Kelvin Davis on Education

Former Labour MP and principal Kelvin Davis blogs at Maui Street:

When the government says that national standards, charter schools, league tables, performance pay, 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 education, 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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