"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, December 29, 2016

Financially Disadvantaged but Academically Able

“Yet, as with all new programs, there is a need to safeguard the proper implementation of the provision of free tuition fee. It is important to underscore that we must give priority to financially disadvantaged but academically able students,”  said Philippines president Duterte as he signed the budget for 2017. This change is certainly a step in the right direction, but it still misses the fact that financial disadvantage is a primary factor in weaker learning outcomes in basic education. A significant number of poor children are academically challenged. Basic education gets a boost in next year's budget in terms of chalk allowances for teachers, but the Philippines still lacks measures similar to those of the United States that provide special funding to schools attended mostly by poor children.


Above copied from ABS-CBN
Basic education can benefit from programs in higher education if resources to train teachers especially in math and the sciences are provided. Focusing the additional funds to these areas is necessary to address the problems in elementary and high school education. Financially disadvantaged students who are interested in pursuing a career in teaching or research should be considered as top priority. Instead of spending the funds for all, one can then augment the tuition scholarship with stipends or cost of living allowances. These additional support are imperative especially for poor students who not only have difficulties paying tuition, but also find transportation, clothing and food as real daily challenges. 

President Duterte, unlike Congress, seems to understand priorities. We can only hope that he continues in the years to come. Good job and a happy new year.




Monday, December 26, 2016

Free College Does Not Mean More Graduates

Providing access to higher education is a popular idea. Unfortunately, the true benefits and more importantly, the costs of college with no tuition are seldom examined in depth. People from countries that do not provide college education free of tuition often cite European countries that do. They are quick to point out that these countries are able. But most fail to consider how stringent admissions in these colleges are as well as the rates of income tax in these countries. Furthermore, countries that do not charge tuition for college lag those that do charge in terms of the percentage of college graduates:

Above copied from OECD
In the above graph, countries with no college tuition are highlighted. Countries that do charge tuition are among those that have the highest percentage of its population with a tertiary education. The Philippines should learn from this data. The country cannot afford to pay for the college education for everyone. Its institutions of higher education are sorely lacking in quality. A college degree in the Philippines is no guarantee for a good paying job especially when the market is saturated with college graduates from schools of very low quality. The country needs a lot of infrastructure and support for its basic education system. An emphasis must be made to provide poor children access to higher education, but this starts with giving them a good basic education so that they are college-ready after completing high school. There is really no point in giving tuition-free college if poor children are not even finishing high school.



Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Christmas is for children. 
Quality basic education should be for all. 
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Condoms in School

Providing condoms in schools is controversial. Opposition is often cast in terms of the right of parents to educate their children about moral and religious values. Of course, there is really no school program that takes this right away from parents and giving out condoms in schools certainly does not take a parent's right to educate his or her child about sexual abstinence. Thus, the real opposition seems rooted in a perception that making condoms available in schools encourage sexual promiscuity. In the Philippines, plans to distribute condoms in public high schools are currently underway.

Above copied from Inquirer
The move is prompted by rising cases in AIDS in the country. Close to ninety percent of these cases involve males having sex with males. A majority of the cases suggests that the rising cases involve individuals who are not in high school (25 years of age or older). If the purpose of making condoms available in school is to curb the rising number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases, the AIDS data do not seem to support this action. It appears that the problem may be better addressed in college.

Condoms are recommended not just for protection against diseases. Condoms are of course effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy. So, perhaps, the planned condoms in schools program in the Philippines is also aimed at curbing teen pregnancies. How effective condoms are in reducing teen pregnancies, however, is still debatable. Recent research suggests that condoms in schools actually do the opposite:

The Incidental Fertility Effects of School Condom Distribution Programs
Kasey S. Buckles and Daniel M. Hungerman
NBER Working Paper No. 22322
June 2016
JEL No. J13
ABSTRACT
While the fertility effects of improving teenagers’ access to contraception are theoretically ambiguous, most empirical work has shown that access decreases teen fertility. In this paper, we consider the fertility effects of access to condoms—a method of contraception not considered in prior work. We exploit variation across counties and across time in teenagers’ exposure to condom distribution programs in schools. We find that access to condoms in schools increases teen fertility by about 10 percent. These effects are driven by communities where condoms are provided without mandated counseling.

DepEd does clarify that the program it envisions will involve counseling. The question of whether they are targeting the right segment of the population, however, remains to be addressed. With a high incidence of school leavers, teen pregnancy may be strongly correlated with dropouts and poverty. Giving condoms plus counseling may not help in this case. For this, increasing the quality of education maybe the only way to address the problem.



Monday, December 19, 2016

When Stakes Are High, We Need to Deliberate

Deliberation in legislature is an intellectual process through which information is both gathered and weighed, costs of implementation are taken into account, other options are identified, and benefits, harms, as well as unintended consequences are examined. In a manner that is almost completely whimsical, the Philippines legislature has decided to pay for the college tuition in all state universities and colleges (SUCs) for the year 2017. Eight billion pesos have been added to the higher education budget for 2017, solely earmarked to subsidize the tuition of almost one and a half million students of SUCs. Whether this goes beyond one year is unclear since this is a one time funding provided by an appropriations bill. What is crystal clear, however, is that the Philippine lawmakers can decide where billions of pesos will go, seemingly without any thoughtful deliberation.

