Kids Need Better Books: Can U.S. Students Compete Internationally?

The average reading literacy score of the United States is 24th on the list of countries ordered by average score.  These scores are based on the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international assessment performed on 15-year-old students every three years.  There are fourteen countries notated as having higher average scores than the United States when considering statistical significance.  Still, that is fourteen education systems whose 15-year-old students perform better in reading literacy than the United States.  Canada, Finland, and Ireland had scores that were ordered third, fourth, and fifth on the list.

In 2016 a different international reading assessment on fourth graders was performed by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.  Again, U.S. reading scores are not that impressive.  Twelve education systems were notated as outperforming the United States (with a statistical significance of .05).

The point is we are not at the top.  We aren’t even in the top 10.  It doesn’t feel like the culture surrounding our kids is aiming for excellence, especially with best-selling books like Captain Underpants and Dork Diaries generously offered at school libraries.

When an elementary student can read a 120+ page “book” loaded with graphics in about 20 minutes, it is probably lacking something important like quality and depth.  Children learn from what they are reading (grammar, spelling, etc.).  Are poor quality books helping K-12 students improve critical thinking skills, and reading or writing scores?  This problem might be hindering the common goal of improving academic achievement and literacy in our nation’s schools.

Billions of tax dollars are spent to support in vogue and intensely debated educational standards like Common Core (the set of goals that a child is expected to achieve in each grade) with “new” curriculum (the books and educational materials).  Yet, when walking the halls after school one might notice that too many children are reading books riddled with thought bubbles, thoughtless commentary, and offensive content.  What use is spending billions on adopting new standards with more “rigor” if the bar is lowered for leisure reading?  The goal cannot be to constantly feed children easy and absurd reading material.

There is a mainstream desire for our children to compete with the best education systems in the world.  Here is one thing you can do: Channel that energy around improving the education system into encouraging children to read quality books.  Set an expectation and ask for better books in reading award programs, school classrooms, and libraries.

This is the second post of the series, Kids Need Better Books.
Posted in Kids Books, Uncategorized

Kids Need Better Books: Have You Looked Inside?

We want our children to be critical thinkers and good citizens.

The prevalence and popularity of offensive children’s books is astounding.  These books do not inspire critical thinking skills, good behavior, or develop a child’s knowledge in general.  While it is okay that children might read some of these books occasionally, series after series are flooding our libraries and classrooms, displacing high quality literature. Where is the outrage over these poor quality books marketed to our children?

Crude books encourage children to do things like make arm farts or burp and laugh at it!  When children need humor give them a book of funny and tasteful jokes and riddles (e.g. Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids and National Geographic Kids Just Joking) or quality literature with humor like The Stranger Next Door.   At least then they are learning to read between the lines and contemplate the intricacies of language and usage while they laugh!


Children in primary grades looking at books, NARA

We need educated and thoughtful citizens in our country.  This is not encouraged when children are rewarded for reading books that end with pictures suggesting that “birds are practicing target shooting at the human below” — as described by a child commenting on a current Sunshine State Young Readers Award (SSYRA) book.  This type of crass humor targeted at young children does not take much thought.  It’s the least common denominator in the world of humor, potty-talk, and a low bar to set for our children.

Many of these poor quality books contain Continue reading

Posted in Kids Books, Uncategorized

Dork Diaries: Concerns from a Cursory Review

Dork Diaries, authored by Rachel Renée Russell, depicts awful behavior toward others.  For example, in Tales From a Not-So-Perfect Pet Sitter, one character (MacKenzie) rants about the narrator breaking rules.  The narrator responds “OMG! I was SO angry, I wanted to slap that girl into tomorrow…” (63).  This is just one snippet of a book riddled with this kind of dialogue.

This material sells, presumably, because it reads more like a script for a kids’ tabloid talk show than a quality piece of literature with good dialogue and messages.

Below are two more examples of poor behavior from this book, not immediately identified for the young reader as wrong:

Max’s grandma insists her archfrenemy, Trixie Claire Jewel-Hollister, is behind it.  They’ve been rivals since high school.  Mrs. Wallabanger [Max’s grandma] has been winning first place in all the local flower shows lately, and she says Trixie Hollister is a rich, spoiled, jealous SORE LOSER. (143)

“Sorry, but MacKenzie totally deserved every fun-filled puppy poopy moment!” (260)

Such mean statements; and one coming from a grandmother!

What value does anger and gossip written on paper for children to read offer?  What does it teach about communication and civil behavior?  What does it teach to children girl-person-human-female.jpgwho need good role models?  What does it teach about positive and healthy friendships?

While adults are pushing anti-bullying campaigns, many simultaneously hand them books that illustrate bullying and vindictive behavior, sometimes for children who have not yet even considered the behaviors.   While I don’t agree with the book contents, the problem sits with the schools (e.g. libraries, book fairs) that are placing a large number of these books in libraries in lieu of quality literature.

