"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Surprising Results Regarding Retention

During my days of schooling and it is perhaps true up till now, retention is seen as bad. In a world where nobody is perfect and failure is inevitable, it is indeed surprising that retention is widely perceived as detrimental. A lot of research do show that retention may have negative effects. However, it should be clear that what is actually done with retention can significantly affect the outcome. ASCD's article, What Research Says About... / Grade Retention, ends with a wise statement, "Without early diagnosis and targeted intervention, struggling students are unlikely to catch up whether they are promoted or retained."

Above copied from Pinterest
Thus, studying the effects of retention must be carefully designed. A paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, looks at the effects of retention by examining more than a hundred students that have been retained from a total sample of more than a thousand students in 42 secondary schools in Germany. The first sentence of its abstract reads:
Consistently with a priori predictions, school retention (repeating a year in school) had largely positive effects for a diverse range of 10 outcomes (e.g., math self-concept, self-efficacy, anxiety, relations with teachers, parents and peers, school grades, and standardized achievement test scores).
I think the outcome "relations with teachers, parents and peers" measures much more than the effect of retention. The fact that retained students in this study speaks positively of their relations with both teachers and parents speaks volume of what actually happens when a student is retained in these cases.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

"Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status"

"Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status" is the theme of this year's World Teachers' Day, October 5, 2016. Of course, the status of the teaching profession can not be simply reduced to how much a teacher gets paid. Still, money talks. Teacher salaries do speak of how much we value our teachers. 

In the United States, the Economic Policy Institute has recently released a study that shows that teachers' pay is significantly lower than those of other college graduates.

And in the Philippines, the story is pretty much the same. Representative France Castro (Alliance of Concerned Teachers) says that public school teachers are only taking home about 3,500 to 6,000 pesos (75-130 US$) every month:
18 August 2016
Reference: Rep. France L. Castro
Rep. France Castro on DBM Sec. Diokno's anti-poor statement

Rep. France Castro of ACT Teachers Party-List denounced DBM Sec. Benjamin Diokno’s 'anti-poor statement’ when he said “there is no urgency” in giving salary increases to teachers and nurses, yesterday in an Anti-Poverty Summit in Davao. Castro is also dismayed after Sec. Diokno announced that only members of AFP and PNP will have a PhP 5,000 allowance and rice allowance every month starting September and assured that uniformed men’s salary increase be granted by January 2017.
“It’s really alarming that the secretary said this in an anti-poverty event considering that quality education and health services are components of the ‘war against poverty’ being waged by the current administration,” Castro said as she asserted that teachers and nurses play important roles in poverty alleviation.
Castro underscored the fact that teachers and nurses along with other government employees are burdened with the perennial increases of the price of basic commodities faced by cops and military.
The lawmaker emphasizes insufficiency of the PhP 19,077 current monthly salary of entry-level teachers amidst the rising cost of living. Researchers found that PhP 1,093 is required to support a family of 6 per day.
“Teachers only have PhP 3,500-6,000 to as net take home pay each month. This dire state of their financial capacity pushes them to get loans and even pawn their ATM accounts. Teachers had historically fallen trapped in this cycle of indebtedness,” Castro stressed.
Castro condemned this notion that the uniformed service ought to be first since all government employees are equally important in nation building.
The lawmaker also reminds Sec. Diokno of constitutional mandate Art. 14, Sec. 5, Par. 5 to “assign the highest budgetary priority to education and ensure that teaching will attract and retain its rightful share of the best available talents through adequate remuneration and other means of job satisfaction and fulfillment.”

Thursday, August 18, 2016

How We Solve Arithmetic Problems - How We Solve Societal Problems

Multiplication and division involving either fractions or decimals that are less than one persist as major challenges in fifth grade classrooms. Punching these decimals into a calculator, provided that the correct buttons are pushed, can of course lead to the right answer. Knowing how to do these arithmetic operations by hand likewise can be successful, but the question of whether a child really understands the concept of multiplication and division involving fractions remains to be addressed. Without such understanding, a careless handling of a calculator or an error in computation by hand can easily happen and at the end, a child is completely unaware that his or her answer does not make sense. A recent study involving seventh graders from a public school near Pittsburgh shows that students continue to fail in this area.

The work, scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, looks at how well a student answers an arithmetic problem involving decimals. The following are sample questions.

