‘We know how to teach black kids’

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.”

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  1. In 1968 DI probably was one of the best reading programs around. It had a strong phonics base when most competing programs were still using the “look-say” approach. Fast forward to 2010 and the competition is a lot more challenging. Most reading programs have beefed up their phonics content and some of the most popular reading programs have more intense phonics instruction than is provided by DI. In addition, DI remains weak in comprehension instruction. Check out the What Works Clearinghouse. DI hasn’t been able to produce a single modern study that meets the criteria for scientific evidence. The anecdote about the the school district in Virginia sounds promising. If DI is really that good, it should be a simple matter to produce a valid study.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    There may be a way to teach poor, uneducated students with little family support, and there may be a very high, completely accidental (in the metaphysical sense) correlation between such statuses and certain racial groups, but there’s no “way to teach black kids.”

    It’s disturbing to hear that sort of language come out of someone I generally respect, like McWhorter.

    What amazes me is that it’s no great secret how to teach someone to read: start with the alphabet and the sounds that each letter makes, then do simple words, then bigger words. Then give them lots of books.

    And ride them like a football coach the entire time if necessary.

  3. I think Baltimore also had success with DI. I think it may be a key to help struggling students, especially boys, whom teachers seem to be willing to write off for their first years in ES (by which point they are really behind) with the excuses that they’re ” not developmentally ready,” “not mature enough” and similar arguments.

  4. DI is not more widely used because it is so heavily scripted and relies so much on “drill-and-kill” repetition. That is an anathema to affluent suburban parents like the ones in Fairfax County. While I’m a big fan of phonics, I would not want my children taught using the DI method because it seems so tedious and keeping the entire class at one pace is IMHO a really bad idea. If anything, we need greater flexibility to let each child work at his/her own pace.

  5. palisadesk says:

    Di actually does have a strong comprehension component, taught separately in the early years from the phonics component. The language comprehension strand teaches vocabulary and a number of sophisticated language skills that many students lack when entering school. These form the basis for successful reading comprehension (which requires oral language comprehension) and the strands are interwoven in the reading programs starting at about late second grade level and up, and include challenging non-fiction and classical literature that help develop the background knowledge students need for wider reading.

    The writing programs also teach reasoning and clear thinking as the basis for clear and coherent writing. A comprehension program for grades 4 and up was dynamite for gifted elementary students I taught at one time; they learned to analyze diffeent types of text for logical errors, proprganda techniques, contradictions and much more that escapes me now. They were good readers to start with but really accelerated with this material. They became masters of detection of specious arguments (at times to my chagrin).

    It’s a misconception that DI keeps the whole class moving at one slow pace; it relies on small-to-medium sized homogeneous groupings, and the amount of repetition is dependent only on the speed with which the students attain mastery. In the case of my gifted students, little repetition was needed and they flew through the material at warp speed..

    “Affluent suburban parents” in my general area are willing to pay over $100/hour for DI tutoring, not just for remedial kids but for their high-achieving kids that they want to advance quickly, particularly in mathematics, critical reasoning and writing. DI, properly done, does promote students’ moving at their own maximum pace towards mastery and higher achievement but one reason it is not more widely used in schools (besides expense and philosophical objections) is the logistical problem of organizing, scheduling and staffing flexible homogeneous groupings for the required instructional time.

  6. DI, properly done, does promote students’ moving at their own maximum pace towards mastery and higher achievement but one reason it is not more widely used in schools (besides expense and philosophical objections) is the logistical problem of organizing, scheduling and staffing flexible homogeneous groupings for the required instructional time.

    IOW, tracking.

    Which DI and non-DI proponents seem to dislike on an equal basis.

  7. crimson wife makes a very true point, and i would take it a step further. DI doesn’t jive with most educrats’ view of “good teaching,” which they define as “guide on the side” and “discovery learning” and all that jazz. DI (in any content) is frowned upon. personlly, i’ve found my students much more successful at math when they don’t have to derive each algorithm on their own. i like DI.

  8. Because it’s so simple! There’s one E-Z answer that would solve everything, but the (bureaucracy, left, defenders of the status quo, etc.) reject it.

    I’m sorry, but I’m going to be just as simplistic. Anyone who claims that it’s so simple and there’s one E-Z answer that would solve everything if only there wasn’t a conspiracy to cover it up is someone without a shred of credibility.

  9. @joycem: Tracking refers to a situation when kids are assigned to particular *set* of high (low) demanding classes based on the *perception* of their *generic* ability. So a kid would be in low (or high) level classes in all subjects.

