When Educational Promises Are Too Good to Be True
When a child struggles to read, parents and educators want to do everything possible to help that child keep up with his or her peers and be successful in school. But as much as we want that to happen overnight, that is not how it usually works. It can take years of hard work, even with the best teachers and instruction. Unfortunately, some organizations or individuals may take advantage of parents when they are most vulnerable by making exaggerated claims or false
guarantees based on ‚Äúpseudo science.‚Äù This fact
sheet provides guidance in learning to critically evaluate programs, avoid scams, and move forward toward providing instruction that will truly help the children who need it.
Some organizations and individuals make exaggerated claims about their products or offerings. They may say that their students quickly learn to become better readers and thinkers. They may insist that their programs can accomplish in a few short months what more realistically can take years of hard work. They may use tactics such as parent testimonials to lure desperate parents into spending thousands of dollars on programs that do very little to help children.
Parents must learn to be skeptical of any organization or individual making claims that seem too good to be true. Such claims should raise serious questions about the credibility of those who make them. False promises often create frustration and loss of self-esteem for a child who does not make the gains predicted. Organizations touting unfounded or unrealistic success also do a disservice to professional organizations doing credible work using evidence-based strategies, albeit work that may take many months or even years.
False Guarantees ‚Äî Read the Fine Print
Parents desperate to find help for their children need to be aware of ‚Äúquick fixes.‚Äù They should ask questions and request evidence to support claims of success. Some programs offer guarantees but it is extremely important to read the fine print regarding any guarantee offered by an organization or individual being considered for working with a child.
Science or Pseudo-Science?
To trick the consumer, concepts that are complicated ‚Äî such as neurology and brain function may be oversimplified. Consumers may
be lured to believe that by ‚Äúcuring‚Äù a ‚Äúsingle underlying condition,‚Äù a complex pattern of
difficulties will disappear.
Results of brain research, much of it sponsored by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), suggest that different parts of the brain working together are responsible for complex cognitive processes and that the communication between these brain centers is required for successful learning to occur. There is much research evidence demonstrating that when these systems are not working well together, learning will be negatively affected. There is also evidence to show which types of instructional approaches are likely to be effective for helping people with different patterns of learning. Unfortunately, none of these instructional approaches is a ‚Äúquick fix.‚Äù
Advertisements can be misleading too. A program can sound very scientific, even though the claims being made are not supported by evidence. Parents must become ‚Äúconsciously skeptical‚Äù of such claims. Actually, most learning disorders arise from a highly complex genetic- environmental interplay, but the unsuspecting
parent can be fooled by ‚Äúpseudo – scientific‚Äù jargon
When Educational Promises Are Too Good to Be True ‚Äì Page 2
and miss the lack of solid, supporting documentation.
Questions to Ask
If you are trying to determine the effectiveness of a program or therapy, the following questions are a good place to start.
Children can become very good at exercises, such as sorting, if they are given the time to practice, but does the skill actually transfer to better reading, spelling, writing, or math skills? Computer games are sometimes incorporated in the therapy or instruction and may or may not target the academic skills a student needs. Be wary of programs or products that do not seem to actually target the child‚Äôs learning needs.
Sometimes students work intensely on specific drills or computer learning games and make impressive gains in post-therapy testing on the specific skills they were practicing. Yet these skills often diminish over time, much like children who take music lessons. Children can learn skills while they are taking lessons and practicing, but if they put the instrument down for any length of time, they begin to lose these fledgling skills.
Before choosing a specific program for your child ‚Äî especially one that makes claims that seem too good to be true ‚Äî ask for studies that examine the efficacy of the program. Make sure the studies are reported in legitimate educational or scientific journals that are reviewed by other researchers for their results. There is a big difference between company research, consumer
testimonials, and an independent scientific study of a specific therapy‚Äôs effectiveness.
It is essential that the studies are well designed whether they are conducted by the organization itself or independent researchers. No single factor determines the quality of research, but the following questions are important to consider.
Fortunately, most organizations and individuals do not aim to take advantage of unsuspecting parents. An organization such as the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) offers support to programs that prepare professionals for helping
When Educational Promises Are Too Good to Be True ‚Äì Page 3
‚Äúpromoting literacy through research, education and advocacy‚Äù‚Ñ¢
The International Dyslexia Association ¬∑ 40 York Road ¬∑ Fourth Floor ¬∑ Baltimore ¬∑ MD ¬∑ 21204 Tel: 410-296-0232 ¬∑ Fax: 410-321-5069 ¬∑ E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ¬∑ Website: http://www.interdys.org
¬© Copyright 2014, The International Dyslexia Association (IDA). IDA encourages the reproduction and distribution of this fact sheet. If portions of the text are cited, appropriate reference must be made. Fact sheets may not be reprinted for the purpose of resale.
children who are having difficulty reading. IDA has developed the Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading to guide the preparation, certification, and professional development of teachers and therapists who provide educational programs for individuals in need of reading instruction. Colleges and universities that offer programs to train individuals to teach students to read may apply for accreditation through a standards review with IDA. Programs that meet these standards should be equipped to prepare professionals to effectively work with individuals who have challenges learning to read or write.
For guidance in choosing educational professionals, the following IDA Fact Sheets (http//www.interdys.org/FactSheets.htm) may also be useful:
Most of us agree that it‚Äôs important to ask
difficult questions when buying a car, purchasing a house, or determining a best medical treatment.
Shouldn‚Äôt we do the same when choosing
effective instruction for teaching our children with learning challenges?
Lof, G. L. (2012). Science vs. pseudoscience in CSD: A checklist for skeptical thinking . Poster presentation at ASHA Convention, Atlanta, Georgia.
Melby-Lervaq, M., & Hulme, D. (2013). Is working memory training effective? A meta- analytic view. Developmental Psychology. 49 (2), 270 ‚Äì 9
Owen, A. M., & Hampshire, A. (2010). Putting brain training to the test. Nature. 465 , 775 ‚Äì 778.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Assocation. What to ask when evaluating any treatment procedure, product, or program. Retrieved 2/26/14 from www.asha.org/slp/evaluate.htm
The International Dyslexia A ssociation (IDA) thanks John Alexander, M.Ed., Head of School
Groves Academy , for his assistance in the preparation of this fact sheet.