Who’s Who and What’s What

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Day 4: Skin­ner Hor­ror Files

The Next Gen­er­a­tions of Pro­grammed Instruction

Operant ConditioningThis post is a his­to­ry les­son tak­en direct­ly out of my book the delib­er­ate dumb­ing down of amer­i­ca, Appen­dix XXV. This appen­dix has two alerts that were sent out in the late 1990s that warned about how Skin­ner’s form of oper­ant con­di­tion­ing edu­ca­tion (the orig­i­nal Pro­grammed Instruc­tions dis­cussed in Day 3’s post) was con­tin­u­ing on with a life of its own in edu­ca­tion, albeit under dif­fer­ent names. The sec­ond alert will be post­ed on Day 5.

Names have been high­light­ed because they are impor­tant for under­stand­ing what has hap­pened. These are not house­hold names! But they are names well known to edu­ca­tion reform­ers. And they have been direct­ly and adverse­ly affect­ing the edu­ca­tion of your chil­dren and grand­chil­dren for decades:

The Truth about How We All Have Been Had” was my alert sent out in late 1998, after the pas­sage of Omnibus Bud­get Bill for 1999 which con­tained the Read­ing Excel­lence Act.

Please bear with me. This alert is going to try to explain what hap­pened on the slow road to teach­ing our chil­dren how to read.…

Operant2First, I want to thank the loop for alert­ing me about two years ago to the activ­i­ties of Doug Car­nine, direc­tor of the fed­er­al­ly fund­ed Nation­al Cen­ter to Improve the Tools of Edu­ca­tors (NCITE) at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon. By the way, folks, that is a fed­er­al­ly fund­ed office which has dealt for a very long peri­od of time with pro­grams for spe­cial edu­ca­tion chil­dren. Carnine’s name jumped out at me when men­tioned in one of the loop’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions sup­port­ing direct, sys­tem­at­ic, inten­sive phon­ics (direct instruc­tion), which, by the way, is NOT TRADITIONAL PHONICS INSTRUCTION.

I imme­di­ate­ly thought, “Wait a minute. What’s going on here? Is this the same Doug Car­nine who was involved with Siegfried Engelmann’s Fol­low Through DISTAR pro­gram (now known as Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons or Read­ing Mas­tery), about whom I had writ­ten in my 1985 book Back To Basics Reform or… OBE Skin­ner­ian Inter­na­tion­al Cur­ricu­lum?” Of course it was, and from that time on I devot­ed much time try­ing to con­vince par­ents that “direct instruc­tion,” regard­less of whether it is spelled with low­er or upper case “d” and “i,” is based on the oper­ant con­di­tion­ing exper­i­ments with ani­mals car­ried out by the Russ­ian Ivan Pavlov and the Amer­i­can pro­fes­sor B.F. Skin­ner.

In Jan­u­ary of 1997 I wrote many mem­o­ran­da on this sub­ject which were includ­ed on the Inter­net Edu­ca­tion Loop web­site, iden­ti­fy­ing Car­nine and Engel­mann with Eth­na Reid’s learn­ing pro­gram which Ann Herz­er (a tra­di­tion­al phon­ics read­ing teacher opposed to Skin­ner­ian oper­ant con­di­tion­ing) so valiant­ly fought in the late ‘70s and ear­ly ‘80s. When Herz­er object­ed to the train­ing, she was asked, “Don’t you know we are train­ing our chil­dren to be peo­ple pleasers?” [See Appen­dix XVII of this book, ed.] I point­ed out that my 1985 book Back To Basics Reform Or… dis­cussed the ECRI/DISTAR method. Many of us have fought this method for twen­ty years and, sad to say, we have got­ten nowhere. I sup­pose that is to be expect­ed since we are not part of the nation­al con­ser­v­a­tive lead­er­ship nor are we part of the edu­ca­tion estab­lish­ment lead­er­ship. No one lis­tens to you unless you are well fund­ed and have fan­cy let­ter­head. Fol­low the mon­ey, fol­low the mon­ey. We didn’t have the resources to make a difference.

Skinner pigeonHow­ev­er, all is not lost if those of you who read this alert will take the nec­es­sary action to stop the fund­ing of the Read­ing Excel­lence Act at the local lev­el. Mil­lions of tax dol­lars will be gush­ing forth in your com­mu­ni­ties to imple­ment this Skin­ner­ian read­ing pro­gram under the guise of “sci­en­tif­ic, research-based” phon­ics read­ing instruc­tion.

