Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Will the real John Hattie stand up.

John Hattie - the holder of the Holy Grail or a Poison Chalice? It does appear that John Hattie seems to be running with the hares and hunting with the hounds? Kelvin Smythe is keeping a clear humanistic eye on him on behalf of creative teachers.

Hattie and Tolley at it again writes Kelvin

Kelvin's article has been slightly abridged - read his full statement on his website.

'The heading for this posting does not mean I believe that Hattie and Tolley are personally close or in regular communication, but it does mean they share a community of interest in pushing the arguments they do
. Tolley has developed a visceral contempt for teachers as a result of their energetic opposition to national standards; and Hattie has become frustrated with teachers as they indicate an increasing apprehension of his overarching plan to bind teachers and children into sets of rules, standardisations, and controls administered by experts – in other words academics or those controlled by academics.

In the Sunday Star-Times (August 29, 2010), in response to a beat-up front page story about ‘criminals in our classrooms’ there is the following quote: ‘education expert John Hattie wants professionals to monitor teachers, who he says are “allowed to do almost anything” ’ Tolley, of course, evinces concern about the so-called situation and promises an enquiry. They are both at it again.

There is no doubt that Hattie along with Tolley are becoming increasingly isolated from teachers and worried about how their education strategies are being resisted. This has prompted both of them to move to undermine teacher organisations, to weaken genuine teacher representation, and to centralise, bureaucratise, and expertise the administration of education.

Hattie’s response in this week’s Sunday Star-Times, his use of praise of teachers as a cover for inserting policies which undermine them, the illogic of his ideas, the fantastic internal contradictions, the lack of explanation, the lack of imagination, the narrow view of education, his claims to have the answers (clearly misplaced), and the gathering in of the reins of power to authorities and academics of his type.

Just because I have placed Hattie under intense scrutiny for over two years now does not mean I have any particular antagonism to him personally.

In America, Hattie would be a dime-a-dozen academic, just another one of those academics who, with politicians and education administrators, dominate the narrowing education philosophy of that sadly confused country. (I acknowledge, however, that in pure energy he does stand out from that benighted academic crowd.) In New Zealand, though, ‘He is an immensely powerful academic, not only for what he is, but also for what he represents; understand him and his pedagogy and you understand the future of New Zealand education.’

I believe, however, his support amongst academics is waning, even amongst those of his own type. Hattie would have known of the dismantling of NEMP and it being replaced with a discredited education review office outcomes-type assessment structure. This announcement was a sudden one, taking most academics by surprise. I’m not saying it was Hattie’s idea but it is in line with his philosophy and he would have known about it. No doubt, he has been contacted by his fellow academics and no doubt he would have said something ambiguous in response. Look for something of a falling out there.

I predicted two years ago that it was not Hattie and Auckland University that needed to be watched closest, but Hattie and Cognition (a linking of Hattie and MultiServe) – though I’m not predicting an immediate connection between Cognition and the dismantling of NEMP. It is about time the academics of New Zealand stopped being in thrall, fear, or run-off-their thinking by this academic. Why should most of the criticism to do with Hattie come from a lowly educationist from the provinces.

So that is one part of the Sunday Star-Times’ equation.

Well the other part has had a very bad week. Significant for Tolley was the farcical fallout from a tiff with that frothing school trustees association person, Lorraine Kerr.

Kerr (Dominion, 27 August, 2010) was reported as asking Tolley ‘why she wrongly claimed the association was “extremely supportive” of national standards.’

I know – unbelievable given Kerr’s intransigent stand for national standards – but these are the kinds of success that come if we stick to our knitting and keep purling away.

Yes – it’s Monty Python territory.

Kerr ‘said yesterday that she had “never said” boards were supportive of the policy. Mrs Tolley’s claims about the standing ovation were “an awkward one to answer”. The ovation had been in recognition of her 21 years of service as a school trustee. “Possibly that’s a conversation I need I need to have with the minister.” ’

This cracking in the wall of support from the School Trustees Association is fraught with danger for Tolley. (There will be a kiss and makeup, but significant damage has been wrought.)

But it is Hattie’s response that is most enlightening. After the remark that teachers are ‘allowed to do almost anything’ he is described as a government adviser and then reported as saying that he ‘wants experts to monitor teachers against national standards because the Teachers Council has failed to do so.’

The issue at hand, beat up or not, was professional penalties for teachers with criminal convictions, but here we Hattie distorting it to one of teachers having their curriculum and classroom practice monitored by experts.

What manner of cognitive ability is this academic? The Teachers Council already works to a set of professional standards which provides guidance in the first place for principals and boards of trustees. Does Hattie not realise that we have schools out there, headed by principals and boards of trustees? It is these people who have the primary responsibility for the application of professional criteria.

Schools don’t allow teachers to do anything they want: those who lead them provide guidance, leadership and supervision. The professional standards are an excellent set of criteria for setting out expectations of teachers; they are not minimum standards (whatever they are). We do not need a central committee of experts appointed by the government in association with in academics monitoring schools intruding into what is the responsibility of schools. The Teachers Council has and should have a light supervisory role acting as a backstop. The system is already bureaucratic, impersonal, and ominous enough without the system being run by a non-democratic, unrepresentative, central committee of experts.

