"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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Shaping Education for the 21st Century

One could hazard a guess on what the 21st century has in store for the children of today. Most of the current problems and opportunities are visible today and perhaps, will outlast a generation or two. With an exploding human population, the needs continue to rise and resources are fast dwindling. The generations of tomorrow will face substantial pressure for sustainable growth and existence. The technology of today provides glimpses for the shape of employment future generations have to face. Basic education can be reconfigured to prepare the youth to meet these challenges that await them. There is no question that education must be reformed. The remaining question, however, is how.

"Learning to learn" is one catchy phrase. It can be used to describe an education through which a student develops thinking skills. Certainly, this is an ideal objective. How one gets there, how this can be achieved inside a classroom is not as straightforward as it seems. "Critical thinking" is "expert thinking". Thinking does not happen inside a vacuum. A strong foundation of knowledge is a prerequisite. Take, for example, the following simple graph:

Above figure downloaded from Wikipedia
The above figure shows the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere measured above Hawaii. On the y-axis is the amount of this gas and on the x-axis is time (year, specifically). The red line traces how much carbon dioxide has been increasing over the past five decades. Within the main graph is an inset that shows and magnifies what happens to the carbon dioxide level within a year. Mauna Loa is in the northern hemisphere so the annual cycle observed matches the seasons. April heralds the arrival of spring and trees begin to show leaves once more. Carbon dioxide levels drop during this time as vegetation extracts the gas from the atmosphere for photosynthesis. This continues until late summer. October is the start of Fall. Leaves turn brown and fall off the trees, and photosynthesis is suspended. Carbon dioxide then rises through winter until the next spring arrives. Thus, the small blips seen in the main graph are in fact due to millions and millions of trees shedding their leaves for fall and winter, and growing them back in spring. Millions of trees and yet, their effect is so tiny compared to the overall trend in carbon dioxide level from 1960 to present time. Carbon dioxide levels have risen by as much as 25 percent during the past fifty years while each season of trees losing all leaves accounts for only 1-2 percent fluctuations in carbon dioxide concentrations. This graph provides strong evidence that the change observed in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is mostly anthropogenic or man-made. How does one arrive at such a conclusion? How does one even begin to interpret the observations laid out by the graph above, without prior knowledge of what graphs are, and how graphs are interpreted? Surely, there is also quite a bit of knowledge, such as where Hawaii is in the globe, what the four seasons are, and when these generally occur in the northern hemisphere, that is necessary to interpret correctly the graph. This graph does not even tackle what must be done to address the issue. This is really the point where lack of consensus exists. Remediation as well as adaptations to climate change certainly require even greater critical thinking and a wider array of information. For instance, evaluating carbon-based fuels can begin by looking at each fuel and weighing how much energy is obtained per carbon dioxide produced:

Above table copied from 

This exercise will require division and a basic understanding of stoichiometry in chemical reactions. Methane produces close to 900 kilojoules of energy per mole of carbon dioxide produced. On the other hand, octane, which can represent what is present in gasoline, produces 5000 kilojoules, but at the price of forming  not one, but 8 moles of carbon dioxide. Thus, octane produces a bit less energy per carbon dioxide produced, about 600 kilojoules of energy per mole of carbon dioxide produced. Is methane, a main component of natural gas, a better fuel then for the environment? Yes and no. There are engineering, technical and even biological issues that need to be addressed to answer this specific challenge, for example.

The above are small specific examples of problems. It is true that not everyone needs to become a scientist to face the world of tomorrow. It is important, however, to recognize that these issues will affect almost every aspect of human civilization. Agriculture depends a lot on the climate and so does fishing. Communities especially in coastal areas are especially vulnerable to changes in sea level. Changes in our environment certainly command adaptation and better preparation is a must. Policies are drawn by politicians but the youth of today are the ones who will face these challenges head on.

Should basic education therefore be reformed to face the challenges of the 21st century? "Yes" will be a safe response. "How" remains unsolved. First, preparing children so that they can become productive and happier members of future communities requires both thinking skills and information. A reformed educational system that focuses primarily on skills without substance cannot provide the necessary preparation. Second, narrowing down options and designing specialized tracks in basic education start with a huge assumption of knowing what the future really holds. This is a gigantic assumption that may often be incorrect. Basic education forms the foundation. How this branches to various disciplines of human endeavor must stay flexible and adaptable to each individual student. "Learning to learn" captures this ideal. Yet, it is also knowledge or information that usually allows an individual to adapt to new problems or situations.

Thus, there is a lack of clarity of how basic education should be designed. It cannot be a simple preparation for higher education since not everyone is destined for college. It cannot be a simple preparation for employment since by the time students finish their education those specific jobs may not even be available. Even health care and the services sectors are changing rapidly. More than two years ago, the graduate school of education at Harvard published the report, "Pathways to Prosperity", outlining what needs to be done to prepare the youth for the 21st century:

Visit http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news_events/features/2011/Pathways_to_Prosperity_Feb2011.pdf
to read the full report
The report begins by acknowledging major changes in educational requirements of employment. The jobs available for high school graduates and dropouts have diminished substantially from 62% in 1973 to 41% in 2007:

The most recent recession in the United States has a greater impact to younger people as seen in the number of job opportunities available to each age group:

The situation in the Philippines is not vastly different in this respect. According to the National Statistics Office (Philippines), most of the unemployed are young adults:

Above data from National Statistics Office, Labor Force Survey
The Harvard report maintains that not everyone needs a college degree to enter employment. What seems lacking is an alignment between high school education and employment opportunities. The report then looks at other countries to see how others have tailored their basic education program to meet the unique opportunities and challenges of the 21st century:
If you look at the U.S. secondary education system through a comparative lens, one big difference becomes immediately apparent: most advanced nations place far more emphasis on vocational education than we do. Throughout northern and central Europe especially, vocational education and training is a mainstream system, the pathway helping most young people make the transition from adolescence to productive adulthood. In Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland, after grade 9 or 10 between 40 and 70 percent of young people opt for an
educational program that typically combines classroom and workplace learning over the next three years. This culminates in a diploma or certificate, a “qualification,” as it’s called, with real currency in the labor market. In virtually all of these countries, vocational education also provides a pathway into tertiary education for those who
choose to take it.
The structure of basic education in these European countries takes the first ten years as compulsory and does not discriminate between vocational and college preparation. Thus, after ten years of basic education, a student chooses to either attend a technical/vocational school or a preparatory program for college. Vocational schools or apprenticeships in Europe involve a wide variety of occupations and it is only in the last year that the training is narrowly focused on a particular job.

The solution to aligning basic education to employment opportunities is indeed elusive. The Harvard report does not make a clear claim of finding the magic bullet. In fact, the first recommendation is about career counseling. There are apparently not enough guidance counselors for American high school students. According to the report, there are 500 students assigned to each guidance counselor and this counselor usually spends a great deal of time on social and emotional issues. There is not enough time and manpower for career advising. This shortage is likewise (if not more severe) present in the current Philippine basic education system.

