"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Long Road from Reading to Comprehension

I teach the second semester of General Chemistry at Georgetown and at the beginning of the course, I often tell the following to my students: "Last semester, you were introduced to a vast array of concepts and tools beginners in chemistry need to learn. By now, I hope you would be able to carry a conversation with a chemist and understand some of the language that chemists use. Chemical equations should now look similar to a sentence written in grade school level. This semester, it is time to see the fundamental concepts (the basic ideas and emotions) upon which chemistry is built. And I hope that after this semester, you will be able to see how things fit together and begin to see the world in the way chemists see it."

I also share with my students a poem I wrote in my mother tongue:

Makatang Dalita

Mga titik sa harap ng aking mga mata,
sukat na walang malay tulad ng mga bata,
hanap ay pagsasama upang maging salita,
anyo at damdamin nasa kamay ng makata.

Ang mga pusong ngayon ay waring nagkalayo,
mga saysay na hindi maihatid sa iyo,
galak, hinagpis at pati na rin pagsusuyo,
sa titik lang nawa'y magkaunawaan tayo.

Dagat man ang kaibhan pilit naitutugma,
labis o kulang kinakailangang tumama,
salat sa ayos sa aking puso'y nadarama,
mga titik, aking hangad, ay magkakasama.

Mga titik ay maging salita, maging tula,
isipan at damdamin ay maipakilala,
at kahit walang himig sa madla'y ipatala,
titik na may galak, minsan di'y galit ang dala.

Hindi hihigit sa sulyap ng iyong mga mata,
o sa tamis ng ngiti sa labing nagmumula,
o sa larawan ng ating mga alaala,
ito'y 'sa lamang tula ng makatang dalita.

Below is a translation in English: 

The Poor Poet

Letters running across my eyes,
Filled with innocence like little children,
Searching for a union that will make words,
Their form and emotions, in the poet’s hand.

Hearts that are now seemingly far apart,
Stories that cannot be told,
Joy, sorrow and love,
With these letters, I hope we understand.

Amidst a sea of difference, I will try to connect,
Too much or too little, I will try for a meter,
Devoid of order, in my heart I feel,
These letters, I wish, will come together.

The letters will become words, will become a poem,
My mind and heart, I will show,
And without a tune, I will share,
Letters with joy, and sometimes with anger.

This will never surpass a glance from your eyes,
Neither the sweetness of your smile,
Nor a picture of our memories,
This is only a poem from a poor poet.

Reading occurs at different text levels. First, we have letters clustered together to form a word. Word reading therefore becomes the first step. Then comes vocabulary, we need to know what these words mean. Words make up a sentence. In a simple sentence, there is a subject, a verb, and an object. Of course, adjectives and adverbs add flavor but there are also prepositions and conjunctions which can add a dependent clause or two. There is also past, present and future. Grammar helps us understand how words are connected to each other. These rules guide us in extracting the message from a sentence. Beyond a sentence, we now venture into high-level language. We need to figure out the topic behind all these sentences. We can sometimes infer. And when we really get into the reading, we may even feel what the writer feels. The above steps, by the way, are also necessary to understand a joke. Failing in one of these steps can easily lead us to missing the punch line. 

Indeed, there are so many factors involved in the process of reading to comprehending. Helping a child develop reading comprehension requires identifying where the difficulty lies. What is interesting is that these factors are a bit independent of each other. In addition, there seems to be a hierarchical relationship. Letters, words, concepts, topic, disposition can be regarded as descriptions of reading levels. Therefore, one may suggest that difficulties in each of these levels map over a child's reading comprehension performance. 

The Language and Reading Research Consortium at Ohio State University has recently examined how each of these factors correlate with a child's performance in reading comprehension. The study, "Pressure Points in Reading Comprehension: A Quantile Multiple Regression Analysis", is scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology. The researchers find that all of these areas, vocabulary, word reading, grammar, and high level language provide variance among students across all quantiles of reading comprehension. The contributions at each quantile performance seem identical for each of the different areas.

Above copied from
Pressure Points in Reading Comprehension: A Quantile Multiple Regression Analysis.
Logan, Jessica Language and Reading Research Consortium
Journal of Educational Psychology, Oct 24 , 2016, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000150
With multiple regression, the researchers are able to extract the unique contribution of each area to a child's reading performance. In this analysis, the hierarchical nature becomes evident.

Above copied from
Pressure Points in Reading Comprehension: A Quantile Multiple Regression Analysis.
Logan, Jessica Language and Reading Research Consortium
Journal of Educational Psychology, Oct 24 , 2016, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000150
Word reading is important for poor readers. These students need help in this area. Variations in performance among poor readers are also correlated with grammar and high level language. Vocabulary, on the other hand, is quite important among average readers. Grammar seems to be the only area of significance among top readers. Nevertheless, the additional analysis still leads to something similar from the one obtained in a simple regression analysis, that is, the contributions from the various areas are much less than 1 at the 90th percentile. Obviously, there is one area that is not included in this analysis that may be able to explain further differences in reading comprehension performance. As the authors noted, this may be knowledge. Background information is important in reading comprehension since we oftentimes know something about a passage that we are about to read. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Virginia Does Well In Science

The NAEP Science results are now available. Schools in Virginia have scores higher than the average across the country. Not only are the average scores higher, but also the number of students reaching both basic and proficient level. In fourth grade, the state ranks among the highest in the country. In eight grade, the state drops its ranking suggesting that the state needs to focus on the sciences in middle school. Data for individual states for the 12th grade test are not available, but one can extrapolate that Virginia only goes down further since performance in this test depends more on knowledge and such knowledge is cumulative.

