We know how to teach reading to poor black, Hispanic and white kids, writes John McWhorter in New Republic. Why aren’t we doing it?
Starting in the late 1960s, the federally funded Project Follow Through studied nine teaching methods: Siegfried Engelmann’s Direct Instruction “was vastly more effective than any of the others for (drum roll, please) poor kids, including black ones.”
DI isn’t exactly complicated: Students are taught to sound out words rather than told to get the hang of recognizing words whole, and they are taught according to scripted drills that emphasize repetition and frequent student participation.
DI has a track record of success in Baltimore, Houston, Milwaukee and elsewhere, writes McWhorter. Yet educators prefer “creativity.”
Indeed, schools of education have long been caught up in an idea that teaching poor kids to read requires something more than, well, teaching them how to sound out words. The poor child, the good-thinking wisdom tells us, needs tutti-frutti approaches bringing in music, rhythm, narrative, Ebonics, and so on.
. . . But the simple fact of how well DI has worked shows that “creativity” is not what poor kids need.
Matt Yglesias warns of overselling DI, but says McWhorter is basically right.
Update: D-Ed Reckoning has more on DI’s effectiveness: It raised cognitive skills as well as basic skills.