Saturday, October 4, 2014

Who's Who and What's What

Day 4: Skinner Horror Files

The Next Generations of Programmed Instruction

This 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....

First, 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.

However, 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. 

First, 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.”

 The 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.

What 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.

Whether 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:

Many 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....