September 3, 2015
Reading Horizons story, continued.
On Tuesday, September 1, I published part five of my series on the Minneapolis Public Schools’ controversial contract with Utah reading curriculum and software company, Reading Horizons. Part five highlighted a recent letter sent to MPS by teachers Shana Dickson and David Boehnke, and artist Chaun Webster.
The letter–which is available here, as a live document that supporters can sign on to–demands that MPS cancel its $1.2 million contract with Reading Horizons and establish stronger connections between the district and the communities it serves:
Teaching phonics can be integrated into the teaching of compelling and empowering literature that reflects the diversity of our scholars, and the world. Training and investment in such literature is what an equity-centered district should do. Minneapolis Public Schools should be making financial decisions that nourish connections between the district and local communities.
The letter currently has close to 400 signatures.
For background information and further details, please start with my first post in this series: Phonics or indoctrination? Minneapolis teacher training takes a step backwards.
New information from a Minneapolis Public Schools teacher provides greater insight into how the district ended up with Utah-based Reading Horizons as their phonics curriculum provider.
In continued efforts to defend its big dollar contract with Reading Horizons, which produced classroom books that many found deeply offensive, MPS has made this point: “A team of folks, including 60 teachers, selected Reading Horizons based on many factors, including its track record of success.”
(Note: sources say many of the teachers involved were not current classroom teachers, but rather “Teachers on Special Assignment,” who instead work out of district headquarters. Second note: to date, I have yet to find any independent source of research that supports Reading Horizons’ claims of success.)
The teacher, who asked not to be named, has over 20 years of experience within MPS as a kindergarten teacher, and was one of the 60 teachers included in the decision-making process. In a note sent to this blog, the teacher details the selection process from her point of view, and mentions a lingering problem: “…the many and frequent changes in those who lead us at the district level, and the need to make changes FAST, have left us with a hodge-podge of programs that don’t fit together.”
MPS has referred to the turnover and layoffs within MPS’s top admin layers as “staffing shifts,” and blames these “shifts” for the lack of oversight regarding Reading Horizons’ “Little Books”: “Due to staffing shifts…the books–a small, optional part of the program–were not comprehensively vetted.”
Here is the teacher’s note:
I am one of the 60 or so teachers that were on the review committee. It is misinformation that all 60 or so of us recommended Reading Horizons as our pick for foundations/phonics program. Here’s the reality: We were able to pick from a total of 5 programs, 3 of which were “online only” programs that would require our K, 1st, and 2nd graders to sit in front of a computer or use an Ipad daily. Those three did not seem to be best practice for our youngest students.
The remaining two programs (Mondo Bookshop and Reading Horizons) were the only ones that could be taught without daily computer or tablet use. At the table I was at ( with 8-10 K and 1st grade teachers) we overwhelmingly preferred Mondo Bookshop (currently in use in St. Paul Public Schools).
I think that if some preferred Reading Horizons, it was because we were all looking for a program that would allow us to have more emergent level reading books available to our students. It should be noted that we were told there were books, but I don’t remember having the chance to look them over.
I was disappointed that there were no more curriculum programs for us to evaluate. I have been teaching kindergarten in MPS for 26 years, and know there are some good programs out there. Unfortunately, MPS is not in an “adoption year” for a new balanced literacy program, and the current Good Habits, Great Readers reading curriculum lacks the foundation/ phonemic awareness component that a strong early literacy curriculum program provides. Those of us with experience know how to support our youngest learners with the skill needed to learn to begin to decode words and read. That said, with the many and frequent changes in those who lead us at the district level, and the need to make changes FAST, have left us with a hodge-podge of programs that don’t fit together.
This teacher’s experience and insights raises a key question: does MPS need a new, mandated, K-2 phonics curriculum, asap?
An attempt to get more answers by reviewing MPS’s contract with Reading Horizons fell short, as the actual contract appears to be little more than a purchase agreement, signed by Minneapolis school board chair Jenny Arneson and Reading Horizons Sales Director Robert Openshaw on June 23 and 24, 2015.
A request for a more detailed contract garnered this response from MPS’s data request division:
“What I sent to you is the complete document in our computerized contract management system.”
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