"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

Monday, November 30, 2015

Senior High School Years

Analyzing the additional years of DepEd's K to 12 requires careful attention to details. For instance, proponents of the new curriculum are always quick to cite that the Philippines is the last country in Asia and one of only three countries in the world with a 10-year pre-university program. Unfortunately, such statement does not cover what is truly missing in Philippine basic education and what other countries are really doing. Without this thoughtful consideration, DepEd's K to 12 manages only to address the number of years but not the real challenges Philippine basic education faces.

Education programs can be uniformly classified using UNESCO’s International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED). ISCED 2011 has nine levels of education, from level 0 to level 8:

• ISCED 0: Early childhood education
• ISCED 1: Primary education
• ISCED 2: Lower secondary education
• ISCED 3: Upper secondary education
• ISCED 4: Post-secondary non-tertiary education
• ISCED 5: Short-cycle tertiary education
• ISCED 6: Bachelor’s or equivalent level
• ISCED 7: Master’s or equivalent level
• ISCED 8: Doctoral or equivalent level

ISCED 0-4 therefore represent pre-university education. ISCED 1-3 (primary and secondary education) takes 11-13 years to complete, with 12 being the most common. Thus, the old ten-year curriculum with kindergarten (K-10) is 11 years, which is on the low side, but not outside of this range. The old ten-year curriculum does not have a clear delineation between lower and upper secondary education. The Philippines, however, is not the only country in which a straightforward mapping of the educational system to ISCED is challenging. Neither does the United States' K-12 system. K-12 in the US, first of all, comes in different flavors depending on the state. The following is a figure that attempts to align the US education system to ISCED:

Above copied from EducationGPS
What schools in the state of Virginia follow is encircled in red. The classification clearly is something beyond years.

"The ISCED level reflects the degree of complexity and specialisation of the content of an education programme, from foundational to complex."

The difference between ISCED 2 (junior high school) and ISCED 3 (senior high school) clearly lies in depth and specialization. Years 10-12, for instance, in the United States' K-12 are the years for Biology, Chemistry and Physics, and these are taught by subject experts. The old curriculum through which I received my high school diploma covered these subjects in Years 8-10. Thus, what is actually short or missing in the old curriculum of Philippine basic education is the lower secondary, or as compared against United States' K-12, middle school. The old curriculum is therefore highly inclusive when it comes to upper secondary education.

The following is a paragraph from OECD's Education at a Glance 2015:
Upper secondary education, which consolidates students’ basic skills and knowledge through either an academic or a vocational pathway, aims to prepare students for entry into further levels of education or the labour market, and to become engaged citizens. In many countries, this level of education is not compulsory and can last from two to five years. What is crucial, however, is providing education of good quality that meets the needs of the society and the economy.
The additional senior high school years of DepEd's K to 12 are clearly aiming at ISCED 3. The new curriculum therefore places the first ten years into ISCED 1 and 2. This shift unfortunately causes a huge problem in equity as the senior high school years exist in different strands. These senior high school years are also not available for all.

There is clearly an emphasis on the vocational track as this track is the most widely available. Vocational tracks also come in different specialties so the senior high school years are really far from being uniform. Students from other countries tend to prefer an upper secondary education that is academic or general, and not vocational.

What learning outcomes these senior high school years would bring are likewise unclear, yet, how DepEd's approach misses what is really necessary to address problems in Philippine basic education is crystal clear. The following comes from OECD's International Workshop: Taking Stock of Progress in Overcoming School Failure. It outlines what is necessary to alleviate the biggest problem basic education systems worldwide face: school dropouts.

In the report, OECD also mentions what actually works:

None of the above has been taken by the Philippines' DepEd. It is true that upper secondary education improves one's earnings and employment. OECD's Education at a Glance 2015 reports the following:

One, however, must take note that the number of years is not enough. The literacy and numeracy proficiency levels are the ones that make the difference. In addition, readiness to use information and communication technology (ICT) is a plus.

Upper secondary education in most countries is NOT COMPULSORY. That is actually quite obvious among other countries in the following figure:

This allows greater focus on quality and not quantity. Specifically, this enables governments to deliver a higher quality primary education which then equips students with whatever is necessary to complete basic education.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Class Size and Learning Time

The latest report from the OECD, Education at a Glance, released on November 24, 2015, provides data regarding the state of education in various countries. One of the chapters in this report deals with class size and its relationship to learning. The report states, "larger classes are correlated with less time spent on actual teaching and learning and with more time spent on keeping order in the classroom... ...Specifically, one additional student added to an average size class is associated with a 0.5 percentage-point decrease in time spent on teaching and learning activities...."

The following is the figure that captures this finding:

Above copied from
OECD (2015), "Indicator D2 What is the Student-Teacher Ratio and How Big are Classes?", inOECD, Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2015-31-en
The Philippines is not included in the above study, but one can extrapolate where Philippine basic education currently stands. From a Rappler article by Jee Y. Geronimo published near the start of the current school year, the following class size can be used:

Extending the chart from OECD....

