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Needless to Say, “I Have No Use for Reading Recovery”

by Pete Wright

Reading Recovery’s (RR) transition from New Zealand to the United States began at Barrington Elementary School in the Upper Arlington City Schools in Columbus, Ohio in the mid ’80’s in conjunction with Ohio State University.

One of the first RR teachers in the United States was Joetta Beaver.

One of the first dyslexic students taught using RR was Joseph James…

Letter to the Stranger Requesting Due Process

Cameron James, in his May, 1996 “Letter to the Stranger” requesting a due process hearing against Upper Arlington City Schools explained that:

Just before Joe’s first grade year was to begin, his teacher contacted my wife and told her that Joe qualified for the Reading Recovery program and Joe would receive one- on-one instruction, daily, from Joetta Beaver. My wife reminded Joetta that Joe was dyslexic. However, Joetta said, “I don’t want to hear about his dyslexia. I’m going to recover Joe.”

Joetta Beaver had been our daughter’s classroom teacher. She was also a teacher leader in Reading Recovery. We thought she new what she was doing. We considered Joetta and the other educators at Barrington as the “experts” in deciding what to do about Joe’s reading difficulties.

Today, I have learned that Reading Recovery was probably the worst thing that we could have done to Joe. Due to Joe’s dyslexia he had no natural phonological awareness and a poor visual memory. Instead of an intensive, systematic, phonological method like Orton-Gillingham, the Reading Recovery method teaches the child to use picture and context cues, and tries to get the child to memorize sight words. Every day, Joetta taught Joe to guess at words based upon what he saw in the pictures and his understanding of the sentence context.

Joe did not learn to read with the Reading Recovery method, but he did practice guessing at words day after day. This has had a devastating effect on Joe’s learning to read. Every time he would guess and be wrong he felt he had failed. This will emotionally effect Joe the rest of his life.

Joe got so frustrated that year that it changed his personality. Joe our happiest child was gone and Joe became a child who feared failure. Joe began to judge himself by his peers. They could read and he couldn’t. Joe’s self esteem dropped through the floor. Joetta was so determined to Recover Joe that she indicated to us that she had kept him in the Reading Recovery program “twice as long” as normal. Joe finally got so upset that he refused to go to Reading Recovery and Joetta stopped her sessions.

To read the letter, go to:

District Court Complaint

In the subsequent Complaint I filed in the U. S. District Court, I explained that:

The plaintiffs are also seeking damages for the continued use of the wholly inappropriate whole language Reading Recovery teaching technique that was used to secure economic gain and benefit for the Upper Arlington School District and the Upper Arlington School District staff to the detriment of their son.

In the body of the Complaint, I asserted that:

19.  At the time it was used with Joe, Reading Recovery was not proven to be successful in teaching dyslexic children how to read and write.

20.  Research conducted over the past several years has shown that Reading Recovery is not successful in teaching dyslexic children how to read and write.

21.  The parents were not informed that Reading Recovery did not have a proven track record with dyslexic children.

22.  Unknown at that time to Nancy and Cameron James, and upon present information and belief, the Upper Arlington School District, Joetta Beaver, and the Education Department of the Ohio State University either had, at that time, or have at present, entered into a business financial relationship with each other.

23.  The effect of said business and financial relationship is to generate income for the Education Department of Ohio State University by promoting the use of Reading Recovery.

24. The effect of said business and financial relationship is to generate income for the Upper Arlington School District by promoting the use of Reading Recovery.

25.  The effect of said business and financial relationship has been to generate income for Joetta Beaver by promoting the use of Reading Recovery.

To read the full complaint, go to:

Prevailing at the 6th Circuit

Needless to say, I have no use for RR.

While I made RR one of the primary psychological/emotional themes of my case, that portion was not litigated. We lost at DP, Review Hearing, and District Court without any actual evidence or testimony being heard at any stage.

However, in September, 2000, we prevailed at the 6th Circuit. Upper Arlington appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court who refused to grant cert and the case was then settled without going to an actual trial.

Upper Arlington knew that we had the research and the experts lined up ready to testify that RR damages children with dyslexia. We also intended to prove that RR, Upper Arlington, and Ohio State had an insidious economic relationship, ergo, case settled.

Reading Recovery, Not for the Dyslexic

Robin Hansen, in her article Reading Recovery, Not for the Dyslexic or Anyone Else says,  “…it has now been proven that Reading Recovery’s “research” was flawed and the results were not impressive!”

Read some of the findings of reviews and other studies evaluating the impact of Reading Recovery.

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16 Comments on "Needless to Say, “I Have No Use for Reading Recovery”"


I have a lot of respect for teachers. Let us make one thing very clear. I hear teachers throw the term dyslexia around as if they are neuropsychologists. If you suspect that a student may have dyslexia, don’t let the student fail. Help the parents advocate to get the child tested, talk to your administrators, etc. Don’t assume you can remediate unless you are trained in specific SBRIs. Dyslexia is very complicated and presents a different profile for each child. I had to educate well meaning and tenured teachers on the nuances of dyslexia. It presents itself in different ways as the child enters puberty. Please don’t assume that you truly know how to educate a child with dyslexia with programs like RR. Many such students become failures because of such a mentality. I am my child’s advocate and his parent.


My dyslexic child was given RR in the 2nd grade. I trusted the administrators who were the “experts”. I had to hire an advocate in his 6th grade year as he was not making adequate progress with reading. The IEE demonstrated that he was dyslexic. Obtain an IEE and don’t wait for the “experts” in the school. Your child will fail and fall behind if they continue programs like RR. It may help some students with reading issues….but will mask the problems of a dyslexic child. My son is now getting a SBRI with trained staff. He is going to college. Become the expert on your child’s disability and educate the school staff with data and research on dyslexia. Study sped. Ed law. I do not blame teachers… just the instructional practices. Become your child’s advocate and stay up to date on the research.


To those who believe Reading Recovery is an appropriate program to use with struggling readers, including kids with dyslexia and other reading disabilities, please read this open letter signed by 30+ international reading researchers who express their serious concerns about the use of Reading Recovery.

Pam Wright


I am a Reading Recovery / Reading / Special Education Teacher, MS Ed. I am trained in teaching students with dyslexia using many different formats. There are many different types of dyslexia, and can only be diagnosed by someone who specializes in such disorders. In my experience of teaching students with reading disabilities, I have witnessed success using many different formats, but none like that of Reading Recovery. Reading Recovery is not even remotely about memorizing sight words. It is about hearing sounds in words, learning how and where to look, thinking about what is being read, and so on. If your child is not progressing in the 16 week program, it isn’t because the program isn’t effective. Also, I do not know of any school districts that are paid in collaboration for promoting Reading Recovery. Further more, Marie Clay’s work is based on how the brain learns to read. There is a high level of data kept on students, and it is supported by the International Reading Association, Please get your facts straight before communicating misinformation. Many of my past students are now very successful with their reading, and yes, others continue to need help. However, they made good progress in the program. Perhaps you should have someone read both sides of evidence before commenting. Did you look at how the teacher was teaching? It may have not been the program, it may have been the teacher, lack of follow up at home, or a misunderstanding in the type of dyslexia the child had.


Anyone who truly believes that Reading Recovery is a “look and guess” program is extremely misinformed. Visual scanning in correct sequence is a huge part of successful reading, and students are taught to problem solve with continuous text, rather than in isolation. The reciprocity between using phonics for reading (message receiving) and writing (message sending) is emphasized, and new learning is built upon each child’s idiosyncratic strengths. I am a Reading Recovery teacher and have had success in teaching children with suspected dyslexia. I have studied Sally Shaywitz’s “Overcoming Dyslexia” and understand the importance of overlearning and repetition for forging new pathways in the brain. Reading Recovery is meant to be tailored to each child’s needs. To say that it is ineffective for dyslexic children is closeminded.


I find it frustrating that in Iowa, they don’t diagnose dyslexia, they just put a label on kids as “learning disability”. I would have to pay big bucks to get him diagnosed. I’m sure that is what he has. I wish I knew whom to talk to. I feel like my son hasn’t been taught like he should and he hates school. I don’t know how to teach my son. I’m in the medical field, not a teaching degree! I’ve taken my son to Sylvan-didn’t help and reading recovery. He just this year has the area 7 help, one on one help for 45 minutes per day. Very frustrating.