Federal and state laws have required that all students receiving special education services receive an Individual Education Program or IEP. This requirement has been in existence since 1975. The idea is that children will have a program that is tailored to their specific educational needs and thereby be able to compensate for the disability that is challenging their learning.
All of this sounds very good. However, in recent years and as the movement towards standards based education has gotten into full swing, the reality of an IEP has changed dramatically.
IEP's are hammered out in conjunction with the child's parents/guardians and the school's instructional team. The law requires that a member of the IEP team also be someone who has the authority to commit the school's resources. That seldom happens. Nancy Regan once opined that the war against drugs could be won if people would "just say no". That approach has been widely used at IEP meetings when the need for more costly services comes up. Schools just say no.
But I digress. Let's go back to standards based education. In a standards based system all of the students are held to the same standard. It does not matter what a child's intellectual limitations might be or if other challenges prevent the child from reaching his/her full academic potential. All children are required to climb the same tree, even those kids who are better suited to swim the river. In a standards based approach, the purpose of the IEP becomes a blueprint for getting the child to the mainstream standard. To do otherwise would be to "lower the standards". Lowering standards is akin to giving in to terrorists. It is definitely something we do NOT want to do, even it if means we sacrifice children's futures. Oh wait, maybe maintaining standards in the face of all reality is a lot LIKE giving in to terrorists.
But what if a child's natural endowments are not suited to achieving the mainstream standard? What if the child needs to learn other things in order to make the best use of his/her strengths. That was exactly the purpose of the IEP, to give each child with a disability an INDIVIDUAL education program suited to that child's strengths and needs. However, we are now in a place where the full force and purpose of the IEP is geared towards achieving some generalized standard that has been deemed right for everyone, and probably in practice is right for very few with or without disabilities.
Most IEP's today are all about aligning the child's program with the Common Core standards, our latest attempt to get everyone at the same level of achievement, like that could ever happen.
What can we do to regain the IEP for what it was intended to be? In the present environment, there is only one way. Families must insist on keeping the I in the IEP. Doing so will take a great deal of fortitude. There will be huge push back from school people who will remind parents of the horrendous consequences of "LOWERING STANDARDS". I say call up your Nancy Regan and "JUST SAY NO"