The results are quite revealing. Students do well with addition and subtraction problems presumably with the notion that adding leads to a bigger number while subtraction always reduces the number. The following table summarizes the findings:
Above copied from
Conceptual Knowledge of Decimal Arithmetic.
Lortie-Forgues, Hugues; Siegler, Robert S.
Journal of Educational Psychology, Aug 15 , 2016, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000148
With multiplication and division, rules derived using numbers greater than one, such as multiplication leads to a larger number while division makes a number smaller, do not apply to decimals less than one. 5 multiplied by 0.29 is less than 5 and 5 divided by 0.29 is greater than 5. The study also examines the explanations behind the judgment made by the student and the following table shows that indeed, learning requires a great bit of unlearning.

Above copied from
Conceptual Knowledge of Decimal Arithmetic.
Lortie-Forgues, Hugues; Siegler, Robert S.
Journal of Educational Psychology, Aug 15 , 2016, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000148

"Operation and operand" in the above table means that the student recognizes that not only the operation (either multiplication or division) but also the operand (whether these are less than or greater than one) decides if the answer will be larger or smaller. "Unconditional operation" refers to a student invoking the general rule that multiplication makes things bigger while division makes things smaller regardless of the operands. Surprisingly, those who try to estimate (Computational estimation) gets the wrong answer more than half the time.

These arithmetic problems mimic in so many ways how we, as adults, often struggle with problems society faces. We have strongly held preconceived notions that lead us to wrong conclusions. We are obstinate. We therefore hardly learn from our mistakes. The results shown here are from seventh grade students, not fifth grade. Surely, these children have seen multiplications and divisions involving fractions or decimals that are less than one. It therefore seems onerous to accept and digest something that goes beyond what we have known for so long. One thing the authors write that is worth repeating here is this: "Confidence is often a good thing, but misplaced confidence is not."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

How We Treat Our Young Children

"In one study of extra-year programs, the biggest gains were not for the extra-year children but for the at-risk children who have received extra help in the regular classroom", noted Shepard and Smith in their paper, "Synthesis of Research on School Readiness and Kindergarten Retention". Shepard and Smith had long argued that schools should address the diversity of young children when they enter kindergarten and not focus on applying a common set of standards for all. Sadly, a list for kindergarten readiness, which includes the ability to "identify 30+ letters", is what parents see, for instance, from a county in Ohio.

Above copied from SheKnows
School readiness as well as school entry age are issues difficult to address in research since learning outcomes are often determined by factors other than these two. As a starter, context matters. In addition, how schools respond as Shepard and Smith had shown can easily sway the results simply based on a teacher's perception of what is normal and what is not. Thus, one way to dissect how the effects of school entry age on learning outcomes is to examine a database in which the differences are actually not options. Comparing countries afford this opportunity. In 2006, Suggate had used PISA scores on reading comprehension to see if there are effects of school entry age. In the paper, "School entry age and reading achievement in the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)", no correlation was found between reading scores and the age a child enters school. Yet, if one focuses on one of the countries that score high in this standardized test, one is tempted to arrive at a conclusion similar to the following:

Above copied from NPR
And in Denmark, an older school entry age is seen to correlate with a lower crime rate.

Above copied from The Economic Journal
Clearly, if there is really no association between school entry age and learning outcomes, then something else counts. And my guess is how society responds to diversity is what counts.

Bassok and coworkers, I believe, are sounding an alarm that requires our attention in their paper "Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?" We are taking the slippery slope of defining what should be normal and expected from our children.

Above copied from AERA
One simply has to combine the above observation with how parents are spending on their young to realize that there is a poisonous mix brewing in basic education.

Above copied from AERA
School entry age matters when we make it. If school is cast as a way to get an edge in life, and school readiness translates to an edge in school, it becomes doubly toxic. We inadvertently tell a significant number of children that they are not ready when in fact we might be the ones who do not understand how each child really grows and develops.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Parenting, Basic Education, and Drug Abuse

Parents can provide both support and control. Parenting styles according to Maccoby and Martin can be categorized into four types: authoritarian (demanding and unresponsive), authoritative (demanding but responsive), permissive (responsive but undemanding), and neglectful (unresponsive and undemanding). With Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", strict and harsh parenting has been suggested to lead to successful education outcomes. Research has shown that this is false. The data as nicely illustrated by Paul Tullis in Slate show that Tiger parenting leads only to lower achievement and greater depression.

Above copied from Paul Tullis at Slate
Cultural differences are often cited to explain different parenting styles. Thus, the success of an authoritative parenting style may just hold in Western societies, but not in general. What outcomes can be predicted from any given parenting style therefore need to be studied across cultures.