Add to this picture the widespread instances during which teachers are doing something else besides teaching to either augment their income or perform other assigned tasks, and the fact that instruction time has been cut short to accommodate multiple shifts, it is highly likely that only about half of the time inside classrooms is spent on teaching and learning.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving: A Story for All Children to Hear

Yatibaey Evans writes a thought-provoking article on Thanksgiving in the New York Times. Her first paragraph talks about the dark yet truthful side of American history. She is making the case of teaching children not just the sugar-coated events but also the failures and injustices of our past. A fuller picture in Evans' opinion may in fact shine light on lessons children should learn. Evans is currently the president-elect of the National Indian Education Association. She writes the article through the thoughts of her seven-year old son.

Above copied from the New York Times
I was born in the Philippines. Growing up, I have been taught a thing or two regarding European colonists. It is not a happy story.

After finishing college and teaching for two years, I went to Chicago for my graduate studies and that was the time I was introduced to the Thanksgiving holiday. These past few weeks, even in the Karate school of my son, the master was taking time to teach the children that Thanksgiving was a time for working together and helping each other. Obviously, there are quite plenty to be taught about Thanksgiving.

My children, a 9-year old and a 6-year old, learned about this holiday this week from A Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving,

and This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers.

The first movie shows how Charlie Brown tries to serve a Thanksgiving meal to his friends. The meal includes popcorn, toast, jelly beans, and pretzels. A little boy cannot really prepare turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Yet, the story ends with the lesson that Thanksgiving is not all about eating but more about being thankful.

The second movie recreates the journey and struggles of the Plymouth pilgrims of 1620. CommonSenseMedia writes:
Also starring the Peanuts gang, The Mayflower Voyagers doesn't quite capture the whimsy of earlier Charlie Brown specials, but its historical tale should interest older kids: It's a more-or-less factual account of the Mayflower voyage that does not sugarcoat the death and sickness many of the Pilgrims faced when on the ship and when they landed in the "New World." Pilgrims are shown with muskets, and Native Americans are shown with spears.
Both kids enjoyed the movie and I am quite amazed that my son remembered the characters: Samoset, Squanto and Massasoit from the Native American side, and Captain John Smith and Myles Standish from the Pilgrims' side.

How we celebrate Thanksgiving now, and what we want our children to remember on this occasion, in my opinion, are nicely captured in these Charlie Brown's stories. It is a day to be thankful. A Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers of this blog.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why DepEd's K to 12 Is Not Education for All

DepEd's K to 12 adds two years to high school and its enabling act, Republic Act 10533 increases the number of years of compulsory education to thirteen from the six years of compulsory elementary education prescribed by the country's constitution. Public basic and compulsory education implies full responsibility of the government. Basic education means it should be available for all. Looking at what is available tells an entirely different story. It truly says a lot more about how the Philippine government has abandoned its task of providing basic education to all.

Jaq Eroles recently wrote an article for the Philippine Online Chronicles:

In the article, Eroles provides data on what type of Senior High School years are in fact available for students. Eroles uses text to relate the data. However, it maybe useful to translate these numbers into figures.

For the National Capital Region (NCR), out of 10 high schools, only 7 are able to offer Technical-Vocational-Livelihood track.

Only 7 out of 10 high schools in the National Capital Region are able to offer the Tech-Voc track. The Tech-Voc track, of course, comes in so many flavors and the choices are in fact limited. For instance, Eroles cites that "In Commonwealth High School, which has a total student population of 8,045 and ranked as 6th most populous school in NCR, the only available SHS track is TVL with specializations in Beauty/Nail Care (NC II), Wellness Massage (NC II)/Hairdressing (NC II); Bread and Pastry Production (NC II)/Food and Beverage Services (NC II)/Bartending (NC II); and Tailoring (NC II)/Dressmaking (NC II)."
With regard to college preparation, the situation is worse, only 4 out of 10 schools in NCR can offer the General Academic track.

For the same region, only 3 out of 10 schools can offer either the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) or the humanities strand.

Out of ten high schools only one can offer all tracks for senior high school.

The choices are severely limited and it is obvious that this is not education for all. The total numbers for the entire country are even far disconcerting. Out of 500 high schools, only one can in fact offer DepEd's K to 12 curriculum.

For every 500 high schools in the Philippines, only one school can really offer DepEd's K to 12 Senior High School curriculum

I hope the above picture makes it clear. This is the most blatant demonstration of a government requiring something that it cannot provide. It is appalling.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pearson and Ayala: Profiting from DepEd's K to 12?

Teach100 collects blogs on education and among its top five sites is Alan Singer's entries on Huffington's Post. The most recent post by Singer talks about a "scary story" from the Philippines.

Above copied from Teach100
Above copied from Huff Post Education

Singer starts his article by citing Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg. Huffington Post has also recently shared a video on Finnish schools, highlighting their differences from schools in the United States:

Finnish schools are doing something right.Video: Fatherly
Posted by The Huffington Post on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Of course, the differences between schools in the Philippines and from those in Finland are much more dramatic. For instance, the way teachers in the Philippines are treated compares miserably with how Finland treats its teachers.

Above copied from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Philippines

Another glaring difference is the inability of the Philippine government to provide basic education to all. There are no private schools for basic education in Finland. On the other hand, the Philippine government encourages participation of the private sector through its Government Assistance for Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) program.

