"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, September 29, 2015

What Do Students Expect and Value?

"Thank me later." This is part of Robin Berman's book "How to Raise Your Kid with Love and Limits". The phrase acknowledges that being thankful oftentimes requires time. How we see things change as we grow older and become more experienced. Asking students about a class they are taking can sometimes yield different responses depending on when such questions are asked. Instant gratification leads us to favor what appears to be pleasing at the moment. Challenges, on the other hand, appear exactly opposite to what we expect based on a sense of entitlement. But looking back, after years have passed, we may actually thank those who have helped us grow stronger and even happier.

Helping a child grow and mature is a challenge to every parent. It is likewise a challenge to a teacher. Going through kindergarten, the elementary and high school years, a child also learns what to expect and value. Education at home and school can help determine whether someone will grow up with a sense of resilience or with a sense of entitlement later in life.

Years ago, researchers at the University of Maryland, Arkansas Tech University, and University of Macau published a research article in the Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education that presented the results of a student survey aimed at gathering what students expect and value in an undergraduate classroom after attending several lectures. The authors made this study to impress upon educators the importance of knowing what their students expect. It was therefore suggested that teachers might not know exactly what their students actually expect and value. Results from the pilot study which involved more than 800 students enrolled in science and math courses at the University of Maryland were shown in a graph.

Above copied from
SCHMITT, Karl R.B. et al. A Survey Tool for Assessing Student Expectations Early in a Semester. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, [S.l.], v. 14, n. 2, aug. 2013. ISSN 1935-7885. Available at: <http://jmbe.asm.org/index.php/jmbe/article/view/581>. Date accessed: 29 Sep. 2015. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v14i2.581.
The results actually offered trends that were quite clear. One trend cited by the authors was the following:
"Even after having seen the syllabus and attending class, no survey element was expected or not expected by 100% of the students, indicating that there were a significant number of students who were unclear or unable to recall parts of the course."
This was quite a disconcerting finding. In addition, a large percentage of the students expected and valued PowerPoint presentations. On the other hand, most students did not see class participation or discussions worthwhile.
The students surveyed in the student were second year college students. At this point, it is not quite clear if "Thank me later" could still apply.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Good Days, Bad Days, Good Moments, Bad Moments

We all experience "ups" and "downs". It should not be surprising then to see the performance of children in school to fluctuate from time to time. Measuring these changes to extract useful trends requires a good experimental design and statistical analysis. How the working memory works can be measured by tests that require remembering numbers (numerical) or positions of objects (spatial). These tests can be administered at different times of the day over several days and the variations in the scores can then provide a rough sketch of how working memory performance changes with time. Such an experiment has been performed on third and fourth grade students in Germany. The results suggest that mornings are better and that the degree of variation decreases as one goes from third to fourth grade.

The study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, investigated empirically how working memory performance in both numerical and spatial tasks changes in children moment to moment (within minutes), within a day (morning, noon, afternoon), and from day to day. The following graph shows how working memory performance varies across a day:

Graph based on data provided by
Fluctuations in Elementary School Children’s Working Memory Performance in the School Context.
Dirk, Judith; Schmiedek, Florian
Journal of Educational Psychology, Sep 21 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000076

In both numerical (remembering digits) and spatial tasks (remembering positions), children were found to perform better in the morning. Since the study covered several days, the fluctuations at various timescales could likewise be examined. Below is the graph showing separately third and fourth grade variance components at different timescales.

Graph based on data provided byFluctuations in Elementary School Children’s Working Memory Performance in the School Context.
Dirk, Judith; Schmiedek, Florian
Journal of Educational Psychology, Sep 21 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000076
A comparison between third and fourth grade students suggests that the older children's working memory performance tends to fluctuate less within a day. To understand these trends, the authors of the study emphasize that variations in working memory performance can be due to various reasons or mechanisms. Changes occurring within minutes are often due to distractions and the fact that a child's inhibitory control is not yet consistent. The difference between morning and afternoon is perhaps a matter of fact, that is, a child's cognitive capacity is best in the morning. Day to day changes may be due to how much sleep a child gets. Lack of sleep is of course expected to lead to a poorer working memory performance in the following day.

The above findings, of course, have several ramifications especially on how elementary education is provided in some public schools in the Philippines. Due to classroom shortage, multiple shifts are employed and in some cases, classes are even separated according to days. And when multiple shifts are not employed, the above results seem to suggest that scheduling of subjects may likewise have an impact. For example, it may be advantageous to have mathematics early in the morning and not at noon or in the afternoon. Lastly, the moment to moment variability is especially significant that it underscores how important it is for a teacher to have a sense of where his or her students are at a particular instant. This is perhaps one reason why the pupil to student ratio cannot exceed a certain number as classroom management begins to be a challenge and closely monitoring and attending to the needs of each student becomes impossible.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis Was Not Exactly an Angel in Elementary School

"He was a devil, a little devil, very mischievous, like every boy," said Sister Martha Rubino, mother superior of De la Misericordia school, as quoted in an article published by Agence France-Presse. Sister Rubino continued, "Who would have known that he would become pope!" Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, apparently practiced the multiplication table aloud while skipping steps inside the school. Not much is known about the childhood of the current head of the Roman Catholic Church, but pictures do portray a happy childhood.

Above copied from the Daily Mail

The pope remembers his early years of education and credits his first grade teacher as the person responsible for making him appreciate and love school. 

Without any doubt, the young holds a special place in the heart of this pontiff. During one weekly address, Pope Francis said, 
"...But children are never a mistake, and their sufferings are only reasons for us to love them even more. Every child who begs on the streets, who is denied an education or medical care, is a cry to God...."
Children are the most vulnerable members of society. That is why education serves not only to prepare young children for the future but also to safeguard them in the present. It is then not surprising for the pope to say the following paragraph in his address to the US Congress:

"In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family."
The problems of basic education are problems of our children. "Their problems are our problems."  All we need to appreciate this fully is the fact that Pope Francis, like any one of us, used to be a "little devil" in first grade.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Learning by Teaching

Being expected to teach a material can lead to better learning. There are studies that actually demonstrate improved learning outcomes when the students are told beforehand that they will be asked to teach the same material they are trying to learn sometime in the near future. Undergraduate students from the University of California, Los Angeles and Washington University in St. Louis have been shown to perform better in recall tests when informed at the beginning of the study that they would teach the material to others. (John F. Nestojko, Dung C. Bui, Nate Kornell, Elizabeth Ligon Bjork. Expecting to teach enhances learning and organization of knowledge in free recall of text passages. Memory & Cognition, 2014;  Volume 42, Issue 7, pp 1038-1048)

How the expectation to teach helps in learning remains an active area in education research. And with technology, the possible ways of incorporating teaching into the classroom have considerably expanded. Chris Berdik at Slate talks about using a robot as a tutee.