There is one study that involves parents and children in the Philippines. A paper by Rebecca Hock and coworkers in the International Journal of Culture and Health, looks at longitudinal data of nearly 2000 emerging adults in Cebu City. The abstract of the paper is shown below:

Parenting style is a potent and malleable influence on emerging adult substance use. Most of the parenting-substance use literature has been conducted in Western populations and it is unknown whether findings are generalizable to other cultures and contexts. We extended the parenting-substance use literature to a cohort of emerging adults in the Philippines using the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey. We assessed associations between mothers’ and fathers’ parenting styles (authoritative, permissive, authoritarian, and neglectful) reported by offspring at age 18 and odds of offspring-reported drug use three years later, adjusted for a range of offspring- and parent/household-level characteristics. Females were dropped from analyses due to low prevalence of drug users. We found that many emerging adults in Cebu reported having used drugs, particularly methamphetamine—a dangerous drug with high abuse potential. Authoritative (warm, firm) mothering was significantly associated with sons’ reduced odds of drug use and neglectful fathering was related at a trend level with sons’ increased odds of having tried drugs. Findings underscore the relation of parenting styles to emerging adults’ drug use and add to the literature on cross-cultural variability in parenting styles.
Thus, it seems that the type of parenting associated with better outcomes in Cebu City is the authoritative one, no different from the findings in Western culture. This may not be a surprise but what is quite unexpected, especially with preconceived notions that Asian culture is often strict, is that the most prevalent parenting style seen in this study is the permissive type. And when it comes to drug abuse, parenting styles often regarded differently, authoritarian and neglectful, have outcomes similar to those of permissive parenting.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Crime Rate: Poverty, Wages, Deterrence, and Basic Education

A lot can be said regarding how people could use statistics to mislead. It is therefore important to evaluate the source of information as well as biases that may be present in both sampling and analysis of data. Data can indeed provide correlations but one must be cautious in drawing a cause and effect relationship. There is a considerable interest in finding what correlates with crime. A reduction in crime rate can be easily claimed as an accomplishment by either policy makers or law enforcers. If the crime rate has really gone down, it is indeed an accomplishment. Nevertheless, it is still necessary to identify what factors are really responsible or significant. For this analysis, the size of the data as well as the length of time are consequential. One study, covering the period 1970-2008, shows that the crime rate in the Philippines correlates with wage rate, labor participation rate, and per capita income. In contrast, deterrence does not seem to impact significantly crime rates.

Similar findings have been made by Miguel F. Gillado and Tina Tan-Cruz. In their 2004 paper, Panel Data Estimation of Crime Rates in the Philippines, the following factors are shown to correlate strongly with crime:

  • per capita gross regional domestic product; 
  • average income of the people in urban and rural; 
  • consumer price index; 
  • cohort survival rate in elementary education. 
Gillado and Tan-Cruz conclude, "The results show that the economic factors are the robust determinants of crime rates. This implies that generally, the more the stable the economy is, the lower the crime rates. Thus, it is recommended that policy makers should focus on the stabilization of the economy because it has a significant influence on the variation of crime rates." And similar to Patalinghug's study, no significant link between crime and deterrence is seen. 

The number of school dropouts also correlates with higher crime. In the Philippines, both poverty and child labor are known to be the primary causes of school leaving. Thus, poverty can influence crime rates in more than one way.

Friday, August 12, 2016

"Shooting First and Asking Questions Later"

A recent article from The Economist does not waste any subtlety in the message it wants to send to the Duterte administration: "The lesson of the drug wars in Latin America, and of previous dirty wars, is that extrajudicial violence resolves nothing and makes everything worse. Innocent people will be killed; and denunciations will also be used to settle scores and exploited by gangs to wipe out rivals. Filipinos’ desire for instant retribution will, surely, turn to horror, hatred and revenge. The rule of law will erode. Investors, who have made the Philippines one of globalisation’s winners in recent years, will flee. The only winners will be the still-lurking insurgents. Mr Duterte’s ill-conceived war on drugs will make the Philippines poorer and more violent."

Above copied from The Economist. To read the entire article, click here
The Philippines does sit in a precarious situation. One simply has to look at its stock market index:

Above copied from Trading Economics
With its stock index almost doubled in the past five years, one can easily predict that a correction is inevitable. A slippery slope, a track the Duterte administration seems to be following, may just be the trigger to bring light into what is currently the situation in the Philippines. Certain elements when brought together can indeed create a perfect storm. The basic education system is under huge stress. The number of school dropouts continues to pile up. Even without a careless president, things can easily get worse.

Perception matters. What the world thinks matters. What The Economist prints matters. Those of us who live on credit know what a credit score entails. And it is about perception. For the past ten years, the Philippines has greatly improved its rating.

