reading a biography (in the absence of you)

[NOTE: Reposting from 2015 to commemorate year 100 of Kurt Vonnegut's birth 11 November 1922]

i found myself sitting in my office
suddenly crying April 11, 2007

having just learned Kurt Vonnegut died

& this lingered for days & days
sudden sweeping tears & anguish

for this man i never met or knew
except for words that poured into print

then more than four years later
i sat in my bed reading his biography

"He died April 11, 2007" its last sentence

& again tears filled my eyes & my chest heaved
although this is the only way biography can end

(i toyed with reading it backward page by page
like Billy Pilgrim watching the movie of war)

but this second time was in the shadow
        of the absence of you

my realization that you were not there
& you would never be there again

although you still walk this earth
having chosen to set me aside for another life

this second crying is selfish & empty
like the refrain of loneliness

running though Vonnegut's life
like a blue thread in a black black cloth

—P.L. Thomas

‘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.

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.

[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?

The “Big Lie,” American as Apple Pie

As one of my sabbatical projects I have been completing my online annotated bibliography of English educator Lou LaBrant.

My doctoral dissertation was an educational biography of LaBrant, but since the late 1990s, I have returned often to her work in my teaching, my scholarship, and my public advocacy and writing.

This fall, I was struck by her “English at the Mid-Century” published in 1951, specifically this:

LaBrant’s recognition of the power and dangers of the “big lie” in the wake of WWII reads incredibly prescient in 2022 in the wake of Trump and the garbled rise of “fake news” in post-truth America.

However, LaBrant’s idealism about America now feels inexcusably naive—for her America and ours.

The “big lie” is not just a feature of politics; in fact, the “big lie” has become mainstream media’s primary approach to a wide range of topics. And the “big lie” is a recurring way the media, the public, and politicians batter universal public education—one of the essential elements of a free people committed to democracy.

Those without historical context may think “fake news” and the “big lie” concerning education either doesn’t exist or is a very recent phenomenon.

In the nineteenth century, in fact, the Catholic church established an assault on public education that sounds eerily similar to today:

[P]ublic schools … [are] a “dragon … devouring the hope of the country as well as religion.” Secular public education … [is filled with] “Socialism, Red Republicanism, Universalism, Infidelity, Deism, Atheism, and Pantheism—anything, everything, except religion and patriotism.”

Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, Susan Jacoby, (pp. 257-258)

This initial assault on public education was grounded in the “big lie,” and to be blunt, it was about market share: the Catholic Church feared the allure of universal public education drawing students from their schools.

Here is a fact of history few people acknowledge: There hasn’t been a day since then that anyone has been satisfied with student achievement in the U.S.

The media, the public, and political leaders love few things more than lamenting students’ scores on our sacred standardized tests—the SAT/ACT since early twentieth century, ITBS, and then the onslaught of state accountability tests and NAEP since the 1980s and 1990s.

And here is another fact: Throughout a century-plus of characterizing public education as failing, classroom instruction, student demographics, teacher demographics, school compositions, state standards and assessments, etc., have all changed dozens and dozens of times.

However, at any point of education crisis, there is ample room to blame singular causes for failure, and that, of course, is the “big lie.”

The “big lie” approach to criticizing education is currently driving two powerful and harmful movements—the anti-CRT/book banning movement and the “science of reading” movement.

Are teachers (well over 75% white women) indoctrinating students with anti-whiteness by hiding CRT in the curriculum? No. It is a manufactured crisis, a “big lie.”

Are teachers and librarians grooming students to become LGBTQ+ by assigning books that portray alternatives to so-called traditional families and sexuality? No. It is a manufactured crisis, a “big lie.”

Are teachers failing to implement reading science in their reading instruction (because teacher educators either willfully ignore or don’t know reading science) and therefore allowing students to fail to acquire reading proficiency? No. It is a manufactured crisis, a “big lie.”

Are major reading programs dependent on three-cueing and lacking systematic phonics cheating students out of acquiring reading proficiency? No. It is a manufactured crisis, a “big lie.”

However, all of these are examples of not only the “big lie,” but also how effective the “big lie” can be.

Let’s consider reading proficiency for a moment to unpack the “big lie” behind the “science of reading” movement.

Here are NAEP reading scores for grade 4 since 1992:

Notice that national data hover within a few points of 220 for thirty years—what in many ways can fairly be called a flat longitudinal data line.

