A Curriculum/Instruction Specialist From Ohio Speaks Out

Voices From the Grassroots of America
Here is a sampling of the constant input we receive from many across America who have had traumatic and frustrating experiences trying to provide quality reading instruction for their children and students, and are grateful for the help they receive from NRRF.

Colorado Mom Tackles Giant
with permission from EdNews.org
March 2007

Comment: In surveys done in youth prisons, over 80% of the youths in prison were illiterate. It costs over $23,000 per year to incarcerate them, versus just over $6,000 a year to educate them. What’s wrong with this picture? In my dyslexic son’s school district, from the year 2000 – 2006, the district did not have a phonics program in place. Funnily enough, they were taking Reading First money, but not using it as dictated by Federal Law. They pretended they were using it, by sending teachers on a weekend workshop. They never understood why one workshop didn’t a reading teacher make. From 2000 – 2004, our district had 4 school years to remediate my son. At one point, he had 25 hours per week on his IEP for “special education”; they kept him at a 4th grade reading age for 4 years. With excuses such as: “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”, or “Some children just don’t want to learn to read”, or “If we had had your son since Kindergarten he would be reading to grade level by now”, (he came here reading to grade level, having had a private education for 7 years). “He is doing really well, you should be more supportive” (Huh? Really well? He is 4 grade levels behind in reading, and you think he is doing really well?) Finally, not having the money to hire an educational attorney, we paid for a private Certified Academic Language Therapist (CALT) who, incorporating methods that are based on scientifically proven principles of instruction, amazingly to the school district, managed to teach my thirsty horse, and remediate my dyslexic son from a 4th grade reading age to an 11th grade reading age in 18 months of teaching, one hour a day, five days a week. My son was in 8th grade with an 11th grade reading age.

Now the district administrators tell me: “Well, that was just your son” — as if it was a lucky coincidence or a miracle. When will these people wake up? I spent 5 years changing Colorado State Law, to include dyslexia as a specific learning disability, and that went into effect on 4th April 2006. Around that time, the district finally woke up, because of this one excellent new Administrator who “got it”, and realized whatever the district had been doing, wasn’t working, (and whatever we were doing was.) Currently, my son’s CALT therapist is training five district teachers to become CALT therapists. Next school year 2007-2008, she will train another five. People like Louisa Moats, Mel Levine, Sally Shaywitz and Reid Lyon — deserve praise. I don’t care if some of you are whining that the Reading First program is promoting a phonics based approach, because it is a scientifically proven method of teaching — and guess what? It works.

Fact: Whatever rubbish our school district was promoting or teaching as a reading method for the past 7 years, does not work. Our dyslexic children are dropping out of High School. The National Institute of Health estimates that 15-20% of American students are dyslexic. In our district that amounts to upwards of 800-1000 students. Are we to leave that many students behind in our small mountain town, just because our district is arrogant enough not to use their Reading First money in the fashion the Federal Government required?

I think we can safely say that Whole Language doesn’ t work. We have a whole generation of students who cannot read. I read somewhere that over 40% of this country were illiterate. Astonishing statistics don’t you think? In Colorado, we lose $4.2 billion dollars a year from the economy in lost income, due to High School dropouts, and $190 billion annually across the nation. Don’t you think someone would put all these statistics together and see the bigger picture? Maybe we could get Moms to run education. We seem to have more common sense. Public education won’t get any better unless the Federal Government gives our school districts more money. I’m removing my son from High School at the end of May. He will be 10th grade and a High School dropout. I can’t bear it anymore. I can educate him by using local resources that have nothing to do with the public education system. We don’t have private schools to fall back on for his age/grade level, so I will use Professors from the local college and all the art, music, and sports facilities that are available to educate him for the next two years, before sending him back to London for college.

Telephone The Gow School on the east coast, and ask them to send you their FREE DVD called “Demystifying Dyslexia.” They supported the making of the DVD, and it shows you just how well phonics based programs (programs with a scientifically proven method of teaching) are working in public schools in Washington and Florida. One teacher was remediating her students TWO whole grade levels in SIX months! She beats our school district hands down, and she had far more free and reduced lunch students than we do. That’s another terrible excuse I hate hearing our administration bleat on about. If we were Telluride or Cherry Creek, where parents were wealthy, well, we too would be passing AYP and doing a good job, blah, blah, blah. Bottom line: We are not. We are not that bad off either. This is a reasonably rich town. So follow the guidelines, do it properly and get on with the job in hand. Teach our children to read, write and spell to grade level! IJAM (I’m Just a Mom) is a program taken across the country to the International Dyslexia Association Conferences. If you see one in your city, and you have done something positive and powerful for dyslexic children, or even your own child, then ask the organizer of IJAM to be part of the panel!

