A story in the April 26 edition of Muscatine Journal, "Muscatine parent rejoices over new dyslexia task force" caught my attention. On the passage of Iowa Senate File 2360, Muscatine School Superintendent Jerry Riibe says, "There are lots of programs out there to serve students with dyslexia.” “We have the ones that we have selected.” Riibe is pointing to general reading programs. Not dyslexic centered program. S.F. 2360, will ultimately require Muscatine to implement a dyslexic-centered program. Riibe fails to understand the difference.
My daughter Hanna is in her last semester at West Middle School and her mother, Melissa, initiated contact with high school officials about bolstered dyslexia programming. Every year, Melissa is assured "this year" will be different. Hanna’s teachers work hard to help. To varying degrees, Hanna treads water most first semesters, while teachers learn the practical knowledge needed to help a dyslexic child. Dyslexia is not a complex puzzle Riibe needs to decode for each student. The Iowa Dyslexic Association recommends only a few select programs.
Over the past four years, Riibe has failed to move any performance measures. One in four Muscatine High School students struggle with basic reading or math. Two in three Muscatine graduates are not ready for college or the workforce. Four in five Iowa Schools out-perform Muscatine in all academic measures. Successful schools are implementing dyslexic centered programs. They are pleasantly surprised to find these help many students with reading difficulties. Improved reading comprehension improves math comprehension and and other metrics.
At a recent Muscatine School Board meeting, Riibe said, declining enrollment will force us to close schools. However, we have potential for three times the number of graduates to enter Muscatine schools annually due to Muscatine’s 7 percent birth rate. We have jobs. We are not aging. Our population actually grew 2 percent over the past five years. A more likely conclusion is parents are choosing other options. We know families — accounting for 24 children — who decided to home school, open enroll, or move out in the past three years. We know family business owners who stopped considering Muscatine because of school performance. Parents will not move children from better schools to a failing school. Successful school districts don’t fear declining enrollment. Mr. Riibe needs to stop planning to shut down schools and start improving school performance.
We are happy S.F. 2360 means help will come, but we are not rejoicing. We are disappointed Mr. Riibe misses compelling evidence for change. S.F. 2360 will create a task force. By November 2019, it will identify failing schools and make recommendations. Failing schools will be given time to improve, yet ultimately, the Department of Education will compel failing schools to implement a dyslexic-centered program. Even then, administrators who fail to implement change will have additional time before further action is taken. Melissa and Hanna stand ready to work with Riibe. Why wait while children go unserved?
Dyslexic children are often misdiagnosed with ADHD or they go undiagnosed. A dyslexic-centered program helps all children read, regardless of diagnosis or difficulties. Tell Muscatine School Board we want improvement. Tell them we need to follow dyslectic-centered laws sooner rather than later. If no change is coming, we need parents to organize and run for School Board positions in this fall’s election. Vote parents onto the board who will hold Riibe to higher standards. Reject School Board members who give Riibe high scores for treading water when he needs to swim his race.