All the adults in our neighborhoods have been to school so they all think they are experts about schools and are quick to tell us what schools are doing right, not doing right, and should be doing right.
All the Presidential candidates want to be elected so they have positions, often not well informed and varying with the winds of public opinion, about Common Core, standardized testing, charter schools, vouchers, magnet schools, and teacher evaluation.
Entrepreneurs and investors are involved in public k-12 education because, as Rupert Murdoch has said, the U.S. public education industry currently represents a $500 billion dollar opportunity, what with all the testing, all the materials to prepare students for the tests, and all the openings of privately managed and publicly funded charter schools.
So many people want a piece of the action or at least a piece of the conversation. There is so much noise.
How about a little calm? How about a little light?
The calming voice of a full-time researcher sheds light on the neighborhood conversations, the political hype and the investment speculations. That researcher is John Hattie. He is the real deal. He directs the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia and heads the Science of Learning Centre, which works with over 7,000 schools worldwide. In a recent paper, “The Politics of Distraction”, which was highlighted on NPR, Dr. Hattie reviewed 1200 meta-analyses (analyses of analyses) and examined studies covering a combined 250 million students around the world. He analyzed some of the most popular approaches to education reform and determined what, among them, does not improve education.
We in the U.S. are now doing a lot of what he says does not work.
Hattie says that national standards do not raise student achievement and actually diminish student achievement for the most talented of students, that standardized tests do not give us the information we need to improve student learning, that small class size alone without an accompanying change in pedagogy has an insignificant positive effect, that school choice through charter schools accomplishes nothing in terms of raising student achievement, and that money alone will not improve education. Dr. Hattie’s bottom line is how students learn influences what they achieve and that how students learn is influenced by how teachers teach.
None of his findings come as a surprise to educators. We as a nation probably could have been on a wiser and more productive course than the one we are on if we had asked educators how to improve learning and achievement. But we didn’t. The Common Core Standards and the Common Core-aligned testing were designed without educators.
What if we, as neighbors, political candidates, and citizens, bring Dr. Hattie’s 1200 studies and 250 million students into our conversations? What if we come to believe his proposition, delineated further in a second paper, entitled “The Politics of Collaborative Expertise”, that how students learn influences what they achieve and that how students learn is influenced by how teachers teach? What if we remember our own learning and our own teachers and recognize that what Dr. Hallie’s meta-analyses show is simply common sense?
What if we put Dr. Hallie’s common sense into an action plan for Connecticut?
Here is what a Connecticut action plan would look like:
1. Teachers and school leaders would assess the individual growth of each student each school year rather than assess if all students of the same grade demonstrate the exact same achievement at the exact same time.
2. Teachers would be authorized to collectively judge if their students are making agreed-upon progress and then empowered to remedy any learning needs their students might have.
3. Publicly funded but privately managed charter schools would be eliminated because there is not evidence of those schools increasing student achievement. Instead, student achievement would be increased because teachers within a school or academic department would collectively decide to teach and assess students in the ways that the most effective teachers in that school or academic department teach and assess students.
4. There would be intensive professional development of teachers so that active learning, student collaboration, and frequent, personalized teacher feedback to foster student growth become the norm.
5. Money would be budgeted for and spent on what directly increases student learning. For example, lowering class size to implement a learning-centered pedagogy in which teachers teach students to construct their own knowledge, instead of doing worksheets or listening to lectures, would be a good use of funds. Also, providing school time for teachers to discuss sample student work and agree upon measures of students’ growth would be another good use of funds.
It is time for a new action plan for Connecticut. The SBAC scores will soon be out. Those scores, like the scores of all standardized tests that are always highly correlated with family income, will tell us which towns and cities are the wealthiest and which are the poorest. The SBAC scores will also play out the pre-determined failure rate for Connecticut students. The scores will generate almost no conversation about what it means to learn and what it means to teach. Schools will continue to implement the Common Core Standards, which the Common Core designers proudly proclaim do not in any way address how to teach or how students learn.
But what if Professor Hallie is right and all achievement is a direct result of how teachers teach and how students learn?
What if our children’s time, educators’ energy, and our public money are now being misdirected?
It’s time for all of us to talk about the real basic of education: student learning.
It’s time for all of us – neighbors, educators, legislators, and politicians – to focus our conversations. It’s time to move beyond Common Core and SBAC. It’s time to put together a Connecticut Action Plan for Teaching and Learning that gets it right for all of our children.