Roundup July 2022 [UPDATED August 2022]: Media, Reading, and Misinformation

The media have a long and muddled fascination with children and students reading, especially declaring that we are experiencing a reading crisis. However, even more concerning that this misguided click-bait approach to journalism is that the media more often than not promote crisis rhetoric with misinformation.

I. Education Week

Possibly the most (un)impressive example of this is from Education Week. In just the last few weeks, EdWeek has posted a catalogue of misinformation about their favorite topic—the science of reading:

Here are a few reminders about the nonsense and misinformation that EdWeek will not set aside:

II. Newsweek

Next is a nonsense article, more misinformation, from Newsweek: Education Expert: A Love to ‘Read by Three’ Is the Answer to Success.

Consider instead this response from Stephen Krashen:

This is a response to Bethlam Forsa, “A Love to ‘Read by Three’ Is The Answer to Success.” (https://www.newsweek.com/education-expert-love-read-three-answer-success-1727222).

Published in the Newsweek Expert Forum, an “invitation-only network of influential leaders, experts, executives and entrepreneurs.” (This response was not invited.) Forsa cannot be reached by email or telephone. She is the president of Savvas, formerly Pearson K12.

It is widely believed that failure at grade 3 predicts school failure later on in school (Forsa, “A love to read by three,” 7/25/22).

If true, we should study what factors predict success by the end of grade 3.

In Lao, Lee, McQuillan and Krashen (2021), we summarized the results of three studies of ten -year old children on a test of reading comprehension, the PIRLS test, 10 year olds in 45 countries in 2006, in 57 countries in 2011 and in 61 countries in 2016. 

The number of children tested ranged from 3349 to 18,245 and was administered in the national language of the country.

In agreement with Forsa’s recommendation, the best predictor was access to reading material, represented here as the presence of a school library). High levels of poverty meant lower levels of reading competence, as did the amount of reading instruction in school and whether children had developed some reading competence before starting school. 

The clear winner: access to books. There was the most popular recommendation among the public, direct instruction in reading, was not a strong predictor. There is plenty of support for this predictor from other studies, see especially the work of Keith Curry Lance. https://keithcurrylance.com and S. Krashen (2004).

Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Libraries Unlimited.

Lao, C., Lee, S-Y., McQuillan, J., and Krashen, S. 2021. Predicting reading ability among ten-year olds: Poverty (negative), school libraries (positive), instruction (zero), early literacy (zero). Language Magazine 20,10: 20-21. https://tinyurl.com/cn3nekc4

See also the following:

III. The New York Times

The NYT certainly is running a close second to EdWeek for misinformation (see here and here). But the newest NYT article is even worse than misinformation because it is really bad (and not surprising) news: New Reading Curriculum Is Mired in Debate Over Race and Gender.

It is important to connect the dots and recall that states have banned reading programs, as reported here:

The Arkansas Division of Secondary and Elementary Education announced in October 2019 that any curriculum that utilizes cueing strategies won’t be approved for use in the state, meaning that Calkins’ materials and another popular program, Fountas and Pinnell Classroom, are effectively banned. Colorado released a list of approved core reading curriculum, and Calkins’ programs weren’t on the list. A group outside St. Louis sent a letter signed by 216 parents, students and taxpayers to the school board asking that Calkins, and Fountas and Pinnell be dropped. The Oakland Unified School District, whose use of Calkins’ products was highlighted in the 2019 APM Reports story, announced it was forming a committee to consider adopting new curriculum. And Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit consulting group, published a review that concluded Calkins’ curriculum materials are “unlikely to lead to literacy success for all of America’s public schoolchildren.” 

Influential literacy expert Lucy Calkins is changing her views

Republican legislation has begun to erode academic freedom among previously respected academic publishers, such as Heinemann. The combination of politics and the market is bad news for teachers, bad news for education, and bad news for students.

IV. Time [UPDATED]

Time has joined the mainstream media misinformation parade with Inside the Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read.

