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Radical Eyes for Equity: Research Roundup January 2024 [Updated]

In the wake of the “science of reading” tsunami, most states have passed new or revised reading legislation over the past decade. Research on the outcomes of those flawed decisions are now being published and exposing a common theme—”unintended consequences.”

While I think for some these consequences are intended, the research is showing that once again, following a similar pattern of accountability reform since the 1980s, the SOR legislative reform movement is simply not fulfilling promised outcomes and is often causing more or different harm.

Here are some current examples of that research:


The Unintended Consequences of Test-Based Remediation, David N. Figlio and Umut Özek

NBER Working Paper No. 30831

January 2023


School systems around the world use achievement tests to assign students to schools, classes, and instructional resources, including remediation. Using a regression discontinuity design, we study a Florida policy that places middle school students who score below a proficiency cutoff into remedial classes. Students scoring below the cutoff receive more educational resources, but they are also placed in classes that are more segregated by race, socio-economic status, and prior achievement. Increased tracking occurs not only in the remedial subject, but also in other core subjects. These tracking effects are significantly larger and more likely to persist beyond the year of remediation for Black students.


Elena Aydarova; “Whatever You Want to Call It”: Science of Reading Mythologies in the Education Reform Movement. Harvard Educational Review 1 December 2023; 93 (4): 556–581.


In recent years, a wave of science of reading (SOR) reforms have swept across the nation. Although advocates argue that these are based on science-based research, SOR remains a contested and ambiguous notion. In this essay, Elena Aydarova uses an anthropology of policy approach to analyze advocacy efforts that promoted SOR reforms and legislative deliberations in Tennessee. Drawing on Barthes’s theory of mythology, this analysis sheds light on the semiotic chains that link SOR with tradition, knowledge-build ingcurricula, and the scaling down of social safety nets. This deciphering of SOR mythologies under scores how the focus on “science” distorts the intentions of these myths to naturalize socioeconomic inequality and depoliticize social conditions of precarity. This study problematizes the claims made by SOR advocates and sheds light on the ways these reforms are likely to reproduce, rather than disrupt, inequities and injustices.

III. (Math research relevant to reading)

Clements, Douglas H., Renee Lizcano, and Julie Sarama. 2023. “Research and Pedagogies for Early Math” Education Sciences 13, no. 8: 839.


The increasing interest in early childhood mathematics education for decades has increased the need for empirically supported pedagogical strategies. However, there is little agreement on how early math might best be taught. We draw from the empirical literature to paint a picture of research-based and research-validated pedagogical approaches and strategies for teaching early math. Most approaches share core characteristics, including concern for children’s interests and engagement and for working on content matched to children’s level of thinking. Learning trajectories are an especially useful organizing structure because they combine and integrate educational goals, development of children’s thinking, and empirically supported pedagogical strategies. Therefore, they help teachers interpret what the child is doing, thinking, and constructing, and offer instructional activities that extend children’s mathematical thinking. Simultaneously, teachers can see instructional strategies from the child’s perspective, offering meaningful and joyful opportunities to engage in learning.


Legislating Phonics: Settled Science or Political Polemics? David Reinking, George G. Hruby, and Victoria J. Risko


In this commentary, we identify a phonics-first ideology and its polemical distortions of research and science to promote legislation that constrains and diminishes the teaching of reading. We affirm our own, and a majority of reading professionals’, commitment to teaching phonics. However, we argue that phonics instruction is more effective when embedded in a more comprehensive program of literacy instruction that accommodates students’ individual needs and multiple approaches to teaching phonics—a view supported by substantial research. After summarizing the politicization of phonics in the United States, we critique a legislated training course for teachers in Tennessee as representative of how a phonics-first ideology is expressed polemically for political purposes. We contrast it with a more collaboratively developed, balanced, nonlegislative approach in the previous governor’s administration. Specifically, the training course (a) makes an unfounded claim that there is a national reading crisis that can be traced to insufficient or inappropriate phonics instruction; (b) distorts, misrepresents, or omits relevant research findings and recommendations, most prominently from the report of the National Reading Panel; (c) inaccurately suggests that “balanced literacy instruction” is “whole language” instruction in disguise; and (d) wrongly claims that its views of phonics are based on a settled science of reading.


Compton-Lilly, C., Spence, L.K., Thomas, P.L. and Decker, S.L. (2023), Stories Grounded in Decades of Research: What We Truly Know about the Teaching of Reading. Read Teach, 77: 392-400.


