Q&A with Pete
Wright: 'Kids are...Teaching-disabled'
Patti Ghezzi, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 2,
For more articles like this
special education students know of Pete Wright. They know his
Web site, www.wrightslaw.com.
They know he once represented a South Carolina special education
student whose parents wanted the school district to reimburse
them for her private school tuition. The case went to the U.S.
Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the family.
Wright writes books and travels the country with his wife, Pam,
teaching parents how to advocate for their kids. He will be in
Atlanta Feb. 11 to speak at the Georgia branch of the
International Dyslexia Association's annual conference.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution talked to Wright, who lives in
Virginia, about teaching kids to read, how to keep
Individualized Education Program meetings from going sour and
why parents shouldn't resist standardized testing.
Q: What is the main issue you'll be addressing in metro
A: Issues of reading and the law. Reading is a major issue in
education. So many children are not taught properly. So many
school districts don't have research-based programs. Many kids
are not only learning-disabled, they're teaching-disabled,
because they don't have a teacher trained in how to teach
Q: When you talk about teaching reading properly, are you
talking about phonetics, teaching children how to sound out
A: Yes. The sight word approach, it works for some kids. But
there are kids who will never learn to read that way. There is
not a concept of a nonreader. That is the concept that is out
there, that some kids are nonreaders. It isn't true.
Q: What programs do you consider ineffective for teaching
kids to read?
A: Reading Recovery. The [National Institute for Child Health &
Human Development] has a clear position that was not
Q: What programs do you believe work?
A: Orton-Gillingham. That's the one that has been working for
many years. School districts run away from it. It requires
intense training. There are other programs, Wilson [Reading
System] and Lindamood-Bell. They require the staff be
well-trained, and I'm not aware of any schools of education that
really train teachers in these methods.
Q: What mistakes do parents make in trying to get special
education services for their child?
A: If you know XYZ program is the one that is going to work for
your child and you go and tell the school XYZ will work and why,
you have decreased the chances that will happen. The school
district is not going to listen to you.
Q: So what should parents do?
A: Seek a private evaluation from an expert. If they continue
with a one-size-fits-all program, they are supposed to provide
notice as to why they disregarded your private evaluation. If
that happens, they have done a great job giving you a legal case
on a silver platter.
Q: What about the argument some schools make that the child
is making some improvement, therefore their program is working?
A: Say you went on the South Beach Diet and you are losing a
pound every six months. You're showing improvement, but you're
not really following the South Beach Diet the way you're
Q: It seems parents often fear rocking the boat at school for
fear that their child will be retaliated against. Do you see
A: I don't think it's fear of retaliation. When parents are
afraid to rock the boat, it's usually a personality issue, a
fear of confrontation. What we tell parents is you don't set the
stage for conflict. You write very nice thank-you letters. You
can do it in a nonconfrontational way.
Q: Why do so many IEP meetings end with parents in tears?
A: Oh, you must have a child with special needs.
Q: I don't have kids, but I get calls from parents who say
they feel like the school representatives gang up on them. How
can parents help make IEP meetings go more smoothly?
A: Never go alone. Always bring another individual with you. The
parents' feeling of being overwhelmed generally comes from a
feeling of powerlessness, which leads to a negative emotional
mind-set. Parents need to understand they are there to market
and sell the fact that their child needs the XYZ program.
Q: Why do educators get defensive during IEP meetings?
A: The way the educator sees it, a parent comes in and says,
"Y'all are damaging my kid, and my kid's not learning." The
educator says, "This person is on my turf, telling me how to do
Q: Do most of your cases today deal with dyslexia and other
A: No, about a third of my cases involve reading problems like
dyslexia. Another third involve autism, and the rest involve
other issues such as inclusion.
Q: What are the child's rights under the [federal] law [known
as IDEA] with regard to autism?
A: The same as with any other disability. If schools don't offer
the appropriate program, the obligation is to provide an
appropriate program. The amount of money spent by the school
district fighting parents is astronomical.
Q: What are the issues with inclusion?
A: Some want all inclusion all the time, but full inclusion is
doom for some children. They need intense one-on-one instruction
first. For children with cerebral palsy and other physical
problems, those kids flourish in a mainstream environment, but
some schools want to sequester them in a classroom separate from
their peers. Around the district, there is no real consistency.
Some districts pat themselves on the back for full inclusion
when they have students that need one-on-one. A change in
administration can cause a 180-degree flip-flop in philosophy,
which is very disruptive to the kids and the staff.
Q: What about parents of regular education kids who think
special education students pull resources away from their
A: That typically happens when emotionally disturbed kids are
inappropriately put in regular education classes. It's a powder
Q: Is No Child Left Behind good for special education kids?
A: Yes. The testing of all children whether special education or
not is not designed to be a measure of that child's progress,
it's a measure of what the school district is doing. . . . The
test results can provide clear evidence that the child needs
WANT TO GO?
The 16th Annual Dimensions of Dyslexia Conference will be
from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and
Conference Center, 800 Spring St. Information and registration:
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