Phonics is simply the method of learning to read by sounds. It was developed about 5,000 years ago when the Phoenicians invented the first-known alphabet. By putting sounds and symbols together the average Phoenician could learn to read quickly.
Some people dislike "ancient" wisdom, but when that wisdom is based on unchanging principles - not fashions or technology - it is timeless. This can apply to many core systems such as math, morals, and phonics. What worked then still works today. We may add to our knowledge or advance our applications, but the foundation remains the same.
Phonics is learning the letter sounds, knowing that some letters make more than one sound ["A" makes nine sounds!], and discovering the rules which tell when the letters will make which sounds. It may seem complicated, but when presented in small, easy-to-learn steps even first graders can master reading. It is fun to see the first graders read and correctly spell words like "chrysanthemum."
A person who uses the Whole Word method is limited in reading to the number of words they can memorize. A person who knows the phonetic rules can read about 80% of English's 700,000 + words.
Some people have tried phonetic programs and still have a hard time reading. The main reason for this is that all phonetic programs are not created equal. Some phonics is better than no phonics, and some people are able to learn reading easier than others. Keep in mind that phonetics was largely abandoned about 100 years ago. Many of the current phonetic programs are not aware of all the rules involved, and some of them do not present the rules they do know in simple and logical steps. Many of these programs use pictures as a teaching tool. Pictures are great when you are reading a story - but not when you are learning to read. Pictures encourage a student to guess at the word instead of taking the time to pronounce it out.
Academic Associates presents all the phonetic rules in simple, logical steps. It has a tremendous success rate even with students who have struggled or failed with other phonetic programs. Phonics is the best way to learn to read and, for some students, it will be the only way they can learn to read.