Why Schools Fail to Provide an Individualized Education Plan for All Students

  • Curriculum
  • Give Each Child
Steve Wilkins, Head of School Blog


Gec Washman, Carroll’s mythological guru whose name is a loose acronym for “give each child what she or he most needs,” inspires our thinking about how to educate children. In this edition, Gec suggests that generally schools don’t deliver what each child most needs.

Obstacles Traditional Classrooms Face: When curriculum, not students, define education

Many schools think they deliver to each child what she or he most needs. In reality, almost no school understands what this truly means and how to accomplish it. Schools fail to deliver what each child most needs largely because they don’t know what each student most needs. So many obstacles exist.

They haven’t thought about it, they don’t have the diagnostic sophistication to determine needs, they don’t define their job in this context, they don’t think it is possible or necessary, and they are not designed to deliver on the challenge even if they embraced it. As a result, curriculum, not individual needs, drives the education of most children in America.

In this blog, Gec Washman offers some hypothetical scenarios of ways in which schools think they are delivering quality, individualized education - thinking they’re providing what each child most needs. The discerning reader, however, will quickly realize that these schools aren’t quite delivering on Gec Washman’s promise.

Where Great Schools Fail to Deliver

COMPLIANCE ACADEMY: We deliver an outstanding curriculum to each of our students. We follow the common core curriculum and work diligently to meet the line items in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. When a fifth grader, for example, completes our program she has demonstrated mastery of the skills necessary to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) standards. This is how we deliver what each student most needs.

Analysis: This program is really only delivering a version of a general curriculum to all students, not to the individual student.

DYSLEXIA PREP: We deliver what each student most needs. We have a program designed for bright children with dyslexia that addresses the needs of our population. 85% of our students make dramatic progress with our program. The other 15% who are not making meaningful annual progress just need more time in the incubator, or they aren’t quite our profile student (you know admissions sometimes makes mistakes), or they are really, really dyslexic.

Analysis: It is quite clear that these statements are excuses. How does a school justify not making progress with all its students? How can this school alter its programming to meet the needs of the 15% who aren’t making meaningful progress? Are all learners with dyslexia of the same profile?

LARROC SCHOOL: We have careful diagnostic information on each of our students. These data actually determine which students we enroll in our school. We have intensive tutoring opportunities for our students, tiny classes, well-trained teachers, and a culture that honors students with dyslexia. Everything we do is designed to meet the needs of this specific type of learners. Our track record is strong, and our alumni do well.

Analysis: This is actually a reasonable description of Carroll School five years ago. Yet, we didn’t have the programmatic flexibility to alter a student’s experiences enough to address specific anomalies and obstacles in a child’s education. Our schedule and program wasn’t nimble enough to respond to individuals who were not making reasonable progress.

Our New World View of Individualized Education

CARROLL SCHOOL: We have careful diagnostic information on each of our students. These data determine a student’s classes, remedial focus, and curriculum. Academic leaders meet constantly to assess a student’s progress, and adjust the focus of instruction. They expect every student to make meaningful progress, perform better on frequent assessments, and display daily performance at ever increasing levels of competence and independence. When this type of positive growth isn’t evident, we adjust a student’s program and instructional emphases.

Students do this work with teachers/tutors in:

  • Small classes
  • Focus area classes/tutorials dedicated to a child’s greatest need
  • Flex block classes designed to offer additional instruction in an individual’s area of need
  • Annual cognitive development intervention designed to strengthen weak underlying brain systems
  • Social-emotional learning instruction

Schools need to ask themselves these uncomfortable and challenging questions: Is what we are doing good enough? Are we meeting the needs of each individual? Is each student making meaningful progress? How can we adjust ourselves to better meet the needs of the individual? What is remedial? Can we help students more than we previously imagined?

Carroll is asking these questions with unrelenting vigor. We’ve changed our offerings to children dramatically in the past five years, and we will continue to do so in the next five years. This is the obligation we hold for each of our students.

  • Curriculum
  • Education Policy



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