The whole story of progressivism is the story of the victory of ideology over reality. One of the central progressive beliefs, which is accepted a priori, is that learning is a natural process. The metaphor of the flower unfurling is often used, or analogies are made with children learning to walk.
This belief is then applied to reading, and people come to think that children can somehow just ‘pick it up’, as they learn their native tongue, or how to walk. But reading is an entirely artificial process, which we have inherited due to our coming at the end of many centuries of human civilisation. If children are going to acquire it reliably and efficiently, they will have to be drilled. That is, they will have to be initiated into certain skills and required to practice them often enough for them to become automatic. A coherent programme of study will have to be faithfully followed and dutifully carried out by our little neophytes.
This is morally repugnant to progressives, because they have swallowed the Romantic fiction about the sacred purity of the child, from which the adult must learn, not the other way around.
And so, for ideological reasons completely unconnected to educational effectiveness, those committed to child centred approaches will always be fundamentally opposed to the thorough application of phonics. Phonics frankly admits that reading is artificial, and a skill that is best drilled and practised in a traditional way. God forbid that the poor little lambs be subjected to a programme in which they chant in unison, or work silently at repetitive exercises. No! That is fascism! Better that they fail to learn to read at all, or only in a haphazard and inefficient way that allows their teachers to continue to hold their cherished beliefs about the sacredness of independent discovery. Let them muddle along with their own sweet little guesses. The vital thing is to avoid poisoning their minds by, horror of horrors, giving them the answer.
Of course our bleeding heart progressives in the early years are currently being forced by those nasty fascists in the Conservative Party to appear to use phonics. But an OFSTED survey found that 90% of schools were using mixed methods. This means that many, probably the vast majority, have just bolted on a bit of phonics to satisfy statutory requirements. But while they remain committed to child centred ideology, it is simply impossible for a thorough programme of phonics, based on the instructional principle of mastery rather than coverage, to be implemented.