Beyond Reading Skills: Phonics, Vocabulary, and Knowledge

When I entered the classroom as an English teacher in 1984 at the high school where I had graduated just five years earlier, students lugged around two huge textbooks for their English courses, one of which was Warriner’s English grammar text.

Students were conveniently color coded by these texts since the publishers provided different ability and grade levels of the literature and grammar texts. And universally students hated these textbooks, the carrying and their use in the classrooms.

Since I taught different ability levels (we used and A, B, C level system for each grade) and grades, I had about 15 textbooks across my five courses because students in English also were assigned vocabulary books (the publisher we used proudly printed in bright letters that these vocabulary books prepared students for the SAT!).

At least the vocabulary books were small paperbacks.

Two important facts stand out about those first couple years teaching in the traditional expectations for English teachers at that school (mostly the same teachers who taught me as a student): first, Warriner’s regardless of grade or ability level had essentially the exact same chapters for teachers to systematically and comprehensively teach every year, and second, teachers expressed repeatedly that students never learned those grammar lessons, noting that student writing failed to improve in terms of grammar, mechanics, and usage.

Another big picture point to make here is that when I was a student, grammar texts included lessons on “shall” and “will”; that my students had to cover an entire chapter and be tested on “who” and “whom”; and both my students and I had to “learn” about pronoun/antecedent agreement (specifically the use of “they” as plural only).

Today, we must acknowledge that all of these rules and the consequences of students “not learning them” have evaporated since “shall” and “whom” have graciously disappeared and “they” has been (finally) acknowledged as a resourceful pronoun.

As a beginning teacher, I had entered education to teach writing, although, of course, I loved literature also. Yet, the grammar- and skills-centric approach to teaching English, I recognized, was failing students miserably—I mean literally because students were miserable, learning to hate English, writing, and literature.

Of course, my stories here speak to a disturbing reality in education: Lou LaBrant, writing in 1946, noted: “We have some hundreds of studies now which demonstrate that there is little correlation (whatever that may cover) between exercises in punctuation and sentence structure and the tendency to use the principles illustrated in independent writing” (p. 127). And then in 1947: “A brief consideration will indicate reasons for the considerable gap between the research currently available and the utilization of that research in school programs and methods” (p. 87).

Yet, English teachers throughout the decades kept beating their heads against the grammar and skills wall, lamenting “kids today” for not being good writers—regardless of decade, regardless of the grammar programs implemented.

This raises a current issue about “scientific” or “evidence” as the basis for how teachers teach, notably in the current reading war.

Here, I think, is an excellent overview by Jal Mehta (Harvard University) about why calling for “scientific” or “evidence” to mandate teaching literacy is just as misguided as the evidence-free practices I witnessed as a beginning teacher almost 40 years ago:

What may have started out about a decade ago as a sincere plea similar to LaBrant’s—the teaching of reading in practice often failed to be effectively evidence-based (“scientific”)—has turned into the exact sort of one-size-fits-all ideological movement that Jal warns about: scientific as a “weapon.”

The SOR movement has refueled the myth of the bad teacher, continued to perpetuate false narratives of crisis and miracle schools, profited the education marketplace, and driven deeply problematic reading legislation and policy, including inequitable grade retention.

The mistake being made is also perfectly identified by Jal: “In my experience, the best educators and leaders see lots of complexity, consider context, and artfully weave together different approaches to solve particular problems.”

Ironically, this is the exact approach grounding both whole language and balanced literacy as philosophies of teaching reading and writing; however, as we have witnessed, both WL and BL also became convenient labels for practices not following those philosophies or simply slurs ideologues use to criticize.

Instead, the SOR movement has become ideological and weaponized to create simplistic and unfounded crisis rhetoric for politicians and skills-driven reading policy and practice.

For example, no one argues that phonics, vocabulary, and knowledge are not key elements in reading. But the SOR movement demands a linear and sequential skills-first approach; teach phonics, vocabulary, and knowledge systematically before students read.

