"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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spiral versus Strand

In the United States Senate, the committee on education has unanimously approved a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Emma Brown of the Washington Post writes "Senate’s effort to rewrite NCLB sparks cautious optimism". At the heart of the bill is the role of the federal government in basic education. Mercedes Schneider at the Huffington Post highlights the following key phrases in the bill:

  • "The Secretary shall not have the authority to require a State..."
  • "Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to permit the Secretary to establish any criterion that specifies, defines, or prescribes..."
  • "The Secretary shall be prohibited from requiring or coercing a State to enter into a voluntary partnership..."
The following paragraph is also important to note:
Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s specific instructional content, academic standards and assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction, as a condition of eligibility to receive funds under this Act.
Diane Ravitch therefore describes the bill with the following words:
One may quibble with details, but the bottom line is that this bill defangs the U.S. Department of Education; it no longer will exert control over every school with mandates. This bill strips the status quo of federal power to ruin schools and the lives of children and educators.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the United States in its previous form (commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind) is often criticized along its strong emphasis on standardized testing and accountability.  Still, the law even in its previous form does not go as far as dictating exactly what needs to be taught and how it should be taught in schools. One can easily contrast this with the corresponding law in the Philippines, Republic Act No. 10533. The following examples of provisions under this law glaringly demonstrate overreaching of legislation on education:
...The curriculum shall use pedagogical approaches that are constructivist, inquiry-based, reflective, collaborative and integrative...
...The curriculum shall use the spiral progression approach to ensure mastery of knowledge and skills after each level....
The law is actually dictating details of the curriculum with the obvious assumption that lawmakers and their staff who crafted this law are competent enough to make such a decision. The law basically takes the position that there are no lingering questions on how a curriculum should be designed. The law seems to assume that a spiral, constructivist, inquiry-based, collaborative and integrative curriculum is the correct curriculum. Legislators in the Philippines have apparently reached conclusions on ongoing discussions of direct instruction versus constructivist as well as spiral versus strand. While legislators in the United States are focused on how to reduce achievement gaps and how to channel resources in education to where these are most needed, lawmakers in the Philippines are confident enough that they could in fact settle lingering questions in education research.

The spiral versus strand curriculum is still an ongoing discussion. What is becoming clear in this debate is how the two different approaches are understood and implemented matters significantly. A previous post, "Did We Totally Misunderstand What A Spiral Curriculum Should Be", shows how spiral progression has been incorrectly equated to a mere mixing of various disciplines in one year. A spiral excursion on various topics actually prevents mastery. This point is excellently made by Vicki Snider from University of Wisconsin. In her paper published in the Journal of Direct Instruction, she uses two figures to illustrate the difference between spiral and strand curricula:

The above compares how mathematics can be taught in the early grades. In the spiral curriculum, addition/subtraction as well as fractions are mixed and taught in the first four years. In the strand approach, students master addition/subtraction during the first two grades before fractions are introduced later in third grade. One can imagine a similar picture in teaching sciences in high school. The curriculum dictated by Republic Act No. 10533 requires students to spend a quarter of a year on each of the following strands: biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science. Countries other than the United States do employ a spiral curriculum, but one must take note of the details. Here is the comparison between the US and China, for example:

Above copied from The Sourcebook for Teaching Science
In China, biology, chemistry and physics are indeed taught in almost every year of high school. It is important, however, to see the number of hours. In grade 12, for example, a total of nine hours is spent on science, three hours for each. This is actually quite similar to what I experienced while I was studying in the Manila Science High School. I did take chemistry and physics simultaneously over two years, but each one was a separate subject. I had something similar with mathematics. On my last year in high school, I was taking Linear Algebra and Calculus, as two separate subjects.

The spiral progression mandated by Republic Act No. 10533 and implemented by the Department of Education in the Philippines looks more like this:

How and what is taught inside classrooms should not be legislated. Otherwise, a government can ruin the lives of children and teachers.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Who Wrote the Curriculum?

Reflecting on a photo of slum dwellings with skyscrapers in the background provides an image that appropriately describes DepEd's K+12 curriculum. It is a picture of ambition towering over inequity. It depicts a story of great heights being captured in illusion with the reality of a weak foundation.

