"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, September 22, 2017

The Children Are in School, But Are They Learning?

There remains the serious concern that about 60 million children in the world are out of school. Both former and current secretaries of education in the Philippines have raised the importance of addressing out-of-school youth. There is, however, an equally serious plague in basic education. "More than 617 million children and adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels (MPLs) in reading and mathematics, according to new estimates from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)." That is 6 out of 10 children who are in school and yet, are not learning. And in every region of the world, most children who are not learning are actually in school and not out of school.

Above copied from
UNESCO's Fact Sheet No. 46, September 2017, UIS/FS/2017/ED/46

There are about 75 million children from Eastern and South-Eastern Asia who fail to reach proficiency levels in math and reading. More than sixty percent of children in school in this region fail in math and reading. The Philippines belongs to this region. Since the Philippines falls behind most of the countries in this region (Singapore, Korea, China, Taiwan are among the top performing countries), one can assume that a significant number of these children comes from the Philippines.

The global distribution likewise shows inequity in education. One can see a similar poverty achievement gap by looking at the data in terms of poor and rich countries:

Above copied from
UNESCO's Fact Sheet No. 46, September 2017, UIS/FS/2017/ED/46

Truly, it is not enough to look simply at enrollment ratios. It is important to ask if our children are in fact learning in our schools. Lastly, the grip of poverty on basic education is indeed strong worldwide.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Should we send our children to a protest rally?

There is a reason why we attend schools - we need to learn. Obviously, we would like to learn not just what is true but also how to search for truth and discover knowledge. Carl Kohn, New York State United Teachers spokesperson once said, "If we want our young people to grow up to be adults who fully participate in democracy, the best time to begin that activism and that participation is when they are young." But William Gormley, a professor at Georgetown University, reminds us, "One disturbing possibility is that some students who are brought to a political rally as opposed to, let’s say, a public hearing, may be exposed to only one side of the debate, and that’s generally not good either for children’s cognitive development or the development of critical thinking skills or for the enhancement of civic readiness."

The above quotes are from an article, "The large, delicate role of children in New York activism", which discusses participation of youth in demonstrations on educational issues, issues that are not necessarily partisan in nature. These student activists after all are not asking for the resignation of the governor of New York. Yet, one must remain concerned whether children are being provided the entire story or just one side. The youth are of course highly impressionable as they are still in the process of developing their critical thinking skills. And this possibility becomes a grave concern if the mass action is partisan in nature.

There is a mass protest scheduled tomorrow in the Philippines. A new group has been formed and they call themselves "Tindig Pilipinas". The group's main objective is supposedly to promote peace, human rights, and rule of the law, focusing on alleged extrajudicial killings made in the administration's current war on drugs. The partisan nature of the group, however, cannot be denied.

Above copied from Rappler

One side of the drug crisis often not heard from this group is the link between drug lords and politicians. Here in the United States where opiod deaths are rising, there is already a rising concern. One can imagine how much outrage there will be if there are signs that the opium trade is also linked to funding campaigns of politicians. This is evil. And it is highly likely that drug abuse has actually proliferated in the Philippines because some politicians are beneficiaries.

One good sign of one-sidedness is an exclusive claim for what is true and right. Social issues are often not black and white. Yet, one school, for example, in the Philippines, appears to have sent the following to parents and guardians of their students:

Above copied from
For the Motherland - Sass Rogando Sasot
We should not send children to a protest rally that is partisan and one-sided. We should not be passing to our children our own responsibilities. We should always consider the safety of our children. Lastly, we should give our children the opportunity to think independently on social and political issues.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Not just in text, but also on an exam

Three years ago, I shared on this blog an image I saw on social media. It was a question in an exam, which I translated into English:
Place a "check" mark if the activity is for males and a "cross" if it is for females:
______1. Plowing a field
______2. Cleaning the house
______3. Driving a jeepney (a public means of transportation in the Philippines)
______4. Washing and ironing clothes
______5. Market shopping
There are numerous instances of errors in textbooks used in the Philippines. Furtunately, according to research, reading a text is not as effective as other means when it comes to retaining information. Unfortunately, tests do. Tests can better reinforce the storage of information in our minds.

