How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students: A Primer for Parents, Policy Makers, and People Who Care (IAP)


Barnes and Noble


[excerpt from Introduction]

How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students: An Overview

The chapters that follow are not intended to document how we should or can teach reading. In fact, there is abundant work that has existed since the early twentieth century to document the many and varied ways we know we should help foster students as readers from the first days of school to the last. As well, this entire book is working well outside being a how-to on teaching reading or a storehouse of research—even as I am advocating that test-driven reading policy and instruction are asking way too little of students and their teachers.

Instead, this is an informative work, focusing on the historical and current Reading War, that builds to a framework for moving beyond that war, and as the subtitle states, serving the literacy needs of all students.

Chapter 1 (A Historical Perspective of the Reading War: 1940s and 1990s Editions) offers a historical overview of crisis responses to reading, focusing on the 1940s (WWII literacy rates of soldiers) and a 1990s report spurred by NAEP. This historical perspective is often missing from media coverage of reading and reading policy debates and decisions made at the federal and state levels.

In Chapter 2 (The Twenty-First Century Reading War: “The Science of Reading,” Dyslexia, and Misguided Reading Policy), I examine the current “science of reading” phenomenon in mainstream media driven by mainstream media, Emily Hanford and Education Week as key examples, but also fueled by dyslexia advocacy, all of which has manifested themselves in education policy such as adopting grade retention based on 3rd-grade test scores and training teachers in the “science of reading.”

Chapter 3 (Misreading Reading: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) addresses key concepts and topics that are misunderstood but central to the media coverage of the recent Reading War, such as the following: The National Reading Panel (NRP), reading programs, balanced literacy (BL), whole language (WL), phonics, scientific research, grade retention, teacher education, and teacher autonomy.

Finally, in Chapter 4 (How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students: Shifting Our Deficit Gaze, Asking Different Questions about Literacy), the following reforms needed to end the Reading war will be explored:

  • Social policy must be implemented to address inequity and the homes, communities, and lives of children; these socioeconomic reforms must be viewed as central to reading policy.
  • The mainstream media must abandon Christopher Columbus and both-sides journalism that addresses education/reading.
  • Reading policy must abandon ineffective and hurtful commitments that include standards, high-stakes testing, grade retention, etc.
  • Classroom and school practices must abandon reading programs and silver-bullet approaches to literacy; and teaching must be far more individualized and patient.
  • Evidence-based teaching of reading must expand the meaning of “scientific” and evidence.

In the Conclusion (The Science of Literacy: A 36-Year Journey and Counting), I challenge a narrow view of “science,” especially in terms of education and literacy.

As you read the following chapters, I want you to keep some big-picture concerns in mind: What do we ultimately mean when we talk about teaching children to read? And what does it mean for a student to be able to read?

I want you to consider this story from a high school ELA class discussion on capital punishment. As the teacher led a discussion on the death penalty, a student interjected that Texas currently uses decapitation for the death penalty. The teacher paused, and then suggested that this wasn’t true. The student hurriedly explained it was true, and that he had proof.

The student took out his smartphone, pulling up an article to show the teacher. The article was from The Onion.

Patiently, the teacher informed the student that The Onion is satire, to which the student replied, “No, it isn’t.” Keep in mind that this high school student can pronounce the words in the article; he had read the entire piece.

Are our reading standards, sacred high-stakes tests, and reading programs fostering the sort of students who are critical readers, capable of navigating a complex world better than the student above? Is this Reading War in any way addressing that problem?


Policy Statement on the “Science of Reading”