With the introduction of senior high school years in DepEd's K to 12 curriculum and the inability of the Philippine government to provide these additional years, a marketability opportunity for profit now exists. Singer's article in the Huffington Post basically distills a paper written by Curtis B. Riep of the University of Alberta, Canada for Education International. The paper entitled, Corporatised Education in the Philippines: Pearson, Ayala Corporation and the Emergence of Affordable Private Education Centers (APEC), has the following abstract:

Above copied from Corporatised Education in the Philippines
Singer summarizes the 49-page report with the following paragraph:
Riep documents a looming educational crisis in the Philippines and highlights a government that ignores its responsibilities. Currently, hundreds of thousands of Filipino youth remain out of secondary school. APEC claims it will provide a low cost solution and make money at the same time by using cost-cutting measures such as placing classrooms in office buildings instead of schools and hiring an under-qualified non-accredited low-paid teaching staff. Pearson and Ayala will invest about $8.5 million between 2013 and 2018 to set up 50 low-cost private high schools.
Riep also provides photographs that describe in so many words what these Affordable Private Education Centers really are. One of these photographs is shown here. These classrooms are rented spaces from abandoned commercial buildings.

Above copied from Corporatised Education in the Philippines
Singer connects what Pearson and Ayala are doing in Philippine Basic Education to what Sahlberg calls Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM). The acronym is appropriate because this education business model is really a plague.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

How Does Formative Assessment Help in Learning

Formative assessment is not supposed to be just another buzz word in education. It is gathering of information on a regular basis regarding what students are learning and what students need. There is no doubt that such exercise is necessary to make a good connection between teaching and learning. Formative assessment unfortunately becomes a sound bite if it is taken as a magic bullet independent of other factors that define quality teaching. Formative assessment alone cannot improve learning as its effectiveness depends on other more traditional features associated with quality teaching.

In a paper published in the American Educational Research Journal, a group of German researchers has shown the important relationship between formative assessments and the more general features of quality teaching. The study involves 28 teachers and 551 third grade students from 18 public elementary schools in Germany who are learning a specific topic in science, floating versus sinking. The research is a randomized controlled study that measures the effect of formative assessments on students' learning outcomes with a careful consideration of the following general features of quality teaching:

  • Cognitive Activation or Instructional Support - How well does a teacher choose or develop strategies that specifically address students' current understanding
  • Supportive Climate or Emotional Support - How positive is the relationship does the teacher try to foster with students
  • Classroom Management or Classroom Organization - How clear are the procedures and rules inside the classroom

The results indicate that formative assessment provides benefits to student learning with Cognitive Activation and a Supportive Climate:

Above copied from
Jasmin Decristan, Eckhard Klieme, Mareike Kunter, Jan Hochweber,Gerhard B├╝ttner, Benjamin Fauth, A. Lena Hondrich, Svenja Rieser, Silke Hertel,and Ilonca Hardy. Embedded Formative Assessment and Classroom Process Quality: How Do They Interact in Promoting Science Understanding?American Educational Research Journal December 2015 52: 1133-1159, first published on August 14, 2015 doi:10.3102/0002831215596412

First, the two groups (without and with formative assessment) do not show any significant difference between high and low quality classroom management. In other words, classroom management seems to be an independent factor. On the other hand, there is obviously an interplay between formative assessment and the other two features of quality teaching, cognitive activation and supportive climate. Without formative assessment, a responsive and caring teacher does not increase student learning. This makes sense since a teacher cannot really be that responsive without knowing the students. Formative assessment therefore provides teachers with the necessary information for deciding what instructional support to employ. The interplay with supportive climate probably occurs at the other end. It indicates that care must be taken when employing formative assessments. The following are additional insights provided by the authors. One must take note that the authors have developed the study from the ground and actualy trained the teachers for this study. Thus, the following are well-informed opinions and therefore should be taken seriously:
"It should be noted that in our study the diagnostic tests and semistructured student feedback sheets given to the teachers had been designed for implementation in the curriculum. The standardized materials for the use of embedded formative assessment in class had been developed to examine students’ current level of conceptual understanding and to guide future teaching and learning. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the intervention varied with the quality of classroom processes. Thus, it can be speculated that training teachers in the use of embedded formative assessment in class and providing them with high-quality materials is necessary but not sufficient to ensure appropriate use in the classroom. Rather, our results indicate that the effectiveness of embedded formative assessment for student learning depends on how the teacher supports students and how he or she keeps them cognitively active during lessons... These global factors of classroom process quality are not necessarily improved by providing assessment tools and teacher training in formative assessment practices...."
Formative assessments can work but they do require good teachers. The authors also add the fact that in this study, content is defined and made uniform in all classes. Without doubt, content-related factors likewise play a very important role. A teacher who is able to stretch and extend the subject matter to specifically address the needs and and take advantage of the strengths of the students can bring even greater effectiveness to formative assessments.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How Effective Are College-level Courses in High School?

DepEd's K to 12 senior high school years come in different tracks. One track is called the academic track which comes in four different strands, Business, Accountancy, Management (BAM); Humanities, Education, Social Sciences (HESS); Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM); and General. There are other tracks in senior high school: Technical-Vocational Livelihood, Sports, and Arts and Design. Regardless of track, the senior high school years are advertised to make each student college-ready. This of course suggests that the specialized subjects within the academic tracks are "college-level".

