"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 31, 2013

Our Indigenous Schools Will Rise Above the Storm

by Sr. Ma. Famita N. Somogod, MSM
Originally Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 17:17
Reposted here with permission

Superstorm Pablo (international codename: Bopha) mercilessly whipped at the riverine Lumad communities in early December last year. The magnitude of the disaster violently squeezing through the eastern provinces of Mindanao towards the northern part of the island, then out to the Visayas area in a span of few hours is a phenomenon the Lumad never imagined all their lives. The wrath of mother nature over man’s abuse of the environment pounded like eternity resembling doomsday. And, in those critical hours, they turned to Magbabaya for help and beseeched His intercession.

For sparing every dear Lumad life, thanksgiving rites to Magbabaya (God) were offered after the storm.

Still, the Pablo aftermath left badly devastated farms, lowly dwellings – tribal schools included, and the forest in Western Agusan and Bukidnon where the tribes folk depend for sustenance. All 16 schools run by RMP-NMR and the communities hosting them sustained damages in varying extent.

Three of the four schools along the banks of Adgaoan River in La Paz, Agusan del Sur were totally destroyed, torn down and swept by the raging floodwaters. All teacher’s cottages were wrecked completely, as well as books and learning materials all drenched and rendered unusable. The farms tilled by the communities for school use, the children’s vegetable gardens, and individual farms of 70 families were inundated altogether in total waste. Sixty-one houses were likewise swept by the floodwaters.

Flooded communities sought temporary relocation to higher grounds and undertook measures in facing the effect of the catastrophe on their own. The inaccessibility of their communities to communication and transportation put them in most disadvantaged position. Not only were they deprived of the immediate relief assistance right after storm, what more for the much needed aid for rehabilitation due them as taxpayers. In fact, after weeks of waiting, ironically enough, all they got were a measly 10 kilos of nails and 12 kilos of rice from the local government of La Paz to ba apportioned among them.

Similarly, schools along the rivers of Laminga, Candiisan and upstream Adgaoan in San Luis municipality were less spared either. Except for the school building in Tabon-tabon that stood unscathed, all three other schools and teachers’ cottages were damaged, all learning materials soaked and rotting . The teachers’ cottage in Maputi has to be abandoned instantly amidst the raging storm to escape the forthcoming landslip right where it was erected. Four school farms and six children’s gardens all washed out. 61 individual farms including a 7-hectare root crops feeding whole community of Kihinggay were totally damaged. 26 houses were entirely destroyed.

In the face of this calamity, all the Lumad residents received was a mere survey form of typhoon victims entitled to receive relief assistance from the local government of San Luis. Until now, no assistance whatsoever reached the hapless communities.

The lone school in Esperanza suffered just the same. While the school building was only partially damaged, the cottage was demolished and all learning materials are desperately irretrievable. Three school farms, 3 children’s garden and 33 individual farms devastated, 21 houses shattered.

The communities in Bukidnon unexpectedly went through the same incident. As a landlocked highland central province of the Mindanao island, the province used to be a typhoon-free area. Besides the typical dry and wet season that acclimatized the communities, Bukidnon residents are alien to typhoons, much less to a super typhoon like Pablo and were not as prepared therefore as other communities that at are often visited by storms. With one sweep, all three tribal schools and teachers’ cottages in Quezon were damaged. Instruction and learning materials including school records all ruined. Lumad houses usually built on light materials crumbled and farms that nurture the communities ravaged.

Mahan-ao, a sityo of Bolunay in Impasug-ong was hit the most. Owing to the absence of a radio set or any reliable communication equipment, the secluded community was not forewarned of the incoming storm. Uninformed as they were, the classes went on normally. The classes by the way, are held in the village hall for years now because of the absence of a school building. While the classes were in progress, the crushing wind coming with heavy downpour whooshing in a whirlwind, combed the community in the early morning plucking the roofs and uprooting trees. The teachers and children alike scampered for safety to avoid getting carried away by the wind. The sityo hall collapsed straightaway. Hut rafters, trees and heavy objects were falling down everywhere. In fact, Benjie, one of the community teachers almost lost his life in vain attempt to save the school materials.

After the storm, there is nothing more left to recover. The borrowed school building, fixtures and everything – demolished by Pablo. The entire community was in shambles. Not one hut is left standing, all farms destroyed.

But life must go on.

On their own, these affected communities made every effort to rebuild their homes, replant anew, and resume classes in makeshift community schools especially now that the end of school year is only few months away. However, classes cannot proceed normally because of the unpredictability of weather systems, instability of their temporary shelters, daily food foraging and school facilities still in disarray.

The government’s cold treatment of the marginalized Lumad victims of Pablo glaringly underscored its age-old practice of discrimination against the ethnic minorities. They have been victimized repeatedly by big business interests and big landowners who grabbed and raped their ancestral lands leaving them helplessly at the receiving end of nature’s revenge. As the facts show, they are always neglected if not the least attended to in difficult times like epidemic outbreaks, militarization, floods, drought, and now with typhoon onslaught.

It is no surprise therefore to us Lumad advocates to hear the reverberation of the persistent Lumad outcry - the recognition of their right to self-determination. Thus, the continuing Lumad struggle.

But believing in the inherent capacities of organized Lumad communities, we are sure that they will rise above the storm.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Asking the Right Question

Writing an exam always seems easy than taking one. Writing a good exam, however, is an entirely different story. Open-ended questions are usually not employed in math and science exams unless the ability to propose novel approaches or ideas are sought. Math and sciences therefore usually come with well-defined answer keys. Part of the nature of science is formulating the question. Defining a problem is sometimes one of the most difficult steps in the scientific method. Formulating the question that needs to be answered is already a significant part of scientific thinking. Experiments are designed carefully with the objective of focusing on one variable at a time, if possible. Stating a hypothesis that can be tested is the first step in science. The questions one may ask are only those in which there is a possibility of arriving empirically at the answer. Take, for example, the following figure which can be found in the General Chemistry Textbook, "Chemistry: The Central Science", by Brown, Lemay, Bursten, Murphy and WoodWard (Prentice Hall, 12th Ed.):

The above are four molecules. These molecules are not randomly chosen. These molecules are more or less the same size. This is important because through this series, one is able to narrow down how the boiling point (bp) of each compound varies with the polarity (measured by the dipole moment, mu) of the molecule. Without such meticulous choice of compounds, other factors can play a major role. In fact, in most cases, one sees the boiling point of a compound strongly correlating with molecular weight (MW). The normal boiling point of a liquid is the temperature at which the liquid spontaneously evaporate into the gas phase under normal atmospheric pressure. Evaporation at the molecular level is obviously viewed as separating molecules from each other. In a condensed phase like the liquid, molecules are close together while in the vapor phase, molecules are far apart. Therefore, the boiling point is a measure of how strong molecules are held together in the liquid phase. Interactions between molecules in the liquid phase arise from electrostatic as well as van der Waals interactions. The polarity of a molecule, that is, how unequally shared the electrons are between atoms, should dictate the strength of electrostatic interactions. On the other hand, van der Waals interactions which rely on momentarily disturbing electronic distributions are more dependent on the surface area of contact between molecules, which correlates with size. The above case thus illustrates a situation where multiple factors could be present and the scientist simply restates the question in a careful way so that the problem is indeed tractable and therefore solvable. The above illustrates an important characteristic of scientific thinking. Scientific thinking chooses the right questions to ask. 

Recently, I have been asked two questions:

1. What do you think is wrong with the DepEd's decision to exclude science in grades 1 and 2 curricula?
2. How will this affect the student over the long term?

I only wish that I could choose the questions. Alas, I did not have that option. So, as a scientist, I checked if someone has already answered the question. And someone has. (Akerson et al. Journal of Science Education and Technology Volume 20, Number 5 (2011), 537-549) as well as (Science K-8: An Integrated Approach, by E. Victor, R.D. Kellough, R.H. Tai, Prentice Hall, 2007).

So with these articles and the Philippine situation in mind, I did try to answer these questions. To the first one, I wrote:
The impetus for early childhood education in science involves both appropriateness and opportunity. The inquisitive and curious nature of the human mind at this stage calls for encouragement and stimulation which science education provides. The fundamentals of the science disciplines, which could be as simple as listening attentively and carefully to what others say, or developing keen observation skills, are necessary toward the development of a critical and questioning mind. Not having a formal subject of science in the early years denies its primary role in humanity, how we reason, relate and represent. Young children can be taught to compare and contrast, make observations and measurements, and appreciate nature. Without a formal subject of science in kindergarten and in the first two grades, there is no specific classroom time assigned to these activities. These lessons are therefore likely to be missed.
And to the second question, I answered:
Opportunities not taken are missed. Timeliness is lost. The foundations of critical thinking are then postponed until later years. Postponing science education implies remediation and therefore influences what can be taught in the later years since much of learning occur in steps. What society teaches in the early grades is what society advertises to its youngest members. Interests in careers in science and technology need to be cultivated as early as possible. It should not be later than the introduction of arts, music and religion.
Grade 1 schoolchildren, of course, need not see propane, dimethyl ether, acetaldehyde or acetonitrile. But there are so many things that children can compare and contrast even during these early years. It is not really too early for children to learn how to ask the right questions....

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Voice from the Past

I hope that most of us still find the time to recall, recollect and reflect. Like all mankind, we are often travelling forward in time so we must take the opportunity once in a while to look back. This is what photographs and memories are about. As I glanced back, I stumbled into the following old issue of Heights, Ateneo's literary and artistic publication:

This was the issue of Heights that came out at the same time Marcos' regime ended. I particularly liked the cover. Of course, this issue was special to me since I had a poem in it:

An English translation of this poem can be found here.

This was a poem that I wrote when I turned 20 years old. And yes, at that time, I was looking back. Even as I was climbing the stairs, I had my eyes on the steps I left behind.

Years ago, when I was in Paete, Laguna, trying to introduce online learning resources to elementary school teachers, I found one teacher who did not attend my lectures. Fortunately, I found a moment to spend with this teacher. Right at the very beginning of our conversation, it was clear that I would be the listener. The teacher spoke from experience, how things really were inside the classroom. With great pride, techniques of how to keep the attention of young children were handed to me. The tips were not novel but these reminded me of my own grade school teachers. And so I listened, quite attentively.

There is an old book far older than me or this teacher that has been recently brought back to life in a post on the Education Week blog. The title of the post is "This 19th Century Book is Still Timely for Teachers". It is written by Peter Gibbon. The book that Gibbon describes is "Talks to Teachers" by William James, published in 1899. A quick read of the book reveals that Gibbon has done an excellent job in distilling the spirit of James' text. Gibbon's concluding paragraph captures the essence of "Talks to Teachers":
Talks exemplifies balance. James' approach to education is pragmatic and eclectic: memorize and associate, handle objects and think abstractly, compete and cooperate, work in groups and struggle alone. To a friend, he wrote that Talks should encourage "a certain flexibility of mind"—as useful a habit today as in 1899.
Compared to the conversation I had with a teacher in one of Paete's elementary schools, the tone was identical. The town of Paete, Laguna is well known for its carving. Naturally, this teacher talked about primary schoolchildren working with bars of soap as a way of introducing the young mind into carving. Handling objects, for this teacher, was very important for this teacher. It had to be practical yet diverse. It had to be something that children could easily relate to. Association was key to learning.

