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

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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 [no longer available] 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. [no longer available]

  1. Out of all interventions listed by the What Works Clearinghouse, Reading Recovery has the highest ratings. Orton-Gillingham has no peer-reviewed efficacy studies at all. Reading Recovery has decades of documented success data. OG has anecdotes. Bashing of Reading Recovery became the cool thing to do after a podcaster decided it was her pet cause, but its research base is strong and results are still impeccable. Think critically, people.

  2. Kia ora from New Zealand,
    I just wanted to share the name of a program developed in the UK over a period of many years for students struggling with their reading and or falling under the label of Dyslexia.The name of the program is ‘Toe by toe’ with its companion texts ‘Stare way to Spelling’ and ‘Stride ahead’ (Comprehension).The beauty of this resource is that there is so much additional sequential support via the You tube videos. Look at the introductory videos on line. It is a one to one structured program. Go and read some of the feedback from parents and teachers. It’s not bright coloured, sugar coated or flashy but by all indications overall parents are really pleased with the results. Do it!

  3. Reading Recovery is NOT Whole Language. I am so sorry you are slandering a program I have used with great success over the years. There is no one “cure” or program to remedy a pupil’s reading difficulties and struggles.
    This year, our title program is adopting a curriculum for Title reading intervention focused on phonemic awareness, phonics and sight word reading in isolation. It is called SIPSS (Systematic Instruction In Phonological Awareness, Phonics and Sight Words).
    In the past, teachers have voiced the understanding that they are expected to follow to fidelity a curriculum that’s been purchased for them.
    The International Literacy Association (ILA) wrote a position statement warning of the danger of doing so!
    YOUR program is NOT the one solution either!!!

  4. I am an OG tutor just relocating my dyslexic son back to public school in WY after two years at an OG school. They are offering Reading Recovery, which, of course, we know is not effective. They also use LMB STARS and Vis & Verb. Any advice about how to compare either of those two programs to OG would be terrific. Also having trouble getting them to use his current private school IEP while he is re-evaluated for an IEP in WY. Thank you!

  5. It is crazy the Reading Recovery is alive and well in some districts, despite massive progress in reading acquisition research. First and foremost, Reading Recovery is no longer research-based, if they ever were at all. They would have modified their program when new research came out. It is widely accepted and one of the most important findings of Put Reading First, the research compilation from the National Reading Panel that the lowest students learning to read, need phonological and phonemic awareness instruction. If Reading Recovery teachers are taking the lowest kids in first grade, guess what their major need is? Phonological and Phonemic Awareness!!!!! It only goes downhill after that! ie: Teaching guessing. RR is a business MACHINE! They won’t change their business model.

    • Reading Recovery is well-researched. Just check it out at the What Works Clearinghouse. I’ve used it for 25 years and have had success with children who have been identified as being “dyslexic”. It also makes a lot of sense with the latest brain research being conducted at MIT and at Stanford. It’s no longer limited to fMRI and EEG…check out diffusion tensor imaging…all brain research is still in the early stages but we know so much more now than we used to.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    • 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.

      • I so agree! The program he described that was taught to his child is NOT the RR program I teach! We NEVER encourage them to memorized……….LEARN that’s we encourage

    • This is old news…more international reading researchers read this letter and even more researchers signed on in support of Reading Recovery.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. For research regarding the effectiveness of Reading Recovery and 171 other begining reading interventions (Wilson, Fundations, S.P.I.R.E., etc.) go to
    Look under the topic Beginning Reading.

    WWC also publishes intervention reports that evaluate research on curricula for students with learning disabilities K-12.

  11. Definition of insanity- doing the same thing & expecting different results. The fact of the matter is that RR is nothing more than whole language. Whole language originated as the “look say” method & was created by Thomas Gallaudet, originally to teach children who were deaf to read. What is phonemic awareness? The ability to distinguish, produce, remember & manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. Of course, children who are deaf will not develop phonemic awareness for obvious reasons. They then began using the method with kids who did not have disabilities in general ed, thus the birth of whole language. I encourage every parent to research the history of reading instruction & take action, we are crippling nearly 40% of our kids educationally by it’s use. It is happening ALL over our country! Beware of balanced literacy!

  12. bsmith you are definetly biased. Open your mind. Orton-Gillingham and Lindamood Bell are appropriate programs for dyslexic students.

  13. Is Reading Recovery the same as Resource Room? My daughter is dyslexic. Working on getting her the right help.

  14. B. Smith is under the wrong impression that individuals with dyslexia reverse letters and/or words. This is a common misconception. Dyslexia is a language processing problem due to weaknesses in the language area in the left side of the brain. For a more extensive explanation of what dyslexia really is and the characteristics related to it, readers of this article should go to

  15. bsmith – If you have only heard “rave reviews” of Reading Recovery, you didn’t read the letter by parents, the complaint, the decision, or comments by readers of this blog. This suggests that your mind is closed.

    If your mind is not closed, you should know that reading experts have raised concerns about the foundation, research, and costs associated with Reading Recovery for years. According to the reading experts:

    1. Reading Recovery lacks independent research that validates the program’s success.

    2. Reading Recovery does not include a standard, nondiscriminatory goal for successful completion of the program.

    3. Reading Recovery does not measure progress objectively.

    4. A high percentage of children are dropped from Reading Recovery before they complete the program.

    5. Reading Recovery does not reduce the need for special education and Title I services.

    6. Reading Recovery is expensive when compared to programs that are more effective.

    An international group of experts in reading development and intervention report that there is little evidence that Reading Recovery is effective. These experts published an open letter to express their concerns about the use of a reading program that is not effective and whose claims are not supported or verified by independent research.

    Full text of letter.

  16. As a Reading Recovery teacher with 10 years experience, I have only heard rave reviews from parents about their children’s successes in RR. I find the assertions surprising and am unaquainted with any medical staff willing to difinitively identify a 6 year old (age of RR students) as dyslexic. Reversals and spacial issues are within the normal range in first grade and, to some degree, in second grade. There is no question that all children learn differently and at different rates but to pin a child’s lack of success on the school district’s sincere attempt to help feels more like vented parental anger and the understandable frustration to watch a child struggle for success.

  17. Unfortunately. Reading Recovery and Whole Language are alive and well in Ohio. I never knew about Joseph James’ case until my child was diagnosed with dyslexia. We’ve been fighting our school district ever since. Our Director of Curriculum comes from Ohio State and is proud of these same programs.

    I grew up in Upper Arlington. I wish the Joseph James case got more attention so local schools would wake up and understand reading disabilities. Maybe Pete needs to come out of retirement and back into Ohio courts!

  18. My daughter has dyslexia, just like Joe, she had a emotional break down because they were pushing her to read. She still has great fear of reading aloud in class. She doesn’t have to do this anymore because we have put it in her IEP. When she was in the fourth grade, she knew 10 sight words and memorized all books. We got her into Lindamood-bell and then a program called reading with !. She is doing awesome now, in the 9th grade. I have taught her to advocate for her disability, so she can empower her way of learning. I know its not over for journey of learning, but for her to really understand her learning really empowers her to let the teachers know when she is not learning. God help us through the next years of high school and college.

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