Published on 7.1.12 and republished on 4.17.22

“Reading at a Cost of $6.46”
by Donna Garner

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Quote from Dr. Jack Fletcher, U. of Houston neuropsychologist:  “…the average cost of the testing for special education eligibility was $800 to $8,000, and the median was $4,000. You can do a really good intervention program for $4,000.”  (I have posted Dr. Fletcher’s interesting Q&A article from the Houston Chronicle further on down the page.)

I have even better news: If schools would teach Phono-Graphix by Carmen McGuinness, it would cost $6.46  for an entire classroom of children to learn to read.  If schools would teach reading correctly, the $8,000 per child for special education testing and the $4,000 for reading intervention would not be necessary!

As of 4.17.22, Reading Reflex is available at this or other outlets for about $6.79.

My husband’s father could not read nor write.  My husband struggled with dyslexia problems.  Our two sons were diagnosed early-on with learning disabilities. Here came our five grandchildren, the oldest of whom had severe ear infections that delayed his speech abilities. He could not hear the sounds of the English language well enough to emulate them.  He was doomed to become a poor reader if he learned to read at all.

Fortunately, a neurologist introduced our family to Phono-Graphix (i.e., Reading Reflex)by Carmen McGuinness. Our daughter-in-law who had had no teacher training whatsoever followed the explicit directions given in this book and taught our oldest grandson to read/write/spell.

Not only is our oldest grandson [now a college graduate with his masters degree who has an excellent job] an “A” student, but our other four grandchildren (all taught to read using Phono-Graphix) are fluent readers also. [All five have either graduated from college, have masters’ degrees, have excellent jobs, or are in high school.]

The key to good reading instruction is to help a child “crack the code” where he hears an English sub-sound (phoneme) and is able to map that sound to a letter.  Once that momentous “epiphany” occurs, then Phono-Graphix leads the student through direct, systematic, sound-to-letter acquisition until he is able to read, write, and spell to the automaticity level.  The child learns to hear individual phonemes, to segment, and then to blend them into words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and full text.

When a child’s brain is able to respond almost automatically to what the words themselves are, then his brain is freed up enough to concentrate on comprehension.  If he is still struggling to figure out what the words are, his brain cannot focus on comprehending the meaning of the text.

The reading approach (sound-to-letter) that is used by Phono-Graphix is backed up by a great deal of documented research. The cognitive eye instrumentation research has shown that good readers read almost every single word, going from the part to the whole; this finding completely discredits whole language instruction which moves erroneously from the whole to the part.

Research done with MRI’s has tracked the brain and how it reacts when exposed to sound-to-letter reading instruction. One of these research reports was published in Science Daily on 8.5.08 although there are many other reports that confirm the same thing:

Remedial Instruction Rewires Dyslexic Brains, Provides Lasting Results, Study Shows – “The most common cause, accounting for more than 70 percent of dyslexia, is a difficulty in relating the visual form of a letter to its sound…” --

When I think of “what might have been” with our familial and genetic problems, I get teary-eyed.  This is part of the reason that I have spent so much of my life fighting the “reading wars.”

If schools would throw out their discredited whole language approach (e.g., Guided Reading, Lucy Calkins’ instructional materials, holistic scoring of essays, invented spelling, etc.) and teach all children to “crack the code” (sound-to-letter acquisition of phonemes), we would see a society that would be able to read proficiently; and this would lead to a prosperous and well-educated America in all areas of our culture. This could cost as little as $6.46 per classroom (a far cry from $8,000 to $4,000 per student for special education testing and intervention).

One more thing:  Phono-Graphix is non-consumable which means one book could be used year after year!

All it takes is for a person to follow the directions in the book, cut apart pieces of paper with phonemes written on them (manipulatives), place them in envelopes in a shoebox, give each child a little writing slate along with a marker, and proceed systematically through the steps in the book.

Parent volunteers could be brought in to help individualize the instruction because anyone and everyone can learn how to present the instruction by reading through several chapters at the beginning of the book. This approach would free up the classroom teacher to be able to work with those children who need specialized instruction.

As a secondary classroom teacher for 33 years, I myself have used Phono-Graphix to help struggling readers and have shared this book with numerous grandparents who have been worried about their grandchildren’s lack of reading acquisition. Not long ago a proud grandmother with whom I had shared this book some years ago told me what a difference Phono-Graphix had made in her grandson’s life.

Several years ago, a middle-school English teacher told me that she used Phono-Graphix with all her students, taking them back to the point where she made sure they had learned how to “crack the code” before proceeding to teach them more sophisticated reading selections.

I know of various tutors and private coaches (some in the prison system where poor readers are rampant) who are making a living teaching poor readers to take that all-important leap “to crack the code.”  Professional athletes who are non-readers have been taught to read through programs such as Phono-Graphix.  A local tutoring company that uses Phono-Graphix is continuously hiring more employees to handle the growing number of students who are coming to them to learn to read.  A friend of mine teaches in a private school during the day where he teaches sound-to-letter and “cracking the code” but works at a second job where he tutors poor readers from the public schools who are reading failures. Invariably, these children are products of whole language and Guided Reading strategies that are still being utilized by misguided public school teachers.

