"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, November 20, 2017

Computer Use Leads to Poorer Learning Outcomes

With the arrival of computers, smart phones, and the internet, there was great optimism that technology could finally enhance learning. People easily bought the idea that students would learn better with these new tools and the world wide web was introduced to classrooms all over the globe. With available data, one could now examine if indeed learning had been improved by computers. And the clear answer is "no". Students are in fact performing poorer in both reading and mathematics with the advent of technology in classrooms.

(Please see a previous post on this blog right after the OECD study was published: "Technology Can Amplify Great Teaching But Not Replace Poor Teaching")

In Students, Computers and Learning, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) reports that basic literacy and numeracy skills must come first before students are able to benefit from technology. The use of computers and smart devices both inside and outside the classroom correlates with lower scores in both reading and math. And even top-performing countries like Singapore are showing this trend.

Above copied from
The Straits Times

The OECD report on how computer usage correlates with learning outcomes is summarized in the following figures (all are copied from Students, Computers and Learning):

In mathematics:

In reading:

The negative correlation is significant and when one looks at the frequency of computer usage, the trend becomes clearer even in the new testing area of digital reading:

Mathematics is likewise negatively affected by the use of technology:

Computers obviously can never be a substitute for effective teaching.

And in the past, I did spend my own money to provide computers to elementary school classrooms in the Philippines. I was part of a non-government organization that wanted to help schools in the town of Paete, Laguna. My objective, however, at that point, was not about teaching students computer skills. My goal was to encourage collaboration between students, teachers and parents, which could be made easier with the internet. It takes basic skills to use the internet wisely. Browsing needs to be smart since there are now so many pages on the internet that carry wrong information. Technology can still help improve learning in classrooms, but not in a way where it replaces the teacher. The OECD's summary of their findings are worth keeping in mind:

Saturday, November 18, 2017

21st Century Skills versus Basic Skills

With advances in technology, there is no doubt that we all feel the pressure to keep ourselves updated. Otherwise, we will be rendered obsolete. In the United States, it is no secret that a large number of manufacturing jobs have already disappeared. Human workers in assembly lines are now being replaced by more reliable robots. Even developing countries like the Philippines which have a considerable number of the labor force manning call centers are in danger of losing their jobs to artificial intelligence. We then clamor for our educational systems to pay attention to these changing demands. We ask that schools pay more attention to developing a new set of skills, the 21st century skills. However, the fact remains that one simply cannot build a mansion on top of a weak foundation. And in the case of the Philippines, the problem sorely lies in the lack of equity and quality in basic education.

This point can be more easily understood by citing one concrete situation. It may sound far from labor and economic concepts but nonetheless, it demonstrates a very important aspect in developing and maximizing a country's potential. It is United States soccer. It is one competition in the international arena where the United States mens team always fails to reach the top. The team did not even qualify for the coming World Cup in Russia. Lewandowski puts it nicely in his article in Soccer Politics as he cites Sokolove of the New York Times Magazine:
Most academy programs in the U.S. operate under the pay-for-play model, in which parents choose to invest in their children’s soccer education. But this model has been widely criticized for its inefficiency and inequity, seeing that it disadvantages young soccer prodigies whose parents can’t foot the bill.
A society cannot realize its full potential without promoting equity. The same applies to education. If the Philippines aspires to compete in a global economy then it must develop its entire citizenry. It must provide quality basic education to all and not just to the children of the elite. In the blog of the World Bank on education, there is an article that tackles what education can do in the face of rising robots and artificial intelligence.

Above copied from World Bank Blog on Education

In this article, Patrinos and his colleagues wrote:
"Economists studying the effects of automation are emphasizing the importance of “higher order soft skills” such as creativity and interpersonal skills. However, we believe that most countries still need to focus on getting the basics right."
And the reason is simple. It is the same reason behind the poor performance of the United States in soccer. Lack of equity prevents the realization of the full potential of any society. This lack of equity is unfortunately present in the basic educational system of the Philippines where quality education is provided only to a chosen few. Automation will soon erase low-cost and low-skill labor on which developing countries like the Philippines depend a lot. There is indeed a need for higher education to keep pace with the rest of the world, but as important if not more, quality basic education should be provided to all.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How Could We Fight Our Own Bias

We can easily proclaim our newly found commitment to diversity. After all, diversity is indeed necessary for realizing the full potential of a society. Yet, this commitment gets washed away as we continue to cling on exercises that only highlight inequity and our inclinations and prejudices. For instance, higher education still considers standardized exam scores for admission even with the knowledge that these exams favor those who are privileged in society. Worse, we browse through a research paper and conclude something that is so far from what the data really suggest. One example is when CNN reported on a study that correlates social behavior in kindergarten with success later as an adult.

Above copied from CNN
The study was authored by researchers from Pennsylvania State University and was published in the American Journal of Public Health. It examined 13- to -19-year longitudinal data that included kindergarten social assessments and later outcomes such as higher education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health, from low-income neighborhoods in 3 urban sites and 1 rural setting. The results showed that children rated low in social and emotional functioning were less likely to attend college. These children were more likely as adults to commit crimes, to abuse drugs, and suffer mental problems.

