This spring Mayor Eric Adams launched an ambitious $7.4 million literacy initiative targeting children with dyslexia. While it’s an admirable idea, there are still many more questions than answers.
All students in K-12 will be given literacy screenings three times a year. Students who repeatedly score well below their peers will be screened for risk of dyslexia. All teachers will also receive training on how to identify and support students with dyslexia. The mayor, who has dyslexia himself, will open two new dyslexia programs and direct all schools to adopt a phonics-based literacy curriculum.
Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting 3% to 7% of the population, according to the Lancet medical journal. The number of students in New York City public schools with dyslexia could exceed 70,000. It will be an enormous undertaking.
The city’s experience with the Universal Literacy Initiative demonstrates the kind of challenges this new literacy initiative may face. That program launched in 2016 with the goal of getting all students reading at their grade level by the end of Grade 2. It placed close to 400 coaches in elementary schools to provide teachers with coaching in evidence-based literacy instruction. The program did not deliver the intended results. One reason was many principals rebelled. They didn’t like an outsider telling them how to handle a core piece of the curriculum.
Currently, the DOE will not put the word “dyslexia” on an Individualized Education Program without an expensive private evaluation. How is the DOE going to change that model and parents’ expectations? Will it be up to the superintendents to ensure the principals implement the new plan? Will staff receive the necessary PD and support? Who is going to monitor progress?
These questions will need answers if students identified as dyslexic are to get the support they need and deserve.