NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 26, 2005

Students at Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) ranked far below the state average on standardized tests. To close the gap, MPS implemented a phonics-based, teacher-directed, explicit approach to teaching called Direct Instruction (DI) in 35 elementary schools.

DI has been ignored by many schools and districts, except for some use in special education. In recent years, however, DI has been used by over 35 elementary schools (and two high schools) in MPS.

  • On average, those with long-term DI exposure (five years) do better than all other low-income MPS students.
  • Low-income DI students increased their math scores by 6.6 percent and reading scores by 4.2 percent, whereas non-low-income students without DI only increased their scores by 4.7 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively.
  • In the schools that completely implemented DI and had continuous professional development workshops, students did even better.

The data confirms that DI helps raise student achievement levels, so several steps should be taken to ensure use of DI, says Sammis White of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. He recommends:

  • Stipends for teachers to attend summer DI trainings and the expansion of developmental workshops.
  • Additional resources budgeted for MPS school literacy coaches and the expansion of MPS DI support staff persons.
  • Creating a local college or university Center for Direct Instruction, so that more teachers would be exposed to DI during their formative years, or after.
  • Developing seminars for principles on the merits of DI and how to best implement the approach.

Source: Sammis White, "Education That Works In The Milwaukee Public Schools: The Benefits from Phonics and Direct Instruction," Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Inc., July 2005.

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