For the finalized strands, please visit DepEd's Academic Track
It is therefore useful to examine the effectiveness of taking college-level courses in high school. Fortunately, this question can be addressed by looking at educational systems that already offer college-level courses in secondary school. The United States K-12 system is one great source of data for this inquiry. High school students in the US are given the opportunity to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The AP program permits US high school students to take introductory college-level courses. With this program, students may also receive college credit by passing a standardized exam administered after the course.

Albeit the data are available, it is not straightforward to compare students who have taken these AP courses against those who have not. Enrolling in an AP course goes through a selection process. It should not be surprising to see at first that AP takers in general perform better academically. Thus, to make the comparison valid, a propensity matching must first be done. In this procedure, only those students who share similar characteristics would be included in the comparison so that differences can be safely attributed to taking an AP course or not, and not some other reason.

Such a study have been performed and the results have been published in the Journal of Educational Research. The abstract of the paper is as follows:


The Advanced Placement (AP) program is an educational program that permits high school students to take introductory college-level courses and receive college credit by passing a standardized end-of-course exam. Data were obtained from a statewide database of 2 high school graduating cohorts (N = 90,044). We used a series of propensity score analyses and marginal mean weighting through stratification to examine the impact of the AP program on students' academic achievement as measured by ACT scores. Results indicate that merely enrolling in an AP course produces very little benefit for students. Students who take and pass the AP exam, however, obtain higher ACT scores, even after controlling for a wide variety of academic, socioeconomic, and demographic variables. The authors conclude the article by discussing aspects of the AP program that remain unanswered.
The last three sentences of the above abstract are clearly stating the findings of this study. Merely taking an AP course does not mean improved college readiness. The benefits only appear if a student also chooses to take the exam. And more importantly, only if such student passes that exam. A student who has taken an AP course but has failed in the exam likewise does not perform better than a student who has not taken an AP course. What this means is that the quality of an AP course is extremely important. Since it is clear that only those who have passed the exam at the end of the course benefits, it is obvious that not all high schools can possibly deliver such a beneficial academic experience. When something does not produce its intended outcome, it is really just a waste of time, resources and money from students, parents, teachers, schools and taxpayers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Phases of the Moon

My son and I were gazing at the moon last night. My son's grade 4 class is currently studying the different phases of the moon. Although we regularly see the moon's appearance in the sky change over the course of every month, this concept is actually quite complex and misconceptions are quite common. For one, it is tempting to explain that the earth is casting its shadow over the moon. In one study involving preservice teachers, it is found that nine out of ten hold an alternative conceptual understanding of the reason behind the different phases of the moon.

The moon last night (11/16/2015) over Annandale, Virginia
There are videos available on the internet that attempt to explain the phases of the moon. Below is one example from the National Science Teachers Association

The video clearly states the necessary facts to help understand the different phases of the moon: First, the moon orbits the earth, and second, half of the moon - the one facing the sun is always illuminated. Unfortunately, the above does not address directly common misconceptions such as the earth casting a shadow on the moon. People, after all, are aware of eclipses.

Above copied from PBS Learning Media
To see that an eclipse is a unique configuration of the earth, moon and sun, the following fact must be introduced. The moon's orbit does not lie on the same plane as the earth's orbit around the sun:

Above copied from The Science Geek
Thus, clearing the misconception may actually require much more than just watching a video that attempts to explain the different phases of the moon. In a recent article in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, one promising approach is offered: Have teachers design a "slowmation" of a model that explains the various phases of the moon. The authors use the following elements to decide whether a teacher has correctly understood this phenomenon.

One finding this study has made is that through this exercise, teachers begin to see the importance, for example, of keeping in mind the relative sizes of the earth, moon and sun. The following is the earth compared against the moon:

Above copied from Wikimedia
We often see the statement that the moon's diameter is about one-fourth of that of the earth. One fourth, however, is along one dimension only. In terms of volume, one fourth can easily translate into one sixty-fourth. Therefore, the volume of the moon is less than 2 percent of the earth's. In terms of mass, the moon is less dense so it is only 1.2 percent of the earth's mass. The comparison between the earth and the sun is much more dramatic.

Above copied from Wikipedia
In the above picture, the planet that one could clearly see is Jupiter. Earth is represented by the small dot right below Jupiter.

Understanding the phases of the moon is indeed complex. It requires attention to correct facts. Misconceptions may not be easily addressed without dealing with the complete story. Consequently, misconceptions can be easily handed down to students explaining in part their current preponderance in society.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What Is Necessary for a Child to Learn Arithmetic

Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing whole numbers are the essentials of arithmetic. The next level in elementary schools involves fractions and decimals. When students are struggling in elementary mathematics it maybe useful to investigate what abilities correlate with the skills that are important in elementary mathematics. A recent study focusing on at risk fourth grade students from a southeastern metropolitan school district in the United States offers some clues.

The research work, Cognitive Predictors of Calculations and Number Line Estimation With Whole Numbers and Fractions Among At-Risk Students, first looks at the following measures.

