"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

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Report Card for the States

The second grading period ends today at Fairfax County schools. Tomorrow, students are not going to school as their teachers prepare report cards for the grading period. These cards attempt to summarize how a student has performed in school. Report cards are meant to evaluate, but more importantly, these marks are ways by which a teacher communicates with students and parents: This is how you are so far in school (for the student), or this is how your child is performing in school (for the parent). The Network for Public Education (NPE) has done something similar. However, in this case, NPE is evaluating the performance of each of the states in the US on public education. The grades are not at all flattering. The best grade is a C, most common is D, and there are a significant number receiving an F:

Above copied from Network for Public Education 50 State Report Card

Obviously, when grades are provided, especially when they are bad, it is only normal to ask how one has arrived at these marks. NPE uses the following categories:
  • No High Stakes Testing
  • Professionalization of Teaching 
  • Resistance to Privatization 
  • School Finance 
  • Spend Taxpayer Resources Wisely 
  • Chance for Success 
High stakes testing means students' scores in standardized tests become the sole basis for making important decisions regarding students (their promotion or retention), schools (closing and funding) and teachers (merit, salaries, promotion, dismissal). Professionalization of teaching looks at how states support teacher preparation, development and autonomy. Resistance to privatization considers how a state strengthens public schools without resorting to market-based approaches. School finance examines how a state funds schools in an equitable fashion. In the "Spend Taxpayers Resources Wisely" category, states are graded according to the choices they make, for example, on whether they are spending on extra efforts that have evidence from research. "Chance for Success" looks at the societal factors. Poverty is one. The socioeconomic status of a community can be partly traced to how a government functions so it is only natural that the effects of socioeconomic status on education be regarded as part of a state's role in public education. Since the overall grades are not good, it is not surprising that most states are likewise not doing well in each of these categories:
Above copied from Network for Public Education 50 State Report Card
A teachers' group in the Philippines have also been issuing a report card for the Aquino administration in the past few years. Here is one.

"The teachers made their assessment of the Aquino administration’s performance through a “Progress Report Card” using the K-12 grading system in several ‘key result areas’ or actions that were expected from the administration which include the increase in the salaries and benefits of teachers, sufficient education budget, fund allocation for K-12 program and patriotic education. The president got a failing grade B (for beginning), in all of those aspects and was advised to provide the needs of the education sector in his remaining years in office."

At first, this may be confusing, because it uses the letter grades introduced by the Philippines' Department of Education. In this scheme, "B" is in fact the failing grade. The subjects listed above are no different from the ones by NPE. "Sahod ng mga guro" (teachers' salaries) is obviously an important factor in the professionalization of teaching. "Implementasyon ng K-12 program" (implementation of the new K-12 curriculum) goes at the heart of asking whether a government is spending taxpayer resources wisely. "Kaukulang Badyet sa Edukasyon" (adequate funding of education) and "Kagamitan sa mga Paaralan" (providing schools with the necessary resources) are both under NPE's School Finance category. In other words, there is no doubt that the Aquino administration will likewise receive a failing grade based on NPE's criteria.

The academic performance of a student is well known to be affected by socio-economic status. Poor students tend to receive lower grades. The report cards issued for states, however, are different. The above grades are not expected to be tied to how poor or how rich a state is. The above grades are not asking how much resources are available. The above grades look instead at how a state prioritizes. A government needs not be rich to make the right choices.

Blogger Tricks

Monday, February 1, 2016

If You Are a Boy and You Are Attending a Poor School....

"Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members -- the last, the least, the littlest."
- Cardinal Roger Mahony

We can evaluate educational systems by measuring learning outcomes. We can compare countries by using scores from international standardized exams. At a smaller scale, we can even compare schools. Yet, these comparisons can always be viewed as placing an apple and an orange side by side. Some schools have more resources. Excuses can be made. Thus, as we do in analytical chemistry, it is useful to have an internal standard. The above words of Cardinal Mahony provide guidance on the standard that may be employed.

