Direct Instruction under attack

Direct Instruction, a scripted reading program is producing gains in some of Chicago’s lowest-performing schools. So it’s being dropped. The Sun-Times reports:

Last December, the Chicago Board of Education called the news media to a small school in Woodlawn to show off the best and brightest of its “rising stars.”

The Woodlawn Community School boosted reading scores by 20 percentage points in one year after rededicating itself to a controversial, scripted reading program called Direct Instruction, the principal proudly explained.

Now the board has decided no new schools can adopt the program.

DI uses rote learning. Teachers follow a script with little room for creativity. Students are grouped by reading level, not age.

Thirteen first- and second-graders sat ramrod straight in two rows, each with an index finger on the same word in a story.

“Next word. Get ready,” chanted teacher Althelia Strong.

“Got!” the students called out in unison.

“Next word. Get ready.”


“Next word. Get ready.”


“What did they get?”

“They got a goat!”

Students work on reading for 90 minutes a day.

“By the end of the year they are reading, much more than with any other program I’ve used in 30 plus years,” Strong said.

DI’s effectiveness is well-established. In 1999, five leading education groups sponsored a study of 24 school reform models. DI was one of only three to receive a “strong” rating for evidence of positive effects on student achievement.

In Chicago, the recent evidence is not as clear. Standout schools exist, but between 2002 and 2004, DI schools made only marginally better reading gains than the system average. DI supporters say CPS has never supported full implementation and DI was tried in the lowest-performing schools.

“It’s silly for a fairly limited group of people to eliminate a reading program that has been demonstrably effective with poverty children and bilingual children across the country because it’s scripted, as opposed to free flowing, and that rubs people the wrong way,” said Gary Moriello, principal at Gladstone, where reading scores nearly doubled since DI was introduced in 1997.

In higher elementary grades, DI may not include enough writing or literature. Kids get bored, teachers say. So, use it in the early grades, and then move on to something else.

About Joanne


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Perhaps we shouldn’t teach anything else until the kids learn classroom behavior, then nothing else until they learn to read, then something else.

  2. It’s quite possible in the world of instruction programs that it may only be available for all grades at once. The program creators might not sell it piecemeal, forcing the district to buy the whole thing even if it is only going to be using the K-3 (for example) portions of the program. It forces districts to make one-size-fits-all choices to fulfill diverse goals.

    If you think school districts have byzantine ways of doing things, you should check out some of their vendors.

  3. Steve LaBonne says:

    Just because you bought the whole package doesn’t mean you have to use it, or use it without supplementation, in the higher grades. If that was the most wasteful thing CPS ever did they’d be in great shape.

    There can be no higher priority for a school system than insuring that ALL kids (some special ed studernts obviously excepted) are reading at grade level no later than 3rd grade or so. There can be no excuses accepted for failing to accomplish that- a failure that amounts to child abuse. If that truly requires buying a curriclum for K-6 that’s only really appropriate for K-3, so be it. Of course readers of Professor Plum’s blog will realize that the reason such a thing has to be bought at all is the ed schools are flagrantly and willfully incompetent at training their graduates in how to teach reading.

  4. Steve LaBonne wrote:

    There can be no higher priority for a school system than insuring that ALL kids (some special ed studernts obviously excepted) are reading at grade level no later than 3rd grade or so.

    In theory, yeah. But assuming that education is the only, or even primary, driving force in public education is missing the obvious.

    If education were the primary decision-making criteria then there wouldn’t be any need for the NCLB or, indeed, the various state-level testing schemes. You wouldn’t be able to keep schools or school districts from trying to determine how well they were educating the kids. But that isn’t the case, is it?

    In fact, any effort to determine educational efficacy is always controversial or flawed or unfair. There’s always something wrong with any effort to determine the quantity and quality of education coupled with the intimation that if the flaws are remedied the idea will be acceptable. But somehow that situation never occurs. No matter how watered-down any accountability scheme becomes, it’s never good enough until it’s gone entirely.

    So, if education doesn’t matter, why should the tools needed to effect education matter?

    If you don’t care how your lawn looks and someone else is going to pick up the tab, what kind of lawn mower do you buy? It’s a trick question. The only thing that’s certian is that you won’t buy the best machine for the least money. Why should you?

  5. Mike in Texas says:

    Joanne wrote:

    So, use it in the early grades, and then move on to something else.

    This is not how companies like DI and Open Court work (the phrase Open Court Police wasn’t invented for no reason). They come in and insist their program is the best for EVERYONE and that teachers cannot use anything else. Remember, one of the developers of DI was quoted as saying he doesn’t give a damn about what teachers think.

  6. Steve LaBonne says:

    That can only work if your administrators are stupid enough to fall for it. Of course, there’s the problem right there…

  7. No, no, no!

    The administrators aren’t stupid. There’s just no down-side to them acting as if they are. In fact, acting stupid has some definite advantages so the question that needs to be asked isn’t why do they act stupid but what reason is there for them to act smart?