We know how to teach black kids — and other disadvantaged students — but we don’t do it, writes John McWhorter in The Root.
Starting in 1968, a huge federal study called Project Follow Through compared different methods of teaching at-risk K-3 children: Direct Instruction (DI), a scripted phonics program using repetition and student participation, worked much better than anything else for all students, but especially low-income black students. DI has continued to work where ever it’s been used, McWhorter writes.
In 2001, students in the mostly black Richmond district in Virginia were scoring abysmally in reading. With a DI-style program, just four years later, three-quarters of black students passed the third-grade reading test. Meanwhile, over in wealthy Fairfax County, where DI was scorned, the minority of black students taking that test — despite ample funding — were passing it at the rate of merely 59 percent.
But DI defies the conventional wisdom of education schools, which “keep alive the canard that teaching poor kids to read is an elusive, complex affair requiring a peculiarly intense form of superhuman dedication and an ineffable brand of personal connection with young people,” McWhorter writes. “In a better America, schools that do not use DI to teach kids from poor households should be seen as vaguely criminal. People should point them out as they drive by them, like crack houses.”