The teaching method that can save Michigan schools


As state government tightens the vise on low achievement in Michigan schools, with looming takeovers and shutdowns and now with the new third grade retention legislation, a powerful method for lifting student achievement is neglected. Teachers don’t know about it. School leaders are advised to avoid it. And education experts will attack it as soon as they read its name.

Ironically, the method is disregarded despite an unsurpassed record of success in decades of research. It was the only method proven to close the achievement gap in the largest education study in history, Project Follow Through. But the findings of that study were “virtually ignored by the education establishment” according to a report from the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. Esteemed researcher, John Hattie, described this rejection by education experts as “Perhaps the most famous example of policy makers not using or being convinced by evidence”

Longitudinal studies published in the 1980’s showed that the use of this method in Flint Schools during Project Follow Through raised test scores, graduation rates and college admissions. But the education experts in Flint discarded it.

In the early 2000’s, the method boosted achievement in three Detroit elementary schools where it was piloted during the “Schools of the 21st Century” initiative.

According to witnesses, then Detroit Public Schools superintendent, Dr. Kenneth Burnley, stood in one classroom listening to every single student gleefully reading at grade level and said, with tears in his eyes, “This is what we need in all Detroit schools.”

sed Christopher and Virginia Sower Center for Successful Schools, a for-profit that offers Direct Instruction implementation to schools and training and support for Restorative Practices.

But he was not able to convince the education experts.

In 1999, an American Federation of Teachers report said that when “this program is faithfully implemented, the results are stunning, with some high-poverty schools reporting average test scores at or above grade level—in a few cases, several grades above.”

In 2003, an extensive meta-analysis of 29 comprehensive school reform programs showed this method to be the most effective approach for changing schools. In 2014, a statewide STEM symposium sponsored by the Engineering Society of Detroit—the nation’s oldest and largest association of engineers—recommended this method as a solution to Michigan’s low academic achievement.

But the education experts ignored all of this.

The method is sometimes used in remedial and special education to repair the harm of low-achievement, but it is virtually never used as it was designed: as a core curriculum to prevent failure. In my client schools that use it, teachers often exercise caution so the education experts won’t find out.

What does this method look like? In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a “right to read” lawsuit against the Highland Park Schools and the State of Michigan for failing to adequately teach students to read. The ACLU’s legal brief described this method without naming it:

“Education research has demonstrated the effectiveness of structured, systematic, direct and explicit teaching.”

The evidence supporting this statement was summarized by researchers Richard Clark, Paul Kirschner and John Sweller in the Spring, 2012, issue of American Educator:

“Decades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance.”

Nevertheless, by September of this year, education experts apparently steered the Michigan ACLU to issue a new report on reading. In the report, the evidence based recommendation for direct and explicit teaching was replaced with a call for “inquiry-based curricula,” a partial guidance approach that researcher John Hattie describes as: “almost directly opposite to the successful recipe for teaching and learning.”

To be clear, this is not an either-or issue. Once students acquire a solid factual and conceptual foundation in a subject, teachers certainly should use some inquiry-based activities. But Michigan’s students are well below the national average in reading and math, and the research is clear that direct and explicit teaching is a more efficient use of instructional time.

So what is this specific method I’m talking about? The name is simply “Direct Instruction.”

Some clarification is needed: the term “direct instruction” with lower case letters is a loosely defined, generic approach to teaching, but “Direct Instruction” with uppercase first letters is a very specific set of precisely designed programs. Direct Instruction has been proven to build both foundational skills and higher-order thinking abilities in low-performing, average, gifted, and even very learning disabled students. Studies show that it also improves students’ self esteem because…well… they feel successful. You can learn more about Direct Instruction here and here.

Education experts attack Direct Instruction with catchy clichés like “drill and kill,” “rote learning,” “one size does not fit all” and “sage on the stage,” but noted author, John McWhorter, declared that Direct Instruction is one of three policy changes that could dramatically reduce poverty in America (the other two involve drug and contraception policy reforms).

In an article entitled, “We Know How to Teach Black Kids,” McWhorter wrote: “In a better America, schools that do not use Direct Instruction 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.”

