The Story of Two Families: A Look at How Reading Struggles Lead to Different Outcomes in Affluent and Lower Income Homes.

I converted this Twitter Thread to a post because it resonated with so many.

Related to reading, there is a huge inequity inherent in our system between affulent parents and poor parents. Affluent children are surviving in our schools in spite of poor reading instruction. Lower income children are failing in our schools because of it.   The reason is that affluent public school parents can afford the time & money to have their child’s reading difficulties remediated. It is common to spend upwards of $50,000 on testing & tutors. Lower income parents can’t, so many children never learn to read.

Here is how public school looks to affluent parents of struggling readers:

– Child beings struggling in 1st grade.

– Parents email teachers and set day time meetings to address concerns.

– Teachers are open to talk to parents because struggles seem unexpected.

– Affluent parent requests an evaluation by school.

– Unsatisfied with the slow pace of school, parent calls a friend who is a lawyer for advice.

– Parents then pay $1500 for a private evaluation which takes all day.

– Results come back and states the child needs tutoring.

– Parents spend several days asking friends for tutors and calling around.

– Parents finally find a tutor and pays her $85 an hour twice a week to help the child read.

– Parent begins to drive the child to tutoring twice a week.

– Next affluent parents spend time doing lots of research in what their child needs at school.

– They hire an advocate to help navigate the system.

– They have lots of IEP or 504 meetings at school, which both parents attend.

– Although the meetings are contentious, the affluent parents know their rights and get their child an IEP or 504 (if all criteria are met.)

– If the process falters, parents contact lawyers or other higher-ups they know to help them navigate the system for their child.

– If affluent parents are unsatisfied with how public schools is addressing their child’s needs once an IEP is in place, they can negotiate the complex task of getting the school district to pay for private school.
– Or affluent parents can afford private school on their own.
– Outside of school, affluent parents pay for lots of other things for their child: an iPad for audio books and writing apps, a summer camp in North Carolina for struggling readers, counseling for the stress and anxiety their child feels, art classes to build self esteem.
– After several years of tutors, camps, counselors & full services in a school, the child thrives. She learns to advocate for herself. Teachers see her as a good student. She gets into college. She succeeds. Her parents have spent well over $50k and countless hours of time.
Here is how public school looks to a low income parent of struggling readers:
– Child beings struggling in 1st grade.
– Parent worries but didn’t pay the cell bill and can’t email the teacher.
– At conference time, teacher tells parent the child is acting up at reading time.
– Teacher tells poor parent to read more at home!
– Low income parent feels shamed b/c she had a negative experience at school herself and feels angry at the teacher.
– She saves money to buy a couple of books and fights to make time to read them with her child.
– It doesn’t help.
– Low income parent spends nights at the library trying to figure out how to get her child help. She feels isolated & alone.

– She requests an S-team meeting at school. It is set for 10 am. She requests two hours off from work to attend the meeting.

– She worries about the lost wages.

– Low income parent walks into the school meeting alone. She is intimidated because there are 10 other people there.

– She knows what her child needs, she researched it, but she gets lost in all the acronyms they use & feels they blame her.

– Her anxiety ramps up. She gets angry.

– In the meeting, the form the use actually says that because her child is black and poor that those are why he can’t read.

– She knows that is not true. She knows he is struggling to read and needs help. She keeps trying to get them to listen.

– The meeting goes over 2 hours.

– She stays in the meeting but gets fired from her job for missing work.

– The meeting ends, but they schedule a follow up. She misses it so because she can’t skip work again.

– School finds her child not eligible for any IEP/504.

– He starts to act up at school a lot.

– She gets calls about his bad behavior. She is so angry at school, she doesn’t even mention she knows it is because he can’t read.

– Her son gets suspended. She misses more work to stay home with him.

– He gets farther behind.

– Teachers dread having him in class.

– Low income parent sees her son suffering b/c he can’t read. His anxiety is through the roof. She calls the mental health co-op but there is not an appointment that fits w/ her work schedule.

– Her son gets kicked out of school because he hit a teacher who asked him to read out loud.

– The low income parent’s son is sent to an alternative school.

– They don’t teach him to read their either.

– Her son makes new “friends.” They are in a gang and they recurit him.

– She sees her son on a bad path, but she is exhausted and out of resources to help him.

– The sons new “friends” make him feel strong and accepted. With him, he doesn’t feel the shame he feels in school.

– They give him a gun. They commit a crime together.

– Her son gets caught.

-After several years in and out of juvenile detention, never learning to read, the child commits a serious crime and goes to prison. He has learned what society expects of him. His mom feels helpless & knows his life would have been different if they had just taught him to read.

These examples are not far flung. They happen every single day in your town. This is the huge social injustice of poor literacy. It is breaking us – affluent & low income families alike. We should not have to work so hard for schools to teach our children to read.

Here is how we end this cycle:

1. Require all teaching colleges to ensure new teachers know the #scienceofreading.

2. Give current K-3 teachers professional development in the #scienceofreading.

3. Educate all teachers on common learning disabilities. We can do this. Join us.


Published by

Anna Thorsen

I am a parent, attorney and advocate. I and my middle school daughter both have dyslexia. During the 2015 legislative session I was a tireless advocate to help pass the much needed Dyslexia Legislation in Tennessee and am proud to participate in the 2016 Bill Signing. I now serve on the Decoding Dyslexia TN Leadership Team and serves on the TN Department of Education’s Dyslexia Advisory Council. I have been a presenter for the past two years at the Tennessee Association for Assistive Technology annual conferences. I also does frequent speaking engagements around Middle Tennessee on the topic of dyslexia. My family's dyslexia story has been featured in several articles, including Mindshift's October 15, 2015 article "Why Recognizing Dyslexia at School Can be Difficult."

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