Research Regarding Phonics

Phonics defines the set of relationships between written letters and the spoken sounds that those letters represent. Closely related to phonics is "phonemic awareness", a child's understanding of the idea that spoken words can be broken down into constituent sounds.

During the 20th century, an enormous amount of scientific research was conducted on the subject of reading instruction. Several formal surveys of this research were conducted during the latter part of the century, and all of them reached the same conclusion:

In another comprehensive survey of research regarding twenty- four widely used school reform models (commissioned by the National Education Association [NEA], the American Association of School Administrators [AASA], and others), only three models showed “strong evidence” of effectiveness. Only two of the three were applicable in elementary school (the third was a high school model), and both of these models featured highly structured, systematic phonics instruction; most of the other models did not feature such instruction. Reference: An Educator's Guide to Schoolwide Reform, 1999, published on line by the American Association of School Administrators.

In addition to these surveys, two ultra-large-scale government research projects also support the use of comprehensive, systematic phonics:

And finally the entire state of California inadvertently performed its own large-scale "research" during the late 1980s and early 1990s by dropping phonics statewide from its reading curricula in 1987. (This was merely a continuation of California's decades-long policy of moving away from all forms of systematic instruction including phonics.) The resulting catastrophe precipitated several events:

Conclusions of decades of research in reading (not just the "latest research" so often cited in the promotional material for many curricula) are summarized succinctly in the following set of recommendations:

To see a listing of research supporting each of the above assertions, please visit our Phonics Research Bibliography.