"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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What an International Standardized Exam Is Telling Us

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

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

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

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

First, socio-economic status correlates with scores:

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

Third, scores correlate with student attendance.

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

Lastly, preschool education also correlates with scores.

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

Why Equity Matters in Education

I need not drag my daughter in the morning to go to school. She always looks forward to spending time with her friends and teacher. School is definitely a second home for her. The LA Times also talks about another young girl, Giuliana Tapia. This girl became scared of school after finding out that she was among the few who could not sing the ABCs in her class.

Above copied from the LA Times
Academic gaps can be seen as early as kindergarten. In the case of Giuliana, with a dedicated and thoughtful teacher combined with parents who recognize what the situation needs, the child appears to be able to catch up. The photo above says it all. Giuliana finds welcoming arms in teacher Maryellen Whittingham. It should be obvious that it is necessary for a school climate to be inviting to young children. Otherwise, a lot of effort and time are going to be spent just to start a lesson.

Children learn with other children inside a classroom. It is sort of an ecosystem, no child is really isolated from the others. A child who is left behind may easily take away time and attention from a teacher, preventing that teacher to do other things like teaching the class. Giuliana is lucky that in her school there is a literary specialist, Maryellem Whittingham, who can spot students who are in need and can provide additional support. This is often not the case when there are not enough teachers to address all the needs of the students. This is one reason why equity matters in public basic education.

A recent publication in Child Development shows that when quality preschool education is provided to children in low-income families, scores in reading and math improve. And the improvement is seen throughout the elementary years.

Above copied from
Dodge, K. A., Bai, Y., Ladd, H. F. and Muschkin, C. G. (2016), Impact of North Carolina's Early Childhood Programs and Policies on Educational Outcomes in Elementary School. Child Dev. doi:10.1111/cdev.12645
The above data include a million elementary school pupils in North Carolina. The state has two preschool programs: Smart Start and More at Four, both are intended for low income families. The important thing to note is that the above graph corresponds to all students, not just those who have gone through either Smart Start or More at Four. The improvements are seen in schools where these programs have been funded. And all children based on average scores appear to have higher math and reading scores.

Equity, unlike competition, lifts everyone up. It enhances the school climate and allows for every child to grow and progress.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

What Solves Poverty

Quite a number of people believe that education is a vehicle for upward social mobility. And it is not difficult to cite specific cases to prove this point. Anecdotes, however, can be quite far from the entire picture. Take, for instance, the suggestion that the reason why Asians are doing well compared to other minority groups in the United States is the Asian's high investment in education. Asians study hard and do well in school. Indeed, such a thought is quite inviting especially when so many specific cases can be easily cited. Careful research, however, points to a different reason. Asians are doing well in the United States simply because this group is no longer on the receiving end of discrimination. Nathaniel Hilger of Brown University shows this convincingly in his working paper, "Upward Mobility and Discrimination: The Case of Asian Americans".

The reason why Asian Americans are doing better then African Americans becomes very clear in one of the figures Hilger presents in his paper:

Above copied from Nathaniel Hilger, Upward Mobility and Discrimination: The Case of Asian Americans
The graph above includes only data from US-born individuals. In this manner, the effects of an immigration policy that often favors highly educated individuals are removed. Clearly, in 1940, Asian Americans are paid as much as African Americans, and both are paid much less than Whites, regardless of educational attainment. After 40 years, Asian Americans are now paid as much as Whites across the board. And the gap between Whites and Blacks remains large especially for those who have not finished high school.

There is likewise a great income divide between the rich and the poor in the Philippines. Clearly, from the lesson above, what cures poverty is not education, but fairness. Unskilled labor and even skilled labor wages in the Philippines fall far below those of professionals. Adding two years at the end of high school can not really reduce the income gap in the Philippines as long as minimum wages are kept low.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Black Friday Is a Big Sales Event in the US

Apparently not in the Philippines. Instead, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers is encouraging the education sector to join in a day of protest against the recent burial of former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

#MarcosNoHero Education Sector to join the November 25th Black Friday Protest, 4pm at Luneta!
The education sector is one with the Filipino people and victims of Martial law in denouncing the Supreme Court Decision allowing a hero’s burial for the fascist, plunderer and tyrant Ferdinand Marcos. We have not forgotten and will continue to resist attempts to rehabilitate the Marcoses.

“This direct act of contempt against the historic judgement of the Filipino against the Marcos dictatorship must be stopped at all costs,” Mr. Benjamin Valbuena, President of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said. President Duterte’s open support for the Marcoses and rants against us seeking justice reeks with contempt for the people who suffered under martial law dictatorship. He is fulfilling his promise to the Marcos in exchange for financial and political support last election. We resent President Duterte’s decision to do so and this created a blackened spot on his term. 

