"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, October 31, 2013

Teacher Preparation in the United States

There are various websites that help ranked services, from plumbers to hotels, one can get a quick glimpse at the quality by looking at the number of stars given in the ratings. The National Council on Teacher Quality has recently released "Teacher Prep Review 2013", and the results are shocking. The following figures tell the story:

Above figures captured from Teacher Prep Review 2013
The standards used to evaluate teaching schools in this report are quite high and some are very specific with respect to the kind of training a teacher-student is provided. For example, within content preparation in elementary education, programs are judged in relation to English-language learners, struggling readers, and early reading. Unfortunately, in a large number of cases, the ratings are impossible to make because the data are simply not available:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How About K-14?

President Obama has been touting a school in New York City. It is a school in Brooklyn called "Pathways in Technology Early College High School". It is a school that offers Grades 9-14, six years of high school. It is a program that adds career or college-readiness to the United States K-12 education system. The school's additional two years are heavy on co-op and internships. Mentors from industry like International Business Machines (IBM) are part of Grades 13 and 14.
Above is a screen capture of the New York Daily News
When the high school graduation rate is an issue of concern, adding years to basic education must come with a strong incentive. The additional years must provide sufficient reason for parents and students to bear the additional years. For taxpayers, additional years in public schools must be justified as well. The school still has to graduate its first class. The promise is that graduates from this school have a better, more secure job prospect. This does sound similar to some of the arguments made by the Philippines' DepEd when it introduced the new K+12 system into Philippine public schools.

The case in New York, however, is still not national in scope. Things can change quite dramatically when a program is made into a larger scale. First, the school in New York is a bit exceptional at this point. This uniqueness may in fact be a factor in its ability to provide its students a more secure job outlook. Imagine, however, if all schools are like this one in New York. Suddenly, what is special is no longer there. More importantly, scaling such a dramatic reform in basic education comes with serious consequences. How does this affect community colleges? How does this affect vocational schools? How does this affect universities and higher learning institutions? These are the same questions that educators are now facing in the Philippines. DepEd K+12 has serious implications not just in basic education, but also in vocational and college education.

For example, if algebra is to remain a course in college in the Philippines beyond 2016, then DepEd K+12 has not really accomplished anything....

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Reading a Primary Source

In some of the posts in this blog, a primary source is highlighted. A copy of the abstract is usually provided in these instances. The abstract is basically a very short version of the paper. It contains the objectives, methods, results and significance of the work described in the paper. Reading primary sources is quite challenging. As noted in a previous post, "Vocabulary and Learning", abstracts of scientific articles contain on average 128 rare words per 1000. That is more than ten percent, that is, in each sentence composed of ten words, it is very likely to find one word most people have not encountered before. 128 is an average number and the actual number depends on the field. Papers in the natural, biological and medical sciences are more likely to contain highly technical vocabulary. Since this blog particularly pertains to basic education, I am assuming that the primary sources I cite in this blog are still within the reach of readers of this blog.

Papers in physics and chemistry can be quite challenging to read. I remember meeting a professor from a university in North Carolina two decades ago when I was still a student. The professor made a remark that it took him several months to read and comprehend one of the papers I co-authored with my mentor. The following is the abstract of that paper:

The above paper is 17 pages long. It is from the Journal of Chemical Physics, and I have to admit, this particular journal is not really leisure reading material. Although peer reviewed research articles are not for general consumption, it is important that students get introduced to this particular type of literature. These are indeed quite different from what one reads from a newspaper, magazine or even a textbook. The primary source is the direct communication from those who performed the study and made the discovery.

I regularly receive updates from the Teaching Channel, the home of videos from inspiring classrooms. In one of the updates, I saw a video of how a science teacher in high school introduces primary sources to her students:

Shelia Darjean Banks teaches at the John Ehret High School in Marrero, Louisiana. I think Banks does a fine job.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Standardized Tests: What They Really Are

A standardized test is an examination that is given under well defined conditions. Its results are supposed to be interpreted in a consistent manner. Students are asked the same questions. The results should not be dependent on the grader of the examination. For this reason, standardized tests are usually composed of multiple choice questions. Standardized tests meant to measure learning in a given discipline at a defined level of schooling must strongly correlate with each other.

During my final year in high school, I took several tests, admission tests for Ateneo and the University of the Philippines, National Science Scholarship test, State Scholarship test, and the National College Entrance Examination. Too many tests - that was all I could remember. These tests told the same story about me. Luckily I was not under the weather when I took any one of these exams. Otherwise, an exam I took on a day I was sick might have yielded a different result. In essence, since these exams were standardized I really needed only one.

Clearly, standardized tests can be related to one another. The international exams like Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) are examples of standardized tests. Clearly, this particular exam is quite expensive to administer to all students. A developing country like the Philippines would dig quite deep into its education budget to have its students participate in this exam regularly. The Philippines, however, has its own National Achievement Test. A previous post in this blog, "The National Achievement Test in the Philippines", shows results from various years within 2004 to 2012. The results from these exams do not really tell a different story from the one revealed by the few instances the Philippines participated in TIMSS, which is likewise highlighted in a previous post, "Role of Higher Education". Seeing that there has not been that much of an improvement in the National Achievement Test scores, it may be inferred that if students in the Philippines take the TIMSS this time, the results would be as bad as ten years ago.

