"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

Friday, May 30, 2014

3-Day School Week for Philippine Public Schools

Troy Zarate de Leon captures a remarkable inconsistency between two news articles concerning Philippine basic education. On one hand, the Philippines has a president recently boasting to the international community that there are no more shortages in public school education. Here is the famous quote: "...Since taking office, our administration has cleared the accumulated backlog in classrooms, books, and chairs, which means that our students can go to school with the minimum expectation that they will have everything they need to succeed....". But reality on the ground is clear: There is at least one high school where there are more than 12,000 pupils assigned to less than 100 classrooms. The situation remains dire that the Department of Education is planning a 3-day school week to address the shortage in schools within Metro Manila.

Above captured from Tory Zarate de Leon Facebook page

The above is simply a specific instance of the inconsistency of the Philippine government in running its basic education program. The K+12 curriculum is one big example. Philippine students, according to various assessments, are failing in the early years of schooling yet the K+12 curriculum adds two years at the end of high school, completely missing the real problem. The fact that there are serious shortages in education resources should have precluded even a mere suggestion of adding years to basic education. To drive this message, the following image may help:

Things do look dismal in this particular high school in the Philippines. But it will be worse with the additional two years of K+12. Unfortunately, reality on the ground does not matter to politicians and policy makers in Philippine education. DepEd apparently dropped the idea of holding three-day school weeks in congested schools citing that studies regarding this plan are still ongoing. If DepEd is beginning to consider a three-day school week to bring the ratio of pupils to classrooms down, with K+12, DepEd should perhaps start contemplating two-day school weeks. That will bring down the ratio to 64 pupils per classroom, which is still way above the capacity of these classrooms.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why Teachers Matter?

Mrs. Mazo was my first grade teacher at Centro Escolar University. She was my first teacher since I did not attend kindergarten. She helped me build self-confidence. She achieved this by showing her own confidence in me and at the same time, handing down both skills and knowledge so that my self-confidence would in fact be based on substance. Of course, there are so many other teachers later along the way who have helped shape me and made me realize my potential.

As a new school year starts in the Philippines, it is important to remind ourselves of how important teachers are in education. A teacher is so much more than just a textbook. A teacher is so much more than just a laptop. Oftentimes, we are blinded by loud voices that champion technology or other factors in school. We are frequently lured by studies that promise dramatic improvements in learning. There are times when we strongly embrace innovations and curricular reforms. With all this excitement, it is important to have a reality check. More often than not, the success related in these studies are actually due to one factor, the teacher. It is the main reason why innovations that seem to work usually fail in transferability. When innovations are examined, the studies usually miss controlling the teacher factor. Any new pedagogical technique or resource can easily look promising if this is implemented first by an effective teacher. It really makes no difference if a class has an effective teacher. This is not an opinion. It is based on evidence.

Linda Darling-Hammond and Laura Post wrote a chapter more than a decade ago in Richard Kahlenberg's "A Notion at Risk: Preserving Public Education as an Engine for Social Mobility". That chapter, "Inequality in Teaching and Schooling: Supporting High-quality Teaching and Leadership in Low Income Schools", is a must-read especially during this time when public basic education in the Philippines is in a dismal state and is sadly heading in the wrong direction. One reason why reading this chapter is important is that it is a collection of data from good studies that in fact tell us accurately what is happening inside schools. The chapter reminds us of what really counts. Here are figures from that chapter that drive a message so important yet we often miss.

Copied from Inequality in Teaching and Schooling: Supporting High-quality Teaching and Leadership in Low Income Schools

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Who Is Counting Correctly, BS Aquino III or Public School Teachers?

During the recent World Economic Forum, Philippine president Benigno S. Aquino III delivered the following message:

"...Since taking office, our administration has cleared the accumulated backlog in classrooms, books, and chairs, which means that our students can go to school with the minimum expectation that they will have everything they need to succeed...."

