October 15, 2021

Nancy Bailey: “The Truth About Reading” Is Missing Truths and Backstory

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Nancy Bailey takes a look at the PR for the upcoming film. Reposted with permission.

Americans are getting primed with a trailer for a new documentary called The Truth About Reading. It’s said there needs to be a grassroots movement of parents and educators who are angry and say enough is enough.

Wouldn’t it be better if teachers and parents met and shared their concerns about reading at their schools? Schools do various reading programs that might need review, especially if students have difficulty learning.

The trailer involves half-truths and falsehoods, condemning teachers and public schools for children and adults who fail to read. Some speakers advertise their books and programs.

Adults who can’t read leave unanswered questions.

We hear about adults who never learned to read. Adult illiteracy is concerning, but critical background information about these individuals is missing. What schools did they attend? What reading deficits did they come to school with, if any, how big were class sizes and, were remedial reading classes an option?

We learn most about John Corcoran, the film backer who wrote The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read. He describes in this video about moving around schools as a boy, parents, and teachers who never knew he couldn’t read, his athletic scholarship, and how he became a millionaire realtor and teacher who still couldn’t read.

Corcoran finally learns from First Lady Barbara Bush about literacy programs for adults, gets help, and now he champions children who cannot read.

There’s no mention of how schools and reading programs have changed over the years, including the identification of children with learning disabilities under IDEA.

He’s against calling children learning disabled (I agree), but he disputes learning disabilities, saying he bought into a lie that something was wrong with his brain. He never mentions dyslexia.

Emily Hanford leaves out NCLB’s Reading First.  

In the trailer, Emily Hanford, a journalist, who has written about teachers who she and others claim never learned how to teach reading correctly, mentions No Child Left Behind and standardized testing.

She says that NCLB lost track of children in grades K-2 and focused on third grade, but this is incorrect.

NCLB centered on K-3 through Reading First, a scandalous $6 billion (Here’s the critical OIG report), $1 billion per year for six years, a state grant program to implement phonics programs promising scientific evidence.

Phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and text comprehension were in play, recommendations from the flawed National Reading Panel.

Those behind Reading First promised that these evidence-based reading programs, like today’s Science of Reading, would fix reading problems in children. They added that by 2014 every child would read at grade level.

It’s 2021, and, of course, that never happened.

In Reading First: Scandalous and Ineffective, The Center for Public Integrity summarized that students in schools receiving funds for the program had no better reading skills than children in schools that did not.

The New York Times reported on Reading First with An Initiative on Reading Is Rated Ineffective. Students did better in decoding, phonics, and fluency skills, but there was no improvement with comprehension, a concern.

Reexamine grade proficiency and the expectations of children at each grade level.

The Truth About Reading emphasizes grade proficiency and high-stakes standardized test results showing many children fail to read but are we expecting children to master material beyond their age-appropriate development?

With NCLB, kindergarten is the new first grade, with children pressured to learn to read earlier than ever before!

NCLB, Race to the Top, Common Core State Standards, and the Every Child Succeeds Act has influenced student expectations for years. Who’s reviewing and questioning these standards?

Children have not evolved to where they should be reading earlier than children in the past, including when they’re three years old. But many have pushed down the time and expectations when children should read.

New York City is hiring reading coaches for 3-year-olds. Let that sink in.

The trailer mentions that 1 in 3 students drop out of school but ignores the effects of third-grade retention.

For years third-graders in many states have been retained if they fail their state’s high-stakes standardized test in third grade.

The film ignores the adverse effects of retention, how to provide better reading remediation, and how it is well-known that retained children are more likely to drop out of school later.

There are many serious issues surrounding retention that educators, policymakers, and parents continue to choose to ignore.

They highlight UnboundEd.

They showcase UnboundEd, a nonprofit sponsored by the most corporate reform groups known to de-professionalize the teaching profession.

Their partners include groups that create fast-track teachers and principals and online programs focused on Common Core State Standards. Those groups include:

  • Achievement Network (ANet)
  • ERS
  • Leading Educators
  • Instruction Partners
  • New Teacher Center
  • New Leaders
  • Relay/GSE
  • Pivot Learning
  • Achieve the Core
  • TNTP

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other corporate school reformers sponsor many of these groups.


Many parents and teachers eagerly await this film and will use it to blame public schools and teachers, but if the documentary is like the trailer, it is a biased film that misses the mark.


Dillon, S. (2008, September 23). An initiative on reading is rated ineffective. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/02/education/02reading.html.


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