"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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Parents and Teachers and Basic Education

November is almost here. Once again, in Virginia, nature provides our eyes with an awe-inspiring scenery of autumn leaves. The green pigment chlorophyll has dominated all throughout summer but when the days get shorter, carotenoids, mostly orange or yellow, and anthocyanins, mostly red, begin to emerge. Schools have nearly finished through one quarter. Carving pumpkins coincide then with parent-teacher conferences being held inside classrooms. This is also a time for parents to sit down with their child's teacher. It is an opportunity for parents and teachers to join their heads together and examine how a particular child, their child, is doing in school.

Every child is unique so it is no surprise that each child deserves a moment of reflection. Unlike examining results of standardized exams that provide for instance a nation's report card, these conversations are as individualized as possible. There are ways by which one can view basic education, through an overall lens or through an individual student's perspective.

The most recent United States' report card, the results of the NAEP assessments 2015, is now available. The results for 4th Grade Reading and Math are as follows (compared to previous years):

There is a drop in math scores, but this year's performance is still remarkably better than those of fifteen years ago. It is true that math scores seem to have become stagnant for the past ten years, illustrating the great difficulty in increasing the number of students reaching a proficiency level. The absence of a significant improvement at the proficient and advanced levels perhaps is saying that recent changes in how mathematics is taught in the early elementary years are not really fruitful.

Parents and teachers are probably not going to talk about these NAEP scores during their conference. Instead, the focus is on an individual child, and yet, with all of these conversations combined, one may still discover and learn something. After all, those who actually see the children are their parents and teachers.

At Mason Crest Elementary School, it is stunning to see how much effort and attention teachers could give to an individual student. Recently, the school's principal posted the following on Facebook:

Collective Responsibility at its Best! 
We have a new student who needs support in a number of areas and we were having a challenging time figuring out this support schedule so a meeting was called by one of our teachers. This morning 24 staff members volunteered to come before school started to lend their voice and offer support for finding a solution. Every one from classroom teachers, counselors, math specialist, reading specialist, English Language teaches, art, music, librarian, physical education, special education and administrators were there to embrace our "The Answer Is In The Room" mindset. This just blew me away as it reminded me that "All does mean All" at our school! We left with a plan with multiple Professionals supporting this student throughout the day. I am one fortunate administrator!
-Brian Butler
Mason Crest Elementary School

At the beginning of this school year, parents were called to share their thoughts on homework.

It is important to note that the discussions shown above on homework are informed by evidence-based research on top of soliciting views from parents and teachers. Of course, the need for "play" is also obvious by simply spending time with any child.

Parents and their children in the community also get together on their own as in last week's pumpkin carving party.

And as we drew and carved faces on those pumpkins, we did talk about our children's basic education. We talked about the homework policy and everyone was happy with children having more time to play and to spend with friends and family. We talked about policies on English Language learners and advanced programs. We might not be influencing education policies and reforms at the national level but we were keeping ourselves engaged in our own children's education.

In the Philippines, such engagement was unfortunately lacking. A gigantic reform, DepEd's K to 12, was about to take place, and yet, a majority of parents and teachers were completely unaware and uninformed of the coming changes. Hopefully, that has changed. Tomorrow, a meeting would be held by those who have petitioned the Supreme Court to stop DepEd's K to 12.

Parents and teachers are those who really see the children. They are partners in basic education, their participation and engagement are crucial. And they need to be heard.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How Much Time Should Be Devoted to Standardized Tests

A typical chemistry major would spend close to a total of 1000 hours of lectures and laboratory work in various chemistry courses. At the end, if the student desires to pursue graduate studies in chemistry, he or she may take the standardized Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in chemistry which takes about two hours and fifty minutes. The GRE chemistry exam is less than 0.3 percent of the total time spent on chemistry courses. In stark contrast, elementary and high school students in the United States spend nearly ten times more on standardized tests.

It is thus promising to hear the president of the United States proposing to limit the amount of standardized tests in basic education.

Above copied from the Associated Press
The call from President Obama comes after the Council of the Great City Schools has released its report, Student Testing in America’s Great City Schools:An Inventory and Preliminary Analysis.

What is disheartening after a closer look is the specific call made by President Obama: "...capping standardized testing at 2 percent of classroom time...." This cap is no different from the amount of time the report has found for eight grade students:

Above figure copied from
Student Testing in America’s Great City Schools:An Inventory and Preliminary Analysis

Capping standardized testing at 2 percent therefore does no more than lip service. It ignores one of the major findings in the report:

Above figure copied from
Student Testing in America’s Great City Schools:An Inventory and Preliminary Analysis

It likewise ignores one of the recommendations made by the report:

The problem with standardized tests is not really the time that students spend on these exams. The real problem lies in the high stakes' nature of these exams. When salaries of teachers and promotions of students depend on these exams, the classroom becomes simply a training ground for these tests. Assessments are necessary to guide instruction. Standardized tests are useful for comparisons but these should never be the measuring stick for the performance of a teacher and an individual student's learning outcomes.

