The debate over how to teach reading has reached a tipping point, with Ohio becoming the latest state to mandate the use of the “science of reading” in schools. This approach emphasizes systematic, phonics-based instruction and direct teaching of vocabulary and other skills. However, a recent lawsuit filed by the Reading Recovery Council of North America, a nonprofit supporting “balanced literacy,” is challenging this mandate. Balanced literacy offers teachers flexibility and aims to foster a love of reading, combining phonics with other strategies. The lawsuit reflects the financial and ideological forces at play in the ongoing national debate over reading instruction.
Reading Recovery is an intervention program designed to help first graders in the lowest 20% of their class. It partners with universities to train educators in its methods. However, the trend towards the science of reading has raised concerns among established education players who have long supported balanced literacy. The lawsuit by the Reading Recovery nonprofit argues that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine violated state law by pushing reading policy changes through a budget bill, rather than specific legislation.
In daily one-on-one lessons, Reading Recovery students practice reading with guidance from a teacher. While phonics is used as needed, it is not the primary focus, as the program adapts to individual student needs. The use of context clues and pictures to discern words is part of balanced literacy and differs from the science of reading’s phonics-centered approach. In the lawsuit, the Reading Recovery Council claims it has experienced declining membership and revenue due to Ohio’s mandate, and that it believes in the effectiveness of its methods.
The science of reading advocates argue against strategies like “three-cueing,” which they say takes students’ attention away from letters on the page. The ongoing debate highlights the challenges of determining the most effective reading instruction method, balancing evidence and long-held beliefs.