Above copied from Erwin Agapay

DepEd's K+12, on the surface, does promise a great deal in terms of goals. Kindergarten alone, in the 2014 version of the curriculum, seems infallible with the following guiding principles:

  1. The learning program is child centered. It promotes the holistic way by which young children grow and develop; and recognizes the role of families and communities to support the child through various stages of growth and development. 
  2. The learning program is appropriate for developing the domains; and must sustain interest in active learning of all young children including those with special abilities, marginalized and/or at risk.
  3. The learning program is implemented by way of diverse learning activities that may be enhanced with multimedia technologies such as interactive radio, audio/video clips and computer-enhanced activities. 
  4. The use of learning materials and other resources that are locally developed and/or locally available is encouraged. The mother tongue shall be used as the child’s language of learning.  

Anyone can furnish a wish list but for a curriculum to be sound it must have some degree of being realized. It is for this reason that teachers in classrooms must be on board since it is so easy to get lost in a fantasy. In the United States where a new curriculum is being introduced for Math and English, the lack of participation from classroom teachers on the new standards is seen as a serious drawback. Diane Ravitch writes:
...Altogether, 24 people wrote the Common Core standards. None identified himself or herself as a classroom teacher, although a few had taught in the past (not the recent past). The largest contingent on the work groups were representatives of the testing industry... 
...The makeup of the work groups helps to explain why so many people in the field of early childhood education find the CCSS to be developmentally inappropriate. There was literally no one on the writing committee (with one possible exception) with any knowledge of how very young children learn. The same concern applies to those who educate children in the middle-school years or children with disabilities or English language learners. The knowledge of these children and their needs was not represented on the working group.
In the case of the Philippines' curriculum, the absence of classroom teachers in its drawing and planning has made it impossible to temper imagination with reality. The complete disregard of the importance of input from those who are in the front lines of education is so evident in the law (REPUBLIC ACT NO. 10533) authored and passed by Congress, and signed by the president :

SEC. 6. Curriculum Consultative Committee. — There shall be created a curriculum consultative committee chaired by the DepED Secretary or his/her duly authorized representative and with members composed of, but not limited to, a representative each from the CHED, the TESDA, the DOLE, the PRC, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and a representative from the business chambers such as the Information Technology – Business Process Outsourcing (IT-BPO) industry association. The consultative committee shall oversee the review and evaluation on the implementation of the basic education curriculum and may recommend to the DepED the formulation of necessary refinements in the curriculum.

Goals can be easily drawn especially if limitations and resources are never considered. Anyone can easily draw a diagram such as the one shown below.

Copied from DepEd Philippines
Without input from real teachers, the above diagram is nothing but an array of colorful rectangles. Without having our feet on the ground, we might forget that there are things out of our reach. For instance, the Bernidos from Bohol are very much aware of the problems science education faces in the Philippines.  In their Learning Physics as One Nation (LPON) project, the problem to be addressed is made clear:
The project is designed initially to address the severe lack of qualified Physics teachers, especially in the Philippines which has only 8% deemed qualified at present by the country’s Department of Science and Technology – Science Education Institute. The LPON project therefore answers the question: Can high school students learn essential physics topics effectively even if their classroom teacher has little or no physics training?
The shortage of effective teachers is a real problem. And this problem exists even in the old 10-year curriculum. Adding two years obviously would only exacerbate this problem. There are other shortages that still need to be met even without the increased demands of the DepEd K+12. If the discussion remains only on what type of education should be given to children in the Philippines, there is really no argument. Higher standards, additional years, and a holistic approach are probably not contentious. But it is a mere fantasy. It is alright to dream, but one must not dwell in a hallucination especially when there are real problems that need to be addressed. We need to wake up from this dream and start working realistically.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Who Is Reading

How many people actually read papers published in peer-reviewed journals is a question that is not straightforward to answer. Rose Eveleth at Smithsonian has written a piece entitled "Academics Write Papers Arguing Over How Many People Read (And Cite) Their Papers" where she concludes, "Hopefully, someone will figure out how to answer this question definitively, so academics can start arguing about something else." There is even a joke that claims that as many as half of papers in academic journals have never been read by anyone other than their authors, referees and journal editors. With a little math, such can be translated to the statement that "An average academic journal article is read in its entirety by about 10 people." With academic journals now available online, the number of views can now be recorded. Still, how does one know that someone who has viewed and downloaded an article has likewise printed and distributed copies to other readers? Citations are easier to count than readership but even with this metric, citation databases usually do not produce the same number for any given article. Anyway, these perhaps only outline a prologue to a much deeper issue. Are decisions or policies guided by these academic journals?

