"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

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Philippines Wants to Go Back to a Prehistoric Writing System

ABS-CBN News in the Philippines reports, "The House Commitee on Basic Education and Culture has approved a bill seeking to declare Baybayin, a pre-Hispanic writing system in the Philippines, as the country's national writing system." The bill will require products manufactured in the Philippines to inscribe "Baybayin" scripts on their containers and labels. It also mandates local governments to include "Baybayin" scripts in street signs and public buildings. Newspapers and magazine should also include a "Baybayin" translation of their official names. Lastly, it directs government agencies which include the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education to disseminate knowledge and information of the "Baybayin" script in all levels of education, public and private.

Bonifacio Comandante wrote an article on the "Baybayin" script in the Esquire magazine of the Philippines. The article, The Life, Death and Resurgence of Baybayin, provides illustrations by Jasrelle Serrano that show the characters used by this prehistoric writing system:

It has three vowels,

and fourteen consonants.

The writing system has its own numerals, and it is surprisingly based on a decimal system, and bears some resemblance to the Latin script:

There is no question that the "Baybayin" system is a cultural gem for the Philippines. The presence of this script demonstrates the literacy of Philippine natives before the Spaniards came to the islands. The script is still used by several indigenous groups. Thus, it is important that the system is preserved for generations to come. It is certainly a fertile area for Philippine anthropology research.

Establishing a prehistoric script as a country's national writing system, however, is way overboard. A country needs a writing system that everyone can understand. The Philippines has this advantage over its neighbors since its current writing system is based on the Latin script, making it compatible with Western nations. Learning to write the alphabet in the various Philippine languages requires more or less the same as learning to write in English. Changing signages and product labels both come with costs. And, of course, teaching a writing system completely alien to children, their parents, and their teachers is not going to be cheap. This will require a tremendous amount of money, time and effort. The Philippine Congress is not really known for introducing good reforms to Philippine basic education. With this new bill, it once again shows how out of touch representatives are. There are obviously much more important issues lawmakers must address yet they choose to return the country's educational system to prehistoric times.

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Is Philippine Basic Education Really This Bad?

In any democratic society, basic education prepares its younger citizens for civic engagement. The election process is one of the most important elements of democracy. For elections to be successful, voters need to be knowledgeable of both candidates, mainly their qualifications, their issues, their stands, and their proposals. This is what democracy needs. In the Philippines, it seems that the mere shading of ovals in an election ballot is already too much to ask. The threshold placed by those who are reviewing the vice presidential election results is already low, fifty percent. Vice president Robredo is asking for less strict rules in the threshold of shading of ovals. 25 percent shaded should be enough, according to Robredo. Is it really true that Filipinos are so incompetent that they cannot fill those ovals properly? Over so many years, millions of children, starting in the elementary years, take standardized national exams. These exams use answer sheets that are far more complicated than election ballots:

Above copied from Department of Education

Children are taught that in these exams the answer must be fully shaded. Fifty percent shading is unacceptable. Children take these several times on several subjects. One could only hope that after finishing high school, students would already have mastered how to fill scannable sheets. The Commission on Elections also does not fail to remind voters how ovals or circles should be shaded. These instructions are made available to all.

The major difference is that we seem to expect less from adults than from children as 50 percent shading is apparently good enough. What Robredo is asking is worse.

Above copied from Rappler

Is the Philippine basic education system so bad that filling ovals or circles completely becomes an impossible task. Robredo seems to imply that. Results of National Achievement Tests are indeed not stellar but I highly doubt that this is because students do not fill those sheets correctly. Someone who only fills the oval 25 percent obviously cannot follow a simple instruction. Thus, it is really a choice between these two: Philippine basic education has even failed to teach children how to shade (eventhough it apparently succeeds in teaching children how to write letters and numbers), or these ballots are not genuine and therefore should not be counted. Robredo should be asked to pick from one of these two choices.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Why Students with Disabilities Are Performing Poorly