Screen capture from GMA YouTube video
GMA news reporter Dano Tingcungco, however, provides a different picture:

Screen capture from GMA YouTube video
The numbers from Batasan Hills National High School speak differently. 12,600 students in 98 classrooms translate to more than a hundred students per classroom. This high school is not located in a remote area far from the seats of power in the Philippines. In fact, the school sits almost next to the legislative session hall of the Philippine Congress, the Batasang Pambansa Complex.

Google Map Batasan Hills National High School

Monday, May 26, 2014

Teachers' Salary in the Philippines Must Be Upgraded to Solve Problems in Basic Education

This blog started about two years ago. Since then, it has received over 800,000 pageviews, mostly coming from readers in the Philippines. During these past two years, the blog went through research studies on factors affecting education. It should now be clear that poverty is high on the list in terms of challenges as well as effects on learning outcomes. Next to poverty and this should not be a surprise, one important factor in education is the teacher.

Copied from ncsuteamone's "Maybe Teachers do Need More Pay?"
Teacher quality is decided by how society treats the profession. There is ample research that shows why teachers salaries play a major role in educating children. There is a lot of noise clouding education reform so it is only necessary to make this point louder and clearer. Quality education is not possible if teachers are treated without respect. A teacher cannot possibly dedicate fully his or her attention to students if day to day survival remains an issue. Here, I reiterate evidence of why attention to teachers conditions is key to improving basic education in the Philippines.

First, Israelis see what makes the educational system Finland rise to the top. This is from the post "Teachers' Salaries: Key to Quality Education":
"Teacher salaries seem to explain Finnish students’ success, Israeli mediocrity" 
A comparison between Israel and Finland yields the following findings.
  • Finland actually invests less in elementary schools than Israel. Obviously, investing less is not the reason why Finland's students have better performance. In fact, considering all the countries that participate in PISA shows only a weak correlation between the test scores and the amount of investment made by each country for its students. Using this weak correlation, Israel estimates that by increasing its investment per student by 50 percent, only a slight improvement is expected, Israel will probably be 33rd instead of 39th. 
  • The total instructional time in a year for a Finnish high school student is about 800 hours, while in Israel, the number is 1000 hours. Longer instructional hours apparently do not lead to better student performance.
  • The pupil:teacher ratios in both countries are similar, 16-17 students per teacher.
  • The math and science classes make up 26 percent of the curriculum in both countries. There is no difference here.
None of the above can explain the much higher performance of Finnish students compared to those of Israel except: 

An elementary school Finnish teacher earns $48 per hour of instruction while in Israel the pay is $18 per hour. In high school, a teacher in Finland receives $79 per hour while an Israeli teacher makes $27. Teachers in Israel also work longer hours than teachers in Finland, 54% more in elementary and 25% more in high school.  
We can compare the above with how the Philippine government has been treating its teachers especially the kindergarten volunteers. These teachers are paid about less than $2 per hour. We will definitely get what we pay for.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Should Teachers Fight for Higher Salaries?

Qout Capita Tot Sensus. There are as many opinions as there are heads. This is basically what one gets when one asks how the dismal situation of Philippine basic education can be addressed. Take, for instance, a recent meeting held at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati that recently addressed the "poor quality" of teaching in the Philippines. Some focused on the licensure exam - as if an exam could really define the quality of teaching. Some looked at the grades of high school graduates entering the teaching schools. Some even provided evidence that people who have finished a college degree before going into a teacher education program were more effective. One person, however, Dr. Cris Acido of the University of the Philippines College of Education, was quoted as saying:
“We don’t get the best minds because of the status we have given the teaching profession. Giving higher salaries could be a move in the right direction."
This opinion given by Acido is in fact based on evidence. Teachers' salaries are tied to student performance and learning outcomes. The European Union, for example, tried hard to distill what makes quality educational systems work and found that teachers salaries and learning resources are the ones that correlate positively with student performance (Agasisti, T. (2014), The Efficiency of Public Spending on Education: an empirical comparison of EU countries. European Journal of Education. doi: 10.1111/ejed.12069). The correlation between teachers' salaries and quality education, however, is not simply a correlation. It is causal and as Acido correctly states, the mechanism involves attracting the required talent to the profession. Here is a study from the state of Pennsylvania:

