Hooked on Phonics Redux

The commercial reading program Hooked on Phonics, with iconic over-the-top commercials for those of us of a certain generation, had to abandon those ads in 1994:

Under an agreement disclosed this week between the makers of the reading program Hooked on Phonics and the Federal Trade Commission, the manufacturer must abandon its advertising campaign or conduct far more research into the program’s effectiveness–and disclose any evidence of failure.

Anyone paying even slight attention to current media fascination with the “science of reading” and dyslexia may benefit from revisiting the problem with Hooked on Phonics and their outlandish claims:

Orange County-based Gateway Educational Products, maker of Hooked on Phonics, agreed to a settlement that bars the parent company from making unsubstantiated claims about the program’s ability to teach people to read. The settlement, which was signed Aug. 29, was made public Wednesday by the commission.

The FTC had charged that Gateway was making sweeping, unproven promises that the program could teach anyone to read, regardless of their limitations. Gateway admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, and will pay no penalty, said Christian S. White, acting director of the commission’s bureau of consumer protection.

“They offered a one-size-fits-all solution–you have reading problems, this is the product,” White said. “Gateway’s evidence just doesn’t back up these broad, sweeping claims.”

The claims, according to the commission, included statements that Hooked on Phonics can teach even those with reading problems, such as dyslexia; that the product improves users’ reading levels and classroom grades significantly; that it can teach reading at home, without a tutor; that it teaches comprehension of the meaning of words, and that it has helped almost 1 million people learn to read at home.

The commission also said that testimonials by people who have taken the program are used misleadingly in commercials and do not prove that their experiences were typical of the average user, which is a violation of federal law.

Although this happened 25 years ago, currently driven by overzealous dyslexia advocacy, the mainstream media is promoting essentially the same misguided and overstated arguments about teaching reading.

For the full and complicated story about teaching reading that the mainstream media refuses to acknowledge, see this reader below:


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