Dork Diaries ¹ is riddled with negative language and descriptions that feel endless; spreading from one page into the next, and most often accentuated in bold letters and caps.  Words and phrases like Continue reading

Posted in Kids Books, Uncategorized

Does Captain Underpants Belong in Any School Library?

Take a “look inside” a few books from the Captain Underpants series on Amazon or at a library. In Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot (published in 2015 after the series placed #1 on the Top Ten Most Challenged Books) a teacher in the foreword comic strip says “Let’s get nekkid” while the next page depicts male and female teachers in their undergarments.   Chapter Two goes on to demean “…grouchy old people who have way too much time…” because the use of poor language was criticized in this book series.  The author then emphasizes a list of some specific words that these grouchy old people find offensive.  The author also references “grouchy old people” with the acronym “GOP”.  The author explains how certain topics relevant to grouchy old people will be included, such as “Fox News” and aids like “laxatives” and “hemorrhoid pillows” (16).

It appears the author is playing politics to pigeonhole any critic as conservative.  Any responsible parent or concerned citizen would likely not agree with a book that exemplifies crude, inappropriate, disrespectful, and moronic behavior and language.  It also appears the author is attempting to use Fox News as a label to isolate criticism of the books to a political ideology, instead of any well-meaning parent or citizen that sees what poor examples these books set for children.  Has the author tried to turn criticism of these books into a political matter when it is really an ethical matter? Continue reading

Posted in Kids Books, Uncategorized

Bell Schedule Meeting Tonight

According to the HCPS Bell Schedule website, the last public meeting to discuss the Bell Schedule will be held at Jefferson High School tonight, 9/26, from 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm.

There is a summary on Tampa Bay Online highlighting some important dates regarding the Bell Schedule, including when the School Board will vote on the Bell Schedule.

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Hillsborough County Schools Bell Schedule: Who carries the burden for an hour-apart-school-start-time?

Bus and bell scheduling is a difficult problem given all the inputs and constraints.  It feels like the current approach by the county is a one-size-fits-all band-aid getting slapped onto a complex problem.  Increasing start times between schools may help alleviate the problem but is it actually addressing the primary issues causing late buses (a.k.a. the root cause)?

It seems like we are being told that elapsed times are too short.  In 2016, absenteeism and extended leave were mentioned as causes by a Hillsborough County Schools employee in this ABC Action News Report (time marker 1:41).  There was a driver absenteeism rate of 13% reported by Gibson Consulting Group (1, p. 140).  This year we are told it is elapsed times. The convenient answer seems to be to increase elapsed times (time between school starts or releases).

Instead of first fixing other problems, the county has proposed increasing elapsed times to an hour, shifting burden onto students and parents.  It is a disruption to quality of life, after school activities, work, finances, and productivity for many families that utilize and pay for the public school system.


¹Gibson Consulting Group, Inc., Phase II: Operational Efficiency Audit – Comprehensive Report for Hillsborough County Public Schools

Posted in HCPS Bell Schedules, Hillsborough Schools, Uncategorized

Hillsborough County Schools Bell Times: Was a survey “sent to all families”?

Hillsborough County Schools has asked for input from parents.  The Bell Schedule Simulator states “…A survey regarding bell times will be sent to all families during the month of September.”  We did not receive any information sent from the county on a simulator or survey.  We did discover the survey after searching the HCPS website for an update on the status of bell times.

  • The bell simulator asked parents to run simulations but to “make sure the bell times are at least one hour apart for each school type”.  This, the hour-apart-school-start-time, “standard”, forces more optimal bell times for students and families to be excluded.

Does a “standard” really make sense for all districts in the country?  Is it really a standard or is a group just calling it a “standard”?  What makes it a “standard”?  Do most schools across the state actually use this “standard” for all their times?  Some of these questions are discussed in the article Does Applying a Standard Make Sense?

  • The bell schedule survey is here.

How many other parents are not aware that this survey exists?  This is a topic important to many families.  Like the limited input requested from parents in the focus groups, parents might not be adequately informed.  Is this by design?

Will the proposed changes really secure instructional minutes for everyone?  Will buses still be late because of:

  1. the unintended consequences of bus parking provisions,
  2. staffing problems, and
  3. high absenteeism rates?

Are school start and end times being moved (to attempt hour-apart-school-start-times) causing students and families to be burdened with hiding the above late bus problems?

HCPS has a limited benchmarking chart that supports their desired changes here.  A comprehensive benchmarking by county (also considering size and district performance) was published here.   The research summarized in the comprehensive chart indicates that districts are not all utilizing this hour-apart-school-start-time.

There are other bell schedule alternatives, like example 1a, that improves the current start time between high and elementary schools.  That alternative might significantly reduce morning delays if combined with changes to improve staffing, absenteeism, and bus parking provisions.

Posted in HCPS Bell Schedules, Hillsborough Schools, Uncategorized