"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, July 31, 2015

The Real Status of Philippine Basic Education

In science, honesty is expected. Truth is the primary value in science. One simply cannot pursue truth by presenting manipulated or selected data. When a scientist lies, a potent weapon is then handed to skeptics and deniers. Truthfulness is expected in a discipline that promises to guide programs or policies. In the realm of education, knowing what really works is necessary, but if scientists begin to lie, society becomes vulnerable to snake oil salesmen. Politicians, on the other hand, seem to be able to get away easily with lies. As an example, the president of the Philippines recently offered in his state of the nation address the case of a 19-year old as proof of success of his new K-12 program when it is quite obvious that the program would only produce its first graduate a decade from now.

Antonio Tinio like the president of the Philippines is also a politician. Tinio currently sits in Congress as party list representative of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers. Hours ago, he posted a series of six photos on Facebook. The photos came with a series of paragraphs describing how a high school in the Visayas region is delivering the new curriculum specifically its Technology and Livelihood Education (TLE) component.

Above copied from Rep. Tinio's Facebook page

One of these photos (shown above) tells us that this school is currently focusing on "caregiving" in its TLE program. Tinio writes, "In Aquino's K to 12 curriculum, Filipino students at a young age are exposed to Caregiving in a foreign land as a possible career choice." Another photo (shown below) shows us the place where classes under this program are held.

Above copied from Rep. Tinio's Facebook page

Tinio, however, points out that the above classroom at least is equipped for instruction. It has a coffee maker, food processor, electric knife, electric can opener, vacuum cleaner, steam iron, electronic blood pressure monitor, and digital thermometer. It even has two microwave ovens. All of these apparently have been provided by the teacher using her own resources.

Are these likewise lies?  To answer this question, a study published in the journal Communication Research Reports may be of help. It says on its abstract,
"It is concluded that people usually deceive for a reason, that motives producing deception are usually the same that guide honesty, and that people usually do not lie when goals are attainable through honest means."
One can either show that DepEd's K to 12 is good or bad. That is the goal of a presentation. The only honest means of demonstrating either the success or problems of the K to 12 program is providing good data. In this scenario, one side clearly has no good data to show.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Is DepEd's K to 12 a Success?

Obviously, one can not assess whether an education reform is successful if the new curriculum is thirteen years long and only three years have passed since its implementation. The graduates of the new K to 12 curriculum are those finishing basic education in 2024. Graduates of the new secondary education component of DepEd's K to 12 are those finishing high school in 2018. The effectiveness of the spiral progression in math and the sciences, however, can be assessed at the end of this school year since current fourth year high school students have gone through a complete four year sequence through these disciplines.

It is quite disingenuous for the president of the Philippines to claim success of the new curriculum by presenting the case of 19-year old Rezia Joy Jianoran. Below is an excerpt from the State of the Nation Address of President Aquino on 27 July 2015.

Above copied from DepEd Philippines Facebook page
Let us listen to a story that is proof of this:
Translated transcript of Testimonial of Rezia Joy Jianoran 

My father has been a jeepney driver all my life. When I was in my second year of high school, my mom suffered a stroke. I didn’t ask, but I knew that they couldn’t afford to send me to college.

Instead of dropping out of school, I decided to continue my studies under the K to 12 program. My chosen track of specialization was the Drafting Technology course.

Part of the K to 12 program is the career immersion. I was assigned to CLP Metal, a metal fabrication company.

I was tasked to design machines. This machine was designed to de-hair pigs. Once a pig is processed, after several seconds, it comes out without any hair.

A machine like this can only be bought abroad. Because of the design by CLP, we’re able to adjust to the budget restrictions of our customers.

I’m extremely proud because when you think about it: how many 19-year olds can say they have designed a machine?

I’m proud that I’m a K to 12 graduate because I can now support my family. And I’m learning while I’m earning.
Rezia is not a K to 12 graduate. Rezia is a graduate from the old curriculum who took additional years and in the process received an employment opportunity based on a specific technical training program at the same metal fabrication company.