Applied Economic Letters, 2010, 17, 547-550
Higher salaries not only attract talent, but also help retain experienced and effective teachers:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Poverty and Graduation Rates

The gap between the rich and the poor with regard to learning outcomes in basic education is real and huge. It is quite easy to find data that convincingly show such gap. Take for instance the SAT scores divided across socio-economic status. In a scale of 400-1600 points, disadvantaged children average 544, while students from wealthy families average 1328. Of course, these are averages. Among poor children, there are high scores as well. What is equally disconcerting is that graduation rates among the best students coming from poor families are likewise problematic.

Above figure copied from Highlights from "Rewarding Strivers"
There are children from poor families in the US who score in the 1200-1600 range. In fact, it is not difficult to find someone who grew up poor yet managed to succeed in college. I am one example from the Philippines, who grew up poor, but managed to score very high in the GRE Chemistry exam. Unfortunately, isolated instances or anecdotes do not help us see the big picture. This is where statistics can assist us in arriving at a correct assessment of the situation. Not doing so would simply not allow us what could be done and what should be done.

Unfortunately, thriving at the basic education level is no guarantee for success for a child growing up in poverty. Scoring high in SAT and getting accepted in a good university do not preclude failure. In fact, statistics show that he poverty gap continues even among students with above average academic ability or potential. The following is a table from the book Rewarding Strivers:

More than half of poor children who score very high in SAT do not finish college. The above data have been recently highlighted by Paul Tough in his New York Times article, "Who Gets to Graduate?":

It is easy to explain why students with low SAT scores are not thriving in college. One can point to lack of ability. However, the fact that poor students who have the ability are as equally disadvantaged shows how far reaching the effects of poverty are on education.

I look back at my years at the Ateneo, a school where one can rub elbows with the children of the elite. I even got to share the same classroom with someone who is currently in the Philippine Senate, Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III. With those years, and even now at Georgetown, I do ask the question whether I do belong. At the Ateneo, I started my first year in English classes where it seemed the final outcome of the term had been preordained. There was no way one could get an A and even a B was highly unlikely. Paul Tough talks about something similar from the University of Texas, an observation provided by Chemistry professor David Laude:
The default strategy at U.T. for dealing with failing students was to funnel them into remedial programs — precalculus instead of calculus; chemistry for English majors instead of chemistry for science majors. “This, to me, was just the worst thing you could possibly imagine doing,” Laude said. “It was saying, ‘Hey, you don’t even belong.’ And when you looked at the data to see what happened to the kids who were put into precalculus or into nonmajors chemistry, they never stayed in the college. And no wonder. They were outsiders from the beginning.”
Not having a sense of belonging is difficult. What this basically means is that with just a few mistakes, a low score in one test, a low score in one paper, a low grade in one course, a student can receive a loud confirmation that says, "Yes, you do not belong here." That alone can push a poor student to give up. Giving scholarships to poor but deserving students is obviously inadequate. School environments must change if gaps in higher education due to poverty are to be eradicated.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Should Teachers in the Philippines Go On Mass Leave

Strikes are quite rare. Workers only resort to an organized stoppage when their demands are not being heard. Strikes can be very disruptive especially when these involve public services. In some jurisdictions, there are some professions where strikes are not allowed. For example, in New York, its labor law prohibits strikes of all state public employees. One could imagine that the main argument behind such prohibitions is serving the public interest. Some of these services are very crucial and work stoppage can lead to substantial harm to the public. Such argument has often been used to ban strikes by teachers in public schools. The question of whether such strikes harm learning outcomes still remains to be addressed. Contrary to gut instincts, a causation relationship between teachers' strikes and poor learning outcomes is not clear from evidence. One must keep in mind that strikes are means of last resort, thus, when strikes occur, there is a very high likelihood that schools are already in trouble. This applies for example to public basic education in the Philippines. Here are two headlines:

