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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

April 30, 2014 at 4:31 PM

Guest: The drawbacks of Direct Instruction


Jack Schneider

Direct Instruction works. And I’d never send my own child to a school that uses it.

That may seem like a paradox. But the picture becomes much clearer once you have a sense of what Direct Instruction looks like. Half a century old, the program groups children by ability, breaks learning objectives down into their component parts, utilizes frequent assessment and immediate correction, and even scripts teacher instruction. According to the model’s designer, Direct Instruction is “a set of procedures for producing a change in behavior toward a pre-stated objective.”

Not surprisingly, students in Direct Instruction classrooms tend to score well on tests. Even in less-formal applications of the model — in which “direct instruction” is not capitalized, teachers work without scripts and the school does not purchase materials from a DI provider — the approach is teacher-centered, simplifies classroom aims to the basics, maximizes instructional efficiency and emphasizes repetition and drill. Want to raise reading comprehension scores? Direct Instruction (or direct instruction) is a surefire way to do it.

But the strengths of the program are also its weaknesses. The program dramatically narrows the aims of education and leaves little room for creativity, spontaneity and joy in the classroom. Although test scores may go up, the improvement is not without a cost.

Where do we see Direct Instruction? Not in affluent neighborhoods or in prestigious college-preparatory schools. Instead, the program is almost exclusively the preserve of schools serving our most vulnerable students.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: direct instruction, Gildo Rey, Jack Schneider

April 30, 2014 at 1:19 PM

Round-up: Legislators admit they’re late on McCleary, UW praised for stem-cell success

Lawmakers admit they’re late on McCleary: A progress report issued Tuesday by legislators acknowledged they had failed to come up with a timeline for fulfilling the state Supreme Court’s mandate to adequately fund basic education. In January, the court told lawmakers they weren’t moving fast enough and ordered a detailed year-by-year plan on how they would come up with the money by 2018.

Gildo Rey’s success proves teaching makes a difference (editorial): The Seattle Times’ editorial board has praised the Auburn school’s turnaround, emphasizing the role that strong and innovative faculty can play in student performance.


Comments | More in News | Topics: round-up

April 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

New way to test? Garfield teachers explore New York model

Rachel Eells was one of several Garfield High School teachers who boycotted MAP testing last year. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times 2013.

Rachel Eells was one of the Garfield High School teachers who boycotted MAP testing last year. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times 2013.

In the wake of last year’s testing protest in Seattle, teachers at Garfield High, who led that revolt, received an invitation to visit teachers from 28 New York high schools where students don’t take most of their state’s high-stakes, standardized tests.

The schools, part of the New York  Performance Standards Consortium, instead give performance assessments —  in-depth assignments such as writing a paper comparing the protagonists’ deaths in three novels, or, in math, finding the parabolic path of a comet.

Consortium teachers make sure they grade such projects in the same way, sometimes sharing rubrics and scoring projects together. They’ve persuaded the state of New York to let them judge students’ skills that way, rather than with the usual New York Regents exams.

Two Garfield teachers visited the consortium in October, and two others went in February. They returned eager to try some of those ideas here, said Garfield teacher Rachel Eells.

The four teachers, plus a few others, met all this school year, looking closely at how they each assess their students’ progress, and helping each other improve their instructions to students, and their grading criteria.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Garfield High, MAP, Measures of Academic Progress

April 29, 2014 at 3:41 PM

Poll: Will you opt your child out of Common Core testing?

Illustration by Boo Davis / The Seattle Times

Illustration by Boo Davis / The Seattle Times

This spring, thousands of students across Washington are testing out the new Common Core exams. Common Core is a set of federal standards that stipulate what students should learn at each grade level.

Next year, the official Common Core tests will officially be administered throughout the state.

In the Tri-Cities area, where 30 schools are participating in this year’s trial run, some teachers are encouraging parents to opt out of the tests, saying the field tests “are putting an unnecessary burden on students, who sometimes break down in the classroom because of the stress.”


Comments | More in Poll, Your voices | Topics: common core

April 29, 2014 at 12:55 PM

Round-up: Feds issue guidelines for campus assaults, Tacoma schools install parent kiosks

White House issues guidelines for campus sexual assault (AP): A federal task force has issued new guidelines on how colleges and universities should handle reports of sexual assault on campus. Among the recommendations, the report calls for schools to train confidential victims’ advocates and conduct surveys to determine the frequency of sexual assault on campus.

Tacoma schools offer parents information via computer kiosks (The News Tribune): After a successful pilot program, every Tacoma school now houses computer kiosks where parents can access their children’s grades, attendance records, lunch accounts and classroom websites. The program aims to increase parent engagement and get information to families who don’t have Internet access at home.


