Pushing back on the social media version of the Science of Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Pushing back on the social media version of the Science of Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

My regular readers know that I am a centrist. As we deal with the issues of teaching reading, I believe we should use the best of what all sides have to offer as we figure out what we should be doing for our kids. I also believe that decisions about that need to be made at the local level. Local school boards know their population best. They are in the best position to implement policies that fit local populations. I truly believe that one size does not fit all. See last week’s blog for details LINK

I have a 50-plus-year career as a teacher and a teacher of teachers. I’ve taught every grade from kindergarten through graduate school. I’ve watched the pendulum swing back and forth many times during the past five decades. What has been happening is that we keep going from one extreme to the other, never stopping in the middle. Inspired by the writings of P.D. Pearson LINK, I have become convinced that we need to try something that’s never been tried before. We need to try Pearson’s Radical Middle LINK. Here is a brief excerpt from that document (the underlining is mine).

“In this ecological approach, balance is not a matter of evening the score; instead, it is a matter of assembling an array of skills, strategies, processes, and practices that are sufficiently rich and synergistic to guarantee a full and rich curriculum for all students (one that, incidentally, would honor tenets 4- 7 in my list of tenets).”

In the latest iteration of the reading wars things have become especially antagonistic and combative. A group has emerged claiming they have the one and only solution to reading problems. They ignore decades of research around the origins of reading problems, and instead, they lay those problems at the feet of the folks promoting balanced literacy. They oversimplify and misdirect. Their followers have taken to attacking teachers who fail to follow their version of SOR. These attacks are mean-spirited and have the effect of quelling any dialogue about best practices in reading. This group seeks to replace all that has come before with its brand of the science of reading. Some of their key leaders are experts at public relations and have been creating a one-sided public relations campaign designed to sell their product and discredit all others. In effect, they are creating a one-sided monologue where only their views are considered. Many researchers have been pushing back on the views of this group and their leaders LINK, LINK,  LINK. These researchers have found that following the social media version of the Science of Reading does more harm than good LINK. If this group is allowed to ban all but their methods successfully, the result will be yet another swing of the pendulum, a very costly swing. That is because the methods they are pushing have been tried in the past and did not work for everyone. Consider the information from this video created by George Hruby, the University of Kentucky LINK. As he indicates, science is a process of discovery. I encourage the readers of this blog to take that point to heart as they think about the information I am about to present.

I thought it important for teachers and other educators to have information that helps push back against the disinformation spread through this one-sided public relations campaign. Accordingly, with the help of several colleagues, I have put together a pdf. A screen capture of that pdf can be found below. The links on the screen capture do not work. To get the full document with working links, please download the pdf found in this sharefolder LINK.  

Please use this document in the spirit in which it is presented. It is not saying that balanced literacy (or any other approach) is without limitations. Many things do need to be addressed in the current circumstances. Most important is the need to get the right kind of phonics to each student (most need synthetic, but some do need analytic- more on this point in future blogs). We need to consider things like the science of reading comprehension LINK, LINK, Scanlon’s work around using context as a part of problem-solving unknown words  LINK, and Duke & Cartwright’s active view of reading  LINK. However, dialogue around such things is impossible when one group forces its views on everyone else through ill-advised legislation. Good teachers are being attacked even when their methods are successful. Good programs are being banned, even when they are getting good results. That situation needs to be remedied. I hope getting the information in this handout out to educators and legislators can help do that. I’ll end with a thought from my Literacy Today article- lets Talk More, Argue Less LINK. Consider ALL the research. Let’s be ready to admit that all methods (including our favorite ones) have limits and limitations. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who, uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching.

Copyright 2023 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s views and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

PS If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following it to ensure you won’t miss future posts. Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

PPS- Feedback on possible corrections or additions to the Talking Points document is welcome. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at bommaritosam@yahoo.com and include the word “Feedback” in the subject. I hope to create a version 2.0 by the end of this summer.

20 thoughts on “Pushing back on the social media version of the Science of Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

    1. doctorsam7 Post author

      Thanks! I’m working on version 2.0 for the summer so any ideas for corrections or additions would be welcome!

  1. Doubting Thomas

    Several issues here, but I’m going to focus on explaining why “consider ALL the research,” does not work, briefly, by focusing on why one example of the research you cite does not engender confidence.