In fourth grade, Virginia ranks near the top in terms of average score, percentage of students reaching basic and proficient levels:

Virginia looks better when one looks at the percentage reaching proficient level than when one considers the percentage reaching basic level. This suggests that the school system may be less equitable than it should be. This becomes more evident in eight grade:

Carl Wieman, a Nobel laureate, is "not convinced the NAEP science tests meaningfully assess scientific thinking". He thinks the exams dwell more on facts recall. Still, one can not deny the fact that science requires knowledge and this test addresses this part of science education.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Free College Education Is Not Free

Politicians make promises. Of course, a lot of voters are also quite cynical. There are, however, promises that are obviously difficult to keep. There are also promises that may be attractive at first, but after a thoughtful analysis, may actually end up hurting society. One example is free tuition in state colleges. We in fact have heard this from Bernie Sanders in the US. In the Philippines, there is a bill currently filed in the Senate for free college in state universities and colleges (SUCs). Appealing this proposal maybe, free college education is not free.

Above copied from the Senate of the Philippines Facebook page
Such bill is actually as bad as the DepEd K+12 law passed in 2013. One glaring similarity between the two is the lack of consideration for what is necessary to implement the law. Another is its complete neglect of unintended consequences. And lastly, although both claim to help the poor, these measures will make matters worse. 

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. 

And as in any advertisements that we hear on the radio, there are details at the end that actually warrant more our attention. In Germany, for instance, tracking begins early in basic education such that enrollment in colleges becomes very selective. This, of course, becomes a necessary evil because of the plain fact that no country can really afford to give college education to everyone. In the case of the Philippines, the country cannot even provide for the senior high school years. Therefore, selection is necessary. Interestingly, the tracking introduced in DepEd's K to 12 is already in place. Free college education only hurts the poor as much needed resources for basic education are going to be stretched even further. And, of course, schools that serve primarily poor children are the first to suffer. If poor students cannot even finish high school, offering free college is really an empty promise meant to get popular votes but no fruitful action.

The bill in front of the Philippines Senate claims to help poor students who want to finish college. 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. It is more prudent then to ensure that these students receive full scholarships and living allowances than to offer free college education to all. 

Unintended consequences are also present. Governments are often incapable of raising the quality of education. There is ample evidence out there. Quality in higher education is sure to suffer when it does not have the funding necessary for its operations. Private institutions of higher learning are going to be forced to close as their student enrollments plummet. Will the government then resort to handing vouchers for those who wish to enter a private college?

The Philippines must focus its limited resources in tackling the problems of basic education first. The biggest problem in higher education in the Philippines is quality not accessibility. Quality must be addressed first. Doing otherwise only creates two monstrous disasters. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Why Teachers Quit

A recent report from the Learning Policy Institute, "A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S.", projects a shortage of about 100,000 teachers by 2018. Worse, the shortages are not uniform across the country. The South is already experiencing severe shortages while Massachusetts still has a surplus. The needs also vary with subject. The demand for teachers for mathematics, science, special education and English language learners runs above the supply in most states. Worse, schools that need teachers the most, schools that teach poor students, are often the first ones to suffer. One big reason behind this shortage, according to the report, is the significant number of teachers quitting.

Above copied from
Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S.. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.
There are about 3 million teachers in US public schools. Thus, a leaving rate of 8% corresponds to 240,000 teachers quitting every year. One can easily compare this with the number of persons who have completed a teacher preparation program for example in the year 2014, only 180,000. Clearly, more individuals are leaving than entering the profession.

The report does not stop at supply and demand. It also has a survey of the reasons why teachers leave.

Above copied from
Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S.. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.
Teachers are dissatisfied and if one digs deeper, most are not happy because of assessments.

Above copied from
Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S.. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.
High stakes assessments have not done any good to public basic education, yet policy makers keep insisting on these failed measures. This huge disconnect often happens when those who draw policy are completely divorced from the reality of the situation. We can only hope that this report from Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, and Carver-Thomas opens the eyes of those who need to see what is truly going on in basic education.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

US Public Schools Fail Students with Disabilities

The headline on PJ Media Parenting maybe harsh, "The Evidence is Clear: Public Education Fails Dyslexic Students". Sadly, the truth is that public schools over the past decade in the United States have not been able to bridge the achievement gap between students who have disabilities and those who do not.

Above copied from PJ Media
Even when using exams that are guaranteed to align with what was actually taught inside the classroom, students with disabilities are significantly left behind. Schulte and Stevens, in their study of North Carolina elementary students find that "When disability status was determined on the basis of special education placement each year, the achievement gap was larger across grades than when the subgroup of students with disabilities (SWDs) was defined more broadly, including students who had exited special education or who were in special education anytime between Grades 3 and 7. Regardless of the identification criteria, the SWD subgroup showed lower average achievement and slower growth than students without disabilities."

The Nation's Report Card likewise shows this gap clearly. Over the past twelve years, achievement gaps at the basic level in both Grade 4 math and reading remain at about 30 and 40 percent, respectively.