In School Quality and the Gender Gap in Educational Achievement, David Autor and coworkers have identified one measure that correlates with school quality: The gap in learning outcomes between boys and girls. This is shown in one of the graphs from their paper:

Above copied from
School Quality and the Gender Gap in Educational Achievement
The above graph clearly shows how the gap widens as the school quality deteriorates. A previous post in this blog, In Adversity, Boys Suffer More, another paper from Autor and coworkers was highlighted. That paper demonstrated that race, poverty, broken homes, and low parental educational attainment led to larger differences between boys and girls. School Quality and the Gender Gap in Educational Achievement takes this study one notch higher. School factors can likewise affect the gender gap and schools of lower quality lead to greater gender differences. 

As in the previous post in this blog, the following data are once again shared:

Data from Annual Poverty Indicator Survey 2013 and DepEd, Philippines

The gaps above are quite substantial. Take, for instance, the difference in scores between boys and girls in the National Achievement Test. This difference is about four tenths of the standard deviation in the exam. Using the graph above, this gap is in fact off scale, which provides quite a sobering insight on the current status of Philippine basic education.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Corruption and Basic Education

One can make comparisons between countries. With such exercise, one may find correlations. Here is one. Corruption and basic education seem to be strongly correlated. Countries where corruption is perceived to be low tend to have better educational systems.

Transparency International provides on an annual basis a Corruption Perception Index (CPI), a measure of the perceived level of public sector corruption for each country. The 2015 numbers are now available and the following lists the 40 least corrupt countries in the world.

Rank CPI2015 Country
1 91 Denmark
2 90 Finland
3 89 Sweden
4 88 New Zealand
5 87 Netherlands
5 87 Norway
7 86 Switzerland
8 85 Singapore
9 83 Canada
10 81 Germany
10 81 Luxembourg
10 81 United Kingdom
13 79 Australia
13 79 Iceland
15 77 Belgium
16 76 Austria
16 76 The United States Of America
18 75 Hong Kong
18 75 Ireland
18 75 Japan
21 74 Uruguay
22 71 Qatar
23 70 Chile
23 70 Estonia
23 70 France
23 70 United Arab Emirates
27 65 Bhutan
28 63 Botswana
28 63 Portugal
30 62 Poland
30 62 Taiwan
32 61 Cyprus
32 61 Israel
32 61 Lithuania
35 60 Slovenia
36 58 Spain
37 56 Czech Republic
37 56 Korea (South)
37 56 Malta
40 55 Cape Verde
40 55 Costa Rica
40 55 Latvia
40 55 Seychelles
Above data from Transparency International

In the above table, there are countries listed in red, while a few are in black. Countries in red are those found in the top 40 in another ranking scheme. This other ranking comes from the World Economic Forum - Human Capital Report - 2015. The Human Capital Index measures both learning and employment outcomes. This index is therefore quite useful in gauging educational systems. The countries listed in red in the above table are those that rank high likewise in the Human Capital Index. This therefore shows a strong correlation between corruption and human capital. Less corrupt countries perform better in both learning and employment outcomes.

Using results from international standardized exams also provides a route for gauging educational systems around the globe. Scores from exams like PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS can be used with literacy and graduation rates. Countries shown in red in the following map rank high in terms of cognitive skills and educational attainment. One should be able to see that countries that are colored red in this map are likewise those countries that are perceived to be less corrupt. 

Above copied from The Learning Curve

Seeing this correlation makes one wonder if measures of educational outcomes can in fact serve as a measure for corruption since poor learning seems to be strongly associated with corrupt governments.  The Philippines stands poorly when it comes to international standardized exams. Does it follow that the Philippine government is more corrupt than other governments? In the latest CPI, the Philippines does not compare favorably with some of its closest neighbors in Southeast Asia:

30 62 Taiwan
54 50 Malaysia
76 38 Thailand
88 36 Indonesia
95 35 Philippines

The correlation between corruption and a poor educational system should not be a surprise for one reason. Education requires resources. And when the government is corrupt, these much needed resources do not reach the schools. These do not reach the students and teachers who are in greater need. In the Philippines, where pork abounds, legislators seem to dictate their whims on when and where classrooms are going to be built. There appears to be no mechanism by which needs are taken into account so that resources can be channeled to where these are most needed. Decisions therefore appear to be made solely on political patronage. There is likewise corruption that is simply stealing public funds. Of course, this practice reduces how much is available to support public education.

