Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Individual Education Plan

Many moons ago as I was finishing up my B.Ed. at Nippissing U. we got invited to an educational technology symposium for special needs students.  We were shown the (then) cutting edge Kurzweil speech to text software, fantastic education tools to use with Palm Pilots and other PDAs (!) and even early online access to text books.  I thought it was all wonderful, but I couldn't help but wonder why this technology was reserved for special education students, wouldn't everyone's learning have less friction with these tools?

Except you're not, are you? Some of you get individual
education plans, the rest get the system.
Today I'm going to the latest IEP meeting for my son.  As a teacher I've never understood the individual education plan in Ontario education.  Like that technology all those years ago, wouldn't every student benefit from an IEP?  Doesn't every student deserve one?  Aren't they all individuals?

I'm gong to argue for my child's special needs again today and wonder why I have to do that.  Is it so the school can do well on standardized testing?  Is it so my child isn't run over by a teacher who is determined to get him to conform to bench marks decided by the Ministry?  Is it so he can conform and be more easily manageable?  My son is not rude, or nasty, or dangerous, he is a delightful fellow who thinks laterally the way most people think linearly.  His problem isn't that he can't do things, it's that he does them differently from how most people do them.  Watching the education system try to force his circle into a square hole isn't easy.

As a parent I'm even more baffled by education than I am as a teacher.

A number of years ago my fearless wife demanded an IEP review.  It was grudgingly given, and after some expensive private psychological review (that many families would not be able to afford) a formal IEP was prepared.  At first I was against the idea, but as I continued teaching and saw the number of times a student is held academically accountable by teachers for circumstances beyond their control, I started to realize that an IEP is nothing more than a shield against a system intent on enforcing conformity; protection against teachers who think they are producing widgets instead of people.  Our nineteenth century school system is still building human cogs designed for production lines.  The fact that there aren't a lot of people working on production lines any more seems to have slipped their minds.

In these IEP meetings my son's educators are facing off against two parents with all sorts of familiarity with the system and credentials that help them deal with it.  What happens to the child who should have an IEP but doesn't because their parents are intimidated by the panel of 'experts' in front of them?  What happens to the student who doesn't have a parent who can get to those interviews?  Who wouldn't even think to ask for one because they are a single parent working sixty hours a week?

What about the student who is going through a nasty divorce at home?  The student being abused?  The student who has to work a full time job outside of school to support themselves?  The student who has fallen into drugs?  No IEP for them, though they need individual education plans every bit as much.

If every student in Ontario had an IEP what would it look like?  How would that change the process of teaching?  Instead of trying to catch students out or stream them for post secondary, what if every student was using an IEP to reach their maximum potential?  What if there were no standardized tests but individualized education was put at the forefront of everything we do?  What if there were no streams?  We're not in the factory business any more, almost no one is.  Robots do a lot of that work now.

The nail that stands up gets the hammer.
Years ago in Japan a student told me about a Japanese saying when I asked about conformity and how it's viewed there.  They told me, "the nail that stands up gets the hammer."  That kind of brick in the wall thinking might have served Western education in the last millennium, but it's a foreign way of thinking in a post-industrial world.

I'm going to walk into the education factory today and ask them to not hammer my son into a slot that he doesn't fit into.  Fortunately the IEP shield is in effect, so he's protected from the worst of the hammering (he just has to suffer the small day to day whacks).

I wonder what happens to all those kids who aren't individual enough to be entitled to an individual education plan.

Followup:  posted by a very forward thinking Ontario Educator this morning:

“The most effective way to provide enrichment to every student at a school is already in front of us. All children, in all schools, should have an IEP. Grade levels in classes should be eliminated. High stakes testing should be dropped. Lockstep schooling should be eliminated [to end comparison thinking] There would no longer be “third grade” or “tenth grade”. All students should work toward mastery learning. When they have mastered a skill they move on to the next one. When they finish the required and elective curriculum, they graduate. Slower learners are never “held back” . . . There is no grade to be in. . . . They learn at their own pace, moving through the learning at the pace at which they can show they have mastered the curriculum.” (189).
Jensen, Eric. (2006). Enriching the brain: How to maximize every learners potential.
San Francisco, USA: Jossey-Bass