“Let the Marcoses bear the wrath of the Filipino people and victims of Martial Law for refusing to even acknowledge Marcos’ tyrannical rule. That fateful day last November 18th, the people have spoken for justice and not even a President in power can stop the flames of rage, “Mr. Benjie Valbuena stressed.
Justice have eluded the Filipino people for the crimes of the Marcoses and their cronies under the Marcos fascist regime. But the academic sector also denounces the inaction of every regime since 1986 for accommodating the Marcoses and their cronies. Because the Aquino’s and in-between regimes are equally contemptible for the continuation of graft and corruption, servility to US and IMF-WB impositions that made our country to a perpetual state of backwardness. 

“We call on the education sector to join the protest rallies on November 25, 4pm at Luneta. For those outside of Metro Manila, organize protest action centers and/or coordinate with BAYAN chapters who are also organizing protest actions, Mr. Benjie Valbuena ended.

Worth a closer look in the above statement are the following sentences:
But the academic sector also denounces the inaction of every regime since 1986 for accommodating the Marcoses and their cronies. Because the Aquino’s and in-between regimes are equally contemptible for the continuation of graft and corruption, servility to US and IMF-WB impositions that made our country to a perpetual state of backwardness. 
It is unfortunate that one cannot distill the above into a short hashtag such as #MarcosNoHero. And it is very likely that most would miss the point of the above wordy but quite important message. The Marcos regime is clearly not orchestrated by one person, Ferdinand Marcos. Herein lies what is often missing in protest actions against Marcos and history. The country has always been under an oligarchy with an extreme degree of patronage politics. The country has long been on the receiving end of global forces such as the Cold War, rise of neoliberalism, and foreign aid. Thus, to reduce what happened over thirty years ago to a burial is extremely reductionist. We often prefer to see things in black and white. The danger here is we always miss the gray.

Monday, November 21, 2016

We Want Our Youth to Become Engaged Citizens

Children are indeed introduced to Social Studies even in elementary school. When we study the past and current events, we are, of course, bound to stumble upon troubled incidents. Although unlike films or television shows, these issues do not come with ratings such as PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned, a rating in the Voluntary Movie Rating System indicating that some material may be inappropriate for children under 13). Children are still very much in early stages of development both socially and morally. Children are very much impressionable. After all, being easily influenced is a sign of youth. Children could be easily used to channel our own biases and judgments. For these reasons, teaching children how to become engaged in civic matters is particularly challenging.

Back in 1979, Nancy Eisenberg-Berg wrote a research article in the journal Developmental Psychology. She found that elementary school children think quite differently from those in high school. She wrote:
Elementary school children's reasoning tended to be hedonistic, stereotyped, approval and interpersonally oriented, and/or involved the labeling of others' needs (concern with others' needs reasoning).
Metzger and coworkers also recently found out significant differences between grade school children and adolescents. In "How Children Understand Civic Actions: A Mixed Methods Perspective", published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, elementary school children are found not likely to associate civic actions such as voting and environmentalism to purposeful actions. Metzger and coworkers wrote:
Overall, the age findings revealed a pattern that supported our general hypotheses. In particular, as suggested by the purpose finding, older adolescents may be better able to see a complex or higher order strength such as purpose as useful for a broader array of civic actions. Furthermore, the humility finding illustrated that older youth may be able to apply a broader array of related, yet less obvious, skills to a particular civic action. In fact, certain character strengths are seen as higher order qualities, meaning that they grow in correspondence with gains in abstract thinking and other cognitive skills.
The previous post in this blog, "There is a difference between education and indoctrination", is an invitation for all of us to examine how we introduce our children to active citizenship. DepEd Asec. Umali recently stated that sanctions may be imposed if students were obligated to participate in a protest rally. Umali also reiterated that participation in a protest rally can not be used as an extracurricular or out-of-school activity.

Above copied from PTV News
The previous post in this blog also mentioned an exercise done by second graders in the elementary school that my children attend. I was using this as an example of an activity that introduces young minds to democracy in an innocuous manner. Here is another example. This one goes much further than making a choice between "pajama day" or "crazy hair day", however, one must note how thoughtful this exercise was done. The activity is described in Social Studies and the Young Learner November 2011. The following page shows that the teacher is aware of developmental concerns:

Above copied from
Social Studies and the Young Learner November 2011
The choice, Marian Wright Edelman, likewise demonstrates how much effort teachers made to ensure that this lesson in social studies in indeed age-appropriate. Edelman is the founder of the Children's Defense Fund and has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

There Is a Difference between Education and Indoctrination

Second grade students participated in an election in an elementary school in the US. They voted to have either a "pajama" or "crazy hair" day. In the Philippines, there were elementary pupils holding banners on the street that said "Marcos No Hero". 

Above copied from News 8 Bureau
Above copied from Mason Crest Elementary School Second Grade Facebook
My daughter participated in the election and she was unhappy with the result. She wanted "crazy hair day". There were more than one section in second grade and "crazy hair day" actually won in her section, but overall the results were different. This is education at work.

