We should listen to … Zig Engelmann | Brussels Blog

We should listen to … Zig Engelmann

posted by on 2nd Mar 2015

People we should listen to. No. 2

Zig Engelmann, preschool teacher

Only 1% should be illiterate?

A few months ago I was a messenger between an ex head teacher and an educational academic. The topics was Direct Instruction, a method of teaching young children to read. The teacher claimed it worked; the academic said several methods work if good, enthusiastic people were using them.

The teacher claimed that only about 1% of children should remain illiterate, a much lower rate than schools achieve today. One problem was that it was not liked by many teachers because the teachers liked to have the freedom to express themselves and innovate. The practitioner said he’d done it but the academic didn’t believe it was repeatable.

However, if the practitioner’s 1% were to be anything like correct, why does the National Literacy Trust say

Around 16 per cent, or 5.2 million adults in England, can be described as “functionally illiterate”.

Evidence or “Gimme Some Truth”?

(Break here for John Lennon)

To look around to resolve this literacy contradiction I found Somerville and Leach writing

The Direct Instruction programme resulted in gains in reading performance significantly greater than the other two programmes and the control group…
Post‐intervention questionnaires completed by the subjects, their parents and their classroom teachers indicated that perceived success differed significantly from measured success and that parents and children were predisposed towards the success of any programme to which they had committed themselves. An explanation was offered for the continued acceptance and use of intervention approaches which have failed to find significant support in the literature.

Evidence alone isn’t good enough.

Zig Engelmann. A man with the wrong credentials

I found a compelling story about the origin and progress of Direct Instruction by Bonnie Grossen. To me it’s a story of someone that discovered something important but as Bob Johnson commented in the previous piece

‘proof’ counts for zilch when ideologies are questioned

Here I recommend the conscientious reader to read Bonnie Grossen’s account, The Story Behind Project Follow Through. For those as lazy as me here are a few excerpts..

The preschool teacher, Zig Engelmann, had begun developing his model in 1963 as he taught his non-identical twinboys at home, while he was still working for an advertising agency. From the time the boys had learned to count at age 3 until a year later, Zig had taught them multi-digit multiplication, addition of fractions with like and unlike denominators, and basic algebraic concepts using only 20 minutes a day.

Many parents may have dismissed such an accomplishment as the result of having brilliant children. Zig thought differently; he thought he might be able to accomplish the same results with any child, especially children of poverty…
The preschool project needed a director with faculty rank, a ranking that Zig did not have, in order to continue to receive funding on a grant from the Carnegie Foundation. Wes Becker, a professor of psychology saved the preschool by joining it as a co-director.

The model developed by the Illinois preschool teacher who didn’t even have a teaching credential, much less a Ph.D. in education, was not expected by many educrats to amount to much, especially since it seemed largely to contradict most of the current thinking. All sponsors were eagerly looking forward to the results…

The preliminary annual reports of the results were a horrifying surprise to most sponsors. By 1974, when San Diego School District dropped the self-sponsored models they had been using with little success since 1968, the U.S. Department of Ed allowed San Diego only two choices;Direct Instruction or the Kansas Behavioral Analysis model. It was evident by this time that the only two models that were demonstrating any positive results were these two. The results of the evaluation were already moving into policy. This was not well-received by the many sponsors of models that were not successful.

Before the final report was even released, the Ford foundation arranged with Ernest House to do a third evaluation;a critique of the FT evaluation; to discredit the embarrassing results. The critique was published in the Harvard Educational Review and widely disseminated.

Bonnie Grossen concludes like this

I, personally, would not advocate mandating Direct Instruction, even though it was the clear winner. I don’t think that mandates work very well. But every educator in the country should know that in the history of education, no educational model has ever been documented to achieve such positive results with such consistency across so many variable sites as Direct Instruction. It never happened before FT, and it hasn’t happened since. What Wes, Zig, and their associates accomplished in Project FT should be recognized as one of the most important educational accomplishments in history. Not enough people know this.

John Lennon may sing “Gimme some truth” but then there’s The Closed Minds Problem.