At least with pediatricians, an article published in the journal Pediatrics is read about 10,000 times in the three months following publication. For those among us who send their children to see these professionals, it is comforting to know that pediatricians stay up to date with primary literature. Unfortunately, this finding can not be easily extended to other fields. Medical professionals tend to read more than others as shown in the following figure:

Above copied from the J Med Libr Assoc. 2004 Apr; 92(2): 233–241
The field of education portrays almost the opposite. In a previous post on this blog, the following was highlighted:
In a paper published in The Journal of Educational Research, Sylvester-Dacy and coworkers point out that in major textbooks used in teacher education, only 18 percent are based on good evidence research.

This is quite a discouraging and disturbing picture. The other sources are usually books or position papers, secondary sources that often propagate what is popular, anecdotal or trendy, and not what is based on evidence.
It is therefore not surprising to see myths abound and linger in the field of education. The general public is not expected to read academic journals but practitioners must be reached by evidence-based research in their respective fields. Pediatricians keep themselves up to date. Teachers need to do the same.

Teachers are overworked but pediatricians also have a very tight work schedule yet they are able to find time to read. Thus, there maybe other reasons why academic articles on education and psychology are not being read by educators. In the Philippines, lack of access to these journals is probably a major reason.

Another reason may be deduced from the following table, which highlights the difference between academic articles and other reading materials:

In a scholarly article, the reader is assumed to have a similar scholarly background. It is true that journal articles can easily be seen as conversations between experts. These are usually long and cannot be reduced into sound bites. In short, it takes a lot to read an article from a peer-reviewed journal.

This blog has been reaching out to education practitioners. Most of the articles posted in this blog are based on results or findings reported in peer-reviewed academic literature. The blog's readership has been growing and in the past three years, the blog has been viewed one and a half million times.

Number of monthly page views of Philippine Basic Education over time
With regard to the target audience, the blog is widely read in the Philippines:

Whether increasing access to primary literature by providing a blog such as this can improve impact of research on policies is of course another difficult question to address. We can only hope. Policies especially in the Philippines are usually drawn from the top. These are therefore people who already have access as well as resources to read primary literature. Here, a more important reason emerges on why education policies are usually not based or informed by research. Policies are usually made out of preference and not evidence.

This blog cannot change the minds that are already set. This blog can only hope to inform those who are in the ground and it is rewarding to hear from teachers who have spent some time reading my posts. Thank you very much. This blog is for you.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Why DepEd K+12 Reform Is Destined to Fail

There are three reasons why the education reform initiated by the Aquino administration is very likely to fail. The first reason is obvious, as stated by Nick Morrison, in an article published in Forbes, "Education Reform Will Fail Unless You Get Teachers on Board".

Above copied from Forbes
In the article, Morrison specifically describes what it means by not having teachers on board, "Too many education reforms are imposed on teachers, who are told what they have to teach and how they have to teach it," echoing OECD’s Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher's statement, "Teachers are not just part of the delivery of reforms."

Philippines' Secretary of Education, Brother Armin Luistro, completely misses this important point as he delivers a message to future teachers:
“This is the fifth year of our educational reform. It is more than a change in curriculum—it requires a change of perspective; it requires a change of heart of those who will implement it and bring it to fruition. It requires your cooperation, your initiative, and your own contribution to make the reform work.”
Public school teachers in the Philippines are told exactly what they need to do, up to the very detail. Teachers in the Philippines, for instance, are shown specifically how to compute grades for students up to the second decimal place and transmute these percentages so that the lowest possible grade becomes 60. Teachers are not on board with DepEd's K+12 curriculum. The message from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers is clear: "Stop K to 12". DepEd's idea of including teachers in education reform is therefore simple, "Just do what DepEd says."

The second reason should also be equally apparent. DepEd's K+12 is grounded on wrong reasons. Three years ago, I responded (shown in red) to each of the common motivations or reasons behind the new curriculum:
Five Key Benefits of the K to 12 Basic Education Program 
1. It will produce globally competitive graduates

The K to 12 program answers the need for a 12-year education system which is at par with international standards such as the Washington Accord and the Bologna Accord. Graduates of the K to 12 program will be perceived with increased competency and have better global opportunities.

