"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

Friday, April 29, 2016

An Appeal to Pearson Shareholders

A public education system in decline, a government that is more than willing to lift restrictions just to entice privatization of education, and a globalized economy that now can easily dictate what wages should be and not ought to be can easily combine to form a destructive corporatization of basic education. Learning outcomes in basic education are closely tied to the quality of life of children both inside and outside schools. This is a fact strongly supported by research. No corporation therefore can claim any ability to turn around failing schools in poor communities or developing countries without improving first the lives of the children in these depressed neighborhoods.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers is attending a shareholders' meeting in London. The company is Pearson. In an email circulated by an action network, Weingarten describes Pearson in the following manner:
Pearson’s brand is becoming toxic because it promotes bad policy that puts profit over what’s good for students. But its model is so broken that its stock price is down more than 40 percent in the last year, making Pearson a bad bet for investors and public schools. 
In the United States, parents and students are opting out of Pearson’s high-stakes tests and telling governments to end contracts with Pearson. Pearson puts “gag clauses” in test contracts to prevent teachers from raising questions about the tests, and has been caught monitoring kids’ social media to stop testing leaks. 
In the developing world, Pearson is charging poor parents up to half their income to send a single child to school and spending millions to expand its markets. 
That model is broken, and the company isn’t returning good value for shareholders or helping improve public education.
Links to various calls for action are also included in the email and the following specifically addresses a growing concern in developing countries:

Above copied from TellPearson.org

Pearson's stock price in the last year, copied from Yahoo Finance

The situation in the Philippines is indeed ripe for privatization of schools. With a new curriculum that the government obviously cannot implement, there is a strong momentum toward engaging the private sector into basic education. The voucher program alone provides a strong incentive for entrepreneurs to take advantage of the situation.

Above copied from Rappler

Of course, this is really not news. A lot of people are simply not paying attention. A previous post in this blog months ago highlighted an article in the Huffington Post by Alan Singer.

Above copied from Huffington Post
Singer basically digested a study made by Curtis Riep. The study exposed a partnership between Pearson and the Ayala group. Riep concluded that such a partnership was not good for Philippine basic education.
Big business has moved into the education sector because they are motivated by the view that the quality of education in the Philippines is in decline, we’re lagging behind, and we’re no longer competitive in the global market. Business can’t wait for government to fix the situation so they’ll invest and do it themselves. So the key motivation is global competitiveness. The kind of education they are pushing for is one that will develop the skills for the global labour market. So, the impact of the corporatisation of education here in the Philippines is supposedly to strengthen ties with the global labour market. Will this lead to genuine development for the majority of Filipinos? We think not. Filipinos will not lift themselves out of poverty by exporting our labour or educating our students so they can become low-paid, low-skilled workers for foreign companies. 
Weingarten's email, however, adds a far more bitter layer to this story. Pearson, like any corporation, is looking for profits. Profit is the difference between the costs of production and the price consumers pay. One maximizes profits by either lowering the cost of production or charging the consumer a higher price. By relaxing requirements for the delivery of basic education, corporations can hire teachers that are not licensed. These teachers, of course, cannot demand just wages. Schools need not meet basic requirements of having a science laboratory or a place for exercise, recess and physical education. On the other hand, subsidies like the voucher program ensures the corporation of revenue.

This blog, for the past four years, has been outlining the challenges basic education faces as well as possible solutions to address problems. Clearly, there is no way corporate greed could be beneficial to public basic education. Corporate greed can only destroy public basic education.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

With Regard to Climate Change, There Is No Such Thing As "Clean Coal"

In a lightning round of questions, Mar Roxas, a candidate for president in the Philippines, said that coal as an energy source is not damaging to the environment. Roxas cites "clean coal" and expresses no opposition to the current plans of the Aquino administration to build more than an additional score of coal plants in the country. This, of course, goes way against an agreement the country has signed in Paris in which the country says it is committed to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by seventy percent. With regard to carbon emissions, with regard to climate change, there is no such thing as "clean coal".

