 Local education programs will ensure that all students have access to a full array of service delivery options

GOAL 6. Assessment of students will be conducted, in collaboration with parents, by personnel having expertise in the education of students with visual impairments.

NEW GOAL 6 All assessments and evaluations of students will be conducted by and /or in partnership with personnel having expertise in the education of student with visual impairments and their parents.

GOAL 7. Access to developmental and educational services will include an assurance that instructional materials are available to students in the appropriate media and at the same time as their sighted peers.

NEW GOAL 7 Remains the same.

GOAL 8. Educational and developmental goals, including instruction, will reflect the assessed needs of each student in all areas of academic and disability-specific core curricula.

NEW GOAL 8 All educational goals and instruction will address the academic and expanded core curricula based on the assessed needs of each student with visual impairments. 

The expanded core curriculum includes: compensatory skills such as braille, abacus, etc., Orientation & Mobility, social skills, independent living skills, career education, recreation/leisure skills, utilization of technology, and visual efficiency (Hatlen, 1996).  Two new goals are proposed, one on transition and the other on on-going professional development.

Process and Publications

Throughout the development, implementation, and publication efforts, the NA has relied on the efforts of professionals and parents in partnership to work toward achieving the established goals (Corn & Huebner, 1998). Following the development of the NA goals, national organizations were asked or volunteered to become National Goal Leaders. Their responsibilities were to coordinate efforts on a national level directly related to the goal. One of their first responsibilities was to gather national baseline data to best determine where the nation was with respect to each goal. The results of the major national effort were published in The Report to the Nation, (Corn & Huebner, (1998), AFB Press). This publication is often referred to as the “bigger blue book” and it reports baseline data for each goal. In addition, it reports on NA goal activities in 28 states and provides recommendations for action and detailed appendices on caseload policies, a federal government policy statement. It has been used to increase the accountability to the provision of appropriate educational services, communicate with legislators and other decision makers, assist less active states in becoming more active by comparing data for local and state education services.

Some states were having difficulty in getting started, which motivated additional publications.  One that provides concrete suggestions for proactive activities and action plans that facilitate goal development and achievement is entitled A Call to Action  (Stryker, Huebner, & Hatlen (1999).  There is also a fact sheet developed for use with administrators and two new booklets, one for parents and another for teachers.  These can all be accessed through www.tsbvi.edu/agenda).

National Agenda Implementation Effort
In the US, the NA effort has met with mixed reviews.  Some states have embraced the concept and implemented either the NA in its entirety or written and implemented their own version, i.e., a state plan.  Other states have focused on specific goals within the NA and worked toward achieving those goals, essentially setting the other goals aside until they can accomplish the one or two goals that their constituents have identified as priorities.  And, there are some states that have not attended to the NA or paid it only cursory attention.  Suffice it here to say that well over half of the states fall into the first two categories at this point.

Wisconsin is an example of a state that has recognized the power of the NA effort and harnessed its power to effect change locally.  The provision of services to children with visual impairments in Wisconsin was in a state of crisis a few years ago and that situation forced service providers in the state to wrestle with many of the issues that drive the NA.  The specialized school providing statewide services to students with visual impairments was under threat of closure, there were severe teacher and related service personnel shortages and there was no longer a university program available in-state to prepare teachers or mobility specialists, and so forth.  In order to grapple with these concerns, professionals and parents in Wisconsin embraced the NA and used its national recognition to capture the attention of legislators and educational administrators in Wisconsin.  They were able to secure a small grant to establish the Wisconsin State Plan for the NA.  This document is available on the NA web site (www.tsbvi.edu/agenda/wisc.rtf) and can be downloaded.

The Wisconsin (WI) State Plan consists of the same eight goals as the original NA and two additional goals, one that focuses on transition and one that focuses on quality programming for students with visual impairments.  Each goal area has a team of people working on it and is coordinated by parent and professional co-chairs. In addition, the organization of the WI group mirrors the national group…there are parent and professional co-chairs and regularly scheduled meetings, including an annual conference. 

Some of the accomplishments of the WI group are highlighted below:

Although the other goal teams have had comparable results, due to space constraints their achievement are not detailed here.  For further information, please contact the authors and go to the www.tsbvi.edu/agenda website.  The critical elements that have led to success in the efforts outlined above and the overall success of the WI model are succinctly listed below:

In summary, the following checklist can help any group of concerned parents and professionals implement either NA or a similar effort: 

q       Identify issues of concern in your state,

q       Identify barriers to resolving those issues,

q       Identify resources that could be put to bear in the NA effort,

q       Identify key players who can move NA effort forward (identifying a leader is a critical piece in this step),

q       Identify accomplishments to date (to reinforce those actively participating in the NA implementation effort), and

q       Set goals and develop an action plan.

Replications and Off-shoot Activities/Publications

We have learned that New Zealand, Australia, and England have replicated the concept of a NA.  In the US the Vision and Aging Community has developed and implemented the model.  There has been a federally funded national study on the state of personnel preparation programs and subsequent efforts by the personnel preparation programs to work together to increase the numbers of professionals in the field while upholding the quality.  National program guidelines have been developed and disseminated to all the state directors of special education and training has occurred in many states using the guidelines.  National organizations and the publishing community have worked together to improved access to print textbooks prior to publication so that they may be prepared in appropriate media and available to students with visual impairments at the same time as they are made available to their sighted peers. In addition, federal legislation has been drafted and is before the US Congress to assure that this is done now and in the future.  All these and more national and state efforts have occurred as a direct or indirect influence of the premises put forth by the National Agenda.

Future Directions

All this, and more is coming about through a unified effort.  Teachers, parents, administrators, consumers, and others are working together to make it happen.  Future efforts will continue in states and more states will be recruited to join the effort. The new and modified goals will be published and disseminated and there are plans to replicate what some states have done by having a national conference on the National Agenda. 

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