Dyslexics make up 10% of Texas children who are tested but 30% of Texas prison inmates, and illiteracy is a key indicator increasing the likelihood of imprisonment. Now new research indicates that in addition to overpopulating the criminal justice system, dyslexics also overpopulate another, more socially acceptable class of people: Entrepreneurs! Who'da thought? According to the New York Times ("Tracing business acumen to dyslexia," Dec. 6):
When I proposed a "Real Public Safety Agenda for Texas," prior to the 80th Texas Legislature, one of the principal new investments called for was to "Train 10,000 new teachers to perform individual training with dyslexic children, and increase funding for early testing for dyslexia."
It has long been known that dyslexics are drawn to running their own businesses, where they can get around their weaknesses in reading and writing and play on their strengths. But a new study of entrepreneurs in the United States suggests that dyslexia is much more common among small-business owners than even the experts had thought.
The report, compiled by Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, found that more than a third of the entrepreneurs she had surveyed — 35 percent — identified themselves as dyslexic. The study also concluded that dyslexics were more likely than nondyslexics to delegate authority, to excel in oral communication and problem solving and were twice as likely to own two or more businesses.
“We found that dyslexics who succeed had overcome an awful lot in their lives by developing compensatory skills,” Professor Logan said in an interview. “If you tell your friends and acquaintances that you plan to start a business, you’ll hear over and over, ‘It won’t work. It can’t be done.’ But dyslexics are extraordinarily creative about maneuvering their way around problems.”
The study was based on a survey of 139 business owners in a wide range of fields across the United States. Professor Logan called the number who said they were dyslexic “staggering,” and said it was significantly higher than the 20 percent of British entrepreneurs who said they were dyslexic in a poll she conducted in 2001.
She attributed the greater share in the United States to earlier and more effective intervention by American schools to help dyslexic students deal with their learning problems. Approximately 10 percent of Americans are believed to have dyslexia, experts say.
One reason that dyslexics are drawn to entrepreneurship, Professor Logan said, is that strategies they have used since childhood to offset their weaknesses in written communication and organizational ability — identifying trustworthy people and handing over major responsibilities to them — can be applied to businesses.
“The willingness to delegate authority gives them a significant advantage over nondyslexic entrepreneurs, who tend to view their business as their baby and like to be in total control,” she said.
I considered reducing crime a powerful enough incentive by itself to focus new resources toward treating dyslexia, but this new research finding that dyslexics who receive that extra support more frequently become creative, productive entrepreneurs means that the state is wasting valuable human capital, leaving extra, home-grown economic growth on the table by channeling dyslexics more commonly into prison than into creating small businesses.
Reading this new data, I couldn't help but think of a recent program I heard about at a Texas Public Policy Foundation forum in Austin a few weeks back, described thusly on their website:
November 07, 2007
Policy Primer: Jobs After Jail - Enhancing the Employment of Ex-Offenders (audio file)
Approximately 30 percent of Texas adults have a criminal conviction. Ex-offenders who are employed are three-times less likely to re-offend and much more likely to pay restitution and child support. However, one reason some are unemployed or underemployed are state regulations that can be used to exclude them from over 150 different licensed occupations. Also, hiring ex-offenders can expose an employer to civil liability, and there is a lack of vocational opportunities in state and local lockups that correspond to available jobs in the economy.
An impressive program described at that forum - the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) - trains inmates to become legitimate entrepreneurs when they leave prison. Several of their program's graduates so far have become significant success stories to tell.
I wonder what's the relationship if any of inmates with dyslexia and participation in PEP?
These are just initial thoughts from disparate research that perhaps raise more questions than answers. Would dyslexics who turn to crime be more likely to launch their own legitimate business enterprises if they received specialized education support, plus training that prepares them with entrepreneurial skills they'll likely need to cope with their disabilities throughout their lives? We can't know for sure from these data, but the possibilities are intriguing:Dyslexics make up 10% of Texans, but 30% of prisoners and up to 35% of entrepreneurs! Whatever else these data say, they tell me that what happens with dyslexic kids has a profound impact on the future of both the criminal justice system and the economy. Perhaps Texas policymakers should begin to pay closer attention to them.