Leahy Discusses Direct Instruction and Its Proven Effectiveness


A government-funded, seven-year study released in 1977 looked at nine different methods of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. The study found that eight of them didn’t do so well. But one of them did spectacularly well in terms of its effectiveness. That method is called Direct Instruction.

“There was only one system that had dramatic improvements and was by far the most effective,” said Leahy on Monday morning’s Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.

Leahy continued:

Over the weekend I did a little research on one of my pet projects. As you know, we here have at Star News Digital Media which we own and operate the Tennessee Star. The Minnesota Sun. The Ohio Star and The Michigan Star. And we set up back in December, a non-profit education foundation to promote what we think are the seven key changes that need to be made in the United States to return our K-12 education back to its level of best in the world.

Which was the case 40, 50 years ago. It’s either maintained or gone downhill ever since. One of the things that we look at is called direct instruction which is a method of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic to K5, K6 students. One of the leading practitioners of that is a friend of ours at Thales Academy.

T-H-A-L-E-S. Thales Academy. They were established about 12 years ago in North Carolina by a good friend named Bob Luddy. Bob is an entrepreneur who founded Captive Air which is the leading provider of  high quality commercial kitchen ventilation equipment.

If you go to a restaurant here in town you’ll probably have provided by Captive Air. The leading provider in the country and a big big company. Bob Luddy made it happen. And he’s a get it done and figure out the problem kind of guy.

Bob actually started looking at the problem of education and was very concerned about it. He ran for the board of education in the Raleigh-Durham area and lost. He decided to do something about by starting a charter school, ironically called Franklin Academy in North Carolina.

Thales Academy founder Bob Luddy

He then went on to start a chain of non-profit private schools that provide high-quality affordable education. And now they have six K-5 schools and two high schools in North Carolina. About 3,000 students there and they are coming here to Nashville.

They are opening a K-3 in Franklin, Tennessee in July. In fact, there is an informational meeting about this school tomorrow night. I will be there. I would like to invite you to come by. It’s at the Gate Community Church which has now been purchased by Thales and will serve as the school’s campus.

A very nice facility in Franklin. You can see if you are driving North on 65 from Spring Hill or Thompsons Station or south of Fraklin or Columbia just before you get to the highway 96 intersection. Just look to your right and you’ll see the Gate Community Church. Easy to see right next to Sunvertibles.

That’s where Thales Academy is going to be. It’s 3835 Carothers Parkway. They are opening a K-3 school here in July 2020. And Rachel Bradley who is the new principal has spent a  career in direct instruction which is the methodology used by Thales Academy.

She is currently the principal of one of the K-5 schools. She is moving to Nashville to set this up and we are delighted she is here. You can see her and talk to her at an informational meeting for parents. I will be there tomorrow night, Tuesday, March 10th from 6:30 pm to 8 pm at the Gate Community Church located at 3835 Carothers Parkway in Franklin.

Just get on 65 and get off on highway 96 and go south on Carrothers for about a quarter of a mile and it will be on your right. On the other side of the street is the Tennessee DMV where you can wait for a while and get your new license.

Rachel is our newest all star panelist and we’re going to try and see if we can get her in tomorrow in advance of this informational meeting. This is a great way to get to talk about direct instruction. Now direct instruction has been around since the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It was really created by a genius guy by the name of Siegfried “Zig” Engelmann at the University of Illinois in the late 60s early 70s. He ended up going up to the University of Oregon in the 1980s to advance this. Direct instruction is by far the most effective way to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic.

And its basically the old repetitive choral response focused on mastering the subject. Students are organized by group. High levels of interaction between the teacher and the student. There was a study when they came out with this originally.

It was a seven-year study that results were released in 1977 where they were funded by the government and looked at [nine]  different methods of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. And [eight] of them didn’t do so well. But one of them was spectacularly good in terms of effectiveness.

The only system that had dramatic improvement and by far the most effective. It’s called direct instruction. Zig Engelmann the fellow who set this up and there is now an institute called the National Institute for Direct Instruction, they had expected that the federal government would begin promoting direct instruction around the country.

They didn’t. At the time this was, you can thank Jimmy Carter for this by the way. This was just as they were setting up the Department of Education. The report was issued in 1977 showing that direction instruction was the most effective way to teach. What happened? Before, they had the Department of Education and a Secretary of Education they had an Office of  Education with a commissioner within one of the cabinet departments then called the Department of Health of Education and Welfare.

It’s now called the Department of Health and Human Services. In that department there was a guy named Ernest Boyer who was a  commissioner and former New York state head of education. He went down and saw these results and instead of saying, oh there’s only one system that works so well we need to make sure that every public school in America adopts this standard and this approach.

You won’t believe what he did. He said, well we looked at 15 of these different methods and only one of them was highly effective and because there was only one, we can’t share it with anybody else. Are you kidding me? That’s exactly right.

So you can thank the Democrat back in 1977, Jimmy Carter and his folks for basically not advancing direct instruction into public schools. They just squelched the results of that report. It’s terrible! Today, you look at this and any place direct instruction has been deployed has been very effective.

And yet, there’s a reason why it has not been widely adopted. And by the way, I’d love to have elementary school teachers in particular if you want to way in on direct instruction. (Leahy gives call-in number) Here’s the reason why it hasn’t been adopted. It’s because of the political power of the teachers unions and the education establishment. And the deal is this.

The guy who invented direct instruction, Zig Engelmann who passed away last year in his late 80s has said look, if kids aren’t learning to read and do math the fault is not the kids, the fault is the teacher. Because this system works. Again, mastery of learning. Highly engaged with the teacher.

You watch videos of this and it’s fantastic. You really see this. And so it’s the political opposition of the teachers union and the democratic establishment and to some extent, the rest of the establishment. Let’s stop that.

Listen to the first hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 am to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.






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