The Growing Prevalence of Learning Disabilities

I wrote a blog post in August about how I don't believe in bilingual education because it rarely achieves its purpose of achieving English language proficiency. While I stand by that point, I made another remark in that post that I would like to rewrite.

I commented that many of the students, who were my classmates, used Spanish as a crutch, and never learned English. What I failed to mention, because I was not aware of the large prevalence of the issue, was how reading disabilities factored into the learning process. It is estimated that one in five students has a learning disability that is literacy based.  If they cannot comprehend and make sense of text, it doesn't matter the language the student is being taught to learn. The student isn't going to it pick up be it Spanish or English.

The literacy issue is not just related to English classes. A lot of learning, if not all, is text-based. If they can't read simple English sentences, they cannot do math word problems and they cannot do science projects. They basically cannot succeed in any of the core classes of education.

Why do so many students with learning disabilities go unnoticed? There's several reasons. A pretty big one is that the clues are hard to discover. Students are not quick to say "I can't understand what is on the page." Rather, they'll say "this is hard" or "I'm tired." Classes are also overcrowded in many public schools so students that do need extra attention can rarely get it. Special education funding is also limited. Many people think that the students just need some extra assistance. The reality is each student's disability is different and requires more specialized attention than a regular teacher can provide. So, when different learning problems are mixed together in a class there will be parts of the day where the lessons taught do not apply or benefit all the students in the class. Progress is also often slow with learning disabilities. What good is that doing the students? Even with intense tutoring, students might only go up a level in reading proficiency per year despite being four grade levels behind. Does the slowness of their learning make them not worthy of attention in a public education system focused on measuring reading progress in tests? Our system assesses a student's entire worth based on a test that they cannot pass because they are not getting the constant resources to better their reading and be able to take text-based examinations, but fails to provide the resources so that student can pass the test.

So, if public education is failing, that means charter schools come in to save the day, right? Not in general, and especially not when it comes to special education students. Charters have a history of cherry-picking students and rarely include those with disabilities. That means these high-need students are left in the overcrowded classrooms of underfunded schools. When education is privatized, like charter schools, it becomes a business, and businessmen don't invest in what they believe won't turn out a profit. Kids with learning disabilities are not allowing their schools to achieve high scores so they are just kept out of the equation. So what are parents of the learning disabled to do when the current system or the new one isn't helping them?

A high school teacher who discovered her students had reading disabilities considered it almost the same as finding someone who has late term cancer and trying to treat the disease. There's a always chance for success, but the real key to success lies in early detection. Our public education system is not equipped to deal with so many reading disabilities since it receives so little funding, and charter schools aren't helping either.  Over 80 percent of CPS is low-income. Parents simply cannot afford to get private tutoring if their student has a learning disability. One third of students with reading disabilities drop out, and they are also disproportionately represented in our jail system. Is that the only option? Wait until the student is 16 so he or she can opt to drop out, get into trouble, and finally get 'taken care of' by the state when they end up in jail? This issue may seem small to some, but it is growing and becoming exacerbated. These are real kids that need real help now, and our education system is not funded well or equipped with enough specialists to actually make a difference in their learning experience. Isn't everyone entitled to a free education? I am reading a book about New York City students that slipped through the cracks and never had their disabilities treated in the public education system. So, they sued the schools to get a private education to finally learn to read as adults. Is that what's going to happen in Chicago too? Because if CPS wasn't broke already, it's about to face an even greater budget deficit.

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Check out my other posts on CTU and education:

The Problem with Charter Schools.

What the New CTU Contract Means for CPS Families.

CTU Strike: Money Issue.

CTU and City College Professors.

Why the Strike Happened.

Longer School Day.

Bilingual Education.

Rahm Emanuel CTU Commercial Analysis.

How the Strike Will Affect Rahm's Reelection.

Filed under: Education

Tags: CPS, Learning Disabilities

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