"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

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Class Size and Learning Time

The latest report from the OECD, Education at a Glance, released on November 24, 2015, provides data regarding the state of education in various countries. One of the chapters in this report deals with class size and its relationship to learning. The report states, "larger classes are correlated with less time spent on actual teaching and learning and with more time spent on keeping order in the classroom... ...Specifically, one additional student added to an average size class is associated with a 0.5 percentage-point decrease in time spent on teaching and learning activities...."

The following is the figure that captures this finding:

Above copied from
OECD (2015), "Indicator D2 What is the Student-Teacher Ratio and How Big are Classes?", inOECD, Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2015-31-en
The Philippines is not included in the above study, but one can extrapolate where Philippine basic education currently stands. From a Rappler article by Jee Y. Geronimo published near the start of the current school year, the following class size can be used:

Extending the chart from OECD....

Add to this picture the widespread instances during which teachers are doing something else besides teaching to either augment their income or perform other assigned tasks, and the fact that instruction time has been cut short to accommodate multiple shifts, it is highly likely that only about half of the time inside classrooms is spent on teaching and learning.

Blogger Tricks

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving: A Story for All Children to Hear

Yatibaey Evans writes a thought-provoking article on Thanksgiving in the New York Times. Her first paragraph talks about the dark yet truthful side of American history. She is making the case of teaching children not just the sugar-coated events but also the failures and injustices of our past. A fuller picture in Evans' opinion may in fact shine light on lessons children should learn. Evans is currently the president-elect of the National Indian Education Association. She writes the article through the thoughts of her seven-year old son.

Above copied from the New York Times
I was born in the Philippines. Growing up, I have been taught a thing or two regarding European colonists. It is not a happy story.

After finishing college and teaching for two years, I went to Chicago for my graduate studies and that was the time I was introduced to the Thanksgiving holiday. These past few weeks, even in the Karate school of my son, the master was taking time to teach the children that Thanksgiving was a time for working together and helping each other. Obviously, there are quite plenty to be taught about Thanksgiving.

My children, a 9-year old and a 6-year old, learned about this holiday this week from A Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving,

and This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers.

The first movie shows how Charlie Brown tries to serve a Thanksgiving meal to his friends. The meal includes popcorn, toast, jelly beans, and pretzels. A little boy cannot really prepare turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Yet, the story ends with the lesson that Thanksgiving is not all about eating but more about being thankful.

The second movie recreates the journey and struggles of the Plymouth pilgrims of 1620. CommonSenseMedia writes:
Also starring the Peanuts gang, The Mayflower Voyagers doesn't quite capture the whimsy of earlier Charlie Brown specials, but its historical tale should interest older kids: It's a more-or-less factual account of the Mayflower voyage that does not sugarcoat the death and sickness many of the Pilgrims faced when on the ship and when they landed in the "New World." Pilgrims are shown with muskets, and Native Americans are shown with spears.
Both kids enjoyed the movie and I am quite amazed that my son remembered the characters: Samoset, Squanto and Massasoit from the Native American side, and Captain John Smith and Myles Standish from the Pilgrims' side.

How we celebrate Thanksgiving now, and what we want our children to remember on this occasion, in my opinion, are nicely captured in these Charlie Brown's stories. It is a day to be thankful. A Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers of this blog.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why DepEd's K to 12 Is Not Education for All

DepEd's K to 12 adds two years to high school and its enabling act, Republic Act 10533 increases the number of years of compulsory education to thirteen from the six years of compulsory elementary education prescribed by the country's constitution. Public basic and compulsory education implies full responsibility of the government. Basic education means it should be available for all. Looking at what is available tells an entirely different story. It truly says a lot more about how the Philippine government has abandoned its task of providing basic education to all.

Jaq Eroles recently wrote an article for the Philippine Online Chronicles:

In the article, Eroles provides data on what type of Senior High School years are in fact available for students. Eroles uses text to relate the data. However, it maybe useful to translate these numbers into figures.

For the National Capital Region (NCR), out of 10 high schools, only 7 are able to offer Technical-Vocational-Livelihood track.

