More Well-Known Researchers Push Back on the “Science of Reading” Claims- A blog post by Dr. Sam Bommarito

More Well-Known Researchers Push Back on the “Science of Reading” Claims- A blog post by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Let’s start with an announcement concerning last week’s post about Tierney and Pearson’s webinar LINK.

The recording of our #ILAWebinar Fact-Checking the “Science of Reading”: Claims, Assumptions, and Consequences presented by Rob Tierney and P. David Pearson is now available on demand.

You can still register for the event to get access to the recording.

This week we discover that Pearson is not alone in pushing back on the social media version of the Science of Reading. Let’s look at this article from the Washington Post. LINK.

Valerie Strauss indicates this article centers around the views of several educators and the post they created for the article.

Reinking, Smargorinsky, and Yaden are well-credentialed. Reinking is a former Editor of the Reading Research Quarterly. In the post they share in this article, they make several additional points about the issues of reading instruction, especially early reading instruction.

-Like Pearson, P.L. Thomas, and Andy Johnson, this group of researchers and teacher educators find no convincing evidence of a “reading crisis.” The fact is that since NAEP started tracking scores in 1972, the scores have remained mostly flat. The only significant drop came with the covid 19 shutdown of schools. They correctly point out that the drop came due to “societal factors.”

-They also point out that the claims that the NAEP scores demonstrate that 2/3 of students are not proficient in reading are misleading. See what Diane Ravitch, a former member of the NAEP board, had this to say on that claim:

-They make it clear that phonics is important. Still, they point out that the National Reading Panel, which is often cited to justify the switch to a phonics-dominated curriculum, actually called for a balanced approach to teaching reading. I hope every teacher, parent, educator, and researcher reading this post takes the time to read Chapter 2, page 97 of the NRP report. Phonics is not unimportant, but phonics is also not the real solution to today’s reading problems.

-Finally, the MANY things that might make a difference in improving the state of reading instruction are listed, with links to each item. The links are not active in the screen capture below but are active in the article. I hope I have piqued the reader’s interest enough to go back and look at the full article.


I’ve had a 50-plus-year career in education. I continue to do in-class push-ins, tutoring, and in-service for preservice teachers. I also write this weekly blog and have been asked to do several presentations at various reading conferences over the last year. My first blog on this topic came because I read posts by teachers who were forced to stop using practices and materials that were working and instead use “Science of Reading” materials and methods. The situation is getting worse instead of better. What is going on? I think what is going on is that one of the most effective public relations programs in the history of education has convinced many that nothing from the past ever worked, everything from the past must be gotten rid of, and everyone should be required to use the methods and materials from “structured literacy.” All else is forbidden. This is a reminder that structured literacy was a public relations term invented to promote a particular point of view. Please read this link for the details LINK. I have no problem with folks promoting structured literacy; I have HUGE problems with folks promoting it to the exclusion of everything else. The clear goal of this movement is to unseat the prevailing methods that have worked for many children and replace them with their own methods. The net effect of doing so would be the creation of a monopoly. The beneficiaries are not the children. The beneficiaries are the publishers, who are now getting the exclusive rights to sell the wares while others are being forced out of the competition. Is this really happening?


I recently had a long conversation with Michele Dufresne, the owner of a small publishing company. The name of the company is Pioneer Valley Books. Research supporting her company’s Literacy Footprints Guided Reading System programis strong LINK. She expects it to be listed in the What Works Clearinghouse as an effective literacy program. Yet because of the legislation being passed in many states, districts can no longer use her program. These are districts whose children were underperforming and who subsequently raised the scores and kept them at or above average. Her program worked. It worked well in the field. It helped the kids. Yet it is banned in many states because of the impact of the current public relations campaign. As I have demonstrated in my last two blogs, the total misinterpretation and misrepresentation of research is being called into question by top researchers in the reading field. Yet because of the effectiveness of current public relations campaigns, state legislators are choosing to listen to public relations gurus and spin doctors. They are ignoring what top researchers have had to say. Something is rotten in Denmark!

Michele’s company only employs about 100 employees. She’s already had to lay some off. Currently, the sales of her innovative program’s decodable books are keeping the company afloat. Wait a minute, Doctor Sam- this company also sells decodables? Of course, they do. Like many centrists, they use ideas from all sides as they go about the daily business of helping teachers and parents help kids. If there are sides to this issue, think about the stance taken by each side. The social media Science of Reading folks take a “my way or the highway stance”. They are fixing things so only their materials can be used. By contrast, the centrists embrace looking at ALL the research and using ALL the ideas. Yet even when research and field experience show those ideas really work, the newest public relations campaigns are driving them out of the field anyway.  How is that right? Here is a simple reminder from a reading teacher of more than 50 years:


Let’s stop the madness. Let’s stop the formation of a monopoly in the literacy field. Let’s listen to the little guys when they devise things that work. Let’s not pull materials out of the hands of teachers when those materials are working. Let’s look at ALL THE RESEARCH and listen to ALL THE RESEARCHERS as we consider legislation. I’ll be revisiting all these issues from time to time this summer.

Most importantly, I’ll advocate for having BOTH analytic and synthetic phonics available so that each child can get the kind of phonics that helps them the most.  That is something that has not always been the case, and this summer, I want to explore how we can change things so that that can happen. I have several interviews lined up, including an interview with David Pressley about his newest book on balanced literacy, Michelle Dufresne as she tells us more about her cautionary tale of the effects of the current PR campaign, and with P.D. Pearson at the end of the summer to hear more about what the radical middle has to say on these issues. It’s going to be a busy and interesting summer. Stay tuned, folks- lots of good things are coming!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)

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

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