"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, September 20, 2017

Should we send our children to a protest rally?

There is a reason why we attend schools - we need to learn. Obviously, we would like to learn not just what is true but also how to search for truth and discover knowledge. Carl Kohn, New York State United Teachers spokesperson once said, "If we want our young people to grow up to be adults who fully participate in democracy, the best time to begin that activism and that participation is when they are young." But William Gormley, a professor at Georgetown University, reminds us, "One disturbing possibility is that some students who are brought to a political rally as opposed to, let’s say, a public hearing, may be exposed to only one side of the debate, and that’s generally not good either for children’s cognitive development or the development of critical thinking skills or for the enhancement of civic readiness."

The above quotes are from an article, "The large, delicate role of children in New York activism", which discusses participation of youth in demonstrations on educational issues, issues that are not necessarily partisan in nature. These student activists after all are not asking for the resignation of the governor of New York. Yet, one must remain concerned whether children are being provided the entire story or just one side. The youth are of course highly impressionable as they are still in the process of developing their critical thinking skills. And this possibility becomes a grave concern if the mass action is partisan in nature.

There is a mass protest scheduled tomorrow in the Philippines. A new group has been formed and they call themselves "Tindig Pilipinas". The group's main objective is supposedly to promote peace, human rights, and rule of the law, focusing on alleged extrajudicial killings made in the administration's current war on drugs. The partisan nature of the group, however, cannot be denied.

Above copied from Rappler

One side of the drug crisis often not heard from this group is the link between drug lords and politicians. Here in the United States where opiod deaths are rising, there is already a rising concern. One can imagine how much outrage there will be if there are signs that the opium trade is also linked to funding campaigns of politicians. This is evil. And it is highly likely that drug abuse has actually proliferated in the Philippines because some politicians are beneficiaries.

One good sign of one-sidedness is an exclusive claim for what is true and right. Social issues are often not black and white. Yet, one school, for example, in the Philippines, appears to have sent the following to parents and guardians of their students:

Above copied from
For the Motherland - Sass Rogando Sasot
We should not send children to a protest rally that is partisan and one-sided. We should not be passing to our children our own responsibilities. We should always consider the safety of our children. Lastly, we should give our children the opportunity to think independently on social and political issues.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Not just in text, but also on an exam

Three years ago, I shared on this blog an image I saw on social media. It was a question in an exam, which I translated into English:
Place a "check" mark if the activity is for males and a "cross" if it is for females:
______1. Plowing a field
______2. Cleaning the house
______3. Driving a jeepney (a public means of transportation in the Philippines)
______4. Washing and ironing clothes
______5. Market shopping
There are numerous instances of errors in textbooks used in the Philippines. Furtunately, according to research, reading a text is not as effective as other means when it comes to retaining information. Unfortunately, tests do. Tests can better reinforce the storage of information in our minds.

I am returning to this topic since I saw this morning a similar post:

Above copied from Jonathan Chua

The above exam has been graded and the correct answers have been marked. A girl is expected to do laundry. A girl is expected to wash dishes. Someone who wears eyeglasses is probably older and should be the breadwinner. A boy is expected to play. A child who appears to be older should be watering the plants. Jonathan Chua, who posted the above picture, is actually amazed that his post has received more than 5000 Likes and has been shared almost 4000 times. I guess, with more than 100,000,000 Filipinos, these numbers of Likes and Shares do not really amount much. Still, educators should be made aware of this issue. It needs to be addressed as we strive for gender equality and the participation of men and women in all fields.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"Of what good is democracy if it is not for the poor?"

These words were actually from the ousted dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, as he tried to paint the "New Society" as a "revolution from the center", or a "democraization of wealth", a revolution by the poor. Yet, Marcos' regime received global condemnation on human rights abuses, a great contradiction. The Inquirer just published a piece stating that Marcos was in fact the first to establish a commission on human rights in the Philippines.

Above copied from the Inquirer

Although it was obvious why Marcos created such a commission (to make his administration look good), it was still important that the creation of such a commission carried some credibility. After all, it had to be a good show. According to the Inquirer, this was how the Commission should be established:
Attached to the Office of the President, the commission was supposed to be a multisectoral group composed of representatives from government and the private sector, with the Vice President and the Prime Minister as chair and vice chair, respectively.
Its members would include the presidents of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the Civil Liberties Union of the Philippines, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, the Federation of Free Farmers, the Civic Assembly of Women of the Philippines, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the Ulama Association of the Philippines and the Association of Christian Churches of the Philippines.
When Marcos issued this decree, the Vice President would have been Arturo Tolentino and the Prime Minister was Cesar Virata. 

