The Ability to Read Is the Key to Success for both Individuals and Democracy
By Emerson Dickman, JD
The cost of educating a child is sizable; however, the cost of not educating a child is incalculable. After twelve years of exposure and interaction, the child expects to be able to decode and comprehend at a literate level; write clearly and effectively, recall important facts from a variety of subjects, and reason with logic and judgment. In order to accomplish these markers of education, a child must learn to read.
A New Jersey Administrative Court has held that “reading is the foundation upon which all scholastic success depends” (R.E. v. Jersey City Board of Ed. OAL Dkt No. EDS 7018-97 October 1997). “Reading is the key to education, and education is the key to success for both individuals and a democracy.” (Adams, M. J., 1990, Beginning to Read, Thinking and Learning About Print. MIT Press, Cambridge.) In our literacy-driven society, learning to read is the basic skill underpinning all subsequent learning.
Consider the plight of a six year old child with dyslexia who encounters a struggle acquiring basic reading skills. Faced with language and literacy tasks five hours per day, one hundred and eighty days per year, this child quickly perceives an inability to participate to the same extent as his peers. Without intense, sequential, phonic based instruction with an informed teacher, such a child will likely become frustrated and discouraged, avoid reading and writing, fall behind academically, and drop out emotionally. Unfortunately, children that do not easily learn to read often suffer a phenomenon refer to as the “Matthew Effect.” Dr. Keith Stanovich has coined this phrase to describe the impact that a single unremediated deficit can have on the development of skills that are not deficient. The phrase comes from the Gospel according to Matthew where it is inferred that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Whereas IQ and general cognitive skills seem not to have much bearing on early reading achievement, early reading failures seem to result in a progressive diminution in IQ scores and general cognitive skill. (Adams, M.J., 1990. Beginning to Read, Thinking and Learning About Print, MIT Press, Cambridge, p. 59.)
Children with dyslexia often give up prior to high school graduation. As they leave the system, the door to a future of options and opportunity slams shut. As a society, the loss of human potential is unacceptable; as educators, the loss of intellectual potential is unconscionable.
Robert Pasternack, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services U.S. Department of Education, testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on June 6, 2002:
It is clear from research conducted by OSERS and the NICHD that reading failure affects children earlier and more intensely that we previously thought. By the end of the first grade, children displaying difficulty learning to read begin to feel less positive about themselves then when they started school. In later years, these children experience even further decline in self-esteem and motivation. The consequences are dire.
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Needless to say, the inability of many of our nation’s children to develop basic reading skills is not just an education problem it is a national social and health problem as well.
Acknowledging the primacy of reading in obtaining an education, NICHD and OSERS have funded research projects that have focused on the reading process by looking at normal readers in order to help unravel the knot of reading disability. NICHD has identified four questions that have guided their research:
How do children learn to read?
Why do some children have difficulty learning to read?
How can reading difficulties be prevented?
How can reading difficulties be remediated?
Despite the substantial strides that have been made in understanding the reading process and despite agreement among the researchers on the importance of direct, sequential, code-based instructional approaches to teaching beginning reading; reading achievement in the United States continues to languish. After two decades of NICHD research, four out of ten students still encounter difficulty in beginning reading. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s report card, reported that 38 percent of fourth graders read below basic level! Several factors contribute to this dismal picture:
The mistaken notion that children are pre-wired to learn to read.
College teacher preparation programs that ignore current research regarding the essentials teachers must know to teach reading.
Administrators who do not have confidence in the research to allow it to guide practice within their school systems.
“Indeed, in early intervention and prevention studies supported by NICHD and OSEP, reading failure rates as high as 38 to 40 percent can be reduced to six percent or less.” Testimony given by Dr. G. Reid Lyon, Research Psychologist and Chief of Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to the House Committee on Education in the Workforce, June 6, 2002).
Currently there is unprecedented, positive momentum in realizing an education for all children. Some old voices have been joined by new advocates who propose promising initiatives:
Sum The International Dyslexia Association has historically been in the forefront advocating for informed instruction for our children. The exemplary paper by Board Members, Drs. Louisa Moats and Susan Brady (Informed Instruction For Reading Success: Foundations For Teacher Preparation, The Orton Dyslexia Society, May 1997) has clearly outlined the knowledge base required for the pre-service teachers of reading. IDA’s federal legislative liaison provides a continuous presence on the hill that carefully monitors bills and proposals that could effect the educational opportunities of every child. Each year prior to the April Board meetings, Board Members and Branch Presidents meet with Congressional representatives to discuss issues vital to the education of children with dyslexia.
Sum The National Reading Panel was convened at the request of Congress to report on the knowledge gained from reading research and assess the effectiveness of approaches to teaching reading. The Panel’s support of systematic phonic instruction for K through 6th grade students as well as for children experiencing difficulty learning to read sends a clear message to teachers. In order to guarantee an education for all children, clinically proven research based methods of instruction must be employed. Teachers must have the knowledge base to be effective before they are given the freedom to be creative.
Sum At the federal level, the “No Child Left Behind Act” (January 2002) signed into law by President Bush, includes the “Reading First Initiative.” It will bring millions of dollars to states to assure an education for all children by teaching them the basic skill of reading upon which all future learning is predicated. In New Jersey, the Governor’s Education Cabinet and the Task Force for the Reading First Initiative will be working to ensure that the lessons we have learned from research translate into practice. Accountability within a reasonable time frame is mandated and will help to ensure an effective education for all children.
Let us reaffirm our mission to promote effective teaching approaches and educational intervention strategies for children with dyslexia while upholding our commitment to research-based knowledge and clinically proven practices. We are the sentinels who monitor the door of opportunity. Let no child exit who has not received the education to which he or she is entitled!
In the 53 years of the existence of IDA, there has never been a more important time or a more potentially rewarding opportunity to make our voice heard. As the new President of the New Jersey Branch, I am at once tremendously honored and honestly overwhelmed by the promise that these times offer and the heavy responsibility that such promise exacts.