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Showing posts from September, 2013

Private Prisons Do Not Perform Better Neither Do Private Schools

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Efficiency is usually touted when advocating privatization of government functions. The government is wasteful and oftentimes, not really accountable. Free market does have competition on its side. A business that does not keep up with its competitors, a business that does not reinvent itself every so often, a business that does not embrace disruptive innovation, will simply not survive. Not all enterprises succeed. Only half of new firms in the United States survive beyond four years (Business Information Tracking Series, US Census Bureau). Even big firms such as Lehman Brothers Holdings, Washington Mutual, WorldCom, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, have either permanently closed or filed for bankruptcy. Woolworth has been dethroned by WalMart. Borders has closed its doors. This is competition. This is truly the arena of disruptive innovation. Without doubt, there are government functions that can benefit from private entrepreneurship. Even public basic education can, just not in a…

Poverty Crushes Education

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High taxes plus a government so big that it controls almost every facet of life can surely stifle creativity, innovation and consequently, economic growth. A free market economy often brings out the motivation necessary for people to perform at their best. Unfortunately, a society driven solely by private enterprise without any government control assumes that each and every member of society is discerning enough to make the right choices. One additional assumption is that everyone has enough information and skills to become a successful entrepreneur.

There is a great photo blog about the Philippines by Sidney Snoeck. It is called "My Sarisari Store". I grew up in a neighborhood in Manila where one may find more than one store within a residential block. These stores were small and they were usually selling groceries in tiny portions. For example, one could buy a cigarette stick from any one of these stores. The "sarisari store" was certainly my introduction to Phil…

The Past, Present and Future

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These three words are passages in time. However, without change, these three essentially look the same except for their timestamp. Lack of progress frequently happens. For this reason, there is the famous quote from George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
The above photo copied from deviantart illustrates another nugget of wisdom on how one should treat the past, the present, and the future. How does thinking about time relate to basic education? If there is one feature that is great about Diane Ravitch's book Reign of Error, it is the fact that Ravitch is a historian of education. Her deep knowledge of history definitely enriches and guides her vision of public school education in the United States.

Philippine basic education likewise has a lot to learn from its history. Niceto Poblador in "BASIC EDUCATION IN THE PHILIPPINES: Beyond Reform, Beyond Transformation" enumerates the various reforms the Philippine governmen…

Professionalism in Education

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One of the proposed solutions offered by Diane Ravitch in her book Reign of Error is the professionalization of education:
SOLUTION NO. 8Insist that teachers, principals, and superintendents be professional educators. This solution requires a dramatic change in the attitude and culture of the entire society. Take, for example, a recent protest rally held by students, teachers and alumni of Quezon City Science High School (The following are copied from the Facebook page of the Quezon City Public School Teachers Association (QCPSTA)): Quezon City Science High School ProtestStudents, teachers, alumni filed charges, demanding the removal of corrupt Q.C high school principal

Teachers, students, and alumni of the Quezon City Science High School (QCSHS) held a protest today in front of the Dept. of Education's NCR Regional Office (DepEd NCR) to call for the ouster of QCSHS's principal, Zenaida P. Sadsad. Formal charges of corruption were filed to DepEd NCR against Sadsad for leaking the…

Tests and Their Proper Use

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In medicine, there are various exams or tests. For example, blood tests are performed to measure the total amounts of fatty substances in the blood. These are important to gauge the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) since this correlates with a lower chance of heart disease and stroke. At the same time, measuring the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is equally useful since this associates with a higher probability of suffering from a heart attack or stroke. If one has very high LDL and very low LDL, lifestyle changes (exercise and diet) or statin drugs (these are substances that help lower the amount of cholesterol in the blood) may be prescribed. Early this year, Richard Knox of NPR News wrote "Doctor Groups Unite Against Unnecessary Tests & Procedures":

Education can certainly learn a thing or two from the medical profession.
Diane Ravitch's seventh proposed solution in her book The Reign of Error is described in Chapter 28, "Measure Knowledge and…

Pork Barrel in Philippines Does Great Harm to Basic Education

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Stealing public funds does harm to society. It destroys public trust. The government takes money from its citizens to support its social programs. These programs are often impossible if one simply relies on the generosity of private enterprises. In the United States, there is evidence that some of these programs do work and benefit the society as a whole. The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy has listed several intervention programs as "top-tier" or "near top-tier". Examples are:
Nurse-Family Partnership (A nurse home visitation program for low-income, pregnant women)Child FIRST (A home visitation program for low-income families with young children at risk of emotional, behavioral, or developmental problems, or child maltreatment)Success for All for Grades K-2 (A school-wide reform program, primarily for high-poverty elementary schools, with a strong emphasis on reading instruction)Annual Book Fairs for High-Poverty Elementary Schools (Book fairs providing summer …

Privatization of Basic Education Is Not a Solution

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In a previous post in this blog, Lessons and Myths on Basic Education, the following myth was highlighted: Private schools are better than public schools.