Corazon Aquino, who headed the revolutionary government that ousted Marcos also created a Commission on Human Rights, this time, supposedly with the blessing of a newly ratified Constitution. Aquino already had a presidential commission but its chairman, Jose Diokno, resigned in protest of a massacre that happened during the early months of Aquino's administration. Aquino then hurriedly established the Commission on Human Rights with an Executive Order. The order was even amended quickly with the following change:
“The Chairman and Members of the Commission on Human Rights shall be appointed by the President. Their tenure in office shall be at the pleasure of the President.”
The Supreme Court would later describe the above as unconstitutional.

The current Constituion of the Philippines is younger than I am, yet its interpretation has already become murky even with some of its major framers still alive. I think this only points to one major obstacle in civics education in the Philippines. There is so much emphasis on personalities and not on ideas. Since Marcos is often viewed as a villain, his ideas must be all evil. On the other hand, Aquino regarded as a savior means her ideas are infallible. It is true that context is important but it is likewise necessary to see ideas as they are.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Democracy Can Not Survive Too Much Ignorance"

Former United States Supreme Court Justice David Souter once said in an interview, "What I worry about is…that an ignorant people can never remain a free people. Democracy cannot survive too much ignorance…. You can’t keep [a republic] in ignorance." More pressing than failing scores in standardized exams, declining government institutions and civic ignorance are truly troubling signs of a severely lacking basic educational system. One might point to the current state of politics in the US as an example, but a much more glaring illustration is the Philippines. In 2015, Aquino appointed Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon as the new chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Gascon was the vice president for Social Movements of the Aquino-led Liberal Party (LP) and a former LP director-general. CHR is supposed to be an independent body tasked to protect Filipinos' political and civil rights, both in and out of the country. It is perhaps due to either ignorance or arrogance that Aquino failed to see the grave importance of nonpartisanship in an independent body like the Commission on Human Rights.

Above copied from Rappler

And it is not just Aquino. News Media like Rappler did not even comment on such glaring error. The job of the CHR is daunting especially in the Philippines where due process is greatly wanting, paramilitary forces are present, and relationships between criminals and officials abound. Only a few months after Gascon's appointment, the head of a school that served indigenous people was assassinated.

Above copied from Bulatlat

This case remains unsolved and after two years, all that Gascon can do is to apologize to the Lumad people.

Above copied from Bulatlat

The bitter fruit of partisanship in CHR has also become evident when the current president, Duterte, not a member of Aquino's Liberal Party, took a strong stance against the CHR in his second state of the nation address. Duterte, in an interview, points out that CHR should likewise investigate alleged atrocities made by rebels to which Jodesz Gavilan of Rappler remarks, "Duterte’s request goes against the primary mandate of CHR. According to the 1987 Constitution, CHR is expected to investigate alleged human rights violations perpetrated by state actors or the government." Whether this is a correct interpretation of the Constitution is actually unclear especially when the Constitution specifically states that the CHR should "Provide appropriate legal measures for the protection of human rights of all persons within the Philippines, as well as Filipinos residing abroad". Surely, if rights of Filipino overseas workers are included, CHR's responsibility is not limited to Philippine state actors.

The crisis involving CHR has reached the highest level as the House of Representatives voted to allot only $20 for the body's annual budget. The public's reaction to this move, of course, has also been shaped by partisanship. Duterte's supporters see it as a long-awaited rectification of CHR's partisanship. Duterte's opponents see it in an exactly different light.

Above copied from
Shame on you! Twitter rages vs House vote on CHR budget cut

Again, there is ignorance. Respect for human rights should not be equated to the existence of a Commission on Human Rights. In fact, there is actually no need for such a commission if human rights are already protected in a country. And with the Philippine constitution, human rights are supposed to be protected whether there is a commisssion or not. 

The current problems the Philippine government and its people are facing can be traced to poor education. Souter's words ring loud and clear across the archipelago, "Democracy can not survive too much ignorance".

Monday, September 11, 2017

How to Address Inequity in Schools

Standardized test scores do inform us of problems in basic education. One important piece is the achievement gap between the poor and the rich. We must, however, go a step further than looking at test scores. Only then would we see the gap in learning opportunities. A gap in achievement after all can be due to a gap in opportunities. The first step then is to commit ourselves to an "education for all", and all means all. Only with this commitment can we begin providing all students the resources and support they need. We can then challenge all of them to achieve the best they can be. Such task is not impossible.

The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder has a project called "Schools of Opportunity", which recognizes public high schools that can serve as excellent models for equity in education. There is obviously not one solution to address achievement gaps. However, by looking at the various criteria used by "Schools of Opportunity", one may actually find rough guidelines on how to achieve a just, effective, fair and equitable school. An article published in the journal Phi Delta Kappan, "Learning from schools that close opportunity gaps" lists the following criteria:

Above copied from
LaCour, Sarah E., et al. "Learning from schools that close opportunity gaps." Phi Delta Kappan 99.1 (2017): 8-14.

