10 ways to recognise a good school

September 24th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports Professor John Hattie’s 10 indicators for parents:

1. In the playground, do the students look each other in the eye? Or do they avoid each other, or sit in cliques.

2. Diversity breeds fresh thinking. Can they show you genuine evidence it is encouraged?

3. How do they measure success? By the achievements of the few or of the many?

4. Ask to meet the best teacher. If they tell you they’re all good, they’re not thinking clearly.

5. Who do students turn to? Every student should have someone who knows how they are doing and will spend time with them.

6. Do new students make friends in the first month? It is a critical indicator for success: how does the school make sure it happens with all students?

7. Do they like mistakes? Learning starts from not knowing, so do they embrace that? Do students feel confident enough to talk about errors or not knowing something?

8. Are students “assessment capable” in this school. Can they talk about how well they are doing, where they are now and going next?

9. Do they use acceleration for all? Are students enabled to learn at different speeds?

10. What feedback do students get? Ask – “what did you get told about your work today”?

I especially like the suggestion to look at the playground and asking to meet the best teacher.

Hattie on Education Reforms

June 10th, 2012 at 2:49 pm by David Farrar

An excellent interview with Professor John Hattie on Q+A. You can watch it here. And no, he did not “lash out”, as the NBR headline states. It was a calm insightful interview. Some extracts:

PROF JOHN HATTIE – University of Melbourne

Well, we’ve certainly done many, many studies looking at the effects when we reduce class sizes, certainly by the one or two that were suggested in New Zealand, and it’s very, very hard to find that they make that much of a difference. The major question is why is it that a seemingly obvious thing that should make a difference doesn’t make a difference, and that’s what’s beguiled a lot of people over the last many decades. I think we have some good answers for that, but the bottom line is it hardly makes a difference.

 SHANE                      Why is that?

PROF HATTIE           Well, I think the major argument seems to be when you have teachers in class sizes, like, of 26, 27, 30 and you put them in the class sizes of, say, 18 to 23, and they don’t change what they do, that seems to be the reason why it doesn’t make a difference. So could it make a difference? Yeah, it probably could if we changed how we went about our teaching. But that doesn’t seem to happen. When the many, many thousands, tens of thousands of teachers have gone from one size to another, they don’t change how they teach. So, no, that’s why it doesn’t make much of a difference.

So reducing class size may be beneficial if the teachers then teach differently.

SHANE                      So they did a terrible selling job?

 PROF HATTIE           Well, I think the selling mistake was concentrating on the class size. I know when the minister announced it, she talked mainly about staff-student ratios. But I certainly didn’t hear a very clear mandate of what the $150m, $200m over the next few years was going to be used for. Saying it’s going to be used for teacher quality is a little bit too ephemeral for me. I would have liked something more specific. But if they’d said it’s this rather than that, I think that’s the sale job they should have done, rather than whether it’s smaller or larger classes.

This is the exact point I made in my Herald column. The lack of any deatils around what they would do to improve teacher quality.

SHANE                      So are you saying that it was worth changing the ratio to be able to spend, as the government said, $60m to improve teaching quality?

 PROF HATTIE           Oh, absolutely, provided they were much more clear about what that investment in teacher quality is. I think it’s a very reasonable decision. It’s one that should be made. It’s one that principals are asked to make all the time, and I certainly think the government should also have done what they’ve done and kept to it.

But as there was no clarity around what the investment in teacher quality would be, a reversal was inevitable. I don’t think it was just an issue that the Government did not communicate the details – as far as I know, the specifics are not even developed yet.

PROF HATTIE        Well, I think they were wrong because… They kind of had to back down, given the heat on class size. Like, it’s a very easy hot-button issue. Everybody thinks it’s obvious that reducing class size is a better thing. No one seems to understand, and they certainly don’t accept the research evidence, that it doesn’t make much of a difference. It’s just an emotional reaction that of course it should.

I was debating this on Twitter. The funding decisions should be based on peer reviewed research as to what is most effective – not on emotions.

Hattie on Education

October 18th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

But Professor Hattie spelled out some of the problem areas.

Tomorrow’s Schools had many benefits but had created 2700 “islands” of individual schools not co-operating or sharing answers to problems.

He said that while a lot of attention was given to the “tail” of under-achievers, not enough attention was being given to children on the other side of the scale who were not achieving their potential.

This reflects what I have heard. NZ on average does well, but those at the top and the tail are both falling short of where they should be.

He believed the decile system of rating schools should be abolished – though the equity funding that went with it should not.

The decile system did not help anyone except real estate agents selling houses in decile 10 areas.

That’s a fascinating comment. I’d be keen to understand more what he proposes.

He said the Ministry of Education did not listen to teachers because they had no organisation dedicated to professional standards as that surgeons, doctors and other professionals had.

This is an incredibly perceptive comment. The NZEI, NZPF and PPTA are primarily industrial unions. Nothing wrong with that per se, but it means their primary concerns are doing what is best for teachers, not what is best for the education system. So they are never taken seriously.

Compare this to the health system, where in the public health system you have specialist unions to represent doctors on industrial issues, and different bodies such as the NZMA and the specialist Colleges on wider health issues.

