Wake County Public Schools finds itself in the middle of a book controversy. Concerned parents at Highcroft Drive Elementary School have voiced concerns about the use of highly questionable books by fourth graders at the school. A blogger named NC Citizen, who wishes to remain anonymous, wrote about the story on the Civitas- sponsored web site, StopCommonCoreNC.org here, here and here.
Last week, a story on Fox News Insider about Wake County fourth graders learning about the themes of racism, immigration, police brutality and the Black Panthers put the story on the national radar. The books in question involved One Crazy Summer and Esperanza Rising although there were others books as well. Local media outlets ABC Channel 11 and the News and Observer soon followed with their own stories.
Both media outlets interviewed Dr. Tanner Gamble, the principal of Highcroft Drive Elementary School.
If you review Dr. Gamble’s statements along with information listed in a parent newsletter distributed by teachers and obtained by parents of fourth grade students and a Quarter Four Book Club Assessment Form, there appear to be discrepancies.
Let’s review. Dr. Gamble told Channel 11 and the News and Observer that Fox News incorrectly reported that all fourth-grade students are being required to read the books. Instead, he said, a small number of students read them as part of an “enrichment activity.”
A copy of a Highcroft Drive School Newsletter distributed to parents is available here. The only change we made was to remove teacher names and several links. The newsletter seems to contradict Dr. Gamble’s statements. The paragraph below is an unedited paragraph from a newsletter distributed to fourth grade parents.
In addition to reading Number the Stars, your child will be participating in book clubs this quarter. They will be assigned an additional historical fiction book to read based on my choice. Your child will be discussing this book each week in a group setting with other students and a parent who are reading the same book. Some topics that these books cover include the Great Depression, Civil Rights Movement, Immigration, and Hiroshima. Your child will be provided with a copy of the text they are reading as well as a book club packet that they are responsible for completing each week. We will be spending a lot of time in class discussing the importance of being an active group member and being prepared for discussions each week. Your child will have hours in class each week to work on their reading assignment as well as their book club packet. They may also complete this each night on their reading log as needed. Being that bookclub assignments will be a significant portion of reading grades for third quarter, I wanted to make you aware of this information.
The email states “your child will be participating in book clubs this quarter.” Where is the option here? Where is the term enrichment mentioned? The paragraph even notes “bookclub assignments will be a significant portion of reading grades for third quarter.” Contrary to Dr. Gamble’s assertions, it sounds like book club assignments are a significant part of the normal curriculum.
Dr. Gamble states parents had a right to opt-out if they found the books objectionable. Parents I talked with said that’s not true. An opt-out option was never mentioned by teachers.
Dr. Gamble commented that Fox News incorrectly reported that all fourth-graders are being required to read the books. If that was the case, when asked by Fox News to comment on the story why did Wake County choose not to comment?
Dr. Gamble also said the books are not part of the Common Core curriculum. Fourth grade teachers at the school selected the books and assigned them to about 60 students to read as part of a book club.
Let’s first note there is no Common Core Curriculum. There are Common Core Standards in Math and English, which teachers use at Highcroft Drive Elementary and all public schools in North Carolina. Obviously Dr. Gamble was trying to tell parents there is no connection between the assigned books and Common Core standards.
A look at the at the book_club_assessment document casts doubt on that claim. This form was distributed by teachers and was expected to be signed by students and parents. Please note on the left side of the page are four boxes with numbers and brief descriptions (e.g. RL 4.10, RL 4.2, and R.L 4.4 and SL 4.1) . The numbers refer specifically to Common Core Fourth Grade Reading Literature Standards. The final box lists SL 4.1 refers to Common Core Fourth Grade Speaking and Listening Standards. As you can see the standards listed in the box and the text are lifted word-for-word from the Common Core State Standards.
None of this discussion addresses the main problem; that the books are entirely inappropriate for a class of highly impressionable fourth graders. School officials repeatedly said the texts were entirely appropriate for children on the “cusp” of adolescence. Since when are children — four years from being a teenager — on the cusp of adolescence?
The response of school officials doesn’t build trust. WCPSS says they want parental engagement — except when it doesn’t. Let’s remember, the schools work for the parents. Not the other way around. I good way to rebuild that trust is to provide all parents access to all the books and materials used in the classroom and to make them available on a searchable web site. It’s a common sense idea whose time has come.