"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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How We Test and How We Teach

Serving in the GRE chemistry committee for the Educational Testing Service for six years taught me how much careful thought is required to write fair questions. A question cannot be testing too many things. A test haphazardly prepared often includes extraneous or even distracting material. During a test, a student is asked to demonstrate how much he or she has learned. A test that does not target what needs to be measured cannot really paint an accurate picture of where a student currently stands.

Copied from Austintown Local Schools
Here are two examples of how a problem in mathematics might begin:
  • “Ms. Williamson woke up one morning to find her basement flooded with water. She called two different plumbers to get their rates. The first plumber charges $75 just to walk in the door plus $25 an hour. The second plumber charges a flat $40 an hour....” 
  •  “You have just become CEO (chief executive officer) of a company that is heavily in debt. The company’s balance sheet currently shows a balance of $525,000. The company is paying the debt off at the rate of $12,500 per month.”
The above are two examples given in a paper published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, "How Readability and Topic Incidence Relate to Performance on Mathematics Story Problems in Computer-Based Curricula". The first example clearly includes extraneous information and uses a proper noun, while the second example contains three sentences that are cohesive and uses a pronoun. It turns out that students perform better with problems that are similar to the second example. The authors conclude, "In summary, problems with three or fewer sentences, third-person singular pronouns, and consistent sentence overlap are associated with higher performance levels." Apparently, the topic also matters as students perform better on math questions that have a social context than those that pertain to finance and health.

Obviously, there is a need for students to learn how to navigate math problems that are given in the form of a story. Real problems in life do not usually present themselves in a cohesive clear-cut manner. However, from the point of view of teaching students mathematics, it is important that extraneous or distracting materials are avoided. The authors correctly point out that what students demonstrate in these tests is how they cognitively process a math problem. Teaching a math concept or procedure for the first time must therefore work with text that is easily comprehensible. First examples must cater to topics that are either interesting or familiar to students. Only after students have gained some mastery of the underlying math concepts should a teacher begin introducing complexity in text, topic and situation.


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Monday, June 29, 2015

How Teachers Perceive Students

When instruction is guided by where the learner currently stands, it is hoped that the teacher's perceptions are correct. A teacher's perception not only guides differentiated instruction, but also influences in general the future achievement of the pupil. Unfortunately, there are subjective factors that come into play in how a teacher may view a student. It is fairly common for favoritism to occur inside a classroom.

Above copied from Comic Strip of the Day
Yes, it is just a comic strip, but even published research shows how a child behaves affects a teacher's perception. The following is an excerpt from a paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology:

Above copied from Baker, C. N., Tichovolsky, M. H., Kupersmidt, J. B., Voegler-Lee, M. E., & Arnold, D. H. (2014, October 20). Teacher (Mis)Perceptions of Preschoolers’ Academic Skills: Predictors and Associations With Longitudinal Outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. 
The above paper looks specifically at the preschool stage, but the findings are in agreement with those of previous studies done at kindergarten and elementary years:

  • The ability in both math and reading of children who are inattentive are often underestimated by teachers.
  • The ability in both math and reading of children who exhibit defiant behavior are often overestimated by teachers.
  • Social skills may protect a child against low teacher expectations for academic performance.

A teacher's perception is significant as noted in the above excerpt. It influences academic performance for multiple years. Teaching involves making judgments. Teacher training in this aspect is especially important for instructors in the early years of basic education. How teachers form their perceptions needs to be addressed and of course, specific training in the area of choosing appropriate support or intervention is warranted especially when the instruction is guided by where the learner stands.



