The science of reading has been around for decades. The science has been conclusive and clear: 1) kids learn best with explicit, systematic phonics instruction 2) balanced literacy fails many (approximately 30%) of children. The National Reading Panel (2000) did a thorough review of all the reading research. Many of the reading studies were conducted in real world classrooms. They found that a large percentage of children need explicit, systematic phonics instruction to learn to read. The balanced literacy approach can cause reading failure.
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Despite the clear evidence in favor of explicit, systematic phonics instruction, many bloggers, curriculum designers and education professors continued to create and market balanced literacy programs. Now, as the science of reading is gaining traction, many of these balanced literacy vendors are trying to backpedal. I’ve changed my ways, they say. Please still buy from me. They’re now trying to shift their marketing toward explicit, systematic phonics.
They acknowledge they advocated for balanced literacy for decades. They try to make the history of their companies seem less toxic by saying they also taught some phonics here and there. Despite using erroneous methods for decades, they’ve changed their marketing tactics to advocate for the “science of reading.” They slap “science of reading” labels on items that were once sold under “balanced literacy” labels. The items in their shops have not changed in any meaningful way. Their shops are still loaded with balanced literacy activities.
Yet, they are trying to deceive customers with the “science of reading” label.
Should we let these balanced literacy vendors off the hook?
Many of you know exactly who I’m talking about, whether it’s a big time education professor that got rich off selling seriously tainted balanced literacy curricula or homeschool bloggers with massive followings. The balanced literacy team is now changing their marketing to say they want to hop on the science of reading bandwagon.
They see that schools are now shifting to the science of reading. They see parents that are trying to buy science of reading decodable texts and curricula. Fewer people want balanced literacy programs. More consumers want science-based structured literacy programs.
These vendors are now heavily marketing their balanced literacy shop items as evidence-based. They’re shop items are not evidence-based. Some simply tacked on phonics units as if phonics is supplementary. Phonics is the cornerstone of how kids learn to read. Phonics should not be supplementary.
Should we really be learning the science of reading from balanced literacy bloggers?
There is also a lot of bravado in their tactics. Some of these once balanced literacy bloggers are even teaching courses on science-based reading methods. How do they know science-based reading methods? In their own words, they said they taught their k-2 students and their own children with balanced literacy methods. For decades, balanced literacy was all they knew. Now, after a mere year, they have the prideful claim that they’re now qualified to teach others about the science of reading.
Learning to teach using science of reading methods takes training and years of practice.
Learning to teach reading is hard. Science-based reading instruction requires a skilled teacher. It’s not something you can pick up by reading books or theory or listening to Emily Hanford’s viral podcast. You actually have to implement explicit, systematic phonics instruction with many students. You have to work with students at various levels. This can take years.
These bloggers claim they’re qualified to teach teachers the science of reading because they understand balanced literacy. They too thought balanced literacy was the best way to teach reading. They say they can speak to the teacher that’s afraid to change.
Yes, change is hard. However, we all know real learning causes discomfort. If teachers really want to learn the science of reading, they need to learn it from an expert. Learning to teach reading with science-based methods takes time and dedication.
Teachers who want to learn science of reading methods should look to people who have taught the science of reading for years. To start off, we can only be as good as our teacher. What if our teacher doesn’t know how to actually implement evidence-based instruction? What if they don’t know evidence-based instruction at all; they’re just really good at marketing that they do?
This is where these bloggers stand. They don’t know the science of reading in practice. Perhaps they know the theory. But one thing is for certain: they know how to market extremely well. In sum, they couldn’t really take a second-grade dyslexic kid that doesn’t know how to read and get that kid reading. These “former” balanced literacy bloggers are just not experienced enough.
Did one article really change the minds of balanced literacy bloggers and curriculum designers?
The journalist Emily Hanford wrote a viral article on the science of reading. In it, Hanford documents how balanced literacy causes reading failure. She describes the science of reading, showing how decades of solid research has proven that kids need explicit, systematic phonics instruction with phonemic awareness.
Balanced literacy bloggers say they read Hanford’s article and changed their ways. Why did it take an article from a journalist for them to change their ways? Many citizens are skeptical of journalists by nature. Yet, these bloggers ignored solid research. They ignored mountains of thorough research that proves classrooms need explicit, systematic phonics instruction to capture all kids. They ignored the science of reading for decades. And suddenly they listened to a… journalist?
Reading studies in support of explicit, systematic phonics are far more convincing than any piece a journalist could ever write. Yet, these bloggers claim that one day they read Hanford’s article, thought about her words, and then switched to the science of reading. Again, this is after decades of ignoring the science of reading. Something is fishy.
I’m really surprised by how few people have called them out. We’re all just allowing former balanced literacy vendors to tack on “science of reading” marketing and add supplementary phonics units to their shops. So here I am calling them out. Should they still be selling the items in their shops? Why are they still selling their curricula? Should they really be the ones to teach others about the science of reading?
Kobe Bryant didn’t learn from someone who was playing basketball wrong for decades. He learned from Michael Jordan. He learned from an expert who had been playing basketball effectively for years.
As schools and parents become enlightened on the science of reading, I hope they do NOT look to these balanced literacy vendors. I hope society can make room for companies that have advocated for the science of reading from the start.