Teacher Training

March 10, 2007

Hi Joy,

Hope everything is going well for you and the NRRF. Georgia Educational Training Agency www.georgiaeta.com is busy training teachers on the explicit systematic way to teach reading. Early Literacy, Leaping into Literacy, Teaching Students to Read and Spell and Identification of Students with Dyslexia are four of our most popular teacher courses. Please check the web site for more information on each course. We also present a parenting workshop entitled Ready to Read. This program is designed to enlighten parents on the importance of an explicit, systematic phonics program. The response to the teacher training has been met with open arms. I have teachers say to me “ Why was I never taught this in college?” There’s even been a few tears by teachers. Once they understand the phonic component it all comes together. The proper way to teach phonics is the missing piece for almost all teachers. The response has been just as promising with parents. The contact number and address has changed. Please post the new number and address. Could the information about the parenting workshop be posted? Thanks so much for all you do.

Brenda Fitzgerald

(See information under Teacher Training on the Resources Page).

Special Education Teacher Speaks Up

February 24, 2007

Thank you for the Phonics Primer that was available on your website. I emailed you several years ago, and I am very impressed with your website. However, my situation hasn’t changed much. Every year I think, “This will be the year I teach good phonics instruction.” Then other things happen, and I never get to what is in my heart. I went into Special Education, and we have to use what is called “Core Curriculum.” Not only that, the Administration has decided we must have a 90 minute ELD block first thing in the morning, and it does not include phonics. It is mostly oral language development, with grammar included. It is hard to explain. We call it the Language Star, and the inventor is very funny to listen to. We have to buy into it or our jobs are on the line. I work with children with disabilities, and they really need basic reading skills; by that I mean phonics instruction. Now it is almost the end of the school year, and another year has gone by. I did get some training in Lindamood-Bell last summer, and it did make a difference. I wanted to go to a refresher training, but the administration wouldn’t allow it.

Your friend,

Prisoners Didn’t Get “Proper Teaching” in Reading

June 7, 2005

I have just found your website and being a qualified dyslexia teacher (now just finishing a post-graduate diploma), I couldn’t agree more with your views on phonics. To me, they are the building blocks, the actual mechanics of reading. Yes, there are some words that cannot be taught by phonics and need to be remembered, but not to teach the sound/symbol association is just plain stupid.

If I had been given a pound for every time I have heard the sentence, “If I had been taught this in school, it would have been much easier,” then I would be a wealthy woman, not a struggling adult teacher. Phonics is so much more than reading, it is also knowing that you can communicate properly, are you pronouncing words correctly? Are you processing the sound or what you think is the sound?

I have always told my students that you can read until you are a hundred years old and it will not improve your spelling one iota – BUT if you learn to spell properly using phonics as a cornerstone (/c/ /a/ /t/), then your reading will improve. Once this has been done, the learner can move on with spelling rules (English does have them) and strategies. This is no longer taught in any depth as far as I can make out.

English orthography [spelling] is extremely difficult to come to terms with. It takes much longer to learn English reading and spelling than nearly any other language, given its status as a bastard language (an amalgam of dozens of different languages). One book which I have found so useful I call it my teaching bible is Hornsby and Sheer’s Alpha to Omega; it really does teach phonics in depth. It is highly structured and excellent for anyone with learning difficulties.

Having two sons and an ex-husband with dyspraxia [a developmental coordination disorder], I do know a little of the despair that caring parents go through. Through my clients and students, I also know the despair that learners go through because they cannot read or spell. I worked as a dyslexia/basic skills tutor for three years in a male prison and firmly believe that had proper teaching been the order of the day, then three-quarters of these men would not have been there. Multi-sensory, dyslexia teaching is expensive, but not as expensive as suicide, mental health, and behavourial problems are – financially and [in terms of] human suffering.

Cynthia Phillips in Wales

How To Help the NRRF

February 10, 2005

Dear Ms. Elam,

Belated congrats on your appointment as Executive Director. I have had no official contact with this organization, but I was minimally involved with the former Reading Reform Foundation. I also worked in the Cincinnati area and trained under Sister Monica Folzer, who we recruited to train volunteer tutors in a public school. I am currently a tutor in Dayton and daily lament over the tragedies I see concerning children, teachers, administrators, and systems that just don’t get it…concerning the importance of intensive phonics first instruction. I work with elementary and middle school children who are failing, at risk, etc., and hope to have a summer academic/ pre-employment program for low skilled reading/math teens…I am looking for ways to contact people in Ohio, and more specifically, southwestern Ohio (Dayton, for sure), in order to rally the troops. I know of a few teacher friends who feel isolated and burdened by having to implement many expensive non-working reading programs in their classrooms. They need support and a voice. I am hoping you have some suggestions or contacts for me…I will be spending more time exploring your site, and truly appreciate the existence of this organization. Thank you for your time and any assistance.

