Saturday, April 27, 2019

Solving Student Crises in the Context of School Inequity: The Case for “Core-Plus District Funding” (Part I)

When Schools Struggle with Struggling Students:  “We Didn’t Start the Fire”

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Dear Colleagues,


   The last three weeks have been a blur.  Just over three weeks ago, I landed in Singapore to keynote at an International Conference with over 1,000 delegates from around the world.

   At the end of last week, I began writing this Blog message as I was flying home after a consultation with a community high school district just south of Chicago.  I have been working with this district for the past year. 

   While we have been focusing especially on redesigning their multi-tiered system of supports, there have been many challenges.  Among them:

  • The District receives ninth grade students each year from up to ten different feeder districts that it has no instructional control over.
  • Many of the students are from working class homes where they are living in poverty, where community violence is omni-present, and where mental health and social service supports are lacking.
  • Many of the students enter the District without the academic prerequisites to succeed in ninth grade, and the District is identifying some students as students with disabilities (receiving either 504 Plans or IEPs) for the first time because their feeder districts are not identifying them through Child Find.
  • One high school in the District is in almost a daily state of crisis— dealing especially with students who make threats on social media, and who then come to school—forcing the school to expend administrative and related service time (with staff counselors, social workers, school psychologists) on threat assessments, ranging from potential mass shootings to individual and copy-cat suicides.
   The “good news” is that the District has leveraged federal, state, and other funds such that they have sufficient instructional, administrative, and related services (including counselors and social workers) personnel. 

   The “bad news” is that the multi-tiered system of supports in the District and its schools:

  • Is not aligned, integrated, calibrated, or consistent;
  • Is not grounded by a sound data-based problem-solving process; 
  • Is geared more to testing students so that deficiencies, disabilities, and clinical conditions can be “described and diagnosed”—rather than to the functional assessment of students so that the root causes of their challenges can be determined and linked to the evidence-based strategies and interventions that will improve their academic and/or behavioral performance; and 
  • Does not have staff with the expertise to implement the aforementioned strategies and interventions—even if they were accurately determined.

   A critical point in all of this is that, in my 35+ years of working across this country, what I am describing above is typical of most Districts.

   What may be atypical is that this District is devoting 15% of its annual IDEA funds (as allowed by law) to professional development and on-site consultation to help prevent general education students from needing more strategic or intensive services and supports at the “deeper” ends of its multi-tiered continuum.  It is also braiding this money with strategically-placed Title I and Title IV dollars so that its schools can literally get “the biggest bang for the buck.”

   Finally, this District is “going slow to go fast.”  They did not ask me to come in to “fix” or “upgrade” their multi-tiered system of supports. 

   We spent this first year (a) building relationships and listening to staff, administrators, students, and parents; (b) identifying District strengths and resources, weaknesses and limitations, opportunities and alignments, and barriers and threats; and (c) creating the underlying systems and the infrastructure for improvement and change.

   And I believe, as with other districts and schools that I have worked with in the past, that we are going to be successful. . . on behalf of the students, their families, and the community.

   But our success is tempered by “high and realistic” expectations.  We are not going to solve every problem, service every need, or save every student.
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We Didn’t Start the Fire, and We Don’t Have Enough Extinguishers

   I grew up with Billy Joel.  One of his most notable songs is, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” 

   The song’s lyrics include more than 100 rapid-fire citations of historical events, notable people, and memorable occasions between 1949, when Billy Joel was born, and 1989, when he turned 40.  Joel got the idea for the song when he was in a recording studio and met a friend of Sean Lennon who had just turned 21.  The friend remarked, "It's a terrible time to be 21," and Joel replied, "Yeah, I remember when I was 21.  I thought it was an awful time.  We had Vietnam, and drug problems, and civil rights problems, and everything seemed to be awful."

   The friend replied, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it's different for you. You were a kid in the fifties, and everybody knows that nothing happened in the fifties.” Joel responded, "Wait a minute, didn't you hear of the Korean War, or the Suez Canal Crisis?”

   Joel later said those headlines formed the basic framework for the song.
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   In this Blog, I am going to use “We Didn’t Start the Fire” metaphorically.

   First of all, as in the song, I am going to string together a number of research studies and policy papers to make some somewhat fatalistic educational (school, staff, and student) points.  And while I am linking these studies and papers to make my points—just as in the historical events that Billy Joel lists—some of these links are not causal.

   Second, as in the song, “good history” will be mixed in with “bad history.”  While it is important to learn from (and not just remember) history, some unfortunate events nonetheless reoccur. 

   To this point:  Schools do not have full control over all of the incoming or intervening student, family, community, or political events that impact them on a daily basis (and sometimes “set them on fire”).  Thus, schools cannot be held fully accountable for every student “failure”—especially when they are sometimes “playing with a 45-card deck.” 

