Emily Hanford on Reading Science & K-12 Literacy

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Alisha Searcy interview journalist Emily Hanford, host of the hit podcast Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong. Ms. Hanford discusses how she became interested in the science of reading, the growing consensus around phonics as the best way to teach children to read, the impact of the digital age on learning, and the importance of academic background knowledge for schoolchildren’s learning. She offers her thoughts on how to reverse dramatic declines in NAEP reading test scores and the different kinds of reading that young people should be doing, including fables, poems, myths, fiction, history, and biography, that give them the wider vocabulary and knowledge to be good readers.

Stories of the Week

Albert discussed a story from Axios about U.S. students’ math scores plunging in the PISA global education assessment; Alisha commented on a story in USA Today about how, despite the ongoing growth of private, charter, and homeschooling during the COVID-19 pandemic, most U.S. students continue to attend a traditional district public school.


Emily Hanford is host of the hit podcast Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong, the second-most-shared show on Apple Podcasts in 2023 and one of Time Magazine’s top three podcasts of the year. Sold a Story has garnered some of the highest honors in journalism, including the Murrow, the IRE, two Scripps Howard awards, a Third Coast Impact award, and a Peabody nomination. Hanford has been covering education for American Public Media since 2008 and working in public media for 30 years. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the EWA Public Service Award in 2019 for Hard Words and an award from the American Educational Research Association for Excellence in Reporting on education research. She is based in the Washington, D.C. area and is a graduate of Amherst College.