The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology explores
Congressional Hearing Notes
By Richard Long, Literate Nation President
Hearing on: Science of Dyslexia
House Committee on Science, Space and Technology
Chaired by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX)
September 18, 2014
From the Committee website. Links to the statements and testimony can be found at http://science.house.gov/hearing/full-committee-hearing-science-dyslexia
Chairman Lamar Smith
Hon. Bill Cassidy, Member, U.S. House of Representatives
Hon. Julia Brownley, Member, U.S. House of Representatives
Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development, Yale University School of Medicine and Co-Director, Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, Yale University
Mr. Max Brooks, Author and Screenwriter
Ms. Stacy Antie, Parent and Advocate
Dr. Peter Eden, President, Landmark College
Dr. Guinevere Eden, Director, Center for the Study of Learning (CSL) and Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Georgetown University Medical Center
* * *
Notes from Richard Long, President, Literate Nation.
The session began late, which isn’t a surprise as most members of Congress sit on three committees. Thursday morning always is a busy time of day. The hearing room was full of spectators, but few members of the press. As the session was called to order, the chairman thanked everyone for coming and commented on how filled the room was with spectators.
To set the stage: The members of the Committee sit in three rows that get progressively higher. Their desks all have lights and microphones on them and the desks are linked, with a center aisle. The witnesses sit at a table, which faces the members. Witnesses are lower than the members and the audience sits behind the witnesses facing the members. There are doors behind the members in the corners, which allow the democrats to leave by one door, to their staff offices and the republicans through a different door. The witnesses and spectators use two doors in the back. The chairman calls the meeting to order, makes an introductory statement followed by a statement by the ranking (the most senior member from the other party on the committee). The tone of the science committee has always been highly respectful of members of each other, the witnesses and the audience.
The chairman’s statement reflected several key issues: 1) 1 out of five students have dyslexia or an attention issue; 2) there are not enough trained teachers; 3) there are not enough schools with specialized programs; 4) dyslexic people think differently and many have made significant contributions to society and understanding; 5) he would like to turn the “disability into possibility” for those with the condition.
The ranking democrat, Congresswoman Johnson, joined in welcoming the witnesses, echoed the chairman’s concern of the complexity of the issue, and also raised the issue of needing more money for the funding of research. She also said, “dyslexic’s aren’t dumb, and with proper support can be successful.”
Then the first panel, of the co-chairs of the bipartisan Dyslexia Caucus spoke. Congressman Cassidy broke down as he talked of his child with dyslexia. He cited Steven Jobs as being a dyslexic and that there is a big gap between what is known about dyslexia and what is in public policy. He was followed by Congresswoman Brownley, who spoke of her daughter’s and their families trials and the need to educate more teachers, use assistive technology, support research, and meet the federal promise of covering 40% of excess costs for educating students under IDEA.
Panel 2 consisted of two researchers, one college president, one parent advocate, and one highly successful author who has dyslexia.
Dr. Shaywitz talked about dyslexia being a specific part of learning disabilities, with many different components and challenges. She said that the vast majority of those with dyslexia are not being identified and as such are then not getting specialized services. She repeated that the research is clear on what needs to be done to help these students but that only a small part of this is being implemented. Her closing quote of her formal testimony was, “It is not a knowledge gap but an action gap.”
Max Brooks and successful author talked about being different in school and how it impacted not just his academic performance, but also his sense of self. He said that school people used to say, “You can do it but you just don’t want to.”
Stacy Antie is the mom of a nine year old. They have been struggling to receive the attention needed in order to become an effective reader. The presentation touched on the delay in the school to pay attention, the lack of support from their private insurance company when they tried to get a private assessment done, and the continued frustration when the school began to provide some services that were in addition to the services that they were paying for (after school tutoring). They had to move to a charter school where the program that was used was structured enough for their child to learn how to decode words. Finally, he was able to say, “It makes sense.”