   Said a different way:  Sometimes schools “didn’t start the fire”. . . nor do they have the capacity “to fully extinguish the fire.”

   Third, if a school is “on fire,” the goal is to minimize the impact of the crisis and to, hopefully, prevent the next one from occurring.

   But crisis prevention often requires the redistribution of existing resources and the allocation (sometimes, for a short time) of new resources.  For some, this sounds unfair—because many still hold the belief that a district’s resources need to be equally distributed across its schools.  For others, they are looking for any resources because the district is underfunded and/or under-resourced.

   This is all about equity.

   But, in the end, real equity occurs only when all of the schools in a district receive the same financial, personnel, and resource “core” needed for success, and the schools with more student challenges (e.g., more at-risk, underachieving, unresponsive, and unsuccessful students) receive the additional financial, personnel, and resource allocation plus that they need to be fully successful.

   This is what I call Core-Plus District Funding.

   This is the essence of how districts need to practice “equity,” so that all of their schools have a chance to be “excellent.”
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Outlining and Beginning to Travel this Blog’s Road Ahead

   Here are the threads that I tie together in this Blog:

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  • Teachers’ relationships with their students are one of the strongest predictors of student engagement and learning.
  • But fostering student engagement and learning is difficult when there is an ever-present inequity in schools that serve high numbers of students who are living in poverty.
  • Many of these schools also serve some of the most challenging students in our country, and these schools are sometimes in a constant state of crisis.
  • Because of the inequity, these students often do not receive the comprehensive multi-tiered services that they need, and the schools often do not successfully emerge from their persistent states of crisis.
  • This then circles back to make it difficult for teachers to build strong, positive relationships with all of their students, thus impacting even more students’ educational opportunities and learning outcomes, and creating another “layer” of student challenges.
   These threads are discussed within the metaphorical stages of “starting a fire”... watching the fire grow to the point that it is out of control.
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The Tinder and Kindling
  •  Teachers’ relationships with their students are one of the strongest predictors of student engagement and learning.
   A March 13, 2019 Education Week article [CLICK HERE], “Why Teacher-Student Relationships Matter,” reviewed a number of research studies which demonstrate that these classroom relationships have a significant effect on:

both short- and long-term improvements on practically every measure schools care about—higher student academic engagement, attendance, grades, fewer disruptive behaviors and suspensions, and lower school dropout rates. These effects were strong even after controlling for differences in students’ individual, family, and school backgrounds.

   Among numerous citations, the article referenced a forthcoming Bank Street College of Education longitudinal study investigating the impact of highly effective teachers on low-income students’ engagement and critical thinking—an outcome resulting from their ability to create classroom norms that established students’ feelings of safety and trust.

   The article also discussed a Review of Educational Research analysis of 46 studies (13 of them collecting longitudinal data) that reinforced the student outcomes described in the quote above.

   The bottom line is that relationships do matter.  [Hattie summarizes its meta-meta-analytic effect on student achievement at a strong 0.52.]  They involve teachers’ sensitivity to student gender, race, culture, socio-economic status, and academic skills and potential. . . and an understanding of how—for example—student trauma and student disability impact interpersonal relationships and academic engagement.

   But it is difficult to develop positive, consistent, and sustained relationships when teachers:
  • Are new to the field,
  • Have not received adequate training in classroom management,
  • Do not have adequate resources and support,
  • Have too many challenging students with different skill levels and varied social-emotional needs to teach at once, and
  • Do not have experienced mentors who are available for multiple years. 
   And high-poverty schools possess most of these characteristics.

   This leads us to our next thread.
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Layering the Firewood
  • Fostering student engagement and learning is difficult when there is an ever-present inequity in schools that serve high numbers of students who are living in poverty. 
   There are multiple levels of financial inequity that directly impact schools—and, especially, those serving high numbers of students living in poverty.  Some of these inequities originate at the state level relative to its funding formulas and how it distributes educational funds to all of its districts.  Other inequities occur at the district level relative to funds generated from local property taxes.

   For high-poverty schools, these inequities result in fewer resources than middle class or suburban schools, and they indirectly relate to staff recruitment, experience, and retention.  More specifically, schools with high number of students living in poverty typically are often (a) underfunded (especially relative to their students’ needs), and (b) staffed by less experienced teachers who, naturally, have more skill gaps, and who resign from the school more often and after fewer years in-rank.

   [The full Blog message describes two recent studies (from the Shanker Institute and EdBuild) that validate the scary inequities in school funding at the state and local levels—especially for high-poverty schools.

   The conclusion is that these funding inequities affect the resources and staffing of all high-poverty districts—but, even more so, in the concentrated non-white high-poverty districts. 