With such a strong correlation between corruption and basic education, one can actually gauge how good a government is by simply looking at how classrooms are performing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Impact of Technology on Learning

Last night, my nine-year old son was using my smartphone. I thought he was checking on his current collection of football cards in the Topps Kick app. Then, I heard him talked on the phone, "Okay, Google, how old is Neymar, Junior? The phone answered, "Neymar is 23 years old." My son was using Google's Voice Search app on my phone. So I took the phone and asked, "Okay, Google, What is a hygrometer", since my son's fourth grade class was currently studying weather in their science class. The phone answered, "Hygrometer, an instrument for measuring the humidity of the air or a gas". To say the least, I made the excitement disappear.

It is truly amazing what digital devices can do. I can check on my smartphone on how my students are doing in their homework. The flipside is students can check on something else while they are listening to my lecture. I do walk around the classroom while I give the lecture so that probably discourages students from opening an app on their digital devices, but nationwide, the amount of time spent by students on digital devices inside the classroom doing unrelated tasks has been on the rise. A recent survey involving more than 600 students across 26 states made by Bernard McCoy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows that students inside classrooms are using a smartphone or another digital device 20 percent of the time on distractions.

Above copied from the Journal of Media Education
By comparing classes, one can see that the younger students are using digital devices more for non-classroom related activities. It is clearly getting worse.

Above copied from the Journal of Media Education
The main reason why students are doing these apparently is boredom. Listening or paying attention to a lecture is indeed taxing. It requires, as noted by McCoy, self-control. McCoy writes in his discussion:
Respondents said fighting boredom (63%) in the classroom was a leading reason they used digital devices for non-class activities. This suggests a need for students to learn more effective self-control techniques to keep them focused on the learning at hand in classroom settings. It also suggests instructors might benefit from learning and experimenting with new ways to engage college students in classroom activities that might reduce boredom and minimize disruptions caused by non-class uses of digital devices. 
I did not push my son to use my smartphone to help him review science. I was in fact amazed that he found out on his own how to do Voice Search. But I am hoping that we, teachers and parents, are soon able to catch up with technology.

Monday, January 25, 2016

When Storms Interrupt Learning in Classrooms

A post on this blog more than a year ago talked about Instructional Continuity. The article was in response to flooding brought by heavy rains in the capital region of Manila in the Philippines. This time, a blizzard just left a thick blanket of snow in our area in Virginia. Elementary, middle and high schools are all closed and so is Georgetown University. As a faculty, I am encouraged to take measures so as to minimize the interruption in instruction. So I have posted my slides with the transcribed lecture my students would miss. Here is one of the slides.

Last Friday, before the snow storm hit, I reminded my students of the importance of solving problems at the end of each chapter as well as distributed practice, as supported by evidence from cognitive and educational psychology. This, of course, likewise applies to basic education. Mason Crest Elementary School tries to address instructional continuity with the following video:

February 26, 2015 Snow Day Story Time!
Posted by Mason Crest Elementary on Thursday, February 26, 2015
The principal, Brian Butler, writes "Kids what to do during a snow day off from school? Ask your parents can you build a snow structure and listen to a snow day story from a friend! Take a look!"

In the previous post of this blog, I likewise noted the following:
Of course, the tools and strategies provided above may not at all be possible in the Philippines. Much of the examples require a dependable and accessible internet, which is not necessarily present in all of the households in the country. But there are strategies that can be implemented without the world wide web. This simply requires planning ahead of time and designing homework which students can then do in case schools are suspended. These activities could be as simple as reading and writing assignments, or answering worksheets in mathematics. Learning does not have to stop if schools are closed.
Actually, full reliance on the internet is likewise unnecessary even in the United States. I also reminded my students last Friday that even without access to the internet or even a computer, learning could still continue. They still had their textbook and list of problems they could use for practice. And again, the same applies to basic education. The following are examples taken directly from what my own children are doing.

