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Showing posts from May, 2014

3-Day School Week for Philippine Public Schools

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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.


The above is simply a specific instance of the inconsistency of the Philippine government in running its basic education program. The K+12 curr…

Why Teachers Matter?

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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 re…

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

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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...."

GMA news reporter Dano Tingcungco, however, provides a different picture:
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.

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

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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.

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 …

Should Teachers Fight for Higher Salaries?

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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 …

Poverty and Graduation Rates

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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.

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 arrivi…

Should Teachers in the Philippines Go On Mass Leave

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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 ar…

In Order To Learn, We Need To Be Taught

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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.

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…

What Do Exams Really Tell Us

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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 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 taug…

Let Us Not Misunderstand Poverty

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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 medi…

Factors Affecting Learning Outcomes

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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 thei…

What Does an Exam Tell Us?

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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 th…

Are Filipino Students in the United States Smarter Than Whites?

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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 res…

How We Appreciate Teachers

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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. 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:

PROTEST DE MAYO!
JOIN THE PROTEST AGAINST THE UNFAIR AND DECEPTIVE PBB SCHEME AND DEMAND FOR A P10,000 INCREASE FOR TEACHERS' SALARY!
SEE YOU ALL IN FRONT OF DBM GATES AT P. CASAL ST., FOOT OF AYALA BRIDGE, MANILA AT 9:00AM, THURSDAY, MAY 8.

PLEASE SPREAD!

-----------QUOTED FROM NEWS--------------
TDC vows to launch series of mass actions this month dubbed as PROTEST DE MAYO, a Santacruzan-inspired series of actions …

Who Can Teach Science?

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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.
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, …

Who Can Teach Chemistry?

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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.


A recent study in…

Correlation and Causation

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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:

In fact, these counties also dramatically differ by the percentage of college graduates:

The high degree of educational attainment becomes much more pronounced with graduate degrees (Master's and PhD's):

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 counties also have a large percentage of workers in professional, scientific and technical field…