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Showing posts from July, 2016

The True Cause of Drug Addiction

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Prof. Arnold Guloy, also an alumnus of Manila Science High School, brought to my attention with his Facebook post an article posted last year on the Huffington Post. The article, "The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think", talks mainly of the work by Prof. Bruce Alexander on rats. In "The effect of housing and gender on preference for morphine-sucrose solutions in rats", published in 1978 in the journal Psychopharmacology, Alexander and coworkers found that "isolated rats drank significantly more of the opiate solution, and females drank significantly more than males." More than thirty years later, researchers in Israel, arrived at a similar conclusion. In "Social isolation increases morphine intake: behavioral and psychopharmacological aspects", Raz and Berger found that "rats housed in short-term isolation (21 days) consumed significantly more morphine solution (0.5 mg/ml) than rats living in pairs, …

Scores Up but Gaps Remain in DC Public Schools

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"In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest," Thomas Reid wrote in the book Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man. This year, the OECD published a study entitled Low-Performing Students: Why They Fall Behind and How To Help Them Succeed. In its release, it had the headline, "Helping the weakest students essential for society and the economy". Averages can hide reality. Average scores may be rising, but a true measure of schools' effectiveness is the performance of its weakest. Scores in the US national exams are indeed up for the District of Columbia (DC), but examining these scores in greater detail show that schools are still failing disadvantaged students.

Blagg and Chingos have looked closely at the scores of schools in DC and have debunked the claim that the improvement is due to a decreasing number of black children attending the…

A Growth Mindset and a Sense of Belonging Prevents School Dropouts

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The title of this article is a bit misleading. Attending college in an elite institution in the Philippines was not normal for my socio-economic status. Seeing a "G" on a paper I turned in and later hearing the professor explained that "G" did not mean "good", but "very bad grammar", could have easily made me feel ostracized and not good enough for college. Hearing a professor say that I had nothing between my ears did not help either. But I probably knew then that there were others before me who had experienced major setbacks but did not give up. I perhaps believed then that becoming a chemist was not something I was born with, but was something I needed to work hard for. Honestly, what worked for me was support and confidence from my peers and mentors.

Results recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that simple interventions can improve the survival rate of colored and disadvantaged students in college. T…

Making a Child Feel at Home in School

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"...He sprinkled me in pixie dust and told me to believe Believe in him and believe in me  Together we will fly away in a cloud of green To your beautiful destiny As we soared above the town that never loved me I realized I finally had a family..." -Ruth B

Childhood is so special yet fleeting. Childhood is so significant yet delicate. Other than at home, most children spend a lot of their time in schools. It therefore does not make any sense not to prepare well elementary school teachers. Often, future teachers are taught in college with material not expected to be covered in primary schools. It is the reason why a mathematics major in college is not necessarily qualified to teach math in grade school. As Jensen and coworkers note in “Not So Elementary: Primary School Teacher Quality in Top-Performing Systems”, there are required "specific knowledge and skills that make an effective elementary teacher". However, they only emphasize knowledge and skills that pertai…

Teacher Quality: Selection and Tenure

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In universities in the United States, an assistant professor usually spends a probationary period of six years before applying for promotion and tenure. Not receiving tenure at the end of the probationary period means an automatic dismissal from the university. Some are able to receive tenure before the end of six years if the dossier is good enough. Tenure is awarded by the president of the university upon the recommendation of the a university's committee on rank and tenure, which is composed of faculty members. The committee draws its decision based on the recommendation of the applicant's department, deans, and reviewers from other universities. The dossier is basically evaluated on an applicant's scholarly contribution, teaching, and service to the university and the community. One's scholarly contribution is based on publications in peer-reviewed journals as well as a record of acquiring competitive extramural research grants.

Tenure is awarded to protect academi…

I Am Good at Math but Poor in English

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We hear this quite often from so many people, claiming that they are good in one area but quite lacking in another. In conversations regarding education that are not based on evidence, we often encounter myths and the statements, "I am good at Math but poor in English", or "I am good at English but poor in Math", are examples. Such claim is unlikely since according to data, most people either excel or struggle in both subjects.


