Mayor Eric Adams will launch new pilot programs for students with dyslexia at two public schools, and increased literacy screenings at scores of others — the latest elements of his plan to help the city’s struggling readers.
The mayor, who speaks frequently about his own struggles with dyslexia, said Thursday the city will eventually deploy universal literacy screenings for all students; he aims to have schools that specialize in dyslexia in each borough by fall 2023.
According to a press release, starting next fall, the city will train teachers at 80 elementary schools and 80 middle schools to screen students for reading challenges. The city will also launch new programs at PS 161 in the Bronx and PS 125 in Manhattan for students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities. Department of Education employees — called Academic Intervention Support Coordinators — in each district office will work with schools to help identify and support students who need help.
The Adams administration has not yet unveiled a marquee education policy akin to de Blasio’s universal pre-k initiative. But Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks have said improving literacy instruction in the city’s public schools is a top priority. The city will require schools to use curricula with a strong emphasis on phonics, and move away from a popular curriculum from Columbia University’s Teachers’ College called Reading and Writing Workshop that some researchers argue is not effective.
“As a student, I struggled with identifying my dyslexia until long after leaving the public school system,” Adams said in a statement. “By changing the way we approach dyslexia, we can unlock the untapped potential in students who may feel insecure about their dyslexia or any other language-based learning disabilities they may have.”
Naomi Peña, a parent working on the dyslexia program at PS 161 in the Bronx, said the goal there is to incubate classrooms that focus on reading intervention and structured literacy. Ultimately, she said her group envisions creating a “lighthouse school” that could be a training ground for teachers who then fan out across the system.
Debbie Meyer, a board member of the Dyslexia Alliance for Black Children, said the plan for PS 125 is to develop a pilot program for students with dyslexia, and then potentially convert a school into a model that can serve both dyslexic and general education students. She said the goal is to merge “explicit” literacy instruction with progressive coursework.
“We are excited that we can bring these together in a pilot program at PS 125,” she said.
Officials said they have already convened a Literacy Advisory Council and plan to launch a dyslexia task force soon.
Last week, a report from Advocates for Children called on the education department to urgently revamp literacy instruction across the public school system. Fewer than 47% of all third through eighth graders, and only 36% of Black and Hispanic students, scored proficient in reading on 2019 state tests, statistics the group called “unconscionable.”