Those who question the wisdom behind the decision to provide free college for a year are thought to be criticizing so early without giving the program a chance to prove itself. An experiment with a price tag of eight billion pesos is a very expensive experiment. This is similar to DepEd's K to 12, as economist Raul Fabella noted:
The Philippines has embarked on an enormous P150-billion project -- the K to 12 -- that is set to add as part of the basic education a mandatory kindergarten and an additional two years to the high school. The mandatory kindergarten is not contentious because there is empirical evidence that it does improve learning outcomes. It is the learning outcomes that should concern us here. I still have to see evidence (perhaps I did not look hard enough) that the additional two years of high school will improve learning performance.
Fabella, in his criticism of K to 12, advises us to consider one very important principle in economics: "Private benefit, private cost". How much higher education benefits an individual is often used as an argument for tuition fees in higher education. There is no indication that the budget reallocation to cover tuition fees is meant only for those who are in need. Thus, dismissing critics by stating that implementing rules have not been set yet are missing the fact that this was a clear budget item with no room for ambiguity. The number eight billion comes from a simple calculation of the amount needed to cover a 5000-6000 peso tuition fee in SUCs for roughly 1.5 million students. "Senator Recto, also sees no difficulty in disbursing the fund to all public universities and colleges as this will be implemented “wholesale” and not “retail spending.”" SUCs are simply going to be reimbursed based on their enrollment numbers. There are really no implementing rules that need to be written.

Another quick response to criticisms against free college tuition is the fact that a number of European countries are able to offer free college. This of course addresses the question of whether such measure is sustainable or affordable. It is good to point out that some countries are able to do so. However, one must take into account how these countries can afford such a policy. Countries like Finland and Germany have very high income tax rates. Secondly, Finland and Germany have much better basic education systems. Income achievement gaps in basic education decide who will be college-bound. In the Philippines, children from poor families are less likely to finish high school. This simply makes college with free tuition out of reach to these poor children. The enrollment data from SUCs in the Philippines clearly show that no tuition fees in college are simply skewed to benefit those who can afford to pay tuition.

Tuition fees represent only a small fraction of the real problems of higher education in the Philippines. Quality is its biggest problem. The lack of scholarly and research output is so evident in the fact that not even a handful of universities make it into the list of respectable institutions of higher learning in Asia. The dismal passing rate even in licensure exams like teaching is a testament to the low quality of undergraduate instruction in Philippines' SUCs. Providing college with free tuition does not solve this more pressing problem. Only resources for additional infrastructure and faculty development will help. Thus, paying for everyone's tuition only takes money away from much more needed resources in colleges. Worse, making college free can attract increased enrollment in SUCs, which will further stretch limited resources to answer a spike in demand.

Whether free college really benefits the poor is likewise questionable. The Philippines Statistics Authority reports that in 2010, nearly 7 million aged 17 years or older have not finished high school. More importantly, tuition is not the only cost hindering poor children from college education. There are miscellaneous fees, textbooks, and living expenses that are in fact higher than the 5000 to 6000 pesos per year tuition in SUCs in the Philippines. To help indigent students, it requires so much more than just paying for their tuition. Without additional aid in the form of stipends or allowances, subsidizing tuition alone will not help.

In any case, what is obvious is that this reallocation has occurred without a thoughtful deliberation. This is completely reckless as Detlof von Winterfeldt points out in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, USA

Any policy decision that involves one or several features below:

• important consequences
• uncertainty
• conflicting objectives
• multiple stakeholders
• complexity of the decision environment
• need for accountability

requires thoughtful deliberation. This obviously has not occurred and when criticisms are brought forth, these are even dismissed outright. Education problems in the Philippines cannot be faced without a thoughtful consideration of evidence. These deliberations are necessary. I am not alone in this comment. Antonio Contreras of De La Salle University has posted the following on Facebook.




Friday, December 16, 2016

Why Free Tuition for All State Universities and Colleges Is Bad for the Philippines

