The “Science of Reading” Movement Fails Implementation Science

Paul Thomas
3 min readDec 13, 2022

The “science of reading” (SOR) movement consisting of the media, parents, and politicians has painted itself into a corner. And like cornered animals, they often react with anger:

The SOR self-inflicted corner is demanding a narrow use of “science” for everyone else but not following that demand themselves:

It is clear that the repeated critiques of literacy teacher preparation expressed by the SOR community do not employ the same standards for scientific research that they claimed as the basis for their critiques. However, to dismiss these critiques as unimportant would ignore the reality of consequences, both current and foreseen, for literacy teacher preparation. Consider the initiatives under- way despite the fact that there is almost no scientific evidence offered in support of these claims or actions.

Hoffman, J.V., Hikida, M., & Sailors, M. (2020). Contesting science that silences: Amplifying equity, agency, and design research in literacy teacher preparation. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S255–S266. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Increasingly scholars have shown the SOR movement is a misinformation movement that depends on bullying, not “science.” And for a few years now, I have experienced and witnessed SOR advocates responding to evidence-based Tweets with anger, mischaracterizations, and personal attacks.

And thus, this passage from Bertrand Russell and panels from Daredevil 6 (v.7) resonate with me:

The SOR social media anger is grounded, I think, in the impossible corner SOR advocates have created. When I have posted scientific research about dyslexia (notably Orton-Gillingham) or LETRS, I have been visciuously attacked simply for noting that O-G and LETRS do not have scientific support but are embraced by the SOR movement.

I have never said O-G or LETRS is ineffective; I have never rejected or endorsed either. I simply have noted that if we are saying any program or approach must be scientific, neither of these meet that standard.

What is even more concerning is that the entire SOR movement itself fails implementation science; for example, Leveraging Evidence-based Practices: From Policy to Action, Ronnie Detrich, Randy Keyworth, and Jack States.

Detrich, Keyworth, and States provide an excellent example of why the SOR movement is doomed by its own standards, how even high-quality “science” fails its own standards, and why this reading war is yet another cycle of the same misguided claims and idealistic solutions.

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Paul Thomas

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education.