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Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor

Reading Recovery Debate Is ‘Polarizing’

May 31, 2022 1 min read
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To the Editor:

The current debate around the science of reading and Reading Recovery intervention increasingly reflects the polarizing and counterproductive nature of public discourse (“Concerns Raised Over Reading Recovery’s Long-Term Effects,” May 11, 2022). Today’s science of reading zealots are so convinced they are right that they will openly discredit—on the thinnest of evidence—a program that has taught millions of kids to read.

As EdWeek’s article on researcher Henry May’s new study points out, the study comes with “major research caveats,” not the least of which are that about 75 percent of the experimental group and more than 80 percent of the control group dropped out of the study. Worse yet, the experimental group included participants who didn’t get the entire 20-week intervention. Some may have received just a few weeks.

There also seems to be collective amnesia underway. The science of reading is being used as a new buzz phrase for phonics, which was at the heart of the multibillion, former federal program, Reading First. As EdWeek reported, a 2008 study showed that Reading First “helped boost decoding skills among 1st graders in the program but had no effect on comprehension for 1st, 2nd, or 3rd graders.”

Now, it’s back as science of reading, and we’re being told that it is the only way to teach kids to read. If there is one thing we know in K-12 education, it’s that “one-size-fits-all” never works—and that’s especially true when it comes to reading. Some kids need intensive phonics, others struggle with content and vocabulary. Our philosophy at Reading Recovery is whatever it takes, including but not limited to phonics.

We take heart by a recent study in England evaluating Reading Recovery students in the United Kingdom a decade after the intervention. They found that Reading Recovery students were nearly on average with the entire country compared with the control by the age of 16. Like May’s study, this one also has limitations, which is why we always keep research in perspective.

Billy Molasso
Executive Director
Reading Recovery Community
Worthington, Ohio

A version of this article appeared in the June 01, 2022 edition of Education Week as Reading Recovery Debate Is ‘Polarizing’

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