Pulliam's Immoral Reading Curriculum
Pulliam's Immoral Reading Curriculum!
 (An Open Letter to Clayton County's Embattled Superintendent) 

March 7, 2006

Barbara Pulliam, Superintendent
Clayton County Schools
1058 Fifth Avenue
Jonesboro, Georgia 30236

Superintendent Pulliam:

I am appalled at the abject demise of the Clayton County School District (CCSD) under your direction. I have tried to hold my tongue about the various and sundry instructional idiocies that you have perpetrated on the children and educators of this County (not to mention the horrible disciplinary conditions and administrative abuse toward teachers); however, my incredulity has been gorged on a steady diet of irate and concerned phone messages from teachers in CCSD, calling the Metro Association of Classroom Educators (MACE) to register their disgust about your newly-implemented reading program, Direct Instruction Core Enhancement (DICE), a dubious program at best and, at worst, an immoral program that, as I will show, uses concepts related to gambling, among other immoralities, allegedly to teach children how to read. For instance, in my perusal of Decoding Strategies: Decoding B1 Student Book (Columbus, OH: SRA/McGraw-Hill, 2002), a text provided to me by a CCSD teacher, I read the following passage from page 59 with dismay: "The rancher said to the others, 'My tramp did not win this meet, so I will pay you for the bets that I made.'" That the tramp is a human makes the gambling more reprehensible.

What type of dicey reading program are you foisting on our children in Clayton County? Is it similar to the math program written about in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on February 18, 2006? The following quote is taken from that article: "Terry Quick grew alarmed when his fifth-grade son explained what he'd done in special education math class recently: He'd played checkers." Is such cockamamie mess prevalent in the Rust Belt whence you fled? I can assure you that in the Bible Belt, people shy away from such material as being worthy of use with our elementary school students. Someone like you, however, who believes that the Kaplan Program, in which all social studies teachers at all schools in CCSD must be on the same page at the same time on the same day no matter what, and that the Community Education Program (CEP), in which CCSD's regular teachers at the alternative school are replaced by a presumably for-profit company's employees (a program that operates in a very questionable manner in Atlanta Public Schools), are worthwhile instructionally, would find it beneficial that students learn to read from Decoding Strategies by pronouncing on page 61: "So the helper bet the tramp's seventy dollars at 3 to 1 odds. He said, 'This means that the tramp will get 210 dollars if he beats Shelly in the meet.'" Since gambling is against the rules of CCSD as well as State law, why employ a text that encourages students to gamble at athletic events? What will follow? Will you provide dice and playing cards along with the checkers for use in math instruction? Will you obtain supplementary funding for CCSD by having students bet their lunch money on physical education activities?

My concern in this letter, however, deals specifically with your throwing of DICE into the curriculum. Teachers have complained loudly to MACE about that program, the complaints mainly dealing with the program itself, its content and course of study, as well as the County's implementation of it. I state unequivocally that, having spoken with these teachers and having read the aforementioned Student Book, I am confounded as to why you would ever have thought DICE worthwhile to throw. In fact, a study completed in 2003 by Randall Ryder, a professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin, showed that students receiving instruction via direct instruction in grades one through three scored significantly lower in total reading achievement than did students who received a traditional form of instruction. According to Ryder, measures of comprehension also indicated significantly lower scores. Why, then, did you approve such a program? Could it be that you have thrown DICE into CCSD for the financial benefit of your cronies? Did you yourself receive an end-around remuneration for the program's implementation - you know, that old scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours deal?

In any event, let me first discuss DICE's content. Since I have already mentioned the specific Decoding Strategies text, I will outline its major flaw - the use of negative, inappropriate words and ideas that run counter to the teaching of values for the inculcation of good, moral character. One concept that permeates the text is that of telling a lie, an example of which is on page 25: "Sandy said, 'You little rat. You told me a lie.' The rat said, 'Yes, but did you see how fast I did it?'" A related concept, putting down others via name-calling, is seen on page 32: "Big Bob said, 'No. You can't be my brother. My brother is fat, and he smells.'" Two more examples are on page 53 ("The rancher said to the tramp, 'I can tell that you do not like to work. You are a tramp.'") and on page 67 ("She said, 'I'll lap your slap over never checker playing with a slop rop named yellow teeth.'". In addition to the degradation of thought inherent in this passage, what kind of nonsensical language is being utilized in this text?