[CLICK HERE for the full Blog message]
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Sparks and Combustion
  • Many of these (non-white high poverty) schools also serve some of the most challenging students in our country, and these schools are sometimes in a constant state of crisis. 
   The correlation between health, mental health, academic, and social, emotional, and behavioral challenges and students living in poverty has long been established.  Recently, this correlational effect has included the triangulation of poverty, stress, and trauma—including the impact of hunger and poor nutrition, parental incarceration and loss, abuse and neglect, and the exposure to violence and drugs.

[Specific article links are provided in the full Blog message.]

   These factors then circle back to negatively affect students’ school attendance and expectations, classroom engagement and motivation, academic readiness and proficiency, emotional self-control and prosocial interactions and, ultimately, high school graduation and readiness for the workforce. 

   At the extreme, many high-poverty schools are constantly dealing with high numbers of (a) truant and chronically-absent students; (b) students with significant, multi-year academic skill gaps; and (c) students who are physical or school safety threats, or who have mental health needs that transcend the school’s available services.  These students then impact the staff’s effectiveness and efficiency, the school’s climate and culture, and the educational process and its outcomes.

   These correlations are clearly seen when analyzing where schools are rated on their respective state department of education report card each year.  In general, the data consistently show that high-poverty schools tend to be the lowest rated schools in most individual states—a status that many superintendents consider “a crisis.”

[Data-based examples from the Arkansas Department of Education, and from a national study of over 1,500 NWEA MAP Growth schools are provided in the full Blog message.]

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   All of the information presented supports the conclusion that high-poverty schools have some of the most academically-challenging students in our country.  If these schools had the financial resources—the primary point of this Blog—they could more effectively address these students’ challenges.  But the financial inequities already discussed often allow initial academic gaps and problems to progressively magnify as students move from grade-to-grade. . . to the point where long-term solutions are replaced by short-term survival.
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The Fire Becomes an Inferno
  • Because of the inequity, students with academic and/or social, emotional, or behavioral challenges often do not receive the comprehensive multi-tiered services that they need, and the schools often do not successfully emerge from their persistent states of crisis. 
   Critically, most of the national discussions regarding the impact of inequitable funding have focused on how high-poverty schools do not have important “foundational” educational programs, classes, services, and supports.  While noting these gaps is important, many national policy reports miss the fact that the solutions needed to “right the equitable funding wrongs” must include both:

  • The implementation of the missing foundational programs; and
  • The availability of strategic and intensive interventions for students with significant academic and social, emotional, or behavioral problems—some that are student-specific, and some that are due to the programmatic gaps caused by the inequity.
[Two recent reports—one from Virginia and the other from Public Impact and the Oak Foundation—are described to validate these point.]

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   Critically, these reports largely focused on whole-system or whole-school reparations.  They do not address the multi-tiered strategic and intensive academic and/or behavioral services, supports, strategies, and interventions needed by students who are products of the gaps (as above) caused by inequitable funding patterns.

   The ultimate point is that the lack of an effective multi-tiered system results in a continuation or exacerbation of these student problems, the “fire continues to burn, and becomes an inferno.”
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What If the Inferno Can’t be Extinguished?
  • This then circles back to make it difficult for teachers to build strong, positive relationships with all of their students, thus impacting even more students’ educational opportunities and learning outcomes, and creating another “layer” of student challenges.
  To finish where we started, when teachers have students with academic or social, emotional, and/or behavioral challenges in their classrooms, and these challenges are not addressed, they potentially worsen and escalate into crisis mode.  This, then, impacts the classroom on an ecological level, affecting its climate and other teacher-instruction interactions to the degree that other students’ progress is comprised. . . and then they potentially move into crisis.

   Relative to high-poverty schools with inequitable funding:  If the original student challenges were related to the funding gaps, and if there are limited or no funds for strategic or intensive interventions, then why would we expect the school to suddenly have resources or highly-skilled professionals to deal with the intensification of the crisis?

   While there are no intervention “silver bullets” for some students’ needs, when a system is in crisis, the resources and interventions typically need to be focused on stabilizing the crisis before re-focusing on addressing the needs of (a) the individual students at the center of the crisis, and (b) the students who are at-risk of becoming the next phase or layer of the crisis.

   But if there is no money to address the crisis, then the fire may have to burn itself out. 

   Metaphorically, this leaves you with rubble, and the need to fully re-build.  In education, this is called “reconstitution”. . . or what happens to some schools when they “sell-out” and get taken over by a charter school or for-profit school company.
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   One Solution: Core-Plus Funding.  While this is but one solution for the inequitable funding problem, and it clearly has political and fiscal implications, Core-Plus Funding is a potential and viable “equity toward excellence” solution.

[Core-Plus Funding is defined, with federal through local examples, in the full Blog message.]