In the Philippines, below was a comment from a parent:

Above copied from News 8 Bureau
There is a huge difference between education and indoctrination.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Participating in a Rally Versus Attending Class

Students are staging protests in the United States and in the Philippines. In the US, pupils are unhappy with the results of the presidential election, while in the Philippines, the youth are expressing their outrage against the burial of a former dictator in a cemetery meant for heroes. How some school administrators in the US respond to these rallies is somewhat different from those in the Philippines. Students seemed to be encouraged to join protests in the Philippines while in the US, students are not.

In the Philippines:

Above copied from Rappler

In the US:

Above copied from WTOP News
Students have the right to express their rights as well as frustrations. However, these must be voluntary and not encouraged by school officials and teachers. Excusing absences for those who attend demonstrations is one thing, cancelling classes is different. Stating that there are "bigger lessons to be learned outside the classroom now" means only one thing: One is imposing one's political beliefs on the students. This is blatantly wrong.

We need a citizenry that is actively participating in politics. If US president-elect Trump suddenly dissolves the Department of Education and in so doing, denies the states the aid necessary to meet the needs of poor and disabled students, we need the voice of everyone. If Philippines president Duterte suddenly suspends the writ of habeas corpus unjustifiably, protests are necessary. Going out into the streets is clearly a way citizens can directly address the government. These specific cases may indeed be providing better lessons outside the classroom.

Trump is the newly elected president. He has not acted as president yet. In the Philippines, Marcos has been dead for several decades now. I simply do not see any lessons here that are better than one could learn inside a classroom.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Black Male Principal, My Children Must Be Really Lucky

The demographics of teachers and students in US public schools are clearly not matched. Although more than 40 percent of students in public schools belong to minority groups, about 80 percent of teachers are white. Of course, a dearth in principals of color is only expected from a shortage of teachers of color. Indeed, based on a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, Results From the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey, 80 percent of school principals are white, only 7 percent are Hispanic, and only 10 percent are African American. Noting that no more than 2 percent of teachers in the public education system are black men makes one realize how highly unlikely it is to find a black male serving as a principal. The principal in the school my children attend is truly a rarity.

Mason Crest Elementary School principal, Brian Butler, with my daughter
It is indeed rare, but is it good for my children? A study published in the Educational Researher says so. Based on data obtained from the Measure of Effective Teaching study which includes more than 1500 teachers in 200 urban schools and more than 50000 middle school students, Black and Latino teachers are perceived more favorably than White teachers. Minority teachers score better on the following seven criteria:
  • Challenge: How well does the teacher motivate students to high academic standards?
  • Classroom Management (Control): How well does the teacher manage the behavior of students in the classroom?
  • Care: How well does the teacher build supportive relationships with students?
  • Confer: How well does the teacher welcome the opinions of students?
  • Captivate: How well does the teacher stimulate students’ interest in course material?
  • Clarify: How well does the teacher use multiple strategies to explain course material to students?
  • Consolidate: How well does the teacher make connections among the concepts taught?
The results are summarized in the following figure:

Above copied from
Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng and Peter F. Halpin
The Importance of Minority Teachers: Student Perceptions of Minority Versus White Teachers.
Educational Researcher October 2016 45: 407-420,first published on October 5, 2016 doi:10.3102/0013189X16671718
Of course, the biggest argument for minority teachers and principals is the fact that values are often caught not taught. Minority educators provide good role models for students to see. When I was in elementary and high school, most of my teachers were female so the thought of becoming a basic education teacher never really crossed my mind. Unlike me, my children, through their own direct experiences, will grow up not with minority stereotypes. On top of that, the rarity apparently comes with more effective educators. And I know that in the specific case of the school my children attend, this is true. My children are indeed lucky.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Are the Schools in Virginia Becoming More Racially and Economically Segregated?

Public schools in Richmond City in Virginia had a total enrollment of 23987 for the school year 2015-16. Among these students, 3075 are Hispanic and 17927 are African American. These groups combined therefore make up 88 percent of the student population in the city. With this, it only follows that schools in Richmond City will have a large percentage of Hispanics and Blacks. Nearly every student (97.6%) enrolled in Richmond City schools qualifies for either reduced-price or free lunch. Yet, the Washington Post as it reports on a study made by the Commonwealth Institute seems to make a big deal out of this piece of statistics in its article, "Virginia’s schools are growing more racially and economically segregated":
Richmond Public Schools, where about 75 percent of the student body is black and nearly every child qualifies for free or reduced-price meals, had the highest number of isolated schools in Virginia, with 29. (The report defined an isolated school as one where more than 75 percent of the students are black or Hispanic and more than 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, an indicator of poverty.)
There are 56 schools under the Richmond City School District so it is not surprising that 29 of these schools are regarded as "isolated". The Washington Post also cites the northern Virginia counties:
But researchers also found isolated schools in affluent Northern Virginia districts. In 2014, Prince William County had 11 such schools, Fairfax County had five, and Arlington had two.
The counties of Northern Virginia are home to more than 100,000 Hispanic students, that is more than half of the total number of Hispanic students in the entire state. Schools assigned to my neighborhood reflect this:

Mason Crest Elementary School
Poe Middle School
Falls Church High School
Above graphs copied from Fairfax County Public Schools

"Isolated" schools are more likely to be found in regions where a large number of Hispanics and Blacks live. Since the definition of an "isolated" school also includes having at least seventy five percent of the students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, this means that these groups are also the ones who are economically disadvantaged. 