  • Incoming calculation skills 
  • Nonverbal reasoning
  • Language
  • Concept formation
  • Working memory (numerical)
  • Working memory (sentences)
  • Processing speed
  • Attentive behavior
The authors then examine which one(s) correlate with a student's performance in whole number calculation and representation on the number line.

Above copied from Math is Fun
Likewise, the same investigation is performed on fractions, calculations and their number line representation.

Above copied from Learn Zillion

And the results of the study are as follows:

Cognitive factors that correlate with whole number calculations:
  • Incoming calculation skills
  • Processing speed
  • Attentive behavior
Adding and subtracting double-digit numbers clearly depend on fluency and attention.

Cognitive factors that correlate with representing a whole number on a number line:
  • Nonverbal reasoning
  • Working memory (numerical)
The lack of overlap between number line representation and calculation indicates that these two exercises maybe requiring different abilities from a child.

Cognitive factors that correlate with calculations involving fractions:

  • Processing speed
  • Attentive behavior
  • Language
Here, incoming skills in whole number calculations do not correlate with fractions. Instead, language, primarily vocabulary and oral comprehension, now seems to matter. 

Cognitive factors that correlate with fraction representation on a number line:
  • Language
  • Nonverbal reasoning
Similar to whole numbers, nonverbal reasoning, which includes nonverbal fluid reasoning, spatial ability, and perceptual organization with pattern completion, classification, analogy, and serial reasoning, appears to be consequential. 

These findings can help teachers design interventions especially in the case of children who are struggling in math. For instance, learning how to calculate clearly requires attentive behavior. Teachers should therefore try to promote students' on task behavior and engagement in these lessons. Language seems crucial with fractions so it maybe helpful to use simple and clear words when discussing fractions. Mathematical abilities with both whole numbers and fractions obviously correlate with performance in math subjects in high school. It is thus important to address these challenges early on. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Personalities versus Policies

Philippine politics will remain in its current quagmire if we continue to discuss personalities and not the actual issues. Seeing celebrities as political candidates in the coming Philippine election leaves very little hope.

Above copied from Metro Manila Politics
Similarly, Philippine basic education will continue to deteriorate if we cling on ideology instead of evidence. A year ago, Steven J. Klees and Omar Qargha wrote in the journal Prospects a scathing comment against the World Bank:
The evidence for how private education leads to better achievement is also very weak. Despite the many studies of private schooling and student achievement (with indeterminate results), the push for privatization is based on ideology, not evidence. Some years ago, one of us attended a meeting at the World Bank, soliciting comments on a health-sector– oriented World Development Report. The Bank’s presenter pointed out that, in many poor countries, poor people chose to be treated at private health clinics for a fee instead of going to free public clinics. This was touted as evidence of the success and value of privatization. Our response was, and is, that to the contrary, this situation is simply evidence of the success of 30 years of neoliberal ideology, in which public clinics had been systematically decimated, ending up without doctors, nurses, or medicine. The same has happened in education. Privatization is supposed to help meet the growing education gap resulting from years of attacks on the public sector in many countries, but all it does is replace an attempt to develop good public policy with the vagaries of charity or the single-mindedness of profit-making.
Along this line, I would like to share a recent statement I have read from one of the groups that have filed a petition before the Supreme Court to stop K-12:

Statement on Unified Petitioners Against K-12 Mobilization 
13 November 2015️

The Council of Teachers and Staff of Colleges and Universities in the Philippines (CoTeSCUP) remains steadfast in its conviction that RA 10533, otherwise known as the K-12 Law, is unconstitutional. We believe that this law violates several provisions of the 1987 Constitution that are intended to protect parents, students, and educators, and uphold academic freedom, and relevant and meaningful education for all. We persevere in our hope that the Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court of the Philippines will find merit in all the petitions filed before the highest court, and issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the implementation of the said law.

While we support the stand of fellow petitioners under the Unified Petitioners Against K-12 (UPAK) to continue collective action for the suspension of K-12, we appeal for sobriety and stand in our conviction that our action should remain issue-based and transcend ideological partisanship. We discourage any initiative that resorts to name-calling and other strategies that take away the attention of those concerned from the core issues being raised against the said law. We uphold the rights of petitioners to their respective political beliefs, fully aware that the suspension of the K-12 Law, not common ideology, is the unifying thread that binds all petitioners. We respect the right of the government, through the Office of the Solicitor General, to respond and defend the government's position on the petitions, as we believe that in the end, the rule of law and the voice of reason will prevail in deciding on the merits of our petitions.

We reiterate our appeal to our Honorable Justices to expedite their deliberations on our petitions and issue a decision that is just and fair to all concerned sectors. We ask our Justices to recognize that time is of essence, and that the power is in their hands to prevent the disenfranchisement of thousands of students who deserve to enroll in tertiary education in June 2016. We expect the Justices' judicious and impartial act on our petitions now that the all sectors concerned have articulated their convictions and position on the said law.

Suspend K-12 Now!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Misinformation in Philippine Basic Education

Arithmetic is one of the basic subjects in elementary school. Students need to learn what it means when something doubles. Yet, the Philippine government is the first to teach wrong arithmetic. The government claims that teachers' salaries are going to double when in fact this is a gross misrepresentation.