The previous post highlights the fact that in the United States, scores of students with disabilities in the national test are falling behind the scores of students with no disabilities. When a gap in academic achievement shows up between two groups of students, one cannot avoid but ask how and why. Students with disabilities are of course neither necessarily nor naturally less gifted academically than students with no disabilities. Students with disabilities may have special needs or require accomodations, but the lower scores do not automatically suggest that these needs are currently not being met inside the classroom. It is a possibility but there are certainly other reasons that may lead to poorer academic perfomance among students with disabilities. One factor that strongly correlates with performance on these tests is attendance. A recent post on this blog also shares the fact that students with disabilities are more often suspended than students without disabilities. Therefore, all it takes is to connect the dots. Students with disabilities are suspended more often. These students miss school and poor attendance correlates with poor academic performance.

The correlation between attendance and performance in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams has been demonstrated in a study five years ago:
Fifty-six percent of 8th graders who performed at the advanced level in NAEP reading in 2011 had perfect attendance in the month before the test, compared with only 39 percent of students who performed below the basic level. In comparison, nearly one in five 8th graders at the basic level and more than one in four below basic in reading had missed three or more days in the past month.
Missing class is strongly correlated with poorer performance. It should not be surprising that attendance correlates with academic achievement. This is already seen even at preschool according to a study done in Chicago:

Above figure copied from
Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools

The effect of attendance is even more pronounced for students with greater needs (those with lower prior skills). The effects are compounding across all learning outcomes measurements in preschool. More importantly, it has been noted in this blog that these effects are long lasting. Absences in kindergarten are correlated with poor performance in fifth grade.

Finally, students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended.

Students with disabilities are already more prone to missing school if they feel bullied, harassed, or even just out of place in school. If we are suspending them more often then we are simply making their situation worse. We are not only neglecting to respond to their needs. Worse, we are really setting students with disabilities for failure.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Gaps Are Increasing in the Nation's Report Card

The results for the 2017 NAEP Math and Reading Assessments are now available. These scores are regarded as the Nation's report card in the United States. Fourth and eight graders have taken exams in both reading and math, and the recent scores are actually showing a decreasing gap between black and white students. Although the difference in scores between black and white children is shrinking, gaps remain and this time, the gaps are actually much more troublesome. The gap is increasing between high and low performers. If the race gap is diminishing, where is the additional gap coming from? Scores of students with disabilities are on a downward trend.

Here is the black/white gap for fourth graders:

Above copied from 2017 NAEP Math and Reading Assessments
Below shows the increasing gap between low and high performers:

In mathematics (4th grade):

Above copied from 2017 NAEP Math and Reading Assessments

In reading (4th grade):

Above copied from 2017 NAEP Math and Reading Assessments

The following shows the trend for students with disabilities suggesting that the increasing gap seen between low and high performers is partly due to either a deteriorating or stagnant performance of students with disabilities on these tests:

Above copied from 2017 NAEP Math and Reading Assessments

Above copied from 2017 NAEP Math and Reading Assessments

The above trends are troubling. We may be decreasing gaps somewhere but increasing them in another place. When students with disabilities on average are not even reaching basic level, it is imperative to ask if we are really addressing the needs of these students.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Data Breach Versus Fake News

A senator in the Philippines who touts himself as a strong advocate for education just recently demonstrated amazing ignorance regarding social media. The Inquirer quoted Senator Bam Aquino, "We’re glad Facebook has decided to enter into a local fact-checking coalition in the aftermath of its failure to protect millions of personal data from being exposed." Privacy protection of Facebook users is totally a different issue from fake news. On privacy, Facebook users need to be more aware of what they actually share with their friends and the public on social media. On fake news, Facebook users need to exercise a bit more skepticism and a lot less gullibility. 

