May 10, 2016

Cassidy’s Opening Statement for Senate Education Hearing on Dyslexia

WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. will chair a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee hearing this morning titled “Understanding Dyslexia: The Intersection of Scientific Research & Education.” The goal of the hearing is to gain a better understanding of what Americans need to know about dyslexia and to raise awareness in Congress about the parents and children affected by this disorder.


Dr. Cassidy’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below. Watch the hearing live at


Welcome. Thank you all for being here.


I am pleased to chair this hearing. I thank Senator Mikulski for co-chairing. I also thank other colleagues who joined us in support of having this hearing. We are here discussing the issue of dyslexia. It is an issue that is very important to me, both as a parent of a dyslexic child and as a Senator.


We have a great line-up of witnesses. To mention two, Ameer Baraka who is a friend, will tell us about growing up with unrecognized dyslexia, without resources to address but eventually overcoming and becoming an actor. David Boies who also overcame dyslexia, entering the most language based of all professions, law.


Speak to any family with a child with dyslexia, you’ll hear stories about children struggling to read and they cannot. Often the parent had dyslexia too. Frustrated by an inability to read, boys act out and girls become shy, embarrassed to read aloud in class for fear of being mocked. And think about the teacher who sees a bright child struggle with reading, but may not have the training or resources to help that child become a better student and achieve their full potential.


In October of last year, Senator Mikulski and I sponsored and a Senate resolution that passed defining dyslexia as ‘an unexpected difficulty in reading highlighted by a gap between an individual’s intelligence and their reading level.’ It is the bright child who doesn’t read as well as they should. Put simply, in non-dyslexics, IQ and reading track along the same line. In dyslexia, IQ is higher and the reading ability lower. 


Dyslexia is the most common learning disability. According to NIH sponsored research, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population has dyslexia. That means, that 20 percent of those in this room, and 20 percent of those watching on TV are dyslexic. Dyslexia impacts Americans from all walks of life, including many members of Congress, our staff, our families, and hundreds of thousands of our constituents.


The impact dyslexia has on an individual, a family, a school, and a community is tremendous. What if I told you that by effectively addressing this issue we could:

·       further prison reform by identifying students with dyslexia and providing them with science-based interventions.

·       get more bang for our buck in federal investments in education.

·       reach into the classroom to change the interaction between a dyslexic student and a frustrated teacher to a relationship between a productive student and a fulfilled teacher.


The goals of the hearing are simple:

·       to raise awareness of the scope and scale of dyslexia.

·       increase awareness on what precisely is dyslexia – as explained by science.

·       and to highlight the importance of the early identification of those students with dyslexia, and the importance of giving dyslexic children the necessary evidence-based resources needed to succeed in school and beyond.

There are good schools for kids with dyslexia; almost all are private. If you can’t afford the $10,000-$50,000 in tuition the family’s options are limited. This means, if the family is less wealthy, they quite likely cannot afford to have their child’s needs met. If that’s the one thing taken away from this hearing, this is time well spent. But that said, maybe your child is dyslexic and it has not been diagnosed. We’ve heard testimony from governors, superintendents, and other school administrators that screening for dyslexia is not happening. This despite the fact that Dr. Shaywitz will state that the achievement gap between typical and dyslexic readers is evident as early as first grade, and that this gap widens into adolescence. Based on this, all children should be screened at a young age and that those found to have dyslexia (or other reading deficiencies) receive the necessary interventions.


There are three public charter schools in the nation that specialize in teaching dyslexic students. I’m proud to say that two of them are in Louisiana, the Louisiana Key Academy in Baton Rouge and the Max Charter School in Thibodaux. Parents choose to send their child to these schools and the goal is for the child to transition to a traditional school once their reading difficulty is addressed.


There are also colleges that accommodate for students with dyslexia. Nicholls State University has the Louisiana Center for Dyslexia and Related Learning Disorders which provides an extensive list of support services to students, comprehensive assessments to determine eligibility for accommodations, and training for professionals in all aspects of student learning.


But let’s return to the fact that if a family can afford to pay $10,000-$50,000 in tuition their child’s needs can be addressed. Isn’t it interesting that there are many private schools specializing in dyslexia and only three public schools? Why shouldn’t a child attending a public school have the same opportunities as the child in a wealthier family? This is not about designer label clothes, it is about the ability to graduate from high school and get a better paying job. To that end we must also ensure that our federal education policies provide for the appropriate evidence-based services and resources in the traditional public school setting.


I mentioned before about how addressing dyslexia could greatly impact the rates of incarceration. We know that many who are incarcerated are functionally illiterate. A study of the Huntsville, Texas state prison, found that 80 percent of prison inmates are functionally illiterate and 48 percent are dyslexic.


So, we know that the prevalence of dyslexia in the general population is 20 percent, but in prisoners it is 48 percent. If appropriate science-based strategies to help target and treat dyslexia are instituted, the effect on our future prison population and on society could be profound.


With all this said, there has been progress.


Last year, Senator Mikulski and I sponsored a bipartisan resolution that passed the Senate that “calls on Congress, schools and state and local educational agencies to recognize the significant educational implications of dyslexia that must be addressed and designated October 2015 as ‘National Dyslexia Awareness Month.’ This resolution will be introduced again this year.


Representative Lamar Smith’s Research Excellence and Advancements for Dyslexia Act (READ Act) that ensures the National Science Foundation has dedicated funding on dyslexia research passed Congress and was signed into law.


The Every Student Succeeds Act creates a dyslexia-focused comprehensive center that will provide evidence-based resources for identifying students struggling with reading and the appropriate interventions to states, school districts, school leaders and parents.


Lastly, the US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services issued a Dear Colleague letter that specifically clarifies that nothing in federal law prohibits the use of the word dyslexia in evaluation, eligibility determinations, and individualized education programs (IEP) for students. Anecdotally, however, state and local educational agencies are still reluctant to specifically reference the word dyslexia, thus denying such students the specific services they need to succeed.


I hope these efforts are the first of many steps in the right direction. We’ve made great progress in the area of learning disabilities. We’ve seen that conditions like autism and dyslexia can be specifically diagnosed and that there are science based interventions. It also calls for a continued effort for all learning disabilities so they may have the same science-based intervention.


If there is a call to action in this hearing it’s that science should begin driving policy. We have the dots, now let’s connect them.


I am looking forward to hearing what our panel of witnesses have to say.