Skip to Content

Reading Wars




A debate about the "best way" to teach reading has been raging for decades. In what is often described as the "reading wars" by academic and policy insiders, there are opposing factions of experts, policy makers, and politicians who champion "phonics," on the one side, or "whole language," on the other. Each faction declares their respective approach as the key to effectively teaching all children to read.


Unfortunately, this "war" has been politicized and it does little to help teachers and students in the trenches, in America's classrooms.

There is virtually no disagreement, though, "that reading is the gateway to learning in all content areas and essential for achieving high standards," as stated in the National Education Association's official reading policy.

To open that gateway for all students, the NEA, International Reading Association, and many others believe it is counterproductive to promote any particular program, procedure, or method of reading instruction to the exclusion of all others.

Complete Reading Program Is Like Balanced Diet


In its final report, the NEA's Task Force on Reading said a complete reading program is "analogous in several ways to a balanced diet."

"Completeness in both diet and reading," said the Task Force, "is achieved by providing diverse components in ratios that are not necessarily equal. In addition, the ratios might vary with individual needs and with development. For example, infants do not eat five servings of fruits and vegetables as recommended for children and adults. In a similar fashion, beginning readers might require different amounts of certain types of reading activities than more proficient readers. Just as some infants do not do well on milk products and need special formulae, so beginning readers may have special instructional needs."

Related Content


No 'Best Way' to Teach Reading - Research supports NEA's view that there may not even be a "best way."

IRA Journal Series on Closing 'the Gap' - The International Reading Association (IRA) focuses Reading Research Quarterly (July 2007) on closing the achievement gap, especially among adolescents.