Hattie makes a blunder in his campaign against early childhood education

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.

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27 Responses to Hattie makes a blunder in his campaign against early childhood education

  1. Moira McKay says:

    We all know that the government lied about the ERO results 6 years ago when referring to literacy and numeracy so not surprising that their friend John has come out trying to get Te Whariki discredited. I have checked the children at my preschool in a low decile area and they can all turn a book up the right way round. I look forward to hearing John Key’s policy ideas for this years’ election. Maybe restoring 100% qualified teachers would help every child.

  2. joceje says:

    Bloody statistics, it depends what you want to portray.
    1/5= 20%implies very bad
    93%implies very good it is nearly 100%
    Hernia Parata and John Key want a standardised test that will make teachers in a way that will enable 100% to succeed. How can you have a national standard that will achieve that?

  3. joceje says:

    Sorry but HEKIA got transposed by technology.

    • Ken says:

      Dear Joce
      Sometimes technological hernias appear to be guided by some mysterious higher spirit. Hernia Parata? Hmmmmmm? I rather like it.

  4. Neil Chalmers says:

    Thank you Kelvin for your careful critique of such statements made by those who like to carry the ’rounding’ of decimals to the extreme … or at least to their advantage!

  5. Maureen Perkins says:

    It is also interesting how both Blaiklock and Hattie seem to ignore that at the time Te Whaariki was introduced there was no require ment for qualified ECE teachers and even now less than 50% have to be qualified and registered. Isn’t this more likely to be behind any problems in implementing such a complex document as Te Whaariki? Not to mention the cut to ECE professional learning funds in 2009.

  6. Chris bayes says:

    I think it would be very helpful to have a diploma in teaching if you are going to implement appropriate literacy (and maths) experiences for young children. Just as primary teachers gain knowledge to teach, so do Early Childhood teachers. We want to turn children on to learning and by gaining knowledge and skills a teacher can go along way to ensuring children are curious about the world around them. There is a great difference between academic learning and intellectual engagement and I would suggest it takes a skilled teacher to do the latter.

  7. Thelma Chapman says:

    It seems like another example of dumbing our tamariki down! Some of the research under fives have carried out are worthy of being show-cased at secondary schools! Amazing imagination & creativity enables our tamariki to explore, hypothesise and test their theories about the world around them and many four year olds are quite capable and confident in articulating those theories! As Einstein himself said,
    “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
    Long may our early childhood teachers create opportunities for children to imagine, to dream to enter the worlds of literacy & numeracy in creative ways so that the memories linger & create the resilience they will need as they enter the formal schooling systems where those values & opportunities are often buried!

    • Anne Smith says:

      Great to see someone focusing on children’s strengths, Thelma, rather than their deficits (the Hattie and Blaiklock approaches). The value of Te Whariki is that children’s strengths and dispositions are supported instead of focusing on what they can’t do.

  8. I sincerely hope you sent your response to the Listener too. It’s important for parents to understand the two sides of the debate.

  9. Better yet, perhaps you can offer a follow up to the Listener. From the other side.

  10. Kelvin says:

    Thanks for your comments everyone – they make lively reading. Re: Ms WonderOutLoud – the Listener certainly knows they erred somewhat: both my postings have been sent to them, and some of the biggest names in early childhood have gone to their computers for letters and longer responses. I want to acknowledge, though, a series of excellent editorials by the Listener, and except for writing on John Hattie, some excellent writing on education by the writer concerned. And a point about statistics: in 2002, 7% of children failed item one, by now it would be about 1%.

  11. It is interesting that John Hattie, who is the “expert” on quantitative measurements of children’s performance, made such a daft mistake – it is daft because just asking a few teachers would have told him that the majority of children even in poorer schools know which way up to hold a book. So how reliable are his other statements??

  12. Peter Watt says:

    Without dispute, beyond but consistently backed by statistical data based on research, learning deficiency is inextricably linked to childhood poverty although not determined by that poverty. Families in NZ at the lower end of fiscal strata have been put under greater pressure as changes have been made to living conditions during the last 6 years. Young parents have less disposable time to spend with children at home to promote learning while increasingly there is governmental reluctance to acknowledge the importance of funding early childhood education alongside supporting young parents “at the bottom of the heap”!Much more economically advantageous than budgeting for more and bigger prisons!

  13. Brigid says:

    Item one of Marie Clay’s Concepts About Print observation task asks the child to show orientation by indicating the front of the book, not by turning an upsidedown book up the right way. Instruction for teacher.’Pass the book to the child, holding it vertically by outside edge, spine towards the child. Say: ‘Show me the front of this book.'”
    Score: 1 point for correct response.
    John Hattie is incorrect about the nature of the task as well as the number of children who scored correctly.

  14. Mac says:

    Thanks for the research and detail in this posting. The list of injustice just gets longer and longer from this government and their right wing army!

  15. Neil Robinson says:

    Can we trust a man who states that his job is all about statistics and data, but does not do the research and gets his percentages incorrect anyway? Either he is incompetent and shouldn’t be the go-to person, or is dishonest and shouldn’t be the go-to person!
    Perhaps too the Listener should employ people who take the time to actually check what people say and don’t take it for granted that what they say is the truth.

  16. Ian says:

    I liken Hattie to the ‘skilled weaver’ from the fairy tale “The Emperors New Clothes”.
    Repeat something loud and long enough those who wish to will believe what they hear, especially when it is accompanied by bulldust and flattery. His skill is taking limited ‘research’(i.e narrow observations), dressing it up as gospel to whoever wants to listen, and ingratiating himself to the powers that be.

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