By Chester Goad, EdD
October may be Dyslexia Month, but this year the more important month for dyslexia advocates may actually be November. Terrorism, immigration, the economy, and continued healthcare issues, are dominating the news, but the impact of the midterm elections on the issue of dyslexia must not go unnoticed.
While parents, teachers, and other dyslexia advocates have been trying to triage the problem state-by-state, the solutions vary with many state legislatures passing different prescriptions for what is ailing the system when it comes to dyslexia. But the problem isn’t the teachers. The problem in most cases is not the local school system. The problem is often each state’s perception of what federal law mandates.
The incredible efforts of stalwart groups like the International Dyslexia Association and all its branches, as well as those of relative newcomer network, “Decoding Dyslexia” born out of New Jersey, only serve to underscore the need for a federal resolution. Often these group’s efforts are met with a tacit response and the typical line: “federal legislation already addresses dyslexia so there is no need for anything additional.” If that was the case though there would be no outcry from parent and advocacy groups from around the country.
Over 20 states have introduced some form of dyslexia legislation in the past few years. Just this past April, my own home state of Tennessee passed the “Dyslexia is Real” bill, modest legislation designed as a first step toward assisting students with dyslexia and better equipping those who teach them. Other notable efforts include Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and New Jersey. These state-by-state legislative efforts to address dyslexia are necessary and honorable; however they are also state solutions that point to a much greater federal issue or a far better national solution.
While as a general rule, I prefer the federal government to stay out of the education business, I do believe that when something already in place is not working properly or isn’t recognized as it should be, it must be addressed…especially when it’s causing a great amount of distress for many of our citizens.
Enter US Representative Bill Cassidy. Cassidy, a House Republican co-founded the bipartisan US Congressional Dyslexia Caucus with former US Representative Pete Stark (D-Wi) in 2012. As someone who follows education policy, I blogged excitedly about the establishment of the caucus at that time. Since 2012, thanks to the tireless efforts of Rep. Cassidy whose own daughter has dyslexia, the bipartisan dyslexia caucus has grown to more than 80 members, drawing legislators from both sides of the aisle all joined in the common commitment to the cause of dyslexia.
Representative Cassidy (R-La), and Representative Brownley (D-Ca), the current caucus leadership, heard the cries of advocacy groups and agree that the implications of dyslexia have far reaching effects on schools and school systems, and more importantly the success of students with dyslexia. Representative Cassidy introduced House Resolution 456, which now boasts over 100 members of congress signing on as cosponsors. HR 456 calls on “schools and State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed.”
I also typically steer clear of endorsing political candidates because I believe dyslexia is a non-partisan or purple issue. However, I believe right now, we are fortunate to have some terrific dyslexia-related leadership in the House. Because of Representative Cassidy’s energetic and tangible, noteworthy contributions to the cause of dyslexia, I certainly hate to lose him in the US House of Representatives, nevertheless, he has decided to run for the US Senate and I believe he could be a great asset to the cause there. If one considers all Cassidy has done for dyslexia in the House it stands to reason that he will do the same in the Senate. A strong and proven voice for dyslexia in the Senate Chamber is necessary at this time to build upon the momentum taking place around the country.
Ever the stalwart in dyslexia advocacy, the International Dyslexia Association is stronger than ever and continues to educate and advocate globally. The newly formed Decoding Dyslexia group is also having a profound effect on grassroots. In my own home state, members of both the TN-IDA and DD-TN as well as other professionals, parents, and educators joined dyslexia advocacy efforts forming a Dyslexia Legislative Alliance that helped get the “Dyslexia is Real” bill passed unanimously. How many bills typically pass unanimously?
The strength of the dyslexia advocacy efforts in Tennessee are just the tip of the iceberg nationally. The dyslexia wave continues because 1 in 5 individuals has dyslexia, and those individuals are not confined within the state borders of Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Kansas, Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, New Jersey or any of the other states that have sought remedies for students with dyslexia (Read more about Learning Ally’s 1 in 5 Initiative here).
While I continue to support the state-by-state legislation being introduced regularly across our country, I believe this continued pursuit to better address dyslexia is indicative of a greater national issue. I also believe that national legislation such as HR 456 can only help to reinforce the efforts of the advocacy in each state. It’s much harder for policy makers around the country to give the typical response “there’s already federal law to address dyslexia” when even the US House and the US Senate are introducing new legislation. In order to fully address dyslexia nationally though, I believe we will need people like Bill Cassidy in the Senate to ensure that issues related to dyslexia don’t just die once they have been introduced.
This November, I’m asking everyone to remember that dyslexia is not a Democrat or Republican issue. One in five Americans has some form of dyslexia and that’s not just my statistic. You can read more about this research by visiting the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. If you are a parent, teacher, or dyslexia advocate and you believe in the cause, please remember to vote for candidates in your statewide and national elections who support dyslexia legislation and vote against those who have worked to impede it. Also, to find out what other states are doing, you can learn more and follow dyslexia legislation through the pipeline in your home state by going here or navigating to www.dyslegia.org.
Finally, as someone who can’t vote in the State of Louisiana, but as someone who cares about dyslexia as a national issue, I wish Rep. Bill Cassidy the very best in November.
November matters. Just imagine what would happen in our country if we were able to reach the 1 in 5.
(Disclaimer: While I used to work for the US Congress, I do not know Bill Cassidy and have never met him, though I would love to meet him sometime and thank him for all he’s done.)
(Dr. Chester Goad is a university administrator and graduate instructor for special education. He is a licensed special education teacher, a former high school English teacher, former principal and former US Congressional staffer. He is also co-author of Tennessee’s “Dyslexia Is Real” bill. A leader in education, non-profit advocacy, parenting issues, and policy, Chester holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership with a concentration in special education. He has been quoted in major newspapers, magazines, and media outlets including CNBC, Yahoo, and US News. He is an adult living with attention deficit and spends much of his time advocating for children and individuals with disabilities and learning differences like dyslexia and for at-risk students. He and his wife live in Tennessee with their teenage son. He is author of the book, “Purple People Leader: How to Protect Unity, Release Politics, & Lead Everyone” now available on Amazon. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at www.purplepeopleleaderbook.com. )