Let me quote from an Octo­ber 1997 let­ter Doug Car­nine wrote to “con­cerned friends” ask­ing them to sup­port H.R. 2614, The Read­ing Excel­lence Act, which called for the use of “research-based” read­ing instruc­tion pro­grams; i.e., his and Engelmann’s pro­gram (ECRI/DISTAR). Obvi­ous­ly, use of these pro­grams could be of finan­cial ben­e­fit to those involved in the devel­op­ment of the pro­gram. Carnine’s let­ter encour­aged the following:

As you know, sig­nif­i­cant reforms are in process in the bell­wether states of Cal­i­for­nia and Texas as well as in many oth­er states. State law­mak­ers, edu­ca­tion lead­ers, and con­cerned cit­i­zens are join­ing forces to ensure that the wealth of sci­en­tif­ic research on read­ing con­duct­ed dur­ing the past three decades is ful­ly trans­formed into effec­tive class­room read­ing instruc­tion.

Much of the “sci­en­tif­ic research” to which he refers is the Skin­ner­ian dog-train­ing method used in DISTAR and ECRI. When­ev­er you see the word “effec­tive” relat­ed to edu­ca­tion, real­ize that it relates to the late Ron Edmonds’s Effec­tive School Research (Har­vard and Michi­gan State). It says “almost all chil­dren can learn” when taught to the test, pro­vid­ed the nec­es­sary envi­ron­ment for that indi­vid­ual child and enough time for the child to “mas­ter” what­ev­er the con­tent (or work­force skills) is made avail­able. That’s Skinnerian/behavioral ter­mi­nol­o­gy, for those who are not ini­ti­at­ed. The new term for “envi­ron­ment” is now “pos­i­tive school cli­mate,” which takes the place of the behav­ior­ist term “psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly manip­u­la­tive envi­ron­ment.” Effec­tive School Research calls for the elim­i­na­tion of the Carnegie unit, norm-ref­er­enced test­ing, grade lev­els, etc. Effec­tive School Research calls for out­come-based edu­ca­tion, which is mas­tery learn­ing and can include direct instruc­tion. Both are close­ly relat­ed to Total Qual­i­ty Man­age­ment [TQM] and Plan­ning, Pro­gram­ming, and Bud­get­ing Sys­tems [PPBS].

Of course, for those who don’t have any prob­lem with this type of education/training, STOP: you need read no fur­ther. For those who may have ques­tions, please bear with me.

Operant3First, you will want to be sure I am cor­rect in my claim that this is, in fact, Skin­ner­ian dog train­ing. The final piece of the puz­zle, which should be the clinch­er and for which many of us are most grate­ful (God works in won­drous ways!) came in the pub­lish­ing of What Works in Edu­ca­tion, edit­ed by Cran­dall, Jacob­son, and Sloane (Cam­bridge Cen­ter for Behav­ioral Stud­ies: Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts, 1997). The Center’s activ­i­ties and pub­li­ca­tions can be accessed on their web­site. Fol­low­ing are some excerpts relat­ed to two of the nine pro­grams dis­cussed in this book:

What Works in Edu­ca­tion is the result of a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort between two orga­ni­za­tions: The Cam­bridge Cen­ter for Behav­ioral Stud­ies and Divi­sion 33 of the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion.… We would like to extend our grat­i­tude to Doug Car­nine, Pro­fes­sor of Edu­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon, and Bon­nie Grossen, Edi­tor of Effec­tive School Prac­tices, for con­sult­ing on this project.

The chap­ter enti­tled “Mabel B. Wes­ley Ele­men­tary” states:

The Mabel B. Wes­ley Ele­men­tary School in Hous­ton, Texas, has had a school­wide Direct Instruc­tion lan­guage arts cur­ricu­lum since 1976, and has imple­ment­ed oth­er direct instruc­tion pro­grams and oth­er pro­grams based on relat­ed approach­es in oth­er sub­ject mat­ters.… Dr. Thad­deus S. Lott, Sr. is the Project Man­ag­er for the North­west Char­ter Dis­trict and Mrs. Wilma Rimes is the prin­ci­pal of Mabel B. Wes­ley Ele­men­tary School.

In 1975… in search­ing for a means of improv­ing read­ing skills, Dr. Lott, then the new prin­ci­pal, vis­it­ed a cam­pus that was imple­ment­ing the DISTAR read­ing cur­ricu­lum (see Direct Instruc­tion for Teach­ing Read­ing and Reme­di­a­tion, Car­nine and Sil­bert, 1979), devel­oped by Engel­mann (report­ed in Beck­er, Engel­mann and Thomas, 1975A and 1975B). He was impressed by what he observed and began the imple­men­ta­tion of DISTAR [now called Read­ing Mas­tery, ed.] in 1976.

The chap­ter enti­tled “Exem­plary Cen­ter for Read­ing Instruction—ECRI” by Eth­na R. Reid of the Reid Foun­da­tion states:

ABSTRACT: ECRI pro­vides con­sult­ing and train­ing for indi­vid­ual class­rooms, grade lev­els, or entire schools in imple­ment­ing a direct instruc­tion mod­el in lan­guage arts. The ECRI mod­el is applied to and adapt­ed for exist­ing instruc­tion­al mate­ri­als. From these mate­ri­als, struc­tured lessons are devel­oped to teach an inte­grat­ed cur­ricu­lum of phon­ics, oral and silent read­ing, com­pre­hen­sion, study skills, spelling, lit­er­a­ture, and cre­ative and expos­i­to­ry writ­ing. ECRI also includes rate build­ing, mas­tery learn­ing, and behav­ior man­age­ment components.

ECRI iden­ti­fied effec­tive teach­ing strate­gies lat­er cor­rob­o­rat­ed in the Fol­low Through Pro­gram (Steb­bins, L.B., St. Pierre, R.G., Prop­er, E.D., Ander­son, R.B., & Cer­va, R.T., 1977) and now known as Direct Instruc­tion (Jen­son, Sloane & Young, 1988, pp. 335–336, 350–362). ECRI adopt­ed a gen­er­al direct instruc­tion­al approach and expand­ed it… in ways that allowed appli­ca­tion to exist­ing sub­ject mate­r­i­al in any con­tent area.

Can you not see that this is the nec­es­sary Skin­ner­ian method for appli­ca­tion to work­force train­ing? Skin­ner said, “I could make a pigeon a high achiev­er by rein­forc­ing it on a prop­er schedule.”

Operant3The above ECRI con­nec­tion with DISTAR (Read­ing Mas­tery), the direct instruc­tion pro­gram being pushed all over the coun­try (Thad­deus Lott’s Hous­ton site is the best known) should come as no sur­prise since the devel­op­er of DISTAR, Siegfried Engel­mann, has his work in Skin­ner­ian oper­ant con­di­tion­ing cit­ed sev­er­al times in Eth­na Reid’s Teacher Train­ing Man­u­al. Of inter­est is the fact that the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion in 1981, when Ann Herz­er tried to have ECRI shut down, lied in writ­ing when it said ECRI did not use oper­ant con­di­tion­ing. I have all the cor­re­spon­dence regard­ing this con­tro­ver­sy. A class action suit should be filed against the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion for its role in pro­mot­ing this type of training/ con­di­tion­ing under the guise of “edu­ca­tion” and for lying about the method.

In oth­er words, ECRI and DISTAR are not just close cousins; they are, in fact, fra­ter­nal twins. The only dif­fer­ence between them is their name. They were both fund­ed dur­ing the War on Pover­ty, Great Soci­ety 1960s, and since that time have been used on the most help­less mem­bers of our soci­ety, the under­priv­i­leged and minor­i­ty chil­dren. Pro­fes­sors Ben­jamin Bloom and Lee Shulman’s 1968–1981 Chica­go Mas­tery Learn­ing Pro­gram was, accord­ing to a March 6, 1985 arti­cle in Edu­ca­tion Week

a tragedy of enor­mous pro­por­tions with almost one-half of the 39,500 pub­lic school stu­dents in the 1980 fresh­man class fail­ing to grad­u­ate, and only one-third of those grad­u­at­ing able to read at or above the nation­al 12th grade level.

Of inter­est is the fact that claims of effec­tive­ness sim­i­lar to those made regard­ing the Hous­ton DISTAR pro­gram were made by the elit­ist change agents dur­ing the 1970s and ear­ly 1980s. The Chica­go Pro­gram crashed in 1981.