[CLICK HERE for the full Blog message]
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   High-poverty non-white schools in this country receive significantly less money per pupil each year than high-poverty white schools and middle or upper class dominated schools, respectfully.  This involves approximately 12.8 million students—many of them attending schools in urban settings.

   Because of the financial inequity, these high-poverty schools have fewer resources than middle or upper class-dominant schools, and they are typically staffed by less experienced teachers who, naturally, have more skill gaps, and who resign from the school more often and after fewer years in-rank.  In addition, the students in these schools have less access to high level science, math, and advanced placement courses, and less access to needed multi-tiered academic and social, emotional, and behavioral services, supports, programs, and interventions.  

   Correlated with the poverty, many of these students exhibit health, mental health, academic, and social, emotional, and behavioral challenges, that also triangulate with stress and trauma—including the impact of hunger and poor nutrition, parental incarceration and loss, abuse and neglect, and the exposure to violence and drugs.

   From a school perspective, all of this translates into lower numbers of academically-proficient students, and schools that are either in their state’s school improvement programs or that are rated at the low end of the state’s school report card scale.

   From a student perspective, all of this translates into negative effects on students’ school attendance and expectations, classroom engagement and motivation, academic readiness and proficiency, emotional self-control and prosocial interactions and, ultimately, their high school graduation and readiness for the workforce. 

   The financial inequity occurs at the federal level relative to funding for students with disabilities.  Some of the inequity also rests at the state level relative to its funding formulas and how it distributes educational funds to all of its districts.  Other inequities occur at the district level relative to funds generated from local property taxes.

   In the final analysis at the school level, a vicious cycle is created.  Despite the fact that teachers’ relationships with their students are one of the strongest predictors of student engagement and learning, these relationships are hard to establish and maintain given the effects (noted above) that correlate with schools that are underfunded—especially relative to the intensity of the conditions in their communities and of the needs of their students.

   Because of the under-funding, many of these schools do not have the effective multi-tiered system of supports that the students need.  Thus, the students’ problems persist or expand, classrooms and schools go into crisis, staff become reactive instead of proactive, more students are sucked into the negative climate and culture, and the entire cycle begins anew.

   Systemic changes are needed—at the federal, state, and district levels—relative to educational funding policy, principles, and practice.  While a Core-Plus Funding process was suggested, it will take more than this.

   It will take a collective vision, and a decision—especially by the educators, community leaders, and parents in the successful districts and schools across this country—to see and advocate for the unsuccessful districts and schools in their states as their own.

   Part of this vision and decision requires seeing what is happening—not just in these schools, but to these schools, and why.  Some of this requires an understanding of history, white privilege, and equity rights.  Some of this requires an understanding of the circular factors described in this Blog.

   As Billy Joel sings:

We didn't start the fire.
It was always burning, since the world's been turning.
We didn't start the fire.
No, we didn't light it.
But we tried to fight it.
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   It’s time to fight it. . . .
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   I hope that this discussion has been useful to you.

   As always, I look forward to your comments. . . whether on-line or via e-mail.

   If I can help you in any of the areas discussed in this Blog, I am always happy to provide a free one-hour consultation conference call to help you clarify your needs and directions on behalf of your students, staff, school(s), and district.



Saturday, April 13, 2019

How Hattie’s Research Helps (and Doesn’t Help) Improve Student Achievement

Hattie Discusses What to Consider, Not How to Implement It . . . More Criticisms, Critiques, and Contexts

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Dear Colleagues,


   By the time you read this Blog, I will have just landed in Singapore where I am one of six presenters at the World EduLead 2019 Conference [CLICK HERE] sponsored by the International Association for Scholastic Excellence (INTASE).

   During my week here, I will be presenting two full-day Master Classes, two Keynotes, and a Symposium with Michael Fullan (School Leadership), Carol Ann Tomlinson (Differentiated Instruction), and three other international education greats.

   Altogether, I will be presenting the following:

  • Seven Evidence-Based Strategies to Systemic Success in Schools
  • The Seven C’s of Success: Strengthening Staff Relationships to Ensure Student Success

  • School Reform: Strategic Planning, Shared Leadership, and Student Success
  • Helping Hattie Work: Translating Meta-Analysis into Meaningful Student Learning Outcomes

   While re-researching John Hattie’s work for last full-day presentation, I uncovered new “criticisms, critiques, and contexts” that motivated me to update at least two past Hattie Blog messages with this new one.

   In this Blog, then, we will describe the concerns in detail, and then discuss examples of how Hattie’s work can be effectively and defensibly—from a science-to-practice perspective—for students, by staff, and in schools.

   To accomplish this, the full Blog message will (a) briefly overview the concerns; (b) present a primer on meta-analysis; (c) quote from the concerns of three notable researchers; (d) discuss how to go from “effect to effective practice;” and (e) describe the questions to ask the “outside” Hattie consultant— before you hire him or her.