Above copied from
The CommonWealth Institute
There are about 500,000 Hispanic and African American students enrolled in Virginia public schools. Hence, seeing that there are about 74,000 students enrolled in these isolated schools, this corresponds to roughly 15%, which means 85% of Hispanic and African American children do not find themselves enrolled in an isolated school.

Schools are indeed mirrors of the communities they serve. Indeed, there is a desire to make schools more diverse but the much more important point is an equitable funding of schools. Having "isolated" schools can indeed be problematic since peer learning is an important ingredient in basic education, but a sadder predicament is when an "isolated" school is likewise a school that provides less opportunities for learning to its students. It is devastating to students if these "isolated" schools are also the underfunded schools. A comment on the Washington Post raises this concern:

Racial and economic segregation in schools may not be avoidable if neighborhoods are doing the same. Channeling funds away from schools that are in greater need, however, is a different issue.

Monday, November 14, 2016

How Do We Teach Our Children in the Philippines about Martial Law?

My son, when he was in fourth grade, learned about the Native Americans who lived in Virginia, the early settlement in Jamestown, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction. That was at least two hundred years of history. Fifth and sixth graders in the Philippines, on the other hand, in the new DepEd K to 12 curriculum, are supposed to learn about Philippine history. This, of course, includes the Marcos dictatorship and Martial Law. 

Marcos (from Wikipedia)
Native Americans, the early colonists, slavery, and the Civil War are equally difficult topics to discuss with young minds. Fortunately, those years are much more distant to an American child, than the Martial Law years are to the Filipino youth. The recent election in the United States, however, is very much in the present. How teachers in the United States deal with this situation perhaps offers a clue on how schools in the Philippines may deal with teaching Marcos and Martial Law. Below is an example, from the principals of Mason Crest Elementary School, the school my children attend. This was their message to their staff the day after the election:
"The election is over and it is our responsibility to continue to be the face of optimism and hope for All of our children. No matter what your political views, our job is to continue to say to All of our students that "you are important, you are loved, you will be safe here, you will be treated with respect, we will honor your unique differences, kindness will rule the day and we will continue as a staff to honor ourselves and our profession by providing All of our students the tools to be able to have lives filled with endless possibilities."
We share this because we have had a number of students recently voice what their parents said would happen to them after the election depending on who won. Again, we are not intending on being political just stating some of our family realities. If it does come up, sharing what we shared above will help us convey a consistent message, which most importantly is "You Are Loved and Safe Here at Mason Crest!" 
Keep the focus on our students. They continue to deserve our best and we know that is exactly what they will get from you, our outstanding TEAM!
The early years of schooling, in addition to teaching children to read, write and do math, include values. The Department of Education in Australia lists values that teachers should focus on during the elementary years. These are:
  • Care and Compassion
  • Doing Your Best
  • Fair Go
  • Honesty and Trustworthiness
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Understanding, Tolerance and Inclusion
"Fair Go" is Australian and it means giving another person a reasonable opportunity to do something. Whether it is Australian or Mason Crest Elementary School, the list is very similar.

The Department of Education in the Philippines states the following with regard to teaching Martial Law to elementary students:
DepEd remains committed in highlighting the importance of learning the lessons of history and preserving the gains of democracy. We shall continue to enable our learners to remember and understand the country’s history and the impact of Martial Law to the lives of Filipinos today. The Department shall continue to deepen the discussion on this significant historical event. We remain faithful to our commitment to promote critical thinking among Filipino learners; we encourage them to examine and rediscover the importance of this historical marker in bringing Filipinos together to build a nation everyone deserves.
Critical thinking requires a lot. We always think within a frame. And that frame is important. First, we should need to look at history with a list of core values we have chosen. Unfortunately, we have learned instead to simply identify individuals we believe in. Causes like environment, education, equity, and human rights should matter to us, not personalities.

Second, the list of values we emphasize in elementary school is important. Peace and order, prosperity, and a growing economy are values we may choose. For these, we may stress blind obedience, we may even require children to wear a uniform. We may even teach children that their problematic behavior is a product of their own will, that school is the place to "fix kids" because they are very much "broken by nature". Hopefully, one can see at this point that these do not meet what students need to develop a critical thinking of values. Taught in this manner, an individual can easily drop the notion of human rights and accept extrajudicial killings or military rule in exchange for peace and order. With the kind of character education that promotes only obedience through reward and punishment, a growing economy can be easily embraced even if it comes only with the enrichment of the wealthy and further oppression of the poor.

