Minneapolis Parts Ways with Lazy Lucy

Two weeks ago, the Education Town Hall reported on the strange career of Lazy Lucy in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and related issues. (See Lazy Lucy, Literacy in Corrections Facilities, and Reading Horizons).

To summarize:

MPS contracted with the Utah-based corporation, Reading Horizons, for early-grade reading materials and related training. Lazy Lucy is part of the Little Books series associated with the phonics program. And Lucy – as some will recall – is a child, in an unspecified African culture, who is supposed to clean the family’s hut but fails to fulfill her duty. Some MPS teachers who met Lazy Lucy and her counterparts this summer found the Reading Horizons training insensitive and the Little Books racist, sexist, heteronormative, and historically inaccurate.

After community outcry, the interim superintendent responsible for the contract agreed that the Little Books were “painfully offensive,” and the school board voted to ditch the materials – which were never distributed to Minneapolis students. But MPS did not sever its relationship with Reading Horizons, and protest continued.

Meanwhile, journalist Sarah Lahm – who broke the story about teacher concerns with Reading Horizons – followed up to discover that success claims were based on limited and flawed research. She also reported how MPS policies were not followed in choosing the curriculum.

This past Tuesday (10/13), MPS rescinded its entire contract with Reading Horizons, citing failure to follow its own polices on diversity and purchasing. The school board adopted the resolution even though there is no replacement program in place and the action could affect reimbursement of the $1.2 million the district already spent on the controversial program.

from Sarah Lahm, Bright Lights Small City

from Sarah Lahm, Bright Lights Small City

Tuesday’s meeting began, according to a Minnesota Public Radio report, with an acknowledgement that there is much to be fixed:
“I know that many of you are frustrated and rightfully distrust us,” said school board chair Jenny Arenson. “Tonight, we’re going to repair those errors and we’re going to create a plan to prevent future harm.”

But Southwest Journal, a Minneapolis newspaper, cites ongoing community concerns about diversity and decision-making in MPS, as well as its ties to corporations.

“If this blatant curriculum, that had a lot of blatant flaws, got through,” the parent of one second grader is quoted as saying, “I wonder what else is happening?”

A September board resolution demanded a public apology and monetary compensation from Reading Horizons. But CEO Tyrone Smith did not speak at the October 13 board meeting, although he was present.

Sarah Lahm follows education issues in Minnesota. Her focus on corporate influence in public schooling is instructive to those in and outside her home state. For more on this story and a link to Lahms’ blog, Bright Lights Small City, visit EducationTownHall.org.
Two weeks ago, Education Town Hall reported on the strange and troubling career of Lazy Lucy, the center of a curriculum controversy in Minneapolis. Earlier this week, Minneapolis Special School District No. 1 took a dramatic action in this still-evolving story.

A quick refresher on Lucy and her pals:

A few months back, Minneapolis teachers attended a training on the Reading Horizons curriculum their District had purchased. Teachers were startled by the gender and racial representations of the associated “Little Books”:

  • In an unspecified African country, Lazy Lucy is meant to tidy her hut but was sometimes “lazy and did not do her duty.”
  • Another story, about a dog named “Uncle Chuckles,” is labeled an “African Fable,” despite its lack of discernible African content.
  • A purportedly contemporary story from an unspecified Native American culture shows a father and daughter hunting the long-extinct woolly mammouth.
  • A tale set in Kenya describes this nation as full of people who run very fast, “have won many races,” and sometimes “run with bare feet!”

Teachers reported this, as well as concerns about the insensitive nature of the training, to journalist Sarah Lahm. Through her blog, Big Lights Small City, and the efforts of community activists, the Minneapolis School Board eventually demanded a public apology and monetary compensation from the contractor. In September, protesters disrupted school board meetings, demanding careful examination of the materials and the failure of policy which brought them to Minneapolis. And then on Tuesday of this week, the city’s Special School District No. 1 voted to rescind the contract, even if that action impedes reimbursement from Reading Horizons.



Categories: corporate influence in schools, educational publishing, educational research, literacy, National Issues

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