Friday, December 21, 2012

Coats of paint don't fix real problems.

As I continue to read Visible Learning by John Hattie I am reminded by the many things that we continue to do in education that are very ineffective.  Many of us know that these practices are ineffective yet we still do them anyway.  Educational research needs to play more of a role in our classrooms and decision making.  Why do we do these things?  Why don't we question them more? I am reminded by this quote often when we challenge the status quo.
"If  you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." Tony Robbins
Lets stop assuming that these methods and practices work and lets start questioning our current practice.  Retention comes to mind as a questionable practice that still occurs in many of our schools.  Many think that retaining students and holding them back a year will cure the students ailment.  The notion that the second time around will teach them a lesson is ludicrous.  The research says, "Attendance is lower for retained students...Being retained one year doubled the students likelihood of dropping out, while failing twice almost guaranteed it."  (Hattie, 2009 p. 98)The threat of retaining students does not motivate students either.  What makes us think that the student will get the material the second time around? Based on Hattie's research students do worse academically and retention is the second greatest predictor of school dropout.  Yet we have states like Iowa attempting to mandate retention for students in third grade.

Another method of school reform is reducing class size.  Which as a superintendent am guilty of assuming that the reduction of class size will guarantee a boost in achievement.  The research says, "Evidence overall suggests that the results are systematically small."  (Hattie, 2009 p.86)  We assume less kids means increased achievement.  Hattie found that teachers of smaller classes used the same methods as they used with larger classes, they typically didn't take advantage of the small class sizes.  "This lack of outcome difference is most likely because teachers do not change their current teaching strategies." (Hattie, 2009 p.88)

As Hattie says, lets stop using a "coat of paint" to fix real problems.  Cosmetic fixes are easy and real in depth change is hard.  The change that is needed to ensure that all students learn at high levels is difficult.  We need to keep our focus on our teachers, they are the ones that ensure student achievement.  The easy fixes are expensive and lack real results and are very rarely backed by research.  

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