Above captured from Philippine Star

Above captured from the Philippine Daily Inquirer

Teachers' strikes are not purely driven by the interests of the teachers. When teachers are overworked and underpaid, such conditions will take a great toll on students' learning outcomes. Poor working conditions can adversely affect student learning in the classrooms. Teachers go on strike to raise awareness and alert the public of something seriously wrong about public school education. Strikes always happen when there are problems already in school. For this reason, it is quite difficult to address the question of whether teachers' strikes harm learning. Furthermore, when strikes do help teachers get their demands met, these may be solutions to the schools' problems and can therefore affect the students in a positive way. Nevertheless, there are studies that tried to answer the question. From these studies, the conclusion is that there is really no hard evidence that teachers' strikes harm students. Here are two studies. The first one is a study on a strike in Belgium that took six months. These are six months of no school, yet the deleterious effects are still not super evident. Although the abstract of the paper seems to suggest that there is something clear, the actual data and various excerpts do not support such conclusion.

Monday, May 19, 2014

In Order To Learn, We Need To Be Taught

Orangutan females give birth only about once every eight years. One reason is that a young orangutan is very much dependent on the mother. Nursing takes up to about six years and in addition, the rain forest where these apes live is so rich and diverse in plant life that a mother orangutan must teach her young what food to eat and where to find the food. It is therefore not an easy task to return orangutans that have been orphaned and raised in a sanctuary back into the wild.

The Smithsonian National Zoo's Think Tank looks closely at orangutans, examining how these remarkable apes organize memory and make decisions.

The National Zoo's full grown orangutan male named Kiko
Teaching is remarkably important in the life of orangutans. This is the only way adult orangutans are able to pass their knowledge of the rain forest to their young. Otherwise, orangutans may have to take decades to repeat rediscovering their surroundings without older generations passing their knowledge to the younger ones. Mothers simply have to show their young what is already known. Besides, inquiry can be lethal. A young orangutan can not simply experiment on what can be eaten in the rain forest.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What Do Exams Really Tell Us

I took the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in Chemistry in December of 1986. I did exceptionally well and scored at 99 percentile range. Did it mean that I was among the top students entering graduate school in chemistry in the US during that year? I probably was in terms of knowing what was on the specific GRE chemistry test that I took. About 2 decades later, I served for six years at the Educational Testing Service GRE Chemistry Committee. During this time, I was among a committee of eight people tasked to write, review and approve GRE chemistry exams. Being on the other side of the fence allowed me to see what these exams can and cannot tell. A standardized test can point to deficiencies, but it certainly cannot be used to rank good, better and best.

A report of my GRE score in Chemistry
A classroom test written by the instructor provides a much more discriminating tool than standardized tests. This is really where the B's are separated from the A's. A good teacher aligns what will be tested to what is taught in the classroom. A test usually is a mix of questions of varying difficulty. This set of questions, thoughtfully chosen by the instructor to assess both basic and advanced components of the subject taught, allows for a discernment of not just deficiency, but also proficiency.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Let Us Not Misunderstand Poverty

Students from lower income families obtain poorer scores in standardized exams. Graduation rates are likewise lower for students whose parents are struggling economically. The correlation is clear: Poor academic performance aligns with lower household income. In fact, this is not a mere correlation. Evidence suggests that the relationship between the two is a causation: Poverty causes lower academic performance, but before we haphazardly arrive at the mechanism behind this causation, a thoughtful analysis of factors affecting learning outcomes is important. Otherwise, we would simply fall into an abyss of myths and misconceptions regarding poverty. This is especially true for those who see poverty only from the outside.

