‘Sold a Story’ Continues “Science of Reading” Misinformation Campaign: A Reader

The debate about teaching students to read has a long history of misinformation.

In early and mid-twentieth century, pro-phonics advocates misrepresented and attacked John Dewey and progressivism (neither of which had much real influence in public education).

By the late twentieth century, whole language became the target of misinformation and attacks (although NAEP data in the 1990s showed a strong correlation between whole language approaches and higher student scores on reading [1]).

During the NCLB/NRP era of the turn of the century, attacks and misinformation focused on balanced literacy.

The current reading war driven by the “science of reading” movement is also mired in emotional anecdotes, personal attacks, and a steady diet of mainstream media misinformation.

As Hoffman, Hikida, and Sailors have documented [2], Emily Hanford at APM and mainstream media such as Education Week are following the same “big lie” approach to covering reading and education repeated throughout the last 80 years:

Hanford critiqued approaches named balance literacy and whole language without citing any evidence around those claims. She continued with anecdotes on how a focus on the SOR has improved student performance, but there is not a single citation of evidence in support of this claim. … Stirring public opinion further, Education Week has taken up critiques on literacy teacher preparation with numerous articles and blogs related to the SOR, with implications for reform in teacher preparation. The bulk of these articles and reports have been negative toward current practices and have drawn on the work of Moates and the NCTQ.

It is clear that the repeated critiques of literacy teacher preparation expressed by the SOR community do not employ the same standards for scientific research that they claimed as the basis for their critiques.

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

I have documented the same careless journalism—calling for the “science of reading” and then switching to anecdotes, misinformation, and unsupported claims—as Hanford recycles her original articles into an overreaction to Mississippi’s 2019 NAEP scores.

The newest recycling of Hanford’s misinformation is a podcast, Sold a Story, which itself is selling a false story, a “big lie.”

Boosted by overzealous and often angry and hateful advocates of SOR and dyslexia, the misinformation is mostly allowed and excused in an “ends justify the means” environment around the SOR movement.

That many SOR advocates continue to use anecdote while calling for “science,” that many SOR advocates are comfortable misrepresenting practices, scholars, and programs—this erodes their credibility even as many if not most people in the literacy community agree that students should be better served in their literacy education and that teachers should be better prepared and better supported as professionals.

Simply put, the ends do not justify the means, especially when SOR advocates means are creating ends that are in fact harmful.

To be clear, identifying misinformation is not endorsing the people and programs being attacked and misrepresented. I am a strong critic of both reading programs [3] and teacher education [4].

But that someone or something deserves criticism does not justify emotional attacks, hateful rhetoric, or easily refuted misinformation.

Here, then, I am collecting evidence to correct the misinformation:

Don’t Buy SoR Propaganda APM Reports Is Selling

Fact Checking the “Science of Reading”: A Quick Guide for Teachers

How to Navigate Social Media Debates about the “Science of Reading” [UPDATED]

Marie Clay: A Personal Reflection on an Unparalleled Professional Career

Joint International Statement in Response to Hanford’s Sold a Story

Fact Check: Three Things Hanford Got Wrong about Dr. Marie Clay

Responding to Misinformation about Fountas and Pinnell Literacy

P. David Pearson speaks out about Hanford’s portrayal of Marie Clay: My take- Hanford has gotten things wrong (again). A blog entry by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Thomas, P.L. (2022). The Science of Reading movement: The never-ending debate and the need for a different approach to reading instructionBoulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.

UPDATE: OPINION: A call for rejecting the newest reading wars


[1] See the chart on page 12: Doing What Matters Most: Investing in Quality Teaching, Linda Darling Hammond (1997)

[2] 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

[3] See Reading Programs Put Reading Last and Teaching Reading and Children: Reading Programs as “Costume Parties”

[4] See The Fatal Flaw of Teacher Education: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” and If Teacher Education Is Failing Reading, Where Is the Blame?

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