Does direct instruction work? A critical assessment of direct instruction research and its theoretical perspective

Karen Eppley, Curt Dudley-Marling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Direct Instruction (DI), commercially marketed by McGraw-Hill as Reading Mastery and Corrective Reading, is a bundle of highly scripted reading programs emphasizing phonics and phonemic awareness. This assessment considers 40 recently published studies on DI in order to consider the program's aims and efficacy as a means of teaching reading. Our assessement indicates significant shortcomings of DI programs. Specifically, DI's focus on low-level skills not only is generally ineffective but also restricts students' access to more challenging, engaging reading practices commonly experienced by high achievers. To the degree that scripted reading programs like DI are more common in high-poverty schools, DI threatens to exacerbate an achievement gap that limits the academic and vocational opportunities for students already burdened by poverty and discrimination. Results suggest that the strongest research support for DI might be its temporary efficacy at improving student performance on word-level skills. However, even when DI was deemed effective at producing these behaviors, the data indicate that it did not always work very well and, overall, most of the studies reviewed present a wide range of methodological problems that severely limit the veracity of claims that can be made about the efficacy of DI. The analysis suggests that consumers of DI research should consider closely (1) the design of the studies and (2) the near-exclusive focus on letter-sound relationships as the singular determining factor of reading proficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-54
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Curriculum and Pedagogy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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