Alright, either 5 or 154 out of 1.5 million are much more than 1 in a million. Still, the likelihood that an individual does well in one area and poorly in another is very small. 154 out of 1500000 is only 0.01 percent. The fact that academic competencies are closely related is important to keep in mind. Students who are proficient in math are also the students who do well in reading and science. This is also supported by evidence from a study that examines the performance in reading, math and science tests of 75000 students from 17 European…

Academic Freedom - An Ideal Lost in the Philippines

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Article XIV, Section 5 of the Constitution of the Philippines states, "Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning." Academic freedom as explained by Friedrich Paulsen in the book The German Universities and University Study is about scholars having the freedom to teach and research, "For the academic teacher and his hearers there can be no prescribed and no proscribed thoughts. There is only one rule for instruction: to justify the truth of one's teaching by reason and the facts." Thus, when the curriculum for higher education is dictated by an authority external to the faculty, it is a clear infringement of academic freedom. The Constitution of the Philippines does require one course to be taught as it states in Article XIV, Section 3, "All educational institutions shall include the study of the Constitution as part of the curricula."

In the Philippines, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) defines what courses shou…

How Much Are We Misinformed and How Opinionated We Are

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I have received strong opinions or comments when I share posts on this blog on Facebook. It is frustrating sometimes to see how strong an individual takes a stand, yet evidence is sorely lacking. We can easily get misinformed especially when we listen to only what we want to hear, and read what we only want to see. We are very comfortable when our knowledge matches what we want to believe. This applies to issues that are very significant to us. Take, for instance, how well we think our own children are doing in school. A recent representative national survey in the United States of parents and guardians of children enrolled in public schools shows how far our perception is from reality.

Parents like to believe that their children are doing well in their school. The reality is that most children are not reaching proficiency in both math and reading.

What is surprising, however, is when parents are made to think about the future. Here, their perception seems closer to reality. When aske…

Vouchers "Do Harm" to Education

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Mark Dynarski from the Brookings Institution looks at the effects of a school voucher program on learning outcomes. He finds a significant negative impact of vouchers on education. Dynarski writes, "In Louisiana, a public school student who was average in math (at the 50th percentile) and began attending a private school using a voucher declined to the 34th percentile after one year. If that student was in third, fourth, or fifth grade, the decline was steeper, to the 26th percentile. Reading declined, too: a student at the 50th percentile in reading declined to about the 46th percentile." Such report may be easily overlooked, but one must take notice that this report comes from an Institution that has long advocated for school choice.

Dynarski is basically trying to understand the results of the investigation performed by Jonathan N. Mills of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University and Patrick J. Wolf of the Department of Education Reform at the…

The 2016 Democratic Platform on Basic Education

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Valerie Strauss at the Washington Postprovides the passages that pertain to basic education inside the 2016 platform of the United States Democratic Party. The new stand of the Democratic Party is welcomed by those who advocate for public school education. Noteworthy is the Party's opposition to high stakes standardized tests:

We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing, the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools, and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. 

It appears that the Democratic Party has considered research-based evidence in drafting its education platform.

The following are the passages in the Democratic Platform 2016 on education:

Guaranteeing Universal Preschool and Good Schools in Every Zip Code Democrats believe w…

English Language Learners and High School Graduation Rate in the US

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Corey Mitchell's article at Education Week, "English-Language-Learner Graduation Rates Are All Over the Map", starts with the following sentence: "The graduation rate for the nation's English-language learners in the class of 2014 rose to 62.6 percent, a slight increase over the previous year, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education last month." Such graduation rate places this group at the bottom of public high school graduation rate in the United States.