Selection Criteria:
  1. Broadening and enriching learning opportunities
  2. Creating and maintaining a healthy school culture
  3. Providing more and better learning time during the school year and summer
  4. Using a variety of assessments designed to respond to student needs
  5. Supporting teachers as professionals
  6. Meeting the needs of students with disabilities in an environment that ensures challenge and support
  7. Providing students with additional needed services and supports, including mental and physical health services
  8. Creating a challenging and supported culturally relevant curriculum
  9. Building on the strengths of language minority students and correctly identifying their needs
  10. Sustaining equitable and meaningful parent and community engagement

Here is the key point seen by browsing through schools that have been recognized:

Above copied from
LaCour, Sarah E., et al. "Learning from schools that close opportunity gaps." Phi Delta Kappan 99.1 (2017): 8-14.

Needless to say, there is also not one best practice to establish equity in schools. Equal access to the curriculum in some cases may just mean providing healthy meals to all children. In some, a safe school climate, one that is free of bullying, for instance, is necessary. There are so many possible impediments to learning that are even outside the mere opportunity to enroll in a course.

The above are likewise obviously impossible for a single teacher to achieve. Thus, without saying, the changes require the school and the community to work as a team.

Lastly, we can indeed look at test scores but we must see the real problem that the scores are telling us. It is the achievement gap. It is the inequity. Only then would we realize that the answer to the problems basic education faces is equity.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Why Are There More Lawyers Than Chemists in the Philippines?

What major an entering college student chooses depends on several factors. Of course, a high school dropout can not even exercise such a choice. Even a high school graduate who is not lucky enough to have had received a quality basic education has limited options. On top of these, the career choice made by a child is often influenced by his or her parent's income or socioeconomic status. In "Who Had Richer Parents, Doctors or Artists?", Quoctrung Bui finds that those who chose law often come from households wealthier than those who chose a career in the physical sciences:

Above copied from
"Who Had Richer Parents, Doctors or Artists?"

Recently, Cielito F. Habito wrote this on the Philippine Inquirer:

Above copied from the

Habito, however, does not make any connection between the above problem and the current predicament of basic education in the Philippines. Instead, the dearth of chemists in the Philippines is blamed on the licensing requirement. Comparing the number of takers alone already shows the gigantic advantage of lawyers over chemists. This means that there are simply more students studying law than students who are studying chemistry.

Inequity in basic education is consequential. If most scientists come from working families and children from these families are not provided quality basic education, then these children will not even reach the required skills and knowledge to succeed in a freshman chemistry course. On the other hand, if resources and effective teachers are concentrated in schools that mainly serve rich children, it should not be surprising to see so many lawyers at the end of the education pipeline. It is indeed reasonable to extrapolate that if inequities in basic education linger, lawyers will become plenty and chemists will become scarce.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

“We knew it was bad, but we didn’t know it was this bad.” - ACT

A measure of college readiness, ACT scores, shows just how much multiple doses of disadvantage can affect academic achievement. It really gets worse if a child comes from a poor household, if a child's parents did not go to college, and if a child comes from a minority group. A child who does not meet any of these conditions (54% college-ready) is six times more likely to be ready for college than a child who is poor, black, and whose parents did not go to college (9% college-ready). These results show that the major problem basic education in the United States faces is indeed inequity. The scores point to a serious and lingering problem in US schools: a well established disparity in quality and resources between schools that serve mostly poor and minority children and schools that do not.

Above copied from
The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2017

The situation is worse if one considers readiness in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). A non-disadvantaged child is more than 15 times more likely to be prepared for STEM than a child who is poor, a minority, and first-generation:

Above copied from
The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2017

To appreciate this disparity, fifteen times more likely is the same difference between smokers and non-smokers when it comes to the likelihood of getting lung cancer.

Addressing the problem of inequity has only one solution: Remove the inequity. We can begin by expecting all students to reach a high level in academic achievement. This expectation, however, is meaningless, if we do not provide the support or resources needed.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Finding a Home and School

List prices of homes in Fairfax county in Virginia depend a lot on the zip code. The median price in 22180 (Vienna, VA) is $1.4 million while in 22003 (Annandale, VA), it is $600 K (Data from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc.). Madison High School in Vienna has 9% of its students coming from low income families while Annandale High School has 52% of its students coming from poor households. What school a child attends is decided by the zone that child lives in. Salvatore Saporito of the College of William & Mary recently examined how the shape of a school zone relates to enrollment segregation by income. His paper published in the American Education Research Journal shows that "school districts with the most irregularly shaped zones have less income segregation than school districts with compact zones."

When something is irregularly shaped, it is usually a sign that someone has spent extra effort in drawing the boundary lines. Take, for instance, the Falcon Pass Elementary School Zone in Houston Texas:

Map showing houses belonging to the top quantile (green) and lowest quantile (red) (Salvatore Saporito. Shaping Income Segregation in Schools: The Role of School Attendance Zone Geography. American Educational Research Journal. First published date: August-14-2017, school's poverty data from NCES 2015.