Linking standardized exams is a very useful exercise. It allows to see the results of exams that have been administered at a wider scale locally to results of exams that are global. This linking, for example, has been done by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the United States. The two tests that have been linked are TIMSS (international) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP is administered in all states, allowing for the scores to be evaluated state by state while the TIMSS measures the average performance across the entire nation. TIMSS therefore does not have state by state information. By establishing the relationship between these two exams, the NCES has been able to convert NAEP scores for each state into scores in the TIMSS. This makes it possible to see how each state performs compared to the rest of the world. The results published by the NCES in its report, "U.S. States in a Global Context: Results From the 2011 NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study", are summarized in the following maps or figures:

Above figures copied from
"U.S. States in a Global Context: Results From the 2011 NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study"
One quick look at the above maps gives the impression that most states are blue. Most states are above average compared to the rest of the world. Two states, Mississippi and Alabama, appear to be not performing well in both Math and Science. In general, the southeastern states as well as those in the southwest are not doing as well as the states in the north. The maps above illustrate how much information is missing in assigning just one score for the entire United States of America. The average score does not do justice to the states that actually do quite well.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Barangay Elections and How the Philippines Treats Public School Teachers....

This headline says it all....

Above is a screen capture of
The following is a statement from the Teachers' Dignity Coalition (TDC) of the Philippines:

TDC Press Statement
October 27, 2013

Public school teachers, under the law are deputized as poll workers and tasked to supervise the whole process, from opening up to the closing of polling precincts. In between, teachers must ensure that the choice of every voter has been cast and counted. But in order for us teachers to do this, we expose ourselves to all sorts of dangers- health risks, harassment, legal charges and physical attack.

The past elections were witness to the violence and danger our teachers suffer. Every election, there were reports of those teachers who were hurt, intimidated, met accidents and worst, killed in line of duty. There were heroic stories like the teacher who died and burned along with a classroom in Batangas, a DepEd supervisor who was killed after elections in Maguindanao, a group of teachers who survived the attacking armed men in Lanao del Norte, a teacher in Pangasinan who run over by a bus and died, a Valenzuela teacher who was hit by a van that made her paralyzed for several months and countless other narratives. All of them faced the danger in the name of service and to ensure democracy.

The list continues, teachers who suffer mental and physical fatigue for working more than 24 hours- without a single minute of sleep. The elections may have been finished the following day, but not the teachers’ suffering. The ire of losing candidates has traditional targeted poll workers, exposing the hapless teachers to violence and election-related cases. The losers would never concede and would always argue that they were cheated by their opponents, with the teachers facilitating the fraud. Most often, teachers have to face these problems alone, DepEd legal assistance is not readily available while Comelec serves as prosecutors, against the teachers.

Yet at the end of all these sufferings, teachers will only get a very minimal compensation- not even enough for transportation, paracetamol, food and energy drink to keep us awake, often, the honorarium comes very late, as late as a month or more.

These are the reasons why we push for the optional election duties. We cannot refuse the assignment to sit as election workers, even if this task may expose us to harm, even death. We cannot negotiate with the Comelec on the amount they want us to be paid. We can never demand for a lawyer to defend us when we are in trouble. The mandated poll duty of public school teachers is a legal excused for the government to perpetuate exploitation. #

Note: The TDC reiterates teachers’ major demands for the October 28, elections:
1. Ensure the protection of teachers from harassment, intimidation and physical attack;
2. Provide legal assistance for teachers who will be facing election-charges; and
3. Raise the honorarium from P2,000 to P4,000

Photo credit (Teachers' Dignity Coalition)

Child Labor in the Philippines: Still Extreme

We do enjoy our clothes, shoes, toys and electronics. In a global market, people are becoming more aware and concern of where these products are being made. One important piece of information that consumers need and want to know is whether child labor is involved. Maplecroft has been providing this information to the world in terms of an index on child labor. This index measures the risk that a company has child labor present in their supply chain in each of the 197 countries covered. In 2012, the Philippines was mentioned when Maplecroft introduced its index for that year:

Image is from http://www.flickr.com/photos/julien_harneis/1873057946/in/photostream/
Above is a screen capture of
The Philippines ranked 25th among 197 countries. In the 2014 index, there are now 83 countries deemed as "extreme risk". And the Philippines continues to be among the "extreme risk" countries:

Above copied from
South America leads battle against child labour but Russia and China lagging –
Maplecroft Child Labour Index 2014
"The Child Labour Index 2014 evaluates the frequency and severity of reported child labour incidents, as well as the performance of governments in preventing child labour and ensuring the accountability of perpetrators. It has been developed to enable companies to understand and identify risks of children being employed within their supply chains in violation of international standards on minimum age of employment or in occupations that limit or damage their overall development."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

NCLB: No Country Left Behind

"Critical Thinking" is not necessarily criticizing the person behind the lectern. We all have a tendency to begin with our own ideas which are shaped by our own interests, experiences and understanding. It is this tendency that makes it quite difficult for us not to be selective in the arguments we choose. We only see what we would like to see. Critical thinking, unfortunately, is not equivalent to rejecting claims when these do not agree with whatever we want to see. Critical thinking begins with neither a rejection nor a blind acceptance of a claim. Critical thinking must always starts with recognizing the credibility of the source and apparent validity of the claim.

