Sunday, August 24, 2014

How Many Education Consultants and Charlatans Does This Guy Want To Put Out Of Work?

What is the key to better education for kids?  This guy has what seems to be a fairly obvious answer:
Hattie says there’s far too much focus on things that will do little to improve student success — such as reducing class size, focusing on transformational ideas and leadership, advocating for discovery or inquiry-based learning, and labelling kids with learning disabilities and learning styles — and not nearly enough time and money spent on the one thing that matters: raising the level of teacher expertise.
The more I learn about other teachers, the more I come to believe that.
Perhaps his least popular finding is that reducing class sizes enhances student achievement, but not by much. “It does have an effect,” Hattie says. “The problem is it’s very small"...

Educational research also doesn’t support the notion of classifying kids with various disorders or learning styles, Hattie says. “It’s pop psychology rubbish that’s perpetuated in our system ... It’s absolutely almost criminal how we classify kids and label.”

Teachers certainly need to understand each child and to use all kinds of strategies to reach each one, but labelling the kids doesn’t help, Hattie says. “That’s great he’s got that learning style, but let’s give him some other ones, because when that one doesn’t work, what is he going to do?"
To that I can only add a loud and thunderous "hear hear!"
Hattie is also leery about Alberta Education’s recent fixation on discovery or constructivist learning, where the teacher is a facilitator and even elementary-aged students fixate on project and group work, with little or no focus on memorizing math facts and word sounds.

The evidence shows this inquiry-based learning model has limited success, Hattie says. “I would seriously wonder why you would take on something that we know is below average.”
I feel the same about Common Core, both the math standards themselves as well as the almost-explicitly-required pedagogy that goes with them.
Hattie isn’t a big fan of a massive curriculum rewrite either. “All those people who want to spend hours and money on curriculum change, it’s not going to make a difference.”
Curriculum itself usually isn't the biggest problem when it comes to adverse educational outcomes.
Excellence abounds here, he says. “One of my messages, particularly to the politicians, is: ‘Don’t look outside, don’t look to Finland, don’t look around the world. It’s here in Alberta right now.’ ”

The real job, Hattie says, is having school principals get into the classrooms, figure out which teachers are having success and which are not, then working with the ones who need it.
Again, hear hear!

This article definitely speaks truth to me.


allen (in Michigan) said...

Unfortunately, a focus on teaching skill absent other reforms, is bound to fail since that focus is a secondary outcome of some other change.

In the article the author references two nations, Turkey and Poland, that have supposedly seen significant improvements in outcomes due to a concentration on teaching skill as opposed to, say, class size reduction. Let's assume he's right although the author provides no support for his view.

That emphasis on teaching skill came about because, somewhere up the educational hierarchy, someone of sufficient influence deemed that emphasis the proper course of action. When that influential person moves on to other endeavors they'll be replaced by someone else. Will they hold the same view with regard to teaching skill? Possibly, but just as possibly not.

The same phenomenon can be seen here in the U.S. albeit on a necessarily more local basis due to the distributed nature of our education system. One school, or even a whole district, can put great emphasis on teaching skill with the surrounding districts completely insulated from any uncomfortable comparisons. But when the principal, superintendent or school board changes will the policies that resulted in excellent schools be maintained? Maybe, but maybe not. New boss, new outcomes.

The only way to ensure a consistent pressure in the direction of good schools and good teachers is for parents to choose the schools their child attends and that means the end of school districts. Pleasantly enough that appears to be the direction we're headed in here in the U.S.

maxutils said...

A lot of good in there. allen, my one complaint with your analysis is that, unless the teacher is completely incompetent (which is easy to red flag) 'teaching skill' is largely subjective. For example ... our blogmaster tends to use primarily direct instruction, and practice with help in class ... I tend to go kind of end around and vague, taking much longer and doing it Socratically. We had another math teacher who was very much avoided, but he knew his stuff better than anyone else in the department (or close to it) and there were kids who swore by him, and his willingness to spend an hour after school with them if they needed it. This may be why the site '' is so popular... I had brilliant mathematicians in HS who I learned nothing from, and less proficient ones who absolutely made sense ... No one is perfect for everyone.

We did something very interesting at my high school, almost like a voucher. Students knew the classes they needed to take, and who taught each ...each teacher would sit at a table in the gym, with a student roster, and students got to pick their teachers -- but it was done by priority (seniors always went first, freshman last). so, if you knew that their was an English teacher you HAD to have, you went their first. Likewise, if there was a math teacher you wanted to avoid, you might do that first. When classes were full were stuck with what was. Almost all our teachers were at least decent, so there weren't any problems. But not having sign-ups? Maybe the best evaluation you could get.

Aus Autarch said...

Hattie has been the be-all and end-all in Australian Education for the last 5 years. You may want to be a little careful about too much adulation before you read his work; his research has some more-than-a-little questionable applications of statistics. As a starting point, I suggest you investigate the concept of "effect sizes:.

Darren said...

I appreciate the alternate view.

Still, nothing that I quoted seems crazily out of bounds....