Category Archives: Dyslexia

“Sell What We Do”: The Manufactured Crisis to Hide the Story Being Sold

The Origin Story for the “science of reading” movement is popularly associated with a story published by Emily Hanford from 2018. And that movement has gained even more momentum by Hanford’s repackaging that initial (and deeply misleading) story as a podcast, Sold a Story.

The dirty little secret is that this story is not about the ugly underbelly of teaching reading or about creating a new and better way to teach reading. This story is cover for the selling of a different story to feast on the profitable education marketplace.

The single-minded blame-game in Sold a Story that creates reading Super Villains in the form of reading theory (balanced literacy) and reading leaders (Lucy Calkins, Fountas and Pinnell) is a tired and very old media and political strategy.

However the real Monster in the larger story is the marketplace itself, and the conveniently ignored backstory is several years before 2018.

The “science of reading” misleading and oversimplified story [1] about the teaching of reading spoke into a context that was fertile ground for misinformation to not only sprout but thrive—the dyslexia movement, specifically the Decoding Dyslexia structure [2] that was already in place in all 50 states.

Here is an interesting and revealing artifact from 2014:

At its July 1st meeting, the IDA Board of Directors made a landmark decision designed to help market our approach to reading instruction.  The board chose a name that would encompass all approaches to reading instruction that conform to IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards. That name is “Structured Literacy.”…

If we want school districts to adopt our approach, we need a name that brings together our successes. We need one name that refers to the many programs that teach reading in the same way. A name is the first and essential step to building a brand….

The term “Structured Literacy” is not designed to replace Orton Gillingham, Multi-Sensory, or other terms in common use. It is an umbrella term designed to describe all of the programs that teach reading in essentially the same way. In our marketing, this term will help us simplify our message and connect our successes. “Structured Literacy” will help us sell what we do so well.

Structured Literacy: A New Term to Unify Us and Sell What We Do

“If we want school districts to adopt our approach,” well, we need to clear space in the reading program marketplace, and that is exactly what the “science of reading” movement is doing with the help of media and complicit parents and political leaders.

Again, the goal announced in 2014: “‘Structured Literacy’ will help us sell what we do so well.”

The many recurring Reading Wars have been driven by people who are sincere and people with ulterior motives—and this “science of reading” movement is no different.

For those with good intentions, that simply is not enough if we are unwilling to confront all the stories being sold as well as the costs of these market wars to effective teaching and the most important outcome of all—students who are eager and critical readers.

Sold a Story is a cover for another story being sold and packaged, literally, and the attacks are designed to clear market space, not support teachers or address individual student needs.

[1] Media Coverage of SOR [access materials HERE]

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. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

MacPhee, D., Handsfield, L.J., & Paugh, P. (2021). Conflict or conversation? Media portrayals of the science of reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S145-S155. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Cryonics Phonics: Inequality’s Little Helper – New Politics

The Science of Reading and the Media: Is Reporting Biased?, Maren Aukerman, The University of Calgary

The Science of Reading and the Media: Does the Media Draw on High-Quality Reading Research?, Maren Aukerman

The Science of Reading and the Media: How Do Current Reporting Patterns Cause Damage?, Maren Aukerman

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

[2] The Hidden Push for Phonics Legislation, Richard L. Allington, University of Tennessee


Education Week Finds Corporate Pals to Spread a Message, Susan Ohanian

Connecting Big Business with The Science of Reading: Replacing Teachers and Public Schools with Tech, Nancy Bailey


No Silver Bullet for Dyslexia (Including Orton-Gillingham)

One element of the “science of reading” movement that has received a great deal of media coverage and policy updates across the U.S. is the perennial concern for dyslexia.

While dyslexia debates have often been included in reading crises and reading wars over the past century (see the overview in this policy brief), the current advocacy around dyslexia often exaggerates the impact of dyslexia and oversimplifies how students identified with dyslexia can best be served in classrooms.

As Jill Barshay reports,

In 2019, a grassroots campaign led by parents succeeded in passing a wave of dyslexia legislation. Many states mandated hallmarks of the Orton-Gillingham method, specifically calling for “multisensory” instruction, to help students with dyslexia read and write better.*  In New York, where I live, the city spends upwards of $300 million a year in taxpayer funds on private school tuition for children with disabilities. Much of it goes to pay for private schools that specialize in Orton-Gillingham instruction and similar approaches, which families insist are necessary to teach their children with dyslexia to read.

PROOF POINTS: Leading dyslexia treatment isn’t a magic bullet, studies find, while other options show promise

While O-G is extremely popular with parents and is now a dominant approach in practice and policy, “[t]he researchers in both the 2021 and 2022 studies all cautioned that the jury is still out on Orton-Gillingham,” Barshay explains because research (the “science”) simply does not show multi-sensory approaches such as O-G are more effective, including:

The larger 2022 analysis of 53 reading interventions had a higher bar for study quality and only one Orton-Gillingham study made the cut. Several of the reading interventions that marketed themselves as “multisensory” also made the cut, but the researchers didn’t detect any extra benefits from them. 

“They weren’t more effective than the ones that didn’t market themselves as multisensory,” said Hall. 

PROOF POINTS: Leading dyslexia treatment isn’t a magic bullet, studies find, while other options show promise

As with all reading science and research on how students learn to read and how best to teach reading, the science on dyslexia is not simple and certainly is not settled.

Recommended on Dyslexia

Allington, R.L. (2019, Fall). The hidden push for phonics legislation. Tennessee Literacy Journal, 1(1), 7-20.

Johnston, P., & Scanlon, D. (2021). An examination of dyslexia research and instruction with policy implications. Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice70(1), 107. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

International Literacy Association. (2016). Research advisory: Dyslexia. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from


Hall, C., et al. (2022, September 13). Forty years of reading intervention research for elementary students with or at risk for dyslexia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from

Stevens, E. A., Austin, C., Moore, C., Scammacca, N., Boucher, A. N., & Vaughn, S. (2021). Current state of the evidence: Examining the effects of Orton-Gillingham reading interventions for students with or at risk for word-level reading disabilities. Exceptional Children87(4), 397–417.