The Hattie series Part 3: Visible Shipwreck

Introduction

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 2.17.42 PMDear readers, there are going to be some twists and turns in the education drama deriving from the power aspirations of John Hattie: professor of education at the University of Auckland, apparent confidante of the present minister of education, and writer of the just published book  Visible Learning. Hattie’s book is described in promotional material as education’s ‘holy grail’, and by Anne Tolley as sure to have a profound influence on New Zealand education. At the centre of Hattie’s presentation of his ‘holy grail’ is a process he has variously named as ‘feedback’, ‘self-reporting’, and ‘self-regulation’, I will mainly be referring to it as ‘feedback’. A prime argument in this posting is that Hattie has an unsure grasp of the teaching implications of the feedback process which, unsurprisingly, leads to confusion in presentation. As massively well-informed as Hattie is about the nature teaching, he still doesn’t quite get it. Both these characteristics contribute to his easy facility to bang on about teaching; to deliver at the highest level that most common of academic products: the prolix office concoction.

In earlier postings in this series, I said that the feedback process had a ‘curiously unattached feeling to it’. Well, after reading the book, I realise it is attached to something, it is attached to a teaching process Hattie calls ‘direct instruction’, which is his real commitment, the depth of which he obfuscates for his own purposes. His feedback process, which is focused on teacher-student one-to-one interaction, is dependent on his direct instruction for any degree of practicability, and is put forward as a Trojan horse. Also dependent on his direct instruction are his research results. It is a tightly technicist circular process. His direct instruction is really exact next step teaching, based on regular testing, and driven by objectives barely distinguishable from behavioural. His direct instruction and feedback, I can report, being both plausible but impossible, have the qualities necessary for success in contemporary education. Hattie’s ideas are such that they will soon be turned to reinforcing the pernicious education environment already established by the review office. At this stage it is Hattie’s feedback that has the limelight: the real star, though ‘ his direct instruction’ is waiting in the wings. Or to put it another way, watch that horse.

Parts I and 2 (‘Eliding on thin ice’; and ‘Eliding on’) of this Hattie series have been preliminary to a direct consideration of Hattie’s book ‘ Visible Learning ‘ which derives from the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ category of research. This category of research, amongst other characteristics, de-emphasises the influence of socio-economic factors on learning, and bases its research design on quantitative research and innovation (which releases the Hawthorne effect). The first two parts in the series have concentrated on showing how such research is skewed towards a certain style of teaching and learning (learning set up for measurement), and towards appealing to conservative influences in education.

My university degrees are in history which may have influenced me to begin with two lead-up events, rather than going directly to the main event; also, to viewing human behaviour as being considerably motivated by an impetus for power. The two lead-up events were Hattie’s presentation of his book in a Sunday Star Times front page article (January 4, 2009), and his ‘Inaugural Lecture’ (available online) delivered on his appointment as professor at Auckland University, 1999. Of the two, the Sunday Star Times is the most revealing, particularly of his impetus for power. As for its education message, it shows Hattie purports certainty, but exhibits confusion. Indeed, as this posting will show, while the book provides an interesting turkey shoot, his Sunday Star Times presentation is so dysfunctional as to make it no sport at all. In other words, the book, as dodgy as it is, is better than its presentation in the Sunday Star Times.

So on Thursday, May 7, I was on my way to the university (from Cambridge) with the countryside waterlogged and the rain splodging on to the windscreen. After weeks of hinting at reading the book, I was on my way to Bennetts. And there was the book: my goodness – $95.50! It occurred to me that just sales from academics and others lining up to buy the book to criticise it, would, in itself, provide bumper sales.

I found the book: naive (in his view of how education change occurs); manipulative (but with touches of redeeming candour); confused (which is a central theme to this posting); ideologically self-serving (an astonishing ability to suspend disbelief);  disingenuous (in the way he attempts to disarm criticism by admitting research faults and limitations then proceeding as if the faults and limitations had been accounted for);  comical (in its tendency to simplistic interpretations and its spurious decimal point pretensions); educational Janet and John (in its view of home life and classroom realities); dangerous  (in the way education ideas are expressed in numbers, and his play to conservative influences and education authority); caught up in American concepts of education (what, for instance, has American whole language to do with ours?); an expression of a conservative educationist (but not an unrelenting one), prolix (all the flow of an education polymath who doesn’t get it); and somewhat sad (a combination of all the above).

Salvaging something that is pedagogically useful from the shipwreck that is Hattie’s research could be a sub-theme to this posting, but if it is, it is for others to discern.

 

 

The Hattie series Part 3: Visible Shipwreck

Hattie says in his book Visible Learning (p. 173) that after he completed his first synthesis of 134 meta-analyses it became clear to him ‘that feedback was among the most powerful influences on achievement’. He says, however, he has ‘struggled to understand the concept of feedback.’ It is a moment of appealing candour, but also a moment of revealing naivety. If the meta-analyses identified feedback as being so influential then, surely, if reality was being reported on, the nature of feedback and its processes would have been laid bare. They clearly weren’t, which makes suspect the research referred to, and the claims made.

The main argument in this posting is that the real implications for education, Hattie’s real message, is not his idea of feedback, but the direct instruction process he attaches his feedback to. It is argued that the narrow, controlled, teacher-dominated classroom practice on which his quantitative research was based delivered the results the quantitative research was devised to deliver – it delivered direct instruction, not the feedback process. It is also argued that Hattie does two tactical things: he provides the feedback process with all sorts of hierarchies and categories; and goes out of his way to obscure its dependence on his preferred teaching style (direct instruction). He does this, it is suggested, because direct instruction already has an assured place in teaching so does not bring with it the newness or status to ever be perceived as a ‘holy grail’; nor does it possess the potential to be spun out with ever increasing psychological complexity. A key argument about Hattie’s feedback will be that while that while he allows for a lot of possibilities in the way it can work, he really plumps for teacher-student one-to-one interaction: a form of feedback which is dependent on a highly controlled form of teaching.

If my argument about Hattie’s real message being about direct instruction is right, the question then becomes why has Hattie gone for feedback as a cover story rather than direct instruction as the direct story. Direct instruction can certainly be improved on in practice but, as a direct story, is an old one. More important, though, feedback as a process has particular appeal to education psychologists and Hattie-type researchers: it can be expressed in taxonomies, boxed categories, hierarchies, major questions, and ever more refined complexity. Direct instruction is something teachers are well versed in, is very much in their pedagogical and vocabulary territory; feedback, as a process can, with ingenuity, be somewhat separated from teaching, then presented as something fresh: as a ‘holy grail’.

As a response to the main argument referred to, this posting looks at a number of ways feedback occurs in New Zealand classrooms, not as something separate from learning, but as organic to it. (Three holistic models are discussed later in this posting.) Learning and feedback are shown as indistinguishable. Hattie’s feedback process is described as the epitome of how to gain ascendancy over classrooms (in the manner of the review office) – that is by imposing an education idea that is plausible but impossible; what is shown as occurring in New Zealand classrooms, is intended to support an education idea that is elevating but practicable.

 

 

 

As referred to above, Hattie’s feedback, to achieve any success, requires narrow teaching to tight objectives, thus making it easier to decide on exact next step teaching for children. I acknowledge there are times when such teaching is necessary, but for most curriculum areas, and for most activities, organising classrooms for exact next step teaching impoverishes children’s learning. In an holistic classroom, the teacher works to aims: aims to organise activities that allow children to respond at their level of cognitive and affective ability. It is argued that if learning can be expressed in next step learning then it is probably learning well short of what could be learned.

Below in this posting, I comment on Dewey’s famous dictum on problem solving, saying that this should not be interpreted as referring to prosaic problems but as ‘problems that are fundamental to the curriculum areas, therefore to life.’ These problems cannot be approached in exact next step learning, they can only be approached by children being involved in activities undertaken in a classroom as a learning community; that provide children with key knowledge, and space for creativity and imagination. Hattie shows himself to be an educationist who is uncomfortable with the affective: creativity, for instance, is reduced to thinking skills (p.155-6); drama is undertaken not for what drama can provide, but for cognitive skills (p. 143); and social studies barely mentioned. This posting is a plea for readers not to be drawn into the false precision and plausibility of Hattie’s feedback and exact next step learning. Teaching and learning should be seen as one activity after another to enlightened end, occurring in a classroom as a context for a community of learning.

Hattie says that he spent many hours in the classroom observing teachers who afterwards claimed to have used feedback constantly: Hattie, however, strongly disputes that he saw much feedback. He then reports how, on his own account, he tried various methods of providing feedback, but with little initial success. He said that it was only when he ‘discovered that feedback was most powerful when it was from the student to the teacher’ that he started ‘to understand it better’. This won’t come as a bolt from the blue to teachers. Observing and receiving such information is what teachers do, and what teaching and learning is about. It’s more, I suspect, that Hattie is uncomfortable with how classrooms really work. Whatever, the main point stands: if all those meta-analyses couldn’t make the nature and process of feedback clear to Hattie, and he is struggling with the idea, then some tentativeness in making claims for his teaching approach, and some humility in his response to teachers, wouldn’t be amiss.

Hattie is a tricky writer. He makes admissions about faults and limitations in his research, but they are always placed well away from the presentation of his main ideas. As well, while he casts a wide net for these admissions, he lets escape by calculation those ideas not consistent with his narrow research design. He refers to Dewey saying evidence does not provide us with rules for action but only hypotheses for intelligent problem solving (p 247), but this does not stop him from setting out his results in precise percentage points. Hattie also seems to criticise frequent testing when, in fact he gives sanction to it: ‘Another form of feedback is repeated testing, but this is only effective if there is feedback from the tests to teachers such that they modify their instruction to attend to the strengths and gaps in student performance.’ (p. 178). On page 4 he says that the model he presents ‘may well be speculative’; and calls on Popper for support  ‘Bold ideas’ says Popper, ‘unjustified anticipations, and speculative thought, are our only means for interpreting nature.’ Except Hattie doesn’t present his ideas as speculative, if he did, for instance, why does he chastise teachers so regularly for not acting on research evidence (from his category of research it should be pointed out), or present his findings so trenchantly and with such mathematic precision. Anyway how can you accept the objectivity of an education researcher who repeats what seems to be a mantra to him that teaching has not changed much over 200 years, and criticises what he says is the ‘enduring focus of teachers on notions of “what works”‘ (p. 4) Also, Hattie is assuming far too much in taking on the mantle of someone who is presenting ‘bold ideas’; they are, at best, simply a tightening of the screws on a fairly ordinary and long-standing construction – bold in claims, yes, indubitably, brash, even.

A close reading of the book reveals that Hattie is really advocating his feedback teaching process in association with what comes through as his deep commitment to direct instruction. On pages 205-207, Hattie re-counts a description of what could be considered classic direct instruction. It moves from learning intentions, to success criteria, engagement, modelling and explaining, guided practice, closure, and independent practice. This is a process that has strong similarities with parts of everyday teaching practice, so it won’t come as something new to teachers. But this classic description is not an accurate account of the direct instruction Hattie is advocating. Throughout the book a much narrower and teacher dominated perception of direct instruction is provided. A chart in the Sunday Star Times article makes the nature of this perception clear – the components he advocates are: ‘Cognitive development: students given work one step ahead; Evaluation: test results decide next steps; Acceleration: work set ahead of age level.’

There is no doubt, as described in Part 2 of this series, that in his chart in the ‘Sunday Star Times’ Hattie lets the cat out of the bag, and elsewhere in the article makes a colossal ass of himself. The three components listed above show that Hattie’s main message is teacher-dominant, test-decided, age-year-test-decided, next-step, behavioural-objective type learning. (It is not strict input-output behaviourism but then, neither is strict input-output behaviourism in any classroom expression.) It is on this education ideology that Hattie is making a push to dominate professional development. In the New Zealand Herald (21 May, 2009), a spokesperson from the University of Auckland’s professional development arm, in an item on ‘plain language’ school reports, said that ‘it was important educators at all levels of the system provide feedback’. This professional development group, headed by Hattie, is clearly positioning itself for preferment. It should be noted in this respect that Hattie provided the research criticising the nature of school reports which has contributed to the so-called ‘plain language’ school report policy and its subsequent bureaucratic imposition on to schools. Hattie brushed over teachers’ pleas that school reporting was much wider than school reports. It should also be noted that the ‘plain language’ policy will undoubtedly increase sales of AsTTle – that clunky standardised testing system devised by Hattie. (I have commented elsewhere in this series how Hattie is agitating for performance-related pay to be introduced into the school system, and how I sense that Hattie, with Multi Serve, might well be lobbying to be the agency which provides the qualifying credentials for such a pay system. The pedagogical basis for this, if it did happen, would no doubt be Hattie’s feedback pedagogy.)

Hattie’s commitment to his direct instruction is evident on nearly every page of his book, and behind nearly every research finding, but he keeps himself in reasonable check by continually pushing feedback at us. By page 258, however, right near the end of his book, he can’t help himself and blurts out in emotive style his one true love, that of direct instruction and its place in a ’60s project called Project Follow Through – as I see it, a project constructed in farcical manner on market-forces. Teachers and liberal academics are lashed for not seeing the Project and its ‘results’ in the way he does.

Hattie’s conception of feedback is both a commonplace and a phantasm: its plausibility and impossibility a toxic combination. There are two crucial points in appreciating Hattie’s conception of feedback: We now know from his explanation that feedback for him is closely allied with the review office’s conception of exact next step learning; an almost exclusive focus on one-to-one negotiations between teacher and child; and a concentration on testing. Hattie acknowledges there are other feedback mechanisms, for instance, with peers, but throughout his book, he dispenses with these mechanisms progressively by either neglecting or dismissing them.  So it is next step learning, exact next step learning, and it is one-to-one feedback: an easy trick for a successful academic hand. On this phantasm, this impossibility, careers will be made, reputations burnished, but teachers’ credibility shredded. This is not to say, some classrooms won’t be declared as meeting the demands of Hattie’s conception of feedback, but that declaration, as occurs with the review office, will depend on the whim of those with the power to make such a declaration: those with the power to decide, for particular situations, the length of a piece of string.

Caught up in all of this is the vexed matter of evaluation (discussed in greater detail in Part 2 of this series). To understand where the New Zealand curriculum is today and where Hattie stands in relation to it, the contradictory nature of the evaluation statements in the revised curriculum needs to be grasped. The important thing with Hattie is not to be seduced or distracted when he puts forward a research finding you happen to agree with – in the end, it needs to be understood, it is his narrow view of the curriculum that prevails. Hattie is a ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ technicist who supports a teacher-dominated teaching style and a high degree of formal-type assessment. He supports the idea of teaching and learning being reduced in scope (in particular by eschewing the affective) in the belief that the learning that matters is that which can be made visible, in other words, measurable.

The revised curriculum carries two contrasting expressions of evaluation. The revised curriculum in one place says: ‘These expectations [referring to achievement objectives] should be stated in ways that help teachers, students, and parents to recognise, measure, discuss, and chart progress.’ (p. 39) In other words, learning should be set up for immediately observable outcomes and measurement. In contrast, on the same page, but under a different heading, it says evaluation is about ‘focused and timely gathering, analysis, interpretation, and use of information that can provide evidence of student progress.’ It goes on to say that: ‘Much of this evidence is “of the moment”. Analysis and interpretation often takes place in the mind of the teacher, who then uses the insights gained to shape their actions as they continue work with their students.’ The first expression is what the review office favours and where Hattie’s feedback would end up; the second expression is holistic and consistent with the idea of feedback being part of learning.

How then does Hattie present his feedback process? To consider this I go to the source that he recommends as being a fuller account than he could include in his book.  That source is: Hattie, J.A.C., & Timperley, H. (2007). ‘The power of feedback’. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112. We really shouldn’t take too long over this feedback process because it is an education soufflé, a tantalising taste, but only meaningful in the context of something more substantial: in his case direct instruction. Hattie gives his feedback process a faux mystique as part of the plausibility but impossibility principle necessary for establishing academic and bureaucratic dominance over the school system. This principle is based on the idea that the way to flummox teachers and impress authorities is to is to promote education processes that are plausible in theory, but impossible in practice – as teachers find out to their cost, but can’t articulate because of the status of the academics or bureaucrats who promote these processes, the guilt they take on board, the power of the plausibility which moves to the level of truth revealed (‘a holy grail’), and the way plausibility keeps being spun to infinity.

The key issue for Hattie and his feedback is making it something distinctive. He weaves and dodges on this. As has been discussed above, and will be demonstrated below, this posting argues that feedback should be seen as located in curriculum activities and classrooms as learning communities: the most practicable way for teaching and learning (and feedback) to occur. All learning provides feedback; therefore, the issue is not one of feedback but of learning, and its value to the learner. As will be demonstrated below, sometimes something the teacher does directly with the class or a child will be what happens in learning because that is the most practicable and effective; sometimes the activity will be what happens in learning because that is the most practicable and effective. Feedback as a concept is a distraction from just concentrating on good teaching and learning. There is no need for the feedback label: the issue should not be how we can improve learning through feedback, just how we can improve learning. The concept of ‘feedback’ (as with metacognition) is education consumerism: an education product being promoted as something new when it isn’t and isn’t needed. The emphasis in professional development in recent years, linked as it is to this consumerism, is based on the principle of anything but the curriculum, thus we have formula like enquiry learning, WALTS, SOLO, the new Bloom, and now Hattie’s feedback.

Hattie provides a statement on feedback that is a key to understanding his idea of it: ‘… it is useful to consider a continuum of instruction and feedback. At one end of the continuum is a clear distinction between providing instruction and providing feedback. However, when feedback is combined with a more correctional review, the feedback and instruction become intertwined until “the process itself takes on the forms of new instruction rather than informing the student about correctness”‘ (pp. 1-2) Readers should note the use of the term ‘instruction’ and the way its repeated use in his writing serves to establish it as a metaphor, communicating his narrow, teacher-dominated pedagogy.

Hattie’s argument from his quote is that feedback and instruction are clearly distinct until his feedback is used in instruction to combine to form a ‘new instruction’. Even though Hattie does provide an opportunity for feedback and instruction to come together, he has created a separation that shouldn’t exist. In doing this he commits a serious pedagogical error, one he was bound to make, though, coming as he does from education psychology.  Hattie says ‘feedback is conceptualised as information provided by an agent’ (p 1), but then so is teaching; he goes on to say that feedback provides ‘corrective information’, but then so does teaching; he says feedback provides ‘alternative strategies’ but then so does teaching. I’m not saying that Hattie does not allude to these matters occurring within everyday classroom activities, but in his continuum metaphor he puts a distance between instruction and feedback to achieve his purpose of embellishing feedback with a distinctive aura. He removes a good part of the debate about feedback away from matters teachers are expert in (curriculum activities, classroom functioning), to matters academics are expert in (high psychological theorising).

Then Hattie goes into detail with his ‘three major questions’ : Where am I going? How am I going? What next?  These questions are linked with the four kinds of feedback he proposes: feedback about task, whether something is correct or incorrect (which is described as the most common form of feedback); feedback to establish the process to complete a taskfeedback concerned with self-regulation and self-evaluation (which is described as the most powerful level of feedback); and feedback directed to the child in the form of praise or criticism not accompanied by information how to progress or do better (this feedback level is described as the least effective).

The feedback described as the most powerful is the third on the list: feedback concerned with self-regulation and self-evaluation though, as presented in the Sunday Star Times article, ‘self-reporting’ is also used as a label. In one sense, I don’t have any serious concern with all this, after all, it is just another format, my concern, as detailed in this posting, is to do with the concept of feedback as a whole, Hattie’s concept of feedback in particular and the pedagogy that is wrapped around it. As well, if it was just another academic theory about to do the rounds it could be grudgingly accepted in that light but it is my hypothesis that Hattie is pulling out all the stops to have his pedagogy inserted into schools, even if that involves an element of imposition, or at least strong pressure.

Lurking in and around all this feedback discussion is the fiddle-faddle of metacognition, a construct of very recent origin designed by psychologists to add another complexity to confound teachers (amongst others) and to promote the status of psychologists. Hattie, in his book (p. 188), defines it as ‘thinking about thinking’; however, most thinking is about thinking, so that doesn’t get us very far. My view is that classroom practice is better served by detailing what has been thought by the child, how the evidence has been marshalled, and overall validity. In schools, the intention is, indeed,  to get children thinking deeply, but a fancy word like metacognition is an obstruction to such thinking, a redundancy, a word for poseurs and poseur activities. The outcome has been children being involved in laborious goal-setting activities. In respect to Einstein’s theories, for instance, of one thing we can be sure, their departure was not from some pre-set formula. The pretentious attention to metacognition is another curriculum add-on; another example of anything but getting involved in the nature and subtleties of curriculum areas.

That really is that for Hattie’s article, even though his explanation goes on for many more pages of reporting results, and producing ever greater levels of complexity. The only question left to ask is how well, in a direct way, has Hattie’s idea of feedback been tested? It transpires that the most systematic study of feedback was undertaken 13 years ago (1996) and nearly all the 131 studies were clinically based. (p. 3) I am now inured to surprise.

 

Having made an argument against Hattie’s feedback and the way he manoeuvres to position it as distinctive from classroom practice, I want to now to make an argument for feedback as a natural part of teaching and learning. There follow three models for holistic teaching and learning demonstrating amongst other characteristics how, in an organic way, Hattie’s concern for such ‘feedback’ components as ‘corrective information’ and ‘alternative strategies’ are met.

The first holistic model is expressive writing. A feature of this model, as for all holistic teaching, is teaching to a main aim as against objectives, with what might have been expressed as objectives being expressed as criteria. This is the key structural characteristic of holistic teaching. Teaching to a main aim, which has affective, cognitive and skill references, provides learning cohesion, it also provides space for teaching flexibility and learning divergence. Technical and minor details of teaching and learning, if the activities have been well structured, are picked up and attended to in the course of pursuing the main aim; the criteria being there, though, to provide some kind of check. The teacher’s task is to construct a series of activities that provide a sense of momentum towards the main aim. They are set up so that expectations are clear, but opportunities for children to work things out for themselves readily available. Another feature is the way the teacher makes use of classrooms as learning communities: the carefully structured class sharing and discussions, allowing a gentle ebb and flow between individual activities and class ones.

  1. Expressive writing: a model for holistic writing 

The children in a Year 6 class are writing a description of a tree, a particular tree. The teacher has in her mind the main aim of children writing with honesty and clarity. Before writing, the children have been encouraged to think carefully about how the tree looked, how they felt about the tree. Some children might choose to write about a tree from memory; others might like to visit a tree in the playground.

The children form themselves into a circle to discuss the task ahead. In this discussion, the teacher, to avoid interfering with children’s imaginative processes, guides the discussion towards the nature of expressive writing, the demands it places on the writer, rather than the possible content of the writing. (A small group of children, however, who lack the confidence to come up with their own ideas, will be formed following this discussion.) The discussion draws on children’s previous learnings about expressive writing: how to write with clarity and honesty, touching on matters such as neatness, handwriting, capital letters, paragraphs and main ideas, rhythm in sentence structures and paragraphs, linking words, punctuation, choosing just the right word, and writing mainly with nouns and verbs. Also discussed is how the finished work might be used, for instance, reading to a group or the class for discussion, being made into a wall display, word processed for a magazine, associated with art work, read to another class, read to the principal or other adults.

The teacher is circumspect in making suggestions and comments as she circulates. She is aware that learning is best indicated when children come to it in a sense of discovery, not pressured into it (as often happens in WALTS and psychology-based teacher-child one-to-one feedback). Associated with this is a care not to take away discovery opportunities. She will, however, pick out children she deems ready for a little nudge: were the leaves only green?; she notes a child writing about a tree, rather than the tree – she checks to see if the child had a particular tree in mind; when you went outside, did you really see some leaves fluttering to the ground?; is that really how the tree was moving in the wind?; could you make that paragraph flow better?; what about using a colon and semi-colon for that list?; could you think of a verb to replace that verb-adverb combination?; you have said ‘One day I saw a big tree’ – could you be more specific: what day, what tree?

When the children complete their writing, or a good part of it, the teacher asks the children to form into small groups to share their writing. Two questions are used as a guide to the discussion: What did you like about the writing? What could have improved the writing? These groups then present their writings and findings to the class. The teacher lists their ideas on a chart. For art, the interest in trees is used as the basis for a painting of trees concentrating on how light can play on them. The completed work is formed into class magazine.

As for the implementation of the activities, to encourage creativity and individuality of response (and thus set things up for insightful evaluation), two kinds of space were made available: space in the form of time allowing writing to occur in a considered way, and space within the writing for children’s individuality of response. Prior to the writing, the teacher who took the expressive writing lesson did not contribute much detail, or allow the children to contribute much detail, about how the tree might be described. As for ‘feedback’, it was a mixture of feedback as part of the classroom as a learning community, and one-to-one between teacher and child. When the children and the teacher, prior to writing, discuss expectations for expressive writing, they were reprising ideas from other similar written expression episodes. As the children were doing their writing, the teacher did some one-to-one feedback, but it was done judiciously, the emphasis on allowing children’s individuality of voice to come through.

Then there was the obvious feedback involved in the sharing and critiquing of writing toward the end of the lessons. This was the chance for children to learn, often in a sensitive oblique way, by listening to the writing of other children, how words can be used, and how writing can be laid out with clarity: much better out of the mouths of fellow children, than directly from the teacher – though reinforcement and guidance from the teacher would, of course, occur. The teacher, for instance, would never mention metaphors before writing, because that would be counter to the main aim of writing with honesty – children should come across figures of speech in the course of expressing what they see and feel with honesty: however, when a child comes up with a sparkling figure of speech as an outcome of honest expression, then attention is directed to it – the class savouring it. On the other hand, if a child comes up with a figure of speech that is forced, based on false emotion, the teacher would sensitively draw attention to that as well.

 

The second holistic model is science. Once again, as for the holistic expressive writing model, it is beautifully set up for children to work out where they have come from in their learning, where they are, and where they are going. It provides a process with gentle child-centred flow. The entire process is about providing Hattie’s ‘corrective information’ and ‘alternative strategies’ but in a way that, guided by the teacher, gives children a sense of initiative and opportunities for making their own discoveries. As well, in contrast to the artificiality of the way metacognition is pursued in schools, the Learning in Science Project (LISP) model is based on a true scientific process occurring in the context of real learning.

 

  1. The Learning in Science Project interactive approach: a model for holistic science

An important research finding from LISP is that children after being taught directly how, for instance, an electric circuit worked, indeed, given an experience of making a circuit work, often repeat how an electric circuit worked but, on closer questioning, found to have retained a strong belief in their original and erroneous explanation.

The interactive approach begins with the children presenting their ideas and questions, with the teacher demonstrating a desire to know what the child thinks and why. A genuine interchange of talk occurs amongst teachers and children who listen carefully to each other’s ideas.

The movement then is to providing children with stimulating experiences to confront or explore those ideas, which, in the process raises further questions.

An important part of this process is encouraging children to reflect critically on how they came by an idea and whether it is a sensible and useful one. (This gets to the heart of what has been described as ‘metacognition’.)

This process becomes circular as further and deeper questions are raised.

To set up further investigations, the children are helped to develop the ability to question, plan, and carry out investigations, and construct and communicate ideas.

The guiding philosophy for the LISP interactive approach is that explanations of why things behave the way they do are frequently not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but are rather consistent with the evidence or inconsistent, plausible or not plausible, intelligible or not intelligible. (This gets to the heart of the philosophy of science.)

 

  

The third holistic model is topic teaching. This model encompasses all the characteristics described for the other two models. As for the LISP model, a child-centred teaching and learning process is provided that begins with gaining children’s interest, then ensuring children have gained sufficient knowledge for the topic to proceed and for the crucial duality between the cognitive and the affective to be formed, then opportunities for the children to use in a variety of contexts the knowledge gained. An argument in the model is that holistic teaching, to meet children’s needs, should be eclectic, this includes a reference to the need for teachers to include direct teaching in the range of approaches they draw on. A sharp distinction is made, however, between direct teaching as described in this model, and Hattie’s direct instruction, which is really a euphemism for exact next step teaching based on a lot of testing.

3.  Topic teaching: a holistic model for topic teaching 

Two writings are used to describe the holistic model for topic teaching: the first is an article I wrote: ‘Eclectic topic teaching as the larger set’, in Teachers and Curriculum. (2003) 6, 17-19, which advocates an eclectic approach to teaching and a commitment to the holistic philosophy. The second writing is from a recent posting on this web site: ‘Talk to Tokoroa Schools’. The ideas in the two writings intersect three ideas emphasised by Hattie: his direct instruction; the need for teachers to have a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve in their teaching; and, the need for children to have a solid basis of knowledge if they are to succeed in their activities. It should be noted, though, that the article only advocates direct teaching as part of a varied pedagogical armoury; makes clear that this clarity should not be achieved by atomising what is taught in direct teaching; and emphasises evaluation based on ‘evidence of the moment’ and ‘analysis and interpretation taking place in the mind of the teacher’ which are quotes from the holistic evaluation statement in the revised curriculum (as against the review office-type evaluation statement). (p. 39)

Teachers and Curriculum

In the first paragraph I define topic teaching:

‘Topic teaching is the usual way children are taught in a particular grouping of curriculum areas – notably science, mathematics, social studies, technology, and health.’ This grouping, I say ‘is defined by the characteristics of the information drawn on for the curriculum areas – it is information that can confirmed by logical means and be definable in language; as against information the validity for which comes directly from experiences and feeling, and which may or may not be expressed in language – in other words, curriculum areas such as the [visual] arts, dance, music.’ (p. 17)

I make clear in the article that there should be an assured place for direct teaching:

‘I am definite supporter of enquiry learning and developmental learning – but I do not advocate their use in all parts of a topic, all the time, as a matter of course. The eclectic approach being advocated requires that the approach to be used not be prejudged – teacher decisions needing to be based on what is the most effective and efficient way for children to learn given the nature of the curriculum area, the topic, the children, and the general classroom circumstances.’ [The italics have been added.] (p. 18)

In the paragraph that follows I say that direction for learning is provided by an aim not objectives: the main intention being to make learning cohesive and to develop conceptual construction. The recommended stem for the main aim is set out as: Willingness and ability to – as this encompasses the affective, cognitive, and skills. Hattie acknowledges that his feedback only rarely reaches the conceptual level, attending more to the surface and slightly deeper levels. The approach described in this article has conceptual level development as its prime purpose.