    Laning is assigning kids to a given level of class based on their *demonstrated performance level in that subject.* A kid can be, for example, in a high demanding class in language and in low demanding in math, or vice versa. Very different from tracking. Not teaching children to their demonstrated performance level is a type of child abuse, often justified in the name of equity (or explained by teacher incompetence).

    Homogeneous grouping per topic,as described for DI, is laning and not tracking.

  10. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Oh please. Not only was it blatantly obvious from context exactly what joycem was saying, but it’s not even really a mistake on her part, much less one calling for some sort of pedantic public correction.

    If you want to pretend that we’re all caught in 1979 and have to use the jargon currently in-vogue in its particular, strictly limited sense, I suppose we can humor you. But just the same I’d rather not; “tracking” as it is used in the national conversations that the citizens of this country have on education today refers (to the extent that words refer at all) to a wide variety of practices which have in common only that they involve grouping students by ability to some extent or another.

  11. palisadesk says:

    It’s easy to confuse grouping by instructional level (which is also done across the country in in Balanced Literacy Fountas and Pinnell “Guided Reading” groups) with grouping by “ability” but these are really quite different things.

  12. Roger Sweeny says:

    Tracking or laning–does it make a difference? If teachers are very clear that students are assigned to a lane based on performance rather than potential, if teachers let students know that hard-working average is going to do better than lazy smart, and if students see that they do indeed change lanes as they do better or worse, well, then laning is very different.

    But that requires a lot of flexibility. A lane which lasts a year is probably not a lane.

    And, to the extent that trying is correlated with intelligence, laning will look an awful lot like tracking.

    Is there any decent research on how much changing there is between lanes in places that practice laning?

  13. palisadesk says:

    Flexible groupings do not last for a year. In my area the usual period for a flexible instructional group is 6 weeks, with assessment and regrouping at the end of that time. At most, a group might be for a term (10 weeks). Some schools in my district in the middle grades use a contract approach. They pretest students before a unit (especially in science, mathematics and social studies) and group students according to their instructional level, with a contract outlining how the student can meet expectations for each of the instructional grojups. If a student in the lower group can and does do the assignments and meets expectations for the advanced group, s/he gets credit for that achievement.

    Where early elementary students are concerned (the group usually targeted with DI reading programs), there is little correlation between intelligence (IQ) and early reading development (see Stanovich for cites on this topic). It’s quite common for a student with an IQ of 85 and one with an IQ of 140 to be in the same group, based on their instructional needs. Of course the more able student will be able to move up more quickly than the less-able student. I had a student in a beginning DI reading group in September who jumped to a 3rd grade group in November and a 5th grade group in January. Also had students with mild cognitive delay who progressed at twice the average rate until they hit a third-fourth grade level where more reasoning and background knowledge come into play.

    One boy, who had been assessed as intellectually delayed, I got in a regular grade 6 class at age 11 and he knew nothing, not even the alphabet. With DI he progressed to an 8th grade level (and beyond) by May. I had him reassessed. He was in fact in the superior range, IQ 134. He had scored low as a primary grade student, perhaps due to language background.

    However, coming back to my original point, the difficulty with using DI effectively in a regular elementary school is developing a timetable that accommodates multiple flexible groupings so that students can be reassigned as needed. One variant of this is called a “Joplin plan;” schools that do whole-school DI reading timetable the reading periods at the same time and harness staff who normally do other jobs (library, physical education, etc.) to take a DI reading group. This can be very effective. But the complexity of organizing a school this way is one reason DI is not more widely used.

  14. It should be said, in John McWhorter’s defense, that headlines are not written by the author of an article. There is nothing in the article itself that suggests he believes, in any way, that there is some way to teach that is particular to black children. That is, he agrees with Michael Lopez’s first post. The headline writer, whoever it was, was promising (for a mostly black readership) an answer to the question “how can we ensure that black children learn?” and McWhorter’s answer is, “Do what we know works best for everybody.”

    He may be wrong about what that is — though the What Works Clearinghouse is not an unimpeachable source of information on what its title promises — but he is not suggesting it is different for black children.

  15. DI does have a comprehension component. So do almost all modern reading programs. I don’t find DI’s comprehension component as effective as that of other reading programs I have worked with. Others may disagree.

    What cannot be denied is that in 40+ years DI has not been able to muster a single study that passes scientific review.

  16. palisadesk says:

    What cannot be denied is that in 40+ years DI has not been able to muster a single study that passes scientific review.

    Really? And your source is……..?

    Don’t bother citing the What Works Clearinghouse. It does not consider research, however valid or scientific, that predates 1985. Also, it only considers work that is submitted to it. It doesn’t go looknig for research on any programs or materials.