Above copied from News5

If a senator could not see the obvious difference between these two issues, what could one expect on issues that are more complicated like education? Perhaps, the oversight was simply due to an extreme excitement that Facebook had chosen to partner with media obviously aligned to his party. However, his past actions on education had been illustrating a general lack of prudence and an overabundance of pandering. The senator had often claimed responsibilty for free tuition in higher education in the Philippines - a move that was highly questionable especially with the fact that the country's basic education needs were not being met.  As long as education continues to be shaped by leaders who lack thoughtfulness and simply cater to drawing appeal from the voting public, hope for a better Philippine basic education is dim.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

School Suspensions: Are These Discriminatory Or Simply Wrong?

A recent report from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) brings me back to a post I made in this blog last October;

How We Discipline Students in Schools Is "Trump-Like"

When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump mocked a judge for simply being a child of Mexican immigrants, we took notice. In 1972, when a black woman was told that nothing was available for rent in a Brooklyn complex managed by Donald Trump’s real estate company while a white woman was shown two available apartments in the same complex a few days later, the federal government filed a discrimination case against the Trump firm. And when Trump seemingly made fun of a reporter with a disability, we quickly denounced it. Yet, when we look at how our schools exercise disciplinary action, we see something frighteningly similar.

Above copied from Skiba and Losen, American Educator, Winter 2015-16

The findings made by GAO based on the Department of Education (Education) national civil rights data for school year 2013-14 are practially identical to the results shown above. Black students are overrepresented among students suspended out of school. Those who have disabilities are likewise overrepresented. And boys are much more likely to be suspended than girls.

Examining the data with an eye on poverty reveals some trends.

First, the disparity in school suspensions, blacks, disabled and boys getting suspended more, is present in all schools regardless of poverty level. However, the overrepresentation of blacks among those who are suspended increases with poverty. On the other hand, the overrepresentation of students with disabilities as well as boys decreases with poverty. One, however, should keep note that suspension rates go up with increasing poverty. The rate of suspension for schools attended mostly by rich children is only 2% while for schools attended mostly by poor children, the rate is more than 4 times higher, 9%. Therefore, the overrepresentation of students with disabilities and boys may appear to be decreasing with poverty, but in terms of numbers, suspensions are actually increasing. In a wealthy school, only 6.5% of students with disabilities get suspended but in a poor school, 17% do.

I checked if the above holds true for schools in my neighborhood, and apparently it does. In Falls Church High School in Fairfax county, Virginia, students with disabilities (IDEA) are overrepresented among those who are suspended:

However, it is a relief that in terms of an overall suspension rate, Falls Church High School is actually showing good numbers. The suspension rate for students with disabilities is about 4.8%, which is lower than the national average for kids in a wealthy school, 6.5%. Falls Church High School has more than half of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch so it should be compared to 50-75% poverty schools, where the suspension rate for students with disabilities is 13.4%.

The reason why I am also looking at the overall suspension rate and not just the disparity is because school suspensions are not really helpful. A 2011 study in Texas shows that school suspensions do not really correct bad behavior.

Half of students who have been suspended 11 or more times in school end up in juvenile court. Educators have some idea why children misbehave in schools. The GAO report provides the following figure:

We should therefore ask ourselves if a school suspension actually addresses any of these factors. And now is a good time to ask. With the Parkland shooting, there are two competing voices we are hearing. One is from Jonathan Butcher at the Heritage's Center for Education Policy:
Of particular interest is a “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the Obama administration in 2014. This guidance from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice instructed school officials to “administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.” 
Obviously, individuals should not be suspended or expelled from school just because of the color of their skin. But the letter was more than a simple warning on discrimination.
It also gave recommendations for how schools should discipline students without resorting to suspensions, expulsions, or law enforcement involvement (“exclusionary discipline”). And according to reports, dozens of school systems have adjusted their discipline policies accordingly...
...Washington is too far removed from neighborhood schools to issue and enforce guidance on school discipline across 50 states and 50 million students. As Broward families’ grief turns from anger and pain to hard questions about what went wrong, Washington should rescind its school discipline directives at the center of the tragedy.
Butcher partly blames the recommendations made by the Obama administration for the shooting in Parkland. On the other hand, Bonnie Watson Coleman and Fatima Goss Graves are clamoring for the opposite:

Above copied from USA Today

School suspensions are not just discriminatory. Suspensions do not help which makes the fact that blacks, the disabled, and boys are more likely to be suspended a much greater travesty.

