|André Kertesz, Jardin du Luxembourg|
 To stay in business despite the mounting research evidence and the near-unanimous opinions of leading scientists, the look-and-say educators had to conduct a vigilant and ceaseless coverup campaign.
For over fifty years, whenever a new exposure of their ancient gimmick threatened, someone—usually a professor on the payroll of a look-and-say textbook publisher—was sent into the breach to defend the system. This has been going on year after year, until today even some of the best minds in the field are confused or uninformed about certain areas of their own profession.
It's impossible to trace, incident by incident, the history of this gigantic coverup. In this chapter simply I’ll give some of the highlights. I'll begin in 1928, with Professor Arthur I. Gates.
Professor Gates, of Teachers College, Columbia University, was then at the point of starting the Macmillan look-and-say series. But there were those studies clearly showing that look-and-say was inferior to phonics. What to do? Professor Gates hit upon the ingenious idea of "intrinsic" phonics. He'd start first graders on look-and-say, then at the end of first grade give them a little bit of phonics and run some tests to show that with this added ingredient look-and-say came out ahead.
He tested children in four New York City first-grade classrooms. Lo and behold, at the end of the year the children who'd had "intrinsic" phonies came out with better comprehension scores than those who had started with systematic phonics first. In his book Methods in Primary Reading (1928) Gates proudly announced this result to the world. The way was open to drive phonics-first out of American schools.
When I came upon Gates's results in my research for Why  Johnny Can't Read, I wondered how he'd done it. After all, by 1955 there were eleven studies that came out the other way. I studied the Gates data and found that Gates's tests had all been timed, which gave the quick-guessing look-and-say kids a clear advantage over the accurate but slower phonics-first readers. Also, the teachers of "intrinsic" or "incidental" phonics obviously treated the phonics instruction as anything but incidental. On the contrary, they did all they could to make Professor Gates's experiment come out the way he wanted.
Twelve years after I wrote my book, Dr. Jeanne Chall's Learning to Read: The Great Debate came out. Dr. Chall was in full agreement with what I'd said about Gates. The tests were timed, she wrote, which was unfair to the phonics-first kids, and the teachers had paid special attention to the teaching of "incidental" phonics. In a footnote on page 112 of her book she quoted "recent correspondence" with Professor Gates: "His intrinsic-phonics materials were extremely well programmed, teaching the alphabet along with the words. Thus, both groups probably received similar amounts of decoding practice."
In other words, forty years after the event, Professor Gates admitted he'd manipulated the experiment.
Let's go on to another major event in the Great Coverup. In 1955 my book Why Johnny Can't Read became a national best-seller. The educational journals answered in full cry, attacking me as an ignoramus, a propagandist—they never said for whom or what—a crank, a menace to the cause of good education. In December 1955, half a year after the publication of my book, The Reading Teacher came out with a special issue on phonics. It was filled with anti-Flesch outbursts, including a lengthy piece elaborately analyzing the propaganda techniques I had supposedly used in my book.
As to the eleven scientific studies I had reviewed, old Professor William S. Gray, senior author of the Dick-and-Jane, Scott, Foresman look-and-say readers, was called back from retirement to rebut my data. His answer was rather feeble. He never said that my account of the eleven studies was wrong or distorted. All he had to offer in reply was a study by Buswell published in 1922 and a study of his own, which he'd done in 1915 when he was in his twenties.
I read the Buswell study and found that it was a study of  eye movements, which offered no statistical data whatever. "The present investigation," Dr. Buswell wrote, "does not yield the type of data necessary for a judgment of methods, and consequently no attempt has been made to evaluate them."
It's true that Professor Gray's forty-year-old experiment compared the then widely used Aldine method, which was look-and-say, with the long-forgotten Ward method, which offered somewhat diluted phonies. And what did Professor Gray find when he tested those third graders long ago? "There was practically no difference in the average scores."
Let me go on to the next devastating review of phonics vs. look-and-say research, the one by Gurren and Hughes in 1965. How did the look-and-say forces answer that one? By utter silence. One article in an educational journal wasn't worth rolling out the big guns.
When the book Learning to Read: The Great Debate by Dr. Jeanne Chall came out in 1967, it couldn't be dealt with as easily. The research evidence was too massive and too detailed. So the look-and-say educators did the next best thing: they reviewed the book to death. There was an orgy of nitpicking, making it seem that Dr. Chall's monumental work was flawed, partly wrong, still controversial and unproven.