The concept of betting, as I mentioned previously, continues throughout the text. An example is on page 95: "'That is a bet,' his mother said. 'This mine is a dud. I'll bet you a dollar that you won't have silver before the sun sets.'" Betting is involved with conning people, and con games occur ad nauseam in the text. On page 37, it reads: "That con man had sold the camp woman bad mops. He had conned her. He got 50 dollars from the camp woman. She had seventeen mop handles and a big mess." On page 97, the use of flattery enables a successful con job: "Soon the bug had eaten every pickle in the tub. Then he said, 'Well, I think I'll go back to my mine. I don't think I'll buy any pickles today. So you don't have to send me a bill.'" On page 103, faulty work is deemed acceptable via a con: "The old man said, 'That clock looks just fine now. The woman will never know that I made another deer from this clock. She will be glad to pay eleven dollars to get this fine clock back.'" On page 117, lying about the quality of a service not even provided to them gains the con men cash: "'Shhhhhhhhhhhhh,' the man said. 'Don't say anything about bugs.' 'Don't say anything?' the president said. 'I'll say EVERYTHING. THERE ARE BUGS IN THIS HOTEL.' Very quickly, the man gave the president two hundred dollars." Telling lies, conning people, and making demeaning personal comments (via nonsensical language) are hardly what I believe constitute a worthwhile reading program for elementary school students; however, the emphasis on engagement in illegal activities as well as sexual antics sends DICE a-tumbling.

Illegal activities mentioned in Decoding Strategies include, but are not limited to, efforts to steal from and to defraud people and to elude the police. On page 35, breaking and entering receives this treatment: "Big Bob said, 'Brother, don't bother with that lock. I will kick the door in.' . . . So Big Bob got a pick and began to pick the lock." Robbing a bank is featured on page 85 ("He said, 'Now I am ready to become the best bank robber in the West. When the sun comes up in the east, I will aim the boat at the biggest bank in town. Before the day is over, I will have heaps of gold.'") and on page 91 ("He went up to the teller in the bank. The con man said to her, 'Rrrrr. Give me gold, or I will zap you with my ray gun.'") Children reading this text are encouraged to use a vehicle and a gun to rob banks and to use whatever means at hand to get inside a person's home. The children are encouraged to evade the police on page 87 ("The con man said, 'I must leave this town and hide from the cops.'") and, if caught for having committed a transgression, to dupe law enforcement by feigning illness on page 93 ("The con man was smiling to himself. He was thinking, 'I may seem sick, but I am still in fine shape for conning jailers.'"), by pretending to be crazy on page 107 ("He sat on the bed and said to himself, 'I must think of a trick that will get me out of here.' Suddenly he jumped up. 'I've got it,' he yelled. Then he began to bark like a dog. He had a plan.'), by hiding from them on page 109 ("The man said, 'But wait. I was just kidding you. There is a way to leave this room. Here's how it works: You hide under the bed with me. When the helpers come into the room, they look around and they don't see anybody. They say, 'We had better go for help.' They leave the door open, and they run from the room. Then we get out from under the bed, and we run outside.'"), and by disguising their features on page 117 ("The president ran to the closet and came back with dress pants and a striped coat. He slipped into them. Then he cut some hair from the con man's wig and made a beard with it. He stuck the beard on his chin. Then he grabbed a top hat from the closet. He looked at the con man and winked. 'Don't think of me as the president,' he said. 'Think of me as a dashing man-about-town.'"). All a child has to do is to substitute him/herself for one of the con men and then to substitute teacher, principal, friend, brother, sister, mother, or father for the person being conned, and the child has gained instruction in how to lie, cheat, and steal at a very personal level.

