When Two Things Are Not Equal
It's been a hell of a time in all of our lives. More than 15 months later and life has a glimmer of returning to pre-pandemic normal in some ways, and in others not. Our entire economy was thrust into a recession as the close down directly hit certain industries head on and massive lay offs and furloughs were rampant. A lot of business, unable to sustain themselves with a massive drop in their customer base, had no choice but to fold, so not only were the employees affected, but the business owners lost their livelihoods as well, hitting small business America pretty hard.
The government set programs into place to keep people and families as whole as possible, given the unknown length of time the pandemic would rage through, initiatives like extra unemployment funds and programs to relieve the burden of rent / mortgage payments so people would not find themselves facing possible homelessness.
Some of the human costs included:
Suicide and depression rates skyrocketing in multiple population segments.
Our elderly were left without their family being able to attend to or visit them.
The sick in the hospitals could not have visitors, and many died alone when they didn't want to be, and wouldn't have without the restrictions in place.
In other words, saying this has been a tough year is more than a bit of an understatement, depending on who you're talking to.
The cost to our children was especially high. With the entire population going into lockdown, children had to shift and adapt to virtual learning environments, the cancellation of high school graduations, proms, sports, camps, and playing outside with their friends. Children need and desire social interaction and that was taken completely away. They were a population segment hit especially hard by increased numbers in both depression and suicide. An unbearable cost, yet one that was far too real for too many.
But even given all of the above, I want to focus on a different population segment entirely.
Yes, you guessed it, I am going to focus on our dyslexic and special needs children.
In normal times, under normal circumstances, our dyslexic children never receive the kind of education they need. FAPE is a 4-letter F word thrown around quite a lot, but our dyslexic children almost never experience FAPE in any way, shape or form. Ever. For decades, they sit, denied, every single day in classrooms across the country. They are ignored, berated, told to try harder, told they're lazy, mostly unidentified, but even if identified there are very few who ever receive what they really need. AT is thrown at them thinking it's a cure, when it is just a thing provided without any understanding under the deeply misguided belief that it's the cure all for the child's needs. In "normal" years our dyslexic children have a 3-4x greater suicide rate than their normative peers. They have higher drop out rates, higher incarceration rates, higher depression rates, higher PTSD rates, higher everything. I can't speak to other special needs under "normal" years because I am only an advocate for what I call "The D's" meaning dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, but I do know our special needs children are also rampantly denied and FAPE is something they struggle receiving as well.
But I'm going to take this a step further and talk about the 66% as a whole.
Who are the 66% I'm referring to? So glad you asked. Excellent question.
The 66% are those 8th grade children who regardless of any factor, meaning race, socio-economic status, gender, etc. scored below proficient on the NAEP assessment for 2019. First, note that NAEP is accommodated. Second, note the definition for NAEP Proficient - One of the three NAEP achievement levels, representing solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.
Well, that's a broad definition but the word competency is clear, but to bring the point home, let's review the meaning of competency - the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.
For grins, and just because I can, let's compare competency to a typical IEP goal for reading.
EXAMPLE GOAL #1:
When given a passage on his instructional level, student will fluently read 120 wpm with good tone and pacing with 40% accuracy above the baseline in 4 out of 5 trials as measured by data collection.
Footnote: 40% accuracy in 4 out of 5 trials is still failing, and considering we don’t know what the baseline is, if even 1 or 2 standard deviations below the mean, this goal is horrifically pathetic.
EXAMPLE GOAL #2:
After reading a passage on his instructional level, student will identify the main idea of the passage with 80% accuracy in 4 out of 5 trials through data collection or a work sample.
Footnote: 80% accuracy in 4 out of 5 trials is still failing. Again, what is ”his instructional level?” If far below average or grade level expectation, this is again a horrific goal.
So, let's be clear. There's nothing about the above examples that will EVER make a child a competent reader.
But, moving beyond our dyslexic children, let's talk about the undeniable truth that is the failure known as balanced literacy.
