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Dear Google,

I wish you’d talked to teachers like me before you made that $40 million investment in Renaissance Learning.

I’ve seen the damage Accelerated Reader can do.

I witnessed it for the first time when I tutored a struggling 5th grader…eighteen years ago.

He hated to read.

He hated being locked into a level.

He hated the points associated with the books.

But more importantly, he was humiliated when he didn’t earn enough points to join in the monthly party or get to ‘buy’ things with those points at a school store full of junky prizes.

I’ve seen kids run their fingers along the binding of a book, a book they REALLY wanted read, but then hear them say, “But it’s not an AR book,” or “It’s not my level.”

I’ve watched them scramble to read the backs of books or beg a friend for answers so they can get enough points for the grading period.

And I watched it slowly start to unravel S’s love of reading.  It’s why I gave her permission to practice a little civil disobedience and Stop Reading for Points.

You see, Google, I’m a reader, and one of the things I’ve loved about teaching is connecting kids with books.

Books that spark their interest.

Books that make them think.

Books that pull on emotions they didn’t know they had.

Books that teach them empathy.

Books that make them laugh and cry.

Books that make them angry at the injustice.

Books that they come back and ask to borrow…five and six years after they leave my class.

Do you know what Accelerated Reader and programs like it are doing to readers these days?

I’ve heard of teachers being reprimanded for not leveling all their classroom books.

I know of school libraries where children have to show the librarian a card with their reading level on it before they can check out books.

I know of kids excited about books being told, “No! That’s not at your level. You can’t check it out. You can’t read it.”

I know of kids who struggle to read in the first place, having to spend an afternoon reading while their classmates who read get a pizza party or a movie or some other special prize.

I know of kids who never pick up a book unless it’s required because the joy of reading has been sucked out of them by leveled reading programs.

I’ve read about teachers who see what I see. Those who lament the Lex-Aisle.

Those who pull from their own memories of AR and how it ruined a great book.

And parents who see their children afraid to read.

Imagine, Google, if you limited your employees the way Accelerated Reader limits our students. How would that impact the creativity of your 20% time?

Oh, I read the Ed Week article that called this investment innovative, but there is NOTHING innovative about Accelerated Reader and their levels and basic comprehension quizzes.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of education in the U.S. when a move like this is praised.

To say I’m disappointed that Google views education through such a narrow lens is an understatement. For a company that has been built on innovation to invest millions into a program that levels books, awards points for low-level knowledge and comprehension, and creates bad data is a travesty.

And you call this personalized learning? What’s personalized about letting a computer system match kids with books?

You’re missing the point about what reading instruction should be, and you are helping to systematically destroy the joy in books.

If you had taken the time to talk to teachers like me, here’s some of the things we would’ve suggested you spend that $40 million on.

  • Books, lots and lots of books. Ones that aren’t leveled.
  • Children’s librarians in public libraries across the country.
  • Picture books, novels, non-fiction, series (many a reluctant reader has been hooked by a series like Captain Underpants or Goosebumps).
  • Full-time librarians in schools, especially those in high poverty areas where they seem to always get cut.
  • Um, books. Books kids can take home to keep because we know having books in the home is one of the best ways to increase literacy. (bit.ly/1fGubAj)
  • Free Little Libraries – take a book, return a book, gather in your neighborhood
  • More books! So many great authors and genres out there!
  • e-readers for schools and public libraries to use and loan out.
  • A Google library of free e-books.
  • Did I mention books?

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

If you need a little more research, check out this list I’ve compiled about the downside of reading for rewards.

You really should’ve talked to me first. I could’ve saved you $40 million.