Only 7 out of 10 high schools in the National Capital Region are able to offer the Tech-Voc track. The Tech-Voc track, of course, comes in so many flavors and the choices are in fact limited. For instance, Eroles cites that "In Commonwealth High School, which has a total student population of 8,045 and ranked as 6th most populous school in NCR, the only available SHS track is TVL with specializations in Beauty/Nail Care (NC II), Wellness Massage (NC II)/Hairdressing (NC II); Bread and Pastry Production (NC II)/Food and Beverage Services (NC II)/Bartending (NC II); and Tailoring (NC II)/Dressmaking (NC II)."
With regard to college preparation, the situation is worse, only 4 out of 10 schools in NCR can offer the General Academic track.

For the same region, only 3 out of 10 schools can offer either the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) or the humanities strand.

Out of ten high schools only one can offer all tracks for senior high school.

The choices are severely limited and it is obvious that this is not education for all. The total numbers for the entire country are even far disconcerting. Out of 500 high schools, only one can in fact offer DepEd's K to 12 curriculum.

For every 500 high schools in the Philippines, only one school can really offer DepEd's K to 12 Senior High School curriculum

I hope the above picture makes it clear. This is the most blatant demonstration of a government requiring something that it cannot provide. It is appalling.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pearson and Ayala: Profiting from DepEd's K to 12?

Teach100 collects blogs on education and among its top five sites is Alan Singer's entries on Huffington's Post. The most recent post by Singer talks about a "scary story" from the Philippines.

Above copied from Teach100
Above copied from Huff Post Education

Singer starts his article by citing Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg. Huffington Post has also recently shared a video on Finnish schools, highlighting their differences from schools in the United States:

Finnish schools are doing something right.Video: Fatherly
Posted by The Huffington Post on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Of course, the differences between schools in the Philippines and from those in Finland are much more dramatic. For instance, the way teachers in the Philippines are treated compares miserably with how Finland treats its teachers.

Above copied from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Philippines

Another glaring difference is the inability of the Philippine government to provide basic education to all. There are no private schools for basic education in Finland. On the other hand, the Philippine government encourages participation of the private sector through its Government Assistance for Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) program.

With the introduction of senior high school years in DepEd's K to 12 curriculum and the inability of the Philippine government to provide these additional years, a marketability opportunity for profit now exists. Singer's article in the Huffington Post basically distills a paper written by Curtis B. Riep of the University of Alberta, Canada for Education International. The paper entitled, Corporatised Education in the Philippines: Pearson, Ayala Corporation and the Emergence of Affordable Private Education Centers (APEC), has the following abstract:

Above copied from Corporatised Education in the Philippines
Singer summarizes the 49-page report with the following paragraph:
Riep documents a looming educational crisis in the Philippines and highlights a government that ignores its responsibilities. Currently, hundreds of thousands of Filipino youth remain out of secondary school. APEC claims it will provide a low cost solution and make money at the same time by using cost-cutting measures such as placing classrooms in office buildings instead of schools and hiring an under-qualified non-accredited low-paid teaching staff. Pearson and Ayala will invest about $8.5 million between 2013 and 2018 to set up 50 low-cost private high schools.
Riep also provides photographs that describe in so many words what these Affordable Private Education Centers really are. One of these photographs is shown here. These classrooms are rented spaces from abandoned commercial buildings.

Above copied from Corporatised Education in the Philippines
Singer connects what Pearson and Ayala are doing in Philippine Basic Education to what Sahlberg calls Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM). The acronym is appropriate because this education business model is really a plague.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

How Does Formative Assessment Help in Learning

Formative assessment is not supposed to be just another buzz word in education. It is gathering of information on a regular basis regarding what students are learning and what students need. There is no doubt that such exercise is necessary to make a good connection between teaching and learning. Formative assessment unfortunately becomes a sound bite if it is taken as a magic bullet independent of other factors that define quality teaching. Formative assessment alone cannot improve learning as its effectiveness depends on other more traditional features associated with quality teaching.