The dropout problem and the low college graduation rates in the United States are partly blamed on a failure to engage students in their learning. It is therefore suggested that a closer link or alignment between the world outside and the classroom is made. One of the reasons behind a high dropout rate is loss of interest. A student who fails to master the basic literacy and numerical skills in the earlier grades either has the option to remediate or drudge oneself into subjects that are even more challenging and therefore beyond what this student could possibly comprehend. How can a student who does not know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide appreciate algebra? How can a student who has not been taught how to make measurements be interested in engineering? How can a student who does not know how to read enjoy reading a book? Critical thinking without substance is not critical thinking. It is simply hot air.

As in climate change in which the problems may seem distant in the future, education reformers tend to focus mainly on the later years thinking that the solutions are within this period. Senior high schools or whatever schooling that happens after basic education can only be reformed to a certain point to conform to the perceived challenges and opportunities of society but without addressing these problems earlier, the problems of a failing basic education system, none of these solutions will work. It is in the early grades that a student forms a general attitude towards learning. It is in the elementary years that a child gets introduced to learning. Failing at this point guarantees a difficult time in schooling in the later years. No reshaping of curriculum in high school can cure the ills of a poor elementary education. Shaping education for the 21st century has not really changed what basic education should be. The goals of basic education remain the same. Education in the early childhood years is still the most important step. Reforming high school without attending to problems in elementary school is a simple exercise in futility. It may be true that doing well in early childhood education and the elementary years does not necessarily guarantee a basic education aligned to the needs and challenges of a 21st century. However, it is with certainty that a poor elementary education will lead to a failure in basic education no matter what century.

Monday, April 29, 2013

What a Teacher Would Do to Teach Math and Science

In Southwest Washington, DC, a place plagued with problems common to poor neighborhoods, there is a school, Leckie Elementary School, where there is a teacher, Jerrie Hall, who finds creative ways of engaging third grade students into learning math and science. Hall creates special activities that require him to redesign the classroom. At one time, he changed his classroom into an emergency ward where students have to solve math and science problems in order to save patient Charlie Brown. This time, Hall made himself an ambassador from an alien civilization and his classroom into an alien planet. Kids from the southwest section of the nation's capital probably have yet to meet a real scientist. In fact, a lot of these children do not even know anyone who has gone to college. Hall makes a difference in these children's lives by showing them a world different from where they live, a world where there are possibilities and dreams. The following is a video from PBS highlighting math and science teacher Jerrie Hall:

As part of an ongoing web series, NewsHour profiles STEM teachers who have found innovative ways to teach their students about math and science.

Video by Rebecca Jacobson and Cindy Huang.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"A Child Without Dreams"

These are words of Joseph Miles, copied from a Huffington Post blog article, "A Child Without Dreams" by Marian Wright Edelman, president of Children's Defense Fund:
I never had dreams as a child, a teenager, or as a young adult. Until 2010, I had never sat in a room and heard people talk about their dreams for the future. 
I did not come from a loving, nurturing family. ‘Motherf***er, you little ugly mother***er.’ I could go on telling you how I was spoken to as a child but the words will remain the same. 
There was no one in my life who could have talked to me about dreaming about my future. As I got older, my inner pains turned to anger and that anger turned to rage. 
In 2006, I got serious about education and just before I got my GED in 2008, I started dreaming about my future -- at the age of 41. That was the first time I had ever had a dream about my future. 
In 2010, I was part of an undergraduate Inside Out college class ... This class had seven young students from Vanderbilt University, two from American Baptist College (an African American college), and ten inmates. We referred to ourselves as insiders and outsiders. 
This day our opening circle was to tell the class what you dreamed of being when you grew up. The first person spoke and, always going to the left, the next person spoke, and so on. It got to me and I had to tell the class that I never had a dream of becoming anything in my life. My childhood was spent wanting my parents to love me, crying because I was hungry, or crying because one of them had hurt me and my feelings. At the age of 13 my mother tried to beat me to death. Those years were spent learning how to fight so I would never have to endure another beating like that by anyone. 
Dream? I could not dream; my pain had turned to anger, and in my twenties that anger turned to rage. I could not dream because I chased death. Knowing what I know today, the only reason I did not die is because God would not let death take me. 
That class was the first time in my life I had ever been around people talking about what they dreamed would happen for them in life. What they wanted to do when they were done with school. I lived each day of life surviving. Dream? How could a human being like me dream when no one ever trained me how to use my mind to think? I was so impressed with these young people from the outside and the dreams they had for their future. 
Even though I had that first dream in 2008, I like to think these young people gave me permission to dream. After our class was over that night and the outsiders were gone, I lay in that cell and went to that place I always tried to stay away from since being introduced to education: the place of what if. What if someone would have helped me with education when I was young? What if I would have known how to think and dream? What if I could have experienced the love that was so obvious in those young people’s conversation? The love from family and friends that allowed them to dream. What if I had a dream? ‘What if’ is a painful place to be! 
Today, in 2013, at the age of 45, I dream. I dream of telling young people about the dreams I never had and why it’s important for them to dream. And hopefully I can keep them away from that place called ‘what if.’ 
Today I do wish someone would have taught that child, that teenager, that young man in his twenties to dream. Who knows? Maybe my life would have been different. 
Dreams! So important for the future of our children. I know this from experience. Now I dream.

Photo copied from Manny Olalia Quemel's Facebook page

Problems and Solutions in Science Education

The 19 April 2013 issue of the journal Science devotes a considerable section to the state of science education both in the United States and the rest of the world. It starts with an introduction by Hines et al., "Plenty of Challenges for All". The challenges are enumerated as follows:
  • Use technology to improve pedagogy, management, and accountability. 
  • Improve access to, and the quality of pre- and postprimary education. 
  • Develop appropriate policies for regulating and supporting the private sector in education. 
  • Develop an understanding of how individual differences in brain development interact with formal education. 
  • Adapt learning pathways to individual needs. 
  • Create online environments that use stored data from individual students to guide them to virtual experiments that are appropriate for their stage of understanding. 
  • Determine the ideal balance between virtual and physical investigations for courses in different subject areas.
  • Identify the skills and strategies that teachers need to implement a science curriculum featuring virtual and physical laboratories.
  • Identify the underlying mechanisms that make some teacher professional development (PD) programs more effective than others. 
  • Identify the kind of PD that will best prepare teachers to meet the challenges of the Next Generation Science Standards. 
  • Harness new technologies and social media to make high-quality science PD available to all teachers. 
  • Help students explore the personal relevance of science and integrate scientific knowledge into complex practical solutions. 
  • Develop students’ understanding of the social and institutional basis of scientifi c credibility. 
  • Enable students to build on their own enduring, science-related interests. 
  • Shift incentives to encourage education research on the real problems of practice as they exist in school settings. 
  • Create a set of school districts where long-standing, multidisciplinary teams work together to identify effective improvements. 
  • Create a culture within school systems that allows for meaningful experimentation. 
  • Design valid and reliable assessments reflecting the integration of practices, cross-cutting concepts, and core ideas in science. 
  • Use assessment results to establish an empirical evidence base regarding progressions in science proficiency across K–12. 
  • Build and test tools and information systems that help teachers effectively use assessments to promote learning in the classroom

