Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor

The Politics of Reading Is Failing Students

July 12, 2021 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Educators see this claim over and over: Students are struggling because reading instruction fails to follow the federal guidance for the best way to teach reading (“Is the Bottom Falling Out for Readers Who Struggle the Most?” June 5, 2021).

The federal guidance that originated with the National Reading Panel’s findings is the problem! Two-thirds of all American students, grades 4, 8, and 12, read at a basic level or below. This has been the trend both before and since the release of NRP’s findings. In the early 2000s, $6 billion was spent on Reading First, a national program designed to train 1st through 3rd grade teachers in instructing the five skills associated with the NRP’s findings (phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension).

The findings were evaluated in the 2008 Reading First Impact Study Final Report. What did researchers find? No significant effect on any grade level (grades 1, 2, or 3) in any year, despite well-trained teachers who had the time and materials necessary to deliver the instruction. The NRP’s guidance did not work!

Broader brain science suggests it cannot work. Why? The NRP spent no time considering the implicit aspects of reading development that must be addressed for proficient reading ability to be achieved. They only focused on the explicit aspects (e.g., the alphabet, the sound each letter makes, etc.) Thus, the NRP’s findings are flawed. This is even noted by one of its panelists, Joanne Yatvin, in her NRP report Minority View.

School administrators: Please stand up for teachers. They are not the problem. The NRP’s work was incomplete—and new work needs to begin on the role of implicit procedural learning (brain function that occurs below our awareness) in reading.

Rhonda Stone
Reading Tutor & Parent Advocate
Olympia, Wash.

A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 2021 edition of Education Week as The Politics of Reading Is Failing Students


Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy New Curriculum Review Gives Failing Marks to Two Popular Reading Programs
Two of the nation's most-used literacy programs are facing new criticism.
14 min read
EdReports Fountas and Pinnell 1004026742
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on Oral Language in Reading Instruction
This Spotlight will help you determine where your reading instruction may have holes and more.
Reading & Literacy Data More States Are Making the 'Science of Reading' a Policy Priority
Four states have passed laws requiring evidence-based instruction, and at least 18 are directing COVID relief funds to early reading.
4 min read
Getty Images
Getty Images
Reading & Literacy Popular Literacy Materials Get 'Science of Reading' Overhaul. But Will Teaching Change?
Lucy Calkins and Jennifer Serravallo are among those releasing updates that move away from unproven techniques like three-cueing.
18 min read
A book becomes an open doorway