Tag Archives: Dyslexia

Shady Dyslexia Agenda Accelerating

28 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/28/2021

An intricately connected network of organizations is controlling dyslexia discourse in the US and taking over dyslexia screening and remediation. Thirty-nine states now have adopted dyslexia laws. Most of these laws contain the International Dyslexia association’s (IDA) remediation recommendation of being “multisensory, systematic, and structured.” Researchers Jo Worthy et al state, “This approach is not well supported by research, but it is officially sanctioned through legislation in many states and has had a profound effect on policy and practice.”

IDA, the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA), and the International Multisensory Language Education Council (IMSLEC) are three big players. IMSLEC started as an IDA committee, and ALTA certifies dyslexia specialists in the multisensory language approach, which is consistent with IDA’s Knowledge and Practice standards for educators. IDA began certifying teachers in 2016, in addition to accrediting dyslexia teacher training programs. The websites of these organizations link to each other and to Decoding Dyslexia, a network of parent organizations with chapters in every state. The mission statements and lobbying materials used by all Decoding Dyslexia sites employ language from IMSLEC and IDA.

Using Parents and Students

Rachael Gabriel is Associate Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Connecticut. When large numbers of people showed up at legislative hearings in Connecticut, she became interested in their unusual engagement and strangely similar comments. Gabriel used critical discursive psychology, positioning theory, and narrative policy analysis to analyze the dyslexia law advocacy. She says, “I argue that this narrative can be understood as a conversion narrative, which drives a privatization agenda in which public schools become mandated consumers for a growing dyslexia industry, and in which the nature of instruction for students with reading difficulties is narrowly prescribed.”

Gabriel shares several extracts from the oral and written testimonies given at the legislative session on special education. The first extract is from a student who introduced himself as a 10-year-old who was “here to speak in support of Bill RHB 5562, An Act Concerning Special Education to get dyslexia recognized in the State of Connecticut.”

“I have dyslexia. Reading and math are really hard for me. I’ve had too many teachers that don’t understand how to teach me. Finally, this year I went to Lindamood Bell training and reading is getting easier.”

This is a typical message indicating public school teachers do not know how to teach students with dyslexia but finally he was saved. Interestingly the private company Lindamood Bell’s training credited with making it possible for him to read is not one of several private companies that qualify as IDA certified reading specialists. In fact they report that many of their clients have previously been failed by a certified company. The certified companies all use some version of the 1930’s Orton-Gillingham method whose phonics centered practice IDA calls “structured literacy.”

An important psychological motivator for parents of children struggling with learning to read is the repeated claim that dyslexia is a brain centered condition often associated with giftedness. Statements similar to the following extract from a written comment are common.

“This is a disability worth our investment of time It is the disability of Speilberg [sic], Einstein, and Steve Jobs . . . Honor us and embrace us. We are continually the great minds of every generation. We are the ‘game changers.’”

The idea that dyslexia is associated with other kinds of giftedness is a wives tale. Johnston and Scanlon from the University at Albany wrote in their 2020 research paper,

“Public narratives about dyslexia commonly claim that people classified as dyslexic have an array of special positive attributes such as intelligence or creativity – more so than those not so classified. There is virtually no scientific evidence for these claims.”

Although the parent organization Decoding Dyslexia (DD) does not have a centralized leadership, each of the state organizations shares information from DD and IDA. They uniformly call for:

  1. “A universal definition and understanding of “dyslexia” in the state education code.
  2. Mandatory teacher training on dyslexia, its warning signs and appropriate intervention strategies.
  3. Mandatory early screening tests for dyslexia.
  4. Mandatory dyslexia remediation programs, which can be accessed by both general and special education populations.
  5. Access to appropriate “assistive technologies” in the public school setting for students with dyslexia.”

Parents with babies who struggle with reading are vulnerable to manipulation. The widely distributed message that dyslexia is a sign of high intelligence must be appealing. These parents are informed that their public school teachers do not know how to teach dyslexics. They are assured that private companies certified by IDA can accurately screen for dyslexia and provide the kind of “structured literacy” that saves children from academic disaster. The result is that whenever laws instituting the Decoding Dyslexia agenda are proposed large numbers of parents show up in support.

