"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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What Makes a School Successful

Years ago, John Tierney wrote an article in the Atlantic that criticized our obsession with national rankings of school districts. After all, as Tierney pointed out, very few could really afford to move from one state to another just for a "better school". This point becomes even more evident with international rankings. Rankings, however, putting aside vanity, could be somewhat useful if schools that did well were able to provide us with some information of what actually worked. EducationWeek tried to do this in its most recent Quality Counts 2018 report. Five traits were found to be common among the high-performing states:

  • Good economy
  • High academic learning outcomes
  • High spending per pupil
  • High college participation
  • Good early childhood education

Above copied from The Atlantic

Like a family that is in a good financial situation, a state that is doing well economically has much more time and energy to worry about things beyond the basic needs. High graduation rates and scores in standardized exams correlating with quality is really no surprise. Resources do count and a higher budget per student means smaller classroom size, better instructional materials and equipment, and special services. A community that has a large fraction of college graduates translates usually to a better economy and greater opportunities for parental involvement and support. Lastly, these top states provide good early childhood education.

Perhaps, the above list is a useful template for other states to follow. This may then make the ranking not so much of a waste of time. Unfortunately, a majority of these common traits are really beyond what a basic education policy can provide. Policies in schools do not easily translate to higher test scores, better economy, or college participation. There are, however, two traits that can help inform education policy makers: high spending per pupil and a good early childhood education.

When the Philippines embarked on its ambitious K to 12 curriculum, there was indeed some attention paid to early childhood education. After all, the new curriculum did introduce and require kindergarten for all. The weakness lies in ignoring the "good" in good early childhood education. Quality does count and this quality is not possible without funding. This is the reason why high spending per pupil also appears as a common trait. This is where the Philippines' K to 12 has missed the urgent need to focus one's limited resources to the early years of education. This is where adding two years to high school misses what really counts in basic education. 

Blogger Tricks

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Press Freedom Is Not a Freedom to Spread Lies

Freedom of the press is granted for it comes with the huge responsibility of informing society. It is not a license to promote one's bias. On basic education, the record of Philippines' online mass media company Rappler already demonstrates a lack of adherence to truth. While the country is embarking on an ambitious new curriculum, Rappler has failed to inform the public of the gross unpreparedness of the government. Lack of resources is an exigent reason against DepEd's K to 12, yet Rappler has used its media presence to promote the fallacy that the department is meeting the demands of public schools.

Above copied from Rappler

There are not enough textbooks. In fact, the next years will show that there are no textbooks. This is clearly not a responsible exercise of the freedom of the press. It is a lie and Rappler is indeed a source of fake news.

Rappler's registration has been recently revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of the Philippines because of foreign ownership. In the 29-page decision, the commission stated:

The SEC also does not fail to highlight how Rappler has responded to this question of how much control does the foreign entity Omidyar Network really has on Rappler:
"On 22 December 2017, respondents submitted a photocopy of a purported Waiver of Paragraph 12.2.2 of the Omidyar Network PDR. The document is a private one, not subscribed before a Notary or a Philippine Consulate. It was executed as recently as 11 December 2017, more than four (4) months since the start of Formal Investigation. It is obviously inadmissible, a mere scrap of paper."
Instead of admitting and addressing how ineptly Rappler has been operated as a business, Rappler's CEO Maria Ressa cries "freedom of the press". Rappler indeed has not been faithful to the truth but the real reason why Rappler is in trouble is actually different. Rappler has been run poorly as an organization so the SEC has decided to revoke its registration.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Importance of the Fourth Estate

Wikipedia defines the fourth estate as "a segment of society that wields an indirect but significant influence on society even though it is not a formally recognized part of the political system. The most commonly recognized part of the fourth estate is the news media, or press". The fourth estate is often deemed important in a democracy because of the requirement of an informed citizenry. The news media or press therefore serves a source of information. For example, when a new tax bill is passed, it is crucial that the public is made knowledgeable of the new law and its consequences. Correct and complete information is always necessary to arrive at the right conclusions. Reporting that prices of commodities are rising and attributing the rise solely to a new tax without considering that the prices of these commodities are also increasing in the global market is an example of incomplete information. There is indeed a huge difference between informing and misleading. Of course, there is likewise a distinction between being selective and being comprehensive. There is truly a huge responsibility that rests on the shoulders of a fourth estate. For this reason, it must remain free for it is only with freedom can responsibility exist.