Zig Englemann worked in the USA but the ex-head repeated the work and taught others to do Direct Instruction. Is it possible to reduce illiteracy to 1% of children? We won’t know until we try (or try again).

Having discovered Bonnie Grossen’s account of Zig Englemann’s work, I side with the practitioner rather than the academic.

We should listen to … Bob Johnson

posted by on 24th Feb 2015

People we should listen to. No. 1

Bob Johnson, psychiatrist

In a pub last week I had a short conversation with a former prison governor. He had been a governor of some high profile prisons. Obviously a caring person but not naive, he said long prison sentences were too long and short prison sentences were too short. If I caught his meaning correctly in this short conversation, long sentences make prisoners institutionalised, unable to cope with release and short sentences didn’t give the prison system time enough to do any good. Do judges talk to the prison service enough?

I asked the governor, if he knew the psychiatrist that quietened Parkhurst Prison for several years by getting the respect of prisoners and understanding the origins of their behaviour and enabling them to change. He immediately knew of Bob Johnson and acknowledged his work but he also said that no one else could repeat his success. The governor’s judgement – which I am reluctant to accept – has prompted me to start this series and make Bob Johnson the first.

I have attended some of Bob’s conferences and he is charismatic. My simplistic view of psychiatric interventions is that one discriptive dimension of methods ranges from “digging the bullet out” to “papering over the cracks”. Bob “digs bullets out”. But that’s enough of my amateur observations, go an find out more about Bob Johnson:

Video: Curing mental pain

Website: Truth Trust Consent

Book: Emotional Health: What Emotions Are and How They Cause Social and Mental Diseases

Book: Unsafe at Any Dose: Exposing Psychiatric Dogmas, So Minds Can Heal, Psychiatric Drugs Do More Harm Than Good

continue reading…

The BBC says it has no editorial guidelines on climate change

posted by on 28th Jan 2015

Below I list more complaints I have made to the BBC about their coverage of climate change. There is particular reference to their choice of “experts” that they use for interviews and quote in articles.

The core complaint is

The BBC regularly reports scientists who express less urgent views and are more “government friendly” (e.g. Julia Slingo, Myles Allen, Brian Hoskins) but rarely those who express more urgency and express views less friendly to the government (e.g. Kevin Anderson, Robert Watson, Michael Mann)…

The BBC takes pays attention to “dissenting voices” if they down play climate change but ignores those who say it is much worse. This is bias.

One reply makes an interesting point

We don’t actually have editorial guidelines on the subject but we treat it the same way we treat any controversial subject – in a fair and balanced way.

That’s very interesting.

Complaints to the BBC and replies

continue reading…

The BBC favours business over Greens.

posted by on 19th Jan 2015

Below I list some recent complaints I made to the BBC on the coverage of business and climate change.

The complaints and replies below aren’t easy reading and I have not enough energy to follow through with a considered complaint to the BBC Trust as the last reply suggests.

A quick glance at the membership of the BBC Trust suggests a leaning towards a business that would make them unprepared to accept necessary lessons on climate change. For example, Rona Fairhead was previously head of the Financial Times Group and was appointed a British business ambassador by the prime minister.

The BBC dropped the the Green Party from the election debates. We need a debate between the BBC and a prominent green.

What about George Mombiot on the green side and Rona Fairhead for the BBC?

Would be a good debate. Much more gripping than the stuff below.


Complaints and replies

continue reading…

Joined up economic and climate research needed

posted by on 5th Jan 2015


I have been surprised over decades, on the lack of power of important economic models to investigate the policies that interested me. My proposal for modifying VAT to create employment (in 1978) could not be tested on the Treasury Model because its labour market segmentation was not rich enough.  I understand it is still the case that the Treasury Economic Model cannot investigate this and similar proposals which can actually be specified quite simply.

In the 1990s, a grant from the European Commission enabled Professor Kim Swales and colleagues to create a more sophisticated model than the one that I had constructed. The results showed the VAT with Rebate proposal was very promising. A proposal with some similarities, which has increasing support in the USA, is the one for a Carbon Fee and Dividend aimed at cutting carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

We propose an initial fee of $15/ton on the CO2 content of fossil fuels, escalating $10/t/y, imposed upstream at their point of extraction and collected upon entry into the economy. All revenues, less administrative costs, are rebated to U.S. households in the form of monthly dividends.