There are other statements or claims made by the Philippine president with regard to the state of basic education in the country. It is therefore useful to read as well comments from those who have no reason to be disingenuous. The following is the statement from the Council of Teachers and Staff of Colleges and Universities in the Philippines (CoTeSCUP):
The fifth State of the Nation Address of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III has just been concluded, and as expected, the President showcased to the nation the gains of his Administration in the last five years. He underscored that these accomplishments were made amidst the bleak and volatile economic, political, and social conditions brought about by the previous administration. The Suspend K-12 Coalition, led by the Council of Teachers and Staff of Colleges and Universities in the Philippines (CoTeSCUP), is one with the nation in commending the Aquino Administration for seeing into fruition, albeit in part, the ‘social contract’ it forged with the Filipino people during the 2010 national elections. While we believe that the touted economic advancement under his Administration still needs to felt by Filipinos living in the margins of our society, and that the sustainability of said reforms still remains questionable, we acknowledge his Administration’s efforts that benefited a number of our people. 
The President’s report on the Education Sector, and the warm message of gratitude he sent to the heads of education agencies, painted a positive future for all education stakeholders. Indeed, the numbers put forward were staggering. The President claimed that backlogs of 61.7 million textbooks and 2.5 million chairs have been filled in 2012, and the shortage of 66,800 classrooms and 145,827 teachers were addressed by 2013. The President added that his Administration plans to hire 39,000 teachers this year, and budgeted for an additional 60,000 teacher items in 2016. He further announced that 73.9 million textbooks and 1.6 million chairs have already been previously distributed over and above the filled backlogs. For this year, he declared that 88.7 million textbooks and 1.6 million chairs have already been delivered. For 2016, the President budgeted for an additional 103.2 million textbooks and 4.4 million chairs. With the gaps in education infrastructure and resources seemingly covered, the President laid claim to the conviction that his successor will no longer have to face seemingly insurmountable challenges in this sector. “Hindi na tayo mag-iiwan ng sakit ng ulo sa susunod sa atin,” the President proclaimed.
It is easy, however, to be lost in the numbers. We find it alarming that President Aquino seemed to be oblivious to the specter of K-12 hovering over education stakeholders once the K-12 Law is fully implemented in 2016. Massive labor displacement among faculty and staff of higher educational institutions, added financial burdens to parents and students, compounded shortages in education infrastructure and shortages, and the apparent inability of the Department of Education (DepEd) to manage its own budget and the subsequent challenges brought about by the transition to K-12, on top of the perennial problems affecting the education sector such as the 6.38% drop-out rates, 1:38 teacher-student ratio, the presence of shifting and multi-grade classes ----- all these are left largely unanswered by education agencies in the various platforms we engaged them in. We also find it disconcerting that the President is lost in the grey areas and drowned in the astonishing numbers provided by the agencies, unmindful that global competition in the education arena exists not in basic but in higher education. We further wondered if the President has been fully informed of the real situation in our schools. We doubt if the President is alerted of the delays in the delivery of education infrastructure and resources, the mass promotion policy that sacrifices the quality of education, the inadequate voucher system and the corresponding non-committal response of private schools to accept it, and the incapacity of the DepEd to offer all the tracks vaunted for in the K-12 program. The President appears to be unaware that the fundamental problems of availability, accessibility, and quality of education services still exist and persist in our schools. He fails to realize that poverty, as evidenced in many studies, affects learning outcomes resulting in poor performance of Filipino students in math and sciences in international standards. Poverty is one the main reasons why students are forced to drop out of school. 
We appeal to President Aquino to take his education officials to task and exact from them the truth that confronts those on the ground: teachers, parents, and students. In the last few months of his Presidency, we urge him to listen to the voice of his real Bosses, and not confine himself to the reports of his official family. We call on him to look not at what his officials have claimed to accomplish, but focus on what they have failed to deliver, or what they are bound to do that will further marginalize teachers, parents, and students. 
President Aquino, please do not allow that your legacy in the education sector be reduced to a numbers game. Once again, we ask you to reconsider your position on the K-12 program. The K-12 program does not respect, protect nor uphold the labor rights of teachers, and the constitutional rights of parents and students to relevant and meaningful education. We urge you to carefully examine the reality behind the numbers, and use the power vested in your office to stop a program that have put in peril the lives and livelihood of teachers, parents, and students, your Bosses. 
We call on you. Suspend K-12 Now!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Autism Rates on the Rise?