The school zone shown above is indeed irregularly shaped. It is not compact and therefore not automatic. It is obvious that extra consideration was spent in drawing this zone. The school zone looks like an hour glass and can easily be divided into two parts, north for the wealthy, and south for the poor.  Falcon Pass Elementary School belongs to the Clear Creek District which has a poverty rate of 9 %, yet 31% of the students it serves belong to low-income families. The school's performance on standardized exams is above average:

Data from GreatSchools

The school therefore does well in spite of its highly economically integrated enrollment. On the other hand, school zones drawn in a compact manner are often segregated according to income. Saporito does not provide a specific example, but one school zone in Fairfax county demonstrates this (This is the school my children attend, Mason Crest Elementary School):

Median Household Income (Data USA: Fairfax County) and the Mason Crest Elementary School zone

The school zone, in this case is much more compact than the zone previously shown and when viewed side by side with an income map, the zone pretty much covers only the neighborhoods where the median household income is low. It is therefore not surprising to see that Mason Crest Elementary School has 46% of its students coming from low-income families. This is disproportionately higher compared to the overall poverty level in Fairfax county, only 6%. Fortunately, with this school's deep commitment to education for all, the school's performance on standardized tests are average.

Data from GreatSchools

There is no doubt, however, that Mason Crest teachers still find greater challenges with its high number of poor children. Sadly, the case of Mason Crest Elementary School is the rule and that of Falcon Pass Elementary School is the exception. School zones in the United States, whether it is intentional or not, tend to segregate students according to their family income. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Wait, It Gets Worse If You Are Poor And Black

In a previous post, "Double Dose of Disadvantage", the sad plight of poor children in public basic education is highlighted. Not only do poor children enter school less prepared, but once they start school, both resources and expectations are often limited. Now, there is apparently a third dose of disadvantage if the child belongs to a minority group. Recent research shows that Blacks, Hispanics, Native American, Asians, and children of mixed races are all less likely compared to Whites to be identified for special education services.

Special education, when done properly, addresses specific needs of a child with disabilities. A child with disabilities is entitled to an Individualized Education Program that comes with both accomodations and interventions that address a child's challenges. Making special education synonymous with lower expectations is simply wrong. The notion that minority children are often assigned to special education is likewise quite common. Indeed, proportionally, there are more black children (15%) identified as disabled than white children (13%). Such overestimation coupled with the view that special education is some way of segregation can therefore lead to the conclusion that expectations for minority children are now further lowered. Two wrongs obviously do not make one right. Children with disabilities need to be both identified and helped. Clearly, good data is essential in order to gauge correctly the situation so that what is wrong can be addressed and properly rectified.

Minority children are in fact less likely to be identified with a learning disability. Such conclusion can only be reached if all factors are considered. Paul Morgan and coworkers have done such research and their main finding is this: Given two children, one white, the other a minority, both with similar socioeconomic status, school factors, and test scores, the white child is more likely to be assigned to an individualized education program (IEP):

Above copied from
Replicated Evidence of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Disability Identification in U.S. Schools
Paul L. Morgan, George Farkas, Marianne M. Hillemeier, SteveMaczuga
Educational Researcher
First published date: August-27-2017
In order to address a problem, it is indeed important to identify the correct problem. What Morgan and his colleagues have found support the idea that we often give less to those who are in greater need. It is the main reason why there is inequity in our schools. We often assign better resources to those who are already priviliged. What is surprising is we always seem to be confused why poor and minority children are not doing well in schools when the reason is so clear. We are giving them doses of disadvantage.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Do We Need More Teachers?

In a previous post on this blog, "Why Teachers Quit", it is mentioned that research done by the Learning Policy Institute shows that a shortage of about 112,000 teachers is projected in the US by 2018. A report from the American Institutes for Research in Seattle, however, points out that teacher shortages in public schools in the US need to be qualified especially after considering that only half of those who graduate from teaching schools are hired as public school teachers.

Above copied from the Learning Policy Institute
The report, published in the journal Educational Researcher , highlights in its abstract that there are indeed shortages, but these shortages are in specific areas and communities:

These findings are, of course, supported by evidence. Shortages are indeed generally found in science and mathematics (STEM), and special education (SPED), as displayed in the following figure (This has always been the case for the past decades):

Above figure copied from
Calder Teacher Shortage Explainer, Figure 3 (2016)

STEM and SPED vacancies are much more difficult to fill. The other point, that shortages are specific to communities, is likewise clearly seen in the following figure:

Above figure copied from
Calder Teacher Shortage Explainer, Figure 5 (2016)
Here, high URM schools are those schools that serve a larger number of underepresented minorities (American Indian, Black, or Hispanic). There is a teacher shortage. Unfortunately, this shortage is in fact much more problematic, because it will lead to even greater inequity in schools.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Are We Making Things Worse?