Schools should address what children need and not how we want children to behave. We can only promote the social and moral development of our children by first meeting their needs and showing a genuine care and concern. It is only when we begin caring for our students that they will grow to become caring citizens. It is only through our own tolerance that our children will become tolerant. And it is only through treating them ALL with care that they will learn both equity and equality. Otherwise, these children even when they grow up cannot be expected to critically think about Martial Law and the Marcos' years.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Optimistic but Heartbroken

"Though heartbroken at this result, this was about economic change and a yearning for change, not an undermining of all things we hold dear like public schools", Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in an email that I received last night. I was interviewed today at Georgetown and was asked to send a brief message to president-elect Donald Trump. I said, "I hope you keep in mind that you won in the election by a razor-thin margin. That small margin came from working families who had placed their hope in some of the promises that you made. Their schools and communities are counting on you."

While Trump has said so many things during his campaign, most of these are not the wishes of the majority. With a ton of issues, we often tend to focus on one and ignore the rest. This frequently happens when we are trying to elect an individual or when we are faced with a proposed legislation that tackles too many things. One great example is the reason why this blog started: Philippines DepEd's K to 12. In the post "Mother Tongue Based - Multilingual Education : The Strategy?", I wrote:
DepEd's K to12 is an example of a gargantuan reform that is founded on a set of promises made by President Aquino. Yet, it even includes additional elements that are not in the original campaign platform and some even runs contrary. No formal subject of science in the early years runs contrary to the promotion of science education. Dilution of high school curriculum to include instruction that is better learned at home or other venues likewise contributes to congestion of the curriculum and a decreased emphasis on science. The spiral approach, not included in the promises, by itself is already gigantic. Both size and scope of DepEd's K to 12 come from various interests that have been blended and combined into one enormous package. By doing so, DepEd's K to 12 has something to offer to everyone who has a say or influence on how Philippine basic education should be reformed. It does not matter whether some elements may be disagreeable, as long as there is one element to which an influential group strongly subscribes. Each element has its own set of followers with zeal, who would be willing to turn a blind eye to the other elements. There are people who think that 12 years of basic education is a must. DepEd's K to 12 caters to this set since these people do not care if the other elements of the new curriculum are wrong as long as it involves two additional years. There are educators who are completely convinced that a spiral incursion through disciplines is the way to go. As long as this element is present in the new curriculum, everything is acceptable. DepEd's K to 12 thus caters to various sectors by providing each one with a piece of the pie. And since everything goes, why not add a new grading system. This may attract additional support and steer the discussion away from the real problems such as shortages in resources as well as poor salaries and working conditions of teachers. These interests become united into one since conviction behind one element is so strong that compromises are easy enough to swallow. "At least, we are getting what we want, never mind the entire picture," describes the underlying justification. Some who have advocated intensely for mother tongue education are no exception.
Trump won because there are people who have lost jobs because of globalization and the disruptive innovation brought by technology. Trump won because there are people who think that the country is in a very bad situation. On the other hand, Trump won because there are people who indeed want to see a great wall built.  Trump was an enigma and there are people who simply bought into one of his promises and ignored the rest. For this reason, it is indeed difficult to have optimism, but we must.

Above copied from QuotesGram

Thursday, November 10, 2016

President-Elect Donald Trump and Basic Education

At this point, it is difficult to say what a Trump presidency means for basic education. As a starter, the role of the federal government on basic education is really small. This is very different from the Philippines where its president with the Department of Education dictates what happens inside public schools. In the US, local school districts do. Still, what a president says may have an impact on how the public generally views public education. In this respect, it may actually be good that Donald Trump has not said so much about education during his campaign. We therefore can only wait on what he says as president.

Donald Trump delivering his victory speech (Voice of America)
Trump did release a plan for his first 100 days in office. And that plan contains several legislative proposals relevant to basic education:
  • School Choice And Education Opportunity Act. Redirects education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice. Ends common core, brings education supervision to local communities. It expands vocational and technical education, and make 2 and 4-year college more affordable.
  • Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act. Allows Americans to deduct childcare and elder care from their taxes, incentivizes employers to provide on-side childcare services, and creates tax-free Dependent Care Savings Accounts for both young and elderly dependents, with matching contributions for low-income families.
One factor clearly affects education. It is poverty. It is clear in achievement gaps when one categorizes students according to National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Eligibility. One example is the percent of students at or above proficient achievement level in the NAEP grade 8 reading test.

Grade 8 Reading Scores (At or above Proficient Achievement Gaps)

The poverty achievement gap is rising unlike the black-white gap:

Above copied from Reardon(2011)
The income gap starts even before kindergarten so Trump's Affordable Childcare and Elderlycare Act may be a step in the right direction.