Thousands of children are failing in Michigan schools, but not because of low standards, insufficient choice or weak accountability. Nor are they failing because of inequitable funding, racial segregation, large class sizes or even poverty.

Of course, all of these issues impact learning and should be addressed, but the primary reason that so many students are failing is that teachers have been cheated out of effective curricula by the education experts.
And now teachers are being blamed for their students’ under-achievement, threatened with ambiguous performance evaluations and overburdened with often unreasonable mandates.

How have the education experts cheated our teachers? Primarily by failing to provide adequate preparation in the education colleges they operate. According to a U.S. Department of Education survey: “The vast majority of new teachers – almost two-thirds – report that their teacher preparation program left them unprepared for the realities of the classroom.”

In a stunningly honest admission, TeachingWorks, a reform initiative at the University of Michigan’s School of Education, stated:

“(O)ur nation has carelessly left the quality of teaching—and hence, students’ learning—to chance. Teachers’ preparation does not typically center on the core tasks necessary for good teaching…Instead, too often teachers’ training focuses on learning about teaching, not on learning to teach.”

This year, David P. Hurford and five co-authors published a scathing critique of education colleges for failing to prepare teachers to teach reading. Citing widespread rejection of the well-established scientific evidence on reading, they accused teacher preparation programs of “resistance, ignorance and complacency.”

“In each case, colleges of education faculty have ignored the scientific knowledge that informs reading acquisition and the identification and intervention strategies for struggling readers. As a result, the pre-service teachers who are being educated at these institutions fail to receive the necessary training that would allow them to be effective in providing remediation to students.”

This certainly is not the first time we’ve heard this message. In 1999, reading specialist, Louisa Moats, alerted us to this crisis in a report published by the American Federation of Teachers:

“The demands of competent reading instruction, and the training experiences necessary to learn it, have been seriously underestimated by universities. The consequences for teachers and students alike have been disastrous.”

Finally, Suzanne Whitney, research editor for, the respected clearinghouse for special education law, reported that “few, if any, teacher’s colleges in the United States are training teachers in even one research based method of reading instruction.” (emphasis in original)

We couldn’t even imagine if our medical schools or engineering colleges were failing to teach research-based methods; but in teacher preparation, it appears to be the norm.

Thousands of children’s lives are at stake, and Michigan’s future viability is at risk. Let’s cut our unnecessarily complex and increasingly contentious Gordian knot of education “reform.”

We can’t wait for the education experts to improve teacher preparation. Even if they were inclined to do so, it would take years to actually produce results. And top-down, punitive policies from state government—suspiciously aligned with nefarious forces seeking to privatize and capitalize public education—will not solve the problem.

But schools and local districts can begin now by allowing and encouraging teachers to use Direct Instruction and other proven curricula, and by providing teachers with the necessary training and coaching to do it with fidelity.

Effective teaching is a complex interplay between instruction and behavior management. Thus, we must also support our schools to move away from behavioral methods that are either too punitive or too permissive. Instead, they should combine conventional discipline with firm and positive approaches like Restorative Practices and the Nurtured Heart Approach, which can systematically build healthier relationships and stronger accountability. However, school leaders must avoid the mistake of using these models only to lower suspension rates while expecting teachers to tolerate more disruption.

I’ll end with the wisdom of leading education researcher, Robert Slavin, who developed another highly effective teaching model, “Success for All,” that is also rarely used in schools:

“The problem, I would argue, is that reforms so often debated in the White House, in Congress, and in statehouses across the country do not touch on the changes needed to fundamentally reform America’s schools…These reforms ignore a basic truth. Student achievement cannot change unless America’s teachers use markedly more effective instructional methods.”

