Monday, December 8, 2014

Linda Mitchell: Put children's education before shareholders

This article is available on The New Zealand Herald site -

Government early childhood education (ECE) funding and parent fees intended for children's education will pay for the dividend yields of 4.69 per cent and $16.6 million profit forecasted by Evolve Education Group as it buys up early childhood companies Lollipops Educare and Porse.

Government funding includes the 20 Hours ECE intended for children to attend ECE at no or minimal cost. The Evolve Education Group prospectus is quick to point out that 20 Hours ECE "can earn additional revenue" through optional charges.

Termed "an attractive investment opportunity", "childcare" is conceptualised as big business, selling a commodity to parent consumers as they participate in the workforce. Attractive images are used as selling points but the Evolve Education Group Prospectus foregrounds profitability - its first duty as a listed company is to shareholders.

Children and their learning and development needs are largely invisible; families are purchasers of education.

This main interest from a commercial view in making profits for owners or shareholders, positions Evolve Education Group at odds with more community spirited aims to invest fully in the service itself.

And the intention of Evolve Education Group to increase its scale "through selective acquisitions" will undoubtedly see it targeting high-income communities and those low-income communities where government is investing most money, i.e. areas where profits are easier to make.

Profitability is a key selection and acquisition criteria. A recent OECD study of 20 countries has shown that a reliance on privatised provision of early childhood education will almost certainly lead to inequities in provision in poorer communities because commercial providers are reluctant to invest in such communities.

The spectacular example of the rise and fall of the publicly listed Australian corporate childcare company ABC Learning should be a warning to us.

Following rapid expansion ABC became the largest corporate childcare provider in the world. ABC encouraged its staff to hold shares in its business, thus tying them into its corporate values. In this way, the values of business owners may start to overshadow public and democratic values that are embedded in community based ECE services.
The spread of ABC Learning in Australia had the effect of limiting parental choice of service and putting non-ABC centres at financial risk. It swamped ECE provision in some communities as it squeezed out the community based sector. Australian researchers have documented its rise, subsequent fall and suspension from trading, when the Government had to pour in A$56 million ($60 million) to cover operating costs while a buyer was found.

Professor Deborah Brennan termed ABC "a vast, unprecedented and unsuccessful experiment in Australian [early childhood education and care] provision". Its outcomes were described as "costly and dysfunctional".

We need to get back to fundamental questions about the values and aims for early childhood education, about who should benefit, and about how it should be provided. Surely not first and foremost as a business opportunity for the benefit of shareholders.

Linda Mitchell is Associate Professor in early childhood education at the University of Waikato.

- NZ Herald

Government funding includes the 20 Hours ECE intended for children to attend ECE at no or minimal cost. Photo / Thinkstock              

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Journey

I was reminded this weekend about the importance of the journey rather than just the destination.  My mokopuna Flectcher (9),Taylor (6) and I decided to go for a walk to a local harbour beach and the island that is accessible only at low tide, Motuopuhi Island.  According to Google Maps this is only a 17 minute walk but what does Google know about the journey rather than the destination.
As we walked, at a very slow place, we discovered hidden treasures amongst the rocky shore - a soccer ball, a tennis ball, sticks that could break others that could not, some that could be weapons and taiaha and all varying lengths and density.  Each time we slowed and looked deeper into the rocks I reminded myself it is not the destination that matters Lynn.  In fact we might not even reach the island because the journey has taken over and that would be alright.

Who would have thought about the number of conversations that could come out of sticks - why does the bark peel off, why is this one so little, what is this sort of wood, how did they get here and many more.  Conversations and questions that we all puzzled over that meant our 17 minute walk turned into an hour one way but it felt like no time at all.  Is this what  Csikszentmihalyi meant when he talked about “Flow”?

Finally we reached our destination and to our delight there were many more sticks that could be broken, smashed on rocks, woven together to make a teepee, used for slingshots and bow and arrows.  We trekked around the island and over it through the long grass without a path.  Fletcher showed me how brave he could be as he set out ahead of Taylor and I delighting in the unknown and seeing it as a new adventure.