Last Spring semester I had the opportunity to teach a class whose students are among the first generation that has completely gone through the "No Child Left Behind" era in the United States.
Above cartoon copied from
American Society Today
Instead of sharing what I experience I will just copy a recent post by Aaron Barlow, Associate Professor of English, New York City College of Technology (CUNY). Being a professor of English, Barlow is certainly more eloquent than I am.
Though the impact has been strongest on American k-12 schools (No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top), the impact is felt in colleges and universities, too. “Learning outcomes” are one of the results, attempts to quantify just about everything and to justify specific learning activities rather than seeing a student as a whole being and an education as something that prepares students for their own explorations, for development of their own ‘learning outcomes.’ This is the factory model of education and, frankly, it has no place in a democracy, where education is supposed to produce participants in the public square who can examine evidence and make decisions on their own. That this ability also makes for better workers is critical to the success of both education and the United States, but the primary focus is on creating good citizens. 
We college professors, with problems enough of our own–with changes in governance heading toward a corporate model of top-down decision making, with academic freedom becoming a narrower and narrower aspect of our lives, with more and more of us living and working as contingent and part-time hires, keeping us barely on the fringes of the middle class (if there at all)–haven’t been paying enough attention, as a group, to what has been happening to the schools that feed students to us. Yes, many of us have noticed that our students (especially at non-elite public institutions) are coming to us less and less prepared for college work each ensuing year, but we haven’t put in the time to really explore why. It is hard enough trying to make up for the lacks our students are coming in with. How, furthermore, can we have the time to advocate for changes in k-12 curricula when our own are under fire? 
Good question. 
I can’t answer it, other than to say that we need to make that time, one way or another. 
Things are starting to change, in the k-12 debate, but the “reformers” who want to remake our schools into factories still dominate the discussion. Things they put forward, the the Common Core Curriculum, are accepted as “good” on their faces, without real national discussion and without even testing through pilot programs. Concepts they advocate, like merit pay, vouchers, and even charter schools, have never been shown to improve education–neither has their new idea of rating both schools and teachers, closing and firing those who don’t measure up.
We, the professors who see first the results of all of the “reforms” to public education, need to start speaking up.
We also need to learn a little more about what is going on....
What to do with education is definitely an arena where critical thinking must be applied. Yet, the lack of evidence based research backing reforms in education is so widespread. Education reforms have been reduced to attractive slogans such as "No Child Left Behind". Often, reforms have been guided by metrics that have nothing to do with the quality of education. These are numbers that seem to support arguments we like and we simply embrace them. And there are numbers we also see but choose to ignore because these simply do not support what we have selected to be correct. This is not "critical thinking".

The year 2015 is fast approaching. It is the year that the countries belonging to the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will see free movement of goods, services, investment, labor, and capitals within the region. Christina Yan Zhang of QSIntelligence Unit writes in "The Rise of Glocal Education: ASEAN Countries":
Student mobility, credit transfers, quality assurance and research clusters were identified as the four main priorities to harmonize the ASEAN higher education system, encompassing 6,500 higher education institutions and 12 million students in 10 nations. The ultimate goal of the scheme is to set up a Common Space of Higher Education in Southeast Asia.
With these priorities, the thinking that instinctively follows is "No Country Left Behind". In fact, the ASEAN integration is one of the arguments used to support adding two years to Philippine basic education. Like the NCLB version in the US, this thinking likewise misses what is critical. Former member of the Philippine Congress, Raymond V. Palatino, nicely sums up what seems to be oblivious to so many in his article, "Rethinking ASEAN Integration":
ASEAN unity will remain an impossible vision as long as its members continue to demand it for the wrong reasons. In truth, each member nation views its association with ASEAN as a means to pursue its national interests. Sacrificing the national agenda to realize the regional good is largely an alien concept to ASEAN members. Member nations are in favor of unity as long as it doesn’t conflict with their respective national objectives.
ASEAN integration is so much more than just student mobility, credit transfers, quality assurance, and research clusters. "No Country Left Behind" should not be the guiding policy since it reduces the issue into metrics that are in fact irrelevant. By itself, the Philippines is already as diverse as the nations in southeast Asia. The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7000 islands, is also a country with hundreds of languages. It is supposed to be one nation, yet it remains so bitterly divided in so many ways.

During my college years, I listened to my instructors carefully. I trusted my professors. I even followed one advice given by a chemistry professor, "If you do not understand, memorize. It will help you later." My professors in chemistry really had only one intention - to teach chemistry. They are credible. On education reforms as well as integration of cultures and countries, I must, however, pause. I am no longer inside a classroom with a credible authority behind the lectern. Here, we must strictly adhere to "critical thinking".

Friday, October 25, 2013

Learning Materials in the Philippines: "The Dog Ate My Homework"

Last month, this blog featured an article by Joy Rizal lamenting the fact that even after four months into the school year, pupils in the Malaybalay school district still have not received learning materials. The following is a letter written by Joy Rizal to Socorro A. Pilor, Executive Director of Instructional Materials Council Secretariat, DepEd Philippines. It is in response to the explanations provided by the executive director with regard to students in Malaybalay not having any of the learning materials. Apparently, when DepEd issues a press release that says, "As of last school year, the book-student ratio is 1:1 in both public elementary and secondary schools,” it means something else.

Here is the letter:

Youth Rep Urges Congress to Investigate Anomalous P10-B CHED-PCARI Project

The following is a repost from the Kabataan Partylist of the Philippines web site, 18 October 2013:

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon has filed a resolution urging the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education to conduct an investigation on the alleged anomalies hounding the P10-billion Philippine-California Advance Research Institutes (PCARI) project which is being implemented by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

House Resolution 386 calls for a comprehensive congressional review of the PCARI, following allegations of corruption and various anomalies that involve high-ranking CHED officials and partly led to the resignation of two CHED commissioners and a CHED director.

