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To the Editor:

Re “A company has made millions selling books on reading instruction rooted in bad science” (Nov. 10, 2022)

We are educators who have devoted our lives to the cause of helping children read and write with power. We’re dismayed that at this moment in our history, when all of us should be banding together to support literacy education, the podcast “Sold a Story” fans divisiveness, creating a false sense that there is a war going on between those who believe in phonics and those who do not. Systematic phonics instruction is essential. That is a settled issue. And essential, too, is comprehension strategy instruction, knowledge building, vocabulary acquisition, language development, writing process, culturally responsive teaching, emotional well-being and attention to educational equity.

The “Sold a Story” podcast takes the fabricated phonics debate a step further, attacking the integrity of a group of educators who have led pioneering research and helped advance our field.

At a time when information spreads quickly and, sadly, too many important issues have become oversimplified and polarized, it is irresponsible to reduce the teaching of reading to phonics instruction and nothing more. To imply that other approaches are not just wrong, but money-making schemes, is reckless. Teachers and students will not benefit from biased storytelling and finger-pointing, especially when so much is at stake.

You can believe in the critical importance of phonics and not agree with the incomplete story being sold in “Sold a Story,” which paints educators as naively inadequate, gives them a lot less credit than they deserve and diminishes their agency.

We are asking for the rest of the story. The research that is being ignored, the stories of school districts and educators who have seen incredible success using comprehensive approaches to reading instruction that are conveniently left out of this narrative.

And we are asking that those who truly care about doing the real work come together and move forward in a productive way that recognizes all the elements of effective reading instruction. Let’s stop wasting our time fighting with each other and focus on what matters most.

Dr. Randy Bomer

Dean, College of Education, University of North Texas

Dr. Celia Oyler

Vice dean for teacher education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Dr. Laura Asceni-Moreno

Professor of bilingual education & bilingual program coordinator, CBSE, Brooklyn College

Katherine Bomer

Professor of practice in the Department of Teacher Education and Administration, UNT

Dr. Paul Thomas

Professor of education, Furman University

Dr. Timothy Rasinski

Professor of literacy education, Kent State University

Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Founder and president, Curriculum Designers

Mike Matthews

President of Authentic Education

Dr. Sam Bommarito

National reading consultant

Lois Bridges

Executive director, Bring Me a Book

Elisa Brown

Principal, PS 249, winner, Blue Ribbon Schools Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding Leadership

Sandy Brown

Director of elementary curriculum, Denton ISD TX

Christopher Paul Curtis

Winner of the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Honor Book Award and a National Book Award finalist

Georgia Heard

Poet and author of “Awakening the Heart,” “The Revision Toolbox” and “Falling Down the Page”

Carmen Agra Deedy

New York Times bestselling children’s book author

James Howe

Award-winning author of books for children and young adults

Sarah Weeks

Author of the bestselling novels “Pie,” “Save Me a Seat” and “So B. It”

Naomi Shihab Nye

National Book Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award and Pushcart Award winner, chancellor emeritus, Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate from 2019–21

Dr. Harvey “Smokey” Daniels

Author of “The Curious Classroom,” “Upstanders” and “Literature Circles”

Dr. Cecilia Espinosa

Associate professor, Early Childhood Graduate Program, Lehman College

Michael Fisher

The Digigogy Collaborative, and Curriculum21 Faculty

Phil Daro

Educational designer

Prof. Lynne Einbender

Bank Street College of Education faculty

Dr. Lucy Calkins

Richard Robinson Professor of Literacy at Teachers College, Columbia University; founding director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project

Leslie Zackman

Retired superintendent, New York City

Carl Anderson

Educational consultant, author of “A Teacher’s Guide to Writing Conferences” and “How’s It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers”

Dr. Rachael Gabriel

Professor of literacy education at the University of Connecticut

Ellin Keene

Author of “The Literacy Studio,” “Engaging Children” and “The Teacher You Want to Be”

Ruth Swinney

Educational consultant and author

Dr. Daniel Friedrich

Associate professor of curriculum, Teachers College, Columbia University

Dr. Ofelia García

Professor, Ph.D. program in urban education, and Ph.D. program in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian literatures and languages, City University of New York

Dr. Patricia Velasco

Associate professor of bilingual education, Queens College, CUNY

Dr. María Paula Ghiso

Associate professor, Teachers College, Columbia University

Dr. Cecelia Traugh

Dean, Bank Street Graduate School of Education

Dr. Phyllis Harrington

Superintendent, Oceanside Union Free SD

Dr. Kara Hollins

Lecturer, preservice elementary inclusive program in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University

Dr. Mary Howard

Expert in literacy, author of “Good to Great Teaching,” “RTI from All Sides” and “Moving Forward with RTI”

Bena Kallick

Co-Director, The Institute for Habits of Mind

Penny Kittle

Teacher, author, advocate

Laura Kotch

Retired NYC deputy chancellor

Jonathan Kozol

Author, National Book Award winner

Dr. Heidi Mills

Distinguished professor emerita at the University of South Carolina, educational consultant

