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Showing posts from September, 2016

Content Knowledge Is Important in Teaching

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Everyone including teachers and parents are very busy nowadays. Both time and attention are at a premium. Headlines therefore matter. Seeing an article with a title that says, "Study: Improving Teachers' Math Knowledge Doesn't Boost Student Scores", can thus leave an impression that either content knowledge is unimportant in teaching, or studies on education are simply spurious. The truth is: Content knowledge matters in teaching and studies on education are not really fraudulent. Oftentimes, it is the title that is grossly misleading.


The above article on Education Week talks about a study recently released by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) entitled "Focusing on Mathematical Knowledge: The Impact of Content-Intensive Teacher Professional Development". The title of this study actually makes it clear that it is simply measuring the effect of a particular teacher professional development program. It is not encompassing enough to draw a general conc…

"DepEd's K to 12 Is Not A Wise Move"

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When asked about DepEd's K to 12, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said, "K to 12, I don't know if that is such a wise move. And, for example, I am told that at least 70,000 teachers will be thrown out of their jobs. So we don't necessarily have to do what everyone else abroad is doing. We should restudy this, I think it merits revisit." This was her response in an interview with Manila Bulletin on April 2016.



Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago will probably be remembered more with this quote: "I have realized why corrupt politicians do nothing to improve the quality of public school education. They are terrified of educated voters."

The senator is among the very few who tried to check the glaring errors of the Department of Education in the Philippines:
Miriam: P600M worth of books rendered obsolete by K-12 Published May 6, 2015 3:14pm By AMITA O. LEGASPI, GMA News Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago has asked the Senate to probe the Department of Education’s …

The Adolescent Brain

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My son is scheduled to begin middle school next year. It is a bigger school. Students do not stay in one classroom. Very likely, there is homework. There are indeed plenty of reasons to be worried. Yet, when I look at the people I have as friends on Facebook, I find classmates in high school and there are even a few from the latter years of elementary school. It is then becomes clear to me that these years signal a dramatic extension. Being social is no longer limited at home. Middle school in the United States primarily exists for the early adolescent stage as a preparation for the more demanding high school stage of basic education.

Not having gone through middle school, my recollections of basic education are indeed filled with memories from sixth grade and the four years of high school. And with results from brain research in the past few decades, I now understand why first year in high school seems to be extremely chaotic. First, the amount of gray matter is changing a lot throug…

Last Night's Debate: We Can No Longer Be Informed

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Years ago, I wanted to write an opinion article on the Philippines' Deped K to 12 curriculum. The Inquirer would not publish my piece without having a rebuttal from DepEd first. I guess the Inquirer was simply buying into Fox News' mantra of "Fair and Balanced Reporting". The main problem with emphasizing "balance" is sacrificing accuracy. When accuracy is set aside for attempting to look fair, there are dire consequences. And in last night's presidential debate in the US, it has become quite clear that mass media can no longer inform us. More than two years ago, Robert S. Eshelman wrote an essay, "The Danger of Fair and Balanced", in the Columbia Journalism View.

In that essay, Eshelman concluded, "By now, we should have progressed to intense coverage of policy debates about how best to address climate change, not whether it exists. In this one case, balance has been the enemy of the truth." Watching last night's debate, climate…

"There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch"

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A restaurant offers free lunch if you buy a drink. What is on the menu, however, are foods with so much salt, forcing you to buy a lot of drinks. Of course, public schools in the United States provide free or reduced-price lunch to children from low-income families, and for most, the food is actually healthy. Nonetheless, someone still pays for this lunch. The National School Lunch Program, for example, is a federally assisted meal program. Nothing is really free. Free lunch for poor children is certainly for a good cause. But there are definitely examples out there that are not. There are instances where the intention is unquestionably right, but in the end, unintended bad consequences happen and these become the major result.