There is a paper published in the journal Demography in 2000 that examines how poverty affects early childhood learning. This, of course, is quite a limited study since it only focuses on the early years. Not surprisingly, however, the study, "The mechanisms mediating the effects of poverty on children’s intellectual development", found that out of five possible factors; cognitive stimulation, parenting style, physical environment, child’s ill health at birth, and ill health in childhood, one factor stands out as a dominant mechanism. It is cognitive stimulation. This factor depends largely on the resources available at home while a child is growing up. This study is a good example of why it is necessary to approach scientifically broad correlations that we see in order to arrive at a clearer picture of why such relationships exist. Not doing so can easily lead us to misunderstanding the situation. And with regard to poverty and learning, there are quite a number of myths out there. Paul Gorski, currently a professor at George Mason University in Virginia, enumerated in an article in Educational Leadership, popular myths regarding poverty:
  • Poor people are unmotivated and have weak work ethics.
  • Poor parents are uninvolved in their children's learning, largely because they do not value education.
  • Poor people are linguistically deficient.
  • Poor people tend to abuse drugs and alcohol.
The above untruths are especially attractive to someone who tries to explain why poor children are weaker students. These are all false. Gorski emphasizes the importance of debunking the above myths because believing in these simply prevents us from correctly addressing the problems in basic education. Gorski writes:
...The socioeconomic opportunity gap can be eliminated only when we stop trying to "fix" poor students and start addressing the ways in which our schools perpetuate classism. This includes destroying the inequities listed above as well as abolishing such practices as tracking and ability grouping, segregational redistricting, and the privatization of public schools. We must demand the best possible education for all students—higher-order pedagogies, innovative learning materials, and holistic teaching and learning. But first, we must demand basic human rights for all people: adequate housing and health care, living-wage jobs, and so on....
Poor people do not lack motivation. Poor people are not lazy. Some even do multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Poor people lack resources. Poor people lack opportunity. These are the same factors that hinder education.

What Gorski describes in the above paragraph applies so clearly to the situation in the Philippines. The country has elite schools equipped with resources and manned by effective teachers. The wealthy send their children to these schools. Thus, no one really cares about the quality of education provided to the poor and powerless. The current president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, demonstrates how much we often confuse equality with equity. The first item in his vision of how to improve education in the Philippines illustrates how little he understands how poverty actually affects learning:
...We need to add two years to our basic education. Those who can afford to pay for up to fourteen years of schooling before university. Thus, their children are getting into the best universities and the best jobs after graduation. I want at least 12 years for our public school children to give them an even chance at succeeding. My education team has designed a way to go from our current 10 years (6 elementary, 4 high school) to a K-12 system in five years starting SY 2011-12. Kindergarten (K) to Grade 12 is what the rest of the world gives their children....
Here is a great picture (copied from the Office of Equity and Human Rights, Portland, Oregon) that captures what Aquino sorely misses:
The problem with the Philippines is that the country even lacks equality or fairness. Schools for the poor are marked with crowded classrooms and multiple shifts. Learning materials are often lacking where these are needed most. Of course, what can one realistically expect from a society that is marked with great inequality. The political landscape alone loudly proclaims how the wealthy and powerful are above the law. Where else can one find a majority of lawmakers continuing to sit in their powerful positions in spite of serious allegations of plunder?

Above infographic copied from Interaksyon
Let us not blame the poor people. We should know who we really should blame and shame....

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Factors Affecting Learning Outcomes

A law student at Harvard, Tyler Vigen, recently published a list of charts of correlations on his blog Spurious Correlations. Here are some examples:

The above examples from Vigen are clearly "coincidental correlations".  There is no meaning to be gained from these correlations because there is no real relationship between these observations or events. No one really expects that seeing Nicolas Cage on the big screen makes people fall into swimming pools and drown. It is interesting to note that these "spurious correlations" involve human actions or activities. Education is a human activity so one has to be careful while drawing conclusions from correlations seen in education.

As mentioned in a previous post on this blog, "Correlations and Causation":
"These are examples of correlations. To establish causation, a mechanism is required to explain how one trend leads to another. One example is that immigrants in these counties take the education of their children more seriously. As a result, education attainment is higher in regions in the United States where there is a greater percentage of immigrants."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Does an Exam Tell Us?