I am returning to this topic since I saw this morning a similar post:

Above copied from Jonathan Chua

The above exam has been graded and the correct answers have been marked. A girl is expected to do laundry. A girl is expected to wash dishes. Someone who wears eyeglasses is probably older and should be the breadwinner. A boy is expected to play. A child who appears to be older should be watering the plants. Jonathan Chua, who posted the above picture, is actually amazed that his post has received more than 5000 Likes and has been shared almost 4000 times. I guess, with more than 100,000,000 Filipinos, these numbers of Likes and Shares do not really amount much. Still, educators should be made aware of this issue. It needs to be addressed as we strive for gender equality and the participation of men and women in all fields.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"Of what good is democracy if it is not for the poor?"

These words were actually from the ousted dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, as he tried to paint the "New Society" as a "revolution from the center", or a "democraization of wealth", a revolution by the poor. Yet, Marcos' regime received global condemnation on human rights abuses, a great contradiction. The Inquirer just published a piece stating that Marcos was in fact the first to establish a commission on human rights in the Philippines.

Above copied from the Inquirer

Although it was obvious why Marcos created such a commission (to make his administration look good), it was still important that the creation of such a commission carried some credibility. After all, it had to be a good show. According to the Inquirer, this was how the Commission should be established:
Attached to the Office of the President, the commission was supposed to be a multisectoral group composed of representatives from government and the private sector, with the Vice President and the Prime Minister as chair and vice chair, respectively.
Its members would include the presidents of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the Civil Liberties Union of the Philippines, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, the Federation of Free Farmers, the Civic Assembly of Women of the Philippines, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the Ulama Association of the Philippines and the Association of Christian Churches of the Philippines.
When Marcos issued this decree, the Vice President would have been Arturo Tolentino and the Prime Minister was Cesar Virata. 

Corazon Aquino, who headed the revolutionary government that ousted Marcos also created a Commission on Human Rights, this time, supposedly with the blessing of a newly ratified Constitution. Aquino already had a presidential commission but its chairman, Jose Diokno, resigned in protest of a massacre that happened during the early months of Aquino's administration. Aquino then hurriedly established the Commission on Human Rights with an Executive Order. The order was even amended quickly with the following change:
“The Chairman and Members of the Commission on Human Rights shall be appointed by the President. Their tenure in office shall be at the pleasure of the President.”
The Supreme Court would later describe the above as unconstitutional.

The current Constituion of the Philippines is younger than I am, yet its interpretation has already become murky even with some of its major framers still alive. I think this only points to one major obstacle in civics education in the Philippines. There is so much emphasis on personalities and not on ideas. Since Marcos is often viewed as a villain, his ideas must be all evil. On the other hand, Aquino regarded as a savior means her ideas are infallible. It is true that context is important but it is likewise necessary to see ideas as they are.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Democracy Can Not Survive Too Much Ignorance"

Former United States Supreme Court Justice David Souter once said in an interview, "What I worry about is…that an ignorant people can never remain a free people. Democracy cannot survive too much ignorance…. You can’t keep [a republic] in ignorance." More pressing than failing scores in standardized exams, declining government institutions and civic ignorance are truly troubling signs of a severely lacking basic educational system. One might point to the current state of politics in the US as an example, but a much more glaring illustration is the Philippines. In 2015, Aquino appointed Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon as the new chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Gascon was the vice president for Social Movements of the Aquino-led Liberal Party (LP) and a former LP director-general. CHR is supposed to be an independent body tasked to protect Filipinos' political and civil rights, both in and out of the country. It is perhaps due to either ignorance or arrogance that Aquino failed to see the grave importance of nonpartisanship in an independent body like the Commission on Human Rights.

