To the Editor:
An Education Week blog post reported on a recent study that showed that 4-year-olds who engaged in more activities with their parents involving letter-sound relationships had better “early number skills” at the end of their final year of preschool (“Preschoolers Who Practice Phonics Show Stronger Math Skills, Study Finds,” July 3, 2019). It is likely that this result will be interpreted as support for teaching phonics in schools.
A look at the actual study shows that the activities involved learning only basic, straightforward aspects of phonics and phonemic awareness, such as identifying initial consonants and sounds of words (e.g., “What letter does the word ‘cat’ begin with?” “What sound does ‘snake’ start with?”).
Both sides of the phonics debate agree that teaching these basics is useful. The disagreement is whether we should insist on “systematic phonics"—teaching all students the rules relating spelling to pronunciation in a strict sequence—or focus on the basics, with children acquiring the more complex rules with their many exceptions by reading. The study does not address this disagreement.
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the August 21, 2019 edition of Education Week as Study Leaves Unanswered Phonics Questions