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Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor

Dear Lucy: Phonics-Only Is a Worn-Out Straw Man

December 13, 2022 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Lucy Calkins again tries to displace criticism of her literacy curricula onto those making the critique (“Lucy Calkins Revisits and Revises Her Reading Curriculum,” Nov. 23, 2022). Rather than address the ways that her programs fail to align with decades of reading research, she has again propped up a straw man version of her critics.

Dr. Calkins claims that “some phonics advocates” promote “teach[ing] phonics exclusively.” But she knows quite well that there are NO phonics advocates who claim that phonics-only is an effective approach to literacy instruction. She also writes:

“To date, there is no evidence that a curriculum that gives sole attention to phonics and focuses especially on kids sounding out words—as important as that work is—will, on its own, prepare kids for mastery of rigorous state standards.”

Of course, there is no evidence: No one has hypothesized that a phonics-only curriculum would be sufficient. To suggest otherwise is to misstate the truth.

Like many balanced literacy proponents, Dr. Calkins misrepresents what evidence-based instruction advocates truly promote, focusing on phonics-only as a bogeyman. She ignores the structured literacy goal of teaching the full spectrum of foundational skills required for reading, which were laid out 22 years ago in the National Reading Panel Report and have been further articulated in subsequent research. No one is pushing schools to teach phonics exclusively!

The essay concludes with the admonition that “we owe it to teachers—and children— … to recognize what’s true and what’s not true.” No one would disagree. I urge Dr. Calkins, with all her knowledge and power, to model this behavior herself. Otherwise, it is impossible to take her call to “focus on the real work that needs to be done” in good faith.

Lauren Thompson
Certified Structured Literacy Interventionist (CERI)
Brooklyn, N.Y.

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A version of this article appeared in the December 14, 2022 edition of Education Week as Dear Lucy: Phonics-Only Is a Worn-Out Straw Man

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