In a paper published in the American Educational Research Journal, a group of German researchers has shown the important relationship between formative assessments and the more general features of quality teaching. The study involves 28 teachers and 551 third grade students from 18 public elementary schools in Germany who are learning a specific topic in science, floating versus sinking. The research is a randomized controlled study that measures the effect of formative assessments on students' learning outcomes with a careful consideration of the following general features of quality teaching:

  • Cognitive Activation or Instructional Support - How well does a teacher choose or develop strategies that specifically address students' current understanding
  • Supportive Climate or Emotional Support - How positive is the relationship does the teacher try to foster with students
  • Classroom Management or Classroom Organization - How clear are the procedures and rules inside the classroom

The results indicate that formative assessment provides benefits to student learning with Cognitive Activation and a Supportive Climate:

Above copied from
Jasmin Decristan, Eckhard Klieme, Mareike Kunter, Jan Hochweber,Gerhard B├╝ttner, Benjamin Fauth, A. Lena Hondrich, Svenja Rieser, Silke Hertel,and Ilonca Hardy. Embedded Formative Assessment and Classroom Process Quality: How Do They Interact in Promoting Science Understanding?American Educational Research Journal December 2015 52: 1133-1159, first published on August 14, 2015 doi:10.3102/0002831215596412

First, the two groups (without and with formative assessment) do not show any significant difference between high and low quality classroom management. In other words, classroom management seems to be an independent factor. On the other hand, there is obviously an interplay between formative assessment and the other two features of quality teaching, cognitive activation and supportive climate. Without formative assessment, a responsive and caring teacher does not increase student learning. This makes sense since a teacher cannot really be that responsive without knowing the students. Formative assessment therefore provides teachers with the necessary information for deciding what instructional support to employ. The interplay with supportive climate probably occurs at the other end. It indicates that care must be taken when employing formative assessments. The following are additional insights provided by the authors. One must take note that the authors have developed the study from the ground and actualy trained the teachers for this study. Thus, the following are well-informed opinions and therefore should be taken seriously:
"It should be noted that in our study the diagnostic tests and semistructured student feedback sheets given to the teachers had been designed for implementation in the curriculum. The standardized materials for the use of embedded formative assessment in class had been developed to examine students’ current level of conceptual understanding and to guide future teaching and learning. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the intervention varied with the quality of classroom processes. Thus, it can be speculated that training teachers in the use of embedded formative assessment in class and providing them with high-quality materials is necessary but not sufficient to ensure appropriate use in the classroom. Rather, our results indicate that the effectiveness of embedded formative assessment for student learning depends on how the teacher supports students and how he or she keeps them cognitively active during lessons... These global factors of classroom process quality are not necessarily improved by providing assessment tools and teacher training in formative assessment practices...."
Formative assessments can work but they do require good teachers. The authors also add the fact that in this study, content is defined and made uniform in all classes. Without doubt, content-related factors likewise play a very important role. A teacher who is able to stretch and extend the subject matter to specifically address the needs and and take advantage of the strengths of the students can bring even greater effectiveness to formative assessments.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How Effective Are College-level Courses in High School?

DepEd's K to 12 senior high school years come in different tracks. One track is called the academic track which comes in four different strands, Business, Accountancy, Management (BAM); Humanities, Education, Social Sciences (HESS); Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM); and General. There are other tracks in senior high school: Technical-Vocational Livelihood, Sports, and Arts and Design. Regardless of track, the senior high school years are advertised to make each student college-ready. This of course suggests that the specialized subjects within the academic tracks are "college-level".

For the finalized strands, please visit DepEd's Academic Track
It is therefore useful to examine the effectiveness of taking college-level courses in high school. Fortunately, this question can be addressed by looking at educational systems that already offer college-level courses in secondary school. The United States K-12 system is one great source of data for this inquiry. High school students in the US are given the opportunity to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The AP program permits US high school students to take introductory college-level courses. With this program, students may also receive college credit by passing a standardized exam administered after the course.

