In 2010, when we began talking about creating a charter school for children with dyslexia in Pittsburgh, we soon learned just how far behind other regions we are in addressing the needs of these learners. During the planning phase, our board and working group visited 14 schools specializing in dyslexia in four states. We spoke with other schools by phone and reviewed many websites. Among other things, we learned that Philadelphia had about 13 such schools –all of them private and most with tuition around $35,000 per year–not an amount most families can afford.
We decided to pursue the idea of a Charter School so all parents could use their tax dollars to get their children with dyslexia the education they need.
Through our research, including visiting a Charter School for Children with Dyslexia in Louisiana, we learned that a handful of states are beginning to use charter schools to address the needs of children with dyslexia. We also learned that over 14 states have passed legislation addressing aspects of dyslexia such as the definition, screening, interventions, pilot programs for remediation and teacher training. Another four have legislations pending. In 2014, Pennsylvania passed legislation for a pilot program for early screening and intervention for children with dyslexia.
In addition, the needs of children with dyslexia are attracting the attention of Congress through the work of the Bipartisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucus. Last year, they introduced a bipartisan house resolution calling for state and local education agencies to recognize the implications dyslexia has on a child. In February 2016, President Barack Obama signed into law the Research Excellence and Advancements for Dyslexia, or READ Act, a bill providing at least $2.5 million annually for dyslexia research.
There is definitely a shift going on in the national education landscape with regard to dyslexia. It may have been triggered in 2004 when Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, made the results of the 20-year Connecticut Longitudinal Study widely available to the general public in her book Overcoming Dyslexia. The study followed 445 children, beginning in kindergarten of the 1983/84 school year and provides a panoramic view of the process of learning to read. Among the many findings, this “study indicates that reading disability affects approximately one child in five.” (Page 30)
The Provident Charter School, among the first of the growing number of charter schools for children with dyslexia, will be a model for schools across the country. In a PBS NewsHour interview on April 16, 2014, Dr. Shaywitz said:
“While many dyslexics are finding ways to overcome and excel, now is the time to focus on identifying dyslexia in students, and getting them the proper evidence-based support needed to overcome it. It is not being diagnosed in schools,” she said. “The kids who have (dyslexia) aren’t receiving the evidence-based interventions and modations that will allow them to show their strengths… and reflect (their) ability rather than their disability.”
We can fix this in Pittsburgh with the Provident Charter School. We offer parents a choice, to their children can have a chance.