As we walked home it was a time of further conversations about what makes the world go round.   Taylor sparked up a conversation that may have been inspired by the sticks - bow and arrows.  He started by saying, “Nanna we shouldn’t have guns and arrows that way no one would die except for when they are old and that’s ok.”  He thought a little more about this because he understands about hunting and fishing from his hunter gathering whānau.  “Maybe some people could have guns though so they could hunt for animals but we can’t use guns to hunt for people.”  Taylor is a deep thinker and I wondered how many wonderful conversations had preempted this one to get him to a place where he could understand so much about life.  There is research which highlights the importance of having conversations with babies.  Apparently researchers can determine the success of a 32 year old by the number of words spoken to them while they were a baby.  There is a proviso to this though and that it has to be quality communication. This research makes me wonder about all the wonderful conversations that children can experience throughout those first 7 years that will build children’s capacity for divergent thinking.  It is up to us to make the time for the conversations especially when we remember that it is not the destination but the journey.  We may already have the answers to children’s questions but let us not rob them of the journey of inquiring by using our words to inform rather than encourage.

At the beginning of our day we had set out for a destination but actually it was the journey that held just as much if not more learning.  Which made me think about teaching and learning - for both it is the journey isn’t it.  Particularly for us as teachers it is great to be reminded about the importance of the journey.  We can have a destination in mind which may look like one month of planning in advance based around an idea of what we think children would be interested in.  If we focused on the journey, taking the time for the conversations and questions that children pose there would be a certain amount of uncertainity but I think that this is a wonderful place to be in. To use some of Lorraine Sands words, it would mean that teacher practice would shift away from the routinised, predictable timetable where teachers are the comfortable knowers  and into a space of embracing uncertainity and tuning into this mysterious work of the unknown journey that children’s questions can take us on.  Then teachers can be prepared to wonder at, be surprised by and then to consider the myriad questions and solutions that children have that lead into directions that are unpredictable and unknowable in advance.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


The Pāngarau/Mathematics Clusters that ELP have been running throughout the North Island, as part of a MoE funded professional learning programme that supports teachers in unpacking the Ministry resource Te Aho Tukutuku/Early Mathematics, are coming to a close.   

Last night at my Taupo/Turangi Mathematics Cluster presentation evening, an evening gives centres a chance to share with each other how their individual Action Research projects have been progressing, I was blown away by the creative ways each team chose to share their journey and by the thoughtful reflections that each team had obviously engaged in.  There were several common themes that were woven through each of the presentations that I would like to share with you;

Many of the teachers had come to realise that they had had only a surface level mathematical knowledge and it had been through their participation in this cluster that they have been able to gain a deeper level of understanding.  This has lead them to now recognising the more complex mathematical moments that they felt would previously have gone unnoticed.

Teachers are now thinking thoughtfully about how they can use those teachable moments to support their tamariki build  mathematical language and understanding.  Teacher have recognised that this is most successfully accomplished when opportunities are woven into the interests of the tamaiti or the community.   Teachers have recognised that the more meaningful the experience is to the tamaiti the more likely they are to, not only obtain but retain the knowledge being shared.

Teachers have recognised that the mathematical language has to be modelled and used by them, therefore, creating more intentional teaching through natural conversations and interactions.  Ann Epstein (2007 p.1) says that ‘intentional teachers use their knowledge, judgment, and expertise to organise learning experiences for children; when an unexpected situation arises (as it always does), they can recognise a teaching opportunity and are able to take advantage of it, too.’

This professional learning opportunity has supported teachers in understanding the crucial role their pedagogy and content knowledge has on the quality of the experiences tamariki engage in.  They have a direct impact, thought child and teacher engagement and in the assessment documentation they produce.  Teachers have reflected that this professional learning opportunity has supported them in foregrounding mathematical learning in the Learning Stories they are now writing. Teachers are discussing together future learning possibilities and creating provocations as they think thoughtfully about how they can support and extend the mathematical knowledge of each tamaiti.  This continuity is now visible within the portfolios of tamariki.