Albeit the data are available, it is not straightforward to compare students who have taken these AP courses against those who have not. Enrolling in an AP course goes through a selection process. It should not be surprising to see at first that AP takers in general perform better academically. Thus, to make the comparison valid, a propensity matching must first be done. In this procedure, only those students who share similar characteristics would be included in the comparison so that differences can be safely attributed to taking an AP course or not, and not some other reason.

Such a study have been performed and the results have been published in the Journal of Educational Research. The abstract of the paper is as follows:


The Advanced Placement (AP) program is an educational program that permits high school students to take introductory college-level courses and receive college credit by passing a standardized end-of-course exam. Data were obtained from a statewide database of 2 high school graduating cohorts (N = 90,044). We used a series of propensity score analyses and marginal mean weighting through stratification to examine the impact of the AP program on students' academic achievement as measured by ACT scores. Results indicate that merely enrolling in an AP course produces very little benefit for students. Students who take and pass the AP exam, however, obtain higher ACT scores, even after controlling for a wide variety of academic, socioeconomic, and demographic variables. The authors conclude the article by discussing aspects of the AP program that remain unanswered.
The last three sentences of the above abstract are clearly stating the findings of this study. Merely taking an AP course does not mean improved college readiness. The benefits only appear if a student also chooses to take the exam. And more importantly, only if such student passes that exam. A student who has taken an AP course but has failed in the exam likewise does not perform better than a student who has not taken an AP course. What this means is that the quality of an AP course is extremely important. Since it is clear that only those who have passed the exam at the end of the course benefits, it is obvious that not all high schools can possibly deliver such a beneficial academic experience. When something does not produce its intended outcome, it is really just a waste of time, resources and money from students, parents, teachers, schools and taxpayers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Phases of the Moon

My son and I were gazing at the moon last night. My son's grade 4 class is currently studying the different phases of the moon. Although we regularly see the moon's appearance in the sky change over the course of every month, this concept is actually quite complex and misconceptions are quite common. For one, it is tempting to explain that the earth is casting its shadow over the moon. In one study involving preservice teachers, it is found that nine out of ten hold an alternative conceptual understanding of the reason behind the different phases of the moon.

The moon last night (11/16/2015) over Annandale, Virginia
There are videos available on the internet that attempt to explain the phases of the moon. Below is one example from the National Science Teachers Association

The video clearly states the necessary facts to help understand the different phases of the moon: First, the moon orbits the earth, and second, half of the moon - the one facing the sun is always illuminated. Unfortunately, the above does not address directly common misconceptions such as the earth casting a shadow on the moon. People, after all, are aware of eclipses.

Above copied from PBS Learning Media
To see that an eclipse is a unique configuration of the earth, moon and sun, the following fact must be introduced. The moon's orbit does not lie on the same plane as the earth's orbit around the sun:

Above copied from The Science Geek
Thus, clearing the misconception may actually require much more than just watching a video that attempts to explain the different phases of the moon. In a recent article in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, one promising approach is offered: Have teachers design a "slowmation" of a model that explains the various phases of the moon. The authors use the following elements to decide whether a teacher has correctly understood this phenomenon.

One finding this study has made is that through this exercise, teachers begin to see the importance, for example, of keeping in mind the relative sizes of the earth, moon and sun. The following is the earth compared against the moon:

Above copied from Wikimedia
We often see the statement that the moon's diameter is about one-fourth of that of the earth. One fourth, however, is along one dimension only. In terms of volume, one fourth can easily translate into one sixty-fourth. Therefore, the volume of the moon is less than 2 percent of the earth's. In terms of mass, the moon is less dense so it is only 1.2 percent of the earth's mass. The comparison between the earth and the sun is much more dramatic.

Above copied from Wikipedia
In the above picture, the planet that one could clearly see is Jupiter. Earth is represented by the small dot right below Jupiter.

