"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, July 26, 2016

A Growth Mindset and a Sense of Belonging Prevents School Dropouts

The title of this article is a bit misleading. Attending college in an elite institution in the Philippines was not normal for my socio-economic status. Seeing a "G" on a paper I turned in and later hearing the professor explained that "G" did not mean "good", but "very bad grammar", could have easily made me feel ostracized and not good enough for college. Hearing a professor say that I had nothing between my ears did not help either. But I probably knew then that there were others before me who had experienced major setbacks but did not give up. I perhaps believed then that becoming a chemist was not something I was born with, but was something I needed to work hard for. Honestly, what worked for me was support and confidence from my peers and mentors.

Results recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that simple interventions can improve the survival rate of colored and disadvantaged students in college. The intervention could be as simple as asking a student to read a four-page article (an excerpt has been provided by the authors):

Above copied from
David S. Yeager, Gregory M. Walton, Shannon T. Brady, Ezgi N. Akcinar, David Paunesku,Laura Keane, Donald Kamentz, Gretchen Ritter, Angela Lee Duckworth, Robert Urstein, Eric M. Gomez,Hazel Rose Markus, Geoffrey L. Cohen, and Carol S. Dweck.Teaching a lay theory before college narrows achievement gaps at scale PNAS 2016 113 (24) E3341-E3348; published ahead of print May 31, 2016,doi:10.1073/pnas.1524360113
Alison Gopnik describes the findings of the study in the Wall Street Journal as "The researchers didn’t tell people to have a better attitude. They just encouraged students and teachers to articulate their own best impulses. That changed mind-sets—and changed lives." The results are indeed very encouraging. The following graphs copied from the paper show the significant effects:

Above copied from
David S. Yeager, Gregory M. Walton, Shannon T. Brady, Ezgi N. Akcinar, David Paunesku,Laura Keane, Donald Kamentz, Gretchen Ritter, Angela Lee Duckworth, Robert Urstein, Eric M. Gomez,Hazel Rose Markus, Geoffrey L. Cohen, and Carol S. Dweck.Teaching a lay theory before college narrows achievement gaps at scale PNAS 2016 113 (24) E3341-E3348; published ahead of print May 31, 2016,doi:10.1073/pnas.1524360113
The article of Gopnik unfortunately is misleading, the same way the title of this blog post is misinforming. Fortunately, the press release from the University of Texas regarding this study does not fail to cite the following very important point:
"The authors emphasized that these exercises do not work in isolation but help students take advantage of opportunities available to them, such as academic assistance or student organizations. For the exercises to be effective, students need access to such resources and support."
And the following graphs demonstrate the resources and support that are in fact responsible for the resilience observed in disadvantaged students.

Above copied from
David S. Yeager, Gregory M. Walton, Shannon T. Brady, Ezgi N. Akcinar, David Paunesku,Laura Keane, Donald Kamentz, Gretchen Ritter, Angela Lee Duckworth, Robert Urstein, Eric M. Gomez,Hazel Rose Markus, Geoffrey L. Cohen, and Carol S. Dweck.Teaching a lay theory before college narrows achievement gaps at scale PNAS 2016 113 (24) E3341-E3348; published ahead of print May 31, 2016,doi:10.1073/pnas.1524360113
 What actually helps disadvantaged students in college are:

  • Living on campus
  • Social and academic integration
  • Making close friends in college
  • Academic support services
  • Extracurricular involvement
  • Developing a mentor relationship
The above obviously applies as well to basic education. And I can say this again, "Honestly, what worked for me was support and confidence from my peers and mentors."



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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Making a Child Feel at Home in School


"...He sprinkled me in pixie dust and told me to believe
Believe in him and believe in me 
Together we will fly away in a cloud of green
To your beautiful destiny
As we soared above the town that never loved me
I realized I finally had a family..."
-Ruth B


Childhood is so special yet fleeting. Childhood is so significant yet delicate. Other than at home, most children spend a lot of their time in schools. It therefore does not make any sense not to prepare well elementary school teachers. Often, future teachers are taught in college with material not expected to be covered in primary schools. It is the reason why a mathematics major in college is not necessarily qualified to teach math in grade school. As Jensen and coworkers note in “Not So Elementary: Primary School Teacher Quality in Top-Performing Systems”, there are required "specific knowledge and skills that make an effective elementary teacher". However, they only emphasize knowledge and skills that pertain to the academic content of basic education. Being a teacher in basic education goes much farther than teaching children how to do math and how to read. A child needs to see the school as home, and the teachers and classmates as family.

