Tiberiu Ana

Dyslexia is far more than just difficulty learning to read. It’s become—thanks to our intentional blind eye—an issue of racial and social justice, civil rights, and prison reform too. That’s how extensive the reach and consequences of dyslexia are, and the longer we fail to provide proper tools to those for whom reading is challenge, the worse it’s going to get.

As is widely known, inmates in America are more likely to be people of color. While they comprise 37 percent of the US population as a whole, they represent 67 percent of the prison population. That’s no coincidence. In places like New York City, which has the most segregated school system in the country, many of those people of color come from economically disadvantaged schools where there are few reading specialists and even fewer teachers trained to remediate language-based learning disorders.

While the prevalence of dyslexia in the general population is around 10 percent— it’s not easy to provide an accurate figure because so many people don’t get evaluated and diagnosed—people in prison are far more likely to have dyslexia. Studies have put that figure at 48 percent. These are often the same people who – like babies with failure to thrive syndrome – have suffered from the schools’ failure to teach.

Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “universal literacy” effort, which has placed roughly 500 reading coaches across all elementary schools over the past three years, there is still no requirement that teachers have any training in recognizing or remediating dyslexia. New York state also lacks a consistent screening standard for students and gives principals discretion in their choice of a reading curriculum with little oversight by the education department.

Why? Well, one not very shocking reason is money. Diagnosing someone with any learning disability requires a neuropsychological evaluation which, if done privately, can cost thousands of dollars and is rarely covered by insurance. So people with fewer resources rely on evaluations done by the Department of Education. That can often mean that a child doesn’t get the help they need because, as former special ed teacher Fran Bowman told American Public Media, schools avoid diagnosing children with dyslexia because “once you open Pandora’s box, you have to serve those children.”

And for those who do get diagnosed, schools often recommend the services they can supply as opposed to those the students need.

There are options, but they are few and far between. As of the 2019-2020 academic year, there is only one public school in the state that caters to children with language-based learning disabilities. And while there are a few private, specialized schools, they often cost tens of thousands of dollars and have places for only about 2000 students a year. It’s estimated that another 200,000 or more need similar placements in New York alone.

Parents with little money can’t hire private tutors to help their children or retain lawyers to sue the DOE for tuition for those specialized schools. Neither can they afford to pay the school fees up front and wait for the DOE to agree to reimburse them, as some wealthier families can. Plus, it can take countless hours trying to convince school officials to provide needed services, and when they don’t or won’t, parents who have to work are not likely to be able to attend hearings.

Assemblyman Robert Carroll (D-Brooklyn), a graduate of Windward, one of the most highly regarded schools for children with language-based learning difficulties, has declared the situation a “crisis”.

“I don’t know how this is not the biggest social justice issue facing the Department of Education right now” he told The City. “The only kids who are dyslexic who are getting a good education are disproportionately upper class and white”.

There are some in the state senate who are trying to change that and have introduced bills to require the certification or training of teachers, administrators and instructors in the area of dyslexia and related disorders, and to conduct mandatory early screening for all children.

The cost of implementing the training and screening may be worth it, and not just to the DOE. A landmark 2006 KPMG Foundation report detailed the overall costs to society that result when dyslexia is ignored. They include social costs, unemployment, consequent mental health problems and remedial programs as well as costs incurred due to antisocial behavior, such as drug abuse, early pregnancy criminal justice involvement.

So it’s not just about kids getting a fair and appropriate education – a right that’s guaranteed to all students under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It’s about teaching them the way they learn best and saving them – and us – the consequences of failing them.

Sarah Gross is a journalist and dyslexia consultant. You can find her at Dyslexia Solutions NYC

6 thoughts on “Opinion: The Devastating Impact of NYC’s Failure to Deal With Dyslexia

  1. The dyslexia population not only experiences issues in learning but with behavior and social isolation.
    A dyslexic like Cher who had musical training and talent was a gift that was recognized and promoted.
    Sadly in our society if schools cannot teach using methodologies that help dyslexics then they need to help them train themselves and use natural talents that will also develop self esteem and through their own building of confidence they can then develop skills to retrain their brain as so many dyslexics have done.
    The problem for all children is the schools they attend where the whole child is not being recognized and therefore students lack confidence and feel left out.
    Being an educator for 40 years has taught me that helping children to develop a positive self image is the first step to overcoming any learning disability.
    This is where teaching and learning must begin.

  2. Why are the more coloured people in jail than white?
    I believe it is because the whites have money and can send their kids for remediation classes.
    I know why a majority of kids are wrongly classified as dyslexic when in fat they are instructional casualties.
    I am open to discussion regarding this matter.

  3. Dyslexia is a medical learning disability that many people ignore especially for people that can’t afford it because it’s expensive to get evaluated and insurance don’t cover it.

    Most teacher don’t have the proper training for this disability so they keep silences.

    Only the people that can afford this evaluation get the better education and the help they need, which it mostly includes the upper class and whites.

    But this could all change if you start working with youth, you could benefit everyone in the future.

    It’s cheaper to train them early then it is to house and feed them in prison when they’re older.

  4. Dyslexia is a learning disability that is way bigger of an issue than we all think. Due to the inability of funding for learning disabilities in some inner cities, it has caused many lower-class families to reject having to pay any fees to see if their children have dyslexia or pay extra for tutors. The solution I see through this is school choice in the inner cities so that lower class people can go to higher funded schools and give their child the correct education, or to put more funding into inner city schools as they are statistically more lower class.

  5. It is hard to understand, why money is always an issue.
    Providing a proper education to ALL children is what the DOE should be providing for.
    Its clearly become a racial issue with the system, when more colored people are in jail or in disadvantage with the school system than wealthier families.
    Low income families can not afford private insurance, and any public insurance wont cover appointments with a Ophthalmologist, Audiologist, Neurologist and a Neuropsychologist.
    That is still not considering tuition in a private school.
    How can any low income family pay for all this? Or any adult in jail?

  6. Dyslexia is a huge issue and unfortunately, it is not looked at nearly enough. Some people won’t even realize that they have it, they just ignore it and try to move past it, not realizing that you can get help for it. Some children cannot get help because they simply cannot afford to do so. Our education system really needs to look into dyslexia more. Perhaps having a school-wide test to see who might have it may help, then begin to move forward with treatment provided by the school.

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