"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, September 19, 2013

How to Solve Problems in Education

This blog now averages about 1500 views per day. It has more than 600 posts and the number of visits from the Philippines has now reached a total of 300,000. It has been more than a year and while trying to condense this entire blog into its most salient points, I came across Diane Ravitch's new book "Reign of Error". (Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools (Kindle Locations 6029-6030). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

The book is notably and strongly supported by data and research.

What is pleasantly surprising is how the book parallels the various arguments and points made throughout this blog. In addition to debunking myths behind current education reforms in education in the United States, Ravitch also offers solutions. Most of the solutions offered by Ravitch are in fact natural follow-ups if only a careful, sincere and thorough analysis of education issues is made.

SOLUTION NO. 1 Provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.

SOLUTION NO. 2 Make high-quality early childhood education available to all children.

SOLUTION NO. 3 Every school should have a full, balanced, and rich curriculum, including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, geography, foreign languages, mathematics, and physical education.

SOLUTION NO. 4 Reduce class sizes to improve student achievement and behavior.

SOLUTION NO. 5 Ban for-profit charters and charter chains and ensure that charter schools collaborate with public schools to support better education for all children.

SOLUTION NO. 6 Provide the medical and social services that poor children need to keep up with their advantaged peers.

SOLUTION NO. 7 Eliminate high-stakes standardized testing and rely instead on assessments that allow students to demonstrate what they know and can do.

SOLUTION NO. 8 Insist that teachers, principals, and superintendents be professional educators.

SOLUTION NO. 9 Public schools should be controlled by elected school boards or by boards in large cities appointed for a set term by more than one elected official.

SOLUTION NO. 10 Devise actionable strategies and specific goals to reduce racial segregation and poverty.

SOLUTION NO. 11 Recognize that public education is a public responsibility, not a consumer good.

With regard to Philippine basic education, it is perhaps impossible to relate to solution no. 9 since unlike the US, the Philippine public school system is highly centralized. However, the rest of the solutions are very much transferable. The articles that have been posted in this blog support most of these solutions.

If there is a lesson from this book that education leaders in the Philippines must take into heart, it is the following anecdote (This is ironic - A scientist like me chooses an anecdote for a lesson) that drives home a very powerful message: (These are excerpts from Chapter 32 of "Reign of Error")
In 1991, a businessman named Jamie Vollmer gave a speech to a group of teachers in Indiana. He was an executive at an ice cream company who had come to conduct an in-service program for educators. He told them they needed to operate more like his company, whose blueberry ice cream had been recognized by People magazine in 1984 as the “Best Ice Cream in America.” He told the assembled teachers, “If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business for long.”   
As he later told the story, he explained to the teachers that the schools were obsolete and that educators resist change because tenure protects them from accountability. Business, he thought, had it right. It operates on principles of “Zero defects! TQM [total quality management]! Continuous improvement!” 
Not surprisingly , the teachers reacted with sullen hostility. When he finished his speech, a teacher innocently asked about his company’s method of making the best ice cream. He boasted of its “super-premium” ingredients, nothing but the best. Then she asked a question: 
“Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?” In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap … I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie. “I send them back.” She jumped to her feet. “That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!” In an explosion, all 290 teachers , principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians, and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, “Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!” 
Jamie Vollmer had an epiphany. From that day forward, he realized that schools could never operate like a business because they do not control their “raw material.” They cannot sort the blueberries and reject those that are bruised or broken. They take them all.
The Philippines must realize that education is not a way to get ahead in life. The Philippines must realize that poverty hurts education so much and that not all solutions are within the curriculum. The Philippines must realize that a lot of the solutions lie in the early years, not in the later ones when problems have become insurmountable. This is what this blog is all about, right from the very beginning.

First Things First:  A Commentary on K+12 
Published in two parts in Philippine Star:

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