The narrative is quite familiar. Schools are failing therefore we need to do something. Education, however, is quite complicated and results from interventions often take time to materialize. On the other hand, it is likewise necessary to know if the interventions are not working or even worse, contributing more to the problems. In this regard, sound data and statistical analysis is urgently needed. One study from Rhode Island is one example. The state of Rhode Island decided to identify and categorize its schools acoording to student performance. Based on this categorization, schools are then mandated to implement interventions. Two years have passed and the study finds, "...schools required to implement few interventions performed no differently relative to schools that had no interventions required. Among lower-performing schools, those required to adopt more interventions did worse than schools mandated to implement fewer, including higher student mobility."

This study and similar ones bring me back to an article written by Mike Rose in the American Scholar:

There are various possible reasons why education reforms, such as those implemented in Rhode island, fail. Unfortunately, studies that are large in scale are unable to point specifically at the reason. One reason frequently given is that the intervention is not implemented faithfully or that resources are not adequately provided for the reform. Seeing how many of these reforms fail makes it quite improbable that people simply do not know how to implement refors. What Mike Rose offers in his article is a much more plausible reason:

How can our schools get better when we’ve made our teachers the problem and not the solution?

Rose then provides an alternative approach in drawing education reforms:

  • Reforms should begin with these assumptions: "at least some of the answers for improvement were in the public schools themselves, that significant unrealized capacity exists in the teaching force, that even poorly performing schools employ teachers who work to the point of exhaustion to benefit their students?"
  • "Teachers should read, write and think together" 
  • Effects of poverty must be acknowledged. 

Sadly, most educational reforms do not begin with the above. It is time to change our perspective, otherwise, we will simply continue failing.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Teachers' Collective Efficacy and Teacher Expectations

John Hattie has been collecting results from education research and performing a statistical analysis of factors that may affect learning. His list of influences related to learning now has the following in the top two spots: Teachers' Collective Efficacy and Teacher Expectations. These terms may look like "educational jargon", but we may translate these to something a lot simpler, a "Yes, we can" attitude. Previously in this blog, Hattie's work was mentioned when we compared and contrasted the two roles a teacher could play inside the classroom: activator or facilitator. In this regard, Hattie's work is actually useful since the factors are not too general and these involve specific interventions or methods.

Above copied from Hattie's Visible Learning

Even with the above limited interpretation of Hattie's work, Neil Brown at King's College, London criticizes Hattie's core approach,
"For example, on page 243, Hattie compares the average effect sizes for the “teacher as activator” techniques he has analysed against those for “teacher as facilitator”. On the basis that the former are higher, he concludes “These results show that active and guided instruction is much more effective than unguided, facilitative instruction”. He’s not necessarily wrong, but if we cannot trust the average effect sizes he gives as evidence, and cannot sensibly compare them, we cannot make that conclusion from this data. In which case, the book is not much use as an argument or a useful summary of the data, just as an impressive catalogue of the original meta-analyses."
Hattie's updated list comes as an effort to apply his Visible Learning study to higher education.

With this extension, Brown's criticism of Hattie's work ought to be taken seriously. Brown basically points out a major error that Hattie makes in his meta-analysis. Meta-analysis, as Brown points out, is a summary of research studies that share so many things in common. This is important, otherwise, both averaging and comparison are inappropriate. For this reason, Hattie's compilation is only useful with specific factors or interventions. In these cases, the summary and averaging may be appropriate since the studies on one specific intervention may indeed be comparable.

Neither "Teachers' collective efficacy" nor "Teacher expectations" are interventions. Teachers gain confidence often from previous accomplishments. Teacher expectations are often grounded on experience. Both therefore can correlate with student learning and achievement, but this is not a cause-effect relationship. "Yes we can", after all, is a state of mind, a condition, which cannot be imposed on anyone. It is not an intervention that one can easily take and apply.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"Double Dose of Disadvantage"

"Education for all" means "all". And "all" does not mean only the children in a given classroom or school. All means all. Sadly, inequity often exists between schools. Children born in poverty are at a educational disadvantage because of the limited opportunities they have before they attend school. In terms of vocabulary alone, parents in these homes have lower educational attainment and speak less words to their young children. Making matters worse, there is socio-economic segregation. Children from poor households find themselves living in poor neighborhoods. These children therefore end up attending poor schools. This dramatic inequity in education is highlighted in a recent paper by Neuman, Kaefer and Pinkham, A Double Dose of Disadvantage: Language Experiences for Low-Income Children in Home and School.