This week's election shows a bitterly divided country. And it is very close to 50:50. Trump, however, realizes, that a large part of his victory comes from the support of the working class. There may be some reason to be optimistic if Trump does equate problems in education to poverty. Trump, after all, focused on children in poverty, when he talked about school choice:
“As president, I will establish the national goal of providing school choice to every American child living in poverty....”
Of course, what I hope is slightly different:
 “As president, I will establish the national goal of providing a quality school to every American child living in poverty....”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Voters Have Spoken

Quite a number of states have ballot issues relevant to public basic education. As mentioned in previous posts, Maine raises the question of increasing taxes on its wealthy to fund public education, California wants to lift the ban on multilingual education, and in Fairfax county, consumers in restaurants are asked to pay additional tax to support its public schools. While it is clear that Trump has won the presidential election, what is becoming evident with education is that the public is not really in favor of increasing taxes to provide additional funds for public education. In a way, results on election ballot issues on education are in line with the candidate Americans chose to be the next president.

Above copied from EducationWeek
Here are the results.

  • Oklahoma rejected a 1% sales tax increase to fund public education.
  • Missouri rejected a tax increase on tobacco to fund early childhood health and education.
  • The Jefferson, Falls City and Central school districts in the state of Oregon voted against bond measures to fund public education. 
  • Fairfax county in Virginia did not approve the proposed increase in meals tax to support education.
The ballot question in Maine is still too close to call (from Maine's WMTW):

November 09, 2016 - 01:49PM ET
Question - 2 - New Income Tax For Public Ed - Ballot Issue
3% on incomes over $200K
Maine - 565 of 589 Precincts Reporting - 96%
NameVotesVote %
Yes371,083 50%

On the other hand, the proposal in Oregon requiring the legislature to provide at least $800 per high school student for dropout-prevention, technical education, and career and college readiness programs passed overwhelmingly. The state of Massachusetts soundly rejected expansion of charter schools and Georgia did not approve state intervention in “chronically failing” public schools. California voted to lift the ban on multilingual education. California also did not join the trend of rejecting additional school funding by approving $9 billion in bonds. These funds are intended for  $3 billion for new construction and $3 billion for modernization of public school facilities; $1 billion for charter schools and vocational education facilities; and $2 billion for community college facilities. 

While it is clear the Americans still strongly support public basic education, it is also evident that simply putting more money into the system is not seen by many as an acceptable solution. The major problem in public basic education in the United States is not perceived so much as lack in funding but more in terms of how funds are spent and in some cases, how funds are distributed. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Make the Wealthy Pay More for Public Education

While most will be glued to their television tomorrow night to find out who the next president of the United States will be, one particular state has questions in its ballots worth looking at. Yes, the state of Maine is asking whether marijuana should be legalized. That, however, is not the most notable question, in my opinion. Far more outside the ordinary, Maine is also asking its residents if they want a new way of counting votes in which voters may cast ranked choices. In this scheme, multiple rounds of counting are going to be employed in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a winner by majority becomes clear. The state is also proposing that the minimum wage be increased, not just once, but annually until 2020. This blog is on education so the question on Maine's ballots that really catch my attention is question number two: “Do you want to add a 3 percent tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000 to create a state fund that would provide direct support for student learning in kindergarten through 12th grade public education?”

Could you imagine if the Philippines asks a similar question in a referendum? Would the answer be an overwhelming "Yes"? After all, only the wealthy pays more and the additional revenue is specifically set for funding basic education. The question seems unfair especially when most of the voters earn less than $200,000 and on top of that, no one can really argue against education funding.

The editorial board at Portland Press Herald actually recommends voting "no".

We want governments to provide sufficient funds for education. We want governments to make sure that the funding is equitable, schools where more children of poverty attend should get more resources. We want governments to prioritize education in their budget. Asking the rich to pay more taxes does look like a very simplified way of looking at a complex problem. I guess we will just have to wait tomorrow evening to see what the citizens of Maine choose.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

DepEd's K to 12, After Four Years

Though data on learning outcomes are not easily available, some details regarding how the new curriculum of the Department of Education in the Philippines are now being told in scholarly publications. For instance, Lartec and coworkers have published their findings regarding the pilot schools of Mother Tongue - Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) in Baguio City. The paper, "Strategies and Problems Encountered by Teachers in Implementing MotherTongue - Based Instruction in a Multilingual Classroom", provides qualitative data that suggest the following problems: the absence of books written in mother tongue, lack of vocabulary, and lack of teacher-training. 

