Category Archives: Science of Reading

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

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

Download a PDF here

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 careCharlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Recent Research Refuting “Science of Reading” Claims


Johnston, P., & Scanlon, D. (2021). An examination of dyslexia research and instruction with policy implications. Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice70(1), 107–128.


Yaden, D.B., Reinking, D., & Smagorinsky, P. (2021). The trouble with binaries: A perspective on the science of reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(S1), S119– S129.

Balanced Literacy and Whole Language

Semingson, P., & Kerns, W. (2021). Where is the evidence? Looking back to Jeanne Chall and enduring debates about the science of reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(S1), S157– S169.

 “Simple” View of Reading

Duke, N.K., & Cartwright, K.B. (2021). The science of reading progresses: Communicating advances beyond the simple view of reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(S1), S25– S44.

Filderman, M. J., Austin, C. R., Boucher, A. N., O’Donnell, K., & Swanson, E. A. (2022). A meta-analysis of the effects of reading comprehension interventions on the reading comprehension outcomes of struggling readers in third through 12th grades. Exceptional Children88(2), 163–184.

State-Level Reading Policy

Cummings, A. (2021). Making early literacy policy work in Kentucky: Three considerations for policymakers on the “Read to Succeed” act. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.

Collet, V.S., Penaflorida, J., French, S., Allred, J., Greiner, A., & Chen, J. (2021). Red flags, red herrings, and common ground: An expert study in response to state reading policy. Educational Considerations, 47(1).

National Education Policy Center & Education Deans for Justice and Equity (2020). Policy statement on the “science of reading.” Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.

Intensive Systematic Phonics

Wyse, D., & Bradbury, A. (2022). Reading wars or reading reconciliation? A critical examination of robust research evidence, curriculum policy and teachers’ practices for teaching phonics and reading. Review of Education, 10, e3314.

Bowers, J.S. (2020).Reconsidering the evidence that systematic phonics is more effective than alternative methods of reading instruction. Educational Psychology Review, 32(2020), 681–705.

“Science of Reading” Advocacy Stumbles, Falls

First, the stumble.

Yet another education journalist (also identified as a novelist and historian), Natalie Wexler, has weighed in on the “science of reading” (SoR). Wexler isn’t an educator, and she seems to suffer from the Columbus Syndrome far too common among journalists covering education.

I am not linking to the article, but it has already been updated since Wexler has received strong challenges to her tactics in this over-stated and misleading article

Accompanying the standard misrepresentations about teaching reading in the U.S., Wexler attempts to cast an accusatory shadow—invoking racism—over teaching reading by joining the “science of reading” propaganda movement.

However, Zaretta Hammond set the record straight on Twitter. In brief, Hammond challenges Wexler’s jumbled attempts at calling out racism and misguided references to recent racist police violence as well as implicating Hammond’s work in Wexler’s claims.

As Hammond notes, Wexler’s failure exposes the problems with fanning a Reading War that, once again, keeps our gaze on so-called failed students and failing teachers instead of systemic inequity and racism.

Wexler is wrong about reading and racism, but the criticism her article prompted has only nudged her to retract the racism stumbles, whitewashing her mistakes by apologizing on Twitter and revising her article.

Now, the fall.

One of the most damaging aspects of the “science of reading” movement has been how swiftly advocates of SoR and dyslexia have translated their movement into state-level reading legislation.

While I have been helping literacy educators and activists resist these efforts to change state education laws, some of us saw at least a pause in the SoR momentum with the Covid-19 pandemic, an unfortunate consequence that now seems to have had unintended positive outcomes for education (flawed reading legislation not passing for financial stress prompted by the pandemic).

For example, “A bid to improve Louisiana’s dismal reading skills for its youngest students died near the legislative finish line, leaving backers baffled on just what happened,” writes Will Sentell.

The surprise at this defeat comes, as Sentell explains, because “[t]he proposal, House Bill 559, had led something of a charmed life until it wilted at the end.”

However, as with other state-level reading legislation agendas across the U.S., this bill was grounded in misinformation about reading achievement as well as claims about the “science” they claim is missing in reading instruction.

Advocacy for the SoR has a fatal flaw found in both Wexler’s article and the “charmed” but failed bill in Louisiana—a “rigid refusal” to address first and fully the systemic inequity that is at the root of all educational measurements, including reading achievement.

SoR advocacy is grounded in a deficit lens that sees only individuals (students, teachers) and measures them against very reduced and narrow ideas of what counts as “normal.”

This advocacy also falls victim to silver-bullet solutions, reducing teaching to “all students must” and suggesting that this program is better than that program (without recognizing that the problem is reducing reading instruction to any program).

SoR advocacy is a misuse of “science” and a misunderstanding of human nature and the teaching/learning dynamic.

There is a powerful relationship among measurable reading achievement by students, reading instruction provided students in formal schooling, and the corrosive persistence of racism and systemic inequity in U.S. society and schools—systemic racism and inequity.

Since the SoR playbook is wrong on all of that, as Hammond ends her Twitter thread, “Know the difference.”

See Also

NEW: 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)

Policy Statement on the “Science of Reading”


NEW: 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)

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”