Letters to the Editor: No, the ‘science of reading’ isn’t just about teaching phonics

Gov. Gavin Newsom reads a book to kindergarteners at the Washington Elementary School in Sacramento in 2019.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

To the editor: Education professor Allison Briceño fears overemphasizing foundational skills such as phonics will take time away from writing, favor already advantaged children and ignore the needs of students who are learning English. These comments illustrate a misunderstanding of the science of reading.

The science of reading consists of both foundational skills and language skills. Developing background knowledge, vocabulary and familiarity with literature is crucial and always incorporated. But it’s not everything.

Currently, foundational skills are minimized in reading instruction, and our students have been paying the price. We don’t send a kid into a pool or a piano recital without lessons. Do those lessons kill the joy of swimming or music?


How can you be a proficient reader if you can’t figure out the words? Teaching foundational skills set up students for a love of reading. As long as professors ignore this, they will continue to create teachers unprepared to effectively instruct reading to their students.

Marie Miller, Laguna Niguel

The writer has a doctorate in education.


To the editor: Briceño’s op-ed article is the most sensible piece I have read recently on teaching literacy.

Part of my instruction in reading when I was a very young child included an introduction to simple phonics. But that was just the beginning, because “reading” isn’t simply matching sounds to written symbols.

Calling phonics the “science of reading” is like calling the ability to name body parts the “science of biology.” To legislate it as the primary goal of elementary education is an absurd waste of the Legislature’s time and taxpayers’ money.


As Briceño says, it is an “ideological catchphrase” rather than a scientific approach to teaching students how to understand what they read.

By the way, I have a master’s degree in education, with a concentration in teaching reading to adults. I have taught remedial reading courses in a community college as well as English as a second language to college students, and English as a foreign language to non-native speakers in a foreign country.

Steven Glogger, Palm Springs


To the editor: As a professor emerita of education at Cal State Dominguez Hills and a specialist in the teaching of reading and language arts, I strongly support teaching beginning readers to decode as one of many important teaching strategies.

Consider the following sentence:

“We thought that what we had brought was enough, and that we were through shopping, but it turned out that although we had prepared carefully, our rough estimates had left us [figuratively speaking] hanging from the bough of an unstable tree.”

See the problem? English is a very difficult language to learn. Ask anyone who has had to do it. Some things, like sight words, especially ones that don’t follow phonetic rules, have to be memorized. Comprehension strategies have to be specifically taught.


And then there is how to listen and identify specific important concepts. And on and on.

Anyone who has ever tried to teach someone how to read knows that one approach does not fit all.

Diana Wolff, Rancho Palos Verdes


To the editor: How to teach reading should never be legislated. Teachers know that children learn differently. A multidisciplinary approach is always best.

Also, reading to children and teaching them to love books and language are fundamental. Our public libraries are free to everyone.

As a society, we are all responsible for today’s kids. Let’s get started and get them off their phones and tablets.

Laurie Kelson, Encino