The Washington and Bologna Accord have nothing to do with basic education. These are agreement between countries on higher education. There is no international standard for basic education. K to 12 has nothing to do with the standards set by both Washington and Bologna agreements. These are for higher education.

2. Students will learn more easily

The improved basic education curriculum is decongested and focused. Students will have more time learning core academic areas thus ensuring better comprehension. Also, pupils from Grade 3 and below will be thought in their mother tongue to ensure better understanding of basic concepts.

Merely changing the curriculum does not guarantee that students will learn more easily. The new curriculum carries shorter instructional hours and now includes mother tongue instruction in addition to Filipino and English. At the heart of curriculum reform is the teacher, which this new program has ignored. Kindergarten teaching has been delegated to volunteers who are paid 3000 pesos a month.

3. Students will be free to pursue their passion

The new curriculum will be learner-centered. Students will be allowed to choose elective subjects and specializations which they really want. The students will love learning more and will grow to their full potential. Whether the students want to be professionals, businessmen, artists or athletes, theirs skills and talents will be honed and nurtured.

Basic education, elementary and high school, is expected for all. In fact, it is compulsory in other countries. Basic means essential and it is not a matter of choice. Pursuing one's passion is already a matter of either vocational or higher education.

4. There will be savings on college tuition fees

Grade 11 and 12 takes the form of a two-year college education. In a public school, this is tuition-free. In effect, the number of year of college courses will decrease because of redundancies. Those who will pursue college will have fewer years to pay for. Graduates will also receive training certifications, which reduces the need to study a vocational course.

College education is very different from education in high school. There may be a repetition in subjects but the environment and pace are not the same as in high school. If there is indeed an equivalence then higher education institutions in the Philippines are not doing their job properly.

5. It will reduce unemployment rate and improve the economy

With the increased competence and workmanship due to TESDA-like training and college-like education included in the new curriculum, the graduates will become highly employable, reducing the rate of unemployment in the Philippines. Those who are passionate about starting businesses will be enabled to open more job opportunities.

One must look at the reasons behind unemployment. Unemployment is not solely decided by the labor market. And the same is true for the economy. Starting businesses require not only a passion but more importantly, capital.

The K to 12 basic education program aims not only to produce better graduates but also to improve the quality of life of the country as a whole. What is asked from us as Filipino citizens is that we support the program in whatever ways we can, share the information to others and, most of all, believe in the success of this program.

The government must be the first one to show its full support for the program by first funding appropriately and adequately the kindergarten portion of the new curriculum.
The third reason is the lack of evidence-based research supporting the new curriculum. The new curriculum uses spiral progression, multiple intelligences, and learning styles. Some of these are myths. Some are currently questioned by education experts and psychologists.

Education reform in the Philippines must come from the front line. It must be taken for the right reasons. It must be based on evidence.

At this point, the matter of great concern to teachers is not really the curriculum or the number of years in education. Teachers are not given the resources and are forced to work in overcrowded classrooms. By merely claiming that the success of an educational reform lies on teachers, while dictating what teachers should exactly do without providing the necessary resources, really leaves no room for cooperation and initiative, and in the end, the only remaining possibility is failure.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Reading Accurately and Reading Fast

In any human cognitive task, a higher level of thinking is more likely to happen when basic skills have been mastered. The human brain with its limited working memory can focus more, for instance, on algebraic problems if the brain no longer needs to concentrate on correctly performing arithmetic operations. The same goes with reading. As a child becomes familiar with words, a child can now focus more attention on what meaning a series of words in a sentence are trying to express. In all disciplines of human learning, there is fluency.

Above copied from Reading Rockets
Fluency in a language is obviously not a mere memorization or fast recall of words, but it requires nonetheless memories of meanings of words. When a child reads, it is important that words are correctly recognized. There is the ability called "orthography coding", which emphasizes words as unique arrays of letters. In this area, correct spelling is a key measure. Receptive vocabulary is another component of reading. This usually refers to words that one recognizes and understands upon hearing or reading. Both word recognition and receptive vocabulary are expected to play vital roles in reading comprehension. How each of these two factors influence comprehension is not clear when only accuracy in reading comprehension is measured.

When a task is completed not just correctly but also quickly, there is clearly additional evidence of fluency. Speed is not meant to replace comprehension, but with the increasing amount of text that need to be read in school, and even in real life, the rate at which one comprehends written material becomes important as well.