Information that is vital often involves conflicting interests. Otherwise, conclusions are not really that consequential. The need to know frequently coincides with what is right and what is wrong. And it is really in these cases that information matters most. Local newspapers are very useful for these usually cover situations or issues that are very relevant to a community. This morning, in the midst of two big stories in the Philippines, the resignation of the chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education and the news media Rappler being ordered to shut down by the Securities and Exchange Commission, I happened to read a commentary on MindaNews, a news cooperative from the Southern Philippines. The commentary, Why Tagakolu children can barely read or write despite attending school, was written by Joey Evangelista. It spoke about the current struggles of children from the Tagakolu tribes of Davao. 

Above copied from MindaNews

The commentary, as seen from above, started with the fact that because of the new tax law, teachers in public schools would be seeing a larger take home pay. What is excruciating is what follows. Here are additional excerpts:

Above copied from MindaNews

In these remote places, children are apparently condemned to a life of illiteracy. Teachers even believe that the brains of Tagakolu children are simply not built for learning. This is truly a disgrace.

When one sees news like this that describes what has been going on for so many years now, one can only ask, "Where is the fourth estate?"


Sunday, January 14, 2018

How Do We Produce Innovators

Innovation is important for progress. To be competitive, we need to become more efficient and make what we produce more valued. Breakthroughs are primarily driven by individuals who can innovate. But how exactly can a society increase its number of innovators. Researchers at the Equality of Opportunity Project have examined the lives of about a million inventors in the United States of America to tease out the necessary ingredients for a country to produce innovators. They find that inventors are more likely to come from those who score high in third grade math and from wealthy families.

Above copied from
Bell et al. (2017). Who Becomes an Inventor in America?The Importance of Exposure to Innovation.

The graph above reminds us of what mathematician Alfred North Whitehead said in The Aims of Education, and other essays:
"…inventive genius requires pleasurable mental activity as a condition for its vigorous exercise. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ is a silly proverb. ‘Necessity is the mother of futile dodges’ is much nearer the truth. The basis of the growth of modern invention is science, and science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity...."
Indeed, we find much more inventors in developed countries than in developing ones. And the data above on inventors in the United States point out that of those who score at the 95 percentile of a standardized 3rd grade math test are more than two times more likely to become inventors if they are likewise coming from a wealthy family.

Within any income group, math scores from 3rd to 8th grade can mostly predict who becomes an inventor. These are the years of basic education and doing well in math during this time is perhaps correlated with enjoying mental activity. Unfortunately, gaps in math achievement also exist based on family income. Consequently, a society indeed loses a lot of potential scientists and engineers when most of its children are facing poverty. It is a "catch-22". Innovation requires quality basic education but quality basic education can be provided only with resources. A society that lacks innovation is often poor and therefore unable to provide quality basic education.

The study also finds that innovators produce innovators. Those who are ahead will therefore stay ahead. The Philippines lacks scientists and engineers and unless basic education begins to focus more on math and the sciences to draw more children into "pleasurable but vigorous mental exercise", its economic outlook will remain dim.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Raising the Salaries of Cops and Soldiers

The Duterte administration recently increased the wages of policemen and soldiers in the Philippines. Lowest-rank uniformed personnel would nearly see a 100 percent increase in their base salary. Although the legislature cites the need to reward the men and women who have served faithfully and accomplished what they needed to do, Duterte has stated that the salary hike is meant to curb corruption in the police and armed forces. This is also apparently the reason why the hike for these civil servants needs to be prioritized. Surprisingly, this line of thinking is in fact supported by evidence-based research. Salaries are indeed negatively correlated with corruption.

Corruption in law enforcement and the armed forces is of course long known in the Philippines. This is partly the reason why there are numerous deaths associated with the drug war currently waged by the Duterte administration. The need to curb corruption among these civil servants is especially urgent especially when one realizes that these government employees are armed with guns. Duterte's statement on how criminals are entering the police force is not far from the truth especially when these positions are not attracting the right people.