Above copied from Slate
Learning with the expectation to teach is indeed a promising proposition. It is a very cheap intervention since it only involves planting an expectation on a student's mind. The student does not really need to teach. There is one problem, however. Colleges that train teachers should be among the best performing schools in any country. Where else can one find the expectation to teach later so relevant and real? Nemko and Kwalwasser were not particularly manufacturing data when they gave teacher colleges a flunking grade. They wrote:
"Too often, these future educators learn to "teach" math, but they don't necessarily learn how to do the math itself."
Therein lies, I suspect, is the key to making learning by teaching work. It requires something from the students at the very beginning. In Intelligent Tutoring Systems, Matsuda and coworkers at the Carnegie Mellon University found that low proficiency students do not improve their performance with learning by teaching. This can be explained in part by the findings made by Nestojko and coworkers:
"Expecting to teach appears to encourage effective learning strategies such as seeking out key points and organizing information into a coherent structure. Our results suggest that students also turn to these types of effective learning strategies when they expect to teach. It is noteworthy, then, that when students instead expect to be tested, they underutilize these strategies, although our results clearly indicate that these strategies must be available to them and, furthermore, would better serve their presumed goal of achieving good test performance than do the strategies they instead adopt for this purpose. Students seem to have a toolbox of effective study strategies that, unless prodded to do so, they do not use."
The above are now supported by a recent study scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Learning by teaching already requires something from the student. There is a minimum proficiency necessary. In addition, the student must already have acquired effective learning strategies. The expectation of teaching simply forces the student to use these strategies. Thus, learning by teaching just brings out what a student already has.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Salvaged Memories, Salvaged Lives"

At age 28, Randalf Dilla has created an 8' x 18.5' oil mural to help remind Filipinos of the dark side of the Martial Law years. Being only 28 years old, it is obvious that the artist has neither first hand knowledge nor experience of the Marcos regime. The painting therefore depicts only what Randalf has learned or heard from his own research. The dictator takes the central part of the mural with gold bars falling down in front. The Philippine flag appears to be used as a table cloth and portraits of military men cover part of the mural. But most of the canvass is really littered with images of victims of human rights abuses, hence, the work bears the title, "Salvaged Memories, Salvaged Lives".

Salvaged Memories, Salvaged Lives by Randalf Dilla (Hiraya Gallery)
Rose de la Cruz writes in the Manila Bulletin "Remembering Martial Law and the Value of Freedom". Two paragraphs in the article describe how some in the Philippines nowadays regard the Martial Law years. 
To those who like to see the “bright side” in dark days, the curfew was a good thing because it brought children and husbands home by midnight, and sort of offered a “safer” night with people not allowed to move around. 
Many say people were most disciplined then, especially in traffic, because of the presence of uniformed men. The incidence of crime was low, again because of police visibility – and the possibility that one may “disappear” for a long time. Young adults, especially are awed when one tells them about the bus marshals who rode in the buses, ready to shoot holdup men.
It is disillusionment, a totally misguided nostalgia. What has happened and is happening in the Philippines is perhaps similar to what other countries have experienced after a period of authoritarian rule. Escaping from a dictator often does not translate automatically to a birth of a genuine democracy especially when one's eyes are fixed on the rear-view mirror of escaping authoritarianism, utterly failing to see what responsibilities democracy commands ahead. 

I just happened to read a masteral thesis by Alinane R. Nasanja. Its abstract hits me especially when I hear clamor for the return of the iron fist.
..despite three multiparty elections since the 1990s, the government, which succeeded Banda, has failed to broaden the avenues for the consolidation of democracy in Malawi, leading to disillusionment among the people. Ten years of multiparty democracy have only resulted in the regression to the practices of the very regime it replaced. Currently Malawi is plagued with a lack of independent media, weak civil society, corruption among top government officials and a weak economy to mention a few. The thesis argues that this is because of the nature of the ruling class as well as the issue of ethnicity, which has resulted in the contestation of power.
"Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan" (For the country to progress, discipline is needed) I am at least relieved that Rose de la Cruz followed the two nostalgic remembering of Martial Law with this:
But that was not ‘discipline’ being practiced but fear for the authorities who had the power to detain you for any perceived fault – from jaywalking to subversion to illegal possession of firearms. Though that kind of atmosphere made one live in fear of being arrested, it also made people follow the rules.
Martial Law must be remembered, but not for the wrong reasons. We should not remind ourselves of the past regime to hide the fact that we have not moved forward. Human rights abuses continue and so does large scale corruption. Likewise, we should not return simply because we have not found our way forward,

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A School That Takes Student Learning Seriously

Actions are supposed to speak louder than words, but words are seen in media much more often. Worse, society with its limited attention span and general lack of critical thinking is now at the mercy of sound bites. What works in education is therefore frequently missed as a careful and thoughtful attention to details is usually absent.

Twenty years ago, the Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools published a report synthesizing education research to find what it takes to reform schools successfully. The main authors of the report drew the following diagram to highlight what is necessary for improving schools.

Above copied from
Successful School Restructuring. A Report to the Public and Educators by the Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools  Fred M. Newmann and Gary G. Wehlage

At the center, the main goal or focus must be student learning. This vision alone, however, is not sufficient. The first layer required to achieve this goal is, of course, teaching (or pedagogy). This component requires research- and evidence-based approaches that promote high quality learning. It starts with proven or promising practices that can be implemented by a teacher inside a classroom. These practices therefore require a teacher who is competent. Higher quality student learning as well as authentic pedagogy place a high demand on teachers. The school therefore must be organized in a way that helps a teacher meet these challenges. Finally, parents, administrators and the community, in general, need to be on board.