These problems especially the lack of qualified teachers should not be surprising. Even in a developed country, where multilingual education is being pursued, having an adequate number of teachers trained is a problem. The state of California this coming Tuesday is asking its citizens to vote for multilingual education. Teaching students through their mother tongue is the culturally correct thing to do. There is even evidence that this strategy yields better learning outcomes as it keeps students engaged. For the program to work, however, teachers are required and if the state of California does decide for multilingual education, it has to face the following reality. Ashley HopKinson at EdSource shares the following:

The same predicament holds true in other places. South Africa is another example, as reported in the Mediterrenean Journal of Social Science:

Is Mother-Tongue Education Possible in a Language-Diverse Province?A Case of Limpopo Province
Prof Rachael Jesika Singh
Research Development and Administration Department,
University of Limpopo, South Africa Email:
Jesika.Singh@ul.ac.za Doi:10.5901/mjss.2014.v5n25p141
Mother tongue instruction in education is practiced in many countries across the world. The South African scenario is unique in this regard. Whilst many nations have identified one national language by which their populace can be identified, in South Africa, there are eleven such languages. The problem is that many of the South African languages are indigenous to specific provinces. In the Limpopo province, for example, three official indigenous African languages are spoken. This makes instruction in the mother tongue complex. This study examined mother tongue instruction in schools in the Limpopo province. The aim of the study was to investigate whether mother tongue instruction is possible in a province that has three African indigenous languages, in addition to English and Afrikaans. Data was collected using questionnaires and interviews. The sample consisted of schools in areas of the province where the different languages are spoken. In addition, the sample also consisted of schools from multicultural settings, mainly found in urban areas. In total 12 schools were selected. The data was analysed qualitatively and quantitatively. The data revealed that mother tongue education is possible in situations where all the children speak one or two of the national languages. Where more than two languages are spoken as mother tongue, there are challenges determining the medium of instruction. The biggest challenge in such a case is the provision of learner-support materials (LSM). Another associated challenge is class size. Broader challenges include shortages of suitably qualified teachers. Recommendations of this study are: mother tongue instruction must be approached and funded systemically; learner support materials must be developed before implementation of such a system; mother tongue instruction should also be available in multicultural schools; school facilities should be standardised so that demand on well-resourced schools is minimised. 
This blog has been pointing out several issues regarding the pedagogy in DepEd's K to 12. The above publications, on the other hand, only highlight the problems with implementation. But these problems cannot likewise be ignored. In the book, Educating for the 21st Century, an entire chapter entitled "For Whom Is K-12 Education: A Critical Look into Twenty-First Century Educational Policy and Curriculum in the Philippines", is devoted to DepEd's K to 12. The following are excerpts from the concluding section of the chapter that are worth our attention (I emphasize some of the lines):

With the dearth of data on learning outcomes, it is not possible to gauge whether a curriculum is working or not. One can argue based on pedagogical grounds and data from other studies that a curriculum is problematic. However, by paying attention to how a curriculum is being implemented, a lot could be said already. As noted above, when a curriculum is so poorly implemented, those that have resources gain a tremendous advantage. In this case, the children of wealthy families are given more opportunities while the poor become more buried under a tremendous gap. DepEd's K to 12, after all these years, should be seen as an instrument that not only fails to address the real problems of basic education but also exacerbates the situation. Poverty is one of the biggest factors that affect basic education. A policy that heightens the grip of poverty on schooling only denies the poor their right to education and prevents society from realizing equity.

Friday, November 4, 2016

"Meals Tax" in Fairfax and Who Pays for Public Education?

About 80 to 90 percent of public school funding in the US comes from state and local taxes. Based on the data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in fiscal year 2010, the federal government contributed about 12.5 percent, state governments accounted for 43.1 percent, and local governments 44.3 percent. No one can argue that public education benefits all of society, but the question of who pays more remains to be addressed. Taxes come in different flavors. Some are progressive - those who are wealthy pay a larger percentage of their income, while some are regressive - those who are poor shoulder a larger tax burden relative to their income. Taxes can likewise be discriminatory when it targets a particular company or industry.

Matthew Di Carlo in his article, "Who Pays for Education?", posted in the Shanker Institute blog, looks at school funding from the point of view of who carries a bigger burden relative to what they earn. His analysis, which is not surprising based on the fact that schools are largely funded by state and local taxes, shows that the poor are in fact giving more of their income to support public education.

Above copied from the Shanker Institute
Income taxes are usually progressive. Higher taxes are assigned to higher income brackets. On the other hand, sales taxes are regressive. Lower income families spend most of their money and each spending gets taxed. The wealthy can afford to save so a significant amount of their income is not affected by sales taxes.

Residents of Fairfax county will vote on Tuesday not only to choose the next president of the country, but to decide on whether the county should begin collecting a 4% meals tax. Seventy percent of the revenue from this proposed tax is intended for its public schools. InsideNoVa reports on the debate on this issue and notes that the talking points are so familiar.