This leads to a consideration of Dewey’s famous dictum about the need for children to be involved in problem solving; I agree, but I think the interpretation has been too literal and at too low a level. Children should be involved, I say, in problems that are fundamental to the curriculum areas, therefore to life. This means that children will not always be provided with a clear idea of the problem they are involved in exploring. After all, to have a clear idea of a problem is to be a fair way to a solution: if the problem is worth its salt it will often not be vulnerable to such clarity. Children will, however, find themselves caught up in activities that, in moving them toward the main aim (an expression of some significant part of that fundamental problem), provide a sense they are learning something important, clarifying, and satisfying.

Towards the end of the study an activity could well be to discuss and define the problem their study has helped to clarify. I would not want, however, to tell the children directly what I wanted them to learn; I would want to evaluate in all sorts of subtle ways what they revealed about their learning without overt pressure being applied. In social studies, for instance, a study of the differences and similarities between themselves and a group of people could help establish that the way to come to terms with difference is to recognise basic similarities in human behaviour.

‘How to move children toward the main aim involves the choosing of a series of activities which, as part of the eclectic approach, will be from a number of approaches – enquiry, developmental, behavioural, integrated, and so on. The next task is to place these activities in a topic planning structure based on a view of the best pattern for children’s learning within topics  “Introduction; Developing understanding (that is gaining knowledge); Expressing understanding (that is using knowledge”); Conclusion.’ (p. 18)

 To reiterate the point about the desirability of being eclectic I say –I am not advocating a lot of teacher direct talk to the class, though I’m not against it if it is effective. (p. 19)

I make a plea for the centrality of knowledge in topic learning:

‘An important matter for teachers to decide within topic teaching is whether topic teaching is there for children to gain a grasp of process, or the understandings available. The difference in practice between the two can be fine, after all, process leads to understandings, and to gain understandings you need process, but where the emphasis lies does matter. I come down firmly on the side of valuing knowledge over process – my main concern in topic teaching is developing children’s understandings, with process a by-product of achieving that end. Understandings cannot be developed without process; therefore it is not being overlooked, just being assigned its proper place.’ (p. 17)

 I go on to say that:

‘It is fashionable in these post-modern times to say that knowledge is transient and unstable, therefore we should concentrate on the process of gaining knowledge, rather than on the knowledge itself. In my view, though, we are what we know and knowledge is a lot more constant than many acknowledge. People act on the basis of what they know – in everyday life, we do not undertake research projects before making decisions.’ (p.17)

The developing understanding part of the process I suggest ‘is central to successful topic teaching’:

‘Children need to gain sufficient grasp of the knowledge concerned to be able to use it flexibly in the topic parts follow. And it is in the gaining of knowledge that the crucial affective part of learning is acquired.’ (p. 18)

‘A talk to Tokoroa Schools’

This idea is put even more forcefully in the posting ‘A talk to Tokoroa Schools’ (p. 13):

‘The affective only occurs with genuine effect when it is grounded on detail, information, and reality so I’m not talking about airily effusive teaching.’

And a little further on:

‘The key stage is Developing understanding – this is the stage at which teachers stay until a strong affective response is evident. (Don’t put the steak in the pan until it’s hot.) In social studies, the affective response I look for is a feeling for the people in the human situation under scrutiny (an intimate tone in children’s voices when they speak of the people involved can be an indication); in mathematics, a keenness and ability to apply ideas gained from their learning to a range of situations; in science, a compelling curiosity to push on.’

‘The affective is crucial to learning in the topic process, both in developing curiosity and motivation to learn, a commitment to seeking the truth and, where appropriate to a topic, a feeling for humanity. The affective, though, is not developed necessarily by attending to highly-charged information, more by the build up of information, often prosaic in itself, relative to the main aim.’

‘As well, to encourage imagination and creativity and to increase the opportunity for it to be displayed for observation, space should be provided in activities for children to come up with ideas that had not been prefigured by the teacher in the form of objectives or prior discussion.  The best way to leave space to encourage imagination and creativity is genuine open-endedness in the setting up of activities. This also has the benefit of providing, in a holistic way, for the range of abilities in a class. For instance, sets of three pictures relevant to the topic, chosen at random and the children knowing this, could be displayed around the room for the children to give their ideas on the odd one out. All children could come up with something, but the brilliant child could come up with something brilliant, to the benefit of all children.’

(While Hattie might say his feedback theory encompassed such a process, it is not where he is coming from: he is coming from research based on measurement, restriction of variables, and narrow objectives; he is coming from an academic and clinical perception of learning; he is coming from the quick result Hawthorne effect learning; he is coming from a pedagogy of direct instruction. I am coming from the reality of how classrooms actually work, especially making the best use of classrooms as learning communities; I am coming from the pedagogy of holistic teaching and learning, and from a deep interest in the nature and subtleties of curriculum areas. And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Hattie often refers to how peers can provide feedback, only to undermine its worthwhileness, usually by citing the research of Nuthall who says peer feedback is mainly destructive. In contrast, I believe that with careful structuring peer contributions can be of the highest value to children’s learning.)

 

This posting has agreed with some of Hattie’s research advocacies, for instance, the need for teachers to have clarity and purpose in their teaching; also the intentions he sets out for something he calls ‘feedback’ and I describe as just a natural part of teaching and learning. I do not, however, want Hattie to gain recognition as the point man for these advocacies, because they are advocacies we should all be recognised for. In respect to these advocacies, I want what he wants, but I want them pursued in a holistic way; in a way that has children learning from activities in which a sense of narrative is established – in other  words, children learning from activities about where they have come from, where they are, and where they are going; in a way encompassing the cognitive and the affective as a duality; in a way that leaves spaces for children to discover things for themselves; in a way that is practicable and consistent with how classrooms work; in a way that makes best use of classrooms as learning communities; and in a way that draws attention to teachers as a prime source of ideas.

A useful way to sum up the differences between Hattie’s exact next step, test-based, and teacher-dominant style of teaching, and holistic teaching is to compare an approach to language teaching he describes; and the teaching of language described in the language model above. Hattie (p.170) discusses the use of learning intentions and how they require ‘success criteria’ to enable their ‘performance’ to be ‘judged’. There is a need, he says, to ‘state as exactly as possible what the students and teacher will want to see’. He provides an example: ‘What you’re looking for is that you have used at least five effective adjectives’. As I transfer these ideas to paper I am possessed with despair that this level of thinking, this kind of barbarism, is the probable future for our classrooms, when these same classrooms have available, from the present as well as the past, inspirational models of the highest quality: but this is what happens when education becomes a series of add-ons at the expense of substance; or a series of formula that have had their meaning dissipated; monopolised by overseas ‘experts’, politicians, education bureaucrats, computer futurists, and commercialised academics. This is what happens when teaching and learning is reduced so it can be set up for measurement, exact next step learning, and for formula like Hattie’s feedback. It is also, I should remind listeners the kind of teaching on which Hattie has based his research.

 

This is the last posting in the Hattie series. As you will have realised I am deeply unimpressed by what Hattie’s dominance over New Zealandeducation might mean. He has, as far as I’m concerned, a free pass to produce his research as one-eyed as it is, but he will have no free pass to pass it off as a blueprint for education and, complicit with conservative education influences, have it monopolise professional development in New Zealand. Overhanging this whole series, indeed the motivation for its development, has been the certainty that if Hattie gets into a position to dominate with his pedagogical ideas, those ideas will soon conflate to reinforce the pedagogical ideas of the review office. And then where would we be? Research has its place but our professional lives are more enriched when academics create education ideas greater than their research. Hattie, sadly, has managed the considerable feat of producing education ideas even more dismal than his research. There is a specious prolixity to his writing that indicates the possession of a critical intelligence which can operate with no fixed connection to the reality of classrooms or their social context. There is one exception to this, though: his ability to connect to the reality of the academic market. Visible Learning might be a book on research, but Hattie has a way of presenting findings that make it seem as if he is angling, as well, for a ministry contract. (Mind of the beholder, of course.) As I find my education world of the holistic diminishing, I still gain strength from the existence, against the odds, of strong vestiges of the imaginative and the creative in our classrooms.

So that silence is not mistaken for acquiescence, I urge you to make your voice heard.

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The Hattie series Part 2: Eliding on

Introduction

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Part 1 (‘Eliding on thin ice’) of the Hattie series gave special attention to the ideas, motivations, and behaviours of those involved in the ‘effectiveness and improvement’ category of research, and the effects on schools, especially lower decile schools, and the system as a whole.

This series’ consideration of the ‘effectiveness and improvement’ category of research derives from events surrounding the publication of a book by John Hattie ‘ Visible Learning ‘ in which he presents his meta-analysis of results from a large number of research projects. (These results are presented in effect-size percentage rankings.) Other people will write about the book; these postings concentrate, instead, on where Hattie, in the writing of his book, came from ideologically. This is done by using his ‘Inaugural Lecture’ (‘Inaugural Lecture: Influences on Student Learning’ available online) delivered on his appointment as professor at Auckland University, 1999; and how, in a recent front page story in the Sunday Star Times (January 4, 2009), Hattie presented his research findings.

Part 2 of this series – ‘Eliding on’ – exposes the unreality of Hattie’s research reality, and the way Hattie-type research is dependent for its ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ results on the initial learning impetus from innovation. This posting argues that Hattie-type researchers put together a bundle of tricks and call it research design. Particular concern is expressed at the way the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ ideologists tailor their message to appeal to conservative influences, and the way this leads to the status and situation of teachers being degraded. The latter part of this posting gives close attention to a chart from Hattie’s book used in the Sunday Star Times article. The assumption is that this chart was chosen by Hattie for the article because it conveys the messages he wanted conveyed and emphasised. This posting finds those messages confused, slippery, and dangerous. Particular attention is given to the research shenanigans around the issue of class size; the now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t in the matter of testing; the apparent manipulation to ensure his ‘holy grail’ finding came out on top; and his buying into the education bureaucratic fallacy, fantasy, and impossibility of exact next step teaching. The central argument throughout is that ‘Hattie’s road to the Americanisation of New Zealand education is paved with sleight-of-hand research and murky ideological motivation.’

 

 

The Hattie series Part 2: Eliding on

John Hattie confirms by demonstration he is part of the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ research ideology; an ideology structured on the foundation idea that while socio-economic influences have an effect on learning they are no-where near as influential as those of the teacher and school (which are somehow separated from the socio-economic).  From that foundation is extended and defended a system of ideas that are held to no matter the reality to the contrary: in particular, a number of pedagogical ideas designed to set up teaching and learning for measurement and, conveniently for Hattie-style researchers, for research based on measurement. As part of this setting up for measurement, the affective in teaching and learning is chronically subordinated. While Hattie-style researchers believe the affective does have a part to play in learning, it is considered no-where near as influential as that of the cognitive and of skill development (which are somehow separated from the affective). This posting argues that because socio-economic influences and the affective are extremely difficult to build into research, researchers like Hattie, reduce them in significance by hiding them under other labels, reducing them in significance, or ignoring them altogether. This hiding, reducing, and ignoring, represents the apotheosis of research eliding, already something of an art form in education research generally. Hattie, it is argued, has reduced the socio-economic and the affective as influences and called the etiolated remainder reality.

The message left standing from this research process is then relayed in books, articles, and conferences to a receptive audience of conservative politicians, education bureaucrats, and those with a conservative viewpoint; a message led by a tactical slogan that ‘schools can make a difference’. It is a tactical slogan because, at face value, it can’t be argued with, and it has a lulling effect on teachers; at another value it is saying that schools should take almost sole responsibility for school ‘failure’. (Schools considered ‘successful’, of course, have a multitude of official patrons.)

This message is hugely appealing to conservative politicians, certain academics, education bureaucrats, and those with a conservative viewpoint: it diverts attention away from the need to address the socio-economic inequalities and policies that  contribute so substantially to education inequalities; it puts the responsibility for achieving better education outcomes on to schools, no matter the socio-economic circumstances; when schools ‘fail’ to achieve these better outcomes, it sets up schools to be blamed; in ascribing this blame, an  implication  is that the conservative groups referred to know how to resolve the problem – that they know what to do – which increases their authority and prestige with a corresponding reduction in the authority and prestige of teachers and schools. If teachers and schools are seen as a major part of the problem, it means they cannot not be trusted with a major part of the ‘solution’, which usually results in a large measure of imposition – a response which particularly appeals to the conservative groups with their characteristically latent dislike of teachers, especially primary teachers; finally, when teacher unions go to the defence of schools, they are targeted by an undermining campaign which, along with the undermining of teachers, works to the political and tactical advantage of the conservative groups referred to.

Hattie’s reality is a fantastic reality perfectly constructed to degrade the authority of teachers and schools. A refusal to acknowledge the true influence of the socio-economic and the affective on learning, inevitably leads to compulsory testing based on numbers, leading, in turn, to ‘bad numbers’ being presented as the fault of schools, ‘good numbers’ the success of politicians and their bureaucratic and academic cohorts. As a result, politicians and education bureaucrats, buttressed by certain academics, can use testing regimes to control what happens in classrooms with the minimum of effort; and communicate their real view of teachers and education. Inevitably the results from centralised testing will end up in the public domain making that control and that real view of teachers explicit.

As mentioned above, there is a latent hostility toward teachers because, as a group, they exercise a degree of freedom in carrying out their work.  Politicians, education bureaucrats, and certain academics, however, don’t see that degree of freedom as necessary for teachers’ work but as lax governance and a power vacuum into which they feel compelled to take control, to insert their certainties. Imposed testing regimes, for instance, are used to communicate their ideas of what teachers should concentrate on; their ideas of how children learn and should be taught, for instance, the bureaucratic and Hattie fantasy of exact next step learning; their ideas about what children should value in their school lives; and their ideas about the kind of motivation that teachers respond to, for instance, competition (in the form of league tables), and performance pay.

For the affective in learning it is the silent spring, but few have cared to notice. In my posting ‘Beyond reason: the argument for the holistic’ the main argument is that the affective, the aesthetic, the symbolic, the intuitive, and the immanent are at the heart of successful classrooms not the periphery; and that a clear recognition of their role could be the missing link for some teachers, indeed for the system as a whole. Education, I argue, should encompass the duality of reasoning and feeling, the cognitive and the affective, the rational and the non-rational to establish holistic education – an education fundamental to a complete and humanising school experience for children. Dewey is much referred to by Hattie, as by all academics concerned with children’s learning, but his references are to Dewey peripherals, not essences, which are to do with the duality of the affective and the cognitive.

The National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) reports that primary school children’s interest in, and knowledge of, science has gone backwards, but few care. (A recent OECD survey has New Zealandsecondary schools doing very well in science, for which primary schools have claimed some credit, and in a general way they can, but NEMP carries out the kind of research I consider authentic.) Few care because it is about curiosity, thinking, creating, imagining, and solving. There are no political kudos in that; there is no praise from the review office in that; there is no career-promoting benefits in that; as well, it must be assumed, nothing of importance for the 21st century (to use an empty parlance of the times: does it mean there is a choice?) in that.

The worth of Hattie’s meta-analysis is in direct proportion to the worth of the research on which the meta-analysis is based. As a result, his meta-analysis can be declared a dangerous distortion. An important appreciation is that the research Hattie uses is almost entirely based on research innovation, that is, the researcher setting up an innovation in a highly controlled classroom environment, putting it into practice, and then testing it for its degree of effect-size influence. There is a strong tendency in this kind of research for the teacher to play a direct, central role, which contrasts to the way most teaching and learning occurs in classrooms. In everyday classrooms there is, for instance, a high degree of interaction amongst children. From a researcher’s point-of-view, however, having other children involved in the learning brings in a lot of uncontrolled variables. Installing the teacher very much at the centre of things, means, of course, an adult is at the centre of things, that one person is at the centre of things, and with that one person given specific and direct things to do with the children. This is the perfect way to control variables and to influence children to come up with particular responses. The point being emphasised is that the kind of research referred to is the kind of research that has the teacher telling or leading the children to certain conclusions which then become the focus for what is tested. Hattie’s breathlessly announced research finding about teacher-child interaction comprising feedback and next step learning, is exactly the kind of research finding the research was set up to find. It is a finding which is both inarguable as an important influence, and puerile, in that it has been detached from the reality of classrooms and how children really learn.

The research Hattie uses is dependent on reducing in significance a number of variables that are important in everyday teaching (for instance, the affective, the aesthetic, imagination, curiosity, intuition, the immanent, the informal, the spontaneous, child-to-child interactions, longer-term learning, aims, observational evaluation, analysis and interpretation taking place in the mind of the teacher) and expanding certain variables beyond their significance in everyday teaching (for instance, the cognitive in isolation from the affective, skills, the formal, the controlled, the teacher at the centre, the immediately visible signs of learning, the measurable parts of learning, testing, formal recording of assessments, behavioural objectives).

Hattie’s meta-analysis is also a dangerous distortion because the research he bases his analysis on and the meta-analysis design he uses, reveal a careless and ideologically self-serving disregard for the crucial research issue of sustainability. Hattie-type research depends on the reduction of variables and tightly controlled teaching, with an emphasis on generating immediately observable learning responses, in other words, the Hawthorneeffect. Sustainability, which addresses the issue of how well learning is sustained, is the obverse of the Hawthorne coin. Hattie-type researchers, however, are not comfortable with the longer-term research needed to determine learning sustainability: the process being less manageable, and the results more likely to be at odds with the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ ideology.

Then there is the curious way Hattie sets up significant learning influences for comparison with minor ones (for instance, minor influences like sustained silent reading and advanced organisers), leading to the minor ones being dismissed even though, due to their ease of organisation, they can represent good value, especially when combined with other minor items (it is really a jack-up with Hattie wanting to put his preferred influences in a good light); items that are of a different state which means they cannot be validly compared (for instance, home influences compared with calculators); and the averaging of numbers for effect-size results, which means useful practices within influences can be obscured (for instance, within homework).

As discussed above, in Hattie’s meta-analysis the Hawthorne effect is crucial to the promotion of certain learning influences – influences that happen to be consistent with those favoured by the ‘effectiveness and improvement’ research ideology. The Hawthorne effect is also used in a reverse way resulting in the demotion of certain learning influences – influences that happen to be inconsistent with those favoured by the ‘effectiveness and improvement’ research ideology. The influences not favoured are typically not accompanied by any special professional support programmes, thus not attracting the hoop-la impetus that translates into the Hawthorne effect. The reduction in class size is an example of this. As for learning influences like co-operative learning or individualised learning, I have a suspicion that for much of their research there was no innovation at all, classrooms were just categorised on the basis of existing descriptions. (I am open to be corrected on this suspicion.) Then there is the publicity seeking effect-size results: this involves featherweight influences like advance organisers being put up against heavyweight influences (usually really a cluster of influences) like self-reporting, and being on a hiding to nothing. It might be significant that some of the featherweight influences set up for demolition often share a characteristic of the favoured heavyweight.

Readers will have noted my reluctance to accept at face value anything Hattie writes. This reluctance has been placed on high alert by the way Hattie so regularly interpolates into his writing hard and fast rules for teachers and policy makers: a sure sign of an academic more on the ideological make than the transcendent truth, because truth is always hypothetical. Mind you, why would Hattie and his researchers worry about reality when it is so much easier and convenient to construct their own?

A publication put out by the ministry of education, Teacher Professional Learning and Development in the ‘Best Evidence Synthesis’ series, led by Helen Timperley, uses the same meta-analysis design as Hattie’s but with a narrower focus: the impact of various kinds of professional development on children’s learning. All the faults of Hattie’s meta-analysis are evident in Timperley’s, but Timperley is significantly more tentative in reporting results (the results do not come out as hard and fast rules) and, as well, provides a valuable section on what she calls ‘Gaps in evidence’. This ‘Gaps in evidence’ section by an academic colleague of Hattie provides a powerful pointer to the weaknesses in his meta-analysis; weaknesses Hattie elides from.

Timperley says that she encountered many difficulties, the ‘greatest of these was a paucity of empirically verifiable detail concerning the sequence of events. Few studies provided descriptions of the professional development, evidence of teacher learning and change, and student outcomes.’ (p. xiv) ‘Another major problem was the reporting of student outcomes. This reporting was inconsistent and in many cases failed to reach even basic standards of adequacy. We would know so much more about the impact of professional learning and development if those reporting impact provided the basic statistical information – from which effect sizes could be calculated.’ But there is more: Timperley says that, ‘In addition, we could not find sufficient evidence about several issues on which to base sound conclusions. The first of these issues concerned the skills of the providers. Rarely were providers and what they did to promote teacher learning the subject of investigation.’

Hattie says nothing about sustainability in his ‘Inaugural Address’ and I suspect little of worth in his book. He does, however, comment on the closely related matter of the Hawthorne effect. Hattie acknowledges how the research he uses is based on innovation, that is, something new being introduced to the school or classroom, which ‘probably captures the enthusiasm of the teacher and the excitement of the students.’ This is, as we’ve come to expect from Hattie, disingenuous because it omits the important affective imperative of the teacher’s professional self-esteem and reputation being at stake. Then, in cavalier fashion, he says, ‘Often this has been explained as an experimental artifact in terms of a Hawthorne effect. No matter the reason, it appears that innovation per se can have positive effects on students’ achievement.’

This cavalier response to the Hawthorne effect provides a telling insight into Hattie’s modus operandi. Hattie tries to slide the two sentences by, understandably, because both are awry to his ideological advantage. He knows if Hawthorne stands, and is applied to his research, his research fails, and his career diminished. Hattie refers to the enthusiasm and excitement an innovation engenders and says ‘Often this has been explained as an experimental artifact in terms of a Hawthorne effect’. No John: much more than often more like always so you should have used is (as my next sentence reiterates). No John: is explained, which is much more definitive than has been – the present tense of is, is much surer, and has been hints at attitudes toward the Hawthorne effect being in transition or even having changed. No John: experimental artifact is a resort to jargon which in its connotations links nicely (to what you are trying to slide through) with the has been that precedes it.

Hattie’s second sentence reads: ‘No matter the reason, it appears that innovation per se can have positive effects on students’ achievement.’ No John: No matter the reason is another attempt to undermine the Hawthorne effect – there is only one reason and that is the Hawthorne effect. No John: not it appears, you should say it does, so in the context of the sentence, the expression it appears is redundant. No John, saying: innovation per se can have positive effects on students is really saying, innovation intrinsically can have positive effects on students; the Latin recourse is a cover for a slippery and ultimately nonsense expression – if positive effects are intrinsic to innovation then the use of the word can is redundant; but if innovation intrinsically leads to positive effects on students, that rebounds on the attempt to throw doubts on the Hawthorne effect, because that is what the Hawthorne effect is.

The positive effects that come from innovation are an experimental problem, not an experimental answer, the experimental problem of sustainability. In dissembling style, Hattie is trying, for the sake of his research design, to undermine the idea of the Hawthorne effect because the Hawthorne effect is not primarily about the positive effects of innovation but about their sustainability. Hattie’s expression of innovation is on the same level as Tale of Two Cities being understood by ‘It was the best of times …’

His two sentences, if they are to make any theoretical sense should read: ‘The enthusiasm and excitement engendered by innovation is explained by the Hawthorne effect. Innovation usually has initial positive effects on student achievement.’

I could identify numerous statements of this dissembling nature by Hattie, but I’ll leave it at that.

The Sunday Star Times carries a chart, supplied by John Hattie, which gives ticks to certain classroom influences and crosses to others. This should provide further insight into his research design and manoeuvres and how he arrived at his preferred learning style. This chart is attributed to his book, in other words, it was considered important enough to be selected by Hattie to be a key expression of his message.

What have you made of Hattie so far? Where does he fall in the divide between the review office wanting learning to be set up for measurement and exact next step learning, and holistic learning which responds to aims and informal observational evaluation? This divide has gained famous expression in the revised curriculum, and on the same page (p. 39), indeed same column, though under different headings. The review office-type expression in the revised curriculum says, ‘These expectations [referring to achievement objectives] should be stated in ways that help teachers, students, and parents to recognise, measure, discuss, and chart progress.’ In other words, learning should be set up for immediately observable outcomes and measurement. The expression of holistic learning and evaluation refers to ‘to focused and timely gathering, analysis, interpretation, and use of information that can provide evidence of student progress.’ What follows removes any ambiguity: ‘Much of this evidence is “of the moment”. Analysis and interpretation often takes place in the mind of the teacher, who then uses the insights gained to shape their actions as they continue work with their students.’

With these two contrasting expressions the battle lines are drawn.

What does the chart show?

 

Ticks: Pass

  1. Self-reporting: students understand their own progress
  2. Cognitive development: students given work one step ahead
  3. Evaluation: test results decide next steps 
  4. Micro-teaching: video analysis of lessons
  5. Acceleration: work set ahead of age level

 

Crosses: Fail

  1. Class size
  2. Sustained silent reading
  3. Frequent testing
  4. Homework
  5. Teaching test-taking

(from Visible Learning by John Hattie as repeated in the Sunday Star Times January 4, 2009).

 

I have stared hard at this list to evoke an intuitive response.

His ideas do not fit primary; they would seriously worsen an already fragile situation. In primary schools, Hattie-type interactive teaching would, no doubt, be successful in the Hawthorne innovation period and, in a few instances, beyond, but it is not robust enough to withstand the pressures of primary school teaching in the long term. The form of such teaching would remain, as it has for WALTS (which I will discuss in the next posting), a protection against any charge of non-compliance, but the essence would be lost.

The teaching ideas that comprise Hattie’s self-reporting influence (for what they are worth) are already part of teachers’ practice and codified approaches (for instance, LISP’s interactive approach), but the kind of classroom functioning implied in Hattie’s description of them is highly unrealistic. Children learn in curriculum areas, in various groupings, from each other, and from carefully designed activities. These aspects of learning can supersede, carry out more efficiently and sensitively, the kind of things Hattie seeks to achieve with his self-reporting. Hattie strives to put his self-reporting influence on a pedestal for ideologically self-serving reasons. This is why I have said his ‘holy grail’ idea has a curiously unattached feeling to it. If you put his self-reporting influence in the context of everyday classroom functioning or within an existing codified approach, then the prosaic nature of his preferred influence becomes clear, and Hattie’s ‘holy grail’ transmutes to a tin cup.

If Hattie’s ideas were to work anywhere in the education system it would be teaching to exams at secondary school. It would work best for children motivated to pass exams; for teaching by subject specialists; and for learning that was almost entirely cognitive. Hattie’s ‘new’ idea, then, demonstrates many of the characteristics of upper level secondary school teaching.

I’ll go through the chart list more or less in the order they are displayed.

 

Ticks: Pass

Self-reporting: students understand their own progress

Cognitive development: students given work one step ahead

Evaluation: test results decide next steps 

Micro-teaching: video analysis of lessons

Acceleration: work set ahead of age level

 

At a general level, the teacher-child interaction suggested  of self-reporting: students understanding their own progress could be described as positive reinforcement combined with suggestions from the teacher for how children might improve their work: in other words, a teaching universal. But there is more to Hattie’s label than meets the eye: encompassed by the label are a range of teacher behaviours based on restricting and controlling variables, and measuring immediately observable outcomes.

The argument here is that Hattie-type interactive teaching is an inevitable outcome of the type of research his meta-analysis is based on.

As well, Hattie has provided a label for a cluster of teaching behaviours favoured by researchers from Hattie’s school of research then, as an alternative to this cluster, for comparison, he has provided a number of one-off, or caricature, teacher-child behaviours. In other words, apples are not compared with apples.

The label he settled on in the chart is self-reporting: students understand their own progress; elsewhere in the Sunday Star Times it is described as ‘feedback’. The label when carefully considered, however, encompasses a particular cluster of behaviours: positive reinforcement, next step learning, clarifying and providing objectives, child decision making based on specific objectives, child self-evaluation based on immediately observable outcomes. The image projected is of a series of one-to-one interactions between the teacher and individual children, but with the teacher firmly in control. As well, the references to such things as providing objectives, self-evaluation of outcomes, next step learning, and  students understanding their own progress, point to teaching based on a modified form of behavioural objectives.

The kind of teacher-child interaction Hattie and his researchers favour is their apple, fair enough, but where are the other apples to compare it with? There aren’t any.

The other teacher-child interaction labels Hattie uses are not encompassing, they are more one-offs: peer tutoring, simulation and games, advance organisers, computers; or caricatures in that we have no way of knowing what they comprise: strict behaviourism, team teaching, mastery learning, individualisation – for instance, no teaching is just individualisation, so it becomes a matter of degree. As well, was it a New Zealand-style of individualisation or an American one? To report back on the American experience with individualisation, to the detriment of the New Zealand experience (which we know Hattie has done), would be highly irresponsible. As well, we know the affective and long-term gains would not have been part of the research because that is difficult to measure.

In the ‘General introduction’ to this series I wrote that Hattie’s description of the ideal teacher-child interaction has a curiously unattached feeling to it; there is, for instance, a lack of reference to children being involved in activities as a class. My suggestion was that this was because it would bring his ideal down to earth and place it in the context of teacher-child interactions well known to teachers, for example, the Learning in Science Project (LISP). While the LISP-type interactions don’t have strong behaviourist characteristics, there are many similarities to the Hattie ideal. The important point, though, is that LISP teacher-child interactions are just part of a number of class interactions (teacher to class, and children to children) crucial to the specific teacher-child ones. The LISP series of interactions are part of the real world, not the constructed one for the sake of variable control, measurement, and research ‘success’.

Hattie, as can be seen in the tick part of the chart, puts a lot of emphasis on exact next step learning. What contexts does he have in mind? I point out in the ‘General introduction’ that because of pressures, teachers have great difficulty in establishing worthwhile contexts, yet they are a pre-condition to useful teacher-child interactions.