If what we see in kindergarten predicts what we will see in the future then the obvious conclusion is that nothing is happening in between. Schools apparently do not matter. But are we not trying to teach children in our classrooms? We have been long made aware of the difference between fixed and growth mindsets. Children can learn. What they are in kindergarten should not decide what they will be in the future. Yet, we still see a strong correlation between the early years of basic education and later outcomes. What is going wrong?

We see gaps showing up early in education, but we really do not do anything about it. Oftentimes, we actually propagate the gap. We strongly count on our instincts and our first impressions. We frequently rely on how little we know in extrapolating what we think will happen. It is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy because we never think of what we really ought to do to address properly the gaps that we see. Social and emotional abilities like cognitive abilities can be taught. We can, first of all, model these. Yet, when we see a child who is causing trouble, we resort to punitive measures that do not really help the child develop these noncognitive abilities. This is the real reason why there is a correlation between how a child behaves in kindergarten and how that child behaves after so many years. We are simply not doing anything and we are in fact propagating our bias. The study is not so much how well kindergarten scores correlate with adult life. The study is more about how we are failing our children.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Wrong Numbers and Fake News

Numbers are important not just to scientists but to everyone since numbers affect social and economic aspects of our lives. Numbers contain information and obviously, wrong numbers contain misinformation. Mistakes do happen and we can be careless with numbers. Amnesty Philippines recently twitted, "President Duterte's invitation to host a human rights summit in the Philippines does not erase the 13M deaths..." An erratum was posted days later stating, "On Amnesty International Philippines' official Facebook and Twitter accounts, the post regarding deaths under the 'war on drugs' was incorrectly written as 13M. The correct post should read 13K." Okay, "M" does lie close to "K" on a computer keyboard. So, it could be an honest mistake. Still, with thoughtful reflection, 13000 deaths under the "war on drugs" is still a gross assumption. It therefore remains a misinformation.

Another recent example is from the Washington Post. The Grade captured a news article last week that incorrectly states how much teachers spend on their own to support learning in their classrooms.

Above copied from The Grade

The reporter, Moriah Balingit, later corrected the article.

Above copied from the Washington Post

The link address to the article still bears the original $1000 figure. So, I guess everything is really not corrected. Similar to the error made by Amnesty International Philippines, Balingit also made a mistake that goes much farther than the numbers. The current rule states, "If you're an eligible educator, you can deduct up to $250 ($500 if married filing jointly and both spouses are eligible educators, but not more than $250 each) of unreimbursed trade or business expenses." The proposed tax bill in its current form eliminates this deduction. Since this is not a tax credit, an educator can therefore reduce his or her tax by about $50. Of course, $50 is still $50, but the article misses entirely the much more important point. Teachers should not be spending their own money to support learning in their classrooms.

The Amnesty International numbers likewise do not correctly inform us. The number of extrajudicial killings (EJK's) in the Philippines under the Duterte administration is grossly misleading. These are alleged numbers. These have not been proven.

Teachers in basic education spend a great deal of both time and effort teaching our children how to make sense out of numbers. These efforts are only wasted when we irresponsibly use numbers to misinform society.

Friday, November 10, 2017

I Hope Our Children Are Not Watching Duterte

In a previous post during the 2016 presidential elections in the United States, I wrote:
"We are the role models for our children. Our children watch and learn from us. A nation's leader may not be necessarily a diplomat, or born with a sweet tongue, but with all certainty, a nation's leader talks to his or her constituents. Months ago, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reminded us that we need to make sure that our children could be proud of "the choices we are about to make, the goals we will strive for, and the principles we will live by", since we are our children's role models. Every adult is, and a nation's leader is one of the most important role models."
That post also shared thoughts from award-winning author of children books, Candy Gourlay, who spoke about the fears of what leaders say in public, how this can adversely affect our children.  It is truly unfortunate that the current president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, seems to ignore our responsibility in shaping the minds of our young. I will not repeat what Duterte recently said in a meeting with Filipinos in the Vietnamese town city of Da Nang (If you are interested, you can view his speech on Newsweek). I do not think it is something Filipino children should be proud of. His spokesperson, Harry Roque, back in the Philippines, maintained that the remarks were only made in jest. Jest or not, it was clearly not a good role model for our children.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Facebook: Probably a Curse to Philippine Basic Education and Society As a Whole

Facebook is very popular in the Philippines. "All of internet users, about 60 million, in the Philippines use Facebook", according to Tech-in-Asia. Ninety percent of these Facebook users access the platform via a mobile device. It is then natural for some people to rejoice in a new era of sharing information in the country, but there is really no reason to rejoice. As a starter, most of you who are reading what I have posted here on Facebook will not even get to read the entire post on the blog not because you are lazy to read. You simply cannot click the link because if you do try, you will have to pay data charges. Nothing really comes free, except for fake news, propaganda, and sound bites.

Above copied from Tech-in-Asia
One cannot deny the fact that the influence of social media on various aspects of life in the Philippines has indeed remarkably increased. And politics is, of course, no exception. Yes, this may be a reason to rejoice as more people become more politically aware or engaged, yet there are ample good reasons to worry. Although Facebook is used in the Philippines to stay connected with family and friends, Facebook has also become a propaganda machine and has excellently served as a medium for misinformation.

