Reports of Governor Brown's appointment of Bill Honig to the State Board of Education have focused on Honig's previous legal problems. More serious is Honig's stance on educational issues ("Brown names top advisers," 1/6).
After resigning as state superintendent, Honig became a dedicated supporter of intensive systematic phonics, the view that all children need phonics instruction that includes all major rules of phonics, presented in a strict order.
Some basic phonics instruction is helpful, but evidence refutes the extremist intensive systematic position: Studies show that intensive phonics makes no significant contribution to performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read.
Reading First, part of No Child Left Behind, is based on intensive systematic phonics. Reading First children performed no better on tests of reading comprehension than children taught by regular methods, even though Reading First children had more reading instruction.
Studies also show that California's low reading scores are not due to a lack of phonics, but are because of a lack of access to reading materials. California has failed to support its public and school libraries, and studies relate library quality to reading achievement.
Honig's misreading of research is more serious than his financial misdemeanor.
Studies of intensive phonics and reading comprehension: Garan, E. 2001. Beyond the smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel report on phonics. Phi Delta Kappan 82, no. 7 (March), 500-506; Krashen, S. 2009. Does Intensive Decoding Instruction Contribute to Reading Comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74.
Reading First: Gamse, B., R. Jacob, R., M. Horst, B. Boulay, and F. Unlu 2008. Reading First Impact Study Final Report (NCEE 2009-4038). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
Low reading scores not the result of lack of phonics: McQuillan, J. 1997. The Literacy Crisis: False Claims and Real Solutions. Heinemann.