Here in Fairfax county, there is a summer program whose teachers make it quite difficult for me to take my own children home. They want to stay as long as they can with their friends and teachers. The summer program, described in a previous post on this blog, "Music, Arts and Physical Education", certainly helps my children to think of their school as their second home. In this program, for each week, a child can choose to be either an artist, a performer, or an athlete. My daughter likes to perform and the program provides her a great opportunity to work with other children. This week, she dances to the song "Lost Boy".

For the Video click here.


My daughter likes this song a lot. Perhaps, the song does highlight the needs and dreams of a child. In this performance, she needs not buy or bring a costume. It is provided. All she needs is confidence and determination, and her teachers help provide these as well. This year, the director at my children's site, Laurentia Blay, even goes out of her way to ensure that my children are eating well during lunch. When she finds something in the menu that the children really like, she safely stores the leftovers of the favorite item just in case some children do not like the meal the following day.



Thursday, July 21, 2016

Teacher Quality: Selection and Tenure

In universities in the United States, an assistant professor usually spends a probationary period of six years before applying for promotion and tenure. Not receiving tenure at the end of the probationary period means an automatic dismissal from the university. Some are able to receive tenure before the end of six years if the dossier is good enough. Tenure is awarded by the president of the university upon the recommendation of the a university's committee on rank and tenure, which is composed of faculty members. The committee draws its decision based on the recommendation of the applicant's department, deans, and reviewers from other universities. The dossier is basically evaluated on an applicant's scholarly contribution, teaching, and service to the university and the community. One's scholarly contribution is based on publications in peer-reviewed journals as well as a record of acquiring competitive extramural research grants.

Tenure is awarded to protect academic freedom. Tenure is meant to protect educators. Professors with tenure cannot be easily dismissed. One exception is when an academic program is discontinued or when an academic department is eliminated. In this case, dismissal applies to all, tenured and non-tenured faculty. In the Philippines, with its first year of 11th grade in basic education, college enrollments are dramatically down, which has led to the dismissal of instructors in college. Rene Luis Tadle shares the following on Facebook:


In response, Philippines' Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello has vowed to investigate immediately cases where college faculty members have been dismissed because of DepEd's K to 12. Educators do need the protection of tenure. And this protection is needed because educators are key to the quality of education.

Of course, tenure exists to preserve quality as well. For this reason, a clear demonstration of one's productivity is important to receive tenure. Although teacher groups in the Philippines are justified to defend tenure, one must not go as far as destroying what is required to get tenure. It is therefore rather confusing that some would ask for the probationary period to be decreased as reported by the Varsitarian of the University of Santo Tomas.


Teacher quality depends on selection and tenure. This principle applies not only to higher education but also basic education. In a recent report published by the National Center on Education and the Economy, essential characteristics of teachers in high performing educational systems have been identified.

Above copied from NCEE
Selection, Specialization, Initial Teacher Education, and Ongoing Professional Development are obviously steps prior to tenure. Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), states, "We are mainly recruiting teacher candidates from the bottom half of the kids who go to college...." Perhaps, not surprisingly, teachers in K-12 only undergo the selection process at the tenure granting stage. The situation in the Philippines is likewise similar. There are tests required for entry into public school teaching but not so much occurs at the training or preparation stages. With weak standards for acquiring tenure, it is therefore no surprise that the teaching profession in the Philippines even in higher education is sorely lacking in quality.





Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I Am Good at Math but Poor in English

We hear this quite often from so many people, claiming that they are good in one area but quite lacking in another. In conversations regarding education that are not based on evidence, we often encounter myths and the statements, "I am good at Math but poor in English", or "I am good at English but poor in Math", are examples. Such claim is unlikely since according to data, most people either excel or struggle in both subjects.

Above copied from LiveScience

Alright, either 5 or 154 out of 1.5 million are much more than 1 in a million. Still, the likelihood that an individual does well in one area and poorly in another is very small. 154 out of 1500000 is only 0.01 percent. The fact that academic competencies are closely related is important to keep in mind. Students who are proficient in math are also the students who do well in reading and science. This is also supported by evidence from a study that examines the performance in reading, math and science tests of 75000 students from 17 European countries. The study scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, is able to categorize these students into seven different profiles.

Above graph drawn from data provided by
Academic Competencies: Their Interrelatedness and Gender Differences at Their High End. Bergold, Sebastian; Wendt, Heike; Kasper, Daniel; Steinmayr, Ricarda
Journal of Educational Psychology, Jul 18 , 2016.
The percentage of students belonging to each profile is shown in the above graph. The profiles are determined by taking into account the scores of students in the international standard exam, PISA, for math, reading and science, and grouping the students according to their scores. The grouping becomes self-evident if one looks at the average scores of the students in each profile.