[CLICK HERE for the full Blog message]
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A Brief Overview of Concerns with Hattie’s Research 

   Over the past decade especially, John Hattie has become internationally-known for his meta-meta-analytic research into the variables that most-predict students’ academic achievement.  Indeed, some view his different Visible Learning books (which have now generated a “Hattie-explosion” of presentations, workshops, institutes, and “certified” Hattie consultants) as the books of an educational “Bible” that shows educators “the way” to succeed with students.

   As such, Hattie has assumed a “rock star” status. . . which creates an illusion that his work is “untouchable,” that it cannot be critiqued, and that it certainly can’t be wrong.

   As of this writing, Hattie’s research is based on the synthesis of over 1,500 meta-analyses comprising more than 90,000 studies involving more than 300 million students around the world.  In more statistical terms, Hattie takes others’ published meta-analyses—investigating, for example, a specific educational approach (e.g., cooperative learning) or intervention (e.g., Reading Recovery), and he pools them together—statistically conducting a meta-meta-analysis.

   In doing this, he averages the effect sizes from many other meta-analyses that themselves have pooled research that investigated—once again—the effect of one psychoeducational variable, strategy, intervention, or approach on student achievement.
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   While the magnitude and sheer effort of what Hattie has done is impressive. . . there are a number of major methodological problems with his statistical approaches and interpretations; and a number of additional major science-to-practice implementation problems. 

   To foreshadow the more comprehensive discussion later in this Blog, below is an example of one of his primary methodological problems, and one of his primary implementation problems.

   Educators need to fully understand these problems in order to be able to benefit— especially on behalf of their students—from this research.
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An Example of a Methodological Problem in Hattie’s Research

  One major methodological problem is that Hattie’s statistical analyses may be flawed.  

   More specifically, a number of notable statisticians (see the section on this below) have questioned whether the effect sizes from different independent meta-analyses can be averaged and pooled into a single meta-meta-analytical effect size—which is exactly what Hattie is doing.

   As such, they don’t believe that the statistical approach used by Hattie in his research is defensible. . . which means that some of his research results may be incorrect.

   Metaphorically, what Hattie is doing is akin to averaging the average temperatures for 100 years of each day in March. . . and then saying that the 100-year average temperature for March in, say, Washington, D.C. is 48 degrees (it actually is—I looked this up).

   While you can statistically calculate this, the conclusion—regarding the 48 degree average temperature—may not be functionally accurate or, more importantly, meaningful (if you are planning a trip to DC). 

   First of all, in a typical year, Washington, D.C.’s March temperature may range from 37 degrees on one day to 59 degrees on another day—a variance of 22 degrees.  So, even in looking at one year’s worth of March temperatures, you need to statistically address the temperature range during any specific month. . . and then you need to look at this variability over 100 years. 

   Given all of this, the 48 degree 100-year average clearly does not accurately tell the entire story.

   The “single” temperature is compounded by the fact that there may be different “micro-climates” in Washington, D.C.  Thus, the daily temperature on any one March 15th, for example, may be 45 degrees in the Northwest part of the city, but 52 degrees in the Southeast part.

   Finally, from year to year. . . over 100 years. . . there may be some seasons that are colder or warmer than others.  Not to get political, but if we were to factor in the impact of Global Warming, it may be that the most-recent 10-year March temperature is significantly warmer than the average temperatures for the 90 years before. . . and, therefore, more accurate and meaningful for our current needs.
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   There is, at least, one additional embedded issue.  Measuring temperature is scientifically far more reliable and valid than the diverse measures used in different studies (or at different times in a school) to measure student achievement.  A temperature is measured by a thermometer, and most thermometers will give basically the same reading because they are scientifically calibrated instruments.

   With the meta-analyses used by Hattie, different researchers operationalize “student achievement” (as an independent outcome measure) in different ways.  Even if a bunch of them operationalize student achievement the same way, they still may use different measurement tools or metrics. . . that provide significantly different results. 

   Thus, the measurement of achievement is going to have far more variability from Hattie study to study than a thermometer in Washington, D.C. in March.
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An Example of an Implementation Problem in Hattie’s Research

  The one major implementation problem that we will discuss right now is that, in a specific effect size area, educators need to know the implementation methods that were used in all of the studies included in the original meta-analytic studies that Hattie pooled into his meta-meta-analyses.  

   The point here is that, unless a program or intervention has been standardized in a specific effect area, and the same program or same intervention implementation steps were used in every study included in a meta-analysis or Hattie’s meta-meta-analyses in that area, it is possible that one implementation approach contributed more to the positive effect size on student achievement than another approach.