Mong Palatino wrote an insightful article for Global Voices months ago. The piece, Philippines: On Facebook’s free version, fake news is even harder to spot, shows how the free version of Facebook can become a source of misniformation. Palatino wrote, "Facebook Free provides easy ways to communicate and access information. But its strict limitations on access to the broader web, along with its omission of key fact indicators such as images, may ultimately disempower users by giving them incomplete — and sometimes completely inaccurate — information." What is not emphasized here is how dangerous this platform is for propaganda or fake news.

Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews of RAND arrived at a model of how Russians are able to spread misinformation. In The Russian “Firehose of Falsehood” Propaganda Model, Paul and Matthews listed the following essential elements:

Facebook indeed matches the first two features shown above since it has a wide reach and is compatible with multi-accounts. Its algorithm on how a user's news feed is constructed can be easily influenced by artificial measures of popularity (likes and shares). After all, Facebook relies on advertising revenues so it prioritizes popular posts. Free Facebook then adds the remaining two. Without access to the entire internet, one can be easily divorced from reality and consistency. The rise of social media in the Philippines is not a reason to rejoice. We can be witnessing a perfect storm for propaganda, misinformation, miseducation....

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Preparing Teachers of Mathematics

This is a repost from four years ago. It contains important insights on how teachers of Mathematics affect learning outcomes in Mathematics. It goes without saying that teaching mathematics requires more than just knowing how to do mathematics. If knowing how to do math is all that it takes then I can easily teach my son who is in second grade math. Teachers of mathematics in basic education are not only trained in doing math but also in teaching math. It is therefore reasonable to expect that learning outcomes in math depend on the quality of training teachers of mathematics have received.

The following are some of the exhibits provided by The Teacher Education Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M) in 2008 of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). This is an interesting study because it includes both the Philippines and the United States. It also includes countries that perform very well in international standardized exams in math like Singapore and Taipei. The first one is a qualitative description of the amount of control over higher education institutions responsible for the training of math teachers. With this criterion, the Philippines as well as the United States belong to the group where there is "weak control". The high-performing countries, on the other hand, belong to the "strong control" set.

Above copied from
The Teacher Education Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M) in 2008

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Inequity in Education in the Philippines

To state that there is currently a great inequity in education in the Philippines is accurate. Sadly, my alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University stands as a glaring testament to this gross bias. While 90 percent of families in the Philippines can be considered low-income, one obviously will not find 90 percent of the students enrolled in Ateneo coming from poor families. Poor basic education in both elementary and high school prevents a lot from even entering college. To make matters worse, unlike in the United States, elite universities such as the Ateneo have campuses for both elementary and high school. In the Philippines, catering to the priviliged therefore starts very early.

Schmitt Hall, home of the Department of Chemistry,
where I spent most of my time during college,
above photo copied from the Ateneo de Manila website

Below is a socioeconomic classification of the Philippines in 2009.

Above copied from
1985-2009 Family Income Distribution in the Philippines presented in SWS

Michele Schweisfurth and coworkers write in Developmental Leadership in the Philippines: Educational Experiences, Institutions and Networks:

Vertical differentiation is particularly pertinent to the issue of access, and shapes the educational and life chances of individual Filipinos as well as setting the parameters for who is likely to have the kind of education that places key roles in governance within their reach... ...the system is highly stratified with acute status and quality differences. These status differences are very well understood in the Philippines and both the advantages of attending elite institutions and the non-meritocratic normal routes of access were noted... ... “Here in the Philippines we have first, second and third class universities.”
Inequity in education needs to be addressed. This is vital to a country's progress and development. Favoring privileged students of course helps preserve an oligarchy but it also prevents the realization of talent and potential among the country's population. Studies are clear: Where there is inequity, there is no excellence. Ming Ming Chiu and Lawrence Khoo write in Effects of Resources, Inequality, and Privilege Bias on Achievement: Country, School, and Student Level Analyses:

...Students in countries with higher inequality, clustering of privileged students, or unequal distribution of certified teachers typically had lower scores. Distribution inequality favored privileged students, in that schools with more privileged students typically had more resources. Overall, students scored lower when parent job status had a larger effect on student performance (privileged student bias) in a school or country. These results suggest that equal opportunity is linked to higher overall student achievement....

Monday, November 6, 2017

"How Much Do You Know About English Language Learners?

This weekend, I received an email from Education Week with a link to a quiz that roughly assessed how much I knew about English language learners. There were eight questions but only the first two concerned best teaching practices derived from evidence-based research. The other six questions would require familiarity with current conditions in schools in the United States. I thought it would be useful to share this quiz especially the first two questions since these touched on some of the stubborn myths regarding learning English as a second language. For instance, I am sure there are among us who were raised with the idea that speaking in our mother tongue at home harms our learning of English. This is not true.