As a direct result of this deeper understanding, teachers are more confident in engaging in robust discussions with parents about the types of mathematical learning that are woven into the everyday play of tamariki and how these experiences are being supported and extended within the early childhood environment.  These conversations, along with the Learning Stories and wall displays that teachers are now producing, have support parents and whānau in understanding that mathematics is more than just being able to count to 10 (or 100) or knowing your shapes.  They are seeing how broad and deep the mathematical learning is that occurring is and ultimately will be recognising this in their children's play and inquiry at home. 

I want to share with you these thoughts from the team at Central Kids Reporoa Kindergarten;

“As this official journey comes to an end, we, as a team are now more proactive in continuing to incorporate the lessons we have learnt into our daily practices.  We are using a wider variety of mathematical terms and concepts though our everyday interactions with our tamariki.  Each of us are now confident in highlighting this learning through our documentation, which in turn makes it more visible to our whānau.”  

I'd like to take this opportunity to say a BIG thank you to my cluster for the beautiful flowers I received from them last night, a delightful and unexpected surprise, and to say what a pleasure it has been to work together on this professional learning opportunity.  

If anyone is interested in engaging in a similar experience in our new round of Action Research, which will be starting in July, then please get in touch with Marie Thom.  Marie will be able to confirm whether your setting qualifies for this programme, as the Ministry of Education priorities are settings with high numbers of Māori and Pasifika children. 
Email or phone: 07 856 8708.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Many of you will have read the Listener article 'Set up to Fail'. The following is a response from Kelvin Smythe to this article... It is available online @

Take time to read the varying viewpoints: 

Hattie makes his move in on early childhood: Key set to act in tandem

It was something Hattie says early on in the Listener article that delivered a sharp stab of déjà vu. I recognised with a shudder his old dodge, as leading government ideologist, of delivering with wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing oleaginous concern, a threat that could be interpreted as – accept what is on offer now or something worse will be imposed.  I understand, he is recorded as saying, that pre-school educators are wary of a trickle down from the school curriculum, given that early childhood children in England and New York City are made to sit compulsory tests, but that, he tries to assure us, is not the sort of thing I want to happen. In Hattie language he is saying actually I wouldn’t care, but in the meantime you had better accept what is on offer now.

He then goes on to say, drawing on the new-entrants test SEA, that it is just things like concepts about print that he wants to see pushed in early childhood education.
The déjà vu referred to, combined with a call to my ministry source (see below), suggests that the Listener article is part of a plan by Hattie also involving Cognition and John Key to impose his and the government’s formalism and measurement ideology on early childhood education.

Hattie, I suggest, is going to use the same modus operandi in early childhood education he has used in primary education. National, with Hattie’s help, is setting up a panic to destabilise early childhood education, demeaning teachers and their spokespeople in the process, and providing an open field and an excuse for the government to impose its managerialist and ideological ‘solutions’.

A paradox in the Listener article is that the answers to any questions that may be raised about the education of children at early childhood institutions, and especially children from poverty-affected backgrounds, are all in the article but they come out in a strangulated way because the article has not been structured for open debate but to carry Hattie’s and the government’s managerialist argument. More paradoxically, for me, given my antipathy to the ministry, the strongest argument in defence of early childhood education comes from the ministry spokesperson. This leads me to think that the government’s plans for early childhood education come from the prime minister’s office and the Treasury which were then detoured to avoid the ministry to connect with Hattie and Cognition.

But now to test my hypothesis arising from that moment of déjà vu.
I contacted my source in the ministry. My question was: ‘Is John Key about to go to an early childhood centre to announce policy.’
Two days later my source rang back. ‘How did you know?’
‘He’s due to do so in the next few weeks, in a low decile area, but I don’t know where exactly.’
There have recently been two articles in the New Zealand Listener (February 22-28 and April 19-25). I intend to write postings on both these articles, but it is the second one on early childhood education that has the most urgent policy implications. This is the tenth posting I have done on John Hattie who I consider one the most destructive education influences in New Zealand’s history.