    I await illumination on your source for the assertion that NO work of scientific validity on DI has ever been published oin “40 plus years.”

  17. Having used DI for more than 25 years in the NYC public schools, mostly in the high schools, after all of the other programs they used failed. I know that I can bring a student close to grade level from almost a non reader in 2 years. Why would I even care what the What Works Clearinghouse says? I have my students to tell me what works and what didn’t.

  18. Today’s curriculum might be beefed up but obviously not enough to teach under privileged kids. What you get today is expensive, fluffy curriculum with cute pictures. Too bad they don’t actually work because they cost taxpayers a ton of money. Yes, maybe 40-60% of the kids can learn to read with crappy curriculum. The problem is that the other 40-60% are being left behind – hence, the gap in ethnic groups. They are part of that 40-60%.

  19. Roger Sweeny says:


    Thanks for the information. What you say makes sense.

  20. The What Works Clearinghouse is the gold standard for educational research in this country. Their decision not to accept research that is over 25 years old makes sense and is in line with generally accepted standards that research comparing various interventions be up to date. You wouldn’t want a doctor to blindly insist that the best treatment 25 years ago is still the best option available today if he didn’t have some more recent research to back it up.

    Precisely because the What Works Clearinghouse is so prestigious it attracts submissions from a wide variety of researchers in education. If DI is so confident of their program’s efficacy, why don’t they submit their research to the What Works Clearinghouse? A positive rating would be worth millions of dollars to them. The reasons that academics who support DI give for not producing research that meets WWC guidelines have always struck me as out of touch and somewhat anti-intellectual. The WWC guidelines are challenging but hardly overwhelming. Other researchers are able to meet these guidelines. Why can’t DI and its supporters do the same?

    On a more personal level, DI strikes me as a once very competitive reading program that simply hasn’t kept up with the times. Its phonics component is strong, but many programs now offer a similarly strong phonics emphasis. Their comprehension component does not seem as strong and in any case is not that different from what is offered some other programs

  21. I am amazed at the politics in education. So many claiming to know the way to a better educational system. These experts, entrepreneurs, professors, teachers, administrators, board members can come close to reforming education. Some produce some good results. Direct Instruction is the most cost effective way to revolutionize the educational system.

  22. LindaS, here are McWhorter’s words:

    “… this miraculous instantiation of sheer common sense…”

    I’m sure DI is highly effective for some/many children. But only a huckster or an idiot tells the story of a “miraculous” solution that’s being withheld by sinister forces. Presumably the Stonecutters are working their nefarious schemes here:

    Who controls the British crown?
    Who keeps the metric system down?
    We do, we do
    Who keeps Atlantis off the maps?
    Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
    We do, we do
    Who holds back the electric car?
    Who makes Steve Gutenberg a star?
    We do, we do
    Who robs gamefish of their sight?
    Who rigs every Oscar night?
    We do, we do!
    — The Simpsons

  23. Richard Aubrey says:

    While I think it’s most economical to believe that the result, or the likely result, of an action is the actor’s intent, there are cases where the result is not intended. Hence the term “unintended consequences”. Some unintended consequences are certainly intended, but the actor won’t admit it. Too many people hurt or somehting.
    However, there are many reasons why other techniques and schools of thought and methods of instruction are held to be inviolate besides a desire to screw over, say, black kids. That they do is an accident.
    I don’t see McWhorter insisting the screwing over is an intended consequence. It looks like an unintended consequence which is considered by the actors as a sort of collateral damage and damned if they’ll let a few lost souls stop the greater good, or the fat contracts. Whichever.

  24. @lycos,

    Golly gee whiz, I guess I get to be corrected by the latest in patronizing, smartass edubabble. Have you ever even observed ability grouping in action, much less sat down and tried to do the placements for an entire school? I’ve sat on those teams, and I solidly assure you that, despite your know-it-all blathering, I do know exactly what I’m talking about here.

    Gotta admit, all this praise for DI makes me remember the reaction my mother, a former one-room-schoolhouse teacher from pre WWII days had to taking coursework from Sig Englemann in the 60s. She thought he was wrong, ultimately…and she was a damned fine teacher who brought the goods home. I heard many testimonials from my classmates after her death about how she’d turned them into readers. She also wasn’t a whole language proponent, either.