Here is the quiz with my answers: (You may want to try the quiz by yourself first using this link: English language learners quiz)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

US$77 Take Home Monthly Pay for Teachers in the Philippines

Goods and services are of course cheaper in the Philippines. Still, it is very difficult to see how a public school teacher in the Philippines can support his or her family with only US$77 (4000 Philippine pesos) per month. Yet, this is apparently the guaranteed threshold set by the Department of Education (DepEd). Worse, for months due to an order issued by DepEd, "deductions already incorporated in the payroll, shall be continued, even if this effectively reduces the NTHP to lower than the P4,000.00 threshold." This order has been recently repealed and the threshold of P4,000.00 has been reinstated.

Above copied from Bulatlat

Teachers in the Philippines often do not receive all of their monthly salary because of deductions from loans. It is estimated that teachers currently owe 163 billion pesos to various lending institutions. This is more than 200,000 pesos per teacher, which is roughly equivalent to the starting annual salary of a teacher in the Philippines. How much public school teachers are paid in the Philippines has become a thorny issue. The current DepEd secretary, Leonora Briones, blames teachers' poor financial management. Worse, whenever salaries of public school teachers are mentioned, some people are quick to point out that teachers in private schools receive even less. This is evident, for instance, in the following article by Antonio Go of Marian School of Quezon City.

Above copied from PressReader
In the above article, Go writes:
"What are the legal and ethical bases for giving public school teachers allowances, bonuses and other perks? Aren’t they already being handsomely paid for service rendered? Why reward them for doing work which they are supposed to do in the first place and for which they were paid? By pampering them so much, are we not also simultaneously corrupting their values and morals? Because it corrodes and corrupts the entire educational system, the practice of giving performance bonuses and other allowances to public school teachers should be outlawed."

Public school teachers in the Philippines are apparently "handsomely paid". The claim that private school teachers are earning less than their public school counterparts is really a wrong argument against the fact that public school teachers do not receive enough salary to support themselves and their families. How much underpaid teachers are is evident when one looks at the basic expenses of a family. A post on Facebook makes this quite clear:

The above post considers the salary of a Master Teacher, which is roughly twice the starting salary. Yet, even with this salary, the pay is not enough to support a family of four. I guess a public school master teacher can be viewed as "pampered" only if that teacher has a spouse who earns as much, if that teacher has been fortunate enough to inherit a house, and if that teacher does not have to worry about childcare, transportation, and school expenses for children. Of course, "pampered" here also means eating a meal that costs less than 50 pesos. Unfortunately, even meals at McDonalds are above 50 pesos.

  • Small: Php 87.00
  • Medium: Php 107.00
  • Large: Php 124.00

Above copied from McDonald Philippines

That is why it is not surprising that public school teachers in the Philippines are currently buried in debt.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Addressing the Effects of Poverty on Basic Education

Poverty profoundly affects education. Poverty's grip on education manifests on the first day of school. Children from poor families are less prepared in kindergarten. Learning gaps are already substantial and are only bound to grow. Recent research in the United States on kindergarten preparedness mirrors the gaps observed in later stages of basic education highlighting the importance of addressing the effects of poverty on education during the early childhood years. Academic gaps based on socioeconomic status are only expected to persist if we keep ignoring the significance of a holistic approach in early education.

Investments in preschool education have increased in the United States. Parents are now much more aware in their vital role of preparing their children for school. Yet, academic gaps measured at the beginning of formal schooling remain associated with socioeconomic status (SES):

Above copied from
Emma Garcia and Elaine Weiss, Economic Policy Institute, September 27, 2017: Education Inequalities at the School Starting Gate: Gaps, Trends, and Strategies to Address Them

The above graph clearly shows that poverty's effects on education are extremely stubborn. The authors, Garcia and Weiss, offer a silver lining. At least, with the increasing income inequality and increasing number of families falling under poverty, the gaps have not risen. In addition, they likewise provide an explanation on why the gaps have persisted: We are simply not doing enough. This becomes much more evident by highlighting some bright spots. Across the United States, there are districts that appear to have narrowed the gap. A survey of these districts is provided in the paper and the authors conclude:
  • A growing number of school districts across the country have embraced systems of comprehensive enrichment and supports for many or even all their students, based on the understanding that nurturing healthy child development requires leveraging the entire community. These districts took different approaches to enacting those comprehensive strategies, based on each community’s particular mix of needs and assets, ideological leaning, available sources of funding, and other factors. But all begin very early in children’s lives and align enriching school strategies with a targeted range of supports for children and their families.
  • Moreover, school districts embracing what we refer to as “whole-child” approaches to education are seeing better outcomes for students, from improved readiness for kindergarten to higher test scores and graduation rates and narrower achievement gaps. They thus can provide guidance to other districts and to policymakers regarding how to implement such approaches, what to expect in terms of benefits, and which policies at the local and state levels can advance those approaches.
The Philippines likewise needs to look at its challenges in basic education through a similar lens. Poor learning outcomes can be easily traced to the early years of basic education. The Philippines needs to focus on providing support to children and their families during the elementary years. Addressing the effects of poverty on basic education should happen in the early years.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Scientist Costume for Halloween?

My children did not pick a scientist costume for Halloween. That is good, I guess. Judging from children's books, the image children have regarding scientists may not be flattering. Take, for instance, Mr. Galvin, the science teacher in Big Nate, or Dr. Diaper from Captain Underpants.