Hattie in short order achieves a dizzying illogic. He has just spent a couple of paragraphs saying teachers are ‘allowed to do almost anything’, that we’ve only been interested in minimum standards, and that to improve what he clearly sees as a problem he recommends replacing the present Teachers Council with one of his own making, and that we should change from our present policy of focusing on the minimum ‘to focus on excellence and effective performance’ instead. So far, so bad, but not yet illogical. Then in a bewildering dislocation he finds it possible to say we put ‘too much emphasis on problems’ when our ‘system was amongst the best in the world’. But he has just said that this same system allows teachers ‘to do almost anything’, which he saw as a major problem, and which only focused on the minimum, which he saw as another problem. Go figure.

Hattie has not allowed to penetrate his thinking a recognition that the relationship of teachers with their schools and the central authorities is at the heart of a system, and if we have a system amongst the best in the world, light supervision from the centre with the weight of responsibility borne by schools may be why our system is so good, and the American system he seems so keen to ape, so bad.

It seems that having successfully implemented national standards in New Zealand he now wants to implement something he calls national standards for teachers.

‘If we are going to have a future [My goodness, having just said we have amongst the best education systems in the world, that we focus too much on problems, he now seems to be saying we face complete collapse if we don’t act on his expert advice. This would seem to be the mother of all problems.] … we need to have experts monitoring teachers. What other profession doesn’t have a group of experts in charge?’

‘In charge’ that is a typical Hattie verbal coinage. What does it mean? A central committee of experts in charge. Obviously the education review office doesn’t meet the bill. What does it mean? Is he really meaning academic experts? He must be joking.

Hattie and Tolley are taking New Zealand education down a path well travelled to destination failure. When, in the ‘90s, teaching was separated from evaluation and called assessment, and the outcomes of learning, the artifacts of learning, the paper processes of assessment, became the focus of education, this resulted in power being transferred to education accountants (education review office), quantitative academics, and centralised authorities. Learning was stripped of its classroom time to unfold, its mystery, its natural complexity, its affective and moral components – and a narrowed version of literacy and numeracy became proxies for the curriculum. Experts, academics, and bureaucrats intruded into the relationship between teachers and children, bound as teachers were with learning formulae, high-stakes’ assessment, standards, unambiguous outcomes, extrinsic motivation, instrumentality, rules, restrictions, and codes.

So encompassed have we become with this authoritarian and centralised culture, this culture of certainty, of experts knowing best, that we find it difficult to recognise there is an alternative, an alternative, I suggest, that should start with our understanding of the curriculum, and on that understanding be constructed the way evaluation is carried out, from there the kinds of structures within schools to support that kind of teaching and evaluation, and from there the kinds of structures within the system to support schools.

From my criticisms of the present pernicious direction of education, by considering the opposite, you can judge some of the characteristics that would constitute the basis for an alternative system. If I had to describe the basis for the curriculum I am suggesting, I would say it was the feeling for approach to mathematics, to science, to reading, to writing, and, of course to social studies. A feeling for based on children being provided with time to gain a grasp of their topic, to explore their topic, to gain sufficient control of the knowledge or ability to develop a feeling for their topic, and eventually to use that knowledge and feeling gained to be creative and imaginative. The topics would be guided by aims not outcomes or objectives and run their course with a light touch.

This feeling for is not to be confused with enthusiasm; a feeling for is of a different plane from children just feeling enthusiastic about their topic. In mathematics, children would have to get into a topic, a real life topic, which drew on their abilities in a contextual way. In language experience, there would be an actual experience, and in science, it would not be a download from the computer. As for evaluation, to evaluate it properly, to stop the evaluation process distorting the teaching and learning, you would have to be there. On such a foundation would I build an education system intended for children and teachers, not academics, politicians, and bureaucrats.

A final word to the Tolleys and Hatties of this world.

An alternative system would not bleat on about excellence, excellence is not something to be aimed for; it is simply and elegantly, an outcome of good teaching, of teaching for wisdom, of what it is to be good, beautiful, and true. I do not recognise those qualities in what Mrs Tolley or Professor Hattie say about education or the way they say it. Nor do I recognise a celebration of variety, indeed, I recognise a stifling uniformity.

We should all be mindful of what Albert Camus wrote about the danger of certainty: ‘Democracy is that system devised and maintained by those who realise they do not know everything.’

The barbarians of certainty have long been within the walls and occupy the citadel, can we work together to expel them?'

Thanks for your insight Kelvin


Anonymous said...

John Hattie is a cunning sod but Kelvin has him firmly in his sights.Thanks for sharing Bruce

The Science Goddess said...

Thank you for posting this. John Hattie gave a talk in the Seattle area earlier this month, and while I found the ideas he presented intriguing, I also found them rather edgy. I had little doubt that he would align himself with the heavy hitters for "reform" here in the states. There is already backlash beginning against that movement, so I'm not sure how much traction his ideas will be able to get.