"Free college education is not free", a previous post on this blog, argues why free tuition in state universities and colleges is bad for the Philippines. It is not for the poor. "Poor students are already failing in basic education. It is then very highly unlikely for these students to even apply for college admissions. There are indeed some poor students who are able to beat the odds, and it is a lot more prudent to ensure that these students receive full scholarships and living allowances than to offer free college education to all." There is currently a huge inequity in basic education, which then guarantees that most beneficiaries of free college are not coming from families who most need assistance from the government. In effect, children from wealthy and middle-class families will be able to go to college for free on the back of tax-paying poor families who cannot even afford to have their children finish high school. Worse, to implement this at the tail of a disastrous Deped K to 12 curriculum, which introduces two additional years in high school marked with various tracks aimed at separating those who are college-bound from those who are not, will only magnify the inequity between the poor and the rich in the Philippines.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in the Philippines voiced its opinion on this issue when the Philippines Senate began its discussion on providing funds to cover tuition in state universities and colleges. CHED writes:
Given the highly inequitable structure of Philippine society—where opportunities are highly skewed against the poor and the cash strapped lower middle class—we contend that government subsidy for the deserving poor must be higher than for non-poor students... ...Underlying the free tuition proposal is the assumption that SUCs provide access mostly to the disadvantaged poor. The 2014 Annual Poverty Indicator Survey reveals that only 8 out of 100 college age students (17-24 years old) hailed from the poorest or lowest 20% of the population (first and second deciles). On the other hand, 27% of the SUC students belonged to the top 20% of the population (9th and 10th deciles). This situation suggests that a one-size fits all policy of free tuition across all SUCs, might not really benefit the poor....
Free tuition will clearly benefit the wealthy and not the poor in the Philippines. Of course, the numbers above do not include yet the damage done by DepEd's K to 12.

It is also important to reiterate the other reasons why college education free of tuition is not a good idea:
Free college education is not free. Similar to basic education, it requires input or resources, which are funded either through taxes or foreign loans. The teaching resources required for higher education are also different from those necessary for elementary and high school education. Teaching in a college or university requires scholarship, after all, higher education means exploring the frontiers of human knowledge. Higher education also differs from basic education because the former values the experience more than the degree it provides. A higher education institution is a community of teachers and scholars. The inputs necessary to support a college or university are therefore vastly different from that of basic education. The highly skilled workforce required to keep an institution of higher education running amounts to substantial costs. There are a few countries in the world that do offer college free of tuition. Ironically, these are also the same countries that have lower percentages of their population with a college degree. Both France and Germany, countries that have free colleges, have lower college-educated adults than the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Canada, countries that do not have free colleges.
The biggest problem in higher education in the Philippines is not accessibility, but quality. State universities and colleges in the Philippines badly need funds for their infrastructure, faculty and research. Higher education is not basic education. Providing free college only attracts those who already have the means to pay for college education to take advantage of this benefit. Enrollment in these institutions are therefore only expected to rise without the necessary additions and improvements in infrastructure, faculty and research. These will only further deteriorate the already sad state of higher education in the Philippines.

From a panel of top economists in the United States, more than ninety percent say that state universities and colleges free of tuition is a bad idea.

Above copied from NPR's Economists On Candidates' Proposals: Mostly Bad

Unfortunately, legislators in the Philippines do not listen to experts. First, they have destroyed Philippines basic education. Now, they are about to destroy Philippines higher education.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Are the Poor Left Behind Or Are the Rich Simply Pulling Ahead? Part 2

A post in this blog more than three years ago bears the same title, "Are the Poor Left Behind Or Are the Rich Simply Pulling Ahead?" It shows a correlation between income and achievement gaps. Children from poor families struggle academically. A recent study by Kalil and coworkers suggests that this is so much more than just a simple correlation. It is very likely a "cause and effect" relationship. Affluent families are simply providing more engaging and enriching activities to their young children. Consequently, these children enter kindergarten much more prepared than those coming from poor families.

The previous post talks about Reardon's "The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations". Figures from this paper that tell the story are as follows:

Above figure copied from Reardon, S.F. (2011). The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations. In R. Murnane & G. Duncan (Eds.), Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality and the Uncertain Life Chances of Low-Income Children. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press.
Above figure copied from Reardon, S.F. (2011). The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations. In R. Murnane & G. Duncan (Eds.), Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality and the Uncertain Life Chances of Low-Income Children. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press.

These figures demonstrate that scores in these standardized scores correlate with family income. Second, although the achievement gap between children from poor and middle class families has remained stable, the gap between wealthy and poor children seems to be widening. Reardon writes in "No Rich Child Left Behind":
The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.
Providing cognitive enriching activities to young children can definitely make the difference and the recent study published in the American Educational Research Association journal shows that indeed, there is an income gap associated with these activities:

Above copied from
Authors: Ariel Kalil (University of Chicago), Kathleen Ziol-Guest (New York University), Rebecca M. Ryan (Georgetown University), Anna J. Markowitz (Georgetown University)
Published online August 2016 in the AERA peer-reviewed journal AERA Open

Above copied from
Authors: Ariel Kalil (University of Chicago), Kathleen Ziol-Guest (New York University), Rebecca M. Ryan (Georgetown University), Anna J. Markowitz (Georgetown University)
Published online August 2016 in the AERA peer-reviewed journal AERA Open

Not only are the gaps stable over time but some are in fact rising a bit over time. What is further disconcerting is when the actual amount is examined, not just the gaps. Kalil and coworkers write, "Specifically, in 1988, an estimated 33%, 22%, and 15% of the 90th, 50th, and 10th percentiles read daily to their children, whereas in 2012, 62%, 43%, and 32% did so." It seems like parenting is now becoming a race to give further advantage to their children. Although poor families reading to their children daily have doubled from 1988 to 2012, wealthy families have done the same thing, clearly ratcheting up the competition. This does sound gloomy as we are becoming more and more competitive so I will close this post with a astatement I made in the previous post years ago. It is somewhat positive:

"The data presented are actually promising in the sense that these provide proof that helping children prepare for school is possible. The wealthy is able to do it."







