Why Johnny Still Can’t Read – from usatoday

U.S. illiteracy: Why Johnny still can’t read

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

By the time he was 17, Antonio Rocha had bounced among 11 New York City schools and was reading at a first-grade level.It wasn’t until he told school officials “I want a lawyer!” that things began to change.

 With the help of an advocacy group, Rocha pressured the city to pay for 480 hours of private tutoring, which eventually helped him read at a functional level. Now 20 and working for United Parcel Service, he’s one of three people profiled (and the only one comfortable with being identified) in WNYC Radio reporter Beth Fertig’s new book, Why Cant U Teach Me 2 Read?.

“Compensatory education” complaints are increasingly being used by parents who say school districts have a legal responsibility to educate children in spite of disabilities. The 2002 No Child Left Behind law dictated that schools must use “research-based” programs to teach these children to read, says Philadelphia-area attorney Dennis McAndrews. Reading comes naturally for many children, he says, but not for Rocha and others: “Putting print in front of them and hoping they’ll crack the code is useless.”

 Labeled, by turns, learning-disabled, speech-impaired, emotionally disturbed and even mentally retarded, Rocha admits to Fertig, “I just gave up on myself.”

 In an interview, he says he always felt odd sitting in class with students who could read: “I felt like I didn’t belong there.”

 Administrators say they never “knowingly” placed him into inappropriate classes or schools. They say Rocha “had chosen to give up on his own education” by rarely showing up to classes, according to a transcript of the hearing included in Fertig’s book. But Fertig’s account indicates Rocha floundered for years in a system that was simply overwhelmed.

 Hanging out in lower Manhattan one September morning in 2001, Rocha, then 12, witnessed the World Trade Center attacks from three blocks away and vowed to join the military. But five years later, he could still barely do simple work.

 “I’m about to be 18 years old in seven months and, what, twenty-something days?” he told a hearing officer. “And I don’t want to turn 18 years old and not learn how to read. … I’m supposed to graduate high school. I’m supposed to go to the military. Where am I now? Where am I now?”

 Later, as he left his last tutoring session clutching a paperback children’s biography of John F. Kennedy, Rocha rode the subway home with Fertig. He read the back cover aloud and tried to sum up his feelings: “It hurts,” he said. “But it hurts like in a good happiness. I feel like a regular kid now.”



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