Reconsidering or Rejecting Collective Teacher Efficacy and the Acceleration of Students Who are Academically Behind (Part I)
Take the Bus, Get Off the Bandwagon
While some are on summer vacation, others are just finishing this unique 2020-2021 school year, and still others are preparing for or beginning summer school sessions, we—in education—are being flooded by newly-released reports and articles, social media posts and blogs, interviews and podcasts with experts and “experts,” and marketing-mails and solicitations (some concealed in “how-to” webcasts).
If there is a consistent message (as in the past) that I want to share with educators and related service professionals in this emerging post-pandemic world, it is to:
Critically evaluate the recommendations, testimonials, and research of the (so-called) experts in our field—including those from the:
- U.S. Department of Education, its funded National Technical Assistance Centers, and the State Departments of Education (that, remember, rely on federal funding);
- Non-Profit Foundations, Corporations, Organizations, Corporations, and Think Tanks—even the Gates Foundation, Edutopia—the George Lucas Foundation, CASEL, and others—that have their own educational and social beliefs, orientations, and political agendas); and
- Authors of curricula, products, and tests—many of whom are backed by For-Profit Publishing Companies and Conglomerates that sometimes blur science and efficacy with marketing and hyperbole.
And please note: I am not saying that all of the research and recommendations from these groups are faulty or self-serving.
Instead, I am saying that we, as educators, need to do our own independent evaluations to (a) validate their research and recommendations; (b) make sure that they are applicable to our students, staff, schools, and systems; and (c) ensure that they are time- and cost-effective, and that they can be implemented with fidelity, consistency, and the needed intensity and duration.
Indeed, no professional worth his or her salt would discourage or be offended when questioned as to the validity, applicability, or utility of their work.
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In this and the next Blog, I will discuss five areas that are currently receiving a lot of (sometimes, self-generated) attention in our “educational circles,” briefly describe some research-based and common sense reasons why they should be carefully evaluated by schools and districts, and cite one or more recent Blog messages that provide a more comprehensive analysis and discussion of each area.
In this Part I, we will first analyze a well-researched but still murky area that involves teachers and how they work together in effective, efficient, and collaborative ways to attain important student outcomes (i.e., Collective Teacher Efficacy). Then, we will discuss an emerging, but still unproven approach being recommended for the coming school year to teach students who have significant academic skill gaps due to the pandemic—Academic Acceleration.
In Part II of this Blog Series, we will turn to the social, emotional, and behavioral side of the school and schooling continuum, addressing the areas of SEL and character education, meditation and mindfulness, Trauma-Informed programs, and Restorative Justice programs and practices.
All of these areas are vying for schools’ professional development, American Rescue (and other federal COVID-19) Plan, and/or school improvement attention, selection, and support.
And so, as always, we need to “look before we leap.” Indeed, if we leap too quickly, we may invest time, money, staff, and other resources in areas that will not result in the student outcomes that we need.
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Collective Teacher Efficacy: No One Really Knows What it is or How to Facilitate It
The Pitch. For the past five years or more, the importance of developing Collective Teacher Efficacy in schools has been touted— especially due to Hattie’s research which identifies collective teacher efficacy as having one of the highest effect sizes that correlationally (not causally) predicts student achievement.
Significantly, there is a great deal of research to support this correlational effect. Indeed, based on a synthesis of more than 1,500 meta-analyses through his Visible Learning research, Hattie states that collective teacher efficacy is greater than three times more powerful and predictive of student achievement than their socioeconomic status, motivation and concentration, persistence and engagement, and home environment and parental involvement.
The Glitch. There are at least three problems with this construct and its supportive research. NOTE that Collective Teacher Efficacy is a global construct that consists of a wide variety of teacher attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, interpretations, and processes.
First, different researchers have used different definitions for Collective Teacher Efficacy. Thus, educators need to know who is using what definition, whether they agree with that definition, and whether the definition is applicable to their students, colleagues, and school settings.
For example, some of the definitions in the research of Collective Teacher Efficacy include:
- When teams of educators believe they have the ability to make a difference in a school.
- When a team of individuals share the belief and confidence that, through their unified efforts, they can overcome challenges and produce intended results.
- A group's shared belief in its conjoint capability to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainment.
The beliefs that teachers hold about the ability of the school as a whole to successful impact are student achievement across different subject areas and in multiple locations.
The second problem is that some experts believe that Hattie’s research—averaging others’ meta-analyses within a meta-meta-analysis—is flawed.
Even if his research is sound, meta-analyses still involved Hattie’s subjective decision as to whose research to include in his analyses. That is, he decided whether others’ research validly, effectively, and successfully measured Collective Teacher Efficacy.
Finally, because Hattie was statistically analyzing others’ research, he was integrating different researchers’ definitions, operationalizations, age-level samples, and ways to measure this construct.
Thus, even if Collective Teacher Efficacy does (and we are not disputing the research) correlate with student achievement, educators have no idea which approaches, strategies, processes, actions, or activities have the highest probability of positively affecting their teachers or colleagues and, eventually, their students’ achievement.
The Switch. Below is a link to a previous Blog that provide an extensive discussion on the strengths and weaknesses of the meta-meta-analysis approach, the concerns of other statisticians relative to Hattie’s research, and the practical (and concerning) implications noted briefly above.
Common sense would dictate that all schools want their teachers and support staff to be so involved in planning, implementing, and evaluating different effective school and schooling practices such that everyone believes and has the skills needed to be successful— especially on behalf of their students.
But there is no Collective Teacher Efficacy “magic bullet.”
And the vast majority of schools and districts do not need outside experts or consultants to come in with their own personal, potentially untested, or possibly damaging (to school climate, staff trust and relationships, and student instruction and supports) collective teacher efficacy framework or strategies.
