Hooked on Phonics to halt ad claims

Published Dec. 15, 1994|Updated Oct. 8, 2005

You may have heard or seen the commercials with people saying that the "Hooked on Phonics" learning program "worked for me."

But the advertisements don't work for government officials.

As a result, the Federal Trade Commission announced Wednesday that Gateway Educational Products of Orange, Calif., the maker of the $230 kit, has agreed to stop making unsubstantiated claims about its product.

"While phonics instruction can be useful, you can't claim that a $230 program is the quick and easy, one-size-fits-all solution to reading problems unless you have good, solid evidence to back up the claims," said Christian White, acting director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau, at a news conference. "And Gateway did not have that evidence."

The company admitted no wrongdoing under the proposed settlement, which becomes final after a 60-day period for public comment. Gateway cooperated in the investigation, which centered on the program's advertising.

Gateway said in a statement that it was "strongly committed" to the advertising ground rules worked out with the FTC.

The commercials the FTC challenged began airing in 1991 and ran through the early part of the year, White said.

"We know from the thousands of letters we get that (the program) works," said Thelma Reese, an education consultant and director of Gateway's advisory board.

More than 1-million kits, with lessons set to catchy music, have been sold since the mid-1980s, Reese said. They contain a series of audio cassettes, color-coded workbooks, flash cards and other materials.

The FTC alleged that Gateway claimed that "Hooked on Phonics" would "quickly and easily" teach people with reading problems _ including dyslexia and attention deficit disorder _ to read, regardless of the problem.

Gateway also said the product could improve reading levels and school grades significantly, and help people understand what they read, White said. The company also said that it had helped 1-million people learn to read at home.

But White said evidence Gateway submitted did not support the claims.

He said experts the FTC consulted during its investigation agreed that phonics _ the act of sounding out letters and combinations of letters _ is just one step of many in the process of learning to read.