It takes about a paragraph and a diagram to describe roughly what is needed to reform schools successfully and yet, the message here is still quite long. There are clearly quite a number of factors. It helps to look at one factor at a time. For this purpose, a picture may help. The following photo is from Mason Crest Elementary School.

Above copied from the Facebook page of Mason Crest Elementary School
The photo came with the following description:
"As a School that embraces the Professional Learning Community at Work process we abandon the idea of the isolated classroom teacher and create collaborative teams who take collective responsibility for ensuring that all students learn at high levelsThe picture shows a weekly hour long language arts planning meeting where the fourth grade team (10 teachers) are planning together to ensure that everyone deeply understands (the curriculum) what it is all students are to learn. Each grade level has one hour of math and one hour of language arts planning each week!"
The study from the Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools actually points out that one way to enhance a school's organizational capacity is to shape schools into professional learning communities. Schools unfortunately do not become professional learning communities overnight. Success depends on human resources, leadership, and favorable structural conditions.

One obvious structural condition is time. Teachers require time to meet and work together. In Mason Crest Elementary School: Each grade level has one hour of math and one hour of language arts planning each week!  That statement came with an exclamation point. In addition, teachers would need more time with their students in their classroom to assess better where the students are. After all, student learning is the main agenda in these meetings.

This need for time is highlighted in a recent report from the National Center on Time and Learning:

Above copied from National Center on Time & Learning
Likewise, the Center for American Progress points out that teacher collaboration happens more readily in schools with expanded learning time (ELT).
Above copied from Center for American Progress
"By providing more time for teacher collaboration and more time for students to grasp difficult content, high-quality expanded learning time schools are already succeeding in the early stages of implementing the Common Core. These schools are using the extra time to prepare teachers for the transition to the new standards and curricula and are devoting their additional class time to richer instruction and deeper, more personalized learning—exactly the kind of learning that the standards are designed to deliver. The potential wide-ranging effects of expanded time on schools—from increasing time on task for individual students, to enabling a much broader and deeper set of learning activities in classrooms, to facilitating the development of effective professional learning communities among teachers—make it clear why a well-designed ELT school is so well-positioned to successfully implement the Common Core. As states, local school districts, and schools confront Common Core implementation and consider options for moving forward, we strongly encourage them to consider the benefits of expanding the school day or year to support teachers and students.
Obviously, time is only one of the important factors. A successful professional learning community cannot flourish without autonomy and authority. Teacher collaboration cannot thrive without mutual respect and interdependence. Providing time is, of course, a good place to start. A school that gives adequate time and support for teachers to work together and learn from each other is a school that takes student learning seriously. How much time and effort we devote on a task can sometimes be taken as a measure of our commitment. In the case of improving schools, this is apparently true.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"Technology Can Amplify Great Teaching But Not Replace Poor Teaching"

A study sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has arrived at the conclusion that the use of computers in school or at home does not necessarily improve student learning outcomes. One plausible explanation offered is that learning requires an interaction between teacher and student which computers cannot simply replace. Another explanation is that the appropriate pedagogical use of technology is yet to be mastered by educators. One thing, however, is clear, proficiency in the use of technology still hinges on basic proficiency in reading and mathematics. Those who are good in reading text in print are found to be likewise proficient in digital reading. Technology is here to stay and to address the widening digital divide, the study points out that "ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services."

The sixth chapter of the study, Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, shows the following figures that demonstrate the negative correlation between learning outcomes and computer use in mathematics and reading.

The above figures are copied from OECD (2015), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264239555-en
The internet does offer a richer, wider and more updated library of information. Unfortunately, the internet is also a source of hoaxes and generally useless and distracting information. For the internet to be useful, it does require evaluative skills from the user. A user must be able to discern whether a source from the internet is trustworthy or not. On top of the ability to assess the credibility or authority of a source, a user must also possess abilities in searching and navigating through internet resources. Thus, the promise of information offered by the internet can only be achieved with these skills in place first.

Technology, of course, provides new pedagogical and assessment avenues, but in this regard, educators must first acquire the know-how necessary to use the new tools provided. Unfortunately, in this area, educators sometimes lose their focus on student learning while trying to learn and incorporate these tools in their classrooms. The challenges faced by educators and the skills required to guarantee good use of the internet can explain why greater computer use does not lead to better learning outcomes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

General Antonio Luna

Back in high school, I submitted a report in Social Studies in which I claimed that Emilio Aguinaldo was responsible for the death of Antonio Luna. My teacher was not really happy with my report since my reference was only a comic book. I thought that was a fair assessment. I also did not bother to tell my teacher then that in addition, my father was also a source. I figured my father would not have been considered by my teacher as an authority in Philippine history. Of course, my impression of how accurate the stories related to me by my father were had changed when I discovered that the parts of Philippine history my father had shared with me when I was young were actually supported by evidence. For instance, what my father had related to me about Andres Bonifacio turned out to be true when I finally had access to scholarly resources in college.

I have great admiration for Antonio Luna. After all, Antonio Luna was a chemist and he actually worked with malaria.

Above copied from Biblioteca Digital Hispanica

There is a new film in the Philippines that presents the life of General Antonio Luna. The following is the synopsis copied from the film's official website.

Above copied from Heneral Luna
The last sentence of the above summary reads "While American newspapers are quick to point the blame to Aguinaldo, the mystery has never been completely solved and the General’s killers were never put to justice."

I am taking this opportunity to share with you a post by Dr. Delmar Topinio Taclibon, MBA, PhD., D.A. Taclibon's post captured my attention because his article was accompanied by snapshots of newspapers in America published days after Luna's death. This article is posted here with his kind permission.