What is Dyslexia? What are the Myths?

The idea of dyslexia has been around for more than 100-years, but there is still no widely agreed upon definition. That means there is no consensus method for screening for dyslexia. Johnston and Scanlon reported in 2020,

“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.”

Variations of this statement are quite widely available. A 2020 article in Reading Research Quarterly by J. G. Elliot states,

“I argue in this article that despite a proliferation of scientific findings, our understanding of dyslexia is marked by serious weaknesses of conceptualization, definition, and operationalization that not only are unscientific but also lead to impoverished practice in schools, social inequity in understanding and provision for many struggling readers, and reduced life chances for millions of students worldwide.”

IDA and DD promote mandatory early screening for dyslexia but the commercially available tools they promote are not up to the task. A 2017 article by Vanderheyden et al noted,

“In education, it is not uncommon for error rates to range from 50%–60%, meaning if a school assesses 100 children for whom 20 are “true positives” (i.e., truly have dyslexia), then most of the 20 (approximately 16–18) will be identified, but 50 to 60 students will be identified as false positive errors in the process.”

IDA bases its recommendations for reading remediation on the “science of reading” (SOR). In 2000, the National Reading Panel report claimed that its recommended phonics based word decoding methods were based on science. This kicked off a phenomenon often referred to as the “Reading Wars.” In 2004, David Pearson from UC Berkley’s Graduate School of education commented about the raging war,

“For example, several scholars, in documenting the practices of highly effective, highly regarded teachers, found that these exemplary teachers employed a wide array of practices, some of which appear decidedly whole language in character (e.g., process writing, literature groups, and contextualized skills practice) and some of which appear remarkably skills oriented (explicit phonics lessons, sight word practice, and comprehension strategy instruction). Exemplary teachers appear to find an easier path to balance than either scholars or policy pundits.”

In other words, SOR is definitely not settled science. Which means the IDA’s “structured literacy” is not a consensus driven approach.

In 2016, the International Literacy Association asserted,

“Both  informal  and  professional  discussions  about  dyslexia   often   reflect   emotional,   conceptual,   and   economic   commitments,   and   they   are   often   not   well   informed by research. Our beliefs and practices should be  grounded  by  what  emerges  from  the  available  evidence  (Elliott  &  Grigorenko,  2014;  Vellutino,  1979;  Washburn,  Joshi,  & Binks-Cantrell, 2011)

As  yet,  there  is  no  certifiably  best  method  for  teaching  children  who  experience  reading  difficulty  (Mathes  et  al.,  2005).  For  instance,  research  does  not  support  the  common  belief  that   Orton-Gillingham–based   approaches   are   necessary   for   students classified as dyslexic.”

IDA and the research papers cited here claim that as much as 20% of kindergarten and first grade students have reading issues. However, if their school has a professional intervention approach – that could be any of the interventions discussed here – by the time students reach high school less that 2% still have reading issues. Is it possible that the high number of students with reading difficulties in America is because reading is taught at a developmentally inappropriate age? On international testing Finish students test extremely well in reading and they don’t formally teach reading there until age 7.

Conclusion

The IDA organization has many professionals in reading education and the point here is not that they are wrong about screening and intervention pedagogy. The point is that the agenda they are promoting is far from settled science. They should continue to promote their beliefs but they need to stop using a legal strategy backed by power politics to force schools into becoming mandated consumers.

America’s public schools are staffed with an enormous number of well trained and experienced reading instructors. Denigrating them is not justified and is bad for reading education.

The International Dyslexia Association and Decoding Dyslexia are no longer advocates for students and parents. They have become predators using legal strategies and political power to feed an expanding dyslexia industry.

Neoliberal Forces Dominate Public Education in Sacramento

29 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/29/2021

Two pieces of legislation are racing through California’s state legislature both advancing the school privatization agenda. A third piece designed to protect taxpayers from the ravenous charter industry has been squashed. Public schools and sound pedagogy are being harmed by a radical market based ideology. Democrats continue their complicity in this conservative agenda.