“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,” Ridon said.

According to CHED, the PCARI project is a five-year research initiative that links various Philippine higher education institutions to “elite research universities in other countries to undertake collaborative world-class research, development and innovation projects involving leading-edge technologies.”

With an initial P1.76 billion budget provided by the 2013 General Appropriations Act, the PCARI project begun this year and has initially linked five Philippine HEIs – which include the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, Mapua Institute of Technology, and Mindanao State University – with two leading universities in California, USA – the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the University of California Berkeley (UCB).

The PCARI project has two priority research areas: (1) Information Infrastructure Development; and (2) Health Innovation and Translational Medicine. CHED has initially identified 13 PCARI research projects for the first priority research area and 12 research projects for the latter.

Anomalous project

Recently, several issues regarding the implementation of the PCARI project surfaced following the resignation of CHED Commissioners Nona Ricafort and Nenalyn Defensor, and CHED Administrative and Finance Services Director Carmina Alonzo.

One of the issues raised by Ricafort, Defensor and Alonzo involve the choice of foreign partner universities.

In her resignation letter dated September 17, 2013, Alonzo said, “While the GAA explicitly named PCARI for this project, the procurement of the engagement for collaboration is template or tailored-fit to the University of California Berkeley which is accordingly contrary to the bidding process. In one meeting with our procurement consultant, it was even emphasized that in the posting for such project, the same should be available to other universities in USA. But to the undersigned’s observation, the project is pre-destined to be collaborated only with the University of California Berkeley.”

Also, documents reveal that there exists a conflict of interest in the membership of the PCARI steering committee, which is led by Mr. Diosdado Banatao, the main proponent and facilitator of the project.

Mr. Banatao is currently serving as the Chairman of the University of California Berkeley – College of Engineering Advisory Board and is at the same time a member of the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Executive Advisory Council. Meanwhile, Mr. Banatao’s wife Maria Cariaga Banatao, who is also part of the PCARI steering committee, is a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of California Berkeley Foundation.

“It should be noted that the PCARI steering committee is the one that endorses for implementation all ‘PCARI project policies, priorities, thrusts and projects,’ which means that the said committee has a direct hand in the choice of which projects and which researchers will be funded under PCARI,” Ridon said in HR 386.

Ridon also noted that the Department of Budget and Management has even allowed PCARI funds to be awarded to private institutions, foundations or persons that will be able to successfully pass the screening process of the PCARI steering committee.

“This would mean that under PCARI, it is not the partner foreign universities which will be paid but the individual researchers chosen by PCARI focal persons. Such action lacks legal basis, and is vulnerable to corruption, as public funds can be directly funnelled to select individuals,” Ridon said.

Philippines funding US research?

The youth solon also noted that this is the first time that the United States will be the recipient of a Philippine grant on research, unlike past collaborative researches wherein the Philippines is on the receiving end.

“It is important to note that CHED stated explicitly that “no counterpart funds” will be provided by the US for the said project,” Ridon said. Over a span of five years, the PCARI project will be given a total of P10 billion, all sourced from public funds.

“While the Philippine government will be funding the PCARI project in full, the intellectual property rights of resulting outputs will be jointly owned by the Philippine researchers and their foreign counterparts due to the collaborative nature of the PCARI project,” the youth solon said.

“The PCARI project may indeed have noble goals that would greatly uplift the state of science and technology in the country. However, considering the legal ambiguities and infirmities, the issues hounding the project, and the large amount of funds that will be appropriated for it, a comprehensive congressional review is in order,” Ridon concluded.###

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Absenteeism in Preschool: Problems that Begin in the Early Years

Something is not necessarily better than nothing. This applies to early childhood education. Quality matters. A school environment and culture that fail to stimulate learning leads to a lack of engagement. Lack of engagement leads to an ineffective education. Absences even in preschool and the kindergarten years matter. Attendance in school is the first measure of a student's engagement. Missing even just one out of every ten school sessions can seriously deter learning. This applies not only to high school or the later years of formal schooling. The importance of attendance likewise applies to the early years. The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) has recently published a report illustrating the negative impact of absenteeism in preschool:

To view this report, please visit
Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools
One of the main findings of the report is summarized in the figure below:

Above figure copied from
Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools
In all four learning areas, attendance in preschool appears consequential. The effects of missing school are even more dramatic with students who are starting with low skills prior to joining preschool. This finding certainly highlights why young children of disadvantaged groups in society needs perfect attendance. Obviously, it is not sufficient for these children to attend preschool only 80% of the time. Unfortunately, children who frequently miss school during the early years are these children, those who really need quality preschool education.