It is one thing to be vulgar or offensive with words, something another candidate for president in the Philippines is now known for worldwide. But far more insidious is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Pretending to be environmentally friendly while doing exactly what harms the environment.

"Clean coal" is really a response to other pollutants which include highly toxic metals as well as acid rain producing gases. Below is an excerpt from the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA).
Above copied from the US Enviroment Protection Agency (EPA)

To address these pollutants, various technologies have been employed in newly built as well as existing coal plants in the United States and in Europe.

Above copied from the US Enviroment Protection Agency (EPA)

Carbon dioxide emission is an entirely different story. Pope Francis is quite clear in this regard, in his encyclical on nature, Laudato Si':
...Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy....
It is in terms of carbon dioxide emissions that coal is truly a bad fuel. Basic chemistry tells us that coal produces much more carbon dioxide for every energy unit extracted.
Above copied from the US Energy Information Administration
One need not ask a candidate of his or her stand on basic education. One need not ask how much a candidate support education in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). One simply has to look at what a candidate tells us on important issues such as climate change to see. Mar Roxas, by implying that "clean coal" is not affecting the environment grossly miseducates the public. And unfortunately, it is done in a very insidious fashion.

To learn more about carbon dioxide and climate change, I share below a series of slides which I use when introducing this topic to my General Chemistry class.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Failing Schools Tell Us Much More About Ourselves

Some place their hope in education as a solution for social ills. Unfortunately, what happens inside schools is often more of a symptom than a cure. When children in schools fail, it only means that we as a society are failing to meet some of the basic needs of our children. When children fail to learn how to read, it simply points to our own failures.

Children from the city of Detroit in the state of Michigan in the US are among the lowest scorers in the country's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Above copied from Detroit News
Failing test scores, however, is not the end of the story. Failing schools are frequently associated with other bad news. Here is another one from Detroit.

Above copied from NPR
In the above piece of news, it is alleged that a dozen principals, working independently, have given contracts for school supplies to a vendor, and in return, have received a share of the profit. It is indeed sad to see that on top of failing schools, there is alleged corruption.

Children in the Philippines, similar to the young ones of Detroit, are also performing miserably in national exams.

Above copied from UNESCO
The passing score in this exam is 75, yet the mean scores throughout the past years have always been below this mark. The standard deviation in these exams is about 12, so it is truly comparable to those in Detroit, where about less than a third are passing the exam. A closer look at Mathematics reveals deeper problems. A study involving grade 8 students from Don Bosco Technical Institute in Makati shows that students fail in half of the contents tested:

Above copied from Romee Nicker A. Capate and Minie Rose C. Lapinid,
Assessing the Mathematics Performance of Grade 8 Studentsas Basis for Enhancing Instruction andAligning with K to 12 Curriculum
And similar to Detroit, the bad news does not stop here. The Commission on Audit in the Philippines finds that the Department of Education has wasted 608 million pesos on textbooks students can no longer use.

Above copied from the Philippine Star
In Detroit, there are those who see what children need. LutheranHANDS, for instance, has the following call for help.

"The shockingly low standardized test scores and graduation rates in the majority of the Detroit public schools are a sign of dysfunction across institutions meant to support children." These institutions are the homes, communities, schools, church and government. It is not the curriculum....

Saturday, April 23, 2016

I Am Poor. What Would Help Me Succeed in School?

Poverty crushes education. However, it is also true that there are poor children who succeed in school. For instance, I am an anecdote. I am one hundred percent sure that there are other examples. Citing several anecdotes, however, is not the same as data for one simple reason. We already know that these are exceptions. Nonetheless, examining these exceptions with an appropriate objective can be meaningful. A paper published in Comparative Education Review: "Against All Odds: Outstanding Reading Performance among Chilean Youth in Vulnerable Conditions" by Gabriela Gomez Vera, Juan Pablo Valenzuela, and Carmen Sotomayor, looks at characteristics in households, students and schools that correlate with scores of poor children in an international standardized reading exam.