Monday, December 12, 2016

We Must Go Beyond Buzz Words

Yesterday, I overheard my son arguing with his younger sister. He said, "You need a growth mindset". My son was apparently using a buzz phrase he heard from school but it turned out that he was applying it to flexibility. My daughter was apparently fixed on something, and my son was trying to coax her to consider other options. Buzz words or phrases although often technical could indeed lose their original meaning. Most frequently, the total meaning can be easily lost. One specific example, also from education, is "grit".

Above copied from Gifted with Grit
Claire Robertson-Kraft and Angela Lee Duckworth define grit as "a disposition toward perseverance and passion for long-term goals". What often drops in this total meaning is "passion" and most people then focus on perseverance. In "Grit is the buzzword among parents today. But are we focusing on the wrong thing?", Erica Reischer writes:
...grit “can be expected to be most important for goals where individuals have substantial choice. While students might be passionate about some subjects or activities, they are unlikely to be passionate about all subjects in high school. Thus, grit might be a better predictor of achievement in self-selected narrower goals, such as performance in elective courses or extracurricular pursuits.”
Reischer is quoting from a scientific study that demonstrates that grit is actually a very weak predictor of success. The study published in the Journal of Research in Personality finds conscientiousness and emotional regulation ability as better predictors. 

Recent research scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology also cautions an overemphasis on grit, as this trait overlaps with other traits. An excerpt from the abstract says:
Students’ grit overlapped empirically with their concurrently reported self-control, self-regulation, and engagement. Students’ perseverance of effort (but not their consistency of interests) predicted their later grades, although other self-regulation and engagement variables were stronger predictors of students’ grades than was grit.
Passion is indeed an important part of grit.  How a child develops passion obviously depends on the child's interests. When passion is lacking, perseverance is definitely excruciating, but this is when emotion regulation and engagement become important factors. These are traits that are outside of "grit", that obviously require our attention. Grit allows students to persevere if they have the passion. Without passion, a student needs the ability to cope with strong emotions such as anxiety and boredom. Research shows that the answer to this is building skills in self-regulation.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Positive School Climate

My son was not that enthusiastic to go to school when he was in first grade. There was even a slight hint of separation anxiety during the first few weeks that I dropped him off at school. My son is now in fifth grade and a few days ago, I received the following note from his principal, Brian Butler:
"I just wanted to share something truly special from my point of view that happened today.  I was in Alex's class and saw him working with some classmates so I asked them what they were doing. Alex explained the math game that they were  playing and the others chimed in and then he went about in the most appropriate manner, organizing how it would be played. He also worked with his classmates to roll the dice 🎲 to see who would begin. Someone else got a closer number to what was rolled than what Alex had, and he was so polite and said, "You go first."  Then they played the game and it was so heartwarming to see how the boys played together and in this particular situation Alex took the lead not as a "boss" but as a facilitator who was both enthusiastic and encouraging."
 The note came with a photo the principal took:


Children can learn a great deal from each other. Being able to share and explain ideas requires mental organization and planning. Such exercise provides so much more practice than any traditional teaching or learning method. For starters, it tangibly allows students to take responsibility for their own learning. Peer learning is an important strategy not just in basic education but even in the halls of higher education. Peer learning highlights the social and emotional dimensions of a classroom. Obviously, fruitful peer learning can only occur when children feel emotionally safe and that healthy relationships are already existing among the students. It is one reason why there is an observed correlation between learning outcomes and seemingly non-academic factors in school such as having a positive climate. This was noted by Wentzel and Watkins in School Psychology Review:


Alex Hernandez at EdSurge News talks about the Valor Collegiate Academy in Nashville where half the students come from low income families. It is a school that uses a Social Emotional Learning program called Compass. The following figure makes it clear that Valor goes far beyond the academics:



"Big Heart" suggests kindness. "Aligned Action" requires engagement and teamwork. "Sharp Mind" means discernment with curiosity, and "Noble Purpose" entails values.

The title of Hernandez' article is "Valor Collegiate Academy: Where Student Well-Being Fuels Academic Achievement". One can see these in the math scores of the economically disadvantaged fifth grade pupils, 93% are proficient or better, way far above the state average of 44%.

Above copied from GreatSchools




Thursday, December 8, 2016

What Is Wrong with Philippine Education

There is nothing inherently wrong in the additional years of DepEd's K to 12. What is harmful is its ill-conceived solutions to the problems education in the Philippines is facing. DepEd's K to 12 fails to recognize that the major problems lie in the early years and in higher education. Thus, it wrongly focuses on the latter years of high school, completely missing the roots of the problem, college and the elementary years. The impact of DepEd's K to 12 on learning outcomes in higher education, of course, still remains to be seen since the senior years in high school just started this year. Understanding the problem is key to solving the problem so it is really disconcerting to see a professor in the Philippines sharing a statement on social media that DepEd's K to 12 has harmed higher education.


