"Best Evidence Encyclopedia": Proven Programs in Basic Education

Created by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education (CDDRE) under funding from the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, the website, "Best Evidence Encyclopedia", provides a clearing house for innovative education programs. The CDDRE staff basically combs through scientific reviews of programs, taking note of the quality of the methods employed and applicability of the findings. It separates "the wheat from the chaff", "the diamonds from the rocks", to put simply, it separates what works from what does not work. Education is a huge endeavor of a society. It is a huge investment of time, resources and manpower. Embracing a reform that is not based on evidence is extremely wasteful and harmful. The education field truly has so much to learn from health care and medicine. Fortunately, efforts such as the Best Evidence Encyclopedia begin to help chart the correct direction for education reforms.

For comprehensive school reforms in basic education, Best Evidence Encyclopedia has examined 29 widely implemented programs in the United States. With this study, only three have been identified as programs that have shown strong evidences of effectiveness:

Table copied from http://www.bestevidence.org/csr/k12_meta_borman/top.htm
The list above is actually very enlightening. None of the catchy phrases often heard from education reformers is present. Instead, the list starts with "direct instruction". Is this true? "Consensus and collaboration in drawing school plans" is so much against a central authority dictating what must be done in all schools. "Success for all" shoots for equity not excellence. These simply cannot be right. Well, these are the programs that are proven to be effective based on sound scientific studies. When teachers are given the opportunity to collaborate and work as a true team, schools in South Korea, Singapore and Finland do well. Aiming for equity and not excellence is indeed a hallmark of Finland's educational system and amazingly, students in Finland achieve excellence at the same time. But I would like to focus more on "direct instruction". 
"Direct Instruction (DI) is a model for teaching that emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments and clearly defined and prescribed teaching tasks. It is based on the theory that clear instruction eliminating misinterpretations can greatly improve and accelerate learning."

DI is an educational program that has often been misunderstood. In fact, so many misconceptions have been associated with "direct instruction" that there is an urgent need to debunk all of these myths. And no less than the creators of "Direct Instruction" or DI have provided a list of myths

  • DI programs are rigid and unenlightened because they treat all instructional tasks as if they have right and wrong answers. In math, science, reading and writing, there are, of course right and wrong answers. Denying this fact is a complete misconception of what education really is.
  • DI is wrong because it is based on a hierarchy of skills. Is it really possible for a child to do algebra before learning how to add?
  • DI does not recognize developmental progression and developmental theory. This is true because DI works on the premise that all children can be taught and all children can learn. Developmental theory simply describes how a child progresses. Nowhere in the theory is a prescription that education must be delayed to accommodate low performers. This delay will simply exacerbate the problem. One must recognize where a student is and start at that level. This does not mean, however, that one must dilute what needs to be taught simply because a child is starting with a weak background.
  • DI stifles creativity. Creativity in teaching manifests in a teacher's ability to follow and grow with the students. Creativity from students cannot come from a vacuum. Creativity requires mastery of basic concepts. Creativity can only spring from a strong foundation. Thus, DI promotes creativity.
  • DI programs are only for weak students. DI has made high performers out of weak students so it must be equally effective for quick learners as well.
  • DI promotes passive learning. DI promotes mastery. How could mastery be passive?
  • DI ignores individual differences. DI has provisions (as any good teacher does) to accommodate students of varying skills and abilities.
Sara Tarver of the University of Wisconsin has her own list in "MYTHS ABOUT DIRECT INSTRUCTION And RESEARCH THAT REFUTES THOSE MYTHS". "Direct Instruction" has long been known to be effective. The Education Consumers Foundation has reviewed and summarized the numerous research  studies that have examined and analyzed DI in "Direct Instruction: What the Research Says". A figure like the one below, in which DI is compared against other reforms decades ago, simply puts DI in a league of its own. Unfortunately, education reformers choose to ignore and eagerly embrace other programs that are not based on evidence.

Figure captured from http://www.education-consumers.org/DI_Research.pdf