Darwin's theory was relatively new. The quantum world was just about to be discovered yet James' book characterizes human learning in ways that seem to forebode the scientific revolution of the early 20th century. And as Gibbon claims, James' ideas are still relevant to the 21st century. This somehow brings me back to what Pasi Sahlberg said about reforming education in "How Can Research Help Educational Change?":
"...I think we need to rethink a couple of things. First, we don’t necessarily need new schools like charter schools to develop innovative educational changes in our school systems. What we need is more flexibility, enhanced leadership, and more trust in schools and teachers to find ways to make learning inspiring and productive for all. Charter schools may have their place as educational alternatives but not as a solution to the system-wide problem. 
Then, we should make better use of all those pedagogical innovations that have been developed during the last century or so. I think the real problem is that in education we tend to develop innovation after innovation without really solving the problem of implementation. We know enough about powerful teaching, purposeful assessment, effective schools, and insightful leadership to make our public school systems work better. Much of this knowledge has been produced, ironically, by American researchers and innovators starting from John Dewey in early 20th century."
Pasi reiterates this in another article, "What the US Can't Learn from Finland":
"...many education visitors to Finland expect to find schools filled with Finnish pedagogical innovation and state-of-the-art technology. Instead, they see teachers teaching and pupils learning as they would in any typical good school in the United States. Some observers call this “pedagogical conservatism” or “informal and relaxed” because there does not appear to be much going on in classrooms. 
The irony of Finnish educational success is that it derives heavily from classroom innovation and school improvement research in the United States. Cooperative learning and portfolio assessment are examples of American classroom-based innovations that have been implemented in large scale in the Finnish school system...."
A voice from the past, James concludes his Talks:
"...I have now ended these talks. If to some of you the things I have said seem obvious or trivial, it is possible that they may appear less so when, in the course of a year or two, you find yourselves noticing and apperceiving events in the schoolroom a little differently, in consequence of some of the conceptions I have tried to make more clear. I cannot but think that to apperceive your pupil as a little sensitive, impulsive, associative, and reactive organism, partly fated and partly free, will lead to a better intelligence of all his ways. Understand him, then, as such a subtle little piece of machinery. And if, in addition, you can also see him sub specie boni, and love him as well, you will be in the best possible position for becoming perfect teachers."

Monday, January 28, 2013

"Who the Hell Wants to Let Teachers Teach?"

I have not read the book "Trusting Teachers with School Success".

But Kim Farris-Berg, one of the authors, provided a preview in a recent guest post in the blog "EduWonk".  She wrote:
"“Who the hell wants to let teachers teach?” These policy makers want “innovation,” but their approach to education policy doesn’t encourage it – at least not from teachers. It doesn’t occur to most that trusting teachers, not controlling them, could be the key to school success. Instead we are stuck on the idea that the best and only means to K-12 improvement is to get better at holding teachers accountable for the results of a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all formula for K-12 teaching."
Somehow, the above parallels what others have said (which have been quoted previously in this blog). A former teacher in the Philippines, who is now residing in the US, provided the following comment:
"In the Science K+12 Curriculum Guide, it is stated: 'Rather than relying solely on textbooks, varied hands-on, minds-on, and hearts-on activities will be used to develop students’ interest and let them become active learners.' Is this the reason why DepEd did not provide Grade 7 students with a science textbook that addresses the new content standards? Are we to assume then that the modules that DepEd has developed will deliver the promised hands-on, minds-on and hearts-on learning? With these modules, DepEd seems hellbent on dictating not only WHAT teachers should teach but also HOW and WHEN to teach them."
This is echoed in an observation made by Rep. Palatino:
"...the prefabricated learning materials were designed by ‘experts’ in such a way that the only creative task required of teachers is to unpack them, follow the specific instructions in the kit, and then grade the students. Even the learning guides already contained exact examples and details of course content, teaching methods, and test sheets which teachers are required to use inside the classroom. Under K-12, teachers are subjected to a ruthlessly efficient reskilling and deskilling process...."
In stark contrast, in our department, at the university level, we, the faculty, do indeed call the shots.

We design our curriculum and each faculty member has the responsibility and freedom to choose what goes into a course syllabus. Each one has goals, but we do recognize standards outside ourselves. We pay attention to accreditation guidelines. We pay attention to what we think our students need and deserve. Our goals are clear - the education of our students is our primary objective. This standard guides us in all ways, thus, in our diverse sets of styles, we recognize that we must tune our approaches to best suit each student. A teacher is entrusted with the education of a pupil. Each pupil is a person and oftentimes, adjustments are made. This can be done on an individual level, if time and resources permit or made with the entire class. It is really difficult to give the same lecture twice when one is tuned to how the audience is responding. A teacher without this freedom cannot innovate. One could not expect teachers to reinvent themselves without the freedom to do so. Responsibility must come with ability. It can only come with empowerment.

Kim Farris Berg's book is described as follows (as it relates to education reform in the United States):
Lately, our nation’s strategy for improving our schools is mostly limited to “getting tough” with teachers. Blaming teachers for poor outcomes, we spend almost all of our energy trying to control teachers’ behavior and school operations. But what if all of this is exactly the opposite of what is needed? What if teachers are the answer and not the problem? What if trusting teachers, and not controlling them, is the key to school success? 
Examining the experiences of teachers who are already trusted to call the shots, this book answers: What would teachers do if they had the autonomy not just to make classroom decisions, but to collectively—with their colleagues—make the decisions influencing whole school success? Decisions such as school curriculum, how to allocate the school budget, and whom to hire. 
Teachers with decision-making authority create the schools that many of us profess to want. They individualize learning. Their students are active (not passive) learners who gain academic and life skills.The teachers create school cultures that are the same as those in high-performing organizations. They accept accountability and innovate, and make efficient use of resources. These promising results suggest: it’s time to trust teachers.
The above is quite similar to how Finland describes its education system (Education Policies for Raising Student Learning: The Finnish Approach, Journal of Education Policy, Vol. 22, No. 2, March 2007, pp. 147–171):
...Intelligent accountability in the Finnish education context preserves and enhances trust among teachers, students, school leaders and education authorities in the accountability processes and involves them in the process, offering them a strong sense of professional responsibility and initiative....
This is perhaps one of the reasons why Finland's education system is among the top in the world.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Foreign Tongue Based - Multilingual Education

There seems to be something wrong with the title of this post.

A child in Los Angeles, California was asking his mother, “Mom, you don’t understand, I’m going into this classroom, but I’m supposed to be over there because that is where the English speaking kids are.” (http://projects.scpr.org/bilinguallearning/) There are indeed a wide variety of opinions regarding what language should be used as medium of instruction in schools. Preserving and nurturing the mother tongue is, of course, a valid reason for why the native language must be taught in schools. The controversial part is the claim that children learn better with the mother tongue as the medium of instruction in the early years. This is where viewpoints and studies diverge. To find the correct answer to this question is challenging since the medium of instruction is only one of the many factors that can influence learning. High in the list of factors that affect learning is the teacher. A highly motivated teacher can really make a difference and in studies that lack control, oftentimes, the teachers who are participating are those who are innovative, effective and well prepared. Well designed studies in this area are therefore demanding for so many reasons, not to mention the fact that there are ethical considerations since such research involves human subjects. 