Higher education in the Philippines is indeed facing a crisis, as shown by Jobers Bersales in the Cebu Daily News. This crisis, however, has been present long before DepEd's K to 12. And as noted by Bersales, this crisis can be easily seen in the data concerning higher education. First, the Philippines has so many schools offering college education.

Number of Higher Education Institutions per Million People

Quantity obviously does not mean quality. One can contrast this against the number of scientists:

Number of Scientists per Million People

While the Philippines leads the region in the number of colleges, it lags miserably in the number of scientists. One therefore wonders who are teaching in these numerous institutions of higher learning in the Philippines. Higher education means exploring the frontiers of human knowledge. This can be measured by the number of research articles published. In this category, the Philippines likewise falls last:

Number of Research Articles Published (2005-2014)

These numbers do reveal the quality of higher education in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the dire situation of college education in the Philippines, if not often ignored, is grossly misunderstood. Adriano Arcelo, in a UNESCO report, writes the following:


If the previous Aquino administration is to be blamed for the continuing dire situation of higher education in the Philippines, the blame must be correctly framed. The Philippines cannot address the problems with basic education without addressing first the dismal state of college education. Colleges produce the teachers in elementary and high schools. In this regard, what therefore deserves to be blamed is the inaction to lift the quality of college education, not DepEd's K to 12. In fact, in quite an insidious manner, with DepEd's K to 12 dramatically reducing college enrollment for the next two years, the government may actually be trying to close a number of these supposedly higher learning institutions.





Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What Is the Difference Between a Compound and a Molecule?

My son brings home every Tuesday a folder. It often contains a newsletter from his teachers. This week's newsletter comes with a list of questions that the teachers suggest that I ask my son. One of the questions is: "What Is the difference between a compound and a molecule?" My son's response is that a molecule is composed of two or more atoms joined together while a compound consists of at least two different elements. As a chemist, I could have been excruciatingly fastidious with this question, but I simply reminded myself that my son was just being introduced to chemistry. Actually, my son's answer is not too far from what the Jefferson Lab says in its science education site:
A molecule is formed when two or more atoms join together chemically. A compound is a molecule that contains at least two different elements. All compounds are molecules but not all molecules are compounds.
The meaning of both terms, compound and molecule, needs to be learned and memorized. Once this is achieved a student can then infer that "All compounds are molecules but not all molecules are compounds." Is this critical thinking? Perhaps, it is, but only at a very early stage. This stage introduces a child to a discipline that involves rules and terms. In a way, it demonstrates the importance of giving a child something meaningful to think about. Critical thinking can not really stand without knowledge. For a fifth grader, that knowledge may be either facts or definitions. Gregory in "Discovery Or The Spirit And Service Of Science" reminds us of that morning in 1591:
"Members of the University of Pisa, and other onlookers, are assembled in the space at the foot of the wonderful leaning tower of white marble in that city one morning in the year 1591. A young professor climbs the spiral staircase until he reaches the gallery surmounting the seventh tier of arches. The people below watch him as he balances two balls on the edge of the gallery, one weighing a hundred times more than the other. The balls are released at the same instant and are seen to keep together as they fall through the air until they are heard to strike the ground at the same moment. Nature has spoken with no uncertain sound, and has given an immediate answer to a question debated for two thousand years." 
It was a question debated for so long and was settled by a single experiment. It was a perfect example of how science works.

At Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, Sam Jones uses a story of physicist Richard Feynman while teaching gravity:
"The physicist Richard Feynman liked to tell a story about how when he was a little kid, he asked his father, “Why do things fall?” As an adult, he praised his father for answering, “Nobody knows why things fall. It’s a deep mystery, and the smartest people in the world don’t know the basic reason for it.” Feynman liked his father’s answer, because his father realized that simply giving a name to something didn’t mean that you understood it. The radical thing about Galileo’s and Newton’s approach to science was that they concentrated first on describing mathematically what really did happen, rather than spending a lot of time on untestable speculation such as Aristotle’s statement that “Things fall because they are trying to reach their natural place in contact with the earth.”"
Teaching and learning are difficult because we often tend to speculate and not just describe what actually happens. We have intuition and bias, which frequently get in the way of facts. We like to give explanations that sound reasonable, yet not fully supported by evidence. After all, when we let a feather and a stone fall, we find that the stone always hits the ground first before the feather does.

General Chemistry is, of course, no exception. Chemistry: The Central Science by Brown, Lemay, Bursten, Murphy, Woodward and Stoltzfus, one of the most popular textbooks in chemistry has the following figure in its chapter on Molecular Geometry and Bonding Theories, has the following figure:


It is indeed very attractive to explain the formation of a chemical bond between two hydrogen atoms in a hydrogen molecule as a balance between attractive and repulsive forces. The two negatively charged electrons are shared between the two positively charged nuclei, making the molecule stable. Interestingly, the above is as incorrect as Aristotle's thoughts on gravity.