The effects of absenteeism add up. Those who frequently miss school in the preschool years are likely to miss school in kindergarten, first and second grades. When absenteeism continues in formal schooling, the lower the learning outcomes are. By second grade, students who miss more than 10 percent of classes in preschool, kindergarten, first and second grades, are already at risk:

Above figure copied from
Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools
One major reason cited behind absenteeism in preschool is health. More than half (54%) provide the child being sick as the reason. This only highlights the importance of educating the children in preschool in a holistic manner. The reason behind the other half of absences is equally important to consider. According to the study, the other reasons boil down to lack of parent engagement. The study specifically states:
"The half-day programming not only presented logistical challenges, but also affected parents’ attitudes towards the importance of attendance—missing just two-and-a-half-hours did not seem too consequential."
In the article, "First Things First: A Commentary on K+12", I wrote:
Last but not the least (in fact, this point is crucial), the proposed K plus 12 curriculum also involves short school hours. This seems to be an attempt to enable multiple shifts in the schools. This goes against decongesting the curriculum. It likewise does not make it worthwhile for schoolchildren especially those who have to travel far to attend school. This also opens opportunities for child labor as well as greater environmental (outside of school) influences on children education. Elementary schools in the US are full day so that students do have time to cover the material and, at the same time, it allows parents to work and be more productive. A full day in school means less television, less video games, less time on the streets, and less other activities that do not contribute to a sound education of the young.
The Philippines' K+12 curriculum assigns three hours per day for kindergarten and four hours for first grade. Improving attendance requires the proper attitude toward schooling. We are much more likely not to miss things we deem are very important. Poor quality in early childhood programs do not send the correct message to parents. The following memo (DepEd Order 37 s.2011), for example, from the DepEd Philippines does not send the right message:

Something is not necessarily better than nothing....

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Learning Gaps As Early As 18 Months

Since the early years, zero to five, are now known to affect brain development, education research and policies are now increasingly taking note of this stage in life. What studies have shown so far is that learning gaps begin to exist in these years. While this blog is strongly advocating attention to early childhood education, it is equally important to emphasize that learning is still a lifelong process. What happens between zero to five does not seal the future. Thus, before citing another article that demonstrates learning gaps in the early years, it maybe useful to recall words of Dr. Jack Shonkoff, dean of the Heller School of Social Policy and Management and professor of human development and social policy at Brandeis University:
Do you think there is a "myth of the first three years?" 
It depends on what you mean by a myth. So if you ask me is it a myth that what happens in the first three years determines everything that happens afterward and the window shuts at age three? Absolutely that's a myth. It's just not true. 
If you ask me whether the first three years are a very important time in which rapid brain growth is taking place and brain development is proceeding in a very rapid clip and that experiences really affect that development, and affect it in a very big and important way in the first three years? That's not a myth. That's the truth. That's science. It's absolutely true.
Shonkoff also has cautious take on early childhood intervention programs. The research shows that the early years are significant. However, there is little research supporting some of the interventions currently implemented. Shonkoff specifically states:
The problem is not whether early intervention is a good public investment. The problem is whether we invest in high-quality services that are shown to make a difference. And as we found in our report, although the science tells us interventions can be effective when they're administered early, effective interventions are not simple. They're rarely inexpensive, and they're not always easy to implement.
Shonkoff's works, in my opinion, emphasize the two sides of early childhood education: the child's health and the quality of the learning environment. Interventions are difficult to assess if these focus only on one side. The effectiveness of a learning environment can only be gauged if a child is free from emotional and physical stress, for example. Thus, early childhood education requires a holistic view. It is straightforward to see then that effective interventions not only include what happens inside the school, but also what happens inside the home.

A recent study has shown that learning gaps occur as early as 18 months. This study has a relatively small sample, 48 children, but the method applied is well designed. The study (Fernald, A., Marchman, V. A. and Weisleder, A. (2013), SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months. Developmental Science, 16: 234–248. doi: 10.1111/desc.12019) has the following abstract:
This research revealed both similarities and striking differences in early language proficiency among infants from a broad range of advantaged and disadvantaged families. English-learning infants (n = 48) were followed longitudinally from 18 to 24 months, using real-time measures of spoken language processing. The first goal was to track developmental changes in processing efficiency in relation to vocabulary learning in this diverse sample. The second goal was to examine differences in these crucial aspects of early language development in relation to family socioeconomic status (SES). The most important findings were that significant disparities in vocabulary and language processing efficiency were already evident at 18 months between infants from higher- and lower-SES families, and by 24 months there was a 6-month gap between SES groups in processing skills critical to language development.
The paper shows the following figure to highlight the gap between children coming from families of different socio-economic status:

Where's the doggy? The scientists then measured how long it takes for a child to look correctly. Children who are 18 months old from middle class families can spot the target as early as six tenths of a second. Children from poor families achieve this performance only at 24 months. The experiment shows a 6-month language gap as early as two years old.

Parents and caregivers need to talk with their child....

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hitting Home: Fairfax Schools Cuts

Fairfax county in Virginia is where my family lives. My son goes to Mason Crest Elementary School, a school in the county's public school system. The county is home to the 11th largest school division in the United States. It is also home to the largest fleet of school buses. With regard to quality of education, Fairfax County Public Schools are among the best. The following scores from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) demonstrate that students in Fairfax county perform as well as the top ranking countries. Fairfax county scores are well above the average scores of students in the US.

