LONNIE is 15 1/2 and failing. Failing in school, failing in
He shouldn't be.
Psychological tests show Lonnie is of average intelligence -
actually, a bit above. But he's reading and writing on a
fourth-grade level. His math skills aren't much better.
Lonnie was diagnosed in the third grade as learning disabled
and behavior disordered. He began receiving services through
Special School District of St. Louis County.
In the seventh grade, he was placed on Ritalin, a stimulant
medication used for attention disorders. There was no reported
change in behavior.
His parents said Lonnie was still "out of control."
Now Lonnie has been suspended for 90 days for brandishing a
weapon at his high school. Authorities suspect he's involved in a
gang and in dealing drugs.
This isn't the first time Lonnie (not his real name) has been
in trouble. At 13, he ran away from home. At 14, he spent time in
an alcohol rehabilitation program.
Lonnie is under the formal supervision of Family Court of St.
Louis County. Through the court, he's participating in Project
LEARN, trying to boost basic skills until he can be placed in a
technical school or enter a general-equivalency diploma program.
Lonnie and his classmates at Project LEARN come from different
socioeconomic backgrounds and school systems, but they share some
They've all been suspended, expelled or are truant. Most have
run afoul of the law. And they've all had a long history of
academic failure, often exacerbated by either undiagnosed or
untreated learning disabilities.
The Cost Of Contributions Unmade
An estimated 5 percent to 15 percent of American schoolchildren
suffer from learning disabilities. And such problems can have
impact well beyond the classroom walls.
A disproportionate number of adults with unremediated learning
disabilities wind up on welfare or as part of the criminal justice
system. And the costs - in terms of wasted human potential and
taxpayers' dollars - are enormous.
Between 35 and 50 percent of learning disabled students in the
United States drop out before high school graduation. In a
technology-based world in which literacy is essential and higher
education a necessity for career advancement, their employment
prospects are dim.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that
25 to 40 percent of adults on Aid to Families With Dependent
Children are learning disabled. The U.S. Department of Labor
estimates that 15 to 30 percent of all Job Training Partnership Act
participants have learning disabilities as well.
Various studies of the U.S. penal system suggest 60 to 80
percent of the adult prison population may have untreated learning
Intense academic tutoring - the kind Project LEARN is
performing - costs taxpayers about $2,000 a year per student. If
it succeeds in helping kids re-enter the educational system, that's
relatively inexpensive. If it fails, it may lead to far more
Nationally, incarceration costs taxpayers an estimated $25,000
a year per inmate. (Missouri's costs - $10,000 annually - are the
lowest in the country.) That doesn't include the human cost of
innocent citizens victimized by crime. And it doesn't include the
costs of societal contributions never made by intellectually
capable kids like Lonnie.
`Dysfunction In Life'
Though the term "learning disabilities" was coined more than 30
years ago, there remains widespread disagreement over its
Generally, educators speak of learning disabled children as
students of average to superior intelligence who do not perform up
to their potential in the classroom. Psychologists talk about
children who exhibit uneven patterns of language, perceptual or
motor development. …