Fight bad info with good info

February 8th, 2010 at 3:51 pm by David Farrar

I’ve often said in the debate about league tables that the solution is not to ban the media from obtaining school achievement data under the Official Information Act, or even more ridiculously not having the Government even collate the data itself.

The solution is to provide good and useful information, to counter any league tables done in a simplistic fashion by the media. You fight bad information with good information 0- not by banning all information about primary school achievement.

The Herald reported at the weekend:

The education expert who first advised the Government on school standards is about to start work on plans for a national league table system, which he hopes will satisfy parents and teachers.

Professor John Hattie, who was called to Wellington last month by Prime Minister John Key to explain his concerns about national standards in primary schools, said the Government’s “wait and see” approach to league tables wasn’t good enough.

He did not support league tables, but the introduction of national standards in reading, writing and maths made them inevitable, so it was important to work out a fair solution.

He planned to work with other researchers to produce an independent paper on school league tables this year, suggesting what information parents could reasonably expect.

Professor Hattie, of Auckland University, said results could be shown in context, such as how a school compared with others in its decile. For instance, he helped Metro magazine devise fairer comparisons between NCEA results in its annual survey of Auckland secondary schools.

Superb. This is exactly the right answer. What I would do is plug all the data into a database that will allow people to get decile comparisons and the like.

Last year, the top school on test results alone was the $16,000-a-year private girls’ college St Cuthbert’s, but the best school on improved student achievement was decile 4 Mt Roskill Grammar.

And that is the data which would be really interesting. We’ll see what level pupils are at when they first enter primary school. What I want to know is which schools start with a majority of kids below the national standards for their age, but by the time they leave that school they are above the national standards. Because they are the schools who make the biggest difference.

Principals Federation president Ernie Buutveld said Professor Hattie’s idea was worth exploring and he believed many teachers and principals would like to be involved.

Much better attitude than trying to ban publication or refuse to even let the Government have data on how schools are doing.

Student Success

January 4th, 2009 at 11:15 am by David Farrar

The SST reports on a “study of studies” on student achievement done by Professor John Hattie of Auckland University. It has been a 15 year study that merges results from 50,000 indiidual studies of 83 million pupils.

So what does it show:

… that the key to effective teaching is the quality of the feedback students get and their interaction with teachers.

Anne Tolley is welcoming it:

The research has been dubbed “teaching’s Holy Grail” by an influential UK education journal, the Times Educational Supplement. National’s new education minister, Anne Tolley, says it will have a “profound influence” on the future of schooling in New Zealand.

Hattie says:

Auckland University professor John Hattie, who authored the study, says some of the results fly in the face of National’s popular election promise to reduce class sizes. He believes extra money should instead be spent on boosting teacher salaries. “Class size has a pretty small effect… and I wonder why they would spend a penny on it.”

He also believes it is time to revisit the controversial idea of performance-related pay for teachers.

I am all in favour of higher pay for teachers, so long as there is proper performance pay. The top teachers should be earning six figure salaries. But none of this automatic pay scale nonsense.

Hattie used these studies to rank 138 aspects of schooling and found that overwhelmingly, student-teacher interaction at schools came out on top.

Number one is “self-reporting” when the student knows exactly how well they are doing and can explain this, as well as any gaps in their understanding, to their teacher.

Tactics such as letting students take turns to teach the class, and teachers doing post-mortems on their own lessons, are also key.

Heh I used to teach the maths class – even at intermediate school!

And teachers, Hattie says, should ask themselves, “how many of the kids in your classroom are prepared to say, in front of the class, `we need help’, `we don’t know what’s going on’ or `we need to have this retaught’?”

He says that sort of trust is too rare which is why he wants to work out a way of paying teachers extra for excellence, rather than experience.

“It’s a lot easier to throw money at smaller classes, more equipment, more funding, to worry about the curriculum, to worry about the exams. “It’s a hell of a lot harder to differentiate between good and bad teaching… I think we need to spend a lot more policies on worrying about this.”

Tolley says that although rewarding teachers for excellence is a “tricky issue” it needs to be on the table, particularly as Hattie is close to defining what makes an excellent teacher.

I think this research and its implications are terribly exciting.

Of course the PPTA is against:

Kate Gainsford, head of the secondary teachers’ union, defended teachers, saying they deserved praise for being in the classroom despite in many cases poor resources, pay and support.

She says teachers are already using many of the interactive methods. But she points out that to have time to interact with students, classes need to be kept smaller and that some now have more than 30 students, despite what schools’ teacher-student ratios claim.

“This is not rocket science. We know that relationships between students and teachers are very important. And we know how those relationships can be supported, and how they can be eroded.”

She emphasises that teachers need to be backed up by resources, policies and training.

Gainsford says it would be “extraordinarily problematic … on so many fronts” to work out an excellence-based pay formula. She would like to see the focus on supporting “all kids, in all classes, in all schools”, rather than on a sorting mechanism for teachers.

Why does there need to be a formula? Other workplaces do not have formulas. They have employers who agree on a pay rate with you, based on their judgement of your experience, ability and worth. This is not some untested concept, but the norm in most sectors.