The expansive piece follows a now old and tired pattern of misrepresenting nearly everything about reading and teaching reading. In fact, the article almost comically fails the fact checking guidelines I developed years ago.

The post opens with a garbled defense of the reading program Open Court, blaming (of course) teachers for abandoning the program (and characterizing those teachers as driven by wokeness, not concern for students). Here is what is left out: Open Court was at the center of the Reading First scandal, and careful reviews of the program have shown that it simply does not meet the exact standards the science of reading movement calls for. (See McQuillan’s review and the review at phonics-friendly EdReports.)

Misinformation by omission.

Luscombe offers yet another, and somewhat breezy, inaccurate portrayal of whole language:

There are many schools of thought on how best to aid this process, but the main contretemps has been about whether kids need to be taught how to sound out words explicitly or whether, if you give them enough examples and time, they’ll figure out the patterns. The latter theory, sometimes known as whole language, says teaching phonics is boring and repetitive, and a large percentage of English words diverge from the rules. (Hello there, though, thought, through, trough and tough!) But if you immerse children in beautiful stories, they’ll be motivated to crack the code, to recognize each word. The counterargument is that reading is as connected to hearing as it is to sight. It begins, phonics advocates say, with speech. This understanding, and the data that supports it, has become known as the science of reading.

Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read

The goal is to frame whole language (and balanced literacy; see later in the article) as nothing more than a whim and elevate the real “science of reading.” See here for a full and accurate understanding of whole language, and here and here for balanced literacy.

Of course misinformation articles on reading must cite and greatly misrepresent the National Reading Panel (NRP). Once again, the NRP reports were deeply flawed since the panel was underfunded and understaffed; the panel also lacked any teachers and limited their review of research to narrow quantitative studies. See a fuller examination of NRP here.

The piece builds as expected to focusing on dyslexia and making a pretty huge (and inaccurate) claim:

Just as most children, no matter how many times they’ve been in a car, still need to be taught to drive, most readers benefit from being explicitly taught how sounds and letters go together. This is true not just for dyslexics (who represent about 10% of all learners) but for the majority of readers.

Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read

One of the worst aspects of the “science of reading” movement and the state legislation it has prompted is that all students are being treated as if they are dyslexic, or struggling. Not only are the movement and parent advocate misrepresenting the research on dyslexia, they are pathologizing all reading. See here and here for a more nuanced and complex understanding of dyslexia and addressing struggling readers.

And no misinformation piece on reading is complete now with the “Mississippi Miracle” propaganda. To be brief, there is no credible research showing Mississippi improved NAEP scores by using the “science of reading”; in fact, it is likely the score bumps come from excessive grade retention. See a full analysis of Mississippi’s NAEP scores here.

Part of the Mississippi and “science of reading” propaganda relies on general readers simply accepting that everything being endorsed is, well, “scientific”; however, once again, the article champions the power of LETRS, a program to train teachers in phonics and reading instruction. Another example of misinformation by omission since:

A growing number of U.S. states have funded and encourage and/or require teachers to attend professional development using Moats’s commercial LETRS program, including Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Texas. This is despite the fact that an Institute of Education Sciences study of the LETRS intervention found almost no effects on teachers or student achievement (Garet et al., 2008). (p. S259)

Hoffman, J.V., Hikida, M., & Sailors, M. (2020). Contesting science that silences: Amplifying equity, agency, and design research in literacy teacher preparation. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S255-S266. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.353

The article ends by praising Emily Hanford and trashing teacher education—the former has no credibility and the latter is simply more misinformation. See just one example on Hanford here, and here for teacher education.

Just like cries of reading “crisis,” the Time article offers nothing new by traveling down a well-worn path of misinformation that now seems the only direction mainstream media can see.


The great irony facing us now is that the very worst place to read about reading is mainstream media—unless you are prepared to do the hard work journalists are not doing and interrogate the tired and relentless misinformation at the center of all the misguided crisis rhetoric around reading.


