Minneapolis teacher at center of Reading Horizons storm identifies herself


Dickson teaches first grade at north Minneapolis’s Elizabeth Hall Elementary School.

Sarah Lahm

August 31, 2015

Minneapolis teacher Shana Dickson is “Roxanne Berger.” 

Last week, I wrote a series of blog posts chronicling Dickson’s reaction to an early literacy training session, provided by the Minneapolis Public Schools, and hosted by the district’s new phonics curriculum provider, Reading Horizons.

The training had a profound and upsetting impact on her, but Dickson was afraid to go public with her experience. Yes, the training was off-putting and offensive, to Dickson and others who were there with her, and the “little” accessory books handed out by Reading Horizons, intended for classroom use by the district’s K-2 students, were filled with shockingly dated, racist, sexist, and oppressive images and stories. 

Lazy Lucy

An attempt at diversity

Still, Dickson was worried that revealing her name would jeopardize her job, and her relationship with some of her fellow teachers. And so I shared her story, and identified her as “Roxanne Berger.”

But the blog posts took off, forcing the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) to respond to questions and anger from the public. At first, it seems MPS tried a “shoot the messenger” approach, by claiming that my original blog post, “Phonics or indoctrination? Minneapolis teacher training takes a step backwards,” contained “inaccurate and misleading information.”

Original MPS RH announcement

Original MPS response, posted on Facebook by Brian Hayden

Very quickly, MPS backtracked and removed the part where they imply my blog posts are false. Here is the beginning of MPS’s revised statement, which is attributed to interim Superintendent Michael Goar:

A lot of questions have been raised about parts of Minneapolis Public Schools’ early literacy program. Interim Superintendent Michael Goar helps answer those questions:

I have become aware that there is great concern among some parents and other stakeholders in the Minneapolis Public School district about an early childhood literacy curriculum MPS is launching this school year. I’d like to take this opportunity to address these concerns and share in the outrage of our diverse communities.

The whole statement, along with parent, staff, and community comments (including some who support Reading Horizons), can be found on the Minneapolis Public Schools’s Facebook page. Basically, the district is insisting that Reading Horizons be allowed to redo the accompanying “Little Books,” because their approach to phonics is so powerful:

Here is an important consideration. Reading Horizons works. Research shows this program has been successful in improving student outcomes across the country, including outcomes in diverse districts like ours.

But we are as concerned about the culturally inappropriate material as everyone else and we quickly addressed and removed the materials, as we should have. We will continue to explore options regarding this issue.

Let me say again, kids who read grow up to succeed, and early literacy is key to the future of our kids. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have further questions or concerns.

If anyone out there can find research about Reading Horizons’ curriculum that has not been produced by Reading Horizons itself, please send it to me. So far, all I can find to support the claim that “Research shows this program has been successful in improving student outcomes…” is research done by Reading Horizons, which might just have a stake in this whole thing (see this post about the $1.2 million contract they secured with MPS).

In the wake of Goar’s statement, more media coverage followed:

  • First, MPR reporter Bob Collins picked it up for his “Newscut” blog.
  • Then, StarTribune education reporter Alejandra Matos wrote about it.
  • KSTP News also covered the story.

According to Dickson, this groundswell of coverage and support helped her decide to publicly identify herself:

“…because I feel like enough people are in support of the cause, I have noticed so many people passing along your blog and I felt like even if there are those who disagree with me, there will also be many who stand with me. “

Up next: Minneapolis teachers, parents, and community members demand that MPS cancel the Reading Horizons contract

Start with Part One of this series: Phonics or indoctrination?

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3 thoughts on “Minneapolis teacher at center of Reading Horizons storm identifies herself

  1. Michelle Lee-Reid

    I completed the Reading Horizons training this summer. I think, with different little books, it can be a good thing. At the training, though, being a special education teacher, I was told that I could not receive a kit, even though special education teachers were invited to the training. I was told later, that I would receive a kit to teach the curriculum, but they had to decide who was going to pay for it. I asked if I could receive the kit and they could figure out amongst themselves later who was going to pay for it (especially since they had extra kits at the training), but was told no. I would like to use this curriculum to teach the students in my classroom who need phonics instruction, but can’t get the kit.


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