The educational system in Chile represents one of the most socio-economic segregated schools in the world. Paying attention to scores of students from Chile therefore provides a good set of data to explore what characterizes poor children who manage to beat the odds in school. In the PISA Reading exam of 2009, about a third (384 students) of children in the lowest socioeconomic quartile (1096 students) who took the exam, managed to score at or above the national average. These students are considered "resilient". Several characteristics for these "resilient" and "nonresilient" children are then examined to reveal what factors correlate with higher reading scores. These are some of the characteristics found to correlate with "resilient" students:

  • There are more girls
  • They often belong to a family where the mother stays at home
  • They tend to have parents who are more educated
  • They are less likely to live in a single-parent household
  • They prefer to read nonfiction over fiction
  • They enjoy reading
School factors, like class size, positive climate, and teacher's encouragement are also considered but these turn out to be not strongly correlated with student performance. The following lists the factors examined. The green ones positively correlate with resiliency while the red ones negatively correlate. The font size roughly indicates how strong the odds are for a student to be resilient (green) or nonresilient (red).

One must keep in mind that these are mere correlations. However, by reflecting on the above factors that correlate strongly with student performance, it is likewise reasonable to infer that these are beyond correlations.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Role of Research in Schools

Education policy makers are often quick to claim that reforms they introduce are informed by research. Unfortunately, in education, there is usually a gap between research and practice. In the state of Mississippi, a study by the The Barksdale Reading Institute (BRI) and The Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) found that established research-based principles of early-literacy instruction remain largely unapplied in teachers' preparation and practice. Teaching colleges fail to teach teachers practices that are currently supported by evidence. Consequently, practices that become widely used in classrooms are those unsupported by research. Often, these practices are even misinterpretations of what research says.

Click here to read the entire report
The research work the study focused on that is found largely missing in teaching colleges' curriculum is not actually that recent. BRI and IHL looked at teacher preparatory programs in Mississippi to check if  evidence-based practices documented by the National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000) are in fact covered.

Langenberg captures the essence of the NRP report in his testimony to the US Senate back in 2000:
To become good readers, children must develop:
  • Phonemic awareness
  • Phonics skills
  • The ability to read words in text in an accurate and fluent manner
  • The ability to apply comprehension strategies consciously and deliberately as they read
The NRP also adds that there is no clear evidence supporting the notion that reading silently to oneself improves reading fluency. However, the NRP does not discourage the practice of encouraging children to read on their own. What the NRP encourages is guided oral reading during which a child reads aloud to a teacher or parent or other students who can then provide immediate feedback.

Instead of emphasizing practices supported by research, the study finds responses from teachers that paint a preparatory program that is more concerned with form and not substance. Jackie Mader at the Hechinger Report describes the major findings of the study in the following paragraph:
The authors of the report spoke to aspiring educators in Mississippi’s teacher prep programs and found “very limited and conflicting knowledge” about how to teach early literacy skills. Some teacher prep students said their assignments failed to prepare them to teach reading, and for example, instead of being graded on the content of their work or given meaningful assignments, they were graded on the organization of their notebooks and were given tasks like reading 100 children’s books. Overall, research-based practices for teaching reading were found to be missing throughout teacher preparation programs in the state.
The NRP report finds that explicit instruction is necessary for phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, and strategies for recalling information, formulating questions, and summarizing. These are all separate components with each one requiring our attention. Each one needs to be addressed and not merely embedded or appended.

When Mississippi started to assess third graders on reading, thousands failed. Mississippi also ranks below average in reading compared to other states. In the Philippines, exam scores of third graders are actually worse.

In English and Filipino, third graders are scoring far below the goal of 75 percent. One must therefore ask the question how teachers are being prepared and taught to teach.

A cursory look at DepEd's K to 12 curriculum in third grade English shows some of the elements recommended by the National Reading Panel in the US. However, one must ask the question of how possible it is to squeeze all of these components in two weeks.