Recommended

Making sense of reading’s forever wars, Leah Durán and Michiko Hikida

Announcing: Fall 2022 through Winter 2023 Schedule

During my first 18 years as an educators, I was a high school English teacher in rural South Carolina, my hometown in fact. I never imagined doing anything else, but I did attain my doctorate in 1998, still planning to be Dr. Thomas, high school teacher, for my entire career.

It is 2022, and I just completed 20 years in higher education, where I am a full professor in education and (fortunately) also teach first-year and upper-level writing. This fall I am taking my first ever sabbatical.

However, if anything, my scholarly schedule is more packed than at any time in my career. If you are interested in my work, I invite you to join me at the following presentations/keynotes and/or look for my upcoming publications.

Fall 2022 through Winter 2023 Schedule

Publications

How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students (2nd Ed)(2nd Edition) – IAP – [first edition]


Thomas, P.L. (2022). The Science of Reading movement: The never-ending debate and the need for a different approach to reading instruction. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved [date] from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/science-of-reading


A Critical Examination of Grade Retention as Reading Policy (white paper)

P.L. Thomas, Education, Furman University (Greenville, SC)

Prepared for the Ohio Education Association in response to Ohio’s “Third Grade Reading Guarantee”

September 15, 2022

[Download as PDF and supporting PP]


Presentations/Keynotes

Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice

September 28, 2022

Webinar

Science of Reading Policy Brief (NEPC)


Pioneer Valley Books

October 20, 2022 – 4:00 – 5:00 pm

Webinar (view online)

PowerPoint HERE

Unpacking Reading Science to Inform a Different Path to Literacy 

The “Science of Reading” movement that began in 2018 has gained momentum and has had outsized influence on state reading policy and classroom practice. However, the SoR movement presents two negative impacts on long-term literacy education—a commitment to the “simple view” of reading (SVR) and mandates for phonics-first instruction for all beginning readers. In this webinar, Paul Thomas, Ed.D. (Professor of Education, Furman University, and author of How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students) places the SoR movement in the context of the robust but complex current state of reading science. Come join us on October 20, 2022, at 4 p.m. as we explore what’s next in literacy education.


Ohio Education Association

Education Matters podcast; grade retention

November 10, 2022


University of Arkansas

October 24 at 6:30

The Jones Center for Families

Serving the Literacy Needs of All Students: While Resisting Another Reading War


30th annual Reading Recovery Council of Michigan Institute, Thursday, November 17, 2022, Somerset Inn, Troy, Michigan

Keynote

The “Science of Reading” Multiverse (click for PP)

Before anyone can, or should, answer “Do you support/reject the ‘science of reading’?” we must first clarify exactly what the term means. I detail the three ways the phrase currently exists since it entered mainstream media during 2018. “Science of reading” as discourse, as marketing, and as a research base.

Break-out Session

How to Navigate Social Media (and RL) Debates about the “Science of Reading” (click for PP)

Let me start with a caveat: Don’t debate “science of reading” advocates on social media. However, if you enter into a social media or real-life debate, you must keep your focus on informing others who may read or hear that debate, and be prepared with credible and compelling evidence.


NCTE 2022, November 17 – 20, 2022, Anaheim, CA 

Friday November 18, 2022

Event Title: Banned in the USA: Lighting a Fire for Reading and Not to Books (click for PP)

Cowards, Censorship, and Collateral Damage: The Other Reading War (click for PP)

Type: Roundtable Sessions

Time: 12:30 PM PST – 1:45 PM PST

Location: 264-BC


2023 Comprehensive Literacy and Reading Recovery Conference, Chicago, IL, January 18-20, 2023 

Keynote – 8:00 – 9:00 CT January 20, 2023

Teaching Literacy in a Time of Science of Reading and Censorship

The key elements of the science of reading (SOR) movement as well as the current move the ban books and censor curriculum are outlined against historical and research-based contexts. The unique challenges facing literacy educators iden/fied with considera/on of how literacy teachers can maintain professional autonomy in the classroom and prac/ce ac/vism in pursuit of a more nuanced understanding of “science” and research as well as in support of academic freedom.