In the discussion above of Hattie’s dissembling presentation of Hawthorne and innovation-based research, I point out that in Hattie-type research the tendency is for the teacher to play a direct, central role, which contrasts with the way most teaching and learning occurs in classrooms. This degree of control I say ‘is the perfect way to control variables and to influence children to come up with particular responses.’ It is book end teaching: the teacher feeds in particular ideas at the beginning; then focuses on those particular ideas in the middle; and tests for those particular ideas at the end. The ideas are usually behavioural in nature, the process restrictive to divergent thinking, and the assessment a resort to recall. When it boils down, when the Hawthorne is over, this is what will become of the ‘holy grail’ of teaching.

Where is the label for a learning process Dewey might support, or Eisner, or Elwyn Richardson, or the LISP interactive teaching process? There aren’t any labels we would recognise as encompassing the cluster of teacher-child behaviours we support and practice. Teacher-child interaction and feedback being ranked as important is acceptable, that it is Hattie’s form of it, unchallenged because of research design, and imported to this country to the delight of the conservative viewpoint, is a research travesty.

Two of the listings in the ticks’ part of the chart and one in the crosses’ part are best considered together: cognitive development: students given work one step ahead, and evaluation: test results decide next steps ahead are in the ticks’ listing; and frequent testing is in the crosses’ listing. I know in his book Hattie would have done some defining to attempt to clarify the confusion, but such fine distinctions don’t last five minutes in the hurly-burly of teaching. When there is confusion like this you know a swift one is being pulled. In education it is a sure sign that an ordinary or unworkable idea is being dressed up to deceive.

The question is simple: If test results are to be used to decide the next step ahead there must be frequent testing. I want to remind readers that the chart is from Hattie’s book, and using it in this way would have come as a suggestion from him; as a result it should have been strikingly limpid when, instead, it is disturbingly opaque. It becomes even more so when another listing from the crosses’ chart is considered: teaching test-taking. Hattie is saying I suggest that teaching children how to take tests doesn’t improve learning. This doesn’t make sense because anything children do improves learning; the question is what kind of learning is being improved. If every next step ahead for the children from reading to the arts is based on testing then something is going to be learned about testing, education, and the society they live in. In the course of the huge array of tests the children would face in their years at school the children would, ineluctably, learn about test-taking, its characteristics, nuances, and effects.

With all that testing activity, children would be learning not only about the immediate focus of the test, but also something beyond that immediate focus: learning which might or might not be considered beneficial learning, but would undeniably be learning. They would, for instance, be learning to recognise in the course of this learning the kind of learning likely to be tested for in tests; from Hattie’s account that would be learning that emphasised the cognitive, the measurable, and the immediately observable, as against the affective, intuitive, and the aesthetic; they would be learning to value learning for test results not the satisfaction of learning and pursuit of truth; and they would be learning the discourse of testing and exactly where they were ranked in relation to other children.

The idea of exact next step teaching is a misleading and educationally harmful metaphor, an unprovable and impossible teaching manoeuvre, and a bureaucratic fantasy perfectly designed to unsettle and disempower teachers. No wonder high academics and education bureaucrats love the concept. Children’s learning does not develop in steps, with its implication of next step up. As any teacher knows, children’s learning can range from absolute confusion to flashing insight. Children do not move ahead in their learning in single controlled steps – to imagine they do is to limit the possibilities of learning and teaching – they move, whether academics like it or not, in delightfully bewildering combinations of speed and direction; they move in ways and for reasons beyond our ability to understand. To impose one metaphor for learning on New Zealand classrooms is part of Hattie’s design to deliver one type of education to classrooms, and increased centralised control through testing regimes, performance standards, and bureaucratic direction. The next stepmetaphor might suit Hattie’s type of controlled learning, American-type learning, but it won’t suit most New Zealand teachers. It is an important appreciation that next step learning and learning measurement are pedagogically bound, with learning measurement providing both the rationale for the next step and the quality of exactness allocated to it. The metaphor of next step learning, so obsessively promoted by academics like Hattie, and organisations like the review office, is central to their ferocious ideological drive to construct their own reality in the interests of vocational status and raw expression of power.

Let us say the teacher leads the child to the next step, and the child successfully accomplishes it; how should that be interpreted? Should it be interpreted as a successful example of next step teaching, that the teacher got it right? In absolute terms, not necessarily: Who is to say that any number of other ‘steps’ would not have been accomplished just as successfully? Who is to say that any number of other ‘steps’ would not have been more successful in moving the child on? Who is to say that the child given more freedom might not have made a much more substantial learning movement forward? Who is to say that the sum total of teacher-controlled steps forward won’t lead to children becoming teacher-dependent? Who is to say that the next step ahead approach won’t lead to a bias to measurable learning at the expense of the immeasurable? Yes – you are right, the teacher and the child will have a view about all those questions. The point I am making here is that a teacher enamoured with the next step approach can easily slip into a fantasy about the rightness and precision of their teaching and, in doing so, limit the scope of their teaching and children’s learning.

I have never seen a classroom in which each child for every activity in every curriculum area is working on the exact next step for that child – working to individual objectives set by the teacher that have immediately observable outcomes. Nor, in practice and informally, do academics or bureaucrats expect teachers to be doing that. Yet academics or bureaucrats never qualify next step teaching in any way. You do not see any qualification as far as official expectations or Hattie-type expectations, are concerned, it is next step teaching from mathematics through to health to dramatic expression: that is – exact next step teaching for every individual child in every curriculum area, with measured assessment results recorded. If next step teaching does not mean that, then please review office personnel and Hattie, tell us what it does mean.

 Hattie’s listing of micro-teaching: video analysis of lesson betrays Hattie’s tertiary perspective, but some value is seen in this for professional development; it is, however, just a fiddly sub-set for other items in the ticks’ column.

Hattie’s listing of acceleration: work set ahead of age level betrays his American perspective and his vision for New Zealand classrooms: the implication is that children will, through standardised testing, have learning ages established in the range of curriculum areas, the results to be decisive in deciding individual children’s learning programmes. This posting has discussed above that such tests, test only what is measurable, and avoids or reduces in significance the affective, the aesthetic, and the imaginative. This listing ties in exactly with all the other listings in the ticks’ column, with age level scores certain to become central to children’s next step learning: teachers’ observational judgements will not be able to stand up against learning expressed in numbers. Under Hattie, children’s learning age levels will become dominant in discussions amongst teachers, between teachers and parents, and amongst children themselves.

 

Crosses: Fail

  1. Class size
  2. Sustained silent reading
  3. Frequent testing
  4. Homework
  5. Teaching test-taking

Now to the crosses.

Academics from the Hattie-type research ideology characteristically give class size a low effect-size rating. Herbert Walberg, for instance, in his 1980’s study had the effect size for class size at .09, well below the standard of the standard .4. In the presentation of such research results, there is always good publicity in the counterintuitive message of reporting class size as overrated as an influence. More important than that, though, is the appreciative response such results receive from conservative politicians who are always on the alert for ways to reduce spending on education. As well, because teacher unions are associated with the advocacy for continuing reduction in class size, such research results give conservative influences the opportunity to undermine the credibility of teacher unions in their advocacies generally. This provides more space for conservative voices to promote their ideas, and conservative politicians to impose their own solutions with little teacher consultation. Such research findings advertise to conservative politicians that the researchers concerned are staunch and can be relied on to keep their mouths shut on certain education issues, in other words, to stick to their ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ knitting.

The reason why class size effect size comes out low in Hattie-type research is not difficult to work out once you break through the unreality of Hattie’s research reality. Once again readers can make their own judgements; this time about whether Hattie and his ideological research colleagues are aware of the unreality in their research design; whether they are aware but don’t care or don’t think it matters that much; or whether they are laughing all the way to their prestigious conferences.

Let us set out a typical process resulting in reduced class sizes: a reduction in class size is sought (particularly by teacher unions) and gained (as sometimes happens), regulations set, timing announced, and then quietly put into practice, usually at the beginning of the following year. While there will be satisfaction at the implementation, there is no excitement, it is a system’s change, so no special group is involved, no special group has special training and made to feel special, no academic is involved, and no academic’s reputation and ideas are up for scrutiny and advancement. What does all this mean for research design? It means the Hawthorne effect won’t come into play, and it is this effect that is crucial to Hattie-type research.

Associated with the research issue of the Hawthorne effect is the issue of sustainability, in other words, to whether initial learning gains can be sustained in the long-term. The problem for Hattie is that Hattie-type research doesn’t do long-term; for one thing that would show up the lack of sustainability: the axis on which his research results revolve. Hattie-type research is about excluding a lot of variables, doing this for long-term research is very difficult if not unmanageable. Neither, to much extent, does Hattie do the affective in learning, nor to what is always slow and difficult to measure, children’s learning characteristics like independence in learning, initiative, perseverance, curiosity, imagination, creativity, originality, co-operation: the very behaviours that smaller class sizes will be likely to deliver, but over the longer term.

Let us, however, for a moment, play Hattie’s little game with class size, but in reverse: that is, lift class size, effect size, not lower it. My suggestion is that the next reduction in class size be done in stages, with the first stage involving a special group who will be given special professional development programme on how to make best use of the improved ratio; that a sympathetic academic be in charge; that the focus for the research be on immediate improvement in the quality of reading, writing, and maths, especially those parts that lend themselves to measurement. It would be important for the group to know that this professional development was exclusive to that special group: that all eyes would be on them.

Leaving aside the element of cynicism in what I’ve just written, having such a programme progressively introduced throughout the country would be a good idea in itself, though, any associated research should have a sustainability bias and give generous attention to children’s learning characteristics, the affective, and the aesthetic – by that I mean the teacher having the willingness, scope, and ability to include those qualities in the style and content of the teaching. The nature of this programme, and having all schools participate would, of course, mean the Hawthorne effect would diminish, the effect size with it, but the positive effects gained being more sustained.

What is sustained silent reading doing in the company of, say, self-reporting or class size? The inclusion of such an item, in my view, is an attempt by Hattie to gain classroom credibility. For a high academic like Hattie to give prominence to such a minor item of classroom procedure, to be concerned at all with it, generates in teachers an element of frisson; teachers would be rather taken to see an academic concerning himself with such classroom minutiae. For Hattie there is good publicity in being counterintuitive, in going against common sense. And, in a way, Hattie is on to an important philosophical point: discussion does, indeed, really get interesting when common sense is upturned. My charge is that Hattie, goes against common sense on spurious grounds, manipulates this phenomenon to his status advantage. The most glaring example of this is his listing of class size in the crosses’ column.

Sustained silent reading is an example, as well, of a low effect influence (what else could it be?) that costs no money, is easy to organise, and that would add up to something useful when combined with other low-maintenance influences. Once again, Hattie’s research interpretations are found wanting in good sense. But there’s more: his cross against the idea is another indication of the bias not only in his interpretation but in the research he uses – the value in sustained silent reading derives especially from the long-term value in children developing independent reading attitudes. Hattie’s research design tends to eschew the long-term, the straight-forward, and the affective, and concentrates on the short-term, the special, and the focused. The short-term, the special, and the focused get sharper results, are easier to measure, and gain maximum benefit from the Hawthorne effect.

Hattie’s listing of homework repeats the practice described for sustainedsilent reading in which he highlights a minor classroom practice to gain classroom credibility. While allocating a low effect size to sustained silent reading was an example of Hattie going against teacher common sense for publicity and other purposes, allocating a low effect size to homework goes more with the tide of teacher opinion. In the first posting in this series, however, I discuss how Hattie’s research, in its effect-size generalising lacks nuance and has the potential, if taken seriously, to do harm. I point out, for instance, how the practice of young children taking home readers brings a multitude of benefits to early reading programmes. As well, at the other end of the school system, it is difficult to envisage students taking out high honours in examinations if systematic homework isn’t undertaken.

Frequent testing and teaching test-taking are discussed above in the context of the morass that is Hattie’s next step teaching, and in the whole confusion of Hattie’s ticks and crosses regarding the place of testing.

Hattie’s self-chosen ticks and crosses chart for display in the Sunday Star Times is a revelation. Are we going to succumb to the Americanisation of our education system, or retain some semblance of our holistic education heritage? What influences, voices and debates from the past, still evident in the present, are we going to respond to? The revised curriculum (p. 39) sets out two futures for our schools; in an official sense one of those is already in place: next step learning for immediately observable outcomes and measurement; with the other on the defensive, searching for space: evaluation for learning being mainly ‘of the moment’. One future is intent on the demands of authority; the other on the needs of children.

 

 

 

This posting has argued that teachers are caught up in the unrelenting logic of an irrational system; a system Kafka would have recognised as an expression of the psychological state he described. Schools, in true Kafkan style, have to meet expectations of a reality that doesn’t exist. Even an academic as ideologically driven as Hattie accepts that the reality his research describes, in the way it excludes socio-economic influences for instance, is a reality that doesn’t exist – nevertheless he presents his research findings as if it does. Kafka’s victims in the Strafkolonie, living as they did in an atmosphere of universal fear, were in a chronic state of trying to guess what their crime was. This drove potential victims to ever greater conformity. We have in our society, the school, an institution dedicated to the betterment of those who attend, and we create a climate of fear by establishing a teaching and learning reality that does and cannot exist, is acknowledged informally as not being able to exist but, officially, as something that is achievable. This means any education bureaucrat can pull the rule book out whenever they have a mind to. And in true Kafkan style they don’t have to have a mind to too often to establish the fear that is the coin for their existence. Education bureaucrats, however, need the connivance and ideological support of powerful academics and politicians to establish the necessary context, rationale, and authority to do what they do. The beauty of such an ideology in education is the unattractive truth that pragmatism reveals variety, and ideology conceals it.

Why is it, that to me, so many sentences Hattie writes are as slippery as a snake slither? In such a circumstance it is fitting for the reader to ask if this is a fair perception of a high-flying international academic or simply something in the jaundiced eye of a provincial side-liner. That is a judgement for the reader to make. The central argument of this posting remains invariable: Hattie’s road to the Americanisation of New Zealand education is paved with sleight-of-hand research and murky ideological motivation. A recent article by Ivan Snook in the Education Review (April 3, 2009) said that Hattie’s research could ‘merit Eysenk’s judgement “garbage in garbage out”‘. I agree (the Americanism is most appropriate), though I would change it to ‘garbage in meta-garbage out’. There is no doubt that the political education momentum is with Hattie which leaves the challenge to teachers to decide whether they agree with the direction of that momentum. It can be said, I think, that writers do not write just out of their own individuality, or even principally out of their own individuality, they write principally out of the collective influences and debates from the past, the voices they have heard. It is a responsibility that writers carry; it is then up to the reader to adjudge which influences, debates, and voices from the past they think will serve the present (and the future) best.

The Hattie series Part 1: Eliding on thin ice

General introduction

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 2.17.42 PMThis three part series on John Hattie’s recently announced meta-analysis research argues that the research on which he bases his meta-analysis is ideologically skewed, the meta-analysis for the same reason, and the presentation is shaped to appeal to conservative politicians. It also argues that Hattie has had long term plans to develop a performance pay regime for the education system, with him at the centre of this development – a situation, which has clearly influenced the presentation of the research results (at least). There is no disagreement in these postings with his choice of the major influence on learning – the quality of student-child interaction – but there is disagreement with the breathless way it is presented, the way socio-economic influences have been relegated, and the characteristics he has described as part of the student-child interaction. The postings argue that his description of the ideal teacher-child interaction has a curiously unattached feeling to it. It is suggested that the lack of reference, for instance, to children being involved in activities as a class is because that would bring his ideal down to earth and place it in the context of teacher-child interactions well known to teachers, for instance, the Learning in Science Project (LISP) interactive approach. Hattie promotes the idea of exact next step learning as part of this interaction. What contexts does he have in mind? As I discussed in my two previous postings (‘Beyond reason: the argument for the holistic’ and ‘Talk to Tokoroa teachers’), pressures on teachers mean that establishing worthwhile contexts is a considerable struggle, and yet they are a pre-condition to any useful teacher-child interaction. It is this kind of elision in Hattie’s thinking that leads me to suggest he has a tin ear for the nuances of teaching. The ethereal, it seems, not the pragmatic, is necessary to his ambitions.

Serious reservations are expressed in the three postings about Hattie’s appreciation of the professional environment in which teachers work: it is in this environment that his ideas will interact. An imposition of a performance pay scheme onto the education system, though voluntary for individual teachers, will be another set of performance standards; another layer of unrealistic expectations; another instrument for review office application (though indirectly); another flurry of academics within schools; another source of teaching division (schools are co-operative exercises); another layer of bureaucracy; and another diversion from the kind of leadership and help teachers really need.

The research referred to throughout the postings is the meta-analysis Hattie undertook into a huge number of effect sizes from a huge number of research studies representing a huge number of students (I refer to them throughout as children). Effect size research is designed to answer questions about influences on children’s learning. As an outcome of his meta-analysis, Hattie ranked the effect sizes in order of influence.

This commentary stops short of considering Hattie’s book on his research – that may come later. I thought the best way to see where Hattie was wanting to take us was to concentrate on where he had come from using his ‘Inaugural Lecture’ (‘Inaugural Lecture: Influences on Student Learning’ – available online) as professor at Auckland University, 1999; and how he presented his research findings in a recent front page story in the Sunday Star Times (January 4, 2009). What Hattie draws attention to is surely of considerable significance. In the end, the Sunday Star Times proved to be the most revealing. The ‘Inaugural Lecture’, though, sets out tables of effect size influences which won’t have changed much from his book, and provides some interesting slants on his views on teachers, and his aspirations and education theories.

There are three interacting stories running through the three postings (‘Eliding on thin ice’; ‘Eliding on’; and ‘Lost WALTS’). The first story is about Hattie’s actions, attitudes, and agenda starting with his ‘Inaugural Lecture’ through to the article in the Sunday Star Times. A quote from the Times Educational Supplement appears in this front page story  saying Hattie’s research ‘has been dubbed “teaching’s Holy Grail”’ The second story is the ideology Hattie subscribes to – the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ ideology – and the way that ideology results in a particular type of research being used (numbers based); particular education influences being favoured for attention; particular elisions given regular use; and, on international evidence, particular things being done with research and its presentation to appeal to conservative politicians. ‘School effectiveness and improvement’ researchers say they end up with what they end up with because that is the reality they encounter from their research. In return, teachers say they end up with what they end up with because that is the reality they encounter from their experience. The third story, then, is the teachers’ story. In other words, this series of three postings is a cautionary tale about how academics, politicians, and bureaucrats are setting about increasing their dominance over primary schools.

The teachers’ story is about the education miasma within which they work. This miasma has its origins in the negative emotions generated by the functioning of the review office; negative emotions that have many manifestations, for instance, the way schools concentrate on showy outcomes to impress rather than on significant learning to sustain; the way schools are embracing new, superficial programmes from academics and, as a byproduct of that, pushing aside anything left from previous programmes and learning.

This miasma is contributed to by the way universities are structured and functioning. University hierarchies have issued directives saying any media releases from staff should be approved officially. Why?  Because they are terrified of having funding withdrawn from projects, and having their university rankings affected. Hierarchies do not want to antagonise the minister, the ministry, other universities, or powerful professors in those universities (some professors become ‘in’ while others become ‘out’ in ministry decision making). A kind of détente has developed amongst education professors: we won’t criticise you, if you don’t criticise us – and how about if we share project funding more-or-less equally? What use I ask are universities if they do not allow their members to participate freely in debate?  If they settle for the hieratic? A state of quietude has been sought and attained. Schools have been the losers.

Also contributing to the problem is the unbalanced performance reward system used in universities: the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF). New Zealand has taken on the American-inspired system (but now throughout the western world) of publish or perish. It is a kind of performance pay, but the performance used for judgement is not teaching, but something more easily measurable, published articles. You will be well aware of the amount of jargon-laden twaddle being produced by the system. What is happening in universities connects directly with the emphasis on showy and superficial outcomes prevalent in the school system; the connection is through academics seeking contracts in schools to undertake research which finally ends up as fodder for PBRF articles. (It is something of an irony that an academic is angling to put in place in schools a performance pay system for teachers based on teaching, but is part of a teaching service that ignores teaching as contributing to performance reward, going for publishing instead.)

What is going on in schools is education pyramid selling with the kind of product you would expect: flashy and over valued. If school education was a market, the market signals (from politicians, the education review office, boards of trustees, and the public) are to what is easily measurable (resulting in a narrowing of the curriculum); learning which is superficial, showy, and immediate; and  ostentatious technology displays. The trouble is there is no-one going into schools to check, help develop, or value, deep and stable learning, nor is there the kind of critiquing from universities we should expect, just the reverse.

My use of the words ‘eliding’ and ‘elision’ is a mildly euphemistic reference with cynic intent; a reference to a skill all researchers exercise – the Hattie school of research in particular – at passing over in silence, running through quickly, reducing in significance, or omitting that which is awkward for their point-of-view.

Eliding on thin ice

The main argument of this posting is that Hattie’s research findings are an education lemon for teachers but a career bonanza for Hattie. I ask Hattie whether he has shared communication with Anne Tolley about his meta-research and, whether, in the course of that, the matter of performance payments for teachers has arisen. Leaving aside, however, what might be a meeting of minds with Tolley, does he have a view of himself playing a central role in a prospective performance-pay agency along with his Auckland University commercial education arm (of which he is head), and Multi Serve of which he has just become a new board member (along with John Langley, the newly appointed chief executive)?

As regular readers of this web site would now know, I can sometimes become discursive when elaborating on a topic; and when it comes to a topic like the spreading influence of Hattie, his apparent ambitions for his recent research (with its ‘mad scientist’ overtones), the characteristics of the school of research he is part of (‘school effectiveness and improvement’), and his seeming association with Tolley and some of her plans – then those same readers will know that the challenge not to sidetrack is severe. I will, however, do my best to press ahead along the main road of my argument, and that main argument is that there are indications something is going on, not yet in the full light of day, with the idea of performance pay.

I want first to put a road marker in place: Martin Thrupp’s much praised research into the nature and effect of socio-economic influences on teaching and learning and the resulting book – Schools making a difference. Let’s be realistic!  His book forms a counter to Hattie’s research ideas, though it wasn’t written as a counter to them, it was written as a counter to the ideas of the worldwide ‘effectiveness and improvement’ school of education research, of which Hattie has proved himself, in my eyes, to be a leading New Zealand member. [Martin Thrupp is professor of education at the University of Waikato. His book is Thrupp, M. (1999) Schools making a difference. Let’s be realistic! Philadelphia: Open University Print.]

Academics and teachers who disagree with the self-serving claims of the ‘effectiveness and improvement’ school do not, of course, dispute the importance of teachers in achieving learning change, or the idea that schools can do better; what they are disputing are unrealistic expectations of teachers and schools that can, while appearing to pay homage to their role, be the means for undermining, in practice, confidence in them; resulting, not coincidentally, in increasing the power of education bureaucrats, politicians, and certain categories of academics. The way this occurs is quite simple: education, they say, is very important to society and schools and teachers can make a huge difference (is that a Greek bearing gifts?), at the moment, though, teachers are not stepping up, too ready to make excuses; fortunately, though, our research shows, if teachers follow our insights, schools can rise above every challenge, for instance, research shows socio-economic challenges are more in the mind of teachers than in reality, so if teachers learn to put all that baggage aside and negotiate with children, then socio-economic challenges can be reduced to near insignificance, and bob’s your uncle!

Thrupp’s book details how, overseas, ‘effectiveness and improvement’ research is often shaped to fit in with the views of right-wing politicians, and has been used worldwide to justify and provide the ideological basis for testing regimes and various right-wing reform movements. (p. 192) Readers of this posting would do well to adopt a watching brief to adjudge to what extent this occurs in New Zealand. This country, from the education review office to compulsory testing, has already established itself as a ready dumping ground for second-hand education ideas from overseas. Will performance pay be another one?

In my posting on ‘The battle for primary school reading’, Part 1, I wrote of researchers and academics that they were human, with all the characteristics and motivations that people anywhere, anytime, exhibit. And they were exhibiting these characteristics in that most value-laden of undertakings – education. I suggested to readers that they listen to education academics with the same degree of scepticism they listen to politicians. I warned them not to let the specialised language and the references to research overwhelm their sensibilities. These people are at their vocation with the usual mixture of motivations you expect of anyone similarly engaged – they can be expected to be seeking such things as truth, satisfaction, recognition, promotion, money, status, domination, and power. Similarly, like most people, academics want to make a difference and make some mark on posterity.

Further on in the posting (‘The battle for primary school reading’) I said of academics that most decide early on in their career what they are going to base their career on; then they give what they decide on a tweak, and for the rest of their lives depend on that tweaked idea for conferences, publications, promotion, and sense of power and fulfillment. Hatties’ ideas on education effect size are old hat; the compartmentalising and diminishing of socio-economic effects on schooling are old hat for the category of academics he spawns from; as is the compartmentalizing and diminishing of class size, size effects. Teacher-child interaction is quite correctly at the top of his research list as the most important influence on classroom change, but it is placed there in absurdist isolation; socio-economic influences should be close-by, but they aren’t. Thrupp in his book dramatically describes how socio-economic effects cannot be contained; they permeate everything that occurs, often in unpredictable ways. In education, socio-economic effects never sleep. Teacher interaction and socio-economic influences should be close together at the top of any ranking of influences on classroom change.

In this posting, as discussed above, I have deliberately kept away from Hattie’s book based on his research because it is the way his research has been presented (in the Sunday Star Times), the matters chosen for emphasis in it, and the style of the language used that interests me most. I do pay a fair bit of attention, though, to the basis for his research, pointing out what I consider disabling flaws, also the way the generalising nature of the research dangerously confuses issues.

An example the generalising nature of Hattie’s research confusing issues is when he points out (in the Sunday Star Times) that his research shows homework being of little value as a learning influence. While there will be considerable agreement that homework is often of little education value, there are definite examples of homework proving to be of sharp value to both immediate learning and the general school context. There is, for instance, the New Zealand tradition of youngsters taking home their readers, with such learning benefits as increasing reading mileage, demonstrating how books and reading are valued by the school, making the children feel ‘grown-up’, involving the parents in the education of their children, and building home-school relationships. Also, many teachers have found voluntary homework useful in building independence in children, and for providing evidence of such independence.

Hattie should have unambiguously challenged the idea that his research could accurately be described as ‘teaching’s holy grail’. He should have put his research into context by saying something along the lines that though it was the largest of its kind, it was just one of many of such projects using the same method and traversing the same territory. There is a suspicion that just the opposite happened. As a result, I am prompted to ask whether the ‘holy grail’ allusion was researched by the article writer, contained in a press release, or pointed to by Hattie in some other way. There is a press release kind of feel to the article but, like anything else I’ve written about Hattie I will be happy to make corrections on receiving the necessary information.

The breathless way Hattie’s effect size rankings are announced in the newspaper article, with teacher-child interaction at the top, is a considerable sleight-of-hand. If anyone was asked what they considered the greatest influence on learning, nearly everyone would say the teacher, after all the contact between teacher and child is where the rubber hits the road, but that contact is dependent on a lot of other factors happening too. The teacher represents what the system brings to the children. If they were asked about the second factor many people would say matters concerning those things children brought to their learning; this might be expressed as family, class, or cultural capital. After that would come class size and other aspects of the learning environment.

Hattie, because he is from the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ research group, was always going to have teacher-child interaction pretty much alone at the top, with the effects of class and culture muffled. Nearly all the items in Hattie’s ridiculously long research list can be encompassed in the big three (teacher-child interaction; socio-economic class; and school environment); I believe the items, many of them trivial in isolation, are included for publicity heightening. As well, in third posting of this series, I discuss how the labels chosen for the classroom influences and the constituent parts allocated to them, and the sheer number of items ranked, skew the research design toward Hattie’s preferred style of teacher-child interaction becoming dominant in the size effect list.

The newspaper article then goes onto report that the research ‘casts serious doubt on the importance of … small class sizes’: it doesn’t – it says something else is considered more important. Hattie may or may not have been the direct source for this statement, but whatever, he has not contradicted it. (In the third posting of this series I describe how the research design was skewed to reduce class size as an influence.) My view is that it suits his wider education political ambitions for such statements to be left hanging in the air. Hattie seems to have the ability to accept certain interpretations of his research that are counter to the import of that research. While the present government has said it is going ahead with reductions to class sizes promised by the previous government, it would be music to its ears to hear class size reduction being criticised.

Hattie, in the newspaper article, is cheerfully chatting on about this and that when, out-of-the-blue, it seems, he says, ‘it is time to revisit the controversial idea of performance-related pay for teachers’. Where did that come from? Where did ‘performance-related pay’ come from? How did we get here from there? Did I miss something? Hattie was talking about how we were wasting money on reducing class sizes and then, out of the hat, he pulls ‘performance-related pay’. Where did that come from? Was that part of the research?

Hold on – I have found someone else who has made a similar giant leap of association, from out of right field it would seem – it is our new minister of education, she 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 … as difficult as it is, we do need to encourage excellence in teaching … I’m sure that we can come to a satisfactory resolution if we can accept that it is going to make a huge difference to the performance of our education system.’

Tolley, the article reports, wants ‘Hattie to be involved in a cross-sector discussion, to be held this year …’

Readers will note that I have written ‘it seems’ in reference to ‘performance-related pay’ suddenly appearing in his commentary. This is where his ‘Inaugural Address’, presented 10 years ago, helps to throw light on the situation. ‘I propose’, he said then, ‘the development of an Australasian Board for Professional Education Standards … that parallels the USA National Board (NBPTS) to advance the excellence of the principal and teaching profession.’ (p. 20) In America the NBPTS, which has developed various sets of teaching standards, is the agency which organises performance pay for a number of districts. The link with performance pay was not made clearly in his ‘Inaugural Address’ but, on re-reading it, the indications were there. From the way events have unfolded, however, his intentions, it seems, were to await his research meta-analysis before making his big move. Note, by the way, his reference ‘to revisit[ing]’ the idea of performance pay. When in New Zealand did we visit it in the first place? You’re not in America now Mr Hattie.

