Here is the really astonishing fact about the Reading Wars that everyone should know. Almost without exception the phonics proponents insist they teach 99+ percent of children to read in the first grade.
Some of these experts, with 25+ years in the trenches, actually claim they have no failures. Every--or close to every--kid learns to read by Christmas of the first grade, or for sure by the end of the year.
Please stop and savor this. Apparently humans are wired to read. Given half a chance, they learn it easily enough. Teach them the alphabet, get across the idea that the letters represent sounds, as in B is for Ball. Then it's not a big deal. Some kids pick it up almost automatically. The slower kids need direct instruction for a few months.
The reason we think that learning to read is so difficult is that our Education Establishment, for almost 80 years, has used a method that does not work. In order to protect themselves, these phonies have to pretend that reading is a really exotic skill, like singing opera, and only the rare few can really break through.
If you actually look at this completely illegitimate pedagogy, the puny goal that the Whole Word experts were aiming for was a very limited literacy all through elementary school. This low agenda pretty much destroyed all of the education that had traditionally taken place in the early grades... It seems that about half the children reach a stunted level called functional illiteracy and never move past that point throughout their lives!
To make people confront just how stupid and evil some of these theories are, I just posted an article titled "Fake Reading Theory Is the Slave Trade of Our Era." Please send it to your local school board.
As a simple practical matter, as long as the Education Establishment can get away with using sight-words to teach reading, our entire system of public education will remain at a retarded level.