A Reading Tutor in Dayton, Ohio

Middle-School Student Researches Phonics To Help Brother

January 6, 2005

I would like to thank you firstly for noticing the problems in today’s society concerning illiteracy. I myself was taught to read using the intensive, systematic phonics-first method and wondered why my little brother was not learning to read in the same manner that I had. I appreciate your voice in the matter. Our middle-school teacher has assigned a research paper to all the students in her class. I have chosen the topic of illiteracy to write my paper on. I have found some books and very few websites giving me the information that I really need – such as statistics, letters, books, and any other information on illiteracy. I have checked my public library for books and could only find two or three, but my paper requires 5 books, 5 periodicals, and 2 websites. I am not asking for help with my paper but only for more information and

Scott Foresman Reading Programs Are Based on Whole Language

October 16, 2004

My daughter attends [kindergarten]…Her school uses the Scott Foresman materials. Can you please tell me if this is a phonics-based approach, or a Whole Language approach? I have looked over the Scott Foresman web site, and I can’t find any indication of their methodology, which makes me think it is Whole Language.

If the Scott Foresman methods are Whole Language, do you recommend that I help my daughter learn phonics during the school year, or wait until the summer? I am afraid that if I start during the school year, it might confuse her. Also, if she tells her teacher that “Mommy is teaching her phonics at home,” it might cause other problems. However, if letting it go for the school year and working with her on phonics over the summer means that she has to “unlearn” a lot of stuff, that might be more difficult. I would appreciate any information or guidance you can give me…

A Louisiana Mom

NCLB is Intended to Implement Research-Based Reading Instruction

September 15, 2004

My son (2nd grade) has a low oral reading fluency rate and his school district continues to use a whole language approach to reading instruction inspired by Reading Recovery. Is NCLB [No Child Left Behind] intended to implement research-based reading instruction to regular educators in public schools? What can I do to make his teachers offer him phonics, which I believe he needs short of having his reading skills remediated by special education?

A New York Dad

“Learning Disabled” Kindergartener Just Needs Phonics

August 10, 2004

I started working with the short-vowel sounds with [my daughter] and it was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be. Using the tips you gave me, we now practice these sounds while driving in the car and my four-year-old is practicing with us!…I received the package that you sent me with the Reading Competency Test and brochures today. Thank you for sending me this information — it will be put to good use.

A Virginia Mom

Students Can’t Spell

August 2, 2004

Great article [about the Rebecca Sitton Spelling program]! I taught for 34 years. When kids were allowed to use invented spelling, even they couldn’t read it back to you! Kids today, like when I went to school, need to learn to spell. Unfortunately, the kids of today can’t. Why is that? Our new programs just do not focus on spelling anymore. Gone are the days of teaching spelling as a subject, just like handwriting. We don’t teach [handwriting] anymore as a subject either.

Reforms need to come to schools. Real reforms. Out with the new and in with the old. Why can’t Johnny read? Because we teach “Guided Reading.” Phonics also went by the wayside.

I am so pleased, now that I look back at my career, that I always taught spelling, reading with phonics, and writing of poetry. My kids tended to be way ahead of the rest!

A Retired Teacher of 1 Year

Wanting Explicit Phonics Programs in Texas

April 20, 2004

I am the mother of three children (12-year-old twin boys & a 6-year-old ). While I always knew the importance of learning phonics I didn’t know about the differences in the ways phonics are taught. The fact that my boys don’t like to read, can’t do it well, and can’t spell and the fact that my daughter in kindergarten is being taught to ‘guess’ at words makes me ill.

About a month ago I got to substitute for the kindergarten class in another school, and I was sooooo impressed with their program. Every one of those kids were reading. and some of them were already doing accelerated reader books. I learned that this school was using the Saxon Phonics program. I went online to check out Saxon Phonics, and that is when I found the NRRF web site.

Just this morning I visited with our Elementary Principal about my concerns for our school. When I mentioned Saxon he quickly said that our school wouldn’t use Saxon because it wasn’t sanctioned by the state (and that meant that the state wouldn’t fund the books). He did say that he believed the Saxon program had some really strong points. He said that a couple years ago our Kindergarten started using the LIPS program. I haven’t yet researched this program. I would appreciate any information you could give me. I would also like to know where I might be able to find a list of what reading programs are sanctioned by the state of Texas to see if there are any that teach phonics in an explicit, systematic manner. The first grade is being taught out of Scott-Foresman which I plan to check out. Another concern my Principal voiced was the fact that our school has a high percentage (about 40%) of Hispanic population. To me that says that we need a program that teaches meanings of words. I think he said the English as a Second Language class is using a computer program called Rossetta Rock or something like that. He was concerned that any program should teach toward the TEKS which I can understand. What I can’t understand is how becoming a good reader with all the skills needed to unlock any word put before them could hurt them a few years down the road when they are required to take the test.

By the way, my sister teaches the 4th grade in the school that uses Saxon Phonics and her son is in the first grade there. The teachers all love the foundation they are able to build on. My sister’s son is reading on the 4th grade level – he could read higher, but those are the books that are the length he wants to read.

I hope you can help me find another phonics program that would suit the special needs of our school and to give me more ammunition to convince our administration about the advantages of teaching an explicit phonics program!

Thank-you so much for the work you are doing. I could just buy a phonics program and teach my own children but I’m also concerned for all of the students. Many are “surviving” the current program but how many more are falling thru the cracks?