Above copied from Rappler

And it is not just Aquino. News Media like Rappler did not even comment on such glaring error. The job of the CHR is daunting especially in the Philippines where due process is greatly wanting, paramilitary forces are present, and relationships between criminals and officials abound. Only a few months after Gascon's appointment, the head of a school that served indigenous people was assassinated.

Above copied from Bulatlat

This case remains unsolved and after two years, all that Gascon can do is to apologize to the Lumad people.

Above copied from Bulatlat

The bitter fruit of partisanship in CHR has also become evident when the current president, Duterte, not a member of Aquino's Liberal Party, took a strong stance against the CHR in his second state of the nation address. Duterte, in an interview, points out that CHR should likewise investigate alleged atrocities made by rebels to which Jodesz Gavilan of Rappler remarks, "Duterte’s request goes against the primary mandate of CHR. According to the 1987 Constitution, CHR is expected to investigate alleged human rights violations perpetrated by state actors or the government." Whether this is a correct interpretation of the Constitution is actually unclear especially when the Constitution specifically states that the CHR should "Provide appropriate legal measures for the protection of human rights of all persons within the Philippines, as well as Filipinos residing abroad". Surely, if rights of Filipino overseas workers are included, CHR's responsibility is not limited to Philippine state actors.

The crisis involving CHR has reached the highest level as the House of Representatives voted to allot only $20 for the body's annual budget. The public's reaction to this move, of course, has also been shaped by partisanship. Duterte's supporters see it as a long-awaited rectification of CHR's partisanship. Duterte's opponents see it in an exactly different light.

Above copied from
Shame on you! Twitter rages vs House vote on CHR budget cut

Again, there is ignorance. Respect for human rights should not be equated to the existence of a Commission on Human Rights. In fact, there is actually no need for such a commission if human rights are already protected in a country. And with the Philippine constitution, human rights are supposed to be protected whether there is a commisssion or not. 

The current problems the Philippine government and its people are facing can be traced to poor education. Souter's words ring loud and clear across the archipelago, "Democracy can not survive too much ignorance".

Monday, September 11, 2017

How to Address Inequity in Schools

Standardized test scores do inform us of problems in basic education. One important piece is the achievement gap between the poor and the rich. We must, however, go a step further than looking at test scores. Only then would we see the gap in learning opportunities. A gap in achievement after all can be due to a gap in opportunities. The first step then is to commit ourselves to an "education for all", and all means all. Only with this commitment can we begin providing all students the resources and support they need. We can then challenge all of them to achieve the best they can be. Such task is not impossible.

The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder has a project called "Schools of Opportunity", which recognizes public high schools that can serve as excellent models for equity in education. There is obviously not one solution to address achievement gaps. However, by looking at the various criteria used by "Schools of Opportunity", one may actually find rough guidelines on how to achieve a just, effective, fair and equitable school. An article published in the journal Phi Delta Kappan, "Learning from schools that close opportunity gaps" lists the following criteria:

Above copied from
LaCour, Sarah E., et al. "Learning from schools that close opportunity gaps." Phi Delta Kappan 99.1 (2017): 8-14.

Selection Criteria:
  1. Broadening and enriching learning opportunities
  2. Creating and maintaining a healthy school culture
  3. Providing more and better learning time during the school year and summer
  4. Using a variety of assessments designed to respond to student needs
  5. Supporting teachers as professionals
  6. Meeting the needs of students with disabilities in an environment that ensures challenge and support
  7. Providing students with additional needed services and supports, including mental and physical health services
  8. Creating a challenging and supported culturally relevant curriculum
  9. Building on the strengths of language minority students and correctly identifying their needs
  10. Sustaining equitable and meaningful parent and community engagement

Here is the key point seen by browsing through schools that have been recognized:

Above copied from
LaCour, Sarah E., et al. "Learning from schools that close opportunity gaps." Phi Delta Kappan 99.1 (2017): 8-14.