Dr. Cara Furman

Associate professor of literacy education, University of Maine–Farmington

Dr. Douglas Reeves

Author and founder of Creative Leadership Solutions

Donna Santman

Education consultant, author of “Shades of Meaning”

Maurice Sykes

Author, former executive director of the Early Childhood Leadership institute at the University of the District of Columbia

Dr. Dick Allington

Professor emeritus, reading education, University of Tennessee

Dr. Amy Tondreau

Assistant professor, elementary education, University of Maryland

Dr. Mary Ehrenworth

Senior deputy director, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project

Marc Tucker

Founder and CEO emeritus of the National Center on Education and the Economy

Patricia Vitale-Reilly

Educational consultant, author

Prof. Molly Welsh Kruger

Bank Street College of Education faculty, Reading & Literacy Program

Dr. Marjorie Siegel

Professor emerita, Teachers College, Columbia University

Anita Silvey

Author of “Children’s Books and Their Creators” and “100 Best Books for Children”

Dr. Kylene Beers

Author of “When Kids Can’t Read/What Teachers Can Do;” co-editor of “Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise into Practice”

Dr. Connie Briggs

Professor emeritus, Texas Woman’s University

Dr. Erika Dawes

Professor, chair of Language and Literacy Department, Lesley University

Dr. Mary K. Lose

Professor, Department of Reading and Language Arts, and director of the Reading Recovery Center of Michigan at Oakland University

(Disclosure: The Hechinger Report is an independent unit of Teachers College at Columbia University, where several signatories of this letter serve as professors.)

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Letters to the Editor

38 Letters

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  1. Sold a Story does not say that schools should “reduce the teaching of reading to phonics instruction and nothing more.” The podcast says that decades of scientific research have shown that methods that rely on the cueing theory make it harder for some children to learn to read. We stand by our reporting.

    Catherine Winter
    Senior Editor
    APM Reports

  2. I think it is important to understand that “Systematic phonics instruction is essential” is not a foregone conclusion in many jurisdictions. In Victoria, Australia for example, synthetic, systematic phonics is not part of the curriculum and if schools want to use this approach they need to spend thousands on training their staff and buying material. This is still a live discussion in many english speaking parts of the world.

    Further the other parts of a comprehensive comprehension teaching strategy are also not known to a lot of teachers ie, the role and importance of background knowledge is not something that is known. Teaching comprehension skills is still more prevalent than teaching knowledge, despite clear evidence that there is not such thing as comprehension skills.

    I don’t think the podcast is an indictment on teachers. Teachers are doing their best with what they were taught. But many things they were taught are wrong according to the academic research and science. This is still very much a live issue and one that is important to rectify so that children can have the best chance in life.

  3. Sold a Story is supporting the science of reading and that if something works to improve a child’s reading skills we should be able to see the data to support it! It’s actually very simple and clear that if there is no data we should have questions about the validity of the claims.

    Maureen Judge
    Reading Specialist

  4. The time has come for all parties to come together to share their beliefs and stance on literacy. We need honest and open discussion to work together and listen to each other. Who is willing to step forward and organize this event? My FB group, Science of Reading-What I Should Have Learned in College is willing to host a panel discussion. If you are interested in being on the panel, please contact me.

  5. As an educator (and a graduate of one of the programs represented in the list of signatories, which gave me a whole two hours of phonics in the entire course of my master’s degree), I could not disagree more that “paints educators as naively inadequate, gives them a lot less credit than they deserve and diminishes their agency.” This letter is a far greater insult to my intelligence as an educator by implying that the only reason I might have strong feelings about the teaching of phonics in elementary education is that I’m so gullible and easily swayed that some random podcast could convince me that everything I know is wrong.

    The truth is, when I first discovered Emily Hanford’s reporting, I had already come to have doubts and questions about everything I learned about reading in my teacher preparation program. I had already started to see that practices I was taught like gospel truths were ideological fantasies completely distanced from any available evidence base; I had already begun to see that when I did what I was taught to do in grad school, many of my students – affluent students from stable homes, who had every environmental advantage – saw no benefit and failed to grow as readers.

    Every single thing that “Sold A Story” about pedagogy is something I believed before the podcast started; moreover, it is something I was forced into believing only after being confronted with the failure of the methods I was taught in my master’s program. Listening to this podcast and hearing the voices of other teachers who feel foolish, bamboozled, lied to, and guilty has been the most unbelievable catharsis. I am so grateful to Hanford for making public what I have been saying privately for years, not because some podcast said it, but as a result of my own practice, reflection, and research.

    I agree that we should all be banding together to support literacy education. But the kinds of practices described in the podcast, taught to me in graduate school, and mandated by schools I have worked at are not literacy education. Period.