Country Reading
Shanghai-China    556 600 575
Hong Kong-China  533 555 549
Finland        536 541 554
Singapore 526 562 542
Korea 539 546 538
Fairfax County  530 540 537
Japan 520 529 539
Canada 524 527 529
New Zealand 521 519 532
Chinese Taipei  495 543 520
Netherlands 508 526 522
Australia                     515 514 527
Liechtenstein 499 536 520
Switzerland  501 534 517
Estonia 501 512 528
Germany  497 513 520
Belgium 506 515 507
Macao-China 487 525 511
Poland 500 495 508
Iceland 500 507 496
Norway 503 498 500
United Kingdom  494 492 514
Denmark 495 503 499
Slovenia  483 501 512
Ireland 496 487 508
France 496 497 498
OECD Average 493 496 501
United States  500 487 502
Hungary 494 490 503
Sweden  497 494 495

One of the schools in Fairfax county, Thomas Jefferson High School, has the following scores: 625 (Reading), 680 (Math), and 625 (Science). Woodson, Oakton and Langley High Schools also had higher scores than Finland and Singapore, the two countries considered as top in basic education.

It is therefore troubling to see that the county is facing budget problems this year:

The proposed cuts are as follows (from the Washington Post):
  • Increasing general education class size by one student: Savings of $19.5 million and would cut 271.5 positions.
  • Increasing special-education class size: Savings of $6.3 million and would cut 70 positions.
  • Cut teacher assistants from kindergarten classrooms: Savings of $6.3 million and would cut 419.4 positions.
  • Cut “Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools” program: Savings of $5.5 million and would cut 62.5 positions.
  • Cut assistant principal positions: Savings of $1.3 million and would cut 12 positions.
  • Cut all elementary school instructional assistants: Savings of $10.2 million and would cut 306 positions.
  • Reduce number of school counselor positions: Savings of $10.2 million and would cut 121.9 positions.
  • Reduce all employee contracts by one day: Savings of $9.1 million.
  • Furlough all employees one day: Savings of $7.9 million.
  • Charge $100 per-student, per-sport athletic participation fee: Revenue of $1.8 million.

And the above still does not add up to avoid the projected $140 million budget deficit.

The Fairfax County Public Schools web site offers an opportunity for its citizens to provide advice/suggestions on how to "Make Fairfax County Schools the Very Best It Can Be". And here are the popular suggestions:

  • Smaller Class Size 
  • Later start time for Fairfax County High School students 
  • Retain our teachers by keeping up with area pay 
  • More time for teaching, less focus on testing 
  • Online books need to be discouraged, not encouraged. 
  • Please find a way to raise teacher salaries. We've had pay freezes that equate to over 100,000 over 12 years. Demoralizing. 
  • Add foreign language to Elementary and Middle school 
  • Reduce the summer vacation by two weeks, and extend winter and spring breaks by one week.

Comparing the above list against the proposed cuts, the dichotomy is so clear. To understand budget deficits, one should look at not only the expenses, but also revenues. To understand the situation in Fairfax county, the following graph is useful. This shows where the money for educating children in Fairfax county comes from:

Figure copied from

The $140 million budget deficit is about 6% of the annual budget of the Fairfax public school systems. Looking at the above figure, if Fairfax county simply receives a fair share of Virginia's education budget, it is more than enough. The above chart shows that Fairfax county is in fact subsidizing the public school education for the rest of Virginia. This is not necessarily wrong. In fact, it is good that the county does not take that much from the state. In this manner, poorer districts are able to receive greater support from the state government.

Still, the proposed cuts may harm the Fairfax public school system. What do we have to do? What can we do? Before one answers these questions, the following reflection is helpful. While the rest of the country and the world are trying so many ways to have an educational system on par with those of Finland, Korea and Singapore, there is one county in Northern Virginia that has reached that achievement. The United States has spent over $15 billion just in the past eight years on tests, with very little to show in terms of improved education results. Education spending per pupil in Fairfax county is not exceptional. It is in the middle:

What Fairfax spends per pupil in 2013 is even smaller than what other states have spent in 2011:

Above table copied from
Fairfax County Public Schools deliver results. With this in mind, the answer should be clear. Fairfax county residents can pay higher taxes. It is money wisely invested in the future of its children. Besides, it will save more than 1200 jobs and will ensure that students with special needs receive the attention and training they need. More than 1 in 4 students in the county qualify for free or reduced price lunch. There is poverty in Fairfax county. Sixteen percent of students do not have English as their mother tongue and about fourteen percent require special education. The county spends in a year about $15,000 per pupil in head start and $21,000 in special education programs. Thus. the average spending for a pupil in the general population is only $11,400. Teachers also have sacrificed enough. Their salaries are low compared to those of the neighboring counties while the cost of living in the area is equal or even higher. Quality education does come with a price.

Monday, October 21, 2013

From the Eyes of the Poor

President Obama sends his children to Sidwell Friends School, a PK-12, co-educational Quaker day school with campuses in Washington, D.C., and Bethesda, Maryland. Sidwell Friends, a private school, charges about US$ 35,000 a year in tuition. The school is home to the Kogod Arts Center which includes a 415-seat professionally equipped theater, an art gallery, and newly constructed state-of-the-art classrooms and studios.