A specific example has been recently examined by Max Eden who writes an opinion article on the Hechinger Report. Eden cites the following statistics to prove a point:
More than half of the countries in the OECD offer free college. They have higher levels of enro…

Do We Know How to Evaluate Teaching

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Given that teaching is one important factor that affects learning, it is surprising that we are so much in the dark when it comes to how to evaluate teaching. In fact, even in institutions of higher education where one may expect administrators to be more knowledgeable, practices known to be ineffective in evaluating teaching are still in place. Take, for instance, student evaluation of teaching. A number of universities, including Georgetown, are still using student course evaluations in spite of the evidence that student evaluation is not correlated with student learning.

There is indeed a disconnect between educators and research when it comes to student evaluation of teaching (SET). A team of researchers from Canada has recently attempted to distill what we already know about SET and its relationship to learning outcomes. After a thorough and careful analysis of studies previously made on SET, the conclusion is that SET is not related to student learning.
The above, unfortunately,…

Yes, "It Takes a Village to Raise a Child", but First, "It Takes a Family"

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"It Takes a Village" probably ranks high in the list of popular proverbs. Even Hillary Clinton used it as a title for her book. The proverb rings true especially in close-knit neighborhoods or communities. Unfortunately, with increasing isolation, we probably need to take a step back and realize that first, "It takes a family to raise a child." In education, numerous studies have strongly suggested that poverty profoundly affects learning outcomes. Perhaps, underneath this is the fact that the family deeply influences education. Such impact can be easily seen when one compares the academic performance of children who are in foster care against those who are not. The chasm observed in this comparison is actually much wider than the gap seen due to poverty.

The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd has been examining the academic performance of foster children in the states of California and Arizona. And their findings clearly show that children in…

Content-Area Literacy Instruction

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In elementary grades, students are expected to learn how to read and do math. Standardized tests emphasize these two areas although in the state of Virginia, there are state exams on social studies and science as well. Both subjects entail accumulation of knowledge, thus, social studies and the sciences differ quite a bit from reading and math. Reading and math are, of course, part of social studies and science since we read to learn and we need math to comprehend events and concepts in quantitative terms. Thus, it is not far-fetch to suggest that social studies and science may help in reading and math. For mathematics, both science and social studies may actually bring life and perhaps, also excitement and relevance, to numbers. For reading, the path may not be as straightforward. From my own experience in college, I never did enjoy reading medieval history. I procrastinated at every reading assignment and if I did read, I hardly comprehended what I read.

There is a previous post on …

Top Dog - Bottom Dog Phenomenon

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My first year in high school was challenging. Coming from sixth grade, the highest class in an elementary school, it was indeed quite a shock to hold the lowest status when I entered high school. At the moment, I do have concerns about my son who is presently in fifth grade, which marks the end of elementary school in Virginia. I worry about the changes he will encounter when he goes to middle school next year. Such anxiety unfortunately is supported by evidence from research. First, there is an achievement dip upon going to middle school.

Second, sixth graders in middle schools often experience more instances of bullying and fighting.

Indeed, a recent paper published in the American Educational Research Journalsuggests that middle school does have significant influences on both school climate and learning outcomes. Sadly, the influences are not positive. The effects are largely described as "top dog - bottom dog" phenomenon. The change occurs partly because of a sixth grade…

Should We Hire or Train Teachers?

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With the extension of basic education in the Philippines from ten years to K to 12, plus a growing population, there is an obvious need for additional teachers. It is one reason why some argue that the Philippines should have started K to 12 only at kindergarten and not at first year high school. This would then have given ample time for the government to prepare for the two additional years in high school. If only those who finished kindergarten in 2013 are expected to go through the entire new curriculum then the government has at least ten years to prepare for the senior high school years. Unfortunately, the government has chosen a half-baked approach, forcing grade seven students into the new K to 12 curriculum four years ago. As a result, the challenges of both a low enrollment in higher education and a shortage of teachers have come too soon. With these difficulties, the government once more has chosen to take a band aid approach. DepEd secretary Briones is planning to use more …