On behalf of the Citizens Climate Lobby, this proposal has been modeled by Regional Economic Model, Inc (REMI). This has produced encouraging results.

The full dividend drives new wealth into hiring, particularly among lower income groups. The rate of change in fossil fuel-dependent areas will be gradual, unfolding at the pace of “normal” economic evolution but in the direction of reduced fossil fuel dependence.

The Scottish Government funded economic research from the University of Strathclyde, The economic and environmental impact of the introduction of a carbon tax in Scotland. This concluded

when revenues from the tax are recycled to reduce taxes on employment there is a reduction in emissions accompanied by an increase in Scottish GDP and employment. Extensive sensitivity analysis allows us systematically to compare our results with others reported in the literature.

The effect to increase Scottish GDP and employment is similar to that reposted for the USA in the REMI modeling.

continue reading…

We need a green recession and full employment

posted by on 27th Dec 2014


This preface is an afterthought. After a week or so of struggling to bring out the argument below, I have realised a few days later a simpler way of expressing where the argument leads: to save the world from climate catastrophe a reduction we need a recession because we have to cut most of that consumption which pollutes.  Green growth is greenwashing. We need a green recession.  Below I suggest one mechanism of creating a green recession with full employment. I have changed the title from “Poverty, equality, climate and growth” to “We need a green recession and full employment”.

 Post-crash economics

In university economics  departments there are  courses in “free market theory” but to my surprise  a Google search for a “free market theory courses” at UK universities gave results that were mostly critical.  The 2008 crash seems to have had an impact. For example Economics students aim to tear up free-market syllabus

Economics undergraduates at the University of Manchester have formed the Post-Crash Economics Society, which they hope will be copied by universities across the country. The organisers criticise university courses for doing little to explain why economists failed to warn about the global financial crisis and for having too heavy a focus on training students for City jobs. Joe Earle, a spokesman for the Post-Crash Economics Society and a final-year undergraduate, said academic departments were “ignoring the crisis” and that, by neglecting global developments and critics of the free market such as Keynes and Marx, the study of economics was “in danger of losing its broader relevance”.

Personally, I hope the students don’t take Keynes or Marx too seriously. Economists with a Keynesian bent will lean to expanding the economy at a time when we must cut consumption to avoid a climate disaster. Current consumption might lead to the end of most life on Earth. Marxists believe in the labour theory of value. This links labour value to the right to consume. This has been expressed as “He who does not work, neither shall he eat“.  As far as I remember, Marxists have clever but awkward ways of rigging their theories to make labour the basic measure of value but this needs hard counter-intuitive argument. It also undermines the  non-labour sources of value, such as the air we breathe. Anyway, I shall not  discuss further Marxism here: We are stuck in a capitalist market system of sorts and we should look for ways to change it to make the world a better place, with less poverty and avoid the impending climate disaster. An obvious starting point to discuss the current capitalist “free market” system is the ideas of Milton Friedman and his followers. He has outlined an approach to three key issues: Poverty, equality and climate change.

Poverty and Equality

In  Poverty and Equality, a video from LibertyPen Milton Friedman says

continue reading…

A macroprudental proposal for employment

posted by on 18th Dec 2014


This post is republishing items from MoreJobs.org.uk.

I have been pushing the main proposal, which is to “subsidise” low-paid jobs as a flat rate rebate on Value Added Tax. The proposal is revenue neutral and increases employment at the lower-paid end of the labour market because a flat rate tax rebate has a greater proportional effect for low paid jobs. A point often missed is that this actually raises the take-home pay of the low-paid by increasing demand for their labour.

The high point (so far) of this proposal was a grant from the European Commission so that  Professor J.K.Swales of the University of Strathclyde could model the effects and sharpen up th economics. See below.

It is unfortunate that I included the term “subsidise”, when the “subsidy” in the scheme is a tax rebate paid to employers. It is a reduction in their tax bill and therefore not government expenditure. This point has been accepted by the UK Treasury.