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Thu, 10/06/2016 - 9:39am
A bit strident - what would motivate educators to ignor an effective program?
Timothy Sullivan
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 9:39am
If Direct Instruction works, then use it. God knows that whatever we've done to Detroit Schools hasn't worked, maybe this time we can do something for them.
Jeff Gaynor
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 9:50am
Strategy: Dismiss all criticisms before you state your thesis. Blame this group and that group. Claim your simple strategy works if you follow it rigorously. Use vague hyperbole. Refer to the nature of the program only obscurely. Verify success without examining the criteria of success. List a long list of citations to look authoritative. And imply that teachers and educational leaders are incompetent and obstructionists, and need a script in order to teach effectively. So buy this from us, because we know what works. From the linked source ( "DI is a scripted, step-by-step approach to teaching" <-- Right; this will create deeply caring citizens and critical thinkers! Oh my.
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 2:51pm
Agree Jeff!!!
Fri, 10/07/2016 - 2:25pm
I am a teacher with 34 years experience. I had taught 17 years before I learned about Direct Instruction. I can tell you the hundreds of students I have used it with DO develop critical thinking skills, and I have transformed failing districts into exemplary ones on multiple states because of Direct Instruction. It teaches students how to think, and scaffolds things in ways teachers don't know how to do, so kids are successful. I taught teens on probation for 10 years, and raised their achievement in reading and math an average of 2.5 years in a single school year. Because of this, my students had fewer behavior problems (and these students were heavily involved in gangs, drugs, and had weapon, assault (sexual and otherwise) charges already. Anyone who says this program doesn't teach critical thinking skills has never used it or seen it being taught!
Fri, 10/07/2016 - 3:57pm
This is the only field that I know of where people in the field do not use methods that work. I taught for over twenty years in Detroit and have experienced that. I have even seen effective programs that worked amazingly well cancelled . Oakland university gave me excellent and successful teaching skills in their masters program.
Bob Szymoniak
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 9:57am
I have been reading Bridge articles for a while now, but you have absolutely lost any support I would have sent your way. Your reference to John Hattie is not only off the mark, but irresponsible journalism. You referenced Hattie's comments from page 258 from his Visible Learning book in support of retention. Retention is not even mentioned on page 258. I refer you to page 97 of the same book where Hattie states, "Retention has been found to have a negative effect on academic achievement in language arts, reading, mathematics, work-study skills, social studies, and grade point average. Promoted students score better than retained students on social and emotional adjustment, and behavior, self concept, and attitude towards school." This is completely contrary to the title of your article, "The teaching method that can save Michigan schools." The study reference from Hattie's book on page 258 identified direct instruction as the most effective method to enhance student learning. Again, this is irresponsible journalism and Bridge is shameful for publishing an article, be it a commentary, that is so blatantly inaccurate, misleading, and just plain wrong in its presentation of the facts.
Steven M Smewing
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 11:04am
The thing that I had to learn about Bridge and you still need to learn are they are a platform for opinion and an editorial publication. They have allowed counter to their own editorial position articles or opinion pieces as a way to show all opinions. So, I suggest you remember that when reading bridge. I felt the same as you at one point and then realized they are a platform for discussion and not a narrowly focused us against them organization.
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 11:31am
This is an opinion/commentary piece, not a news article produced by The Bridge
B Wray
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 9:58am
Makes perfect sense that something so well proven would be completely ignored!
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 10:16am
The reason it sounds strident is because the case he's trying to make here is: Support my Center! Buy my products and services! I taught school for 30 years in a suburban district outside Ann Arbor. Every teacher in my district used direct instruction, sometimes daily. Direct instruction (the uncapitalized, not-for-sale version) is simply that: teachers telling, students listening, then practicing the content, in precisely the way the teacher directs. The method is used all over the country, with results just as mixed as other teaching methods. Sometimes, it works (especially if your metric for success is a standardized test). Sometimes, it's the best way to get across what the students need to learn. Sometimes, other methods are required. All of this depends on good judgment and paying attention to results, on the part of teachers. The quote from TeacherWorks is correct: we need to help teachers learn to teach, not decide which is the optimum tool, then demand that all teachers use that strategy exclusively. There's plenty more to respond to here, but eh, why? It's just one great big advertisement.