Seeing this list makes it quite obvious that the introductory article is not exaggerating when it says "Plenty". The rest of the articles in this special section equally demonstrate the wide scope of these discussions. The following is the list:

There is even an article that tackles problems basic education faces in developing countries. This particular article by Kremer and coworkers has the following abstract:

The above paper attempts to inform on a lot of issues. Review articles such as this one usually give such impression. Reviews in scientific literature summarize what is currently known with added perspectives from the authors and these do sometimes contain bits and pieces of original and unpublished work. Having a feel of where research on education currently stands should not make seeing what this review article really has to say at the end suspenseful or surprising. Deworming of primary school children, reducing the amount of travel between home and school have long been demonstrated in various countries as cost-effective in reducing the rates of school dropouts. Still, missing in all of these studies is a set of magic potions that actually improve learning inside the school. And at this point, everything remains at a "promising" stage or "results yet to be seen". Otherwise, the introductory article, "Plenty of Challenges for All" will not make sense. These are problems yet to be solved.

With regard to science education, the familiar themes of "active learning" or "inquiry-based approaches" seem to be staple. It is heartening that scientists are really entering into a discussion and examination of these issues. For the journal Science to assign a special section on these topics provides the much needed advocacy and visibility. Hopefully, through this medium, awareness and participation in these studies among scientists will be increased. It is indeed useful  and inspiring to browse through these articles and see what some of the experts have to say.

The fact that the challenges are numerous and that current reforms are not really working that well points to something. After thirty years of reform, success remains elusive. This may be suggesting that we may just be missing, neglecting or overlooking something. Or we are willfully ignoring something. Poverty is, of course, the large gorilla in the room. But beyond poverty, there are issues that may actually be of great importance especially to science education. After all, these issues become visible only to those who are actually trying to teach science so this will not be obvious to scientists in general. One issue is transferability. When a student learns one concept, that concept stays isolated from all the rest and the student is not able to apply it to a new situation. Students do not easily improve upon what they currently know. Refining ideas likewise seems very difficult. An example on dissolution and precipitation has been recently shared in this blog, which shows students are not able to apply what they have learned to something new. This is clearly not just a learning problem but also a pedagogical issue. A second issue is stubbornness. When a consensus regarding anthropogenic climate change has been achieved among scientists, when the theory of evolution has helped explain what we observe in nature for so many decades, and yet, large fractions of the population are still dismissive, it is pretty obvious that a major objective of learning is "unlearning" incorrect notions. Unfortunately, these issues are probably not touched upon closely by existing assessment tools. Standardized exams in math and sciences have not really addressed how some students have developed a sense of "knowing all and be so certain about them". When teachers fail to provide students the very important information that their knowledge and skills may be limited, tests and evaluations do not normally help point to these inadequacies. Thus, even with the long list of challenges shown above, there are remaining ones not on the current list that also require attention.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sesame Street: When Is Something Better Than Nothing?

What technology could clearly achieve is providing greater access to education. Technology, as in internet, digital video discs, tapes, or network broadcasting, may cost less in terms of scales. Initial production covers much of the cost. Distribution is not as staggering compared to building so many classrooms and hiring so many instructors. This is especially relevant to places where there are no qualified and effective instructors. Technology may not be that advantageous if online sources are only replacing textbooks. On the other hand, if technology is the only resource available that can provide educational intervention, something is better than nothing.

As an example, Rojiyln Q. Bagabaldo, currently the vice mayor of Paete, Laguna in the Philippines, together with the members of the town council (Sangguniang Bayan), provided computer access to elementary and high school students inside the council's hall. When the council is not in session, students are able to work with computers that have internet access:

Cyber Library inside Paete's Sangguniang Bayan Hall
With a set of computers, the local government of Paete is able to provide a "cyber library" for the town's students. In this particular case, technology does offer a cheaper alternative. Constructing a library and acquiring the books that will cover the same content that these students need are definitely more cost-prohibitive. Of course, the savings here come mainly from the assumption that the content from educational internet sites is free.

The internet, of course, is not the only promising medium technology has offered for educational intervention. Long before computers are educational television shows. For this particular medium, several decades have already passed, allowing for longitudinal studies that can evaluate technology's impact on education. One such television program, Sesame Street, continues to be broadcast since its first show in 1969. From Wikipedia:
Shortly after creating Sesame Street, its producers developed what came to be called "the CTW model" (named for the show's production company, The Children's Television Workshop), a system of television show planning, production, and evaluation based on collaborations between producers, writers, educators, and researchers. The show was initially funded by government and private foundations but has become somewhat self-supporting due to revenues from licensing arrangements, international sales, and other media. By 2006, there were independently produced versions, or "co-productions", of Sesame Street broadcast in twenty countries. In 2001 there were over 120 million viewers of various international versions of Sesame Street, and by the show's 40th anniversary in 2009, it was broadcast in more than 140 countries.

Sesame Street 1969 Cast
Photo downloaded from Muppet Wikia
Being broadcast to 140 countries is truly impressive. Thus, it is timely and important to ask now if the show does have an impact on education. Marie-Louis Mares and Zhongdan Pan of the University of Wisconsin at Madison recently published a meta analysis of the effects of Sesame Street on early childhood education in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. The article, "Effects of Sesame Street: A meta-analysis of children's learning in 15 countries", has the following abstract:
Sesame Street is broadcast to millions of children globally, including in some of the world's poorest regions. This meta-analysis examines the effects of children's exposure to international co-productions of Sesame Street, synthesizing the results of 24 studies, conducted with over 10,000 children in 15 countries. The results indicated significant positive effects of exposure to the program, aggregated across learning outcomes, and within each of the three outcome categories: cognitive outcomes, including literacy and numeracy; learning about the world, including health and safety knowledge; social reasoning and attitudes toward out-groups. The effects were significant across different methods, and they were observed in both low- and middle-income countries and also in high-income countries. The results are contextualized by considering the effects and reach of the program, relative to other early childhood interventions.
Studies from the following countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel and Palestine, Kosovo, Mexico, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Turkey, have been included in this meta-analysis. The list obviously represents a wide spectrum of socio-economic background. The results suggest that Sesame Street does have a positive impact on early childhood education. The effect can be described by a number, 12. This is the percentile gain. Mares and Pan wrote:
"The counter-factual causal reasoning implies that the hypothetical average child who watched Sesame Street would be at roughly the 62nd percentile, whereas if that hypothetical average child had not watched, he or she would (by definition) be at the 50th percentile."
The percentile ranking is in terms of three categories: "cognitive (knowledge of letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and relationships of size and distance), "learning about the world (earning about the physical and social environment, including knowledge of natural features, health/hygiene, and national/local culture), and "social reasoning and attitudes" (moral reasoning and attitudes toward social out-groups)"