The Listener article was set up to be a platform for Hattie’s idea that early childhood education was not preparing children satisfactorily for school. To help in this Hattie brings in in another phonics-obsessive and curriculum formalist, Ken Blaiklock, to support this figment and to help prepare the ground for early childhood education to become subject to the ideology of fragmentation and measurement. Primary teachers will immediately recognise that this is a replay of the Bill Tunmer/Tom Nicholson phonics battle that was reasonably well repelled by New Zealand’s strong-minded junior class leaders.
A good number of luminaries from pre-school education are referred to in the article but made to seem confused and contradictory because this is really about Hattie – as a character in Catch-22 would have said, ‘go eat your liver’.
In destructiveness to primary education, compared with John Hattie, Merv Wellington is akin to Clarence Beeby.

His meta-analysis research is near rubbish in intake, structure, and interpretation – his big education idea of feedback is, for instance drawn from using music as education reinforcement for children with severe learning difficulties. I could go on, indeed I have for dozens of pages, but I don’t want to here – I want to move as quickly as possible to Hattie’s move to dominate early childhood education in New Zealand.
His modus operandi, no matter what the school area, is to be the ideological wingman for right-wing or naïve governments, feign anger on the basis that he knows what to do and so should everyone else if they had an ounce of sense – after all, he says, look at these research results of mine which he tosses in the air like confetti. Research, however, that doesn’t favour his arguments he studiedly ignores. He then goes on to make aspersions about holistic education and dog whistles a much narrower and formal education; from there he sets out to create learning panic (research says this and that, and it is the end of children’s chances in learning if they don’t know how to do this or that by such-and-such an age, and so on) delivered resignedly in a tone of people don’t understand me, but such has been the fate of great men throughout history – nevertheless, I will remain constant to the truth and selflessly and courageously deliver. Sob!

Hattie is an ideologist for national standards, which defines his philosophy, his research, his curriculum, his career, and his appeal to governments and right-wing elements – but not to teachers when they finally twigged. He was driven out of the country when both national standards and his Visible Learning Laboratories – intended to show teachers how to make national standards work – collapsed in a heap.  The NZ Herald called me his nemesis and he complained of me hounding him, but in this he considerably underestimates his own genius for being wrong. Hattie is now back big time with the government and Cognition (the cluster policy which he is all for) and now his entry into early childhood (which he dismisses as on the wrong track).

As well as being in favour of privatisation of education (in the Cognition sense), performance pay (in the cluster sense), he is also in favour of a formal and clinical kind of curriculum (while obvious, this has to be inferred), bigger classes, and imposition of policy if all else fails. Unsurprisingly in the light of the things he favours, he is against teacher organisations (in the sense of them having any real power).
Then there are his tics regarding research: he gives a low percentage to the education effects of poverty (the figure like my cash at the races is always low and downward trending); he puts teachers on a column of Duke of Wellington proportions but vulnerably attached to the plinth; he virtually dismisses the Hawthorne effect (which in his case particularly wreaks havoc with results); he uses meta loads of data as a cover for the rubbish or inconsequence contained; he uses clinic-based research in a very slippery way; and he applies what is mostly rubbish in the first place to rubbishy arguments in the second.
Hattie begins his move to be the government’s early childhood theorist by spreading confetti-style research findings generated from his Melbourne base – mainly rubbish, of course, research holes you could drive an articulated truck through. Deep murmurings of detailed analysis, and so on.

He then says ‘there is a “massive hole” in our much lauded curriculum [Te Whariki].’ This is Hattie dealing to the holistic: he does this because while the holistic curriculum can be evaluated not all of it can be measured – which threatens him. He gains his power from the clinical and the measurable; teachers from the complex and  the immeasurable – and it his job to deliver to governments, teachers less able to resist.

An implication in his trashing of the holistic is that he has the answer to what should replace it. He doesn’t have and never has had. He doesn’t care; he is creating a problem defined away from teachers and their spokespeople to one that only he and the government can address but, of course, they can’t – no worry to them, they can then move on to address the problem arising from the problem previously addressed. Life is good if you are a government-aligned academic.