In a study of low-income countries similar to the Philippines, Caroline Van Rijckeghema and Beatrice Weder find that increasing the salaries of government employees is indeed correlated with a decrease in corruption.

Above copied from
C. Van Rijckeghem, Weder B. Bureaucratic corruption and the rate of temptation: do wages in the civil service affect corruption, and by how much?
J. Dev. Econ., 65 (2) (2001), pp. 207-331

And the salary hike truly needs to be substantial to be effective. The action taken by the Duterte administration is therefore supported by research. And there is really no question why this needs to be a high priority.

Obviously other civil servants need a salary raise as well and in particular, public school teachers have been long asking for a salary that can in fact support their families and enable them to focus more on the learning of their students. Raising the salary of teachers is not found to correlate strongly with learning outcomes but the fact that teachers do need to support themselves and their families cannot be ignored. These salary raises do require government funds which come from taxes. It is then understandable why the Duterte administration is likewise finding ways to increase government revenues by reforming the country's tax laws. There are costs and benefits. Corruption, incompetence and inefficiency obviously can get in the way of balancing costs and benefits. Teachers do need salaries that can meet their basic needs, but the prioritization made by the Duterte administration as it tries to combat corruption first is actually justified.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Against All Odds

Imagine a place that sits at ground zero of a drug addiction crisis. As expected, it is a place where one out of ten working-age individuals is unemployed and nearly half of the families live below the poverty line. Only four out of five are able to finish high school. As a result, nearly half of its residents over the age of 25 do not have a high school diploma. In 2010, only 3 out of ten students are proficient in math and less than two out of ten are able to pass a standardized science test. These numbers are not from the Philippines but from a community in West Virginia in the United States, McDowell county.  For the Philippines, it maybe helpful to look at what this county is doing to address challenges in basic education. After all, the county has been showing a dramatic improvement in the past few years. And at the heart of this progress is a union, a union of teachers.

The turn around of McDowell county is largely attributed to a partnership between public and private groups called Reconnecting McDowell. The teachers' union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is a major player in this partnership as the group envisions education as the main driver to a brighter future for the county.

Above copied from Reconnecting McDowell

Facing enourmous problems, of course, requires a lot of action, but there is clearly one factor that has contributed significantly to the improvements now seen in the county: Schools have become community schools where physical, dental and mental health services are provided. Education clearly must address not only the academics but the whole child. The following is an excerpt from WVMetroNews
At Southside, students get a warm meal at night. They get dental cleanings. They can take yoga classes, use gym space, learn to program a robot, receive mental health counseling and so much more because the school is now considered the county’s first “community school.”
To put the above concretely, adolescents who are charged with drug possession no longer go to prison. Instead, they are provided medical and counseling services, and they are able to stay in school. I guess this is what we really should mean when we say that we are providing a child everything that he or she needs to build a better future. It is about treatment, not punishment. And this is what it takes to turn around a county like McDowell.

Monday, January 8, 2018

CHED's Passing the Buck: An Admission of Incompetence

The Commission on Higher Education continues to use a Wordpress site to inform its teacher-scholars of the status of their allowances. There is a new "public tracker" now which seems to have the sole purpose of placing the blame of the outrageous delay of allowances on the scholars themselves. The table now even includes columns that suggest scholars have been deficient with the required forms. Indeed, on the surface, the tracker looks like a good deflection, but upon closer inspection, it is really a poor attempt to shift responsibility and is simply another demonstration of incompetence of the commission.

The tracker now has "Remarks" and "Action Steps" on which deficiencies on the part of the scholar are highlighted. Obviously, in the above figure, there are seven rows (seven scholars) in which these columns are empty. The public tracker is supposedly updated continuously so perhaps, these seven scholars have promply addressed their deficiencies during the first few weeks this tracker has been posted. But then again, maybe, there are really no deficiencies and the Commission is simply the culprit for the delay. The Commission did apologize weeks ago citing poor infrastructure, deficiency on scholars' documents, and additional audit requirements. Deficiencies are always mentioned yet the Commission admits that there are thousands of scholars who are in fact fully compliant.