Comments | More in News | Topics: round-up

April 29, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Blunt L.A. educator cheered by charter-school fans

In this town, we claim to admire restraint, politesse and, above all, consensus-building. But the thunderous reception greeting John Deasy on Monday suggests that we actually crave a bit of blunt talk.

John Deasy (AP photo)

John Deasy (AP photo)

Deasy, the controversial and unapologetic superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, was in Seattle speaking at a fundraiser for Stand for Children, a pro-charter school organization with whom he has ties. Afterward, he stopped by The Seattle Times for a less formal chat, in which he was forthright about his belief in both the importance of good teachers and the need to loosen regulations that hinder districts in firing bad ones.

This battle is at the crux of Vergara v. California, a lawsuit in which nine Los Angeles students allege they received an illegally lousy education because it was too hard for L.A. to get rid of lackluster educators. Deasy (pronounced like daisy) was a star witness for the students’ side, and spoke about the years of paperwork necessary to remove poor performers.

The case is now in a judge’s hands, and it could have significant implications for any state in which the right to a quality education is constitutionally protected. Like, for instance, Washington.


Comments | More in News | Topics: John Deasy, Los Angeles Unified School District

April 28, 2014 at 2:07 PM

Round-up: Washington districts squeezed by rising enrollments, Zmuda finds new principal job

Washington districts faced with growing enrollments, little space (AP): An analysis from the Associated Press found that 17 Washington school districts have added 400 or more desks between the 2011-2012 academic year and this school year. Many districts worry the problem will only get worse when the Legislature’s plans for smaller class sizes and free, all-day kindergarten are implemented.

Ousted Eastside Catholic educator selected for Mercer Island job: Mark Zmuda, the former vice-principal at Eastside Catholic High School who was fired after marrying his male partner, has been named the top choice for associate principal at Mercer Island High School. Superintendent Gary Plano will recommend Zmuda’s hiring to the school board this week.


Comments | More in News | Topics: round-up

April 28, 2014 at 12:53 PM

Rewind: Watch a replay of video chat with Gildo Rey teachers

Gildo Rey Elementary teacher Michael Fitzgerald and former teacher Brendan Jeffreys answered reader questions and talked about the school’s impressive turnaround during a Google+ Hangout on Thursday afternoon. 

The two educators were featured in Monday’s front-page story about the Auburn school. Click the play button below to watch a full replay of the video chat:


Comments | More in Your voices

April 28, 2014 at 5:00 AM

While US graduation rates climb, Washington hovers below average

In the blizzard of data that serves as currency in education, it’s often tough to tease out the bottom line, the essential message buried in each study. A national report released today, for example, trumpets rising graduation rates across the country – and rightly so.

For the first time in U.S. history, more than 80 percent of high school freshmen are graduating within four years, and much of the improvement stems from dramatic gains among Hispanic and African-American students.

“Our progress is amazing,” said Robert Balfanz, of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins, whose approach to dropout prevention was profiled in an Education Lab story last fall.

Almost 400,000 more high school seniors are graduating now than were in 2002, he said.

But woven within the celebratory tone of “Building a GradNation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic” is this troubling nugget: In 21 states – including Washington – three or four out of every 10 low-income students will not graduate on time.


Comments | More in News

April 27, 2014 at 10:26 PM

Monday story: Auburn school is a shouting success

Students are eager to answer a question posed at them by fifth-grade teacher Michael Fitzgerald at Gildo Rey Elementary in Auburn. Fitzgerald takes part in a style of teaching called direct instruction that involves constant engagement and vocal repetition between teacher and student. Photo by Genevieve Alvarez / The Seattle Times.

Students are eager to answer a question posed at them by fifth-grade teacher Michael Fitzgerald at Gildo Rey Elementary in Auburn. Fitzgerald takes part in a style of teaching called direct instruction that involves constant engagement and vocal repetition between teacher and student. Photo by Genevieve Alvarez / The Seattle Times.

As a morning math lesson wound down at Gildo Rey Elementary, a class of fifth-graders prepared to take a unit test.

“Say ‘I can do it,’ ” teacher Michael Fitzgerald called out.

“I can do it,” the students chanted back.

“Take two deep breaths,” he said.

The students inhaled in chorus, then blew the air out.

A decade ago, few would have predicted that Gildo Rey, a collection of brick buildings tucked between apartment complexes and aging trailer parks in the South King County city of Auburn, would become one of the top-scoring public elementary schools in Washington state.

Go here to read the full story.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Gildo Rey

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