At this point, it is important to ask why these gaps are so stubborn. One reason is that evidence-based interventions are not easily implemented inside the classrooms. Cook and Odom demonstrate this in a mathematical equation that shows why evidence-based practices (EBP) are often not implemented:
Imagine, for example, that a school district adopts an EBP for its students with learning disabilities in elementary schools. District personnel are understandably excited to begin the new year by rolling out a practice that has been shown by multiple, high-quality studies to meaningfully improve outcomes for, say, 95% of elementary children with learning disabilities. However, only 80% of elementary schools agree to participate in the project (reach). Further, given problems related to training, planning and instructional time, and reluctance to adopt new practices, only 70% of teachers within targeted schools end up using the practice at all (adoption). Due to sometimes ineffectual training and lack of ongoing support, perhaps only 60% of teachers who adopt the practice implement it with fidelity; and only 50% of those maintain their use of the practice over the entire school year. In this scenario, actual impact is calculated as
.95 (efficacy) X .80 (reach) X .70 (adoption) X .60 (implementation) X .50 (maintenance) = .16
In addition to the absence or poor implementation of research-recommended interventions, disabilities are often couched in cultural or social terms. Kauffman and Bader capture this in their paper in the Journal of International Special Needs Education:
A focus on anything other than instruction undercuts the legal and moral rights of students with disabilities to an appropriate education and fails to produce substantive social justice. Differences among differences must be recognized to guarantee the civil educational rights to which people with disabilities are entitled. Instructionally-relevant differences include many disabilities, but they do not include such differences as skin hue, parentage, sexual orientation, national origin, and many other kinds of diversity. If special education's focus is inclusion rather than effective instruction of students with disabilities or if all differences are assumed to be equal and have the same remedy, then special education will one day be looked upon as having gone through a period of shameful neglect of students' needs.
Whatever the underlying reason is behind the clear achievement gap between students with and without disabilities, correct steps are sorely needed.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Why Equity in Schools Is a Must

Brian Butler, a principal at the school my children attend, posted on Facebook, "For example we tend to select "the good kids" to be school safety patrols in elementary school because they seem to always do the right things and don't cause trouble. Over the years this practice has not set well with me as I began to notice that the kids who are most left out especially in elementary school are boys and more importantly boys of color. How could I in good conscience say any school that I am a part of is for the success of every child if in certain areas I nod and wink at practices that totally go against my words and beliefs." 

My son proudly wears the safety patrol belt as he accompanies the kindergarten class to their school bus
Butler's main point is equity. "All means all". Every child must be given the opportunity. Equity is indeed important in schools. And it is not necessary for the child alone, equity is likewise a must for teachers as well. At the heart of labeling children and setting expectations according to such labels is in fact an abrogation of teaching. McLeod points out in "Pygmalion or Golem? Teacher Affect and Efficacy":
Another teacher trait that has been shown to have an effect on student achievement is the teacher's sense of efficacy-that is, teachers' belief that they can have a positive effect on student learning. This is not just the power of positive thinking; a teacher's sense of efficacy will determine the amount of effort she puts into her teaching, her task choices, her degree of persistence when confronted with difficulties, her motivation to continue.
A teacher's sense of efficacy is strongly tied to how a teacher looks at his or her students. And of course, this teacher trait is intimately related to the climate inside the school. Thus, it is not surprising to see correlations between student performance, sense of fairness and equity, and school climate.

In a study of 58 high schools in the state of Maryland, strong correlations are seen between suspensions, sense of inequity, school belonging, and adjustment problems:
We found that school-level discipline gaps were associated with Black students’ perceptions of less school equity ( .54, p .001), less school belonging ( .50, p .001), and increased adjustment problems ( .77, p .001), even when accounting for student demographics (i.e., gender, grade level, socioeconomic status) and school-level contextual factors (i.e., socioeconomic status, student diversity, overall suspension rates), whereas these associations were not significant for White students.
The Golem effect (From Wikipedia: a psychological phenomenon in which lower expectations placed upon individuals either by supervisors or the individual themselves lead to poorer performance by the individual.) is clearly at work from the perspective of the students. Wherever Black students feel that rules are not fair and that they do not belong to the school, school suspensions are higher and are biased disfavoring Black students.

I made my son read what his principal wrote. And he seemed to understand that it is indeed true that all of the children in the school deserve an opportunity. After all, this is what schools are for.

Butler ends his post with the following:
All means all and if you want to be a safety patrol in our school all you have to do is complete an application and have it signed by your parents and you are in. If you are one of those students who traditionally push outside of the lines a bit and you don't turn in a permission slip, we are coming for you and asking why!

By the way you too are a good kid and we like your swagger.😉
When we work for equity in schools, it requires no less than a firm conviction.

Friday, October 21, 2016

What Type of Leadership Do We Need in Education?

Time and again, what we need differs from what we want. What we need often requires a thoughtful consideration while what we want usually aligns with our immediate perception. In education, this seems to be the case as we press hard to see instant results. For instance, reform often focuses on curriculum with the notion that once standards are changed, quality automatically follows. In the process, we then forego other important factors necessary for the improvement that we seek. Even with the leaders we choose, we seem to prefer those who can deliver what we want right away. Consequently, we frequently end up with heads who will say what we want to hear and appear to do what we want done, but in the end, do not really change anything.

Back in 1978, James M. Burns, a presidential biographer, defined two types of leadership: transactional and transformational. The following are the definitions of these two (from Wikipedia):
Transactional leadership also known as managerial leadership, focuses on supervision, organization, and group performance; transactional leadership is a style of leadership in which leaders promote compliance by followers through both rewards and punishments. 
Transformational leadership is a style of leadership where a leader works with subordinates to identify needed change, creating a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and executing the change in tandem with committed members of a group.
Almost four decades later, Jamal Abu-Hussain, from the Al-Qasemi Academic College of Education in Haifa, Israel, reviewed research literature to examine which type of leadership is more effective for schools.