Hattie’s trickiness arises from the way the importance of the teacher is trumpeted as though it is a surprise finding. All ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ researchers would place teacher-child interaction at the top of any list of important influences on learning; all sociological researchers would to, but have socio-economic influences close-by. But there is calculation in why Hattie wants it to sound as if having teacher-child interaction at the top is something of a breakthrough: it provides a launching pad for what he really wants to get into the political sphere, his deep desire for a system of ‘performance-related pay’. He is really saying that now that he has found, proved, established beyond challenge, that the teacher is the key, we can now proceed to put performance pay in place. Up till now, he seems to be saying, the importance of the teacher-child interaction has been in doubt, under challenge; now we can proceed with performance pay; now we can, with the utmost confidence, give wholehearted attention to teacher professional development and the way to do that is through performance pay. I know the previous sentences are repetitive but I believe John Hattie is pulling a fast one here.

Before I draw any conclusions from this to justify my question about Hattie’s long game, I want to examine some of his further statements in the newspaper article. Hattie expresses his doubts about the degree of trust New Zealand teachers engender in the children they teach; sufficient trust for the children to feel able to say ‘we need help … we need to have this retaught’.

‘He says this sort of trust is too rare – which is why he wants to work out a way of paying teachers of excellence, rather than experience.’

Hattie is taking a lot on to himself in making this claim.

In this respect, reference to his ‘Inaugural Address’ is revealing. In talking about New Zealand schools he says, ‘We have a model of teaching which assumes that experience is sufficient, we pride well run quiet classrooms, we pride mimicking, listening, and regurgitating information.’ (p. 20)

‘Teaching’, he says, ‘is often undertaken as knowledge forced into recalcitrant brains, assembled in straight rows, silent, listening and waiting to be tested.’ (p. 21)

What are we to make of this? As primary teachers do you recognise your classroom in this account? ‘Mimicking, listening, and regurgitating information’? ‘Teaching … often taken as knowledge forced into recalcitrant brains’? (Readers might recall my concern that knowledge in any form of transmission takes a distant second place to process in primary schools.) ‘Assembled in straight rows’? ‘Silent, listening, and regurgitating information’? This is definitely not primary as I know it, more akin to secondary perhaps, but only in caricature. This, I believe, comes from his tin ear for subtleties and nuances, also his main motivation, that of establishing himself as a powerful force in New Zealand education. He reaches to the right and left in education to bolster his position even at the expense of distorting reality. In this case, his criticisms are reaching to the left but, in the Sunday Star Times, his real moves are to the right.

In the newspaper article he says, ‘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 …’

Hattie’s real mindset is given away with this cliché about ‘throw[ing] money at smaller classes’. He has a cheek saying this, given he knows how much better resourced schools are in the UK, Australia, and the USA. It is denigrating to teachers and the system to say money has been thrown at schools, lavished as it were, and that no good use has been made of it. The New Zealand system is a smell-of-an-oily rag one.

Hattie says people are worrying more about money issues than ‘worry[ing] about the curriculum’. He then adds ‘we need to spend a lot more policies on worrying about this.’ (The grammar is his.) Now who would be the people he supposes spends more time worrying about the wrong thing? The unions, of course. We can expect lots of snide remarks about the unions in the years ahead. Lorraine Kerr, NZSTA president, was quick to pick up on using Hattie as a stick for hitting the unions. ‘John Hattie’, she said, ‘is a timely catalyst for discussions on what needs to change for students to achieve.’ (Principals Today, Term 1, 2009) Lorraine Kerr continues, ‘In recent years, the education sector seems to have moved away from educational debate about student achievement and how to obtain excellence, to a situation of allowing industrial agenda to dominate outcomes.’

Note the way the word ‘industrial’ is used in an ugly manner, and the reference to the word ‘excellence’.

In the newspaper article, Hattie, in his choice of words and allusions, continues to reveal his true bent. He said he wanted to work out a way for paying teachers extra for excellence …’ [The italics are mine.] ‘‘Excellence’ is a word taken over by neo-liberals and education conservatives to convey the idea of a quality absent from the present education system. Teachers will have noted the major elision in his discussion of ways to improve teachers’ professional development: the lack of consideration for ways, other than performance pay, that professional development might occur.

To understand what I consider the skew in Hattie’s meta-analysis and the numbers’ research he bases that on, we need to understand the way the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ researchers reduce the importance of socio-economic influences on children’s learning. This step away from reality has the effect of giving politicians, academics, and bureaucrats the excuse and opportunity to increase their power. We need to understand that most research, while often an interesting and sometimes useful read, is a vehicle for the ideologies and career aspirations of the researchers. When resulting research outcomes coincide with truth in reality, teachers and children benefit; when they don’t, teachers and children lose.

In novels, it is an invariable structural feature that plot lines carry an occurrence of major contradiction to that plot line, and it is part of the skill of the author to mask that contradiction, divert attention from it; in my view, research carries the same structural feature but many times repeated, placing even more demands on the research writer (the process of eliding). I look, however, to researchers to point out somewhere in their research, possible weaknesses and flaws in their research design and analysis. I hope Hattie has done this in his book; there is, though, no reference to this in his ‘Inaugural Address’ or the newspaper article – it is all very gung-ho in that respect

There are, for teachers and children in all New Zealand schools, no matter their decile, dominant and detrimental influences seriously affecting the quality of teaching and learning. No matter the nature of Hattie’s pedagogical ideas they will make no headway until these influences are addressed. As well, as pointed out in the ‘General introduction’, if he is not appreciative of these influences, sympathetic to teachers in having to face them, then he will make things worse. But Hattie won’t be addressing them because the school of research he is part of is a major source for them gaining dominance. Leaving aside references to the need for a trusting relationship between teacher and child, Hattie has little truck with environmental influences whether school- or community-based.

Teachers in primary school classrooms are beset with bureaucratisation, and deprived of sufficient control over purposes, means, and knowledge. These detrimental characteristics could be said to have begun with ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ but the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ ideology, derived from neo-liberalism that underpinned that education change, said that schools made the difference, not socio-economic circumstances, not very much anyway.

The implication of the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ ideology is that if a school doesn’t achieve at a high level, it has failed; if a low decile school doesn’t achieve somewhere near higher decile schools, it has failed. The fault is theirs. There is I know, always the case of the low decile school which is pointed to as ‘succeeding’ when those around ‘failed’. I don’t want to go into depth in discussing this; there are always exceptional matters which pertain, but I want to emphasise another aspect: the ‘success’ of such a school is always in narrow, measurable parts of the curriculum. When it comes to the wider curriculum and cognitive function and in the longer term, the children from that school as a group will always be more of their school’s decile, than the deciles of schools further away.

If the magical circumstances were to occur that the children from a low decile school had the same set of education experiences as children from a high decile school, the children from the high decile school as a group, in any thorough-going evaluation, would always achieve significantly higher. Thrupp explains (his whole book is based on him observing schools of various deciles in action) how low decile schools are hostages to wide-ranging education fortune. (This is not the time to go into Russell Bishop’s ‘Te Kotahitanga’ programme, except to say that I support its aims and procedures, for instance, the need to have high expectations, build on and respect the children’s experiences, treat the children as individuals, and establish an atmosphere of warmth and trust.)

The argument, backed up by research from the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ researchers, that all schools have it within their powers to succeed as well as any other school – sets up many schools to ‘fail’ which allows politicians and certain academics to declare the system not sufficiently succeeding, and provides the justification to impose their own solutions; solutions which increase the bureaucratisation of the system and further reduce the powers of schools. It also sets up a further set of expectations which, eventually, will lead to the cycle repeating itself.

A serene gliding along the surface of research, but a frantic eliding below it, is my persistent image of ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ group. No doubt the members of the group are sincere in their beliefs about classroom influences, the degree to which schools can make a difference, and the efficacy of their suggested solutions. From my point-of-view I see their view of the degree of difference schools can make as their career-dependent tweaked idea, and their research and interpretation as an exercise in ideology-fulfilling power extension. For instance, I suspect they have relegated the importance of socio-economic influences on learning by subsuming some socio-economic influences under other labels: in the size effect ranking in the ‘Inaugural Address’ the closest influence to Hattie’s preferred form of teacher-child interaction is ‘Students prior cognitive ability’ – I think some subsuming has occurred there. Then further down at a fairly high ranking is, ‘Students disposition to learn’ – more subsuming I suspect. I know some of the things I am writing are, in academic terms, politically incorrect, but I’m pushing on.

When, as reported in the Sunday Star Times, Hattie says it doesn’t really matter which school a child attends, there is some truth in what he says, but it is an elided truth. A child from a literature- and discussion-rich family who might have attended a high decile school but who attends a low decile one instead has a good chance of getting a good education, there are many wonderful teachers in those schools, and that child will bring abilities to learning that will predispose him or her to school success. That should not be interpreted, somehow, as evidence that all children who attend that low decile school can be similarly successful as Hattie seems to be insinuating. But there is another matter involved relating to the generalising nature of Hattie’s meta-analysis discussed above. When he says the decile of a school is of little moment as an influence on learning this, surely, is frantic eliding. If the generalising effect of the middle decile schools is removed and the performance of children from, say, the top two deciles is compared with the performance of schools at the bottom, the contrast would be stark, and dramatically so if the comparison went beyond the measurable in literacy and mathematics. If an informed observer went into the functioning of those schools (as Thrupp did) over an extended period, the socio-economic challenges the teachers face in the lower decile schools compared with the facilitating conditions for learning in the higher decile schools, would become clear.

Thrupp summed it up in the title of his book, School’s making a difference. Let’s be realistic!  To be unrealistic might suit the career aspirations of some, may bring potential hindrances to learning to others (‘Te Kotahitanga’), but to be other than realistic is to render a disservice to education and the children involved. This posting, indeed, has been about how being unrealistic has served to reduce the initiative of teachers, led to superficial and showy learning and practices in schools, increased the power of the centralised bureaucracy and some academics, and distorted the system. And we are now facing centralised testing regimes of measurable parts of part of learning; a categorising of schools on the basis of that testing; increased intrusion of the review office into the life of schools; and an academic, on the basis of what I consider skewed research, forming an informal association with a minister of education to bring in performance pay.

Charming.

I want to discuss in quiet tones the matter raised above about New Zealand classrooms being ‘beset with bureaucratisation and fear, and deprived of sufficient control over purposes, means, and knowledge’. The matter is important because challenging this environment will be a crucial test of Hattie’s sincerity, his willingness to put himself at odds with the power brokers, and the degree to which he is willing to break away from the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ ideology. Nothing happens in New Zealand schools that isn’t vitally affected by the functioning and philosophy of the education review office – it is the touchstone for everything that happens; it is the corrosive influence that never sleeps. Since 1989 when Maurice Gianotti and I had opposing days and views at a conference in Whangarei, I have put the argument against the review office from writing articles, to petitions, to lobbying, to the steps of parliament, and I am tired of it, the issue is as serious as ever, but a languor besets me now when I write about it; I don’t really want to spend the remainder of my writing days on this dismal, miasmic organisation, but here I go again, but quietly, as I said.

Anne Tolley talks about a crisis in teaching with many teachers leaving and, clearly in some kind of informal harness with John Hattie, they are using this so-called crisis as a justification for what all politicians and many academics want, more bureaucratic control over teachers, and more control of the knowledge that underpins classroom pedagogy. No doubt this continual push for increased control is sincere on their part, but we who are at the butt end will be the ones to suffer the consequences and, as such, should be the ones to have a strong appreciation of what is happening; a further extension of bureaucratic and knowledge control. On the other hand, if John Hattie breaks free, and stands unambiguously with teachers, and wants to get across his LISP-type message he will need to challenge the psychological and legal grip the review office has of the primary school education system. (The review office’s relationship with secondary schools is different in nature and degree, mainly because secondary schools’ are bigger institutions, their departmental structure, and because they are locked into an exam network which though it brings its own strictures also provides protection from the review office ideology.)

In this matter of teachers leaving teaching, Tolley and, it seems Hattie, are working to some presumptions I challenge.  In my Biography section to this web site I wrote, I would ‘like to see schools become less bureaucratic, so that teaching could become more joyous, and attract and retain more adventurous people.’ The main reason why good teachers are leaving teaching is the caution, fear, bureaucratic regulation and interference, and lack of respect for teacher knowledge, so much a feature of contemporary classroom life. Tolley, in typical shallow fashion, has caught on to part of that, and has made a big thing of reducing ‘red tape’; when pressed, however, for an example in a recent Principals Today interview she was at a loss to give one. Bureaucratic demands on schools cannot not be reduced unless the role of the review office is also reduced or changed.

The way the review office has been set up and the task it is charged with means that fear is implicit in that organisations functioning, and now subsumed in the system’s. This fear has a deep-seated effect on the nature of working in primary schools and on the quality of learning. Leaving aside the issue of performance pay, if Hattie tried to put in place his ‘holy grail’ ideas he would find that they would not be robust enough to withstand the realities of a review office controlled education system.

In his book, how clear was John Hattie in describing reservations about the scope and authenticity of his research findings? When I examine the book I will find out; in the meantime, as well as all the criticisms I have made about ideological bias research (which stems from shared belief-systems), the emphasis on what is measurable (which works against the affective in learning), the general research weakness that comes from variable reduction, the nature of much large-scale research, academic career self-serving, and Hawthorne – it might be instructive to look at what Timperley had to say about what she called ‘gaps in evidence’ in her research analysis in a similar, though more circumscribed, area (though, it is the crucial area of the effect of teacher action on learning).

Oh, and by the way John Hattie – I take it that it was you that prompted the Sunday Star Times (January 4, 2009) writer to inform us that your research has been ‘dubbed “teaching’s Holy Grail” by an influential UK education journal, the Times Educational Supplement.’  We provincials are deeply impressed. Certainly, our resident in the minister’s chair, Anne Tolley, felt able to predict it would have a ‘profound influence’ on the future of schooling: so new to the job and so certain of what is right for education and what the future holds.

As an important part of the motivation for my question to John Hattie I refer to the Sunday Star Times front page, main story article. I don’t intend in this posting to comment on his book; the main story article serves better the declared purpose of this article. Neither do I intend to go into any depth in critiquing Hattie’s ‘findings’ just a little touch here and there to indicate possible naiveties. It’s how and where he ends up that is of particular interest here.

‘A major new Kiwi study into what makes students succeed casts serious doubt on the importance of homework, small class sizes – and even which school a child attends.’

I don’t intend to keep repeating a criticism of the kind of research he uses for his study but to standardise methods within the research there is an exclusion of a lot of variables; the Hawthorne effect is rarely seriously dealt with; the sustainability of any ‘changes’ are only cursorily attended to, if at all; the affective part of learning is grossly neglected (and by the affective I mean considerably more than asking children how they felt about some aspect of learning); related to the previous point and the following one, testing and surveys miss a lot of the subtleties of learning and classrooms; and, academic researchers, as I will demonstrate in detail when I examine Hattie’s book, usually have a tin ear for the rhythm and realities of learning and classrooms.

What the researchers and Hattie have missed here is that homework can set up patterns of behaviour that are likely to be increasingly important in study through to the tertiary level and beyond. As well, the research claim, surely, should not be an absolute judgement on homework in perpetuity, but on the quality of homework actually being set.

Why is homework being included in the same list as small class sizes? (The answer, I surmise, is that it makes good copy for the Hattie publicity machine.) Research into the benefits of smaller class sizes usually misses the more subtle and affective benefits that don’t immediately translate into improved test results or easily observable improved responses. There is some validity to Hattie’s ‘finding’ but, once again, the judgement should not be absolute, smaller classes should be seen as the basis for learning improvement, not a direct cause. Hattie would probably agree, however, where we want learning to go – whether in the technocratic direction indicated by Hattie or in the holistic advocated by others – will be deeply dependent on smaller classes, so his research finding is a reckless wooing of the political right-wing. Smaller class size, like the education effects of socio-economic characteristics, permeates everything that occurs often in unpredictable ways.

The problem with this finding is that there is only one comparison parents want, that is between low decile schools and high decile schools. Was this the emphasis in the research Hattie used? I suspect it wasn’t, so it doesn’t provide relevant information. I’m loathe to say much here because there is much compelling teaching and many compelling teachers in low decile schools. With ‘Tomorrow’s Schools, however, the demographic horse, with the attendant mayhem, has already bolted. Because Hattie and his ‘effectiveness and improvement’ colleagues have locked themselves into the ideological corner on this one and they were bound to come up with this ‘finding’ – they are defying the laws of education gravity.]

‘Hattie … 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 the teacher.’

He said that ‘tactics such as letting students take turns to teach the class, and teachers doing post-mortems’ were part of this. He identifies ‘giving feedback and fostering an atmosphere of trust’ as how he would sum it up.

‘It’s a lot easier to throw money at smaller classes, more equipment, more funding, to worry about the curriculum, to worry about exams’, he added.

Hattie’s ideas about teaching and learning are dangerously naïve, not so much for what they are, but for how they are being characterised – being characterised as the curriculum answer we’ve been looking for. To say that the truisms put forward are the answer to classroom practice, is like saying productivity is the answer to economic development.

Students knowing exactly how well they are doing and can explain this, as well as any gaps in their understanding – hasn’t Hattie heard of the of the ‘Learning in Science Project’ (LISP)? There were some brilliant people associated with this Waikato University undertaking. What he describes is exactly what LISP advocated but, of course, in huge detail in numerous publications and conferences. Much the same thing could be said for any other New Zealand curriculum project. As I will describe below the kind of process LISP is based on, and Hattie’s ideas are based on, are part of what learning can be, but there is much more, with that more summed up in a recent posting ‘Beyond reason: the argument for the holistic’. Incorporating the affective in learning is hugely complex, requiring a real knowledge of how classroom learning occurs, and is very difficult to teach, test, and research which makes it anathema to technicists, testers, and the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ advocates.

John Hattie you have presented such ‘findings’ as if they were new, as something you have delivered through your ‘findings’ to politicians and the nation as a gift, when, in fact, they are truisms that many in education have already spent a lifetime turning  from that state to something detailed, fresh, and insightful.

It might seem to John Hattie that I’m mightily worked up about the nature of his introduction to teaching and learning in New Zealand. I have spent much of my professional lifetime arguing against the power plays of powerful people in education; the trouble is that even for very intelligent people the movement from good intentions to obtuseness and exploitation can occur with more seductive ease than they could imagine.

John Hattie is just another in a long line of technicists who, it seems to me, have obstructed the unfolding of our holistic philosophy, and the conversation we should be having amongst ourselves about how that philosophy can be even better expressed in classrooms. Hence my assault on the three reading professors in the series of posting, ‘The battle for primary school reading’; or my struggle with the review office in the ‘90s (in which I learnt how my movement from good tactics to flawed ones occurred with more seductive ease than I was able to imagine.) Yes – I am in a rage but John Hattie needs to understand that the way I work when considering the authenticity of academic ideas – I apply them to my experiences as a teacher; I apply them to the situations I have observed as a visitor to classrooms for over forty years; I apply them to the host of academic experiences I have had (including being a researcher for LISP); I apply them to education philosophers I admire like Dewey and Eisner; above all, I apply them to the holistic philosophy which is New Zealand’s distinctive contribution to education. One of the ways I do that is to apply them to the classrooms of Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Elwyn Richardson. There are distant echoes in Ashton-Warner’s classroom of what Hattie calls teacher-student negotiation, but the essence of her classroom was affective engagement, not the sterility indicated by the research so important to Hattie’s research conclusions. Richardson’s classroom was more varied and complex; the student-teacher interaction was a kind of negotiation but not in the jigsaw puzzle style (referred to below), but the affective complexity of a kaleidoscope. Hattie’s ideas on excellence in teaching are a caricature of excellence, a painfully weak expression of Richardson’s richness, depth, and power.

It appears to me that John Hattie is aggrandizing himself at the moral and professional expense of classroom teachers and generations of classroom leaders. He has taken the mana presumptuously from the people leaving theirs diminished. It is incumbent on him to correct the impression he have transmitted to Anne Tolley, I suspect even prior to the Sunday Star Times article, that in respect to your teaching and learning ‘findings’; what he has said is absolutely not new, indeed, is a teaching commonplace in New Zealand classrooms.

I suspect that John Hattie is a technicist in education outlook, though he has the tendency from time-to-time to say aspirational things that indicate a wider outlook. There is a comic-book, simplistic feel to his interpretation of what the research says about excellence in teaching. I put at one end of the teaching curriculum the pedagogical metaphor of the jigsaw puzzle; this is the technicist end, the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ end, the review office end, in which in measured fashion the teacher, through a variety of stratagems, gets to know the pieces of the learning jigsaw puzzle which have lodged in the child’s cognitive structures and the ones that haven’t.  Necessarily in this kind of learning, the emphasis is on clear-cut learning with little recognition of the affective. At the other end of the teaching curriculum is the pedagogical metaphor of the kaleidoscope, which in its variety and complexity requires extraordinary sensitivity by the teacher, flexibility, and something feared and despised by the technicists, faith and intuition.

Timperley says that she encountered many difficulties, the ‘greatest of these was a paucity of empirically verifiable detail concerning the sequence of events. Few studies provided descriptions of the professional development, evidence of teacher learning and change, and student outcomes.’ (p. xiv)

‘Another major problem was the reporting of student outcomes. This reporting was inconsistent and in many cases failed to reach even basic standards of adequacy. We would know so much more about the impact of professional learning and development if those reporting impact provided the basic statistical information … from which effect sizes could be calculated.’

What are we to make of this? Timperley, I can report, has written up her findings in a way which reflects these research concerns. While she describes certain findings as being more important than others, and some are consistent with Hattie’s, it is done with a caution and a humility that I find convincing. There is, above all, no sense of her findings being boiled down to a ‘holy grail’ one. Was Hattie able to find research that Timperley wasn’t able to, that overcame these issues? Was Hattie able to solve the research problems referred to in his office?

But there is more: Timperley says that, ‘In addition, we could not find sufficient evidence about several issues on which to base sound conclusions. The first of these issues concerned the skills of the providers. Rarely were providers and what they did to promote teacher learning the subject of investigation.’

While we need research, this is the nature of research. Researchers should always demonstrate the kind of care and caution that Timperley has. Now we have a minister of education believing Hattie’s research and his ‘holy grail’ finding as gospel, and promising it will have ‘a “profound influence” on how the new government approaches education’. For his sake and our teachers’ and children’s Hattie had better be right (which, of course in perspective it isn’t, and in implication worse than wrong), or take quick steps to ensure the minister and the public have the right take on what research is, and how this research should be approached, and might be acted on.

The whole matter of performance pay is a horrendously vexed one. If ideologues are promoting an idea, it always pays to pay close attention to the label they have ascribed to it. And, sure enough, embedded in the label is an ambiguity. Even conservatives have given up on real ‘performance’ pay in that a teacher’s pay is decided by the previous year’s results; making such a system work is impossible; what it has come down to is ‘evidence of professional development-based pay’. The only system that has come close to being workable is one in which there is an agency formed, bought into by teacher and education groups, and, working to agreed standards, takes responsibility for a certification system. I believe Multi Serve wants to be that agency and John Hattie wants to provide the pedagogy. In many respects it is a re-introduction of the inspectorate but working to criteria issuing from academic knowledge further subordinating classroom-based knowledge.

It is an idea that has some appeal but, speaking now as someone who had 15 years in the inspectorate, making decisions about professional development-based pay will create a strong sense of injustice in many. I have seen what seems on the surface to be highly prosaic teaching methods producing beautiful results, and that person being a highly valuable mentor to others. Such a person wouldn’t have a look-in under this system. It will work against the person who is highly skilled in particular areas. I also think it will lead to an increase in credentialism, which already besets the system. As another layer of bureaucracy, it will lead to a more complex system, and be vulnerable to ideological subversion and takeover by whichever ideology happens to be dominant at the time. In many respects the idea is demeaning to teachers because it is based on the idea that promises of extra money were needed to exhort teachers to higher levels of performance. I don’t believe that. Why not begin implementing a sabbatical programme for teachers and a follow-up from that?

In the present circumstances, the discussion around ‘performance pay’ will be a damaging diversion. It will be sold to the public as evidence that something substantial is going to be done about teaching and learning in schools; that something will be ‘done’ to teachers, which is always popular with the public; and it will be done as a substitute for any real pay increases for teachers at large. I speak in the future tense as it will be a drawn out diversion, making it all the more valuable for that purpose. And having John Hattie on board, the man who came up with the ‘holy grail’ finding, will be a trump argument for the minister. My guess, is that if it comes to pass, only a small amount of money will be allocated, which will make it the perfect diversion: that is, one that causes the greatest possible popular ruckus for the smallest amount of money. The great disappointment for me, is that the main handicap to school functioning – the review office – will continue to go unrecognised by the public and politicians.

I’m going to leave the matter of ‘performance pay’ there. My intention has been, in my way, to alert those in education to the matter and raise some issues to be better prepared for the debate ahead. Whether Multi Serve and John Hattie, in combination, have a central role in mind for themselves, is up to them to confirm or deny. The important point is that we are sufficiently informed and concerned to take the initiative to oppose and propose in ways that are consistent with our understanding of what is in the best interests of children.

What exactly is the ‘holy grail’ teacher-child interaction that Hattie describes? Is it really something new? Does it avoid the great fault of learning theories from education psychologist, that of presuming we know what is going on in children’s minds to the extent we know the exact next learning step required? Is the affective, the aesthetic, non-reason, the immanent, creativity, and imagination encouraged and given space? Is the learning set up for assessment or affective exploration? Does the model provide imagery particular to certain kinds of learning and particular age groups? (In other words, does the model provide imagery for particular curriculum areas like, say, science or social studies, rather than reading or the arts?) Does the model fall on the review office side of pedagogy or the Eisner, Dewey, Richardson, Ashton-Warner side? Does the model have an atomisation of knowledge feel to it?

It is the argument of this posting that to call his interactive teaching model new, is sad, desperate, ignorant, and arrogant. All teaching models feature aspects of the characteristics to a major extent. In its broader descriptions, it is extremely close to the Learning in Science project; in many of its particular details it is extremely close to the education review office observable outcomes model, that is setting objectives that will provide immediately observable outcomes, and then setting further such objectives for the next exact step for the individual child. It is a kind of bureaucratic fantasy that is neither attainable in reality, nor desirable to be attained in reality. A primary school teacher has say 28 children in his or her class, has eight major learning areas to teach, and can be teaching five- or six-year-olds. How does the teacher plan, assess for such a complexity? To any given idea 28 children will have 28 very complex reactions to that idea; reactions that may, at a number of junctures, not be able to be articulated by children, cannot be understood by children, can be contradictory, confused, emotive, beginning points for creativity and imaginary detours; ideas that are immanent; ideas that may be risk-taking for the child – reactions that if pushed for by a teacher will trample over inspiring eventual responses. (The kind of teaching I am describing, and part of our education tradition, can be read about in ‘In the Early World’ by Elwyn Richardson; my 11-part series on the book; or Richardson’s teaching transferred to a contemporary setting, in another posting on this web site.)

Good teaching is about being at ease with the complexity of teaching and the knowledge that at its core it is a mystery; indeed, the reality of that mystery, and the art of responding to it and the freedom to respond to it, is what attracts to teaching those who become good teachers and the main reason why they remain in teaching. Teaching that has become about measurement, control, bureaucracy, working to the formula of others, is the reason why good teachers leave teaching. Good teachers like the feeling they are doing it for themselves, it is what motivates and inspires them. At a philosophical level, even if we knew exactly how children’s minds worked, given the Orwellian outcomes that would result, we should act as if we didn’t. In my view, Hattie and the review office, use a pedagogical model that implies they do know how children’s minds work; it is a myth, of course, but myths that are believed in have the same effect as if they were true and, in this case, I believe, pose a threat to the humanist society. Hattie, by the way, always gives himself wriggle room to go left or right, as suits his purposes, towards freedom or authoritarianism, but I won’t buy the dummy to the left as he veers to the right and control. (He even gives himself wriggle room by cleverly criticising the very research he then goes ahead and basis his research on. In his office, Hattie claims to have estimated the magnitude as well as the statistical significance of research into educational change, the first person it seems to have done so.)

In my posting ‘Beyond reason: the argument for the holistic’ my main argument is that the affective, the aesthetic, the symbolic, the intuitive are at the heart of successful classrooms not the periphery; and that a clear recognition of their role could be the missing link for some teachers, indeed for the system as a whole. Education, I argue, should encompass the duality of reasoning and feeling, the cognitive and the affective, the rational and the non-rational to establish holistic education – an education fundamental to a complete and humanising school experience for children. I query how well researchers investigate, or can investigate, the affective part of learning (the affective being much more than just asking children how they felt about their learning) and, as a result, the validity of much research because of that lack. Associated with this is a challenge to researchers to publish their findings along with the learning theory, consciously or unconsciously, that has guided them. Researchers would claim, no doubt, that they are objective and not working from any learning theory which is, of course, impossible: they are, for instance, working to a learning theory of some sort in setting up their research, the variables they include and exclude, what they consider important to comment on and what not important enough, and in what they choose to highlight as possible weaknesses or omissions in their research. If a researcher gives little weight to the affective, the lack of attention to that part of learning is, as a result, going to be given little weight in any consideration of the validity of the research. When I read Hattie’s research book I am going to look very carefully to see whether he discusses the lack of attention to the affective in the research he uses in his analysis. From what I’ve read from Hattie so far, I’m far from reassured; he seems to steer away from the affective for the sensible but muddle-headed reason that research does not do the affective comfortably or convincingly.

Here we have the review office with its destructive myth; a myth embedded in regulation, incapable of ever being attained; there as a permanent threat, as a hold over teachers. And now we have an attention-seeking professor with sound-enough pedagogical ideas at one level but at the detailed level, just another atomizing, control-agent academic from educational psychology.