There is, however, one issue I need to take with this type of reporting. Mitchell, as many people do in education reporting, are quick to equate students tagged with "Limited English Proficiency" to "English Language Learners". The National Center for Education Statistics probably contributes to this confusion as it defines "Limited English Proficiency":

limited English proficient (LEP). A term used to describe students who are in the process of acquirin…

Summer in School

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Summer is often a break from school. Unfortunately, summer frequently translates to a widening of gaps between poor and rich children. But, it should not be. Late last year, a study published in Science showed that a summer jobs program in Chicago reduced violent crime arrests by almost half.  Eight weeks translated to plummeting crimes over a 16-month period. Drugs and violence are perhaps synonymous with idle time and lack of direction. Even young children need to stay active and connected and summer is one opportunity for learning social skills, reconnecting with nature, staying physically active, and of course, making friends. Growing up, I spent my summer vacation in my mother's hometown. It was still a safe place to play in the street with other children. It was far from the city and much closer to nature. Sadly, times had changed that one must now worry when letting children play outside their homes. My children are lucky that the county we live in has a summer program for …

Prisons or Schools

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Eighteen were killed in the Philippines over the past weekend. They were supposedly suspected drug pushers. In a couple of days, nearly a thousand drug users and pushers had surrendered perhaps in fear of getting killed. From one community alone the Philippine Star reported seventy five drug users surrendering to the police.

Thus, with thousands of drug users giving themselves up, the needs for prisons are sure to increase. In the United States, the Washington Post reports that states have been increasing their spending on prisons at a faster rate than on education.

With the rate of drug users and pushers surrendering in the Philippines, it will just be a matter of time before prisons see the same overcrowding classrooms in public schools in the Philippines are known for.

The new president of the Philippines, Duterte, of course, did not fail to cite that funeral parlors might also find the current situation in the Philippines quite lucrative. RT recently quoted Duterte:
"If you k…

Not Years but Quality of Education Matters

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"We argue, however, that too much attention is paid to the time spent in school, and too little is paid to the quality of the schools and the types of skills developed there.", Eric A. Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann write in a Science article published early this year. The authors find that the success of East Asian countries cannot be explained by years spent in school. Instead, scores in international standardized exams in math and the sciences are strongly correlated to why some East Asian countries prosper while Latin American countries, including the Philippines, do not. The figure below, copied from the Science paper, demonstrates this well.

In terms of test scores, an average 9th grade student in the Philippines lags behind an average 9th grade student in Singapore by about six years in math and the sciences, explaining why the Philippines' growth rate in GDP per capita is more than six times slower than that of Singapore.


DepEd Plans to Teach Students How to Spot Illicit Drug Pushers

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Within just a few days of a new executive branch in the Philippines, basic education is tasked to help solve a growing drug abuse problem in the country. It is indeed tempting to throw every problem at schools since it is believed to have the widest reach. President Duterte apparently has ordered a drug literacy program starting at fourth grade. It is not clear whether such move is based on evidence. Such program may just be another wild guess added to a curriculum that is already lacking support from research. Although an accumulation of knowledge is certainly important in basic education, drug abuse is one area where evidence suggests that teaching life skills may be more effective. Humans have a natural tendency to find meaning or purpose in life. In Turkey, for instance, Eyrilmax reports in the paper, "Meaning of life-setting life goals: comparison of substance abusers and non-abusers" (Turkish Psychological Counseling and Guidance Journal, 5(42), 235–243), that youth wh…

Quality Early Education

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It should be straightforward to see that the number of years one puts into basic education alone does not guarantee good learning outcomes. What goes into those years is what counts. This is especially true in the early years when children are just beginning to develop both social and academic skills. Here, the quality really matters because the chance that a child can succeed despite of poor resources is very small. Later in basic education when a child has already acquired basic skills, resourcefulness, grit, and determination, a student may be able to overcome a lack of quality in schools, but in elementary and preschool, it should be obvious that a child depends more on others.

Quality in early education can be measured. In the United States, the National Institute for Early Education Research has provided a list of standards for preschool:


Four of the benchmarks above are clearly teacher factors. Preschool education benefits from a teacher who has a college degree. In fact, a tea…