June 18, 2008

Corey Responds

Corey Responds here. Here is my response.

As a preliminary matter, I want to make sure my position in clear.

It is not my position that environmental factors, like the home environment, don't matter. That's silly. Clearly, low-SES students are different from their middle-class peers. They are different in that they are less able to access the education that is available in your typical school (the exact causation is irrelevant). We know this already.

The issue we are debating is whether it is appropriate to assign causation to educational failure in the absence of appropriate instruction. My position is that its inappropriate and logical fallacy to do so. Corey also seems to think its also inappropriate, but nonetheless assigns causation anyway.

In summary of what went wrong at my school, let me be clear: myself and the other adults in the school failed the kids in many, many ways. The school was poorly run. I lacked adequate training. We could have done any number of things better (especially around discipline) and it would have helped the situation. But I stand by my assertion that the largest cause of problems at the school was the home life of the children.

Let's examine the reasons Corey gives:

1. If we took the low-SES kids in Corey's school and put them in a well-funded affluent suburban school and took the high-SES kids and put them in Corey's school,then Corey's school would become a high-performing school and the rich affluent school would become a failing school. I agree. The differences between the schools are educationally superficial. Both schools are designed to educate middle-class kids, not low-SES kids.

Here's a better experiment. Take low-SES kids from their low-performing school nd place them in a school with improved instruction and classroom management and see if student achievement rises to the mean level of student performance. We already know the answer from Project Follow Through. Student achievement will improve to mean levels. Providing appropriate instruction matters quite a bit, more than anything else that's been researched. The only reason why a dispute exists today, is because the research is ignored, perhaps conveniently so. Maybe Corey can supply an answer.

2. Some low-SES kids can be successfully taught using in a selective private middle-class school; these students appeared to come from stable families. Again, I agree with Corey; there is a selection bias problem with this example. Some low-SES can access middle-class instruction in a middle-class school setting. Academic success breeds motivation and reduces behavioral problems, as does the presence of a supportive family. These kids are receiving appropriate instruction. Our concern is the kids who are not.

3. It's not possible to overcome home effects given current funding levels. I disagree. The correlation between school spending and student achievement is very low, scatterplot low. As Corey concedes there are quite a few schools where low-SES students have high academic achievement at today's funding levels. These counterexample don't prove the point, but they do disprove Corey's point. What does prove the point is, once again, Project Follow Through in which dozens of schools raised student achievement of low-SES levels with funding far below today's spending levels in a controlled experiment.

4. The coleman report showed that "homes influence academic achievement more than schools." Again I agree. Given that most schools are designed to educate middle-class kids, this result is not surprising. Again, Project Follow Through, showed that school effects can compensate for the disadvantages resulting from home effects.


Parry Graham said...

You mention Project Follow Through quite a lot on this blog. Could you point to some more recent studies (i.e., within the last 10 to 15 years) that look at Direct Instruction in detail? For example, student achievement rates compared to similar schools, effects across various student sub-populations, descriptions of the mechanisms underlying any successes, etc.

In addition, the 90/90/90 research provides some interesting insights into achieving success with high poverty, high minority populations.

KDeRosa said...

Hi Parry.

See this post.

Then go to the the Association for Direct Instruction and check out their publications, DI News and The Journal of Direct Instruction.

I also found this study recently on First Grade Reading Achievement gains using DI in Baltimore's inner city schools.

Engelmann, the originator of DI, maintains a site with research links as does the National Institute for DIrect Instruction.

That should keep you busy for awhile.

Ari-free said...

"If we took the low-SES kids in Corey's school and put them in a well-funded affluent suburban school and took the high-SES kids and put them in Corey's school,then Corey's school would become a high-performing school and the rich affluent school would become a failing school. I agree."

I don't. The one room schoolhouse that relied on the McGuffey Readers delivered a much better education than the district described in this article

Michael Shirley said...

The issue we are debating is whether it is appropriate to assign causation to educational failure in the absence of appropriate instruction. My position is that its inappropriate and logical fallacy to do so.

Ken, I'm sorry, but I can't figure out what you're saying here. I think in the second sentence you mean that it's "logically fallacious," but I have no idea what the first sentence is trying to say.

KDeRosa said...

What I was trying to say is that if you have bad environemnetal effects in place (low ses home environment) and also bad/inappropriate instruction you cannot claim which is the cause of the academic failure. Both variables could be causing the failure.

In our example, Corey conceded that the instruction in his school was inappropriate, but then decided the low-SES environmental fctors were really the cause. My point is that such a conclusion is illogical and inappropriate given the existence of the inappropriate instruction.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

As I said in my post, your points about the difficulty in determining causality are valid. I also think you're correct in pointing out that there are problems regarding accessibility of curriculum in high-poverty schools.

That said, I find it difficult to believe that schools in their current form can consistently and completely overcome social conditions. Kids from impoverished neighborhoods not only start school far behind, but have many things at home and in their neighborhood that prevent them from learning as rapidly, regardless of how well the school is run and what kind of curriculum is used. I'll check out the studies you linked to at some point over the weekend, and I'll get back to you.

Anonymous said...

I've been teaching my children to read using "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons", which is based on the DISTAR reading program. Reading your blog post is the first I knew it was connected to a larger Direct Instruction approach to teaching. I would say that the approach has been very effective for my first son. He was reading at the 2nd grade level in the spring of his Kindergarten year. At least according to Accelerated Reader. His teacher knew I was helping him with his reading and the comment I got was "I don't know what you are doing, but it sure is working". Prior to this I had no training in teaching, but I do have a bachelors degree in science - so not a low-SES family. So at least there is a proof point that this method works for a high-SES child as well (I think that's the correct edu-lingo). It does seem to be a time intensive method. I'm not sure how a teacher trying to teach 20 students could actually use it to teach all 20 of them. But I'm not really that surprised at the results of direct instruction, because the basic idea seems to be individual attention and what student wouldn't benefit from that? Getting children the attention they need seems to be that basic problem in education. What student-teacher ration is required to effectively use Direct Instruction?

CrypticLife said...


I'm also using the 100 easy lessons book with my pre-school (starting kinder this fall) son. He's progressing, a bit slowly but far faster than any other curriculum would take him. I haven't devoted tremendous time to it, and his first language is Japanese (and his grasp of English is rather limited -- the book is also helping to build vocabulary, even though that's not the intent. For example, yesterday was his first exposure to the word, "got". He read it correctly, even though he did not know what it meant.).

As for the techniques, I have a bachelor's and a lot of grad study in psychology which focused primarily on behavioral psych. Quite a number of the techniques in DI are just good teaching practice generally. Teachers typically aren't heavily educated in the area, and underestimate how difficult it really is. They may think they can follow a principle like "Don't say things that can be interpreted ambiguously" without a script. It's a pity, because a lot of them are rejecting a scripted approach, I believe, more because they don't like the idea than because they would actually dislike doing it.

corey, keep in mind that the high-SES districts usually aren't using these techniques, either. It's not hard to believe that the teaching is ludicrously inefficient, and that efficient instruction on one side would consistently overcome the gaps we see.

As far as "completely" -- is that really an issue? If we can cut through half the gap based in SES, but no more, is that a reason to stick to techniques that don't improve the situation?

Anonymous said...

Correlations are most useful as preliminary tests, and least useful (nearly useless) as final tests. If you find a correlation between vars A and X but not B and X, that tells you you should do further research on the nature of the correlation between A and X, and forget about B and X. But as a final test, correlations are, as I said, pretty much useless -- unless you disingenuously leap to causation, in which case your research isn't statistically valid (although your correlations may be).