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.