Understanding the phases of the moon is indeed complex. It requires attention to correct facts. Misconceptions may not be easily addressed without dealing with the complete story. Consequently, misconceptions can be easily handed down to students explaining in part their current preponderance in society.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What Is Necessary for a Child to Learn Arithmetic

Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing whole numbers are the essentials of arithmetic. The next level in elementary schools involves fractions and decimals. When students are struggling in elementary mathematics it maybe useful to investigate what abilities correlate with the skills that are important in elementary mathematics. A recent study focusing on at risk fourth grade students from a southeastern metropolitan school district in the United States offers some clues.

The research work, Cognitive Predictors of Calculations and Number Line Estimation With Whole Numbers and Fractions Among At-Risk Students, first looks at the following measures.

  • Incoming calculation skills 
  • Nonverbal reasoning
  • Language
  • Concept formation
  • Working memory (numerical)
  • Working memory (sentences)
  • Processing speed
  • Attentive behavior
The authors then examine which one(s) correlate with a student's performance in whole number calculation and representation on the number line.

Above copied from Math is Fun
Likewise, the same investigation is performed on fractions, calculations and their number line representation.

Above copied from Learn Zillion

And the results of the study are as follows:

Cognitive factors that correlate with whole number calculations:
  • Incoming calculation skills
  • Processing speed
  • Attentive behavior
Adding and subtracting double-digit numbers clearly depend on fluency and attention.

Cognitive factors that correlate with representing a whole number on a number line:
  • Nonverbal reasoning
  • Working memory (numerical)
The lack of overlap between number line representation and calculation indicates that these two exercises maybe requiring different abilities from a child.

Cognitive factors that correlate with calculations involving fractions:

  • Processing speed
  • Attentive behavior
  • Language
Here, incoming skills in whole number calculations do not correlate with fractions. Instead, language, primarily vocabulary and oral comprehension, now seems to matter. 

Cognitive factors that correlate with fraction representation on a number line:
  • Language
  • Nonverbal reasoning
Similar to whole numbers, nonverbal reasoning, which includes nonverbal fluid reasoning, spatial ability, and perceptual organization with pattern completion, classification, analogy, and serial reasoning, appears to be consequential. 

These findings can help teachers design interventions especially in the case of children who are struggling in math. For instance, learning how to calculate clearly requires attentive behavior. Teachers should therefore try to promote students' on task behavior and engagement in these lessons. Language seems crucial with fractions so it maybe helpful to use simple and clear words when discussing fractions. Mathematical abilities with both whole numbers and fractions obviously correlate with performance in math subjects in high school. It is thus important to address these challenges early on. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Personalities versus Policies

Philippine politics will remain in its current quagmire if we continue to discuss personalities and not the actual issues. Seeing celebrities as political candidates in the coming Philippine election leaves very little hope.

Above copied from Metro Manila Politics
Similarly, Philippine basic education will continue to deteriorate if we cling on ideology instead of evidence. A year ago, Steven J. Klees and Omar Qargha wrote in the journal Prospects a scathing comment against the World Bank:
The evidence for how private education leads to better achievement is also very weak. Despite the many studies of private schooling and student achievement (with indeterminate results), the push for privatization is based on ideology, not evidence. Some years ago, one of us attended a meeting at the World Bank, soliciting comments on a health-sector– oriented World Development Report. The Bank’s presenter pointed out that, in many poor countries, poor people chose to be treated at private health clinics for a fee instead of going to free public clinics. This was touted as evidence of the success and value of privatization. Our response was, and is, that to the contrary, this situation is simply evidence of the success of 30 years of neoliberal ideology, in which public clinics had been systematically decimated, ending up without doctors, nurses, or medicine. The same has happened in education. Privatization is supposed to help meet the growing education gap resulting from years of attacks on the public sector in many countries, but all it does is replace an attempt to develop good public policy with the vagaries of charity or the single-mindedness of profit-making.
Along this line, I would like to share a recent statement I have read from one of the groups that have filed a petition before the Supreme Court to stop K-12:

Statement on Unified Petitioners Against K-12 Mobilization 
13 November 2015️

The Council of Teachers and Staff of Colleges and Universities in the Philippines (CoTeSCUP) remains steadfast in its conviction that RA 10533, otherwise known as the K-12 Law, is unconstitutional. We believe that this law violates several provisions of the 1987 Constitution that are intended to protect parents, students, and educators, and uphold academic freedom, and relevant and meaningful education for all. We persevere in our hope that the Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court of the Philippines will find merit in all the petitions filed before the highest court, and issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the implementation of the said law.