Operant4What hap­pened to the stu­dents who par­tic­i­pat­ed in Chicago’s Skin­ner­ian exper­i­ment? What hap­pened to Lee Shul­man, who was involved in the Chica­go Mas­tery Learn­ing dis­as­ter? Lee Shul­man went on to become the Direc­tor of the Carnegie Foundation’s Board for Pro­fes­sion­al Teach­ing Stan­dards, which is the archi­tect of the per­for­mance-based (Skin­ner­ian) teacher train­ing mod­el. Shul­man, who had been a Fel­low of the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion and a Fel­low of the Cen­ter for the Advance­ment of Behav­ioral Sci­ences, lat­er became Pres­i­dent of the Carnegie Foun­da­tion for the Advance­ment of Teach­ing. The read­er should refer to the fact that the book What Works in Edu­ca­tion is a result of a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort between the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion and the Cam­bridge Cen­ter for Behav­ioral Stud­ies. What rewards for such a dis­as­ter! The lives of the chil­dren involved in the exper­i­ment are not so deco­rous­ly documented.

One sim­ple ques­tion should be asked which should put this whole mat­ter to rest: Why haven’t the under­priv­i­leged, the minori­ties, etc., had more aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess if these pro­grams (which have been used in most of our inner cities under the guise of effec­tive school­ing prac­tices) are in fact so “effec­tive”? Why is it that some very good anti-OBE peo­ple out there don’t even real­ize that this method is OBE? It is based on [Ben­jamin] Bloom’s and [William] Spady’s con­tention (which, by the way, is embraced by the Sovi­ets in their poly­tech­ni­cal train­ing as well) that “all except the most seri­ous­ly hand­i­capped” chil­dren can learn, if they work at their own pace with an indi­vid­u­al­ized edu­ca­tion plan, are taught to the test, do not have to com­pete with class­mates, are sub­ject to cri­te­ri­on-ref­er­enced test­ing rather than norm-ref­er­enced test­ing, and have as long as they want to “mas­ter” the con­trollers’ out­comes, results, or com­pe­ten­cies. Out­come-based mas­tery learning/direct instruc­tion is what the Unit­ed Nations is talk­ing about when it refers to Life­long Learn­ing. Every­one can take as long as need­ed to “mas­ter” what the cor­po­rate and inter­na­tion­al plan­ners want as long as every­one “mas­ters” it, even if it takes a life­time. God for­bid that you may not want to mas­ter cer­tain things. And don’t for­get, it’s not just stu­dents but all of us who will be involved in this life­long learn­ing—unless, of course, Amer­i­cans wake up and do something.

Operant5Whether either pro­gram has pro­duced the gains pro­po­nents of the “method” sug­gest is ques­tion­able. The basic skills test results from Mis­sion, Texas, which used ECRI for a peri­od of twen­ty years, cer­tain­ly are dis­mal. Much more doc­u­men­ta­tion is required in this regard. By the time we have the sad truth regard­ing lon­gi­tu­di­nal test stud­ies, includ­ing infor­ma­tion on where the DISTAR-edu­cat­ed stu­dents are now or 10 years from now, and what they are doing, if any­thing, it will be too late. Norm-ref­er­enced test­ing will be a thing of the past. Per­for­mance-based test­ing (port­fo­lios, demon­stra­tions, etc.) will be stan­dard, and we will have high­ways plas­tered with “My Son/Daughter Is an Hon­or Stu­dent.” We will nev­er know how dumb­ed down our chil­dren are except when, instead of say­ing “Please, may I have the ketchup?” they sim­ply grunt a cer­tain num­ber of times for ketchup and a cer­tain num­ber of times for but­ter, etc.

The basic ques­tion, how­ev­er, aside from test scores, remains: Is it moral to use this method on chil­dren in the class­room with­out their informed con­sent, even if results show small and tem­po­rary gains? There are laws on the books which give pris­on­ers pro­tec­tion against such behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion meth­ods. Med­ical research is avail­able show­ing that oper­ant con­di­tion­ing caus­es psy­cho­log­i­cal, neu­ro­log­i­cal, and med­ical prob­lems. Chil­dren in the ECRI pro­gram have exhib­it­ed such symp­toms. There are doc­tors’ state­ments to this fact.