Concerned Mom in Texas

A Note From Phonics Supporters

I just wanted to drop you a line and tell you how much we appreciate all you are doing to help in the quest to give everyone a chance to become a good reader.

Your website is a fantastic resource that can truly be a lighthouse in a storm for a parent or an older student who is seeking to help someone special learn to read. Bravo!

My wife and I stand with you in all your efforts to make all of this happen. And that will only happen if all of us do all we can to make learning to read a reality for every person who seeks to improve the quality of his or her life through educational opportunities.

May your Holiday Season be “Joyous” and “Sweet”! Please keep up the wonderful work you are doing! It is literally changing the world one person at a time.


Bill and Janae Cooksey

A Parent’s Letter to the Superintendent of Schools, West Milford, New Jersey

October 15, 2003

Dear Mr. Gilmartin,

It has come to my attention that the first grade reading program in my daughter’s school, Apshawa, and the entire West Milford School District is not in compliance with the standards set forth by the State of New Jersey. Our core-reading program is a literature-based program which means it has a whole language (or whole word) foundation with little direct phonics instruction. On the other hand, the NJ standards demand a more balanced approach that recognizes the validity of comprehensive instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics. However, the district wide curriculum improperly rejects this traditional form of early reading instruction.

In July of 2002, the NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS) for Language Arts Literacy (K-3) were revised due to the findings of the National Reading Panel (NRP). The NRP’s 2000 report identifies 5 essential components of reading instruction as follows:

Phonemic Awareness Instruction
Phonics Instruction
Fluency Instruction
Vocabulary Instruction
Text Comprehension Instruction
These components provided the framework for the revision to the CCCS and are the basis of the Read First New Jersey program. Please see Appendix I — About Reading Instruction from the Read First New Jersey program. According to the NJ standards, an important part of early literacy development is “explicit and systematic instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness.” Yet, the school’s curriculum dismisses the importance of these components and continues to use a core reading program supported only by anecdotal evidence and not supported by any science based reading research.
The present core-reading program teaches phonics in a non-systematic, non-explicit manner. Referring to the enclosed Put Reading First book, on the bottom of page 17, it states that literature-based programs are not systematic and explicit phonics instruction programs. In fact, whole words are being introduced in the classroom before students have even been exposed to some of the letter-sound correspondences. Classroom instruction focuses on reading strategies not the development of phonics skills. For example, Mrs. O., Apshawa Reading Specialist, stated that since students should be reading for meaning, the children should be concentrating on beginning consonant sounds and familiar “chunks” of unknown words. She further explained that while there is some phonics instruction in the classroom by working with beginning consonant sounds, the children should not be looking at the individual letters and thinking about the sound correspondences. Based on these statements, it is clear that any phonics instruction is implicit and embedded in the language arts curriculum.

While the teachers claim that phonics is taught systematically, there is no logical instructional sequence of the alphabetic principle (i.e. all letter-sound relationships not just beginning and ending consonants and “chunks” of words). Students in the early literacy stage need to gain an understanding of the alphabetic principle through effective and proven reading instruction. A program of systematic and explicit phonics instruction would follow the steps shown in Appendix II – Six Steps to Reading and teach The Essence of Phonics as shown in Appendix III. Systematic and explicit phonics means that phonics skills should be taught directly to students starting from the simplest concepts like short vowel and consonant sounds and moving to more complex skills like adding prefixes and suffixes. Furthermore, this instruction should be supported by activities for students to apply what they are learning to decodable texts.

According to Mrs. O., our core reading program focuses on “reading for meaning” and the teaching of reading strategies for decoding unknown words rather than phonics skills. Decoding is the application of phonics skills to read unknown words by blending, building and segmenting. See Appendix IV – Decodable Words Versus Predictable Text and Appendix V – Decodable Words in Reading Textbooks : Why They Are Imperative. Simply put, decoding is what is more commonly referred to as “sounding out” a word. Decoding via phonics skills is not the definition applied to the word in our school district. Instead, decoding is renamed to represent the use of “reading strategies” to discover the identity of unknown or unfamiliar words. Please refer to Appendix VI – Grade One Parent Workshop, an Apshawa School handout from the October 14th language arts curriculum meeting. On page 2, under the heading Responding to Your Child’s Reading Errors, the “decoding strategies” are listed with the admonition not to let students “sound out” words. That admonition and those strategies completely disregard the real meaning of decoding in the NJ standards.

I agree that “reading for meaning” or comprehension is most important. In fact, proper phonics instruction “significantly improves children’s word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension” as stated on page 18 of the Put Reading First book. To state otherwise, one would have to completely disregard scientific based reading research, the findings of the NRP and the Read First New Jersey program. But, in general, emerging literacy students cannot derive meaning if they are not directly given the skills to understand the alphabetic principle. Science based reading research has irrefutably shown that systematic and explicit phonics instruction consistently leads to overall reading success if taught for two years in the early grade levels of kindergarten through second grade.

