The young students took turns before the microphone and explained that their teachers couldn’t teach them to read, made them feel stupid and often shuffled them into special education, where they fell further behind.
Their parents joined them in a packed legislative conference room last week, organized by a new Minnesota movement aimed at helping the estimated 1 in 10 kids with a misunderstood learning disability.
“Every day of the week, we have people contacting us,” said Rachel Berger, a founder of Decoding Dyslexia-MN, a group of parents, educators and students. “We have almost 900 followers on Facebook,” she said, “and not one person has said, ‘My child has received the services they need.’ ”
The group held the first “Voices of Dyslexia Day” at the Legislature last week to put a spotlight on what it describes as a failure of schools to diagnose and provide appropriate services. (For the sake of full disclosure, my teenage daughter was among the students attending.)
Dyslexia doesn’t simply mean that students mix up d’s and b’s, they said. It is an information processing and recall disorder, and often more. Advocates say that there’s a proven way to teach dyslexic kids to read but that relatively few Minnesota teachers are trained to use it.
Berger said that hit home when she sent her son to kindergarten. “I no idea this would be the beginning of a battle,” she said.
Parents in this group are relatively well-educated, ranging from nurses to teachers to former investment bankers. Most wound up hiring tutors to teach their children to read, or did it themselves.
“But not all families have the resources to do that,” said Heather Smythe, a White Bear Lake mother who co-chairs the group. “We are a voice for all of those children.”
The group is lobbying for several bills, including one that would add dyslexia as a specific learning disability in Minnesota statutes so that students qualify for school services. Said Berger: “Regardless of where we go this year, we’ve got more to do.”