Measuring the time in a reading comprehension assessment is therefore useful especially if such gauge also untangles the two important factors behind reading comprehension: word recognition and vocabulary. This has been recently demonstrated in a study published in the Journal of Research in Reading. This research work by Louise Flensted Rønberg and Dorthe Klint Petersen from Denmark involves more than 200 fourth grade children and aims to understand how orthographic coding and receptive vocabulary correlate with reading comprehension.

Orthographic coding (word recognition) and receptive vocabulary have been separately measured via the following:
Orthographic coding (2 minutes, 70 items). The timed test measured the ability to recognise correctly spelled words, which may be seen as a measure of the children’s sight word representations in long-term memory (Nielsen & Petersen, 1992). The children were asked to circle the correctly spelled word amongst four homophone alternatives, for example reine – rain – rane – raine. The test was framed by the orthographic coding test developed by Olson, Kliegl, Davidson, and Foltz (1985). The score was the number of correct responses in 2 minutes.
Receptive oral vocabulary (30 items). The test consisted of a broad selection of 30 highfrequency and low-frequency everyday words and content area words (see appendix). Danish receptive vocabulary tests suited for group administration are few. Therefore, this new measure was developed by the first author. A selection of children’s fiction and non-fiction books were studied, and 56 words were selected. Appropriate photos of the target word and four distractors were found on web pages. The five photos per item were presented in colour in a paper booklet with three items per page. It was piloted with 100 children in Years 3–5. Based on Rasch analyses, the individual items were inspected, and the final test was constructed with 30 test items. All the words were orally presented twice by the test administrator. The score was the number of correct responses. 
Their findings show that if the reading comprehension exam is not timed, a child's vocabulary is a much more important predictor than orthographic coding. On the other hand, there is a marked increase in the influence of word recognition when reading speed is measured. Furthermore, a third factor independent from either coding or vocabulary emerges in explaining reading comprehension speed, a child's ability to connect word meanings (semantic relationship).

Assessments or exams now have negative connotations. Add speed or time pressure, impressions even become worse. There remains, however, some good in tests under time pressure. It remains one of the ways fluency can be measured.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Can Critical Thinking Be Taught?

As a faculty member in a department that offers a doctoral program, the question of whether critical thinking could be taught probably sounds rhetorical. A doctorate in philosophy after all requires making a contribution to human knowledge, extending what we know, and defending this original contribution before the faculty. Solving a consequential problem for the first time obviously requires critical thinking. During doctoral training, the student acquires this ability through practice and examples. Critical thinking, like any ability, is often caught, not taught. With the desire to promote critical thinking in basic education where teachers do not normally engage in original research, it is timely to ask whether critical thinking can in fact be taught.

First, it is useful to describe what critical thinking entails. People hold beliefs for various reasons. In a soccer game for young children, a coach simply makes sure that every kid gets to play regardless of skills. This is an example of a belief based on values. Every child should be given an opportunity. There are beliefs, however, that need to be supported by evidence. A curriculum for basic education is an example. It is along this line that a less abstract discussion of what critical thinking entails is possible. Deanna Kuhn, in The Skills of Argument, offers an operational description of critical thinking. Dennis Fung outlines Kuhn's proposal in a paper published in the International Journal of Education Research:
  1. differentiate opinions from evidence; 
  2. support opinions with non-spurious evidence; 
  3. propose opinions alternative to one's own and know what evidence would support them; 
  4. provide evidence that simultaneously supports one's own opinions while rebutting the alternatives; and 
  5. take an epistemological stance that involves weighing the pros and cons of what is known.
Kuhn and Cromwell have in fact employed the above model to see if critical thinking can be taught in basic education. Their work published in the journal Psychological Science considers the possibility of teaching critical thinking to 11 and 12-year old children in middle school. The experiment randomly divides the class into two groups. One group (intervention) participates in a multiyear class that uses electronically conducted dialogues on social issues as the medium to develop reasoning skills, while the second group (comparison) receives direct instruction and participates in teacher-led discussions on the same issues. With Kuhn's model, the quality of reasoning can be assessed as illustrated in the following table:

Above copied from Psychological Science 22(4) 545–552

The issue in question here is stated as follows:
The new Columbia Town School has to decide how to pay its teachers. Some think every teacher should get the same pay. Others think that teachers should be paid according to how much experience they have, with teachers getting more pay for each year of teaching experience they have. Which do you think is the better plan and why?
Kuhn and Cromwell regard both dual and integrative perspectives as higher orders of reasoning.  And with this measure, the difference between the two groups is remarkable:

Above copied from Psychological Science 22(4) 545–552

The intervention clearly helps students develop dual-perspective arguments. After three years, for this particular cohort, thirty percent of the students in the intervention group have developed an integrative perspective. No student in the comparison group has reached such level. In addition to gauging the arguments of the student, at the end of Year 3, students are asked to provide questions that may provide answers supporting their argument. In this area, the intervention group raises more questions than the comparison group. In addition, the questions raised by the comparison tend to be "case-based" (For example, "Who is the teacher?) and not general (For example, "What is the average years of experience for teachers in the school?).

There are several points worth noting from this study. Direct instruction seems ineffective in helping students develop reasoning skills. The intervention covers three years before the highest level is reached. It is clearly a multi-year effort. As society clamors for critical thinking in basic education, it is important to point out that such task is not that easy....

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Multiple Intelligences: A Widely Misunderstood Notion

The Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines uses "Multiple Intelligences" as among the excellent features of its new curriculum. In 2010, Luistro said the enhanced K+12 is a free, pro-poor, multiple intelligence program for graduates to be equipped with skills necessary to be gainfully employed after high school graduation. The Philippines in its new DepEd K+12 curriculum fully embraces "Multiple Intelligences" as a theory of education when in reality, it is not. Gardner, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, uses the word "notion" in a 2013 article published in the Washington Post to refer to "Multiple Intelligences", an idea he conceived in 1983.

DepEd K+12 advertises its curriculum as
one that takes into account the nature and needs of the learner
"Multiple intelligences", according to Gardner, is an idea that is opposite to the belief that the human brain is "one central all-purpose computer". Instead, in "Multiple Intelligences", humans are believed to have "a number of relatively autonomous computers", one for each of the following:

Above copied from MI Oasis
"Multiple Intelligences" still remain a notion. It is yet to be supported by evidence. In 2012, Dekker and coworkers list "There are multiple intelligences" as a neuromyth in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Lynn Waterhouse writes in Educational Psychologist:
"Multiple Intelligences" is not supported by sound or consistent validating empirical evidence, and because these theories do not respect the constraints provided by cumulative empirical evidence from cognitive neuroscience research, these theories should not be taught without providing the context of their existing empirical support. Enthusiasm for their application to classroom practice should be tempered by an awareness that their lack of sound empirical support makes it likely that their application will have little real power to enhance student learning beyond that stimulated by the initial excitement of something new.
DepEd is therefore hinging its new curriculum on something that is not based on evidence. Worse, DepEd may have even misunderstood Multiple Intelligences. A quick glance of how Multiple Intelligences can be implemented inside a classroom shows that DepEd could not possibly embrace this notion. The following is an example taken from Concept to Classroom:

Above copied from Thirteen Ed Online
One does not need to examine DepEd's K+12 curriculum to check if the agency is implementing "Multiple Intelligences" properly. One simply has to see the multiple ways of presenting a particular lesson and the multiple ways by which student learning is assessed in "Multiple Intelligences". These are not nine different subjects. This is teaching and assessing one specific lesson in nine different ways. Keeping all of the above tasks in mind and reflecting on what Gardner thinks on how Multiple Intelligences can be implemented in education makes it quite obvious that DepEd is merely using Multiple Intelligences as a sound bite, for the above is only possible when the pupil to teacher ratio is very small.

DepEd not only copies an unproven notion in education, but also apparently makes an outrageous claim. Classes are not small in Philippine public schools. When something is being falsely advertised to the public, it is immoral.

Above copied from TruReview

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Lost Purpose of Tests

People who are unaware of an illness do not necessarily feel the urge to see a physician. Similarly, people who think they know the material more than they actually do are less likely to exert effort to learn. It is quite easy to fall prey to illusions of competence. Reading and listening are ways by which knowledge can be obtained. The information provided by a book or a lecturer is usually presented in an organized manner which helps the reader or audience to follow. There is fluency. And when students review the material by either simply rereading the book or listening to a recorded lecture, students often mistake this fluency as their own.

