It's not just children with dyslexia who are failed by unscientific approaches to teaching reading. More than a third of U.S. children read below a basic level. Reading below that basic level makes it almost impossible to navigate or function in society. The science of how to teach reading effectively is clear and widely available, so why are children missing foundational reading skills? New York is one of the remaining 20 states to lack basic literacy laws such as screenings for risk of dyslexia and mandatory dyslexia-specific intervention. Furthermore, there are no laws requiring teachers to train in science-based reading strategies, either. Struggling general education students may then fall behind, and too many have weak reading skills preventing them from reaching their full potential.
Check out the data from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy:
85% of youths brought before courts lack literacy skills and struggle to read
80% of incarcerated adults lack literacy skills and struggle to read
3 out of 4 people on welfare cannot read
40% of incarcerated adults have dyslexia (Moody, 2000)
It costs New York tax payers nearly 4 billion per year for damage control owing to illiteracy (The Education Consumers Foundation, 2020)
Most students in New York identified as Learning Disabled (of which 80% have dyslexia) currently do not receive science-based remediation, and as a result, do not make adequate progress. Furthermore, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in 2019, only 34% of general education students could read at or above a proficient level. Poor reading skills are a direct result of failure to implement science-based structured literacy approaches. To compound the dilemma, school psychologists rarely evaluate students' reading skills in enough details to understand the problem. Identifying students at risk of dyslexia usually only occurs after years of failure and are foremost due to the parents' intervention or that of an advocate, attorney, or a courageous teacher. However, most parents do not have the resources or are intimidated by the bureaucracy. New York desperately needs literacy laws.
Coincidentally, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Projects at Columbia University is the largest whole-language-based institution in the country and supplies at least a third of the U.S. educational market. The whole-language pedagogy is the basis for most teachers' training, especially in New York State. Their "three-cue system" directs students to "guess" unknown words by looking at cues like pictures or phrases in the text: see an example from the Teacher's Guide (see image below). Furthermore, instructing students to guess words (rather than decode) is biased against underprivileged students who often lack a rich background knowledge due to less exposure to travel, museums, out-of-school clubs, and camps. This since-disproven theory teaches strategies commonly used by struggling readers, and the cue system falls over once the content becomes more complex and there are no pictures.
The English language took millions of years to evolve and thousands of years to encode into symbols to facilitate reading. Cognitive science confirms that reading skills are based on decoding, matching symbols with sounds, and recognizing the patterns and sequences used to spell words. Proper literacy laws would prevent unproven approaches from being used to teach reading in New York public schools. Such laws would mandate science-based practices to benefit all students.
Additionally, The Guide to The Reading Workshop suggests students flip-through ten books in half an hour: see an image from the teacher's guidebelow. It is not difficult to conclude that copious amounts of book sales bring this program's purveyors billions of dollars. However, the price children and our communities pay for poor reading skills and functional illiteracy is far more costly.
Recently, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, headed by Lucy Calkins, admitted that their approach needs to change to align with scientific research. While Columbia acknowledges their failures and may perhaps change their policies, it does nothing to mitigate the harmful impacts of low literacy or functional illiteracy inflicted upon a generation of students. After all, Columbia's admission came about due to pressure from parents, the science community, teachers, not-for-profits, and APM Reports (Emily Hanford) - not the New York State Education Department. We owe a huge thanks for all their hard work, but we cannot stop now.
Columbia University represents a lofty academic standard but is, in fact, an institution that placed profit above science when it came to teaching children how to read. This behavior is comparable to fossil fuel corporations, who long ago knew about climate change, kept silent, and continued to profit to this day. It is we, the everyday people, and our communities who have to deal with the aftermath.
The New York Legislature needs to take action and mandate science-based approaches to teach reading & literacy screening & remediation for incarcerated adults and youths. Let them hear your voice!
Sign the petition for literacy laws now (click Change.org)
Protecting Every Child's Right to Learn How to Read