The above belongs to the field of study called quantum chemistry. Any one who has taken this course is reminded of some abstract models such as the particle in a box and the particle on a ring. These simple models are often applied to much more complicated systems. The particle in a box is sometimes used to explain the electronic properties of conjugated dye molecules:


 A simple conjugated molecule is given below and the similarity is indeed striking.


The particle on a ring serves as a model for benzene:


Both models, the particle in a box and the particle on a ring, do not involve attractive and repulsive forces. In fact, the relevant energies in these systems are purely kinetic, how fast the particle moves. Yet, these models can be applied to molecules. These obviously suggest that the stabilization in a chemical bond may not be due to a balancing between repulsive and attractive forces. Yet, we still teach chemical bonding, as demonstrated in one of the most popular textbooks, the explanation that seems appealing to our intuition.

Richard Muller and William Goddard III in a chapter in the Encyclopedia of Physical Science and Technology provide the mathematical reason why this thinking is wrong:




Muller and Goddard III, like Galileo, are experts in their fields. This therefore truly illustrates that critical thinking is expert thinking.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Equity and Excellence: PISA 2015 Says These Two Can Coexist

Middle School Math teacher Barry Garelick writes in an article, "How Attempts To Force Equity In Math Classes Can Protect Kids From Learning", that current attempts to reduce achievement gaps, for instance, between poor and rich children, are eliminating achievement. The idea that equity and excellence can not coexist is a notion quite attractive to a number of people. This notion, however, is not supported by evidence. In fact, the latest results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) demonstrate that school systems can achieve excellence without sacrificing equity.

This is shown convincingly in the following graph:

Above copied from
OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264266490-en
The x-axis in the above graph represents equity in education. A value closer to zero corresponds to school systems in which the scores of a pupil are not correlated with how poor or rich the student is. The y-axis is the score in the Science section of the test. The proof that equity and excellence can coexist in a school system is highlighted in the blue region - These are countries that score very high in the test, yet do not show very large achievement gaps between the poor and the rich. These high-equity and high-performing schools are found in Australia, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan, Finland, Estonia, Canada, Korea, United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Hong Kong, Macau, and yes, the United States of America (It barely made the list). Worth noting, as illustrated in the excerpt shown with the figure above, is that this list includes Vietnam and Macao. These are school systems where a high percentage of students who perform well in the test (76% for Vietnam and 65% for Macao) are among the poorest pupils.

Being fair by extending learning opportunities to all children and achieving excellence in education are clearly not mutually exclusive. One might claim that Japan, Finland, Korea and the Netherlands have much lower income disparities than other countries so naturally, their educational systems are more equitable. One might likewise claim that richer countries can more easily afford equitable education systems. Vietnam shows that this is not necessarily true. Vietnam, a poor and highly socio-economically diverse country, has managed to achieve an excellent yet equitable school system. It is possible even in Science, a subject that is highly demanding on resources.


Monday, December 5, 2016

What We Could Learn from Placards

Young people need to be positively engaged in society. Their voices when pointed at a pathway forward can send a strong message to elected officials and lead to a fruitful dialogue. The placards the youth bring to a protest rally represent the views of the next generation. The signs they display however speak not only of their aspirations, but also reflect the quality of education they have received. After all, young minds on social issues are shaped either at home or school.

Presently, protests are being held against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is leading the protest with a lawsuit filed in court citing that the construction "will damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the Tribe". In addition, there is concern that construction as well as future oil spills can harm the Tribe's drinking water. This past Sunday, the permit for the pipeline project has been turned down by the secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers, a victory for the protests.

The Tribe was not alone in their protest. Environmental and civil rights activists, and other Native American tribes have joined. And, of course, the youth in these tribes from as far as New York are among those who are visibly against the proposed pipeline.

NEW YORK, August 7 - Sioux youth from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota rallied with supporters in Union Square after running 2,000 miles across the United States to protest the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline.
(Photo by Joe Catron)
These youth are holding placards. They are speaking their minds on a very relevant and consequential issue. It is positive, respectful and peaceful, yet very formidable. This is clearly an instance that demonstrates that the youth are positively engaged in society.

ABS-CBN News in the Philippines reports "From tweets to the streets: Millennials lead Marcos burial protests". Thus, quite a number of people view the active participation of youth in these protests as a good sign. Placards can indeed carry positive messages as seen in the placards displayed by the Sioux youth, but the opposite can also happen. Katrina Stuart Santiago writes in her column in Manila Times:
A placard that says “F*ck you Marcos” has gotten the same ire. Trolls ask: Is this what being educated looks like? Is this what it means?
Many placards in fact curse at the Marcoses, some more respectful than others: “F*ck you po Marcos!” says one sign. And for a more contemporary Tagalized version: “Pakyu po.”
These signs are, of course, do not point to youth being positively engaged in society. Fortunately, the voices of the youth are not one. There are others, and a post from the Kabataan (Youth) Party List provides some much needed hope. At least, this one seems to demonstrate some intelligence.



