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Teacher Voice Matters to Winning Support for Comprehensive Literacy Learning for All Students

capitol buildingOn April 15, 2015, during the Senate markup of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), NCTE issued an Action Alert to its membership living in those states represented by Senators on the HELP Committee. That day, NCTE members sent 500 messages to 42 Senators, highlighting the power of teacher voice to defeat an amendment which would markedly alter language about comprehensive literacy.

At issue were a number of amendments offered by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) to ensure that students with dyslexia were identified and had the resources, attention, and supports that they needed. Senator Cassidy tried two tacks. First, he tried to add language singling out children with dyslexia throughout Part D of the ESEA that established a comprehensive literacy program. The Senate HELP Committee rejected both of Senator Cassidy’s amendments (Title II, Amendment 1 and Amendment 2).

Senator Cassidy’s backup approach was to eliminate Part D altogether, thereby removing any language providing comprehensive literacy for all children. Although Senator Cassidy chose not to introduce Title II, Amendment 3 during the mark-up, he most likely will do so when the Every Child Achieves Act (as the latest version of ESEA is known) is introduced on the floor. Senator Cassidy’s argument is that the government should not fund a new program if it does not recognize or address dyslexia. If introduced and passed, Amendment 3 would gut the comprehensive literacy language that NCTE and other allies worked so hard to insert into the ESEA.

Senator Cassidy is passionate about this issue. His daughter has dyslexia and his wife founded a charter school for students with dyslexia. He believes this particular population is ignored and needs both recognition and support. During the ESEA markup, Ranking Member Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) affirmed that this population does need to be recognized and supported but argued that singling out one disability over all the others was “bad policy” and would set a “bad precedent.”  She explained that over the last twenty-five years, the disability community had requested “nothing about us without us,” noting the strong opposition by many disability advocacy organizations to single out dyslexia to the exclusion of the others. That opposition includes the Learning Disabilities Association and National Center for Learning Disabilities, part of the coalition of Advocates for Literacy, of which NCTE is a member.

There are 14 categories of disability in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Dyslexia falls within category 11: Specific Learning Disability. To emphasize that ESEA and Part D should recognize all children with disabilities, Senator Murray offered to add “include children with disabilities” as a compromise, but Senator Cassidy refused.

Senator Cassidy is determined to highlight dyslexia and most likely will reintroduce the amendments that failed and Amendment 3, which will strip comprehensive literacy from ESEA. NCTE will be monitoring the debate on the floor and will keep our membership informed. We know that your rapid response and your voice will ensure that comprehensive literacy as written will remain untouched and included in the final version of the ESEA.