    The January 2021 material from the American Institutes for Research relies on a nonrandom, retrospectively selected subset of schools. There are several problems associated with this approach:

    Selection bias: The study’s treatment sample only includes schools that implemented the TCRWP program and continued using it until 2018-19. By excluding schools that discontinued the program before 2018-19, the study introduces selection bias, as it only considers a specific subset of schools that might not be representative of the entire population.

    Overstating effects: Due to the selection bias mentioned above, the study might overstate the effect of the TCRWP program on test scores. This is because schools that found the program ineffective and stopped implementing it are not included in the analysis. As a result, the estimated effect might only be representative of the schools that continued using the program, and not the overall effect on all schools that implemented it.

    Limited generalizability: Because the study relies on a nonrandom, retrospectively selected subset, the results may not be generalizable to other schools or contexts. The findings may only be relevant to the specific group of schools included in the analysis, limiting the applicability of the results to a broader population.

    Lack of contextual data: The study relies on publicly available aggregate data, which lacks information on why schools continued or discontinued the program. This absence of contextual data makes it difficult to understand the underlying reasons for the observed effects and further limits the ability to generalize the findings.

    Retrospective design: The study uses a retrospective design, which may introduce recall bias or other biases related to the data collection process. In retrospective studies, data are collected after the events of interest have occurred, making it more difficult to establish causal relationships or to control for potential confounding factors.

    To be sure, it’s possible to find serious problems in many kinds of research, on many topics, making many claims. However, not all research is of equal quality. Not all research can be weighed equally.

    1. doctorsam7 Post author

      You are well aware that there is no such thing as a perfect research study. The standards followed by the American Institutes for Research are high. Randomized studies are often impossible in an educational setting, as you well know. Using “discount and discredit” is a two-edged sword and can also be applied to SOR research. Readers with a deep knowledge of how research works and no “ax to grind” will find it hard to ignore the American Institute’s report.

    2. doctorsam7 Post author

      Let’s use a little common sense. Consider the recent historic settlement around reporters reporting lies. Add to that the fact you can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre. Add to that the researchers are contending the reporting is slanted and biased see this peer-reviewed article from a peer-reviewed journal. Bottom line- I agree to disagree. https://literacyresearchassociation.org/stories/the-science-of-reading-and-the-media-is-reporting-biased/

      1. TD

        Let’s use a little common sense: journalists don’t do advance review of their work.

        You can say a piece of journalism is biased – and argue they didn’t account for this or that specific idea.

        You can say a journalist has gotten a fact wrong – and point to the fact that are wrong.

        You can say that Hanford’s work is a piece of journalism, and, as such, isn’t “peer reviewed.”

        But you can’t say a journalist who does not do “peer review” is doing bad journalism.

        Journalists just don’t do “peer review” as part of their fact checking process.

        You say some in your field are experts in “public relations.” Well, now you’re a little more expert, too.

        I’ve suggested a way to make your point, without the risk of making every journalist who sees it saying ‘Uh, what?”

        You can grasp that knife by the blade, and think I’m attacking, or you can grasp it by the handle, and wield it.

        Up to you.

      2. doctorsam7 Post author

        Did you read the peer-reviewed article? It wasn’t me saying that the social media version was wrong and bad journalism. It was the author of that article, and she provided plenty of documentation. Again, agreeing to disagree. You can full some of the people some of the time, all the people some of the time, but you can’t full all the people all of the time. Regular readers of this blog are quite aware of the pushback I’ve made to some of the misrepresentations and misdirections made by social media gurus. Defend that if you want, but in my opinion, it is indefensible. LETS TELL THE WHOLE STORY USING ALL THE FACTS.

      3. doctorsam7 Post author

        Read this post about what PD Pearson had to say, and then check out what he said on Facebook just lately. When a researcher of his stature calls the veracity of her statements into question, it’s time to explore whether she is a journalist or a spin doctor. I sense we will never be in agreement on this. Readers of the blog are advised to take what is said on social media with a grain of salt. https://doctorsam7.blog/2022/10/28/p-david-pearson-speaks-out-about-hanfords-portrayal-of-marie-clay-my-take-hanford-has-gotten-things-wrong-again-a-blog-entry-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

      4. DT

        “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations,” George Orwell.

