Equity is the latest buzzword in education. These conversations revolve around closing the achievement gap, racial equity, and utilizing technology to level the playing field. Yet, there is a deeper and historical equity problem facing education that is rooted in the ability and opportunity for all students to read. It’s been said by Dr. Sally Shaywitz of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity that 1 in 5 people worldwide have dyslexia. Dyslexia affects 20 percent of the population and represents 80–90 percent of all those with learning disabilities. Unfortunately, this topic is largely ignored in schools across the United States.
Dyslexia is not a new problem. Students have been struggling with dyslexia for hundreds of years. What is different,is the evolution and pronunciation of the struggle alongside the Information Age. For example, we often take for granted that learning to read is like learning to speak, meaning, we practice the skill and then we become fluent readers. This is not the reality for dyslexic students. They must first learn how to solve the puzzle of reading to access everyday knowledge that we take for granted, like reading to answer questions on a standardized test, working on written assignments using an electronic tablet, or applying for a job.
Not surprising, we have a clear, explicit recipe to teach a dyslexic student to read. It is not a new technique, but a systematic, explicit method of teaching phonics and phonemic awareness that helps students organize learning to read into manageable blocks of information.
If we know how to address dyslexia, why aren’t schools providing this method?
Well, some have begun to address dyslexia, but for many a systematic approach is cost prohibitive. One could argue that it is even costlier to allow dyslexic students to fail time and time again. Students need early intervention, daily instruction from a highly qualified teacher who understands dyslexia, and this effective method of reading instruction.
Indeed, this solution is a commitment to provide systematic, research-based instruction with curriculum that is appropriate for all students.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District took the first step toward addressing dyslexia. The district piloted an intensive reading program titled the Literacy Project at one of the district’s elementary schools in the 2017-2018 school year. The results demonstrated significant gains not only in reading scores of most students but also within an individual student’s experience and recognition of their own self worth.
Santa Barbara Unified expanded the Literacy Project to three elementary schools this year. This was made possible thanks to local philanthropists such as the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, Walter J. and Holly O. Thomson Foundation, and numerous individual donors who have helped cover the costs of establishing the Literacy Project. While we can all agree on the need to do more, the future looks brighter for dyslexic students in Santa Barbara Unified School District.
Learning to read should not depend on where a student attends elementary school or a family’s socioeconomic status. Our society can no longer afford to ignore a fifth of our students. The economic and human cost is much too high when there is a clear path toward a solution.
It truly takes a village to raise a child. In the Santa Barbara Unified School District, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation is poised to support the advancement of the Literacy Project. What’s next is for our community to take a stand for literacy. Together, we can support all students and break down barriers to education.
Claire Krock is a literacy specialist for the Santa Barbara Unified School District.