Exams are tools that can be used to assess a student's learning. When a teacher prepares and gives a test to his or her students, it is to gauge how much learning is occurring inside the classroom. Standardized tests are given to a larger population. The objective is to be able to compare students from different classrooms, from different schools, and from different countries. These standardized exams are different from those provided by a teacher especially for his or her classroom. The exams cannot really be used for individualized assessment. Standardized exams are not meant to inform a teacher at a classroom level. Standardized exams are for assessing school systems and curricula. For this reason, it is important to look into what the standardized exams actually contain in order to get the proper message. What does an exam really tell us?

An example is the Mathematics exam of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003. The Philippines participated in this exam and with the dramatic changes in basic education in the country, it is time to ask if the reforms that have been introduced are indeed correctly responding to what this exam was telling the Philippines back in 2003. To rehash, the Philippines did not perform well in both Grades 4 and 8. (The tables and sample questions presented in this post are copied from Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003.)

Grade 4 Math (TIMSS 2003)

Grade 8 Math (TIMSS 2003)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Are Filipino Students in the United States Smarter Than Whites?

Bernard Yves Bagalso, a son of first-generation immigrants from Paete, Laguna, Philippines, a town famous for its carvers and artists, won third place in the 2005 Hispanic Heritage Local Art and Essay Contest in the Washington DC area. Bernard won with an illustration that showed the many people Cesar Chavez helped. I do not have a picture of the winning piece but our home is blessed with one of Bernard's drawings:

It is a drawing of our two golden retrievers. Bernard, who was 12 years old then, and his family were temporarily staying with us after they had left New Orleans because of hurricane Katrina.

It is not uncommon to hear children from Filipino families living in the United States to be doing quite well in their schools. At this time of the year, it is almost a certainty to see congratulatory posts on my news feed on Facebook highlighting academic achievements of Filipino Americans. This is not surprising. As a group, Asian Americans have high academic achievement and researchers seem to have begun to understand why. A recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) describes results from two national longitudinal studies: the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which started in 1998, and the Education Longitudinal study, which was launched in 2002:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How We Appreciate Teachers

It is Teacher Appreciation Week. The Facebook page of the US president has the following post:
President Obama on teachers: "We really can’t say enough about how important their role is in making sure that America succeeds. So thank you for what you’re giving our children and what you’re giving our nation." 
Happy Teacher Appreciation Day.
Above photo copied from Barack Obama Facebook page
In less than 12 hours, the post has received more than a hundred thousand likes and and three thousand comments. In the Philippines, the following are recent posts from teacher groups. The first one is from Teachers' Dignity:



-----------QUOTED FROM NEWS--------------
TDC vows to launch series of mass actions this month dubbed as PROTEST DE MAYO, a Santacruzan-inspired series of actions starting this week up to the resumption of classes in June.

“On Thursday, we will launch ‘Protests De Mayo’ in front of DBM office and will march Sagala-style to Mendiola Bridge to protest government’s inaction on the demands of public school teachers.” Basas ended.
Above copied from Teachers' Dignity
 And the second one is from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers:

Above copied from Alliance of Concerned Teachers - Philippines
The lack of respect and appreciation for teachers in the Philippines goes deeper than not providing these professionals with adequate salaries. The following memorandum illustrates how the profession is regarded:

This is a memorandum that demonstrates how the Philippine government measures teachers. The above memo comes with a table of teacher applicants. The columns of the table have the following headings:

The above is not easy to read so here are the headings:

  • Name of applicant
  • Address and contact number
  • Contact number
  • Preferred school
  • Education (20 pts.)
  • PBET or LET rating (10 pts.)
  • Experential Learning Course (5 pts.)
  • Teaching Experience (15 pts.)
  • Specialized Training Skills (5 pts.)
  • Interview (10 pts.)
  • Demonstration (20 pts.)
  • Communication Skills (15 pts.)
  • Total points
Under Education, it looks like the points are given based on the applicant's GPA. The same holds for the licensure examination score. I could only guess how the following are scored: interview, demonstration and communication skills. These three alone can amount to as much as 45 percent of how a teacher applicant is rated in the Philippines. In any case, the above clearly demonstrates an awful bean counting procedure. And it is applied to the teaching profession. It does not show appreciation. It illustrates disrespect.