Diane Ravitch wrote in The Lost Purpose of School Reform:
Parents and educators have noisily opposed the annual testing mandate, which they think places too much emphasis on standardized tests and causes schools to cut funding for the arts, physical education, foreign languages, history, and other subjects. Even now, many thousands of parents are refusing to allow their children to sit for the Common Core tests to protest them. The Common Core tests are not like tests that adults took many years ago; they require anywhere from eight to eleven hours and are “delivered” online. In the past, teachers wrote their own tests to find out what students had or had not learned. They could tailor instruction to help students who had fallen behind. But results from the new standardized tests are not reported until four to six months after the tests, and teachers are not permitted to see how students answered specific questions. Thus, everyone ends up with a grade—the student, the teacher, the principal, and the school—but the tests have no diagnostic value because teachers cannot learn from them about the needs of their students.
High stakes standardized testing may have indeed led to school reform losing its original purpose, but what is likewise crystal clear is that high stakes testing has destroyed the good side of tests. A previous post in this blog, "National Achievement Test - Should We Abolish Standardized Testing?", points out that in both the United States and the Philippines, more and more people are clamoring for the removal of tests from schools.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines has called for the abolition of the National Standardized Exam
Tests, however, not only have diagnostic value but can also potentiate learning. Taking an exam provides students with an opportunity to help identify weaknesses. Regular quizzes achieve this purpose inside a classroom. If there is one thing a test can achieve, it can prevent a student from falling prey into an illusion of competence.

Even without providing scores or returning graded exams, research has shown that the mere task of taking a test already improves learning outcomes. The challenge that accompanies a test question is sufficient enough to inform a student to do something with his or her learning. These results are provided by a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology entitled "Partial Testing can Potentiate Learning of Tested and Untested Material From Multimedia Lessons". The study employs the following experimental design:

Above copied from Yue, C. L., Soderstrom, N. C., & Bjork, E. L. (2015, March 16). Partial Testing can Potentiate Learning of Tested and Untested Material From Multimedia Lessons. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000031

One group of students (Test Participants) takes a test on half of the items covered in a lesson while another group (Read Participants) simply rereads facts. Both groups are then given an opportunity to review the lesson before a final test is given. The results clearly show that students given a test before restudying perform better than those who simply reread facts from the lesson especially on items that are not covered in the initial test:

Above copied from Yue, C. L., Soderstrom, N. C., & Bjork, E. L. (2015, March 16). Partial Testing can Potentiate Learning of Tested and Untested Material From Multimedia Lessons. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000031

As shown in the experimental design, students are also requested to gauge their confidence in the material. Both groups increase their confidence as they study the lesson, with the Read Participants clearly becoming overconfident. The study also presents results from a second experiment that shows that a test on one lesson improves learning outcomes in a second unrelated lesson. Tests therefore improve strategies in studying.

High stakes tests do give tests a very bad reputation. Tests are important because these can shatter an illusion of competence, which serves as a significant barrier to learning. When we are made aware that there is something we do not know, we are more likely to exert effort to learn.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

An Excellent Teacher for Every Student

Teacher quality is the most important school-based factor affecting student learning. Effective teaching requires mastery of the content to be taught, communication skills, and a keen sense of students' needs. The first requirement alone, content mastery, could be a huge stumbling block in improving Philippine basic education. In a country like the Philippines where thousands of individuals trained in math and science migrate to the United States and other countries, it is difficult, for example, to find a high school teacher competent enough to teach either chemistry or physics.

Public Impact at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is finding ways to improve learning outcomes in the United States. One of its initiatives called Opportunity Culture aims to reach more students with excellent teachers. The following are various models that can help extend the impact of effective teachers:

In the Philippines, the Bernidos of Jagna, Bohol have been working on a project called Learning Physics as One Nation (LPON) to address the lack of qualified teachers. LPON is quite similar to the models shown previously from Public Impact's Opportunity Culture:
Learning Physics as One Nation (LPON) is an initiative of the Fund for Assistance to Private Education, funded by the Department of Education of the Philippines, and designed to bypass the nation’s severe STEM teacher shortage. Project components include a specially designed Physics Essentials Portfolio of 239 learning activities to be independently accomplished by students during one school year, and associated 18 DVD volumes of video lectures by national educators. The materials are designed such that a command team can monitor student progress, and address questions from the field through e-mail, mobile phone text messages, Skype, and fast courier services. Initial assessment of student performance shows a positive trend. Thus, after field studies in over 200 schools, plans are to produce Learning as One Nation materials for all other STEM subjects following the LPON model.