If 37% of charter schools perform below and 46% perform as well as public schools then only 17% perform better. Why some people have the impression that private or charter schools perform better than public schools is due to not seeing the big picture.

Schools can provide the illusion of being superior by controlling its enrollment. By being selective, requiring entrance exams and interviews, for example, so that only the students who have strong background can enroll, schools can indeed appear to be doing a good job in education. This is what business looks like, ensuring that an enterprise only gets the best of the starting material. Having only those who are strongly motivated right at the beginning, having only those who already have a good vocabulary as well as number skills, and having only those children who have parents who …

The Classroom: Where Learning Is Supposed to Happen

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I once taught a class that had 240 students. That class, of course, was still smaller than the freshman chemistry classes I had seen in state schools like University of Illinois. Still, I thought 240 was already frustrating. I did not even try to associate the face of each student to their name. That was mission impossible. Introductory classes like General Chemistry are usually large in universities. These classes, however, are divided into sections (20 students or less) which meet regularly every week as small discussion groups, each one under the supervision or guidance of a teaching assistant.

Obviously, students in higher education are very different from elementary school children. There is some degree of independence assumed from college students. There is no doubt that individual attention is necessary especially in kindergarten and during the early elementary years. One can also argue that even high school students as well as college students can benefit from individual atten…

What Is a Good Education?

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Even in higher education, there is the liberal arts curriculum. Although the specific subjects may differ from college to college, a liberal arts education is quite different from professional, vocational or technical curricula. Harvard takes pride in its liberal education and on its admissions web page, one can read the following: The Value of a Liberal Arts Education A Harvard education is a liberal education — that is, an education conducted in a spirit of free inquiry undertaken without concern for topical relevance or vocational utility. This kind of learning is not only one of the enrichments of existence; it is one of the achievements of civilization. It heightens students' awareness of the human and natural worlds they inhabit. It makes them more reflective about their beliefs and choices, more self-conscious and critical of their presuppositions and motivations, more creative in their problem-solving, more perceptive of the world around them, and more able to inform thems…

Quality Early Childhood Education

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The kindergarten curriculum of Philippines is guided and inspired by recent research and findings on early childhood education. That is the good news. Unfortunately, this is not the entire story. The Philippines is currently unprepared for a proper implementation. A curriculum (how and what to teach) can only be as good as its implementation. Quality matters in early childhood education. In this area, just having something is not necessarily better than nothing. Simply endowed with the correct vision is not adequate for only realization can make the difference.

A board member from the province of Negros Occidental in the Philippines was quoted in a news article saying:
What is also alarming is the fact that this is a nationwide dilemma of DepEd. Before they fully implement K to 12 they have to address further preparations for parents and students (adjustment) and prioritize budget for additional teachers. Much of the above concern centers on the fact that a significant number of kinder…

Addressing Problems in Basic Education Inside the Womb

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In Diane Ravitch's new book "Reign of Error", the first proposed solution comes in Chapter 22, Begin at the Beginning. With this suggestion, Ravitch illustrates a perspective that places education as a goal and not as a means. This is a very useful frame of reference since it does make the objectives a lot clearer. Trying to solve education problems while aiming to use education as a means to solve other problems can be very confusing. Do we improve education to solve economic problems or should we address first the economic problems that lead to poor education? The latter approach is more likely to succeed simply because it attacks the problem at its root.

The following table, copied from the Lancet (H. Blencowe et al., National, regional, and worldwide estimates of preterm birth rates in the year 2010 with time trends since 1990 for selected countries: a systematic analysis and implications, The Lancet, Volume 379, Issue 9832, 9–15 June 2012, Pages 2162-2172) provides …

How to Solve Problems in Education

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


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

Throwing Everything at Education

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Schools should teach good manners and right conduct. Schools should teach financial skills. Schools should teach family planning. Schools should teach that plunder is wrong. Schools should teach children what people in public office should be doing. More importantly, schools should teach children properly so that they do not grow up stealing taxpayer's money. Schools are expected to solve every problem society faces. Perhaps, it is one reason why schools fail. How about just being able to answer the following question? Provide conditions and reagents necessary for the following chemical reactions to occur:

We are throwing all sorts of national problems into the classroom as if the solutions lie within the corners of one small room occupied by a teacher and a group of students. As a result, learning goals become equated with an advocacy. In so doing, the actual goals of education are lost and battles are waged between beliefs. Children end up not learning how to read, write and do …

Duplicitous Take on Evidence Based Research on Education

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It happens in medicine. There are conditions in human health and disease that currently have no cure. It is easy then to fall victim to duplicitous claims that help convince people to try unproven methods. These claims are often touted on the internet where anyone can easily publish information, data or anecdotes. Unfortunately, the situation is far worse when it comes to education. 
Take, for example, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. This law embraces testing as the cure for all the ills plaguing public school education in the United States. Within the text of the law, the phrase "scientifically based research" is found 50 times. Yet, there is no scientific study out there that specifically pinpoints lack of accountability as the main culprit behind poor performance in US schools. On the other hand, with more than ten years of NCLB, evidence points to a lack of progress in learning outcomes suggesting the ineffectiveness of accountability as an education reform…

Technology and Mental Well-Being of Children

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"We are taking a BYTE out of our new Apple iPads! We are hungry for learning!" This statement accompanied a post on Facebook by a daycare in Nashville. The post was a photo of toddlers with their eyes glued on IPads, as reported by The Atlantic in "Discovering That Your 18-Month-Old Is Using an iPad in Pre-School". One of the parents who discovered the use of IPads decided to pull their son out of the preschool. Like most parents, I likewise question whether screen time benefits or harms young children.