There is certainly research that guides us on what practices are effective. The main problem is that the message often does not reach the teachers. This leaves teachers in a position where they are simply unable to judge what really works and what really is important. And even when they are told, they are left alone to figure out the implementation or application.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Why the Philippines' K to 12 Is Unconstitutional

A group called Negros Movement for Quality Education shares on Facebook contents of one of the petitions before the Philippines Supreme Court against Republic Act 10533, the law behind the new DepEd's K to 12 curriculum. Negros is the fourth largest island in the Philippines and is composed of two provinces, Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental. It has a population of about 4 million. One of its cities, Bacolod, is home to a Parents Teachers Association Federation that is highly critical of DepEd's K to 12.

Although the petition focuses mainly on major discrepancies between the bill passed by Congress and the version signed into the law by the president, it is clear that there are likewise objections to the substance behind the differences between the two versions. Here are some of the discrepancies that are deemed substantial and are therefore clearly contrary to the initial goals of lawmakers.

  • Science is supposed to be introduced as early as first grade
  • Teachers, parents as well as elders of indigenous communities are supposed to be part of the Curriculum Consultative Committee
  • Subjects in tertiary education that are mandated by law but are about to be removed to reduce the general education requirements in higher education must be included in the new K to 12 curriculum. 
The law was signed on May 2013, but new high school curriculum was ordered to be implemented on April 2012, a year before the bill became law. As a result, students who finished 10th grade this year are no longer allowed to enter college without going through two additional years of basic education. Of course, there are objections to the law that go beyond discrepancies between versions. The law after all makes the serious mistake of equating K to 12 with compulsory education. Most countries have ten or even less years of compulsory education. The Philippine Constitution mandates only the six years of elementary education as compulsory. Republic Act 10533, DepEd's K to 12 curriculum, therefore amends the Philippine constitution. 

For those who are not familiar with the reasons why some are against DepEd's K to 12, here is a series of slides prepared by the Negros Movement for Quality Education

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Effective Grading Practices

This blog does receive comments on Facebook but it is rare when people directly post their comments on this blog. The blog received one comment last night and I would like to share the first two paragraphs of that comment:
"The Philippine government doesn't want the citizens knowing how far behind the rest of the world their educational system is. The last time Philippines took international tests that I am aware of was 2003, with their fourth graders scoring 358 against an international average of 495 in Math and 332 against an average of 439 in science. There is a lot of false pride instilled in the students with celebrations, ribbons, balloons, and downright delusional thinking. My sister in law was a highly decorated student, representing her school in regional mass communications events. She didn't know Philippines was #3 in the world for murdered journalists nor the corrupt practices in Philippines where journalists take bribes to write the exact opposite of the truth in their articles. She scored roughly half the cut-off on the SASE for admission to MSU-IIT, and not one student from her school qualified. 
Her teachers were frankly her worst enemies, filling her head with fairy tales about how bright their futures were, how the teachers should be worshiped for equipping them with this magic potion called "education". All you have to do is be present. The students are booted out the door after more than a decade of appallingly poor education, and the teachers could not care less what happens to them. If they did, then the students would be told their place on international measures of achievement and they would instill an urgent work ethic in catching up to the rest of the world. But instead it's "party, party, party, three cheers for how great we are!"."
Ken O'Connor, an independent consultant, has been working for over a decade now on issues concerning grading and how in general we must communicate with both students and parents about achievements in school. In the following short video, Ken O'Connor emphasizes four conditions that need to be met for effective grading practices.

The four conditions are: Grading must be
  1. consistent
  2. accurate
  3. meaningful
  4. supportive of learning
Every week my son brings home a folder that contains the things he had been working on as well as a sheet from the team of teachers teaching his class that narrates what is happening in the classroom during the week. At the end of this sheet is actually a quiz for the parent. Below is the quiz for this week.

The first part is a quiz. The first three questions can be addressed and answered correctly by any parent who has read the summary for the week. However, the fourth question cannot be answered without help from my son. I need to ask my son to find out the answer. That is how I got "Patrick Henry". The last part is a weekly check-in showing how my son's teacher rates my son's performance during the week. It is about "classwork" and "behavior". In this grading, 4 is highest and 1 is lowest. 

