Tremaine Foundation & GfK Roper Track Attitudes of Teachers, Parents and Public Opinion Impacting Federal Legislation and Teaching
View the Tremaine Executive Summary - September 2010
View the Tremaine Report of Findings - September 2010
View the GfK Roper Poll Highlights Presentation - September 2010
Watch the Tremaine Learning Disabilities Webinar Recording - September 2010
For Release: Oct 6, 2010
Contact: Pattie Haubner
(office) 914 833-7093
(cell) 914 275-2984
New Poll Reveals Dangerous Confusion about Children with Learning Disabilities
Washington, DC—A poll released today showed that parents and educators are dangerously confused about learning disabilities but also support greater government funding for intervention. Released today by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation at a briefing on Capitol Hill, this is the fourth poll by GfK Roper in a series of in-depth opinion research on learning disabilities that began in 1995. The study conducted telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of American adults with sub-samples of parents, teachers and school administrators. It uncovered troubling
misunderstandings about the definition, root causes, key influencers and interventions that impact public policy and legislation to support children who learn differently.
“Our findings show an alarming lack of knowledge by parents and educators about learning disabilities, said Stewart J. Hudson, President of the Tremaine Foundation. “These findings threaten our children’s futures and undermine efforts to improve educational outcomes for all.”
Learning disabilities are neurologically based; however people with learning disabilities have average to above-average intelligence. Their brains process information differently which often leads to problems learning how to read, write and do math.
Seven out of ten parents, educators and school administrators incorrectly linked learning disabilities with mental retardation. This dangerous confusion reinforces the stigma around learning disabilities. It also does a great disservice to the roughly 2.6 million students (one in eight in the United States) who have been diagnosed with learning
disability. Many more go undiagnosed or unremediated despite schools’ legal obligation to do so.
“This is extremely troubling,” declared Hudson. “We talk a lot about the achievement gap in our education system, but unless parents, educators and school administrators understand learning disabilities and proactively address them, the achievement gap will never close.”
Other key findings in the study by GfK Roper show that:
• A majority of the public and parents mistakenly believe learning disabilities are often a product of the home environment.
• A majority (51%) think that what people call learning disabilities are the result of laziness.
• More than two-thirds of parents think specific signs of learning disabilities are something a 2-4 year old will grow out of and are therefore are more likely to delay seeking professional help.
• Though the public agrees that children with learning disabilities are of normal or above-normal intelligence, 80 percent of the general public, parents and teachers associate mental retardation and autism with a learning disability.
• Almost four in ten mistakenly associate learning disabilities with sensory impairments like blindness and deafness.
“The data demonstrates that misunderstandings reinforce the stigma associated with learning disabilities, causing delays in diagnosis and the early intervention that could save a student’s educational career,” said Annie Weber, Senior Vice President for GfK Roper.
The Educational Impact of Stigma
The poll also showed that teachers — who 31% of parents say they would turn to for information about learning disabilities — are equally confused. Forty-three percent (43%) of teachers think the home environment is at least partially to blame for children’s learning disabilities.
“It’s no wonder parents are reluctant to reach out to their child’s teachers or to have their children tested,” said Merva Jackson, Executive Director, African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities. “They fear they will be blamed.” Minority students and those from underserved communities comprise a disproportionate number of special education students.
According to data from the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), 25% of students with learning disabilities drop out of high school, and only 61% of those who complete high school receive a regular diploma. Students with learning disabilities are also over-represented in the juvenile justice system; accounting for 38.6% of students
with disabilities in these settings.
“Misperceptions and misinformation delay identification and result in lost time for intervention that is difficult to make up,” said James H. Wendorf, Executive Director, of the NCLD. “Currently, most students are not identified until after 7th grade, which is too late for many of them. Had they received the intervention they needed early on, they
would have had the chance to learn strategies that help compensate for their learning disability,” he concluded.
The poll also found that administrators know more about learning disabilities than teachers, but that they could do more to support and educate key personnel. While 53% of administrators strongly agree that their schools offer training for teaching children with learning disabilities, only 36% of teachers felt the same.
Americans Support Early Intervention and Government Funded Programs
One of the more promising results in the poll is that Americans overwhelming support the idea of government-funded Pre-K education programs designed to get a head start on helping children at risk for learning disabilities. Eight in ten Americans (78%) recognize the importance of early intervention and support the idea of government-funded Pre-K programs. Teachers and administrators are in agreement as to the merits of such a program.
Educators are also confident about new educational approaches, including Response to Intervention (RTI) programs, which seek to address students who have trouble learning to read before they are formally classified as learning disabled. Additionally, educators see the potential of digital media — 71% believe that digital media could be helpful in their school’s efforts to assist children who learn differently.
“Early identification and intervention is powerful and possible,” said Ben Foss, an adult with learning disabilities who is Director of Access Technology at Intel’s Digital Health Group and President of Headstrong Nation. “Assistive technology and special education programs can give students and others with learning disabilities the freedom and
independence to learn so that they can stay on track and truly achieve their academic potential.”
Given the continued stigma around learning disabilities, it is perhaps unsurprising that a mere 3% of parents acknowledge they would seek information on the internet or through social networking sites such as Facebook.
“We need to give parents tools on social media that they can use for support and information,” said David Flink, Executive Director, Project Eye-To-Eye, an organization for students and young people with learning disabilities that has seen great success using online tools as a vital information portal.
The Tremaine Foundation’s GfK Roper poll comes at an important time; when American education is in the midst of reform and as parents head to the schools to meet their children’s teachers and engage in conversations about their child’s education.
“We hope to ignite the public dialogue about learning disabilities,” said Hudson. “Together, we can create sustainable solutions and early intervention policies that will help close today’s achievement gap and prepare our children for tomorrow’s economy.”
Established in 1986, the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation focuses its grant-making in the areas of art, environment and learning disabilities.
This research was conducted for the Tremaine Foundation by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, May 11th through June 2nd, 2010. The general public telephone interviews were conducted among a nationwide cross-section of 1000 adults ages 18 and older, and an over-sample of approximately 700 parents of children under 18 currently living in their household. The study utilized a Random Digit Dialing (RDD) sampling methodology, and the sample included a 30% cell phone component. In addition, 700 interviewers were conducted among teachers and administrators.