Friday, June 26, 2015

Teaching Science to Young Learners

A scientist like me is often not found teaching in a classroom with young pupils. Scientists when they do teach are usually standing in front of either graduate students or science majors. But when a scientist spends time with kids, the overall impression is frequently positive. Richard Felder wrote in "There's Nothing Wrong With the Raw Material." Chem. Engr. Education, 26(2), 76-77 (Spring 1992):
It was a remarkable experience---I couldn't hold those kids back. Early in the class I divided them into groups of four and gave each group two small closed vials containing colorless liquids, one labeled "H" (which contained water) and one labeled "V" (for vinegar). Before I gave them the vials I told them we would do some experiments to figure out which one was acid and which was just water. As soon as they got the vials, they took off. They shook them, sniffed them, held them up to the light. One child saw that one of the liquids was somewhat thick and bubbly when she shook it and the other behaved more like water, and she guessed that the first one was the acid. Another student in the same group saw the H on the second vial and said "Yeah, that probably stands for H_2O. Someone in another group detected a faint aroma coming from one of the vials, saw the V on it, and said "This one's vinegar---hey, is vinegar an acid?" I hadn't opened my mouth yet! 
The whole class went like that. The children flailed their hands in the air after every question I asked, hoping I would call on them. They debated vigorously about the experiments they were performing and came up with possible interpretations that hadn't occurred to me. They asked questions about acids (including "If I poured some of that on his head, would it go all the way through to his feet?"), and acid rain, and what scientists do. They asked if they could do more experiments. When I finished they swarmed around me, showing me work they had done in class, asking more questions. They told me they wanted to be chemists, physicists, veterinarians. Not one mentioned anything about getting an engineering degree followed by an M.B.A. and starting off at $50,000 a year.
Even after decades of research debunking Piaget's 1965 Child's Conception of Numbers (For a review of research in this area, please read the report by the Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics; Center for Education; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Research Council), education policy makers such as those in the Department of Education in the Philippines continue to subscribe to the flawed developmental stages introduced by Piaget.

To read this book, please click here.
The challenge in teaching math and science to young children clearly lies on the instruction side. Addressing this, sadly, is not an easy task. For example, there is a paper recently published in the Journal of Educational Psychology that describes an attempt to help preschool teachers in math and science instruction:



Professional development for early childhood educators: Efforts to improve math and science learning opportunities in early childhood classrooms:
Piasta, Shayne B.; Logan, Jessica A. R.; Pelatti, Christina Yeager; Capps, Janet L.; Petrill, Stephen A. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 107(2), May 2015, 407-422.

Abstract
Because recent initiatives highlight the need to better support preschool-aged children’s math and science learning, the present study investigated the impact of professional development in these domains for early childhood educators. Sixty-five educators were randomly assigned to experience 10.5 days (64 hr) of training on math and science or on an alternative topic. Educators’ provision of math and science learning opportunities were documented, as were the fall-to-spring math and science learning gains of children (n = 385) enrolled in their classrooms. Professional development significantly impacted provision of science, but not math, learning opportunities. Professional development did not directly impact children’s math or science learning, although science learning was indirectly affected via the increase in science learning opportunities. Both math and science learning opportunities were positively associated with children’s learning. Results suggest that substantive efforts are necessary to ensure that children have opportunities to learn math and science from a young age. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved)


I should add that the teachers who participated in the professional development program even received approximately $500 worth of classroom materials to facilitate math and science instruction. More than ten days of training, sustained over a six-month period and, yet there was no significant impact on children's math or science learning. The authors tried to explain the frustrating results with the following:

  • "Provision of high-quality professional development does not ensure that content becomes integrated into classroom practices."
  • "Changes in early childhood educators’ math and science practices may be difficult to achieve."
The study obviously demonstrates that fixing basic education is not quick especially when the challenge resides mainly on the teacher's side. The curriculum must be explicit in including science activities and lessons in early childhood education. Changes are possibly required to happen during the pre-service training of teachers. Colleges that prepare individuals for preschool, kindergarten and elementary teaching should take extra effort and time in math and science instruction. 

Children in the Philippines do not perform well in international standardized math and science tests and DepEd's K to 12 does not address these problems with its lack of explicit science instruction in the early years and low quality training of teachers.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How to Motivate Students to Pursue Science Careers

A former professor of mine offered the following suggestion when asked what needed to be done to improve science education in the Philippines, "Let's not go the route of science quiz contests, please! We should discourage the practice of using quiz contests to show whether the science program is successful or not."

Students from Manila Science High School winning First Place in the National Astronomy Week 2015 Astro-quiz
(above photo copied from the Philippine Astronomical Society)
I graduated from Manila Science High School and during those times, one would certainly not miss the central role science quizzes and contests played in the consciousness of students, teachers and parents. The results of those competitions basically served as measures of how good our school was performing. Winning those contests seemed to be the main goal or prize of our basic education. As a recent paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, there is wisdom behind my former professor's suggestion.