    DI is nothing more than an elaboration of a methodology based on Vygotsky and Bandura, folks. It’s not the scripts, it’s the method, combined with knowledgeable task analysis and miscue analysis. Not every student responds well to the scripts, which is why you need to know what the task breakdown is of what you’re teaching, as well as several routes to achieve your lesson goal. When you have a student with a reading disability that doesn’t respond to phonics (and yes, this exists), more and more phonics instruction isn’t necessarily going to work.

    The strength of DI lies in its task breakdown, coupled with the miscue analysis. Sometimes that will lead to a pure DI implementation…and other times, that analysis leads you to a different mode. That’s how it works, and how it’s supposed to work.

  25. Will H Burrow says:

    I work with teachers who use DI combined with PT (precision teaching). This means we have daily records of student performance. I have about 100 case studies of students who have made significant progress using DI materials. I get all my “customers” from Fontas and Pinnell and Houghton Mifflin and by “seat of the pants, invent your system as you go” teaching. It is not unusual for our students (no children of color here) who are 50% free and reduced lunch to make two and three and on occasion five years of growth in one academic year. Please point me to another program that does that on a routine basis. If the feds had the courage to repeat Project Follow Through I suspect the results would not be all that different–but then again we won’t know that if the feds keep funding such third class arrangements as What Works Clearinghouse.

  26. Reviews supporting Direct Instruction programs? Kerry Hempenstall
    How does one make judgements about which literacy programs/approaches deserve respect and implementation? One can go to the primary sources (original research), though this may be very time-consuming, or one may feel unable to critically evaluate research merit. An alternative is to examine reviews and the findings by respected sources.

    One focus involves whether particular programs incorporate the components considered crucial by relevant authorities. That is, is the approach in question theoretically plausible? Does it have the recommended elements to enable it to succeed?

    How does Direct Instruction stack up theoretically?
    The National Reading Panel (2000) issued a now famous report consequent upon a Congressional mandate to identify skills and methods crucial in reading development. The Panel reviewed more than 100,000 studies focusing on the K-3 research in reading instruction to identify which elements lead to reading success.

    From a theoretical perspective, each of the National Reading Panel (2000) recommended foci for reading instruction (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension) is clearly set out and taught in Direct Instruction literacy programs. An examination of the program teaching sequences in, for example, the Reading Mastery and Corrective Reading texts attests to their comprehensive nature.

    However, these necessary elements are only the ingredients for success. Having all the right culinary ingredients doesn’t guarantee a perfect soufflé. There are other issues, such as what proportion of each ingredient is optimal, when should they be added, how much stirring, heating, cooling is necessary? Getting any of these requirements wrong leads to sub-optimal outcomes.

    So, it is with literacy programs. “Yet there is a big difference between a program based on such elements and a program that has itself been compared with matched or randomly assigned control groups” (Slavin, 2003). Just because a program has all the elements doesn’t mean that it will be effective necessarily. Engelmann (2003) points to the logical error of inferring a whole based upon the presence of some or all of its elements. If a dog is a Dalmatian, it has spots. Therefore, if a dog has spots, it is a Dalmatian (Engelmann, 2003). In this simile, the Dalmatian represents programs known to be effective with students. It is possible to analyse these programs, determine their characteristics, and then assume incorrectly that the mere presence of those characteristics is sufficient to ensure effectiveness. Engelmann is thus critical of merely “research-based” programs, that is, programs constructed only to ensure each respected component is somewhere represented. He points out that this does not guarantee effectiveness.

    So for a true measure, we must look also for empirical studies to show that a particular combination of theoretically important elements is indeed effective.

    The vital question then becomes: Has a particular program demonstrated replicated effectiveness? For what populations?

    Hattie examines meta-analyses of research studies relating to student achievement, and concludes that Direct Instruction is highly effective. No other curricular program showed such consistently strong effects with students of different ability levels, of different ages, and with different subject matters. …