A Tribute, Death in the Afternoon: General Antonio Luna y Novicio – Greatest Filipino and Ilocano Patriot General (Gentle Breeze from Ilocos turned Hurricane for Love of Country and People) – by Dr. Delmar Taclibon

No, General Antonio Luna is not the greatest Ilocano General, He is the Greatest Filipino General.” 
–Professor Leonor Magtolis Briones (Former National Treasurer of the Philippines, 1998 -2001)
"I leave whatever I have to my mother; If they will kill me, wrap me in a Filipino flag with all the clothing with which I was dressed when killed, and bury me in the ground; and I wish to state freely that I would die willingly for my country, for our independence, without thereby looking for death."
-General Antonio Luna's 'Last Will and Testament' that were found in his papers after his death. It is dated March 31, 1899, and written en route from San Fernando, Pampanga to Calumpit, Bulacan-

General Antonio Luna was born in Urbiztondo, Binondo district, Manila on Oct. 29, 1866. He was the youngest of seven children of Ilocano parents; his father, JoaquĆ­n Luna, hailed from Badoc, Ilocos Norte Province, and his mother, Spanish mestiza Laureana Novicio, was a native of Namacpacan (now Luna), La Union Province. His brother, Juan, is recognized as one of the greatest Filipino painters.

At the age of six, Antonio learned reading, writing, and arithmetic from a teacher known as Maestro Intong. He memorized the Doctrina Cristiana (catechism), first published in 1593, and believed to be the first book printed in the Philippines.

In Spain, Luna joined the Propaganda Movement, a cultural and literary organization of Filipino expatriates; it called for the assimilation of the Philippines as a province of Spain, Filipino representation in the Spanish legislature, freedom of speech and the press, and Filipino equality before the law. Like most of the Filipino reformists, he joined Masonry and rose to Master Mason. He commissioned Pedro Serrano Laktaw to secretly organize Masonic Lodges in the Philippines to strengthen the Propaganda Movement. Luna also wrote in La Solidaridad, a newspaper published by the propagandists in Spain. He wrote under the penname "Taga-Ilog".

After receiving his Doctorate, Luna went to Paris and worked at the Institut Pasteur where he did research in histology and bacteriology under Professor Latteaux, and to Belgium where he trained in medical chemistry under Professor Laffons. He contributed to the leading pharmacy scientific journals of the day; his doctoral thesis on malaria, El Hematozoario del Paludismo, was published in 1893 and was well received by medical scientists and physicians.

In 1894 he went back to the Philippines with a commission from the Spanish government to study the bacteriology of contagious diseases. Later that year, he won the post of Chemist Expert of the Municipal Laboratory of Manila.

Luna’s political activities in Europe and his friendship with leading propagandists made him a marked man at the start of the 1896 Revolution. Like Jose Rizal and other leaders, he favored reforms rather than independence. Even so, the Spanish authorities linked him with the militant Katipunan.

Luna was charged with illegal association and deported to Spain in 1897, and imprisoned at the Carcel Modelo in Madrid.

Upon his release, he went to Belgium and studied military tactics and strategy under General Gerard Mathieu Leman). He returned to the Philippines in July 1898. He was appointed by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo as Chief of War Operations on Sept 26, 1898 and assigned the rank of brigadier general. With President Aguinaldo's approval, he established a military academy at Malolos on Oct. 25, 1898. He was appointed commanding general of the Philippine Army on Jan. 23, 1899 and held that position until his assassination.

Luna had a volatile temper and sharp tongue. He was a strict disciplinarian and alienated many officers and men in the ranks. He fought gallantly at battles in Caloocan, Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, and Nueva Ecija against better equipped U.S. forces. At Caloocan, the Kawit Battalion from Cavite refused to attack when given the order. The men told him they only took orders from General Emilio Aguinaldo, their townmate. He promptly disarmed them. He believed the Filipinos had a chance against superior American firepower by waging a guerrilla war. He asked the aid of Aguinaldo's advisor Apolinario Mabini as early as April 1899 to convince the leader to adopt guerrilla warfare. Aguinaldo chose to fight with a regular army as a sovereign nation would, only to revert to secret guerrilla units beginning on Nov. 12, 1899.

On May 5, 1899, the Schurman Commission proposed what they called "autonomy" for the Philippines, but the US President would hold absolute power. About fifteen remaining members of the Malolos Congress met, accepted the offer, and asked President Aguinaldo to dismiss Apolinario Mabini and appoint a new cabinet.

Paterno appointed a commission of nine to negotiate with the Americans; it was chaired by the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Buencamino. Like Mabini, Luna was very vocal against entering into any deal with the Americans. He strongly advocated a fight to the finish for independence. On May 21, 1899, at Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija Province, an enraged General Luna confronted the cabinet members. He yelled, “To compromise with the enemy is to have a new era of slavery and suffering!”

Luna slapped Buencamino, and called him a traitor and his son a coward. He had once been an ardent defender of Spanish rule and of the friars and a commander of the militia set up by Spain to fight the Americans. Captured by Filipino revolutionary forces, Buencamino had immediately become Aguinaldo's adviser and speechwriter. He became a founding member of the pro-American Partido Federal when it was organized on Dec. 23, 1900.
Luna arrested the Cabinet after calling everybody a traitor. He turned over the men to Aguinaldo, but the Cabinet members were turned loose as soon as Luna left. These men then cautioned Aguinaldo that the hot-headed general was planning a coup d' etat for June 13.

On June 4, 1899, Luna was directing the establishment of a guerrilla base in the Mountain Province from his headquarters in Bayambang, Pangasinan Province, when he received a telegram summoning him to a conference with President Emilio Aguinaldo in Cabanatuan, 75 miles (120 kms.) away. He immediately left for his appointment accompanied by Col. Francisco "Paco" Roman, Maj. Simeon Villa, the brothers Maj. Manuel Bernal and Capt. Jose Bernal, Capt. Eduardo Rusca, and a bodyguard of 25 cavalrymen.
If he had not been bogged down by his wounds, Colonel (later General) Benito Natividad, who was then General Luna’s top aide and a Nueva Ecija native, could have accompanied Luna to Cabanatuan instead of Colonel Roman.

On June 5, Luna and his party arrived at the outskirts of Cabanatuan but the broken bridge threatened to delay the whole party. The impatient General left his escort and proceeded to his summons accompanied only by Colonel Roman and Captain Rusca. At about 3:00 p.m., they arrived at the casa parroquial (convent) in Cabanatuan where the Philippine Republic was holding office.