Per the Parent Workshop, the teachers are encouraging the memorization of texts, sight (or high frequency) vocabularies, and word families (like -at, -ig, -ix) for “chunking” under the assumption that children will pick up on their own whatever phonics information they need to recognize words. For example, I asked Mrs. O. about the word “pumpkin” that is part of the assigned book the children are “reading.” I asked if my daughter should break up the compound word by first sounding out “pump” by saying the p, short u, m & p sounds and then blending to make “pump” and doing the same with “kin”. Mrs. O. stated that my daughter should not be concentrating on the individual letters but should be looking at the overall word. She further explained that since my daughter should have already memorized “jump” from the high frequency vocabulary, my daughter should be able to see -ump in pumpkin and that all-important 1st consonant sound of p, and then look at the picture to know the word is pumpkin. Mrs. O. added that her decoding method is much more interesting as it has my daughter looking for the meaning not blending and building letter sounds.

I am not saying that the core-reading program does not meet some of the standards set forth by the CCCS. The problem lies in meeting standards 3.1B and 3.1C for first grade. I have gathered substantial, documentary evidence that clearly demonstrates the misalignment of our core-reading program with the CCCS regardless of what “spin” the teachers and reading specialist may want to put on it. When a parent at the Workshop asked about phonics teaching, Mrs. O. erroneously stated that students will do just as well memorizing sight words and utilizing their reading strategies in place of phonics skills. Mrs. M., one of the Apshawa first grade teachers, added that parents teaching skills that focus on phonics “goes against everything we are teaching.” Mrs. M. is correct but what she fails to realize is that the core-reading program’s method of teaching goes against the state standards. Please see Appendix VII – Phonics as defined by the Read First New Jersey program.

The current reading program is four years old, and no adjustments have been made to it to accommodate the recent CCCS revisions. I respectfully request that these revisions be made as soon as possible so that my daughter and all the other students in the West Milford School District are given the best opportunity to learn to read — an opportunity that should be aligned with the state standards.


Laura Fuhrmann

Desperate Parent

Mrs. Sweet:

I am another desperate parent with children who can’t read and an entire school administration that refuses to incorporate into the classrooms any phonics. This school was given the funding and HAD an excellent teacher who was producing results (for students) within weeks of being in her class. The key word however was “HAD” because the school superintendent and teachers all refused to do any follow up in their classrooms and continued using the CLIP [a whole language variation] and other similar methods. The only teacher who was teaching these children to read was bound and gagged into resignation. Now my first grader is being targeted for Special Education in just the first quarter of the school year.

Please help.

I and other parents are up in arms at the school’s refusal to abandon their present method of teaching in spite of the fact that after all these years of proof of its failure–these children still cannot read. I need help in locating and acquiring all the facts, statistics, and proof I can get my hands on when I join into this fight for the future of these children. I could go on forever about my frustration and rage.

Please tell me who to call. Someone who will not just listen to my and others’ complaints but will make this school do their job.

Feeling Impotent,
C. R.

I Love You For Sharing This Information

June 7, 3:41 a.m.

As you can see by the time it is pretty late, so I would like to apologize in advance for what may appear to be non-stop babbling. Where to start? After looking at only a few of the links to this site I am glad, sad and mostly pissed (please excuse the harsh language)! My son is now 12 and we have suffered the consequences of the “whole language” approach to reading. He was and mostly still is a wonderful, loving and kind boy as far as school is concerned (absolutely no behavior problems at home) but the continued frustration with reading has just about pushed him, me and his grandmother to the edge of insanity. From the get go my mother and I have addressed the school about the school’s decision to not teach phonics. We have tried nearly every approach…discussions of concern, begging & pleading for reading help and last but not least I have threatened legal action for their failure to do their job. Teach my son to read! I am an educated person and have tried to instill in my son that he should respect his educators which I feel all youth should do. As I do realize it is for the most part a thankless job, I have yielded from pointing out their deficiencies in this area. As I sit here writing this letter I could kick myself in the rear for not teaching him phonics myself. In the defense of some of his earlier teachers there were some that tried to “sneak” phonics into the classroom to only be threatened with discipline and eventual removal by the administration if they did not cease and desist.

Rest assured, he does display some of the behaviors noted on your links and this year, my son’s 6th grade math teacher droned on at every parent-teacher conference (and to the guidance counselor) about how she believed he was ADD. She didn’t go for the ADHD since he doesn’t have a hyper bone in his body. You know, he was just the bad kid who just refused to “stay on task”. He’s as mellow as a kid can get. Like a moron, I even let them distribute those ridiculous questionnaires to a few of his teachers. Some of which failed to complete their respective form by the requested timeframe and managed to hammer their responses out in about 5-10 minutes. Isn’t that just dandy…5-10 minutes for a form that could potentially lead to a child be placed on medication. Ha! That in itself truly put doubts in my mind about any credibility these so called educators may have had. As an added note about my son, every teacher and the administrative staff sing praises as to how polite, kind and considerate he is. He just can’t seem to stay on task!