Both autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) rates in the United States are on the rise. For ADHD, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that ADHD diagnosis by a health care provider increased by 42% between 2003 and 2011. For ASD, the CDC reported a prevalence of one in 150 in 2002, but in 2010, the prevalence had soared to one in 68, a 150 % increase (three times the rate of increase in ADHD diagnosis). 

With these increasing rates, it is easy to relate to a statement made by health economist Richard Scheffler in an interview posted on the American Psychological Association's website:
"That's when we knew we were onto something, because if you want to improve test scores, one way of doing that is to have children diagnosed so you can get extra money from the school district to help tutor them or put them in smaller classes. Basically, you diagnose these kids because improving their performance helps the school's performance. 
Some states even allowed you to take students diagnosed with ADHD out of the pool that was used to judge your school, with the understanding that these kids probably perform lower, and if you have more of them, that shouldn't be held against you."
Scheffler co-authored with psychologist Stephen Hinshaw the book, "The ADHD explosion: Myths, medications, money, and today's push for performance". The smoking gun behind the above statement is not just the correlation between the rate of ADHD diagnosis and introduction of standards-based education reforms, but also the observation that there is no similar rise in ADHD rates in private schools.

The rise in autism rates is even more remarkable. A press release from Penn State University provides an explanation.

This graph shows the number of students (per 10,000) diagnosed with autism (blue) and intellectual disability (red) in special-education programs in the United States from 2000 to 2010. The increase in autism diagnoses during this period was offset by decreases in the diagnosis of intellectual disability, suggesting that shifting patterns of diagnosis may be responsible for increases in autism diagnosis. Credit: Penn State University

The press release and the above figure are based on a research article published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics.

Obviously, it is beneficial that a school is aware of the needs of every child. The benefit arises from the expectation that the school then adopts measures and interventions to help address a child's needs. The case of autism, however, raises serious concerns as this disorder obviously encompasses a wide range of challenges. The following quote from one of the authors of the Penn State study, Santhosh Girirajan, is illuminating:
"For quite some time, researchers have been struggling to sort disorders into categories based on observable clinical features, but it gets complicated with autism because every individual can show a different combination of features. The tricky part is how to deal with individuals who have multiple diagnoses because, the set of features that define autism is commonly found in individuals with other cognitive or neurological deficits."
Obviously, if the rise in autism is mostly due to categorization, this is not really useful in understanding autism. Equally disconcerting is the observation that autism is becoming a catchall for all problems. The categorization being too broad does not really help inform educators on what measures or interventions should be taken. Meetings on an individualized education program (IEP) sadly can degenerate into simply filling up paperwork to ensure that the school gets additional funding.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Music, Arts and Physical Education

In the Philippines, these subjects are combined with health to form one learning area called MAPEH (music, arts, physical education, and health). In Fairfax county in Virginia, music, arts and physical education are called "specials" while health is in a separate subject with science and social studies.

The following shows the time allotment in DepEd's K to 12 for the various learning areas:

Above copied from DepEd order no. 31, s. 2012

And below is an example of a class schedule in Fairfax county.

Above copied from Mason Crest Elementary School

Friday, July 24, 2015

Vouchers and Providing Public Basic Education

In the state of Wisconsin, the debate on school vouchers continues. On one side of the debate is Julie Mead, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin. In an article published in Wisconsin's Kenosha News, the following three reasons are given against a school voucher system. The system has less accountability. Vouchers pull funding away from public schools. Vouchers do not lead to better learning outcomes.