The study looks at two neighborhoods: communities of concentrated poverty (i.e., poverty rates over 40%) and borderline communities (i.e., poverty rates of 20–40%). In one measure, lexical diversity (number of word types), children from poor neighborhoods hear less variety of words both from their parents and teacher:

Above graph based on data from
Neuman, S. B., Kaefer, T., & Pinkham, A. M. (2017, April 13). A Double Dose of Disadvantage:Language Experiences for Low-Income Children in Home and School. Journal of EducationalPsychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000201

Thus, a poor child not only receives one dose of disadvantage while preparing for school, but another one right at school. This is the inequity in education that often exists not just in the United States, but in other countries as well. It is one major reason why poverty has a very strong grip on basic education. It is a problem that unfortunately cannot be addressed by a teacher, or even a principal. It is a problem that society as a whole must address.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Outrage and Politics

An in-depth exploration of issues takes quite some time and effort. For most, it is boring especially compared to a quick fix of political bile. The immediate sense of self-righteousness is truly seductive and addictive. The problem, as in any addiction, is that we then fail to engage genuinely in the real issues, making it difficult for all of us to reach a meaningful and productive discussion. The world is facing various threats. There is terror. Such threat is so serious that we are quite ready to accept measures from our leaders that may even curtail our own liberties. In the Philippines, drug abuse is currently considered as the greatest threat to society. With this is mind, one should be able to understand why its current president, Rodrigo Duterte, would say, "The ones who died recently in Bulacan, 32, in a massive raid, that was good. If we could kill another 32 every day, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country." Just imagine, if in either Europe or the United States, it is reported that 32 terrorists have been killed, it would not be unreasonable for a leader to wish that more terrorists get captured or killed. However, as a civilized society, we still demand due process, we still want basic human rights to be protected. Most Americans opposed the immigration policy that banned Muslims from entering the country. We can indeed discuss and debate these issues. We can study and understand these issues. We can even find solutions. Sadly, as we allow these issues to degenerate into political footballs, we are basically shortchanging our democratic system.

In the war on drugs in the Philippines, a 17-year old was among its most recent casualties.  Kian Loyd Delos Santos was not resisting arrest. In fact, he was being carried by policemen as shown on a close-circuit television footage. Kian's mother, an overseas worker, pleads for justice.

Above copied from Elisa Kareem's Facebook page
The war on drugs in the Philippines has claimed thousands of lives. It is a war that is currently waged with a corrupt police force and a weak judicial system. Yet, the issue has always been equated to unseating the current president of the Philippines. 

GetRealPhilippines calls our attention to turning the tragedy of Kian Loyd to a mere political artefact:

Above copied from Get Real Post

What the opposition does to the drug war is truly lamentable especially when evidence is so clear regarding how a war on drugs often fails. One need not go far to find a clear demonstration of failure. The Cato Institute in the United States considers the war on drugs as four decades of failure:

For more than 100 years, prohibition has been the primary policy in the United States with regard to illicit substances. As the data show, however, these policies fail on practically every margin. Economic thinking illustrates that these failures are not only understandable, but entirely predictable. As a result of prohibition and the changes it induces in the market for drugs, increased disease, death, violence, and cartels are all expectable outcomes. Moreover, economics can help us link together these policies with other issues, such as race relations and police militarization.

The evidence is clear that the drug war in the United States has affected disproportionately the poor and black people. The drug war in the United States has led to police militarization and recent cases have even demonstrated where police were planting evidence. What is happening in the Philippines is no different. What should be made clear, however, is that this is not Duterte's exclusive problem. Using this issue as a political football only transforms cases of extrajudicial killings into a travesty.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Deeper Learning Through Worked Examples

Nowadays, one can search in YouTube to find how a specific do-it-yourself task is done. From fixing appliances to minor renovations, homeowners need not learn by trial and error, saving money and time, and avoiding costly mistakes and grief. Learning through worked examples likewise demands a lower cognitive load than inquiry but objections against this learning method remain. One common complaint is that students only learn superficially through worked examples. Worked examples can indeed appear as mere recipes that one can simply follow without real understanding.  Thus, when facing another task that is not exactly identical to the one illustrated, a transfer of knowledge often fails. Learning through worked examples, however, can drive deeper learning, but this requires proper implementation.

Showing someones how a task is done is effective in learning that specific task. Providing worked examples, that is, demonstrating to students how a particular problem is solved, comes with a decent effect size on learning (Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.). Going beyond just showing students steps in solving a problem, however, can bring even stronger effects on learning. One example is shown below:

Above copied from
Alexander Renkl (2014)
Learning from worked examples: How to prepare students for meaningful problem solving.
In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php

The above example shows students two ways of solving a problem and prompts the student to choose which one is easier to understand. This worked example therefore requires the student to not only look at how a problem is solved but also self-explain the solutions. This added feature enhances the effect of worked examples on learning according to research. Renkl provides a list of principles that can help make the most out of worked examples. These principles are:

Above copied from
Renkl, A. (2014), Toward an Instructionally Oriented Theory of Example-Based Learning. Cogn Sci, 38: 1–37. doi:10.1111/cogs.12086

Each principle comes with qualifications. Learning from worked examples is indeed an area of education that has been thoroughly researched. It may not sound as sexy as discovery-based learning, but there is no doubt that example-based learning is one of the most powerful learning methods we have.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Charlottesville: Worse Than PISA Or TIMSS