For those who still don’t believe that DISTAR (Read­ing Mas­tery) is the same as ECRI, let me quote from a few pages of a dis­ser­ta­tion by a top state depart­ment of edu­ca­tion offi­cial who does not wish to have it attrib­uted to him. The paper, writ­ten in 1986, enti­tled “The Exem­plary Cen­ter for Read­ing Instruction—ECRI,” states in part:

One of the major goals was to do a cost-effec­tive­ness study to ascer­tain the most ben­e­fi­cial time to intro­duce aca­d­e­m­ic skills to stu­dents. The only break the chil­dren had dur­ing their instruc­tion was a snack time which was used as a lan­guage expe­ri­ence to dis­cuss the var­i­ous foods the chil­dren were eat­ing. The main instruc­tion­al unit was the SRA DISTAR Pro­gram. The results showed an increase in pupil IQ of approx­i­mate­ly 20 points in the first year of the pro­gram and elim­i­na­tion of a great many behav­ioral prob­lems. [empha­sis added]

Facts Estab­lished

  1. ECRI and DISTAR are fra­ter­nal twins, and both use Skin­ner­ian oper­ant conditioning.
  2. Oper­ant con­di­tion­ing is based on Pavlov’s exper­i­ments with slob­ber­ing dogs.
  3. The Right to Read Foun­da­tion, for­mer­ly head­ed by Robert Sweet, sup­ports Teach­ing Your Chil­dren to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, which is SRA’s DISTAR (Mas­tery Read­ing). Sweet recent­ly became a con­sul­tant to the House Edu­ca­tion and Work­force Com­mit­tee and helped draft and pro­mote the Read­ing Excel­lence Act. Sev­er­al years ago when Tracey Hayes, a researcher, brought her con­cerns regard­ing the Carnine/Engelmann pro­gram to his atten­tion, Sweet told her he saw noth­ing wrong with mas­tery learn­ing. Good par­ents look­ing for tra­di­tion­al phon­ics-based read­ing instruc­tion for their chil­dren have been had by the mas­ter manip­u­la­tors’ use of the Hegelian dialec­tic. They (the inter­na­tion­al­ist change agents) cre­at­ed the whole lan­guage dis­as­ter (or took advan­tage of it) in order to get par­ents to scream so that par­ents could be offered the pre­de­ter­mined solu­tion: the direct instruc­tion Skin­ner­ian pro­gram which can be applied to any oth­er dis­ci­plines, includ­ing WORKFORCE TRAINING!

And the des­per­ate par­ents have bought into this shame­ful scam, think­ing that the edu­ca­tion­al estab­lish­ment real­ly cared about their chil­dren learn­ing to read. The cor­po­rate sec­tor, which sup­ports direct instruc­tion, does not real­ly want edu­cat­ed work­ers. Thomas Sticht, a mem­ber of the Secretary’s Com­mis­sion on Achiev­ing Nec­es­sary Skills (SCANS) said as much when he was quot­ed in an August 17, 1987 Wash­ing­ton Post arti­cle as follows:

Skinner RatMany com­pa­nies have moved oper­a­tions to places with cheap, rel­a­tive­ly poor­ly edu­cat­ed labor. What may be cru­cial, they say, is the depend­abil­i­ty of a labor force and how well it can be man­aged and trained—not its gen­er­al edu­ca­tion­al lev­el, although a small cadre of high­ly edu­cat­ed cre­ative peo­ple is essen­tial to inno­va­tion and growth. End­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and chang­ing val­ues are prob­a­bly more impor­tant than read­ing in mov­ing low-income fam­i­lies into the mid­dle class.

Sticht was also at one time asso­ci­at­ed with the “Hooked on Phon­ics” pro­gram. Oh, what a tan­gled web we weave! Harvard’s Pro­fes­sor Antho­ny Oet­tinger, a mem­ber of the Coun­cil on For­eign Rela­tions, which is bring­ing us [School-To-Work] STW, Free Trade and Glob­al Gov­er­nance, said in 1981:

The present “tra­di­tion­al” con­cept of lit­er­a­cy has to do with the abil­i­ty to read and write. But the real ques­tion that con­fronts us today is: How do we help cit­i­zens func­tion well in their soci­ety? How can they acquire the skills nec­es­sary to solve their prob­lems? Do we real­ly have to have every­body literate—writing and read­ing in the tra­di­tion­al sense—when we have the means through our tech­nol­o­gy to achieve a new flow­er­ing of oral com­mu­ni­ca­tion? It is the tra­di­tion­al idea that says cer­tain forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion such as com­ic books are “bad.” But in the mod­ern con­text of func­tion­al­ism they may not be all that bad. [empha­sis added] 

All that one must do to smell one big rat is ask the questions.…