When a federal review of beginning-reading programs was commissioned four years ago, experts and educators hoped it would help school leaders sift through the vast marketplace of instructional materials and find those most effective for improving achievement. But the long-awaited study by the What Works Clearinghouse, released this month, may not fully deliver on that promise.
In fact, the analysis found that few comprehensive or supplemental programs have empirical proof that they work. And none of the most popular commercial programs on the market—including McGraw-Hill’s Open Court, Scott Foresman Reading, and Houghton Mifflin Reading, which have earned hundreds of millions of dollars in sales to districts—had sufficiently rigorous studies to be included in the review by the clearinghouse.
My middle son, Patrick, is a seventh-grader who has been through Title I reading services and other reading interventions through last year. He's participated in a variety of different reading programs, but last year was asked to participate in the Wilson Reading System, one of the reading programs reviewed by the Institute of Education Sciences. According to the study, Wilson Reading System was shown to have no discernible effects on fluency and comprehension and potentially positive effects on alphabetics.
Attempting to rate the programs seems futile when individual students respond successfully to different methods. Saying one way works for all kids is extremely constraining to the educational process.