Michigan parents and lawmakers want to help teachers help dyslexic kids

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By Lucas Henkel

May 8, 2024

Getting Michigan’s teachers more concrete resources to help students with dyslexia—through new legislation.

When her daughters’ school found out that Julie Tobin was a speech pathologist, they asked the East Lansing mother of four to spend her volunteer hours helping teachers assess student reading. So Tobin ran small groups to find out who was struggling, then made recommendations to the teachers for how to support the kids.

“Our school district just switched to a new reading curriculum last year,” Tobin said. “You can see the differences and the changes in how kids are learning, and that the different teaching styles are benefitting everybody.”

Including, Tobin added, her daughter.

“It has been cool to see my daughter improve to the point now that she’s in third grade and she no longer needs any [support] services. She’s a great, fluent reader now, ” she said.

Studies show that 20% of students have dyslexia nationwide. It’s the most common neurobehavioral disorder in children and young adults, and it can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to learn to read and write. Researchers now understand that interventions and support are most effective when they happen before the third grade—yet most kids with dyslexia aren’t identified until the fifth grade.

Here in Michigan, Democratic lawmakers say they want to do better by our kids. Senator Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia)—a former teacher with nearly 20 years of experience and two Teacher of the Year Awards under her belt—and a number of her Democratic colleagues recently co-sponsored legislation that would help ensure future educators have the tools they need to teach students with dyslexia.

Advocates of the bills say that legislation like this is long overdue.

“There have been efforts over the last 40 years,” said Marsha Chance, the executive director of the Michigan Dyslexia Institute (MDI), in an interview last month. Those efforts haven’t resulted in broad support for teacher trainings, she added—but such training would make a big impact. Over the last several years, the Michigan Dyslexia Institute has worked with many teachers to learn how to better serve students who are struggling with dyslexia.

“The vast majority of them say that this is information they’ve never learned. This includes individuals who have been teaching for over 20 years—some of them have master’s degrees in reading or are reading interventionists in their public schools. They say that they have never received instruction like this and that it’s a game change for their students.”

But not every teacher can access such opportunities. A recent study of more than 2,500 public school teachers across the country found that most have too much work on their plates to take on extra training. The nationwide teacher shortage has forced educators to juggle non-teaching duties (like lunch duty or hallway monitoring), helping students outside of class, and covering for other teachers when they’re not available—in addition to having more kids in their classes than ever and helping them catch up on COVID learning losses.

“Teachers, especially those who are teaching at elementary schools, have to really go out of their way to do training outside of school hours and professional development days in the summer,” said Nichole Martin, a Michigan mom and dyslexia advocate. She believes that the first step to making sure all Michigan teachers have the tools they need to help ensure their students succeed—and prevent teacher burnout—is having legislation that requires school districts to give them those tools.

“When you put that legislative backing on it it becomes important to people.”

The dyslexia training Senate bills have been referred to Michigan’s House Committee on Education. They’ll need to pass there and then be signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer before they can become law.

Author

  • Lucas Henkel

    Lucas Henkel is a multimedia reporter who strives to inform and inspire local communities. Before joining The 'Gander, Lucas served as a journalist for the Lansing City Pulse.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION | COMMUNITY

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