We know that critical inputs like English Language Arts standards, strong curricula, professional development, intervention, and data-driven decision-making are important components of our educational system. Major efforts like Reading First and Early Reading First (under No Child Left Behind) tried much of this. Although it didn’t have the “Science of Reading,” it did have “scientifically based reading practices.” This multi-year effort threw everything at reading that we knew 20 years ago. Billions of dollars later, these efforts demonstrated positive changes in adult practices, but improvements in student reading outcomes were very limited.

We benchmark contemporary efforts to improve reading outcomes against this earlier effort. We are guided by two fundamental questions:

What do we think we have uncovered?

What do we think we can do that hasn't been done before?


To answer these questions, in 2016 we began to dig deeply into the research. We read hundreds of academic articles and studies to get a panoramic view of the evidence base for effective reading instruction. We want to know what has been tried and tested so we know what works – and what doesn’t.

Further, we looked for strategies or interventions that have been rigorously tested in carefully conducted experiments. This is the same approach that’s used in developing new medicines. We believe that our children deserve the very best that we can give them. Just like we wouldn’t give children medicines that have not been proven to work, we believe we should set a similarly high bar for the education interventions that we give them.

Our approach

First, our work is grounded in three research-based models: Scarborough’s Reading Rope, The Four Types of Reading Instruction, and The Home Literacy Model. These three mental models inform our understanding of how children learn to read (Reading Rope) and how adults teach children to read (Four Types of Reading Instruction and Home Literacy Model).

Scarborough’s Reading Rope
The Four Types of Reading Instruction
The Home Literacy Model

Second, our review of the research uncovered 10 drivers of effective reading instruction. These drivers come from experimental studies published in peer-reviewed academic journals. There is strong evidence these drivers can help adults individualize reading instruction to meet the specific reading needs of most children. It might be helpful to think about these as principles of reading instruction that can (and should) be used across curricula, interventions, and programs.

Finally, we focus on closing the research-to-practice gap. Unfortunately, it’s all too common to have a gap between what’s been proven to work and what we actually use in practice. It’s one thing to see positive results in a carefully controlled experiment. We prefer supporting robust strategies that can survive in the real (and sometimes messy) world of classrooms, out-of-school programs, and homes. We focus on helping our partners deliver repeatable, high-quality results using frameworks from Implementation Science to guide quality implementation and tools from Improvement Science to guide continuous improvement.

Scarborough Reading Rope

The Reading Rope created by Dr. Hollis Scarborough provides a general model for how children become skilled readers. It includes the development of both language comprehension skills (meaning-focused) and word recognition skills (code-focused) working together. Weakness in any strand can disrupt reading; weakness in multiple strands disrupts reading more.

The Four Types of Reading Instruction

The Four Types of Reading Instruction by Dr. Carol Connor is a model for individualizing reading instruction. Teaching code- and meaning-focused skills can be adult-led or child-led. Interactions between the Four Types and a child’s reading, vocabulary, and comprehension skills shape the effectiveness of instructional strategies.

The Home Literacy Model

The Home Literacy Model by Monique Sénéchal and Jo-Anne LeFevre is an evidence-based model that shows the specific actions that families take at home that positively impact children’s reading in school. It includes activities that support both code-focused (word recognition) and meaning-focused (language comprehension) skill development.