Monday, October 26, 2015

In Adversity, Boys Suffer More

Similarities between boys and girls do outweigh differences between the two. However, there are apparently circumstances that can magnify dissimilarities. A working paper from Northwestern University shows that race, poverty, broken homes, and low parental educational attainment lead to larger differences between boys and girls. In all cases, boys significantly have more problems than girls do.

The following graph shows how differences in learning outcomes between boys and girls are affected by these factors:

Above figure copied from
David Autor, David Figlio, Krzysztof Karbownik, and Jeffrey Roth, Melanie Wasserman. Family Disadvantage and the Gender Gap in Behavioraland Educational OutcomesInstitute for Policy Research Northwestern University Working Paper Series WP-15-16
Black boys are more likely to miss school than black girls. Boys from poor households are more frequently absent than girls from similar socio-economic status. Disadvantaged boys tend to be less prepared for formal schooling. Boys whose mothers are high school dropouts are also more likely to be dropouts. In all cases whether it is poverty, race or low educational attainment or absence of a parent, the gender differences are markedly greater, with boys not performing as well as girls do. These data include more than a million children from the state of Florida from 1992-2002.

The authors have ruled out prenatal factors:
"Family disadvantage has no relationship with the sibling gender gap in neonatal health, measured by birth weight, APGAR scores (a test given right after birth to quickly assess a baby’s health), prenatal-care adequacy, congenital anomalies, maternal health, and labor and delivery complications."
It is clear then that these gender differences grow after birth. The mechanisms on why the environment affects boys more than girls are not crystal clear but the fact is that family, school and neighborhood matter more for boys than for girls.

In a recent post, Brian Butler, a principal at Mason Crest Elementary School writes a similar observation:

Butler writes, "the kids who are most left out especially in elementary school are boys and more importantly boys of color."

My son serving as a safety patrol at Mason Crest
In the Philippines, a similar situation exists: "children who become out-of-school are boys, and more importantly, boys from poor families."

Data from Annual Poverty Indicator Survey 2013 and DepEd, Philippines
I was once a boy in an elementary school. I likewise came from a poor household. I had poor vocabulary when I entered first grade. I was also quite socially awkward. However, I had teachers who saw and thought that I could be a "good kid". I might not have been able to write well or compose good essays, but I was good in arithmetic. And my teachers played on this strength and helped me with my weaknesses. 

The gaps at the beginning of formal schooling are there. It now falls on the shoulders of educators to either magnify or erase that gap. "All means all."

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Adding Years and Quality in Basic Education

Failing in the early years of basic education can not be mitigated by adding years at the end of high school. In contrast, adding years at the beginning just might. There is, however, no guarantee. The idea behind providing formal schooling to young learners comes with the hope of preparing children for basic education. In the United States, children are introduced to a school setting before they reach five years old to equip them with skills necessary for kindergarten. In the Philippines, DepEd's K to 12 introduces the mandatory kindergarten year as a dry run for the elementary years. On the surface, preparatory school is sound. And there is evidence that early child education helps. However, as with other education reforms, success is not guaranteed. Simply adding years to basic education, even in the early years, does not necessarily mean better learning outcomes.

A research report recently released last month by researchers from Vanderbilt University is certainly an eye-opener. From the title of the study, it can be easily inferred that this is a longitudinal study following a cohort of preschoolers through third grade. The children in this study are divided into two groups: Those who participated in Tennessee's Voluntary Prekindergarten program (TN-VPK) and those who did not.

Above copied from
Lipsey, M. W., Farran, D.C., & Hofer, K. G., (2015). A Randomized Control Trial of the Effects of a Statewide Voluntary Prekindergarten Program on Children’s Skills and Behaviors through Third Grade (Research Report). Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University, Peabody Research Institute.

Throughout the study, the children have been assessed for both cognitive (literacy and math) and noncognitive (social behavior and work-related skills) outcomes. The results on cognitive measures are summarized in the following figure.

The test, Woodcock Johnson III Achievement Battery (WJ), includes Letter‐Word Identification, Spelling, Language Oral Comprehension, Picture Vocabulary, Math Applied Problems, and Quantitative Concepts. The WJ Composite6 score (plotted in the above figure) is an average over these six tests. Clearly, children who were enrolled in preschool had an advantage over those who did not in kindergarten (age 5), but this advantage quickly diminished in the later years of primary schooling. In fact, by second and third grade, those who did not attend preschool are already outperforming those who did. Results from non-cognitive measures also show a similar trend, demonstrating that preschoolers have an advantage over non preschoolers in social behavior and skills, but this difference likewise disappears by third grade.

