The Evidence is Clear: Public Education Fails Dyslexic Students

Each new school year brings a flurry of news articles regarding dyslexia, a term for a learning disability that defies all the rules when it comes to reading comprehension. Technically, dyslexia is defined as “a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence.” But, because the term blankets an infinite number of symptoms ranging from an inability to recognize words on a page to a complete lack of phonetic comprehension, dyslexics can go for years without being properly diagnosed. Their academics and their mental health often suffer as a result.

Each state’s educational system handles dyslexia differently, often leaving it up to the parents of dyslexic students to advocate for improved programming. For example, dyslexic students in Oklahoma are now being classified into special education classrooms that aren’t designed to meet their academic needs. As a result, parents are paying upwards of $10,000 for private tutoring to help address their children’s reading difficulties. They’re afraid that their children won’t pass the standardized reading test administered in third grade. If their children don’t pass, they’re held back in third grade until they do.

Far too often public school districts are stuck lumping dyslexic students into special education programs, despite the fact that the “general intelligence” of dyslexics is not affected by their learning disability. As a result, dyslexic students, depending on the severity of their dyslexia, could be placed in a classroom with severely mentally disabled students. This not only fails to address their academic needs, but their adds to their emotional struggles as well. Any average child would be offended at being unfairly classified as mentally disabled. Dyslexics not only possess above-average intelligence, they are also more prone to intense feelings of sorrow and pain. Already vulnerable to frustration and anxiety, a dyslexic forced to learn at the pace of a mentally disabled student becomes a ripe candidate for depression.

A swath of technology-based tools are cropping up to help teachers work with dyslexic students. Most programs involve manipulating text, either through color or font design, in the hopes that it will be more legible to dyslexic readers. However, these programs fail to address the mental phonetic component of dyslexia, which is the individual’s inability to process the sounds of letters as they are reading. While these technologies may help some dyslexics improve their sight-reading skills, they still fail to teach dyslexics how to read words that are not already in their visual vocabulary.

Most states lack any laws that clearly define dyslexia or address how boards of education should be handling the learning disability. Public schools receiving federal dollars are required to adhere to the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). However, while IDEA lists dyslexia as a learning disability, it does not define dyslexia nor determine how schools should handle it. As a result, dyslexic students are governed by special education laws and often pushed through an educational system that neither addresses their learning disability nor their intelligence in an appropriate or effective manner.