Back in March I wrote an editorial in support of the dyslexia legislation just introduced in the State Assembly. AB 1369 is a bill that comprehensively addressed the needs of students with dyslexia — who number one in five. These students have brains that are wired differently, making manipulation of language difficult in the typical classroom approach to reading and writing.
There’s plenty of research about how to identify, teach, and test students with dyslexia, but it’s not mandated in California. And it’s high time the Golden State caught up with modern thinking about dyslexia. This bill was intended to do just that, and it originally included provisions for:
• Early identification of students
• Specific training for teachers
• Access to explicit, scientifically researched reading programs designed for students with dyslexia
• A new, more specific definition of dyslexia in the State Education Code
Not surprisingly, this bill gained a groundswell of support from parents from one end of the Golden State to the other, parents who are tired — no, actually exhausted — from trying to get appropriate services for their bright children with dyslexia whose lights are dimmed in traditional classrooms.
Then the bill was gutted, due to the strong opposition to the bill by three powerful educational organizations: the California Teachers Association, the California School Boards Association, and the SELPA Administrators of California. (Special Education Local Plan Area — the administrators of special education in most districts throughout the state).
Their reasoning: It would cost too much to identify these students, there would be over-identification of students, and students with dyslexia are already being appropriately served by existing approaches. Some individuals speaking for their organizations even displayed their misperceptions and out-of-date beliefs about dyslexia.
I wish those education bureaucrats — who insist the status quo is working — would sit down with me at one of our district’s monthly Dyslexia Dialogues and hear the stories of parents who fear for the future of their children with dyslexia: The single mom considering taking out a second mortgage on her home to provide proper tutoring services for her high-school son who still can’t read; the desperate father who finally pulled his fifth-grade son out of school to homeschool him because his self-esteem had plummeted after too much teasing for his low reading level; the mother of the senior daughter who stays up every night until 2 a.m. working on homework because she doesn’t qualify for special education services.
Since it’s been amended, AB 1369 no longer offers a comprehensive approach to dealing with dyslexia. As it’s wended its way through the process, it only contains provisions to add the phrase “phonological processing” to the definition of dyslexia and for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop new guidelines for districts to follow — by the school year 2017-2018. The watered-down bill passed through the State Assembly and is on its way to the State Senate for a hearing in the Education Committee on July 8.
All this dithering about comes much too late for my son, who graduated from Santa Barbara High School earlier this month. His severe dyslexia made his elementary and junior high years challenging, but once he finally learned to read — with an intensive and expensive private program — there was no stopping him: He graduated with honors and earned an impressive four-year academic scholarship at a liberal arts college that understands and accommodates learning differences.
But in classrooms throughout our community and across our state, students with dyslexia will continue to struggle unnecessarily until our legislators finally begin to listen to the parents who bear the burden, instead of heeding the organizations — charged with providing a Free Appropriate Public Education for every student — that are all-too-willing to ignore the needs of one in five of them.
I’ve asked State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and members of the State Senate Education Committee to support this bill. For more information, go to DecodingDyslexiaCA.org.