90-minute breakout sessions

Academic Freedom Isn’t Free: Teachers as Activists – 9:15 – 10:45 CT January 20, 2023

The US is experiencing one of the most significant waves of book bans and educational gag orders impacting academic freedom, access to diverse voices and history, and the safety of teachers and students. Teachers are historically required to be apolitical and avoid advocacy in and out of the classroom. This session examines the politics of calling for no politics among educators, and explore with participants both the need to advocate for their professional autonomy and academic freedom as well as for academic freedom.

Unpacking the “Science” in the Science of Reading for a Different Approach to Policy and Practice – 11:30 – 1:00 CT January 20, 2023

The science of reading (SOR) movement and the use of the “science of reading” in marketing literacy programs have had a significant impact on reading policy and practice across the US since 2018. Policy and practice related to dyslexia, adopting reading programs, teaching reading (and the role of phonics instruction), however, have too often been guided by a misleading and overly simplistic version of SOR portrayed in the media and advocated by parents and politicians. This session examines the contradictions between claims made by SOR advocates and the current research base.


LitCon 2023, January 28 – 31, Columbus, OH

Rethinking Reading Policy in the Science of Reading Era

Since 2018, states have been revising or adopting new reading legislation prompted by the science of reading movement. Placed in the context of several reading crises over the last 100 years, however, this movement is deja vu all over again, destined to fail and be replaced by another reading crisis in the near future. This session explains why and offers a new approach to reading policy at the state, district, and school levels.


WSRA 2023 Conference, Milwaukee, WI, February 9-11, 2023 

The “Science of Reading” Multiverse

Since early 2018, the phrase “science of reading” has entered and often dominated media, public/parental, and political discourse around the teaching and learning of reading in the U.S. Before anyone can, or should, answer “Do you support/reject the ‘science of reading’?” we must first clarify exactly what the term means; therefore, in this session, then, I want to detail the three ways the phrase currently exists since it entered mainstream use in the media during 2018. The session will cover the research base around the SoR movement for context. Participants will be invited to discuss their experiences with these three versions as well.

Banning Books Is Un-American

The U.S. is experiencing a wave of book censorship and educational gag orders. This session examines the historical context of censorship as it impacts the teaching of literacy and literature by focusing on writer Kurt Vonnegut’s response to censors. The session will include powerful policy and position statements supporting the rights of teachers to teach and students to learn, including The Students’ Right to Read (NCTE), Freedom to Teach: Statement against Banning Books (NCTE), and Educators’ Right and Responsibilities to Engage in Antiracist Teaching (NCTE). Participants will have an opportunity to discuss and explore how and why educators must and can seek ways to defend academic freedom and thew right to teach and learn.


PSLA Conference 2023, February 23-25, 2023

Marriott Hilton Head Resort and Spa, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Friday, February 24, 2023, 8:00 – 9:00

Invited Speaker: Rethinking Reading Science: Beyond the Simple View of Reading, Paul Thomas

Focusing on reading science published since 2018 addressing reading, dyslexia, and phonics, this session details a complex but robust state of reading science. Media and think-tank messaging parents, political leaders, and the public are receiving about the “science of reading” are oversimplified, cherry-picked, and contradictory to that current state of reading science. Classroom teachers deserve the autonomy to interrogate reading science, understand the individual needs of all their students, and then the teaching and learning conditions to serve those students with evidence-based practice.

Saturday, February 25, 2023, 10:15 -11:15 

Panel: Carving a Path Forward: Equity, Neuroscience, Policy Mandates and Literacy Education 

The Politics of Teaching Reading, Paul Thomas