Ryan's Reviews > Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

really liked it

Kelly Gallagher's Readicide is a title that ensures we'll all duck and cover, which really made it difficult for me to accept the book at first. He explains how American education is failing to create lifelong readers. Put another way, America's public education is "killing" students' love of reading.

Gallagher explains that the "elephant in the room" when it comes to this part of the sky falling is standardized tests. The era of the standardized test in American public education really got going with the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind," and it has been intensified under the Obama administration's "Race to the Top." The tests have been shown to narrow curriculum, to divert school funds in order to hire "how to pass the test consultants," and the tests divert significant time from instruction as well. Now, Americans seem to be getting ready to expand the tests so that every subject and every grade is given a high stakes test. What's the worst that can happen?

(Update: it seems that New York is planning to have students write 35 tests per year now, and some worry that American education still hasn't "hit bottom.")

Gallagher explains that English teachers are currently evaluated by tests, schools that fail to improve their test scores are shut down, so teachers, naturally and (officially, at least) correctly, teach to the test. Unfortunately, the tests do not seem to be accurately measuring reading ability, which is quite sad when you consider how many people are losing their jobs because of them -- not to mention the students whose love of reading has died as a result of these tests. Regardless of how effective the tests measure ability, it is uncommon for teach to the test instruction to inspire a love of reading.

So what does Gallagher propose?

Gallagher offers quite a few ideas, but here are some that might seem especially provocative. Gallagher takes a middle ground in the classics vs. high interest reading debate when he calls for a 50/50 approach. Basically, students are required to read "classics" as well as "high-interest" novels, putting him at odds with Harold Bloom and the "rigor" group, as well as Nancy Atwell and her followers. In terms of skill-based instruction, Gallagher likes to see students mark the text during a "second draft" reading, but he doesn't like to see annotation and other skills take priority over actually reading the book. Gallagher strongly cautions teachers against obsessively planning their instruction of novels as well, which will put him at odds with the principals and parents that like to see clear-cut, predictable, and very traditional chapter questions for their kids to answer. Gallagher calls on teachers to "frame" the subject and theme of the novel during the early stages of reading, but then advocates that teachers be mindful of allowing students to get to experience reading flow. He calls for students to be given access to high interest books and the time to read (free voluntary reading, or sustained silent reading). For people not in the industry, all of these ideas are somewhat controversial, and in a few cases quite a lot of money is riding on what policy makers decide to do.

Readicide is clearly argued, though I was not always convinced. It's not at all uncommon to see people mix correlation and causation when discussing education, and Gallagher is no exception. When he does this, he is very likely to rely on anecdotal evidence and "good ole common sense" arguments to support his stands. His entire premise, that high school graduates read less than they used to -- primarily because of educational practices as opposed to technological change -- felt a little shaky to me. Also, I found some of his analogies especially folksy, particularly the "sweet spot" of reading instruction.

On the other hand, many of his ideas are good. I particularly liked the "topic flood." I also sympathized with Gallagher's concerns. Like him, I am a fan of free voluntary reading, have seen it produce the "this is the first book I ever read. Can I have another?" statement, and was sad to read that it has been so hastily dismissed in order to spend more time preparing students for tests.

I would recommend Readicide to educators, parents, and policy makers, though I do strongly dislike its title. Having said that, I'm quite happy to adopt many of Gallagher's suggestions.
15 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Readicide.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 4, 2011 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Manny (last edited Nov 06, 2011 01:57AM) (new)

Manny Interesting review.

Gallagher explains that English teachers are currently evaluated by tests, schools that fail to improve their test scores are shut down, so teachers, naturally and (officially, at least) correctly, teach to the test.

As I've written before, we are currently working on a project where we're building experimental language education software. I was having a discussion the other day with a colleague who's got more direct experience than I have with current trends in education. I said, thinking it would be uncontroversial, that some teachers were clearly much better than others. She told me I was mistaken. These days, all teachers are supposed to follow the textbook exactly and teach precisely the same course. In her opinion, it shouldn't matter which teacher you get.

I found it hard to believe her (I really didn't want to), and hoped that her claims were exaggerated for dramatic effect. But they mesh well with what you're saying here.

Ryan Manny wrote: "These days, all teachers are supposed to follow the textbook exactly and teach precisely the same course. In her opinion, it shouldn't matter which teacher you get."

My understanding is that this has definitely begun to happen but is not universal. The extreme case you'll read about on teacher's blogs is the administrator that wants to walk down a hallway where three classes of seniors are being taught and hear a sentence started, continued, and finished as they walk.

Some newspapers now publish teachers' names and their test scores. How are administrators going to respond to those phone calls from parents insistent that their children are bound for an ivy league school and "Mrs. Smith" will hold them back?

"Don't worry about Mrs. Smith. We've standardized our instruction. Everything is the same. I heard her completing her sentences just this morning." It sounds ridiculous, but I can see how the mania Gallagher describes over high stakes testing can lead to these sorts of decisions.

Susan I loved your review. I am a 9th grade Englush and reading teacher. I felt the same way about the book. Totally agree with the idea of voluntary reading. I love watching reluctant readers become readers. I attended an IEP meeting of a student who had improved his reading score by4 grade levels. He had been in my reading class all year. His parents thanked me and told me the history of his reading deficits. The parents asked me what did you do? I told them that there son had found a book and then another one and one after that. That is often all that it takes. I am concerned about the impact assessment has on instruction and teaching to the test.Again thanks for your great review.

back to top