I did not grow up with these gadgets. The only screen available then was the television. But even with a television, one would be hard pressed to find programs that would be of interest to young children then. When I was in high school, there was an animation that caught the interest of a lot of children, Voltes V:
It was shown every Friday afternoon and each episode was half an hour long. I was among the young minds captivated by the show. I remember being very sad…

Reading, Reading and Reading....

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This is the message one might take from a working paper recently released by the Center of Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education, University of London. The study entitled "Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading" analyzes cognitive test scores at age 16 for a nationally representative cohort of people born in Britain in 1970 (the 1970 British Cohort Study). Using a multivariate general linear model that also takes into account test scores at ages 5 and 10, an in-depth examination of the progress in a child's cognitive skills can be made from near the end of primary school into secondary school. These years are probably distinct from the early childhood years during which parental as well as socio-economic factors strongly influence learning outcomes. In fact, with this model, only the parent's educational attainment remains significant while economic indicators become irrelevant. The likelihood that a child further improve…

Realigning Pork Barrel to DepEd's Budget

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With visible resentment towards pork barrel, there is a proposal in the Philippine Congress to realign the 2014 Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to the Department of Education (DepEd). Rappler reports that DepEd is apparently not as eager as the legislators making the proposal. DepEd secretary Armin Luistro is quoted in the report saying:
"While it's great to say thank you and accept that offer, I also would want to make sure that this is done in a way whereby we can assure ourselves [and Congress] that our absorbing capacity will allow us to spend the budget that they will add." Luistro also made the comment (Translated into English by Rappler): "When you were speaking a while ago I was thinking: If I'm dreaming right now, I hope I don't wake up anymore."

A Classroom That Is Conducive to Learning

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One graduate student was so impressed when he sat in the first General Chemistry course that I taught at Georgetown. The lecture was among the first ones early in the morning. There were more than 150 students enrolled and the classroom was noisy while students were finding their seats. Morning greetings and chats about what happened the night before filled the room. While waiting for the scheduled time for the lecture, I was sitting in one of the chairs in the front row. When the moment to begin the lecture arrived, I stood up. At that precise moment, my graduate student could hear a pin drop. I did not have to say a word. All I did was I stood up and the room was quiet.

Lessons from Poverty

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Returning to my high school years, I remember an instance during which I was riding a jeepney with a classmate. This classmate realized how poor my family was and commented that my poverty was probably providing me with life's important lessons like resilience, perseverance and correct prioritization. Suddenly, poverty sounded like an advantage for me. I have not read the book by Sherman Alexie, "The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian", but I came across the following quote from this book:
“Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.” Which view is correct? The past two articles in this blog, "The Poor's Lower IQ" and "Poor People Cannot Think Clearly" describe scientific studies that demonstrate how poverty impairs cognitive function. Sherman Alexie is perhaps closer to the truth.

I did grow up poor so my own life experience can address the question although this is…

The Poor's Lower IQ

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This blog pauses and borrows some "words of wisdom" from Paris Hilton, "Stop Being Poor":

Seeing that the one and only comment below the photo on Pinterest says:
Paris Hilton wore a "stop being poor" T-shirt. Just in case you guys were wondering how bad IQ rock bottom is. This blog, Philippine Basic Education, must have lost its intelligence. I shared the previous post, Poor People Cannot Think Clearly, on Facebook using its first paragraph as a snippet:
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said, "Only taxpayers should be allowed to vote", and science might just be on her side. The senator from the Philippines made this statement during a press briefing on September 4, 2013. In the statement, the senator equates nonpayment of taxes to extreme poverty. In this dire situation, a poor person is extremely vulnerable to patronage politics. Votes or support can easily be bought even with token amounts. As a result, "taxpayers are being ruled by the cho…

Poor People Cannot Think Clearly?

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Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said, "Only taxpayers should be allowed to vote", and science might just be on her side. The senator from the Philippines made this statement during a press briefing on September 4, 2013. In the statement, the senator equates nonpayment of taxes to extreme poverty. In this dire situation, a poor person is extremely vulnerable to patronage politics. Votes or support can easily be bought even with token amounts. As a result, "taxpayers are being ruled by the choice of the nontaxpayers". Science may be supporting Senator Santiago's proposal to not allow poor people to vote.
In the August 30, 2013 issue of the journal Science, an article on the relationship between poverty and thinking was published. The article, "Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function", authored by researchers from Harvard and Princeton, has the following abstract: AbstractThe poor often behave in less capable ways, which can further perpetuate poverty. We hyp…