Above graph drawn from data provided by
Academic Competencies: Their Interrelatedness and Gender Differences at Their High End. Bergold, Sebastian; Wendt, Heike; Kasper, Daniel; Steinmayr, Ricarda
Journal of Educational Psychology, Jul 18 , 2016.
It is crystal clear from this graph that students who do poorly in reading, likewise obtain low scores in math and science. The green bars (reading scores) rise with each profile, so do the blue (math) and red (science) bars.

Educational systems should not isolate subjects so rigidly since academic competencies are interrelated. A math professor at Ohio University Chillicothe, Dywayne Nicely, takes advantage of this fact in his practice. By providing interventions in reading comprehension, he is able to raise students' scores in algebra II by 15 percent and in pre-calculus by 5 percent.



Monday, July 18, 2016

Academic Freedom - An Ideal Lost in the Philippines

Article XIV, Section 5 of the Constitution of the Philippines states, "Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning." Academic freedom as explained by Friedrich Paulsen in the book The German Universities and University Study is about scholars having the freedom to teach and research, "For the academic teacher and his hearers there can be no prescribed and no proscribed thoughts. There is only one rule for instruction: to justify the truth of one's teaching by reason and the facts." Thus, when the curriculum for higher education is dictated by an authority external to the faculty, it is a clear infringement of academic freedom. The Constitution of the Philippines does require one course to be taught as it states in Article XIV, Section 3, "All educational institutions shall include the study of the Constitution as part of the curricula."

In the Philippines, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) defines what courses should be in the General Education Curriculum in Higher Education. And recently, CHED has ordered colleges in the Philippines to retain the teaching of Filipino.

Above copied from The Rappler
In this new order, CHED is simply obeying the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court a year ago. Colleges in the Philippines do not decide on their own what needs to be in the curriculum. What gets taught in colleges is not only decided by the government, but in an indirect way by business interests as well. Faculty of universities do not design higher education and therefore, are no different from instructors.

Here at Georgetown University, the faculty decides what goes into a curriculum. For instance, the School of Foreign and Service and the Business School of Georgetown are currently moving towards adding a science requirement in their general education program. Just to illustrate how much academic freedom, higher institutions of learning in the United States enjoy, one can look at the work of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). Since 2009, ACTA has been evaluating the general education in American universities. In the first report they gave Harvard University a grade of "D":


Six years later, in the most recent report, What WIll They Learn 2015-16?, by ACTA, Harvard still gets a "D".


Georgetown gets a slightly better grade.


Still, higher institutions of learning in the United States are clearly different from those in the Philippines.

Infringement of academic freedom in higher institutions of learning is serious especially in this case where a specific language is being imposed on everyone. Sadly, this imposition comes as a government response to the demands by one of the groups in the Philippines that is likewise against DepEd's K to 12.

This blog is against DepEd's K to 12, but it is also against infringements of academic freedom. This blog is against linguistic hegemony. Colleges should choose what needs to be taught based on academic reasons alone.





Sunday, July 17, 2016

How Much Are We Misinformed and How Opinionated We Are

I have received strong opinions or comments when I share posts on this blog on Facebook. It is frustrating sometimes to see how strong an individual takes a stand, yet evidence is sorely lacking. We can easily get misinformed especially when we listen to only what we want to hear, and read what we only want to see. We are very comfortable when our knowledge matches what we want to believe. This applies to issues that are very significant to us. Take, for instance, how well we think our own children are doing in school. A recent representative national survey in the United States of parents and guardians of children enrolled in public schools shows how far our perception is from reality.

Above copied from Parents 2016:Hearts & Minds of Parents inan Uncertain World
Parents like to believe that their children are doing well in their school. The reality is that most children are not reaching proficiency in both math and reading.

What is surprising, however, is when parents are made to think about the future. Here, their perception seems closer to reality. When asked if their children are ready for college, the numbers for perception and reality are closer to each other.

Above copied from Parents 2016:Hearts & Minds of Parents in an Uncertain World
We seem to be more careful with our opinions and perceptions when there is clearly a possibility that we can be proven right or wrong.



