The Reading Wars and Reading Recovery: What Educators, Families, and Taxpayers Should Know


  • Pamela Cook Learning Disabilities Association of America and ABC Consulting Services
  • Deborah R. Rodes
  • Kay L. Lipsitz



Reading Wars, Reading Recovery, whole language, code, phonemic awareness, phonics, early intervention, long-term impact, balanced literacy, special education, grade retention, sample size, researcher-made tests, standardized tests, conflicts of interest,


Reading Recovery, a meaning-based reading program designed for young children at risk of reading failure, is widely implemented across the United States. We discuss the recent Reading Recovery $45 million four-year i3-funded scaleup study that was designed to “cover the expansion of Reading Recovery around the U.S.” (May, Sirinides, Gray, & Goldsworthy, 2016, p. 1). While one of the two goals of the study was to determine the long-term impact of Reading Recovery, this study, described by its authors as “highly successful” (p. 4), found a “not significant” long-term effect on students’ reading skills. Subsequent Reading Recovery publications have failed to mention this “not significant” effect. With the exception of year one of the study, there are no publicly available test score data for the students when they were in Grades 2 or 3. Further, it appears that the actual lowest achieving students (special education students, students retained in first grade, and others) were systematically excluded from Reading Recovery instruction. Overall, there is very limited evidence of Reading Recovery’s efficacy as an effective long-term reading intervention. We discuss the limitations of the Reading Recovery approach, how Reading Recovery can be improved, and strongly recommend that schools do not adopt this program unless it incorporates all components of evidence-based reading instruction.Subscribe to LDMJ

Author Biography

Pamela Cook, Learning Disabilities Association of America and ABC Consulting Services