TN-VPK, unlike the Philippines' kindergarten program, is a full-day preschool program. TN-VPK is likewise mandated to follow an age-appropriate curriculum and class sizes are limited such that no more than ten children is assigned to an adult. It should be clear then that TN-VPK is a good quality preschool program. In fact, the state of Tennessee takes pride in this program. From the state's website, one can read the following:
The Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K (TN VPK) program is recognized as a national leader in pre-K quality, achieving 9 out of 10 quality standard benchmarks of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), only 4 states achieved 10 quality standard benchmarks in 2012. 
In this light, the findings from Vanderbilt University are disconcerting. Nobel laureate James Heckman assails the study in an opinion article posted on the Hechinger Report:
Disadvantaged children who receive quality early childhood development have much better education, employment, social and health outcomes as adults, the vast majority of research shows. 
Unfortunately, this good news is getting lost in the current obsession over third-grade test scores. 
This is the case with the recent debate around the new Vanderbilt study on the Tennessee pre-K program.
Heckman's contention is that the positive effects of a quality preschool program does not really manifest until later in life. These are seen in measures like higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes, and were more likely to have graduated from high school.

The Vanderbilt study, however, does not refute these past findings, in my opinion. What the study perhaps points out is that basic education really needs to be a sustained effort. In order to bring to fruition the potential effects of a preschool education, the later years, in this case, kindergarten through third grade, must build on the gains acquired by a child in preschool. As noted by the authors, since the children in this study are from impoverished families, these children are also likely to have attended elementary schools where the rate of poverty is high. Elementary schools in high poverty areas are often struggling. Therefore, the study is simply making us realize that a good quality preschool is not a cure for a poor quality elementary school.

With a good preschool, children from poor families are provided learning opportunities that are not possible in their homes. This difference in learning opportunities, however, exists beyond preschool so it is important that efforts are sustained throughout the elementary years and not just in preschool. The early years of education are indeed critical. These years truly need our careful and thoughtful attention especially for students with needs.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Transparency and What Data Can Inform Us

Transparency is important for it provides information for the public about what their government is doing. Transparency promotes an informed citizenship that can then engage, collaborate and participate in governance. Governments make decisions, create programs, and draw policies. All of these actions require information that can be used to increase effectiveness and efficiency, as well as curb graft and corruption.

In basic education, data on funding is important. Funding is the direct link between taxpayers and the schools. Funding dictates how much resources are going to be made available in schools. Thus, funding connects data on education in various dimensions. When the public is provided with access to such data, public engagement is enhanced which can only help a democratic government in making quality decisions.

Transparency is only the first step. Data need to be analyzed correctly in order to extract useful information. An excellent illustration of how access to information can enlighten the public is provided by David Mosenkis, a data analyst and a volunteer at the Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild (POWER). Mosenkis has examined school funding in Pennsylavania's 501 school districts. In the report, Racial Bias in Pennsylvania’s Funding of Public Schools, Mosenkis shows that the state of Pennsylvania does provide greater funding for schools with higher instances of poverty:

Above copied from
Racial Bias in Pennsylvania’s Funding of Public Schools

Mosenkis also displays that the funding increases as the percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced in a school increases:

Above copied from
Racial Bias in Pennsylvania’s Funding of Public Schools
The data on funding therefore point out that poverty is being addressed in the state's funding of schools. There is, however, much more information from the data since racial information across schools is likewise available. When the funding data are analyzed with the racial composition of schools, the following emerges, as pointed out by Mosenkis:

Above copied from
Racial Bias in Pennsylvania’s Funding of Public Schools
The data therefore show that in spite of poorer schools getting more funding, schools with more black students are receiving less support. School funding in Pennsylvania is currently a hot issue and there is a petition that has been filed before its supreme court to address the state's apparent inability to provide quality education for all.

The above illustrates how transparency and good data analysis can help inform the public of what the government is doing. It is only through these lenses that it is possible to weigh and evaluate whether what a government is doing is good or bad.

In the Philippines, both transparency and good data analysis are sorely lacking yet the government does various social programs such as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (Conditional cash transfer program that targets poverty reduction, children’s health and schooling, and maternal health), alternative school systems, and bottom-up budgetting. In most of these cases, it is not even clear if the program actually works.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Worst of Both Worlds

There is no perfect basic education system in the world. Each one has weaknesses and strengths. Transplanting an education system from one country to another is also not straightforward, as there are things outside the curriculum, learning materials, and pedagogical methods that can also shape basic education. Our culture, what we value, and how we basically treat each other can affect profoundly our schools. Worse, if we are not thoughtful enough, we just might copy from other countries what is wrong.

To strive for what seems to be unattainable, it is important that we choose one value as a cornerstone. For basic education, I believe this value is equity. It is not enough to set high standards, what is more important is to provide every child an opportunity to reach such high standards. This does not happen by solely wishing. This can only happen with an unwavering commitment to funding schools adequately, promoting the well-being of every child, and recognizing that basic education is a right. And this is just the starting point.