Above copied from DailyStrips
Above copied from Thirty Days Later and I'm Still Thinking

Why dress up as a decent scientist when a costume for a mad scientist is less than half in price.

Above copied from Google

Popular culture provides young children with images of a scientist. Unfortunately, even with books for young minds recommended by the National Science Teachers' Association, according to research published in School Science and Mathematicsthere are clearly stereotypical images:
"This study utilized the Draw-A-Scientist Test Checklist (DAST-C) to assess the illustrations of scientists in the most recent three years of NSTA Recommends book lists. A total of 15,778 images were contained in the 148 books from those lists, of which 1,676 were of scientists. ANOVA procedures revealed no significant differences in stereotypical elements across the three years of books. However, three notable stereotypical elements were present in large percentages in books from all years: predominance of male images, non-minority scientists, and scientists who were not youthful." {Bold emphasis added}
Scientists are old and white males.

Whether what children see in their books as depictions of scientist affects their perception of scientists is of course still debatable. However, how books represent culture and the views of society in general is not debatable. These pictures are real clues to how society views science and its main actors. These are real challenges to learning science during the years of basic education.

Friday, October 27, 2017

"School Myths"

The Atlantic has a new Facebook page that tackles misinformation in basic education in the United States. The page is called "School Myths". The Atlantic writes, "“School Myths,” a new series by The Atlantic, debunks some of the more persistent misconceptions taught in classrooms across America, from the fallacy of the food pyramid to the pitfalls of the grading system." Its first episode posted weeks ago tackled lessons on nutrition taught in classrooms. Unfortunately, the information provided to students in these lessons are now known to be largely incorrect. The food pyramid in the nineties has now been shown to be misguided. The problem is not only with the wrong facts but also on the inherent bias behind the guidelines as the nation's Food and Drug Administration is in reality a federal government agency that promotes the United States food industry. These myths do linger. For instance, we continue to demonize coconut oil while ignoring the fact that not all fats are the same and that hydrogenated soybean oil poses even greater health risks. This is just one example I can think of. Anyway, you can watch the episode here:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Middle School: A United States Experience

My son is currently in his first year in Middle School. He reads both "Big Nate" and the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid". Anya Kamenetz in a recent article posted on NPR, "Switching To Middle School Can Be Hard On Kids, But There Are Ways To Make It Better", starts with a quote from the "Diary of the Wimpy Kid":
"I'll be famous one day, but for now I'm stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons."
There are countries in the world other than the United States that have middle school in basic education. The Philippines is not one of those countries. Even with its new K to 12 curriculum, there is no middle school. One may suggest that grades 7-10 are now junior high school and 11-12 are senior high school, yet that distinction still does not match the fact that in the United States, middle school and high school involve separate schools, separate set of teachers and administrators. Anyway, my son's experience with middle school is therefore my own first exposure to middle school as well. My son is really enjoying middle school but reading Kamenetz's article however makes me quite uncomfortable. Kamenetz writes:
"A large body of research suggests that students who go to middle school or junior high do worse academically, socially and emotionally, compared to the young teenagers who get to be the oldest students at schools with grades K-8.
A new paper in the Journal of Early Adolescence reinforces this message. The study found that starting a new school in either sixth or seventh grade hurts students' perceptions of their own reading ability and motivation to work hard in English language arts."
It is a good thing that Kamenetz does provide a link to the primary literature cited. It turns out what Kamenetz is saying is actually not supported by research. The following graph summarizes what recent research says about middle school and junior high school:

Above copied from
Elise Cappella, Kate Schwartz, Jennifer Hill, Ha Yeon Kim, and Edward Seidman. A National Sample of Eighth-Grade Students: The Impact of Middle Grade Schools on Academic and Psychosocial Competence. The Journal of Early Adolescence. First Published October 11, 2017 

This recent study published in the Journal of Early Adolescence takes into account both propensity and population weights to arrive at causal relationships between attending middle school, and social and learning outcomes. It is not comparing apples and oranges. What the authors have done is to compare students who have gone through middle school with those who have not only if these students carry the same characteristics such as socioeconomic status, learning trajectory in the elementary years, and other possible confounding factors. Only with this much more careful analysis, one can then zero in on the actual effects of middle school. And as a result, one arrives at the conclusion that the effects are almost negligible. The only area where a difference can be deemed significant is "reading self-concept". But even here, the effect size is small, -0.18 of a standard deviation.

However, there remains a flip-side to this issue. Middle school may not be as harmful as previous research suggests but the question of why there should be middle school still needs to be addressed. Middle school is supposed to help children grow through their most challenging adolescent years. Middle school should therefore improve both social and learning outcomes, but it does not. Why middle school does not achieve its objectives needs to be addressed. Of course, having K-8 schools requires much bigger space in one location as opposed to an elementary school that serves K-5 and a separate middle school that serves 6-8. Still, middle school is uniquely positioned to serve the needs of young adolescents. It should do better.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Inequity in Education

Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding of Vanderbilt University find that African American children are less likely to attend gifted programs in basic education. The same is true for Hispanic children. While 16.7% of the student population are Black, only 9.8% in gifted programs are African American. For Hispanics, 22.3% of students are Hispanic yet only 15.4% of students enrolled in gifted programs are Hispanic. Such is a glaring demonstration of inequity in basic education. In the Philippines, although the population is more or less homogeneous in terms of race, a much more striking inequity exists according to family income. In 2011, the Philippine Collegian reported that half of the entering class in the University of Philippines, Diliman campus are from "millionaires".