Thursday, July 14, 2016

Vouchers "Do Harm" to Education

Mark Dynarski from the Brookings Institution looks at the effects of a school voucher program on learning outcomes. He finds a significant negative impact of vouchers on education. Dynarski writes, "In Louisiana, a public school student who was average in math (at the 50th percentile) and began attending a private school using a voucher declined to the 34th percentile after one year. If that student was in third, fourth, or fifth grade, the decline was steeper, to the 26th percentile. Reading declined, too: a student at the 50th percentile in reading declined to about the 46th percentile." Such report may be easily overlooked, but one must take notice that this report comes from an Institution that has long advocated for school choice.

Dynarski is basically trying to understand the results of the investigation performed by Jonathan N. Mills of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University and Patrick J. Wolf of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

To read this report, click here.
Dynarski tries to find alternative explanations on why students on vouchers are performing worse than students in public schools, but Mills and Wolf have designed the study in such a way that one can only arrive at one conclusion, that is, voucher schools do not perform as well as public schools. Thus, in the end, Dynarski simply states that "our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate".

In the Philippines, I have to admit that people simply assume that private schools are better than public schools. I think that as long as private schools are not able to select only the good students to admit, that superiority is not really there. And as the state of Louisiana shows, private schools are inferior, not superior, to public schools.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The 2016 Democratic Platform on Basic Education

Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post provides the passages that pertain to basic education inside the 2016 platform of the United States Democratic Party. The new stand of the Democratic Party is welcomed by those who advocate for public school education. Noteworthy is the Party's opposition to high stakes standardized tests:

We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing, the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools, and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. 

It appears that the Democratic Party has considered research-based evidence in drafting its education platform.

Above copied from C-Span
The following are the passages in the Democratic Platform 2016 on education:

Guaranteeing Universal Preschool and Good Schools in Every Zip Code
Democrats believe we must have the best-educated population and workforce in the world. That means making early childhood education a priority, especially in light of new research showing how much early learning can impact life-long success. Democrats will invest in early childhood programs like Early Head Start and provide every family in America with access to high-quality childcare and high-quality pre-K programs.
We will ensure there are great Pre-K-12 schools for every child. Democrats are committed to the federal government continuing to play a critical role in working towards an America where a world-class education is available to every child. Democrats believe that a strong public education system is an anchor of our democracy, a propeller of the economy, and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams. Public education must engage students to be critical thinkers and civic participants while addressing the wellbeing of the whole child. ..
Democrats believe that all students should be taught to high academic standards. Schools should have adequate resources to provide programs and support to help meet the needs of every child.. We will hold schools, districts, communities, and states accountable for raising achievement levels for all students—particularly low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.
We are also deeply committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs, but does not drive, instruction. To that end, we encourage states to develop a multiple measures approach to assessment, and we believe that standardized tests must meet American Statistical Association standards for reliability and validity. We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing, the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools, and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. We also support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or their school.
To close the opportunity gap, we also must find ways to encourage mentoring programs that support students in reaching their full potential. Mentoring is a strategy to ensure that children living in poverty have the encouragement and support to aim high and enter the middle class. We will focus on group mentoring, which is a low-cost, high-yield investment that offers the benefit of building a supportive network of peers who push one another towards success…..
We know that good teachers are essential to improving student learning and helping all students to meet high academic standards. Democrats will launch a national campaign to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, and we will ensure that teachers receive the tools and ongoing professional development they need to succeed in the classroom and provide our children with a world-class education. We also must lift up and trust our educators, continually build their capacity, and ensure that our schools are safe, welcoming, collaborative, and well-resourced places for our students, educators, and communities.
We will invest in high quality STEAM classes, community schools, computer science education, arts education, and expand link learning models and career pathways. We will end the school to prison pipeline by opposing discipline policies which disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities, and by supporting the use of restorative justice practices that help students and staff resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully while helping to improve the teaching and learning environment. And we will work to improve school culture and combat bullying of all kinds. We will encourage restorative justice and reform overly punitive disciplinary practices that disproportionately impact African Americans and Latinos, students with disabilities, and youth who identify as LGBT.
The Democratic Party is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps–particularly those that lead to students from low income communities arriving to school on day one of kindergarten several years behind their peers from higher income communities.  The means advocating for labor and public assistance laws that ensure poor parents can spend time with their children.  This means being committed to increasing the average income in households in poor communities. It means ensuring these children have health care, stable housing free of contaminants, and a community free of violence in order to minimize the likelihood of cognitive delays. It means enriching early childhood programming that increases the likelihood that poor children will arrive to kindergarten with the foundations for meeting the expectations we have for them in the areas of literacy, numeracy, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence.  It means we support what it takes to compel states to fund public education equitably and adequately, as well as expand support provided by the Title I formula for schools that serve a large number or high concentration of children in poverty. It means that we support ending curriculum gaps that maintain and exacerbate achievement gaps.
We are also committed to ensuring that schools that educate kids in poverty are not unfairly treated for taking on the challenge of serving those kids.  This means an end to the test-and-punish version of accountability that does no more than reveal the academic gaps created before they reach school.  We support policies that motivate our educators instead of demoralizing them.
No school system in the world has ever achieved successful whole-system reform by leading with punitive accountability.  We must replace this strategy with one that will actually motivate educators and improve their training and professional development in order to get results for all students–with an emphasis on equitable results for students of color, low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support democratically governed great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.