Having the best intentions is likewise not enough. Even before a child formally enters school, there are already existing differences and sadly, schools often only magnify such differences. How this occurs is often traced on how abilities are assessed, and consequently, how a curriculum is designed based on these assessments.

Marc Tucker recently wrote an opinion article in Education Week. The article, "Student Tracking vs. Academic Pathways: Different...or the Same?", looks at how basic education in the United States fails to provide social mobility.

Above copied from Marc Tucker's "Student Tracking vs. Academic Pathways: Different...or the Same?"
There are countries in Europe that are known for offering different tracks in secondary school. Germany, for instance, has the following: (1) Gymnasium for kids headed for college, (2) Realschule for kids headed for white-collar jobs, and (3) Hauptschule, for kids headed for blue-collar jobs. Tucker notes that many American educators frown at this type of tracking. Tucker however points out that albeit not obvious, sorting does occur in American schools and it happens in the early years of basic education. Tucker writes,
"Here you see that unlike the Europeans, we sort kids into Bluebirds, Robins and other avian tribes when they first enter school. Before fourth grade is over, a large fraction thought to have low learning potential are almost certain to have the judgment verified, not because they could not learn, but because they were never given a curriculum challenging enough to learn anything. By the time they are in high school, if they have not yet dropped out—and many of these kids do, because they cannot read—they have been sorted into bins labeled selective college, college, vocational-technical and general. None of these kids, of course, have been formally labeled in this way, but they might as well have been. Because they know the kids on the underside of the sorting machine will get another chance, they just keep passing them up the system, unchallenged and uneducated."
In the Philippines, the K to 12 toolkit mentions the following:
To measure the child’s readiness for Grade 1, DepEd will use the School Readiness Assessment Examination (SReA). SReA is aligned with the standards and competencies for five-year-old children. It is an assessment prior to entry to Grade 1 of basic education The language of the SReA will be the mother tongue. Through SReA, Grade 1 teachers have an accurate and reliable view of the child’s concepts and skills when they begin school. This is helpful in planning appropriate lessons, activities, and instructional materials.
This is first grade and yet, the curriculum is already being defined by a teacher's perception of a child's abilities. The teacher is not tailoring the level of support, instead, what is being adjusted is the curriculum. Three years ago, I wrote the following in DepEd K to 12 vs. Education for All:
"Education for All" is a goal of basic education. Basic education is compulsory in developed countries. With these in mind, it is clear that society views basic education as necessary. Basic education is therefore viewed as a right, not as a privilege. Basic education is regarded as a duty, an obligation. Yet, in elementary schools, pupils who are just entering Grade 1 are taking an exam called "School Readiness Assessment". There are 45 questions in the exam and the passing score is 36 correctly answered. The students who passed are then taken to the next test, a qualifying exam administered by the education program supervisor in science. And only if 35 pupils pass these exams, would the school have a special science class for these selected students. This is not "Education for All". Why are we doing this to our six year old children? It goes straight against what basic education is. Equity is key in basic education. Can we imagine doing this for character education? That is, requiring students to pass a qualifying exam at the beginning to see if they can be taught right from wrong. How about mathematics? The answer, of course, is no. It is then clear that science is not viewed as a basic field of education. On the other hand, as Catholics, we are quick to tell our children about the mystery of three persons in one God. Children need not take a qualifying exam to hear this lesson.
In the later years of elementary schooling in DepEd's K to 12, the situation becomes only worse. Both spiral progression and learner-centered characteristics of K to 12 are only expected to exacerbate achievement gaps in the early years of basic education. To top all of these, the later years of grades 7 through 10 are adulterated with "Career Pathways". And in the senior years, 11 and 12, tracking is firmly established. DepEd's K to 12 is indeed a hybrid of education systems. Unfortunately, it is the worst of both worlds.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What Teachers Need to Be Empowered

Ten years ago, I held workshops for elementary school teachers in the Philippines. During that time, I sat down and had a casual conversation with a male teacher. He was not participating in any of the meetings I had scheduled for teachers, but he was quite eager to share with me what he nows about managing a classroom filled with young children. There I was, quite eager to share my ideas and yet found myself on the receiving end of experience. That dialogue was quite brief, but such encounter, in my opinion, was demonstrating to me in a simple but direct way what was necessary to uplift the teaching profession.

The previous article in this blog, A Seed Needs a Fertile Ground, illustrates by a specific example, how professional development and adult learning can happen inside a school. A recent white paper by Mehta and coworkers from the Transforming Teaching project housed at Harvard University, offers a picture that broadly captures the main challenge in building quality teaching.

