K–12: Phonics Is Winning
Phonics is winning, finally, at long last, after 85 stupid years, after 50 million functional illiterates, after one of the most stubborn subversive schemes against common sense ever to brutalize a country. Finally, the one correct way to teach reading is again embraced as the one correct way to teach reading.
Go ahead, shout "OMG." The fix has been in for so many dumbed down decades that many people may have given up hope. You may think this is now crazy optimism on my part. But I will show you some signs that things have suddenly and surely changed.
First, conservatives must note that the New York Times is finally on the right side of a major debate. It was on the wrong side for a long, long time. I don't know what finally woke those people up. Toward the end of 2018, a seminal article appeared: "Why Are We Still Teaching Reading the Wrong Way?" by Emily Hanford.
The subtitle tells it all: "Teacher preparation programs continue to ignore the sound science behind how people become readers."
Hanford concluded, "To become readers, kids need to learn how the words they know how to say connect to print on the page. They need explicit, systematic phonics instruction. There are hundreds of studies that back this up."
Well, you can imagine the shockwaves circling the globe. Thousands of so-called literacy experts have been sent back to school. Two things kept the hoax going all these years. 1) A mountain of dubious research that 2) an army of education professors flogged to control the debate. The professors will have to work much harder now.
Next, The Atlantic, a prestigious lefty magazine, recently announced, "Phonics, Not Whole Word, Is Best for Teaching Reading."
Nothing wishy-washy about that. Phonics is best. The subtitle is almost better: "Children can learn quickly by sounding out words, letter by letter." Note the word quickly, as opposed to very slowly and possibly never at all.
The article asks sardonically: "But somehow, the method is still controversial[?]"
If phonics is controversial, that's only because the entire Education Establishment, with the support of the media, universities, foundations, unions, and lots of people who should know better, continually tried to bury phonics. Hopefully, this malevolent coalition will start to break apart.
Third, ScienceDaily.com, a major U.K. site ("Your source for the latest research news"), booms out the same message: "Phonics works: sounding out words is best way to teach reading."
The article concludes, "New research has shown that learning to read by sounding out words (a teaching method known as phonics) has a dramatic impact on the accuracy of reading aloud and comprehension."
A professor of psychology summed up: "The results were striking; people who had focused on the meanings of the new words were much less accurate in reading aloud and comprehension than those who had used phonics, and our MRI scans revealed that their brains had to work harder to decipher what they were reading."
Don't think for a second, by the way, that our Education Establishment did not already know all of this. Rudolf Flesch's famous 1955 book Why Johnny Can't Read presented the very same truths. Dr. Samuel Orton published identical conclusions in 1928. All the information has been there all along. Only fierce determination by people at the highest levels of education kept our students stunted and semi-literate.
Finally, The Reading League is something new: a well funded professional association of former and current teachers who finally figured out they were doing it all wrong. Now they want all the other misled teachers to join them.
The Reading League's philosophy is, "When we know better, we do better. Only 30%–60% of students learn to read well when presented with common instructional approaches. We aim to change that."
Here's a comment quoted on the group's website: "So impressed with the work of The Reading League. I'm not even in the same country and their work reaches and impacts positively ... probably around the entire world!"
According to Dr. Kenneth Pugh, a Syracuse University neuroscientist quoted on the site: "We largely know how to fix this problem. It is therefore criminal if we don't fix it."
Every phonics enthusiast has said the same thing many times.
None of the above is intended to mean that the future will be smooth. The Education Establishment is vast, well funded, well organized, and evidently committed to dysfunctional methods. The Washington Post recently ran a long technical article showing how the dark side works. Here's the title: "Why Both Sides of the Reading War Debate are Wrong."
This seems to be a redo of Balanced Literacy, which embraces all the stops. Whatever teachers are doing, they can find confirmation in this article. Keep right on doing what you're doing, comrades; don't change a thing. Apparently, the Washington Post wants to keep the problem going for another 75 years.
Arguably, this is tacky and transparent. All the new wisdom preached in the New York Times, the Atlantic, ScienceDaily, and The Reading League should be ignored? Instead, do what has never worked?
The Education Establishment is not good at teaching children to read. Its particular genius lies elsewhere: sophistry, jargon, disinformation, and marketing slogans. The people running it have created a semantic smog that keeps people from communicating with each other.
The most welcome thing about these new voices is how loud and clear they are. Phonics is best! Get used to it!
Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is Saving K–12: What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them? He deconstructs educational theories and methods at Improve-Education.org.