The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

This podcast, Sold a Story, was produced by  APM Reports and reprinted with permission.

There’s an idea about how children learn to read that’s held sway in schools for more than a generation – even though it was proven wrong by cognitive scientists decades ago. Teaching methods based on this idea can make it harder for children to learn how to read. In this new American Public Media podcast, host Emily Hanford investigates the influential authors who promote this idea and the company that sells their work. It’s an exposé of how educators came to believe in something that isn’t true and are now reckoning with the consequences – children harmed, money wasted, an education system upended.

Episode 1: The Problem

Corinne Adams watches her son’s lessons during Zoom school and discovers a dismaying truth: He can’t read. Little Charlie isn’t the only one. Sixty-five percent of fourth graders are not proficient readers. Kids need to learn specific skills to become good readers, and in many schools, those skills are not being taught.

This podcast was produced by  APM Reports and reprinted with permission.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Letters to the Editor

4 Letters

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

  1. Emily Hanford is soooo wrong about Reading Recovery. Her theory of how Reading Recovery teachers teach reading is based on absolutely misguided and incorrect research. It is peice-mealed to fit a narrative. Dick and Jane books are not the same as patterned text. These books are geared to teach kids HOW to look at print. If they do not have directionality and concepts about print they cannot decode. They have to know where and how to look at print before they can decode print. This is at early kindergarten levels. At the same time they are learning about letters and sounds. Kids are not at these levels long. In no way shape or form to Reading Recovery teachers teach first graders just whole word learning (although they need some word recognition) and phonics and phonological text IS taught. Reading Recovery is NOT whole language. Reading Recovery is a short term intervention. Further interventions are considered if kids need further support. Many do not. You CANNOT use assessment data if a child has had two weeks of intervention and say “see the intervention did not work.” Hanford has used Mays research which is HIGHLY flawed and compares apples to oranges. A lot can happen between 1st grade and 4th grade. Tier 1 instruction has to be in place for reading instruction in the classroom in order for ALL students to make continued growth. Marie Clay did not say phonics was nonsense and phonics instruction part of Reading Recovery training. The three cueing system is a HUGE misconception. Get your facts straight! Go to

  2. Thank you so much for these amazing podcasts. As I listened to them, I was reliving the past 30 years of my teaching career; as a Title-I teacher, a classroom teacher, then a Reading First Coordinator and Literacy Coach. I actually felt sick to my stomach knowing that I used the queuing system and was actually doing little to nothing for the students learning to read. When implementing Reading First, I was met with many of the obstacles and opposition that others across the country had felt. While thinking I had failed, it was a small relief to know that the initiative failed due to overwhelming opposition. An opposition to the science of reading that is only now becoming accepted. We are truly 20 years behind. I am glad to say I am still teaching, and now with a team of colleagues that also agree with the science of reading. Together we are finally making the changes in our school system and curriculum that will truly benefit the students as readers. This will take time and commitment, but I believe we are now on the right track.

  3. Thank you for these podcasts. I agree with the other letter-writers in that the education system has wronged students for so long with their choice of reading programs. My district (Boston Public) has purchased and implemented most of those mentioned. I can only imagine the financial cost. Many of my coworkers and I have always ‘secretly’ taught phonics and it’s good news that it can come into the open with the validation of the Science of Reading. My school has begun to implement structured phonics programs across most grade levels.- which teachers support. However, there is STILL an elephant in the room. We are REQUIRED to teach a ‘Tier 1’ curriculum to ALL students. In our case, it is a program called Expeditionary Learning (EL) . It is a very rigorous curriculum and comes with a ton of above greade level books as supplemental reading. I have read the reviews and people like it, but I find the materials unattainable for my EL students, students with disabilities, students reading below grade level, students with interrupted education…well that is just about all the students at my school. Maybe SOLD A STORY could take a look at this program and shed light on its value in helping students to read because my colleagues and I -just don’t get it.

  4. Lola ,I am pleased you posted your concerns about ‘Sold a Story ‘since all articles need scrutiny.
    I have been involved in the’ reading wars’ for 40 years and do like to hear both sides of the issue, to tease out the misconceptions on both sides.
    Here in Australasia Emeritus professors Tunmer,Chapman and Wheldall as well as other researchers have published peer reviewed research on Reading Recovery for decades and found serious flaws in the claims RR has made of its success rate. Like May they have found that the effects of RR, unfortunately wash
    out with time. Any research can be found to have some flaws. That is why it is important to look at other sources like cognitive and neuro science which suggest that structured phonics is best for maybe,60% of students and does no damage to the other 40%.
    I have read Clay’s writings where she states “no child needs explicit instruction in phonics”. In 1998 she wrote “all readers from 5 year old to the effective adult reader, need to use the sentence structure,order clues,features,special knowledge , first and last letter knowledge,before they resort to left to right sounding out of the chunks or letter clusters or in the last resort,single letters.” Phonics programmes reverse this order of importance.
    Predictable or patterned texts are purpose written to teach children not to rely on phonics but instead should predict words using meaning , sentence structure and letter clues.
    For decades my mother taught privately ,hundreds of students reading failures,of local schools here in NZ. These students frequently still could not read even though some had had two programmes of RR. They were all remediated with a very structured programme of intensive phonics combined with comprehension as was used in a previous time in NZ just before Marie Clay’s methods were introduced.

Submit a letter

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *