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130105_1

Here are five quotes, some of which are from edtech startups in 2012 while others are from an advertorial for “Individually Prescribed Instruction” published in ASCD in 1972. Can you tell them apart?

#1

Educators and parents across the country seem to agree that a system of individualized instruction is much needed in our schools today. This has been evident to any parent who has raised more than one child and to every teacher who has stood in front of a class.

#2

[This product] allows the teacher to monitor the child’s progress but more important it allows each child to monitor his own behavior in a particular subject.

#3

The objectives of the system are to permit student mastery of instructional content at individual learning rates and ensure active student involvement in the learning process.

#4

This is a step towards the superior classroom, because the system includes material that can be used independently, allowing each child to learn at his own rate and realize success.

#5

The technology, training program, and management technique give the teacher tools for assessment, mastery measurement, and specified management techniques.

Okay, they’re all from 1972, from a piece called “Do Schools Need IPI? Yes!” [pdf]. But really the only line that’s obviously out of the past is:

The aide’s most important functions is the scoring, recording, and filing of students’ test and skill sheets.

Computers now handle that scoring, recording, and filing. But in every other way, you could have ripped the text of that article from a Techcrunch article or New Schools prospectus.

I’m not merely snarking that what we think is new and great isn’t so new. I’m also saying it still isn’t great. Stanley Erlwanger wrote an incredible piece in 1973 illustrating how easy it was for a student named Benny to appear successful in IPI while actually knowing very little. Both in 1972 and in 2012, these systems ask questions that are trivial enough to be gamed. The only difference is that instead of writing questions to accommodate the limitations of a human-scorer, we’re now writing questions to accommodate the limitations of a machine-scorer.

If you’re in this industry, read those papers close enough that you can tell yourself, “I understand why IPI failed. This is how we’re different.” Basically, IPI is a free failure for you and your company. I hope you won’t pass it up.

BTW. Justin Reich points me to the opposing piece from the same ASCD issue:

While some persons see the IPI program as aimed in the direction of “humanness and openness,” I consider its implementation a step in the opposite direction for many schools. For more than 50 years, many recognized leaders in education have worked to move learning opportunities provided in our schools from “rigid, passive, rote, and narrow” to “open and humane.”

2013 Jan 12. Mike Caulfield again points out that personalized learning may have an isolating effect on students who really need to have their assumptions tested by their peers:

Benny, the student the study is about, has some odd ideas about mathematics, induced by peculiarities of the testing system. But he’ll never know they are odd because the individualized instruction makes discussion with peers impossible.

2013 Jan 13. Mary had a positive experience with IPI and highlights the efforts her teacher took to keep the program from isolating students with their misconceptions:

I was educated using IPI from K-4. IPI allowed me to work at my own pace, which tended to be faster than average in Math and about average in the reading. When I moved to a district that did not use it, I was devastated. I hated the non-IPI system and was bored and annoyed with math for the next three years. Since This was so devastating to me, I clung to my IPI materials and I still have some all these years later. I use them and my experiences to balance the discussion we have in my graduate class when we discuss the Benny Paper. You see, to me, IPI was not a failure, the way Benny’s teacher implemented it was. Teachers still had to teach when using IPI or of course it would be a failure. My experience with IPI was different in key ways than The Benny paper describes… the teachers would set up table groups each week based upon what book we were working on. Along with working independently through the workbook and tests, the students were required to discuss a question provided by the teacher and s/he would ask each group to stop and discuss it at a particular time so s/he could be there to listen in. In addition to this, after each unit test, we had a brief one-on-one meeting with the teacher to discuss the content, where according to my old handwriting, I was being asked targeted questions where I needed to explain my reasoning. In other words, my teachers did their own assessments and did not rely on bubble sheets. True the initial presentation of the material came through the workbook, and it’s true such a system would not engage all students all the time, but that’s where teachers come in. Teachers need to know their students. Teachers need flexibility day by day, student by student, to use or not use these tools. Allowing students to move through material at their own pace is still a good goal. Giving teachers tools to help them manage that is a good goal. Devising tools that remove teachers from the process is where we go wrong.

18 Responses to “Is This Press Release From 2012 or 1972?”

  1. on 11 Jan 2013 at 12:40 pmJerzy

    “IPI is a free failure for you and your company. I hope you won’t pass it up.”
    What a great way to put it. I wish more people thought this way.