Sesame Street does teach and have some impact beyond just reading and counting. Charlotte Cole in "Why Count von Count Is Obsessed With a New Number" wrote:
Sesame Street will never be a substitute for school, but for many children there is a critical need for effective, affordable educational interventions that either supplement existing efforts or (for children living in under-resourced parts of the world) are the sole access to an intentional early childhood educational experience. That's why, for example, in 2008, researchers found that in Bangladesh the Sesame Street Difference translates into a full year of learning: when children four years old were exposed to Sisimpur (Bangladesh's Sesame Street adaptation) they performed at the same level on tests of reading and math as their five year old peers who had not watched!

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Disconnect Between Reformers and Educators

Teaching is a full time job. It is one job that usually goes beyond the classroom. Not surprising, both grading and planning sometimes even occur inside a teacher's home. With other factors influencing learning outcomes inside a classroom, teaching can easily be a day-to-day struggle. A good question to ask then is whether teachers actually have the time to reflect on what they are doing. Are there ample opportunities for teachers to recharge? Perhaps, this is what the summer break is about. However, rest also takes time.

Some teachers post on blogs. Some teachers even have their own blog. I find these internet pages quite informative. Teachers are sharing their small victories, their aspirations, their struggle, their opinions, their life inside the classroom. One example is Lisa, a kindergarten teacher. She writes on her profile, "I'm Lisa, mom, wife, kindergarten teacher. I love my job and work with some of the best teachers on the planet. I can't imagine doing anything else!" The following is one of her posts:

Above photo captured from Lisa's "K is for Kindergarten"
Indeed, the next day (September 21, 2010) Lisa posted "C is for Chocolate". Fast forward, two years later, Lisa posted "T is for Teacher", an article praising the heroic teachers of Newtown, Connecticut. I have also seen blogs written by teachers in the Philippines as well. Some are equally refreshing and enlightening to read.

There are almost five hundred posts on this blog since its inception in April of 2012. That averages to something slightly above one post per day. Some teachers could blog so perhaps, teachers could read blogs as well. So the question is "Do they?" In a recent blog article on the Huffington Post, Michael J. Petrilli of the Fordham Institute talks about "Why Don't Schools Embrace Good Ideas?" With all the ideas thrown out there to improve basic education, why is it that implementation lags far behind? Are the teachers not doing their job to enhance their profession? Are the teachers too tied to their old ways that they do not innovate? Some of these innovations even come with carrots such as recognition and awards. Are principals and teachers simply ignoring innovations even with multiple incentives offered on the table?. Petrilli then notes:

Well, we know how that’s turned out. We’ve put a lot of those incentives in place, and schools (and educators) still don’t seem to embrace good ideas, even the non-controversial, inexpensive kind. Take, for instance, the following: 
  • Bring “departmentalization” to elementary schools by asking strong math teachers to teach math and strong reading teachers to teach reading. Don’t ask anybody to do both.
  • Maintain a robust science and social studies program in elementary schools.E.D. Hirsch and others have demonstrated for decades that the best way to raise readingscores is to make sure students build a strong vocabulary and a strong knowledge base; elsewise, they won’t comprehend what they’re reading. Yet schools nationwide have pushed aside science and social studies to make room for mega-ELA blocks.
  • Extend the “reach” of excellent teachers via larger class sizes (with greater pay), new roles for master teachers, or technology. (Public Impact is chock-full of revenue-neutral ideas on this front.)
What is particularly insightful in Petrilli's article is the suggestion that the main reason why some of these innovations are not reaching the classroom is that teachers have not read any of these. They are too busy. This blog alone has 500 posts. Who has the time to read all the articles that I have posted? In a previous article on this blog, "Experential Learning at Sagada National High School", it was noted that a high school in the Philippines has been facing frequent changes in curriculum:
"Sagada National High School in the Philippines maintains a blog for its school paper "Hillside Echoes". Last month, it published an editorial on DepEd's K to 12. The editorial noted that last year, the school witnessed three different curricula in the school. Fourth year students were still in the 2002 Revised Basic Education Curriculum while both second and third year high school students were with the unfinished 2010 Curriculum. First year students were facing the new K to 12 curriculum.
Can teachers even breathe in this type of environment? The second important thing that Petrilli also points out is the number of innovations and reforms can be simply overwhelming. On top of that, among these countless innovations, most are not reliable, most are not transferable. That means teachers not only have to read and explore these innovations but teachers also have to separate the gold from the stones. And most are useless stones. Most teachers do not have access to high quality peer-reviewed journals. Unfortunately, teachers find easier access to brochures and white papers, which oftentimes have other agenda other than improving education.

In my own limited way, this blog has been an attempt to help find the gold. And I take this opportunity to thank those who have helped me so fari n this endeavor, especially those whose ideas and works have been presented in this blog.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Functional Literacy and Out of School Children in the Philippines

Access to education is only the first step. Education for all must be learning for all. It is important to assess a nation's literacy level in order to gauge accurately and properly both needs and current human capacity of a country. To this end, levels of literacy must be clearly defined against standards. These are measures that are only as good as the instruments or tools used. When a nation is supposed to be close to a 100% literacy rate, does this high rate actually agree with day-to-day observations? There are certainly different levels of literacy. My 4-year old daughter can recognize some letters now and my 6-year old son can read children's books. Are they going to be considered literate?

Wikipedia distinguishes between primary and functional illiteracy:
There are two different kinds of illiteracy: 

  • Primary illiteracy: People with primary illiteracy have never learned how to read or write.
  • Functional illiteracy: People who have learned some reading and writing, but not well enough for their work. Perhaps they cannot write well enough to fill out a form, or to understand instructions in a manual. 
The United States National Center for Education Statistics goes further by defining three different types of functional literacy in English:

Figure above captured from National Assessment of Adult Literacy
And the results for the 1992 and 2003 surveys are summarized below:

Above figure captured from Literacy in Everyday Life
Kutner, M., Greenberg, E., Jin, Y., Boyle, B., Hsu, Y., and Dunleavy, E. (2007).Literacy in Everyday Life: Results From the 2003National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NCES 2007–480). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center forEducation Statistics.

And the following provides an overview of what abilities these levels of literacy entail:

Above table captured from Literacy in Everyday Life
Kutner, M., Greenberg, E., Jin, Y., Boyle, B., Hsu, Y., and Dunleavy, E. (2007).Literacy in Everyday Life: Results From the 2003National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NCES 2007–480). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center forEducation Statistics.