I’ll go first to his general pedagogical statements. He says in his ‘Inaugural Lecture’ (p. 2) that student achievement is ‘enhanced as a function of feedback’ and that ‘increases in student learning involves more than surface and deep learning but also follows reconceptualisation of information’. In the Sunday Star Times he said students should know ‘exactly how well they are doing and can explain this, as well as any gaps in their understanding, to their teacher’. The teacher, on the other hand, should provide ‘regular feedback to the children’ and foster ‘an atmosphere of trust’. This is a description of teaching that every teacher would agree with, and is teaching towards. Note, however, the absence of any hint of the affective in learning, the learning that is beyond reason. It is all made to sound cut-and-dried. There is, however, another statement in this three-part statement which has a sense of meaning more than it says directly: ‘Achievement is enhanced to the degree that students and teachers set and communicate appropriate, specific, and challenging goals.’ This has Hattie veering to the review office model (more on that a little later).

In the first two statements there is a close flirtation with the principles of LISP. I am looking now through Making Sense of our World and sub-headed ‘an interactive teaching approach’ by Fred Biddulph and Roger Osborne: Working Paper No. 122, University of Waikato, 1984. It is significant to note that there were 121 working papers before and number still to come; also the sub-heading – ‘interactive approach’ which is how Hattie describes his approach. This is not the place to go into any depth about LISP but I can give an assurance that if this was Everest when if Hattie got to the summit, which I’m not fully accepting he has, he would have found hundreds of flags there and, in the New Zealand context, the very large flag of LISP. (Perhaps, I could add here that Peter Freyberg and Roger Osborne in recognising the similarity between the LISP approach and my ‘feeling for’ approach in social studies, offered me the opportunity to do some LISP-type research in the field of social studies in 1982.)

As far as teachers are concerned, delivering the label ‘interactive’ as Hattie has done, along with some run-of-the-mill features, is of no great moment to them; they always knew it was the key to the teacher’s role. By assuming, however, they didn’t know, or relied on him to confirm it for them, is presumptuous; and by peddling it to the media and politicians in the way that he has, he has diminished teachers in the eyes of others, in what seems a preliminary move, to diminishing their status and power. Why doesn’t he retract some of his statements and actions and, instead, join teachers, in a sense of humility, to work through the huge complexities involved in implementing the approach, and of clearing away the external obstructions to such an implementation? I don’t think, however, he will stand with teachers: a constant of his philosophy seems to be that where teachers are, to the education right or left, he isn’t – which is the essence of his appeal to education power brokers. Hattie’s breathless announcement of his ‘discovery’ is another profoundly unhelpful occurrence in New Zealand education history.

Making Sense of our World contains the following statements: ‘Children can begin to take responsibility for their learning but this requires an atmosphere where both teacher and pupils genuinely care and respect each other’s ideas, an atmosphere which encourages the children to freely and responsibly express their personal views.’ (p. 9)

‘We use the term “interact” in the sense of an interchange among people who respect each other’s ideas. From a teacher’s point of view this begins with a genuine desire to know what a child thinks (and why). (p. 10)

‘The ideas which children do hold about a topic are not necessarily held by experts, but to children they can be sensible and useful.’ (p. 8)

‘Pupils and teachers must interact and discuss ideas derived from common experiences, investigations, reading books, and asking experts.’ (p. 8)

‘To help children develop, clarify, modify, and extend their ideas through seeking answers to questions they are interested in (or can be interested in) or through checking proposed answers. (p. 10)

You can, from these few quotes, get a feeling for the central principles of LISP (which was developed by academics working alongside teachers) and confirmation of how LISP intersects with some of the general ideas put forward by Hattie.

A leading consideration throughout this posting is how to come to terms and explain socio-economic and cultural effects on children’s learning, and professional and regulatory effects on teachers’ teaching. I agree with Helen Timperley and Russell Bishop’s view (and no doubt John Hattie’s) that the assumption in approaching the teaching of any children is that they can all learn as well as any other children, they all bring knowledge and experience valuable to classroom learning, and  they can pursue the wide range of curriculum goals. All children will benefit from this being the prevailing dynamic. The process that follows should be the process that follows in all good teaching, fitting learning to children on the basis of individual needs, taking especial care not to do this on a generalised view of children’s gender, socio-economic class or cultural grouping. I support this without equivocation because teachers having high expectations for children is best for children, all children. Using the criterion, however, of what is best for children needs to be extended as a criterion because what is also best for children is policy recognition that as Martin Thrupp puts it in the title of his landmark book ‘Schools Making a Difference: Let’s be Realistic! My point here is that, at the level of making policy, if we are not realistic about how much difference schools can make, we will do harm to the professional and regulatory environment for all teachers and schools. After all, we already recognise that certain schools need more resource support from the government than others. When schools from certain areas fail to make a difference to the degree Martin Thrupp would call unrealistic, then politicians, bureaucrats (review office and ministry), academics, and other groups (mainly conservative) use the opportunity to increase their power over schools, all schools, to the detriment of all schools, and the prestige of teachers. The harm this does schools then sets up a cycle for increasing malaise and increasing bureaucratic control.

In researching for this posting I was continually reminded how those who control schools either through regulation (the bureaucrats) and ideology (the academics) see their involvement as enlightened and disinterested, while I saw their involvement as necessary to a degree, but increasingly burdensome and self-interested. A finding in Timperley’s research into the effects of teacher professional development was that research-based professional development was important. She does not, however, seem to realise that this was inevitable because academics control the professional development game, sometimes in very subtle ways. (I do accept her point that some kind of outside involvement in a school’s professional development is often an important catalyst.) Nor does she consider, in the New Zealand context, the effects of the education review office on what professional development worked and what didn’t. There is a self-interested naivety about this lack of attention to the environment in which professional development is set to play. There is a disjunct in New Zealand, and I consider most Western countries, between what is delivered from research, and the realities of classrooms, and teacher knowledge (which, of course, has a research component). This, I believe, is why Timperley’s research, on her own admittance, is largely inconclusive; though I believe the caution is to her credit.

Ironically, using a similar method, but in a narrower scope (professional development effects on classroom learning, and various curriculum areas) some useful best evidence syntheses have been undertaken by the ministry of education (BES). These BES are quieter in tone, moderate in claims, not vehicles for the egos of the authors (as the newspaper article seems to communicate), and where they intersect with Hattie’s work both supportive of his findings and contradictory. There is a careful selection of research applicable to New Zealand contexts and a sensitive discussion of research limitations and cautions – especially in the vexed area of sustainability of learning, and authenticity.

I intend to go into some detail to explain this at another time, so will only make a brief consideration here. First, the kind of situation Hattie seems to be referring to, the kind of expectations he has of child responses, evokes an imagery of secondary; and, second, and perhaps related to that, evokes a sense of teacher and child in perpetual, direct verbal interaction, in a ping pong type of exchange. In contrast to that, in primary schools and more often in secondary schools than the stereotype suggests, teaching and learning mainly occurs through activities. In my recent posting (‘Talk to Tokoroa schools’) I suggest that if the question is a good one it will make an even better activity. The reality of this changes the kind of dynamic that Hattie is seeking in his statement above, trust and evidence of learning or mislearning are expressed in a different way. (Hattie would recognise this as something he sometimes alludes to, but the point is he is educationally all over the place as he seeks, indiscriminately as I see it, to settle his place at the fountainhead of New Zealand education.)

The Sunday Star Times carries a chart, supplied by John Hattie, which gives ticks to certain classroom phenomena and crosses to others. This should provide useful information about the kind of learning style he favours; the one he wants to use as a platform for furthering his career. It’s all been fairly murky up to now. His preferred learning style, as indicated by the Sunday Star Times, has had the sense of direction of a bucketful of eels. I know he is being evasive, so what is the basis for this. It probably starts with the way the research has been set up: the way particular ‘influences’ have been put together and put into competition with each other. We have already discussed the way Hattie’s research, by relying on the detailed statistical genre, is slanted to atomised and micro-controlled learning. I smell a rat considerably more pungent than that. I don’t think I will be certain of what he’s up to until I look at his book but, by considering the chart, I expect to have some preliminary indications on which to base questions.

What have you made of Hattie so far? Where does he fall in the divide between the review office wanting learning to be set up for measurement and exact next step learning, and classic holistic learning and evaluation; this divide has gained famous expression in the revised curriculum on the same page (p. 39), indeed same column, though under different headings. The review office expression says, ‘These expectations [referring to achievement objectives] should be stated in ways that help teachers, students, and parents to recognise, measure, discuss, and chart progress.’ In other words, learning should be set up for immediately observable outcomes and measurement. The classic holistic tradition and evaluation expression refers to ‘to focused and timely gathering, analysis, interpretation, and use of information that can provide evidence of student progress.’ This requires a little more information for us to make sure it is meaning what it seems to be saying. What follows removes any ambiguity: ‘Much of this evidence is “of the moment”. Analysis and interpretation often takes place in the mind of the teacher, who then uses the insights gained to shape their actions as they continue work with their students.’

With these two contrasting expressions the battle lines are drawn. What does the chart show?

Here is the chart:

Ticks

Self-reporting

Cognitive development: students given work one step ahead

Evaluation: test results decide next step ahead

Acceleration: work set ahead of age level

Crosses

Class size

Sustained silent reading

Frequent testing

Homework

Teaching test-taking

I have stared hard at this list encouraging an intuitive response. I let the list run past my memories of visiting the classrooms of junior through to middle-school children, and a lesser experience of secondary children; I let the list run past my memories of schools ranging from the sole charge to the large metropolitan; I let the list run past my memories of observing the full range of curriculum areas from reading and writing to social studies and science to the visual arts and drama – and I developed an inkling of where Hattie is educationally; where he is trying to take us; and how he has got, to where he is, in this presentation. His ideas do not fit primary; they would worsen an already delicate situation. (In primary schools, Hattie-type interactive teaching would, no doubt, have been successful in the Hawthorne innovation period and, in some instances, beyond, but the spirit of it is not robust enough to withstand outside pressures and the nature of primary school teaching in the long term. The form of such teaching would remain, a protection against any charge of non-compliance, adding another bureaucratic deadweight to the existing bureaucratic burden

In coming to this inkling, I realise, that in my preceding writing I have referred to a number the ideas encompassed by the inkling, but writing like this, for me, even though I can sound dogmatic, crass, and uncompromising, is a search by me for the truth as I see it. Hattie, to the delight of the review office and the aid of his reputation with conservative power brokers, comes down on the review office side of the divide; there is even a strong WALTS strain. If his ideas were to work anywhere in the education system it would be teaching to exams at secondary school. It would work best for children motivated to pass exams; for teaching by subject specialists; and for learning that was almost entirely cognitive. In fact, the style of teaching he advocates is close to the way many secondary classes function, albeit the more progressive ones. In secondary schools classes, where the motivation to pass exams is absent, the children would be climbing up the wall. Hattie’s new idea, then, demonstrates many of the characteristics of upper level secondary school teaching; upper level secondary school teaching. And he wants, apparently, to pass this style of teaching down as far as five-year-olds. I say apparently because I’m not sure Hattie truly understands the full implications of his ideas.

As discussed above, I believe Hattie has something of a tin ear for understanding how classrooms work: an education polymath who falls just short of a sufficient understanding. He often writes like an angel, saying those things a liberal educationist like me finds comfort in; he knows a lot about education and classrooms; he can write copiously and with considerable insight; but given his eminence, experience, and influence he falls just short of reaching the necessary heights. After reading the Sunday Star Times, and scrutinising his writings leading up to the book, the adjective ‘fallen’ keeps coming to mind.

I’ll go through the chart list more or less in the order they are displayed. Self-reporting: students understanding their progress – this would include positive reinforcement and suggestions from the teacher for how children might improve their work; that is teaching in the universal, but hidden in there, I intuitively sense, are behavioural objectives, in other words, objectives to be expressed as immediately observable behaviours. I think I have worked out how the Hattie-type interactive teaching came through in Hattie’s meta-research. It was done by comparing apples with plums, as well as the skew I keep pointing to in the research design he bases his meta-analysis on. What Hattie has done is provided a label for a set of teaching and child behaviours, ones favoured by researchers from Hattie’s school of research but, nevertheless, well known to teachers. The label he has settled on is ‘feedback’, which is amplified by the phrase ‘students understanding their progress’. This label, though, really encompasses a wide range of behaviours: positive reinforcement, next step learning, activities, clarifying and providing goals, child decision making, child self-evaluation – in the setting goals and self-evaluation the ‘next step’ references and the ‘students understanding their progress’, the implication of goals and criteria in immediately observable outcomes is clear. So far so good, that is the kind of teacher-child interaction that Hattie and Hattie-type researchers favour. While it is, in my estimation, an academic and bureaucratic fantasy, it is legitimate for it to be under scrutiny and discussion. The point is, if that is an apple, where are the other apples to compare it with? There aren’t any; the rest are plums. The other teacher-child interaction labels are either to the right of Hattie’s choice (programmed instruction; behavioural objectives, mastery learning, and so on); narrow one offs (peer tutoring, simulation and games, and so on), or caricatures (individualisation, team teaching); where is the label for a learning process Dewey might support, or Eisner, or Elwyn Richardson, or the LISP interactive teaching process? There aren’t any labels we would recognise as encompassing the cluster of teacher-child behaviours we would respond to. Teacher-child interaction being at the top of the pack is correct, that it is Hattie’s form of it, unchallenged, is a research travesty.

Linked to that is the reference to Cognitive development: students given work one step ahead. There is no reference or even hint in the list to the affective, the aesthetic, or the immanent. Evaluation: test results decide next steps; how does this sit with the third item in the crosses list – Frequent testing? When there is confusion like this you know a swift one is being pulled. This is Hattie at his best wolf’s clothing best.

The idea of next step teaching is a misleading and educationally harmful metaphor, an unprovable and impossible teaching manoeuvre, and a bureaucratic fantasy perfectly designed to unsettle and disempower teachers. No wonder high academics and education bureaucrats love the concept. Children’s learning does not develop in steps or, in a spirit of compromise, does not necessarily move in steps, or next step – with its implication of the next step up; even if it meant more than one step there is a physical limitation on how many steps a child can reach to. Children can learn from stuttering flight to soaring. Children can learn from regression to progression. Children can learn from flashing insight to productive confusion. Children can learn from side-step to step on it, or a sequential combination of the two. The ‘next step’ metaphor might suit Hattie’s type of controlled learning (he has let slip his real education ideas again) American-type learning, but it does not suit many New Zealand teachers – other more adventuresome teacher-child interactions. To be fair, when Hattie talks about the interaction he expresses a more informal and democratic process than the ‘next step’ metaphor communicates, but it is a powerful metaphor and, anyway, where his ideas, in practice, would end up.

Let us say the teacher leads the child to the ‘next step’, and the child successfully accomplishes it; how should that be interpreted? Should it be interpreted as a successful example of ‘next step’ teaching, that the teacher got it right? In absolute terms, not necessarily: Who is to say that any number of other ‘steps’ would not have been accomplished just as successfully? Who is to say that any number of other ‘steps’ would not have been more successful in moving the child on? Yes – you are right, the teacher and the child will have a view about all those questions. The point I am making here is that a teacher enamoured with the ‘next step’ approach can easily slip into a fantasy about the rightness and precision of their teaching and, in doing so, limit the scope of their teaching and children’s learning.

This leads on to the idea of next step teaching being a bureaucratic fantasy perfectly designed to unsettle and disempower teachers. This cannot be achieved, however, by academics and bureaucrats demanding that it be, communicates that it can, and they know how. You rarely see academics or bureaucrats qualify ‘next step’ teaching in any way. I have never seen a classroom where each child for every activity in every curriculum area is working on the exact next step for each individual child – working to individual goals set by the teacher that have immediately observable outcomes. If ‘next step’ teaching does not mean this, then please review office personnel and Hattie, tell us what it does mean. Let the madness discontinue.

Micro-teaching: video analysis of lesson – while it does betray Hattie’s tertiary perspective, some value is seen in this for professional development. Acceleration: work set ahead of age level – this betrays Hattie’s American perspective, I’ve heard reference in New Zealand to, say, a child’s reading age level, but when providing, say, reading material for children, teachers, as a matter of course, set the reading at a challenging level not age level. This would seem a redundant idea just using Hattie’s frame of reference; he has already set the task as working out the next steps. 

In paragraph after the next, though, I will argue that the idea of the teacher setting the next step as an idea for education advocacy is meaningless.

Now for the crosses. Class size – I think I know now, how this has influence has been whittled down by researchers like Hattie. Herbert Walberg in his 1980’s study, for instance, also had class size at .09, well below the standard of the standard .4. An important reason class size doesn’t do well in Hattie-type research is the way the research is structured. A reduction in class size is sought and sometimes gained, regulations set, timing announced, and then quietly put into practice, usually at the beginning of the next year. While there may be satisfaction at the implementation there is no excitement, it is a system’s change, so no special group is involved, no special group has special training and made to feel special, no academic is involved, no academic’s reputation and ideas are at risk and up for scrutiny – in other words, the Hawthorne effect won’t come into play, so any gains will be long-term, and many of them affective – the gains won’t be in the short-term, focused, and easily measurable; the incentive for shaping results, let us say, unconsciously won’t exist. My suggestion is that the next time there is a reduction in class sizes, it be done in stages, with the first stage a special group, who will be given special professional development on how to make best use of the improved ratios; that an academic be in charge of this (why not Hattie?); that the focus for the research be on, say, any immediate improvement in the quality of reading, writing, and maths, especially those parts that lend themselves to measurement – and I can promise that the results will be most impressive. Leaving aside the element of cynicism in what I’ve just written, having such a programme progressively introduced throughout the country would be a good idea in itself, though, any associated research should have a sustainability bias and give generous attention to the affective, the aesthetic, and the immanent – by that I mean the teacher having the willingness, scope, and ability to include those qualities in the style and content of the teaching, and evaluation of children’s willingness and ability to respond to them. (And one other advantage of having the spotlight on programmes for smaller class sizes: it might discourage the newly allocated hours being snaffled by administration, so class sizes might be reduced even more significantly.)

Sustained silent reading – what is this influence doing in the company of, say, self-reporting or class size? This is an example, however, of a low effect influence (what else could it be?) that costs no money, is easy to organise, and even at the influence allocated, would add up to something useful when combined with other low-maintenance influences. Once again, Hattie’s research interpretations are found wanting in good sense. But there’s more: his cross against the idea is another indication of the bias not only in his interpretation but in the research he uses – the value in sustained silent reading is the long-term value being placed on independent reading, and the affective values of independent reading being experienced by the children. Hattie’s research design tends to eschew the long-term, the straight-forward that doesn’t require a lot of fanfare, and the affective, and concentrates on the short-term, the special, and the focused. The short-term, the special, and the focused get sharper results, are easier to measure, and gain maximum benefit from the Hawthorne effect. Convincing sustainability evidence is in short supply with Hattie-type testing. Finally, Teaching test-taking to improve learning is given a cross. This is further evidence of Hattie’s naivety about how influences outside the classroom impact on what happens inside it. Hattie is whistling in the wind.

The matter of WALTS and the way it has spread throughout New Zealand into nearly every school at the behest of the education review office is of great moment to the question asked of John Hattie. Without needing to look it up I predict with confidence that WALTS began as a research project, with learned articles and a book following, detailing as evidence-based its considerable success and impressive effect size. As for New Zealand, I can remember someone telling me it is an idea imported from England; I do know for sure, from many teachers telling me, that the review office is informing schools that it wants WALTS used as the basis for lesson planning and assessment.

But let us begin at my supposed beginning. I truly know nothing about it its origins; but feel from experience I may know just about everything. It would have begun, as I suggested, as a research programme with some lovely flourishes; the principal one being the involvement of the children at the beginning of learning variously using words like: ‘empowering children’; ‘sharing power with children’; ‘involving children in planning’; ‘classroom democracy’; ‘children deciding on their learning’. Actually, I feel I haven’t quite hit it, but you get the sentiment. Another flourish would be for the activity to be undertaken as a result of interest or expressed need from the children. Then, after considerable discussion and debate over a good period of time, the children would decide with the teacher what they wanted to learn and how that learning once undertaken would be assessed as having been achieved.

A group of teachers or schools would have agreed to be involved and, after a number of briefings ranging from theory to the modelling of lessons, teachers would be declared ready to put the process into action. The next matter is the one I’m most unsure about: the nature of the WALTS. Were the ones modelled set up so the learning outcomes were immediately observable or were they ones that needed time to become manifest? My guess is that the emphasis was on more closed and immediately observable, but attention also given to the more open and inscrutable.

I know you know where I’m heading so I’ll say it quickly. Here we have teachers, probably volunteers (which usually has a self-selecting element, also a socio-economic self-selecting element), coming together as a special group, developing a special morale and enthusiasm, given special knowledge and attention, and being asked to teach to that special knowledge in full exposure to researchers very keen for their idea to succeed, and in comparison with the other teachers. The teachers will have been expected to plan carefully, eliminate a number of teaching variables, and allocate special and unlimited time to the task. With variations here and there, this is the nature of much contemporary research; the kind of research that John Hattie relies on for his percentage point precise effect sizes. But there’s more, following the lesson or lessons, the children will have been asked as part of the research what they learnt – they will, of course, be well placed to repeat back what they have ‘learned’, the more so of if the objectives were narrow. So that’s my estimate of how the research side of things went; now for the realities of practice.

To promote its vision of setting all learning up for measurement and charting, the review office has been recommending to schools they use the ‘new evidence-based’ practice of WALTS. The review office has embraced WALTS because, whatever the developers intention for them, with no effort at all, they can simply become old-style behavioural objectives. Bad ideas in education are always lurking as wolves in sheep’s clothing. Whatever idealism the WALTS idea had in its research presentation, there is very little residue in classrooms of New Zealand.

Many research ideas, because of their manipulated development, lack robustness. They might have been a good idea at the time, but that time for most, faced with reality, is short. Most become a seriously flawed in the knock-about world of daily practice.

This brings me directly to Hattie, his ‘effectiveness and improvement’ school of education research, their overwhelming emphasis on what teachers do, and their studied inattention to the environment outside the classroom; in this case I’m not referring to the children’s socio-economic and cultural environment, but to the nature of the school environment in which teachers function. Does the research he based his ‘findings’ on take that into account in deciding about allocating a percentage point here and a percentage point there? Teachers are not free agents in all respects, and especially not free in their minds to be as open, adventurous and flowing in their teaching as they might otherwise be. As well, as Hattie pursues his ‘holy grail’ curriculum delivery to New Zealand schools as he is bidding to do, will he address this lack of freedom in the teaching environment? If he did, he would find that many of the things he wants to happen, would happen, very much of their own accord. (I know, I know – effect size research shows that teachers don’t move in their teaching without some outside intervention; but as researchers of that type Hattie and Timperley are bound to say that; anyway there is the mild qualifying statement of ‘very much’.) New Zealand teachers are not in need of new ideas but new freedoms.

Any researcher who dug deeply into the thoughts and feelings of teachers and principals  would find fear; fear of repercussions from the decisions and behaviours of the review office. For many teachers and principals that fear is largely sublimated so that self-respect is protected and daily functioning made easier, but to understand why schools are organised the way they are, and classrooms function the way they do, this review-office induced fear must be understood. And the way to mitigate that fear is to try to give the review office what it wants, when schools can. Schools cannot, as I’ve explained elsewhere in this posting,  ever give the review office everything it wants, because providing measurable next step information for every next step is a bureaucratic fantasy, but when the review office comes up with an idea that is in anyway workable, schools are into as if a fast-breaking feast. The take-up for WALTS has been huge. The motivation for the taking up, however, has meant that the putting down after the taking up has twisted the research intentions. The quick and silent spread of WALTS is a key to unlocking a deep secret of the system works and its tenuous rationality.

I discuss elsewhere in this posting the remarkable ideological separation in the revised curriculum of how assessment in schools should be carried out. (p. 39) At the top of the column is an expression of the review office ideology of setting learning up so it can be measured and charted; and at the bottom of the column an expression of the holistic ideology of much analysis being ‘of the moment’ and taking place ‘in the mind of the teacher’. It is, of course, a no contest; the review office in carrying out the process of reviewing and reporting, has hi-jacked the system. Schools are hung out to dry between the two ideological poles. I wonder if Hattie recognises that and, if does, cares; perhaps he’ll just go along for the review office ride.

The following is typical of WALTS in practice in New Zealand classrooms:

A look at how research can be set up (unconsciously, perhaps, more likely wilfully unconsciously) to end up with results consistent with pedagogical philosophies if the researchers. To show this process in its bare state, I refer to the WALTS phenomena derived from England, and insistently advocated around New Zealand by the review office. It is a technicist approach, a jigsaw puzzle approach, and perfectly framed, to squeeze out the affective and the imaginative from classrooms. From my description of it in practice, it will be seen, because of a lack of robustness, to be even more technicist than its developers would have intended.

A typical lesson, in this case, expressive writing. The teacher says to the children today we are learning to write about a tree, we will write about the oak tree we can see from our classroom.

Pointing to a list on the whiteboard the teacher says, ‘Today we are learning to use good describing words about an oak tree.’

(The discussion around the list could with a stretch be described as negotiation. There was little or no affective engagement. The ostensible language experience was very short on experience.)

‘Today we are learning to use good adverbs about a tree.’

‘Today we are learning to use metaphors about an oak tree.’

‘Today we are learning to use correct punctuation in our story about an oak tree.’

Today we are learning to use correct spelling in our story about an oak tree.’

The children recite and discuss the list.

(The main criterion emphasised by the review office, it should be noted, has been met: the work the children do in relation to their story will be immediately observable.)

The children write their stories. The teacher was assiduous in going around the class keeping the children’s attention on the WALTS, and discussing how they were handling them. This could well be characterised as negotiation. The atmosphere was listless.

Towards the end of the lesson some of the stories is read out and discussed. It was interesting to note that any metaphor produced, no matter how forced or inappropriate was praised. The attention to WALTS had been intensive throughout, the quality of the writing insincere.

To conclude the lesson the teacher asked the children what they had learned, they reeled off, speaking as individuals, in recitative tones the WALTS they had been introduced to at the beginning of the lesson, and in the things they needed to learn they repeated some of the WALTS, particularly ones pointed out to them by the teacher.

There are a number of points to be drawn from this dismal but all too common lesson. The kind of teaching and learning, with variations up and down the scale, will have been the pattern for the kind of research that John Hattie based his research on and from which he drew his conclusions about teaching excellence; conclusions which are sound enough as far as they go, which is not very far. Interacting with this simplistic approach to teaching and learning is, of course, the permeating influence of Hawthorne.

The subsidiary point is the way the technicist methods find it hard to accommodate the affective, intuitive, aesthetic part of teaching. By emphasising what was to be learnt, the children’s imaginations and creativity were repressed; by emphasising immediately observable outcomes, for assessment purposes and working out what should come next, the reach of the lesson was bounded; by the lesson occurring in the confidence-sapping environment established by the review office, the teacher’s willingness for a more enlightened interpretation of WALTS was discouraged.

I have seen some useful applications of WALTS, for instance, as advance organisers. My criterion for an advance organiser, however, as against setting lessons up for immediately observable outcomes, is that it is open-ended, for instance – you are about to read an extract to the children: We will listen for ideas for dramatic expression; or We will listen for ways the lives of the people being described are similar to ours. WALTS can also be useful for technical parts of learning. From the New Zealand experience, however, and easily anticipated anyway, WALTS are a classic example, one of many from research frail in the face of school and classroom life.

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The class size issue:  riposte from a professor – Wow!

This posting is based on a recent letter on class size sent by John O’Neill of Massey University to the minister of education. His letter mounts a withering attack on John Hattie’s research findings on class size, and the sincerity of the government’s case for increasing class sizes – concluding, though, with a description of research Peter Blatchford’s research in England which powerfully establishes the case for smaller classes for all children, especially those from lower socio-economic levels.

The posting begins with an introduction in which I comment briefly on the OECD report and give a lead-in to that trickiest of academics, Hattie.

With that out of the way, I move to the interpretation of John O’Neill’s letter in three areas: John O’Neill’s analysis of Hattie’s research techniques; a questioning of the government’s basis for recommending an increase in class size; and what credible research says about the effects on teaching and learning of increasing class size.

  Introduction

The recent OECD and associated PISA results have been generally helpful to the teacher cause but, as far as New Zealand is concerned, still manages to get an important part of it wrong. The variables that make the New Zealand system high performing need a far more nuanced and fine grained analysis than the one offered or able to be offered by the OECD.

In commenting on the high performing countries, the OECD report says that ‘the size of the class is unrelated to the school systems overall performance; in other words, high performing countries tend to prioritise investment in teachers over smaller class sizes.’ This has been seized on by the National government as justifying increasing class sizes. But the OECD has it wrong. In New Zealand the investment in teachers is low: the quality of New Zealand teachers does not come from investment in teacher development but from the tradition of social investment in trusting teachers, resulting in a culture of child-sensitive teaching and strong professionalism. This willingness to trust is, of course, under siege.

As well, and this is of supreme importance, all the countries above and around New Zealand in the PISA rankings have generally homogenous populations and relatively low rates of poverty, the only exception to this grouping is New Zealand. If a country is wealthier and generally homogenous, larger classes will indeed be more manageable. So the question needs to be asked why New Zealand, one of the world’s least homogenous, countries in the OECD and with one of the highest percentage of poorer families is able to do so well.  In the PISA results, relative to the degree of poverty, New Zealand is well above the OECD average.

Before I move on to Hattie, I want to comment on the mean-spirited response by the National government to the OECD report. John Key who said in a television election debate that ‘New Zealand teachers were letting our children down’ had nothing to say; and Hekia Parata without a how’s your father said she found the ‘class-size funding as “interesting,”‘ adding that: ‘Over the next three years we want to significantly raise achievement for all students, especially those groups who have historically under-performed.’

And what does that mean? League tables on a value-added basis; performance pay funded by savings from teachers teaching larger classes; SAPS, those low level functionaries, giving advice on how all this is going to happen; highly resourced charter schools to demean public schools; bureaucratising schools into clusters under super-boards; making the tenure of principals insecure; narrowing the curriculum; isolating teacher organisations; and continually slagging public schools. Looks a winner doesn’t it?

One thing it won’t mean, though, is holding money back from private schools till they get class sizes up.

Now for the lead-in to Hattie.

As regular readers of networkonnet know I have written 100s of pages on this individual.