I wish with all my heart and would have given anything if I had come across this site several years ago. The school year has become our hell on earth. Just like information provided on this site notes, he loves school but hates class. At first, it was only the language arts class that he suffered in, but as he advances in grades all other subjects have suffered due to his poor reading and comprehension skills. He has taken the infamous 4th grade proficiency twice (once in the 3rd grade to practice then the actual in the 4th) and the 6th grade once. Yep! You guessed it. He failed all areas of all proficiency tests taken with flying colors. He managed to do this while earning reasonable grades on his report cards. He usually gets A’s, B’s & a C every now and then. This year he earned his first D’s. The continued struggle horrifies me. Just like in the articles, he received the extra help, we worked with him nearly every night except for those when he already had so much homework that bed time came before we could do extra reading. I feel they have created a prison for him. He struggles at school to hide the shame and humiliation (as we all know how cruel other kids can be and it seems now the educators are just as bad) and the continued feelings of failure and inadequacy. If I hear even one more time, how wonderful inventive spelling and sight words are, I believe I might pull every hair out of my head!

I assure you that I will utilize the information that you have provided. Since I found this site about an hour ago I have been a printing fool. At present, I had to let my printer cool down a bit. I plan to copy and distribute the information to other concerned parents. Please know that I have not been passive in this matter. Just like so many others I try to respect our educators. Never again when they are DEAD WRONG! My son has had to pay the price. Not only do we attend every parent-teacher conference, I stop by and call frequently. It’s even joked about that they may be ordering me my own special chair for the Principal and Guidance Counselor’s offices. I even addressed this at a meeting that was held to specifically discuss proficiency testing when my son was in the 4th grade. We have many adults in our southern Ohio community that are either uneducated or undereducated so I tried to share my concerns on a level that would allow them to realize what dire straights the kids were in academically. I publicly blamed the current elementary principal and the superintendent. The principal has now been placed at the high school (as if she hasn’t already created enough damage at the elementary level), and the superintendent decided to retire. How convenient! I am from a very small town and actually went to school with probably 60% of my child’s teachers/principals/guidance staff. I have even called them at home and stopped them at the grocery store, sporting events, etc. to continue to share my concerns and ask for help. I requested that he receive tutoring after school in PHONICS since we are a very poor district and they receive numerous grants. Now that the school year has ended, I see that I had better chances of winning the lottery than getting phonics tutoring for my son. Rest assured, I will be making copies of darn near everything on this site and will be forwarding copies to teachers, principals, guidance staff and the superintendent of the district with a memo noting my concerns and requesting a meeting to resolve issues before I am compelled to write letters to all local news media.

I sincerely thank you for the shared information and apologize for the length of my e-mail but I am so thrilled to know this is not something we have endured alone. A screeching halt must be put to this before it more severely impacts the self-esteem of our children. They will grow up feeling as if they failed when in all actuality the educational system failed!


Lorie L. Haukedahl
Coal Grove, OH 45638

Glad I Found Your Site

It is very encouraging. I am a reading tutor in a public school responsible for helping 50 children improve reading levels – just got a job through Americorps [a government program]. However, I was told I cannot bring in any curriculum to use with the children. Much to my dismay, the teachers are not teaching phonics reading.

Help! What can I do?

Thanks For a Great Article

I found your website today and read the article titled, “Explicit or Implicit Phonics: There’s the Rub,” by Dolores Hiskes. I want to thank you for publishing this article on your website. It’s excellent!!!

As a former public school teacher who has been researching education reform for over eight years, I have seen that the lack of phonics or teaching phonics in the wrong way is at the root of the decline in the educational systems in the U.S. Many school systems say that they are using phonics, but students were not learning to read, and I couldn’t understand this phenomenon.

This information about explicit or implicit phonics explains, at least in part, why so many kids can’t read in school systems who say that they are using phonics.

Thanks again for a great article!


Thank You

How can I begin to thank you for the incredible information you have made available! I am a former third-grade teacher, now stay-at-home, fighting the battle for my first-grade son and his classmates in Missouri. I sincerely desire for every child to be a reader – no child left behind.

A. G.

A Mother Goes Into Action

I have found your web site and I feel as if I am at the early stages of a war. Not only has my mind been full of the terrible happening in our country, but I have a more personal battle to win. My son, like so many others your organization talks about, has been denied the phonics instruction that I believe would have taught him to read.

I met with a group of four teachers and the principal yesterday to discuss his lack of progress in reading. I used this session to gather information and see what school resources I can use. I feel so helpless in this small town full of well meaning teachers and a principal whom I like and go to church with. Basically, there is little phonics teaching given in K-2nd grade. The school boasts its excellent reading scores. Out of the 40 kids in 2nd grade, 8 are in a class of slower readers, 4 are in a class for reading development and 1 is in special ed. This poor child in special ed is supposed to get the Spalding method of phonics, but only gets to do that after finishing his classwork. That is what I call wiping up the flood instead of stopping the leak.