Effective school administrators, teachers, and support staff are the best ones to establish, support, and sustain their own efficacy and effective school and schooling practices.
Available Comprehensive Blog in this Area [CLICK ON DATE TO LINK]:
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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Academic Acceleration: An Untested Idea—Don’t Experiment on Your Students
The Pitch. Many students, from preschool through high school, missed a significant amount of consistent, high quality, scaffolded academic instruction during the past 16 months of the Pandemic. Through no fault of their own, (a) some did not learn and/or master significant areas of grade-level academic content and skills this year; and (b) they find themselves unprepared to learn the content and skills in the coming school year due to these gaps.
To address this “Pandemic Slide,” some educators are promoting a model known as “Academic Acceleration.” Here, students will be taught academic material at their new (2021-2022) grade-level, but teachers will provide them “just in time” supports or scaffolds when they do not have the prerequisite knowledge or skills to learn that material (due to this past year’s instructional or learning gaps).
On the other end of the “spectrum” from Academic Acceleration are educators who plan to teach their students at their current skill and mastery levels—regardless of their current grade-level placements. This might involve, for example, an eighth grade math teacher focusing on mid-sixth grade math scope and sequence skills, because that is where her students are functioning relative to their skill mastery.
This instructional approach is grounded by instructional research that reinforces the importance of having students progressively learn and master scaffolded academic content and skills, especially when the content and skills are prerequisites to more advanced grade-level learning.
Significantly, Education Week reports that a number of national education groups are “embracing” Academic Acceleration. Others are not yet ready to jump on this experimental bandwagon.
But everyone needs to make sound and defensible curriculum, instruction, differentiated grouping, support, and intervention decisions now so that they are ready to effectively teach students on Day 1 of the upcoming new school year.
The Glitch. Critically, Academic Acceleration does not have a great deal of research support or validation—especially in conditions that fully mirror the complexities of the recent Pandemic.
Given this, educators need to be careful to not use students as “lab rats” for untested approaches that may have additional damaging and long-term effects.
Moreover, let’s do some reality testing here. . . .
Educators also need to remember that it is unfair to measure students’ academic status this Fall based on the premise that they should have made a full year of progress during this past academic year. . . an outcome that no one should expect given the unique circumstances of that year.
The Pandemic was unprecedented, and we need to take unprecedented steps—at least for the coming school year. We need to “work the problem,” not simultaneously create new problems.
Thus, educators need to look individually at their students, and individualize instructional approaches to their status and needs.
The needed instructional decisions, then, will not be universal, and they will not represent an either/or choice between Academic Acceleration and students’ Functional Skill-level instruction.
The Switch. Below are links to two previous Blogs that provide extensive discussions on how to analyze and organize the academic instruction for all students in a school this coming school year, and how to arrange students into homogeneous or heterogeneous (or both) groups along the Functional Skill-level to Academic Acceleration continuum.
Common sense would dictate that this cannot be a “one size fits all” decision, and that schools will need to strategically make data-driven decisions based on students’ needs, staff skill and availability, and other multi-tiered services, supports, and resources.
Ultimately, where and how teachers teach will depend on:
- The academic subjects and grade levels where students are being taught;
- Whether the curricular content and skills being taught are foundational to later skills, or more self-contained, specialized, or unique in nature;
- Students’ current functional skill levels in each academic subject area and, if they are behind, why they are behind (e.g., attendance, motivation, a medical issue, a disability); and
- Students’ individual learning histories and, if they are behind, whether they were behind before the Pandemic began, they fell behind due to Pandemic-related issues or events, or they fell behind during the Pandemic, but not due to Pandemic-related issues or events.
Available Comprehensive Blogs in this Area [CLICK ON DATES TO LINK]:
It’s Not About the Size of the Pandemic Slide—It’s About Where to Start Teaching. During a Crisis, You Have to Change the Definition of Success (Part I)
Curbing the Pandemic Slide by Putting the Right Students into the Right Instructional Groups. Which Peas are You Going to Put in Your Pandemic Pod? (Part II)
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We in education are being flooded by newly-released reports and articles, social media posts and blogs, interviews and podcasts with experts and “experts,” and marketing-mails and solicitations (some concealed in “how-to” webcasts).
Some of this deluge has been triggered by the impact of the Pandemic on students, staff, and schools, while some of this surge is occurring to take advantage of the billions of dollars in compensatory assistance made available by Congress to districts for the next year or more.
In Part I of this Series, we analyzed a well-researched but still murky area of education that involves teachers and how they work together in effective, efficient, and collaborative ways to attain important student outcomes—Collective Teacher Efficacy.
Then, we discussed an emerging, but still unproven approach being recommended for the coming school year to teach students who have significant academic skill gaps due to the pandemic—Academic Acceleration. We contrasted this approach with another approach on the “instructional continuum” where students are taught at their functional skill levels—regardless of their grade-level placements— based on the scaffolded academic skills that they have already mastered.
In this Part II, we will turn to the social, emotional, and behavioral side of the school and schooling continuum, addressing the areas of SEL and character education, meditation and mindfulness, Trauma-Informed programs, and Restorative Justice programs and practices.
Regardless. . . the consistent message throughout this Series is that educators need to do their own independent evaluations to (a) validate their research and recommendations; (b) make sure that they are applicable to their students, staff, schools, and systems; and (c) ensure that their decisions are time- and cost-effective, and that they can be implemented with fidelity, consistency, and the needed intensity and duration.
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As always, we hope that our research-to-practice perspectives are useful to you, and that they motivate you to reflect on your plans—at the student, staff, school, and/or system levels—to educate everyone at the beginning of the coming new school year.
Please feel free to contact me with your questions or reactions at any time. And please remember my standing offer for a free, one-hour consultation to discuss these or related issues with you and your team.