Leadership Styles and Value Systems of School Principals  
Abu-Hussain. Jamal* Department of Education, Al-Qasemi Academic College of Education, Baqa El-Gharbieh, Israel *Corresponding author: jamal_ah@qsm.ac.il   
Received November 19, 2014; Revised December 01, 2014; Accepted December 25, 2014 
The reforms conducted in the field of education are directed towards the changing manner of school management. The change is expressed in the transition from external supervision of schoolwork to the empowerment of school’s staff, with a change of the principal's and teacher's roles. It requires accountability from school’s principles and staff in providing results of teaching and effective functioning of the school. The goal of this paper is to review research literature in order to determine the most effective leadership model in the new conditions of school management. In order to attain this goal, a consistent review of literature was performed on the following subjects: leadership evolution; transformational and transactional leadership styles; the links between a leadership style and organizational variables; the relationship between value systems and leadership styles of school’s principles. Approaches, methods, models, and means are analyzed during the examination of leadership evolution. Many studies reveal that leadership behavior is an important predictor of its effectiveness. A comparative examination of transformational and transactional leadership styles gives evidence for preference of transformational style relative to its influence on organizational variables. The literary review indicates that transformational leadership essentially improves the functioning of school and teaching processes. The effect of a value system on leadership styles of school principals is examined. As a result, it is determined that principals with a moral value system lean more towards a transformational leadership style and principals with a pragmatic value system lean more towards a transactional leadership style. Thereby, the review shows that effective leadership can be provided as a result of searching for correlations between the value systems and leadership styles. 
Abu-Hussain found that, based on published research, it is "transformational leadership that essentially improves the functioning of school and teaching processes".  Transformational leadership apparently aligns with a moral value system while transactional leadership is pragmatic. This difference of course translates to how we may perceive effective leadership. At first glance, it is transactional leadership that delivers results right away. On the other hand, transformational may take a lot more time before it produces results.

Alex Hill and coworkers recently examined more than 400 school principals in the United Kingdom. The report, published in the Harvard Business Review, categorizes the school leaders into five types. The five types are actually named after known professions that typify the style of leadership.
  • Surgeons: "They quickly identify what’s not working and redirect resources to the most pressing problem — how to improve this year’s exam results."
  • Soldiers: "They’re tenacious, cost-cutting, and task-focused leaders who believe they need to trim back every ounce of fat and make people work harder."
  • Accountants: "They improve the school’s long-term financial performance and let teachers work out where to spend the extra resources."
  • Philosophers: "They spend as much of their time as possible with other teachers debating and discussing alternative teaching methods."
  • Architects: "They redesign the school to create the right environment for its teachers and the right school for its community."
"Surgeons", "Soldiers", and "Accountants" clearly have focus and these principals will work hard to deliver what we want, either high test scores or a balanced budget in education. These are transactional leaders. Though seem transformational at first, "Philosophers" actually are likewise transactional, because they only do the talk and say what everyone wants to hear, but fail to make any change happen. Only the "Architects" are transformational. 

The very nature of transformational leadership makes it difficult for us to appreciate how truly effective this type of leadership is. Hill and coworkers created the following graphs to show how much time it takes for us to see the good outcomes from principals who acted as "Architects":

During the time a principal is still in office, the "Surgeons" are showing high test scores. These are the principals who will go as far as removing weaker students from the school to focus on those who have higher potential so that test scores are going to improve. "Soldiers" like efficiency so schools under this type of leadership improve in terms of budget while moderately enhancing students' test scores. "Accountants" emphasize the financial side so it is not surprising that they improve the schools only in terms of their budget. The "Philosophers" initially inspire so it is also not surprising that test scores go up in these schools. The "Architects" lead to small improvements in both test scores and budget. Hill and coworkers are therefore quick to add that in our world where performance-based bonuses or merit awards are common, both "Surgeons" (since they deliver high test scores right away) and "Soldiers" (since they deliver efficiency as soon as possible) are much more likely to be rewarded and recognized. Yet, their effects are actually fleeting. This is obvious after these principals have left the school:

Only the "Architects" deliver better learning outcomes and higher school effectiveness in the long run. These are the leaders that we need yet most systems do not recognize their effectiveness. Rewards or prizes are transactional by nature, thus, "gaming the system" becomes the strategy. Unfortunately, this is not the type of leadership that really helps schools improve. Hill and coworkers actually end their report with something worth chewing:
...one Architect explained, “My measure of success is — are parents complaining more? And are we issuing fewer anti-social behavior orders (ASBOs) within our local community? If so, then parents are engaging more with the school and our community is improving.”
Transformational leadership can only be measured by how much we ourselves have changed for the better.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How a Child Learns Math: Conceptual versus Procedural

My mother-in-law taught my daughter while she was in kindergarten how to add numbers. When adding for example 8 and 4, the five-year old child was instructed to put her hand on her chest and say "8", then she should proceed counting from there, "9, 10, 11, 12" (four more, to add 4 to 8). That was how she was able to arrive at the correct answer, "12". My daughter was actually proud when she was able to do it correctly on her own with any addition question thrown at her. At first glance, one might think that my daughter was simply learning a procedure, but the mere assignment of "8" as a starting point represented a very important concept in mathematics, the cardinal principle:  The idea that the last number reached when counting the items in a set represents the entire set. My daughter did not need to count from 1 to 12 to determine what 8 + 12 was. She could simply start with "8".

