The big swindle of the past century is when the Education Establishment pretended that phonics was old, obsolete, hard work, useless, no longer necessary, boring, and (clearly) children would be so much better off without it. This fraud started circa 1931 and continues today.
Those lies turn children away from being capable students to being hopeless lumps of failure. That’s the official formula followed by our public school system. The only exception would be schools that claim to teach systematic phonics and do teach systematic phonics. But such a school is rare. Most of them lie to the parents, they mix in other things, they play games.
I’m always trying to explain in simpler and simpler terms that anything that goes away from phonics is a waste of time and destructive. Phonics, phonemic, and phonetics are basically the same Greek word, and they all mean basically the same thing: sounds. We would probably be better off if we forgot those three words and just say “sounds.”
So if one adult asks another, “How are you going to teach your son to read,” the correct answer is, “Sounds.” “Oh, you are going to use sounds?” “Yes, all the research shows that sounds is the way to do it.”
So children learn that the letters stand for sounds. If you see an a, you know that it represents a sound something like ahh. That's the central concept and that’s all there is to it. Just 26 letters are able to represent the whole spoken language.
But the Whole Word fraud said that children did not need letters or sounds, and that they could memorize the shapes of thousands or even tens of thousands of words. This is completely insane.
English words were never designed to be memorized as visual objects. Many words resemble many other words. It’s a hopeless project for the average child. Some never reach 100 sight-words. Our Education Establishment must like failure because they enable so much of it.
For a longer discussion of this idea, see: “Reading IS phonics” http://www.examiner.com/article/reading-is-phonics
For how to teach children to read, see: "Preemptive Reading" http://www.improve-education.org/id81.html