My son, who is in fourth grade, is reviewing the science of weather (how timely!) and here is part of his work:

And here is my daughter's (who is in first grade):

Being trapped inside one's house due to a massive snow storm is not really a reason to interrupt learning completely.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

We Can Learn from a Child

Over ten years ago, when elementary schools in Paete were given the opportunity to explore what the internet had to offer, students had the chance to see the four seasons through photographs from the United States. Today, of course, is an excellent opportunity to share with pupils in the Philippines how a blizzard looks like. More than a foot of snow has fallen in the Washington DC area and there is more to come.

We are quite eager to share our knowledge and experiences with young minds. Facebook reminds us of how much we like to share information with others. As teachers, however, we also need to be open to what our children maybe telling us. This morning, while I was browsing through Facebook, I came across this post shared by Troy Colmenares:

The post did not come with any information regarding the student who answered this exercise. It was a bit difficult to comprehend what the student wrote because of spelling and the use of more than one language. I had a brief conversation with Troy about this post and he made me realize that I could actually learn quite a bit from this child.

I was guessing that the child was probably in either third or fourth grade since science is not taught in Philippine public schools in the early years. In addition, English is not the medium of instruction in the early years. Troy thought that this was a reasonable guess judging also from the child's handwriting. Based on these, the above probably came from a nine- or ten-year old child. What did I learn from this child?

First, as Troy pointed out, this child was definitely determined. The table was completed. This student was obviously making the effort. The work showed great potential. Second, the child's answers provided a snapshot of where the child currently stood. The child was giving us the opportunity to know more about his or her experiences.

The first four animals the child listed are not really "common". Lions, tigers, elephants and bears are not as common as grasshoppers. These are only common in children's books and zoos. Most are in fact endangered. The foods listed were obviously all human food and these perhaps are his or her favorites. Spaghetti, barbeque and hotdogs are most probably not what this child usually eats on a daily basis, but these are basically what a child often expects when attending parties. The child's effort and background tell us a lot. For starters, it shows why we need to teach science in the early years.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Kindergarten Has Changed in the US

With the realization of the importance of the early years in education, changes have occurred in the kindergarten curriculum in the United States. To gauge whether these changes are for better or worse, it is necessary to identify the changes first. Daphna Bassok, Scott Latham, and Anna Rorem from the University of Virginia have recently provided a systematic comparison between the state of kindergarten during the years 1998 and 2011, considering the following dimensions: (1) what teachers consider as important for school, (2) time spent on each subject, (3) how teachers manage their classroom, (4) teaching practices, and (5) how teachers measure learning outcomes. Their findings are published in the journal AERA Open.

By examining data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K:1998 and ECLS-K:2011), which includes thousands of kindergarten students and teachers, major changes in Kindergarten have been found across all dimensions. Especially worth noting is the difference seen in the amount of time allocated for each subject. Kindergarten pupils in the US are now spending more time in math and reading, and less time in arts and music.

Only 11 percent of kindergarten teachers spend time on art on a daily basis while close to 100 percent tackle reading everyday. More than 10 percent do not even provide an art class at least once a week. Science does not seem to have suffered a reduction in time, but the authors point out that exposure to science content has decreased substantially.

Exposure to dinosaurs has been cut into half. These differences are in fact much bigger if one considers the fact that kindergarten over the past decade has been increasingly becoming full day:

Above copied from ChildTrends DataBank
With these changes properly documented, one can then address the next question: Are these changes for better or worse?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Socio-Economic Status and Education

Paul Kiel in the New York Times writes: "The most recent federal survey in 2013 put the difference in net worth between the typical white and black family at $131,000. That’s a big number, but here’s an even more troubling statistic: About one-quarter of African-American families had less than $5 in reserve. Low-income whites had about $375."

There is race and there is income. Some even look at gender differences, but data on socio-economic status and education are clear: There is a widening gap between poor and rich children when it comes to education outcomes. Sean F. Reardon summarizes the findings on the "Income Achievement Gap" in an article published more than two years ago in Educational Leadership. Here are the important points:

1. The difference in academic achievement based on standardized test scores between poor and rich children has been increasing.