David Zeman
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 1:34pm
Hi Nancy, That is something I should have asked about and included in the bio on the author at the time of publication. Thank you for bringing to our attention. It's in there now. David Zeman Bridge editor
Bill Sower
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 7:35pm
Dear Mr. Zeman and Ms. Flanagan, 37% of Michigan's fourth graders are reading "below basic" according the the National Assessment of Education Progress, and 66% of Michigan's African American fourth graders are reading "below basic." "Below basic" means by definition that these children do not have even the minimal skills to decode and comprehend text at their grade level. Studies show that they are not likely to ever catch up or to be any more than minimally successful in the workplace without intensive interventions. A just published study suggests that programs like Direct Instruction and Success for All are capable of--PLEASE READ THIS CAREFULLY--"substantially to completely eliminating the achievement gap between African American and non-Hispanic white students in elementary and middle schools." refuse to tip-toe around adult sensitivities when teachers and their students are being harmed. Teachers are the victims of a massive cheating scandal that ultimately injures children. Education experts who resist effective curricula are NOT bad people. They care deeply about children and would never intentionally harm a child. But they are suffering from "willful blindness" (not knowing what they should know because--for whatever reason--they are not looking at the evidence they should be looking at: Their blindness is sentencing thousands of kids to dismal futures. After watching this devastation for decades and after working quietly for many years in Michigan's juvenile justice system and in inner city schools to address it, I've had enough. I am 67 years old, and I am sick of it! And I urge you to be sick of it too! I apologize for any misrepresentation regarding my for-profit status. I did not write the piece for marketing; in fact, I am certain that I will lose clients because of it. It didn't even occur to me to mention that I was not a registered non-profit company. I am a retired teacher working alone out of my home office. I provide coaching services for Direct Instruction and training for Restorative Practices for a fee. HOWEVER, I have never sold books or materials for a commission, profit, or any other benefit. Mr. Zeman, obviously you took some heat for my article, and I sincerely regret that. I urge you both to keep an open mind and to courageously stand up for children. Bill
David Zeman
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 8:40pm
Bill, I think you misinterpreted my clarification. I should have asked if your center had a financial interest in this method of instruction because that is a fact that readers should be able to consider when reading your column. That's a question I usually ask for transparency's sake and I failed to ask that here. That's on me.
Kelly Lichter
Fri, 10/07/2016 - 6:23am
Bill-thank you for your honesty and passion about this topic. I am a teacher (I no longer teach), and I saw what was going on in the education colleges and in the schools. I decided to be part of the solution and started Mason Classical Academy in Naples, FL. My children are in 1st and 2nd grade now, and they are getting an incredible education. Teachers give direct instruction. I see what is going on in other classrooms and there isn't much learning. The focus is on collaboration and group work and group think. This progressive philosophy in education is like a religion to many, so they become very hateful and nasty towards those that don't think like them. Keep up the great work and continue pursuing truth. Our children deserve so much more.
Steven M Smewing
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 11:12am
The thing that is completely lost in the quest to improve education in any place in the world is this: it is being done successfully elsewhere and we are not in need of inventing anything. All that is needed is choosing the model that has demonstrated success and fits and use it. Right know it is as if we are trying to build a car of our own to fix education. That is stupid, expensive and ineffectual. All that is needed is to take an off the shelf model that is shown to actually work, buy it drive it and be done. I can tell you that the state would rather not be as involved in education as they currently are. They would much rather report the education system is producing top results and college ready students. But, that is not the case. The state is forced to act when a branch is broken, so don't blame them for being involved.
Martha Toth
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 11:44am
Ouch! Please sub in "vise" for "vice" in the first sentence.
David Zeman
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 1:36pm
Hi Martha, Thanks for the note. Actually, both vice and vise are technically acceptable, it turns out. But the majority of sources I consulted after seeing your comment conclude that "vise" is the favored U.S. spelling, and so I have made that change. Thanks for bringing that to our attention. David Zeman Bridge editor
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 11:51am