    Journalists, parents, and other advocates of teaching phonics adequately have never said that phonics is the only thing required to teach kids to learn to read. This letter is far guiltier of oversimplification and finger-pointing than those who stand thus accused.

  6. The claim that the podcast and Hanford’s reporting is “creating a false sense that there is a war going on between those who believe in phonics and those who do not” really undercuts the listener’s intelligence. Language comprehension is not the same as word recognition. Do they work together? Absolutely. Scarborough’s Reading Rope (2001) elaborates on the Simple View formula presented by Gough and Tunmer (1986):

    Decoding (D) x Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC)

    However, the authors of the OpEd double down on the “war distraction” and pits teachers as the ones in the fight. They’re not. They are the casualties in a decades-long saga of irresponsible research and publishing. The podcast in NO way “paints educators as naively inadequate, giv[ing] them a lot less credit than they deserve and diminishes their agency.”

    Do you really think she’s painting educators as naively inadequate? Hanford is reporting on the disingenuous “gurus of reading” that claimed that they weren’t aware of the research done in the latter part of the twentieth century that disproved the three-cuing system. Those folks were then published, and districts bought the packages, books, trainings, etc. and told teachers to teach it. Teachers–along with districts, parents, students–were…sold the story.

  7. Referring to the science of reading as “phonics instruction and nothing more” is inaccurate. “Sold a Story” reveals that many literacy pioneers also share this misconception, which carries over to their work, and in turn affects millions of teachers and students. Spinning SoR as a “fabricated phonics debate” is irresponsible and reckless, and you said it yourself, inaccurate information can spread quickly. This letter says there doesn’t need to be a “war”, but your tone suggests otherwise.

  8. Sold a story professes to judge educational research and science as “bad” ….based on what criteria?

  9. Sadly, there really is a literacy war. Children are not being taught sound reading practices. Rudolf Flesch pointed this out back in 1955 with his book “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” He had to write another book in the 80s, “Why Johnny Still Can’t Read.” Those who signed this letter aren’t the parents who had to teach their kids on their own, nor are they the students who struggle to read. I hope more and more parents and even young students will contribute to this discussion. They’re the ones who struggle with this because of the very silly idea that concepts like “3 cueing” do anything to help a child learn to actually read words.

  10. Dear Lucy and Colleagues,

    You haven’t learned anything. How about this. Go get a job in an at-risk school that had the 3-cueing method, doing interventions for 4th and 5th graders. You will find that the multitude of children that have received this instruction can’t just turn off guessing.

    The amount of phonemic awareness and phonics intervention needed after training their brain to guess is immense. TRAINING A 5 YEAR OLD BRAIN TO GUESS CAUSES LEARNING DISABILITIES. The brain is growing when they are 5. It entrenches the method in their developing brain.

    And then in 4th and 5th, when the are now 2 years behind, someone who understands MIGHT come along and try to help. But the damage has been done and retraining a brain is very difficult. You have doomed them to a vey difficult life. I tried for years to help remediate these kids.

    You also affected MY life. Fighting to get kids what they need, against the whole-language politics still alive and well in the district, SNEAKING the proper interventions to help children, takes a toll.

    Doing everything I could for hundreds of kids for one year-only to get a new batch of kids with the exact same intervention needs the next year. Over and over. I finally couldn’t take it any more. I couldn’t watch you and your colleagues ruin lives and send kids to jail.

    My entire career I felt guilty doing the right thing. Constantly going against my superiors. Do you have any idea the trauma you have caused me? Let alone all of the kids in prison or have difficulty lives, because of you and your colleagues.

    If you truly understand what you have done and how you have affected children, you would target the adults for whom you RUINED THEIR LIVES. You would help adults learn to read the proper way and have a whole new calling. Until then, you are just pivoting to make more money.

  11. This list of people, many with a vested interest in the cueing system, is hardly valid criticism of the reporting with science that shows this report was incorrect. If anything, Emily graciously assumes the best intentions. I think that they knew the method was nonsense but liked the cash flow. I based my opinion on The
    “Email :From: Lucy Calkins
    Date: Thu, Jan 16, 2020 at 10:40 AM
    Subject: Sensitive & Timely Information re: TCRWP
    To: Lucy Calkins
    Dear Leaders of TCRWP Schools,
    I am writing to give you a heads up. Sue Pimentel, one of the
    authors of the CSS and a founder of Student Achievement
    Partners, has issued a report on TCRWP that may receive
    far more press than would have happened had it not been
    for the maelstrom around the science of reading and the Ed
    Week articles. I want you to know this will be coming out
    today. I just learned of this earlier today, so I’m sorry you
    haven’t gotten more of a heads up. I anticipate that this
    could create problems for some of you, as well as for those
    of us at TCRWP central, and I couldn’t be more sorry. We
    don’t yet know what kind of attention this will receive. If the
    report happens to go under the radar, let’s let it stay there.
    be forewarned, but don’t amplify it by sharing… ”

    If I knew this method did not work based on research and science, as a school counselor by keeping current in my field, how do these experts explain their they did not ? How do they justify use of the methods of poor readers rather than instruction to build reading skills needed, malpractice in any other profession?