Te Whariki is a taonga but, you see, it is holistic, and Hattie detests that – he likes to fragment the curriculum for measurement purposes and control.

Then he feigns anger: ‘I think it is a scandal …’ that becomes an entrée to a move to generate education panic.

‘Not nailing those language skills can compromise the rest of a child’s schooling.’
John – not doing a lot of things can compromise the rest of a child’s schooling – including your perverse education philosophy.

Hattie as part of his building of panic says ‘children whose results put them in the lowest third when they arrived at school stayed there for five years.’ No mention by him of the devastating effects of the labelling effects of national standards and the over-use of ability grouping because of national standards.

And there is a complete silence on children whose learning is disadvantaged by their home environment, or migrant children, or special needs children.

Then the ‘nobody understands me’ and being a ‘martyr’ to his selfless cause.
‘Hattie says his views are controversial and put him in a minority.’ Oh diddum’s! Ever thought they might be a load of self-serving bollocks? I wouldn’t call your views so much controversial as pitched at a level prejudice and good sense as to make rational discussion impossible.

He then refers to some research from the University of Auckland that really doesn’t support his argument, but he says it does.

Hattie’s offsider for the occasion, Ken Blaiklock, pipes up. He has aired his views in many peer-reviewed papers he wants to tell us. Peer reviewed – wow! What next? We all know about peer reviewing, so spare us that one, it is about as dodgy as NCEA internal marking. What we don’t know is the value of those many peer reviewed papers. In this one he declares the present situation with Te Whariki is ‘a perfect storm’ and calls for outcomes based assessment. So the chances are they are narrow, repetitive rubbish.

This call, though, for outcomes based assessment is the one the National government will respond to, tentatively at first, but far more fiercely and insistently later on. Having set primary education on its heels, it is setting out after early childhood. There could eventually be some kind of payment by results using, say, SEA when children attend primary school.

What a Hattie set up!

I looked in vain for the seminal research by Anne Smith so transcendentally contrary to Hattie’s and Blaiklock’s desiccated thinking; and where was Margaret Carr’s research on Te Whariki and how it was being implemented?

Strewn throughout the article were the oh so wise comments of Karl Le Quesne (by the way he is not my ministry source – there was a time when John Faire was working in the ministry and I praised a document he put out, severely blighting his bureaucratic career).
Some other academics and spokespeople are referred to, particularly the revered Helen May, but her arguments for a fully qualified teaching workforce, amongst other points she makes, are skewed by the article being so thoroughly directed towards the claim that Te Whariki is at the centre of ‘a perfect storm’.

Hattie draws attention to an education review office report on early childhood that seems rather downbeat, Le Quesne puts it into perspective saying: ‘our reading of that review is most services were doing a good job and that the ministry is generally satisfied most services are implementing the curriculum as required.’  Further on he says: ‘We’re comfortable with the evidence we’re seeing, that it indicates we’re on the right track and that we are making a difference.’ (Karl – as you know but couldn’t possibly say, the education review office does the government’s bidding in matters like this; I would be on the alert.)

Le Quesne makes the best education statement of the article when he speaks of the importance that ‘children become excited about learning, curious about the world and persistent, and can work with others to solve problems.’
Nailing it with, ‘We haven’t seen any really robust evidence to bear out Hattie’s concerns.’

And, for me, even more important, there is no evidence that if a problem is found, or a means for improvement agreed upon, that the necessary change can’t be generated within early childhood, guided by the wonderful Te Whariki.

Hattie and Blaiklock keep your deadening and heavy hands off children’s learning in early childhood education.  If academic direction is needed, let it be from early childhood academics not dry old husks having emigrated from school education, most of whom I point out are men.

But I fear that once you have children allocated identifying numbers by ideologically-driven politicians and academics, the opportunity to join the dots is there to act to the disadvantage of children’s individuality and richness of learning
Will all be revealed at an early childhood education centre in a low decile area somewhere in New Zealand in the next few weeks? No – because, education today is about hidden agendas – however, something will be. While this posting appears to have been pointed to the short term, it is really about the long one. Keep watching this space.