I read the book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell about two years ago but it recently came back into my consciousness while I was thinking about Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). The description on the book cover says:
“There is a story that is usually told about extremely successful people, a story that focuses on intelligence and ambition. In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell argues that the true story of success is very different, and that if we want to understand how some people thrive, we should spend more time looking around them – at such things as their family, their birthplace, or even their birth date. The story of success is more complex – and a lot more interesting – than it initially appears.
This was a fascinating book that delved into how individuals became successful by reviewing not only their accomplishments but how environment, birth date, access and family contributed to that success. Basically, we needed to stop looking at the individual in isolation and as he wrote in the book learn that “… the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.”
The more I thought about this book I realized that Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of success transfers very nicely to children with IEPs. What are the reasons why some children thrive on an IEP while others continue to fall further behind? I decided to dedicate this blog to analyzing the various outside factors that contribute to IEP success.
Early Intervention & The 10,000 hour rule
“…the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger role preparation plays.” (Outliers, pg 38)
“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert – in anything, writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin” (Outliers, pg 40)
So success can be traced back to preparation and practice. Preparation and practice is even more important when you are talking about children with Special Needs. This is why the Child Find portion of IDEA is so important. IDEA included Child Find because it is crucial to find children with disabilities and intervene as early as possible. Early intervention alone is not enough though, parents need to take what the therapists are teaching the children and continue to practice at home. Think about that magic 10,000 hours required for mastering any task and that cannot be accomplished without continued practice in the home environment.
My son has his annual IEP in December of each year. It didn’t start out this way, in fact, his first couples of IEP’s were held in June. What I have noticed is we have had much more successful and productive IEP’s when the date was changed to December. When you hold an IEP at the beginning of the year, you are sitting at the meeting with all of your child’s teachers and therapists that will be responsible for implementing the IEP for the rest of the year. When you hold an IEP at the end of the year, you are crafting an IEP that will be implemented by a different set of teachers and therapists the following year. In my experience, it is much more difficult to write and implement an IEP when many members of the IEP will not be the same next year. While I know that it would be impossible to hold every IEP at the beginning of the year, it does not preclude the parents from having informal meetings at the beginning of the year with your child’s teacher and therapists. If the byproduct of the teacher/therapist meeting is that the IEP needs to be amended, then the parents could request a new IEP with 30 days notice.
“The wealthier parents were heavily involved in their children’s free time, shuttling them from one activity to the next, quizzing them about their teachers and coaches and teammates” (Outliers, pg 103 based on a study performed by a sociologist Annette Lareau)
“That kind of intensive scheduling was almost entirely absent from the lives of the poor children”. (Outliers, pg 103)
“Lareau calls the middle-class parenting style concerted cultivation. It’s an attempt to actively foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills. Poor parents tend to follow, by contrast, a strategy of accomplishment of natural growth. They see as their responsibility to care for their children but to let them grow and develop on their own. (Outliers. Pg 104)
I recently read an article in the New York daily news entitled; Education Department's special-ed help mostly goes to the city's rich. I think the reason for this is due to what Lareau labeled above as “Concerted Cultivation”. While, the services available under IDEA are supposed to be based on need, the availability to these services have begun to be divided by class. The middle and upper class believe their children deserve a Free Appropriate Public Education and will find a way to get it, while the poorer families are accepting whatever the schools are offering. The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. Unlike a music or acting class for instance, the services provided under IDEA are free. What it requires to have access to these services are knowledge and preparation, not money. There are many websites, including this one, where parents can learn their rights and what services are available and use that information to benefit their child. It takes time, preparation and knowledge to level the playing field in an IEP.
The Value of a good teacher & therapist
We have spent the better part of 10 years in different therapies and classrooms with my son. Each therapist and teacher has contributed to the person he is becoming. I cannot stress enough the importance of surrounding your child with the right people. We have not been afraid to change therapists if something wasn’t working; such as going to due process to remove a speech therapist from working with my son. An IEP isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on without the support of the teacher and therapists whose job it is to implement it!
As you can see there are many outside factors that contribute to an IEP success. What I have learned through this process is that although the document is called an Individualized Education Program, it is dependent on much more than the individual to be successful. What other outside factors do you think contribute to IEP success? Please provide your comments below.