   For example, given Hattie’s current data, “cognitive task analysis” has a 1.29 effect size relative to positively impacting student achievement.  It is unlikely, however, that every study in every meta-analysis pooled by Hattie used the same step-by-step implementation process representing “cognitive task analysis.”

   Thus, Hattie’s research tells us what to consider (i.e., cognitive task analysis), but not necessarily the specific research-validated steps in how to implement it.

   For an individual school to implement the cognitive task analysis approach or steps that contributed most to the positive effect size that Hattie reports, its leaders need to know—statistically and relative to their implementation steps—what individual studies were integrated into the meta-analyses and Hattie’s meta-meta-analysis.

   But they also need to know which studies were done with the same type of students (e.g., gender, socio-economic status, race, geographical location, type and quality of school, etc.) that they are currently teaching in their school.

   That is, it may be that the students involved in the meta-analytic studies used by Hattie do not match the students in the schools that we are working with.  Thus, while the research used by Hattie may be “good” research (for some students in some schools in some communities), it may not be the “right” research for our students, schools, and community.

   To summarize so far:  If schools are going to use Hattie’s research in the most effective way for their specific students, a Multiple-gating process of decision-making must be used.

   This Multiple-gating Process should include:

  • Step 1.  Identify your school’s history and status, resources and capacity, and current positive and needed outcome relative to student achievement.
  • Step 2.  Determine which Hattie variables will most improve student achievement—with a constant awareness that many of these variables will interact or are interdependent.
  • Step 3.  Evaluate the methodological and statistical quality and integrity of the meta-analytic studies that Hattie included in his meta-meta-analyses.
NOTE:  If Hattie’s meta-meta-analysis has flaws or included flawed meta-analytic studies, identify the best separate meta-analysis studies and continue this multiple-gating process.
  •  Step 4.  Evaluate the demographics and other background characteristics of the schools, staff, and students involved in the meta-analytic studies used by Hattie in his meta-meta-analyses to validate that they match the school demographics and background characteristics where you plan to implement the program, strategy, or intervention.
  • Step 5.  Using and analyzing Hattie’ best meta-meta-analytic study (or the best individual meta-analysis studies—as immediately above), identify what program(s) or strategy(ies), and what specific implementation approaches and steps were most responsible for the positive effects on student achievement.
  • Step 6.  Finalize the select of your program or strategy, and its implementation approaches and steps, and develop an Implementation Action Plan that identifies who will be involved in implementation, what training and resources they need, how you will engage the students (staff, and parents), how you will evaluate the short-and long-term student achievement outcomes, and what will be the implementation steps and timelines.
  • Step 7.  Resource, train, engage, implement, evaluate, fine-tune, implement, and evaluate.
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   As we proceed to the next section of this Blog, let me be clear.  This Blog was not written to criticize or denigrate, in any way, Hattie on a personal or professional level.  He is a prolific researcher and writer, and his work is quite impressive.

   However, the full Blog message will critique the statistical and methodological underpinnings of meta- and meta-meta-analytic research, and discuss its strengths and limitations.  But most essentially, the focus ultimately will be on delineating the research-to-practice implications of Hattie’s work, and how to implementation it with students in the most effective and efficient ways.
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   To this end, and once again, it is important that educators understand:
  • The strengths and limitations of meta-analytic research—much less meta-meta-analytic research;
  • What conclusions can be drawn from the results of sound meta-analytic research;
  • How to transfer sound meta-analytic research into actual school- and classroom-based instruction or practice; and
  • How to decide if an effective practice in one school, classroom, or teacher is “right” for your school, classrooms, and teachers.
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   While this all provides a “working outline,” let’s look at some more details.
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A Primer on Meta-Analysis

What is it?

   A meta-analysis is a statistical procedure that combines the effect sizes from separate studies that have investigated common programs, strategies, or interventions.  The procedure results in a pooled effect size that provides a more reliable and valid “picture” of the program or intervention’s usefulness or impact because it involves more subjects, more implementation trials and sites, and (usually) more geographic and demographic diversity.  Typically, an effect size of 0.40 is used as the “cut-score” where effect sizes above 0.40 reflect a “meaningful” impact.

   Significantly, when the impact (or effect) of a “treatment” is consistent across separate studies, a meta-analysis can be used to identify the common effect.  When effect sizes differ across studies, a meta-analysis can be used to identify the reason for this variability.
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How it is done?

   Meta-analytic research typically follows some common steps.  These involve:
  • Identifying the program, strategy, or intervention to be studied
  • Completing a literature search of relevant research studies
  • Deciding on the selection criteria that will be used to include an individual study’s empirical results
  • Pulling out the relevant data from each study, and running the statistical analyses
  • Reporting and interpreting the meta-analytic results
   As with all research, and as reflected in the steps above, there are a number of subjective decisions that those completing a meta-analytic study must make.  And, these decisions could be sound, or they could be not so sound.  They could be defensible, or they could be arbitrary and capricious.  They could be well-meaning, or they could be biased or self-serving. 