Above copied from Arangkada Philippines
These ratings can easily go down, wiping out all the hard-earned gains from the previous decade. It takes a lot of effort to convince people that a country is headed in the right direction. It is far easier to make them see it otherwise.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Debunking Myths and the Drug War in the Philippines

In a Harvard Business Review article, Christopher Graves enumerates reasons why debunking myths is a very difficult task. Working from findings made by social scientists, Graves finds four major reasons:
  • Arguing the facts doesn’t help—in fact, it makes the situation worse.
  • Repeating the myth inadvertently popularizes it.
  • Affirmation works – but we rarely use it.
  • We consistently underestimate the power of narrative.
Above copied from Top Five Myths about Alcohol
Thus, with the above in mind, the previous post on this blog was really an exercise in futility.

So, below may be a more effective step. This is a narrative. It comes from the Kaibigan Foundation
Kaibigan Foundation (an NGO based in Manila) condemns the killing of Jefferson Bunuan, a 20 year old student beneficiary. Jefferson is a sponsored child of the foundation for eleven years. As described by Kaibigan staff, Jefferson is polite, soft-spoken, and has shown determination to finish his studies despite experiencing life difficulties. He was in fact a graduate of welding course last year and continued his studies in criminology. This is the reason why Kaibigan was so shocked upon hearing the news that he, along with other two suspected drug pushers, were killed in allegedly buy-bust operation in Sta. Ana, Manila.
As a child’s right advocate, we call to stop extra judicial killing and to follow due process and fair hearing on imposing anti-drug campaign.
Last Monday, July 18 at approximately 11 in the evening, three “suspected” drug pushers were killed in a “said” buy-bust operation in Raymundo St. Sta. Ana, Manila, namely Jomar “Totong” Manaois (20), Jefferson Bunuan (20) and his cousin Mark Anthony Bunuan (18). The police said that a gunfight ensued leading to the death of the three. According to Manila Police District Station 6 – Chief Superintendent Robert Domingo, their main target was Jomar but since Jefferson and Mark were there, they also shot them as they are Jomar’s “cohorts”.
One of the victims, Jefferson Bunuan is a scholar of Kaibigan Ermita Outreach Foundation, Inc. (KEOFI) since he started his schooling. Jeff was the fourth of five children and became a fatherless at an early age. Jefferson perfectly understood the situation of their family that’s why he was very keen to finish his studies. As described by her mother, he is a diligent student. In fact, he sometimes goes to school even without an allowance.
For eleven years, he stayed as a beneficiary of Kaibigan. As a kid, he was very shy, but he participated actively in different activities of the foundation. Despite financial difficulties, he managed to graduate in elementary and high school. He also took up skills training course Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW).
Jefferson’s childhood dream was to be a policeman because he wants to give justice to his father who was killed when he was young. He is a first year college student taking up BS Criminology in Eulogio "Amang" Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology (EARIST). He is also a volunteer of Lambat Sibat, a PNP program which aims to prevent crimes in the country.
According to her sister Lovely, it was 10PM when the policemen conducted their zoning at Brgy. 770 when in fact, they (policemen) were waiting for Totong to go home for them to catch-on-act the suspected buy-bust operation. Unfortunately, Jeff and Mark were sleeping in Totong’s house that time. It was because there was no space in their house since Jeff’s sister just gave birth.
After almost an hour, Lovely, with her relatives, came to Totong’s house as they had throbbed that something wrong was happening. The policemen inhibited them to get nearer to the said house and told them that everything was fine. Unfortunately, a few minutes later, SOCO team came and got the dead bodies out of the house. Lovely firmly went to a proximate distance to see the bag and saw her brother and cousin both dead.
Lovely contradicted the statement of Police Superintendent Robert Domingo that the group was armed as they entered the door so they just protected themselves and immediately shot them. According to Lovely, she talked to the three girls who were inside the house before the incident occurred. She was told that Jeff and Mark were in fact sleeping at that very moment. Supt. Domingo also said that there was a gunfight, but the three girls said that they heard the Totong (being the only one awake that time) surrendered and told the policemen not to implicate his two friends.
The three girls also told Lovely that before the said buy-bust operation, the policemen ordered them to get out of the house because they will conduct an inside investigation. The girls followed their orders while Totong remained inside and the other two victims were still sleeping. Policemen immediately entered the house and in just a few seconds later, they heard Totong surrendering, followed by 7 gunshots.
The dead body position of Totong signifies that he probably fell down backwards when he was shot from his surrendering position. This is all contradicting to the statements of the policemen that the group initiated the gunfight and a buy-bust operation was happening.
Due to this, Kaibigan Foundation raises its voice to the authorities to investigate this “unjust” killing of innocent people. This is discrimination and a violation of the human rights. We are after justice and we don’t want these things to happen again as we advocate human (specifically children’s) rights protection.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Evidence, Drugs and Crime