It should be noted that the above literacy assessments are obtained independent of educational attainment. No assumption, for example, is made that a high school graduate must be at a particular literacy level. Thus, one can compare the literacy results against high school education, as shown in the following graph:
Above figure captured from Literacy in Everyday Life
Kutner, M., Greenberg, E., Jin, Y., Boyle, B., Hsu, Y., and Dunleavy, E. (2007).Literacy in Everyday Life: Results From the 2003National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NCES 2007–480). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center forEducation Statistics.

The basic levels are for prose, 210-264, for document, 205-249, and for quantitative, 235-289. The mean scores for all of the above therefore fall near this level in all three types of literacy. This basic level, with its description given above, parallels what Wikipedia calls functional literacy. Since the above are only averages, looking at the entire data indicates that not all high school graduates in the United States are functionally literate. The following are the percentages of high school graduates not meeting the basic level: 13% (prose), 13% (document) and 24% (quantitative). Functional literacy in math seems to be the most challenging.

Seeing the statistics in the United States, it is equally interesting to examine the situation. The following is from the 2008 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey of the Philippines:

The above captured from the 2008 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey of the Philippines

First, it is important to note that in the Philippines, a high school graduate is assumed to be functionally literate. This is an important deviation from the assessment made in the United States. Almost a fourth of K-12 graduates in the US do not meet the basic level of quantitative literacy. In the Philippines, level 4 is simply defined as graduating from high school or having higher education. It should be noted that in the United States study, there are college graduates that likewise do not meet the basic level of functional literacy. Figuring out how the above levels in FLEMMS correspond to the levels in the US, it seems that Philippines' level 3 is equivalent to the basic level of functional literacy in the US. Another difference is that the US study includes only adults 16 years old or older while the Philippine study includes ages 10 through 64. Thus. it is important to look at the data distributed according to different age groups:

The above captured from the 2008 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey of the Philippines
The percentages above correspond to being functionally literate at level two, which is below basic in the US scale. Nonetheless, even at this lower level, only 84% passes. With level three as the cutoff, 30% are in fact functionally illiterate (below the basic level in the US system) with the unfounded assumption that all high school graduates are functionally literate. Again, just to reiterate, as shown in the US study, adults who went through and graduated from the country's K-12 program are not necessarily functionally literate.

Nonetheless, Albert, Quimba and Ramos in "Why are some Filipino children not in school?" try to make some sense out of this:

Above table captured from "Why are some Filipino children not in school?"

The above basically shows that school attendance influences functional literacy. Out-of-school children are twice more likely to be functionally illiterate than children who remain in school. Albert et al. then make the connection between out-of-school children, poverty level and educational attainment of the mother:

Above table captured from "Why are some Filipino children not in school?"
The above observations have been highlighted by a previous study of Albert, as described in a previous article in this blog, "Out-of-School Children in the Philippines". That article emphasizes the factors seen as influential in causing children to drop out from school. First, there is a correlation between child labor and the adjusted net attendance rate. Second, children who are leaving school are predominantly poor. Third, the number of out-of-school children in the Philippines is correlated with the educational attainment of the mother.

Looking at how functional literacy is evaluated and measured in the Philippines, however, raises additional questions. The Philippines seems to be trying to paint a rosier picture.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What Will You Do with 5 Billion US Dollars?

Five billion (5,000,000,000) dollars - this is surely a lot of money. Yes, it is still less than the budget of the Department of Education in the Philippines for 2013 (290 billion pesos). The annual budget of a country's basic education program of course includes not only reform measures but the day-to-day needs of schools like teachers' and other personnel salaries, classrooms, textbooks, maintenance, and others. To spend billions of dollars on a project that addresses one specific factor in education requires careful analysis even if the money is coming from a private source. With a large sum of money, the effects may be quite dramatic. Even with a philanthropic spirit, no one should donate a large sum of money for something that may in fact harm society.

Bill Gates has been paying close attention to the state of public school education in the United States and other countries. Gates' recent efforts center on identifying and developing effective teaching. Quite frankly, his efforts have been more focused on the "identifying" part at the moment. Tens of millions of dollars have already been spent in finding and testing ways to evaluate teaching. And the 5 billion number is apparently for installing cameras in classrooms.

Photo downloaded from Holmes Education Post's "Is it time to place cameras in the classroom?"
Takepart.com recently reports on "Bill Gates’ $5 Billion Plan: Let’s Put a Camera in Every Classroom":
As for the Gates Foundation, this idea has been brewing for quite some time. Thomas Kane, a professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the director of the MET project, said in a 2011 interview with Education Next that there are a lot of advantages to having cameras in classrooms. He said:
One is it gives you a common piece of evidence to discuss with an instructional coach or supervisor. Second, it will prove to be economically much more viable because you’re not paying observers to drive around to various schools to do observations. If a teacher doesn’t think that their principal is giving them a fair evaluation because of some vendetta, they can have an external expert with no personal ax to grind watch and give feedback.
It seems that Bill Gates is ignoring that about two years ago, the state senate of Wyoming rejected a proposed bill that would install cameras in classrooms to evaluate teachers (Wyoming News):
The state Senate rejected a bill Wednesday to install cameras in classrooms to evaluate teachers. Senate File 114 failed 23-6 Wednesday, with one senator excused, after its first hearing on the floor.
Bill Gates' new plan does address some of the major objections heard inside the Wyoming senate. One of the strongest opposition is directed against having these recordings unannounced. 

Lisa Carey's "Cameras in Classrooms: Protection and Parenting Involvement or Invasion of Privacy?" cites the National Education Association:
"Monitoring and Observation of Teacher. . . All monitoring or observation of the work performance of a teacher shall be conducted openly and with full knowledge of the teacher. The use of eavesdropping, public address, audio systems, and similar surveillance devices shall be strictly prohibited. No mechanical or electronic device shall be installed in any classroom or brought in on a temporary basis which would allow a person to be able to listen or record the procedures in any class."
If the objective of recording lectures is to share effective teaching practices, there is already an organization in the US that does this. It is called the "TeachingChannel":
Teaching Channel is a video showcase—on the Internet and TV—of inspiring and effective teaching practices in America's schools. We have a rapidly growing community of registered members who trade ideas and share inspiration from each other...

...Our videos are produced by a unique team of professionals—a collaborative effort between video production experts, education advisors, and the classroom teachers themselves. We should point out that Teaching Channel does not determine or influence the content taught in our videos.

Our video library offers educators a wide range of subjects for grades K-12. The videos also include information on alignment with Common Core State Standards and ancillary material for teachers to use in their own classrooms. 
Teaching Channel Presents, a weekly one-hour program featuring Tch videos, airs on PBS stations in nearly 75 million homes across the United States.