Above copied from the Philippine Collegian
This year, there are no tuition and miscellaneous fees because of the new law that covers these expenses for all state universities and colleges. In the Philippines, the wealthy therefore is not just able to attend a premier institution but also receive higher education on the shoulder of taxpayers.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

"Young Children Are Spending More Time in Front of Small Screens"

The title of a news article must accurately reflect its content. "Young Children Are Spending More Time in Front of Small Screens" is the title of an article posted on NPR. In this case, the title is quite accurate: Children are indeed exposed to small screens as "98 percent of homes with children now have a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone". The survey made by CommonSense finds that usage of smart devices by children under 8 has skyrocketed from 5 minutes per day in 2011 to 48 minutes per day in 2017.

Above copied from CommonSense

Whether this trend is a good reason to worry about requires a deeper appreciation of what the title really says. The title does not say, "Young Children Are Spending More Time in Front of Screens". Missing the word "Small" in "Small Screens" changes what the news is about. In fact, the survey finds that the total screen time has barely changed from 2 hours and 16 minutes per day in 2011 to 2 hours and 19 minutes per day in 2017. Therefore, what is really happening is that children are switching from one medium to small screen. Children are in fact watching less television, DVD's, computer and video games. This is where the dramatic increase in smart phone usage is coming from. Again, whether this should be a concern is not clear from research.

Inspecting the use of screens with family income as a factor, another trend becomes apparent:

Above copied from CommonSense

In the United States, family income is not a barrier at all to screen use. In fact, children from lower-income families use technology far greater than children from rich families as shown in the above graph. Of course, this means less time spent on everything else. Less time is perhaps spent on face-to-face interactions and physical activity. In fact there is already less time spent reading or being read to everyday (The following are percentages of 0- to 8-year-olds who read/are read to every day):

Income Lower (<$30,000) 40%
Middle ($30,000 to $75,000) 54%
Higher (>$75,000) 65%

What the children do with their screen time is obviously important to consider as well. Are they text messaging? Are they watching videos with content inappropriate for young children? Are they reading Wikipedia? Are they simply surfing through social media? Are they playing video games? Are they watching a movie?

In the United States, parents think that young children do benefit from screen time:

Above copied from CommonSense

There are harms associated with screen use. Pediatricians for instance have raised the harmful effects of screen use near bedtime on a child's sleep. Screen use near bedtime becomes more frequent with handheld devices. The loss of physical activity is another obvious concern, but since overall screen time has not really changed, this has been a problem since the arrival of the television. The loss in social interactions may actually be less if parents and children are doing the media activity together although the switch from big screen to small screen may lessen the co-use of media.

The study from CommonSense leaves us with the following insightful conclusion:

Content has repeatedly been shown to be a major factor in how media affect learning and development. In short, this survey should not be read as a judgment on the quality of children’s time with media; rather, it is a snapshot of how media and technology are infused into daily life. Additional experimental and qualitative work is essential to better understanding the full implications of children’s media use. 

In other words, first, as parents, we need to know what our children are doing with these screens.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"Love to Learn"

The following is a guest post from Mike Tomelden, who directs a school feeding program in the Philippines, Good Men Feeding Program. It is always easier to appreciate a post by seeing photographs of the children in need. So we start here with the children and end with a brief description of Tomelden's project (More information is provided on the Facebook page, The Reading, Literacy and Feeding Program):

Love To Learn 
by Mike Tomelden
Grade 1
Previous weight: 34.2 lbs.
Current weight: 38.2 lbs.

Grade 2
Previous weight: 30.36 lbs.
Current weight: 32.2 lbs.

Grade 2
Previous weight: 38.5 lbs.
Current weight: 42.5 lbs.

Grade 2
Previous weight:  42.2 lbs.
Current weight: 55 lbs.

Grade 2
Previous weight: 39.38 lbs.
Current weight: 52.0 lbs.

Grade 3
Previous weight: 43.6 lbs.
Current weight: 50 lbs.

Graduates of the Let’s Read program and beneficiaries of the Good Men Project Feeding program.

Love to Learn is an active apostolate by Margaux Romero Atayde, Mike Tomelden and Nikko Buendia, under the auspices of the Paulino Garcia Charities Foundation and the Corazon Sanchez Atayde Memorial Foundation (CSAMF), Inc. represented by Margarita Romero-Atayde, Program Director; and Mike Tomelden of the Good Men Feeding Program, Program Director

The Dr. Paulino Garcia Charities and CSAMF have formed a partnership with Mike Tomelden with the vision of empowering Filipino children to finish their education; and to receive the necessary nourishment and tutorial aids to sustain learning. We all stand together in their goal of keeping children in school and nourished, thus increasing their chances of a better future.