I am most aghast, though, at the perverse nature of this distasteful text. Note above how a male calling himself "president" (he earlier referred to himself as "George Washington"), having crawled from under a bed under which they had hidden from the police together, tells the con man, "'Think of me as a dashing man-about-town.'" If that is not homoerotic, then the folks at SRA-McGraw Hill, as well as you and whoever else selected this text for use with our children, should go see Brokeback Mountain! This homoeroticism is underscored on page 115 when the con man freely adopts transvestitism: "The con man ran to the closet. He found a bridal dress in the closet. He said, 'I will put this dress on. Then I will sneak from this hotel. Nobody will think that I am a con man. They will think that I am a bride.'" The use of a bridal gown is quite telling because it suggests marriage which, in turn, suggests honeymoon, something that is hinted at later: "'Yes, sir,' the woman said. She smiled and started to leave the room. Then she stopped and said to the con man, 'What a sweet dress.' The con man said, 'Buzz off.' The woman left and the president said, 'Let's have a bite to eat, my dear.' The con man said, 'Tee, hee.' So the con man and the president sat down to eat lunch in the bridal room." That an actual female would term the bridal gown "sweet" indicates knowledge on her part that a man is wearing it - "sweet" being a derogatory term used to describe gay men. That the president would call the con man "my dear," even after the real woman had left the room, implies satisfaction of the president with the cross-dresser, and that the cross-dresser would reply 'Tee, hee' to the president after being addressed by him in such an intimate manner implies satisfaction of the cross-dresser with the president. That the two of them would then "eat lunch in the bridal room" calls to mind the sexual act. All this taken into consideration with one of the con men terming himself "president" disturbs me. While anyone of legal age in America has every right to make his/her own decision about his/her own sexual lifestyle, I do not believe a school system has the right to foist this type of decision-making on elementary school children, much less denigrate the Office of the President of the United States of America while doing so.

To be fair, Decoding Strategies also includes a heterosexual episode, albeit a kinky one, on page 51: "She grabbed the con man and held him down. She sat on his back and began to shave him. She shaved his locks. She shaved his coat. She shaved his pants. She shaved his legs. She even shaved his chest. When he was shaved, she said, 'Now you see how to shave. Pack up your shears and leave this ranch.'" One cannot help but notice the sadomasochistic quality of this passage, and it does not take a great leap of imagination to view this as rape. A possible feminist interpretation would be that of the woman assuming the dominant sex role traditionally possessed by the man. After she grabs and holds down the con man, she "shaves" him of his clothing and of his hair, sending him away like a jaybird, but only after she has gained satisfaction through her dominance of him. Man has been emasculated by woman, just as Samson lost his strength after being shorn of his hair by Delilah.

Clearly, the content of DICE leaves a lot to be desired in terms of its moral instruction. It also is lacking in that the lessons that it does present it presents a multitude of times but fails to include other lessons that should have been included. For instance, with the incomplete kindergarten program, teachers only have access to five themes and must copy the other ones on their own time so as to make up for the omission. DICE shortchanges Tier 3 students, who only receive instruction in thirteen letters/sounds. Plus, Tier 1 and 2 students fail to receive instruction in necessary blending and sight words. When teachers endeavor to provide extra assistance not included in DICE, they are discouraged from continuing the practice. The text itself, as you should have noticed in the quotes that I included in previous paragraphs, contains numerous punctuation errors, stylistic problems, and misspellings. A reading text with such scandalous content and rife with errors should not be used in CCSD, and I question why you would promote its use, especially given the fact that its course of study is just as bad as its content. As I understand it, the die of Direct Instruction (DI) is cast for students who are not reading at grade level and that of Core Enhancement (CE) for those who are. Sadly, when each die is cast, it is CE that will be cast away with the remedial DI quickly dominating reading instruction because, at its foundation, DICE is not data-driven. CCSD uses Dibels, a reading test, to ascertain those areas in which a student needs remediation or reinforcement. The tests used for DICE that place a student in a Tier do not rely on Dibels and do not take into consideration a particular student's particular reading strengths or weaknesses. As I have already stated, DICE is too slow for Tier 1 students, those who know letters and some sounds. Also, students identified as Tier 3 in kindergarten were those who could not identify their body parts, something that has no relation to letter or sound recognition.

The program might work as a supplemental resource for teachers to use in efforts at remediation or reinforcement, assuming the excision of the inappropriate content in the texts, but as the preferred mode of instruction, it can only lead to failure. This is especially true given the nature of its implementation. I have already stated how teachers who are forced to use DICE are discouraged by supervisors from adding to it and are expected to follow its program of study in an inflexible manner. I have already pointed out how the test used by CCSD to pinpoint a student's reading weaknesses and strengths does not relate to the test used for student placement in DICE's Tiers. What completely bewilders me, however, is the influence that the vendor of this program has on its implementation within the schools of CCSD. JP and Associates (JPA) has absolute authority over DICE, including the teachers who must make use of it. JPA groups the students into Tiers based on JPA's criteria, not that of the teachers or of other instructional personnel within CCSD. JPA utilizes a method termed "glows and grows" to ascertain a teacher's effectiveness in implementation of DICE. JPA employees actually interact with teachers in their classrooms, watching to see if the teachers adhere to DICE. If a teacher fails in adherence to DICE, in the opinion of a JPA employee, then that JPA employee has the right to challenge the teacher in front of the students! This is patently wrong. Teachers undergo a legal process to gain certification in the State of Georgia and are guaranteed certain legal rights by the State. One of those rights involves a teacher's assessment by a supervisor with appropriate Leadership Certification. I doubt whether JPA employees have such certification and demand that you prove that they do; otherwise, I suggest that you immediately cease and desist from allowing JPA employees the right of instructional supervision over properly-certificated teachers in CCSD. JPA employees are not held accountable by the citizenry of Clayton County. CCSD personnel, of whom you have top billing, are, and I hold you so now.

DICE has crapped out - a gambling concept that I am certain another Decoding Strategies text will teach in this unwholesome program that I request that you dispense with now or that you explain your promotion of such a morally-debased program. It is my valid request that you answer the following questions as well as those previously posed concerning DICE in a timely fashion: How was this program presented to the Board of Education? What were the responses by the Board members? Which Board members approved it? Did the Board members review the program and read certain texts prior to its approval? Did the textbooks used in the program undergo the legal process of Textbook Adoption? Why would CCSD adopt a program that has not been completed by its designers? What school piloted the program prior to its implementation for all schools? Why is the program not being implemented during the already-scheduled Core Reading block? Why would CCSD adopt a program that duplicates one already in use? What is the purpose of Literacy Coaches? Should Literacy Coaches be in the classrooms demonstrating reading strategies? How does this reading program teach to the learning styles of individual students? How does this program address differentiated instruction?

I hope that you will see just how thoroughly insidious DICE is and that you will stop gambling with the future of our children through the use of morally-bankrupt and instructionally-unsound practices. If not, you might want to consider contacting some of the local gangs that are proliferating in CCSD. Perhaps the Bloods could make valued use of your curricular expertise that apparently involves dastardly deeds like conning people out of money and goods, engaging in unusual sexual practices, robbing and stealing, and getting away with doing wrong. You could possibly earn a nice livelihood home-schooling the children of Crips. Just throw DICE for language learning, and move checkers for math.


John R. A. Trotter, Ed.D., J.D. Chairman, MACE

Copy: Governor Sonny Perdue
         State Superintendent Kathy Cox
         State Board of Education Members
         Attorney General Thurbert Baker
         Lieutenant Governor Mark Taylor
         Speaker Glenn Richardson
         The Professional Standards Commission
         The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 
         The Clayton News/Daily

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