A non-profit organization, Teaching Channel launched publicly in June 2011.
If the objective of recording lectures is to evaluate teachers, this is an entirely different action. First, one must distinguish between two approaches that at first, may look compatible, but are in fact may be working against each other.

Weeding bad teachers out of a school system
Attracting talent to the teaching profession

It is true that good and effective teachers do not want to be associated with bad and ineffective ones. It is true that the teaching profession can be improved by promoting good practices and discouraging those that do not work. However, one must be thoughtful in the means employed. Putting cameras inside a classroom will discourage further talented students from choosing a teaching career. Surveillance does not make the teaching profession attractive. 

The second equally important issue is whether capturing in video a lecture is really an effective method of evaluating teaching. The answer is "no". What happens inside a classroom for a particular day has a history. Teachers develop relationships with students as the school year runs. Teachers get to know the students. Thus, teaching is not a "dog and pony show". Effective teaching is alive. It is a conversation. If one suddenly eavesdrop on a conversation without the proper context and background, a lot of misunderstanding can occur. This is not proper evaluation. At Georgetown, we participate in peer review of teaching. Each faculty member attends a lecture of another. This is done in person. The review also goes through materials that are relevant in the course and some would even interview students. But we are all aware that this is a very incomplete snapshot of what is actually going on. 

Teaching is very dynamic and those who teach well normally do not go with a rehearsed plan. Instead, from a variety of experiences and student-specific knowledge, a teacher enters a classroom with a plan B, a plan C, a plan D, etc. How can one really capture all of these on an hour video viewed remotely? Depending on remote surveillance to evaluate teaching clearly does not understand what teaching is about. 

Clearly, there are better and more importantly, respectful ways of spending 5 billion dollars to help basic education.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Statistics and Measures, Test Scores and Performance Assessment, How These Should Be Applied

When one is prescribed statin medicines, blood tests are required 1-3 months after the start of the treatment. After about a year, the blood tests become less frequent to just once or twice every year. Statins are drugs that interfere with a body's capacity to make cholesterol. Thus, these drugs are usually prescribed to patients that have high risks for heart disease or stroke. The blood tests are necessary to monitor a patient's cholesterol, fatty acids and glyceride levels as well as possible side-effects on one's liver. Advances in health care take place with extensive research and arduous clinical trials. These trials involve a representative sample, extensive enough to allow for conclusions or generalizations to be drawn. In spite of these trials, implementation still comes with a watchful eye of a physician. In statistics, there are outliers and in real life, there are side effects. This applies not only to drugs but also to diagnostic procedures or tests. There is a difference between what is generally observed and what exactly applies to an individual. This simply comes from the fact that where statistics is relevant, there is a range of values. There are false positives and there are false negatives.

Education, similar to health care, also involves people. The fact that every person is unique translates to every teacher and every student being unique. Research on education therefore make use of statistics oftentimes. These analyses are indeed useful in providing a general picture of what is going on. Exams given to any class of students provide the teacher with feedback. The statistical values of mean, median, mode and standard deviation give a teacher an overview of where the class currently stands. These numbers, however, do not offer a complete picture for any individual student. Even the individual score of a student does not give a complete assessment of a student's learning. There are certain aspects of learning such as soft skills that are not measured by written exams.

In an assembly line, performance can be reduced to standard measures. A worker's productivity or output can be defined. Thus, managers turn to these measures to evaluate workers and decide who gets promoted, who gets bonuses, who gets demoted, and who gets fired. There is the temptation of applying the same logic to education and health care. Efficiency and objectivity are frequently associated with these quantitative measures. Unfortunately, both education and health care do not easily lend to these quantitative assessments. To appreciate this limitation, one must be reminded of the range or scatter inherently present in these measures.

Assessment of teachers is a thorny issue. Research evidently shows the intimate connection between teacher quality and students' learning outcomes. The relationship can not be denied and there are studies that have demonstrated the ability that some teaching evaluation methods have in predicting future students' performance. Opposition regarding the use of these measures for informational purposes is usually mild. Stronger protests usually come when these measures are tied to higher stakes' decisions such as bonuses, tenure and promotion. One of the strongest reasons behind the opposition comes mainly from the difficulty of extracting an individual point from a scatter or range of values. The correlation between measures of teacher quality and student performance is not a perfect fit and individual points do not perfectly lie along a straight line. The following are hypothetical curves (which simply take into account uncertainty in measurements) relating what one measures and what is true. In this particular case, teaching effectiveness is being measured.

Figure downloaded from 

Goldhaber, Dan, and Susanna Loeb. Carnegie Knowledge Network, "What are the Tradeoffs Associated with Teacher Misclassification in High Stakes Personnel Decisions?" Last modified April 2013. URL = <http://carnegieknowledgenetwork.org/briefs/value-added/teacher-misclassifications/>

If a cutoff score of 20, for example, is chosen for a personnel decision (retention, bonus, promotion, etc.) clearly there are both false positives and false negatives within the population. For instance, if 20 is chosen as the cutoff for salary bonuses, the false positives (blue points) will not receive the rewards because the measures incorrectly reflect their true effectiveness while the false negatives (red points) receive the bonuses even though these are not deserving. To avoid punishing the effective teachers, one may reduce the cutoff to 10, but this only leads to a much larger number of false negatives. The bonuses are now almost being awarded across the board. The hypothetical figure explains in part why performance based incentives do not really work that well in education. One should take note that the above is only hypothetical which takes into account only the statistical nature of the measures. Added to the above is the inherent limitations of such measures to capture and quantify teaching quality.

Another example given by Goldhaber and Loeb is the correlation between teachers' scores and licensure exams and student's performance in mathematics:

Figure downloaded from 

Goldhaber, Dan, and Susanna Loeb. Carnegie Knowledge Network, "What are the Tradeoffs Associated with Teacher Misclassification in High Stakes Personnel Decisions?" Last modified April 2013. URL = <http://carnegieknowledgenetwork.org/briefs/value-added/teacher-misclassifications/>

The vertical lines represent cutoff scores on the licensure exams that have been implemented in states like North Carolina and Connecticut. The scatter here is much higher and clearly the false negatives and false positives are quite substantial. These two examples provide a necessary perspective in viewing these measures. To appreciate fully the arguments made by this paper, Goldhaber and Loeb provide the following highlights:
  • Evaluating teachers to group them in performance categories will inevitably lead to mistakes, regardless of: when in a career a teacher is evaluated, whether the rating is for high or low stakes, and how the evaluation is conducted.
  • Mistakes occur because true teacher performance is not fully observable. As a result, we have to rely on imperfect measures.
  • While classification errors are an inescapable part of decisions that rely on grouping by teacher performance, better measurement of performance can reduce these errors.
  • Classification errors can be separated into “false positives” – putting a teacher into a group to which he does not belong – or “false negatives” – not classifying him into a group into which he does belong.
  • Classification errors associated with performance measures based on student test scores are quite high. But the error rate of these “value-added measures” may be lower than the error rate of classifications based on traditional measures of teacher effectiveness such as licensure status or years of experience.
  • Current evaluation systems rarely classify teachers as ineffective or needing improvement. Thus, the “false negative” rate for these classifications is probably high.
  • We have little research to draw upon for designing systems or for predicting the effects of emerging evaluation systems. This calls for caution and for a better understanding of new systems in action.
The scatter seen in these graphs, if pertaining to an issue in health care, will certainly receive appropriate caution in the United States. In education, unfortunately, people are too quick to grab standardization measures for drawing both policy and personnel decisions. The last sentence is especially important: This calls for caution and for a better understanding of new systems in action