Above copied from From Quicksand to Solid Ground
The title of the paper is actually quite catchy, but it appropriately describes the current predicament of the teaching profession. This paper may be specifically referring to the situation in the United States, but the problems stated here are in fact much more pervasive in the Philippines. The points necessary for true professional development suggested by Mehta and coworkers are actually no different from what was shown by the principals and teachers at Mason Crest Elementary School. The following was highlighted in the concluding remarks of the paper:

Above copied from From Quicksand to Solid Ground

Most of education research and reform focus on the curriculum, on standards of learning, on a wish list. Somehow, teachers are expected to miraculously hear about these new goals and magically apply the new expectations in their classrooms. Although there is great effort spent in crafting what students need to learn, there is no corresponding effort made in producing lesson plans and activities that will help reach these goals. There is neither an avenue nor opportunity for teachers to read, discuss and try these new ideas. Worse, lesson plans and activities may be found on the internet, but most of these have not been vetted. From Quicksand to Solid Ground therefore concludes "providing teachers time within the school day to consider research, address student work, reflect on individual practice, and process all of this with colleagues could go a long way toward advancing the integration of knowledge into classroom practice."

Even with research-based evidence, transferability remains an issue since no two classes are identical, no two students are alike. Teaching has a very intimate and responsive social dimension. For this reason, research and development must include the teacher. Teaching requires both ideas and experience. These could only be achieved with teachers given the time and opportunity to sit down and talk with each other.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Seed Needs Fertile Ground

The Commission on Elections has set the following dates, October 12 through 16 this year, for filing of candidacy. It is no surprise to see posts and news about candidates saturating both social and mass media. Among the candidates for vice president is Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of a former dictator. While in the Senate, Marcos Jr. in a press release stated the following, "the K to 12 program, which will add two years of schooling, is not an effective way to improve the quality of education in the country. Instead, raising the competency of teachers and upgrading educational materials are the keys to raising the quality of education of Filipino students."  

Reforms in education will only work with good implementation. Changes in curriculum can only be delivered to the classroom through its teachers. Teachers need to be prepared. Teachers need to be on board. Without support and engagement from the front line, education reforms are bound to fail. For this reason, empowering teachers is crucial. Teachers' empowerment, however, cannot happen automatically for it requires both time and opportunity.  A sound and responsive school leadership, in the hands of a principal, is a must. Teachers need to work together as teams, learn from each other, and share their skills and knowledge with others. This does not happen overnight, but for any education reform to be successful, this is required.

Mason Crest Elementary School students had no classes last Friday, October 9. The day was used by the teachers as a Professional Development and Learning Day. The photos below shared by the school on its Facebook page could provide an overview of what it takes to empower teachers. The caption accompanying these photos could give the essence of this day:
"Although there was no school for students on Friday the staff at Mason Crest continued our collective professional development and learning today. In order to honor our mission of ensuring high levels of learning for our students the adults have to continue to learn at high levels!"

In this first photo, one of the principals at Mason Crest, Sherry Shin, was starting the day's discussion with a reflection on How Do We Prioritize. This specific slide said:

How Do We Prioritize?
Given all the standards in every grade and content area, how do you decide what is most important for students to know and be able to do?

This slide alone pointed out something that most reforms had failed to acknowledge. The delivery of a curriculum, no matter how well it was designed, would never be perfect. This is quite a sobering realization. The curriculum is simply a wish list and frequently, we expect too much.

Another photo showed how teachers were sharing what they were learning from research.

But most of the photos shared were about teachers talking, discussing with each other.

The Department of Education in the Philippines would be better positioned to implement reforms if the teachers in its public schools are empowered like the teachers at Mason Crest. Teachers should come first. Otherwise, reforms are bound to fail.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

DepEd's K to 12 Has Reached the New York Times

Micaella Serrano, a 16-year old student at Batasan Hills National High School, is now spending her nights and weekends against DepEd's K to 12. An article on the New York Times starts and ends with her story.

Above copied from the New York Times

The article briefly mentions the numerous legal challenges submitted before the highest court in the Philippines. Some of these petitions are based on lack of public consultation as well as the potential loss of employment and tenure for thousands and thousands of university employees. The main point of the article, however, is the view that the government is ill prepared for the new curriculum. DepEd's K to 12 requires a tremendous amount of additional resources. For a government that cannot even provide a decent ten-year basic education program, K to 12 really sounds like a disaster of our own making.

This blog started with First Things First, an article first published in the Philippine Star. In that article, citing the two biggest problems Philippine basic education faces, (1) high dropout rates in primary and secondary schools, and (2) lack of mastery of specific skills and content as reflected in poor performance in standard tests for both Grade IV and Grade VIII (second year high school) students, I wrote :

The above article (and the other articles posted on this blog) has likewise been sharing evidence-based research on education. First Things First also highlights the lack of evidence supporting most of the changes introduced by the new curriculum from DepEd. It is therefore not surprising to see that the New York Times article ends with the following:

Above copied from the New York Times

Monday, October 12, 2015

How Much Screen Time Is Appropriate for Children?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently posted an article on its magazine addressing the issue of how parents should manage their children's exposure and usage of technology at home. The themes explored in the article begin with the realization that with a device, children are actually doing the same things as in other environment such as playing, reading, communicating, or getting entertained. The main difference lies only in the medium. With a smart device, it is either purely virtual or merely online, not face-to-face.  Thus, figuring out how much screen time is appropriate for children should be guided similarly as determining how much time should a child be allowed to spend in a playground, if the screen time is about playing.