In contexts such as this there is little difference in the economics between a subsidy and a tax rebate: a subsidy cheque from the Government has much the same impact as a equal cut in a tax bill.  The political perception should be the same – but, of course, it isn’t.

I’m hoping that the recently introduced idea of a “macroprudential regulation” can push forward this or similar proposals. The main goal of macroprudential regulation is to reduce the risk and the macroeconomic costs of financial instability.

Unemployment is a “macroeconomic cost” of financial instability and is part of the recent “stress tests” on UK Banks carried out by the Bank of England. The proposal made here is a macroprudential regulation because it has the capability of controlling the level of unemployment.  This will be important in periods of financial instability.

22nd September, 2009

More jobs – the easy way

continue reading…

The BBC implies that only economic growth can create jobs.

posted by on 8th Dec 2014

This is a boring piece on my complaints to the BBC –
I wouldn’t read it – but it’s now public and the topic important.

The BBC supports “economic growth” and implies growth is the only way of
creating jobs: No mention of the damage “growth” does to the climate
or other ways of creating jobs.

The BBC asks for a example of where it never says this (???) –
Logicians and lawyers may read on.

The BBC imply: Only economic growth can create jobs.

…Sunday 5th October… CAS-2951985-CXGM61 …Complaint

All major political parties and business are pushing for economic growth. This is reported widely on the BBC and in other media.

The BBC has extensive coverage of business and presents economic growth as essential for the creation of jobs. The BBC also promotes economic growth as “good thing”. Every hour of every day there is business news: Climate news is much rarer and of mixed quality (I will make a separate complaint on this.) There is hardly any mention of the fact that economic growth brings more environmental hazards, such as greenhouse gas emissions, except occasionally that “green growth” is a possibility.

By leaving the underlying assumption that jobs depend only on growth, the BBC is promoting a falsehood. The green agenda is being buried by growth propaganda. “Public purposes: Sustaining citizenship and civil society” says “You can trust the BBC to provide high-quality news, current affairs and factual programming that keeps you informed and supports debate about important issues and political developments in an engaging way.”

In leaving the public ill-informed the BBC is failing its guidelines. For background see:

Job creation doesn’t need economic growth

Greenwash from Stern?

Public purposes: Sustaining citizenship and civil society”

… Monday 6th October… CAS-2954926-6XZMFL… Reply

continue reading…

The Arup Report: York exiles the poor?

posted by on 30th Nov 2014

This is an email to York councillors on a report on housing by Ove Arup.

Arup’s report does not sufficiently address two key issues:

(i) the effect of planning permission on house prices and

(ii) the resrictions that prevent low-cost housing.

Dear Councillor

The Arup Report: Will York exile the poor?

The report is Housing Requirements in York, Assessment of the Evidence on Housing Requirements in York by Ove Arup & Partners Ltd.

The report raises concerns but provides insufficient solutions. I have copied and annotated a section of the report and suggested potential paths to solutions. The telling part of the report is in section 6.3 Broader relationships and impacts. I have added numbered headlines (in bold). The text from the Arup report are in green.

6.3 Broader relationships and impacts

1. First time buyers cannot even afford lower priced houses

Although headline prices have remained in line with national trends in York, lower quartile priced housing has become less affordable suggesting that established home owners are probably compromising their choices at the lower end of the market, probably in homes that were previously available to first time buyers.

2. Older, more affluent people will displace traditional population.

The consequences of such changes are complex, but are likely to include the development of an increasing proportion of older, more affluent (and socially conservative) population over time. There will also be displacement of traditional population, perhaps to locations such as Selby or Leeds as gentrification becomes more widespread.

continue reading…

Guardian readers rob the poor

posted by on 23rd Nov 2014

Last Wednesday’s debate at York University (@YorkUnion #BenefitsYork) has prompted me to post something from an old website section I posted a decade ago. Incidentally, I read the Guardian every day as a schoolboy in 1960, when it was the Manchester Guardian. The first edition arrived mid-morning in Rochester, Kent with the legendary typos.

How do Guardian readers rob the poor?

These days I read the Guardian less but it still is one of the information sources I trust the most – even more than the BBC. Here is the introduction from Guardian readers rob the poor.

continue reading…