I have ordered the Action Reading program and the book Why Johnny Can’t Read. I would like to get a copy of Hazel Loring’s book, “Reading Made Easy with Blend Phonics.” Please forward me a location for ordering. Also, do you have an outline of how to take action to get help from the school I have already paid to teach my child.

Glad to have your organization as a resource,

Jeanne Anderson from Nebraska

From a Nebraska Para-Professional

Just wanted to send a note of thanks for such a wonderful web site. We are currently presenting to the school board of Bennington, NE, (small town outside Omaha) the facts – all your published research gives us so much more credibility. All the board members and administration will have your web site and printed materials from it within a couple of days. Linda Weinmaster [NRRF’s Kansas/Nebraska state director] is a very good friend of mine and has kept me on this – Unfortunately I don’t feel my own children will benefit but maybe my grand kids :-). I have also made contact with a Director of Elementary Ed at Creighton Univ. in Omaha. I served on the Reading Standards committee with Linda for Nebraska a couple of years ago. Linda and I were collaborating last night about all this money President Bush is wanting to put into teacher education. If classroom teachers and special ed teachers were given monetary incentives based upon students’ success (or actually their success in teaching and the children successfully learning–special ed teachers bringing struggling children up to speed to be mainstreamed and no longer qualified for special ed) I believe more teachers would be critically evaluating their current curriculum.

I had an experience last winter while working with a 3rd grade boy who is labeled LD and cannot read or spell. I was filling in as a paraprofessional for 6 weeks–I had 30 minutes every day with this child. When I started he had a severe attitude problem and was very uncooperative. He cried when he couldn’t read, wrote at a 1st grade level (in neatness and lower in spelling). I asked permission to work with him with the Spalding Phonics. The teacher okayed, it however told me he would not retain it well. The first day we did a-z. The second day I tested him before reviewing them to test his retention. The results: 100%. His writing immediately became neater, he was happy, he began getting 100% on all his spelling tests. Then 2 days before my substitute position was up the Elem. special ed teacher came in. Upset, she asked what I was doing? I told her–to make a long story short she stated I was doing her job and “I am trying to justify having another para next year.” Oops, she let the cat out of the bag. She doesn’t really want him to get better. I was told by the classroom teacher and the spec ed Director that he was improving so much they wanted me to continue, however, here is his mother’s phone number, you will have to tutor him out of the school. You can’t do it here anymore. You have to ask yourself WHY did they want to even be in education? The mother has written 2 requests to the school for her son to be pulled from the spec ed class for reading as it is conflicting with the phonics we are doing. The request has been declined both times. If you are interested in hearing the continual occurrences let me know. I’m sure you hear a lot of this. I plan to also go before the State Board of Ed to try to reopen this issue.

Thanks so much,

Rhonda Couch

A Mom Asks For Help

I need some help. I have 2 children ages 9 and 7. My oldest is learning to read but is still not where she should be. She is reading at first grade level still and should be ready for 3rd grade. My son has no clue, he is unable to read. He can read some three letter words like cat and pig but still has trouble reading some of those. Any help to where I can get phonics books to help him that is not going to cost a lot would greatly appreciated.

Thank You,

Mrs. J.

A Second-Grade Teacher Reports

Whenever I feel overwhelmed and outnumbered in the public education system, I come to this site, and I feel much better. It really has inspired me to do what I know is best for my second graders, but sometimes I feel like I am spinning my wheels. I have had one of my lower students who had moved up from a DRA level 2 to an 8 fall back to a 4 in just 2 months because her after school tutor, a Reading Recovery teacher, is telling her not to sound out words. She was told that all last year also. Old habits die hard. Of course, I am not supposed to tell them that nor use phonetic readers–but I do–secretly. Anyway, I enjoy reading the articles. One thing I have not read about in any of the articles is “staggered reading”–ever heard of that? This is being encouraged at our school–it is chaotic! Also being encouraged is a new way to “teach” spelling. Well actually it really isn’t teaching. Each student decides what spelling words he/she will have each week. Each spelling list is different. The second graders know more about what they need to know than the teacher (right…..!). Since we have no grades anymore, the child is not motivated to move on and can spend the entire year on those 5 words or until he/she knows the words. Isn’t that encouraging? Sometimes I could just quit. I think I could do a more honest day’s work if I were a cashier.

Thanks for listening.

34-Year-Old Woman Needs Help

I am a 34-year-old woman who cannot read very well. I probably have a grade 8 reading and comprehension level. I have tried and tried to teach myself. I am too embarrassed to go to college in my town. Can you please suggest something.

This may sound funny, but I want to become something when I grow up.


Missing the World

From a Reading Specialist in Arkansas

I recently found your web site and was ecstatic to read your research. I am a reading specialist in Arkansas, with 17 years of teaching experience. I have always used explicit phonics to teach reading, with countless success stories. Unfortunately, our Superintendent of Curriculum thought it would be great for us to have Reading Recovery training. So….every Thursday my co-worker and I travel to University of Arkansas at Little Rock to hear our “brainwashed” instructors tell us of Marie Clay and her program of instruction, which they follow like it is the Bible. We have had many “interesting” discussions in class over phonetic issues. Your articles have helped me with my view point. Thanks again!