Above copied from
Ari Brown, M.D., FAAP, Donald L. Shifrin, M.D., FAAP and David L. Hill, M.D., FAAP, "Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use", AAP NEWS Vol. 36 No. 10 October 1, 2015, pp. 54 (doi: 10.1542/aapnews.20153610-54)
Screen time can become isolating. As in watching television, parents need to be involved. Viewing a show together can enhance social interactions between children and parents. Playing a video game together is really no different from playing a board game. Taking turns, being polite, and showing good sportsmanship can likewise be learned on the screen.

With technology increasingly penetrating our daily routines, it is necessary for children to become acquainted with these applications. Children who never learned to ride a bike or who have never experienced going down a slide may easily stand out among their peers. The same can hold true for technology.

With any medium, content is important. There is no denying that technology could offer access to so much information.

With the above in mind, the following is a tentative list of suggestions (These are copied from Growing Up Digital:Media Research SymposiumAmerican Academy of Pediatrics, October 2015):

  • Set limits at every age. Limit-setting is key in digital media use — just like in diet, behavior, sleep, and parenting in general. Parenting strategies are the same across various environments, including screen media. 
  • Avoid displacement. When using digital media, caregivers should consider what it is displacing, and strive to maintain protected time for conversation, play, and creativity. 
  • Address digital etiquette. Children and young adults must learn that online interactions should follow the same social guidelines as face-to-face encounters. Conversations about appropriate content, etiquette, empathy, and safety should occur early to provide a foundation for all digital media use. 
  • Engage in using digital media together. Parents were advised to let their children show them what they are doing online; this helps children feel empowered and helps the parent learn while both are engaged. While classic parent-child activities like reading a story or playing a game look different in digital formats, it remains important to value time spent together. 
  • Create definitive media-free zones. Create media-free zones such as during meal times and at bedtime, and set aside specific days or hours as “media-free” periods. Parents should also eliminate background TV, which dramatically reduces conversation or “talk time” with children. 
  • Model media behaviors. Adults need to be attentive to their own personal digital media use (or over-use). Parents and other caregivers may ignore their children when using their own devices, and parental behavior provides strong modeling for children’s behavior, including adult digital media use. 
The last one is especially important. Adults likewise forget rules of courtesy and respect when they are online. Just because one is on Facebook for example, it does not mean we could be disrespectful, inconsiderate or bullying.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Are Public School Teachers in the Philippines Asked to Pass Everyone?

There is a year-old open letter posted in the blog Definitely Filipino that has found its way once again in social media. The letter is addressed to the secretary of education in the Philippines, Bro. Armin Luistro. Since the additional pay a teacher may receive depends on given measures, it seems that schools are tailoring its policies to game the system. For instance, performance based bonuses are fueling the need to keep dropout or retention rates in schools low. The letter therefore talks about the perception that mass promotion is encouraged in public schools in the Philippines.

Above copied from Definitely Filipino

Of course, there is no specific memorandum from the Department of Education in the Philippines that dictates mass promotion. DepEd Order No. 73. S. 2012 provides the steps that need to be taken when students fail. It is described in one short paragraph within the 125-page memo:

The following is my opinion as posted previously in this blog:
...As demonstrated in this blog through numerous articles, poorer learning outcomes correlate strongly with poverty and shortages in resources. Thus, it is only expected that failing students are going to be more common in schools that are overcrowded, under-resourced, and poorly staffed. These schools are likewise employing multiple shifts and large pupil to teacher ratios because of lack of classrooms and teachers. Thus, it is in these schools that DepEd expects teachers to find extra time to help struggling students. It is in these schools where there are not enough classrooms that low achieving students are expected to undergo remediation after class hours. It is in these schools where teachers are overworked that teachers are required to spend extra time with poor students. It is in these schools where there are gross shortages in resources that students are required to take summer classes. This only shows how seriously DepEd considers learning outcomes in its new curriculum. DepEd is not serious at all. Teachers are smart enough to see what the memo really says. If the actions required with retention are impossible then the teachers are correct in interpreting the order as mass promotion.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Are We Teaching Poor Children Less Math?