While we support the stand of fellow petitioners under the Unified Petitioners Against K-12 (UPAK) to continue collective action for the suspension of K-12, we appeal for sobriety and stand in our conviction that our action should remain issue-based and transcend ideological partisanship. We discourage any initiative that resorts to name-calling and other strategies that take away the attention of those concerned from the core issues being raised against the said law. We uphold the rights of petitioners to their respective political beliefs, fully aware that the suspension of the K-12 Law, not common ideology, is the unifying thread that binds all petitioners. We respect the right of the government, through the Office of the Solicitor General, to respond and defend the government's position on the petitions, as we believe that in the end, the rule of law and the voice of reason will prevail in deciding on the merits of our petitions.

We reiterate our appeal to our Honorable Justices to expedite their deliberations on our petitions and issue a decision that is just and fair to all concerned sectors. We ask our Justices to recognize that time is of essence, and that the power is in their hands to prevent the disenfranchisement of thousands of students who deserve to enroll in tertiary education in June 2016. We expect the Justices' judicious and impartial act on our petitions now that the all sectors concerned have articulated their convictions and position on the said law.

Suspend K-12 Now!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Misinformation in Philippine Basic Education

Arithmetic is one of the basic subjects in elementary school. Students need to learn what it means when something doubles. Yet, the Philippine government is the first to teach wrong arithmetic. The government claims that teachers' salaries are going to double when in fact this is a gross misrepresentation.

The following is a screenshot of an official release from the Philippine government:

Above copied from the Philippine Information Agency

The title is clear but if one reads the article, the first sentence tells a different story: "Public school teachers and nurses will be paid twice more compared to their private counterparts...." Salaries are therefore not doubling.

Misinformation, however, is not the only big mistake the government is making in the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) of 2015. One glaring error is how the government equates delivery of basic education and health care to a private enterprise. With this perspective, the government then justifies raising the salaries of mid-level and executives. As a result, the Inquirer reports:
From their P9,000 a month salary, employees under Salary Grade 1 will get P11,068 monthly. At the other end of the spectrum, the next President’s salary will be raised from P120,000 a month to P388,000 by the fourth year.
To appreciate the great disparity in the numbers above, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in the Philippines has provided the following graph:

Considering public basic education as no different from a private company treats teachers as no different from factory workers. Public basic education is not a factory. A manager or supervisor can make a significant difference in the productivity of a company. A chief executive can cut production lines that are not bringing profits. A manager can select starting materials. The situation inside a public school classroom is nowhere similar from a factory. Teachers are on the front line. The teacher is one of the biggest factors in learning outcomes. Those in the mid-level, the bureaucrats, hardly have any influence on whether students are learning or not. More importantly, what a private entrepreneur is willing to pay a teacher should not be the measuring stick on how much public school teachers should be paid. Instead, what the teacher really needs to function fully should be the standard. If the government aspires for international standards in the curriculum, the government must then look at how much other countries are paying their public school teachers. And the following shows how teachers' salaries compare to those of other countries.

This graph is originally from Dolton, P. and Marcenaro-Gutierrez, O. D. (2011), If you pay peanuts do you get monkeys? A cross-country analysis of teacher pay and pupil performance. Economic Policy, 26: 5–55. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0327.2010.00257.x. It has been modified to include the Philippines.
It is therefore not surprising that teachers are voicing their frustration with this salary increase. Dr. Judy Taguiwalo, ACT National Vice-Chairperson writes:
We asked for a P25,000 monthly salary for public school teachers and P16,000 minimum for government personnel. But the yellow administration decided high ranking officials should get the biggest increases. Mad does not even come close to describing how public school teachers felt upon learning they will have less than 12% increase in 4 years while the President gets more than 220% increase.