Sunday, September 20, 2015

The final distraction: "fixing" the teachers

This is the final post based on John Hattie's The Politics of Distraction that was published this summer.  Since it would seem that it is not useful to focus on fixing parents, the schools, the students or the programme, it would seem that the most productive way to increase student achievement would be to focus on the teachers.  In fact Hattie argues that teaching standards to need to be raised - however he cautions several "fixes" that make little impact on teacher effectiveness.

Teacher education - at present this is based on an apprenticeship model, with some instruction taking place in universities and some practice taking place as a trainee teacher is placed in a school.  Studies show that teacher education programmes have the lowest impact on student achievement since the greatest learning is not during teacher education programmes but takes place during the first year of full-time classroom teaching.  Most new teachers admit they were not well prepared for their role in the classroom.  Hattie suggests it may be useful to introduce a 2-year "registrar" position (at ASB we do this and call them "novice teachers") where the focus is on helping these teachers to transition into the teaching profession.

Performance pay - I have worked a two schools that tried to introduce this (both I believe failed).  Hattie also writes that it is difficult to find a performance pay model that has made a difference to student learning, instead pointing out that it tends to lead to greater stress and less enthusiasm for teaching.  He suggests introducing increased pay for increased expertise, for example becoming a coach, where the responsibility is to improve the skills of other teachers.  One advantage of this would be that teachers do not have to leave the classroom and enter the world of school administration in order to earn higher salaries.

Technology - Last week's report by the OECD, which was publicised widely in the press, pointed to the fact that technology is no "magic bullet" where student learning is concerned.  Although reading the headlines it would seem that the report was anti-technology, closer reading of the report shows that it is actually saying that technology is an amplifier - it certainly can amplify great teaching, and at the same time it can amplify poor teaching too - basically technology can't replace poor teaching, though "if used appropriately, technology can, and often does, make learning more engaging and it has the power to transform educational environments."  The real problem is that technology is often simply used as a substitute for what was already being done.  We need to change our teaching methods in order for technology to be transformative.

Teaching Assistants - As mentioned in a previous post, reducing class sizes without a change of pedagogy does not lead to improved student learning.  The same is true with simply adding more adults into the classroom.  Most of the time teacher aides are not trained educators, yet Hattie points out they are often employed to work with the most needy students - which can actually lead to these students, who are most in need to teacher expertise, to make even less progress.  This is because aides are more likely to prompt students, to provide them with answers, and to be more concerned with task completion.

Hattie argues that we do need to improve teacher standards, but writes:
Teachers cannot do it on their own: they need support, they need to collaborate with others in and across schools, they need to develop expertise, and they need excellent school leaders.  Further, supportive and great systems are needed to support and nurture great leaders.
There are things that can make a huge difference to  student achievement, and I'll be writing about these in an upcoming post.

Photo Credit: Twin Work & Volunteer via Compfight cc

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Human Economy

I saw this video today on Facebook and decided to share it further by posting it on my blog.  This 10 minute film explores the human skills needed to thrive in today's world.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why it doesn't work to "fix" the schools

This is the fourth in my series of posts based on this summer's publication of John Hattie's The Politics of Distraction.  The focus of this post is why inventing new forms of schooling isn't likely to lead to an improvement in student achievement.  In the UK in recent years there has been a growth of schools being able to opt out of local authority control and become "academies".    Originally these were poorly-performing secondary schools, but later non-profit charitable trusts formed academy chains that took over state schools (and I believe there is still some debate as to whether these school can actually run at a profit). Currently there are over 4,500 academies in the UK, compared to only 200 in May 2010.  At one time the Government argued that academies raised standards and had positive impacts on other schools in their local area, however now there are concerns that the rapid expansion of academies have led to financial problems and a lowering of standards.

In Hattie's Politics of Distraction he argues that variance in student achievement between schools is small when compared to the variance within schools, so simply coming up with different forms of schools is not a good solution.  Generally his research has found that there may be a slight increase in achievement in such schools in the short-term, but no difference in the long-term.

I used to work at a school in the UK that was surrounded by large playing fields.  Apparently some years ago the school was allowed to sell off these playing fields and also to bring in a private company to run their gym.  The school then had to rent the gym for PE lessons, and the company could keep it open and charge the local community for using it in the evenings and at weekends. Having businesses come up with ideas to "fix" schools is another misguided policy, according to Hattie, particularly when it comes to placing leaders from the business community into schools. Schools do not need business leaders, but instead need "high-impact instructional leaders, ones who make several formal classroom observations each year, interpret test scores with teachers, insist teachers collaborate in planning and evaluating the teaching programme across grades, insist teachers expect high proportions of their students to do well on achievement and social outcomes and insist and know that the staffroom and classroom atmosphere is conducive to learning for all students."

Yet another argument for "fixing" schools involves giving them more autonomy.  Hattie's evidence shows that achievement is higher in countries where schools have autonomy over staffing decisions and hiring teachers, for example, but lower when schools have autonomy over their own budgets. Generally autonomy has a very small impact on achievement, and can be particularly problematic in increasing inequalities between schools (good schools may get better, but not so good ones generally get worse).

More money is rarely the answer to improving student achievement.  Hattie shows that in Western countries there is little relation between more money and improved achievement because 80% of funding is taken up in salaries, buildings, bussing and maintenance.  A small positive impact can be seen when more money is directed into instructional areas such as more resources for teachers, and a larger positive impact when money is directed into improving teacher expertise.  This does vary according to the GDP of a country, however.  In low-income countries, greater expenditure does tend to lead to greater student improvement.  In countries with middle to high GDP there is no relationship between expenditure and student performance (probably because in these countries mostly the money is invested in smaller class sizes - which has already been seen to be another distractor and one that does not improve student achievement - rather than in better quality teachers).

Another "fix" that has been tried in schools is to lengthen the school day or school year.  In the Politics of Education Hattie correlates PISA scores with the total number of hours in school and actually finds a negative relationship!  Students in Japan, Korea and Finland spend less time in school, but achieve much more than students in the UK or USA.  Adding more hours in school clearly makes little difference to student learning.

If you wish to read more download The Politics of Distraction at this link.

Photo Credit: Jan Tik via Compfight cc