The first man the general met was an officer he had disarmed in Angeles for cowardice. His famous temper provoked, General Luna slapped a sentry who failed to salute him and, upon being informed that Aguinaldo had already left for San Isidro, Nueva Ecija (Aguinaldo actually went to Bamban, Tarlac Province), he ran upstairs and saw Felipe Buencamino. They exchanged heated words.

A rifle shot was heard and the general rushed downstairs to investigate, and there, waiting for him, were Capt. Pedro Janolino and members of the Kawit Battalion of Cavite Province. These were the same soldiers who had refused to take orders from Luna during the battle at Caloocan on Feb. 10, 1899; as punishment, Luna had disarmed and relieved them of their duties. The men mobbed him. Luna was stabbed with daggers and shot. Mortally wounded, he still managed to stagger to the street, away from his assassins. He fired his pistol, but didn't hit anybody.

Colonel Roman (born Oct. 4, 1869 in Alcala, Cagayan), came to his defense but was shot to death. Captain Rusca also tried to assist the stricken general but was shot in the leg. He took refuge in the nearby church.

As Luna fell on the convent yard, all he could say was "Cowards! Assassins!"

Aguinaldo's mother, Trinidad Famy y Aguinaldo was said to have watched the killing. She shouted "Nagalaw pa ba iyan?" (Is he still alive and moving?). One of the assassins nudged Luna's body with his boot. The general was dead.

Buencamino emptied Luna's pockets and took the telegram that Luna had received.

The following day, Luna was buried with military honors but the assassins went free.

After Luna's death, Aguinaldo ordered all chiefs of brigades under Luna arrested.

Some were killed like Major Manuel Bernal who was tortured first and his brother Captain Jose Bernal who was released but was later assassinated at Candaba, Pampanga Province, on June 16, 1899.
Aguinaldo also ordered the disarming of two companies suspected of being pro-Luna.

Years later, when asked about his role in the death of Luna, Aguinaldo replied that he had nothing to do with it; in fact, he was no longer in Cabanatuan when the assassination took place.

Interestingly, on the very same day that Luna died, Gen. Venancio Concepcion, then in Angeles, received a telegram from President Aguinaldo. It was sent from the Cabanatuan telegraph office; the transmission time approximated the time of Luna's assassination. Aguinaldo informed General Concepcion that he (Aguinaldo) had taken charge of the military operations in Central Luzon in place of General Luna. The President further informed Concepcion that he was on his way to Bamban; it was going to be Aguinaldo's temporary executive and military general headquarters. Aguinaldo also said that Concepcion should meet him in Bamban at 4:00 p.m., the estimated time of his arrival. In fact, Aguinaldo and his party arrived at 7:00 p.m. via a special train. In his diary, General Concepcion wrote that there were instant loyalty checks among the officers and their respective commands in the headquarters that same night. It was only the next day, June 6 that General Concepcion learned about the death of General Luna and Colonel Roman.

The assassination of General Luna drew front-page reporting in American newspapers.

On June 13, 1899, the New York Times reported Luna's assassination, described the fiery general as "one of the most intelligent and turbulent of the Filipino leaders," and added that "Aguinaldo was in mortal terror of him."

On the following day, the San Francisco Call came out with the news of Luna's death, blaming Aguinaldo for the murder.

Reference: Philippine American War. 1899 - 1902, June 5, 1899, The Assassination of General Antonio Luna, Arnaldo Dumindin


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Philippine Universities and Mass Media

The QS World University Rankings® 2015/16 is now available. And GMANews reports that universities in the Philippines have dropped dramatically in the ranking. The drops in scores are shown to be huge.

Above copied from GMANews

It is true that Philippine universities have dropped in the QS ranking, but the drop is not as big as reported. The error comes from the fact that the report is using last year's ranking in Asia, explaining the huge disparity between the scores. Using the world ranking for last year, there is indeed a drop, but it is much less dramatic:

The news item has received three comments that are posted online. One says, "I am not sure which is more convincing proof of the decline of Philippine education: the drop in rankings of its top universities when measured against a global yardstick as asserted.....or the apparent poor basic reading comprehension skills of the assumably Philippine university-educated "journalist" of this article. Oh the irony."

Monday, September 14, 2015

Is Boron a Metal?

In DepEd K-12,  learners should be able to "distinguish mixtures from substances through semi-guided investigations" at the end of Grade 7. In Grade 8, students should "recognize that ingredients in food and medical products are made up of these particles and are absorbed by the body in the form of ions." Grade 9 introduces atoms and compounds and in Grade 10, pupils are taught "the importance of controlling the conditions under which a chemical reaction occurs." These italicized phrases are copied directly from the DepEd's K to 12 Science Curriculum Guide. The phrase "absorbed by the body in the form of ions" is, of course, a colossal error. Still, this mistake is dwarfed by how the science curriculum is structured.

DepEd K to 12 uses the spiral approach which provides students, one quarter of every year to learn chemistry during high school, which means students have passed two years hearing about mixtures, substances and ions before being taught atoms and molecules. Interestingly, it is a page from the learning materials in Grade 9 that has captured the attention of so many in a commentary published by the Inquirer:

The above page comes from the Grade 9 Science Learning Materials drafted on March, 2014. The caption says that the teacher is bringing attention to a mistake in the learning material, boric acid is placed in a column under a heading that says "Metal salt tested". The caption continues by saying that "boric acid is a 'metalloid' or 'semimetal'". Boric acid is not a metalloid or semimetal. This is a compound. It is the element boron that is considered a metalloid or semi-metal. This mistake can be easily corrected by using "borax" instead of boric acid. Borax is sodium borate, thus, can be safely included in the list of metal salts. Borax is the salt formed, for example, when sodium hydroxide reacts with boric acid. Borax also gives a green color when placed in a flame, which shows that at least in this area, the table in the above figure correctly states that it is the element that is responsible for the color. Both borax and boric acid produce boron atoms when placed in a flame and these are the atoms responsible for the color that is observed.