Monday, April 22, 2013

New United Nations Development Goal: Learning for All

Something is not necessarily better than nothing. The United Nations is now aware that even if all children go to school, what these children learn in school can not be taken for granted. Thus, although it is highly unlikely that universal schooling will be attained in 2015, the United Nations is moving to refine its original goal of education for all to learning for all. Access to education alone can not solve the education crisis developing nations face. Equally important is the quality of education. Without quality of education, a child can not prepare for the future. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, wrote on the Huffington Post:
"But reaching the classroom is only the first step. Every child should have the opportunity not only to go to school but to acquire the knowledge and skills she needs to lead a healthy, productive life, care for herself and her family, and become an empowered citizen. At the national level, countries need workforces with the skills and competencies required to keep farms and factories producing, create jobs, fuel innovation and competitiveness, and drive economic growth that benefits everyone."
To this end, the Brookings Institute and UNESCO have joined forces to lay out a blueprint that defines quality in universal education. The first report from this joint effort assembled by The Learning Metrics Task Force was published last February:

To read the report, please visit Toward Universal Learning
Its initial objective is to determine ways of assessing learning. With this goal, the first step naturally is to define what the goals of learning are. The first question the report tackles is "What learning is important for all children and youth?" With education experts around the world, a set of standards is proposed and the following are the learning domains recommended by the task force:

The following table provides the expectations for math and science across each level (early childhood, 0-8 years old; primary, 5-15 years old; post-primary, 10-19 years old):

The discussion is still ongoing and there are disagreements among those who are participating. How these standards are applied specifically as in age or grade level is still work in progress. Some of the subdomains have been questioned in realistic terms. For example, how can technology awareness be taught in schools that are still without electricity. Nonetheless, the work is a step in the right direction, recognizing that a child needs not only a school, but a worthwhile school. Something is not always better than nothing. That something must be worthwhile.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Harsh Look at Education?

Combing through the featured blog posts at the education section of the Huffington Post, one does get the feeling that there seems to be nothing out there that is good to hear or read about education:
  • "If You Believe in Meritocracy, Fund State Universities" by Mark Yzaguirre with the title criticizes the the decrease in funding of state schools. Yzagurre starts by citing an interview of Harvard professor Todd Rose by the Boston Globe where Rose said, "We're supposed to be the country of [virologist] Jonas Salk, right? Jonas Salk's parents immigrated, and he went to the City College of New York, which doesn't charge tuition. We made that bet as a public: If you went to school on the taxpayers' dime, you could succeed. And then Jonas Salk cured polio, and he gave that cure away. The impact of that one innovation changed the world. So for me it's about, if our cure for cancer is probably a Latina sitting in a classroom in Oakland, how do we take advantage of this opportunity right now to reimagine the medium of public education, so that it doesn't come down to everyone fighting for smaller and smaller numbers of spots at Ivy League schools?"
  • "After the Billionaires Kick Down Teachers and Students, Who Is Next?" by John Thompson talks about how reformers with the best intentions are actually harming the educational system. The problem as Thompson points out lies in a misplaced faith in numbers and market theories, believing that these tools can solve what is plaguing public school education.
  • "Who Is to Blame?" by Randy Miller enumerates all the possible culprits behind a failing public school system and concludes that no one wants to admit guilt, but the reality is that there is no one to blame but the society when schools do not deliver.
The above are the first three featured blog posts on April 11, 2013. It does sound negative especially to someone who thinks that they have done all that could be done to help and save education. It does sound negative to someone who thinks that they have done what is best. It does sound negative to someone who does not really have a serious stake in public school education. One thing that the above three blog posts share in common is that these articles criticize an approach that has been generally applied. All three question policies. In fact, criticisms of education reforms are usually directed not at some pilot programs, but at approaches that are implemented at a much wider scale. The emphasis on these issues should not be surprising. These are the ones on which the general public must be properly well informed. Teachers do share good approaches among themselves and tidbits of success here and there. This is helpful among teachers. In fact, a lot of good education occurs when teachers talk with each other. Teachers then learn from each other. If engagement of a student is important for success inside a classroom, an engaged teacher is perhaps equally important. When a teacher finds something that works, it is useful to share this with others. However, when an approach seems promising and one then formulates it as a policy for everyone to follow, that makes the picture entirely different. Do not expect light criticisms. A good system should welcome well-founded comments even if these are mostly negative. Why? Simply because the risks are much higher and the price one pays for being wrong is simply enormous. Randy Turner sums it up nicely in a previous article, "A Warning to Young People: Don't Become a Teacher":
"...In the past, these are the teachers who stayed, earned tenure, and built the solid framework that has served their communities and our nation well. That framework is being torn down, oftentimes by politicians who would never dream of sending their own children to the kind of schools they are mandating for others...."
That last phrase is very important. Politicians who are not sending their own children to the kind of schools that they control need to be criticized. It is the least bloggers could do.
Cartoon copied from Joanne Barkan's "Got Dough? Public School Reform in the Age of Venture Philanthropy"

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Attracting Bright Teachers

I remember spending one evening with other Filipino graduate students in Chicago. We had a guest from the Philippines, Rev. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J. He was on a private mission then, trying to figure out how to attract Filipino talent to return home. One of the students mentioned "a house and lot". At that time, I wondered how many Filipinos who pursued graduate studies in the sciences in the United States actually had some property back in the Philippines. In my case, I knew I had nothing. When I received my doctorate, I received a letter from a former teacher asking that I consider returning home. At that time, I knew my training was not yet done - I was in transition to the other campus of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to begin my postdoctoral training. Evidently, starting from scratch without anything but a diploma from Illinois was clearly a challenge. I had no influential connections and my last name, although "providential", is not among the Philippines' influential dynasties. Growing up poor in the Philippines taught me well of where I actually stood in society.

A society with critical needs faces the great challenge of placing people where they are most needed. The critical nature intrinsically comes with less desirable features. Overcrowded classrooms in poor urban areas are not naturally attractive to a young starting teacher. Remote areas in the provinces where teachers in math and the sciences are needed are not really alluring to young people. Young people have dreams. Young people have specific needs. Perhaps, identifying those needs and targeting them holds the clue to attracting bright teachers to where they are needed most.