Once that leap of “cracking the code” is accomplished, the whole world of reading will unfold before students; and doors of opportunity will open. Good reading leads to good writing and good spelling.  Throw in a healthy dose of grammar and correct usage, and the student is on his way to academic success that extends to his other classes.

Outside of helping a child to grow spiritually, I cannot think of a greater gift that a person could give a student than to help him to learn to read, write, and spell well.



Thankfully, the Texas Legislature in May 2019 did pass HB 3. Texas HB 3 not only requires teachers to use systematic, direct instruction of phonics in K –  3, but the bill also requires all teachers and principals in K – 3 to attend a teacher literacy achievement academy where they will be instructed in the scientific study of reading [i.e., phonemic awareness/decoding skills/phonics].  All applicants who get their teaching certificates for Pre-K through Grade 6 after Jan. 1, 2021 must demonstrate mastery on a certification exam (any class of certificate) of the scientific study of reading.  

To find out for yourself about the latest on the Texas Reading Academies, please go to the following links.  Because of COVID and the fact that Texas students for a period of time were not allowed to meet in person, the Texas Education Agency had to adjust a few of its prior HB 3 expectations. However, most of the expectations are now in place and are moving forward:

Year Three – Reading Academies --

Reading Practices --

4.1.22 -- “Texas Tribune Tries To Build the Case To Get Rid of Reading Academies” -- By Donna Garner – --

Video released by the Texas Education Agency on 9.12.19 – Reading Practices --

1.21.19 -- “Texas at Forefront of Teaching Phonics” -- By Donna Garner – --

6.10.19 -- “Truly Exciting News – Tex. HB 3 Requires K-3 Teachers To Utilize Systematic, Direct Instruction of Phonics” --By Donna Garner – --


Donna Garner


Q&A: UH expert stresses early intervention for learning-disabled kids

By Jennifer Radcliffe

Updated 10:38 p.m., Saturday, June 30, 2012

Jack Fletcher points out what parents should look for as their children finish kindergarten.

University of Houston neuropsychologistJack Fletcher heads the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities, which recently received a $9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The center's current research includes intense intervention and brain imaging on struggling readers in fourth and fifth grades. Fletcher took time to explain the work to education reporterJennifer Radcliffe. Excerpts follow.

Q: You spent the last several years researching very young students and middle- schoolers. What did you learn?

A: There's a lot of evidence that the longer you wait, the harder it is to intervene. Compared to the early elementary school grades, the effects of a year of fairly robust intervention on middle schoolers was very disappointing. What we decided to do after one year was to continue the intervention and then, after two years of intervention, we began to see more robust effects. The point that it drove home for us is that intervening with older children is not a one-year, short-term operation. It takes a great deal of very intensive intervention.

Q: How can a child make it into middle school and still be struggling to read?

A: Even though we talk constantly about the importance of early intervention, that message just continues to get lost and diluted in its translation. Every piece of research I know says that kids who are not reading at grade level by the end of first grade are at very high risk for a learning disability.

Q: So when should parents worry about their child's progress?

A: By the end of kindergarten, you absolutely want to see children not just recite the alphabet, but know the sounds the letters make. Early in the first grade, they should have a developing sight word vocabulary and by the end of first grade they should be able to read connected text, at least short sentences.

Q: How much are learning disabilities in reading the result of a lack of exposure?

A: We would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a brain that's had inadequate instruction and a brain that's had adequate instruction and has just struggled to learn. Reading problems clearly run in the family. Kids with parents who don't read are at high risk for reading problems themselves, but it's not like a hard-wired sort of thing. We have a history of thinking about learning disabilities in terms of a bad gene/bad brain type of theory. In fact, we understand learning disabilities as interactions of risk factors that are probably genetic that make your brain at risk. You're born with a brain organization that makes it harder to learn to read.

Q: So what percent of the population has a learning disability?

A: It's all part of normal bell-shaped curve, but I think people agree that 5 to 10 percent of kids have a reading disability and we think the number of kids in the population who are really severely intractable or resistant (to intervention) is probably around 2 percent.

Q: Do you think that 5 to 10 percent is getting served in school? 

A: I don't think they're getting served in ways that would really accelerate their reading. People underestimate the level of intensity it takes to really accelerate reading in someone who's really behind. We provided two years of instruction to children who were behind at grade six. Some people believe that you ought to be able to fix struggling readers in, say, six months. It doesn't work that way. We put the child in intervention two hours a day for a shorter period of time and get really rapid acceleration, but it's the intensity that really makes the difference. Schools by and large are either not able or don't have the awareness of what it takes to provide this level of intervention.

Q: And if you had a magic wand and could change one or two things in general education to improve reading, what would they be?

A: One thing you can do is eliminate a lot of the excessive stuff, which would be excessive testing, the focus on IQ - really channel all the resources you can into intervention. We spend far too much time trying to figure out who the right child is and what that does is deplete resources that could be used for interventions. I'm a psychologist. We teach assessment. We do too much of it.

When I was on the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education, we heard testimony that the average cost of the testing for special education eligibility was $800 to $8,000, and the median was $4,000. You can do a really good intervention program for $4,000.