  • Proponents: The extra money was essential to maintaining a top-quality school system.
  • Opponents: The tax is harmful to lower-income people and the restaurant industry.
No one can argue against maintaining a top-quality system. On the other side, although familiar, sadly, the argument that the tax is both regressive and discriminatory seems to fall on deaf ears.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Not All Opinions Are of Equal Value

While a great number of out-of-school youth in the United States cite falling behind school work or getting poor grades as main reasons for leaving school, in the Philippines, the major reasons provided are marriage and financial difficulty. The difference between the reasons given by Americans and Filipinos on why they quit school is really dramatic. It suggests that the underlying reasons behind the out-of-school problem varies greatly between the two educational systems. Of course, surveys are shaped by the questions provided, and in some cases, responses are even provided as choices. If I have to hazard a guess, it is very likely that Filipino students who drop out are also not doing well in school.

We quit often for the following reason. We think we will not succeed. We also give up when we feel that the reward we may get at the end does not justify the effort we need to exert. With regard to schooling, children who are disengaged and at the same time, struggling with the academic challenges, are very likely to quit. Thus, the reason provided by most American out of school youth makes sense.

How people respond to surveys makes the social sciences quite different from the natural sciences. Deciding on or figuring out the main reason why one drops out from school is actually not an easy task. For one, human beings take into account how they can be perceived by the response that they give. Correct responses to a survey that goes beyond preferences often require a thoughtful deliberation usually not afforded by a phone call or short interview. In some cases, how well informed the respondent is also counts. One example is the recent survey made by DiPerna and Catt at EdCHOICE.

This report, among other things, asks Americans to grade public, private and charter schools and the results are shown below:

Scores in the NAEP actually support the above perception that private schools are better than public schools.

One, however, cannot make that conclusion quickly since the above comparison is really made between apples and oranges. One needs to take into account various student characteristics that are already known to give rise to performance gaps in these tests. If these student differences are taken into account, there is actually not much of a difference between the scores from public and private schools as demonstrated by Braun and coworkers at the Institute of Education Statistics.
Overall, there were many similarities in the results for the two grades. In both reading and mathematics, analyses employing unadjusted NAEP scores indicated that the average private school mean score was higher than the average public school mean score, and the difference was statistically significant. Including selected student characteristics in the model, however, resulted in a substantial reduction in the difference in all four analyses. The reduction varied from 11 to 15 score points. For grade 4 reading and grade 8 mathematics, the average difference in adjusted school mean scores was no longer significant. For grade 4 mathematics, the difference was significant, and the adjusted school mean was higher for public schools. Only for grade 8 reading was the difference still significant with a higher school mean for private schools.
Whether the respondents to the EdCHOICE survey are actually aware of the difference in NAEP scores for public and private schools is highly unlikely. Parents are probably grading the schools simply based on their own perception or bias. There is in fact one question in the EdCHOICE that provides us a glimpse of how well informed their respondents are regarding basic education in the United States. A majority of Americans do not know how much is actually spent by the government per student in a public school:

The government spends nearly $12000 per year per student in a public school. Not surprising, Maureen Sullivan had the following title in a Forbes article.

A majority of Americans in the survey say that public education in the US is in the wrong track. Judging from how poorly parents know how much is spent on each student in public schools, I would say that this is probably not a well-informed opinion.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Out-Of-School Children and Youth in the Philippines

Data and statistics help us see what is really happening but these still need to be collected properly and more importantly, analyzed thoughtfully. The number of children who leave school is a significant metric for any educational system. School leavers constitute an anathema to the mantra of education for all. The Philippines currently faces significantly low and seemingly stubborn cohort survival rates for both elementary and secondary education.

The Cohort Survival Rate is the proportion of enrollees at the beginning grade or year who reach the final grade or year at the end of the required number of years of study.
The numbers above are helpful for these show how many students actually finish both elementary and high school at the designated number of years. Thus, at the end of high school, more than 21 percent of the students do not finish on time. What is quite remarkable is that this number is not so different from the percentage of youth (aged 15-24 years old) who are not attending school, have not finished any college or post secondary course, and are not working: 17.5 %

Having these two percentages quite close to each other only suggests that most of the youth who are now either unemployed or not in school are also the same individuals who have not finished high school on time. Of course, it is important to find the reason why there are so many of the youth not enrolled in a school. Below are the answers provided by Philippine statisticians:

The numbers above mean something, but seeing "Family income not sufficient to send child to school" and "High Cost of Education" as two separate categories is quite puzzling. The cost of anything is really perceived high if one cannot afford it, but the above suggests that 19.2% of out-of-school youth say their family income is not sufficient to send child to school while only 9.0% says high cost of education. Of course, the other intriguing piece of the data is that even with public education in high school, a significant number still cites costs as the main reason for leaving school. 

In any case, the main reasons youth in the Philippines leave school are dramatically different from those given by high school dropouts in the United States:

The contrast is very striking. The cohort survival rate in the United States is not far from that of the Philippines. It is 81% (in the US), very close to 78.2 % (in the Philippines), yet the reasons for dropping out of school are miles apart. Perhaps, the difference lies in how the survey was done, what questions were provided, and what possible reasons were suggested.