Copied from Kabataan Party List:

Licuanan urged to quit CHED post

In the aftermath of the resignation of Vice President Leni Robredo as HUDCC head, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said that it only reflects the growing contradictions among the ranks of the political elite.

“Vice President Robredo’s resignation signals a deepening rift inside the Duterte administration, a rift not motivated by their desire to serve the people but by each camp’s quest for absolute power,” Elago said.

“It’s primetime political drama: on one hand, you have a president who calls for unity and healing, yet resorts to unceremonious dismissals in an attempt to ease the fractious power relations in his Cabinet. On the other hand, we have a vice president hailing from the former ruling party, who is visibly maneuvering in what is unfolding to be a Liberal party restoration plan. The game is only beginning, but to make sense in all these, we must ask: what’s in it for the Filipino people?”

“In this high-level drama, the Filipino people are the real victims – for instead of having the issues and concerns of the oppressed and the marginalized take center stage, we are forced to binge-watch what is appearing to be a long-running political circus,” Elago said.

No love lost for Robredo

“To return our focus on issues that matter, we should assess the Vice President’s resignation from the lens of the people that she should have served. And mind you, the picture does not look good,” she added.

As housing czar, Robredo is tasked to improve housing services especially for the poor. Yet Elago notes that even from the ranks of the urban poor, Robredo’s performance in her short stint is found lacking.

The lawmaker noted the statement of urban poor organization Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), wherein the group castigated Robredo’s “pro-business” inclinations.

“VP Leni Robredo’s brief tenure as HUDCC chief focused on the continuation of the pro-business trends made more prominent during the Aquino administration. She called for greater participation of the private sector in socialized housing which is as contradictory as it sounds. This policy has given rise to soaring amortization rates and inaccessible housing units for the poor,” KADAMAY said in a statement released right after Robredo announced her resignation.

“Demolitions have also remained rampant throughout the country, a fact that her late husband stood against at certain points. However, she made no fundamental or even incremental steps to address this. The Housing budget for her office was slashed yet looking towards corporations for help was never the solution but merely widening the cracks of an existing problem. Socialized housing is not socialized but commercialized. This is something Robredo did not seek to remedy,” KADAMAY added.

“Clearly, for the urban poor and the people who Mrs. Robredo should have served, there is no love lost,” Elago said.

“Thus, we join the urban poor sector in calling for a replacement that will indeed be able to recognize and fight for the housing rights of the poor,” Elago added.

Licuanan urged to quit

The youth lawmaker, meanwhile, has some stronger words for embattled Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chair Patricia Licuanan, who was also instructed by Malacanang to stop attending Cabinet meetings.

“CHED Chair Licuanan said that she will not resign from her post despite the President’s clear rebuke. Why does she want to remain in office? Is it because she is sensing that she still needs to be in CHED to protect the interests of big profit-hungry school administrations, just as she has done in the past? Is it because she feels she still needs to be in CHED to counter the growing clamor for free public education? Is it because she thinks she needs to cling to power for her to once again approve a new wave of tuition and other fee increases this coming academic year?”

“Mrs. Licuanan, in your term as CHED chair, the higher education situation has gone from bad to worse. Your agency has become nothing but a stamp pad for tuition hikes, and the policies you introduced and supported further transformed higher education into the monstrous for-profit behemoth it now is.

“For the youth, it is better if you would resign immediately and provide space for a successor that will hopefully join the students’ clamor for affordable and accessible education,” Elago ended.###

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nutribun Versus DepEd's K to 12

I was in second grade when Martial Law was declared in the Philippines. Although my parents tried their best to shield me from some of the protests held prior to that declaration, going to school near Mendiola did not prevent me from witnessing rocks being hurled during some of the demonstrations. Martial Law lasted for about nine years. It was lifted by the time I finished high school. Most of my ten years of basic education were therefore under Martial Rule. In 1972, with the serious peace and order problem the country was facing, millions of young children were also found to be malnourished. Marcos' government was already working with researchers from Virginia to address the food problem and during the floods that devastated Central Luzon, the Nutribun, a ready-to-eat complete meal proved to be a convenient relief commodity. Nutribun contained high quality protein from soy but it could not be easily hoarded due to its high propensity to become moldy in a few days. During Martial Law, Nutribun was adopted by public schools nationwide. Any child who was less than ninety percent of the standard weight for age was eligible to receive Nutribun. The program resulted in a dramatic reduction of malnourished children in the Philippines. The Nutribun was not a lie.

Above copied from GetRealPhilippines
Placards shown in recent protests against Marcos' burial that say otherwise are therefore the real lies.