He came to high media prominence in early 2009 in the Sunday Star-Times with his support of larger classes, performance pay, national standards, and his teaching idea of individual feedback to learners. Anne Tolley was ecstatic about all these policy suggestions, saying he would be central to her education policy developments. Of his feedback idea, she declared that Hattie had cracked the code of teaching.

Key then declared Hattie to be the person who had suggested national standards to him: revealing a lot about both men. They deserve each other: National was always going to bring in national standards, so he was lying; and Hattie is like a moth to the light when it comes to power.

Meanwhile, through, networkonnet, I criticised the validity and credibility of Hattie’s research, and questioned the basis for his political manoeuvrings. In relation to the research I suggested that confronting it was difficult because its terribleness was so sprawling that arguments had to be really stretched to be sufficiently encompassing.

At about the same time, Ivan Snook and John O’Neill of MasseyUniversity, in an article in the NZ Journal of Educational Studies, systematically took his research apart. Hattie’s only response – a whining: ‘Why are they picking on me?’

Meanwhile, as national standards were heading for the mess they are in, Hattie felt the heat of unpopularity, and started to get out from under with murmurings against national standards. Specific pressure was then applied to get him, with three other academics, to take a firm stand by signing a declaration against national standards. They watered the statement down to accommodate him and an intermediary approached me to lay off him in the interest of him signing. I agreed and he signed.

A few months later he was acting as if he hadn’t, working I heard on a value-added basis for league tables.

Then came his ‘Horizons and Whirlpool’ article which summed up (though not really) where he was with national standards. I wrote a response which I felt ‘hoped’ might be my last word on this individual – fat chance.

Then he went to Melbourne.

Recently, he came out against charter schools but reiterated his support for performance pay and larger classes.

In respect to charter schools, my reaction was ‘Good, that’s appreciated’ but ‘Bad’ because, from experience, I suspected it would all be a forerunner to much tallyhoing and some crying in his trademark hunting with the hounds and running with the foxes, though I always assumed his running with the foxes to be a manoeuvre to distract from his real status as career hunter.

And distinctly non-blow me down: that’s exactly what happened.

This individual is seriously conflicted (though not really). Hattie says he is against national standards, charter schools, and smaller classes when charter schools are about national standards being central to the curriculum and philosophy, about performance pay based on national standard results, and about smaller classes. As well, I suspect he will appear with MultiServe when they are awarded the charter school contract; and he will be involved with the so-called value-added league tables for national standards when they are introduced.

 

 

 

And now to John O’Neill’s analysis of the issue of class size in his letter to Parata. This posting’s response is in four parts: John O’Neill’s withering analysis of Hattie’s research techniques (and ethics?); and of Hattie’s claims regarding class sizes; then a questioning of the government’s sincerity, consistency, and validity in its justifications for increasing class size; concluding with the powerful and convincing findings from Peter Blatchford’s research on class size.

Hattie’s research in his book, Visible Learning, is based on accumulating huge numbers of research findings on various issues from around the world (though mainly America) and indiscriminately, it seems, calculating average effect size (that is, their influence on teaching), and then ranking these. For the purposes of this posting, I will ignore the average effect size and just concentrate on the rankings.  

  1. Hattie�s research techniques (and ethics?) 

A classic to begin: Hattie ranks something he calls ‘quality of teaching’ as the 56th important influence out of 138 in his league table of effects on children’s achievement in classrooms. But – and wait for this, and it’s typical of the shonky nature of his meta-analysis – all the research results on the effect size of the quality of teaching come from student ratings bycollege and university students. Got that: no results at all from schools, only from student ratings of their lecturers. What can one say? In fact, as a research proportion in all his meta-analyses there is a definite lack of results to do with school age children in normal classrooms.

Yet the results from his meta-analysis are sold to governments around the world and to the gullible in teaching, those, for instance, who claim to base their programmes on something called ‘evidence-based’ teaching. Using his rubbishy research, Hattie has been able to build a platform to advise governments about all sorts of things from performance pay, national standards, styles of teaching, organisation of schools, and, of course, class size.

Does Hattie know his research is on shaky grounds? I think he does. For instance, there is his regular use of the shrewd technique, which I made much of in earlier analyses of his research, of putting in cautions and disclaimers here and there, usually much separated from his research ‘findings’, and stated very quietly and in something of a code. He is aware, I think, that these cautions and disclaimers have little effect on the swaggering display of numbers that are spread through the overwhelming bulk of the book. The cautions and disclaimers are akin to the smallest of small print in the brashest of brash documents. As well, there is Hattie’s unwillingness to enter into a debate with his peers, about his research techniques.

Hattie states that his ‘is not a book about classroom life and does not speak to the nuances and detail of what happens in classrooms.’ But his presentation of results in such exactitude throughout the book, and his claims for the book, serve to put all cautions and disclaimers in the shade.

Another problem is that each influence is presented as having an independent effect – in other words, as though no other effects were at play, making consideration of context irrelevant. The complexity of classroom interactions is lost in the power of the exactitude of his percentage points. He sort of acknowledges this when he states that ‘a review of non-meta-analytic studies [that is the Peter Blatchford-type research] could lead to a richer and more nuanced statement of the evidence.’ And on page 245 he says that when different teaching methods or strategies are used together their combined effects may be much greater than their comparatively small effect measured in isolation. Exactly.

Notice though, the qualifier: ‘may be much greater’. But there are Hattie’s results 0.57 here, 0.88 there, ranking 30 here, ranking 4 there, forming the bulk of the book, with eye-catching graphics – and there are a few cautions and disclaimers here and there, separated from the presentation of findings, and often laden with qualifiers and coded words.

Hattie’s quantitative research palls in comparison with Peter Blatchford’s qualitative research (see below) which is based on informed observation encompassing all behaviours occurring in classrooms and sustained, long-term follow-up observations. Quantitative researchers like Hattie, though, concentrate on measuring learning that can be measured, and on parts of curriculum areas amenable to step-by-step learning, giving little attention to the affective and to the complex; they also concentrate on new education ideas being introduced, that is innovation, giving scant attention to sustainability (in other words, how things work out after the novelty has worn off).

In respect to innovation, Hattie makes a typical omission and two qualifiers: ‘most of the successful effects’, he says, ‘come from innovations, and these effects may not be the same effects of teachers in regular classrooms.’ Or actually, irregular classrooms, but he fails to mention that. In quantitative research, many of these new ideas idea are introduced in laboratory conditions, and/or with groupings of children different in size and nature from normal classroom ones.

And I remind you that Hattie’s meta-analysis often draws on research with university students, children with special needs, and pre-school children? Which, as far as this section is concerned, is where we came in.

2. Hattie�s claims regarding class sizes

 All of the matters raised in the preceding section are, of course, relevant to the matter of Hattie and class size.

There is general agreement from all researchers that if teachers do nothing different when class sizes are reduced, then it is highly probable that there will be no or very limited measurable effects on student achievement. On page 88 Hattie acknowledges this. In my earlier analyses on Hattie’s research, I pointed out that reduction in class size, because it was implemented in a system’s manner, was rarely introduced as an innovation, so the Hawthorne effect did not come into play – this means only qualitative research (that is the Peter Blatchford-type research) is properly designed to pick up the subtleties, nuances, complexities, range, and depth of classroom teaching, also sustainability.

As John O’Neill points out: ‘because the [Hattie’s] synthesis consciously excludes all qualitative studies, the author is in no position to state  what may or may not happen to classroom interactions between teachers and students in larger or smaller classes, or when changes are made to class sizes.’

He continues: ‘… the studies Professor Hattie has excluded are precisely the research investigations that do make visible not only (a) that class size matters to student achievement, but also (b) what the observed effects of different class sizes are on classroom teaching and learning practices as a whole, and further more (c) which sub-groups of students are most materially affected by larger or smaller classes.’

To appreciate how rubbishy, non-nuanced, and non-specific Hattie’s research is to children and normal classrooms it is useful to recount some of John O’Neill’s analysis of Hattie’s first 30 rankings of teaching influences:

The micro-teaching influence was ranked 4 but it only had research on pre-service teachers.

Professional development was ranked 19 but when only schools’ research is included it drops to 48.

Providing formative evaluation was ranked 3 but there were only two sets of results and both were to do with special education children.

Comprehensive interventions were ranked 7 but they only concerned learning disabled children.

Feedback influence (Hattie’s big teaching idea that so impressed Tolley, and I called dreaming the impossible dream) was ranked 10 but the meta-analysis had a large contribution from a programme using music as an education reinforcement, a high proportion of participants who had severe learning and developmental delays, in both school and out of school settings, and included adults and children. (I remember going into this one and finding they were nearly all undertaken in laboratory conditions.)

Spaced against massed practice was ranked 12 but includes two contributions specifically on the learning of motor skills; if these are discarded on the grounds that they are not of general relevance to most learning areas, the influence of spaced practice drops to 53.

Problem-solving teaching was ranked 20 on the basis of six contributions, three of which were unpublished doctoral studies and one an unpublished conference paper. The average size effect of the two peer-reviewed journal contributions (one in mathematics and one in science) dropped the ranking to 53.

Teaching strategies was ranked 23 and the associated commentary lists a number of possible strategies but no guidance as to which curriculum areas they are most suited to, which age group of children, and in what combination, frequency, or sequence. As well, Hattie informs us ‘most of these meta-analyses relate to special education’.

 Co-operative against individualistic learning was ranked 24 but one of the contributions concerned adults and the other an unpublished conference paper. With these excluded the influence of co-operative learning drops to the ranking of 64. (By the way, what is meant by co-operative and individualistic learning is never made clear.)

Hattie is the wrong kind of researcher and the wrong kind of person to go anywhere near a matter as complex as class size effects. As John O’Neill writes: Hattie’s ‘statements refer to “teaching approaches”, but a major problem is that many of the meta-analyses are of studies with particular study areas or specific sub-groups of students. It is therefore impossible given the way the studies are synthesised to state clearly and precisely which of the “influences” may be relevant to all children in all primary or secondary schools, or even to one sector or the other.’

 3. The government’s sincerity, consistency, and validity in its justifications for increased class size

 John O’Neill is really saying that the government’s class size policy is nothing about evidence-based research, but everything to do with saving money and putting teachers further under the bureaucratic hammer.

He gets quickly to the point and says that relevant and empirically robust research (in other words the very opposite of Hattie’s) ‘demonstrate that changes in class size, affect the quality of both teaching and learning.’ He goes on to say any increase in class sizes will ‘have the most adverse effects on achievement of the group of students that the Ministry of Education has prioritised.’

Such is the extent of the minister’s advisers misreading of the evidence he wonders (it’s all so deliciously ironic) if the misreading has done this because ‘it is out of line with the government’s ideology’.

John O’Neill, in describing ministry statements and Treasury briefings, uses words like: ‘incoherent’, ‘misinformed’, ‘confused’, and ‘just plain wrong’.

My comment: the future power-seeking conduit for academics like Hattie, politicians, and bureaucracies is going to be through the misuse of the innocent-sounding expression ‘teacher quality’. Teacher quality is going to be the justification for the imposition of ideas from these supermen and women, mainly academics – mainly academics who know – who know about improving teaching quality; and imbued with the confidence that what they know will have a ready market for on-selling to politicians and bureaucracies for contracts, power, and favours. Politicians and bureaucrats will then take over the expression, systematise it, impose it, research it, twist the figures, and declare it good. Teachers in classrooms, as a result, will become even more the plaything of these supermen and women.

Teacher quality will, for instance, be used to justify larger classes (as is occurring here) and the imposition of performance pay. (I suspect this performance pay will be organised through groups of government kupapa formed into subject committees to pass or fail those who apply. These kupapa committees may well be right in their own way, but they will serve to impose a uniformity on New Zealand teachers, draining initiative and experiment, and undermining teacher knowledge.

To return to John O’Neill: he says that the government actions give the appearance ‘that “teacher quality” has become no more than a conveniently nebulous catchphrase, to be deployed whenever required to justify any schooling policy change the government policy change the government wishes to introduce.’

He goes on to say, which is a dig at Hattie-type research rubbish, ‘that it also undermines the credibility of educational research as a field of serious scholarly endeavour.”

John O’Neill keeps straight at it: ‘One alternative explanation for Treasury’s suggested ‘initiatives’ intention is that they are simply trying to help reduce the cost to government of employing teachers in schools.’

‘If this is the case, then for the Minister of Education’s statements on this matter to appear truthful, the real policy goal should be stated and defended publicly.’

John O’Neill concludes by saying that ‘on his own admission, Professor Hattie’s work is not about what goes on in classrooms. One must therefore look to other sources other than Visible Learning for useful evidence and policy guidance on the interaction or mediation effects between class size and teaching and learning processes.’

 4. The powerful and convincing findings from Peter Blatchford’s research on class size

 Before moving to Peter Blatchford’s research, John O’Neill recounts two significant statements from the New Zealand research and experience:

He says the previous secretary of education in a Foreword to the Picking up the Pace programme recommended ‘that learners with poorly developed literacy in low decile schools should experience a maximum class size of 18 in the first year of schooling in order to have the support they need to become confident readers.’

And he continues: A Treasury commissioned Working Paper on the learning outcomes from the Christchurch Health and Development Study stated that ‘lower class sizes were associated with more completed education as of age 21, lower incidence of unemployment spells.’

The Study also ‘found that persistent class size reduction policies were associated with significant increases in the Burt Word Reading performance from age 8 to 13.’

So here we have two government-commissioned studies from the recent past with directly contradicting advice and briefings from those same government departments.

Let’s compare Peter Blatchford’s quantitative research with Hattie’s.

Remember, Hattie as an aside from his welter of exact percentage points  acknowledged that his meta-analysis, such as it is, is not about what goes on in classrooms, and here we have Peter Blatchford naturalistically examining classrooms using fine-grained detail and multiple quantitative and qualitative methods. His research follows cohorts of students and targeted individuals across many years, using ‘sophisticated multi-level statistical modelling techniques to identify and determine the weight of relationships between numerous educational variables.’

The Class Size Research Project, was conducted with students in their first three years of primary schooling; the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff Project extended the earlier class size research to students in both primary and secondary schools; the Class Size and Pupil Adult Ratio Study, was conducted with students throughout the primary school studies.

In a nutshell, Peter Blatchford’s research shows that larger class sizes have negative effects on all aspects of teaching and learning; and smaller classes lead to children more actively interacting with their teacher and learning and having a positive effect on all aspects of teaching and learning.

[John O’Neill’s letter spells out in detail a heuristic of teaching and learning benefits of smaller class sizes.]

And the results from Peter Blatchford’s research are consistent with those of other multiple effects’ classroom studies conducted internationally.

John O’Neill, in his final words, speaks directly to the minister: ‘I would respectfully suggest that the only logical and moral actions open to you are (i) publicly and forcefully reject Treasury’s suggestion to increase student teacher ratios; and (ii) ensure that any class size-related policy proposals you make to Cabinet are founded on thorough, free and frank policy advice on the known effects of larger class sizes on your priority groups of students.’

And, in my final words, I speak directly to you the reader – here we have once again in New Zealand education policy making: self-serving politicians who, in effect, distort reality by picking up on any nonsense, consistent with their ideology, that passes their way; an academic who passes along more nonsense than most; and a group of neo-liberal bureaucratic larrikins whose world view is akin to philosophical fundamentalism.

And who are the supposed baddies in all this, and whose views are disparaged and isolated?

Who then are there to speak for children?

Part B: Truth and morality in academia Aotearoa and how it affects us

Part B

The rise, fall, and rise of a university commercial arm: truth and morality in academia Aotearoa and how it affects us

 Looking at the substance of the Perth address to the ‘packed conference’ to learn even more about our professor. (Downloaded from the internet: ‘Using assessment data for improving teaching practice’)

 First, our professor’s claims for what his or her research programme has achieved: ‘Student achievement gains in reading and writing have accelerated at a rate averaging more than twice that expected, with even greater gains for the lowest-performing students.’ This claim is about average for any new idea in literacy and numeracy, whether from another academic, an idea promoted by a celebrity educationist, local consultants, or Aunty Mabel from Kapiti who has developed her idea from back to the basics.

Well, we were pretty much on the money with that one.

To be honest, in reading, I think better and more sustainable results, and a richer literacy context, could be achieved with the good old ‘Parents as Reading Tutors’ (PART), just another name for ‘Pause Prompt Praise’ with its special attention to reading mileage. Indeed, I’ll throw out a challenge to our professor: we’ll get that programme going again, with the same amount of money your one costs, and you put up your asTTle-based programme, and we’ll go toe to toe.’ If PART came out on top, which it would, especially if sustainability was a measure of success, that would give power to classrooms, eliminate over-theorising in reading, and stop academics intervening between teacher and child.

As for writing, all teachers need to do is read Elwyn Richardson; it’s all there, and can never be improved on, because it is about a teacher who has grasped the two or three big ideas about writing and responded to children in the immediate. There are, of course, attendant subtleties to be uncovered but these will come in the process of exploring in practice those big ideas. If you want a reasonably close contemporary embodiment of Elwyn (though he is still alive and still with grievance), Gail Loane could map out a classroom-centred programme for teachers to respond to. (To learn more about Elwyn Richardson, teachers could go to any of my postings on Elwyn; or the postings on ‘Teacher Diary’ which is Elwyn in disguise.) This would be far better than teachers being dominated and perplexed by asTTle.

Literacy should be about teachers grasping the big ideas and, from there, working things out for themselves. The issue is ethical: ethics starts from the immediate affective relationship between an individual and the individual being addressed; a relationship established before the individual speaks or acts. Ethics does not start from reasoning, or rules, or contracts – it starts from empathy. The other less immediate relationships an individual has to negotiate, necessarily requires more abstract relationships, but empathy should always retain primacy. That means the basis for our relationships should not be contractual or rule-bound but predicated on empathetic responsibility. The teacher (in this case) as the individual to promote good, carries the responsibility to do good for the child; to do good for the child the teacher needs to feel free to respond to the child, and to be relatively unencumbered by contracts, rules, bureaucratically induced fear, and asTTle. (The writing of Jim Neyland, Victoria University, focuses on this idea as the basis for ethical relationships.)

I know in the bureaucracies, especially in the review office, I am considered beyond the pale; and by some academics as crass – but rightly or wrongly, I am responding to an education system which, though it works better than it deserves to because of the wonderful efforts of teachers and principals, is heading in the wrong direction – heading in a contract-, rule-, and fear-laden direction. The present head of the review office is an intelligent man, a man with degrees in history, who should know better, but intelligent people often don’t know better, indeed, are easier to fool, because they consider themselves too clever to be fooled. This head of the review office said there had to be a review office because the government, having paid the money, had a right to see the money was well spent. Is that it? Is that the best an intelligent man with history degrees can do? Is this education dumb and dumber? Is the way the education review office presently functions the only way an external review agency can function? Is the pedagogical policy the only pedagogical policy an external review agency can function on? Is the way the education office functions ethical and moral? (All the review office can come up with is a change to encouraging school self-review: what a fiddle- faddle.) History is replete with people who were only following contractual orders, and did some very bad things. (Suddenly my thoughts are flooded with people, very good people, very good teachers and principals, who in questioning the philosophy and modus operandi of the review office were crushed.)

Under pressure from commercial stringencies has our professor given much thought to the morality of academic behaviour? For instance, has our professor consulted education philosophers like Ivan Snook and Jim Neyland? Our professor, if he or she is like other professors, will be very strong on using academic knowledge as a touchstone – why not use the academic knowledge of such people?

Yes – we were right about asTTle being at the centre of our professor’s idea. The professor refers to it before going on to say that the data from it should be ‘seen by teachers as something that informs teaching and learning, rather than a reflection of the capability of individual students and to be used for sorting, labelling and credentialling.’

Then much condescension of the kind we have come to expect from quantitative academics – a typical statement: ‘The interpretation and use of assessment data for guiding and directing teaching requires a mind shift towards professional learning from data and a new set of skills.’

So ’embedded’ are teachers in their old ways it takes ‘two years’ it seems, to pry them loose.

I need to remind our professor that the system has demanded such summative assessment (review office demands; board of trustee expectations, for instance), and even though the professor is likely to think otherwise (given the academic pedigree we have speculated for him or her) national standards is about summative – that’s what national standards means, and in the popular mind, and that’s what they will be, irrespective of the gloss the professor might like to put on them (which he or she probably will).

Teachers are into formative, and when I talk to them they go on at considerable length about it – hasn’t our professor been to a party where they’ve been present? It’s mostly formative in their mind, responding to children in the immediate. Getting in the way of formative, though, have been expectations and demands from other quarters, largely generated from the bureaucracies, in conjunction with the universities, for measurement and writing things down.

Then we come to the heart of the address which reportedly wowed the Australian conference – our professor’s five-stage cycle for ‘Teacher inquiry and knowledge-building – to promote valued student outcomes’.  This is the cycle developed to achieve the ‘mind shift’ in teachers our professor says is required. Except for one stage, the rest are of mind-numbing ordinariness. Indeed, the rest of the address is of mind-numbing ordinariness, replete with words like ‘unpacking’, ‘synthesis’, and ‘recent research analyses’.  Was the audience still as ‘packed’ at the conclusion of the address as it was at the beginning?

The cycle stage referred to interests me, because I think it is the stage which contributes whatever gains our professor’s project achieves. While the professor thinks, as quantitative academics always do, that analysing assessment data is the main trick, I think the variable that is the main trick, is this particular stage. Quantitative researchers often get wrong the variable that brings whatever learning gains they achieve – I demonstrated this in the Hattie series (Part 3) when I showed that it was ‘direct instruction’ that was the key variable, not ‘feedback’. (The variable identified by quantitative researchers as their key one is usually one that places them at a power advantage in relation to classrooms.)

The stage in the cycle referred to is more clearly expressed on the first page of the article: ‘Teachers need improved pedagogical content knowledge.’ If you give teachers’ content knowledge, especially in the form of big ideas, and allow teachers time to make that knowledge their own, they will do some good things with it. I am suggesting, as a result, that those who work with teachers on professional development concentrate on teachers’ pedagogical knowledge as pedagogical knowledge, not as the minutiae of ‘data assessment’. No matter how excessive in jargon and detail our professor’s project is likely to have been, I suspect the teachers involved will have picked up some useful ideas here and there and made something of them.

Then our professor reveals her conservative education provenance as a member of the ‘school effectiveness and improvement category of research’. Our professor says that, ‘Recent research analyses demonstrating that it is teachers who have the greatest system influence on student outcomes have led to an increasing focus on what happens in classrooms.’ But how wholehearted is she in her membership? As I will suggest below, while our professor is from that category of research, her statements expressing that membership are anaemic, with a tactical feel to them. My argument is that a subordinate purpose for our professor’s visit to Wellington was to execute a Trojan Horse manoeuvre to ingratiate and get Hattie back into the minister’s good books.

Our professor is one of New Zealand’s most eminent research academics, and the main purpose for the visit to Wellington is to promote his or her particular research project, so our professor has impeccable reasons for going. My argument is that the commercial arm our professor is representing is in need of rehabilitation in the eyes of the minister, so the visit and the circumstances of the visit serve a double purpose.

In some ways, the events surrounding the whole matter reminds me more of Exeter (read Hattie) following the disastrous Irish (read NZ Herald) campaign. On hearing of Elizabeth’s biting criticisms and his possible replacement as favourite, Exeter raced back to England, leapt off his horse at the court gate, and ran dishevelled to Elizabeth’s privy chamber, only to find Elizabeth not there, whereupon he burst into her bedchamber, to discover her ‘newly up, her hair about her face’. I think for this coiffure offence alone Exeter would have lost his head, let alone his subsequent flirtations with treason. Elizabeth’s response to Essex might have been similar to Anne’s. Essex played the frustrated courtier (read ‘Holy Grail’ researcher) while Elizabeth, not knowing if Essex had come with his army (read education, media, and public) behind him, played along.

He later wrote a poem of vexed courtship which probably gives some sense of how he expressed himself:

‘I loved her whom all the world admired,

I was refused of her that can love none;

And my vain hopes which far too high aspired,

Are dead and buried, and for ever gone.’

Exeter left thinking his boyish charm had saved his position and bacon.  When he was invited back, however, he ‘found her much changed’. Exeter was then dismissed and told to wait instructions – which only came in the form of his arrest and execution. Unfortunately, the story for Hattie will end much more happily than for Exeter.

With her statement about the place of teachers, our professor seems to be shaping up as a red-blooded member of the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ category of research, but then backs off. She starts off in the direction of saying the teacher is a more important influence on learning than the socio-economic, but then inserts the word ‘system’ which excludes the comparison with the socio-economic. Two things result from this: enough has been done to signal that he or she is a member of the ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ ideology; and a statement of stunning obviousness. Since when was there any argument that within the ‘system teachers weren’t the greatest influence on student learning?’ With this tricky manoeuvre, our professor has done what he or she needed to do: our professor has repeated the research mantra that appeals to conservative politicians; and in the light of this, placed our professor and university associates in a better position to gain ministry contracts. Our professor has signalled his or her compliance to the minister of education; and also signalled a message to the minister on behalf of a close associate, Hattie. It is subtle and furtive, like a Freemason secret move, but will come through loud and clear to the ministry as: you can trust us, we’ll be staunch (and from Hattie it will also say – sorry), please could we have some more contracts?

     Return to the Herald item

 And, according to the Herald item, the likelihood of gaining more ministry contracts is strong, but whether Hattie is fully restored to his golden boy status is yet to be seen. What does seem certain is that the press release that formed the basis to the Herald item was intended as a mea culpa which, to some extent has been accepted. In a posting on this web site (‘The real reason why’) I predicted that Hattie would resile from his fierce criticism of national standards. It wasn’t long coming. (Hattie can easily show my argument to be wrong by following up on his criticism of national standards with further explanation – don’t hold your breath.)

The Herald item reports that next week our professor ‘will meet Ministry of Education officials to discuss how professional development should be rolled out in conjunction with the national standards.’ These are the same national standards that Hattie declared a week ago would put education in New Zealand ‘back by fifty years’. It looks as though a week in commercialised education is even longer than a week in politics but, then again, it is politics isn’t it? education politics.

All those things we speculated for quantitative research and our professor are evident in the press release-based item, for instance: large improvements in literacy were reported and it was all about teachers ‘being able to diagnose at a really deep level’.

In a big play for the commercial potential of asTTle, our professor said that ‘interpreting data ‘ achieved large improvements –not only in literacy but also with ‘numeracy results’.

Our professor blithely pushes ahead, saying: ‘ this level of analysis would correspond to a big work  load for already resource-stretched teachers, but said it was fundamental to teachers’ understandings.’

Though national standards have failed elsewhere, our professor has the answer: it lies, it seems, in the spray from a technology, an education robot, an asTTle, which will enlighten teachers and strengthen their professionalism. I, of course, vehemently disagree.  The use of that technology, I declare, will confuse teachers by making complex that which should be straightforward, and weaken professionalism by putting them in thrall to quantitative academics and education bureaucrats – bureaucrats who will waltz around as though they understand what they’re talking about.

Frances Nelson was distinctly underwhelmed and, for NZEI, which always moves cautiously and diplomatically, her comments were biting. The most significant comment in my view was that she was ‘worried about the impact of cutting other training courses to make way for that.’

Then Frances Nelson expresses an understanding of  the interaction of the full curriculum on children’s learning, which includes, of course, literacy and numeracy: ‘This is disappointing [speaking of  the professor’s data-laden approach] because there are schools that need professional development on the curriculum before the stuff with the standards will work anyway.’

Does the professor really get that? Does the professor really understand that? Does the professor understand that literacy and numeracy does not develop by direct literacy and numeracy alone? That failure in literacy and numeracy is usually part of a wider education failure, not solely or even mainly related to failure in literacy and numeracy? The professor’s apparent obsession with literacy and numeracy, which suits his or her data-laden assessment approach, threatens to give certain parts of our school population a narrow, second class education. Learning for all children, in all curriculum areas, works better if it moves forward holistically and on a wide front.

And then our professor surpasses him- or herself. If our professor’s press release hadn’t included these comments, especially the second, I would probably have dismissed this dismal little item as just another self-serving outpouring of yet another quantitative researcher.

First, you announced to the Australian audience that ‘Teachers need more training to write and understand the reports they will be required to send home to parents, under national testing requirements.’ This announcement opened the Herald item.

Did the impetus for these reports come from ‘research’ Hattie undertook, which became part of the government’s election policy? Will the reports use ‘data’ from a standardised test called asTTle which is sold from the commercial arm of an education department your research will also be sold from? Are you now angling to gain contracts for that commercial arm to explain to teachers how ‘to write and understand’ those reports? Have you asked teachers what they think of those reports? If you haven’t, is this because your real concern is with what the minister thinks, not teachers? Have you considered that your comments are just a tad condescending? Have you considered that teachers not being able ‘to write and understand’ those reports might be because teachers don’t like them, and that’s there way of saying it?

Do you entertain the possibility of a conflict of interest in your enthusiasm and judgement about the reports? Or don’t you give a damn?

Then the second, and the mother of all statements: ‘Professor T’ said she believed New Zealand was on the right track in developing its set of national standards.’ (Yes, our professor is female.)

It is important here that I allow the possibility that our professor on her own initiative, without consulting Hattie, issued the press release (or simply contacted the Herald reporter), but it is not likely. Hattie after all is head of the department and head of the department’s commercial arm. As well, all the universities I know have a policy of vetting press releases or approaches to the media.

Our professor is going to Wellington to present her research for a contract, also to make soundings for a contract for ‘professional development’ relating to school reports. Now school reports are not our professor’s specialty, they are Hattie’s specialty – which points directly to Hattie’s involvement at all stages of this sorry little saga.

When I consider the goings-on of researchers in our universities, I am reminded of the behaviour of Greek gods who went about their lives for good or ill, seemingly oblivious to the mere mortals and their earth-bound existence beneath the clouds of Olympus.

