Day #5 – Project Follow Through – a Primer

Project Follow Through emerged from the social upheaval of the 1960’s. With the deaths of most of the prominent black leadership, the African-American population finally lost patience with the U.S. government. Riots, and other forms of anarchy followed in Watts, Newark, Detroit and other cities. To counter this insurgency, President Lyndon Johnson launched the War Against Poverty.

One component of this legislation was aimed at improving education for disadvantaged students in the urban ghettos and in rural America. Follow Through was originally conceived in 1967 to extend the work of Head Start into the first 3 years of school. Follow Through was a national experiment to compare educational methods head–to–head in the search for ways to improve basis education of children at risk of failure.

The results indicated that Direct Instruction and in a smaller way, Behavior Analysis, were the only two models that showed consistently positive results. Direct Instruction accounted for the lion’s share of the results. The evaluators treated these lob-sided results as an anomaly, rejected the study and did it all over again. In each subsequent round of experiments, the two same models remained in the same two top positions.

After almost 20 years with a half million students and a cost in excess of two billion dollars, the experiment was terminated. The results were never used to impact educational policies or practices. So while we have had a successful strategy for teaching critical literacy and numeracy skills to disadvantaged students, we have chosen to ignore them. As a result, 25% of Americans are currently illiterate and a high school student continues to drop out every 16 seconds.

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