This error is really inconsequential if the main idea behind this particular module is clear. With the above caption, it is not obvious if the teacher actually understands this module. The module is about atomic theory, specifically the electronic structure of matter.

Above copied from
Grade 9 Science Learning Materials
Yes, you are reading it right, the learning material has the word "quantum" in it. In a flame, the salt is split into atoms. For instance. sodium and chlorine atoms are produced from sodium chloride. Since there is high thermal energy inside the flame, the atoms produced are not in their lowest energy state. This means the electrons are not in the lowest energy levels. When these electrons return to the lower energy levels, energy is released in the form of light and in the case of metals and metalloids, this energy corresponds to light in the visible region. Since electronic energy levels are discrete, the energy released is defined, thus explaining why only a specific color is sometimes observed.

The greater error in this learning material is not the wrong categorization of boric acid. The bigger mistake is in its poor treatment of light. This specific module has a short section on light, but it fails in providing the students what color really means and why some elements (mostly metals and semi-metals) are able to emit a specific color, while others do not. The following are the sections that mention light.

Above copied from
Grade 9 Science Learning Materials
The figure showing supposedly an atomic spectroscope fails to emphasize that the light source is not an ordinary incandescent bulb. One can compare this figure with the one below:

Above copied from TutorVista.com
With ordinary white light as source, one gets the following results instead, a continuous spectrum, not a line spectrum.

Given the poor or incomplete treatment of light, it is simply unreasonable to expect from both teacher and students to understand the concepts and activities in this particular module. What is wavelength? What is color? What is light? Unfortunately, these questions are not addressed in this module. These are likewise not covered in any of the physics modules.

The real mistakes are so much more than just superficial errors. These problems cannot be easily rectified by a word processor or liquid paper. These are not simple typos.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"Undelivered Books"

by Joy Rizal

Another year of meaningless DepEd promises and still no learning material for our children.suffering though the implementation of the K-12 program. This is the third year the same set of students will probably not receive any learning material until December with the rest delivered the next calendar year (The third and forth quarters of the school year)

To view this report, please visit CNN Philippines

Earlier this year when questioned by CNN about the lack of learning materials delivered to schools thorough out our nation, DepEd responded by saying:

"I would not call it shortage. It's just a delay in the delivery," says DepEd Assistant Secretary Jesus Mateo.

Perhaps an almost semi-true statement when one considers that apparently nothing had been printed for this school year. Based on another statement by DepEd that was also reported by CNN:

DepEd says the lowest bidder didn't pass the rule that a supplier must have completed a recent project worth at least half of the P1.2 billion deal, leading to another round of bidding.
The project has been awarded. But DepEd refused to identify the suppliers in the deal.

Mateo says he could not divulge the names.
And of course for yet another year we hear the hollow promise, as stated in the same article, "DepEd says all book should be delivered before the end of June 2015". (Yes the article said book, not books. I would like to believe that was a typo but with DepEd’s history that may be exactly what they said and what they meant. All books should be delivered somewhere, to some one before the end of June.)

It would seem DepEd has a huge problem about giving anyone a straightforward honest answer to the simplest of questions regarding their operations. DepEd does not seem to understand the reasons for, nor is it able to follow the most basic aspects regarding, the transparency laws our nation has implemented. Essentially DepEd is making a mockery of the Philippine Transparency Seal they proudly display on every page of their web site. Regardless of who asks the questions, individuals, news reporters or even senators, DepEd constantly refuses to answer even the simplest of questions with a straightforward honest answer about their operation and performance. Basically implying that we should simply “trust them”.

Unfortunately an even more troubling question remains why are many if not most of the same people within DepEd that have been in the key responsibility positions of the problem areas still being allowed to work at or with DepEd? Why are those people apparently not being seriously investigated or questioned about the failures and shortcomings of the same issues that are constantly repeated, without improvement, year after year?

Of course, it could be argued that our government leaders have more important things to worry about than the 'trivial' issue of no learning material for our children. From infrastructure issues to the rebel groups that blatantly want to overthrow the Philippine government, there are obviously a lot of important issues that our government leaders must deal with.

However, I have to wonder how many officials realize that if our children were well educated and allowed to be creative with problem solving, how many of the infrastructure issues would be solved by the well educated graduates without the government needing to do much of anything (other than stay out of the way)?

Even more importantly, I wonder if the government officials realize that by having a very poor education system that they themselves are creating a society of young people that are highly susceptible to militant xenophobic causes? (In other words the government itself is creating the potential members for the very groups that want to over throw it.) The poor education link to potential rebel members/militant groups has been stated in many sources, some dating back decades. For instance a reference can be found in the book “BETWEEN TWO AGES” by Zbigniew Brzezinski published back in 1970 (A book discussing various aspects of international affairs, from the U.S.A. prospective, as computer technology started taking a primary role on the 'world stage'.).

Or could it be, as it was stated about the resistance to changes in education by government officials of Brazil some years ago . . . “They want it that way [poor quality education]. In order for officials to maintain their privileges, they are dependent on the perpetuation of the status quo."

So much has been tried to get our education improved over the years. Yet potential improvements always seem to be sabotaged by a hand full of people. Or at least in news reports though the years the same names seem to always show up, regardless of administration. Perhaps it is time to add one more thing to our list of things we continue to try in order to get a high quality education for our children.

Say a prayer for the officials that are hindering the education of our nation’s children.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Your Rod and Your Staff Will Comfort Me"

Michael Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, once wrote in the New York Times, "Like many biblical literalists, lots of black believers are fond of quoting Scriptures to justify corporal punishment, particularly the verse in Proverbs 13:24 that says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” But in Hebrew, the word translated as “rod” is the same word used in Psalms 23:4, “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The shepherd’s rod was used to guide the sheep, not to beat them."

Dyson continues by returning to the origins of the word discipline and punishment, "The word “discipline” comes from the Latin “discipuli,” which means student or disciple, suggesting a teacher-pupil relationship. Punishment comes from the Greek word “poine” and its Latin derivative “poena,” which mean revenge, and form the root words of pain, penalty and penitentiary."