Here we have our professor going to Wellington to represent the commercial arm of her university to sell her project (based on Hattie’s AsTTle); to sell Hattie’s asTTle and its role in numeracy as well as literacy; and to sell professional development to train teachers how to do school reports (based on Hattie;s asTTle and Hattie’s recommendations). So our professor sends a message to Wellington – a message of support for national standards, a policy detested by teachers – a week before she goes to Wellington to peddle the wares of the commercial arm of the university she works for. All this just a few weeks after the head of that commercial arm, her close associate, her fellow professor, excoriated national standards.

What did this head of the commercial arm, her close associate, her fellow professor have to say a few weeks before: am I exaggerating the vehemence of that criticism?

‘The changes,’ he said, ‘threatened to destroy one of the great strengths of the New Zealand education system, which was teaching children according to their own abilities.’

‘Primary schools’, he said, ‘will be going back 50 years if teachers are forced to stick to national standards in reading, writing and maths.’

‘It would make New Zealand more like the United States, where schools moved children mechanically through all subjects at the same pace. The result was mediocrity because teachers just aimed to meet the minimum standard.’

Tolley ‘downplayed the prospect of league tables [another victory, well done all concerned] – and promised the new system will not revolve around passing a series of national tests, as in Britain and the United States.’

But Hattie was not to be mollified: ‘The changes still looked likely to force teachers to teach children according to their school year, rather than their ability level, which is nonsense.’

He goes on to say that a standards-based system clashed badly with the levels-based curriculum – ‘that will almost have to go out of the window  and would send the wrong signals.’

‘If this system comes in the correct job for the teacher is to teach to the test. And that’s the problem.’

‘National standards were likely to make teachers less accountable to parents, contrary to the Government’s intention.’

So our professor is going to Wellington to sell professional development data-based programmes for reading, writing, and numeracy based on asTTle to support national standards and the new reports; to sell those programmes for the commercial arm of the university department she is a major contributor to; and to represent the head of that commercial arm, her close associate, who, a few weeks earlier had said that the introduction of national standards would result in ‘mediocrity’, ‘send the wrong signals’, and result in ‘nonsense’.

Ye Greek gods!

For speculation on what provoked Hattie’s outburst you can read a posting on this web site (‘The real reason why national standards have been delayed’); of particular significance in that same posting, I suggested that ‘While primary education doesn’t need Hattie or Tolley they need each other – they are crucial to each other’s ambitions.’ I went on to say that, ‘We are likely to have to witness in the months ahead the dolorous spectacle of Tolley helping Hattie to put his toys back in the cot. And from that, to believe that all is well in the twisted alternative worlds that is national standards.’

This is what this posting is about; this is what the Herald item is also about – Tolley and Hattie, the doleful duo, making noises preliminary to making up.

As stated above, our professor said: ‘… she believed New Zealandwas on the right track in developing its set of national standards.’

Oh really – any self-interest involved in that statement?

Thought about it carefully have we?

Is this the first time you have come out in favour of national standards? If so, why now?

Anything to do with your visit to Wellington?

Anything to do with your commercial arm boss’s claim that national standards would set education back by 50 years?

Is your support for national standards evidence-based?

You have written a paper on partnership in education especially with teachers – very pretty words they are – would you say your support for national standards is a good example of the kind of partnership you espouse?

Have you discussed the issue with teachers and teacher organisations?

In typical ‘school effectiveness and improvement’ style, is the bedrock partnership you most care about, the one with the government?

As an academic what would you say to the claim that a standard cannot be defined? That a standard can be worked towards, but it cannot be defined? That an education system based on standards is a system based on a false premise?

Have you examined your support for national standards, and teachers’ opposition to it, on the basis of morality?  Did you consider moral principles in helping to decide what to do? (Ivan Snook’s moral principles as outlined in ‘more than talk’, Department of Education, 1978.)

Is your action in supporting national standards being fair to all concerned?

Is your action in supporting national standards ‘maximising the good’ and ‘minimising the harm?’

Does your support for national standards have some concern with the truth?

Will your support for national standards not unnecessarily impede others in their pursuits?

So you support national standards, you say so in the NZ Herald, you may have said it to a ‘packed conference’ in Australia; you certainly said it before you went to Wellington to discuss contracts for rolling out national standards; and you said it in bizarre contradiction to recent statements by the boss of your commercial arm.

Did your support for national standards take into account a concern for ‘the moral implications of the kind of society we are creating?’

That means you will have to support everything that goes with national standards. It means, for instance, you will have support the invidious labelling of schools by the education review office that will occur. A principal put this pungently in an e-mail:

‘I have begun thinking’, he said, ‘about the significance of the timeline ERO sets for their return: 1 year, 2 years, 3 years or 4-5 years. Previously I hadn’t given it a thought. It occurred to me that the timeline, in itself, would create de facto league tables, with schools boasting that “We’re a 4-5 year review school” or parents saying, I’ve heard they are on a 2 year cycle – not good.’ This would be the ultimate in aggregation of data! A school’s work reduced to one number!

That means you will have to support the removal of advisory support for primary school curriculum areas.

Do you think about things like that professor? Do you think about the moral implications of your actions in relation to the society we are creating?

And when some principals – human nature being what it is, the fear-based and the falsely-premised education system being what it is – carry out and use standardised testing and national standards’ assessment in suspect ways, does the moral dilemma of that concern you professor?

Do you think about things like that professor?

The review office is really your ally, focusing as it does on data and evidence-based teaching, focusing on a narrow conception of literacy, on the centralised imposition of literacy and numeracy programmes and programmes for standards and school reports – but have you not picked up on fear-laden nature of their relationships with schools? Do the moral implications of that concern you?

Do you recognise that numbers from research gathered from schools under competitive duress are suspect? A few years ago there was a meeting to discuss ways to ensure consistency in the administration of the Observation Survey across the ‘Strengthening Education in Mangere and Otara’ (SEMO) schools. Marie Clay was there. Researchers (people like you professor) wanted stanine scores from the schools to measure comparative shifts in literacy levels across schools at six years. Marie Clay, who never forgot where reading recovery came from, how teachers were her genuine partners, quietly demurred, ‘referring to high stakes’.

Let us track what will happen with the imposition of national standards and their accomplice – standardised testing: the projects will be forced on schools in imperious manner by the central bureaucracies; schools will focus on standardised tests; which will narrow the curriculum and reduce attention to the arts, social studies and science and, in that way, reduce opportunities for thinking and attention to the affective; the suspect results for the standardised tests will show learning improvement; which will be taken as evidence that improvement comes from centrally imposed projects; the mana of bureaucrats and researchers will rise and that of schools will fall – meanwhile, the actual quality of education for children will deteriorate on a wide front, but will few notice or care. It will become even more deceptive because national standards will also produce suspect results and show the same apparent learning improvement. The National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) will be a voice of sanity but their days could be numbered and, anyway, who will really be listening to them because they don’t come out with real numbers. (All this is already happening.)

Let us track the experience for, say, Maori boys: schools will become more formal, boring, and paper-focused; learning will be less active; behaviour problems will be more serious and widespread; early on many of them will be identified by standardised testing as below standard; they will know they are identified as below standard and so will all of the children in the class, many in the rest of the school, and some in the wider community; the heavy focus on literacy and numeracy in the morning, often through to 12.30 pm, will leave little time for other curriculum areas; curriculum areas like social studies and science, which will diminish opportunities for conceptual development and flexible thinking, aspects of learning many of these children need to develop for their literacy and numeracy; and less time for the arts will diminish opportunities for stimulating their imagination and creativity, as well as opportunities for conceptual development and flexible thinking. (All this is already happening.)

The tidal wave of national standards and standardised testing-based curriculum will damage more than primary schools; early childhood education will also be damaged, and is being damaged, by the increased formalism of schools. Transition to school lessons are now commonplace in early childhood centres, and becoming more formalised and extended, which is most unfortunate. Learning is by definition a transition, a transition which should focus on the needs and characteristics of individual children, not the supposed characteristics of the next stage of institutional learning. Just as primary children are being increasingly prepared for standardised tests, early childhood children are being increasingly prepared for school, a formal conception of school. The best way to prepare children for the next institutional stage is to meet their needs, as individuals, in the present. The irony is that Te Whariki is an outstanding curriculum, far superior to the primary school curriculum; and excellent for children’s individual transitions and, as a by-product for preparing children to go to school. Indeed, many new entrants, especially boys would do better at school if Te Whariki was the curriculum, rather than the new real curriculum, which is national standards.

To hold schools together business-style management techniques based on rules and contracts (and fear, of course) will become even more obtrusive. Education for children will become narrower and opportunities for teachers to show initiative more restricted. This will make teaching more unattractive to many imaginative teachers.

In a few weeks, as it happens, I am going to speak to the West Coast principals on morality and being a principal. There follows a few excerpts from what I’m going to deliver:

In the curriculum colonising I am arguing for, I want to suggest that a key area of moral action is the greater inclusion in programmes of the affective, the aesthetic, the symbolic, and the intuitive as being at the heart of successful classrooms, not at the periphery.

W.C. Fields said: ‘During a trip to Afghanistan we lost our corkscrew and were compelled to live on food and water.’ Well, it wouldn’t do any harm if, for a time, we considered academic pronouncements on classroom practice a corkscrew we lost, compelling us to teach on our shared knowledge of teaching. The best evidence for school education should start from the evidence we gather and share about our own classroom practice, informed of course by other sources, academic ones included. But we must avoid becoming in thrall to academics: quantitative research is especially suspect because it comes in the guise of objectivity. Quantitative research is characterised by being largely impermeable to classroom reality. I prefer academics who put forward philosophical-type ideas, then proceed from there, using arguments we can refer to our own experience, and in language that is accessible.

The problem is that politicians want contradictory things in education: from sentiment, it seems, they would like schools to have more latitude, but from ideology they want more control. When it comes down to it, though, sentiment soon gives way contentedly to ideology. The trickiness of politicians and their bureaucratic support organisations is always having to be brought up because it is always being forgotten. The political certainties of politicians are out of place in education, because we all know that the only certainty in education should be our determination to avoid one. They are making an education landscape increasingly arid, while desperately calling it verdant. And the paradox is, that when the aridity becomes too obvious to ignore, the education system has been designed to benefit with extra powers, those who did the designing.

That is why, in this talk, I have advocated that it is morally and practically imperative that schools and teachers colonise official policies to make them workable and humanistically balanced. Schools in how they write up curriculum policies should feel they have the freedom to colonise official policies, and teachers the freedom to colonise school curriculum policies. The plausible but impossible nature of official policies, and the review office as sniffing bloodhound in support, are central to the system’s irrationality. Tomorrow’s Schools won’t have a payoff, for all your work, all your fantastic work, until these issues are attended to and resolved. At the moment, even taking into consideration the tremendous efforts of schools, it seems appropriate to quote Edgar Quinet (a post-French Revolution writer) who said: ‘But this success, where is it?’

 

The central argument in this posting is that Hattie after his outburst in the Herald (August 1, 2009) wants to settle things down and re-establish his relationship with the minister. A claim from a  senior academic that government policy will put primary schools ‘back 50 years’ is a serious one, requiring further explanation and decisive moral action. To refute the central argument in this posting Hattie must act according to the claim’s seriousness. That would need to involve a change in the kinds of programmes offered by the commercial arm of which he is head. There is the possibility that he is about to respond according to the claim’s seriousness and that he and his associate researchers have agreed to disagree and a way to move forward negotiated. If this is the case, I would, of course, warmly acknowledge that in a subsequent posting. Leaving aside the central argument, however, most of the subsidiary arguments still, from my point-of-view, retain their validity. This web site, by the way, will not countenance an explanation by Hattie that he has been able to reconcile with the minister because of changes made to government policy.

Ivan Snook in his endorsement of networkonnet and Developmental Network Magazine in the ’90s spoke of my determination to hold to account those who take cheap shots at teachers. I believe our Professor T……..’s support for national standards, particularly given the manner of its presentation and the context (the impending trip to Wellington, and the unprecedented imbroglio concerning Hattie), constitutes the cheapest of shots. Ivan Snook goes on to say that my ‘educational philosophy is a humanistic one forged in the Beeby years and carried on by inspired teachers like Elwyn Richardson’. There were times in the writing of this posting that I felt such anger and disappointment that I had to walk away from the computer to compose myself. I hope, though, beneath the anger and disappointment that will, no doubt, have come through in the writing, there will be detected my love and admiration for New Zealand teachers and those who have contributed to our holistic philosophy.

Have you worked out the name of the professor?

Oh – when I mentioned Best Evidence Synthesis. And you worked out Helen in the Troy reference. Well done!

We’ll just leave it at that.

Vanessa Redgrave, in a notable TV programme based on real life, played the role of a member of a small orchestra made up of prisoners in a concentration camp who played classical music for the German officers. So involved did she become in this activity, that when the Americans liberated the camp she displayed extreme frustration. 

National standards: a posting I urge you to read 

Tolley and Hattie: damaged goods

And over 100 points to help in the campaign against national standards

We can ‘win’ this one because even if we ‘lose’ we can ‘win’. The damage to Tolley’s credibility from the campaign against national standards has made her a lame duck. As I said in the ‘Smoke and mirrors’ postings late last year if National was really taking education seriously they would have appointed a more senior politician and not given Tolley all the education portfolios. I believe if the latest stuff up (no software to cope with national standards) is played skilfully, and we offer some kind of voluntary alternative, we can win a famous victory.

First, Anne Tolley as Anne Tolley.

She has nothing to offer but negativity, resorting, as she has, to the discredited and last-century slogan of the 3Rs; and, into the resulting vacuum, transforming cost cutting into a kind of post-modernist education raison d’être.

Tolley has lost the confidence and trust of teachers: she should go.

Tolley’s statement that ‘If they [teachers] do nothing other than teach children to read and write and do maths and be good socialised New Zealand people they’ve done a really good job’ is outrageous given she is the minister of education whose ministry is working with teachers to implement a new curriculum which is visionary in a nature and broadly-based in effect. She is undermining a curriculum that her ministry has worked on with teachers in collegial fashion to develop. The statement, written by her press officer (who, along with Tolley, constitute the real ministry of education) is an epitaph to the philosophy of education that has inspired generations of teachers and made our system the envy of many abroad. It is outrageous because it suggests that being a ‘good socialised’ New Zealander is simply a matter of fitting in, and being able to read, write and do sums. This is in massive contradiction to the new curriculum which, through such things as the vision statements, principles, learning areas, and competencies, sets out an inspirational view of what constitutes a good New Zealander.

Perhaps I can help the minister: we in the teaching community understand that literacy and to a lesser extent numeracy are crucial to self-regard and learning – we in education get that; it is not an insight you are bringing to us or to New Zealand at large; such an understanding does not constitute a credible educational philosophy, though it does carry considerable baggage. Sometimes you deliver your one idea as an epiphany, when it is actually the most trivial of truisms; at other times you deliver it in a trenchant talkback tone along the lines of: if there is one thing I know it is that – and unfortunately, it is becoming worryingly evident it is.

We truly do get it; we didn’t even need your mate Hattie to tell us that one. We understand about the 20% you are always going on about. If you drag yourself away from what the review office has said, or is said to have said, and mixed with real people like teachers, who only have children’s interests at heart, you would learn that not one child in the 20% is unidentified, and very few of the children are not getting a lot of dedicated help. Teachers would, though, accept more material support if offered, but please do this respectfully, not condescendingly, and not with the apparatus of state bearing down on them in a threatening manner.

We all recognise the importance of getting the 20% to first base; but we don’t want this to mean other children are held back, have their opportunities restricted – we want those children to feel free to dash, slide, make decisions, take risks, recover, and have their turn at seeing their abilities soar.

When challenged about the harm that would be done to other curriculum areas by removing support for their professional development, Tolley responded petulantly: ‘What is it about this sector?’

‘Next year’, she added, ‘art might get its turn. Who knows?’ Indeed, who does? What Tolley doesn’t understand is that it isn’t a matter of turns, it is a matter of continuity, of a worthwhile advisory service being there when art is turned to, in the unlikely event it is; it is a matter of national standards chewing up the timetable and teachers’ attention so that everything but literacy and numeracy is under-nourished.

It is also a matter of children having just one chance at schooling.

Tolley has neither the understanding of education, nor the temperament to be an anyways satisfactory minister of education. Her word is not her bond; it is just her latest tactical position. For instance, I challenge her to release documents to support her claim that she was at any stage sympathetic to Aorangi School staying open. I challenge her to support her claims that Aorangi was performing poorly and was providing an unsatisfactory education for its children. I challenge her to deny her vow on television that schools would not be closed if communities did not want them closed.

Tolley has said that cut backs in education are occurring because there isn’t any money there, but the main reason there isn’t any money there (to the drastic level it isn’t) is because at the cut back cabinet meeting she was not only the first to offer her cut backs, but she also offered the largest percentage. I challenge her to produce documents to correct this understanding. (I accept the point Tolley would make that ‘cut backs’ should be in inverted commas.)

Then there have been the glorious Monty Pythonesque characteristics of the great day of the official announcement, the lead up to it, and the denouement:  Tolley saying the teacher organisations had committed themselves to negotiate the introduction of national standards, the teacher organisations saying they hadn’t (there probably was some ambiguity because of teacher organisations hanging in there to ensure the demise of  league tables and, in the meantime, teacher opinion against national standards surging); Frances Nelson attending a calf club day instead; Ernie Buutveld intoning in stately fashion against attendance; the empty rows of chairs (a picture is worth a thousand word); Key demonstrating his high aspirations for New Zealand by announcing the new 21st century education philosophy of the 3Rs; Key announcing the new 21st century education philosophy of the 3Rs which has stranded art, having just lauded the life of Doreen Blumhardt, that art education pioneer of the Beeby era; Key announcing $1m in prizes to encourage science students and teachers, having just announced the new 21st century education philosophy of the 3Rs which has stranded science; TVNZ placing Key’s announcement of the new 21st century education philosophy of the 3Rs in the section just before sport, and the 15th item overall, even though Key had declared the announcement to be the most important the government would ever make; and, finally, Tolley plaintively saying, she still believed the teacher organisations were committed to negotiate the introduction of national standards.

As we move into the complexities of our time, in a new century, it is outrageous that Tolley has played the 3Rs card; a card that was played throughout the 20th century in all western countries to unfortunate effect; a card that is emotively charged, highly misleading, and unhelpful; a card that implies that the 3Rs are being neglected and that teachers are too obtuse to recognise this or self-serving to care; a card that implies politicians and education bureaucrats know and teachers don’t; a card that is hard to counter because slogans are hard to counter in any context especially one as fraught and complex as education; a card that is difficult to counter because the independent voice of universities has been lost to government contracts; a card that is difficult to counter because for education, the media (oh that we were rugby!) have the attention span of a fly; a card that is a political winner, a perennial standby for pulling a political stunt, but at the expense of our children.

Now for the other half of the terrible duo, John Hattie.

The networkonnet story so far (‘The Hattie series’). On the front page of the Sunday Star-Times (January 4, 2009) in a headlining story, Hattie is presented as an academic who has written a book (Visible Learning) described as education’s ‘holy grail’. Tolley is reported as saying that with Hattie so close to cracking the secret of learning, he is certain to be central to the changes in education she has in mind. Hattie reciprocated by saying he wanted to see performance pay introduced, and suggested that the government should stop throwing money at smaller classes.

Networkonnet did a series of analyses (‘The Hattie series’) on Hattie’s book challenging its soundness and fairness, and looking carefully at Hattie’s philosophical position which was found to be structured to favour education propositions supported by conservative politicians. Ivan Snook also did a series of articles with his summing up being ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’.

Then came the famous outburst (NZ Herald, August 1, 2009). There is no doubt that Hattie was under some pressure. He needed to keep on side with Tolley to protect his department’s lucrative contracts with the government; also not to get too far off side with the teachers and teacher organisations (there was definitely a growing awareness of his academic feet of clay).

In the mapping process for national standards being undertaken by ministry experts, asTTle was found to pose a number of problems, which irked Hattie. This, combined with the balancing act between the government and teachers, led him to snap. He said, amongst many other damning criticisms, that government policy on national standards would ‘set education back for 50 years’.

In detailing all this (‘Calculated epiphany now’), I said the apparent break between Hattie and Tolley was only a tiff and they would soon make up because they both needed each other – he to provide ideological and academic cover; she government contracts.

This reconciliation was to occur, with its public manifestation most odd. In the NZ Herald  (August 19, 2009) a small item, obviously based on a publicity release, described an enthusiastic reception given to a conference contribution (in West Australia of all places) by a professor from Auckland University. The professor was Helen Timperley, a close associate of Hattie with a significant role in Auckland University’s commercial arm headed by Hattie. Near the end of the small item was inserted the real purpose of the publicity release. At the conference, Timperley reports, she had said the government was on ‘the right track’ with its policy on national standards and, by the way, she was about to go to Wellington next week to discuss government contracts for the implementation of national standards and the new school reports.

There are more amazing twists and turns. I invite you not to let Hattie get away with his legerdemain. To contribute positively to New Zealandeducation he needs to be seen in his proper dimensions. I see a hugely energetic, entrepreneurial, charismatic, self-promoting, self-regarding academic who, in his research, tries to compensate for his lack of originality and objectivity with size and reach. In academic terms, I see a pretty leaden thinker.

Well, what are those further amazing twists and turns?

Following the official announcement on national standards last week, Hattie positioned himself as Mister Reasonable, the Mister Go-to academic, saying he had reservations about the policy but that research in a year or two would sort out the truth of the matter. But he knows the truth of the matter; he knows there is no credible evidence in national standards’ favour, but he wants his cake and to eat it too. He wants the contracts, he wants to keep on side with Tolley, but he doesn’t want to dig himself into a hole with teachers, or if national standards go belly up. Remember, this is the academic who provided the research about school reports; research that provided considerable impetus to national standards becoming National Party policy; this is also the academic who, in a hissy-fit, apparently about asTTle, said national standards would mean education ‘going back 50 years’; this is the academic whose close academic and commercial associate on the eve of her departure for Wellington to seek contracts, said national standards would were on ‘the right track’.

Even here, did you notice, he seems to be angling for research contracts on national standards, which he has a commercial interest in implementing. You have to admire his ability to go after the main chance. This does lead to an important consideration: Hattie must not become Tolley’s house researcher. Any research on national standards should be done by someone without a direct commercial interest in national standards implementation, and who has the confidence of teachers and teachers’ groups, as well as academia. Where this leaves the forlorn figure of Timperley is a matter of conjecture. She is the leading researcher used by the ministry for the academically self-serving but internationally prestigious synthesis series, but she has declared that national standards are on the right track. She did not put forward any evidence synthesised or otherwise to support this. If you live by the word, you die by it.

That was a twist, now for a turn: today October 25, 2009, in the Herald on Sunday, appeared one of the most remarkable, informed, and inspired editorials on education ever written. The writer has written himself into editorial glory. The editorial is headed ‘Let teachers teach, not count’. I won’t go into the details but it has everything you or I could have ever have wished for. It’s a whopper! [If any reader at any time wants a copy of the editorial just get in touch with me; it would be most useful for your discussions with your board of trustees and community.]

But here’s the rub for Hattie: quite innocently of a knowledge of Hattie’s manoeuvring to backtrack on his outburst, and quite understandably seeing the outburst was made in Herald on Sunday’s sister paper, the editor goes to town on Hattie, first with a long paragraph spelling out his renown, including the embarrassing ‘holy grail’ tag; then with details of Hattie’s August 1 devastating comments on national standards. Remember, these comments came from files, not from Hattie’s lips. The situation is sheer magic. The paragraph ends saying Hattie ‘has condemned the planned changes as ‘going back 50 years’ and expressed concern that they will force teachers to teach children according to their school year, rather than their ability level.’

Hattie has become the accidental hero. I sense that the editor was emboldened to be as bold as he was in condemnation of national standards because of Hattie’s condemnation. It’s just too delicious. My stirring cup runneth over. From my point-of-view there is another Monty Python touch: Hattie said national standards would ‘set back education by 50 years’. Let’s see, 1959: Elwyn was in his heyday, the Beeby philosophy still had pockets of genuine strength, an inspired and independent advisory service, considerable teacher freedom, benign bureaucracies, little research, and no Hattie. Yes please: bring it on.

Tolley and Hattie, the two most powerful people in education are damaged goods; their influence while still strong has diminished – education is the better for it.

And for the future: we should negotiate with the government on the basis of no national standards, no new reports; the main issue is not league tables or delaying their introduction, it is no national standards, no new reports. If there are some things the government would like to introduce from elements of national standards and the new reports, let the government put them forward for schools and school communities to consider voluntarily on the basis of trust and the philosophy of Tomorrow’s Schools.

As I wrote in the letter for the last posting: they call for submissions for dogs don’t they? why not for kids?.

The move by NZEI to have a forum about national standards is brilliant. I’d love to see Alexander and Apple there. Meanwhile, the list that follows is to help you in what you can do about national standards in any way you can. Please send in any further suggestions for me to add to the list.

[This has been a rushed job, so where you find grammar and spelling mistakes, and other infelicities, and where you feel I’ve gone too far, or not far enough – please let me know.]