The Program

L.E.T.S. Read is a program aimed to encourage love for reading in children, especially those at risk of dropping out of school. The program is complemented with feeding, parent and teacher enrichment.

The Good Men Feeding Project aims to feed malnourished/severely wasted school children aged zero to twelve years old, pregnant and lactating mothers. The primary source of nutrition is provided by HapagAsa through the use of Manna Rice provided by the Pondo ng Pinoy.

Part and parcel to the Love to Learn Program is a tutorial program – under the Good Men Feeding Program, in math and english to re enforce learning, and to increase the child's chances of success, as to bring together all stakeholders in the child’s life working towards the same goal.

Roles and Responsibilities

The parties’ roles and responsibilities are as follows:

1. CSAMF shall undertake the following activities to ensure proper implementation of the Program:

a. Train volunteers to implement the Program;

b. Provide parent training and education;

c. Monitor and document the Program; and

d. Submit reports to partners as requested or within a reasonable time after the completion of a certain phase of the Program.

CSAMF shall coordinate with the Partner Schools so that they shall undertake the following activities in fulfillment of the Program:

a. Provide classrooms/venues for use in activities as necessary;

b. Provide volunteer teachers ad parents;

c. Help monitor the Program and coordinate with CSAMF; and

d. Provide relevant school data, such as Phil-IRI, grades, weight/height and other pertinent information relating to the health and performance of the beneficiaries.

The Good Men Feeding Program is a feeding program that provides children hot meals from Monday to Saturday. Meals are served in the morning before kids go to school. Those that go to the morning session are also given food through their parents.

The Good Men Project

A. Objective

• To reduce malnutrition prevalence rate among 0 to 12 years old

• To improve capacity of parents to care and provide for basic needs of their children

• Improved Physical, mental, emotional and social development

• Weight gain of 1 to 2 kg per month

• More active and cheerful children

• Increased appetite

• Less sickly

• Good disposition

• Improved skin color (pale to rosy cheeks)

• Improved school attendance and performance

B. Program Components

• Supplemental Feeding

• Parents’ Education Classes

§ Affective Parenting

§ Health and Nutrition

§ Responsible Parenthood-Natural Family Planning and Values

§ Livelihood and Skills Training

• A tutorial program shall instruct children ages 6 to 12 in math and English, taught by professional public school children, with the prescribed public school K to 12 curricullum.

D. Mechanics

Target Recipients

- 6 months to 12 years old undernourished children (priority given to younger age group – 6 years old & below)

- underweight pregnant and lactating women

Feeding Administration

- 1 meal a day, 5 days a week for 6 months or a total of 120 days

- Food can be complete meal or heavy snacks

- Gather children together in one site for snacks or regular meals

- Use of food supplements:

- Manna Pack Fortified Rice

• Rice with Soya and Dehydrated Vegetables manufactured in the US

• Donated by Feed my Starving Children through Risen Saviour Missions

• Each pack weighes approx. 400g and can feed 6 children or 4 pregnant/lactating mothers

- Manpower includes volunteers and most importantly PARENTS OF THE ENROLLED CHILDREN

a. Monday to Wed: 40 to 50 children

b. Thurs to Friday: 120 children. In reality, the number ranges from 160 to 180 children daily.

c. We initially asked the school to ask parents to come to seminars. A few came

d. When asked the parents to help with cooking, serving and cleaning, some came but did not return thereafter.

e. Cooking, was initially done by the school guard Russell, who had to wake up rather early in the morning (around 3 am) to cook the children’s meals.

f. Initially, only the 40 to 50 children were fed daily, if at all. My main responsibility was to provide supplemental ingredients, which we brought to the school.

g. We took over the cooking soon thereafter. It was at this time that the number of recipients steadily increased.

h. When the program began, recipients did not respond well to the Vita Meal nor the Manna Rice – color and taste were unusual.

i. I immediately looked at the problem and designed a menu around what the kids suggested. We learned how to properly prepare the Manna Rice and Vita Meal. The menu evolved into the following:

a. Fried Rice with Manna Rice (fried egg, hot dog, ground meat mixture) – very high acceptance.

b. Spaghetti with ground meat and vita meal mix and tomato sauce – very high acceptance

c. Sopas and Manna Rice – medium to high acceptance

d. Processed cheese sandwiches on white bread, served with chocolate milk. We always make sure there is one component with high nutritional value. This is highly acceptable to kids.

e. Lumpiang shanghai made with fish and vita meal paste, served with Manna rice. As long as there is ketchup, acceptance is high.

f. From this menu, we established a daily allowance of P 10/child.

- Other Program Components

- Parents’ Education Classes

- Conducted at least once a week for 6 months

- Skills Training and Livelihood Activities

- In partnership with other organizations/institutions.