Above copied from Kenosha News

The argument from the other side as exemplified by Michael Heise of Cornell Law School focuses on school choice and increased educational opportunities. There is, of course, a benefit whenever the private sector helps in providing public service. However, good intentions are no substitute for accountability. In particular, a study of a third-party governed public voucher system in the state of Wisconsin shows that market forces sometimes fail in delivering quality. Apparently, only after the voucher system was required to disclose publicly its performance that learning outcomes became comparable to those of public schools. The study specifically reports, "our results provide clear evidence that in the first year in which the performance of each private school would be reported to the public, test scores of students within each private school rose dramatically." Mead therefore has a point with regard to voucher systems requiring accountability and that market forces are not fully reliable.

Another important perspective from Mead is that vouchers seem to replace "a state's obligation to provide quality basic education with a privilege to shop for one". The issue of vouchers in basic education is in fact quite relevant to Philippine basic education. With the introduction of the senior high school years, the public school system clearly cannot provide the additional to years to all.

Above copied from SunStar

GMA News research recently raised concerns regarding the voucher program in the Philippines.

Above copied from GMA News
Above copied from GMA News

Developed countries like the United States continue to question voucher systems. In a country where the judicial system is very weak, and where checks and balances hardly exist, voucher systems are clearly more prone to corruption. The voucher system in the Philippines likewise differs significantly from those of the United States. Vouchers in the Philippines do not really serve as choices or increased educational opportunities, but as ramifications of the government's inability to provide resources for the education of all. Obviously, the government cannot deliver the basic education it is requiring for all. It then embraces a neoliberal policy that lacks transparency and accountability. DepEd's K to 12 has serious flaws in its curriculum but its implementation maybe far worse.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Understanding the Problem and Attacking It Head-On

The first and foremost challenge any basic education system must confront is school leaving. Dropouts are almost impossible to be reached by education reforms once they have left school. A school district in the United States has figured out how to track this problem and address it before things get worse. Over a course of just seven years, the city of Chicago has seen a double digit increase in its high school graduation rate, 49 percent in 2007 to 68 percent in 2014. The secret lies in understanding the problem and attacking it head-on, not really a new concept. And what works is not a dramatic education reform but old proven interventions informed by evidence-based research.

The University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research simply narrowed down the dropout rate problem in Chicago schools to one significant period in basic education, the ninth grade. High schools then focused on tracking students' grades, attendance, and engagement in school during this momentous year. When a student seemed not on track, tutoring sessions and mentors were then offered. It was simply an education system that gave second chances with care, honesty and effectiveness. And the results are outstanding. The following figures from the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research show remarkable progress that continues through the end of high school.

Above copied from CCSR's Preventable Failure

Clearly, intervention at the right time works but what is more remarkable is that the gains continue beyond ninth grade.

Above copied from CCSR's Preventable Failure

What is happening in Chicago's high schools is a testament to how effective solutions are when problems are correctly understood and addressed head-on. The Philippines also faces an enormous challenge in terms of school dropouts. Data compiled by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies likewise point out momentous points along the basic education program. Here is one. The adjusted net attendance rates are vastly different between primary and secondary education.

Above copied from Profile of Out-of-School Children in the Philippines
Secondly, school leavers are visibly higher in the early years of both elementary and high school.

Above copied from Profile of Out-of-School Children in the Philippines

Paying closer attention to the details of a problem allows for finding more effective and in this case, timely interventions. DepEd's K to 12 addresses in part the problem in first grade by providing kindergarten. The two years added at the end of high school, however, are obviously not in any way addressing the problem of school leaving in the Philippines.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Gender Gap in Philippine Basic Education

The Philippines is among few countries where boys are more likely than girls to leave school. And for the students who choose to remain in school, standardized exams show that girls also outperform boys. It requires further research but initial studies suggest that this gender disparity is simply a manifestation of socio-economic conditions.

The following is an excerpt from UNICEF's "Why Are Boys Under-performing in Education"

The gender gap in Philippine basic education is quite dramatic as demonstrated in the following graphs (Data from Annual Poverty Indicator Survey 2013 and DepEd, Philippines). Boys, for instance, are twice more likely to leave high school.

