Hon. Susan Close MP, State Education Minister Hon. Jay Weatherill MP, Premier Hon. Simon Birmingham MP, Federal Education Minister My Na...

Bill's Red Letter

00:05:00 Dyslexia Australia 1 Comments

Hon. Susan Close MP, State Education Minister
Hon. Jay Weatherill MP, Premier
Hon. Simon Birmingham MP, Federal Education Minister

My Name is Bill Hansberry. I, and many others make a living working with children who are being let down by a school system that is failing at the one important task that the voting population would expect it could achieve – teaching all children how to read.

I only started to believe that 1 in 5 kids struggling to read was actually a problem when I left school teaching and began working in my own business as a specialist dyslexia teacher. Before that, like many of my colleagues, I just accepted that it as normal that about one in five children will always struggle to read. I accepted it as normal that there would be no help for these kids who thought and spoke like other kids, but for some reason, read very slowly and inaccurately and spelled awfully and fell further and further behind, seeing their educational opportunities diminish as they went. It wasn’t just me who thought his was normal. As a specialist in behaviour management within the state government system, I, like my colleagues, ignored the obvious link between poor literacy attainment and poor behaviour (defiance, work refusal, disruptive behaviour, aggressive behaviour, bullying, assaulting peers, assaulting teachers, leaving school grounds, drug taking at school etc.). We just focused on behaviour and ignored the very obvious links between reading failure and behaviour at school.

Eight years earlier, I remember being interviewed for a year seven teacher position at a prestigious private college. The interview was going well and then one of the panel asked “Bill, can you explain your understanding of how children learn to read?” I had nothing. My mouth went dry, my face went red and after a few moments that felt like an eternity I said “I don’t know”. I hadn’t forgotten, I just didn’t know. My four-year Bachelor of Teaching and Bachelor of Education studies at the University of South Australia had left me completely unable to answer this question. I got the position despite the fact I knew nothing about how brains knew to read. The damage I did because of my ignorance is hard to think about, even now.

The year is now 2016. South Australia is bottom of the country in NapLan reading attainment. Spin the data whichever way you like but we are doing very badly. Mr Weatherill, despite what you say, our Education system is not state of the art or cutting edge. We are ignoring the most vulnerable learners in our system and leaving them to fail. The facts are inescapable. Australia has slipped to 27th in the PIRLS international rankings for year 4 readers (2011). Numbers of critical behaviour incidents in SA schools are rising sharply. Our teachers feel less safe than they have ever felt in their places of work. DECD still allows schools to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on non-evidence based reading programs. Undergraduate teachers still spend less than 5% of their time focused on learning to teach children to read and dyslexia remains an unfunded learning disability in schools. Can you decode this situation? Are you able to comprehend what is going on here?

In a country like Australia, it should be expected that educated people who work in schools know what it takes to teach a young person to read and what to do when they don’t learn like the others. They should know what the research says about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to programs that remediate struggling readers. They should put science before the ideology and evidence before anecdote. School leaders should spend more time and money on investigating evidence based teaching and remediation programs than they do on their Stephanie Alexander Garden or their Walker Learning Program.

When a parent meets with a Principal with an identification of dyslexia that explains why their child has not kept up, the Principal should be able to say “We have an evidence based program that we know will make a big difference for your child. We use an evidence based synthetic phonics program right across the school. We use Response to Intervention to monitor the effectiveness of our three tiered system for teaching reading and spelling and we assess all of our students’ reading progress each year. Our classroom readers are phonics based and we have a trained specialist multisensory teacher heading up our learning support program.”

Right now, they hear many Principals say “there’s no funding for dyslexia, we can’t afford to provide the resources your child’s learning disability requires”. Despite not being able to do anything to help Dyslexic learners, many schools will however happily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on dubious edutrends that have no evidence base.

This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs and affects not only dyslexic students, but impacts on all students who become instructional casualties at the hands of education systems who for some reason refuse to listen to what the research into the teaching of reading is saying. We don’t need evolution; we need revolution. There is no time to waste, the human cost is too great.

It’s time for the leaders to lead – your teachers and students are waiting.

Thank you for reading.

Bill Hansberry
Hansberry Educational Consulting

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