Rejecting success

What if a huge federal study didn’t produce the expected results? Columnist Linda Seebach bashes the education elite for rejecting the results of Project Follow Through, which showed Zig Engelmann’s Direct Instruction curriculum works far better than other models.

The models started in 1968 with a cohort of kindergartners, if the schools had a kindergarten, and added a grade each year up to grade 3. After full implementation, 40,000 children were tested.

When the results were analyzed, Direct Instruction had won the horse race going away. It was first in basic skills, but it was also the only model that had positive results on all three higher-order cognitive skills, and it was also first in affective measures, how children feel about themselves. It was first with high performers and with low performers, with different ethnic groups and with non-English speakers. After DI training, teachers were able to get even very low-performing children reading by the end of kindergarten.

Many of the models that proved ineffective continued to receive funding. DI remained a pariah.

About Joanne


  1. Many of the models that proved ineffective continued to receive funding. DI remained a pariah.

    Any explanation for why DI “remained a pariah”?
    Corruption on the part of those profiting from the other models and the school distric?

    I apologize if you have already answered these questions previously; just tell me which previous post to read.

    Thank you.

  2. Direct Instruction was a direct contradiction to the prevailing theories about how children learn — and it had been developed by someone without a doctorate in education. The study evaluator declared that Project Follow Through had not been designed to find the most effective teaching model after all. It vanished into the memory hole. Zig Engelmann’s book, which is available on, gives his take on what happened.

  3. Thanks.

  4. linda seebach says:

    Thanks for the link, Joanne, but for anyone else who happens to see the comments, go read RIGHT NOW because the chapter on how DI was disappeared will be available for only one more week.

  5. Project Follow Through is getting a little flurry of media and blog attention, so maybe finally, DI will get the implementation it has deserved.

    I have no real insight into how and why people were happy to ignore it. It seems like there would have been enough people with no investment in a particular method who just wanted good teaching and results.

    But I do suspect that until NCLB people could pretend they were offering something instead of high test scores. They could kid themselves that while DI got results on tests, constructivist methods were more natural and deep. I don’t accept that it’s true, but I suspect that’s what they’re ed. professors told them.

  6. The next time that people complain about Bush supposedly ignoring science in public policy, here’s the answer.

    Sigh. Goose, Gander, sauce.