“Reading is a basic right.” Ohio parents of dyslexic students see benefits of science of reading

Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposed budget includes a $162 million science of reading proposal, but Ohio’s teacher unions have reservations about how it is currently written

By: - April 25, 2023 4:50 am

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Joy Palmer remembers how her daughter Dey’Leana used to memorize books when she was in elementary school in an attempt to hide the fact that she couldn’t read.

Dey’Leana, now 18, reads at a fourth grade reading level. The junior at South High School in Columbus City Schools was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was eight — the same year she was held back in third grade because of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires third graders pass a reading test to advance to fourth grade. 

“We dealt with the depression, we dealt with anxiety because her peers moved on, and she didn’t,” Palmer said. 

But Dey’Leana’s struggles with reading aren’t an anomaly. The Ohio Capital Journal talked to a handful of parents of dyslexic students who watched them struggle to read for years before being exposed to the science of reading. 

“Reading is a basic right that everyone should be entitled to,” said Jaclyn Burdette, a parent of two dyslexic boys in Northeast Ohio. “And just because someone learns differently, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be able to do it.”

Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposed budget includes a $162 million science of reading proposal that includes $64 million for science of reading curricula, $43 million each year for the next two years to offer science of reading instruction for educators, and $12 million to support 100 literacy coaches in schools and districts.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — APRIL 06: Ohio Governor Mike DeWine with Principal Miracle Reynolds (left), and Interim Superintendent/CEO of Columbus City Schools, Dr. Angela Chapman, observe the implementation of the Science of Reading program in the third grade classroom taught by RobinThalgott, April 6, 2023, at Southwood Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

The science of reading is based on decades of research that shows how the human brain learns to read. 

Both state teacher’s unions support the science of reading, but have some reservations about the way DeWine’s budget proposal is currently written — which bans teachers using “cueing” in lessons. 

“We just think that approach is not necessary,” said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association. “There’s not a need for the legislator to get into micromanaging what happens at that classroom-level. We think it would set a precedent to start banning specific practices, so we’ve asked for that language to be removed.”

Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper said banning a particular method of reading “politicizes the process and opens the door to problems.” 

“We don’t support a ban,” she said. “We support giving teachers the research and the resources to implement the science of reading. We support the governor incentivizing the science of reading.”

OEA echoed those sentiments. 

“You can’t have one-size-fits-all approaches … but absolutely we do support using research based best-practices to guide instruction of our students,” DiMauro said. 

Structured literacy is an approach to reading instruction that applies the knowledge of the science of reading method, and it includes explicit and systematic instruction in foundational reading skills, including phonics. The science of reading says most children need explicit phonics when learning how to read. 

Balanced literacy does not teach phonics in an explicit, systematic way, but prioritizes students’ comprehension of a text. It incorporates the three-cueing method, which encourages children to read words by asking three questions: Does it make sense? Does it sound right? Does it look right? 


Palmer noticed Dey’Leana reading level would go up and down, like a teeter totter. Dey’Leana had chronic ear infections when she was in kindergarten, so Palmer wondered if she missed valuable class time where they taught reading. 

“She would literally write to make herself look busy,” Palmer said. “That’s how she blended in.” 

In 2018, Dey’Leana received three months of Orton-Gillingham tutoring, a direct, explicit, multisensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive way to teach literacy when reading, writing, and spelling does not come easily. The Orton-Gillingham approach follows the science of reading. 

Dey’Leana received the Orton-Gillingham tutoring pro bono twice a week and as a result she started reading Dog Man books by Dav Pilkey for fun. 

“After those three months, a light bulb went off in our head,” Palmer said. “She wanted to read … And I’m like, ‘Wait, now she wants to read just for that three month timeframe of getting Orton-Gillingham.”

But those three months didn’t solve everything. 

The tutoring stopped, and Dey’Leana started self-harming in seventh grade because of the stress of school and her mental health. 

“The solution to mental health is addressing the fact that my daughter is dyslexic and she can’t read,” Palmer said. “… And (Dey’Leana’s) like, ‘I’m just stupid. I’m dumb.’ And I’m like … It’s not you. It’s just how they are teaching.”

Columbus City Schools 

Columbus City Schools, the state’s largest school district, started implementing the science of reading in 2021 — after previously using a balanced literacy approach.

