Friday, May 2, 2008

Knowledge (Not Reading) is Fundamental

The "No Child Left Behind Act" has emphasized reading to the detriment of our children’s education.

I have recently been working with a few families whose children have reading disabilities. They are struggling to keep up with their non-disabled peers in all their school subjects, sometime students are several years behind their grade level. These are bright kids, who do not read well.

They have the ability to learn, just not by reading books; But, because they cannot read, they are failing history, physical and social sciences, mathematics, literature, and other classes. It is a ridiculous failure of our educational system that leads children with disabilities to drop out of school and become part of the under classes.

What is the purpose of teaching history? Is it to read text, or to learn the subject matter? What is the purpose of teaching classic literature? Is it to read the words, or understand the beautiful language and to take the journey along with the author? Social sciences help students learn about human interactions; should that information belong to only children who read?

Obviously, if a child can learn to read, he/she should learn to read; do it in a reading class. If a student is having difficulty reading, we should be compensating that disability in all other classes, without exception.

The truth is some people will never learn to read, despite chapter one reading programs, literacy or other training. For them, it is imperative we provide material in an alternate format accessible to them. Why educators are so reluctant to support learning, is just beyond any logical reasoning.

The National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) guides the production and electronic distribution of digital versions of textbooks and other instructional materials to accessible formats.

Here's what they have to say about their very important work:

The Need for Flexible Alternatives to Print

For many students with disabilities, the limitations of print technology raise barriers to access, and therefore to learning.

For students who cannot see the words or images on a page, cannot hold a book or turn its pages, cannot decode the text or cannot comprehend the syntax that supports the written word may each experience different challenges, and they may each require different supports to extract meaning from information that is "book bound." For each of them, however, there is a common barrier - the centuries-old fixed format of the printed book...

Very few students with disabilities presently have access to the accessible books they need. There are several reasons for that. In some cases, the problem is technical - schools do not have the technology they need to properly provide accessible versions to students, even if they had such versions. In other cases, the problem is ignorance - many teachers and schools do not understand the issue of access or the potential solutions that are available.

But for many students the problem is a frustrating distribution system; students can't get the accessible materials they need in a timely fashion. Present policies and procedures for disseminating accessible materials are archaic and inefficient, raising barriers rather than opportunities.

If knowledge is power, why are educators trying to keep children with disabilities powerless?


babsrocks said...

***If knowledge is power, why are educators trying to keep children with disabilities powerless?

Plain and simple? It gives them someone else to blame other than themselves or the system. If a child can't read or keep up, it is thought to be the child fault. Ridiculous! What happened to creative teaching???? It no longer exists. It is now teach the standardized tests so that the teacher and the principal look good and the school scores well within the system.

I will be printing this and placing it in our principals mailbox Monday morning. Give her something to think about. She has noted herself as the "Reading First" princial.

Thank you as always for your insitful words.

Fight the Powers That Be!

narrator said...

Great post. The decision to use inaccessible materials is always a conscious decision based in a belief in "print-privilege" and designed to reward those students who learn in ways most like the ways the teachers and administrators learn.

First, almost every text begins as something accessible (usually a Word Doc). So, things would be easy if people wanted it to be easy, second, for as little as $50 any school can have a system which converts books into accessible texts. They simply choose not to do it.

- Ira Socol

Kay Olson said...

This, to me, is the really infuriating part:

First, almost every text begins as something accessible (usually a Word Doc).

The days are long gone when any knowledge was really "book bound." If it's in a book currently in print, the work is already in large part done.

Big Noise said...

It angers me too. Thanks so much for your comments. I was feeling like i was the only one

Anonymous said...

The need for accessible instructional materials is a critical issue for students with disabilities. That was, of course, the whole reason for the NIMAS initiative.

I would also add that having math content in an accessible format that can be used with assistive technology reading software is very often overlooked. Mathematics is an area where students with disabilities have been shown to have significant difficulties, and a big part of the problem is the "inflexibility" of standard print math textbooks. Here's an article that explains this issue in significant detail: Universal Design for Math Learning: Bridging the Technology and Policy Divide

For resources on how to make math content accessible, check out the Design Science accessibility solutions website

We also have a blog called Making Math Accessible, which includes the latest information on our math accessibility work.

Steve Noble
Director of Accessibility Policy
Design Science, Inc.

Big Noise said...

Thanks so much for your comments and links.