  2. [...] Meyer has a great study from the early days of programmed learning linked from his latest post. This paragraph in it caught my [...]

  3. [...] Meyer has a great study from the early days of programmed learning linked from his latest post. This paragraph in it caught my [...]

  4. on 12 Jan 2013 at 5:53 amAlice Artzt

    Dan raises a great question. I taught during the individualized instruction era in the early 70’s and it was a complete DISASTER! Don’t we ever learn from our mistakes!!!

  5. [...] Find out which is which on Meyer’s blog here. [...]

  6. on 12 Jan 2013 at 9:40 amJohn E

    I love it. I run an online education technology company (38 people) doing incredible new stuff. To balance our hubris, I decorate the office with previous generations of “revolutionary” products for education so that we have some perspective.

    In fact, I’ve also starting putting the collection online.

    Interested in:

    the mimeograph machine? (remember the smell of that blue ink?
    Filmstrips?
    The Mac?
    etc

  7. on 13 Jan 2013 at 5:22 amMary

    I was educated using IPI from K-4. IPI allowed me to work at my own pace, which tended to be faster than average in Math and about average in the reading. When I moved to a district that did not use it, I was devastated. I hated the non-IPI system and was bored and annoyed with math for the next three years. Since This was so devastating to me, I clung to my IPI materials and I still have some all these years later. I use them and my experiences to balance the discussion we have in my graduate class when we discuss the Benny Paper. You see, to me, IPI was not a failure, the way Benny’s teacher implemented it was. Teachers still had to teach when using IPI or of course it would be a failure. My experience with IPI was different in key ways than The Benny paper describes… the teachers would set up table groups each week based upon what book we were working on. Along with working independently through the workbook and tests, the students were required to discuss a question provided by the teacher and s/he would ask each group to stop and discuss it at a particular time so s/he could be there to listen in. In addition to this, after each unit test, we had a brief one-on-one meeting with the teacher to discuss the content, where according to my old handwriting, I was being asked targeted questions where I needed to explain my reasoning. In other words, my teachers did their own assessments and did not rely on bubble sheets. True the initial presentation of the material came through the workbook, and it’s true such a system would not engage all students all the time, but that’s where teachers come in. Teachers need to know their students. Teachers need flexibility day by day, student by student, to use or not use these tools. Allowing students to move through material at their own pace is still a good goal. Giving teachers tools to help them manage that is a good goal. Devising tools that remove teachers from the process is where we go wrong.

  8. on 13 Jan 2013 at 2:49 pmLisa Nussdorfer

    I am an Educational Coordinator at a online high school since November. I find the discussion very interesting, and I have been making observations from my personal experience.

    #1 We are creating a new breed. Some students want to be home on their laptops “learning” without the distraction of a crowded or peopled classroom. I would argue this breed’s genesis is regardless of the existence of online offerings.

    #2 The curriculum is not individualized which, in turn, is too easy for some and too hard for others. However, students can work at their own pace (sort of, that would be another page).

    #3 Some of the students – read boys- can’t do traditional high school. Ideally they would be in some PBL situation but their are so many issues to make that happen, online curriculum is an alternative for them.

    As a mom of a high schooler where I have had a few meetings at his school regarding his English class because he will NOT write a grade-level English essay this entire year – I don’t know if online curriculum is any worse that what some students are getting in comprehensive high school.

    And, in a perfect world, I would start my own PBL school for teen boys. :) Or I would send my kids to Dan’s.
    Lisa

  9. on 14 Jan 2013 at 12:00 pmSandy

    I benefit a great deal from reading this blog and I’m not a math teacher, but an instructional technology coordinator. Lisa’s points are well made about online instruction for the non-traditional student in our high schools.

    One point that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere, however, is the need for schools like Rocketship in school districts that cannot attract or retain the brightest and the best teachers. High quality teachers don’t want to be messiahs, they want to be teachers, to be respected, to earn a decent living, to have a life outside of the daily job. To teach in school districts where Rocketship is placing its charter schools, well, they aren’t places where the highly qualified want to live and work. So how else can we BEST give all children equity to a good quality education?