There are likewise two terms that may sound similar but are actually dramatically different, authoritative and authoritarian. According to Baumrind (Adolescence, Vol 3(11), 1968, 255-272), parenting is authoritarian when the emphasis is on demands or rules and there is a general lack of support. This basically echoes the apparent misinterpretation of the biblical verses cited above by Dyson. There is another parenting style which can be called permissive, which paints the other possible side, being supportive but lacking in rules. Of course, parents can also lack both, rules and support, which can be appropriately called neglectful. The last style, authoritative, takes Psalms 23:4, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” into heart. This is structure and support blended into one.

The problem mentioned in the previous post of this blog, Youth Maltreatment and Juvenile Deliquency, according to recent posts on Facebook, is only getting worse. It is saddening that the initial reaction to the problem from comments on the post are punitive in nature. Juvenile delinquency is viewed primarily as a domestic responsibility and not of the entire community. No parent raises a child to be a criminal and there is ample research that could help identify factors that lead to youth violence and crime. Next to the home, the school is the second institution that influences the growth and development of a child. Obviously, similar to parenting, there are likewise authoritative, permissive, neglectful and authoritarian schools. One recent study pays great attention to the difference between authoritative and authoritarian. The study, scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, uses the following criteria to determine if a school is authoritative:
Disciplinary structure 
1. The punishment for breaking school rules is the same for all students. 
2. Students at this school only get punished when they deserve it. 
3. Students are treated fairly regardless of their race or ethnicity. 
4. Students get suspended without good reason (this would be deemed authoritarian). 
5. The adults at this school are too strict (this would be deemed authoritarian). 
6. The school rules are fair. 
7. When students are accused of doing something wrong, they get a chance to explain it. 
Student support 
1. Most teachers and other adults at this school care about all students. 
2. Most teachers and other adults at this school want all students to do well. 
3. Most teachers and other adults at this school listen to what students have to say. 
4. Most teachers and other adults at this school treat students with respect. 
5. There are adults at this school I could talk with if I had a personal problem. 
6. If I tell a teacher that someone is bullying me, the teacher will do something to help. 
7. I am comfortable asking my teachers for help with my schoolwork. 
8. There is at least one teacher or another adult at this school who really wants me to do well.
The above are copied from the Appendix of Peer Victimization and Authoritative School Climate: A Multilevel Approach. Cornell, Dewey; Shukla, Kathan; Konold, Timothy, Journal of Educational Psychology, Apr 27 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000038
Support has been treated separately, thus, one can in fact see how this factor by itself affects the prevalence of youth violence. An authoritative climate, first of all, is convincingly shown as able to reduce problematic behavior. In the following graph copied from the paper, it is seen that as the degree of authoritativeness increases, incidences of teasing and bullying inside the school are reduced.
Above copied from Peer Victimization and Authoritative School Climate: A Multilevel Approach. Cornell, Dewey; Shukla, Kathan; Konold, Timothy, Journal of Educational Psychology, Apr 27 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000038

What should be particularly enlightening is the greater effect of an authoritative school climate when this is combined with support.

Professor Dyson in the New York Times article was commenting on the indictment of a football player, Adrian Peterson (who later pleaded no contest to the charge), alleged to have beaten his four-year old child. Dyson closes his article with the following paragraphs:
Adrian Peterson’s brutal behavior toward his 4-year-old son is, in truth, the violent amplification of the belief of many blacks that beatings made them better people, a sad and bleak justification for the continuation of the practice in younger generations. After Mr. Peterson’s indictment, the comedian D. L. Hughley tweeted: “A fathers belt hurts a lot less then a cops bullet!”

He is right, of course, but only in a forensic, not a moral or psychological sense. What hurts far less than either is the loving correction of our children’s misbehavior so they become healthy adults who speak against violence wherever they find it — in the barrel of a policeman’s gun, the fist of a lover or the switch of a misguided parent.
Some parents may indeed fail to see what the rod should really be, but schools should be able to do better. Unlike parents, educators do undergo formal training in the job that they are supposed to do.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Youth Maltreatment and Juvenile Delinquency

There is ample research that shows a strong correlation between being maltreated in early life and being delinquent in adolescent life. Children, who are either neglected or have been emotionally or physically abused before they enter kindergarten, are more likely to miss school, do poorly in reading and math, and exhibit behavioral problems. What is particularly interesting in one study in this area is the stronger correlation seen among minority children.

Above copied from Lansford JE, Dodge KA, Pettit GS, Bates JE, Crozier J, Kaplow J. A 12-Year Prospective Study of the Long-term Effects of Early Child Physical Maltreatment on Psychological, Behavioral, and Academic Problems in Adolescence. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.2002;156(8):824-830. doi:10.1001/archpedi.156.8.824
The above graph suggests that there is a factor among minority children that significantly enhances the correlation between maltreatment at home and problems in schools and in the community. One quick guess is not having a sense of belonging. True enough, a more recent study by Kimberly Bender of the University of Denver shows conclusively the mediating effect, for instance, of school engagement in the relationship between youth maltreatment and juvenile delinquency.

Above copied from Children & Schools
A school can indeed provide an avenue for a child to feel a sense of belonging to a community. A school could be a second home for a child. Bender writes:
"Disengaged youths lack social ties with their school, have poor relationships with teachers, feel insecure at school, and have a sense they do not belong there. Thus, efforts to engage youths should involve prevention and intervention efforts at the individual, classroom, and school level and should engage engage youths in community-based services."
The above is probably one reason why activities that are not inclusive and are promoting competition like pageants, contests, and sports, tend to not work in curbing youth crime and violence. As Kimberly notes, identifying this problem is crucial in drawing what measures need to be taken. What is imperative is to develop a sense of commitment to both school and community by fostering social bonds between teachers and students, parents and children, and among students.

There is a town in the Philippines that is currently facing a problem of juvenile delinquency. Like most towns in the Philippines, the community is really a huge network of extended families, but with migration and a fast population expansion, previous tight social connections are no longer present. There are now young children who are even proudly brandishing their deadly weapons.