Most people associate the “science of reading” movement starting at the earliest around 2013 and specifically around 2018.

Yet, those recent scores are little different than the two decades before (and we must acknowledge that the “science of reading” is not resistant to powerful social forces such as the pandemic).

Also, across thirty years, students and teachers have been held accountable for several different sets of standards, many different reading programs have been adopted and implemented, and the demographics of students have shifted in significant ways (public schools are increasingly populated by higher poverty students, and minoritized students constitute over 50% of students).

Nothing is consistent except student achievement.

It is nonsensical to ascribe blame (or credit) to any one instructional approach, any one adopted program, any one set of standards, etc.

So if we address one of the elements of the “big lie” in the “science of reading” movement—that Lucy Calkins’s Units of Study is a primary way we fail students learning to read—this seems preposterous in the grand scheme of educational crisis rhetoric, but also, that program is only the third most used.

But further, since I taught in public schools for 18 years, I can attest that students in two different classes taught by different teachers are not receiving the same instruction regardless of the official curriculum or programs.

The “big lie,” then, is always grounded in oversimplification and relies on crisis rhetoric to stir emotional responses.

Once we add context such as acknowledging that Jeanne Chall made the same exact arguments about the failures of reading instruction and achievement from the late 1960s into the 1990s and then the National Reading Panel made the same exact claims and offered the same exact solution (scientifically based instruction) just twenty years ago, the “big lie” is exposed as a house of cards.

Why, then, does the “big lie” repeat itself so often in education discussions and why is it so effective?

First, educational effectiveness is mostly driven by out-of-school factors (60%-80% of measurable student achievement) and not teacher instruction, curriculum, standards, or adopted programs. However, Americans resist systemic explanations and ideologically are attracted to blaming individual behavior.

Therefore, blaming Lucy Calkins is more compelling to American ideology than acknowledging poverty and inequity as the causal reasons behind student learning.

Second, we as a society have a dysfunctional relationship with statistics.

On one hand, Americans trust or believe in the bell-shaped curve, which predicts that human behaviors (including learning) will fall on a continuum that includes a few failing, many achieving “normally,” and a few excelling.

And then on the other hand, Americans expect all student to be above average (which is what proficiency is on NAEP).

A perfect example of that dysfunction is that George W. Bush’s crowning legislation, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), included the self-defeating requirement that all student be proficient by 2014.

One reason that NCLB was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is that politicians eventually realized such a requirement cannot be mandated by caveat, legislation, and such an expectation defies human behavior.

Wanting and trying to foster proficient readers so that all students achieve the literacy they deserve (what we absolutely must do) is far different than requiring and expecting that all students meet that lofty goal—especially since we do not have the political will to address the out-of-school factors that would have the greatest impact on that achievement.

As LaBrant noted, the “big lie” is an ugly reality in politics, but it also is an ugly and effective way to make sure our schools continue to fail to meet the needs of all students.

The anti-CRT/book banning movement and the “science of reading” movement are selling the “big lie” and, ironically, lots of people are cashing in (the really nasty hypocrisy coloring all of this).

We can and should do better for our students, especially those who need us the most (those trapped in the lower end of that bell-shaped curve).

But the “big lie” serves the political and financial interests of those dedicated to those lies.

Keep in mind when people point an accusatory finger, three more are pointing back.

Those screaming that someone else is selling a story, well, are selling a different story, the “big lie.”

Student Evaluations of Teaching in Higher Education Fail Everyone

Few organizations have as high a concentration of people with advanced degrees as colleges and universities.

People with doctorates insure that debates and decision making will be tedious and laborious; however, those decisions are as negatively influenced by tradition and biases as you can find anywhere, regardless of how well educated everyone is.

One of the greatest examples of the failures of higher education is the use of student evaluations of teaching (SET), a traditional system whereby students offer feedback on their professors and then those evaluations serve in different ways during the annual evaluations of professors as well as the tenure and promotion process.

What is the problem? Well, this is an example of tradition trumping evidence (and, again, you’d think well educated people would prefer evidence over the inertia of tradition) because research for many years has shown that SET are biased against the most marginalized groups of faculty—women, people of color, international faculty, etc.

