By Caitlin Moscatello, Sept. 13, 2023
The debate about the best way to help children learn to read goes back more than 100 years, but an overwhelming body of data has shown the benefit of having kids sound out letters and words.
One of the largest analyses of such studies is a 2000 report by the National Reading Panel, which found that phonemic-awareness instruction helps kids learn to read and boosts comprehension, while teaching systematic phonics “makes a bigger contribution to children’s growth in reading than alternative programs providing unsystematic or no phonics instruction.”
President George W. Bush used the report as the foundation for his own reading initiative, which stressed phonics for early readers.
Even that report left the door open for proponents of balanced literacy, noting that phonics “should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program.”
Plenty of educators listened to this part loudly — despite the fact that those advocating for more phonics were never saying phonics only. “When I started on this journey, I was like, Phonics? That’s what George Bush wanted. Phonics? That’s what happens in red states,” says Danielle, a teacher in New York who, like many of the two dozen people interviewed for this article, requested we use her first name out of concern for professional consequences.