    Nancy Duggan
    Executive Director of Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts

  12. Not one of the Sold a Story episodes says that we teach phonics in isolation. All components of Scarborough’s Rope should be taught. We just must remove the three cueing and instead teach kids to decode.

  13. The movement that is making a case for more systematic phonics and PA instruction does not neglect any other area of literacy and is in fact arguing for more scientifically and research based instruction in all facets of language within our schools. This letter is fully creating a straw man and is itself fanning flames that need not exist if everyone is indeed trying to look at research based practice in this field. I would ask that the respondents actually provide something more substantiative, with references, if these concerns are at all to be taken seriously by the numerous other academics who are heavily involved in literacy research and did not sign on to this letter.

  14. As a teacher in early elementary, I am in a school system that will not spend any money on phonics instruction. The teachers in K-3rd grade (including myself) in my school spend our own money to purchase phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary and writing programs/curriculum in order to provide a well-rounded language arts instruction because we are passionate about quality education. Our current curriculum is from a huge publishing company and truly is a publishing company posing as a curriculum. The reading programs advanced by F&P and LC became so popular and pervasive that they have dominated educators’ ways of instruction. To go against that and provide research supported instruction is like swimming upstream.
    In addition, advisors hired by the state department of education (because our standardized reading scores were too low). steered us to this curriculum which is horrible and “Sold a Story” to our administrators and board. We are in a reading wars battle in our school and students are the ones suffering, especially any student for whom reading doesn’t come easily.

  15. This letter is exactly what is wrong. There is no reading war. Rather than address new information this letter creates division where there is none. Thank you for putting all these names in one place. I will be certain to look carefully at those who chose to instigate fear and spread lies over digging in and understanding decades of scientific research. This response addresses zero facts and simply attacks a podcast that brings to light what we now know… there is a better way. Know better, do better.

  16. The time has come for all parties to come together to share their beliefs and stance on literacy. We need honest and open discussion to work together and listen to each other. Who is willing to step forward and organize this event? My FB group, Science of Reading-What I Should Have Learned in College is willing to host a panel discussion. If you are interested in being on the panel, please contact me.

  17. I am a public school special education teacher who has attended the week long institute at TCRWP at Columbia, trained in LLI, and also trained as a Dyslexia Practitioner, I can speak confidently about my experience with the first two programs and their effects on students. I have 8 year olds who have masked their illiteracy through 3 cue only to end up at my classroom door because the pictures have gone away in the text and they can no longer make a “smart guess” about a word or what they are reading. I spend precious months undoing bad habits and teaching foundational skills in reading using proper, evidence based techniques.
    I’ve argued with administrators only to be told they know “in their hearts” what is best for students. I spend significant time talking to fellow educators to empower them to do what is right by their students. We are not properly preparing educators in reading instruction. Yes, teachers want to have autonomy and creativity to deliver effective, engaging instruction. Yet, they are either not taught how students learn to read or new teachers are shut down by school leaders and persuaded to use ineffective, and even harmful, practices.
    “Sold a Story” captures what many of us have been saying for years. The 3 cue strategy does not work. We need to be student centered in our practices. We need to move away from our egos and defense of our past methodology and look at what students need. Cognitive science does not lie. There is as much room for debate about how students learn to read as there is about the existence of climate change.
    This opinion misses the mark because even if we give benefit of doubt and conclude that we all agree that phonics is necessary, it fails to provide a rebuttal or provide a reasonable defense of damage done by three cueing. So now, I will also, “ask that those who truly care about doing the real work come together and move forward in a productive way that recognizes all the elements of effective reading instruction.”

  18. It’s very telling that you’re asking for rather than providing contrary research or supposed success stories.

    Remember, not so long ago, when parents sent up the red flag, saying keeping kids out of school was detrimental to their academic and emotional well being. And remember when school districts and teachers unions keeping kids out of school tried to gaslight parents with claims that “kids are resilient” and “they’ll be fine”. Now what does the empirical data show? Parents were right.

    The same jig is up with reading instruction. Parents have seen the deleterious effects of poorly constructed reading curriculums on their children for years. There is now a bevy of scientific research to prove what parents have already known – these incredibly popular and profitable curriculums are trash. They are grossly negligent in providing children with the tools they need to be successful readers and writers.

    We’re well past the point where we can be gaslit by the people and organizations whose careers and pocketbooks, and corporate bottom lines, and department budgets, and university endowments depend on the continued commercial success of these flawed curriculums. You’re time is up.

  19. The authors seem to be reducing the point of Sold a Story to advocating for phonics instruction. Of course, most of the items the authors listed as essential to good reading instruction are just that.

    Sold a Story points out that what isn’t a part of good reading instruction is memorization and context, visual cues, and guessing to figure out unknown words.