Boys account for the majority of out-of-school children. In terms of functional literacy, 78.5 per cent of out-of-school boys had simple literacy, compared with 83.3 per cent of girls. And for those who remain in school, 65.4 per cent of girls are functionally literate while only 58.7 per cent of boys are. Girls have been outscoring boys in the National Achievement Test. One explanation provided for the underperformance of boys is the lack of learning materials. Even in the primary years, learning resources are limited that students need to copy materials by hand writing. Since boys are usually delayed in developing fine motor skills compared to girls, this results in an early disadvantage.

Whatever the real reason(s) is (are), this gender gap should raise a concern. This is one of the real problems that Philippine basic education faces. Addressing why boys do not do well in school likewise attacks the problem of "school leavers", the other big problem Philippine basic education faces. And there is a big chance that this is connected to the overarching grip of poverty on education given the fact that the gender gap in educational attainment is so much more pronounced in low income than in high income families.

Above copied from IDE Discussion Paper No. 425

It is only through examining and reflecting on these real issues that the correct reforms in education can be attained. Nowhere in DepEd's K to 12, is this serious problem addressed.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Understanding the Problem in Philippine Basic Education

The first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is a problem. The second step is understanding the problem. It is obvious to everyone that basic education in the Philippines is not in a good state so at least the first step is accomplished. The second step, understanding the problem, turns out be a lot more difficult for there is a natural tendency to prejudge and immediately offer solutions. DepEd's K to 12 is one example, as this gigantic reform fails to comprehend what is really plaguing schools in the Philippines.

There is a research paper from the Philippines that exemplifies how we often wrongly approach a predicament. The paper authored by Bangcaya and Alejandro is published in the European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education. It starts with correctly recognizing the problem: Students enrolled in special science classes like students in regular classes in Philippine schools perform poorly in standardized exams.

Above copied from the European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education
The three types of special science classes labeled in the above figure are: A, (old) with support from the Department of Science and Technology - Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI), B, (new) with DOST-SEI support, and C, (existing) without DOST-SEI support. This observation is no different from the results from international testing in 2008.

Aside from students from the Philippine Science High School, students in other special science classes in the Philippines, unlike students from other countries, are not even reaching intermediate benchmark scores in mathematics. Things have really not changed over the course of five years. Special science classes in the Philippines are still ineffective. It is indeed straightforward to see the problem. However, the title of the paper, School-related factors contributing to the delivery enhancement of the special science program in Western Visayas, Philippines, demonstrates how a problem can be grossly misunderstood. In search of a solution, special attention is given to the observed difference between the scores of students from type A schools and those from B and C. This is despite the fact that students from type A schools likewise miss the 75 percent mark. The authors therefore try to look for something that is unique in type A schools, failing to recognize that all schools are really not performing well. One possible area is curriculum implementation and for this area, the authors simply use a survey.

Above copied from the European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education
There is not even a minute variance in this survey with all schools reporting a mean of 4.00 (the highest possible rating) in all areas of curriculum implementation. Other factors such as extracurricular science-related activities are then examined.

Above copied from the European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education

The authors therefore conclude that these activities are behind the "better" performance of students from type A schools. If one follows the conclusion of this paper, then it seems that holding science contests is the way to go to improve science education in the country. This, of course, is not going to work. Such conclusion unfortunately results from misunderstanding the problem.

First, in making a comparison, it is important that there is random sampling. Students by virtue of being enrolled in special science classes are not randomly picked.

Above copied from DepEd Order No. 40 s. 2010
One high school in the Philippines, for example, specifically states on its website,
"To ensure that earners are qualified and truly deserving to be in the program, all prospective first year enrollees are required to undergo rigid screening and pass a DOST prescribed selection test. Grade requirement of enrollees is 83% in English, Science and Mathematics with a general average of 85%. Once in the program, it is imperative for a Special Science Class (SSC) student to maintain a grade not lower than 80% in any subject area and a general average of 85%."
No step has been taken in this study by the authors to check if the students from type A schools are different right at the starting point of high school from those of type B and C schools.

Nonetheless, focusing and looking for the difference is the first mistake in this paper. The more important thing is that all schools are not performing well, thus, one must look not for something that is special with one type of school but for something that is general across all schools. A previous post in this blog in which the following table is highlighted provides an important clue.

