When I entered the first grade in 1939, learning to read had its bedrock based in phonics.  Skip forward to the early 1990s when ITC decided to produce an interactive reading/writing series of Interactive Laser Videodisc instruction.  We surveyed a number of universities that were actively involved with teacher training and quickly discovered that “Phonics” had become a “dirty word” and that “Whole Language Learning” and “Balanced Literacy” were now the new flavors of the month.

This made little sense to me as, historically, phonics had served our nation well in helping young children first learn to read.

So, it was exciting for me to, first, hear last week on NPR and, then, read in The Hechinger Report (“Kids struggle to read when schools leave phonics out – Schools too often leave out a key piece of the reading puzzle because teachers aren’t trained to teach phonics” by Emily Hanford”) the story behind the findings of the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania public schools:

“It was 2015 and Jack Silva, the chief academic officer for the public schools in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, had a problem: Only 56 percent of third-graders in his district had scored proficient on the state reading test.
Reading scores had been low for a while, but for most of the five years that Silva had been chief academic officer, he and other school leaders had been consumed with a severe budget crisis. By 2015, the district had turned the corner financially, and Silva was wondering why the reading scores were so terrible. “It was really looking yourself in the mirror and saying, ‘Which four in 10 students don’t deserve to learn to read?’” he said.
The stakes were high. Research shows that children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives, and they’re likely to fall behind in other academic areas, too. People who struggle with reading are more likely to drop out of high school, to end up in the criminal justice system, and to live in poverty. But as a nation, we’ve come to accept a high percentage of kids not reading well. More than 60 percent of American fourth-graders are not proficient readers, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and it’s been that way since testing began in the 1990s.  .  .  .
.  .  . The basic assumption that underlies typical reading instruction in many schools is that learning to read is a natural process, much like learning to talk. But decades of scientific research has revealed that reading doesn’t come naturally. The human brain isn’t wired to read. Kids must be explicitly taught how to connect sounds with letters — phonics.
“There are thousands of studies,” said Louisa Moats, an education consultant and researcher who has been teaching and studying reading since the 1970s. “This is the most studied aspect of human learning.”
But this research hasn’t made its way into many elementary school classrooms. The prevailing approaches to reading instruction in American schools are inconsistent with basic things scientists have discovered about how children learn to read. Many educators don’t know the science, and in some cases actively resist it. The resistance is the result of beliefs about reading that have been deeply held in the educational establishment for decades, even though those beliefs have been proven wrong by scientists over and over again.
Most teachers nationwide are not being taught reading science in their teacher preparation programs because many deans and faculty in colleges of education either don’t know the science or dismiss it. As a result of their intransigence, millions of kids have been set up to fail.  .  .  .
.  .  . ‘Balanced literacy’ was a way to defuse the wars over reading. It succeeded in keeping the science at bay and it allowed things to continue as before.
We are born wired to talk. Kids learn to talk by being talked to, by being surrounded with spoken language. That’s all it takes. No one has to teach them to talk.

But, as numerous studies have shown, reading is different. Our brains don’t know how to do it. That’s because human beings didn’t invent written language until relatively recently in human history, just a few thousand years ago. To be able to read, structures in our brain that were designed for things such as object recognition have to get rewired a bit.

Another big takeaway from decades of scientific research is that, while we use our eyes to read, the starting point for reading is sound. What a child must do to become a reader is to figure out how the words she hears and knows how to say connect to letters on the page. Writing is a code humans invented to represent speech sounds. Kids have to crack that code to become readers.  .  .  .”

This is a lengthy and exceptionally rich article.  I can assure you that it is worth your time to read.  It excites me that the science proves, once and for all, that phonics is the best path — far and away! 

I’m scheduled for a medical procedure this week and then taking a week-long vacation.  More on Monday, October 22nd  –  –  –

— Bill Walton, co-Founder,
ITC LearningOctober 9, 2018  (Mondays & Wednesdays)


(This is a personal blog.  Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner,, an independent consultant.  They do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity.)