There are some scientists who are addressing this question from a physiological basis. In this manner, one is then able to extract the specific question of language learning from a myriad of factors inside a classroom setting. One example is Barbara Conboy, a professor at the University of Redlands in California. Her work has been featured in Southern California's "Bilingual Learning" website (a special report from Southern California Public Radio). Conboy has examined brain activity in both infants and toddlers as these young children are exposed to a second language. This area of research is still emerging, yet the following opinion given by Magary Lavandenz, a professor at Loyola Marymount University, provides insights of what scientists in this area have found so far:

Lavadenz said that as infants get older and are only exposed to certain languages, “we delete those other language sound systems.” 
The brain begins to focus more exclusively on what it is hearing, losing the ability to understand different languages. Conboy said this process is called “neural commitment.”

The brain is committing itself to the languages it is hearing. So the younger a child is, the more the brain will be open to trying to process new sounds and languages. 
The younger brain is simply working on it more than an older child or adult as the child has still not become completely entrenched in a language. 
But as children hear only one language, they “delete” other language systems from their brain, according to Professor Lavadenz. 
That’s why kids who are older when they are immersed in a language they’ve never heard before can struggle. It can require more motivation from the child to stick with it.

Since there are indeed schools in California that now offer "foreign tongue based - multilinngual education", data regarding how a foreign language affects learning are not confined to the brain studies mentioned above. The El Marino Language School is one example. In these schools, children are taught in a target language (different from the child's mother tongue) sometimes as much as ninety percent of the time. These schools participate in statewide standardized tests. Since these programs have been in place for so many years now, test results are available, and students from El Marino scored an API of 931 in 2011. API is the Academic Performance Indicator obtained from the standard tests in California. A score of 931 ranks El Marino as one of the best schools in California (well inside the 90th percentile).  In this school, children receive only 10% of the instruction in English at kindergarten. With each year, the amount of English is increased by 10% so that by fifth grade, the instruction is now 50:50 between the foreign language and English. Of course, one could ask the question of why parents would enroll their children in such a school. Why would a parent whose child had only heard and spoken English send the child to learn Kindergarten in Japanese? There must be something special with these parents. The program of instruction is demanding enough that it may tend to filter the type of families that would avail of such programs. The motivation and participation of parents in early childhood education are known to be important factors. This is the reason why brain studies provide an independent means of extracting the role of language acquisition in a child's education.

To learn more about the role of language in a child's education please visit "Bilingual Learning":

The following is an introductory video from this website:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Poverty at Home or Poverty in Schools

There was one issue of Georgetown Magazine (about twenty years ago) that mentioned me:
"The odds that de Dios would become a chemistry professor at a prestigious US university were very slim. He was one of the few in his neighborhood to attend college. According to Georgetown's dean of science, Timothy Law Snyder, the chances "are simply staggering" that de Dios would make it out of the Philippines and achieve such success. "I can give you odds on just about everything in the universe", says Snyder, an expert in probability and statistics, "but I don't want to even hazard a guess with that one.""
My son finds himself in the middle of an elementary school classroom in the Philippines.
Indeed, there is no question that the place where a child grows up correlates with what that child might achieve in later life. Mine is an anecdote and most probably, a deviant. There is ample data that show that the future of children is a function of their neighborhood. For this reason, poverty has long been considered as an important factor in education outcomes. The conditions within a neighborhood are long held to have an effect on students' learning in schools. The United States launched a program called "Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing". Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing (MTO) is a 10-year research demonstration that combines tenant-based rental assistance with housing counseling to help very low-income families move from poverty-stricken urban areas to low-poverty neighborhoods. Inside this program, it is then possible to see if solving "poverty at home" leads to better learning. The results are out and these have been reported in "Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research". In the conclusion section of the report, one would find the following statements:

MTO’s effects on achievement and related schooling outcomes were disappointing, particularly among the youngest cohort of children at MTO enrollment, whom we hypothesized would benefit the most from MTO moves into lower poverty neighborhoods... ...Children assigned to the two treatment groups attended schools that served students who were slightly less likely to have very low test scores, be poor, or be members of racial and ethnic minority groups compared with the student served in the schools that children in the control group attended, but they were still in generally low-performing schools that served overwhelmingly poor and majority-minority student populations. These findings raise questions about whether investing directly in schools might be more effective for improving schooling outcomes among economically disadvantaged youth (see a recent review of literature in Duncan and Murnane, 2011).
Sarah D. Spark wrote the following comment on this study in EducationWeek:
The latest studies on the research project, which were presented at the annual conference of the American Economic Association here, find that removing children from concentrated poverty boosts their parents' sense of well-being, but by itself doesn't increase children's reading or mathematics achievement or the likelihood that they will be on track to graduate from high school or be employed as adults. Even children who moved before age 6 , considered a critical period for brain development, showed no academic benefits from moving to higher-income neighborhoods.
The MTO study does provide a fresh look at how poverty may be affecting education. It highlights the need to examine not just poverty in our neighborhoods, but, perhaps, as important, poverty inside our schools. The "Conditional Cash Program" of the Philippine government designed to keep children from poor families healthy and in school only addresses the problem halfway if one considers the results of the MTO study. What is necessary is a combined effort, a more comprehensive program that addresses not only the dire economic conditions in a neighborhood, but also the poor resources and unmet needs inside public schools. The MOT took more than a decade to draw the conclusion that such half-effort leads to no results. It will be a great waste of time, opportunity and resources to wait ten years and see the same result.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Preschool Education Only Benefits the Poor?

