Public and media debate as well as public policy driven by those debates is too often driven by misuse and misunderstanding of key terms and concepts, especially for the field of education.
Two such terms—Critical Race Theory and the “science of reading” (SoR)—have demonstrated that phenomenon over the past few years.
SoR debates have resulted in many states adopting harmful reading policy (often including practices not supported by research, such as grade retention and citing discredited sources such as the National Reading Panel and NCTQ).
With reading and literacy a high-priority focus of the media and state-level legislation, understanding and using terms and concepts around reading and literacy correctly and clearly are urgently needed. Therefore, I strongly recommend a new volume, Language of Literacy Education, edited by Vicki S. Collet, Associate Director, NWA Writing Project, and Associate Professor, CIED, University of Arkansas.
The volume offers research-based explanations for literacy terms , such as SoR, the simple view of reading, etc., that often contrast with the way these terms are used in public and media discourse as well as in state-level legislation debates and policy.
For example, the volume’s definition for SoR is how the term should be used and understood:
Science of reading, broadly defined, is research results from a variety of fields and methodologies, including basic and applied science, related to reading and reading instruction. The science of reading is supported by ongoing research with a “dynamic interplay among methods, theories, and findings” (Pearson, 2020). Examining this full range of science “can be a helpful policy guide to initiatives that seek to improve students’ reading ability and appetite” (Collet et al., 2021)….
Because of the complexity of reading and the differences among learners and contexts, no single instructional approach has been found to be effective in teaching all students to read (Compton-Lily et al, 2020; International Dyslexia Association, 2018; Malloy et al., 2019).Collet, V.S. (2021). Science of reading. In V.S. Collet (Ed.), The language of literacy education (p. 66). Brill Publishers.
While I strongly endorse the full definition provided here for a nuanced and robust understanding of SoR and how people learn to read over their entire lifetime, I find the inclusion of the current problems with the misuse of SoR as compelling:
Some instantiations of the “science of reading” are narrowly construed to emphasize basic research from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics that describe how the brain learns to read in the early years. Public discourse sometimes focuses on the alphabet principle (Liberman et al., 1989) and a simple view of reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986). This overly-restrictive view “is being used to shape public policy and silence other perspectives” (Hoffman et al., 2020, p. S258) and to narrow curricula (Compton-Lily et al., 2020; Vaughn et al., 2020) and should not be confused with the body of scientific studies of reading, which includes an interdisciplinary store of knowledge about “reading-related skills, processes, antecedents, and outcomes” (Alexander, 2020, p. S90). A “cautionary disposition to avoid drawing unwarranted inferences about the efficacy of pedagogical alternatives that have not themselves been rigorously examined” (Cervetti et al., 2020, p. S168) is needed. In contrast, research on reading instruction and the preparation of literacy teachers is robust, extensive, and useful for guiding reform efforts (Hoffman et. al, 2020).Collet, V.S. (2021). Science of reading. In V.S. Collet (Ed.), The language of literacy education (p. 66). Brill Publishers.
Ultimately, Collett reaches an important conclusion that should be driving our understanding of reading, teaching reading, and reading policy: “At times controversial, the science of reading is an ongoing body of research, ‘an area for inquiry rather than a foregone conclusion’ (Woulfin et al., 2020, p. S111).”
Parents, the media, politicians, and anyone advocating for better literacy instruction must have this volume at their side in order to navigate this debate in ways that could benefit our teachers and their students.
Misinformation and misusing terms result in harmful debates and ultimately extremely harmful educational policy.
Thomas, P.L. (2020). How to end the Reading War and serve the literacy needs of all students: A primer for parents, policy makers, and people who care. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
 Terms included:
Comprehensive Literacy Instruction
Construction-Integration (CI) Model
Contextual Reading Model
Critical Literacy and Critical Media Literacy
Culturally Responsive Instruction
Four-Part Mental Processor
Gradual Release of Responsibility
Grammar and Mechanics
Informational text Integrated Instruction
Perspective and Point of View
Phonological and Phonemic Awareness
Question Answer Relationship
Rhetorical Factors and Devices
Science of Reading
Simple View of Reading
Story Elements/Story Grammar
Text Structures and Text Features
Workshop (Reading & Writing)
Zone of Proximal Development