John Hattie Would Be Our Principal . . .

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to             achievement. London: Routledge.

In a perfect school, John Hattie would be our principal. Uh .  . . OK, so I’ve never seen this researcher from New Zealand in person, so he may not actually possess the minimum requisite soft skills a perfect principal in a perfect school would have. But if he just made it to the goofy charmingness level of my favorite New Zealanders Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords) his research would more than compensate for any remaining deficit in the area of gladhanding.

Hattie’s Visible Learning (2009) is a genius concept that is really well executed. Basically, he develops a really convincing argument that he was able to apply a statistical analysis to thousands of different quantitative studies on like topics in order to conclude the aggregate effect size of a litany of instructional initiatives, educational policies, and student characteristics. He compiled “a total of about 800 meta-analyses, which encompassed 52,637 studies, and provided 146,142 effect sizes […] these studies are based on many millions of students” (p.15). An effect size (d) of 1.0 would show a one standard deviation gain on a normal curve, or an increase of 34.13 percentiles.

Hattie scoured this body of research in an attempt to determine the effect size of a litany of “things” [my word] that educators have identified as variables in whether or not some students learn more or less than others. He labels these things as  “contributions” and categorizes them into  (1) students, (2) homes, (3) schools, (4) teachers, (5) curricula and (6) teaching approaches (p.31) . He then highlights the contributions that can attain what he called “desired effects” with d = 0.40 or higher and are therefore attributable to the specific interventions or methods being researched, not just the developmental progress of the child or typical teacher effects. That means these would be things where the time and resources spent focusing on them would have a huge payoff for our students.

Unfortunately, many of the methods and interventions that gain traction in education reform movements are not supported in his research by an effect size strong enough to impact student learning beyond expected cognitive development or typical teacher effects. In other words, they do not benefit students any more than if that program never occurred. The time and resources spent learning and implemented these reforms would not be well spent.

Moreover, the worst programs can actually yield effect sizes below zero, meaning that the student achievement was negatively impacted by their implementation. This is due to the opportunity costs of ill-conceived reform efforts, including teachers missing class time to receive training and instructional planning time redirected towards implementing the new program. If this opportunity cost is not recouped by a powerful intervention or instructional method that ultimately increases student achievement, the net impact of the initiative could be negative.

John Hattie would be our principal because he would provide a compelling argument that we should be careful about where we place our reform efforts in order to ensure we cannot only justify the expenditure of time and resources, but get a big bang for our buck in terms of improved student achievement. He would harness the staff of our school in a focused effort on fewer “things” that would net a major impact on moving kids towards high targets.

Next On In A Perfect School . . .               Doug Reeves Would Write Our SIP Plan . . .