Direct instruction – a century of proof, no respect

We are coming off a whole series of reforms that haven’t worked.  How do we know?  The big picture data sets (such as National Assessment of Educational Progress) are unchanged over the last 2 decades, that’s how!  So, it’s time to move to the next set of great innovations, right?  Maybe, but we also need to revisit what has worked at the classroom level even if it is a long-standing approach, not a recent innovation. 

You won’t find Direct Instruction on the favored list of educational approaches if you attend the latest reform conferences or study the websites of digital consortia.  But Direct Instruction has proven itself to be very effective at assuring students learn a wide array of instructional topics.  If you are evidence-based, it is really hard to argue against its use.  See “Meta-Analysis Confirms Effectiveness of an Old School Approach: Direct Instruction “ by Robert Pondiscio 02/08/2018

There are three forces in the modern reform world pushing against Direct Instruction’s use.  First, it isn’t an innovation from today’s 30-something or younger reformers.  These reformers are history-challenged and therefore don’t know about or acknowledge very successful educational approaches designed decades ago.  Oddly, some of the so-called new reforms these youngsters call innovation such as personalized, mastery-based learning, community based, makerspace, etc. are models from the distant past.


Second, modern reformers aren’t really evidence driven.   “We give lip service to evidence,” explains Doug Carnine, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oregon and a NIFDI board member. “We say ‘evidence-based’ because we have to fit with the new cultural norm, but it’s not a core value. It’s tradition and ideology that prevails in education.”  The key in this quote is the notion of ideology.  Far too much reform is focused on the reform itself, not student results.  Don’t believe me?  Go to any reform focused educational consortium sight and see how long it takes to find a hint of student results reported.

Third, Direct Instruction is viewed as an either-or proposition.  Either you are an innovative reformer or you are an advocate of Direct Instruction.  Either-or is the mindset of idealistic reformers focused on their own thinking.  Both-and thinking would acknowledge the incredible power of a proven approach to education, Direct Instruction, combined with the synthetic or artificial intelligence-based instructional software available today.  Both-and thinking can create the tech enhanced version of Direct Instruction which can support great faculty, reduce cost per success for districts, and improve student performance on important indicators of long term well-being.  MindPlay, Ascend Math, and Smart Science are all incredibly successful examples of both-and thinking.

Direct Instruction.  Try it again for the first time!

Robert Sommers