The skills-first approach is essentially authoritarian (what phonics, vocabulary, and knowledge students “need” is determined and outlined for students and teachers) and necessarily erases diversity of language and experiences by students.

The counter approach, the complex approach to reading, acknowledges the importance of elements such as phonics, vocabulary, and knowledge, but also honors that the relationship between so-called skills and reading is reciprocal, not linear or sequential.

In other words, yes, students need some direct and purposeful instruction in phonics, vocabulary, and knowledge building as they become beginning readers; however, most of a person’s acquisition of phonics, vocabulary, and knowledge comes from reading—not direct or systematic instruction.

The problem with systematic and comprehensive teaching of any literacy skills is that the goal and accountability around teaching and learning become the acquisition of the skills (phonics tests, vocabulary tests, knowledge tests) instead of the authentic goal of fostering eager, independent, and critical students who read.

Ultimately, if we genuinely want evidence-based reading instruction for children in the US, we must recognize that the most important sources of evidence are the children themselves and the most valuable person to understand what children need to read are their teachers.

However, beyond shifting to what evidence counts, we must also recognize that students and teachers cannot be successful unless we address learning and teaching conditions (the one move politicians refuse to make).

Regretfully, as Jal recognizes, students and teachers are again simply pawns in another fruitless war won by the SOR advocates “who are loudest about ‘evidence-based practices,’ [and] ironically tend to be more ideologues who have a few preferred solutions that they think can address every problem.”

POEM: utter

i fell in love
with someone so beautiful

i didn’t know

what to do
with my hands

or my time

where to sit

or if i even could
sit still with that knowledge

i fell in love
with someone so beautiful

i felt my neck
growing tired with the weight

of this proximity to beautiful
that would remain without me

that came about without me
imagining the possibility of us

i fell in love
with someone so beautiful

i cannot speak this
into the ineffable absolute of us

yes some people would promise
you complete me

when you find me lying there
you lay yourself over me

and everything else disappears
in the relief of bearing you there

i fell in love
with someone so beautiful

i lost myself in the uttering
i found myself in the uttering

—P.L. Thomas

Teaching Reading and Language Variation: A Reader

“Teaching reading to children whose language differs from the oral language of the classroom and from the linguistic structure of academic text adds an additional layer of complexity to reading instruction,” write Washington and Seidenberg.

This speaks to a concern I have raised, and been harshly criticized for, about teaching phonics, the centering of standardized pronunciation, and the deficit perspective of stigmatizing regional and cultural pronunciation patterns.

Here I invite you to read the following as a text set to interrogate systematic phonics instruction, standardized pronunciation, and the humanity of individual student differences grounded in their spoken language variations:


Teaching Phonemic and Phonological Awareness to Children Who Speak African American English

Julie A. WashingtonRyan Lee-JamesCarla Burrell Stanford

First published: 11 April 2023

COE Spring Forum: Are We in the Midst of “Reading Wars” – Again?

COE Spring Forum: Are We in the Midst of “Reading Wars” – Again?

Access this PowerPoint for my part of the forum. Access expanded PowerPoint also.


Rachael Gabriel SLIDES

See RESEARCH supporting my presentation:

Reading Science Resources for Educators (and Journalists): Science of Reading Edition [UPDATED]

No Crisis, No Miracles: The False Narratives of Education Journalism

With a sort of humility rarely found when someone of prominence speaks to or about education in the US, celebrated author Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man) found himself speaking at a teachers conference in 1963 “to discuss ‘these children,’ the difficult thirty percent,” the identified population making up the drop-out crisis of the time [1].

One of the most impressive aspects of Ellison’s talk is his emphasis on systemic influences on children and their language acquisition: “The American scene is a diversified one, and the society which gives it its character is a pluralistic society-or at least it is supposed to be,” explaining:

The education which goes on outside the classroom, which goes on as they walk within the mixed environment of Alabama, teaches children that they should not reach out for certain things. Much of the education that I received at Tuskegee (this isn’t quite true of Oklahoma City) was an education away from the uses of the imagination, away from the attitudes of aggression and courage. This is not an attack. This is descriptive, this is autobiographic. You did not do certain things because you might be destroyed. You didn’t do certain things because you were going to be frustrated. There were things you didn’t do because the world outside was not about to accommodate you….

It does me no good to be told that I’m down on the bottom of the pile and that I have nothing with which to get out. I know better. It does me no good to be told that I have no heroes, that I have no respect for the father principle because my father is a drunk. I would simply say to you that there are good drunks and bad drunks. The Eskimos have sixteen or more words to describe snow because they live with snow. I have about twenty-five different words to describe Negroes because I live principally with Negroes. “Language is equipment for living,” to quote Kenneth ’Burke. One uses the language which helps to preserve one’s life, which helps to make one feel at peace in the world, and which screens out the greatest amount of chaos. All human beings do this.

What These Children Are Like

And then Ellison goes right to the core issue about language in marginalized and minoritized populations:

Some of us look at the Negro community in the South and say that these kids have no capacity to manipulate language. Well, these are not the Negroes I know. Because I know that the wordplay of Negro kids in the South would make the experimental poets, the modern poets, green with envy. I don’t mean that these kids possess broad dictionary knowledge, but within the bounds of their familiar environment and within the bounds of their rich oral culture, they possess a great virtuosity with the music and poetry of words. The question is how can you get this skill into the mainstream of the language, because it is without doubt there. And much of it finds its way into the broader language. Now I know this just as William Faulkner knew it. This does not require a lot of testing; all you have to do is to walk into a Negro church….

Thus we must recognize that the children in question are not so much “culturally deprived” as products of a different cultural complex. I’m talking about how people deal with their environment, about what they make of what is abiding in it, about what helps them to find their way, and about that which helps them to be at home in the world. All this seems to me to constitute a culture. If you can abstract their manners, their codes, their customs and attitudes into forms of expression, if you can convert them into forms of art, if you can stylize them and give them many and subtle ranges of reference, then you are dealing with a culture. People have learned this culture; it has been transferred to them from generation to generation, and in its forms they have projected their most transcendent images of themselves and of the world.

What These Children Are Like

On social media, I had a cognitive scientist SOR-splain to me literacy in my home state of South Carolina, recommending I look at narrow assessments of reading (a popular program) to admit that SC has a reading crisis. Like Ellison, I pointed out I don’t need a test to know the truth about reading and literacy in SC, all across the South, and even in the US.

In my 39th year as a literacy educator in SC, where I was born in 1961 and attended formal education from 1967 through 1998, I have lived and witnessed firsthand a fact that the media narratives never capture, but let me ask you to help me before I explain the real story.

Here are longitudinal data for SC NAEP reading scores in grades 4 and 8 from 1992 to 2022; could you please identify where the “crisis” is?:

I lived, learned, and taught in the three decades before these three decades, and I can only conclude that reading achievement (whatever that is) as measured in formal testing has been about the same forever.

In my home state and across the nation, this is the real story: We have become content with a historical and current negligence about the reading acquisition of some populations (Black and brown students, poor students, special needs students, multi-lingual learners), and we lack the political will to address the systemic forces of inequity in the lives and schooling of these students to do anything about it.

Historical negligence is not a crisis; it simply is how things are, what we have come to accept as “normal.”

As I have examined in my scholarship [2], journalism in the US has only two false stories about education—crisis and miracle.

The problem is that neither narrative is true; they are anecdotal and melodramatic so they are compelling to the public, politically useful, and likely to drive reader/viewership for the media.

The US remains in a false crisis cycle begun by A Nation at Risk, and then powerfully expanded under the Obama/Duncan era of shouting education crisis while propping up the false charter school miracle machine (for example, the Harlem “miracle” celebrated by David Brooks citing the Obamas).

The crisis/miracle narrative approach from the Obama era has recently been replicated by the media obsession with SOR; Hanford’s seminal story planted both seeds by falsely claiming the US has a reading crisis and promoting a miracle school that wasn’t.

Again, please point out the crisis here:

And as I have explained, the miracle of the moment, Mississippi, like all the other educational miracles, simply doesn’t exist; MS has had steady growth and some jumps, often well before any SOR reading legislation:

And MS remains below NAEP proficient and continues to have drops between grade 4 and 8:

For many years, I have had to help my students navigate the media obsession with the melodramatic—crisis! miracle!—often found in films such as Waiting for Superman (false union crisis v. charter miracles) and the compelling documentary about education in SC, Corridor of Shame (an emotionally manipulative film about the powerful connection between poverty and educational negligence in the state).

The media, public, and politicians love and benefit from the crisis/miracle rhetoric about education. But those stories do not serve the needs of children, teachers, or schools.

Ellison ends his talk powerfully:

I don’t know what intelligence is. But this I do know, both from life and from literature: whenever you reduce human life to two plus two equals four, the human element within the human animal says, “I don’t give a damn.” You can work on that basis, but the kids cannot. If you can show me how I can cling to that which is real to me, while teaching me a way into the larger society, then I will not only drop my defenses and my hostility, but I will sing your praises and help you to make the desert bear fruit.

What These Children Are Like

Education journalism has reduced education to crisis or miracle, and like the reductive formula Ellison rejects for children, I must reject this false pair of stories.

There is no reading or education crisis, and there are no miracle schools.

There is historical and current political negligence for addressing inequity in the lives and schooling of “other people’s children” in the US.

But that reality doesn’t sell or garner votes.

[1] Toward end, Ellison is scathing:

The great body of Negro slang–that unorthodox language–exists precisely because Negroes need words which will communicate, which will designate the objects, processes, manners and subtleties of their urban experience with the least amount of distortion from the outside. So the problem is, once again, what do we choose and what do we reject of that which the greater society makes available? These kids with whom we’re concerned, these dropouts, are living critics of their environment, of our society and our educational system, and they are quite savage critics of some of their teachers.

What These Children Are Like

[2] Thomas, P.L. (2016). Miracle school myth. In W.J. Mathis & T.M. Trujillo, Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for ESSA. Charlotte, NC: IAP.

Thomas, P.L. (2015). Ignored under Obama: Word magic, crisis discourse, and utopian expectations. In P. R. Carr & B. J. Porfilio (Eds.), The phenomenon of Obama and the agenda for education: Can hope (still) audaciously trump neoliberalism? (pp. 45-68). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

POEM: the things we outgrow (negligence)

You don’t even notice me at all

“This Isn’t Helping,” The National

in his negligence
many people were hurt

over the course of many years
when his negligence waned

he began to wonder if
every man’s autobiography

should begin with
“in his negligence”

he wanted to apologize one by one
but the project was daunting

the neglected covered over everything
like every breath he took

so he wrote about it instead

the things we outgrow
when we can no longer
keep our footing on the ice
of our own selfishness

—P.L. Thomas

Open Letter on Reading Legislation

A recent scholarly commentary by professors Reinking, Hruby, and Risko note: “Since 2015, 47 state legislatures have enacted, or are currently considering, a remarkable total of 145 bills that address reading and reading instruction in public schools.”

Many literacy and policy scholars [1] have also noted that this wave of reading legislation is often grounded in the “science of reading” (SOR) movement that has been characterized as misleading, overly simplistic, and driven by melodramatic anecdotes.

Further, the growing number of states adopting SOR-based reading legislation includes bans of reading practices and programs as well as narrow mandates for different reading practices and programs.

A 2020 policy statement warned about using the SOR movement to inform legislation, however, by:

• Failing to place the current concern for reading in a historical context.
• Overemphasizing recent test scores and outlier data instead of longitudinal data with greater context (for example, NAEP).
• Misrepresenting the “science of reading” as settled science that purportedly prescribes systematic intensive phonics for all students.
• Overstating and misrepresenting the findings of the National Reading Panel report of 2000, without acknowledging credible challenges to those findings.
• Focusing blame on K-12 teachers and teacher education without credible evidence or acknowledgement of challenging teaching and learning conditions and the impact of test-based accountability policies on practice and outcomes.
• Celebrating outlier examples of policy success (in particular, the Mississippi 2019 NAEP data) without context or high-quality research evidence for those claims.

National Education Policy Center & Education Deans for Justice and Equity (2020). Policy Statement on the “Science of Reading.” Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.

The policy statement remains an important guide for revising reading legislation in order to avoid continuing to under- and mis-serve the individual needs of all students and to de-professionalize teachers.

The recommendations remain urgent and include the following for what legislation should not/should do:

Should not fund or endorse unproven private-vendor comprehensive reading programs or materials.
Should not adopt “ends justify the means” policies aimed at raising reading test scores in the short term that have longer-term harms (for example, third-grade retention policies).
• Should not prescribe a narrow definition of “scientific” or “evidence-based” that elevates one part of the research base while ignoring contradictory high-quality research.
• Should not prescribe a “one-size-fits-all” approach to teaching reading, addressing struggling readers or English language learners (Emergent Bilinguals), or identifying and serving special needs students.
• Should not prescribe such a “one-size-fits-all” approach to preparing teachers for reading instruction, since teachers need a full set of tools to help their students.
• Should not ignore the limited impact on measurable student outcomes (e.g., test scores) of in-school opportunities to learn, as compared to the opportunity gaps that arise outside of school tied to racism, poverty, and concentrated poverty.
• Should not prioritize test scores measuring reading, particularly lower-level reading tasks, over a wide range of types of evidence (e.g., literacy portfolios and teacher assessments), or over other equity-based targets (e.g., access to courses and access to
certified, experienced teachers), always prioritizing the goal of ensuring that all students have access to high-quality reading instruction.
• Should not teacher-proof reading instruction or de-professionalize teachers of reading or teacher educators through narrow prescriptions of how to teach reading and serve struggling readers, Emergent Bilinguals, or students with special needs.
• Should not prioritize advocacy by a small group of non-educators over the expertise and experiences of K-12 educators and scholars of reading and literacy.
• Should not conflate general reading instruction policy with the unique needs of struggling readers, Emergent Bilinguals, and special needs students.

• Should guarantee that all students are served based on their identifiable needs in the highest quality teaching and learning conditions possible across all schools:
o Full funding to support all students’ reading needs;
o Low student/teacher ratios;
o Professionally prepared teachers with expertise in supporting all students with the most beneficial reading instruction, balancing systematic skills instruction with authentic texts and activities;
o Full and supported instructional materials for learning to read, chosen by teachers to fit the needs of their unique group of students;
o Intensive, research-based early interventions for struggling readers; and
o Guaranteed and extensive time to read and learn to read daily.
• Should support the professionalism of K-12 teachers and teacher educators, and should acknowledge the teacher as the reading expert in the care of unique populations of students.
• Should adopt a complex and robust definition of “scientific” and “evidence-based.”
• Should embrace a philosophy of “first, do no harm,” avoiding detrimental policies like grade retention and tracking.
• Should acknowledge that reading needs across the general population, struggling readers, Emergent Bilinguals, and special needs students are varied and complex.
• Should adopt a wide range of types of evidence of student learning.
• Should prioritize, when using standardized test scores, longitudinal data on reading achievement as guiding evidence among a diversity of evidence for supporting instruction and the conditions of teaching and learning.
• Should establish equity (input) standards as a balance to accountability (output) standards, including the need to provide funding and oversight to guarantee all students access to high-quality, certified teachers; to address inequitable access to experienced teachers; and to ensure supported, challenging and engaging reading and literacy experiences regardless of student background or geographical setting.
• Should recognize that there is no settled science of reading and that the research base and evidence base on reading and teaching reading is diverse and always in a state of change.
• Should acknowledge and support that the greatest avenue to reading for all students is access to books and reading in their homes, their schools, and their access to libraries (school and community).

National Education Policy Center & Education Deans for Justice and Equity (2020). Policy Statement on the “Science of Reading.” Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.

This current cycle of the reading wars is another example of reducing historical and current failures of reading instruction to unwarranted crisis rhetoric and then resorting to the same failed patterns of education reform enacted for nearly five decades.

The individual needs of all students as readers can only be served by autonomous teachers in educational environments that support learning and teaching—not by mandates for scripted programs that enforce a once-size-fits-all approach to learning and teaching.

Reading legislation has the potential to do great harm or great good for the children of the US and our democracy. Once again, political leaders have chosen to do great harm.


School Reformers’ Pledge of Good Conduct

[1] See

Where Do We Go from Here?: Learning and Teaching in the SOR Era

One of the most important and too often ignored works by Martin Luther King Jr. is his Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (see an excerpts here).

I have relied on this work for many years in the context of my public writing and scholarship addressing equity, poverty, race, and literacy (for example, see pt. 1 and pt. 2). What has always rung true and important is King’s practical call for needed direct action instead of the status quo of political indirect action.

For example, King noted that the political will in the US was to view education as a mechanism for erasing poverty, racism, and inequity (indirect action) instead of directly eradicating the forces that create poverty, racism, and inequity.

I have reached a very sobering moment in my public work addressing the “science of reading” (SOR) movement as that has informed reading legislation across the US:

Since 2015, 47 state legislatures have enacted, or are currently considering, a remarkable total of 145 bills that address reading and reading instruction in public schools.1 Many of these bills are relatively routine appropriations, procedural issues, licensures, and so forth. However, an increasing number define, endorse, and sometimes mandate instructional approaches—a legislative excursion into matters that in other fields of practice, such as medicine or law, are left to certified professionals and the standards set by their professional organizations or accrediting agencies. In that sense, the existence of such laws suggests a perception of a problem with the teaching of reading of such consequence that it demands legislative action. In so doing, it moves professional practice into the political realm, subject to all the forces and vested interests inherent to that domain.

More specifically, it moves the teaching of reading into ideological territory, at least in the narrow pragmatic sense suggested by Fine and Sandstrom (1993; see also Seliger, 1970/2019). They defined ideologies as uniting individuals around shared beliefs and offering “diagnoses of what is and is not problematic in the sociopolitical world” (p. 24). Ideologies, they say, motivate ameliorative action, create affinity by energizing emotional reactions, and set boundaries of acceptable belief, inoculating members against outside influences and helping to recruit new members. Further, ideologies, so conceived, naturally generate a dissimulating rhetoric in which “speech about topics of public controversy, including political and ‘scientific’ speech . . . is subject to slanting and shaping when those treatments seem beneficial to [ideological] groups” (p. 30).

Reinking, D., Hruby, G. G., & Risko, V. J. (2023). Legislating Phonics: Settled Science or Political Polemics? Teachers College Record125(1), 104–131.

In my own work about reading policy, I had cited 32 states less than a year ago, and now, I must admit, SOR reading policy has become the dominant approach to teaching reading in the US despite extensive and credibly scholarly evidence that the reading crisis; blame leveled at reading programs, balanced literacy, and teacher educators; and misrepresentation of reading science are false narratives.

Media stories, political responses, and state-level legislation have resulted in pre-service and in-service training/retraining (often LETRS) and reading programs being banned with short lists of SOR-approved programs being mandated—both of which substantially change the landscape of how children will learn to read and how teachers will be mandated to teach (often in scripted environments).

Therefore, where do we go from here?

First, we must resist fatalism, and thus, we must adopt practices and strategies for advocating for addressing individual student needs as readers and teacher autonomy as reading teachers—even as both students and teachers must adopt ways to navigate this new SOR reality.

Key concerns about SOR legislation and policy include reducing reading instruction to scripted programs (often labeled “structured literacy) that erase individual student needs and teacher professionalism.

Educators, parents, and advocates for reading must acknowledge and reinforce that reading science is not settled, even as we have decades of valuable evidence for what works when teaching children to read.

This advocacy must walk a very difficult path of honoring individual stories of parents, children, and teachers while also raising cautions that anecdotes do not equal science (credible generalizations).

Anecdotes are powerful and compelling, but they often perpetuate overly melodramatic stories that misrepresent reading and teaching reading.

Next, we must hold SOR practices and policies to the highest standards of meeting the equity and diversity needs of our students.

Early evidence suggests that SOR-labeled reading programs and materials often have the same lack of diversity that has plagued reading materials for decades.

One of the historical negative consequences of “science” (which has historically been used to support racism and sexism) is that it promotes authority grounded in claims of being objective, which allows science to often be a veneer for practices that are, in fact, inequitable and biased.

The technocratic focus of the SOR movement and policy is fertile ground for continuing to see reading and students in monolithic ways that erases their humanity. Cultural backgrounds, regional dialects, and individual experiences must all be honored and fostered in our pursuit of teaching reading and the love of literacy that all children deserve.

There simply is not one right way to become a reader, and not one right way to teach children to read.

Finally, we must begin to detail and document what learning to read and teaching reading should look like if we do in fact embrace addressing individual student needs and teacher autonomy.

As a start, that requires that everyone must resist forming reading camps (labels are our enemy) and that we shift away from adopting reading programs to teach reading and call for teaching children to read.

I don’t see what we must do next as a compromise, but as a different way forward.

At its core, the SOR movement and the legislation that has become a national norm are deja vu all over again. We have lived the reading crisis/reading reform merry-go-round for almost a century.

I remain committed to King’s vision of recognizing that status quo approaches to systematic and important problems are doomed to fail again, to feed the entrenched political cycle.

Each child is precious, and unique, and each child deserves the opportunity to love reading, to become an eager and critical reader in order to enjoy the sort of human autonomy we claim to cherish.

Too often adult pettiness stands in the way of that opportunity.

The Negative Legislative Consequences of the SOR Media Story: An Open-Access Reader

Increasingly since around 2013, the media story around the “science of reading” has resulted in legislation that bans targeted reading instruction and mandates limited reading program options for schools, teachers, and students.

Concurrently, literacy scholars have documented that key aspects of the SOR media story are false, and thus, legislation based on the media SOR story is misguided and likely to be ineffective or harmful.

Scholars have documented that the following elements of the media SOR story are misleading or false:

  • The US has a reading crisis because of reading programs not aligned with SOR and based in balanced literacy instead.
  • SOR is settled science that is reflected in NRP reports and the simple view of reading (SVR).
  • Students have not been afforded systematic phonics instruction that must be implemented for all students before they can comprehend or even “love” to read.
  • The reading crisis includes misidentifying and under-serving students with dyslexia, who represent a large percentage of students struggling to read at grade level.
  • The evidence of a reading crisis is NAEP data.

While there is a great deal of scholarly research available, such as two targeted issues of highly regarded Reading Research Quarterly, below is a listing of open-access scholarship that refutes the media story around SOR and establishes why reading legislation based on that SOR story should be rejected or revised:

These open-access scholarly examinations of the SOR movement should be used to advocate for an accurate characterization of reading and reading instruction, to address the individual needs of all students, to support the professional autonomy of teachers, and to call for reading legislation that avoids sweeping bans, narrow mandates, and creating yet more profit for the education marketplace.

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