    “One of the common criticisms is that Direct Instruction works with very low-level or specific skills, and with lower ability and the youngest students. These are not the findings from the meta-analyses. The effects of Direct Instruction are similar for regular (d=0.99), and special education and lower ability students (d=0.86), higher for reading (d=0.89) than for mathematics (d=0.50), similar for the more low-level word attack (d=0.64) and also for high-level comprehension (d=0.54), and similar for elementary and high school students .The messages of these meta-analyses on Direction Instruction underline the power of stating the learning intentions and success criteria, and then engaging students in moving towards these. The teacher needs to invite the students to learn, provide much deliberative practice and modeling, and provide appropriate feedback and multiple opportunities to learn. Students need opportunities for independent practice, and then there need to be opportunities to learn the skill or knowledge implicit in the learning intention in contexts other than those directly taught” (pp. 206-7).
    Hattie, J. A.C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London and New York: Routledge.
    Corrective Reading, a remedial small group form of Direct Instruction, has strong evidence of effectiveness (Slavin, 2009, Best Evidence Encyclopedia)
    Slavin, R.E., Lake, C., Davis, S., & Madden, N. (2009, June) Effective programs for struggling readers: A best evidence synthesis. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education. http://www.bestevidence.org/word/strug_read_Jul_07_2009.pdf
    Reading First focuses on core reading programs in grades K-3. There are only two programs widely acknowledged to have strong evidence of effectiveness in this area: Success for All and Direct Instruction.
    Slavin, R.E. (2007). Statement of Robert E. Slavin, Director Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education. Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Activities. Hearings on Implementation of No Child Left Behind. March 14, 2007. Retrieved March 16, 2007, from http://www.ednews.org/articles/8996/1/Statement-of-Robert-E-Slavin-Director-Center-for-Data-Driven-Reform-in-Education/Page1.html
    “The evidence is pretty much overwhelming,” said Prof Steve Dinham, the Australian Council for Educational Research research director for teaching, learning and leadership. “Direct instruction and explicit teaching is two to three times more effective than inquiry-based learning or problem-based learning.”
    Smith, B. (2008). Results back principal’s return to instruction. The Age, 10 May, p.8.
    “For example, Direct Instruction (DI), a behaviorally oriented teaching procedure based on an explicit step-by-step strategy (ES=.93) is six-and-one-half times more effective than the intuitively appealing modality matched instruction (ES=.14) that attempts to capitalize on learning style differences. Students with Specific Learning Disabilities who are instructed with DI would be better off than 87% of students not receiving DI and would gain over 11 months credit on an achievement measure compared to about one month for modality matched instruction.”
    Kavale, K. (2005). Effective intervention for students with specific learning disability: The nature of special education. Learning Disabilities, 13(4), 127-138.
    Across varying contexts, Direct Instruction, the Comer School Development Program, and Success for All have shown robust results and have shown that, in general, they can be expected to improve students’ test scores. These three models stand out from other available comprehensive school reform (CSR) designs by the quantity and generalizability of their outcomes, the reliable positive effects on student achievement, and the overall quality of the evidence. … These clear, focused, and well-supported school-based models of improvement are in stark contrast to top-down direction and flexibility for educational reform.
    Borman, G. (2007). Taking reform to scale. Wisconsin Center for Educational Research Retrieved February 4, 2007, from http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/
    The American Institutes for Research (2006) reviewed 800 studies of student achievement and of the 22 reform models examined, Direct Instruction and Success for All received the highest rating for quality and effectiveness http://www.air.org/news/documents/Release200611_csrq.html

    There is ample empirical evidence that the Direct Instruction programs have succeeded with a wide range of learners. This has been recognised by diverse groups, for example, the US Government’s acceptance of the Direct Instruction model as one eligible for funding. The US Department of Education allocates enormous amounts for the implementation of replicable, research based school reform models. Its approved list includes Direct Instruction programs. Direct Instruction programs have also been acknowledged as having the exemplary research base required under the recent USA Reading First Act, 2001 (Manzo & Robelen, 2002).
    Manzo, K., & Robelen, E. (2002, May 1). States unclear on ESEA rules about reading. Education Week online. Retrieved February 14, 2003. http://www.edweek.org
    Major reviews of the primary research can provide additional surety of program value. In a Department of US Education meta-analysis, Comprehensive School Reform and Student Achievement (2002, Nov), Direct Instruction was assigned the highest classification: Strongest Evidence of Effectiveness, as ascertained by Quality of the evidence Quantity of the evidence, and Statistically significant and positive results. “Its effects are relatively robust and the model can be expected to improve students’ test scores. The model certainly deserves continued dissemination and federal support”
    Borman, G.D., Hewes, G.M., Overman, L.T., & Brown, S. (2002). Comprehensive School Reform and Student Achievement. http://www.csos.jhu.edu./crespar/techReports/report59.pdf
    One relevant meta-analysis of Direct Instruction programs (including versions of Corrective Reading) did find support for this instructional method (Borman, Hewes, Overman, & Brown, 2002).
    Borman, G.D., Hewes, G.M., Overman, L.T., & Brown, S. (2002). Comprehensive school reform and student achievement: A meta-analysis. Report No. 59. Washington, DC: Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk (CRESPAR), U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved 12/2/03 from http://www.csos.jhu.edu./crespar/techReports/report59.pdf
    Reading First focuses on core reading programs in grades K-3. There are only two programs widely acknowledged to have strong evidence of effectiveness in this area: Success for All and Direct Instruction.
    Slavin, R.E. (2007). Statement of Robert E. Slavin, Director Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education. Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Activities. Hearings on Implementation of No Child Left Behind. March 14, 2007. Retrieved March 16, 2007, from http://www.ednews.org/articles/8996/1/Statement-of-Robert-E-Slavin-Director-Center-for-Data-Driven-Reform-in-Education/Page1.html
    A report from American Institutes for Research found that Direct Instruction was one of only three programs with adequate evidence for effectiveness in reading instruction. http://www.aasa.org/issues_and_insights/district_organization/Reform/Approach/direct.htm
    Power4Kids http://www.haan4kids.org/power4kids/
    Following the successful models of rigorous medical science, the Power4Kids reading study will be a landmark in education ~ a large-scale, randomized, controlled, longitudinal field trial. It is the second largest study of its kind ever to be conducted in public schools. It is designed to provide conclusive evidence of the effectiveness of quality remedial reading programs, along with determining common learning profiles of students and the best targeted-intervention for each profile. Regardless of the reason a child struggles to learn to read, Power4Kids will provide the information and winning models of how to close the reading gap in our schools. Four (4) highly effective remedial reading programs have been awarded a position in the study by virtue of their scientifically-based evidence of effectiveness. The programs are:
    Corrective Reading, Failure Free Reading, Spell Read P.A.T., Wilson Learning Program
    The Council for Exceptional Children provides informed judgements regarding professional practices in the field. The Direct Instruction model was judged by the Editorial Committee to be well validated and reliably used. http://dldcec.org/ld%5Fresources/alerts/