I checked through most of the two dozen reading-instruction textbooks—the books used in teachers' college courses to teach future reading teachers how to do their job. Typically, they mentioned Dr. Chall's book, but immediately proceeded to put it in a dubious light. For instance, Reading in the Elementary School by George D. and Evelyn B. Spache (fourth edition, 1977) gives Chall's book a brief paragraph and then says, "Many reviewers of this book did not feel that Chall had proved her theory, particularly when she depended so strongly upon studies over a long period of time from a wide variety of sources which often differ in their instructional practices from Chall's definition." (As you see, Dr. Chall's thoroughness is neatly used as a weapon against her.)
Or take another example. The book Reading Instruction: Diagnostic Teaching in the Classroom by Larry Harris and Carl B. Smith (second edition, 1976) also gives Chall's book a paragraph and follows it up with the sentence "The research evidence is not strong enough to convince every reading authority  that intensive decoding is the way to begin instruction in reading."
The latest reading instruction textbook is Developmental Reading: A Psycholinguistic Perspective by Daniel R. Hittleman (1978). As you can see from the title, Hittleman is a follower of Frank Smith and Kenneth and Yetta Goodman. What does he have to say about Chall's book? Nothing at all. Neither the book nor "the Great Debate" is mentioned. As to phonics-first or decoding, there's a brief explanation of why it is useless.
In spite of all this, Professor Chall's book had some effect. In the years after it appeared, the look-and-say publishers decided that the Great Coverup had to be intensified and injected increasing amounts of token phonic window dressing into their basal readers. In 1977 they were rewarded for their efforts by a brochure written by Professor Chall, entitled Reading 1967-1977: A Decade of Change and Promise. It contained the following two sentences:
By the middle 1970s most of the published beginning reading programs had a code emphasis (Popp, 1975). Even those that were classified as meaning emphasis had earlier and heavier decoding programs in the first grade—an emphasis on phonics found only in the strongest code-emphasis programs of the early 1960s.
Houghton Mifflin and Ginn & Company were quick to quote these two sentences in their sales materials and have used them to sell more of their look-and-say basal readers.
Since this quotation from Professor Chall plays a large part in the present phase of the Great Coverup, let's look at it a little more closely. The first sentence, saying that "most of the published beginning reading programs had a code emphasis" is plainly wrong. I checked the reference to Dr. Helen M. Popp's 1975 article, "Current Practices in the Teaching of Beginning Reading." It says no such thing.
The second sentence is trickier. It says that basal readers "classified as meaning emphasis"—that is, look-and-say readers—had "an emphasis on phonics found only in the strongest code-emphasis programs of the early 1960s." What does that mean? It does not mean that the phonics content in the look-and-say readers now matches that of the phonics-first readers.
 It says only that the phonics you now find in the look-and-say basals is "found only" in the phonics-first readers of the early 1960s.
Now if you stay with me for another minute, I'll explain what this really means. In the early 1960s, there were just a few phonics-first programs, like Economy, Lippincott, and Open Court. By definition they taught all of phonics right at the start. The look-and-say readers in those days had virtually no phonics—maybe a smidgen of 1 percent or less.
After 1967, Houghton Mifflin, Ginn, and the rest, spurred by Professor Chall's book, put in more phonics. How much? Professor William K. Durr, senior author of the Houghton Mifflin series, obligingly explained in a letter:
Houghton Mifflin is not a look-and-say series and has, in fact, been a phonics-first program for many years. The facts, easily verified by an examination of the Houghton Mifflin Reading Series, show that children are taught the twenty-two most consistent and reliable phonic elements (b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, y, w, y, ch, sh, th, and wh) before they begin to read stories in their first pre-primer. The facts are that children are taught a decoding technique that uses these letter-sounds together with an understanding of the meaning of the material being read.
What percentage of phonics does this amount to? The reading instruction textbook Teaching Reading by Walcutt, Lamport, and McCracken contains a phonic inventory, listing all the items normally taught to children in a phonics-first series as they learn to read. The inventory adds up to 181 items, including all the letters and sounds plus such spelling patterns as ng, scr, oi, ight, etc.