  10. on 15 Jan 2013 at 6:07 amBill Bradley

    @Sandy So instead of improving conditions at those schools, we should ignore them? There are many ways to make conditions more attractive to teachers (smaller class sizes, better schedules, loan forgiveness, more autonomy in curriculum, etc.) and provide actual better instruction to the students.
    Conditions do drive excellent people out of teaching. One of my former student teachers quit teaching because he got a job in a high need area, but was expected to teach 5 different classes a day (several of them lab sciences), and was being paid so little that he had to live with his parents to be able to pay off his student loans. I hardly think that stuffing students in front of computers is a better solution than trying to recruit and retain excellent teachers.

  11. on 15 Jan 2013 at 9:43 amSandy

    I agree whole-heartedly with you Bill, but I haven’t seen that implementation you are suggesting being put in place anywhere. If you have, tell me where. Tell me how they are funding it? I would like to support your ideas, but don’t know how because the big reformers are not putting their money towards intangibles.

  12. on 15 Jan 2013 at 10:26 amBill Bradley

    @Sandy There are currently TEACH grants, Sallie Mae and many states offer loan forgiveness for teaching in low income or “high need” subject areas. Most states have class size limits http://www.edweek.org/ew/section/infographics/13class_size_map.html so smaller classes would be a tweak rather than completely new laws. Teaching schedules and curriculum are set by the school, the district, or negotiated in the contracts (I know of at least one that limits teachers to only two different classes, or gives them an extra planning period if they have to teach three), so at the moment that’s a local issue, but could easily be made a state-level policy.
    I agree that the “big reformers” are not funding or advocating policies like those, which would all be far less expensive than creating entire parallel educational systems. Almost makes you wonder if improving education is not their actual goal…

  13. on 15 Jan 2013 at 2:01 pmDan Meyer

    Sandy:

    One point that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere, however, is the need for schools like Rocketship in school districts that cannot attract or retain the brightest and the best teachers. High quality teachers don’t want to be messiahs, they want to be teachers, to be respected, to earn a decent living, to have a life outside of the daily job. To teach in school districts where Rocketship is placing its charter schools, well, they aren’t places where the highly qualified want to live and work. So how else can we BEST give all children equity to a good quality education?

    Something that’s gotta be said here is these teachers are not working sustainable careers in education. Rocketship has them working extra hours, a policy that’s enabled because they’re largely staffed by young TFA grads who leave the field long before they’ve maxed out their professional development.

    Underserved areas need good teachers, true, but I don’t know that Rocketship has found that solution.

  14. [...] to Justin Reich and Dan Meyer for pointing me to IPI as a past reform that lives in the [...]

  15. on 27 Jan 2013 at 9:51 amblaw0013

    Wow, I am struck that the conversation doesn’t seem to make mention of what is learned, what children learn mathematics to be, and what children learn of themselves as learners & mathematicians.
    This is not to condemn the ideas shared, the experiences of students (esp. @Mary)and teachers, it just seems to me that this continues to be the avoided conversation. What is math? What does it mean to know math? do math? What goals do we have for students w.r.t. learning math? What educational goals, more broadly, do we have for children?
    I contend that answer that last question first, and then maybe tracking backwards through my questions, MUST define the space in which we design curriculum and pedagogy for what we have named “mathematics education.”

  16. on 27 Jan 2013 at 4:13 pmSusan

    Like Mary, I’m also an IPI “graduate” who did quite well in math. I loved doing the work, loved the tests, and clearly learned early math from the curriculum – I ended up a math major/math teacher. I can’t imagine my mid/low-level juniors actively pursuing any math (or other academic topic) on their own. They’re just not curious about anything except who said what to whom on Twitter. Individualization is a nice idea for the motivated (I guess that’s why IPI worked for me) but at some point, some students need to be pushed toward something.

  17. on 04 Feb 2013 at 3:05 amJim Craven

    Another “blast from the past” on Differentiated Instruction:

    Adjusting the Program to the Child – Carleton W. Washburne

    http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el_195312_washburne.pdf

    This is from 1953.

  18. [...] when Khan Academy says the student knows that thing? (Pattern matching, after all, was one of Benny's techniques for gaming Individually Prescribed Instruction, Khan Academy's [...]