First of all, if DepEd is concerned about teaching effectiveness as measured by learning outcomes, it needs to examine first if the measures indeed correlate with student performance. The study quoted in the previous post on this blog, Who Can Teach Science, shows that measures that involve observation (the ones given 45 points above: interview, demonstration, and communication skills) do not correlate with a professional development program, and that of all indicators, a teacher's knowledge of the subject is the largest predictor of student achievement. 

It is teacher appreciation week, but it will probably take a long time before we truly learn to appreciate our teachers....

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Who Can Teach Science?

Although studies on what future teachers in the sciences need are ample, countries like the Philippines need to address not just the future needs, but more importantly, the present needs of their basic education system. There are students now that need quality science instruction. These children cannot wait for future science teachers. To this end, it is important to find a solution that can alleviate the situation right now. Thus, a better question to ask is how can we help those who are currently teaching science.
Science T-shirts at zazzle.com
There are various indicators that may be used to measure how well a teacher can teach science. It is evident that poor science instruction at the elementary level comes from poor preparation of teachers in these fields. Teachers generally have received poor science preparation in teaching schools or colleges. Science instruction not only requires good pedagogical training but also strong content knowledge. Current interventions unfortunately usually focus on how to teach, and on how students learn, not so much on increasing the teacher's knowledge in the subject. It may seem obvious that teaching a chemistry teacher good chemistry may improve instruction. Ironically, workshops or professional development programs rarely tackle or improve teachers' content knowledge. A recent study published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching shows that an intervention program that targets a teacher's content knowledge in the sciences works:

Teacher knowledge of science content is an important but under-studied construct. A curricular and professional development intervention consisting of a fifth grade science curriculum, teacher workshops, and school site support was studied to determine its effect on teachers’ science content knowledge as measured by a science knowledge test, a questionnaire, and classroom observations. These three measures, along with college science courses taken, were then used to examine the effect of teachers’ science content knowledge on student achievement outcomes. The intervention had a significant effect on the treatment group teachers’ science knowledge test scores and questionnaire responses compared to the control group, but not on the classroom observation ratings. Teachers’ scores on the science knowledge test were found to be the largest significant teacher-level predictor of student achievement outcomes regardless of participation in the intervention.
# 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 51: 635–658, 2014
It should be noted that the paper above measures a teacher's science content knowledge through the following TEST:
Teacher Science Knowledge Test (TEST).The teacher science knowledge test consists of 24 multiple-choice and six short response items. Of the 30 items, 24 were taken from Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) or National Assessment of Educational Programs (NAEP) and six items were project-developed. Eleven of the NAEP and TIMSS items were administered to fourth grade and were rated as difficult content and high cognitive complexity for this grade level, while 12 items were administered to eighth grade. One NAEP item was for an unknown grade level. The items were selected to reflect state science content standards in life sciences, physical sciences, earth sciences, and nature of science at intermediate grades 3–5.
I guess it is only natural that teachers should take the tests their students take....

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Who Can Teach Chemistry?

With a spiral curriculum, high school school science education becomes integrated. As a result, teaching science in high schools may no longer require subject expertise. The question is whether a biology major can teach chemistry. Can a chemistry major in college teach biology in high school? Can a physics major teach chemistry in high school? The answer is no.

A biology major in college perhaps is required to take General Chemistry, but such exposure is usually inadequate. The more advanced courses in the different branches of chemistry allows for a student to appreciate and delve deeper into concepts learned in introductory courses. Without a deeper experience in chemistry, a teacher cannot have the flexibility to tailor instruction to the needs, interests and background of the students. A limited exposure to chemistry means a limited number of options to teach its concepts. Unfortunately, a limited exposure often means a limited understanding of chemistry as well.