Obviously, there is inequity in society. If such inequity also exists in education then the effects of poverty in schools are likely to be magnified. This unequal treatment can in fact start at the curriculum level. Children from affluent families can be given access to a richer and deeper instruction while those from poor families are provided less. This may sometimes happen in differentiated instruction, but is nearly guaranteed to manifest in academic tracking. Differentiated instruction often aims at addressing the needs of a student thereby alleviating inequity. On the other hand, academic tracking is deciding the content and skills to be taught based on a perceived ability of a student. Students from poor families usually have weaker background preventing them to qualify for higher academic tracks.

The Opportunity To Learn (OTL) can be quantitatively measured by examining the curriculum. This factor is separate from resources such as learning materials, teachers and infrastructure. Yet, OTL alone has been shown to correlate strongly with gaps in performance. Schmidt and coworkers have recently examined the data from PISA 2012 to measure how access to content relates to academic achievement. Their findings are summarized in a graph they provide in the journal Educational Researcher:

Above copied from
William H. Schmidt , Nathan A. Burroughs , Pablo Zoido , and Richard T. Houang. The Role of Schooling in Perpetuating Educational Inequality: An International Perspective.
Educational Researcher, Vol. XX No. X, pp. 1–16 DOI: 10.3102/0013189X15603982 © 2015 AERA. http://er.aera.net
The above are "between schools". The Netherlands, for example, is characterized by schools that differ greatly from each other in what is taught. This difference comes with a large performance gap between schools. Schools that teach deeper content produce better learning outcomes while schools that teach less have students showing weaker performance. This, of course, should not be surprising. Finland, as shown in the above figure, is a good example of equity in education. In this country, schools are quite uniform. What should not be missed here is the fact that students in Finland also perform quite well in international standardized exams, which clearly demonstrates that both excellence and equity can be achieved at the same time. The OTL gap in the United States is actually below the average. However, when "within a school" data are considered, the United States ranks second (only Spain has a higher inequity) in OTL gap, indicating that unequal access to content is happening right inside a school. The data here correspond to students who are 15 to 16 years old so it is safe to assume that the OTL gap considered in this study occurs in high school. The Washington Post quotes one of the authors of the study, William H. Schmidt:
“There’s a certain amount of tracking that still goes on. A lot of it is what I call shell games. If you look at transcripts, you’ll see a school offers 10 different kinds of Algebra classes — Algebra 1, Algebra A, B and C and so on. And a parent thinks, ‘Oh, my kid is doing fine, he’s taking Algebra.’ But upon closer examination, that student is getting something different. And it’s showing up in our analysis quite strongly.”
Interestingly, there is another study that has been recently published in another journal from the American Educational Research Association. The paper, "Opportunities for Learning Math in Elementary School: Implications for SES Disparities in Procedural and Conceptual Math Skills", published in the American Educational Research Journal shows that such inequity in curriculum does not exist in elementary schools. The following is an excerpt from the study's conclusions:
However, in the current analysis from a large, multisite sample of third- and fifth-grade classroom observations, low SES children were receiving comparable, if not higher, amounts of math and science instruction than their middle- to higher-SES classmates. It is unclear whether these differences in findings across studies are due to differences in grades, sample demographics, and/or data sources (teacher report vs. observation) since there is a lack of available evidence in the extant literature that examines SES disparities in opportunities to learn math during late elementary school. However, the descriptive data from this study did not point to wide disparities in formal learning opportunities between lower and higher SES children despite persistent achievement gaps.
One must keep in mind, however, that the comparisons made so far in both studies are limited to Opportunities To Learn. Additional inequities can arise from the quality of teachers, learning materials, and school climate. What is seen clearly here, by simply examining the curriculum, is that schools in the United States are actually not reducing but exacerbating social inequality. The situation is only worse in the Philippines where academic tracking is not frowned upon but mandated as a feature of the new DepEd K to 12 curriculum.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What Do Those Slippers Really Mean?

Actually, in the photograph below, Jesse Robredo is sitting on a sidewalk with other men barefoot. In wearing slippers or going barefoot, there is an obvious sense of humility. What should not be missed in this picture is that Robredo is sitting with other men. It is a humbleness that is rooted in recognizing that the challenges and victories in life are shared. Robredo's slippers need to be understood in the proper context of his ideal of allowing and encouraging citizen participation in government decision making. This ideal is best appreciated in Robredo's approach to solving problems in basic education.

Photo copied from Team Robredo

Robredo served as mayor of Naga City for three consecutive terms starting in 1989 and another three consecutive terms from 2001. Naga City was home to schools that were apparently ranked first in the Bicol region based on results of National Achievement Tests. Robredo, however, noticed that the ranking was actually hiding something very dismal. Naga City's mean performance score was way below 50 percent. Students from the city were giving the wrong answers more than half the time. Robredo realized how important it was to acknowledge that there was a serious problem.