   Thus, there are good and bad meta-analytic studies.  And, educators are depending on the authors of each meta-analytic study (or, perhaps the journal reviewers who are accepting the study for publication) to include only those studies that are sound.

   By extension, educators also are depending on Hattie to include only those well-designed and well-executed meta-analytic studies in his meta-meta-analyses.

   But, unfortunately, this may not be the case.

   In his 2009 Visible Learning book, Hattie states (pg. 11), “There is. . . no reason to throw out studies automatically because of lower quality.”

   This suggests that Hattie may have included some lower quality meta-analytic studies in some (which ones?) of his many meta-meta-analyses.

   Indeed. . . What criteria did he use to when including some lesser-quality meta-analytic studies?  How did he rationalize including even one lower quality study?  But—most importantly—how did these lower quality studies impact the results of the effect sizes and functional implications of the research?

   These are all important questions that speak directly to the educators who are trying to decide which Hattie-endorsed approaches to use in their pursuit of improved student achievement scores.  These questions similarly relate to educators’ decisions on how to effectively implement the approaches that they choose.
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How do you Interpret an Effect Size?

   As noted above, Hattie (and other researchers) use an effect size of 0.40 as the “cut-score” or “hinge point” where a service, support, strategy, program, or intervention has a “meaningful” impact on student achievement.

   Visually, Hattie represents the continuum of effect sizes as a “Barometer” (see below).

   But this doesn’t tell the entire story.  In fact, some researchers are very uncomfortable with this barometer and how Hattie characterizes some of the effect sizes along the continuum.
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   Matthew A. Kraft, from Brown University, is one such researcher.  In his December, 2018 working paper, Interpreting Effect Sizes of Education Interventions, Brown identified five guidelines when interpreting effect sizes in education.

[CLICK HERE for this paper]

   Kraft’s five guidelines are cited below.  For a detailed discussion of each—with their implications and practical examples, go to the complete Blog message.

[CLICK HERE for the full Blog message]
  • Guideline #1.  The results from correlational studies, when presented as effect sizes, are not causal effects.  Moreover, effect sizes from descriptive and correlational studies are often larger than causal studies.
  •  Guideline #2.  The magnitude of effect sizes depends on what outcomes are evaluated and when these outcomes are measured.
  •  Guideline #3.  Effect sizes are impacted by subjective decisions researchers make about the study design and analyses.
  •  Guideline #4.  Strong program or intervention effect sizes must be covaried with how much it costs to implement the program or intervention—both relative to the initial start-up and ongoing maintenance.
  • Guideline #5.  The ease or difficulty in scaling-up a program or intervention also matters when evaluating the policy relevance of effect sizes.
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Others’ Concerns with Hattie’s Research 

   To fully consider the concerns with Hattie’s research, it important to include two additional voices.

   In a past Blog, we discussed the concerns of Dr. Robert Slavin from John’s Hopkins University.  These concerns are summarized in the full Blog message.

   In addition, we add the perspectives of Drs. Pierre-Jerome Bergeron and Lysanne Rivard (from the University of Ottawa and McGill University, respectively) who wrote a 2017 article in the McGill Journal of Education titled, “How to Engage in Pseudoscience with Real Data: A Criticism of John Hattie’s Arguments in Visible Learning from the Perspective of a Statistician.”

   In their article, they make the following points:
  • Hattie’s meta-meta-analyses ignore the presence of negative probabilities; He confounds correlation and causality.
  • Hattie believes that Effect Sizes from separate meta-analytic studies can be compared because Cohen’s d is a measure without a unit/metric; his averages, therefore, do not make sense.
  •  In conducting meta-meta-analyses, Hattie is comparing Before Treatment versus After Treatment results, not (as in the original meta-analyses he uses) Treatment versus Control Group results.
  • Hattie pools studies that have different definitions (and measurements of) student achievement, and treats them as one and the same.
  • Hattie believes that effects below zero are bad. Between 0 and 0.4 we go from “developmental” effects to “teacher” effects. Above 0.4 represents the desired effect zone. There is no justification for this classification.
[CLICK HERE for the full Blog message with more details and quotes from Slavin, Bergeron, and Rivard]
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How Do You Go from Effect to Effective Practice?

   In the most-current (October, 2018) version of Hattie’s Visible Learning effect sizes, Hattie has organized more than 250 variables into clusters that include: Student, Curricula, Home, School, Classroom, Teacher, and Teaching. 

   In the Figure below, I have listed the top eight effect sizes with their respective “Areas of Research Focus.”