Over a 100 points to help in the campaign against national standards

  • The key issue is that they are compulsory national standards.
  • If they were voluntary, like the literacy progressions, or able to be used flexibly like the achievement objectives, they would be acceptable.
  • I went into an investigation of national standards as a strong opponent of them; I came out a fierce one.
  • Except for a few academics and some in their related support services, with their eyes on government contracts, I found virtually no support for them in the education community
  • I came across no evidence in countries comparable to New Zealandto support national standards.
  • Three press items, for instance, sum up the English experience: The Times headline – ‘Dropping primary school literacy and numeracy strategies long overdue’; the BBC  agreed, adding – ædropping the strategy would save 100 million pounds in consultancy fees’; The Guardian said – ‘literacy and numeracy standards had dropped decisively in the eight years after the strategies came into effect’.
  • The effect of national standards on the new curriculum will be serious.
  • The real curriculum will be national standards, the complex mapping of evaluation data from a range of sources, intensive use of standardised tests, collecting data for school reports, a narrow perception of literacy and numeracy.
  • So the high hopes for the new curriculum, the visionary principles, and the increased curriculum freedom for schools will be largely unrealised.
  • Because the evaluation data will be ‘high stakes’ (as Marie Clay called that kind of competitive data formation), it will be fudged down at the beginning of each year and up during it.
  • The process poses a kind of moral entrapment for principals.
  • In contradiction to the government’s promise to reduce principals’ workload, national standards will greatly increase it.
  • National standards are flawed in practice and in theory.
  • National standards are flawed in theory because they are incapable of definition.
  • National standards are incapable of definition because any worthwhile education activity, to be defined, requires words that require further definition, and so on.
  • The most that can be said for a national standard that it is a working definition of a cluster of related education activities developed on the basis of the value judgements of a group of people, to be used by another group of people, in relation to children, on the basis of exercising further value judgements.
  • In other words, all parts of the national standards’ process, and there are many of them, are value laden.
  • The great danger of measurement tools is their specious claim to objectivity.
  • To deflect attention from the theoretical impossibility of defining a national standard, and from the subjectivity of both formal and informal evaluation procedures, the authorities, to some extent commendably, have allowed for a variety of procedures both formal and informal to be used in evaluating child performance.
  • Having a lot of parts to evaluating child performance, though in some part commendable, is futile, and has led to considerable complexity in defining standards, and will lead to even greater confusion in applying them.
  • Because all the parts are value laden, they can be described as moving parts, and the process as such will suffer from too many moving parts (the national standards, various formal measurement tools, achievement objectives from the curriculum, learning area statements, literacy learning progressions, NCEA, and information from day to day teaching activities).
  • Not only will the lineout out be on the run so will the person throwing in the ball
  • There is no solution to this value laden and many moving parts’ dilemma for national standards; to reduce the number of moving parts in an attempt to reduce the complexity of the process, will only serve to narrow it to the use of measurement tools.
  • Confusion abounds and will abound. National (in its manifesto) says: ‘Clear national standards will describe all things children should be able to do by a particular age or year at school’. Which is it?
  • Children will, actually and damagingly, be taught according to their school year, rather than their ability level.
  • The ministry (on its web site) says: ‘It should be remembered, however, that students start at different points and progress at different rates, so when interpreting achievement, rate of progress needs to be considered as well’. This is laudable but not what national standards are really about.
  • In commenting on parents’ responses in the consultation process, the ministry reports that ‘Parents also want information on their child’s social and emotional development’. Once again, not what national standards are really about.
  • The new curriculum sets out four criteria for the new curriculum – to help the children to be: literate and numerate; critical and creative thinkers; active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge; informed decision makers.
  • National standards will work against all these criteria, even the criterion of literacy and numeracy, because the attention will be to a narrow view of literacy and numeracy.
  • Literacy and numeracy are shallow, unstable things if children don’t have a context of being able to know about things, know how to think about things, feel about things, respond to things, and express themselves in a variety of forms.
  • This narrow view of literacy and numeracy will have a considerable effect on the timetable and curriculum.
  • Other parts of the curriculum will be crowded out: science, social studies, the arts, physical activity.
  • To say, as the government is, that national standards are about preparing children for NCEA is preposterous: NCEA is also about, indeed, very much about, children being critical and creative thinkers; active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge; informed decision makers.
  • Secondary schools want to receive children who, as well as being successful at literacy and numeracy, are highly motivated to learn and are flexible thinkers.
  • There is a need to defend the higher realms of learning – learning beyond the obviously utilitarian – because their values, while they may not be immediately ascertainable as useful, are vital for the long-term welfare of our children and our society.
  • The government, through national standards, should not reach into the functioning of classrooms to pick winners.
  • It is one of the ironies of life in New Zealand that people who otherwise criticise increased government control are so ready to accept government actions and arguments in education.
  • Children who excel at certain parts of the curriculum should have those parts as valued as any other part.
  • All learning interacts with and supports all learning.
  • For a child the effects of learning are indivisible.
  • If national standards are so important, then all New Zealandchildren should benefit from them, so they should be extended to te reo based schools.
  • There is no doubt that teachers will feel formal and informal pressure to teach to the tests (which will become the increasingly dominant source of evaluation data).
  • National standards are being justified on the trumpeted and purported concern for the tail of children – about 20% – who are struggling with literacy and numeracy.
  • Professor Martin Thrupp from Waikato University wrote recently that ‘the politics of blame are useful to governments because they can seem to be doing something about the problem of underachievement without having to tackle more fundamental and difficult issues to do with poverty and inequality’.
  • The Guardian, Friday October 16, 2009 reports on a monumental review of national standards by Cambridge University – the review: Says that Sats [standardised tests] and league tables should be scrapped and ‘replaced with teacher assessments in a wider range of subjects than just the 3Rs, to encourage primaries to focus on the broader curriculum.’
  • “Accuses the Labour government of reaching ever deeper into the “recesses of professional action and thought”. ‘
  • Says that we ‘argue for a rolling back of powers of the state and reversal of the centralisation of how teachers teach – In respect to day-to-day teaching, government should step back.’
  • ‘Notes the questionable evidence on which some key educational policies have been based; the disenfranchising of local voice; the rise of unelected and unaccountable groups taking key decisions behind closed doors; the ’empty rituals’ of consultations; the authoritarian mindset, and the use of myth and derision to underwrite exaggerated accounts of progress and discredit alternative views.’
  • The Cambridge review also found the schools that did best under the standards’ regime were the ones which kept their curriculum focus wide.
  • An iconic New Zealand principal from an iconic area writes: ‘I have to say I am heartily sick of people who do not do the job telling me how I might do it better. We are being made to feel that if we all just worked a little harder (or better!) we would get the problem of  ‘underachievement’ sorted. If it was that simple we would have solved it years ago!’
  • In the 20% tail referred to, we have many children for whom English is a second language, severely dyslexic children, children with serious physical and psychological problems, children who have attended many schools, and children from impoverished and highly dysfunctional families.
  • To alter the nature of the education system; to undermine the vision of the new curriculum; to reduce the challenge for all children – for the purpose of implementing policies that have demonstrably failed overseas is an educational tragedy in the making.
  • To be doing this in the interests of what parents want is a travesty because it won’t be in the best interests of their children.
  • The way national standards have been presented to the public, and the compulsory reporting system, has been a travesty.
  • If the benefits of national standards are so clear and self-evident, then the adamant opposition from teachers and their organisations implies teachers are either obtuse or unprofessional.
  • If changes to dog licensing laws are preceded by submissions and an enquiry, why not education changes affecting our children.
  • The implication in the government’s presentation of national standards is that schools are failing in literacy and numeracy for the 20% tail, failing to such an extent that they are the problem and, as such, cannot be trusted.
  • This means the government has taken it on to itself to impose national standards.
  • This means the government has taken it on itself to impose these national standards even though the idea has been shown to have failed overseas, but about which no enquiry has been undertaken in this country.
  • There is no doubt that the curriculum will become less rich to the detriment of all children.
  • The parents of children who are succeeding at school do not want a lesser education for their children but the media and the politicians are framing and presenting the standards’ debate in such a way that open and worthwhile discussion about this has not occurred.
  • The parents whose children are struggling do not want foisted on their children, policies that have failed elsewhere.
  • The children who are struggling will not be helped by their learning being undertaken in a less rich environment.
  • Because of the intensive use of standardised tests and the changed nature of programmes, children who find themselves struggling, in say, reading, will very quickly find themselves labelled as failures in their own eyes and those of their classmates and the wider community. This will be particularly harmful for certain groups in the school population.
  • National standards will result in downward pressure for more formal teaching from secondary to primary to early childhood.
  • A more formal and narrower curriculum will result in more behaviour problems in schools, particularly from boys, and within that Maori boys.
  • The principles of Tomorrow’s Schools, a system based on trust and considerable local control should be supported, not undermined as it is with the standards’ policy.
  • If there is some value in education standards (literacy progressions are close to them) and some better ways to report to parents, then that value and those better ways should have been presented to schools for decision by teachers and board of trustees.
  • There is a widespread recognition amongst teachers that the national standards’ policy is a stunt to draw attention away from the government’s reduced investment in education.
  • Leaving aside the demonstrated failure of national standards overseas, the compulsion and top down nature of national standards would, on their own, ensure their failure.
  • Teachers already make available to parents the results of standardised tests and other judgements about children’s performances.
  • Parents of all children would not want to see people of initiative and creativity discouraged from entering teaching, and teachers of initiative and creativity discouraged from remaining.
  • Parents might be concerned to know that national standard results will be attached to the child’s name (as well as a special education number), be available to board of trustee members, and kept on permanent file in Wellington, meaning the details could be accessed at any time in the child’s lifetime.
  • The research into the nature of school reports by a professor of education from Auckland University is suspect.
  • Was the interchange between parents and teachers at school interviews and in the regular life of the school given due weight?
  • Because the University of Auckland will be a major beneficiary of government contracts to implement the new reporting system, was there a conflict of interest?
  • Any parent, as part of that research, if asked, would always like to know more, and expressed in plain language – they are questions with implicitly obvious replies.
  • Simply expressing children’s literacy or numeracy performance as ‘above’, ‘at’, or ‘below’ a national standard is highly misleading; to be required to express in a sentence or two what the school intends to do, or the parents can do, will inevitably become formulaic.
  • The idea of standardised tests every six months imposes an inflexible framework on a fluctuating and complex process.
  • The idea of the language that will result being plain, bizarre; the summary of children’s progress, jargon accretion; the suggestions for next steps simplistically generalised; the value for parents miniscule; and their advantages over present school reports nil, at best. This is especially so when the demands on teacher time are taken into account.
  • Guy Claxton’s statements about the England experience (pp. 39-40. Claxton, G. (2008). What’s the point of school? (pp. 39-40); Oxford, UK: Oneworld.): Staff morale plummeted when a school was identified as having ‘serious weaknesses’ and needing special measures.
  • Creative ways were found to improve schools’ apparent levels of performance.
  • The more important the achievement of measurable targets, the more people found ways of massaging figures.
  • Subjects that were not subject to high-stakes assessment were squeezed out.
  • Many teachers found it difficult to avoid teaching to the test.
  • Children said the fun was going out of learning and the anxiety levels of parents rose.
  • I will leave the final word to the iconic principal (referred to above). First a comment from this principal on universities: ‘The conflict of interest that occurs now that universities have become so dependent on funding contracts certainly seems to compromise their ability to be conscience and critic. Sadly, this means that we are now largely on our own in defending what is in the best interests of children and learning, with such defense often being interpreted as patch protection.’
  • The principal goes on to say that ‘education really has become a profession where we are constantly being ‘done to’ and we seem to frequently be at the mercy of educationally indefensible policies that shift and move according to the whims and rhetoric of political expediency and people who don’t understand. The potential damage of such policies is distressing.’

National standards: a posting I urge you to read

Tolley and Hattie: damaged goods

We can ‘win’ this one because even if we ‘lose’ we can ‘win’. The damage to Tolley’s credibility from the campaign against national standards has made her a lame duck. As I said in the ‘Smoke and mirrors’ postings late last year if National was really taking education seriously they would have appointed a more senior politician and not given Tolley all the education portfolios. I believe if the latest stuff up (no software to cope with national standards) is played skilfully, and we offer some kind of voluntary alternative, we can win a famous victory.

First, Anne Tolley as Anne Tolley.

She has nothing to offer but negativity, resorting, as she has, to the discredited and last-century slogan of the 3Rs; and, into the resulting vacuum, transforming cost cutting into a kind of post-modernist education raison d’etre.

Tolley has lost the confidence and trust of teachers: she should go.

Tolley’s statement that ‘If they [teachers] do nothing other than teach children to read and write and do maths and be good socialised New Zealand people they’ve done a really good job’ is outrageous given she is the minister of education whose ministry is working with teachers to implement a new curriculum which is visionary in a nature and broadly-based in effect. She is undermining a curriculum that her ministry has worked on with teachers in collegial fashion to develop. The statement, written by her press officer (who, along with Tolley, constitute the real ministry of education) is an epitaph to the philosophy of education that has inspired generations of teachers and made our system the envy of many abroad. It is outrageous because it suggests that being a ‘good socialised’ New Zealander is simply a matter of fitting in, and being able to read, write and do sums. This is in massive contradiction to the new curriculum which, through such things as the vision statements, principles, learning areas, and competencies, sets out an inspirational view of what constitutes a good New Zealander.

Perhaps I can help the minister: we in the teaching community understand that literacy and to a lesser extent numeracy are crucial to self-regard and learning – we in education get that; it is not an insight you are bringing to us or to New Zealand at large; such an understanding does not constitute a credible educational philosophy, though it does carry considerable baggage. Sometimes you deliver your one idea as an epiphany, when it is actually the most trivial of truisms; at other times you deliver it in a trenchant talkback tone along the lines of: if there is one thing I know it is that – and unfortunately, it is becoming worryingly evident it is.

We truly do get it; we didn’t even need your mate Hattie to tell us that one. We understand about the 20% you are always going on about. If you drag yourself away from what the review office has said, or is said to have said, and mixed with real people like teachers, who only have children’s interests at heart, you would learn that not one child in the 20% is unidentified, and very few of the children are not getting a lot of dedicated help. Teachers would, though, accept more material support if offered, but please do this respectfully, not condescendingly, and not with the apparatus of state bearing down on them in a threatening manner.

We all recognise the importance of getting the 20% to first base; but we don’t want this to mean other children are held back, have their opportunities restricted – we want those children to feel free to dash, slide, make decisions, take risks, recover, and have their turn at seeing their abilities soar.

When challenged about the harm that would be done to other curriculum areas by removing support for their professional development, Tolley responded petulantly: ‘What is it about this sector?’

‘Next year’, she added, ‘art might get its turn. Who knows?’ Indeed, who does? What Tolley doesn’t understand is that it isn’t a matter of turns, it is a matter of continuity, of a worthwhile advisory service being there when art is turned to, in the unlikely event it is; it is a matter of national standards chewing up the timetable and teachers’ attention so that everything but literacy and numeracy is under-nourished.

It is also a matter of children having just one chance at schooling.

Tolley has neither the understanding of education, nor the temperament to be an anyways satisfactory minister of education. Her word is not her bond; it is just her latest tactical position. For instance, I challenge her to release documents to support her claim that she was at any stage sympathetic to Aorangi School staying open. I challenge her to support her claims that Aorangi was performing poorly and was providing an unsatisfactory education for its children. I challenge her to deny her vow on television that schools would not be closed if communities did not want them closed.

Tolley has said that cut backs in education are occurring because there isn’t any money there, but the main reason there isn’t any money there (to the drastic level it isn’t) is because at the cut back cabinet meeting she was not only the first to offer her cut backs, but she also offered the largest percentage. I challenge her to produce documents to correct this understanding. (I accept the point Tolley would make that ‘cut backs’ should in inverted commas.)

Then there have been the glorious Monty Pythonesque characteristics of the great day of the official announcement, the lead up to it, and the dénouement:  Tolley saying the teacher organisations had committed themselves to negotiate the introduction of national standards, the teacher organisations saying they hadn’t (there probably was some ambiguity because of teacher organisations hanging in there to ensure the demise of  league tables and, in the meantime, teacher opinion against national standards surging); Frances Nelson attending a calf club day instead; Ernie Buutveld intoning in stately fashion against attendance; the empty rows of chairs (a picture is worth …); Key demonstrating his high aspirations for New Zealand by announcing the new 21st century education philosophy of the 3Rs; Key announcing the new 21st century education philosophy of the 3Rs which has stranded art, having just lauded the life of Doreen Blumhardt, that art education pioneer of the Beeby era; Key announcing $1m in prizes to encourage science students and teachers, having just announced the new 21st century education philosophy of the 3Rs which has stranded science; TVNZ placing Key’s announcement of the new 21st century education philosophy of the 3Rs in the section just before sport, and the 15th item overall, even though Key had declared the announcement to be the most important the government would ever make; and, finally, Tolley plaintively saying, she still believed the teacher organisations were committed to negotiate the introduction of national standards.

As we move into the complexities of our time, in a new century, it is outrageous that Tolley has played the 3Rs card; a card that was played throughout the 20th century in all western countries to unfortunate effect; a card that is emotively charged, highly misleading, and unhelpful; a card that implies that the 3Rs are being neglected and that teachers are too obtuse to recognise this or self-serving to care; a card that implies politicians and education bureaucrats know and teachers don’t; a card that is hard to counter because slogans are hard to counter in any context especially one as fraught and complex as education; a card that is difficult to counter because the independent voice of universities has been lost to government contracts; a card that is difficult to counter because for education, the media (oh that we were rugby!) have the attention span of a fly; a card that is a political winner, a perennial standby for pulling a political stunt, but at the expense of our children.

Now for the other half of the terrible duo, John Hattie.

The networkonnet story so far (‘The Hattie series’). On the front page of the Sunday Star-Times (January 4, 2009) in a headlining story, Hattie is presented as an academic who has written a book (Visible Learning) described as education’s ‘holy grail’. Tolley is reported as saying that with Hattie so close to cracking the secret of learning, he is certain to be central to the changes in education she has in mind. Hattie reciprocated by saying he wanted to see performance pay introduced, and suggested that the government should stop throwing money at smaller classes.

Networkonnet did a series of analyses (‘The Hattie series’) on Hattie’s book challenging its soundness and fairness, and looking carefully at Hattie’s philosophical position which was found to be structured to favour education propositions supported by conservative politicians. Ivan Snook also did a series of articles with his summing up being ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’.

Then came the famous outburst (NZ Herald, August 1, 2009). There is no doubt that Hattie was under some pressure. He needed to keep on side with Tolley to protect his department’s lucrative contracts with the government; also not to get too far off side with the teachers and teacher organisations (there was definitely a growing awareness of his academic feet of clay).

In the mapping process for national standards being undertaken by ministry experts, asTTle was found to pose a number of problems, which irked Hattie. This, combined with the balancing act between the government and teachers, led him to snap. He said, amongst many other damning criticisms, that government policy on national standards would ‘set education back for 50 years’.

In detailing all this (‘Calculated epiphany now’), I said the apparent break between Hattie and Tolley was only a tiff and they would soon make up because they both needed each other – he to provide ideological and academic cover; she government contracts.

This reconciliation was to occur, with its public manifestation most odd. In the NZ Herald  (August 19, 2009) a small item, obviously based on a publicity release, described an enthusiastic reception given to a conference contribution (in West Australia of all places) by a professor from Auckland University. The professor was Helen Timperley, a close associate of Hattie with a significant role in Auckland University’s commercial arm headed by Hattie. Near the end of the small item was inserted the real purpose of the publicity release. At the conference, Timperley reports, she had said the government was on ‘the right track’ with its policy on national standards and, by the way, she was about to go to Wellington next week to discuss government contracts for the implementation of national standards and the new school reports.

There are more amazing twists and turns. I invite you not to let Hattie get away with his legerdemain. To contribute positively to New Zealand education he needs to be seen in his proper dimensions. I see a hugely energetic, entrepreneurial, charismatic, self-promoting, self-regarding academic who, in his research, tries to compensate for his lack of originality and objectivity with size and reach. In academic terms, I see a pretty leaden thinker.

Well, what are those further amazing twists and turns?

Following the official announcement on national standards last week, Hattie positioned himself as Mister Reasonable, the Mister Go-to academic, saying he had reservations about the policy but that research in a year or two would sort out the truth of the matter. But he knows the truth of the matter; he knows there is no credible evidence in national standards’ favour, but he wants his cake and to eat it too. He wants the contracts, he wants to keep on side with Tolley, but he doesn’t want to dig himself into a hole with teachers, or if national standards go belly up. Remember, this is the academic who provided the research about school reports; research that provided considerable impetus to national standards becoming National Party policy; this is also the academic who, in a hissy-fit, apparently about asTTle, said national standards would mean education ‘going back 50 years’; this is the academic whose close academic and commercial associate on the eve of her departure for Wellington to seek contracts, said national standards would were on ‘the right track’.

Even here, did you notice, he seems to be angling for research contracts on national standards, which he has a commercial interest in implementing. You have to admire his ability to go after the main chance. This does lead to an important consideration: Hattie must not become Tolley’s house researcher. Any research on national standards should be done by someone without a direct commercial interest in national standards implementation, and who has the confidence of teachers and teachers’ groups, as well as academia. Where this leaves the forlorn figure of Timperley is a matter of conjecture. She is the leading researcher used by the ministry for the academically self-serving but internationally prestigious synthesis series, but she has declared that national standards are on the right track. She did not put forward any evidence synthesised or otherwise to support this. If you live by the word, you die by it.

That was a twist, now for a turn: today October 25, 2009, in the Herald on Sunday, appeared one of the most remarkable, informed, and inspired editorials on education ever written. The writer has written himself into editorial glory. The editorial is headed ‘Let teachers teach, not count’. I won’t go into the details but it has everything you or I could have ever have wished for. It’s a whopper! [If any reader at any time wants a copy of the editorial just get in touch with me; it would be most useful for your discussions with your board of trustees and community.]

But here’s the rub for Hattie: quite innocently of a knowledge of Hattie’s manoeuvring to backtrack on his outburst, and quite understandably seeing the outburst was made in Herald on Sunday’s sister paper, the editor goes to town on Hattie, first with a long paragraph spelling out his renown, including the embarrassing ‘holy grail’ tag; then with details of Hattie’s August 1 devastating comments on national standards. Remember, these comments came from files, not from Hattie’s lips. The situation is sheer magic. The paragraph ends saying Hattie ‘has condemned the planned changes as “going back 50 years” and expressed concern that they will force teachers to teach children according to their school year, rather than their ability level.’

Hattie has become the accidental hero. I sense that the editor was emboldened to be as bold as he was in condemnation of national standards because of Hattie’s condemnation. It’s just too delicious. My stirring cup runneth over. From my point-of-view there is another Monty Python touch: Hattie said national standards would ‘set back education by 50 years’. Let’s see, 1959: Elwyn was in his heyday, the Beeby philosophy still had pockets of genuine strength, an inspired and independent advisory service, considerable teacher freedom, benign bureaucracies, little research, and no Hattie. Yes please: bring it on.

Tolley and Hattie, the two most powerful people in education are damaged goods; their influence while still strong has diminished – education is the better for it.

And for the future: we should negotiate with the government on the basis of no national standards, no new reports; the main issue is not league tables or delaying their introduction, it is no national standards, no new reports. If there are some things the government would like to introduce from elements of national standards and the new reports, let the government put them forward for schools and school communities to consider voluntarily on the basis of trust and the philosophy of Tomorrow’s Schools.

As I wrote in the letter for the last posting: they call for submissions for dogs don’t they? why not for kids?.

The move by NZEI to have a forum about national standards is brilliant. I’d love to see Alexander and Apple there. Meanwhile, the list that follows is to help you in what you can do about national standards in any way you can. Please send in any further suggestions for me to add to the list.

[This has been a rushed job, so where you find grammar and spelling mistakes, and other infelicities, and where you feel I’ve gone too far, or not far enough – please let me know.]

Over a 100 points to help in the campaign against national standards

The key issue is that they are compulsory national standards.

If they were voluntary, like the literacy progressions, or able to be used flexibly like the achievement objectives, they would be acceptable.

I went into an investigation of national standards as a strong opponent of them; I came out a fierce one.

Except for a few academics and some in their related support services, with their eyes on government contracts, I found virtually no support for them in the education community

I came across no evidence in countries comparable to New Zealand to support national standards.

Three press items, for instance, sum up the English experience: The Times headline –‘Dropping primary school literacy and numeracy strategies long overdue’; the BBC  agreed, adding – ‘dropping the strategy would save 100 million pounds in consultancy fees’; The Guardian said – ‘literacy and numeracy standards had dropped decisively in the eight years after the strategies came into effect’.

The effect of national standards on the new curriculum will be serious.

The real curriculum will be national standards, the complex mapping of evaluation data from a range of sources, intensive use of standardised tests, collecting data for school reports, a narrow perception of literacy and numeracy.

So the high hopes for the new curriculum, the visionary principles, and the increased curriculum freedom for schools will be largely unrealised.

Because the evaluation data will be ‘high stakes’ (as Marie Clay called that kind of competitive data formation), it will be fudged down at the beginning of each year and up during it.

The process poses a kind of moral entrapment for principals.

In contradiction to the government’s promise to reduce principals’ workload, national standards will greatly increase it.

National standards are flawed in practice and in theory.

National standards are flawed in theory because they are incapable of definition.

National standards are incapable of definition because any worthwhile education activity, to be defined, requires words that require further definition, and so on.

The most that can be said for a national standard that it is a working definition of a cluster of related education activities developed on the basis of the value judgements of a group of people, to be used by another group of people, in relation to children, on the basis of exercising further value judgements.

In other words, all parts of the national standards’ process, and there are many of them, are value laden.

The great danger of measurement tools is their specious claim to objectivity.

To deflect attention from the theoretical impossibility of defining a national standard, and from the subjectivity of both formal and informal evaluation procedures, the authorities, to some extent commendably, have allowed for a variety of procedures both formal and informal to be used in evaluating child performance.

Having a lot of parts to evaluating child performance, though in some part commendable, is futile, and has led to considerable complexity in defining standards, and will lead to even greater confusion in applying them.

Because all the parts are value laden, they can be described as moving parts, and the process as such will suffer from too many moving parts (the national standards, various formal measurement tools, achievement objectives from the curriculum, learning area statements, literacy learning progressions, NCEA, and information from day to day teaching activities).

Not only will the lineout out be on the run so will the person throwing in the ball

There is no solution to this value laden and many moving parts’ dilemma for national standards; to reduce the number of moving parts in an attempt to reduce the complexity of the process, will only serve to narrow it to the use of measurement tools.

Confusion abounds and will abound. National (in its manifesto) says: ‘Clear national standards will describe all things children should be able to do by a particular age or year at school’. Which is it?

Children will, actually and damagingly, be taught according to their school year, rather than their ability level.

The ministry (on its web site) says: ‘It should be remembered, however, that students start at different points and progress at different rates, so when interpreting achievement, rate of progress needs to be considered as well’. This is laudable but not what national standards are really about.

In commenting on parents’ responses in the consultation process, the ministry reports that ‘Parents also want information on their child’s social and emotional development’. Once again, not what national standards are really about.

The new curriculum sets out four criteria for the new curriculum – to help the children to be: literate and numerate; critical and creative thinkers; active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge; informed decision makers.

National standards will work against all these criteria, even the criterion of literacy and numeracy, because the attention will be to a narrow view of literacy and numeracy.

Literacy and numeracy are shallow, unstable things if children don’t have a context of being able to know about things, know how to think about things, feel about things, respond to things, and express themselves in a variety of forms.

This narrow view of literacy and numeracy will have a considerable effect on the timetable and curriculum.

Other parts of the curriculum will be crowded out: science, social studies, the arts, physical activity.

To say, as the government is, that national standards are about preparing children for NCEA is preposterous: NCEA is also about, indeed, very much about, children being critical and creative thinkers; active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge; informed decision makers.

Secondary schools want to receive children who, as well as being successful at literacy and numeracy, are highly motivated to learn and are flexible thinkers.

There is a need to defend the higher realms of learning – learning beyond the obviously utilitarian – because their values, while they may not be immediately ascertainable as useful, are vital for the long-term welfare of our children and our society.

The government, through national standards, should not reach into the functioning of classrooms to pick winners.

It is one of the ironies of life in New Zealand that people who otherwise criticise increased government control are so ready to accept government actions and arguments in education.

Children who excel at certain parts of the curriculum should have those parts as valued as any other part.

All learning interacts with and supports all learning.

For a child the effects of learning are indivisible.

If national standards are so important, then all New Zealand children should benefit from them, so they should be extended to te reo based schools.

There is no doubt that teachers will feel formal and informal pressure to teach to the tests (which will become the increasingly dominant source of evaluation data).

National standards are being justified on the trumpeted and purported concern for the tail of children – about 20% – who are struggling with literacy and numeracy.

Professor Martin Thrupp from Waikato University wrote recently that ‘the politics of blame are useful to governments because they can seem to be doing something about the problem of underachievement without having to tackle more fundamental and difficult issues to do with poverty and inequality’.

The Guardian, Friday October 16, 2009 reports on a monumental review of national standards by Cambridge University – the review: Says that Sats [standardised tests] and league tables should be scrapped and ‘replaced with teacher assessments in a wider range of subjects than just the 3Rs, to encourage primaries to focus on the broader curriculum.’

‘Accuses the Labour government of reaching ever deeper into the “recesses of professional action and thought”. ’

Says that we ‘argue for a rolling back of powers of the state and reversal of the centralisation of how teachers teach … In respect to day-to-day teaching, government should step back.’

‘Notes the questionable evidence on which some key educational policies have been based; the disenfranchising of local voice; the rise of unelected and unaccountable groups taking key decisions behind closed doors; the “empty rituals” of consultations; the authoritarian mindset, and the use of myth and derision to underwrite exaggerated accounts of progress and discredit alternative views.’

The Cambridge review also found the schools that did best under the standards’ regime were the ones which kept their curriculum focus wide.

An iconic New Zealand principal from an iconic area writes: ‘I have to say I am heartily sick of people who do not do the job telling me how I might do it better. We are being made to feel that if we all just worked a little harder (or better!) we would get the problem of  ‘underachievement’ sorted. If it was that simple we would have solved it years ago!’

In the 20% tail referred to, we have many children for whom English is a second language, severely dyslexic children, children with serious physical and psychological problems, children who have attended many schools, and children from impoverished and highly dysfunctional families.

To alter the nature of the education system; to undermine the vision of the new curriculum; to reduce the challenge for all children – for the purpose of implementing policies that have demonstrably failed overseas is an educational tragedy in the making.

To be doing this in the interests of what parents want is a travesty because it won’t be in the best interests of their children.

The way national standards have been presented to the public, and the compulsory reporting system, has been a travesty.

If the benefits of national standards are so clear and self-evident, then the adamant opposition from teachers and their organisations implies teachers are either obtuse or unprofessional.

If changes to dog licensing laws are preceded by submissions and an enquiry, why not education changes affecting our children.

The implication in the government’s presentation of national standards is that schools are failing in literacy and numeracy for the 20% tail, failing to such an extent that they are the problem and, as such, cannot be trusted.

This means the government has taken it on to itself to impose national standards.

This means the government has taken it on itself to impose these national standards even though the idea has been shown to have failed overseas, but about which no enquiry has been undertaken in this country.

There is no doubt that the curriculum will become less rich to the detriment of all children.

The parents of children who are succeeding at school do not want a lesser education for their children but the media and the politicians are framing and presenting the standards’ debate in such a way that open and worthwhile discussion about this has not occurred.

The parents whose children are struggling do not want foisted on their children, policies that have failed elsewhere.

The children who are struggling will not be helped by their learning being undertaken in a less rich environment.

Because of the intensive use of standardised tests and the changed nature of programmes, children who find themselves struggling, in say, reading, will very quickly find themselves labelled as failures in their own eyes and those of their classmates and the wider community. This will be particularly harmful for certain groups in the school population.

National standards will result in downward pressure for more formal teaching from secondary to primary to early childhood.

A more formal and narrower curriculum will result in more behaviour problems in schools, particularly from boys, and within that Maori boys.

The principles of Tomorrow’s Schools, a system based on trust and considerable local control should be supported, not undermined as it is with the standards’ policy.

If there is some value in education standards (literacy progressions are close to them) and some better ways to report to parents, then that value and those better ways should have been presented to schools for decision by teachers and board of trustees.

There is a widespread recognition amongst teachers that the national standards’ policy is a stunt to draw attention away from the government’s reduced investment in education.

Leaving aside the demonstrated failure of national standards overseas, the compulsion and top down nature of national standards would, on their own, ensure their failure.

Teachers already make available to parents the results of standardised tests and other judgements about children’s performances.

Parents of all children would not want to see people of initiative and creativity discouraged from entering teaching, and teachers of initiative and creativity discouraged from remaining.

Parents might be concerned to know that national standard results will be attached to the child’s name (as well as a special education number), be available to board of trustee members, and kept on permanent file in Wellington, meaning the details could be accessed at any time in the child’s lifetime.

The research into the nature of school reports by a professor of education from Auckland University is suspect.

Was the interchange between parents and teachers at school interviews and in the regular life of the school given due weight?

Because the University of Auckland will be a major beneficiary of government contracts to implement the new reporting system, was there a conflict of interest?

Any parent, as part of that research, if asked, would always like to know more, and expressed in plain language – they are questions with implicitly obvious replies.

Simply expressing children’s literacy or numeracy performance as ‘above’, ‘at’, or ‘below’ a national standard is highly misleading; to be required to express in a sentence or two what the school intends to do, or the parents can do, will inevitably become formulaic.

The idea of standardised tests every six months imposes an inflexible framework on a fluctuating and complex process.

The idea of the language that will result being plain, bizarre; the summary of children’s progress, jargon accretion; the suggestions for next steps simplistically generalised; the value for parents miniscule; and their advantages over present school reports nil, at best. This is especially so when the demands on teacher time are taken into account.

Guy Claxton’s statements about the England experience (pp. 39-40. Claxton, G. (2008). What’s the point of school? (pp. 39-40); Oxford, UK: Oneworld.): Staff morale plummeted when a school was identified as having ‘serious weaknesses’ and needing special measures.

Creative ways were found to improve schools’ apparent levels of performance.

The more important the achievement of measurable targets, the more people found ways of massaging figures.

Subjects that were not subject to high-stakes assessment were squeezed out.

Many teachers found it difficult to avoid teaching to the test.

Children said the fun was going out of learning and the anxiety levels of parents rose.

I will leave the final word to the iconic principal (referred to above). First a comment from this principal on universities: ‘The conflict of interest that occurs now that universities have become so dependent on funding contracts certainly seems to compromise their ability to be conscience and critic. Sadly, this means that we are now largely on our own in defending what is in the best interests of children and learning, with such defense often being interpreted as patch protection.’

The principal goes on to say that ‘education really has become a profession where we are constantly being “done to” and we seem to frequently be at the mercy of educationally indefensible policies that shift and move according to the whims and rhetoric of political expediency and people who don’t understand. The potential damage of such policies is distressing.’