Copied from a Facebook post by Maricris Madridejos Ramos
These children clearly satisfy their need for belonging by forming a group on their own. The town, its school and churches, must reflect on why these children no longer consider themselves as part of the community. It is much more difficult to raise scores in math and reading. It is a lot easier to make children feel secure and wanted inside schools. Of course, the solutions are not within reach if we continue to view attending school as simply a way to get ahead in life. With such perspective, people tend to focus more on punitive measures that do nothing in addressing the roots of the problem.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Science Achievement Gaps

The place of science in the 21st Century cannot be overstated. If equity in education needs to be addressed then achievement gaps in science are worth the attention. A disparity in scientific understanding does not bode well for the future especially with the increasing role of technology in the economy as well as the central role science plays in some of the pressing issues or questions society faces.

Researchers from Harvard and the University of Texas at Austin have recently examined science achievement gaps in great detail. Their work, scheduled to be published in the journal Educational Researcher, looks at the nationally representative data, NCES’s ECLS-K:99, which follow more than 20,000 kindergarteners through eight grade. The primary objective of the work is to quantify science achievement gaps and explain their causes. The study finds numerous gaps in science achievement according to gender and race. These gaps are presented in the first column of the following table.

Above copied from
David M. Quinn and North Cooc. Science Achievement Gaps by Gender and Race/Ethnicity in Elementary and Middle School: Trends and Predictors. Educational Researcher 0013189X15598539, first published on August 5, 2015 as doi:10.3102/0013189X15598539
Column(1) of the above table are the gaps in eight grade. Quinn and Cook have compared these gaps to the ones observed in third grade and find that the gender, Black and Hispanic gaps are quite stable. These gaps therefore exist as early as third grade. The authors then take a "detective" approach in finding the reasons behind these gaps. Under Column(2), poverty is taken into account. The gender gap is obviously not correlated with socio-economic status but both Black and Hispanic gaps are substantially reduced when this factor is taken into account. Column(3) introduces math achievement in fifth grade. This wipes out the gender gap indicating that the difference between girls and boys in science is correlated with their achievements in math. Prior math achievement also reduces substantially both Black and Hispanic gaps and reverses the sign of the Asian gap. White students who perform in math as well as Asian students have higher science achievements. Column(4) factors in reading achievement in fifth grade. This basically works on the premise that students read to learn, thus, challenges in reading comprehension can easily translate to difficulties in science. With this factor, the gender gap actually gets bigger. This is a result of the gender gap in reading being opposite. Both Black and Hispanic gaps are reduced. However, the reduction in the Hispanic gap is much more dramatic indicating perhaps the bigger role of reading challenges within this population. Column(5) takes both reading and math simultaneously and Column(6) combines all three factors; reading, math and socio-economic status. In this last column, gaps remain suggesting that science achievement gaps cannot be fully explained by these three factors. To explain fully the gaps, the authors find that school and classroom effects must be considered. In this mixed bag, how engaging or rigorous a science curriculum is, how equipped science classrooms and laboratories are, and how qualified teachers are show up as the remaining important factors. With these additional influences, the gaps disappear.

The takeaway message that the authors wish to convey in this study is that these gaps exist as early as in third grade. Therefore, interventions aimed at closing gaps should begin when students are young. These gaps are correlated with socio-economic status, math and reading abilities. Narrowing these gaps hence requires addressing these factors.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

When Mass Media Fail: Blaming Teachers

Reading primary literature requires careful attention to details especially when the paper remains to be peer-reviewed. Working papers are quite common especially in the field of education research. It is therefore important for mass media to be thoughtful and critical when disseminating information based on social science research that is yet to be critically examined by experts.

One recent example comes from the NPR in the United States. The report entitled Hard Evidence: Teachers' Unconscious Biases Contribute To Gender Disparity talks about a research conducted in schools in Israel.

Above copied from NPR
Fortunately, there is a comment section in the online edition of the above report where a real informed remark from a user named Rational Discourse can be read. Obviously, such comment was not part of the original airing. Those who heard the story are therefore quite unlikely to have seen this important comment. The comment from Rational Discourse, first of all, provides a link to the primary literature discussed in the above report. The study cited comes from a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The idea that teachers hold biases against girls with regard to math is based on the data presented below:

Above copied from: "On The Origins of Gender Human Capital Gaps: Short and Long Term Consequences of Teachers’ Stereotypical Biases". Victor Lavy and Edith Sand. NBER Working Paper No. 20909. January 2015. JEL No. J16,J24.
© 2015 by Victor Lavy and Edith Sand. All rights reserved.
The work starts with scores from two different exams. The National Score exam comes from a standardized exam administered at the end of fifth grade while the School Score exam comes from tests administered and graded by the teachers sometime during the sixth grade. The difference between these two scores is tabulated for both genders. The user Rational Discourse immediately notices that these are two different exams given at two different times. To equate this difference with a teacher's bias is clearly inappropriate.

I teach chemistry and parts of my test require calculations. It is difficult for me to see how my bias can affect how such a test is graded. In my opinion, this likewise applies to elementary mathematics where correct answers do not really leave that much room to subjectivity. Perhaps, these exams have partial credit, but even in such cases, guidelines on how to award partial credit can be made objective.

It is also important to note the magnitude of these differences especially when compared to the standard errors (also shown in the table in parenthesis). A previous post in this blog, Insights from Gender Differences, summarizes what gender studies on education have really shown:
At the early ages, there are cognitive and verbal differences between boys and girls. And when boys and girls grow up, there are likewise differences in experiences. Looking at these differences allows us to see the possible variations among children in general, regardless of gender. One simply has to take note that differences are usually found as mere fractions of a standard deviation. This means that there is indeed a great deal of overlap between the two genders. From a different perspective, this implies that variations within a gender are actually larger than the differences between boys and girls.
Lastly, NPR although it mentions the correlation found between parental education level and the chance that a girl would choose higher levels of math in secondary school, the title of the report simply does not do justice to this other perhaps even more important part of the study. The study finds that the gender disparity in math and sciences disappears if only children from families whose father and mother have comparable educational attainment are considered. As the study shows, this is even a stronger correlation.

Teachers may not be perfect. And there are indeed well founded concerns, but discouraging girls from doing more math by giving lower scores is clearly not.