The following is a screenshot of an official release from the Philippine government:

Above copied from the Philippine Information Agency

The title is clear but if one reads the article, the first sentence tells a different story: "Public school teachers and nurses will be paid twice more compared to their private counterparts...." Salaries are therefore not doubling.

Misinformation, however, is not the only big mistake the government is making in the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) of 2015. One glaring error is how the government equates delivery of basic education and health care to a private enterprise. With this perspective, the government then justifies raising the salaries of mid-level and executives. As a result, the Inquirer reports:
From their P9,000 a month salary, employees under Salary Grade 1 will get P11,068 monthly. At the other end of the spectrum, the next President’s salary will be raised from P120,000 a month to P388,000 by the fourth year.
To appreciate the great disparity in the numbers above, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in the Philippines has provided the following graph:

Considering public basic education as no different from a private company treats teachers as no different from factory workers. Public basic education is not a factory. A manager or supervisor can make a significant difference in the productivity of a company. A chief executive can cut production lines that are not bringing profits. A manager can select starting materials. The situation inside a public school classroom is nowhere similar from a factory. Teachers are on the front line. The teacher is one of the biggest factors in learning outcomes. Those in the mid-level, the bureaucrats, hardly have any influence on whether students are learning or not. More importantly, what a private entrepreneur is willing to pay a teacher should not be the measuring stick on how much public school teachers should be paid. Instead, what the teacher really needs to function fully should be the standard. If the government aspires for international standards in the curriculum, the government must then look at how much other countries are paying their public school teachers. And the following shows how teachers' salaries compare to those of other countries.

This graph is originally from Dolton, P. and Marcenaro-Gutierrez, O. D. (2011), If you pay peanuts do you get monkeys? A cross-country analysis of teacher pay and pupil performance. Economic Policy, 26: 5–55. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0327.2010.00257.x. It has been modified to include the Philippines.
It is therefore not surprising that teachers are voicing their frustration with this salary increase. Dr. Judy Taguiwalo, ACT National Vice-Chairperson writes:
We asked for a P25,000 monthly salary for public school teachers and P16,000 minimum for government personnel. But the yellow administration decided high ranking officials should get the biggest increases. Mad does not even come close to describing how public school teachers felt upon learning they will have less than 12% increase in 4 years while the President gets more than 220% increase.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Unified Petitioners Against K to 12

The following is a press release from the Unified Petitioners Against K to 12 in the Philippines:

Unified Petitioners Against K to 12 (UPAK) PRESS RELEASE for 13 November 2015 (Friday) rally

Anti-K to 12 rally on Friday the 13th:
Opening Salvo for anti-APEC actions in PH

The Unified Petitioners Against K to 12 (UPAK), a group formed by at least seven blocs that filed K to 12-related petitions at the Supreme Court, vowed to bring thousands of students, teachers, parents and concerned citizens together in a national rally against K to 12, to be held at the Supreme Court on November 13, as an opening salvo for further anti-APEC mobilizations in the country.

In a statement, UPAK labeled K to 12 as a “curriculum that does not fit the needs of the Philippines, imposed by First World-dominated multilateral organizations such as APEC and the World Bank, entities that usually serve the needs of industrialized countries only while perpetuating poverty and lack of development in developing nations like the Philippines.”

Pointing out that the poorest APEC-member country – Papua New Guinea – has been K to 12-compliant for years now, UPAK notes that “there’s no guarantee that adopting K to 12 will lift the Philippines from poverty.”

Thousands of students, teachers, parents, and concerned citizens from groups such as the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), Manila Science High School, Alyansa ng Mga Tagapagtanggol ng Wikang Filipino (TANGGOL WIKA), Council of Teachers and Staff of Colleges and Universities of the Philippines (COTESCUP), Suspend K to 12 Coalition, Parents’ Advocacy for Children’s Education (PACE), ACT Teachers Partylist, Makabayan Coalition, and Suspend K to 12 Alliance are set to join marches from Plaza Salamanca (at 2pm) and Manila Science High School (at 3pm) towards the Supreme Court grounds, to call upon the high court to swiftly resolve the consolidated seven (7) K to 12-related petitions.

The program will start at 3:30 pm at the Supreme Court grounds at Padre Faura, Manila.

“We want the K to 12 scheme to be declared unconstitutional because it violates the people’s right to free secondary education, teachers’ right to stable employment, workers’ and indigenous peoples’ communities’ rights to be consulted on matters affecting their interests,” said UPAK in a statement.

Furthermore, UPAK emphasized that “K to 12’s curriculum has abolished Philippine History in high school, and it also eliminated other vital subjects such as Filipino language, Literature and Philippine Government & Constitution in college. Thus, the very essence of K to 12 goes against the country’s needs and the people’s welfare. It must be also noted that far from deepening the skills of students, K to 12 has actually diluted the curriculum of science high schools in the country. Moreover, around 100,000 teachers and education sector employees may lose their jobs or have their salaries reduced because of K to 12.”

