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The Science of Reading Movement: The Never-Ending Debate and the Need for a Different Approach to Reading Instruction

How students learn to read and how reading is best taught are often the focus of media, public, and political criticism. The contemporary reading reform movement is the latest chapter of a long history of controversies, dating from at least the early 20th century. Throughout the decades, attention has focused on how teachers teach reading (typically including specific concern for phonics instruction), standardized test scores (including international comparisons), and a changing list of hypothetical causes for disappointing test scores (including progressivism, whole language, and balanced literacy). This policy brief explores the controversial history of the reading reform movement, and provides recommendations for state and local policymakers to provide teachers the flexibility and support necessary to adapt their teaching strategies to specific students’ needs.