        Again, grasp the knife by the handle:

        Good journalism is always going to make someone squeak.

        But, conversely, just because someone squeaks doesn’t mean it’s good journalism.

        So take a deep breath and consider adjusting the language in your PDF.

        Arguing, in effect, that “people in my field didn’t review this in advance” isn’t constructive to your cause, because that translates to, effectively, the people criticized in this report didn’t want it published!

        So is there another way to make your point, to package the material you’re referring to? How about something along the lines of ‘people in my field have taken issue with the facts presented in this reporting.’

        That’s literally true, and, I would argue, more constructive to your cause.

        Good luck.

      5. doctorsam7 Post author

        I actually like that way of putting it. Guess in your vocation you become good at word crafting. Have a good day!

      6. DT

        “I sense we will never be in agreement on this.”

        You do? On what? Your cause? Maybe.

        On how you make your case? Oh never fear, dear doctor, I think there’s still hope I’ll be able to bring you around to my point of view.

        “When a researcher of his stature calls the veracity of her statements into question, it’s time to explore whether she is a journalist or a spin doctor.”

        Actually, this is quite ironic, I hope it will make you smile. You mention the word spin doctor, and, well, one has appeared. I happen to be a spin doctor, a very highly paid one. And I must respectfully, if – I admit – a little slyly, admit I’m hardly convinced Hanford is one of my kind.

        Here lies our disagreement: journalists are bound to upset people whether they are accurate or not. It is simply a part of their process. That an investigative journalist has people pointing and sputtering doesn’t outsiders much, well, of anything.

        Therefore, I suggest that you consider focusing on facts in your PDF, and avoid getting caught up in the process. A lack of peer review is hardly a convincing indictment of a piece of journalism.

        Were that it weren’t so: the stories I could have squelched.So I’ll put my modest suggestion to you once more.

        Respected figures in your field have taken issue with the facts presented in Hanford’s reporting, so I suggest you consider focusing on these particulars – rather than the peer-review process – and present them as specifically as we can in our PDF.

        There are more than a few ex journalists among the ranks of educators. Little inside information: the money’s better.

        Yours sincerely,

        Screwtape the Spin Doctor

        P.S. – Out of the kindness of my devilish heart, I will forgo my usual fee… this time.

      7. doctorsam7 Post author

        Your advice is noted. BTW most of her income comes in her PR role. Perhaps not as large as yours but her training and income comes from PR. Thanks for the free advice. A little wary that it might be worth the price. But I will bring it up as we work on the next iteration of the document. Apparently this one is being noticed. That’s a hopeful sign.

      8. Screwtape

        My dearest Dr. Sam,

        Ah, the intrigue! You suggest Ms. Hanford’s income arises mainly from public relations? How curious! As one who appreciates professional rivalry and financial gain, your statement piques my interest.

        Kindly provide further enlightenment on this matter. A deeper understanding of Ms. Hanford’s financial entanglements would be most intriguing, don’t you agree? After all, I do delight in learning more about how money moves, as they say it’s the root of all… well, you know the rest.

        Do remember, dear doctor, that an unfounded accusation is worth quite a bit in my line of work. Rest assured, my motivations aren’t… monetary. I play for higher stakes, as you have surmised.

        Eagerly awaiting your enlightening response,

        Your ever-devoted conspirator,


      9. doctorsam7 Post author

        It’s a matter of public record. A significant part (not all of) her income derives from her public relations company which exists for the purpose of promoting her cause. Pretty straightforward. If you have evidence to the contrary, please provide it. Just wondering how my document caught your attention. In the matter of full disclosure, do you have any clients who might fit into the SOR camp?

      10. Screwtape

        My dear Dr. Sam,

        Ah, public record, you say? Please do me the honor of providing just a name or a hint, and I shall humbly and eagerly pursue these records with the utmost diligence. I am, after all, merely a student of the game, and I am ever so eager to learn.

        As for my own interests, let me assure you that I navigate very different waters, far removed from the education market. However, my curiosity in the academic isn’t purely… academic, I must admit.

        I am interested in the proper education of those around me. It’s a bit embarrassing, perhaps even out of character, for one such as myself to hold such idealistic goals, but necessity has a peculiar way of shaping our desires, wouldn’t you agree?