The municipality of Paete, Laguna provided a resolution that was meant as a guide for responsible parenthood and citizenship. Included in this code is a section that calls for collaboration between the town's Social Welfare and Development Office and other local officials in strengthening and widening preschool programs in the town. A daycare center has also been built in one of the upland communities of the town:

A daycare center is being constructed to serve children in an upland community in Paete, Laguna  (Photo taken February, 2009 - courtesy of Vice mayor Mutuk Bagabaldo). This new building is necessary since the old structure does not really provide a good setting for the pupils:
The old daycare building (Photo courtesy of  Barangay Captain Hensol Ponce)
An article on daycare published recently in the Slate, "The Early Education Racket", starts by stating something quite provocative:

"If you are reading this article, your kid probably doesn’t need preschool."

First, the title, then comes the above statement. The article implies that early childhood education has a specific purpose. It is like a medicine that is prescribed for a given set of symptoms. Reading through the entire article, however, one gets the impression that the author is simply trying to advice parents not to worry so much about selecting and choosing from exclusive preschool programs. Parents nowadays seem to want to provide all the edge they could give to their children. In a world obsessed with competition, it is no surprise that some parents would start as early as when their children turn three years old. Quite tangential to the main topic of the article are citations to scientific studies that examine the benefits of early childhood education. Among the studies mentioned is an article from the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry:

To read the entire article, please visit http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3283580/
Socially disadvantaged children with academic difficulties at school entry are at increased risk for poor health and psychosocial outcomes. Our objective is to test the possibility that participation in childcare – at the population level – could attenuate the gap in academic readiness and achievement between children with and without a social disadvantage (indexed by low levels of maternal education). 
A cohort of infants born in the Canadian province of Quebec in 1997/1998 was selected through birth registries and followed annually until 7 years of age (n = 1,863). Children receiving formal childcare (i.e., center-based or non-relative out-of-home) were distinguished from those receiving informal childcare (i.e., relative or nanny). Measures from 4 standardized tests that assessed cognitive school readiness (Lollipop Test for School Readiness), receptive vocabulary (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test Revised), mathematics (Number Knowledge Test), and reading performance (Kaufman Assessment Battery for children) were administered at 6 and 7 years.
Children of mothers with low levels of education showed a consistent pattern of lower scores on academic readiness and achievement tests at 6 and 7 years than those of highly educated mothers, unless they received formal childcare. Specifically, among children of mothers with low levels of education, those who received formal childcare obtained higher school readiness (d = 0.87), receptive vocabulary (d = 0.36), reading (d = 0.48) and math achievement scores (d = 0.38; although not significant at 5%) in comparison with those who were cared for by their parents. Childcare participation was not associated with cognitive outcomes among children of mothers with higher levels of education. 
Public investments in early childcare are increasing in many countries with the intention of reducing cognitive inequalities between disadvantaged and advantaged children. Our findings provide further evidence suggesting that formal childcare could represent a preventative means of attenuating effects of disadvantage on children’s early academic trajectory.
This paper highlights one purpose of preschool education (which is quite opposite to how some parents view early childhood education as giving their children an edge or an advantage): To serve as an equalizer between rich and poor children. Specifically, the study involved children whose mothers have low educational attainment. This is interesting since in a previous post in this blog, "Out of School Children in the Philippines", the correlation between children leaving school and the educational attainment of the mother is quite strong. Another previous post in this blog, "Vocabulary and Learning", highlights one of the possible reasons behind learning gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged children: The quality of communication and attention children receive at home.

The Slate article brings this point quite clearly with the following paragraph:
In other words, a bad home situation becomes a much smaller problem when your kid goes to preschool; when you have a good home environment, preschool doesn’t really matter. (Granted, children from poor families tend to go to lower quality preschools than wealthy kids do, but for them, a bad preschool is usually better than nothing.)
For the Philippines, the important question is whether preschools really provide something that is better than nothing....

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Early Childhood Education

While there is no doubt that education in the early years is crucial, providing public education to young children is only the first step. Something is not necessarily better than nothing. Quality in early childhood education is a must. The important question to consider is what factors determine quality in preschool as well as in kindergarten and the early elementary years. 

Early childhood education not only introduces kids to schooling but also their parents. These are the years in which a parent learns first hand what it means to send a child to a school. It is at this point that a parent begins to share the rearing of a child with society. The relationship between teachers and parents begins at this time and so do relationships between parents of classmates. Preschool and kindergarten serve not only as a way to smooth the jump into formal schooling for the children, but also for parents. Quality in early childhood education should therefore include how well parents are introduced to basic education.

It is obvious that early childhood education goes beyond some of the factors usually considered in evaluating an education system. The structural requirements such as safe and healthy environments, low pupil to teacher ratio, adequate learning materials, and level of teacher education, are still relevant, but as important, are the relationships forged at this stage between teacher, children and parents.

Back in 2008, the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill devoted an issue of Early Developments in addressing the question of quality in preschool education:

To read this issue please click
The first article in this issue highlights the observation that high quality preschool education is characterized by  the interactions between the children and their teachers. Unfortunately, this is something that is challenging to quantify. Equally cumbersome is dealing with the question of how should a teacher be trained and supported for such endeavor. Bonnie Rochman wrote a year ago in Time Magazine:
But what does high-quality child care mean anyway? It’s not about preschool children being drilled on their multiplication tables. Instead, it refers to low ratios of students to teachers and developmentally appropriate books and toys, as well as attentive teachers attuned to their students’ developmental needs. In practice, that plays out as teachers trained to not automatically start a curriculum just because the majority of a class is 3 years old. Instead, they individualize activities to children’s specific levels.
Seeing teacher-child interactions as significant, teacher training for this stage of schooling then means a focus on what actually happens inside the classroom. The importance of the classroom puts a dent on teacher preparation in college. Learning how to interact with young children happens most with experience. The second article of the "Early Developments" issue shown above deals with "How Do We Prepare Early Childhood Teachers to Provide Quality Education and Care". This is what the researchers found:
Professional development efforts that focus on observations of effective teacher and child interactions, and are video-based, individualized, and skill-focused, hold promise as effective approaches to creating high quality interactions between children and teachers on a large scale.
Oftentimes, when we think of applications of technology inside the classroom, we jump straight to pedagogical tools. Ongoing professional development of teachers can also benefit from technology especially in early childhood education where concrete situations need to be observed and fully experienced. Early childhood teachers need to become better observers of their own teaching. They also need to be aware of other teachers' styles and approaches. Teaching at this stage is like other teaching professions - it is ongoing learning.

Since effective teachers for the early years are not miraculously formed in college, it is even more important that we pay attention to teacher turnover or retention. It is in this light that we should ask ourselves whether we are providing preschool and kindergarten teachers with all the support they need. This is our future.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Solving Poor Learning Outcomes in Basic Education

Problems in basic education such as children not learning to read can be traced to the early years, the times at which these skills are taught. The same holds true for arithmetic or basic math skills. The third and fourth grades of basic education are pivotal. For this reason, exams and assessments are frequently made at this stage. Poor performance in these tests indicates problems in early education. These can not be addressed by adding two years at the end of high school. These need to be addressed at the primary level where the problems begin to arise. Poor performance in Grade IV as demonstrated below:
Among 25 countries that joined the study among fourth-grade students, we (Philippines) ranked 23rd in both Math and Science, again with scores more than 200 points lower than the first-ranked Singapore!

clearly demands solutions at the primary level of education. It is in fact quite tempting to focus on the early years of education. There is a growing awareness among education reformers that most of the problems basic education currently faces in so many countries can be addressed at the early years. The United States is not an exception. The early years, pre- kindergarten to third grade, are now being examined in great depth and detail. For instance, the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPGCDI) at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, enumerates the following reasons why pre-K to 3 is particularly important:
  • Children's experiences during the early years provide the foundation for later school success. 
  • Public school involvement with young children is increasing. 
  • A variety of federal, state, and local agencies are responsible for the education and care of 3- and 4-year-olds. 
  • A smooth, coordinated learning experience from ages 3 to 8 is important to children and families. 
  • America is becoming more diverse. 
  • From age 3 to 8, children learn the essential foundations of reading and writing. 
These are the reasons behind the institute's FirstSchool program. In my opinion, the last reason is sufficient enough to justify a more in-depth assessment of early childhood education. This reason applies universally. It applies to the Philippines. FPGCDI, among other things, does research and evaluation of pre-K to 3. An example of an inquiry is demonstrated below in a figure that shows the number of minutes spent in pre-K versus the number of minutes spent in Kindergarten:

Downloaded from http://firstschool.fpg.unc.edu/research-and-evaluation
Looking at the above figure reveals several differences between daycare (pre-K) and Kindergarten. Kindergarten is usually a bit shorter than full-day childcare. Inside this reduction in hours, there are also dramatic differences in how these minutes are distributed among various activities. Pre-K is less structured while Kindergarten is very much structured by seeing the reduction of free choice time from 136 minutes in pre-K to only 16 minutes in Kindergarten. The examination above essentially looks at the transition in terms of allotted times between daycare and Kindergarten. It is worthwhile to examine how kindergarten and first grade in the Philippines differ in this respect. The above is just an example of some of the questions one may raise in the hope of getting to know early childhood education better, how it ticks, how it works. Research and evaluation is only one of the ten critical features that FirstSchool has identified as necessary for improving  pre-K to 3:

Ten Critical Features

  1. Culturally responsive, engaging and developmentally appropriate curriculum, instruction, and assessment
  2. Leadership that promotes and sustains change
  3. Teacher preparation and professional development   
  4. Foundational processes
  5. Seamless education
  6. Financing PreK-3   
  7. Home-school partnerships
  8. Research and evaluation
  9. Coordinated school health and wellness
  10. Environments that support learning and communication
Downloaded from http://firstschool.fpg.unc.edu/presentations
FirstSchool only started a few years ago, but the program has already yielded some findings as well as developed new ideas. One example is a design guide for schools:

To read the guide, please click http://firstschool.fpg.unc.edu/sites/firstschool.fpg.unc.edu/files/design_guide_complete.pdf
The purpose of the FirstSchool Design Guide is to help communities develop optimal indoor and outdoor learning environments for children ages 3 to 8.  The guide offers the rationale for the FirstSchool approach, the evidence base for our principles, examples of how those principles can be expressed and supported in the physical environment, technical considerations and design specifications.  The design guide can be downloaded and printed either as a single high-quality PDF or by individual chapter.

Early Childhood Learning is very important. This phase of basic education should never be taken for granted. The early grades are crucial and failure in these early years has a strong influence on later years of education. The pictures are inviting - these are pictures of children, smiling with much of their future in our hands. Some of the ideas may look ideal and may lie outside our reach. This is quite similar to health care. Paying attention to the early years is akin to staying healthy and preventative care. In the long run, these may actually be less costly than curing a disease, especially when the disease is prevalent. And if we consider each child as our own, there is really no reason not to aspire for something better.

The importance of early childhood education is widely accepted in the United States. Current debate, as described in a recent HuffingtonPost article centers on an equity issue:
"Head Start is for the poorest of the poor … so if you say, 'Let's stretch the program so that it's helping the middle class with pre-K access,' you risk not being able to reach all those children in poverty." ...Early childhood education attainment -- and Head Start in particular -- has also been tied to better life outcomes. In 2012, several police chiefs highlighted the need for more and better preschool as a long-term crime reduction tool.  James Heckman, a Nobel prize-winning economist, has shown that every dollar spent on Head Start yields $7 to $9 as the program's graduates begin contributing to the economy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Philippine Senate Approves on Third Reading DepEd's K to 12

"Voting 14-0 the senate passed Senate Bill 3286, or the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2012, sponsored by Sen. Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Committee on Education, Arts and Culture. With the passage of the bill, the fate of the measure now lies on the bicameral conference committee tasked to ratify it before President Benigno Aquino 3rd, sign it into law."

There are currently 23 senators in the Philippines. On the same day, the president of the Senate, Juan Ponce Enrile, moved to remove himself from the position of Senate President. 

Eleven senators—Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Assistant Majority Leader Gregorio Honasan, Franklin Drilon, Francis Escudero, Teofisto Guingona III, Panfilo Lacson, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Loren Legarda, Ralph Recto and Ramon Revilla Jr.—rejected Enrile’s motion to declare his post vacant.

The number was enough to overturn the yes votes of Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, Trillanes and Enrile, himself as movant.
Senators Joker Arroyo and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. abstained.

