1. Gradebook

Thoughts about reading from a classroom veteran

Fewer tests. More reading for pleasure. And stop buying programs.
Published May 9
Updated May 9

Michelle Hamlyn teaches English at Coleman Middle School - when she isn’t telling members of the Hillsborough County School Board what the schools are doing wrong.

Much of the trouble with reading, she told the board at Tuesday’s meeting, comes from state mandates and well-intended actions that had unintended consequences. Nevertheless, one in four Hillsborough students is a poor reader and the district is now paying a consultant $500,000 to try and figure out why.

Hamlyn shared her views with the board and got a round of applause from the audience. Here is what she said:

"Reading is one of my biggest passions. It has become one of society’s biggest problems.

"Who would have thought that testing students all year long would make them hate reading? Who would have thought that teaching lessons like “Tackling the Text in Ten Steps,” and close reading, and reread at least twice no matter what the grade level, would make kids hate reading? Who would have thought that not focusing on reading for enjoyment, or for the benefits of reading, especially in the secondary grades, would make kids hate reading?

"Pretty much every teacher in America, that’s who.

"So the solution to low reading scores is by no means a simple fix. But every program that we purchase, every time a new initiative comes in, every change in curriculum, every new training we go through has only compounded the problem. It seems that common sense has been replaced by Common Core and close reading.

"So now you’re going to pay a consultant $500,000 to to tell you what your teachers are trying to tell you. Remember us?

"We’re the experts in our field. We’re the teachers who work with kids every day, five days a week. We’re the ones who you, Superintendent Eakins, said that you would start relying on when you were first appointed and held town halls. We’re those teachers.

"So here are a few suggestions for you from someone who understands kids and poverty and technology and learning and teaching.

"Stop buying programs. It’s going to take more than a program to turn this around.

"Once we settle on the methodology and potential curriculum and all that, we need time. We need time for it to work. Our students are not robots. There is no immediate fix here.

"Push early literacy, especially in communities that can’t afford books. Half a million dollars can buy a lot of interesting reading material for those communities.

"Stop focusing on the test. The focus should be on the benefits of reading, the love of reading, the joy of reading, not read and answer these questions that will be on the test.

"Do some research on your own about reading. some of the reading experts that your secondary teachers follow. Kelly Gallagher, Janet Allen, Nancy Frye....

"And please stop using technology in elementary grades to teach reading. Read the World Health Organization’s latest report on screen time.

“Get out of our way and let us do our jobs, please!”


  1. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  2. Jeff Eakins and MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough's last two superintendents, were hired from inside the school system. So have all others since 1967. Times staff
    Go to the school district website before 8 a.m. Monday to state your case.
  3. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  4. The Pasco County school district would rezone the Seven Oaks subdivision from the Wiregrass Ranch High feeder pattern to the Cypress Creek High feeder pattern, beginning in the 2020-21 school year. Pasco County school district
    The Seven Oaks subdivision is the primary target for rezoning.
  5. Fortify Florida is a new app that allows for anonymous reporting of suspected school threats. Florida Department of Education
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  6. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  7. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.
  8. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. The Florida Channel
    School security and early learning get top billing in the first committee meetings of the looming 2020 session.
  9. This image from a Pinellas County Schools video shows an armed police officer running to respond to a fictional active shooter.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    The proposal is short on details, with officials saying they want to work through specifics during negotiations.