Governor Newsom’s Charter School Give Away

A few weeks ago, Oakland school board Trustee Mike Hutchinson raised alarm bells about Governor Newsom’s education budget trailer bill. Hutchinson wrote on Facebook, “Buried on page 95 is a clause that would extend the length of every charter school’s charter, so that every charter school in California will get two extra years before they would be required to go through a renewal process.” California’s Department of Finance definition states, “The Trailer Bill Language is the implementing language of the California State Budget Bill.” It is where California governors execute their agenda.

Oakland School Board Trustee Mike Hutchinson

For his first chief of staff, Gavin Newsom selected Ann O’Leary. That was a very clear signal that he would not be a reliable friend for public schools. O’Leary was on Hillary Clinton’s senate staff in 2001 where she was deeply involved in writing the No Child Left Behind education bill. She was latter a senior policy advisor on Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and is a well known neoliberal who has been a long time cheerleader for the charter industry. Although O’Leary resigned as Chief of Staff this past December, her neoliberal ideology seems to permeate Newsom’s education policy.

From Page 7 of 22 – 2021-22 Governor’s Budget / May Revision Trailer Bills

The picture above was clipped from page 7 of the list of trailer bills promulgated by the governor’s office. The “K-12 Omnibus Trailer Bill (MR)” with tracking number RN 21 12772 states on page 95,

“Section 47607.4 is added to the Education Code, to read: 47607.4. Notwithstanding the renewal process and criteria established in Sections 47605.9, 47607, and 47607.2 or any other law, effective July 1, 2021, all charter schools whose term expires on or between January 1, 2022, and June 30, 2025, inclusive, shall have their term extended by two years.  (Emphasis added)

Monetizing Dyslexia

Early this year, California Democratic State Senator Anthony Portantino proposed SB237 mandating dyslexia testing and intervention. It appears to be speeding through the state legislature with little opposition. On June 1st it passed on the senate floor with 39 yeses, zero no’s and one did not vote. The legislation awaits a final vote on the assembly floor.

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.”

Jan Malvin is a retired University of California researcher with a PhD in Educational Psychology from Northwestern University. She states,

“Formal diagnostic assessment is the only way to identify dyslexia or decoding challenges. The drive for universal screening and other dyslexia-specific policy is ‘a privatization agenda in which public schools become mandated consumers for a growing dyslexia industry, and in which the nature of instruction for students with reading difficulties is narrowly prescribed.”’

While the idea of dyslexia is not a new concept, many current papers make the point that “across more than a century, researchers have failed to consistently identify characteristics or patterns that distinguish dyslexia from other decoding challenges.” In a December 2020 report for the Literacy Research Association, Peter Johnston and Donna Scanlon of the University at Albany stated, “Current efforts at dyslexia screening are misleading about 50 percent of the time.”

While many children do have trouble learning to read and there is reason to believe dyslexia is real, a simple industry provided screening test for K-3 students is likely to misidentify significant numbers of students; labeling some as dyslexic who are not and missing an equal number who are.

Many researchers like Rachael E. Gabriel of the University of Connecticut point out that while the called for “structured literacy” approach has not been disproven even the US Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse states it is “not supported by evidence.”

The list of supporters for SB237 is long and the only California organization that was formally opposed to SB237 in time to be listed in the state’s bill analysis is Californians Together. They were a group formed in 1988 to fight against that year’s proposition 227 which prohibited bilingual education. Tax records show that they are a modest in size non-profit headquartered in Long Beach, California.

Other organizations that have since announced their opposition to SB237 include the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), California School Boards Association (CSBA), Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), and California Teachers Association (CTA).

No Charter School Reform or Taxpayer Protection

When San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan brought down the $50 million A-3 charter scam, she noted, “People v. McManus revealed many weaknesses in the State’s education system in the areas of fraud enforcement, student data tracking, auditing, school finance, and oversight of charter schools.”

To address these weaknesses Assembly Members Daniel O’Donnell, Cristina Garcia, and Kevin McCarty introduced AB1316. The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) expressed strong opposition to the bill.  As education writer Carl Peterson observed, “Unfortunately, AB1316 was placed in the inactive file by a political system unwilling to risk the wrath of the California Charter School Association.”

This year is turning into a very bad year for public education in California. Neoliberal Democrats and the CCSA are having their way.

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.