Last month, I had the opportunity to attend Eye to Eye’s annual “Partners Meeting” at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Many of you will recall that one of the leaders of this national non-profit organization, David Badillo, gave a short presentation about Eye to Eye at a District Lead Team meeting last year. For those of you not in attendance that day, Eye to Eye is a national mentoring program for students with learning and attention issues. The organization trains high school and college students with learning differences to mentor similarly identified middle school students. In essence, it is an after-school social-emotional intervention that has demonstrated high impact.
The Partners Meeting at Brown featured two luminaries in the field of learning differences: Lindsay Jones, CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) and Lindsay Kruse, Vice President of Understood for Educators (and a member of the ECLC founding faculty). The leaders presented findings from a study that the two organizations had recently conducted and released: “Forward Together: Helping Educators Unlock the Power of Students Who Learn Differently.” The report is an analysis of teacher attitudes toward the 1 in 5 students in the United States who have learning and attention issues. This includes those with identified specific learning disabilities, diagnosed ADHD, or related disorders that affect learning.
As Jones and Kruse told us, the majority of these students, despite often having average or above average intelligence, are achieving below grade level. For example, the report shows that 1 in 3 are held back at least once; they are suspended 2x more often than their peers, drop out at 3x the rate of their peers, and enroll in college at half the rate. We also know that, later in life, 50 percent of the 1 in 5 is unemployed and 1 in 2 has been involved in the justice system. As the report asserts: “This equates to millions of students across the nation whose strengths and potential are going untapped.”
Toward solving this consequential problem, “Forward Together” addresses several key questions:
Through surveys of 1,350 teachers, 13 teacher focus groups, and 150 academic articles, among other inputs, the project team sought to better understand the situation on the ground in schools across the country. Their research revealed that most teachers are extremely interested in learning how to reach struggling learners. It also suggested that when teachers get the support they need and believe in their own teaching abilities they are more likely to believe they can effectively teach the 1 in 5, and that these students can learn at high levels. That’s the good news.
The more sobering news, the report concluded, is that teachers need far more experience and preparation than they currently receive, in order to build self-confidence in their ability to work with the 1 in 5 in the classroom full-time—and that once teachers are in the classroom, they need consistent and robust support. Jones and Kruse also emphasized the importance of bringing multiple stakeholders into the conversation about what educators need to succeed. This includes policymakers, district leaders, school administrators, general and special education teachers, parents, and members of the community as a whole. It is high time, they said, to break up the regular and special education silos that may have inadvertently developed as the result of good intentions, and employ the most efficacious strategies that reach all students.
For more detailed information, the full report can be found here.