Lazy Lucy, Literacy in Corrections Facilities, and Reading Horizons

Listeners from Minnesota, along with nation-wide followers of Sarah Lahm and her muckraking blog, Bright Lights Small City, already know about the Lazy Lucy controversy in Minneapolis. The “Lazy Lucy” story was picked up around the country, by the Washington Post and others. Less well-known is the on-going struggle over Reading Horizons and its supposedly research-supported literacy program.

Sarah Lahm joined the Education Town Hall in June to discuss her investigation of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) — or “Creepy” — and its takeover of schools across the U.S. A few weeks ago, Lahm broke the story of an early literacy program so wrong that the Minneapolis School Board eventually demanded a public apology and monetary compensation from the contractor who brought it to them.

Reading Horizons and “Lazy Lucy”

Minneapolis teachers at Reading Horizons’ training told Lahm about content of the associated “Little Books.” This series illustrates female characters primarily tending to males and racial representations that left many a jaw on the floor:

  • Lazy Lucy, in unspecified Africa, is meant to tidy her hut. However, the story goes: “Now and then, she was lazy and did not do her duty.”
  • An “African Fable” offers no discernible African content and instead shows a man in Western-style dress and his dog, Uncle Chuckles.
  • A supposedly contemporary Native American story, again from an unspecified culture, includes a father and daughter hunting the long-extinct wooly mammouth.
  • A Kenyan tale runs as follows:

    Most people are aware that Kenyans are able to run very fast. They can run for a long time. Kenyans have won many races. Some Kenyans run with bare feet!

See Bright Lights Small City for details and pictures of the books.

Minneapolis School Board Response

A September 8 Minneapolis School Board action demands “future presentation of books that reflect racial proportion and best interest of the urban school community,” as well as immediate recall of the Little Books series, a public apology, and monetary compensation.

As Minnesota Public Radio reported earlier this week, however, “The ‘Lazy Lucy’ controversy is about more than some really terrible books.” Protestors shut down a Minneapolis School Board meeting on September 29, demanding an end to the contract with Reading Horizons and a closer examination of how Minneapolis schools are teaching reading, particularly among special education students.

In August, Bright Lights Small City shared detailed comments from a Minneapolis teacher sent to a Reading Horizons training session. Originally given a pseduonym, Shana Dickson later decided to go public. According to Dickson, the trainer made remarks about how “scary” downtown urban areas can be, repeatedly referenced “poverty schools,” and exhibited attitudes throughout the training that matched the Little Books content.

In addition, as Lahm’s blog has been reporting all along, there is no independent research supporting Reading Horizons’ claims regarding the efficacy of their program.

Reading Horizons in Corrections Facilities

A substantial portion of Reading Horizons’ business focuses on literacy for corrections facilities. Education Town Hall is looking into the cultural content of those programs. Meanwhile, a brief glimpse shows published data with basic arithmetic errors and a similar lack of independent research to supporting success claims.

See, e.g., this data (Reading Horizons “Corrections”, slightly more detail here here: California Dept. of Corrections) with arithmetic mistakes regarding grade-level increases at Solano (2.4 NOT 3.0), Calif. State Prison (1.1 NOT 2.2), and Folsom (2.4 NOT 4.3). The research offers no control or comparison but claims success based on an increase of less than 2 grade levels in the course of three years.

And yet the U.S. Department of Justice, and others charged with the welfare of incarcerated individuals, continue to contract for Reading Horizons’ unproven products (see Inside Gov). Check back for more on this story.

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