    Shame on you for your diversion from the truth.

  20. I am a former English teacher who now serves as an elementary school librarian. I also am generally focused on literacy and reading as a critical tool for success in life. I feel that literacy is up against so much right now in our society, with much working against it, including the seductiveness of screens and stories told on tv. We all need to be doing everything we can to make reading accessible, fun and rewarding for the good of all children and our society as a whole.

    I sat spellbound by each episode of Sold a Story. In reading this letter, I am disheartened to read this: “the podcast ‘Sold a Story’ fans divisiveness, creating a false sense that there is a war going on between those who believe in phonics and those who do not” as well as “we are asking that those who truly care about doing the real work come together and move forward in a productive way that recognizes all the elements of effective reading instruction.” Several of the people who signed this letter repeatedly refused to participate or to be interviewed for this exhaustive podcast. That refusal makes it hard for both sides to come together, and it makes this letter flimsy from my perspective. It is also quite something to see phonics noted in the letter as something irrefutable when that was not underscored at all by proponents of the cuing method throughout the podcast. I appreciate that this podcast gets listeners to think about the way money influences students’ learning as well.

  21. I have been in education for 35 years. I started in a first grade classroom and after 12 years was able to get trained in Reading Recovery. After four years of teaching Reading Recovery, I knew that something was missing in my reading instruction because only about 50% of the disabled readers were successful with that approach. That was when I was trained to teach dyslexic readers using synthetic phonics with direct instruction. It was a game changer. I have been in a district that buys all things Heinemann and I have to agree with what I heard on Sold a Story. I witnessed first hand the damage done to the 85% of kids that need explicit phonics instruction to be successful readers and writers.

  22. My take:
    1) 58 people can be wrong. It is not a popularity contest.

    2)Being a pioneer doesn’t shield you from being held accountable. There should be no education GODS. None.
    To expect anyone to be treated as such is both anti-science and anti-democratic.

    3) I have been a teacher for 23 years. I was not offended one bit by @ehanford

    4)Is it possible that some of those who signed this letter have contracts with Heinemann publishing company? I hear that 30+ of those who signed do so. There is a conflict of interest there.

    5) I assure you it is not a fabricated debate. Everywhere I turn parents are seeking private reading tutors and are being turned down because the tutors are completely booked.

    6) If it is settled science as they said in their letter why are Lucy and F&P NOT providing systematic, explicit, and sequential phonics instruction? (The science has been settled for over 20 years.) Why instead of just admitting that they were wrong, they’re now trying to implement a phonics patchwork approach?

    7) After listening to #soldastory my ego was not so big that my first reaction was: “OMG I was called naive.” Instead, my reaction was “OMG. I need to do better and learn more so that I can better help the students I work with”. I think they think teachers have egos as big as theirs. We don’t. We just want what is best for kids.

    8)For the most part, the list of those who signed this letter reads as a list of people who live in privilege and for who the education system has worked rather well. It shows.

    9) I wonder how many of those who signed it were struggling readers themselves?
    I wonder how many cognitive scientists would sign this letter?
    I wonder how many reading researchers would put their names on it? I wonder how many reading interventionists?
    I wonder how many psychologists deal with students whose mental and emotional health has been adversely affected by reading failure.
    I wonder how many parents of students who read below grade level would sign it?

    10) In this letter, you all said that “the research that is being ignored, is the stories of school districts and educators who have seen incredible success ” well that is NOT research that is anecdotal information.
    You all know statistics, and research methodology so you all know better (at least Lucy and F &P should). Those are individual people, or building or district experiences, true as they might be they don’t constitute research. In order for it to be research-based it has to be valid, reliable, and replicable by independent sources. It is NOT evidence-based research if you only rely on your own friends’ research or your own research to validate your finding or if it happens a handful of times. That is an eco chamber…many of you need to step out and humble yourselves.

    11) But let me tell you who has been ignored, minimized, and caricatured for the last 20 years or so and who you continue to ignore and want us to ignore… it the stories of 1000s of children and parents for whom the balance literacy approach and the 3 cueing systems have left behind. As an interventionist working on the 4-6 grade level I can tell you that the effects of the three cueing systems in the balanced literacy approach is devastating for our most vulnerable students, including but not exclusively our special education students. To you, they might represent the 33/40 % that is expendable. They are not.

    11) It is ironic that in your letter you said, “those who truly care about doing the real work to come together & move forward in a productive way that recognizes all the elements of effective reading instruction”. It is ironic because it has been the advocates for sci./evidence instruction who had been calling for that ALWAYS.

    12)Finally when you all implied that science of reading advocates are “irresponsible to reduce the teaching of reading to phonics instruction and nothing more” they lied. Anyone who is well-versed in the science of reading or the movement knows that advocates have never advocated that. That is a BOLD lie. Why is it that in spite of the fact that we keep correcting you about this you keep promoting this lie? I wonder if you do so because don’t have any factual argument to make to combat the voices of educators parents, and students who are advocating for science/evidence-based reading instruction and who first hand have seen the harm that you have caused.