Keep up the fight!!! Millions of children are depending on it!

From a Parent in Gainesville, Florida

Thank you so very much for the information. Just knowing that my concerns are valid ones makes this task easier. I will look at Phonics Pathways and consider it. I have been tutoring my daughter some in phonics but the lack of systematic instruction is definitely apparent.

I am thankful for you and for your group. Parents like me need groups like yours to get through the whole-language curriculum in the public schools.

From a Texas Remedial Reading Teacher and Parent

I read your current article with great interest. I am a remedial reading teacher in Texas. I teach many children in the 7th and 8th grade who are more than two years behind in their reading level. The reason usually is a deficit in the area of phonics.

I have practical experience with this as a parent as well. My son always had problems reading. He was taught by a string of teachers who insisted that the whole language/whole word method was the best way to teach him. My husband and I were assured that he was making all the progress that we could expect and that Ryan would most likely never be a proficient reader. We were told that he could read within eight or nine months of his grade level with difficulty.

When he was in the 4th grade, I returned to school to obtain my teaching certificate as a reading teacher. My plan was to homeschool him, as soon as I had my certification. I was lucky enough to have several professors who insisted that I learn how to teach phonics properly. Then I was offered a job in a district other than the one my son attended school in and was trained in the Orton-Gillingham phonics method. By this time my son was in the 7th grade, and the school was talking about putting him into a class for the mentally handicapped. They said that his IQ didn’t even come up to normal standards. I pulled my records of earlier testing and showed IQ scores of 114 on a WISC-R and 124 on a TONI A. I asked for further testing [but] was refused. My husband and I were told that if Ryan could not learn to read by the whole word method, then he would never learn to read. We were counseled that we would just have to accept that fact.

This was the wrong answer. We had a choice to home school him, leave him in public school, or sue the district. We were meeting with a lawyer when he asked how my students were doing with the phonetic program we were using. My answer was “Great.” He suggested that we investigate moving our son to the district where I taught. The move was approved by my district.

My son was retested and we had a shock. He was not reading anywhere near his grade level, as the other district had told us, but four years below. My son was going into the 8th grade, reading on a 4th grade level!! He hardly cleared a 20% on a Woodcock and flunked the 7th grade reading TAAS.

He was started in an intensive multisensory phonics and reading comprehension class in the 8th grade. By the end of the year, he had a reading comprehension score of 8.9, a percentage of 52%, and he passed the TAAS. He finished the program in the 9th grade with a comprehension score of 12.3, and a percentage of 92%. By the end of the 10th grade he was released from Special Ed and 504 and achieved academic recognition on the TAAS test (90%) and above.

My son has gone on to do very well on SAT and ACT tests and is currently a freshman in college. On the weekends he serves his country as an enlisted soldier in the Texas National Guard. He will transfer to the University of Houston in the fall and will work towards a major in business.

This will sound silly, but phonics literally saved my kid. He went from a dependent, whiny child who wouldn’t read, to an independent young man, with a good self concept who read everything and anything he wanted to. Instead of jail or a dead-end job or dropping out of school, Ryan will look forward to graduating from college and living a life with a real future.

Thank you for your article. I wish you well in reaching your objectives.


Ryan’s Mom

From a Graduate Student Who Needed Research

I just want to express my gratitude for the information which I found here. The educational journals (Reading Teacher, Reading Research Quarterly, etc.) do not print this viewpoint and the facts as you do. As a graduate student who needed to use research articles to contrast and compare phonics instruction and whole language for a term paper, I was thrilled at what I found through your site and the links to other good sites. Please, keep up the good work.


Thank You From a Mother

I was in the middle of researching reform education for a speech class when I ran across your page. I have a special interest in this subject, since my eight-year-old was set up for failure with the whole language curriculum. After four years of the schools telling us our son is learning disabled and playing the puppets to their “cures”, we decided to transfer him to a private school. I made sure that phonics was implemented, and I’ve seen dramatic results in his reading and spelling. I can’t say enough about the value of phonics to our children’s learning and success. I just wanted to thank you for being there to support the program, and I’m thrilled to see that I’m not such a small minority against the dumbing down of our students. Thank you for your efforts and keep up the good work. We need all the help we can get to find a respectable education for our children.

A Curriculum/Instruction Specialist From Ohio Speaks Out

March 29, 2000

I finally finished reading the two documents you sent to me earlier on Reading Recovery (the Battelle Report and the Massey University Report). Both reports basically reached similar conclusions five years apart. Reading Recovery is an expensive program with little to any benefits for pupils. Illiteracy in this country smacks of a modern-day form of slavery. Dependency is fostered at the expense of independence. Illiteracy shuts the doors of access to countless thousands of people. As a result, opportunities are diminished along with participation.

We must continue to illuminate the dark shadows where flawed programs and instructional methods are born and nourished. Only by illumination will they be shown for what they really are….failures.