My mother-in-law with my daughter counting how many eggs she has found in an Easter egg hunt.
Figuring out what skills are important for a young child to learn in order to succeed in mathematics is an important question in education research. A paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology addresses this:

Above copied from
The Importance of Additive Reasoning in Children’s Mathematical Achievement: A Longitudinal Study.
Ching, Boby Ho-Hong; Nunes, Terezinha
Journal of Educational Psychology, Oct 13 , 2016, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000154
As the above abstract suggests, conceptual knowledge of counting, which includes the cardinal principle, is among the important skills that correlate with achievement in early mathematics. However, when it comes to solving word problems, one must go further, additive reasoning and working memory are the good predictors. Additive reasoning is basically the ability to figure out what calculations need to be carried out. The following is an example from the British Journal of Educational Psychology:

Above copied from
Nunes, T., Bryant, P., Barros, R. & Sylva, K. (2012). The relative importance of two different mathematical abilities to mathematical achievement. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(1), 136–156.
In both problems, the final distance between the boy and the girl is being asked. In the first case, both boy and girl walk from a house in the same direction, the boy walks 6 km and the girl walks 2 km. In the second case, the boy and girl are walking in opposite directions from the house. The boy walks 3 km and the girl walks 5 km. To answer the first case, one must subtract 2 from 6, so the final distance between the boy and the girl is 4 km. In the second case, one must add 3 to 5, such that at the end, the boy is 8 km from the girl. Being able to decide what calculation needs to be carried out (in this case, either addition or subtraction) is key to solving this mathematical problem. And it obviously goes much farther than just knowing one's arithmetic.

Procedural knowledge does play a factor in math achievement in the early years but clearly, it is the conceptual knowledge that is much more important. Boby Ho-Hong Ching and Terezinha Nunes, in their recent paper, especially underscore the lesser role played by procedural knowledge since their study involves Chinese students. Some people sometimes ascribe the higher math achievement of young Chinese children to the language they have. An example is an article published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

For this reason, it is important to do scientific studies so that we become better informed with regard to how children learn. Otherwise, we can fall easily for arguments that sound good but really have no evidence. The case of my daughter and her grandmother may be different, however. My mother-in-law, after all, had been a teacher all her life. From her vast experience, she obviously knows what works.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Addressing Poverty and Education: The Philippines Receives a Failing Mark

The Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education has recently shared some of the points raised by a UN committee with regard to basic education in the Philippines: "The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), in its Concluding Observations on the periodic report on the Philippines, asks the Philippine government under President Duterte to “strengthen its public education sector,” noting the “insufficient” funding for education, the “segregation” arising from the privatization drive, and the lack of access to quality education particularly among the marginalized sectors, including the indigenous peoples, children with disabilities and the rural poor.

A link is provided to the advanced unedited version of the report provided by the Committee so one may say that a part of my title, the "failing mark", is not justified. After all, on the segment on education, the Committee's report starts with saying, "While welcoming the important step achieved by the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013". The overall tone of the report does start with something positive, but every section pretty much begins with some "good news" followed by a huge string of "bad news". As a teacher, the first part of the report is already disconcerting:
The Committee is concerned at the lack of reliable data, including in the national census, particularly relating to indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and people living in poverty.
How can a country possibly address its problems in poverty and education when reliable data are not available? This alone deserves a failing mark. What is amazing is that even with the lack of information, the Committee is still able to spot major concerns. This, however, is not surprising, especially when it is far obvious that the measures that have been taken, policies that have been drawn, and the programs that have been implemented are doomed to fail. Take, for instance, the spiral approach in the sciences in high school where a student gets a taste of biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences in each year, and combine this with the fact that there is a grave shortage of qualified teachers in the sciences. This is just one glaring example.

It is indeed difficult to address poverty. Poverty even crushes education so it is equally difficult to face the challenges of basic education. However, this is no excuse to take measures that are obviously, from the very start, are simply going to make things worse.

This blog, on various occasions, has pointed out what is wrong with DepEd's K to 12. At this moment, I would like to share with you what Chad Colmenares thinks with regard to this recent report. By the way, Colmenares also gives a "grade way below passing mark". Colmenares also writes, "For instead of solving the problems real time, they added more problems in the process."

On UN's Report on "Right to Education"

by Chad Colmenares

Warning: This is a long post, but if you truly care about our Education System and the Children's Future, then this may warrant your attention.

Last 7 October 2016, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) came up with its concluding observations and recommendations as regards Right to Education in the Philippines. First up, it recommends to the present government to "strengthen its public education sector with a view to improving access to and the quality of primary and secondary education for all, without hidden costs, particularly for children of low income families and children living in the rural areas."

Only the esteemed employees of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) have a compilation of proof and studies to prove the veracity of the cited recommendation. In fact, anyone diligent enough to locate certain schools via Google Maps will understand the long hours of walk done by students in remote areas - a study I would have thought was within the competencies of the Education Department (DepEd), in partnership with the CHR.

By chance, I was once employed at a remote area in Negros were part of my function was with the Community Relations (ComRel) Committee. At ComRel, we adopted various public schools at remote areas which detailed to us the long hours of walk from home to school. Our project focused on feeding public school students. This was a result of the incumbent problem that students face while at school due to their long hours of walk to and from school.

From home, the students bring with them a pack of lunch, good for lunch. But because the students walk long hours, they consume their lunch when they arrive school.

By long hours, I mean 5 hours of walk to and from school, uphill and downhill.