Once again, two studies confirm the inherent bias of SET, as reported by Colleen Flaherty:

Two new studies on gender bias in student evaluations of teaching look at the phenomenon from fresh—and troubling—angles. One study surveyed students at the beginning of the semester and after their first exam and found that female instructors faced more backlash for grades given than did male instructors. The other study examined how ageism relates to gender bias in student ratings, finding that older female instructors were rated lower than younger women. The second study was longitudinal, so students were rating the same women more poorly over time, even as these professors were gaining teaching experience.

Both studies suggest that as women become more “agentic,” demonstrating agency via stereotypically male-associated traits, they are punished for violating gender norms with lower student ratings.

Ratings and Gender Bias, Over Time

These studies have some nuances, but essentially, this fits into a very robust body of research that shows SET is harmful for faculty diversity, and thus, for students and colleges/universities:

We are well past time to set SET aside, and admit that tradition is not a valid reason to continue to erode efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion through rhetoric alone.

The High Cost of Marketing Educational Crisis

My foundations of American education course serves as an introduction to public education and our education majors, but the course also fulfills a general education requirement.

The class comprises mostly first- and second-year students, and those considering education as a major or career can be most of the class or very few. None the less, virtually all of them are a bit disoriented when we begin the course reading philosophers—Foucault, Deleuze, and Freire specifically.

I invite them to read some relatively brief passages from all three, warn them that reading philosophy is challenging, and then reassure them that we are simply using these ideas to begin our semester-long interrogation of how we have public schools and why.

When 2022 NAEP data were released, I immediately thought about a few things.

First, with the dramatic coverage of math scores dropping (see HERE and HERE), I told a few friends to brace themselves for the inevitable next step. And it took only about one day for my prediction to happen with an ad popping up on Facebook:

In the U.S., notably since the release of A Nation at Risk (see HERE and HERE) in the early 1980s, the easiest thing to predict is that the education market place is going to profit from educational crisis.

This fits into my second thought, which is the current and ongoing “science of reading” crisis that was prompted in 2018 by Emily Hanford, but was significantly boosted by the cries of “reading crisis” after the release of the 2019 NAEP data (see HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE).

Now, I regret to note, math will be the next over-reaction, as the ad above shows now that edu-businesses scramble to add math to their offering for reading—solutions need a problem, and high-stakes testing is a problem machine.

And the big picture thing I thought about was Deleuze, from the reading I have students consider:

We are in a generalized crisis in relation to all the environments of enclosure—prison, hospital, factory, school, family….The administrations in charge never cease announcing supposedly necessary reforms: to reform schools, to reform industries, hospitals, the armed forces, prisons….In disciplinary societies one was always starting again (from school to the barracks, from the barracks to the factory), while in the societies of control one is never finished with anything—the corporation, the educational system, the armed services being metastable states coexisting in one and the same modulation, like a universal system of deformation. (pp. 3-4, 5)

“Postscript on the Societies of Control,” Giles Deleuze

Deleuze builds to a powerful and prescient warning:

For the school system (emphasis in original): continuous forms of control, and the effect on the school of perpetual training, the corresponding abandonment of all university research, the introduction of the “corporation” at all levels of schooling. (p. 7)

“Postscript on the Societies of Control,” Giles Deleuze

As a key example, many (if not most) teachers of reading in the U.S. now are being told that their university training was useless, and that they need new training in the “science of reading.” And education corporations are lining up to sell schools that training, a story sold with the “science of reading” label (see about LETRS).

Just to be clear, this is not about the failure of teacher certification or about teaching teachers to teach or students to read; this is about profit through perpetual crisis and (re)training.

And here is the disconnect.

While I carefully help students over the course of a semester examine the claimed democratic foundations of public education (well documented in the writings of Thomas Jefferson and key figures in American education such as John Dewey), we quickly uncover that those democratic ideals are often secondary—or even erased—by market commitments.

So here we are in 2022 still riding the wave of accountability, standards, and high-stakes testing that began with A Nation at Risk and built to George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

As early as the 1990s, however, many education scholars warned that this education crisis was manufactured—essentially a political lie that was bolstered by a media frenzy and a market grab.

The education crisis/education market place dynamic has been in full swing for over forty years now, and the ugly truth is that all of the crisis rhetoric used to justify incessant accountability layered onto a constant process of new standards and new tests is, as Berliner and Biddle documented, manufactured, a lie.

As compelling as it is, we simply do not now have a reading crisis; we have never had a reading crisis.