We Need to Be More Thoughtful on Matters Concerning Education

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Psychologist Daniel Willingham does not hold anything back in his recent blog post as he criticizes a New York Times' article authored by Nicholson Baker. In both social and print media, people seldom claim to be experts in the natural sciences except when they really are. In stark contrast, with education everyone seems to think that they know everything. Willingham therefore implores editors of American periodicals to exercise great care so as not to misinform the public regarding education. As a tip, Willingham provides a list of items that can serve as good warning flags:
Technology is poised to revolutionize learning and schools.Competition would solve all problems in American education.American education is the best in the world and all challenges in educational outcomes are due to poverty.Teachers are fools, and the teacher’s unions are organized crime syndicates dedicated to protecting them.All of America’s problems in education can be traced to standardized tests and if te…

Millions of American Students Are Performing Above Their Current Grade Level

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More than half of parents in America think their children are above average academically. Of course, it is not statistically possible for more than half of the students to be above average. It is stupid and yet, we, as parents, often cling on a single test score just to prove that our child is special. Our society is fundamentally competitive and the school simply serves as a breeding ground to amass an advantage over others. This obsession is so great that we sometimes reduce schooling to just reading and mathematics, for these are the subjects that come with standardized tests. First of all, standardized tests are normally designed to spot failures and not success. The scope of the items tested in any finite exam is finite, not unlimited. Most standardized exams are therefore more reliable in pinpointing deficiencies and not excellence.
Unfortunately, even researchers in higher education misinform parents. In a non peer-reviewed paper, a group of workers from various universities s…

"I'm Appreciated, I'm Able, I'm Awesome, I'm Amazing"

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Geneva Dixon says in a Huffington Post article that one of the eight things we must do in the US to save public school education is to "Stop talking about saving the planet and live it". It does make sense that for one to be aware of nature or the environment, one must spend more time outdoors. There is really a limit to what one could learn on pen and paper. Ironically, schools tend to overestimate what reading and writing can really accomplish. Even in developing one's self-image, students are sometimes provided writing exercises that are supposed to spark an examination of one's values. And indeed, there are claims that these exercises can even help a student combat stereotyping oneself into one of those types deemed to underperform in schools.

A student whose race, socio-economic status, or disability falls into one of these academically challenged stereotypes does risk developing a self-image that is self-fulfilling. Each day is a challenge for these students. W…

Providing a Laptop and Online Math Lessons

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Resources are indeed important in delivering quality basic education. Those of us who have given to poor students in schools recognize right away and unmistakably the immense gratitude and excitement we receive from beneficiaries. How we help can also come in different flavors. It could be "high touch" where we sacrifice our own time and spend considerable effort to help educate or it could be "low touch" where we simply provide tools that may help students to learn. Either way, the response is particularly positive, from students, their parents and teachers. Whether what we have contributed is effective or not, however, remains to be addressed. We can easily make students smile. Making students learn more is a different question.

Lynch and Kim at Harvard recently reported a study examining the effects of a "low touch" intervention. They provided free subscriptions to an online math lesson and a laptop to poor children. More than 200 students (which inclu…

Recovery High Schools and the Drug War

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The Philippines is currently waging a war against illegal drugs. Both international and local media have been quick to underscore the number of lives that have been lost so far, nearly two thousand over the past two months. The drug epidemic is real. The Philippines ranks top among Southeast Asian countries in terms of methamphetamine (or shabu) abuse. While the current focus of Philippine authorities is curbing the supply side of the problem, the demand side is unfortunately rarely discussed even by those who criticize the hardline approach taken by the government. The reason perhaps lies in the fact that rehabilitation is both difficult and expensive.

In the United States, "recovery high schools" are beginning to emerge. Treatment clinics as these are mostly short term are thought to be inadequate for drug abuse rehabilitation. Thus, high schools can provide a longer period and a much more personal environment to address drug abuse among adolescents. These schools of cours…