There were also concerns on unavailability of electricity on said schools. In my experience at ComRel, we went to a school which was operating its system using a car battery.

Personally, I was out with my mother who met a teacher who spends her personal money in providing for the materials needed by her pupils. We couldn't help but sponsor those materials, knowing how little teachers earn.

At the time, the Philippines agreed to the UN Millenium Development Goals (MDG), one goal to be achieved is to ensure that all children successfully complete elementary education.

Completion rate was, and is, a standing problem. Reports show that around 25% students complete elementary education.

We have not seen the entire story behind the previous administration, but to note, they have been very quiet about the 75% of students who dropout from school.

Amidst this fundamental problem, the previous administration pushed its agenda on education based on Promise 21 of PNoy during his campaign period. This Promise was to raise 10 years of basic education to 12 years to be globally competitive.

An education secretary was tasked to make this happen. He came from the private sector, and to my mind, had the desire to implement the La Sallian system to the entire populous. It started with a Department Order which has prematurely implemented the promised reform. It was followed by two subsequent laws which made 13 years of compulsory basic education.

DepEd succeeded in propagandizing this "reform" on the guise of global competitiveness. Sadly, businessmen realised more profit, while the people - especially the parents and the teachers, were silenced by one statement: IT IS ALREADY A LAW.

As implementation went on, DepEd became a passive instrument. It tapped and partnered with private firms to build school facilities but asked Congress to increase its annual budget to substantial amounts. I do not know how well the budget were spent over the years, but there have been hints of jacking up prices which were raised with the Commission on Audit which initially took interest, but eventually, a full report went over the horizon.

It used Vouchers as a way to lure public school students into entering private schools. This was a solution to lack of school facilities, instead of building as many as they could themselves.

They reduced the number of hours to accommodate more students; they also divided classrooms into half and reported it as an accomplishment that classrooms have been increased. By the way, they also introduced "cariton" classrooms and commended teachers wearing lipstick.

Any sensible person will react to this situation. If it is global competitiveness that the previous administration argues, I will give them a grade way below passing mark. For instead of solving the problems real time, they added more problems in the process.

These additional problems are now faced by the present administration. At heart of this is still the long standing problem: 75% DROPOUT in elementary education. This is not remote from the recommendation of the UNCESCR.

It took a while to gather a group of lawyers and petitioners to understand this situation. The movement against the reform was sporadic, and was defeated by the previous administration's black propaganda. As soon as the non-conformists gathered some force, said laws and Department Order were challenged by several petitions now pending before the Supreme Court - for almost two years already. The petitions challenged the previous administration's overhauling of the entire educational system.

We dug into the lawmaking process of the educational reform. We have observed that the Department Order did not have any legal basis - simply by comparing its date of publication with that of the supporting law's enactment. The Order came before the law.

Other than that, we have also discovered and verified that what was signed as the law was not the law passed by legislature.

In our petition docketed as G.R. No. 218098, we argued that "[t]he K to 12 Program, in making kindergarten and high school education compulsory, expands the constitutional definition of basic education which is consistent with international law standards."

The legal bases in our petition are as follows:


43.Par. 2, Sec. 2 of Art. XIV of the 1987 Constitution provides that the State shall “(e)stablish and maintain a system of free public education in the elementary and high school levels. Without limiting the natural right of parents to rear their children, elementary education is compulsory for all children of school age.”

44.Clearly from the above provision of the Philippine Constitution, basic education refers to elementary and high school education. However, only elementary education is compulsory. This provision is consistent with the commitments of the Philippine government under treaty obligations and international law.

45.The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Philippines adopted, provides: ”Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.”

46. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which the Philippines ratified and is now part of our domestic law, recognizes education as a human right for everyone and provides: “Primary education shall be compulsory and available free for all.”

47. The Convention on the Rights of the Child which the Philippines ratified and is now part of our domestic law, also obligates States parties to “(m)ake primary education compulsory and available free for all.”

48. When the 1987 Constitution was framed, kindergarten and senior high school were not compulsory the latter was, in fact, non-existent and beyond the consciousness of the Filipino nation. It could not have been the intent of the framers of the Constitution and the Filipino people to make these compulsory.

49. Yet, Congress violated the sacrosanct doctrine of Constitutional Supremacy by making kindergarten compulsory in at least two Republic Acts it passed and in making secondary education compulsory in one.

50.Rep. Act 10157, otherwise known as the Kindergarten Education Act and entitled AN ACT INSTITUTIONALIZING THE KINDERGARTEN EDUCATION INTO THE BASIC EDUCATION SYSTEM AND APPROPRIATING FUNDS THEREFOR, approved by Congress on January 20, 2012, provides:
Sec. 4. Institutionalization of Kindergarten Education. – Kindergarten education is hereby institutionalized as part of basic education and for school year 2011-2012 shall be implemented partially, and thereafter, it shall be made mandatory and compulsory for entrance to Grade 1.

51.Similarly, Rep. Act 10533 makes kindergarten and secondary education compulsory or mandatory. Its pertinent provisions are as follows:

Sec. 3. Basic Education. — Basic education is intended to meet basic learning needs which provides the foundation on which subsequent learning can be based. It encompasses kindergarten, elementary and secondary education as well as alternative learning systems for out-of-school learners and those with special needs.

Sec. 4. Enhanced Basic Education Program. — The enhanced basic education program encompasses at least one (1) year of kindergarten education, six (6) years of elementary education, and six (6) years of secondary education, in that sequence. Secondary education includes four (4) years of junior high school and two (2) years of senior high school education.

