I am going to assume that you have read the sister posting to this one (‘Hattie makes his move in on early childhood’) allowing me to shift quickly to the matter at hand, to what seems to be a transcendental and highly suspicious blunder by Hattie.
In the Listener article 19-25 April, headed ‘Set up to fail?’, Hattie is warming to his task of jumping all over early childhood in general and Te Whariki in particular.
In the section of the article I am concentrating on, he starts by implying the education review office should either take a harder line with early childhood or someone else should.
Then he’s right into it.
‘There is a massive hole in our much lauded curriculum, Te Whariki: its flexibility lets teachers skip over the crucial area of language development.’
This academic who would be king is implying that early childhood teachers aren’t professional enough to cope with flexibility and wants the programme to become narrower and more directive.
And note the sarcasm.
He is also implying that he has an intimate knowledge of early childhood centres (more on that later).
Then, in his typically understated way, he says, ‘I think it is a scandal.’
‘Not nailing those language skills early can compromise the rest of a child’s schooling.’
He then refers to a project being undertaken from the University of Auckland that tracked 2000 children at five schools from their SEA results to their performances in other tests at age 10.
‘They found,’ he said, ‘startling gaps, particularly in literacy.’
Well, he would say that.
Overall, Hattie is really describing the effect of poverty on children’s learning and the major challenges teachers face in countering those effects but he doesn’t believe teachers should use that as an excuse – so he is always elusive around the issue.
Here is the architect of national standards – a process that labels children early and often, pressures teachers to treat children as a statistic, and has turned parts of primary education into something of a wasteland – now wanting to visit that triumph on under-fives.
Hattie is kind enough to say ‘that raises questions about what primary school teachers are doing to help these children … but if we are to close the widening gap in our education system, ignoring the need for highly skilled cognitive development in the preschool years is ‘’our biggest loss”. ’
Oh he is so snaky!
Who is ignoring it? Have preschool teachers said they were ignoring it? Has he seen preschool teachers ignoring it? Does Te Whariki ignore it?
The answer is no.
Could some teachers benefit from further professional development on Te Whariki – no doubt the answer, as it always will be, is yes.
Then to lend significance to his ‘views’, he says they ‘are controversial and put him in the minority.’
All he is doing is pumping up his self-importance.
The typical preschool is fantastic on language and getting the children thinking, what on earth is he talking about? The classes are alive with the sound of learning.
How much close knowledge does Hattie really have of preschool education; the kind of knowledge that provides an intuitive understanding of what makes sense and what doesn’t in respect to preschool education.
We are moving closer to his blunder.
But first he gets very deep.
‘It’s concepts about print, the notion of books, of being able to read pictures.’
He now brings that into the cognitive range of the ordinary punter: ‘Put simply, it is about knowing the squiggles on the page mean something.’
To be honest John, I feel you are still struggling with that one yourself.
But he he’s on roll, driving to make his punch point.
‘Take the first item on the new-entrants test as an example: You hand the kid the book upside down and the kid is supposed to turn it the other way. One in five can’t do that. And they virtually all went to preschool. That’s the kind of skills I’m talking about.’
What! One in five children can’t do it?
You’re on a winner here John.
And it fits in very nicely with the one in five mantra used by his government. Wonderful connotations for a man on a mission to destroy Te Whariki.
Using that research fact you can, through your membership of Cognition and connections with the government, become New Zealand’s Australian resident early childhood czar. And why shouldn’t you? You got it right. Go eat your liver Smith, May, Carr, Mitchell, Dalli, Duncan, Meade and company.
But John, dear John, your fact is wrong.
A reader of Networkonnet wrote to you to query the one in five statistic and you said: ‘I am pleased you are checking this out – and hope you do this with colleagues as well and I am delighted to be shown to be incorrect.’
You go on to say: ‘The evidence I used came from the Marie Clay Concepts about Print test – which until recently was given to most students who started school across NZ. A fifth of them did not pass the first item (turning the book). This is a well-established measure, and based on excellent research …’
It has been difficult to track down the research Hattie is referring to, he has been a bit vague (for some reason), and he hasn’t replied to the follow-up request (for some reason), but no matter, I have found some research evidence that is definitive. It is by ACER for the ministry, yes, John Hattie is one of a number gratefully thanked by the authors, and it was undertaken in 2001 three years after SEA was introduced. It refers to 93 per cent of children getting the first item right in Concepts about Print.
So there it is. It was never one in five. John Hattie, you have made a transcendental blunder.
John, I just can’t be sure what research you are referring to. Perhaps you got tired of mega-analysis and went for micro- and succeeded in locating a sole-teacher school in some remote part of New Zealand.
Isn’t this fun.
Let us Bartholomew Cubbins’-style rein in the horses and back-up the emperor’s carriage a bit. In the article, Hattie’s whole argument, the impetus of his build-up, the coup de grace for Te Whariki, comes to a head with the wonderfully resonant one in five mantra in reference to children turning a book to the right position.
If Hattie can get this wrong – his point above all points – what else has he got wrong? To be frank, just about everything.
If it didn’t resonate within him that the one in five was wrong, how knowledgeable and intimate is Hattie with early childhood education? This after all that was his point de luxe.
But there’s more.
A student of mine (the reader referred to above) at North Shore Teacher’s College (1969-75) who went on to a distinguished career in preschool education, sprang into action (can I hear John and Dulcie saying well done?).
She gathered evidence from a number and range of early childhood centres.
Out of 9 two-year-olds all turned the book up the right way; out of 46 three-year-olds all turned it up the right way, except one; out of 55 four-year-olds all turned it up the right way.
I rang five schools from a range of schools, not one had a child who didn’t turn the book up the right way – and no school could remember a child in recent years who didn’t.
Te Whariki was introduced about the same time as SEA – highly suggestive, wouldn’t you say, of a nice improvement in the figures? Surely a feather in Te Whariki’s cap.
John, on the basis of that research and your ‘excellent research’, to get to one in five, there must be lurking around New Zealand a good number of school with near five out of five, year after year. How teachers must hide behind the staffroom curtains when another little Johnny or Jill wanders up the path, hand in hand with his or her mum.
John – being naturally generous of spirit, I’m not going to delve too far into your motivation for saying what you said. At this stage I’m going to be satisfied with the idea that you simply got carried away, made a dick of yourself, amidst the euphoria of the opportunity provided to lay into early childhood.
However, you did seem to be moving with great deliberation … enough, enough …
Well just one further point. There you were relaxing into your spiel … coming to your point … and you say: ‘You hand the kid the book upside-down …’ and the early childhood world shuddered.
You see John – they have their own culture and rules there … ‘kid’ is giant no-no. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.