The recent dissemination of selective research findings related to reading privileges a narrow body of reading scholarship and a singular, unproven solution—teaching phonics. We offer a research-based correction by presenting two compelling bodies of research to argue that reading instruction must be responsive to individual children. While this confluence of complexity does not deny the importance of phonics, it highlights the significant findings related to: (1) the brain and reading, and (2) the systematic observation of young readers. We argue that reductive and singular models of reading fail to honor the cultures, experiences, and diversity of children. This confluence of research findings reveals an unequivocal need for caution as states, universities, schools, and teachers adopt assumedly universal and narrow approaches to teaching reading.

VI. (Relevant from 2002)

What I’ve Learned about Effective Reading Instruction: From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers, Richard L. Allington, Volume 83, Issue 10

VII. (TBP 2024)

The Balancing Act: An Evidence-Based Approach to Teaching Phonics, Reading and Writing, Dominic Wyse, Charlotte Hacking


Megan Chaffin, Holly Sheppard Riesco, Kathryn Hackett-Hill, Vicki Collet, Megan Yates Grizzle & Jacob Warren (25 Oct 2023): “Phonics Monkeys” and “Real Life Reading”: Heteroglossic Views of a State Reading Initiative, Literacy Research and Instruction, DOI: 10.1080/19388071.2023.2271085


Framed by Bakhtinian theories of authoritative discourse and heteroglossia, this study examines perceptions of a Science-of-Reading- based state reading initiative five years into implementation. Using interview transcripts, researchers engaged in polyphonic analysis to bring the voices of teachers, reading interventionists, parents, administrators, and state department of education officials into created dialogue. Findings from this qualitative study suggest there were contrasting perspectives about reading and the SRI, that many participants felt the initiative narrowed reading instruction and constrained teachers’ agency, and that, overall, there have been limited opportunities for dialogue about the initiative. Findings demonstrate that a narrow view of reading research may silence and delegitimize some stakeholder voices. This state’s goal of sharpening the focus of reading instruction led to instruction that was perceived by some stakeholders as narrow, boring, and meaningless, unlikely to create the statewide culture of reading that was targeted. Implications for this and future state reading initiatives point to the value of dialogue among varied stakeholders, which might allow for the idiosyncrasies of the teaching and learning of reading and writing to be addressed.


“It’s Just Something That You Have to Do as a Teacher”: Investigating the Intersection of Educational Infrastructure Redesign, Teacher Discretion, and Educational Equity in the Elementary ELA Classroom, Naomi L. Blaushild, The Elementary School Journal 2023 124:2, 219-244


School systems have taken on greater roles in guiding and supporting classroom instruction by redesigning their educational infrastructure—the coordinated resources, structures, and norms that support teachers’ work and drive instructional improvement. However, teachers often adapt or resist common instructional approaches, citing students’ unique needs. Drawing on data from a qualitative, comparative study, I examine how different types of public school systems (charter, suburban, and urban) redesigned their educational infrastructures and how teachers used system-provided educational infrastructure when constructing their practice. I found that teachers experienced their educational infrastructure as providing both affordances and constraints around their instructional decisions, particularly how they responded to their perceptions of students’ needs. Despite differences in each system’s educational infrastructure arrangements, teachers faced a common challenge related to differentiating instruction in diverse classrooms. Findings suggest the need for educational infrastructure redesign efforts to include professional learning around asset-based differentiation strategies and culturally responsive pedagogy.


Overwhelming whiteness: a critical analysis of race in a scripted reading curriculum, Amanda Rigell, Arianna Banack, Amy Maples, Judson Laughter, Amy Broemmel, Nora Vines & Jennifer Jordan (2022) Overwhelming whiteness: a critical analysis of race in a scripted reading curriculum, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 54:6, 852-870, DOI: 10.1080/00220272.2022.2030803


Teachers in the US are increasingly required to use scripted curricula. Such instructional materials often reflect the overwhelming whiteness of the publishing industry through a lack of representation of authors and protagonists outside of white, middle-class normative characters. Implementation of such curricula stands in direct contrast to studies finding that culturally relevant pedagogy and curricula benefit students across racial and ethnic groups. This paper describes a qualitative analysis of the scripted Wit and Wisdom English Language Arts curriculum for grades K-8 guided by the research question: How might the curriculum reproduce a white supremacist master script? Following a quantitative analysis of racial representation across all core and supplementary texts in the curriculum, the research team used guiding questions grounded in a critical discourse and anti-racist teaching framework to qualitatively analyse teacher-facing materials at each grade level. The findings of this study indicate that whiteness is centred at every level of the curriculum in text selection and thematic grouping of texts, as well as through discursive moves in teacher-facing materials (e.g. essential questions for learning modules). Based on the findings, the research team suggests mechanisms for individual and collective efforts to resist whiteness-centred curricula at the system, school, and classroom level.


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P.L. Thomas

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He...