The paper states in its abstract:
Using an expectancy-value perspective, we identified and tested 2 types of utility value: communal (other-oriented) and agentic (self-oriented). The culture of science is replete with examples emphasizing high levels of agentic value, but communal values are often (stereotyped as) absent from science. However, people in general want an occupation that had communal utility. We predicted and found that an intervention emphasizing the communal utility value of biomedical research increased students’ motivation for biomedical science.
Science has value for the community. It requires people working with each other, collaborating. It involves people who are trying to find solutions to problems and challenges a community faces. Science contests only paint a competitive picture. This goes against what apparently works in motivating students to consider a future life in the sciences. How science is presented to students can make a difference. For instance, the following different presentations can significantly influence the motivation of a student towards science:
(1) “. . . in the early stages of a project that could help infants with early brain injury learn to move similar to other infants. Goldfield calls it “second skin”—smart clothing whose fabric would pick up attempts at motion and improve brain function” 
(2) “. . . in the early stages of a project. Goldfield calls it “second skin”—smart clothing whose fabric would pick up attempts at motion and improve brain function.”   
Adding that the research actually aims to help infants with early brain injury can make a difference. It paints science as so much more than just discovering or making something for the first time. It depicts science as a human endeavor to help others.

Across science departments in various universities, there are regular seminars held during which an invited scientist presents new findings. In all of these talks, the speaker often begins with the values of the study. Among these values are those that benefit or help society. A speaker does not usually begin with achievement or power yet science contests in elementary and high school levels tend to portray these self-oriented values more. This is perhaps simply a consequence of not having a scientist as a science teacher in basic education. My former professor is of course a scientist. It is probably the reason why he apparently knows what should not be done to improve science in basic education.



Friday, June 19, 2015

Something to Read on Father's Day

Parental involvement is without doubt an important factor in basic education. Although gender specific roles remain in society, there is really no rule that says encouragement, support and inspiration are exclusively either feminine or masculine. Fathers are often mistakenly associated with discipline. On the other hand, mothers are frequently linked to warmth and support. It is therefore interesting to examine how much a father's involvement specifically influences a child's performance in school.

A study to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology from researchers at Harvard and Oxford looks at research over the past thirty years in the hope of answering the question of how much does a father really contribute to his child's education. The authors indeed found a difference between a father's involvement from a mother's. The father is seen less inside the school. Although fathers score less in school involvement, there is really no significant difference between fathers and mothers in terms of their academic impact on children. The roles may be distinct and complementary, but these probably arise on what seems to be encouraged by society. The authors commented that "programs or policies targeting parents’ educational involvement do not encourage father involvement in school settings". A father is certainly a great resource for a child's education. In all the studies covered, it was clear that a parent's involvement, either father or mother, is strongly linked to a child's academic achievement.

In my own case, I know that this is true. My father has provided me not just the hard lessons in life but also enriching conversations and experiences. My father has sacrificed and given so much to me. I only hope that I could do the same for my own children.

Happy Father's Day to all.

Above copied from Happy Fathers Day Celebration In School


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Voices that Need to Be Heard

Right before classes started in the Philippines, Kristine Felisse Mangunay and Tarra Quismundo of the Daily Inquirer reported the following, "Unable to resist a last jab at the group of ralliers, the president said: “We heard they’re only about 20, but that they’re carrying five banners each. You just might hear them complain about unfair labour practice because of that,” he added, drawing laughter from the audience." This was apparently the president's response to a group of protesters from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers rallying against DepEd's K to 12 just right outside the Convention Center during his speech. The following photo does not show five banners for each person, but chances are high that such demonstration would draw a similar response from Aquino.

