- OUR CHILDREN LEFT BEHIND
** WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW **
JUNE 29, 2004
It’s time to “reauthorize” your Individualized Education Program (IEP).
A group of people, often euphemistically called a team, is going to meet to talk about you. They’re going to decide what you’ll be doing for the next year: what you’ll be allowed to study, where you’ll be allowed to sit, and with whom you’ll be allowed to interact. That’s a bit unsettling, isn’t it? They’re also going to decide how to measure whether or not you’ve been successful so that they can continue to receive funding and so that next year’s team has something upon which to base its decisions about what you’ll be allowed to do.
This team can be, and often is, primarily comprised of people who know you only by the written opinions of other people who know you only from having observed you in controlled environments for short periods of time. Those observations typically involve an assessment of how well you perform certain tricks on demand – sit, stay, speak – regardless of how you’re feeling at that particular time on that particular day.
There might (emphasize MIGHT) be a couple of team members with a deeper knowledge of your likes and dislikes, skills and abilities, wants and needs. However, one of those people is typically a family member, and they don’t really count because they’re biased. (In other words, they love you and want you to be happy.) The other one is probably a teacher who now knows you based upon your behavior and performance in the environment decided upon by last year’s team (who knew you then no better then than this year’s team does now) using the written opinions of those other people who know you only from having observed you doing (or not doing) their prescribed tricks.
Are you scared yet?
If you’re lucky, the family member who has been allowed to join this team is determined that you be afforded all the opportunities required by law. If you’re lucky, that family member also knows the difference between the actual law and “gossip law,” and s/he refuses to be intimidated by the rest of the team. (Those things, however, are unfortunately not “givens.”) Otherwise, the team will undoubtedly herd you along a much different path – the path of administrative convenience, which pretty much guarantees that your “individualized” education program will be anything but.
Oh, the team members are not intentionally malicious. Most team members really do want you to succeed and be happy, for various reasons. Sure, some are indifferent – and occasionally you’ll even encounter one that is just plain nasty – but, by and large, they all prefer that you do well. After all, your success makes them look (and feel) good, too.
However, what “success” means to them might be (and often is) entirely different than what “success” means to you.
So, what DOES success look like to you? In the short term, it might mean genuine acceptance, companionship, personal growth, and freedom from bullying. Things that everybody seems to want, right? In the long term, it probably means a job doing something you enjoy, the independence to make your own decisions about where you live and with whom you spend your time, and the feeling of self-worth that comes from belonging to a community.
What does success look like to your team? Do your team members each have a vested interest in your success by YOUR definition? Does it even matter to them? Or, are they primarily just interested in your success by THEIR definition?
And, here’s the biggie: which definition of success (yours or theirs) best dovetails with the priorities of those paying for your education? It’s probably safe to say that the taxpayers funding public education prefer not to have to support you throughout your adult life. It’s also probably safe to say that if you’ve got a job doing something you enjoy, the independence to make your own decisions about where you live and with whom you spend your time, and the feeling of self-worth that comes from belonging to a community, that you’ve minimized (if not eliminated) your reliance on public assistance.
In addition, that taxpayer definition of success aligns perfectly with the stated purpose of the law governing special education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Imagine that! That purpose is “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and independent living ….” (Incidentally, both reauthorization bills add “further education” to the list of things for which students should be prepared.)
Thus, the overriding definition of success for both students and schools should be the achievement of these purposes. Right? Every single decision made by your team should be calculated to move you closer to that success, and every single revision proposed by Congress should do the same.
When Congress, the “team” developing the “program” for 6.5 million students, has completed its reauthorization, will the resultant overall “program” more effectively promote success per those purposes – or will it instead herd 6.5 million students further along the path of administrative convenience?
Debi Lewis, today's parentvolunteer@...
©2004 Our Children Left Behind.
Our Children Left Behind [OCLB] was created and is owned/operated by parent volunteers (Shari Krishnan, Tricia & Calvin Luker, Sandy Alperstein, and Debi Lewis). Permission to forward, copy, and/or post this article is granted provided that it is unedited and attributed to the author(s) and www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com. For more about OCLB or to share information, please contact parentvolunteer@....