Kelvin Davis on Education

June 26th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Former Labour MP and principal blogs at Maui Street:

When the government says that national standards, , , , quality vs quantity of teachers will all raise achievement, they might be right.

That’s because there are very few strategies that teachers (or governments) can implement that actually make students dumber. Teachers can rightly put their hands on their hearts and swear that what they do in class lifts achievement. Just about everything has some positive effect, but some have a large positive effect while others barely register. It would make sense to develop policy based on those strategies that have the greatest positive effect.

The much quoted Professor John Hattie’s research lists, from most effective to least ffective, 138 different ‘things’ that may be implemented in , and all but five have a positive effect on learning. The five strategies with a negative effect are: Summer vacation (-0.09), Welfare Policies (-0.12) Retention (Holding kids back a year, -0.16), Television (-0.18) and Mobility (-0.34). So unless we prescribe longer Christmas holidays, keep kids back a year or two, or force students to watch an extra 8 hours of TV a day, almost everything else will have SOME positive effect on learning.

That’s quite interesting. I wasn’t aware of that.

Any ‘strategy’ with an effect size of 0.40 or less is practically pointless. Which makes sense. 

In Hattie’s list the strategy with an effect size of 0.40 (Reducing Anxiety) is exactly halfway through the list of possible strategies. Hattie is saying if any particular strategy is to be used it should at least be in the top 50% of strategies.

Also interesting, and I agree you want to focus on those most effective. In fact that was what the Budget announcement was meant to be about.

Charter Schools have an effect size of 0.20, or the 107th out of the 133 strategies that have some positive effect. Charter Schools are therefore an extremely pointless and expensive strategy. 

That’s a fair point the charter schools are not deemed significantly effective. But charter schools are being trialled only. They are not the major focus for the Government. They are something agreed to with ACT, and their future will depend on the outcomes. Davis certainly makes a valid point that charter schools should not be the major focus in education. I agree. But that is not to say I don’t think they should be trialled.

What does the research say about League Tables and Performance Pay? 

Nothing. They don’t rate or feature in any way in Hattie’s research. 

What then is the basis for League Tables and Performance Pay if there is no research evidence to show these two ‘things’ will make a difference? How does the government know these two ‘strategies’ won’t have to be included alongside the five already proven to make students dumber?

Here though Davis is not comparing apples and oranges. As far as I know no one in Government is saying league tables are being done to lift achievement. The reality is that assessment data of schools is public information, and league tables will be done by the media regardless of what the Government does. The issue for the Government is simply given the reality of the media and others doing their own league tables, is there merit in the Government setting up some sort of database or tables of its own which will give more meaningful tables and comparisons than what the media may compile. The Government could do nothing at all, but you will still have league tables – media ones. Unless Davis still subscribes to Labour’s line that school data should be classified as top secret and not made available to the public.

As for performance pay, I presume that is not assessed by Hattie as it is an input. Hattie has found improving teacher quality is the most important factor. Performance pay might help improve teacher quality. As far as I know the Government has not said it is going to implement performance pay. It has said it is one option it is looking at.

I’d be interested in hearing Kelvin’s view on whether he agrees with Hattie that teacher quality or their ability to connect with students is the most important factor, and what measures would he advocate to support and retain the best teachers, improve the performance of the average teachers and get rid of the bad teachers. As a former principal he would have first hand experience, and now he is no longer an MP he doesn’t have to follow the party line.

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9 Responses to “Kelvin Davis on Education”

  1. YesWeDid (1,029 comments) says:

    ‘As far as I know no one in Government is saying league tables are being done to lift achievement.’

    “We want meaningful and useful data and information, and we want that to be available in ways that helps schools to get better, helps students to get better, and helps parents to understand [what's occurring],” Ms Parata said. (3 News website)

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  2. rouppe (916 comments) says:

    Of course what Kelvin Davis neglects to mention are the things that are most effective. I am presuming that this is the paper he is referring to. It was written over 12 years ago, in 1999.

    The most influential things include feedback (1.13) and instructional quality (1.00). Now I am sure that on feedback, the teacher unions will say that class sizes influence the abilityt o give effective feedback. Regarding class size, he says (on page 9):

    Reducing class sizes from the 30’s to the 20’s is in the right direction, but there is little support for
    the claim that there are increases in student achievement or satisfaction, or teacher attitude or
    morale. Only when the class size reduces to 15 or below are there appreciable positive benefits.

    Fifteen or below. How much would that cost?

    I especially like that instructional quality is so high. I wonder why the unions are so against this measure, when it is so influential…?

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  3. Danyl Mclauchlan (1,065 comments) says:

    Hattie has found improving teacher quality is the most important factor.

    No he hasn’t. Hattie found that ‘self reported grades’ were the most important factor. ‘Professional development’, ie improving teacher quality was 19th on his list.

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  4. mikenmild (10,686 comments) says:

    Nice try by DPF. Judging by the lack of response though, enthusiasm for the government’s education initiatives may be starting to flag a little.

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  5. RossM (36 comments) says:

    >almost everything else will have SOME positive effect on learning.

    Then why don’t teachers do it? Around one quarter to one third of our kids are failing.

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  6. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    I’d be interested in hearing Kelvin’s view on whether he agrees with Hattie that teacher quality or their ability to connect with students is the most important factor,

    But that’s not what Hattie’s research showed. His research began and ended in the classroom and specifically excluded external factors including the socio-economic circumstances of the children and the educational achievements of the parents, both of which are well known to be the most important determinants of success.

    Is teacher quality more important than class size? Yes-to a point. But as in the private schools Key’s kids attend, why can’t we all have smaller class sizes and continuous improvement for teachers? By the way, that’s called Professional Development, which has been emasculated to the point of elimination by your government, DPF.

    And DPF, where you said,

    I wasn’t aware of that.

    I understand that because, unlike me, you didn’t bother to read the original source, Hattie’s book.

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  7. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    RossM 7:07pm

    A bold assertion with no evidential basis.

    That’s called propaganda.

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  8. Mark (1,360 comments) says:

    RossM your assertion is not supported by the evidence but it sounds good if you say it often enough

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  9. Paulus (2,500 comments) says:

    David Lange in “Tomorrow’s Schools” promised classes of 20 pupils.
    Quo Vadis ?

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