Last month, Alissa Bennett became the latest parent to stand up and implore Richardson Independent School District officials to do something about their failures to teach reading in their schools. 

Bennett stood before Richardson’s school board on February 8 and spoke of how she only discovered her sixth-grade daughter did not know how to read after she withdrew her to attend a private school. She stressed the district should return to the basics of reading instruction.

Bennett told Texas Scorecard she decided to withdraw her daughter from RISD not for academic reasons, but to help with the stress of school. 

“My daughter struggled emotionally at school but never struggled academically, that we were aware of,” she said. 

In her speech to the board, Bennett said she was shocked to find out her daughter could only sight-read but didn’t know what she was reading. In her statement, Bennett said she was told by a Richardson ISD teacher her daughter was “a good reader.” 

After taking her sixth-grader to a private school and paying for one-on-one tutoring, Bennett says her daughter “is thriving now, but the beginning was quite an adjustment.”

Bennett is not the only parent in Richardson ISD who has spoken up about the district’s poor practices in reading instruction.  

Lynn Davenport, a parent and a local advocate for education, spoke on the same topic almost a year earlier.   

“In 2020, top administrators admitted there is a problem with the way they teach reading in RISD,” Davenport said. “[RISD Superintendent] Dr. Jeannie Stone knows this, but she continues to promote empty platitudes and false promises of equity.” 

Davenport believes the district “needs to get back to the basics with time-tested reading strategies instead of chasing experimental learning theories that only line the pockets of vendors and [education technology] companies and hurt children of color the most.” 

Alissa Bennett has now taken all of her children out of Richardson ISD. 

“I feel like all my kids were behind in some way when we came home last year. Ella just slid through the cracks better,” Bennett said. “I have some kids receiving dyslexia services, so that helps with reading.”  

The passionate parent wants her children to attend school in the same district she did, but Bennett is not yet willing to re-enroll them in Richardson ISD.

“We take it year by year, but at this point, no one is enrolled for public school for next year,” she said.

Bennett said no Richardson ISD officials had reached out to her about her statement. She did, however, hear from parents and teachers. 

“I got a ton of thank-you messages from teachers,” she said. “Several teachers reached out and said they feel the same. Lots of parents agree this is happening.”

“This topic has been on my heart for a long time,” she added: 

I think school boards need to be held accountable for the decisions that they make, and people rarely even question them. Our public schools can be so much better than they are right now. I think school boards are easily distracted by new shiny things and forget why they are there.

Texas Scorecard asked Bennett what message she had for Texas parents.

“We need to hold our school boards accountable to teaching our kids in the classroom,” she said. “They need to quit chasing trending curriculum and outsourcing to technology.”

Parents across the state may find information about their local school board meetings on their district’s website.  

Tera Collum

Tera Collum has 13 years experience as a government and economics teacher in Texas public schools. She recently was the director of The Travis Institute of Educational Policy and Teachers for Texas.