Needless to say, there is also not one best practice to establish equity in schools. Equal access to the curriculum in some cases may just mean providing healthy meals to all children. In some, a safe school climate, one that is free of bullying, for instance, is necessary. There are so many possible impediments to learning that are even outside the mere opportunity to enroll in a course.

The above are likewise obviously impossible for a single teacher to achieve. Thus, without saying, the changes require the school and the community to work as a team.

Lastly, we can indeed look at test scores but we must see the real problem that the scores are telling us. It is the achievement gap. It is the inequity. Only then would we realize that the answer to the problems basic education faces is equity.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Why Are There More Lawyers Than Chemists in the Philippines?

What major an entering college student chooses depends on several factors. Of course, a high school dropout can not even exercise such a choice. Even a high school graduate who is not lucky enough to have had received a quality basic education has limited options. On top of these, the career choice made by a child is often influenced by his or her parent's income or socioeconomic status. In "Who Had Richer Parents, Doctors or Artists?", Quoctrung Bui finds that those who chose law often come from households wealthier than those who chose a career in the physical sciences:

Above copied from
"Who Had Richer Parents, Doctors or Artists?"

Recently, Cielito F. Habito wrote this on the Philippine Inquirer:

Above copied from the

Habito, however, does not make any connection between the above problem and the current predicament of basic education in the Philippines. Instead, the dearth of chemists in the Philippines is blamed on the licensing requirement. Comparing the number of takers alone already shows the gigantic advantage of lawyers over chemists. This means that there are simply more students studying law than students who are studying chemistry.

Inequity in basic education is consequential. If most scientists come from working families and children from these families are not provided quality basic education, then these children will not even reach the required skills and knowledge to succeed in a freshman chemistry course. On the other hand, if resources and effective teachers are concentrated in schools that mainly serve rich children, it should not be surprising to see so many lawyers at the end of the education pipeline. It is indeed reasonable to extrapolate that if inequities in basic education linger, lawyers will become plenty and chemists will become scarce.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

“We knew it was bad, but we didn’t know it was this bad.” - ACT

A measure of college readiness, ACT scores, shows just how much multiple doses of disadvantage can affect academic achievement. It really gets worse if a child comes from a poor household, if a child's parents did not go to college, and if a child comes from a minority group. A child who does not meet any of these conditions (54% college-ready) is six times more likely to be ready for college than a child who is poor, black, and whose parents did not go to college (9% college-ready). These results show that the major problem basic education in the United States faces is indeed inequity. The scores point to a serious and lingering problem in US schools: a well established disparity in quality and resources between schools that serve mostly poor and minority children and schools that do not.

Above copied from
The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2017

The situation is worse if one considers readiness in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). A non-disadvantaged child is more than 15 times more likely to be prepared for STEM than a child who is poor, a minority, and first-generation:

Above copied from
The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2017

To appreciate this disparity, fifteen times more likely is the same difference between smokers and non-smokers when it comes to the likelihood of getting lung cancer.

Addressing the problem of inequity has only one solution: Remove the inequity. We can begin by expecting all students to reach a high level in academic achievement. This expectation, however, is meaningless, if we do not provide the support or resources needed.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Finding a Home and School

List prices of homes in Fairfax county in Virginia depend a lot on the zip code. The median price in 22180 (Vienna, VA) is $1.4 million while in 22003 (Annandale, VA), it is $600 K (Data from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc.). Madison High School in Vienna has 9% of its students coming from low income families while Annandale High School has 52% of its students coming from poor households. What school a child attends is decided by the zone that child lives in. Salvatore Saporito of the College of William & Mary recently examined how the shape of a school zone relates to enrollment segregation by income. His paper published in the American Education Research Journal shows that "school districts with the most irregularly shaped zones have less income segregation than school districts with compact zones."