Michael Scharff of Princeton University wrote the following in a case study for Innovations for Successful Societies:
...The Ford Foundation—a major international donor—approached Robredo in 2001 with the idea of stimulating citizen involvement in the decisions made by local school boards, which had the final say on most local education matters, including spending. Until that time, school boards had been small, insular groups led by superintendents who were appointed by the Department of Education in Manila. With the assistance of the Ford Foundation, Robredo broadened the membership of the school boards to include parents and teachers and educated the community about the most pressing needs in the schools. As a consequence, communities played a greater role in prioritizing the needs at each school and deciding where to target funds. This in turn led to, among other things, better quality textbooks and improved student performance, as measured by standardized test scores....
To appreciate what this reform has accomplished, the following is an excerpt from a Request for Application (RFA) from USAID:

In one of the most successful cases of the transformative impact of education decentralization, Naga City showed a massive increase in the performance of its students in the National Achievement Test. From 38.1 mean percentage score in 2000 (a year before governance reforms were introduced by its mayor), the scores jumped by more than 12 points to 50.58 in 2004, and a further ten points to 60.10 in 2005. 
Synergeia describes Jesse Robredo's education reform with the following paragraph:
In the case of Naga City, the community supplied the inputs that can influence learning which the DepEd could not provide. Barangay officials took charge of security of children and schools. They served as lookouts for children who were dropping out. Members of the Kabataang Baranggay contributed to the provision of textbooks. And long before the “Pantawid Pamilya" became a national program, Mayor Robredo already instituted an incentive system for indigent parents to send their children to school. For every day that the child was in school, the child got one ganta of rice or two cavans of rice for a perfect attendance during the school year. His mother also got a premium for attending PTA meetings. She took home another ganta of rice. “I will not prescribe any template”, Mayor Robredo said. “You are in the best position to design your own templates because you understand your own terrain and can introduce the needed innovations.” He cited another example where children in a school that was located at the foot of Mt. Isarog did not go back to school after lunch because of the distance between their homes and the school. The city started a feeding program to keep the children in school.
Good governance goes much farther than wearing slippers. In basic education, like any other government's responsibility, acknowledging the problems is the first step. The next step is empowerment. In education, it is the empowerment of teachers and parents.

Note: A previous post in this blog, "Jesse M. Robredo on the Role of Local Government in Basic Education", presents Robredo's own vision for a local school board.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

World Teachers' Day - 2015

A teacher's intangible yet priceless reward is witnessing an appreciation from his or her pupils. A picture of a teacher receiving symbols of gratitude is indeed an inspiring sight to behold. Across many countries, inside schools, World Teacher's Day 2015 is going to be celebrated with the expected demonstration of thankfulness for those who are tasked with the noble mission of preparing the young for society.

An elementary school teacher with a bouquet of flowers (Courtesy of Ibaba Elementary School, Paete, Laguna, Philippines)
This year's celebration of World's Teachers' Day attempts to go much farther than merely acknowledging the vital role played by educators worldwide. The theme for this year is Empowering Teachers: Building Sustainable Societies.

World's Teachers' Day 2015

The specific message for this year's celebration is nicely summarized in the following statement:

Teachers should be empowered through the provision of decent working conditions, well-resourced, safe and healthy working environments, trust, professional autonomy and academic freedom.

Empowering teachers requires much more than giving teachers flowers. Teachers do deserve the recognition for their immense contribution to society. However, teachers can not fulfill their job if they are not equipped. We can honor our soldiers for example by recognizing them with parades and celebrations but empowering them means providing excellent training and equipment.

Empowering teachers first involves proper training. Higher education institutions must take teacher training as a serious endeavor with far reaching consequences. Teachers who receive low quality education in colleges cannot contribute positively to basic education. Empowering teachers therefore must begin at providing quality education to future teachers. Fresh graduates from teaching colleges need mentoring. They need support as they face a classroom of young minds for the first time. Right from the start and throughout their career, teachers' working conditions need to be decent. These conditions must match the responsibilities teachers assume for the benefit of society. Teachers need salaries that are adequate so that they can devote their full attention and time to students. Teachers have to be entrusted so that they can appropriately respond to the needs of every student. This requires no less than autonomy and freedom. Only with responsibility can a teacher truly be empowered to be creative, resourceful and innovative. This, of course, is a necessary ingredient for a sustainable society.

Yes, we must show our deepest appreciation and gratitude to our teachers. But we must likewise keep in mind that teachers need so much more than just our thankfulness. Teachers need our support. Otherwise, teachers cannot serve as the shining stars we expect and need in every classroom.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Promised Versus Delivered

What matters to basic education is not what a government legislates, but what a government actually delivers.

Above copied from UNESCO


Above copied from EFA Global Monitoring Report (2015)
Above copied from EFA Global Monitoring Report (2015)
Above copied from Philippines Education for All 2015 Assessment
Above copied from Philippines Education for All 2015 Assessment
Above copied from Philippines Education for All 2015 Assessment