And NAEP 2022 data do not expose a math crisis.

“Crisis” suggests something new, immediate, and pressing to address.

Student learning has been about the same for nearly a century. Some students thrive (mostly correlated with affluence and being white), many students learn in spite of the system, and too many students are neglected or mis-served (correlated strongly with poverty, minoritized race, multi-language learning, and special needs).

Just to swing back to reading, there is no decade (or even year) over the last 80 years that public, media, and political opinions expressed satisfaction in reading achievement; student reading proficiency has always been characterized as failing, and a crisis.


As we creep toward an election, we need to admit a few things.

First, the market and commercialism matter more in the U.S. than democracy or even freedom.

We not only want schools to produce (compliant) workers, but also have turned public education into a crisis-based education market place.

Take a little journey to Education Week‘s web site and note that flurry of ads for the “science of reading,” for example:

And monitor over the coming weeks; you’ll see more and more addressing math.

Since 2018, media has generated millions of clicks with coverage of the “science of reading,” journalists are winning cash awards and receiving huge speaking fees to discuss the “science of reading,” and education corporations are pulling in millions for software, programs, and training labeled the “science of reading.”

Please take just a brief historical overview since the 1980s. Not a single reform has worked, not a single crisis/reform cycle has been deemed a success.

As Deleuze explains, the point of crisis/reform is to remain always in crisis/reform because that cycle creates a market, and for some people, that market generates profit.

But that crisis/reform cycle has a high cost for students, teachers, and society.

The “science of reading” crisis ironically follows just about two decades after the reading crisis identified by the National Reading Panel and at the center of NCLB—which mandated that teachers had to implement only scientifically-based practices (notably in reading).

That failed (apparently) and the current response is to shout (once again) “crisis!” and demand that mandates restrict teaching to the “science of reading.”

Four decades-plus into a crisis/reform hole and we continue to dig.

Part of me feels sorry for what is about to happen to math, and part of me feels really bad that I hope the coming math nonsense will relieve a little pressure from reading.

But mostly, I hate the lies, political, media, and commercial interests that are eager to shout “crisis!” because in the spirit of the good ol’ U.S. of A., there is money to made in all that bullshit.


Did we need NAEP to tell us students aren’t doing well? (The Answer Sheet)

“We Are Entering the Age of Infinite Examination”

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.

Advocates Launch “Freedom to Read” Coalition to Fight Book Bans Across South Carolina

Advocates Launch “Freedom to Read” Coalition to Fight Book Bans Across South Carolina


CONTACT: Laura Swinford, ACLU of South Carolina,

Columbia, S.C. — Advocates and community leaders today launched “Freedom to Read SC,” a statewide coalition that will work to defeat unconstitutional efforts to ban books from school and public libraries. The Coalition includes educational organizations, civil rights groups, religious entities, and others who are committed to free speech and the free exchange of ideas.

“Book bans are in direct violation of the First Amendment, which guarantees all Americans the right to access information and the freedom to read without censorship. Without a doubt, school boards, library boards, and municipal governments that are banning books are running afoul of the Constitution,” said Jace Woodrum, executive director of ACLU of South Carolina. “We urge policymakers to stop this blatantly unconstitutional censorship. Whether we like a book or not, agree with it or not, none of us has the power to supersede the values instilled in the First Amendment.”

Freedom to Read SC will call attention to efforts to ban books in public libraries and school districts throughout the Palmetto state, while organizing and advocating for all South Carolinians’ First Amendment right to access information.

“Librarians are highly trained in evaluating and selecting quality books that meet state curriculum standards and reflect South Carolina students’ varied life experiences,” said Tamara Cox, President of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians. “Even though librarians follow school board-approved purchasing policies, we are seeing a disturbing trend of administrators and school board members overriding their own reconsideration policies and removing books without proper review. Some librarians have been targets of harassment and threats from those who seek to limit intellectual freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Many of these censorship attempts are coordinated by politically- motivated groups outside of education and target books written by or about people of color or other marginalized groups.”

“As a parent, I want my children to develop the skills to interact compassionately with many different kinds of people. Restricting their access to books makes it harder for them to learn about people different from them, and creates a false and narrow version of the society they will inherit,” said Brittany Arsiniega, mother of two children.