What ever happened to a civil discourse about a topic. I am so grateful my children went to school during a time that Michigan was at the top of the ranks when it came to education, but now as a grandmother am so disappointed as to what has happened to education here in Michigan. There is so much conversation from those "who know best". Like this is such a simple problem. It is a very complex problem. The rapid impact of technology, the changing social landscape, the rapidly changing political environment in Michigan has thrown this state into constant chaos. Favoring business promotion over the good of the overall population has been devastating to all structures in Michigan. It takes creativity and courage to change things. The ONLY thing any of us should be concerned about is the education and welfare of our children. Collaboration and getting all the stakeholders around the table to develop the solution is the only way forward.
Martha Toth
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 12:25pm
I'm not dismissing "Direct Instruction" out of hand. I do believe teachers need a toolkit of more effective instructional methods, but that plural "S" is important. There is no magic bullet, no one right method that works uniformly well for all students. Many teachers are attracted to the field because they did well in school, and they can be instinctively great at teaching kids like themselves, who learn as they did. But there are many ways to learn, and it is foolish to insist that children behave like identical robots, doing the same thing at the same time everywhere. Particularly at a time when student demographics are changing rapidly, teachers need more methods, not fewer, to effectively reach students quite unlike themselves. The ART of teaching is knowing when to try which method for which students -- a delicate dance that is hobbled, if not destroyed, by insistence on the use of a single cure-all.
Marilee Greene
Sun, 10/09/2016 - 8:37pm
Thank you. Well written. I was an educator for over 35 years and have seen so many mandated scripted programs come and go. If they worked, we would all be using them! There is an art to teaching. Direct. Instruction is just an euphemism for scripted.
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 2:58pm
Do you think Snyder and DeVoss may have written: "Thousands of children are failing in Michigan schools, but not because of low standards, insufficient choice or weak accountability. Nor are they failing because of inequitable funding, racial segregation, large class sizes or even poverty." ....I do and it is another crackpot idea....this quote sums it up handily...
Chris Geerer
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 8:19pm
This is so insulting I don't know where to begin. Obviously written by yet another "education" snake oil salesman looking to a) convince everyone teachers are idiots and b) that he has the magic sauce to save the world if you can c) just pony up enough cash to buy his product. Utter, total crap.
David Myron
Fri, 10/07/2016 - 9:05am
There are NO SILVER BULLETS. Students are as individual as the communities they live in. Nobody wants to address poverty. So keep whistling past the grave yard folks. I have 29 years of classroom teaching in MI. Another scripted, "canned" curriculum won't change anything. Relationships are the basis of a successful classroom. Relationships with students, parents and the wider community. Kids are not a commodity, they are human beings. They have basic human needs that have to met before they are ready to learn at a high level. - It's difficult to engage parents who work low wage jobs that constantly change their employees schedule. (Ever been to Meijer's at 1AM and see people with school age kids?) Wage theft is rampant in the low wage sector! - HS kids work to help support the family. Many businesses will schedule them during the school day, its illegal, but they need the money so they won't report it. I had to threaten a local employer (Fast Food chain) just to get my student's schedule changed so he could be in school on Count Day. - I have students who miss school to babysit younger siblings. Many parents do not have paid sick time and they cannot afford to miss a day and still pay the bills. They want to do the right thing for their kids, but job #1 is paying the bills. - Kids who are not properly fed/clothed are not ready to learn. - Transportation is a huge issue in a rural district. No wheels, no work...most jobs are in urban/sub-urban areas. Many students will miss school because the family car breaks down...Or my favorite...Mom/Dad take the student's car because their car is on empty or broken. - Lots of kids are told they have to leave the house when they graduate or worse, when they turn 18. That means they become "homeless" or couch surf in the middle of their school year. - When I make CPS calls they prioritize by severity of suspected abuse/neglect and age. HS kids are basically not helped because CPS is overwhelmed, unless its something I can call the police to address, the kids are in limbo. This is the reality I deal with. Don't you dare tell me that another silver bullet is all we need. Or that I'm just stupid and lazy and that is why I teach. America HATES its children and the way we address education and social services proves it. The state does not put its money where its mouth is. Parents just sit back and let it happen. NOBODY listens to teachers OR kids! I mean why would you? We only live this on a daily basis. How much research does it take to know our children need to feel loved and cared for before they will truly flourish? "Someday the workers will take possession of your city hall, and when we do, no child will be sacrificed on the altar of profit." -- Mother Jones