    13)Maybe we as advocates need to become more vocal about comprehension but that is not to say that we are or have ever promoted a phonics-only approach. Do you fear that the facts might set people free from your web of lies?

  23. To the 58 signers of the letter obfuscating Hanford’s reporting, the only people who reduce reading science to phonics are you. No one who knows the research that has existed for over 50 years would say that. How those of you who are academics could not know the research defies logic.
    Nor did Hanford blame teachers as you suggest. She did her job as a good investigative reporter, not unlike Woodward and Bernstein about Nixon. I bet you accept science about covid, climate change and the research on tobacco and lung cancer, so why do you reject the science about reading? The only possible reason is it doesn’t fit your belief system and endangers your revenue stream. Too many children have been harmed by misinformed reading instruction. It is time to consign cueing approaches to the dust heap of bad ideas about reading instruction. This is not a time for making common cause; it is a time to care about our children.

  24. I am the parent of a son who struggled learning to read over 40 years ago. The story Emily Hanford describes in “Sold a Story” is also my family’s (and uncountably many more families’) story. I sought help for my son from the time he entered kindergarten in 1979. I trusted that our neighborhood school would teach my son to read and write. I believed them when they said he just needed more time. When I brought in research about dyslexia, I was ignored. The reading specialist explained she was the expert; my input wasn’t needed. I pulled my son out of public school when he was 13. He couldn’t read or write at a first-grade level.

    I placed my son in a private school that knew how to teach reading. One year later his reading comprehension tested at the 9th level. He was writing full page essays. That’s when it registered it wasn’t my fault my son didn’t learn to read as explained in an IEP meeting. That’s when I realized my son would not become a juvenile delinquent and high school drop as predicted in that same meeting. It took just one year of the right, scientifically based, direct instruction on phonemic awareness, phonics, grammar, spelling, comprehension, vocabulary development, and the writing process to change his future. We were fortunate to have the means to pay for private school. This is not the case for most families. My son graduated from UCSB and is a highly successful entrepreneur.

    Whole language…which later morphed into Balanced Literacy has been damaging children for a very, very long time. Heinemann has been aware of the research and problems associated with their programs since before 1996. The company has demonstrated profits not children are the company’s priority.

  25. I was once asked how I was able to get so many students to become good readers. I replied that I taught them. The key point is that I taught them about all of the parts of the puzzle that is learning to read: phonological awareness, phonics, sight vocabulary, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. All of these parts are essential to teach a child to be a reader. In the beginning, it is about the first three parts. When proficiency is achieved in those areas, then it is all about the second three parts.
    This is one of my favorite quotes:
    “There is no comprehension strategy
    powerful enough to compensate for
    the fact that you can’t read the words.”
    –Dr. Anita Archer

    There is no statement more true in the teaching of reading. I fought the “system” in a public school for 32 years. The last 15 years there was a supervisor who is a Calkins’ devotee. She single-handedly destroyed an excellent reading and writing program in my district. Being a special education teacher, I did not have to use the Units of Study, but the general education teachers did and got their hands slapped repeatedly for trying to do the right thing and teach their students using phonics at K and 1st grade. I retired last June. I had enough. I could no longer sit there and watch what was happening. I tried to change things for a long time, but they wore me down. The proof is in the research and in the students who can actually read!

  26. As a primary school teacher, I have spent a lifetime teaching students to read. After working for 6 years as a Reading Recovery teacher, where my students made some gains, I learnt the science of how the brain learns to read. I switched from the 3 cueing system to teaching the English code using a multisensory, structured, cumulative and explicit approach. Now ALL my students learn to read competently!

  27. Signed by a host of University PHDs completely disconnected from actual practice. You are the problem!

  28. If the majority of US schools use F & P and Calkins curriculum (for a couple of decades now) and believe this is the “ideal curriculum,” how do they explain that 65% of fourth graders are not proficient readers (NAEP 2022)? At the very least I am relieved to know that F & P and Calkins don’t also lead any University Engineering or Medical School Programs.

  29. This is a silly response, from Lucy Calkins and other people that are proponents of 3 cueing and “whole language”. I have had to teach the Units of Study for 8 years. Thankfully, we began supplementing with Fundations. The programs contradict each other and since I began using Fundations and have learned more about the SOR, I have put an emphasis on direct explicit instruction. Before Fundations and other SOR strategies, students would get stuck at F&P level C because they could not decode. Nowhere in the Sold a Story podcast does it say “only phonics”. Since switching my emphasis to phonemic awareness and other explicit phonics instruction, my students are decoding better than ever. (Of course, they cannot “read” the LC running record books because they are awful and barely have any words they can decode in them).

  30. The new reading is just experimental and it shows with test scores. Virginia is number 50 in the nation.

  31. Thank you for your common sense response! You’re 100% correct that the information in the podcast was not only inflammatory, it was incorrect in its storytelling because of what it left out and assumed. As an educator for the last 22 years, I understand that we need to do more for all students, but telling only a small portion of the story in a simplified fashion doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the solutions to the problems. It is way more complex than that.

  32. After reading this response the the “Sold a Story” podcast by Emily Hanford, I have a few points to make.
    1. Regardless of what people “feel” or “believe”, having children exposed to good literature or having them “look for clues” to figure out words, is not reading (taking your eyes OFF the words is guessing). Reading is not a mystery or something that can be picked up by exposure like the spoken language. Letters are symbols that need to be correlated to a sound and that doesn’t happen because books are beautiful and exciting, it takes systematic, sequential, explicit, cumulative, and to mastery instruction.
    2. It has been stated several times that the aforementioned podcast is distorting the story and only focusing on phonics. However, Scarborough’s Rope and the Simple View of Reading (D x LC = RC), both of which incorporate all aspects of reading comprehension were mentioned in every episode.
    ( This is not mentioned at all in the response posted above, only the phonics. There is no mention in this article of the components of Scarborough’s Rope: literacy knowledge, verbal reasoning, language structures, building vocabulary, and background knowledge, yet that is exactly what the “Sold a Story” podcast is promoting.
    3. Because we know that Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension are the 5 components of reading, I want to note that I do understand what Dr. Rasinski is concerned about when he talks about fluency (I read his letter). Automaticity, which leads to fluency [chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/] was also mentioned in the podcasts, either by Mrs. Handford or one of her many guests. I do agree with Dr. Rasinski that fluency must be modeled and taught directly and explicitly, and many of the Science of Reading programs actually include a comprehensive fluency component. However, for students to build fluency, they must be able to decode the words first and build automaticity.

    Finally, my understanding of “Sold a Story” is that based on the Balanced Literacy method, children are expected to absorb the knowledge of words rather than teaching them to read through proven methods of instruction. I have been an educator for 34 years. I taught the Balanced Literacy Method until 2004 when Dr. Reed Lyon came to our district and taught us how to teach reading to our struggling learners through phonological awareness and phonics. However, it wasn’t until 2014, after attending LETRS training, that I understood the “why”. I can testify that my students who were receiving special education services for reading, I was their special education teacher, made tremendous growth following the Science of Reading instruction they received. They became successful readers and many tested out of their eligibility. I don’t believe this was because I was the world’s greatest teacher, but because I was teaching them that words are broken into sounds and those sounds have graphemes that represent them in the written word. We should not be in Reading Wars with each other, we should be doing whatever it takes to make children successful, strong readers. If what we thought was right we now know was wrong, then we need to change. Kids learning to read should not be determined by who has a product to sell.

  33. After a year and a half of fighting to get our daughters to:

    “stop guessing”
    “put your finger on the letters”
    “sound out the words”
    “stop looking at me” (using my face to see if the guess was right)

    We finally had enough. We tracked down our 3rd grader’s Kinder teacher who had everyone reading when he was in K and took them to her school. They started to read within 3 days once that stupid 3 cueing garbage wasn’t around. Everything about schools is great and teachers are wonderful people, just ban the predictive text and 3 cueing junk that ruins everything else.

  34. These companies would be FAR better served by simply adjusting their curriculum to incorporate a strong foundation of phonics. Put 90% of the focus on early literacy, primarily decoding, on phonics. THEN, apply the cueing strategies to reading comprehension later in the curriculum. I haven’t seen research that shows that cueing is effective for comprehension, but it makes a LOT more sense in that context.

    If you do that, you can salvage your reputation, be part of the solution, and keep a lot of the work you’ve already done by incorporating cueing elsewhere.

    You have a significant legacy advantage as a company (or as a professor) by virtue of your existing relationships, reputation, credentials, etc. If you make a shift toward a more science-based paradigm, you’ll likely be able to continue to succeed.

    But if you fight this, and you try to ignore the evidence, and only make small tweaks to the curriculum and hope you can weather the storm, it is very likely that your revenues and support will slowly erode, and eventually you will be replaced by start-ups that achieve better results without charging as much. In the case of academics, you will gain the reputation of someone behind the times who cares more about never admitting fault than you do about teaching children how to read.

    Take a look at the comments section. This defensive approach will not work. It may have done so before the pandemic, but too many parents have now seen first-hand that your systems are failing their children. And based on the many replies from teachers, it seems like even the people who were exhaustively taught your approach are rebelling.

    Your products are very expensive. A school district faced with an angry group of parents asking specifically why the district is buying your product and spending so much on it will move very quickly indeed. You are used to working in a sclerotic industry that changes very gradually, and where dominant players are almost never displaced. As a result, you are likely predisposed to be conservative and unwilling to make fundamental changes. That has made sense in the past. But once consumers see you as the problem (even though there are many causes for poor literacy rates), and given that it seems that your boots on the ground (teachers) are rapidly becoming skeptical of your approach, your brand could quickly become unfixably toxic.