        Now, back to the matter at hand. I eagerly await your guidance, that I might delve deeper into this intriguing web of financial intrigue, with all due modesty, of course.

        Ever your devoted conspirator,


      11. doctorsam7 Post author

        Here is a link to her LinkedIn account indicating the org. she works for. https://www.linkedin.com/in/emily-hanford-a0171223/ BTW, you haven’t given me the information on how you became interested in my post, who brought it to your attention and haven’t given a direct answer to the question of whether any of your clients have a connection to SOR advocates. Your condescending tone makes me suspect you are trying to evoke a negative response on my part. BTW, this is a typical tactic of SOR social media folks. You can understand why I am more than curious about your ties or contacts with the SOR advocates. Please alleviate those concerns with a straightforward answer to the question of how you found out about my post and any ties you might have to SOR. Thanks for considering this request. Dr. Sam

  2. Doubting Thomas

    “Much of what she publishes does not go through peer review, meaning it has not been properly fact-checked.”

    It’s crucial to understand that journalists, particularly investigative journalists, do not submit their articles to sources for review before publication. There are several reasons why advance review is considered ethically wrong:

    Preservation of independence and objectivity: Sharing a story with sources or subjects before publication could give them the opportunity to influence the journalist’s reporting or angle. This undermines the journalist’s independence and objectivity, which are crucial to providing accurate, unbiased information to the public.

    Risk of manipulation or suppression: Advance review may lead to attempts by the sources or subjects to alter or suppress certain information, which could skew the truth or prevent important details from being reported.

    Undermining trust in the journalistic process: If the public becomes aware that journalists are providing advance review to their sources, it may erode trust in the journalistic process, as readers might suspect that the stories they read have been manipulated or influenced by outside parties.

    Protecting confidential sources and sensitive information: In investigative journalism, it is often crucial to protect the identities of confidential sources who provide valuable information. Sharing a draft with sources or subjects may expose these confidential sources or reveal sensitive information that could compromise the integrity of the investigation.

    Therefore, it is important to distinguish between journalistic fact-checking and scholarly peer-review, as they are two entirely separate processes. By not submitting her work for advance review, Hanford is not violating any well-known tenets of journalism. Quite the contrary, she is upholding the ethical principles that govern the profession.

    Here are some sources that support the importance of avoiding advance review in journalism:

    Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2014). The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. Three Rivers Press.
    This book, written by two respected journalists, outlines the key principles and ethical guidelines that govern the profession, including the importance of maintaining independence and objectivity by avoiding advance review.

    Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). (2014). SPJ Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp
    The SPJ Code of Ethics, a widely recognized set of guidelines for ethical journalism, emphasizes the need for journalists to act independently and minimize harm, which includes avoiding practices like advance review that could compromise their objectivity or expose confidential sources.

    Schudson, M. (2003). The Sociology of News. W.W. Norton & Company.
    In this book, Michael Schudson, a leading scholar of journalism, discusses various aspects of the news-making process, including the importance of journalistic independence and the potential pitfalls of advance review.

    Mencher, M. (2010). News Reporting and Writing. McGraw-Hill.
    This textbook on journalism explains the fundamentals of news reporting and writing, emphasizing the need for reporters to maintain their independence and protect their sources. It highlights the ethical concerns associated with advance review.

    These sources provide a solid foundation for understanding why advance review is ethically wrong in journalism, particularly in investigative journalism, and how it can compromise the integrity of the reporting process.

    1. TD

      “Discount and discredit” reflects healthy intellectual debate.

      Public conversations should be adversarial, challenging ideas openly. Civility matters, focusing on concepts, not motives.

      Intellectual honesty means critiquing ideas, not people. It’s an effective approach, benefiting all.

      Impressive backgrounds demand attention, but biases exist everywhere. Discrimination in research selection is necessary for guidance.

  3. Stacey Shubitz

    Great post! I believe in the need for a middle-ground approach. I’ve seen firsthand how my daughter (who has Dyslexia) grew the most when she was engaged in reading workshop during the school day and had OG tutoring after school. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Sam, and the helpful PDF to push back against the disinformation. Talking more and arguing less will help everyone find the best solutions for children.


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