UPAK vows to “mobilize people power against this anti-student, anti-teacher, anti-worker, and anti-Filipino K to 12 program, until it is finally declared unconstitutional and junked by the Supreme Court.” ###
‪#‎UPAK‬ ‪#‎PHFightAPEC‬ ‪#‎APECtado‬

Monday, November 9, 2015

We Should Learn from Assessments

In "We Aren't Using Assessments Correctly", professor of education John Hattie quotes University of Illinois' Bob Stake: "When the cook tastes the soup, it is formative; when the guests taste the soup, it is summative." Clearly, the cook tasting what he or she is preparing helps the cook decide if the ingredients are just right or not. Both cook and guests taste yet their objectives are different. Children in the early elementary years are obviously still in the early stages of basic education. Assessments of their learning at this stage should really speak more about ourselves, the educators and teachers. But as Hattie points out, this is only possible if we know how to interpret correctly these assessments.

We could learn from assessments that have been written properly and appropriately. For this reason, a good teacher often uses tests he or she has personally written. Of course, there are those who write assessments like the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). NPR's Cory Turner and Meg Anderson have recently pointed our attention to a sampling of PARCC questions in their article "A Peek Inside: What Kids Saw On A Common Core Test". One of the examples shown is a test question for third grade children:

PARCC provides guidelines on how this test question should be scored.

PARCC also shows sample responses from students and here is one:

The question "Explain why he is wrong", as treated in the above annotation seems to imply that simply providing the correct answer to 36 divided by 9 is sufficient. However, in the rubric shown, it is suggested that the student makes an attempt on how Fred possibly has arrived at the wrong answer:
"Fred’s mistake was that he might have used the wrong multiplication fact to find his answer. He used 9 x 3 instead of 9 x 4. Because 9 x 4 = 36, then 36 ÷ 9 = 4."
Honestly, since I am not seeing Fred's detailed solution and I am not able to read's Fred's mind, I really should not be able to tell if the above explanation is correct or not. The above question is actually inappropriate for a third grade assessment.

However, the more important question is how can the above question help inform the teacher. This is third grade and the cook still has the soup in a kettle on top of a stove. It is the teacher that needs to see where his or her students are stumbling. In this case, the teacher may just find that the students are stumbling because they are not understanding questions that are vague and inappropriate.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

We Learn from Our Mistakes

Do we really learn from mistakes or does failure eventually teach us to avoid the challenge and simply give up? Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a team of cognitive neuroscientists, Stefano Palminteri, Mehdi Khamassi, Mateus Joffily, and Giorgio Coricelli found that given the chance to reflect on our mistakes, we can turn a failure into a positive rewarding experience. Their work published in the journal Nature showed that when an individual who made a mistake was given enough information to contextualize the choices he or she had made, the brain started to switch from an avoidance circuit into the positive reward-based track for learning.

With this recent finding in mind, one can look at a study published more than a year ago by Manu Kapur, head of the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education of Singapore, in the journal Cognitive Science with a fresh perspective. The study entitled Productive Failure in Learning Math compares two ways to teach math. Both have a problem-solving phase and an instruction phase. In one way (referred as Productive Failure (PF) in the paper), students are asked to solve problems before receiving direct instruction while in the other (referred as Direct Instruction (DI) in the paper), students receive instruction first before being asked to solve problems. The labels can be misleading but it should be made clear that in both cases, there is direct instruction. Omitting this important piece can easily lead a person to draw an erroneous conclusion from this paper.

Part of Kapur's study (the comparison between what the paper labels as PF and DI) involves seventy five students currently enrolled in ninth grade in a private school in the national capital region of India. These students are given initially a math test ability to ensure that the students when randomly assigned to either PF or DI are indeed equivalent. The scores used are from the standardized exam that the students had taken at the end of eight grade. The mean scores for each group are identical, eighty five percent. These students are getting the right answer in more than eight out of ten questions. These are evidently students that perform very well in mathematics. This sample may therefore not be representative of a general student population, another important point that should be considered when reading this paper.

The specific topic covered in the study is how to calculate standard deviation and what this value represents. After the two phases, instruction and problem solving, an assessment is administered to measure procedural knowledge, conceptual understanding, and transfer. The results for this part of the study are summarized in the following graph:

Above graph drawn from data provided by
Kapur, M. (2014), Productive Failure in Learning Math. Cognitive Science, 38: 1008–1022. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12107

For procedural knowledge, both groups are scoring in the nineties. And as noted by Kapur, there is a probably a "ceiling effect". Students from either PF or DI are doing so well that this component of the assessment may not have been able to distinguish between the two groups. Students who either tried solving problems before being directly taught or provided instruction first before problems are obviously proficient in calculating standard deviations as shown in this assessment. This is perhaps an outcome of having only high performing students in the sample. This consideration is important as results may easily be dramatically different if the sample includes students who have been struggling in mathematics.

The other areas tested, conceptual and transfer, do indeed show an advantage of allowing students to struggle first before directly teaching them. In this case, students are clearly given the opportunity to collect what they already know in the problem solving case. Allowing for students to fail initially give them opportunities to see a lot more options including misconceptions. Thus, when direct instruction is provided later, these students are perhaps more able to see what is being taught through their own eyes and previous struggle. Students are probably not just hearing the lecture but actually listening to learn more about where they have gone wrong in their previous attempts. The students who are taught before attempting to solve problems have been guided to do things correctly and are therefore not given the chance to make their own mistakes. In a second part of the Kapur's study, a third group of students is included in which an opportunity to see other solutions including failed ones is provided. This opportunity however does not yield the same results as when the students themselves made the mistakes. It seems learning comes only from  one's mistakes, and not from seeing mistakes done by others.