Above image downloaded from www.cafepress.com

More than ten years ago, Education Week published a survey of some ways school districts in the United States had devised to attract teachers. "Hooking New Teachers" looked at programs in Mississippi, California, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina. First, a sign-in bonus of $20000 from Massachusetts (to be given in three installments) failed to keep the new teachers in the schools. Mississippi is one important example. The state enacted a law, "The Critical Shortage Act of 1998", which specifically provided incentives for teachers to work in schools districts within the state that had been identified as critically in need of teachers. The incentives included scholarships to high school graduates who aspire to teach in Mississippi schools, and housing and moving assistance to new teachers. A task force created more than ten years later after the passage of the act reports that among 1400 teachers graduating from Mississippi's teaching schools each year, half do not go into teaching and among those who actually taught, only half stayed in the job after five years. A recent article on Hechinger Report, "Some Mississippi districts have critical teacher needs" reviews the problem of teacher shortage in the state that continues to linger fifteen years after the passage of the Shortage Act of 1998:
In Mississippi, attracting top-performing teachers to the neediest schools is an ongoing challenge. Nearly one-third of all districts in the state have been identified as critical needs districts, meaning they have extensive teacher shortages. Those shortages are often exacerbated in rural settings that lack housing, restaurants and other amenities that would make them attractive places for individuals without family connections.
Although the incentives in Mississippi are not able to solve fully the problem, without the incentives, the situation clearly would be worse. Nevertheless, recruiting good teachers remains elusive. The Hechinger Report article mentions the following:
For schools that are struggling to keep teachers, other experts point to research that shows money may not solve the problem. While some districts across the nation have found initial success in offering bonuses and higher salaries to those who teach in high-needs schools, studies have found that in these schools, supportive school leaders and positive working conditions were more important to teachers when deciding whether to stay in their schools.
The above is in line with the one of the observations noted in the 2001 Education Week article. This example was from New York:

Community: Yonkers Public Schools, New York. Yonkers, a city of 190,000 just north of the Bronx in southwest Westchester County, currently has 2,018 teachers on the payroll for its 25,000-plus students. 
Shortage: YPS is awaiting census results to determine the size of next year's district, but it will most likely need a few hundred teachers; last year, 504 people, or 25 percent of its educators, were new hires. One of the state's "big five" school districts, Yonkers has more classrooms to fill than do many other areas, and it must compete with the higher teacher salaries of more affluent, surrounding districts-20 miles north, for example, lies Chappaqua, Bill and Hillary Clinton's tony new hometown. 
Incentive: Teachers of Tomorrow, established under Chapter 62 of New York's 2000 education laws, provides $25 million to school districts statewide for recruitment, retention, and certification programs. Yonkers Public Schools uses the funds for one-time signing bonuses of $3,400 plus $700 per-semester stipends for those working toward teacher certification. The money also supports the district's free training workshops-in fact, teachers are often paid $34 an hour to attend-on current topics in education, such as mentoring, child abuse, and literacy. 
Result: Officials say the commitment to professional development seems to be an even bigger lure than the signing bonuses. "We do a lot of training in our district," says one personnel employee. In a competitive recruitment environment, she adds, "it gives [teachers] a nudge in our direction."

Teachers are really not different from other professions. Like scientists and doctors, teachers need continuing education. Similar to other dedicated professionals, teachers need an atmosphere where they can continue to grow and improve.

To attract good teachers definitely requires an environment that allows for professional development. Likewise, it is important that talented young people be lured to the profession before they enroll in college, as demonstrated by Mississippi, a state that starts the incentives by providing scholarships with stipends to cover textbook, meals, room and board expenses. Attracting the talent is only the first step. The teaching college assumes the responsibility of preparing and transforming the attracted talent into effective teachers. And with this, the task is still not finished. The schools where these new teachers teach must provide a climate that nurture and promote the professional advancement of these teachers.

In the Philippines, the names of those who have passed the most recent Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET) have been recently released. The passing rate for this year is 28% for elementary teachers and 40% for high school teachers. This is a bit better than the 2010 results in which 85% of elementary teachers and 77% of high school teachers failed. Still, the passing rates are alarming. The teacher shortage in the Philippines is critical and in places where good teachers are needed most, the predicament is worse. Browsing through the list of schools from which the test takers graduated reveals quite disturbing numbers (The following are for elementary school teachers):

  • Agusan del Sur College had 2 out of 12 first time test-takers passed (for its repeaters, only 13 out of 53 passed)
  • Central Negros College had 1 out of 7 first time test-takers passed (for its repeaters, only 22 out of 146 passed)
  • Lake Lanao College, Inc. had 1 out of 62 first time test-takers passed (for its repeaters, only 2 out of 95 passed)
  • Marawi Capitol Foundation College had 2 out of 41 first time-test takers passed (for its repeaters, only 9 out of 139 passed)
  • Marawi Islamic College had 3 out of 35 first time-test takers passed (for its repeaters, only 4 out of 36 passed)
  • Mindanao Autonomous College, Inc. had 1 out of 15 first time-test takers passed (for its repeaters, only 4 out of 26 passed)
  • Mindanao State University - Tawi-Tawi had 8 out of 55 first time-test takers passed (for its repeaters, only 17 out of 202 passed)
  • Pacasium College had 7 out of 104 first time-test takers passed (for its repeaters, only 15 out of 335 passed)
And there are many more examples that may give someone the impression that this licensure exam is a lottery and not an exam testing the skills of teaching school graduates.

Clearly, the above describes some of the challenges Philippine basic education faces. The problems are truly daunting. Obviously, the solutions are not going to be easy. It is true that there must be some optimism and confidence, but equally important is a sense of reality. Claiming that these problems will simply go away in three years or even six is a fantasy. The solutions required are obviously not superficial.  There is wisdom in what Fr. Nebres shared in an interview in 2010 with the Berkeley Center for Peace, Religion and World Affairs. Fr. Nebres said:
Overall, the really big challenge in the Philippines is how there is such a knowledge and cultural distance between the elites and the poor. If you ask me what our biggest role is, it is a bridge across those gaps. The biggest solutions will only come from our next generation of leaders who will have a better feel for the poverty in the country. People in power have tended to take simplistic approaches to the poverty – consider the businessmen who seek an improvement to our struggling public schools by adding two years to the curriculum. My point is, ‘700 thousand students drop out before grade six, and 1.2 million do not finish the current high school curriculum.’ Solutions like getting more computers or adding years of school won’t work for these student dropouts. Our challenge becomes connecting these leaders with the actual problems the poor have.
Fr. Nebres is now counting on the next generation of leaders. A generation is about 20 years. That gives us an idea of what the actual time table is....