Monday, April 9, 2018

What the Philippines Could Learn from the United States

There is no question that the Philippine basic education system needs our attention. K to 12 education in the United States likewise faces serious challenges. One big thing that the US has as an advantage is that it is a much wealthier country. Nevertheless, basic education in the US still requires our attention. Incidentally, what the US needs to examine is also relevant to the Philippines. So perhaps, the Philippines can learn from the mistakes that the US is making.

Natalie Wexler, an education journalist, recently wrote an opinion in Forbes.

Above copied from Forbes

The three mistakes are:

The above also contains links that illustrate how much emphasis legislators, nonprofit organizations, education policy makers are giving on these items. The main problem is that none of this really addresses the problems of basic education.

As stated in so many instances within this blog, problems in basic education do not begin at the high school level. In fact, most of the problems are in the early years of education. The Philippines has taken the same wrong path with its new K-12 curriculum, thinking that the problem lies in high school. Elementary school children in the Philippines are failing as early as fourth grade. Once these children are behind and their needs are not met in the succeeding years, it is really impossible for these students to finish high school with competency. 

It is true that teachers in the Philippines are lacking in knowledge as seen in their performance on licensure exams as well as on the exams that their students take. It is equally true that teachers in the Philippines are also having a difficult time making ends meet. It is also true that teachers are not supported. There is always a lack of good quality learning materials and school infrastructure. An effective teacher is only one factor. Students from poor families require a lot and yet, teachers who are helping these children do not receive the assistance they need to do their job. 

Similar to what is happening in the US, the Philippines also has its own set of standardized exams in English, Filipino, Math, Science and Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies in English). These exams are supposed to be used only to gauge the education system as a whole. These should not be used as formative assessment tools. These exams cannot be used to guide instruction. These exams severely narrow down the scope of education because it fails to address the importance of music, arts and physical education. 

Reform in education is needed but first, we need to know and understand the problems. Otherwise, we will be making the same mistakes over and over. The US may have the money to waste on unwise reforms. Unfortunately, the Philippines does not.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

When Resources Are Limited....

When it rains, it pours. In education, struggling schools are often the ones facing so many problems. The top performing educational systems across the globe are mostly found in high income countries while poor countries frequently deal with schools that miss the passing mark. Even in the United States, school districts that do not do well are found in neighborhoods where the poverty rate is high and college education among adults is low. One obvious reason is the lack of resources. And to exacerbate the situation, there is gross inefficiency and sometimes even corruption. The Philippines is one example. Resources are already severely limited and in addition, a sound management is grossly lacking. Take, for instance, a school in its Samar province, the Lungib Elementary School. A budget of more than 2 million pesos has been allocated to building classrooms in this school and after several years, all the school has to show are bits and pieces of walls left abandoned for grass, vines and other plants to grow.

Above copied from Reporter's Notebook

These walls have been abandoned since 2015 according to Reporter's Notebook, a production of one of the biggest mass media network in the Philippines, GMA. The project apparently has already been listed as completed in the records of the Department of Public Works and Highways. The past Aquino administration and its education secretary Luistro have always boasted that the government is prepared to meet the needs of the new and expanded basic education curriculum. Yet, the picture above tells so much especially in combination with the following photo:

Above copied from Reporter's Notebook

It does make you wonder who really is providing "fake news". The question now is whether the new government under Duterte will do something about this. A comment in exaperation on Facebook reads:

The comment above translated into English:

Nothing will happen anyway. It is all news, investigation, but it all stops here. No one is ever made responsible. No one is ever punished although this is clearly a theft. This project has been declared 100 percent completed yet it is obvious it is not. The corrupt will never change their ways because they are never punished. And even if someone is proven guilty, they can easily escape the courts and bury their misdeeds.