There were other reforms introduced to schools during Martial Law. In high school, there was a trial year or two to use Tagalog as medium of instruction for all subjects. That did not work. All throughout high school, I had to make sure that I had enough hours of volunteer work as part of the Youth Civic Action Program. Once in a while, we were also required to line up across Roxas Boulevard to greet visiting dignitaries. Those were the years of Martial Law that I remember. We could not hold demonstrations or protest events during that time.

Presently, rallies are held almost every week in the Philippines. Unfortunately, most of the recent rallies concern burying the dead. This is sad as the country still confronts serious issues and problems in basic education. The previous regime instituted a new curriculum designed to make public education only worse. Alan Singer sounds this alarm in the Huffington Post.

Above copied from Huff Post Education

It is DepEd's K to 12 that is a lie, not the Nutribun....


Friday, December 2, 2016

Talent or Effort?

My mother came from a town known as the "Carving Capital" in the Philippines. One of her brothers won an award from the Art Association of the Philippines for a wood sculpture called "Orasyon". The town also had a good number of musicians. My mother never thought I had any talent in music and the arts. At one point, she even had the notion that I was tone deaf and that my fingers were not nimble enough to do either painting or sculpture. Needless to say, there were really no musical instruments nor art supplies made available to me when I was young. Perhaps, my mother was correct. After all, when I had my hands on one of my uncle's tools, I ended carving my sister's elbow instead of the wood. Growing up, some of my friends were actually confused since they had the impression that I was good at math and they had this idea that if someone had a talent in math, that someone would also be good in music.

My son's principal recently shared a photo he took. In that photo, my son was being taught to play the violin.

A fifth grade strings class
All the students in this elementary school are given the opportunity to play a musical instrument and the violin is my son's choice. The principal, Brian Butler, is a firm believer in the "growth mindset", as demonstrated in one of his recent posts on Facebook.


There is a reason why there is a call for parents to focus more on effort and not on innate skills. Take Finland, for instance, the country with a very progressive educational system. Research shows that " the parents with a talent-based explanation or a combination (both talent and effort) explanation for success had a significantly higher opinion of their child's mathematical competence across the child's compulsory school years than did those parents who had an effort-based explanation for success." Another work shows "The intercorrelations of the parents’ assessments of their child’s competencies and motivation among the phases of the study turned out to be statistically significant.The assessments conducted as early as the child’s preschool tended to predict the respective assessments conducted at the very end of the child’s 9-year-long schooling better than by chance." These two pieces of evidence do suggest that parents consider talent as more important than effort. And as principal Butler cautions, "This can be hurtful to kids". After all, it can be strongly self-fulfilling.

But what really spells success, talent or effort? Of course, effort counts a lot. In mathematics, I did spend a lot of time and effort on it when I was young. I did not spend as much time on playing a musical instrument. In fact, I did not spend any time at all on playing music. However, talent does count and there is evidence from research:


From the above paper, the following figure shows that talent (represented on the x axis by working memory capacity) provides an independent contribution on performance:

Practice (or effort) does improve significantly performance but individuals with high working memory capacity (representing talent) have an advantage. Educators, however, are correct to recognize that emphasis must be made on effort. Schools cannot change the genes we have inherited, but schools can definitely provide the opportunities to learn. Individuals who have talent but do not work hard, the upper tip of the blue line, are not even close in terms of performance to those who are not talented yet work hard, the lower tip of the red line.



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What an International Standardized Exam Is Telling Us

Emma Brown of the Washington Post shares in "U.S. students still lag many Asian peers on international math and science exam" results from the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS. The article cites David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, who says, "...he is now hopeful that new science standards that have been adopted by a growing number of states — and that push students to solve problems and learn about science by doing science — will make a difference, prompting bigger gains in the coming years." Such observation, of course, naturally comes if one only looks at the average scores, and not considering what the exam is all about. It is always easy to point one's finger at the curriculum or how a subject is being taught. But this is wrong. The TIMSS exam is content-based and curriculum coverage is more or less similar across the countries participating in the exam. The curriculum is the least important factor in this exam.

But one does not need to look deeper into the exam results. One simply has to assume a wider perspective. First, it is not just the average that counts, the distribution is very important. For example, below is the distribution of scores for the 4th grade science test.

Above copied from TIMSS 2015
The United States has a wider distribution than Finland does. From the above chart, one can see that countries with wider distributions also have lower average scores. Equity is therefore important.

The TIMSS report also comes with an analysis of scores that provides correlations with various factors. The following are factors observed to correlate strongly with 4th grade science scores. Similar conclusions are reached with the math scores.

First, socio-economic status correlates with scores:


Second, scores also correlate with resource shortages in textbooks, supplies, classrooms, heating and cooling systems.


Third, scores correlate with student attendance.


Fourth, when students' basic needs (nutrition, sleep, disability needs, classroom management) are not met, scores likewise are lower.

Lastly, preschool education also correlates with scores.


It is not the curriculum. And it is not technology:


We may never be able to tackle the challenges of education if we keep ignoring what is actually important. It is equity and it also requires meeting the basic needs of every student.