Printed shirt for babies at Zazzle
A recent study in the United Kingdom reveals that science majors in general are not really qualified to teach chemistry. A major in chemistry is required to master even the basic concepts in chemistry that are to be taught in high school:


Aspects of chemistry content knowledge held by 265 UK-based pre-service teachers (PSTs) were probed using 28 diagnostic questions in five chemistry concept areas, Particle theory and changes of state, Mass conservation (taught to 11–14-year-olds), and Chemical bonding, Mole calculations and Combustion reactions (taught to 14–16-year-olds). Data were collected over six years from academically able science graduates starting a full-time, university-based teacher education programme of one academic year duration. PSTs in three sub-cohorts (‘chemists', ‘physicists' and ‘biologists' on the basis of their undergraduate degrees) demonstrated similar levels of content knowledge (CK) for Particle theory and changes of state and Mass conservation. Biologists demonstrated statistically significantly weaker understanding than chemists and physicists in Chemical bonding, Mole calculations and Combustion reactions. Forty-four ‘triads' each comprising one chemist, physicist and biologist, matched by academic and personal backgrounds, showed that chemists outperformed biologists and physicists in Chemical bonding and Combustion reactions. The findings suggest that non-chemists' CK is insufficient for teaching these chemistry concepts in high schools, despite their possession of ‘good' Bachelor of Science degrees. These data have implications for science teacher education, including how best to prepare science graduates from diverse backgrounds for teaching specialist science subjects to 11–16-year-olds.
So, perhaps, it is time to rethink how science is taught in high school. We should stop faking it.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Correlation and Causation

Correlation and causation are often misunderstood. Correlation simply shows that two observations seem to be occurring or changing together. Census Explorer allows for visualization of various trends in the US population. Through these maps, several correlations can be made. One example is the percentage of high school graduates:

One can even focus on a particular region. For instance, the counties surrounding Washington, DC are markedly different from the rest of the country:

More than 90% of residents in counties surrounding the Washington, DC are high school graduates
In fact, these counties also dramatically differ by the percentage of college graduates:

Nearly half of the residents of counties surrounding
Washington, DC are college graduates.
The high degree of educational attainment becomes much more pronounced with graduate degrees (Master's and PhD's):

The counties surrounding Washington, DC also have high percentage of residents having a Master's degree or higher.
One can look at the counties above through a different measure and see likewise how the region stands out. For example, in terms of median income, these counties are also marked with wealthier households:

The median income in the counties surrounding Washington, DC is above $90,000.
The counties also have a large percentage of workers in professional, scientific and technical fields:

One interesting feature of these counties is their high percentage of foreign-born residents.

About 1 in 4 residents in counties surrounding Washington, DC is an immigrant.
The above are examples of correlations. To establish causation, a mechanism is required to explain how one trend leads to another. One example is that immigrants in these counties take the education of their children more seriously. As a result, education attainment is higher in these regions. This is a hypothesis at this point. It still needs to be tested. Suggesting a causation therefore sometimes amounts to forming a hypothesis. There are instances, however, where the causation is already based on a theory or law of nature. These are situations in which the "cause and effect" relationship is clear. Here is an example. Global temperatures have been shown to correlate with carbon dioxide levels:

This figure visually shows the strong linear relation between the radiative forcing and the global temperature response since 1880. It is a simplified version of fig. 3a of [Lovejoy, 2014a, in Climate Dynamics] showing the 5-year running average. Above figure is copied from Yahoo Live Science.
The above is a correlation. The causation is established firmly by theories and laws in physics and chemistry: black-body radiation and how gases like carbon dioxide can absorb infrared light.

It is true that in the physical sciences, it is more common to see a correlation being presented and understood as a causation. In social sciences, like education, it is much more challenging. Sometimes, it even sounds like a "hen and egg" problem. For instance, do poor neighborhoods lead to poor schools. Or is it the other way around, poor schools leading to poor neighborhoods? More importantly, is there even a causation?