Initial assessments are promising as shown in the following figure:

Above copied from Achieving School Success by Bernido and Carpio-Bernido
The above chart shows that through LPON, scores are improved across the entire spectrum of students, from poor to superior. With LPON, the percent of students below average have gone down from 73 to 56.

The shortage in qualified teachers is real and extending the reach of excellent teachers may be a good solution, but it should be obvious that such solution remains superficial. The Philippines must work hard to recruit teachers from the best and the brightest. This can only be done by upgrading the teaching profession. This can only be achieved with quality teacher preparation in higher education.

LPON, like any remote teaching, unfortunately can only address two of the three important qualities of a good teacher: content mastery and communication skills. Learning and teaching is a two-way street and an excellent teacher is one who could also hear and see the students especially in the early years. The dismal state shown in the pre-test chart only reflects the poor quality of elementary education in the Philippines. Problems are best solved before they become intractable.

Monday, April 6, 2015

"There Are Many Who Are Against K to 12"

This blog has recently reached its 1000th post. Over the past three years, the blog has recorded nearly 1.5 million page views. The most recent post, Deped's K+12, Poorly Conceived or Malicious, has been viewed 3200 times, and has recorded 420 Likes and 160 shares on Facebook. Still, in a country of nearly one hundred million people, these numbers are nothing more than a few drops in a bucket. Obviously, social media cannot provide a full picture of how people in the Philippines view DepEd's K+12. However, even with a more extensive survey, results would not necessarily convey either a true support or opposition to the new curriculum when the new curriculum is widely misunderstood or even unknown to a large number of people. DepEd's K+12 to most people simply adds two years at the end of high school in Philippine basic education. Unfortunately, DepEd's K+12 is so much more than just two additional years.

Agham, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, in a recent paper, Science, technology and the K-12 education program, has enumerated the following features introduced by the new curriculum:
In pursuit of a strengthened curriculum, several reforms were provided in the EBEA (Enhanced Basic Education Act, Republic Act 10533), which include: (1) the spiral progression approach, (2) putting up career tracks as part of the senior high school including Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Strand of the Academic Track, and Technical-Vocational Track, (3) the Mother Tongue Based – Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE).
Agham then points out what is wrong with these features. A spiral progression approach that extends and mixes topics over a long period works against mastery of any of the science and math subjects. The introduction of career tracks in senior high school only "reveals a malevolent drive to produce "exportable" Filipino workers. Mother tongue education only exists in the early years and is replaced by Filipino and English.

The above are indeed drawbacks of DepEd's K+12. The biggest flaw, however, of DepEd's K+12, is its poor curriculum in the early years of education. Forced by multiple shifts in schools, students are deprived of important instruction and opportunities for learning.
"It's shortly after dawn, but the youngest pupils in overcrowded Ilugin Elementary School in Pasig City are already in class. Ilugin's grade one students are part of the first shift in a school that needs to schedule classroom use in three shifts to accommodate all 1,800 of its students. The first shift begins at 6 a.m., ending at 10 a.m., while the last shift starts at 2 p.m. and ends at 6 p.m." - Mav Gonzales
The total instructional time per day of 240 minutes or 4 hours is divided into Reading and Writing in the Mother Tongue - 40 minutes, Oral Fluency in Filipino - 40 minutes, Edukasyon sa Pagpapakatao (EsP) - 30 minutes, Mathematics or Arithmetic - 30 minutes, Araling Panlipunan (AP) - 30 minutes, Music, Arts, Physical Education, Health (MAPEH) - 30 minutes, and Oral Fluency in English - 30 minutes.  The classic opportunity for social learning called "recess" is missing. There is no Science.

When achievement gaps are already present even before first grade, a poor curriculum in the early elementary years is only destined to make these gaps even bigger. Senator Trillanes has recently called for a more vocal opposition to DepEd's K+12.

Above copied from the The Inquirer
There are probably many individuals who are against K+12. However, the reasons behind opposing K+12 likewise come in different flavors. There is a group, for instance, called Tanggol Wika (Protect Language), whose main advocacy is the preservation of Filipino as subject and medium of instruction. Tanggol Wika is planning to submit a petition to the Supreme Court to suspend DepEd's K+12 sometime this month. One can also read comments from parents lamenting on the costs of two additional years of basic education.

This blog opposes DepEd's K+12. This blog is against the new curriculum because it does not address problems in basic education. The new curriculum severely neglects the early years of education. This blog speaks for the young children who hardly have any voice in their education.