If the 100 percent figure is 181, then the 22 phonic elements taught by Houghton Mifflin amount to 12 percent. Most other look-and-say series offer even less.
So it turns out that the vaunted switch to phonics after the publication of Professor Chall's book has brought an increase of token phonics window dressing from less than 1 percent to about 12 percent. This is still a small fraction of the total  phonics children must be taught at the start in order to become fluent readers. And it doesn't take into account the fact that those look-and-say first graders are being trained to guess words from context, and are never told about the secret alphabetic code.
I hope this explains the true meaning of Professor Chall's two sentences and their place in the scheme of the Great Coverup.
Let's go back to the research review by Dr. Dykstra in 1973. His main added evidence was the U.S. Office of Education study of twenty-seven first-grade programs, of which he was the director. Dykstra's report pointed out that phonics-first, particularly the Lippincott readers, had won a complete victory. The look-and-say educators concealed and misrepresented these findings. In an editorial in the October 1966 Reading Teacher, Dr. Russell Stauffer, senior author of the Holt, Rinehart & Winston look-and-say readers, wrote:
There is no one method of teaching reading.. . . Every method described used words, and phonics, and pictures, and comprehension, and teachers. . . . There was no one phonic method that was pure. . . . And where does all this leave us? All the maligning that reading instruction has endured for the past decade has not led to the golden era. No approach has overcome individual differences or eliminated reading failure. . . . Now that we have slashed around wildly in the mire of accusations let us remember that reading without comprehension is not reading.
Eleven years later, in 1977, Dr. Dykstra reported sadly:
Many of my colleagues in the field of reading have made and continue to make misleading and inaccurate statements concerning the major conclusions of the first-grade studies . . . . The popular view among professionals in the field of reading is that the first-grade studies found the teacher to be the most important variable in beginning reading instruction. . . . We came to no such conclusion. . . .
We found that programs did differ in effectiveness. . . .
 Children who learned to read in instructional programs emphasizing early and intensive teaching of phonetics demonstrated superior ability.
Dr. Dykstra has corrected misstatements about the outcome of the twenty-seven first-grade studies many times and in many places. But he has never caught up with the solid mass of commonly accepted untruths. To this day, almost all educators firmly believe that the twenty-seven studies showed that the teacher made the most important difference in how children learned to read and that no method proved to be superior.
Finally, we come to the monumental Follow Through project of the mid-seventies—programs for ex-Head Start children. That time it was the Distar phonics method that ran away with all honors. The Ford Foundation financed a thirty-three-page critique by a team of four researchers that appeared in a special issue of the Harvard Educational Review in the summer of 1978. Faulting the report on Follow Through on a dozen or more technical points, the team concluded that Distar's victory was spurious.
The outcome measures [they wrote], strongly favor models that concentrate on teaching mechanical skills. . . . Follow Through was to be an investigation of models of comprehensive early childhood education—not just reading, not just arithmetic, not just language usage. . . . Although who did best on the Metropolitan Achievement Test [of reading and math] might be a valid question, it would be wrong to confuse that question with the one that was actually asked.
In other words, now that Distar showed up strongest in all the achievement tests, let's pretend that wasn't the point of the studies.
This was answered by three U.S. Office of Education experts who had supervised the project. "Compensatory education can work," they wrote. ". . . Though not successful everywhere and not uniformly successful in all its outcomes, that model [Distar] showed the best pattern of success."
And that's where the matter stands now. After almost seventy years of research, after 124 studies leaving look-and-say without  a shred of scientific respectability, it is still used in 85 percent of our classrooms, poisoning the minds and crippling the educational growth of tens of millions of children. The federal government, carrying out its Congressional mandate, has poured billions of dollars into the twenty-seven cooperative first-grade studies and compensatory education projects like Head Start and Follow Through. Those projects proved without any doubt that phonics-first is superior to look-and-say.
The educators have ignored this mountain of solid evidence and continued their programmed retardation in our schools.
How did they do it? Mainly by turning the competition for textbook sales to the schools into an annual beauty contest. Almost every other year, each of the competitors comes out with "new, improved" models, renamed, refurbished, and, if possible, newly and more gaudily illustrated. There's no other country in the world where children learn to read from such handsome books.