Above copied from
Blömeke, S., Suhl, U., Kaiser, G., & Döhrmann, M. (2012). Family background, entry selectivity and opportunities to learn: what matters in primary teacher education? An international comparison of fifteen countries. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28, 44–55.

The above scores are for math teachers in elementary school, but the results for secondary or high school teachers are not different. Likewise, secondary teachers from the Philippines score very low in mathematics content knowledge.

Above copied from TEDS-M Report

Understanding the problem in basic education leads us to where solutions must be applied. The problem originates from teacher preparation. The problem Philippine basic education faces comes from higher education. Teaching schools and universities are the ones not delivering. Holding science contests, quizzes, workshops do not really address the problem. With this perspective, it is also easy to see that changing the curriculum in basic education is not the solution. DepEd K to 12 for instance does not address the lack of competency of teachers. The problems must first be addressed in higher education.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Poor Reading Comprehension Skills and Poor Performance in Math and Science

High school education in the Philippines faces two huge problems: Poor reading comprehension skills and poor performance in Math and Science. It is tempting to correlate the two areas and suggest that the dismal performance in math and science is due to poor reading skills. If this is the case then the solution lies in addressing reading challenges in the elementary years of education. Research, however, shows that there is indeed a correlation, but not a significant one. Poor performance in math and science therefore not results not merely from poor instruction in reading, but from poor instruction across the board.

Ombra A. Imam and coworkers specifically looked at more than 600 first-year high school students, from both private and public schools in Cotabato City. Their findings were in agreement with those of standardized international exams as well as the National Achievement Tests in the Philippines. The study was designed to examine various reading comprehension skills and how each of these skills correlates with performance in math and science. The correlation study with math was published in the International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education, while the study on science was published separately in the Asia Pacific Journal of Educators and Education

The results are as follows:

Reading Comprehension

Above copied from
Asia Pacific Journal of Educators and Education


Above copied from
International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education

Above copied from
Asia Pacific Journal of Educators and Education

Seeing the dismal performance across the board, it is indeed tempting to suggest that the students are not performing well in math and science because the students are unable to comprehend what they are reading. This, however, is not true, if one correlates the scores between reading comprehension and either one of the two, math and science. The correlation coefficient between reading and math is only 0.059, which basically shows no relationship. The coefficient obtained for reading and science is a bit higher, but still insignificant, 0.10. 

There is no reason to think that the above findings only hold for schools in Cotabato City. Cotabato City schools belong to Region XII. In 2012, the National Achievement Test scores for grade VI pupils from Region XII (72.60) are actually higher than those from the National Capital Region (59.87).  These results can therefore be taken to represent those of the entire country. These are results that point to the real challenges schools in the Philippines currently need to address. The problems are occurring well before tenth grade or fourth year high school. And the problems are across the board. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Correlation Between Poverty And Teachers

In mathematics, international standardized exams place Philippine students near the bottom in terms of performance. Equally dismaying, findings of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) show that math teachers in the Philippines, compared to those of other countries, likewise demonstrate low Mathematics Content Knowledge (MCK) and Mathematics Pedagogical Content Knowledge (MPCK).

Above copied from
Blömeke, S., Suhl, U., Kaiser, G., & Döhrmann, M. (2012). Family background, entry selectivity and opportunities to learn: what matters in primary teacher education? An international comparison of fifteen countries. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28, 44–55.

There exists a very strong correlation between academic performance and poverty. An achievement gap defined by socioeconomic status is undeniable. The relationship between poverty and teachers likewise highlights poverty's strong grip on education. Data from the National Center of Education Statistics in the United States provide a clue on how poverty further impacts basic education. Students who enroll in teaching schools often come from families of lower income.

Above copied from the Atlantic's Rich Kids Study English

Since the IEA's study includes teachers from the Philippines, a closer examination of the background of these teachers only adds fuel to the observed correlation between poverty and academic performance. Teachers in the Philippines, along those from other weak performers (Botswana, Chile and Georgia), have less books in their homes and have no access to a computer.