Kindergarten education shall mean one (1) year of preparatory education for children at least five (5) years old as prerequisite for Grade I.

Elementary education refers to the second stage of compulsory basic education which is composed of six (6) years. The entrant age to this level is typically six (6) years old.

Secondary education refers to the third stage of compulsory basic education. It consists of four (4) years of junior high school education and two (2) years of senior high school education. The entrant age to the junior and senior high school levels are typically twelve (12) and sixteen (16) years old, respectively.

52.The above unduly expand the constitutional definition of basic education which is limited to elementary and high school education. Moreover, by making kindergarten and secondary education compulsory, Congress amended the constitutional provision that only elementary education is compulsory and encumbered the exercise of the right to education.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

If You Are Born Poor, Odds Are Stacked Against You

The odds that a poor boy growing up in a developing country would become a professor at a prestigious university in the United States are apparently very slim. An expert on statistics and probability who claims to be able to give the odds on just about everything in the universe would not even attempt to guess. One main reason why the chances are so low is that schools have become sorters instead of enablers.

Above copied from Georgetown Magazine
Nowadays, there are even exams administered right before a child starts formal schooling. These tests are supposed to help identify which child is gifted, but in reality, these tests are simply distinguishing those who are privileged against those who are not.

Schools that serve children from poor families generally have less resources. We see this in a previous post on this blog, Wealthy Neighborhoods Equal Great Schools. In another post, Are We Really Teaching Our Children Science?, data suggest that schools attended by poor children do not have effective science teachers. But no school fails in administering as many tests as possible so that at every stage, a child can be sorted out. Tests do not seem to be utilized to assess what the school needs to do. Tests are merely used to decide what more advantages could be given to those who are already privileged.

The odds keep stacking up that by the end of high school, even with apparently record-breaking graduation rates, poor children are still left behind.

And the sorting does not stop at basic education. In higher education, schools appear to do the same task, sorting and not really enabling. In a report, Closed Doors: Black and Latino Students Are Excluded from Top Public Universities, the disparity is quite clear.

Sadly, it does not even end here. Erin Lynch-Alexander writes in Diverse:
NCES empirical data statistically support that, for every 10 early career underrepresented minority faculty joining academe, nine will not make it to full professor.
Up to the very end, even institutions of higher education are acting as sorters and not as enablers. Such is a sad state of education.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Graduation Rates Rise as Test Scores Remain Flat

Late this morning, US president Barack Obama visited a high school in the District of Columbia. He was sharing the great news of high school graduation rates reaching a record high of 83.2 percent. In his speech, Obama was touting the programs and policies his administration had implemented in basic as well as preschool education, obviously tying his record with the improved graduation rates.

The increase in graduation rates from 2010-2015 happened across all student subgroups as seen in the above table.

Graduation rates are, of course, acceptable measures for education outcomes. Unfortunately, being able to graduate is not the only way to gauge how well schools are working. After all, there is mass promotion.

Examining scores in the Nation's Report Card sadly tells a different story. The increase in graduation rates actually comes with either a flat or downward trend in both math and reading scores.

And the above trends appear as well across students' subgroups:



It then appears that more students are graduating over the past five years, but the same number or even less actually reaches basic level in math and reading.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Wealthy Neighborhoods = Great Schools

As parents, we want the best for our children. Every parent simply wishes to give his or her child the best education possible. Schools require resources and wherever funds are scarce, the quality of education seems to suffer. Most developing countries unlike rich nations struggle in basic education because of poverty. However, we need not go outside a country to see that great schools are oftentimes in wealthy neighborhoods. A report from the nonprofit organization EdBuild in the United States shows that "income-based segregation between school districts is rising".

The report lists the fifty most segregating borders in the US. For example, number eight on the list are the school districts of Youngstown and Poland in the state of Ohio:

Above copied from EdBuild's Fault Lines
Another nonprofit organization GreatSchools provides parents tools to "compare schools based on test scores and other available data, including student academic growth and college readiness". Ratings are in fact available for school districts. The following are the results for the Youngstown and Poland school districts:

Above copied from GreatSchools
Above copied from GreatSchools
To get a feel for these ratings, one elementary school in Youngstown, Paul Bunn Elementary School, has only a third of its sixth grade students passing proficient in the state's math exam. In stark contrast, McKinley Elementary School in Poland has a passing proficient rate of 97%. Poland is less than ten miles from Youngstown:

The two districts are so close yet the differences in schools, in household income, and in house prices are simply staggering. There is so much talk about globalization but the truth is: We are becoming more segregated. We are segregating ourselves according to income and now we have schools to ensure that the boundaries between the haves and the have nots remain impenetrable. We are not really that serious with regard to "quality education for all".

Friday, October 14, 2016

Are We Really Teaching Our Children Science?

Unlike in the Philippines, young children have science as a formal subject in US schools. In addition, the new Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K:2011) provides data regarding science achievement in these early years for kindergarten and first grade students in the US. A recent examination of this data by Curran and Kellogg suggests a significant science achievement gap with African, Hispanic and Asian American children falling behind White children. Socio-economic status and achievement gaps in both math and reading apparently cannot fully explain this science achievement gap therefore indicating that schools are failing to teach science to these Black, Hispanic and Asian children.