   I have also added a descriptor identifying whether each variable can be changed through an external intervention.  Thus, I am saying that “Students’ Self-Reported Grades,” “Teacher Estimates of Student Achievement,” and a “Teacher’s Credibility with his/her Students” cannot be changed in a sustained way through some type of intervention, and that—even if they could—they would not causally change student achievement.

   Parenthetically, in most cases, these three variables were independent variables in the research investigated by Hattie.

   At this point, we need to discuss how to go from “effect to effective practice.”  To do this, we need to understand exactly what each of the variables in the Figure actually are.
   And . . . OK . . . I’ll admit it. 

   As a reasonably experienced school psychologist, I have no idea what that vast majority of these approaches actually involve at a functional school, classroom, teacher, or student level. . . much less what methods and implementation steps to use.

   To begin to figure this out, we would need to take the following research-to-practice steps:
  • Go back to Hattie’s original works and look at his glossaries that define each of these terms
  •  Analyze the quality of each Hattie meta-meta-analysis in each area
  • Find and analyze each respective meta-analysis within each meta-meta-analysis
  • Find and evaluate the studies included in each meta-analysis, and determine which school-based implementation methods (among the variety of methods included in each meta-analysis) are the most effective or “best” methods— relative to student outcomes
  • Translate these methods into actionable steps, while also identifying the provide the professional development and support needed for sound implementation
  • Implement and evaluate the short- and long-term results
   If we don’t do this, our districts and schools will be unable to select the best approaches to enhance their student achievement and implement these approaches in the most effective and efficient ways?

   This, I believe, is what the researchers are not talking about.
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The Method is Missing

   To demonstrate the research-to-practice points immediately above, the full Blog message analyzes two high-effect-size approaches on Hattie’s list:
  • Response to Intervention (Effect Size: 1.09)
  • Interventions for Students with Learning Needs (Effect Size: 0.77)
[CLICK HERE for the full Blog message]
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The Questions to Ask the Outside “Hattie Consultants”

   In order for districts and schools to know exactly what implementation steps are needed to implement effective “Hattie-driven” practices so that their students can benefit from a particular effect, we need to “research the research.”

   And yet, the vast majority of districts—much less schools—have the personnel with the time and skills to do this.

   To fill this gap:  We now have a “cottage industry” of “official and unofficial” Hattie consultants who are available to assist.

   But how do districts and schools evaluate these consultants relative to their ability, experience, and skills to deliver effective services?

   With no disrespect intended, just because someone has been trained by Hattie, has heard Hattie, or has read Hattie—that does not give them the expertise, across all of the 250+ rank-ordered influences on student learning and achievement, to analyze and implement any of the approaches identified through Hattie’s research.

   And so, districts and schools need to ask a series of specific questions when consultants say that their consultation is guided by Hattie’s research.

   Among the initial set of questions are the following:

1.   What training and experience do you have in evaluating psychoeducational research as applied to schools, teaching staff, and students—including students have significant academic and/or social, emotional, or behavioral challenges?

2.   In what different kinds of schools (e.g., settings, grade levels, socio-economic status, level of ESEA success, etc.) have you consulted, for how long, in what capacity, with what documented school and student outcomes—and how does this experience predict your consultative success in my school or district?

3.   When guided by Hattie’s (and others’) research, what objective, research-based processes or decisions will you use to determine which approaches our district or school needs, and how will you determine the implementation steps and sequences when helping us to apply the selected approaches?

4.   What will happen if our district or school needs an approach that you have no experience or expertise with?

5.   How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your consultation services, and how will you evaluate the short- and long-term impact of the strategies and approaches that you recommend be implemented in our district or school?
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   Once again, none of the points expressed in this Blog are personally about John Hattie.  Hattie has made many astounding contributions to our understanding of the research in areas that impact student learning and the school and schooling process.

   However, many of my points relate to the strengths, limitations, and effective use of research reports using meta-analysis and meta-meta-analyses. 

   If we are going to translate this research to sound practices that impact student outcomes, educational leaders need to objectively and successfully understand, analyze, and apply the research so that they make sound system, school, staff, and student-level decisions.

   To do this, we are advocating for and described (see above) a Multiple-gated decision-making approach.

   In the end, schools and districts should not invest time, money, professional development, supervision, or other resources in programs or interventions that have not been fully validated for use with their students and/or staff. 

   Such investments are not fair to anyone—especially when they (a) do not delivering the needed results, (b) leave students further behind, and/or (c) fail and create staff resistance to “the next program”—which might, parenthetically, be the “right” program.
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   I hope that this discussion has been useful to you.

   As always, I look forward to your comments. . . whether on-line or via e-mail.

   If I can help you in any of the areas discussed in this Blog, I am always happy to provide a free one-hour consultation conference call to help you clarify your needs and directions on behalf of your students, staff, school(s), and district.

[CLICK HERE for the full Blog message]