When the stakeholders are not part of decision making and projects that affect them, combined with the fact that those who indeed make decisions and fund projects are not the stakeholders, failed projects are much more likely to happen. It is one big problem in the Philippines - those who are in power do not really send their children to the schools that most need resources from the government.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

How Does the Philippines Currently Stand in Terms of Equity in Education?

Educational systems should aspire for two things: quality and equity. Although the Philippines has not participated recently in international exams, there are existing measures by which one can still compare the Philippines against other countries. And in a study that examines educational systems in 67 low and lower-middle income countries, the overall picture is not encouraging. Philippine basic education seems to suffer in both quality and equity, and these challenges, as stated numerous times in this blog, exist at the primary level of basic education.

Pauline Rose, Ricardo Sabates, Ben Alcott and Sonia Ilie from the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, University of Cambridge, have collected the most recent data (2016) from 67 low and lower-middle countries, examining learning outcomes for primary school children from both rich and poor families. The results are summarized in the following figures:

Above copied from
Overcoming Inequalities Within Countries to Achieve GlobalConvergence in Learning

The above graph shows the learning outcomes as measured by national achievement tests in Grade 6 mathematics. Only about a quarter of poor children who are enrolled in schools in the Philippines achieve a passing mark in this assessment. On the other hand, about half of children from wealthy families pass this exam. Indeed, there is a huge gap between the poor and rich, but equally troubling is the overall poor performance of both poor and rich children. In elementary school mathematics, it is crystal clear that the Philippine basic education suffers in both quality and equity.

Above copied from
Overcoming Inequalities Within Countries to Achieve GlobalConvergence in Learning
The above graph shows another trend that is not seen in most other countries. Females perform better than males in both rich and poor quintiles. What is likewise evident in this graph is the fact that the gap between poor and rich children correlates with lower quality of education. Thus, although quality and equity may be regarded as two separate standards - these two may actually be related.

Above copied from
Overcoming Inequalities Within Countries to Achieve GlobalConvergence in Learning
The above graph now includes children who are not currently in school. Where the Philippines stands in this graph is not really different from the previous graph. Unlike Madagascar, where schools obviously make a significant impact on poor children, the situation in the Philippines does not really show a difference between children who attend or not attend schools.

Above copied from
Overcoming Inequalities Within Countries to Achieve GlobalConvergence in Learning
Finally, the above graph shows the trend that high levels of learning can be present with narrow inequalities. Sadly, the Philippines, in this set of low and lower-middle income countries, belongs to the group that has low level of learning and wide inequalities. Philippine basic education currently fails in both quality and equity.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Be Careful What You Wish For: Asking for More Non Teaching Personnel

There is no question that teachers in the Philippine public schools are both underpaid and overworked. Class sizes are so much larger in the Philippines than in the United States. To alleviate this sad plight of instructors in the Philippines, a representative from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers is asking for an increase in the number of non teaching personnel who will attend to clerical and administrative tasks. The amount of paperwork is apparently a huge burden to teachers as schools continue to suffer a lack of technical support, equipment, and internet connectivity. This is another instance in which a problem is correctly identified. Unfortunately, the proposed solution is not. Overburdened by forms simply cannot be solved by adding more bureaucracy. It will only get worse.

I am reminded of the photo shown below that has gone viral a few years ago.

Above copied from Pinterest

The situation in the United States in both higher and basic education offers a preview. The Delta Cost Project at the American Institute of Research reports that over the past twenty years, the number of non teaching personnel has continuously increased in all institutions of higher learning:

Above copied from
Desrochers, Donna M and Kirshstein, Rita, ‘Labor Intensive or Labor Expensive? ChangingStaffing and Compensation Patterns in Higher Education,’ Delta Cost Project at American Institutefor Research.

And in K to 12, a similar expansion in non teaching personnel has been evident.

Above copied from
Scafidi, B. The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s PublicSchools, TheFriedman Foundation for Educational Choice, October 2012

The above studies are reporting a boom in non teaching personnel in both higher and basic education. Whether these increases benefit students or not is a question that remains to be answered. That is why that viral photo of a construction is worth our time and reflection.