    Direct Instruction is the only model to be recommended by American Federation of Teachers in each of their reviews. Seven Promising Reading and English Language Arts Programs “When this program is faithfully implemented, the results are stunning…” (Seven Promising Reading and English Language Arts Programs, pg. 9). Direct Instruction is also lauded in Three Promising High School Remedial Reading Programs, and Five Promising Remedial Reading Intervention Programs (http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/downloads/teachers/remedial.pdf). http://www.aft.org/edissues/Reading/Resources.htm
    American Federation of Teachers (1999). Five promising remedial reading intervention programs. Building on the best: Learning from what works. Retrieved 12/2/03 from http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/downloads/teachers/remedial.pdf
    The report Bringing Evidence Driven Progress to Education: A Recommended Strategy for the U.S. Department of Education (2002) nominates Direct Instruction as having strong evidence for effectiveness. http://www.excelgov.org/displayContent.asp?Keyword=prppcEvidence
    The Center for Education Reform (2003) nominated DI among its “Best Bets”.
    “Strong, proven education programs for kids – programs that demonstrate success for more than just a handful of students”
    McCluskey, N. (2003). Best bets: Education curricula that work. Center for Education Reform. Retrieved 11/5/2004 from http://www.edreform.com/pubs/bestbets.pdf
    Better by design: A consumers’ guide to schoolwide reform: A report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation supports the Direct Instruction model as a viable approach to schoolwide reform http://www.edexcellence.net/library/bbd/better_by_design.html
    Reading Programs that Work: A Review of Programs for Pre-Kindergarten to 4th Grade
    This independent review included Direct Instruction among six school-wide effective reading models (Schacter, 1999)http://www.mff.org/edtech/publication.taf?_function=detail&Content_uid1=279
    Corrective Reading: Decoding and Corrective Reading: Comprehension are among the programs adopted by the California State Board of Education in 1999, after it abandoned the Whole Language model. http://www.cde.ca.gov/cdepress/lang_arts.pdf
    Task Force on Improving Low-Performing Schools (American Federations of Teachers, 1999) named Corrective Reading as one of five effective remedial reading interventions
    Marilyn Jager Adams, author of a major text on reading: “Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print” commented on Direct Instruction thus “The research is irrefutable.”
    The two best known examples of sound research-based practices coming to scale are Direct Instruction (Carnine, Silbert, & Kameenui, 1997) and Success for All (Slavin, Madden, Dolan, & Wasik, 1996).
    Foorman, B.R., & Moats, L.C. (2004). Conditions for sustaining research-based practices in early reading instruction. Remedial and Special Education, 25, 51-60.
    From renowned researcher on effective teaching, Barak Rosenshine, “Reading Mastery is an extremely effective program for teaching decoding to all children. The mean score for 171 students across six DI schools, who began the program in kindergarten and who remained in the program for four years was at the 49th percentile. I think this is a wonderful finding” (Rosenshine, 2002).
    Adams & Englemann’ (1996) meta-analysis resulted in an effect size of 0.69 for the 44 acceptable comparisons involving the Direct Instruction program Reading Mastery. Across DI programs, the average effect size for 173 comparisons was 0.87. In White’s 1988 DI meta-analysis involved learning disabled, intellectually disabled, and reading disabled students, the average effect size for Direct Instruction programs was .84. A similar meta-analysis of the effectiveness of the whole language approach to reading found an effect size of only 0.09 (Stahl & Miller, 1989). An effect size of 1 means a gain of 1 standard deviation – equivalent of a year’s progress (0.8 is a large effect size, 0.5-0.8 is a medium effect size, and less than .5 is a small effect size).
    2004 Florida Center for Reading Research aims to disseminate information about research-based practices related to literacy instruction and assessment for children in pre-school through 12th grade. Its Director is well known researcher, Joe Torgesen.
    “The instructional content and design of Corrective Reading is consistent with scientifically based reading research” (p.4).
    Torgesen, J. (2004). SRA Corrective Reading. Florida Center for Reading Research. Retrieved 16/1/2005 from http://www.fcrr.org/FCRRReports/PDF/corrective_reading_final.pdf
    Sally Shaywitz does recommend the REACH System (Corrective Reading, Spelling Through Morphographs, and R&W) for “dyslexic” children in her much publicised book The Brain and Dyslexia.
    In the Oregon Reading First Center Review of 9 Comprehensive Programs 2004 Reading Mastery was ranked number 1.
    To be considered comprehensive, a program had to (a) include materials for all grades from K through 3; and (b) comprehensively address the five essential components of the Reading First legislation.
    Program Title
    1 Reading Mastery Plus 2002
    2 Houghton Mifflin The Nation’s Choice 2003
    3 Open Court 2002
    Harcourt School Publishers Trophies 2003
    Macmillan/McGraw-Hill Reading 2003
    Scott Foresman Reading 2004
    Success For All Foundation Success for All
    Wright Group Literacy 2002
    Rigby Literacy 2000
    Curriculum Review Panel. (2004). Review of Comprehensive Programs. Oregon Reading First Center. Retrieved 16/1/2005 from http://reading.uoregon.edu/curricula/core_report_amended_3-04.pdf
    DI for English language learners
    The beginning reading programs with the strongest evidence of effectiveness in this review made use of systematic phonics – such as Success for All, Direct Instruction, and Jolly Phonics (Slavin & Cheung, 2003)

