Education: an issue of balance

While I am enjoying working my way through various publications related to Hattie’s meta analyses of educational effect sizes, there are a number of issues that stand out in a glaring fashion, and which lead to a rather daunting and depressing conclusion about improving educational outcomes for students. The conclusion is daunting because of the scale and potential effect represented within it, and depressing because of the inverse relationship between the required action the conclusion suggests, and the actions actually being taken within schools, systems and all levels of government.

Here is my thought process laid bare:

1. Good teaching matters. Not only does good teaching matter, but the practises that constitute good teaching can be identified in planning, process and practice. What constitutes a ‘good’ teacher should not really be a difficult thing to identify if you look at their planning, process and practice.

2. Good teaching matters less than the values and behaviours the student brings to their own education. Hattie identifies teacher effect as 30% of the total while student effect is 50%. Home life and parents contribute a further 10% meaning that factors relating to the student and their home life outweigh the impact of good teaching by a ratio of 2:1.

3. The various factors are all interrelated and cannot/should not be looked at in isolation. One good example of this is the effect size of class sizes. Hattie identifies class sizes as having a relatively low effect size, so low, in fact, that it is not uncommon to hear policy makers state things like ‘Hattie identifies that class sizes don’t matter’ but Hattie’s himself states that while class sizes themselves to not immediately contribute to improved achievement, reduced class sizes were an essential condition that allow other effective teaching strategies to take place. As such, the effect size attributed to class sizes does not reflect the interrelated nature of the different practises.

The interrelated nature of effect sizes should also be considered in relation to point number 2, in that while parents and home life might only contribute a small part of the whole, it is the parents and the child’s home experiences that install in them their values and sense of appropriate behaviour,and so the 10% also likely contributes significantly to the overall 50% of what each student brings to the educational table.

4. Student factors can counteract effective teaching strategies. Hattie identifies the impact of a single disruptive student in a class as -0.78, which under the methodology of his research accounts for one-and-a-half academic grades. By comparison, the ‘most effective’ teaching strategies that a teacher can employ might rank around +1.10. So a single disruptive student in a class can take away the majority of the benefit of good teaching practises for an entire class. So a teacher making an effort to implement the best teaching practices can have a significant amount of their work undone by small numbers of students whose values and behaviours toward education are not positive.

So to summarise these points toward the conclusion, while good teaching matters, a students own values and behaviours toward education have the potential to significantly impact on the learning of others and counteracting significant efforts by good teachers.

The conclusion? That ‘good teachers’ can be identified by a number of factors, yet student achievements and results are at the mercy of many other factors than just their Teacher’s practice, and many of those factors lie outside of the control of the teacher. As such, evaluating teacher efficacy by way of student results is not the most effective strategy. Further, it suggests that true educational improvement places focus on the values of parents and children in their approach to education, and that the impact of those values is potentially greater than anything a teacher, school or system can deliver.

This conclusion is daunting because it suggests that educational improvement is dependent, in large part, on the collective values of a society, which are not easy things to manipulate or change.

It is depressing, because the political discussion about education in Australia, and in those nations from which we take significant economic and social leads, is entirely focused on student results as the measure of success, and on targeting individual teachers for results success/failure in the form of performance bonuses or punitive measures, without any significant discussion about the values associated with education. This is especially concerning because, in light of Hattie’s research, there are so many other markers for identifying effective teachers that would be a more meaningful measure of a Teacher’s success.

M suggestion? The government puts significant amounts of money into anti-smoking or driver awareness advertising campaigns that encourage people to adopt more positive behaviours. Perhaps it’s time for a educational awareness campaign that encourages parents to read more books to their children or engage in conversation about education with their kids. “What did you learn today?” Sounds like a good conversation starter…

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Filed under Lifelong Learning, Quality Teaching, Reflections and Musings

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