After scores from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released, US education secretary Arne Duncan said, "This is an absolute wake-up call for America." The scores do appear mediocre compared to those of other industrialized nations, but it is not as serious as students failing to do simple arithmetic problems such as 2+3. This weekend, however, the state of Virginia witnessed the resurgence of racism. There are now more than 900 hate groups in the United States according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The "White Supremacy" groups that gathered in Charlottesville believe in the following: (1) Western or European culture is under threat, (2) White people are being oppressed and dispossessed, (3) Diversity is evil and pure "white state" must be established in which all political power are in the hands of white people. Such tenets are outright stupid. These are as bad as stating that 2+3=1. Yet, hundreds of thousands of Americans subscribe to these precepts. This is the real wake-up call for American basic education.

Above copied from CNN

Sadly, supremacy is taught and encouraged in our schools. Segregation is the rule while diversity remains an exception. Fortunately, there are some educators who are waking up to this reality. The former principal of Mason Crest Elementary School, Brian Butler, shares his thoughts on FacebookHe provides insights on how and why we are indeed educating our children towards the path of superiority:

Charlottesville? It's much deeper than what you see educators!
I have watched and read a lot over the past few days regarding Charlottesville and am too saddened by the events. I do have much to say but as I have tried to do throughout my existence, not always successfully, is not to speak or write from emotion. Passion yes, emotion for me does not help with clarity of message. So denouncing white supremacy and those who espouse views of hatred of groups different from them is a must but it is not even close to where we should begin. On this I will stay in a lane that I know fairly well as I agree with many of my educator friends who are denouncing the hate of the "white supremacist" in Charlottesville but we need look no further than our policies and practices that we know are wrong in our own backyard of our profession that support this kind of thinking. Policies and practices like identifying kids as gifted so they can go to a different school for "kids like them."
I will elaborate more at a later time. I am sure that some of what I will say will sting a bit and even my educator friends may wince but please know it will be said out of love and hopefully for true self reflection regarding our history. Most importantly it will be shared in hopes of improving our profession and the lives of all kids no matter where they start in life or the color of their skin, gender or economic status, language they speak and especially individuals and groups who the educational system has traditionally purposefully sorted and selected to the benefit of certain groups.
I may lose a few followers I am sure but truth is truth and I am speaking about education. Not here to debate this is my page. I have been saying this for years when I was an administrator in Fairfax County, a county that touts itself as world class but a county with an elephant in the room and that elephant is race and class and the advanced academics centers. Every principal that I have ever spoken to wants them closed but they say "oh well" the school board is afraid of the parents and the superintendent is afraid of the school board.
When talking institutional racism and classism this stares everyone in the face so brightly that all know "the sun" is shining in our face but we look away as if it's not there.
And this is the biggest kicker, some of you, my friends who are yelling about how appalled you are about Charlottesville nod and wink about an educational system that you know is not equitable for All Kids, but benefits your own kids so you are quiet on the issue.
The white supremacist in Charlottesville are being honest and telling us directly who they are and the world that they want to live in. What about the institution of separating kids based on a "so called gift" which is not necessarily accurate (all kids have gifts it's our job to cultivate and nurture them).
So educator friends posting hashtags on your page and being enraged about Charlottesville is appropriate but what about working to change the system you are in and being vocal about why not doing so will lead to more Charlottesville's.
People are not meant to be superior to others but think about what we are doing to kids' mindsets with this kind of sort and select system.
Like I said more to come when I am not writing out of emotion🙏🏽
Said with much love for all in my heart!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"Death by PowerPoint"

Jane Wakefield of BBC wrote two years ago an article "How to avoid 'death by powerpoint'". She listed several images that one should avoid putting into slides. The list she shared was made based on opinions of several powerpoint professionals. These images are: "cogs, images of people holding hands around a globe, stacked pebbles, thumbs up, archery targets (with optional arrow), jigsaw piece being fitted into puzzle, businessperson poised to, run a race, handshakes, rosettes, and groups of businesspeople staring intently at a monitor". Of course, overused images are not the only reasons why a powerpoint presentation can become a disaster. Addition of technology to learning can only be positive if it is done right with cognitive principles in mind.

Above copied from BBC News
Richard Mayer enumerates various principles one should consider in multimedia presentation. These principles are all based on evidence. The list is nicely summarized in a chapter in Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum (2014).