    Slavin, R.E., & Cheung, A. (2003). Effective reading programs for English language learners: A best-evidence synthesis. Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk. http://www.csos.jhu.edu/crespar/techReports/Report66.pdf

    The two best known examples of sound research-based practices coming to scale are direct instruction (Carnine, Silbert, & Kameenui, 1997) and Success for all (Slavin, Madden, Dolan, & Wasik, 1996).
    Foorman, B.R., & Moats, L.C. (2004). Conditions for sustaining research-based practices in early reading instruction. Remedial and Special Education, 25, 51-60.
    Recently revived interest:
    Torgesen (2003) suggests there is now a consensus on the most important instructional features for interventions:
    • Provide ample opportunities for guided practice of new skills
    • Provide a significant increase in intensity of instruction
    • Provide systematic cueing of appropriate strategies in context
    • Interventions are more effective when they provide appropriate levels of scaffolding as children learn to apply new skills
    • Provide systematic and explicit instruction on whatever component skills are deficient: e.g., in reading – phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension strategies (Torgesen, 2003)
    Torgesen, J. (2003). Using science, energy, patience, consistency, and leadership to reduce the number of children left behind in reading. Barksdale Reading Institute, Florida. Retrieved 3/5/2004 from http://www.fcrr.org/staffpresentations/Joe/NA/mississippi_03.ppt

    The 2000 report to the Department for Education and Employment in Great Britain (McBer: A model of teacher effectiveness) reached similar conclusions about the value of this approach.

    DI was originally designed to assist disadvantaged students
    But, its emphasis on analysing task characteristics and effective teaching principles transcends learner characteristics

    DI programs have been shown to be effective for:
    Slow learners Disadvantaged Intellectual disability Gifted Learning disability Indigenous Acquired brain injury Language disability Deaf Behavioural disorder Autism spectrum ADHD English language learners

    Many DI programs have been shown effective in:
    Basic skills: reading, spelling, maths, language, writing
    Higher order skills: literary analysis, logic, chemistry, critical reading, geometry, history and social studies
    Computer-assisted instruction: Funnix beginning reading program, videodisc courseware in science and maths.