Sun, 10/09/2016 - 11:44am
David, Well said. My heart goes out to all teachers willing to teach in this state.
Fri, 10/07/2016 - 9:37am
This is badly punctuated and it happens a couple of time. Note misuse of commas after Moat: "In 1999, reading specialist, Louisa Moats, alerted us to this crisis in a report published by the American Federation of Teachers..." I also don't like the refrain about how unnamed "experts" torpedoed this program. I have to agree that it sounds like a snake-oil strategy. I have taught school in a highly effective setting for close to 35 years, and I agree that "There is no magic bullet, no one right method that works uniformly well for all students." This os really ridiculous: "Thousands of children are failing in Michigan schools, but not because of low standards, insufficient choice or weak accountability. Nor are they failing because of inequitable funding, racial segregation, large class sizes or even poverty. Of course, all of these issues impact learning and should be addressed, but the primary reason that so many students are failing is that teachers have been cheated out of effective curricula by the education experts. " No one who has been a serious teacher believes a claim like this. The best thing would be to train more teachers, put more money into public schools, pay better, and have SMALLER CLASS SIZES. .
Fri, 10/07/2016 - 9:43am
Before someone corrects my typos (time/times, os/is) as if they were grammatical errors, check my point with appositive rules. Another thought. There may be some value in this method, by the way, but nothing beats adults sitting and reading and working with kids, developing their language and curiosity and love for reading. That is why funding does matter, as do small class sizes.
Jim Rice
Sat, 10/08/2016 - 3:23am
Wow, I could actually hear the minds closing as I read the comments to this article. It seems to me that a business succeeds or fails based on the performance of its products or services. Based on the product produced by most urban and, I guess, most rural elementary and secondary public schools we would judge them a failure. I understand the problems of high poverty demographics. They could almost be considered insurmountable, but some schools are surmounting them. I get sick of hearing how more money, more resources, better hours, etc. will solve the problems. It won't be solved without the will of the adults charged with educating our children. For a child to reach third grade and not know how to read well is a crime committed by those responsible for teaching them, and abetted by all the staff and administrators hired to support those teachers. Let me tell you my experience with Direct Instruction. When my oldest daughter was 2-3/4 years old she came into our living room while I was reading the Sunday newspaper. She picked up the comic section, sat on a chair, and pretended to read as I was. I watched her for a few minutes and then put my paper down and asked her what she was doing. "I'm reading daddy." I said, "When did you learn to read?" "Oh daddy, I'm just pretending." "Well you are doing a very good job of it," I said. "Would you like to learn how to read," I asked? She said yes so I attempted to teach her. I quickly found out I didn't know anything about teaching a young child, much less anyone else, how to read. But she was really interested. A place I liked to visit happened to be the former large bookstore in Chicago, Kroch and Brentano's and it was there I found a solution to my hope to teach. I stumbled on a book titled "How to Give Your Child a Superior Mind." It was written by Siegfried and Therese Engelmann, the developers of DIrect Instruction. The book laid out a theory of instruction and staged lesson plans for reading and math skills that were to be taught in 15-20 minute increments each day as long as they were interesting and enjoyable for the child. Long story short, all three of my children could read at the third grade level before they entered first grade. They understood and could solve math problems at the third or fourth grade level, depending on the child, also before entering first grade. The elementary school didn't know what to do with them when they started school. Keep in mind this was 40 years ago. They went on to excel in elementary school and high school, two of them got perfect scores on their SAT math tests, two went to top 10 private universities, and one went to a top 10 public university. Some say that they were just smart kids. Perhaps, but they are a lot smarter today than they would have been without that start. I'm fairly confident about this because I'm repeating it with my grandkids, both adopted, from quite average backgrounds, and one having a considerable language development issue. Both read above grade level and seem to be above grade level in math. So what is it that got these results? I have no training in education. My background is engineering. I do seem to have a certain empathy with little kids which helped me keep the lessons fun, but I can only attribute the results to the method followed- the DI theory of instruction that tries to teach the way the developing brain wants to learn. I can't explain these ideas in a few words, but picture a toddler crawling in a complex maze. On its own, the child would soon become frustrated, breakdown, and start wailing. If you took a few minutes and drew arrows in the direction out of the maze and then showed the child what the arrows mean or how they work, it