I do have concerns about a North Carolina school system spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a reading program in our current budgetary situation (MCN, 9/1). However, I want to clarify comments attributed to me about the gray matter volume study.
When I first talked to the reporter, her description of the study suggested it was not yet published but I subsequently went to the website she gave me and saw that it was. The second time I talked with the reporter, she did not catch that I did know it was published. She was probably influenced by the serious concerns I still had about the study being used to convince school board members to buy an expensive program.
The published paper in NeuroImage appropriately indicates two important facts about the study. One is that there was no control group. The other was that there was no significant correlation between changes in reading behavior of the 11 children and changes in their brains. The abstract and conclusion of the paper inappropriately indicate a demonstrated causal relationship between the intervention and brain changes. Similarly, the Lindamood-Bell website description of the study is headlined “New Study Shows Reading Intervention Changes Gray Matter Volume.” The study does not show that reading intervention changed the gray matter volume of the children. It could not do so with the design it used. No causal inferences are warranted from that study.
Moreover, the absence of a significant correlation between the behavioral changes and the brain changes suggests that it did not show any direct influence of the intervention. I have no objection to exploratory research, even on tiny samples. However, I do not think it is appropriate for commercial enterprises to oversell their programs based on exploratory studies. Other research has shown the Lindamood approach, like other intensive interventions with small teacher-student ratios, has modest influences on certain reading behaviors. They do not need to trot out exploratory brain studies to make a case. My suggestion to your reporter was simply that school boards ought to explore cost-effective local solutions.
Bruce Henderson, Professor
WCU Department of Psychology