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By Don J. Fessenden
What does 21st Century education look like in America? Our leaders provide reform ideas designed to help schools and districts close the student achievement gap. However, very little is being done to motivate the average student, they’re currently achieving at an acceptable level. What is an acceptable level? Well as long as a student is meeting goal, we rarely do anything to specifically support their educational growth and achievement.
This group makes up the largest population within our schools. Do we ignore them because average is good enough, or is it because of money? It’s always MONEY! What does addressing the needs of the forgotten student demographic have to do with Individual Education Plans (IEP)? As we all know, an IEP is associated with our students with disabilities.
This is a small but growing demographic closely followed from the time their cognitive or behavioral assessments identify them as in need of an IEP. If a student excels academically most districts have some type of a gifted and talented program. In every industry outside of education the most attention is always placed on the largest groups but not in education, as a nation we’re guilty of ignoring the average student.
The idea of an IEP for all students, is one that we as a nation need to take a look at seriously explore regardless of the costs associated with it, if we want ALL student have an opportunity to reach their full potential. Let’s take a closer look at three ways to adopt an IEP for all students.
First we could begin by utilizing current state assessments and intervals to place students in one of three different groups; IEP (D), IEP, IEP (G).
The students are our current students holding current IEP identifiers. We recommend a complete overhaul of the current system, focusing on the benefits to all students placed in general education settings based on state law. While approximately 90% of our current students with IEP should be included in general education classes following the state law for inclusion. The lowest functioning 10% should be given a much more life skills focused curriculum with two hours a day for inclusion in physical education and art.
These students would all still have a case manager responsible for their IEP. So there would be very little change with regards to this group.
IEP & IEP (D)
These two groups would be made up of all the current general education students and would be where the most radical changes to our current education system would occur. We would adopt the two-tier educational system that has shown to be so effective in Finland and Great Britain.
Once our local, state, and federal leaders admit that success is defined by the individual and not by a college degree, we will be able to move onto really doing some extraordinary work by providing all students the opportunity to seek a career in whatever field they select. The truth is that not all students aspire to go to college and that’s OK! As a society, we need to embrace the notion that you can be a success by working in blue or white collar professions.
We need to not just provide differentiation of instruction in our classrooms, we need to champion this same idea on a larger scale and create IEP for all students. This change and its effects would not be seen quickly but would require an adequate amount of time to work through the process. I have been cognizant of the educational system for more than forty years and seen president after president make educational reform a priority. Unfortunately for us none are ever in office long enough to ensure their visions are realized. So while we need political leaders support the responsibility of making meaningful educational change is in the hands of the educators.
Now let’s look at our general IEP & IEP (G) plan…
* All students would be required to complete state mandated courses through eighth grade. (No change from the current system)
* All 9th graders and their family’s decision makers select either the academic or vocational track.
* Those in this track will focus on core subjects based on student interests
* Change in mandatory requirement for 4 years of any specific subject (Policy change required)
* STEM focused courses (Gifted students)
* Liberal Arts focused courses (Policy change required)
* Track is designed to prepare students for college
* Those in this track will focus on 2 years of general studies during a student’s 9th & 10th grade years, with the final 2 years of high school focusing on vocational studies/internships (Policy change required)
* First two years will focus on Language Arts and Math
* Last two years would focus on vocational studies & corporate internships
* Students in this track would be exempt from taking state standardized tests
These are overviews of the two-track education plan we would like to see adopted by the U.S. Department of Education, we know that it will be an uphill battle but one worthy of our effort.
This two-track system would go a long way in closing the student achievement gap because it would give stakeholders options and allow students to follow their interests. We need to allow for differentiation in curriculum and courses based on student interests. When students take courses of interest, they will have intrinsic motivation toward their studies.
The idea of IEP for all students should be embraced as the ultimate in differentiated instructions and supported by those in educational leadership positions throughout the United States. However, the challenges of such an idea are enormous. The best possible outcome from this post would be to introduce this idea to as many educators as possible and let them share the idea with their colleagues.
While educators have tried to move away from placing students in tracks, the proposed two-track academic and vocational tracks may place students in a track system, it would be a system allowing students to focus on interest driven curriculum verses the current one size fits all model we currently utilize in U.S. public education.
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