Above copied from
Policy, Practice, and Readiness to Teach Primary and Secondary Mathematics in 17 Countries
Findings from TEDS-M

In the above, the number of books and access to a computer at home can both be used as proxy indicators of socioeconomic status. The results above provide guidance on how to address problems in basic education in the Philippines. It is true that these are only correlations, but the information points out clearly where reforms should first be targeted. If most teachers are coming from poor families then it only becomes obvious that improvements in education must begin in schools attended by poor children. The strong grip of poverty on education works at various levels. It even comes with a vicious cycle. Not addressing achievement gaps due to socioeconomic status at the basic education level leads to less prepared teachers, and therefore further deterioration of an educational system.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Preference for the Poor

Poverty profoundly affects education. By providing greater funding to schools in poor neighborhoods, the state of Ohio seems to be narrowing the achievement gap caused by socio-economic status. It may seem obvious that, to improve public basic education, greater resources should be provided to schools that serve poor children. Lamentably, school reforms often miss the obvious. Again and again, changes in education frequently focus on curriculum, standards and accountability. Delivery and implementation are seldom placed on a spotlight.

Schools in poor neighborhoods are usually lacking in infrastructure. An article posted on the UNICEF Philippines website that cites the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene in schools says:
Schools in poor communities in the Philippines are the least served. A 2010 survey by the Department of Education (DepED) estimates that more than 7,000 primary schools have no steady water source and more than 90,000 school toilets need to be constructed to meet the basic standard.
According to the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in a statement issued at the beginning of this school year (June 2015), 4, 281 schools have no water supply and 16, 920 water supply projects were not implemented in 2014, and 10, 514 schools have no electric service.

With shortages in basic resources, it is indeed mind-boggling that DepEd's K to 12 focuses more on adding more to what schools should provide.  Asia's Catholic news source therefore has the following to say about DepEd's K to 12:

In a recent pastoral letter, the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines reminds DepEd of the following:

The word "realistically" perhaps is the most important word in the above paragraph. Preference for the poor requires at least a level playing field in education. K to 12 with its various tracks and haphazard implementation would only exacerbate the gap between rich and poor schools. K to 12 is not meant to serve the poor. Achievement gaps already exist even before a child enrolls in kindergarten. These gaps only increase and become insurmountable in the later years. An education reform that addresses the needs of the poor must focus on the primary years of education and ensure that resources are indeed channeled to where these are needed most.

The disparity, of course, actually goes beyond infrastructure. When it comes to the most influential factor in education, teachers, schools with poor children are also on the losing side. In a study scheduled to be published in the journal Educational Researcher, it has become evident that in the state of Washington in the United States, at all levels of basic education (elementary, middle and high school), disadvantaged students are taught by less experienced and low value-added teachers, and bottom performers in teaching licensure exams.

Goldhaber, one of the authors, provides a recommendation to address the above problem, "pay teachers more to teach in tougher schools, and you’ll lure better teachers to them". This may or may not work, but what is important at this point is to understand correctly the achievement gap in schools and what preference for the poor really entails.

It would be interesting to do a similar study in the Philippines. It would be greatly informative to find out how teachers in elite schools, those that educate children of politicians and business leaders, differ from those who teach in schools serving poor urban and rural communities, even if the answer already seems quite obvious. Reforms should address first these inequities. K to 12 does not. K to 12 only makes these differences even bigger.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Poverty's Grip On Education

WBEZ and the Daily Herald have recently released a report that closely examines public schools in the state of Illinois. The report shows a strong correlation between poverty and test scores. This is of course not new. However, what is especially worth noting is the persistent grip of poverty on education. After a decade, the picture remains the same.

Above copied from WBEZ 91.5's Poverty's enduring hold on school success
Comparing 2004 and 2014, even after a decade of No Child Left Behind, the situation remains more or less the same. Schools with a greater number of pupils from poor households have lower passing rates in standardized exams. The following excerpt summarizes the frustration expressed by the authors after seeing these results:
In fact, test score data in Illinois indicate that the degree to which poverty is tied to school performance is slightly stronger than it was a decade ago—despite reforms that have included school re-staffings, closures, consolidations, new state standards and more stringent guidelines for evaluating teachers.
It is therefore tempting to conclude that schools cannot really do anything about poverty. Even with all of these reform measures taken, the predicament remains the same, an achievement gap drawn by socio-economic status. It is quite appealing to explain the observed correlation to what wealthy parents can do for their children. For example, Larry Joseph, director of research at Voices for Illinois Children, explains this correlation by stating that “More affluent families can invest more resources in their children's development. Those investments include health care, adequate nutrition, early learning opportunities, home computers, dance lessons... summer camp, and safe and supportive neighborhoods. And also access to higher quality schools.” 