Angara is not on the above list so senators apparently walk in and out during the session so it is not obvious who among the Senate failed to participate in the DepEd's K to 12 vote. It is amazing that on a day that critical issues are on the table, a Senate president proposing to quit, and a major education reform, the Senate's attendance leaves so much to be desired.

Out-of-School Children in the Philippines

A significant fraction of Filipino children are currently not in school. Moreover, additional numbers are at great risk of dropping out of school. Meeting the goal of "education for all" obviously requires paying attention to out-of-school children, specifically, the underlying reasons why children are not entering school or dropping out before graduation at the secondary level. Jose Ramon G. Albert, Francis Mark A. Quimba, Andre Philippe E. Ramos, and Jocelyn P. Almeda of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) have provided useful insights regarding this challenge in their paper entitled, "Profile of Out-of-School Children in the Philippines". This is quite a lengthy report. It also highlights inconsistencies between different surveys. However, it is still possible to draw significant correlations that can guide future policies or reforms on education. For this purpose, I would like to focus on the following findings of the PIDS paper:

First, there is a correlation between child labor and the adjusted net attendance rate:

Downloaded from "Profile of Out-of-School Children in the Philippines"
The table shows that at the secondary level, children engaged in labor are more likely to be not attending school. More importantly, there is a dramatic difference between genders at this stage. Less than a third of boys engaged in work are attending secondary school.

Second, children who are leaving school are predominantly poor:

Downloaded from "Profile of Out-of-School Children in the Philippines"
This disparity is quite dramatic at the primary level. At the secondary level, school dropouts from the lower-middle and middle classes (Second and Third Quintiles) have risen significantly, such that when combined these now outnumber the dropouts from the poorest class. Of course, it is important to examine further what the income levels really are that define these quintiles. Nearly ninety percent of the Philippine population can be considered belonging to the D and E social classes. These two social classes therefore encompass the poorest through the fourth quintile in the above figures. This is quite illuminating. At the secondary level, the opportunity for children to earn is higher than at the primary level. In addition, costs even in public schools for secondary education are becoming prohibitive for the poor. 

Third, the number of out-of-school children in the Philippines is correlated with the educational attainment of the mother:

Downloaded from "Profile of Out-of-School Children in the Philippines"
In fact, combining poverty and a mother's educational attainment reveals how important these two factors are in school dropouts:

Downloaded from "Profile of Out-of-School Children in the Philippines"
For "education for all" to succeed, acknowledgement of the above factors is crucial. Reforms must be designed with the above factors in mind. Otherwise, we might just be drawing "fantasy plans".

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Purpose of Education

by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Morehouse College Student Paper, The Maroon Tiger, in 1947

Photo downloaded from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr
As I engage in the so-called "bull sessions" around and about the school, I too often find that most college men have a misconception of the purpose of education. Most of the "brethren" think that education should equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses. Still others think that education should furnish them with noble ends rather than means to an end.

It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the ligitimate goals of his life.

Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one's self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.

The late Eugene Talmadge, in my opinion, possessed one of the better minds of Georgia, or even America. Moreover, he wore the Phi Beta Kappa key. By all measuring rods, Mr. Talmadge could think critically and intensively; yet he contends that I am an inferior being. Are those the types of men we call educated?

We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.

If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, "brethren!" Be careful, teachers!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gifted and Talented Students

Returning to my basic education days, I was not really enrolled in a special elementary class. I finished my grade school years in a small parochial school in Quiapo, Manila. In fact, I was a student there when the parish priest was murdered in a robbery of the church's money collections. My high school education was from Manila Science High School. Its campus sits at the corner of Taft and Faura. The school's curriculum had emphasis on math and science. I had a year of calculus and linear algebra, and a couple of years for both physics and chemistry. I was in the sections of "Bohr" and "Einstein", considered as the top sections for third and fourth year students, respectively. Students from these sections during my time won national competitions in mathematics:

My high school classmates in a National Mathematics Competition (photo courtesy of Greg Alva)

My high school classmates winning the competition (photo courtesy of Greg Alva)
They were champions. Me? I simply tagged along, hoping that "genius" was somehow contagious.

When equity is absent, education becomes an opportunity. Future doors that may open depend on which room you are in. More than thirty years ago, as I had just finished my third year in high school, I was given the opportunity to participate in a summer program at the Ateneo de Manila University. The program was supposedly intended for the top high school students across the country. Somehow, I lucked out and was given this special opportunity. Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III was also in this class. The program introduced us to what college life was at the Ateneo. We took summer classes in math, chemistry, physics and english. It was the Ateneo "college experience" squeezed into two months, complete with extracurricular activities. Below is a link to a blog that talks about this summer program:

Learning outcomes depend on input. The quality of education is influenced by the environment. Resources as well as effective instructors affect the quality of learning. Providing special, either enriched or accelerated, programs for gifted and talented students can exacerbate disparities in learning achievement. Given early as kindergarten, students who get a start ahead can easily end up being at an even bigger advantage over other students. It is an important question, one that poses the choice, "equity versus excellence". Do we view education as a privilege and a means to get ahead in life, or is it a right to which every child is entitled? Basic education can indeed be a useful tool in social engineering. Basic education has a significant impact on a person's success in college, future earnings, and standing in society. This is how it looks on the individual level. On the society level, basic education has an influence on the dynamics and classes within a society. Basic education can enhance social mobility if opportunities are extended to the less privileged. Likewise, basic education can maintain a "caste" system if equity is not addressed.

This issue is described in specific terms in a recent article in the New York Times by Al Baker,

Gifted, Talented and Separated

In One School, Students Are Divided by Gifted Label — and Race

The questions will be quite similar if applied to the Philippines. The only difference is that in the Philippines, it will not be about race. The question is how does the makeup of these classes for gifted students compare with society. If a majority of Philippine society is poor, do these special classes also draw a majority of its enrollment from poor families? Or is the makeup of these classes vastly different from the makeup of society? The questions are similar. In New York City, African Americans and Hispanics combined comprise about 63 percent of the population while the classes for gifted and talented students are only 32 percent Black or Hispanic. In the Philippines, most do not have their own cars, but in that special summer program of the Ateneo, how many of the students actually had their own personal chauffeur?

