Stinking Thinking Monetizes Dyslexia!

2 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/2/2021

This January, California Democratic State Senator Anthony Portantino introduced SB237 mandating dyslexia testing and intervention. It is similar to a spate of bills across the US requiring a privatized approach to intervening with reading difficulties. Unfortunately, contrary to their claims, these initiatives are not based on well founded research. The perpetrators base themselves on the widely disparaged “science of reading” and are part of a well financed effort taking advantage of emotionally compromised parents and students.

The bill stipulates a specific set of dyslexia testing for all students kindergarten through third grade and requires the “State Board of Education to establish an approved list of culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate screening instruments” to meet the mandate. The legislation also calls on local school districts to use “structured literacy instruction.” 

When SB237 was introduced, Decoding Dyslexia CA, EdVoice and the Oakland NAACP were listed as co-sponsors. Decoding Dyslexia is one of the two international organizations promoting this type of legislation. EdVoice is a publishing organization with strong ties to the movement to privatize public education. Its 2003 founding board included Reed Hastings, Laurene Powell Jobs, Eli Broad and Don Fisher. Kareem Weaver is a leader of the Oakland NAACP literacy campaign and was a witness for the plaintiffs in the Vergara case to end teacher employment rights.

“Structured literacy” is a 2016 term pitched by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). Fundamentally it is a method based on the work of Anna Gillingham and Samuel Orton in the 1930s. Rhode Island’s Department of Education describes it as an “explicit, systematic, diagnostic, cumulative instruction in phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, syllable types, morphology, semantics, and syntax.” In other words, employ phonics and word decoding to remedy reading issues. IDA claims, “Popular reading approaches (eg., Guided Reading and Balanced literacy) are not effective for students with dyslexia because these approaches do not focus on decoding skills struggling readers need to succeed.”

Legislation not Supported by Research

IDA is an international organizations pushing for specific dyslexia legislation. Their remedies include utilizing private companies to solve student reading problems that public school will not or cannot. They also provide their own dyslexia teaching specialty certification. The obvious implication is that University based teachers’ education programs are incapable of addressing dyslexia.

IDA defines dyslexia,

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”

This definition is not supported by the community of education scholars. In fact, there is general agreement that there is no satisfactory definition for dyslexia nor is there a known way to screen for it.

A critical analysis of dyslexia legislation by a team of researcher from Ball State University and the University of Texas noted,

“After a multitude of studies across more than a century, researchers have failed to consistently identify characteristics or patterns that distinguish dyslexia from other decoding challenges. Many researchers and educators argue the construct is too vague and contradictory to be useful for educators.”

They continue, “There are no universally employed measures or procedures for identifying dyslexia.”

A paper by Peter Johnston and Donna Scanlon from The University at Albany asserts,

“The bottom line is that there are many definitions of, and theories about, dyslexia and simply no agreed-upon definition that allows schools, clinicians, researchers, or anyone else, to decide who is dyslexic in any valid or reliable way.

“From an instructional standpoint, there is no practical distinction between those classified as dyslexic and others at the low end of the normal distribution of word reading ability in the early elementary grades.”

Not only are there a plethora of scholarly studies that make the same points about the definition for dyslexia, there also are an equal number of research papers that thoroughly discredit the idea that “structured literacy” is a proven success.

In 2017 Rachael E. Gabriel of the University of Connecticut published “Converting to Privatization: A Discourse Analysis of Dyslexia Policy Narratives.” Her paper analyses how the agenda for privatizing dyslexia intervention is sold to legislators and school boards. She also shares results of studies on the “structured literacy” approach. Gabriel cites the US Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse reading research stating “structured literacy” is not supported by evidence.

Money is Driving this New Education Privatization Effort

Senate bill 237 was just moved out of committee to the Assembly. In the 2020 general election, an analysis of major donor California state spending revealed over $14 million dollars spent by a neoliberal cabal of billionaires and the political action committees they fund. Of that spending $1.5 million went to California state legislators. The table above shows the money that went to legislative members who are either on the Assembly and Senate education committees or are listed as co-sponsors for the dyslexia legislation.

Handing off teacher certifications to private organizations and using private companies to screen students is a huge mistake. Legislators should resist the temptation to micromanage public education. The best approach is to trust education professionals and university based scholars more than private actors with an agenda.

The Boston Consulting Group makes the fantastic assertion that, “Investing in early  screening  and  teacher  training  would  provide  an astonishing 800% to 2000% return.” A policy brief from the Institute of Child Success indicates that special education pay for success has great return on investment potential.

Clearly the sharks are circling. Parents, legislators and schools need to be on high alert. Well funded organizations want our public school resources. For them, dyslexia is just another potential profit center.

2 Responses to “Stinking Thinking Monetizes Dyslexia!”

  1. peachymeyer June 2, 2021 at 6:54 pm #

    Another sad example of the money culture that underpins this country, taken to yet another destructive extreme on the path to completely destroying the commons that holds (or held) the nation together.
    An example in contrast is a friend of mine who was dyslexic but came up through an un-privatized public education with no high-profit “programs.” From excellent state-paid teachers only, this person went on to become one of the top mathematicians/scientists in the country, his hame synonymous with his theorem. What would have happened to this future productive academic if he had been subjected to the numerous profit ventures that plague our children today? I hate to think of the loss, both personal and national.
    Thank you again, Tom, for illuminating the current crisis.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sheila Gebman June 8, 2021 at 8:35 pm #

    Once again our divisions are being exploited. Our divisions seem to be widening. Our schools are hurting.

    Thank you for sharing.

    We need a strategy for bringing people together in a united effort for rethinking our approach to public education.

    Like

Leave a Reply to peachymeyer Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: