Do We Know How To Teach Everyone To Read?

Yesterday the reporter Dana Goldstein of the New York Times published a piece called, “She Helped Transform Reading Lessons, Now She’s Backtracking.” Ms. Goldstein reports about how Lucy Caulkins has, “backtracked, retreated, and should apologize” for her best selling curriculum called Units of Study. But in writing the article as a rebuke of Professor Caulkins’ work, it should be noted that most reading programs have very little national research to back up their claims. The real question is do we know how to teach everyone to read, and the answer is not yet.

Though billed as a core reading program, the Units of Study in Reading doesn’t teach phonemic awareness or phonics systematically or explicitly. “At best it’s a suggestion, and there’s a lot of focus on the three-cueing system,” Liben said.

EdWeek 12/3/19

No One Is Teaching Phonics Well

The fact that no one is teaching phonics well is more of the point in reading instruction, rather than Ms. Calkins’ “retreat.” The article glosses over that all programs, including Ms. Calkins’ Reading and Writing Project are beginning to include phonic’s instruction. And although the Reading and Writing Project would seem to be the leader of this problem—she works with 700 schools / year and her curriculum is in 67,000 schools—her curriculum is in only 16% of schools nationwide.

Market Share of Reading Programs

Units of Study is the fifth largest reading instruction program in schools:

  • 43% use Fountas and Pinnell
  • 27% use Harcourt Houghton Mifflin Journeys
  • 19% use Reading Recovery
  • 17% use Harcourt Houghton Mifflin Into Reading
  • 16% use Units of Study
  • EdWeek, 12/3/2019

Can We Teach Everyone To Read?

We can’t really answer this question well, because the science of reading is only just beginning to be able to gain access to the data it needs. Reading programs are significant profit centers at major educational publishing houses, and those houses are reluctant or even outright refusing to share their data.

At the moment, in order to try to teach everyone how to read, I would recommend using the highest selling reading program, Fountas and Pinnell, supplemented with a phonics-based program such as Fundations, and a one-on-one after school intervention for readers who are really struggling.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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