Above copied from Educational Leadership

While differences in test scores between a black child and a white child have been decreasing during the past four decades, differences based on income have been rising.

2. This difference is seen in other measures such as enrollment in college.

The graph above makes it clear that enrollment in selective colleges is vastly different between the wealthiest and the poorest.

3. This difference is seen as early as school-readiness in kindergarten (K).
Above copied from Educational Leadership

In another study, the differences in school-readiness measured at kindergarten based on race have been shown to disappear substantially when socio-economic status (SES) is taken into account.
Above copied from the Economic Policy Institute

The good news is that the gap does not seem to be increasing substantially with schooling. The bad news is that the gap remains throughout years of schooling.

Monday, January 18, 2016

MLK on Education

Above copied from Barack Obama's Facebook page

“... For most of the past decade the field of education has been a battleground in the freedom struggle. It was not fortuitous that education became embroiled in this conflict. Education is one of the vital tools the Negro needs in order to advance. And yet it has been denied him by devises of segregation and manipulations with quality. 

Historically, to keep Negroes in oppression they were deprived an education. In slave days it was illegal to teach a slave to read or write. With the ending of slavery and the emergence of quasi freedom, Negroes were only partially educated — sufficient to make their work efficient but insufficient to raise them to equality. 

The walling off of Negroes from equal education is part of the historical design to submerge him in second-class status. Therefore as Negroes have struggled to be free they have had to fight for the opportunity for a decent education.... 

...The richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige our work justifies. We squander funds on highways, on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on the overabundance of overkill armament, but we pauperize education.”

From a speech King delivered on March 14, 1964, 
when he accepted the John Dewey Award from the United Federation of Teachers

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Tracking Promotes Inequity in Education

"...In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all, offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one, and we should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids. And we have to make college affordable for every American...." The word "every" appears twice in the above two sentences of Obama's last State of the Union address. The word "every" speaks of equity, the most important principle in public education. Of course, equity is very difficult to achieve especially in a world where competition reigns supreme. Inequalities persist. Educational systems all over the world may claim efforts to promote equity yet cling on schemes that not only fail to support but also undermine such efforts.

The relationship between socio-economic status and educational attainment remains strong. Research is clear on one factor that increases the influence of poverty on education: tracking. Citing previous published papers in this area, an international team of researchers reminds us of the following in a paper published in the American Education Research Journal:
Research on the effect of tracking has shown two processes by which this transmission of disadvantage occurs. First, empirical research suggests that the more and earlier the schooling system is stratified, the more young people’s expectations are determined and constrained by their early achievement (Buchmann & Dalton, 2002; Buchmann & Park, 2009). Second, stratification tends to be associated with lower educational expectations among less privileged students (see Brunello & Checchi, 2007; Mateju, Smith, Soukup, & Basl, 2007; Pfeffer, 2008).
The paper then presents new findings using data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Their conclusion:
"The results from this study provide broad support for our hypothesis that socioeconomic status differentials in educational opportunities are larger in countries with ability or curricular stratification."
Tracking exacerbates inequity. Yet, educational systems continue to stratify. The new K to 12 curriculum of the Department of Education in the Philippines is one glaring example:

Above copied from Suspend K to 12 at change.org
It is is timely to reiterate a previous post on this blog:
The last two years of DepEd's K to 12 offer four different tracks. Young students are therefore required to consider what career they want to pursue later in life. The tracks share a set of core courses, but the differences still matter and the question of how pupils can thoughtfully consider which track to choose remains to be addressed. In 2014, a study made by the Department of Labor and Employment in the Philippines recommended the opening of several jobs in the Philippines. One of the occupations listed as suffering from shortage is guidance counseling. With K to 12, this shortage clearly would be felt more strongly... ...It is not straightforward to predict what the future holds especially in terms of careers to choose. This only highlights the importance of a basic education that does not confine students to a limited set of options. The shortage in guidance counselors combined with the high specificity of tracks in senior high school are obvious weaknesses in DepEd's K to 12.