- Parents who already graduated from the 6-month program are eligible for capital loan from DSWD

- Resource mobilization and networking


This is the ideal structure:

A. Community or School Coordinator

B. Parents/Caregivers and other Volunteers

a. Food Preparation Group, Marketer(s) and Cook(s), Servers and Cleaners

b. Nutritional Assessment Group/Growth Monitoring Person/Attendance checker

c. Education & Support Services Group/Education Classes Coordinator

Expected Effects on Children

a. Physical, mental, emotional and social development

b. Weight gain of 1 to 2 kg per month

c. More active and cheerful children

d. Increased appetite

e. Less sickly

f. Good disposition

g. Improved skin color (pale to rosy cheeks)

h. Improved school attendance and performance

i. Comments/Observations:

• A good percentage of the children gained weight, but not at the rate we expected ( 1 to 2 kg per month)

• Certainly, once we developed a menu based on feedback from kids, appetites increased drastically.

• According to Let’s Read personnel, children at Dr. Sixto Antonio – as opposed to the other five pilot schools in Pasig - seemed to:

• perform better academically

• are more active and cheerful

• My main concern are the meals they are supposed to receive before and after school. As it is, teachers tell me that most do not eat breakfast – for one reason or another (kids tend to take seconds, thirds and fourth, and more, servings regularly). This may be the primary reason that weight objectives become difficult to achieve. If the only nutritious meal they get is from the feeding program, then there is a high probability of zero net weight gain.

My other concern is continuity. Our Feeding program is scheduled for six months. During our absence in the summer vacation months, our beneficiaries will probably lose weight once again, and will not have the benefit of nutritious food until school begins once again in three months time.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Food Stamps and Academic Performance

Children growing up in a poor family experience times when their basic needs are not met. Not having enough money to buy food and clothes can have a significant impact on a child's performance in school. In the United States, there is a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly called "Food Stamps") which provides financial assistance to poor families so that they can meet their nutritional needs. A family of four, for instance, can receive as much as $640 per month. In most instances, this amount is not really adequate for the entire month such that during the final days of the month, the chance of nutritional deficiencies becomes higher. Recent research shows that the academic performance of children correlates with the benefits cycle such that performance is poorer when the "Food Stamps" have run out.

When a math exam is administered 26 days after SNAP benefits are received, students' scores are lower:

Above based on data provided by
Cotti, Chad D. and Gordanier, John and Ozturk, Orgul D., When Does it Count? The Timing of Food Stamp Receipt and Educational Performance (June 25, 2017). 

Lower scores do seem to correlate with the SNAP cycle. Students score lower when the family has presumably run out of money to buy food. There is no argument that proper nutrition correlates with academic performance. However, the above graph does show several intriguing details. There is a significant difference between African American and White children, and among African American American children, there is a difference between boys and girls. Why does the SNAP benefits timing affect the performance of African American boys more? Why is there a difference between blacks and whites? Obviously, these questions will remain because this study is merely correlational. However, it is clear that there are differences that go beyond when families receive assistance. Perhaps, there are differences in budgets or priorities. Food shortage can translate to stress and there may be differences in family structure that can account for how this stress is distributed among family members. Furthermore, it is a fact that schools are still segregated according to income and race. So perhaps, poor white children are simply able to cope better with harder times because they are receiving a greater level of support from their schools. Whatever the reason is, it should be pretty clear why poverty gets in the way of education.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Weight of Evidence" versus "Balance" in News Reporting

In an opinion article on "fake news" in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a former journalist and journalism professor, Crispin Maslog, wrote: "We drill into our students the principles of objectivity, double-checking facts, accuracy, fairness and balance in news reporting, as well as responsibility in opinion writing." Fairness, objectivity and balance are standards we often hear regarding news reporting. Both sides need to be heard. In fact, when I was trying to get my opinion on K to 12 published in the Inquirer, I was told that the editor would always want to have a reply from the other side. Since the Department of Education never made a comment, my articles were never published. While this norm on balance may be appropriate for political news, applying it to issues that are best addressed by scientific research is actually precarious. Other examples where balance in news reporting is problematic are climate change and drug addiction. On Rappler, Cecilia Lero wrote, "Drug use in no way adversely affects my personal or professional lives."

Above copied from Rappler

The debate within the scientific community is of course dominated by a broad consensus on what psychoactive drugs do to the human body. Here is an example:

What is worth noting here is part of the last sentence in the above abstract: "...afflicted patients are unlikely to admit to the substance abuse...." Clearly, balance in news reporting is not advisable especially when mounting evidence goes against publishing the other side. 

Another example is on climate change. Boykoff and Boykoff found that in the United States, mainstream news outlets were giving both sides of the debate equal coverage:

Balance clearly cannot be a substitute for truth. To this dilemma, Sharon Dunwoody, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, offers the following suggestion
"I suggest another strategy that would permit journalists to retain their emphasis on objectivity and balance but still share with their audiences a sense of where "truth" might lie, at least at that moment. I call this strategy "weight-of-evidence" reporting. It calls on journalists not to determine what's true but, instead, to find out where the bulk of evidence and expert thought lies on the truth continuum and then communicate that to audiences. Reporters are still responsible for capturing points of view accurately (objectivity) and for sharing with audiences the existence of more than one contrasting point of view (balance). But added to that mix would be information about which point of view has captured the hearts and minds of the majority of experts, information about where they think the truth lies at that moment."
Rappler should therefore have added a footnote to Cecilia Lero'a article that says what most experts really think about psychoactive drugs.