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The Best Kept Secret in Special Education

by Robin Hansen
March 29, 2009
SF Special Education Examiner

Most college special education masters programs do not include comprehensive instruction in reading for dyslexics. 

Yet, dyslexics or children with reading disorders make up 70-80% of the special education students. Is there any wonder why special education reading scores are so low?
How does this happen?
At best, most potential teachers will get just an overview in reading,  Few colleges, if any teach one of the few methodologies proven by the International Dyslexia Association.  These methodologies are taught by private companies or certified individuals, not colleges. 
The owners of the methodologies are not big text book publishers like Harcourt, SRA, etc that can afford lobbyists to push state politicians and administrators to approve their curriculum's.  Publishers make money by selling hundreds of thousands of text books.
True research based proven methodologies for dyslexics are multi-sensory based.  The original is Orton Gillingham.  The rest are based on the theories of Orton Gillingham are Wilson, Slingerland and Spaulding.
The exception to the rule is Lindamood Bell LiPS (Lindamood Phonemic Sequencing) which is a proven multi-sensory methodology. 
In order to use these methodologies properly, teachers must have intensive instruction, consistent mentoring and follow up.  Teachers cannot go to a two day or one week workshop and then come back and teach the rest of the staff.  Unfortunately, this is the current model in SFUSD.  Last years professional development calendar did not include a single workshop in reading instruction for dyslexics. 
For the last 90 years nationwide, college teacher training programs and public schools have ignored the fact that Orton Gillingham (O-G) methodology works for dyslexic children, to the detriments of millions of children and society as a whole.  Famous dyslexic Special Education attorney Pete Wright had a very hard time in school and was taught to read using Orton Gillingham methodology.
Ironically, Pete would advocate for a dyslexic girl named Shannon Carter in front of the supreme court. He would win a unanimous decision in 1993.  The court ruled that the public school did not provide Shannon Carter with a free appropriate public education (FAPE).  The court ruled to reimburse the parents who found an adequate private school which taught Shannon via the Orton Gillingham method.
There have been cases all over the country where the few parents who do fight back win when it comes to poor reading instruction.  Even the dimmest hearing officer recognizes a child that can't read! With so much evidence available, one would think public schools would get the message, but they don't.   Right now the deck is very much stacked against parents with the Office of Administrative Hearings in California.   School districts win about 90% of the time.  But even in that poisonous climate, a San Francisco Unified School District's "legal expert consultant" took a reading case to Court and lost. This student won 200 hours of Lindamood Bell tutoring. Read decision here
Is this how we spend money from the "rainy day" education fund?   How much did this trial cost?  Wouldn't it be a better idea to teach children how to read? 
While politicians, educators,and administrators argue over reading, few listen to the sound, well researched International Dyslexia Association.  With the advent of MRI's, whole new waves of understanding and research about how well these methodologies work have been published.  There have been articles in Newsweek, great documentaries of powerful evidence of neuroscience but the public school officials and college special education departments still don't pay attention.  

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) demanded evidence based reading programs with research behind them.  Great idea.  Except all kinds of educational publishers eager to get their piece of the money pie, came up with watered down text books and programs claiming to have O-G traits pushed their wares on gullible public school administrators who do not have the knowledge to be educated consumers.  Publishers were just interested in just making money.  School district administrators do not understand the difference between  the "at risk" population vs Specific Learning Disabled population.

Neuroscience has proven beyond a doubt over and over that these are the methodologies that work.

It's a local and national shame.

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