But older students struggling to read in middle and high schools aren’t yet reaping the benefits of the district switching to a different approach to reading — even though they were taught using balanced literacy.

“That’s something we’re still working through,” said Ebone Johnson, the district’s supervisor of literacy and library services. “It’s still a work in progress, but I definitely think we are headed in the right direction because we’re having those conversations about what to look for and once you know what to look for, when you see it, how you begin to intervene.”

It often points to bigger issues if students in the older grades have a hard time comprehending what they are reading, she said.

“When you go a little deeper, you realize maybe they are not able to read those words,” Johnson said. “Their reading is so choppy, their accuracy is so low, that it begins to affect the comprehension.”

Then the district tries to figure out why a particular student is struggling.

“When you are able to do some of those assessments and figure out they don’t know all their letter sounds or they are not able to decode … they are not able to make sense of what they are reading,” Johnson said. “They are actually not reading the words, then we try to address what we see there.” 

Columbus City Schools Special Education department is trying to decide what structured literacy program will work best and if that’s Orton-Gillingham.

Some schools in the district trained all of their teachers in Orton-Gillingham, said Kelly Rivers, the district’s executive director of Literacy and Specialized Programming. 

“There most certainly are teachers with this training, but as far as a district plan, right now we are still in that investigation process to see what is the best plan for implementation,” she said. 

“Supporting all teachers” 

DeWine’s proposed budget provides various stipends to all Ohio teachers to access professional development for the science of reading. $1,200 stipends for teachers in grades K-5, English language teachers in grades 6-12, intervention specialists and instructional coaches. There would also be $400 stipends for middle and high schoolers teachers in other subject areas. 

“We are supporting all teachers to help readers at all grade levels,” said Dan Tierney, DeWine’s press secretary. “With this proposal, even a high school math teacher will be better prepared to identify a struggling reader and be able to help or direct them to other supports.”

Olentangy Schools

Mindy Patrick first knew her son had a hard time reading when he was in kindergarten in Olentangy Local School District and had a hard time rhyming. 

“I knew,” she said. “It just didn’t know enough.”

He was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in first grade. 

“He was never going to learn to read in a whole language environment,” Patrick said. 

For fourth and fifth grade, they sent their son to Marburn Academy, a private school in New Albany that serves students who learn differently due to dyslexia, executive function difficulties and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He also saw an Orton-Gillingham tutor until last year when he graduated from Liberty High School. 

They put him back in Olentangy when he was in sixth grade and she was a member of Olentangy’s Board of Education from 2016 to July 2022. 

Olentangy Schools has 142 Orton Gillingham trained staff members and received their accreditation from Orton-Gillingham in 2018 — the only certified district in the nation

Patrick’s son currently attends the University of Cincinnati, but plans on transferring to Capital University in the fall. He can read, but he sometimes reverts back to using whole language skills. 

“The damage that was done with the guesswork tactics was never really undone,” she said. “He still does some of those tricks that he learned early on, where he looks at the first letter, and then just blurts out a word.” 


In 2018, Christy Mattey founded OPEN-Bees, a nonprofit that provides support, information, and advocacy to families.

“The evidence based literacy, compared to balanced literacy, is … night and day in a child that’s identified with dyslexia,” Mattey said.

Jaclyn Burdette got connected to OPEN-Bees, which is where she learned about the different approaches to reading. 

“I knew we needed structured literacy, with an evidence based program delivered with fidelity,” she said. 

Her oldest son used to cry every morning before school and when he came home at the end of the day when he was in first grade attending Brunswick City Schools, about 30 minutes south of Cleveland. 

“He would cry when he went to school because he didn’t know how to read,” the 35-year-old mom said. “He didn’t understand what they were teaching him.” 

But she said the district wouldn’t give him structured literacy. Instead, she said they continued to teach him using balanced literacy, so she switched her sons to Lawrence School, a Northeast Ohio school that specializes in teaching students with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences.

Brunswick Schools did not answer the Ohio Capital Journal’s questions about their reading curriculum.

Her sons also recieve Orton-Gillingham tutoring outside of school a couple times a week and she has seen lots of progress in their  reading. Her oldest son even enjoys reading Goosebump books by  R. L. Stine for fun.

“He’s excited to read, he’s excited to go to school now,” Burdette said. “It definitely has made his confidence better.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.



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Megan Henry
Megan Henry

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.