    The combination of effectiveness across learner types and across curriculum areas provides credibility that the model itself is very well founded. Further it demonstrates that effective instruction transcends learner characteristics.
    WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new guide using strict scientific criteria to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of 22 widely adopted comprehensive elementary school reform models rates 15 as “limited” to “moderately strong” in demonstrating positive effects on student achievement.
    The American Institutes for Research (AIR) report was produced by AIR’s Comprehensive School Reform Quality (CSRQ) Center, a multi-year project funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The CSRQ Center Report on Elementary School CSR Models builds on AIR’s pioneering work in conducting consumer-friendly research reviews, including An Educators’ Guide to Schoolwide Reform issued in 1999, and its current work for the What Works Clearinghouse.
    “Our purpose in providing ratings is not to pick winners and losers but rather to clarify options for decision-makers,” said Steve Fleischman, a managing director for AIR who oversaw the study. “This report is being issued in the hopes that the information and analysis it provides contributes to making research relevant in improving education.”
    Collectively, the reform models reviewed serve thousands of mostly high-poverty, low-performing schools nationwide. The review includes such well known models as Success for All, Accelerated Schools, Core Knowledge, America’s Choice, Direct Instruction, School Renaissance, and the School Development Program.
    AIR researchers conducted extensive reviews of about 800 studies and other publicly available information to rate the models in five categories of quality and effectiveness, including their ability to improve student achievement and to provide support to schools that allowed the model to be fully implemented. The CSRQ Center review framework was developed in consultation with an Advisory Group composed of leading education experts and researchers, and is closely aligned with the requirement for scientifically based evidence that is part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
    Of the 22 reform models examined, Direct Instruction (Full Immersion Model), based in Eugene, Ore., and Success for All, located in Baltimore, Md., received a “moderately strong” rating in “Category 1: Evidence of Positive Effects on Student Achievement.”
    Five models met the standards for the “moderate” rating in Category 1: Accelerated Schools PLUS, in Storrs, Conn.; America’s Choice School Design, based in Washington, D.C.; Core Knowledge, located in Charlottesville, Va.; School Renaissance in Madison, Wis.; and the School Development Project, based in New Haven, Conn. Models receiving a “moderate” rating may still show notable evidence of positive outcomes, but this evidence is not as strong as those models receiving a “moderately strong” or “very strong” rating.
    Eight models earned a “limited” rating in Category 1: ATLAS Communities and Co-nect, both in Cambridge, Mass.; Different Ways of Knowing, located in Santa Monica, Calif.; Integrated Thematic Instruction, based in Covington, Wash,; Literacy Collaborative, from Columbus, Ohio; National Writing Project, in Berkeley, Calif.; Modern Red Schoolhouse, based in Nashville, Tenn.; and Ventures Initiative Focus System, located in New York, N.Y. The “limited” rating indicates that while the CSRQ Center found some evidence of positive effects on student achievement, much more rigorous research and evidence needs to be presented on the model to fully support its effectiveness.
    Seven CSR models received a “zero” rating in Category 1: Breakthrough to Literacy, from Coralville, Iowa; Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning, in Redlands, Calif.; Community for Learning, based in Philadelphia, Pa.; Coalition of Essential Schools, located in Oakland, Calif.; Expeditionary Learning, based in Garrison, N.Y.; First Steps, in Salem, Mass.; and Onward to Excellence II, located in Portland, Ore. A rating of “zero” means that evidence was found to provide a rating for this category, but none was of sufficient quality to be counted as reliable evidence.
    None of the 22 models earned a “no” or “negative” rating, which indicate that a model has no evidence available for review, or strong evidence demonstrating negative effects in a given category or subcategory, respectively.
    Consumers can visit the CSRQ Center’s Web site (http://www.csrq.org/reports.asp) to download the entire report, individual model profiles, or to search the online database to perform side-by-side comparisons of the models reviewed by the CSRQ Center.
    About CSRQ Center
    The Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center (CSRQ Center, http://www.csrq.org) is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, through a Comprehensive School Reform Quality Initiative Grant (S222B030012), and is operated by the American Institutes for Research (AIR, http://www.air.org).

  27. Re the WWC report:

    The WWC report was on the Reading Mastery curriculum only. Most of the post 1985 involved the Reading Mastery curriculum plus other stuff, like training, a data system, and the other stuff included in whole school a interventions (which is how DI often gets implemented for research purposes). If you look carefully at the appendix in the WWC report, you see that quite a bit of DI research met the WWC standards but was excluded because the report was only on reading curriculum.