I know some people just got riled up by that last statement, but let me say this, arguing against this is a non-starter. The empirical data is in and it is undeniable. Period. There are numerous articles I could insert to make that point but I'm going to share Emily Hanford's "At A Loss For Words: How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers" because it sums up the empirical data so well: https://www.apmreports.org/episode/2019/08/22/whats-wrong-how-schools-teach-reading
A second example, but this also directly calls out the correlation of denying children the instructional code necessary with racial inequity via the words of Lacey Robinson of UnboundEd:
The Legacy of Anti-Literacy Laws (this is a 4.5 minute segment from the next bullet point that really hits hard on the point I'm making): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0AwYaWehZ0
Footlocker and Fridays - Lacey Robinson - Summer 2018 Standards Institute Keynote Speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LG44s84bqj8
The failure that is Balanced Literacy is leading to rampant illiteracy rates across far more than our dyslexic children. Even in "normal" years, these children are begging for help. They are ignored, denied, falling further and further behind, with high drop out rates, high incarceration rates, and more.
The denial of literacy to our children is a denial to accessing society, gainful employment, proper healthcare, and more. The denial costs our economy more than $220 billion a year, and that number will just keep growing.
For an example of the inequity created by the embrace of Balanced Literacy this is a fantastically shocking graphic from NAEP that undeniably proves the point.
Now, to make this hit home, let's talk about the population statistics of children enrolled today in US Public Schools:
So, given the handshake agreement that we've set up in the above, which I'll rehash real quick just so we're on the same page, what we're talking about is:
The pandemic has sucked for everyone.
Suicide and depression numbers have skyrocketed for many of our vulnerable segments in the population.
Lots of people lost their jobs and way of life.
Even in normal years our dyslexic children were denied FAPE and not set up for academic success.
Even in normal years more than our dyslexic children, actually 2x their numbers, were denied FAPE and not set up for academic success.
So now that we're perfectly clear, let's be clear about a few more things:
At the onset of the pandemic the virtual school platform districts across the country had to transition to with little or no prep was a monumental effort that had to go live with no planning, no notice and no real solution in place to do so that was not fair for everyone involved, both students and teachers.
The ongoing virtual environment was not fair for both students and teachers.
Even in normal years, teachers are overworked and under paid. The last year was even more taxing than normal years with no increase in resources or pay.
Balanced Literacy fails all children.
Structured Literacy, aka the science of reading, helps ALL and hurts NONE.
Footnote - my favorite retort that comes up here is that there's not just one way, and guess what, you're right, there isn't just one way, but when this argument comes up what it tells me is the person making it doesn't understand #SoR at all because #SoR isn't JUST ONE WAY. It's the science of HOW and when properly embraced, allows ALL TEACHERS to actually, really and truly, TEACH each child exactly the way that they learn, individualized as appropriate, explicit, empirical based and life changing.
Maybe only the parents of dyslexic children can see this, but the idea of the “love of reading” was weaponized, and that’s been a dangerous development within the educational pedagogy. For more evidence on this see: https://www.breakingthecode.com/how-love-became-a-weapon-in-the-reading-wars/.
Our children have always been the canaries in the coal mines, but the virtual environment showed many parents who were not being told how badly their children were struggling with perfect clarity the depth of struggle that was happening.
Children do not have any choice about attending school. Parents have say in where, but not if.
All adults have a CHOICE in if they work, what careers / jobs they pursue, and for how long they work there, unless their employer terminates their employment, and whether or not they change career paths. We, as adults, may feel as though we have little choice depending on our debt, literacy levels, or family situations, but those are not real constraints. Whether or not we choose to accept it, the reality is we CAN walk away from any job at any point by our own free will without fear of penalty like our children and their families face with truancy charges, penalties and fines, as well as the risk of Child Protective Services intervening and potentially removing the child.
James Gallini, in his Facebook group "Ask A Special Education Attorney powered by The Gallini Group," put it best when he said the following:
"Public Schools = Government
There are two legal theories that I've discussed over the years... In Loco Parentis and Parens Patriae. At first, it was just In Loco Parentis that we were dealing with... in short, it is Latin for "in place of the parents" and when you drop your child off at school there is a legal transfer of responsibility from the parent to the school (acting as parent). In the beginning of USA public education, there was a School Board where the curriculum was determined by the community-at-large and reflected the general morals and beliefs of that community. Not so much now....