When something is irregularly shaped, it is usually a sign that someone has spent extra effort in drawing the boundary lines. Take, for instance, the Falcon Pass Elementary School Zone in Houston Texas:

Map showing houses belonging to the top quantile (green) and lowest quantile (red) (Salvatore Saporito. Shaping Income Segregation in Schools: The Role of School Attendance Zone Geography. American Educational Research Journal. First published date: August-14-2017, school's poverty data from NCES 2015.

The school zone shown above is indeed irregularly shaped. It is not compact and therefore not automatic. It is obvious that extra consideration was spent in drawing this zone. The school zone looks like an hour glass and can easily be divided into two parts, north for the wealthy, and south for the poor.  Falcon Pass Elementary School belongs to the Clear Creek District which has a poverty rate of 9 %, yet 31% of the students it serves belong to low-income families. The school's performance on standardized exams is above average:

Data from GreatSchools

The school therefore does well in spite of its highly economically integrated enrollment. On the other hand, school zones drawn in a compact manner are often segregated according to income. Saporito does not provide a specific example, but one school zone in Fairfax county demonstrates this (This is the school my children attend, Mason Crest Elementary School):

Median Household Income (Data USA: Fairfax County) and the Mason Crest Elementary School zone

The school zone, in this case is much more compact than the zone previously shown and when viewed side by side with an income map, the zone pretty much covers only the neighborhoods where the median household income is low. It is therefore not surprising to see that Mason Crest Elementary School has 46% of its students coming from low-income families. This is disproportionately higher compared to the overall poverty level in Fairfax county, only 6%. Fortunately, with this school's deep commitment to education for all, the school's performance on standardized tests are average.

Data from GreatSchools

There is no doubt, however, that Mason Crest teachers still find greater challenges with its high number of poor children. Sadly, the case of Mason Crest Elementary School is the rule and that of Falcon Pass Elementary School is the exception. School zones in the United States, whether it is intentional or not, tend to segregate students according to their family income. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Wait, It Gets Worse If You Are Poor And Black

In a previous post, "Double Dose of Disadvantage", the sad plight of poor children in public basic education is highlighted. Not only do poor children enter school less prepared, but once they start school, both resources and expectations are often limited. Now, there is apparently a third dose of disadvantage if the child belongs to a minority group. Recent research shows that Blacks, Hispanics, Native American, Asians, and children of mixed races are all less likely compared to Whites to be identified for special education services.

Special education, when done properly, addresses specific needs of a child with disabilities. A child with disabilities is entitled to an Individualized Education Program that comes with both accomodations and interventions that address a child's challenges. Making special education synonymous with lower expectations is simply wrong. The notion that minority children are often assigned to special education is likewise quite common. Indeed, proportionally, there are more black children (15%) identified as disabled than white children (13%). Such overestimation coupled with the view that special education is some way of segregation can therefore lead to the conclusion that expectations for minority children are now further lowered. Two wrongs obviously do not make one right. Children with disabilities need to be both identified and helped. Clearly, good data is essential in order to gauge correctly the situation so that what is wrong can be addressed and properly rectified.

Minority children are in fact less likely to be identified with a learning disability. Such conclusion can only be reached if all factors are considered. Paul Morgan and coworkers have done such research and their main finding is this: Given two children, one white, the other a minority, both with similar socioeconomic status, school factors, and test scores, the white child is more likely to be assigned to an individualized education program (IEP):

Above copied from
Replicated Evidence of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Disability Identification in U.S. Schools
Paul L. Morgan, George Farkas, Marianne M. Hillemeier, SteveMaczuga
Educational Researcher
First published date: August-27-2017
In order to address a problem, it is indeed important to identify the correct problem. What Morgan and his colleagues have found support the idea that we often give less to those who are in greater need. It is the main reason why there is inequity in our schools. We often assign better resources to those who are already priviliged. What is surprising is we always seem to be confused why poor and minority children are not doing well in schools when the reason is so clear. We are giving them doses of disadvantage.