Above copied from a Facebook post of John Silva
The above photograph was posted with the following notes from John Silva, a trustee with Synergeia Foundation, a coalition of individuals, institutions, and organizations working to improve the quality of basic education in the Philippines.
There is an ongoing demonstration in front of the Department of Education by those opposed to the implementation of K-12. 
In our own experience in Synergeia, an organisation devoted to teaching teachers to be better at their work, we have a consensus, heard from most teachers, that K-12 does not work. There are implementation problems, teachers not trained, books not delivered and for many of us in Synergeia, we consider the expense of additional years a burden. We believe that we should enhance the current grades so that each year, from Kinder on, are truly educational experiences for the students. Right now, they are woefully inadequate and schools become day care centres or prisons to keep students for the required hours. So many brains lost. That's why we lag so far behind. 
The Department of Education is a major disappointment and reflects badly on the Aquino Government.
A  report from Miguel Ortilla of CNN Philippines echoes some of the points raised by John Silva.

To view this report, please click here
Aquino should realize that the number of voices opposing or supporting what his administration does in education is not a true measure of correctness. Being right is not really a popularity contest. First, whether choices or preferences made are well informed matters in any survey. Second, voices that need to be heard are often muted and ignored. Third, those who have voices and influence are usually in power and those who cannot speak are often powerless.

I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Milwida Guevara, President and CEO of Synergeia Foundation during a round-table discussion back in 2006 in Washington, DC. The discussion was sponsored by the Southeast Asia Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University. During one point in the discussion, Guevarra was actually in tears as she related to us some of the challenges schools in the Philippines were facing. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., the founding chair of Synergeia, asked the following question in 2010:
“How does adding two more years help out? What good does it do to the 600,000 that do not finish Grade 4? Or to the 700,000 who do not finish Grade 6? Or are they saying that they just don’t care?”
These are voices that definitely need to be heard.

Teachers carry a huge responsibility in their classrooms. It is only expected then that teachers cannot really abandon their post to rally along the streets of Manila. There are half a million teachers, but they are scattered all over the country. Some are even serving children in remote areas that would take a day or two to reach from an urban area. Teachers are likewise in a difficult position. Teachers are employees of the Department of Education. Supervisors or superintendents are often more interested in promoting the agenda of the central office than finding the truth. And with a president who would not hesitate to throw a jab, void of any sensitivity or compassion, who would really voice out?

Solving the problems of basic education require us to listen to those who are inside the classrooms. Simply listening, however, is insufficient for their voices are weak. We need to seek. The people at Synergeia had done so.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Legislating Education

A proponent of linguistic rights once told me that DepEd's K to 12 from his perspective was a lesser evil. The Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 mandates the delivery of basic education in "languages understood by the learners". For kindergarten up to third grade, the medium of instruction is the regional or native language of the pupils. The law also prescribes DepEd to formulate a transition from fourth to sixth grade such that in high school, English and Filipino can be used as languages of instruction. It is then easy to see why in the eyes of those who fight for linguistic rights, DepEd's K to 12 is a lesser evil. Unfortunately, this is just one of the many provisions of the K to 12 law.

There have been several petitions submitted before the Supreme Court in the Philippines asking for the suspension of K to 12. What is quite clear in all of these petitions is the size and scope of DepEd's K to 12 reform. Perhaps, the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 is actually too big that it cannot avoid violating the Constitution of the Philippines.

Legislation is obviously a political process. To gather enough support, lawmakers could be throwing a bone, a favored provision, to each interest group. The "linguistic group" obviously received the mother tongue-based multilingual provision. Similarly, the various tracks offered in the additional years of senior high school are meant to cater to a smorgasbord set of interests.

Legislation in the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, however, goes far beyond matters of protection and interests. The law specifically dictates that the curriculum must adhere to the following enumerated standards and principles: learner-centered, inclusive and developmentally appropriate; relevant, responsive and research-based; culture-sensitive; contextualized and global; constructivist, inquiry-based, reflective, collaborative and integrative; spiral progression approach; flexible enough to enable and allow schools to localize, indigenize and enhance. With this huge list of principles, one actually wonders if any of these actually contradict each other. Likewise, one may wonder if all of these guidelines are actually possible to follow. What is apparent is that legislation in this case is trying to score as many points with each of these sound bites.

The Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 dictates so much. And when it comes to how its provisions are going to be realized inside classrooms, the law comes very short. While legislation often has good intentions, lawmakers frequently miss the important part of considering how the reform would be implemented. Furthermore, there are matters that should not be legislated. Education has issues to which one may ask the question of what works and what does not work. These issues can only be decided by evidence, not by laws. There is no legislation, for example, that can repeal the laws of thermodynamics. Education should be treated like we treat the field of medicine. Laws regarding healthcare are confined to providing funds, protection of rights, and definition of responsibilities. Laws should not mandate what medicine should be prescribed or what procedure ought to be performed. These decisions are left to those who actually know medicine.

Proponents of K to 12 claim that the new curriculum has been extensively studied and most stakeholders have been consulted. One can compare DepEd's K to 12 record to how a school district in the United States approaches curriculum reform. Fairfax county in the state of Virginia recently reviewed its mathematics curriculum. The review started in August of 2013. Doing due diligence by reviewing literature relevant to teaching of mathematics, the initial phase of the study took two months. Another seven months were spent on examining student performance. Another month was then dedicated to analyzing the current curriculum. Finally, in September of 2014, recommendations were made.

One can simply browse through the documents provided as links in the above paragraph to appreciate what actually goes through a consultative study on a curriculum. And this is only for one subject in basic education, mathematics. The number of people surveyed alone shows what it takes for a process to be consultative:




There are 185,000 students enrolled in Fairfax county schools. The number of parents (4755), students (2947) and teachers (189) surveyed attests to how seriously this study regards consultation. One can right away see how Fairfax county approaches curriculum hugely differs from section 6 of the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 which defines the membership of a Curriculum Consultative Committee. Such committee under the K to 12 law in the Philippines does not include parents, students and teachers.

One should also browse through the review of literature done by Fairfax county. The references cited in the report demonstrates a thorough and careful review of what is already known. These references do not merely talk about propositions or sound bites. The published literature cited and considered in the report are not about unfounded or untested ideas regarding mathematics education. These references are on studies that are based on evidence. On the other hand the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 embraces a myriad of principles or standards regarding basic education without considering evidence.

Fairfax county also looked at its own data, mainly on how its students were performing in mathematics. Proponents of K to 12 often claim that professionals from the Philippines do not receive proper recognition because they lack two years in basic education. This sadly remains a claim because there is no data backing up such hearsay.

The mathematics curriculum under study in Fairfax county was also examined in great detail. The county even hired consultants from Curriculum Management Systems, Inc. to audit the curriculum. The curriculum was also compared against other curricula and standards such as Common Core State Standards in mathematics, College and Career Readiness Standards, and the mathematics curriculum of Finland.

Petitioners against DepEd's K to 12 point to provisions in the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 that supposedly violate the Constitution of the Philippines. What should not be lost, however, is the fact that the law contradicts itself by not being based on good research and evidence.



Monday, June 15, 2015

School Desks: Why Changes in Education Need to Be Conservative

DepEd's K to 12 reform is enormous in its scope, yet it focuses only on the curriculum. The curriculum is only a part of a complex system. Changes in the curriculum can have unintended consequences on other parts of education. It is reasonable likewise to expect that for revisions in the curriculum to be effective, a thoughtful consideration of factors outside the curriculum is necessary. It is no wonder that Chapter 5 of OECD's Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States starts with the following: Finland, Slow and Steady Reform....


The curriculum is already a big part of an educational system. And one does not even need to look at something as complex as a curriculum to illustrate why changes in schools really need a thoughtful and thorough consideration. Take, for instance, the school desk. It is simply a furniture yet designing a good one is actually debatable. Back in 2006, the Guardian had the following article:


Those old-fashioned wooden school desks were actually the ones used in classrooms when I was in elementary school.


Similar desks were still used in one of the schools in Paete, Laguna, Philippines when I visited about ten years ago.


It is not possible to swing these desks. Fidgeting can not move these desks. A child's movement of course may still distract the entire classroom, but a chair tipping and falling down is sure to catch everyone's attention. 

Children need to fidget and finding the best posture is actually not the only reason why some pupils often have their bucket chairs tipping back and forth. The following graph from a paper recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology shows that for students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such movements maybe part of compensatory mechanism that helps a child focus more.