In my son's school and throughout Fairfax county, elementary students receive information regarding their performance in class with the following measures:

In middle and high school, Fairfax county adopts a much more common grading scale that is now based on tests and projects. For instance, in middle school, the following is a description of what is found in a student's progress report:
Quarterly Progress Reports 
A. Progress reports reflect student learning based on identified standards of knowledge and competencies included in the curriculum. The grading symbols for academic achievement are A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, and F. Progress reports should separate achievement from responsibility and/or work habits. Teacher-assigned homework may be part of the academic grade. 
B. Throughout the quarter grading periods, teachers will maintain a record of student progress using various assessments. All students will be graded on achievement after sufficient instruction, feedback, and practice have been provided. Final grades reflect the mastery level at the end of the regular school year. Final grades include averaging results of assessments along with professional judgment based on the student’s overall pattern of progress throughout the school year. 
At the moment, the county is in fact examining its grading policy for grades 6-12. The main questions are:
  • Do grades represent a student’s achievement or their work habits?
  • Does the way grades are calculated result in misrepresentation of student achievement?
  • Do grading practices encourage students to be persistent in achieving mastery?
Clearly, these questions essentially contain the four conditions given by Ken O'Connor: consistency, accuracy, meaningful and supportive. Hanover Research had examined current grading practices in middle school and high schools in the US. They found that with regard to the accuracy of grading, the following causes problems:
  • Grading for Behavioral Issues
  • Incorporating Teacher Expectations and Judgments into Grades 
  • Using Zeroes as a Punishment 
  • Using a Points System and Averages 
  • Grading Homework and Other Formative Assignments 
  • Grading on a Curve 
  • Allowing Extra Credit
Clearly, behavioral issues should be separate for these do not inform us of how much a student has learned. In the Philippines, DepEd's K to 12 maintains "participation" as part of a student's academic grade:

Above copied from DepEd Order No. 73, s. 2012

"Participating voluntarily, actively, enthusiastically" and having "consideration for the feelings/opinions of others" are obviously not measures of student learning. These are behaviors.

The most accessed or viewed article on this blog is DepEd's K to 12 New Grading System. I am not sure why this is the case. Seeing the paragraph below from O'Connor's webpage makes me wonder:
With considerable regret, I have decided to remove the ability to post questions about grading issues on this website. I am doing this because I am overwhelmed by the number of questions that are simply about calculating grades. This happens continually despite the clear statement in red on the "Ask the Grade Doctor" page - "The purpose of "Ask the Grade Doctor" is to answer substantive questions about grading and reporting philosophy, policy, procedures, and practices. I will not answer questions that are only about the calculation of grades. Please do not post this type of question."
That is why I appreciate the comment I received which I shared at the beginning of this article. Our reflections on basic education must really navigate substantial and not superficial issues.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Fundraising in an Elementary School

Back in the Philippines, I remember pageants and lotteries as ways schools use to raise funds. In "The Culture of Beauty Pageants in the Philippines", Teresa Martinez writes, "The wisdom of holding beauty pageants is especially evident in fundraising activities since most families will back up their candidates by buying tickets." Lottery tickets can be also successful if the prizes are attractive. Such fundraising activities, of course, are not necessarily signs of a collaborative community. Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a fundraising in my children's elementary school. It was a spaghetti dinner, a fundraising event of the fifth grade class in the school.

The school cafeteria was packed. Some had to wait to be seated.

The fifth graders, their parents and teachers are serving spaghetti, lasagna and salad.

Of course, there was dessert.

The fifth graders were waiting on tables. Each fifth grader had a piece of paper to mark orders. The prices in the menu are nicely rounded so the children could actually do the arithmetic in their heads. The dinner was held simultaneously with a health fair event sponsored by Inova Health System. There was even a Zumba session held in the school gym.

Obviously, my children had fun by spending time with their friends.