Monday, July 11, 2016

English Language Learners and High School Graduation Rate in the US

Corey Mitchell's article at Education Week, "English-Language-Learner Graduation Rates Are All Over the Map", starts with the following sentence: "The graduation rate for the nation's English-language learners in the class of 2014 rose to 62.6 percent, a slight increase over the previous year, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education last month." Such graduation rate places this group at the bottom of public high school graduation rate in the United States.

Above copied from Public Radio International
There is, however, one issue I need to take with this type of reporting. Mitchell, as many people do in education reporting, are quick to equate students tagged with "Limited English Proficiency" to "English Language Learners". The National Center for Education Statistics probably contributes to this confusion as it defines "Limited English Proficiency":

limited English proficient (LEP). A term used to describe students who are in the process of acquiring English language skills and knowledge. Some schools refer to these students using the term English language learners, or ELL. Beginning with the NAEP 2005 assessment, the terminology changed to "English language learners," or "ELL."

The important point that people may easily miss is the phrase "are in the process of acquiring English language skills and knowledge". Such carelessness can easily translate to a perception that US schools are failing a lot of children whose mother tongue is not English. "Limited English Proficient" students do not include those who have emerged and became proficient in English while enrolled in US public schools. If one considers children whose native language is not English but have managed to reach proficiency in English before high school, the results are dramatically different. Madison in Wisconsin, for instance, provides data that take into account both current and former English Language Learners (ELL).

Above copied from Bo McCready and Beth Vaade, High School Completion Rates for English Language Learners (ELL), Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), Report 2015-3-3
And it is even more stellar if one further takes into account only those ELLs that have reached the highest proficiency level.

Above copied from Bo McCready and Beth Vaade, High School Completion Rates for English Language Learners (ELL), Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), Report 2015-3-3
And the above are not exceptions. The following are examples from two states, Washington and Oregon.

Above copied from Oregon Department of Education Research Brief January 2016.
Above copied from Former ELL Academic Achievement and the Index, Washington State Board of Education
I was an English language learner. One must carefully distinguish between current and former English language learners. Otherwise, people can easily arrive at the wrong conclusion.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Summer in School

Summer is often a break from school. Unfortunately, summer frequently translates to a widening of gaps between poor and rich children. But, it should not be. Late last year, a study published in Science showed that a summer jobs program in Chicago reduced violent crime arrests by almost half.  Eight weeks translated to plummeting crimes over a 16-month period. Drugs and violence are perhaps synonymous with idle time and lack of direction. Even young children need to stay active and connected and summer is one opportunity for learning social skills, reconnecting with nature, staying physically active, and of course, making friends. Growing up, I spent my summer vacation in my mother's hometown. It was still a safe place to play in the street with other children. It was far from the city and much closer to nature. Sadly, times had changed that one must now worry when letting children play outside their homes. My children are lucky that the county we live in has a summer program for school-aged children. It is a program where teachers even make sure that both of my kids are eating well during lunch and snack times.

Fairfax county provides a summer camp that gives children a choice between being an athlete, performer or artist. My son obviously picks the athlete's cabin where he learns to play soccer, baseball, basketball, and tests his speed and stamina in track and field. My daughter chooses the theater where she acts and dances. The summer camp includes outdoor activities and field trips such as visits to a water park, a sporting event, and museums. Most important of all, the summer camp allows my children to spend a lot of time with other children.


In sports, performance, and the arts, the children learn to work together.


In one production, some children work as ushers, some help set up the stage, while others do the acting. Children and teachers work as a team. Fees to this summer program are adjusted according to family income.



News nowadays are truly disconcerting. However, there remains a lot of good things that are happening. And we need to keep in our minds that we are still a community and that we share so much in common. Drugs and violence happen when we forget our common thread.

Here is a video of the performance by my daughter and her classmates.