History & Philosophy

William F. Johntz, the founder of Project SEED, had a vision. With a background in both mathematics and psychology, Johntz wanted all students to be successful, particularly those who might be struggling against poverty, racism or other challenges. He realized that low achieving students at Berkeley High School were burdened with a history of academic failure experiences. Traditional remediation often reinforced feelings of academic inferiority and led to further poor performance. In order to reverse this destructive cycle, Johntz experimented with providing students with new material rather than focusing on topics they had already failed to master. He began teaching them advanced mathematics using the Socratic method, reasoning that success in a high status subject such as mathematics would build the students' confidence and overcome their feelings of failure, freeing them to master the basics program. The new approach was, in fact, much more successful than the traditional one.

Hoping to impact younger students with a shorter history of failure, Johntz used his group discovery approach to teach advanced algebra and conceptually oriented college level mathematics to students in a nearby elementary school during his lunch hour and free period. The result of his experiment was astonishing! Even though these elementary students had previously tested at or below the national average, they quickly grasped the concepts Johntz taught. By the end of the term, the elementary level students had mastered advanced algebra concepts and had improved in their basic skills.

The Project SEED program spread as Johntz and the colleagues he had gathered from the university and research communities, began to teach more and more students carrying the idea to other districts. Project SEED became a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation in 1970 and signed statewide contracts in Michigan and California. Since then, federal and local funding has led to SEED programs across the nation - from Alaska to Atlanta.

Over the years, Project SEED has also expanded the professional development component of its program and applied the same teaching methods successfully to workshops for parents and community members. Corporate and university training have been added to the program as well.

Project SEED now reaches hundreds of teachers and thousands of students every year. Today, Project SEED is supported by school districts, corporations, foundations, and individuals that see the need to reach students early to increase their chance of success as adults. The vision of one man, Bill Johntz, is now shared with communities across the country.


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