Sidwell Friends School's Kogod Arts Center
Photo copied from www.sidwell.edu
Obams's daughters are not the first members of the White House family to attend the school. The Capitol-File magazine writes:
In 2008, when the White House announced that Malia and Sasha would be enrolling at Sidwell (joining three of Vice President Biden's grandchildren), The New York Times called it the Harvard of Washington's private schools. Forbes referred to Sidwell as "the latest distinguished darling for political parents." 
But long before the Obama girls, or even Chelsea Clinton and Albert Gore III, Sidwell boasted first-family headliners such as Julie and Tricia Nixon; Archie Roosevelt, son of Teddy Roosevelt; William Henry Harrison, descendant of two presidents; and Herbert Hoover's son Allan. (Even Nancy Reagan attended lower school there.) 
And while JFK's children were schooled at the White House, their older cousins attended the school. Catherine O'Neill Grace, a Sidwell student at the time, recalls how on the day of Kennedy's assassination, Ethel Kennedy came to get her sons Robert Jr. and Joe out of assembly, and how the middle school principal asked parents in the carpool pickup line to turn off their radios until the Kennedy boys could hear the news from a family member.
Sidwell Friends is indeed a favorite among White House occupants. One might therefore say that looking at Sdney School is looking at basic education through the eyes of the rich and the powerful. The problems in basic education addressed by education reformers worldwide are not supposed to be present in such a school. The problems are somewhere else. It maybe logical then to state that solutions to problems in basic education are to be found in schools like Sidwell Friends. The solution is to simply allow poor children to enroll in these elite schools, or copy these schools into existing public schools.

The president of the Philippines exemplifies this way of thinking. For example, his first two points in his education are as follows:
1. 12-Year Basic Education Cycle 
We need to add two years to our basic education. Those who can afford to pay for up to fourteen years of schooling before university. Thus, their children are getting into the best universities and the best jobs after graduation. I want at least 12 years for our public school children to give them an even chance at succeeding. My education team has designed a way to go from our current 10 years (6 elementary, 4 high school) to a K-12 system in five years starting SY 2011-12. Kindergarten (K) to Grade 12 is what the rest of the world gives their children. 
I will expand the basic education cycle in this country from a short 10-year cycle to a globally-comparable 12 years before the end of the next administration (2016). 
2. Universal pre-schooling for all 
All over the world, pre-schooling is given to all young children as the first year of basic education. We don’t solve this deficiency by renaming day care centers as pre-schools. We need to build a proper pre-school system and make this available to all children regardless of income. All public school children (and all public schools) will have pre-schooling as their introduction to formal schooling by 2016.
It seems that in president Aquino's eyes, adding two years and equalizing the number of years in basic education for rich and poor children is the solution. Is it really that simple? Sadly, it is not. The thinking that all that is necessary is to provide what rich children get to the poor assumes the wrong values. The rich send their children to elite schools for the simple reason that the rich see something different in these elite schools. Some middle class families may likewise aspire to send their children to these special schools so that their children get a step ahead in life. It is indeed difficult to reconcile an aspiration to get ahead against the ideal of "education for all".

It is worse in the real world. Education reforms drawn by people are nowhere near what happens inside these prominent private schools. This is mind-boggling since the children of education policy makers as well as reformers are studying in these elite schools. Yet, they prescribe something different for the poor.

Solving problems in basic education from the perspective of the elite is, in the first place, very different from the eyes of the poor. In Memos to the Council of Behavioral-Economics Advisors, Bertrand, Mullainathan and Shafir wrote:
The behavioral patterns of the poor, we argue, may be neither perfectly calculating nor especially deviant. Rather, the poor may exhibit the same basic weaknesses and biases as do people from other walks of life, except that in poverty, with its narrow margins for error, the same behaviors often manifest themselves in more pronounced ways and can lead to worse outcomes.
Poverty defines lives. It is much more than just a description. Solving problems in basic education require much more than just designing schools or curricula. It has to go farther than desiring to provide the same education we give to our children to the children of the poor. It requires the eyes of the poor....

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Teachers Impoverished, Neglected


This is a repost from Bulatlat.com
MANILA – Without teachers, there would be no doctors, nurses, lawyers and even the president of the country. For public school teachers, a manifestation of gratitude is to show them their importance. But for the broadest alliance of teachers in the country, they are, instead, being neglected by the government.
While the Department of Education held a grand celebration of World Teachers’ Day on Oct. 5, which was held at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City, members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) staged a protest action on the eve of World Teachers’ Day, Oct. 4.
Amid the heat of the sun, public school teachers marched from EspaƱa Avenue to Chino Roces (former Mendiola) bridge, carrying banners “Rechannel pork barrel funds to education!”
Public school teachers once again register their demands to the government for salary increase. (Photo by Anne Marxze D. Umil/Bulatlat.com)