    Politicians know that they can score a lot of points by improving education outcomes for children. If they perceive that it will be an easy and uncontroversial win to replace your curriculum with a phonics approach, you could lose massive market share very quickly.

    Think about this calmly and carefully. There is a win-win available. If you make foundational shifts to the curriculum, you can very easily say that you are “changing with the science” and tout the improved literacy rates of your new approach as evidence that school districts shouldn’t make the huge effort that would be required to totally replace your products.

    If instead you try to make a few small, or even just moderate, changes to seem like you’re listening, but it doesn’t improve outcomes, you are risking everything. Not just your bottom line, but your reputation. You’ll be seen (fairly or not) as the villains responsible for hurting millions and millions of children.

  35. Emily Hanford’s Sold a Story podcast is based entirely on a straw man argument and an ad hominem attack against a highly respected educator and researcher, Marie Clay. Marie Clay was the founder of the most successful intervention program for struggling readers in the history of education: Reading Recovery. Hanford distorts Marie Clay’s theory to suit her agenda, which is to create a scapegoat for low reading achievement test scores and discredit a legitimate and valuable knowledge base for effective literacy instruction. Hanford’s attack on what she calls the “three-cueing approach” is a straw man argument, because the term “three cueing” comes from the terms linguists use to describe the subsystems of language. The notion of cueing systems comes from linguistics, where subsystems of language are distinguished according to their role in meaning making from oral language and written text. Three language subsystems are identified in multiple bodies of research as sources of cues to comprehension of words, phrases, and sentences in reading: graphophonics (letter-sound associations; spelling), semantics (meaning of words and phrases) and syntax (word order and grammar). Clearly, graphophonics cues are the basis for orthographic mapping, the technical term for decoding. But what happens when there is no meaning for the word in the reader’s mental lexicon? Or what does the teacher do when the reader does not understand the word because spelling alone does not provide a cue to its meaning within the sentence? A significant percentage of English words have the same spelling but multiple meanings. Does the teacher simply let the reader wander into a linguistic cul-de-sac without providing any guidance for figuring out the meaning of an unfamiliar word? Journalists and other critics of “three-cueing” fail to articulate a theoretical framework or to reference specific research studies to support their condemnation of its effectiveness as a practice in reading instruction. Consequently, such claims lack empirical adequacy to support the argument that teachers should reject “cueing” as a tool in their toolkit of instructional strategies. Literacy educators must reject the Sold a Story podcast arguments since they have no basis in science.

  36. In response to a previous comment about research on “cueing” as a teaching strategy, I am reminded of a country and western song about looking for something in all the wrong places. The research on using the subsystems of language as cues for linguistic comprehension is found in the research on second language acquisition and second language reading in studies on language and literacy learning of multilingual learners. The construct that researchers investigate in these academic disciplines is termed “lexical inferencing.” There is a vast body of research in second language acquisition and second language reading research on what is termed “lexical inferencing” that addresses how L2 learners use context (in both listening and reading) to make meaning, build vocabulary, etc. The research points out that L1 readers who are reading in their L2 have an advantage because they have already developed the metacognitive strategies for meaning-making that they can apply to both word form and semantics in comprehending unfamiliar words. In these fields of research, lexical inferencing is treated in the research literature as a valuable and practical skill/ strategy enhances both metalinguistic and metacognitive to support comprehension. Lexical inferencing strategies are transferable from L1 reading to L2 reading for bilingual readers. See the compilation of relevant research in this volume.

    Haastrup, K. (2009). Research on the lexical inferencing process and its outcomes. In M. B. Wesche & T. S. Paribakht (Eds.), Lexical inferencing in a first and second language: Cross-linguistic dimensions (pp. 3-30). Multilingual Matters.

    Obviously, Emily Hanford in producing her “Sold a Story” podcast did not consult the multidisciplinary research on her “cueing” straw man. This is because to do so would have debunked her theory that what she calls “cueing” for her own purposes is an ineffective teaching strategy for enhancing decoding and comprehension in reading instruction. Educators must challenge the competence of journalists to make judgments about instructional strategies in light of their lack of knowledge of the wide-ranging multidisciplinary research base for effective language and literacy instruction.

  37. Thank you to the authors of this letter for this call to sanity.

    I have been teaching young children to read for 22 years and have needed resources, strategies and methodologies as diverse and varied as the paths to reading fluency that my many students have traveled. No program is complete or comprehensive to meet all children’s needs.

    “The cueing system” was never an single comprehensive system for anyone devoted to the range and variety of children’s paths to literacy in any classroom. The “Science of reading” is not either.

    “Sold a story” presents the foibles and failings of one orthodoxy only to replace it with another.

    Please, educators, do not deny the children in your care whatever resources, strategies and methodologies they might need to become readers!

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