Above copied from PhilStar

An open letter posted on Facebook sums up the resentment of the Commission's teacher scholars: (In this age of social media and email, it is truly remarkable that the Commission still tries to blame documents for the delay.)

What is especially striking in this open letter is the allegation that officials within the Commission have been threatening teacher-scholars as well as their institutions after they have aired their complaints. Department chairs and university officials are even told of the risk of losing scholarship opportunities in the future. This is utterly depraved especially when the Chair of the Commission can easily take a "business class" flight to California.

Ironically, the above trip is "to participate in high level meetings of Philippine-California Advanced Research Institutes (PCARI) Project in California, USA". By the way, PCARI is a multibillion project which a former youth representative in the Philippine Congress called "anomalous":

“The P10-billion PCARI project is riddled with anomalies and legal infirmities. The way its implementation is designed – wherein foreign institutions pre-selected by PCARI focal persons can access large chunks of public funds without the benefit of a public bidding – makes the project highly vulnerable to corruption. A comprehensive congressional review is thus in order.” 
Apparently, when it comes to PCARI, the Commission has no infrastructure, deficiency and audit problems.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Business Class and "Scholar-Beggars"

This blog received thousands of views from the Philippines this morning. A previous post on this blog, "When Scholarships Become Oppressive", apparently caught the attention of a representative in the Philippine Congress, Koko Nograles.

It is indeed good to see that the sad plight of teacher-scholars in the Philippines has finally reached the attention of someone in Congress. Whether this would amount to anything remains to be seen. CNN Philippines earlier noted a previous post by Congressman Nograles on the same Facebook page. The post was also about the Commission on Higher Education.

Below is one of the images shared in the above post:

The chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education in the Philippines apparently takes business class. The CNN Philippines article adds the following explanation:

Nograles also accused her of traveling expensively.
However, CHED International Affairs Staff Director Atty. Lily Frieda Milla said Licuanan has vertigo and clarified she's allowed to fly via business class "for long-haul flights," as stated which is allowed under the travel guidelines stated in the Office of the President Memorandum Circular No. 7 (2010). and because of her vertigo."
The memorandum provides that airfares for government officials shall be "limited to restricted economy class" except for flights beyond four hours.
If we can easily sympathize and understand why vertigo can justify flying in business class then it should be a lot more straightforward to see why it is imperative that teachers who are breadwinners of their families receive their alowances on time, and not half a year later. Oftentimes, we focus so much on corruption thinking that it is the biggest evil in an administration when incompetence is equally depraved.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What Is Behind the News?

"The ancient Roman and Greek Orators could only speak to the Number of Citizens capable of being assembled within the Reach of their Voice: Their Writings had little Effect because the Bulk of the People could not read. Now by the Press we can speak to Nations; and good Books & well written Pamphlets have great and general Influence." Benjamin Franklin could very well say something similar with regard to social media. Sadly, "good Books & well written Pamphlets", as demonstrated by one of Franklin's actions, include composing and spreading fake news. While in France, Franklin printed a fake issue of Boston's Independent Chronicle in which he made up a story of American forces discovering bags containing scalps of soldiers, farmers, women, children and even infants from inhabitants of New York, all of which supposedly taken by Senneka Indians who were in cahoots with King George. Such fake news not only placed the British in a bad light, but also tarnished the image of Native Americans. Individuals have an agenda and if there are means to sway people's opinions, misinformation or fake news will always be with us. And there is no easy cure for fake news. In basic education, there is that dream of helping students to become "critical thinkers". There is just one tiny problem with that dream: Critical thinking is expert thinking. To easily spot misinformation, one must be correctly informed.

Ironically, there is likewise fake news on fake news. 