Above copied from
Richard E. Mayer (2014)
Research-Based Principles for Designing Multimedia Instruction
In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php

The principles are provided in the following tables (Mayer(2014)):

The effect sizes are quite substantial especially for reducing extraneous processing, demonstrating how important it is to place only what is truly necessary on a slide. Another chapter in the same book looks at specific examples and one is shown below:

Above copied from
Catherine E. Overson (2014) 
Applying Multimedia Principles to Slide Shows for Academic Presentation
In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php
The original version has the unnecessary background of the caduceus, the symbol of medicine. The slide compares descriptive against analytic epidemiology. In the modified version, these two are presented side-by-side. The modified version basically follows two of Mayer's principles:

  • Coherence Principle: Extraneous material is not included.
  • Signaling Principle: Essential material are highlighted and organized.
And the results are significant:

Above copied from
Catherine E. Overson (2014) 
Applying Multimedia Principles to Slide Shows for Academic Presentation
In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php
Simply making and using slides instead of writing on a blackboard is not necessarily going to improve student learning. Using technology in our classrooms do require a thoughtful consideration of how students learn. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

What Makes You Stupid

Jonah Lehrer posed this math question on the New Yorker: A baseball and a bat cost one dollar and ten cents. The price of the bat is one dollar more than that of the ball. How much is the ball? If your answer is ten cents, then you are carelessly making shortcuts in your head. The ball is five cents and the bat costs a dollar more, one dollar and five cents. We often associate quickness with intelligence especially in math. It is true that it helps if we can answer questions like what is three times seven in a flash. But when evaluation is necessary, we must pause and think.

There are four beliefs that make us stupid according to Stephen Chew of Samford University.

Above copied from
Stephen Chew, How to Get the Most Out of Studying

The above captured image may look just like a meme that we often see on social media. What it says, however, comes from evidence-based research. Chew summarizes some of the misconceptions we have regarding how we learn in a chapter in Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum (2014)
Above copied from
Stephen L. Chew (2014).
Helping Students to Get the Most Out of Studying. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php

Learning takes both time and effort. Comprehension is only possible with thoughtful and careful reading. Learning requires that we connect new information with what we know. We need to relate concepts with each other. This is what real knowledge is, not a basket of isolated facts. Yes, there is talent, but we can only learn if we can persevere through challenges. Lastly, there is no such thing as multi-tasking, we can only switch between tasks which leads to inattention and poorer performance.

Chew also provides suggestions to help us study more effectively. He summarizes these in a set of ten principles:

Above copied from
Stephen Chew, How to Get the Most Out of Studying
And yes, the above is not just a meme. The above principles are backed by research.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Science of Learning for Nonexperts

For a classroom teacher who is not actively engaged in education research, it is not easy to digest information from primary literature. Scientists often write articles not with the intention of reaching non experts. A book that attempts to bring recent advances in the science of learning into much more readable nuggets can therefore be very useful. One example is Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum (2014) from the American Psychological Association, and this book is FREE. I have only browsed through the content, it has about 300 pages and 24 chapters, but each chapter is a stand-alone. And, of course, the first chapter I chose to read is on General Chemistry. Surprisingly, what is described in this chapter can easily apply to other subjects.

Above copied from
Samuel Pazicni and Daniel T. Pyburn (2014).
Intervening on Behalf of Low-Skilled Comprehenders in a University General Chemistry Course. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php
The authors begin this chapter with the story of a first-year undergraduate student. The student starts seeing the instructor during office hours recognizing that her high school preparation may be inadequate. The student, however, still fails the first exam. The instructor then decides to work harder with the student, spending quite a bit of time solving practice problems together. The second exam comes and the student fails again. The instructor sends the student to a Learning Resource Center to find out if the student has a learning disability while continuing with more office hours developing strategies and solving practice problems. The student fails the third exam and the instructor gives up. The student fails the final exam and the course. At the beginning of the next semester, the student informs the instructor that Academic Services finds no learning disability, but the student reads at the 9th grade level.

Reading comprehension is important in chemistry and one particular aspect of comprehension is key: making inferences. Both lectures and textbooks often require reading between the lines for the sake of both time and space. Not all details are provided and it is up to the audience or reader to connect the dots. Making inferences requires connecting what is currently being learned to what is already known. A student therefore needs to combine prior knowledge with current information. This is called Construction-Integration and Structure Building.

Not having such a skill correlates with low test scores in a General Chemistry class. Spotting the problem is good, but having a solution is better. One nice thing about this chapter is that it does offer an intervention, one that does not involve a direct reading comprehension intervention. It is multiple testing. The results are very encouraging:

Above copied from
Samuel Pazicni and Daniel T. Pyburn (2014).
Intervening on Behalf of Low-Skilled Comprehenders in a University General Chemistry Course. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php
The above graph summarizes the results of the study. The course has various learning goals and for each learning goal, there is a final exam that have questions that are open-ended in nature and require calculations and/or explanations. Some of the learning goals come with two multiple choice quizzes while the students are still learning the material (MC) while some of the goals do not come with quizzes, just a final exam (control). The testing effect is clearly significant. These results basically support the hypothesis made by the authors that high-skilled comprehenders owe their skills from their ability to question and answer what they are currently learning, which is partly mimicked by taking quizzes. Quizzes therefore help low-skilled comprehenders build their knowledge.