Learning by discovery is indeed deeper. After all, this is what doctoral studies are about. A PhD student spends most of his or her time solving a problem that has never been solved by anyone. In Kapur's experiment, it is clear that when such an approach is applied to ninth grade students who are proficient in math, Productive Failure yields better outcomes in conceptual understanding. For a PhD student, there is a mentor who guides and helps. This phase is important so that mistakes can be correctly analyzed and understood. In Kapur's experiment, this is the role direct instruction plays. Reading this paper should not lead a teacher to embrace fully Productive Failure and apply it to every classroom. The students in this study are all proficient in the procedural component. In general, this is often not the case. The lack of procedural competence is especially true in the earlier years of education when a child is just beginning to learn multiplication and division. During these years, failure can also be very devastating especially when children are not really given the chance to learn from their mistakes.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Learning Facts by Testing

Knowledge is built on learning facts. Even in chemistry, the fact that atoms in the gas phase can produce a line spectrum is the first step in understanding the electronic structure of atoms. Understanding history, without any doubt, hinges on learning facts. Even with Google, one could not really find pertinent information without knowledge of the correct keywords to use. Basic education therefore can not do without building a child's memory.

My son, who is in fourth grade, is currently being introduced to Virginia's history. This week's topic covers the various Native American tribes of Virginia. Right at the beginning, the challenge is obvious. The names of the tribes and the languages used look really foreign to both of us.

Above copied from VirginiaPlaces.org

The major tribes are: (1) Cherokee, who lived in the southwestern region of the state and spoke Iroquoian, (2) Monacan, who lived in the Piedmont region (central part of Virginia) and spoke Siouan, and (3) Powhatan, who lived in the tidewater or coastal plain and spoke Algonquian. The map above is colorful enough that it might just get my son's attention. Perhaps, I should also mention that Pocahontas belongs to the Powhatan tribe as that might just pique my son's interest.

A child can read and reread a piece of text to memorize facts. My son can stare at the above map. Such activities sadly are not really that inviting. Using a test to improve memory has been recommended by cognitive and educational psychologists. The pupils in a classroom can be divided into pairs, and within each pair, students can quiz each other.

There are sites online that can provide test enhanced learning. And for the topics covered in Virginia Standards of Learning in Social Studies, such sites have been collated. The page for my son's current lesson can be found through this link.

Here are the quizzes, exercises, or tests (the site calls these games) that one can reach through the links provided. The first one is a "fill in the blanks" exercise. This is actually a multiple-choice activity since for each blank there is a drop down menu from which a child can choose his or her answer.

Directions: Complete each exercise correctly and collect the coin!

The climate in Virginia is  with four distinct  cover most of the land, so Indians living in this region were called Indians.

The Indians in Virginia  the climate and the . The they ate, the  they wore, and the  they used depended on the seasons.

For each season, the Indians had a different way of gathering food.
In the winter, they hunted birds,and small animals.
In the spring, they fished and picked .
In the summer, they grew crops like , and squash.
In , they harvested crops.
The Indians made their shelters from the wood and branches all around them, and they made their clothing from 
The Indians in Virginia cared for the forests and wildlife around them, and the forests and wildlife provided all of their  - .

0 out of 1 coins collected

My son tried it once and was able to select the correct answers. And I could see that being successful in this exercise was helping him get engaged in the lesson.

The climate in Virginia is mild with four distinct seasonsForestscover most of the land, so Indians living in this region were called EasternWoodland Indians.

The Indians in Virginia adapted tothe climate and the seasons. The food they ate, the clothing they wore, and the shelters they used depended on the seasons.

For each season, the Indians had a different way of gathering food.
In the winter, they hunted birds,deer and small animals.
In the spring, they fished and picked berries.
In the summer, they grew crops like beanscorn, and squash.
In fall, they harvested crops.
The Indians made their shelters from the wood and branches all around them, and they made their clothing from animal skins
The Indians in Virginia cared for the forests and wildlife around them, and the forests and wildlife provided all of their basic needs -food, clothing, and shelter;.

1 out of 1 coins collected
Good Job!
Above copied from Quia

Then, my son went to the Millionaire game. This is a multiple choice test.

Above copied from Quia
When he reached the end, he wished he was really winning a million dollars. Then, he tried a crossword puzzle. And he was able to complete the puzzle.

Above copied from Salem City Schools
Lastly, I guessed the site saved the best at the end. My son got a chance to Fling the Teacher:

Above copied from Suffolk Teaching and Activities Resources (STAR)
Whether the above activities would help my son remains to be seen, but research in education provides a clear answer to this question. For instance, in a paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, it is shown that testing improves fact retention by about 40 percent (compared to rereading or restudying). The study includes fifty undergraduate students and representative results are shown below:

Above copied from
Testing With Feedback Yields Potent, but Piecewise, Learning of History and Biology Facts.
Pan, Steven C.; Gopal, Arpita; Rickard, Timothy C.
Journal of Educational Psychology, Oct 12 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000074