Does that improve their reading skill? It wasn't until 1967 that a researcher, Dr. S. Jay Samuels, got curious as to the answer to that question.
It turned out that pictures not only don't help kids to learn whole words by look-and-say, but are an actual hindrance. Somewhat surprised, Dr. Samuels repeated his original experiment in another, more classroomlike setting. The result was the same. The simple truth was that a child, when confronted by a word and a picture, will look at the picture first. The more attractive the picture, the more it will interfere with word learning.
After Samuels's innovative research, nineteen—yes, nine-teen—more researchers followed in his footsteps. Eventually Samuels summarized the whole series of studies in an article in the Review of Educational Research.
Dr. Samuels's summary was devastating. He wrote:
1. The bulk of the research findings on the effect of pictures on acquisition of a sight-vocabulary was that pictures interfere with learning to read.
2. There was almost unanimous agreement that pictures when used as adjuncts to the printed text, do not facilitate comprehension.
40 Gates, Arthur I. Methods in Primary Reading. New York, Teachers College, 1928.
41 Flesch, Why Johnny Can't Read (see Chapter 1).
41 Chall, Learning to Read (see Chapter 3), p. 112.
41 "Phonics in Reading Instruction." Reading Teacher, December 1955.
41 Lamkin, F. Duane. "An Analysis of Propaganda Techniques Used in Why Johnny Can't Read—Flesch." Reading Teacher (see above), pp. 107-118.
41 Gray, William S. "Phonic versus Other Methods of Teaching Reading." Reading Teacher (see above), pp. 102106.
41 Buswell, Guy T. Fundamental Reading Habits: A Study of Their Development. Supplementary Educational Mono-graphs, no. 21. University of Chicago Press, 1922.
41 Gray, William S. Studies of Elementary School Reading Through Standardized Tests. Supplementary Educational Monographs, no. 1. University of Chicago Press, 1917, pp. 127-128.
42 Gurren, Louise, and Hughes, Ann. "Intensive Phonies vs. Gradual Phonics in Beginning Reading: A Review." Journal of Educational Research, vol. 58, no. 8, April 1965, pp. 339-346.
42 Spache, George D. and Evelyn B. Reading in the Elementary School (4th ed.). Boston, Allyn and Bacon, 1977.
42 Harris, Larry A., and Smith, Carl B. Reading Instruction: Diagnostic Teaching in the Classroom (2d ed.). New York, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1976.
43 Hittleman, Daniel R. Developmental Reading: A Psycholinguistic Perspective. Chicago, Rand McNally, 1978.
43 Chan, Jeanne S. Reading 1967-1977:• A Decade of Change and Promise. Phi Delta Kappa Fastbacks, 1977, no. 97, pp. 5-38.
43 Popp, Helen M. "Current Practices in the Teaching of Beginning Reading." In Carroll, John B., and Chall, J. S. (eds.), Toward a Literate Society. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1975, pp. 101-146.
44 Durr, William K. Letter to the editor of Family Circle, November 5, 1979.
44 Walcutt et al. Teaching Reading (see Chapter 3). Chapters by Dykstra.
45 Stauffer, Russell. "Some Tidy Generalization" (editorial). Reading Teacher, October 1966, p. 4.
45 Dykstra, Robert. "What the 27 Studies Said." Reading Informer, November 1977, pp. 11-12, 24.
46 House, Ernest R.; Glass, Gene V.; McLean, Leslie D.; and Walker, Decker F. "No Simple Answer: Critique of the Follow Through Evaluation." Harvard Educational Re-view, vol. 48, no. 2, 1978, pp. 128-160.
46 Wisler, Carl E.; Burns, Gerald P., Jr.; and Imamoto, David. "Follow Through Redux: A Response to the 'Critique by House, Glass, McLean and Walker." Harvard Educational Review, vol. 48, no. 2, 1978, pp. 171-185.
47 Samuels, S. Jay. "Effects of Pictures on Learning to Read, Comprehension and Attitudes." Review of Educational Research, vol. 40, no. 1, 1967, pp. 397-407.
Chapter 5: The Ten Alibis
48 Flesch, Rudolf. "Why Johnny Still Can't Read." Family Circle, November 1, 1979.
57 International Reading Association. "Position Statement. 'There's More to Reading than Some Folks Say.' " Reading Teacher, May 1980, p. 901.