Above copied from
Real News Right Now

The above, however, is a satire. Although nowadays, some are likewise not able to tell when a piece is satirical. But there are indeed attempts to misinform people on misinformation. Here is one:

The above excerpt is not part of a satirical article, but a part of an allegation made by Maria Ressa, co-founder of a Philippines' online news site, Rappler. Ressa has been continuously nagging Facebook. Apparently, the way Facebook works did not go entirely to her advantage. Ressa criticizes the current Duterte administration but her approach is widely seen as biased. Here is a tweet from Ressa weeks ago:

And one response is a reminder to Ressa that this is really old news:


Please go through these screenshots and be reminded just how:

1. Extrajudicial murders are a blot on BS Aquino's year in power -- 2011

2. Philippines was considered as among the worst countries for human rights -- 2015

3. Phils. was tagged as the one with the highest impunity rates in 2015

4. EJK was the biggest concern in Phils.- 2014

5. "1 activist is killed per week" - Bayan, 2010

6. Phils. 1 of 10 deadliest countries for journalists -- 2015

Ressa should probably read thoroughly an article published by the Brookings Institution, How to Combat Fake News. Here are the relevant excerpts:

The news industry should continue to focus on high-quality journalism that builds trust and attracts greater audiences. An encouraging development is that many news organizations have experienced major gains in readership and viewership over the last couple of years, and this helps to put major news outlets on a better financial footing. But there have been precipitous drops in public confidence in the news media in recent years, and this has damaged the ability of journalists to report the news and hold leaders accountable. During a time of considerable chaos and disorder, the world needs a strong and viable news media that informs citizens about current events and long-term trends.
We cannot combat fake news with poor and biased journalism. Rappler was there during the time K to 12 was being contemplated and introduced into Philippine basic education. Rappler, however, was not there to inform citizens how ill-advised and ill-planned the new curriculum was.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Can We Be Optimistic in 2018?

QuizzStar has an app that looks at one's most used words on Facebook. Mine is shown below. My Facebook posts do reflect the contents of this blog. With a couple of days now into a new year, I cannot stop but think if it is possible for the Philippine government to address the problems and improve basic education in the country. If Duterte can lower the number of fireworks-related injuries during the celebration of New Year, it is perhaps possible.

The Department of Health in the Philippines is reporting that this year's celebration marks one of the lowest number of cases of deaths and injuries due to firecrackers and fireworks.

Above copied from the South China Morning Post

Duterte did sign an executive order banning fireworks displays in residences back in June 2017. Hundreds are still reported to be injured, but this number is significantly lower than the ten-year average of at least a thousand.

Growing up in the Philippines, it is difficult to imagine that people would really give up lighting up firecrackers in front of their houses. But it has happened. I can just imagine if only a similar success rate can occur with basic education. Lowering the number of school dropouts by a similar percentage, 65 percent, would definitely be astronomical. If the number of students not reaching a proficiency stage in the National Achievement Test is reduced by two thirds, that would be indeed a great national achievement. It is just the second day of 2018, so we can dream.

Sean F. Reardon at Stanford has shown that in spite of poverty, there remains an opportunity for growth and learning in public schools. The nationwide data from the United States covering the years 2008-2015 and 45 million students show that even in poor school districts, students can thrive.

Above copied from
Reardon, S.F. (2017). Educational opportunity in early and middle childhood:Variation by place and age (CEPA Working Paper No.17-12). Retrieved from Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis: http://cepa.stanford.edu/wp17-12 
On the top panel of the above graph, one can easily see that poor students who demonstrate low achievement in third grade are still able in a significant number of school districts to grow academically more than one grade per year. It is possible to overcome the disadvantages poverty brings to basic education, but we must do the right thing.

So, here is my wish list. (The Supreme Court will probably never decide on K-12 so this is not on the list.) I hope that the Duterte administration will:

  1. Provide adequate resources so that public high schools can indeed offer the two additional years in high school to every student.
  2. Raise the salaries of public school teachers.
  3. Ensure that all students are provided recess periods and opportunities in the arts and music.
  4. Allow math and science teachers to decide how students should be taught in these subjects.
  5. Invest more time and greater care in the production of learning resources such as textbooks. 
  6. Support financially not just in words but in true action college instructors who are now pursuing their graduate degrees.
  7. Relieve or fire erring, incompetent or corrupt administrators, policy makers and implementors in both Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education.
If a fireworks ban is possible, any one of the above is likewise.

A Happy New Year to all.