Finland, the top performing country in basic education, does not have to deal with these questions. There are no private schools, no schools for the privileged. Everyone receives quality basic education. The irony is that when it comes to teachers' colleges, Finland does not shy away from being very selective and elitist in admissions. Nine out of ten aspirants fail. Only ten percent become teachers. Sandra Stotsky, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, chose an appropriate title for an article that describes the Finnish education system:
To read this article, click "In Finland, Students Win When Teachers Compete"
Education reform requires a reexamination of our values, what really matters, what our priorities are....

Friday, January 18, 2013

What Is So Special About Finland?

Students in science need to be trained not only in properly collecting data but as important, in correctly analyzing and drawing conclusions. Oftentimes, sweeping generalizations can be made haphazardly without examining closely the data and acknowledging complexities that may be present. This is especially a concern when it comes to basic education. There are a myriad of factors that influence learning outcomes. In this arena, it is very important to pay attention to details to avoid making exaggerated, oversimplified and misleading conclusions. One instance to which our attention is drawn is the average score of students in international standardized exams. A collaborative effort between Stanford's Graduate School of Education and the Economic Policy Institute recently produced an analysis, "What do international tests really show about US student performance?". The work demonstrates the danger of drawing conclusions simply from the average scores of students in international exams and using these conclusions as guides for education reform and policies. Most of their analysis illustrate that it is important to decompose the scores according to social class to see important findings that are hidden behind an aggregate or average number. By considering social classes and how these are represented in the sample student population that actually participated in the exam, it is estimated that the United States would have placed fourth in reading and tenth in math, to be compared with 14th and 25th standings, respectively, if only the raw average scores for each country are used. This adjustment comes from the oversampling of economically disadvantaged students in the United States. The international standards exams (TIMSS and PISA) include not only the scores of the students but also surveys. Results can therefore be disaggregated according to various factors that have been included in the survey. Examples are educational attainment of parents, hours of study, and others. Thus, with additional effort, scores of students in these exams can be examined under these various factors. Poverty is one factor that is arguably significant in learning outcomes. In the United States, poverty in schools can be correlated with the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. This system has a well-defined income level. Unfortunately, such is unique in the United States. Hence, one must choose a different measure to decompose the students' scores according to social class. One measure that Martin Carnoy and Richard Rothstein, the authors of the study, chose is the number of books in the household of each student. This is not a fool-proof ruler, but the number of books that can found inside a home strongly correlates with social class. It is one measure that is present in both TIMSS and PISA. Students can therefore be subdivided into various social classes according to this quantity:

The above table was downloaded from http://www.epi.org/publication/us-student-performance-testing/
With the above classification scheme, one can then view the scores of the students according to social class.

With the above segregation of scores, one can now compare the performance of students within the same group (social class according to number of books at home). One can look at the gap and it is quite obvious that the difference in scores between the lowest and highest social class group is highest in the United States. By the time one reaches Group 6, the highest social class, the difference between scores of the US students as compared to the top performing countries has diminished.  What is so special about Finland? In Group 1, the group with the lowest number of books in home, the lowest social class, Finland's students are on top in both reading and math. This is what "focusing on equity and not excellence" really means in Finland.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Schools in Poor Neighborhoods

Poverty is indeed a crucial factor in education. It has significant impact on the environment and resources. To address problems in basic education, it is worthwhile to examine how exactly measures designed to ameliorate the conditions in poor schools address the challenges. To achieve this, it is necessary to exercise caution while sifting through data. Otherwise, data can mislead and the wrong conclusions could be drawn. One piece of data worth a second look is Exhibit 2.1 (TIMSS 2008 Distribution of Achievement in Advanced Mathematics) which can be also be found in a previous post on this blog "The Role of Higher Education":

The first obvious thing is that the Philippines is at the bottom of this list. On average, the Philippines scored the lowest. The students who took this exam are those who are enrolled in special programs. Thus, the students from the Philippines who took this particular exam are among the cream of the crop - those who are studying in elite private schools and special science high schools in the Philippines. In addition to the fact that the Philippines has the lowest average score, one important thing to note is that the Philippines also has the widest distribution of scores. The country also demonstrates the widest disparity in learning outcomes. This is important, it shows that the Philippines not only has to face problems in quality of education but also equity. And equity may in fact be a bigger problem since we do need to keep in mind that the above results only include the top students in the country. Thus, a large fraction, an overwhelming majority of Philippine students are not learning. Only a very few do.

Careful attention to data is very crucial. Rick Kahlenberg in the American Educator recently wrote an article, "High-Flying High-Poverty Schools". In this article, Kahlenberg carefully examines results touted by the Heritage Foundation which claims that schools mired in poverty could perform well ("No Excuses for Poor Children Not to Learn, Research Shows"). It is true that there are "poor" schools that perform well and the Heritage Foundation found 21 schools that do. But this number should be placed side by side against 7000, the number of high poverty schools that do not perform well, as identified by the US Department of Education.

Equally important to analyzing data is seeing the relevance. Some would easily dismiss data and statistics from other places with the usual claim that such information only applies to that specific place. It is true that one must examine the specific conditions from which the data have been drawn, but one must also be able to see that not all of the data could be dismissed this easily. A lot do apply. Schools in the US are largely run at the local level. School funding oftentimes therefore depends on the neighborhood. States are responsible for public education and even within states, each county has its own school board that acts with a great degree of independence. Public school education is supported by local taxes. Part of these taxes come from real estate. Real estate taxes are based on the appraised values of properties in the neighborhood. What is particularly interesting is that house prices in a neighborhood strongly correlate with the quality of the public schools in that community. This somewhat explains why there are high-poverty schools in the US - these are schools in poor neighborhoods where family income is low - which also leads to poor funding of the schools.

A developing country like the Philippines is similar in a lot of ways to a poor school district in the United States. Schools in the Philippines face similar challenges as lack of resources, shortage of competent teachers, and a poor environment for learning outside school. In this respect, Kahlenberg's examination of another program (which is the main subject of his article, "High-Flying High-Poverty Schools"), Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), can be particularly enlightening. His final analysis shows that in the midst of all the data, what should be clear is that peer environment matters a great deal in learning. The following paragraph is especially insightful: