Higher Education and Teacher Curricula in Reading: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Why can't we be friends
Why can’t we be friends?

Reading wars, structured literacy programs, early screening, multi-sensory interventions delivered with fidelity, IEP, IEE, assistive technology. When I began to get my arms around what I define as the “dyslexia space” I had no idea how complex the underlying issues were, and all of the controversies! Good heavens.

Many years ago, when we were told that our daughter had a reading difference we had one goal in mind. Teach my kid to read. That is what I call this site, and that has always been our goal. All we have ever wanted is for our daughter to read. What we didn’t know then is how complicated that would be. Sadly, our story is not unique. There are millions of kids like our daughter, and some are not so lucky as to have our life-wrenching choices that at least offer some solutions.

I have written in other blogs about the immense improvement our daughter demonstrated after she received services with fidelity at Camp Dunnabeck. As a friend often says, we peeled away a layer of the onion. Our daughter was happy, she was learning, and she was reading! Did we solve our challenges or come to the end of our story? Hardly. The journey never ends, even into adulthood where workplace challenges for dyslexic adults are starting to garner some attention. And, just because our daughter can decode or pronounce a word does not mean that she can understand what she is reading.

What Is Reading?

Being able to read is really, really complicated, and it’s not something that happens naturally. As reading specialists and other professionals know, reading comprises several different skills that are all very important for someone to be considered “a reader.” The National Reading Panel essentially defines the components of reading instruction as follows:

Phonemic awareness
Phonics
Fluency
Vocabulary
Comprehension

The structured reading programs that are scientifically proven to help people who are dyslexic, and everyone for that matter, include these components. You may be surprised to learn that K-12 teachers responsible for teaching young children to read may not understand or have training in this area. The reason is mainly that many colleges and universities do not include dyslexia training or structured reading programs as part of the teaching curricula (you can Google the reading wars to get more in-depth information on this long-standing- battle). Matter of fact, there are very few college programs accredited to offer multi-sensory language education. I have no idea how many unaccredited programs integrate dyslexia awareness and a phonics-based reading program into the curricula.

reading wars
The reading wars. (Photo retrieved from psychologytoday.com)

So, What Do We Do About All This?

I say this in every post. I am not an expert. I’m a Mom navigating a complicated landscape, and an educational publisher trained tried and true to identify gaps and find learning solutions. I believe in higher education, and I am encouraged by some of the best practices that are simmering. It’s not enough, though, and the fact is that higher education is still more part of the problem than the solution.

So, here’s how I see it:

1. Higher education-Higher education teacher education and training programs do not prepare enough teachers to address dyslexia and reading differences adequately.
2. K-12-Many K-12 teachers responsible for teaching reading are not equipped to understand and teach kids with reading differences.
3. Policy-Each state has its own set of unique laws related to dyslexia. Some states have no laws on the books. There is wild inconsistency in how states, school districts, and schools deliver services.

What Can We Do?

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” Dr. Seuss

It’s the holiday season so I’ll end with a partial wish list of solutions for 2018:

• Curricula reform in colleges and universities-including a focus on assistive technology.
• More teacher training partnerships between colleges and universities.
• Affordable options to train teachers or potential tutors.
• Fundraisers to send more kids to specialized camps for services and summer activities.
• More specialized schools for kids who need a curricular solution to thrive.
• Increase and pass more state laws that ensure that kids with learning differences are identified early, and have access to a proper education.

I hope that Teach My Kid to Read can be part of these solutions, and welcome your feedback on this article. Happy Holidays, and here’s to 2018!

Bibliography

Gray, P. (2013). The Reading Wars: Why Natural Learning Fails in Classrooms. Retrieved on December 15, 2017 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201311/the-reading-wars-why-natural-learning-fails-in-classrooms.

The National Reading Panel https://www.nichd.nih.gov/research/supported/Pages/nrp.aspx

 

PART 2- Chasing the Dream: Who Pays to Teach my Kid to Read?

Isabella looking surprised
You want me to pay!

Early on in most relationships, it can be a bit murky deciding who should pay for dinner regardless of who is the bread-winner. Eventually, it works itself out although it can continue to be a source of frustration if both parties are not forthright or comfortable with the situation. If your kid has significant learning or reading issues then who is responsible for paying for all of the recommended services?

The Independent Evaluation

When it became airtight evident that our daughter was not progressing or progressing inconsistently, with confidence I requested an independent evaluation from the school district. Perhaps I could have or should have done this earlier, but I bristled at the idea of our daughter sitting through six weeks of assessments. The kid is continuously pulled out of school and all the sitting! She’s a kid. She should be running around.

When kids miss school for learning assessments, they are counted as absences!

Additionally, I felt a bit ill about potentially doling out a few thousand dollars if the school district turned down the request. Many of my friends had requested an independent evaluation through the school or district and were denied or decided just to pay out-of-pocket. I want to make it clear that I am not an expert on Wright’s Law and cannot comment on the legalities of any of this. There are people more in the know that may have more informed things to say about our rights to an independent evaluation, and how to navigate the probable loopholes on both sides.

In our case, the school district was footing the bill, and there was no challenge getting their blessing. Admittedly, the documentation was undisputable, but still, for families not used to getting good news from the school district, getting the green light for the assessment so quickly was thrilling! I’ve written in previous blogs about the impact that the results of the neuro assessment had on our family, but there’s another twist. What about all of the money spent on the assessment and the potential financial implications of the results of the assessment?

Who Pays to Teach My Kid to Read?

The district just spent a few thousand dollars to have an expert recommend potential solutions. Thank you for this! The highly educated and paid expert recommends a private school for language differences, homeschooling, or the most widely accepted, research-backed multi-sensory interventions. Radically these solutions, most notably the private school, is the cost to keep our daughter dreaming. So, now what?

If a district spends a few thousand dollars on an independent evaluation shouldn’t there be specific criteria they follow to accept, reject or mildly disagree with the recommendations or is the assessment just protocol and the results up to the whim of the school district to support or comply?

I’ve heard stories of schools where the recommendations are blatantly ignored. Thank heavens we did not have that experience, but there is no doubt that there’s an elephant in the room-private school for reading differences, amongst others. Perhaps the current intervention, READ 180, needs to be tried before the school considers the “gold-standard” intervention or maybe private school will never be an option unless we work with an educational attorney. There are no clear paths in this world.

The Journey Continues

The next post will look further at who pays to teach my kid to read, and why the potential solutions continue to remain elusive.