Pam thought her son might have dyslexia. But the teachers said no. It went on like this for years: Pam suspecting Dayne was dyslexic, the schools saying no, and Pam believing them because they were the education experts.
America's Not-So-Broken Education System
At the end of Dayne's senior year in high school, Pam learned she had a legal right to an evaluation. The school tested him, and the report said Dayne had weaknesses "often seen in students diagnosed with reading disabilities including dyslexia. And I said, 'What do you mean? The reluctance to confirm that a child is "dyslexic" goes beyond avoiding a label that could harm kids.
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Public schools nationwide have long refused to use the word, allowing many of them to avoid providing special education services as required by federal law. According to dozens of interviews with parents, students, researchers, lawyers and teachers across the country, many public schools are not identifying students with dyslexia and are ignoring their needs.
While scientists estimate that between 5 and 12 percent of children in the United States have dyslexia, just 4. In addition, while schools routinely screen children for hearing impairment, a problem that occurs much less frequently than dyslexia, screening for dyslexia is rare. Moreover, most students who are diagnosed with dyslexia aren't identified until at least third grade, according to Dr. She says it is not unusual for dyslexics to go unrecognized until adolescence and beyond, a systemic shortcoming that effectively abandons struggling young readers during the most critical years of learning.
When children are identified with dyslexia, public schools often lack staff with the appropriate training to help, according to several studies and reports. And yet, there are proven ways to teach people with dyslexia how to read that are not new or controversial.
Research suggests that if all children were taught to read using approaches that work for students with dyslexia, reading achievement would improve overall. According to the most recent federal data, more than 60 percent of fourth-graders in the United States are not proficient readers. Students who struggle to read are more likely to drop out of high school, to end up in the criminal justice system, and to live in poverty.
Students at or above proficient reading level. Source: The Nation's Report Card. When Billy Gibson, 18, was in elementary school, he couldn't spell his own name.
He bombed all his spelling tests. He says his teacher would respond by sending him to the hall with the kid who did best on the test.
It’s Time to Rethink How We Are Educating Our Children
Billy says he came to think of himself as the dumb kid who spent a lot of time in the hall. He didn't know he was dyslexic. Neither did his parents. The Gibsons, from Baltimore County, Maryland, have five kids.
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All of them have dyslexia. They know, because they paid thousands of dollars for private testing. But when the Gibsons showed the test results to their children's schools, administrators didn't buy it, says Rob. And, oh, we don't agree with it. The Gibsons gave APM Reports an audio recording of the meeting where they discussed the test results with staff at their son Eddie's school. In the recording, a staff member says, "We do not suspect a learning disability.
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Those are the specialized education plans that students with disabilities who are behind in school are entitled to by federal law. But in the recording, the school staff says Eddie can't have a disability because he has passing grades and average standardized test scores. More than a dozen families across the country interviewed by APM Reports reported getting into similar fights with their child's school.
Parents say their children figure out ways to compensate for their dyslexia and get by in school, but they aren't being taught to read. Children with dyslexia need specialized reading instruction. But specialized instruction is expensive. The cost to educate a child receiving special education services can be more than twice that.
When the federal special education law first went into effect in , Congress committed to covering 40 percent of the extra cost of educating children with disabilities. But the federal government is only covering slightly more than 15 percent. States and local districts pay for the rest. That's one reason schools have avoided using the word dyslexia, according to Fran Bowman, a former special education teacher who now runs an educational services company that works with school districts to train teachers.
In other words, if schools acknowledge a student has dyslexia, they may be legally obligated to provide special education. Six special education directors from around the country interviewed by APM Reports denied their schools were refusing to use the word dyslexia to keep students out of special ed. Kevin Gorman, director of special education in Upper Arlington, Ohio, and a former school principal in another Ohio district, said schools were avoiding the word because it wasn't a term used by the state on IEP forms.
Instead, the state used the umbrella term "specific learning disability. Avoiding the word was such a problem in schools across the country that in the U. Department of Education issued a special letter reminding schools that not only can they use the word dyslexia, they should use the word if it can help them tailor an appropriate education plan for a student. View note. It's a legal requirement for schools to identify all children who have disabilities and provide them an "appropriate" education.
But many schools have resisted the approaches to reading instruction that students with dyslexia need — and that would help all children read better — because of a long-running dispute about how to teach children to read. You can trace the debate in the United States about how to teach kids to read all the way back to Horace Mann, the father of the public schools movement. In the s, Mann railed against the idea of teaching kids that letters represent sounds. He believed children would better understand what they were reading if they first learned to read whole words.
This came to be known as the "whole language" approach. On the other side of the debate are people who say children must be explicitly taught how sounds correlate with letters. This is commonly referred to as the "phonics" approach. The argument over which approach is best has been intense and political, with phonics cast as a traditional, conservative approach.
Think of children sitting in front of a blackboard, sounding out words as a teacher points to the letters that represent each sound. Whole language, on the other hand, holds that learning to read is a natural process and that kids don't need explicit instruction. Expose them to lots of good books and they will learn to read. That approach is seen as the more liberal, progressive way.
As with many ideas in education, there have been big pendulum shifts over the decades. Whole language was big in the s, for example, as progressive education became influential. The pendulum swung back toward phonics in the s. By the s, whole language was popular again. Bowman, the former special education teacher, got extensive training in phonics in the s and used that approach early in her teaching career.
But she says she soon got a supervisor who told her she wasn't allowed to teach phonics.
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Bowman says it's easier to train teachers to use the whole language method than to train them to use phonics.
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