wouldn't take long before he/she was whipping their way through the maze, laughing as they succeed. Young children are assaulted by sensory perceptions all day long, usually with no interpreter to give them meaning. DI is meant to guide them through that maze of perceptions in the most efficient way possible until they can make their way independently. My experience involved: a six dollar book, 15-20 minutes a day with each child, a two dollar book every week for half a year, and some basic tools like a small whiteboard and some laminated flash cards to practice counting by 1s, 2s, 3s, etc., and off-the-charts results. Low cost investment for above average results. My kids did have the comfort of being taught in there own home, but how important are physical facilities? There are kids in Angola, Africa, right now, that get up at 5:00 in the morning to sit under public parking lot lights to study because they have no electricity in their homes. Their schools consist of dirt floors with wooden benches and no desks, yet they learn to read at grade level. Their are problems with Direct Instruction. The people that train in the system believe that, to work, everyone in the school system must be on the same page which seemingly hampers teacher independence. All teaching activities are tracked to detect problems of instruction as soon as possible, but this requires that all teachers must be accountable for teaching each child to mastery for the particular assigned lesson. The children are assessed and moved through the lesson plan in cohorts at a pace that assures them success. This would be highly disruptive for the standard "teach to the middle learner" classroom. You need a system that can manage the shifting abilities of all the students.The biggest problem for the uncommitted teacher is that you must teach. Failure to teach all your students is almost immediately recognized because of the tracking, class room visits and assessments by the teaching administration, and the regular reviews by the outside specialist. I believe that teachers are no different than other human beings that don't enjoy being accountable. I believe it is important to reach children as early as possible. Most, if not all, healthy infants start with the same basic capabilities. If they are raised in a toxic environment those capabilities start to degrade. If they are raised in a healthy environment they start to expand. The sooner the child can enjoy the benefits of nurturance and guidance, the faster the degradation can be overcome or the faster the childs capabilites can be increased. DI offers a match made in heaven-brain training that works. Once a child has a reasonable vocabulary, they can be taught to read in 100 lessons and teaching math is as easy as counting to 30 forwards and backwards before turning off the light at bedtime. In my life I've met more good teachers than bad ones and I'm sure that even some of the bad ones were well intentioned, but this is a case of using better tools to be a better teacher-that is a more effective teacher. You can't say you have been a good teacher if you have participated in the educational path of any normal child that can't read at the third grade level when they reach eigth grade or worse, can't read at all.
Dr. Richard Zeile
Wed, 10/12/2016 - 8:28pm
Every teacher knows that the attempt to "teach to the test" (as opposed to teaching the subject the test covers) is a self-defeating strategy; yet I have found it a common strategy among Michigan schools. Similarly, direct instruction is THE proven approach for effective instruction, and this has been known for decades. I note that even those who advocate alternative methods of teaching do so as a "sage on the stage"! But the mistaken belief that what is newest is best, backed by the educational/publishing complex, has led many in the field to advocate unproven methods. Many of these DO benefit a minority of students, often the best students who enjoy a roundabout journey rather than the shortest distance, and these provide the anecdotal evidence so often offered in favor of the trendy approaches. And let me add a final observation: at a graduate class I took, the instructor insisted that there was one teaching approach that benefited ALL students. I countered that various methods would benefit some students more than others, and the instructor vigorously denied this. Later, I realized that admitting that one had chosen a method that benefited some students more than others would open one to lawsuits. The lack of tort reform prevents us from basic honesty in how we chose and present educational approaches, and explains why so many educators are not aware that direct instruction (note the small letters) is the best-and-foundational approach. Note that I do not claim exclusive, but I do claim foundational.
Wed, 10/19/2016 - 9:33am
No true change will come until parents take back the power and authority that they given up to the school districts, state and federal government. Spend more time directly instructing your child at home. Have the state give homeschooling parents the per child funds that the district receives for their child(ren) and you'll see some rapid response from all involved.
David Britten
Sat, 04/22/2017 - 7:14am

Sounds great if you're into test-prep, 1 size fits all education to prepare kids for the 1980s and provide a stream of mindless workers for corporations. Nothing in this article points to an education based on student strengths, dreams, and the need to be prepared with flexible learning skills for an autonomous AI future.