I was likewise enjoying the dinner that I did not even notice that the principal had taken a photo of our table.

It was a great hit. More importantly, one could see a community working together. The parents and teachers were there, but it was likewise clear that students were much part of the event. The event was unmistakably a manifestation of the school's collaborative character. After all, Mason Crest Elementary School was the recipient of the first annual DuFour Award, a recognition of the school's professional learning community.

This poster inside the cafeteria was indeed a sign that students were indeed a major part of this fundraising event. My children and I are happy that we're invited.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"Diwata-1" and What It Takes to Become a Scientist

Two weeks ago, the first-Filipino made microsatellite named Diwata-1 was brought to outer space by the Atlas V rocket. Diwata-1's objective was to capture images for weather patterns, agricultural productivity, and land and water resources in the Philippines. The microsatellite was part of an initiative from Hokkaido University and Tohoku University. Countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand and Mongolia were given the opportunity to build a network of microsatellites that would monitor the region's weather and natural resources. March 23 was a significant date. After all, it paved way for the first Philippine satellite to be launched before the end of the Aquino administration.

Above copied from CNN Philippines 
The first Philippine microsatellite, Diwata-1
Above photo copied from ASEAN Military Defense Review

Sadly, a week later, one of the Filipino engineers, Paolo Espiritu, shared on Facebook grievances against the Philippines' Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The following is the part that captured my attention:
They call us “students”, yet normal students go in at 9am, and leave at 5pm. Normal students attend class all the time. Normal students are almost finished on their individual thesis projects. Normal students have personal time on the weekends. Normal students enjoy holidays. But no. We are not just students. We go in at 9am, and leave at 1am. Most of the days, we have no choice but to skip our classes to work on the microsatellite. We have no chance to work on our thesis projects. We go the lab on Saturdays. We go to the lab on Sundays. We go to the lab on holidays. We go to the lab during Christmas. So no. We are not just students.
Perhaps, Paolo has not seen the following. It is an article written by John Skylar. The title of the article captures a horrifying picture of what it takes to become a scientist.

Above copied from John Skylar's Talebearing
Not all graduate students may be giving up their firstborn, but graduate students do work long hours. Graduate students are not paid generous salaries, only a stipend, only enough to get by each day. I sometimes show new graduate students in classes I teach the following:
The first date shown is when an editor received a paper we submitted to a journal for consideration. In 1993, papers were still submitted through the post office and took about a week or two to be received indicating that this paper was written over the holiday season.

What does it take to become a scientist? A lot. And that is not an understatement.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Recess and Play

Once in a while, one can in fact stumble at some nuggets of wisdom in social media. A candidate for local office is stating that classrooms will be built for public schools with the help of a provincial governor and a senator. It was not in this statement where I found a rare insightful point. It was in one comment to this post that said that primary schools should not be regarded only as buildings with classrooms. Children need recess. Children need a place to play.

Recess and play are different from physical education

Although recess and play increase physical activity that builds strength and fitness, and improves health, free play among children is so much more than just physical education. Anthony D. Pellegrini and Catherine M. Bohn-Gettler have provided a good summary of what research says about the Benefits of Recess in Primary School. Research supports the notion that recess and free play are important for the following: physical fitness, classroom behavior, social skills, and cognitive skills and achievement.

To understand one important aspect of recess and free play, here is a paragraph shared by Valerie Strauss on the Washington Post. These are originally from Timbernook's founder, Angela Hanscom.
A child’s neurological system is designed to naturally seek out the sensory input it needs on its own. For instance, if a child is spinning around in circles, it is because they are ready for that sensory input. Another child may not need or want to spin. In fact, it may make them sick to their stomach. Maybe this child needs to have some quiet time to dig in the dirt. A third child may be jumping off a small rock over and over again, because their body is ready for this challenge. The child is the best indicator on what type of movement they need at any given time.
Thinking of primary schools only in terms of classrooms does look at child development in the same narrow sense as focusing solely on academics. Elementary schools not only need classrooms but space where children can grow as children should.