I have seen emails from Philippine scientists in the US asking whether our community of scholars should say something as a group regarding the current war on drugs waged by the Duterte administration. In a country where most people shoot straight from the hip without any regard for what research says, opinions from academic scientists who have practiced in their own disciplines respect for data may be welcomed or may be not. As discussed in this blog so many times, research based evidence does not seem to guide basic education policies in the Philippines. Therefore, it is unlikely that a similar effort on drug policies will make a difference unless a unified voice from the community is made. Nonetheless, this blog will try. And as always, the first step is to destroy myths. For starters, alcohol is the most harmful drug to both users and society (at least, according to researchers in the UK):

Above copied from The Lancet
Second, the association between violent crimes and drug use is indeed true, but not for all drugs. The strong correlation between crime and drug use is especially true for alcohol and as Stephen Koppel states in an article published in the Journal of Civil and Legal Sciences, "the relationship between marijuana and violent crime is primarily negative and relatively strong. Also, the relationship between heroin and violent crime is weak and inconsistent." (Koppel JDS (2016) Evidence-based Drug Crime Policy: Looking beyond the Moral and Medical to a Multi-level Model of Addiction. J Civil Legal Sci 5: 175. doi:10.4172/2169-0170.1000175)

Third, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have enumerated the following unintended consequences of drug policies similar to those employed by the Duterte administration:

  • Black market: the creation of a lucrative and violent criminal black market for drugs of macroeconomic proportions.
  • Policy displacement from health to law enforcement, drawing public resources and political attention away from public health considerations towards law enforcement and security.
  • Geographical displacement as crackdowns on drug productionand trade push them, and with them, crime, violence, and destabilization, to new geographic areas.
  • Substance displacement: the unwitting creation of incentives for users to switch from heavily policed drugs to a drug with similar effects with less stringent controls, creating new patterns of drug use and markets.
  • Criminalization and marginalization of people who use drugs, often amplified through the use of the criminal justice system to address drug use and minor possession. Drug-related incarceration rates are, in many countries, highest amongst young, poor, marginalized populations, often having lifelong –or even, in some cases, multi-generational – consequences on human and social development.
The last one in the above list maybe the easiest to realize. We must simply ask ourselves the following questions: Who are being killed on the streets without trial? Who are being incarcerated? The war on drugs is oftentimes a war only against the poor, only against the oppressed, only against the defenseless.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Poor Kids Tend to Have a Fixed Mindset while Rich Kids Tend to Have a Growth Mindset

Whether skills are inborn or cultivated through practice may influence how much effort a child would exert in school. Dweck and coworkers at Stanford University have worked on studying this psychology factor. They recently published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. The study which takes advantage of data from more than a hundred thousand tenth graders in Chile demonstrates quite a strong correlation between the income of the family a child belongs to and the mindset, either fixed or growth, the child holds. In addition, learning outcomes as measured by standardized exams are also correlated with mindset. Average scores of students within any given income group are shown to correlate with a child believing that intelligence is not fixed, and can be developed through diligent work.

Above copied from
Susana Claro, David Paunesku, and Carol S. Dweck. Growth mindset tempers the effects of poverty on academic achievement. PNAS 2016 113 (31) 8664-8668; published ahead of print July 18, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1608207113

Data also show that at the lowest income decile only about 10 percent believes in a growth mindset while more than sixty percent subscribes to a fixed one, and at the highest decile, the numbers are roughly equal between the two mindsets. A fixed mindset, of course, sounds the same as a "dead end". In societies where the wealthy becomes richer and the destitute becomes poorer, social mobility is often non existent. It is therefore not surprising that a mindset a child takes also correlates with socio-economic status. Opportunities are often drawn along social classes. Resources are likewise tilted to favor those who are already ahead. Thus, it only follows Markovnikov's rule: Those that have, get.  At first, it might look that the mindset alone determines learning outcomes. The graph, above, however, shows that the gap between the two mindsets is widening with poverty. There is a bigger gap among children who are poor. Mindsets obviously mirror only how our society really operates. It is something children likewise learn from schools where we often enshrine our strongly held beliefs of inequality and competition. It should be obvious that what is necessary is to address these inequalities. Simply teaching kids to have a growth mindset does not really tackle the problem at hand. A growth mindset, like any value, is caught not taught.