Above copied from Sarver, Dustin E., et al. "Hyperactivity in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Impairing deficit or compensatory behavior?." Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology (2015): 1-14.
With typically developing children, a higher degree of motion is correlated with weaker performance. So it does help most kids to reduce activity. But for children with ADHD, greater motion means better performance. Since the old desks are too heavy to tip over, these can be used by both normal and hyperactive children. The desks can support both cases - children who could sit still and those who could not. One could contrast these desks from the ones often seen in classrooms in the United States:

Above copied from My Desk Was My Fortress by Michael V. Hurley
The type of desks and how these are arranged are clearly not small and inconsequential parts of an educational system. In the old days, all students are facing the teacher. In the above photo, it is obvious that students would be facing each other. This is, of course, in addition to the fact that those red chairs can easily tip over. It is complicated.

With this in mind, it should now be easy to see why Finland chose a slow but steady path in its education reform.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

DepEd's K to 12: Careers and Employment

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.

Last Friday, I participated in a career fair at Mason Crest Elementary School. The fair was organized by the school's two guidance counselors. Fourth and fifth graders went through more than a dozen booths, each one showcasing a particular career. I was there as a scientist and professor.


Above copied from Mason Crest
With each set of students visiting my booth, I started with a quiz asking them which animal they thought was the deadliest. Some students did get the right answer: the mosquito. And they also knew the reason: Mosquitoes transmit some of the deadliest diseases in the world, one of which is malaria. Then I told them how the world is facing the need for new drugs because current medicine is now fast losing their effectiveness because of drug resistance. And then I followed that with the question of who they thought had the job to find those new drugs. That then helped me explain what it takes for a person to become a scientist/professor. These are difficult problems to solve and thus require a lot of education and training. I also mentioned that not all science students actually end up working as a scientist later in life. There is Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel. And, of course, the head of the Catholic Church is a good example.

Above copied from Vocal progressives

I also added that I never took any formal course in college or graduate school that is directly related to malaria. I did not quiz the students any further because I had to be nice since the person next to my station was a judge. 

Above copied from Mason Crest

The other occupations represented in the fair are listed below.

Above copied from Mason Crest
The careers shown above are in great contrast to those cited by the students below who are rallying against DepEd's K to 12:

Above copied from Suspend K to 12 at change.org

The economy can change dramatically that it is important to consider what education level is resilient especially during hard times. Resiliency can likewise change with time depending on so many factors. The most recent recession in the United States paints the following picture, for instance (This figure is from a study made by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.)

Above copied from CEW, Georgetown University
The first major recession in the 21st century in the United States shows a "college advantage". More than 5 million jobs were lost for those with only a high school diploma or less.

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. It is easy to see then why the petition posted on Change.org starts with the following point:

K-12 will increase joblessness and depress wages, reinforce labor export.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Education Is a Continuous Sustained Task, It Is Likewise Personal

During the early seventies, access to a television meant a child could watch Sesame Street, an American children's television series that focused on helping young children prepare for school. Using the television, Sesame Street was designed as an educational tool that made use of muppets and animation to capture a child's attention. For those of us who grew up during the seventies, the television was the technology that could have disrupted education.

Sesame Street 1969 Cast
Photo downloaded from Muppet Wikia

With hindsight, one can now evaluate how technology as applied in Sesame Street affected education. A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research by  Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine accomplishes this by looking at educational outcomes as functions of access to this television show. Jim Tankersley describes the results of the study in a Washington Post article:
The most authoritative study ever done on the impact of “Sesame Street,” to be released Monday, finds that the famous show on public TV has delivered lasting educational benefits to millions of American children — benefits as powerful as the ones children get from going to preschool.
Popular press can indeed sound dramatically different from scholarly articles. In this particular case, the claim "delivering lasting educational benefits to millions of American children" can be easily traced to the abstract of the original paper:

ABSTRACT 
Sesame Street is one of the largest early childhood interventions ever to take place. It was introduced in 1969 as an educational, early childhood program with the explicit goal of preparing preschool age children for school entry. Millions of children watched a typical episode in its early years. Well-designed studies at its inception provided evidence that watching the show generated an immediate and sizeable increase in test scores. In this paper we investigate whether the first cohorts of preschool children exposed to Sesame Street experienced improved outcomes subsequently. We implement an instrumental variables strategy exploiting limitations in television technology generated by distance to a broadcast tower and UHF versus VHF transmission to distinguish counties by Sesame Street reception quality. We relate this geographic variation to outcomes in Census data including grade-for-age status in 1980, educational attainment in 1990, and labor market outcomes in 2000. The results indicate that Sesame Street accomplished its goal of improving school readiness; preschool-aged children in areas with better reception when it was introduced were more likely to advance through school as appropriate for their age. This effect is particularly pronounced for boys and non-Hispanic, black children, as well as children living in economically disadvantaged areas. The evidence regarding the impact on ultimate educational attainment and labor market outcomes is inconclusive.
Unfortunately, the above abstract contains information that are not really part of the work described in this paper. It is then easy for readers to miss the actual findings of the paper. The more important finding is in the last sentence of the abstract, "The evidence regarding the impact on ultimate educational attainment and labor market outcomes is inconclusive".  In specific terms, whether a child had access to Sesame Street while growing up does not correlate with either high school graduation or employment. What access to Sesame Street seems to correlate with is school-readiness as demonstrated in the grade-for-age status.  Those who are assumed to have watched Sesame Street while growing up appeared to be more likely (by 2-3%) enrolled in a grade level appropriate to their age. This should not be surprising as previously noted in an article on this blog, Sesame Street: When Is Something Better Than Nothing?. It is not a substitute for school. Its effectiveness becomes evident only when it is solely the source of early childhood education. It is better than nothing.

For the children today, some people believe that various technologies such as mobile devices, electronic readers, tablets, and various applications and software are about to disrupt, yet again, education. As noted by Kearney and Levine, there is something to be learned from this study on the effectiveness of Sesame Street.

Education is personal. Education is not a mere transmission of knowledge and skills. Education involves an intricate relationship between a teacher and a pupil. Most of my students may think I know a lot of chemistry but so does a good textbook in chemistry or in this age of the internet, a good online resource. Teachers do much more than transmit knowledge and skills. Teachers motivate and inspire. Teachers care.

In addition, education requires a continuous and sustained effort. It is true that early childhood education significantly affects learning outcomes, but these effects often vanish with time. Kearney and Levine pointed out:
Students reach 1st grade better able to begin a reading curriculum, for instance, but at some point all students will have accomplished that goal. One interpretation of weak longer-term effects is that educational interventions need to be maintained and continuous so that students can build on the gains they have already attained to keep the momentum going.
It is therefore highly appropriate to refer to years in basic education as grades, since these are truly steps.

Not only young children could learn from Sesame Street, even adults especially education policy makers could pick a lesson or two. For example, taking note of the required continuous and personal nature of education, it can be seen that DepEd's K to 12 curriculum is wrong-headed.

First, it fails to see education occurring at stages. The scores in international math tests should have informed the Philippines' DepEd where the problems lie. TIMSS is given to 4th grade pupils, on average, 10-year olds. In this test, the Philippines is the third lowest scoring country.


Since 4th grade precedes 8th grade, one should not be surprised that a similarly disappointing performance is seen in the exam administered to 14- and 15-year olds:

One should note that not only the age but also the number of years of schooling across the countries participating in this exam is uniform. These are valid comparisons yet DepEd's K to 12 focuses on adding two years at the end of high school. This is not where the problem lies.

Second, the "personal" dimension of the education of course belongs to the teacher. Yet, the Aquino administration has not responded positively to the call of teachers for a salary increase. Fe Hidalgo laments in a column on the SunStar Davao:
There is the unending clamor for increase in the teacher s' salaries but nothing has been given to date. Again there are billions to finance BBL but none for the teacher's salary. Teachers can hardly meet their family needs for a decent daily living.
Never mind the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), K to 12 alone costs billions but offers nothing to raise teachers' salaries. Worse, next year's implementation of K to 12 is expected to cause unemployment among college instructors and staff. It is therefore truly disheartening that all the government could say in defense of the K to 12 law is that the petitioners have no legal standing to question the law before the Supreme Court.

Evidence should count in any decent court.