Above copied from
F. Chris Curran and Ann T. Kellogg. Understanding Science Achievement Gaps by Race/Ethnicity and Gender in Kindergarten and First Grade. Educational Researcher June/July 2016 45: 273-282, first published on June 21, 2016 doi:10.3102/0013189X16656611
The Asian-White gap is particularly disconcerting since Asian children generally score better than Whites in both reading and math as shown in the above figure. Furthermore, Curran and Kellogg have also found significant contributions to this gap coming from school factors. Teaching science requires effective and knowledgeable teachers. Unfortunately, the gaps seen only insinuate that good science teachers may not be uniformly distributed across schools in the US coupled with an increasing segregation of schools. Schools with a majority of white children get good teachers while schools attended by Blacks, Hispanics and Asians do not.

The science gaps in the early grades are actually greater than the math and reading gaps. Both Hispanic-White and Asian-White gaps decrease in the higher elementary grades presumably because of the student becoming more fluent in English and greater content teaching in the sciences beyond first grade, but the Black-White gap remains large.

Although everyone seem to agree that science education is important especially in this 21st century, greater attention has always been given to achievement gaps in math and reading. The facts that science achievement gaps are bigger and that these gaps go far beyond socioeconomic status should really bring us to ask ourselves if we are indeed giving every child in the US the opportunity to be their best.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

How Can We Improve Students' Reading Abilities?

Back in the Philippines, I took quite a number of standardized exams. After all, scholarships as well as admission to a college always came with an exam. In one of the reading comprehension exams given to me, there was a passage about one of America's favorite pastimes, baseball. I did not know much about baseball, not surprisingly, I found that part of the exam difficult. Matthew Lynch recently wrote "Black Boys in Crisis: They Aren't Reading" in which he cited statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Education, the Educational Testing Services,and the National Assessment of Education Progress. He highlighted the fact that "only 10 percent of eighth-grade black boys in the U.S. are proficient in reading".

There are indeed racial gaps according to the U.S. Nation's Report Card:

Below, however, is an even bigger gap:

In looking at the scores, one must keep in mind that these are for children in eight grade. Thus, there seems a disconnect between what these exams are and what people think we must do. A comment on Lynch's article demonstrates this:
Despite the myriad literacy challenges black boys face at home in terms of limited access to books, few relevant reading models, and infrequent or nonexistent read alouds, a lot can be done in schools by teachers to change reading outcomes for black boys.

1. Teachers can seek out and read books that reflect the diverse interests of black boys. There's no reason a 1st grade teacher can't use Captain Underpants for instructional purposes. 
2. Schools can connect books and reading to the different things that black boys in their school identify with. Reading experiences should be flexible. Let boys lay on the floor during independent reading time or read comic books or take the class on a field trip to the local corner store to read environmental print that might pique their interest. 
3. Teachers/schools should find creative ways to involve black men in black boys' early reading experiences. Invite black fathers, pastors, husbands into schools and classrooms to be a part of fun reading experiences.
One could easily see the common prescription: Let children find joy in reading. This, of course, assumes that poor reading comprehension is largely due to not developing a habit of reading. Marsha Riddle Buly and Sheila W. Valencia had already shown that doing poorly in a reading comprehension exam was multifaceted and was individual. More than a decade had passed since this study was published and we are still pretty much confined to a very narrow perspective.

One perspective, in addition to realizing that reading comprehension involves so many factors that include vocabulary, fluency, and word identification, is that our reading ability really depends on our knowledge, especially when it comes to eight grade reading. I found the baseball passage difficult to read because I simply did not know baseball.

Daniel Willingham posted more than four years ago on his blog an article entitled "School time, knowledge, and reading comprehension". In that post, he shared a very informative table from a 1988 paper by Recht and Leslie:

Willingham placed those red circles to make a point:
The numbers ("quantity" and "quality") are two different measures of comprehension--in each case, larger numbers mean better comprehension. I've circled data from the two critical groups: Lower left = "poor" readers who know a lot about baseball. Upper right = "good" readers who don't know about baseball.
Willingham started this post with two very important sentences: "I deplored the lack of time devoted to science in early elementary grades. Well, if kids aren't spending time on Science, what are they doing?"

We can only improve our reading ability by accumulating knowledge. The things that we are learning in science, social studies, music and the arts, help us to comprehend what we are reading. Fittingly, Willingham ended his post with the following sentence:

Teaching Content Is Teaching Reading.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How We Discipline Students in Schools Is "Trump-Like"

When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump mocked a judge for simply being a child of Mexican immigrants, we took notice. In 1972, when a black woman was told that nothing was available for rent in a Brooklyn complex managed by Donald Trump’s real estate company while a white woman was shown two available apartments in the same complex a few days later, the federal government filed a discrimination case against the Trump firm. And when Trump seemingly made fun of a reporter with a disability, we quickly denounced it. Yet, when we look at how our schools exercise disciplinary action, we see something frighteningly similar.

Above copied from Skiba and Losen, American Educator, Winter 2015-16
23.2 percent of black students were suspended at least once in high school in 2011-2012, which was more than three times, the rate at which white students were suspended. Almost one in five students with disabilities was also suspended during this time period. In elementary schools, the numbers were smaller but the disparity remained.

There is ample research that school suspensions are not really effective. In fact, recent research shows that suspensions can even lead to collateral damage.

Above copied from American Sociological Review
And more importantly, the Vera Institute of Justice found that "Nationally, only 5 percent of expulsions and out-of-school
suspensions lasting a week or longer involve possession of a weapon while 43 percent are for insubordination."

Perhaps, we do need to look at Trump as if we are looking at a mirror.