“We are here to expose the real situation of public school teachers and the education system,” BenjieValbuena, national chairman of ACT, said.
“How can we celebrate Teachers’ Day if the government continues to neglect our long-time call?” Jocelyn Martinez, vice chairwoman of the ACT said during a program at the foot of Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) bridge.
Dire situation of teachers
“As prime instruments of education and molders of young minds, teachers hold a special place in society.” Department of Education secretary Bro. Armin Luistro was quoted saying in a report.
But contrary to the statement of education secretary, teachers do not feel that they hold a special place in society. “Public school teachers are impoverished,” Valbuena said during the protest action.
“It is difficult to teach especially when there are distractions…The burden to make learning more exciting and interesting is on us, but how can we do it if the government does not even provide for our basic needs?” Valbuena added.
Teachers are known to be the kings and queens of loans and have mastered the art of doing business because of inadequate income. That is why when the ACT Teachers Party won a seat in the 15th Congress in Rep. Antonio Tinio, he immediately filed House Bill 2142, a bill that aims to upgrade the minimum salary grade level of public school teachers, in both elementary and high school levels, from Salary Grade 11 to Salary Grade 15. The bill, however, only reached first reading and was not discussed again in the committee for second reading.
“The bill was co-authored by 180 Congressmen. We had the support of legislators but the President did not mark the bill as a priority,” France Castro, secretary general of ACT told Bulatlat.com.
In the 16th Congress, Tinio once again filed a bill for the salary upgrading of teachers, as well as non-teaching personnel, House Bill 245 or an Act Increasing the Minimum Monthly Salaries of Public School Teachers to P25,000 ($579) and Non-Teaching Personnel to P15,000 ($347). The bill is pending with the committee level and a hearing has not yet been set.
The ACT Teachers Party has also pushed for the increase of PERA or the Personnel Economic Relief Allowance from P2,000 ($46) to P4,000 ($92) per month.
In a separate interview, Castro said modules for the K to 12 program are still incomplete. She also said the reported increase in classrooms and chairs is just an offset to the shortage of past years. “The number of students enrolling every school year is increasing; the ‘increase’ in chairs and classrooms are just to fill in the shortage should have been done a long time ago,” Castro toldBulatlat.com.
Public school teachers marching towards Paseo Roxas in Makati City for the second Million People March on Friday, Oct. 4. (Photo by Anne Marxze D. Umil/Bulatlat.com)
Teachers also denounced the contractualization of teachers in public schools.
Louie Zabala, ACT-NCR chairman said there are 50,000 contractual public school teachers nationwide. These teachers, Zabala said, are performing the same tasks, even working overtime but are receiving less.
Volunteer kindergarten teachers, according to ACT, are hired to handle a class of at least 11 to 30 pupils for a monthly allowance of P3,000 ($69). Locally-paid teachers or teachers hired by the local government units earn around P275 ($6.27) per day or P5,000 ($115) per month. Instructors on contracts of service or job orders earn around P8,500 ($196) a month. Contractual teachers are also denied benefits such as PERA, Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), Representation and Transportation Allowance (RATA), mid-year bonus, productivity incentive, Christmas bonus and cash gifts. They do not enjoy security of tenure, and coverage by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
Teachers suffer from low wages, stretched hours of work and heavy teaching loads. Teachers are also being victimized by the inequality in the Performance Based Bonus (PBB).
“The President said, ‘You are my boss.’ This is nothing but a mere lie. He should have heeded our calls from the time he assumed the presidency if we are truly his boss. Worse, the Aquino administration reduced our benefits and changed it into a deceiving scheme,” LitoKalatag, president of Federation of Public School Teachers of Makati, said.
The teachers said when the government finally released the PBB, some received only P5,000 ($115) and some received P20,000 ($463). “Where is the equality if only performance will be the basis?” he asked.
Paul Rodriguez, a teacher at the Manila Science High School said he received P20,000 ($463) of PBB. “I am not happy about it because it only shows the inequality and divisiveness among our ranks.”
‘Scrap pork barrel’
Castro said that whenever teachers ask the government for an upgrade whether for salary or allowance, the reply they often get is “There is no budget.” “However, the lump sum money involved in the pork barrel scam, the discretionary funds of the President and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) show that there are funds,” Zabala said.
Photo by Anne Marxze D. Umil/Bulatlat.com
Jocelyn Martinez, deputy vice chairwoman of ACT said the 2014 national budget was hastily passed on second reading by Congress without an allocation for the increase in the salaries of teachers and non-teaching personnel.
Teachers also slammed the discretionary funds of the President. Tinio estimates that out of the entire 2014 national budget, Aquino set aside P964 billion ($22.334 billion) of lump sum funds subject to his sole discretion and not a single centavo was removed from it. Tinio countered that according to his rough estimates, the demand for pay increases is minute compared to Aquino’s P964 billion ($22.334 billion) pork.
“For example, increasing teachers’ minimum pay will cost government at least P5 billion ($115 million) more—an additional amount that will barely make a dent in Aquino’s pork,” Tinio said.
Teachers strongly support the call to abolish the pork barrel system. Teachers reiterated that the money stolen from pork barrel fund could have been used to fill in the perennial shortages in public schools in the country, which was further aggravated by the rushed implementation of the K to 12 program.
According to ACT, if the P10 billion ($224 million) amount from the pork scam were put in the education sector, the funding requirement for the 103,599 estimated gross shortages of teachers for fiscal years 2011 to 2012 which amounts to P17.18 billion ($385,719,712) could have been almost solved. It could have almost closed the 13,225,572 gross shortages in school chairs during the fiscal year 2011 to 2012 which costs about P12.9 billion ($289 million). Gross shortage of 151,084 water and sanitation facilities that requires an amount of P10.2 billion ($229 million) could have also been addressed. Shortages of textbooks, which are projected at 95, 557,887, only requires about P5.3 billion ($118 million) funding.
‘A call for teachers’
“Since teachers are the most powerful force for equity, access and quality education, a call for teachers means calling for quality education for all,” read in the Unesco’s website.
Valbuena said Unesco’s theme: “A call for teachers” is very timely particularly in the Philippines. “The theme is only right for us as we continue to struggle for our salary upgrade. That is our call and it is about time that the government heeds our call.”
“Quality education offers hope and the promise of a better standard of living. There is no stronger foundation for lasting peace and sustainable development than a quality education provided by well trained, valued, supported and motivated teachers.”
“How can we give quality education if the classrooms are small and jam-packed with students, the lack in ventilation still prevalent, and if teachers are leaving the country to seek jobs abroad?” Valbuena said. “Let us educate our co-teachers of the real situation and let us act together to change it.” (http://bulatlat.com)