The Coalition includes:

  • Alliance for Full Acceptance
  • American Association of University Professors SC
  • ACLU of South Carolina
  • Campaign for Southern Equality
  • E3 Foundation
  • Grand Strand Pride
  • Harriet Hancock Center Foundation
  • League of Women Voters of South Carolina
  • Lowcountry Black Parents Association
  • Jewish Community Relations Council of the Charleston Jewish Federation
  • National Action Network of Columbia
  • SC Association of School Librarians
  • SC United for Justice and Equality
  • South Carolina NAACP Conference Youth and College Division
  • South Carolina Unitarian Universalist Justice Alliance
  • Upstate LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce
  • Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN)

Follow Freedom to Read SC on Facebook for information on local efforts to ban and restrict access to books:

The Lazy Phonics Debate: On Coyotes and Whose Pronunciation Matters

I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract

“I Believe,” R.E.M.

Born in 1961, I entered public school as a first grader in 1967. This was during an era before kindergarten was common for all, and I also had the great fortune or being raised by a working-class stay-at-home mother who doted on my sister and me.

I can’t recall not being able to read, but I do know that my mother taught my sister and me to read well before entering formal schooling. She taped index cards on objects around the house with words identifying those objects, and we read all the time. Lots of Dr. Seuss and such.

My education included the Dick and Jane approach of whole-word instruction; however, I don’t really recall much about learning to read once I entered school except maybe boredom (concerning the lessons, I mean, because I adored my first-grade teacher, Ms. Lanford).

I also can’t really ever think of “sound it out” as a strategy for me when I encountered words I didn’t know. Asking other people is my go-to strategy even today, as I wander into my 60s.

None the less, I do value the role of phonics—the relationship among letters, letter clusters, words, and meaning in a systematic way—although I also recognize the limitations of phonics and rules in the grand scheme of reading for meaning.

The lazy phonics debate tends to work at the extremes—a nonsensical argument that all students need systematic phonics instruction before they can comprehend (phonics-first) couched in the false argument that some literacy scholars and teachers embrace zero phonics instruction (a mischaracterization of whole language and balanced literacy).

The reasonable and practical middle—basic phonics (see here and here)—is often ignored as a result of this laziness.

Systematic intensive phonics for all students is as harmful (and misleading) as providing beginning readers with no phonics strategies for their developing journey to comprehension and critical reading.

One aspect of the phonics-first argument that is rarely confronted is that systematic instruction in phonics rules must establish standard pronunciation, necessarily then alienating young children who are raised in so-called non-standard dialects (such as myself, a Southerner).

We in the South play havoc with “pen,” “pin,” and “pan.”

That lack of interrogating standard pronunciation sits inside the already complicated relationship we encounter in the English language. Consider these words:









The pronunciation of “o” is all over the place, and of course, there are so-called rules for why, but that calls into question how valuable phonics rules are versus developing word recognition (and phonics awareness) by reading and thinking about words and meaning versus through drills and rules-based isolated instruction.

Instead of teaching students a rules-based approach to decoding, we should be inviting students into the complexity of letter/sound/word relationships. Basic phonics is a gateway to understanding and comprehension.

How words are pronounced, however, is much more than phonics rules. Pronunciation often is influenced by regional dialects, word etymology, and context of usage.

A fascinating way to explore that is the word “coyote.” Mignon Fogarty explains:

People pronounce “coyote” at least five different ways. It differs by region, age, and even social factors. Some people even pronounce it different ways when they mean different things by it.

How to Pronounce ‘Coyote’

While we are perpetually arguing about why students are not reading as well (or as quickly) as we’d like as a society, we persist in failing those students by having lazy arguments and settling for oversimplified charges of failure followed by simplistic solutions.

Again, we are mired in the lazy phonics debate:

“This is a huge wake-up call for America. We answered it in Virginia last year,” [Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R – VA)] said. “We passed the Virginia Literacy Act to bring the science of reading, otherwise known as phonics [emphasis added], back into our school system for K-3. We invested a record amount in education. We, in fact, have been working with higher education and K-12 to raise standards and expectations.”

WATCH:  Youngkin says education will drive midterm elections amid poor student performance

Well, no, student reading isn’t floundering due to a lack of phonics, and no, the solution is not phonics.

Like the pronunciation of “coyote,” it is far more complicated than that.


Coyóte, Chloe Garcia Roberts

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.

educator, public scholar, poet&writer – academic freedom isn't free