Parens Patriae is Latin for the government being the legal protector or parent to its citizens. That was inserted into government schools under the auspices of policing parents who didn't send their children to the government parent to be educated (truancy)...it was then expanded to include the policing of parent treatment of their own children...based on mere hunches and suspicion alone. Yet, when the government parent is suspected of mental or physical abuse the actual parent doesn't have a lot of options or power to hold the government parent accountable due to broad immunity it provides itself."
I swear I have a point to all of this and here it is.
Are you ready?
This is going to sting, A LOT.
Consider yourself warned.
Beyond the fact that the educational establishment chose to weaponize the love of reading via their failed pedagogical belief in Balanced Literacy, which by the way is thrown at dyslexia parents ALL OF THE TIME, please tell me why teachers find it necessary to scream "IT HAS BEEN HARD ON US TOO!!!!!!!" when we point out the damage the pandemic has had on our already struggling children, educationally speaking?
I get that it's been hard but it's been hard on literally everyone, because almost no one was spared, however that being said, it's been harder on our struggling children than anyone else HANDS DOWN!!!!!!!!!!!
One, you, an adult with a choice about where you work and a paycheck and benefits, need the same level of empathy as the struggling child? Um, no. Sorry. That train didn't leave that building, that ship didn't already set sail because the truth is those trains and ships were never constructed to begin with. The concept that the two are equal is mind boggling. YES, TEACHERS HAVE IT VERY HARD RIGHT NOW. I do not disagree with this in any way, shape, or form, but what I DO DISAGREE WITH is equating their struggle to the struggle of our dyslexic and special needs children, and making the claim that it is, which is honestly a complete lack of understanding, sympathy, or empathy of the dyslexic and special needs student and the damage being done, even in normal times. Period.
Two, the damage of the last year and a half was further compounded by the fact that the Federal Department of Education did NOT grant any schools in this country a waiver from abiding by IDEA, but more school districts than not pretended like they had. What were already bad programs, with bad training, implemented poorly, with bad goals and bad monitoring which were never going to deliver FAPE, just got that much worse. Our already failed children were met with more failure which equates to another year of literacy loss. Now, considering the population of children who are not from families that have enough wealth to pay for private schools and tutoring and more, that year of loss may prove catastrophic.
I get that many teachers threw up their hands and quit or retired, and while that is detrimental to our schools, guess what, that was their CHOICE because they had the right to CHOOSE. Our children DO NOT HAVE A CHOICE about whether or not they attend school, how they are taught or what curriculums are used, and neither do their parents. These same children do not have a say in their denial of literacy, and no one other than their parents speak for them, and yet the parents are frequently met with denials, gaslighting, bullying and more.
Teachers should be far more valued than they are, but there was nothing about a teacher's experience this past year that we can call truly catastrophic. We can however say that about the damage to our dyslexic and special needs children, and that is NOT being overly dramatic. It just isn't. Thinking that it is proves yet again a complete lack of understanding, sympathy, or empathy of dyslexia and special needs.
Sorry not sorry for that bitter pill of truth, but there it is, and it had to be said.
This truth isn't meant to drive a further wedge between parents and teachers, though some will see it as such, but what it is meant to do is to shine a light on the inappropriateness of equating two things that do not and never will equate. The fact is both sides need each other to create real change, but to come together we must acknowledge what is truth, what is choice, and what is creating and harboring intentional inequity.
Once we can acknowledge that truth, as hard as it may be, we can join hands and rebuild, together.
For further reading on the state of our children as a result of education during the pandemic, please read: https://www.npr.org/2021/06/16/994587239/after-months-of-special-education-turmoil-families-say-schools-owe-them?fbclid=IwAR2tgw-mwvRRmagCujT4LTKkY_LLD8I1fGAbS2w6dUUWb153Jo4521xXmlQ
For further reading on the state of our children as a result of education during normal times, the Houston Chronicle ran an amazing 7-part series in 2016, that while focused specifically on Texas, much of it can be applied to other states, which also has 3 parts newly published during the pandemic: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/denied/
Together we can change education, but not while we attempt to equate two unequal concepts.