Thus, is it true then that schools cannot really make a difference? To help answer this question, it maybe useful to look at a paper published in Social Forces in 2006, "Education and Inequalities of Place":

The inequality among households is apparently likewise present among schools. Schools that serve poor children are often lacking in resources. The graph below from Ushomirsky and Williams of the Education Trust shows Illinois (IL) as the top state in providing less funds to needy schools:

Ohio, the state on the opposite side of this scale, one that provides more funds to schools with higher poverty incidence, does have a different graph to show:

Above copied from Fordham Institute's Links and broken links: On the relationship between proficiency, progress, and poverty
There is still a strong correlation between poverty and learning outcomes, but the slope is much less steep. In Illinois, wealthy schools have a score of 85 which goes down to 35 (less than half of 85) in high poverty incidence schools. In Ohio, schools predominantly attended by children from poor households are performing only 30 percent lower than schools with no poor pupils. One should also notice the larger spread of points as one goes to higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students. In fact, at the extreme, one finds a number of schools with very high poverty incidence but performing as well as those in rich neighborhoods, which is not observed in Illinois. Schools can therefore make a difference and resources count. Schools can either make these achievement gaps bigger or smaller. Teachers and principals cannot and should not use poverty as an excuse for failing to educate poor children.

Schools in the Philippines face similar challenges. The appropriate reform is not so much about shoving two additional years to high school. What is necessary is equity. Resources being channeled to where these are needed most is evidently a good first step.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

DepEd's K to 12 and Elephants in a Room

Classroom shortages, lack of learning materials, teacher salaries are all obviously instrumental in basic education. The Department of Education in the Philippines has instead chosen adding years at the end of high school as the most important step in improving the state of basic education in the country. There is no argument that instructional time is a significant factor in education.

The graph below from Marcotte and Hansen demonstrates how big the effects are of adding 10 school days to learning outcomes compared to those of other interventions:

10 additional instructional days even work better than having an effective teacher. If just adding ten days is so influential, perhaps adding two years will lead to even greater effects. However, grade retention, also shown in the above graph, adds a year, but its effect is less than the improvement seen with just 10 additional instructional days.

Another elephant in the room in terms of education issues becomes obvious with another graph from Marcotte and Hansen. This one shows what happens when school days are missed because of snow.

The figure above shows how many schools in the state of Maryland fail to meet adequate yearly progress targets set by the No Child Left Behind law. If one takes into account school closing days because of snow, the number of failing schools would have been much smaller (bars with darker shade).

In this aspect, it is not difficult to realize that the Philippines does face a huge challenge in providing adequate and continuous instructional hours in basic education. One simply has to go through some of this week's headlines from GMA News:

This is an entire week of no school. The main reason is flooding as depicted here in a photo from the Daily Inquirer:

These pictures have become too common that this issue is now plainly considered an elephant in a room, a problem no one is really willing to address.

This morning Yahoo was highlighting a different photo:

Inspirational: Homeless Boy Uses Light From McDonald’s To Do Homework

What caught my attention, however, was a comment from one of the readers:

A week ago before the rains and the flood, EuroNews called the following as "picture of the day":

Yes, where is the outrage? How does a change in curriculum in basic curriculum costing more than one hundred billion pesos address these challenges? Of course, it does not. The change in curriculum is meant to address those who have plans of working in other countries and are supposedly mistreated for lacking two years of basic education. The change in curriculum is supposed to please those who have the belief that a spiral progression in math and the sciences works better. The change in curriculum addresses not one of the obvious conditions shown above. These are elephants in a room.