The president of Landmark College Peter Eden talked about the success that dyslexic college students have at his school because they work so intensively with the students. They make full use of adaptive learning elements and believe that the principles of UDL (Universal Design for Learning) are promising for others as is the expanded use of assistive integrated technology. He did caution that success needs to move from being innovative to scalable.
Dr. Guinevere Eden spoke of the contributions of brain research (using the functional MRI) to our understanding of dyslexia and reading. They are discovering new ideas about the plasticity of the brain and how it grows and develops with interventions. They are working at the molecular level in some of the work. In addition, they are finding that there are differences between males and females. Her biggest concern was the lag between when research has clear information and when practitioners use it. She made specific reference to the work that IDA (International Dyslexia Association) is doing in developing teaching standards and the certification of selected teacher education programs.
After the formal presentations there is a time for questions from each member of Congress. Each member is allowed to talk for five minutes and while this is not strictly enforced, all are mindful of the need for brevity. Questions start with the chairman and then alternate by going next to the senior most democrat, followed by the next senior most republican.
I will select just a few points, but one thing is important to keep in mind—almost all of the members who participated had their own story to tell about how hard it was to get help for their children who needed specialized help.
The chairman asked Dr. Shaywitz about next steps. Her answer was that we have the information; what is needed is that it be used by schools for the millions of children who need the help.
Representative Johnson asked Peter Eden about a specific grant being implemented that is being funded by NSF. He responded that they just were awarded the grant and talked about what it would do.
Representative Bucshon mentioned that his child had different LD issues, but had in common the negative social aspects of not being an effective reader. Max Brooks recommended that having a parent advocate was important, as was early identification, but what was important was that all teacher certificates needed to require teachers to have knowledge of dyslexia.
This got cheers and applause from the audience. This is not usually allowed or encouraged at Congressional hearings. However, the chairman said it was OK as there was really no one in disagreement.
Congressman Bonamici asked about what the changes were that were going on and if technology is ahead of policy? She also asked about research-based vs. evidence-based, which brought an answer by Dr. Shaywitz that differentiated that research is done to evaluate a “theory” while evidence-based is looking to evaluate “programs.”
Congressman Schweikert asked if more research was needed or was it more about carrying out what is already known? Dr. Shaywitz responded that diagnosis must be done first for students in need to then get the educational services they need. Congressman Schweikert then talked about the specialized charters in Arizona (his home state) and he said, “In many parts of the country it breaks my heart that these don’t exist.”
Congresswoman Edwards talked about her child’s complex of disorders and how she was frustrated with school system when she was trying to get service. In addition, she, too, had bad experiences getting insurance to pay but was very pleased when they got their child into The Lab School (an independent school). She mentioned that African-American students sometimes have many issues that this is tied up with.
Congressman Massie talked about how the hearing was dispelling several myths about dyslexia. One was that this is a language issue (by Dr. Shaywitz) and that it was not simply a visual or IQ issue. He asked if there were other myths. She replied, that schools don’t believe it exists. Also that it is a myth that it effects only boys; and that it doesn’t occur in other languages or in other parts of the world.
- There is no legislative action that this committee is committed to taking in this Congress (it is over in December).
- Below the surface there were many complex policy issues around assessment, charter schools, the federal role in education, the federal role in teacher education, as well as funding for research, and funding for IDEA that were mentioned.
- Clearly, there are members of Congress who also are frustrated with how children with dyslexia are treated; they, too, experienced these problems as parents of schoolchildren.
Richard Long, Ed.D., is President of Literate Nation, and former Director of Government Relations for the International Reading Association. He is former Executive Director of the US Coalition for Education for All and former Executive Director of the National Title I Association. He has authored numerous articles, chapters, and books on literacy-related topics and is a contributing writer for LRP publications. Dr. Long also is an instructor at Mississippi State University.
Follow Dr. Long on Twitter: @rlongliteracy.
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