"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, July 24, 2017

Why Basic Education Is So Important

In the previous post, No More Algebra, the strongest argument for retaining algebra as a requirement for all is that some people can easily take advantage of your gullibility. And they will. Misinformation abounds not just in social media or the internet. This is especially tragic when the medium is a traditional news source. A recent article in Philippine Star even uses "Oxford" to propagate unsubstantiated news. And it is not just about a catchy headline as the article starts with this groundless statement: "A University of Oxford study found that $200,000, around P10 million, was spent to hire trolls who would spread propaganda for President Rodrigo Duterte and target his opposition." 

The Oxford study mentioned in this news article is a working paper by Samantha Bradshaw and Philip N. Howard. The Philippines Star fails to mention one major limitation of the study:
This working paper lays the groundwork for understanding the global trends in the organized and coordinated use of social media for manipulating public opinion...
...In terms of scope, there are several things we do not investigate. First, although cyber troops will often apply traditional offensive cyber tactics, such as hacking or surveillance, to target users for trolling or harassment campaigns, this is not a working paper about hackers or other cybersecurity professionals who work in a governmental capacity.
The study is only a survey of news articles, and the sources used by the author for the Philippines are:
Gavilan, J. (2016, June 4). Duterte’s P10M social media campaign: Organic, volunteer‐driven. Rappler
Williams, S. (2017, January 4). Rodrigo Duterte’s Army of Online Trolls. New Republic.
The first article (Gavilan) does not talk about an army of trolls. It was simply a description of the grassroots campaign of Duterte when he was running for president, an interview of Nick Gabunanda, the social media director of Duterte's campaign. The heart of the article was the fact that Gabunada only had a very small budget, $200,000 (the same figure Philippine Star claims to have been used to pay for a troll army) but still managed to create a very strong presence in social media. Here is an excerpt:
In November 2015, when he decided to run for president, he enlisted a marketing consultant named Nic Gabunadato assemble a social media army with a budget of just over $200,000. Gabunada used the money to pay hundreds of prominent online voices to flood social media with pro-Duterte comments, popularize hashtags, and attack critics. Despite being vastly outspent by his rivals, Duterte swept to power with almost 40 percent of the vote. After the upset victory, the new president’s spokesman issued a warm thanks to Duterte’s 14 million social media “volunteers.”
Above copied from Rappler
The title of the Rappler article even emphasizes that Duterte's social media campaign was organic and volunteer-driven. And there is no doubt because the meager amount of funds obviously supports this statement.

The second source cited in the Oxford study is an article from the New Republic, which the working paper considers not as among the top credible sources for information. The following is what MediaBias/FactCheck says about the New Republic:

It is easy to see why New Republic is untrustworthy. In the article cited by the Oxford Study, the following is written in bold and large font size:
The government pays online trolls up to $2,000 a month to create fake social media accounts and flood the digital airwaves with propaganda.
Unfortunately, the bold and large font size in this article is only matched by zero evidence. The Oxford study did not investigate the details of the news articles. The Oxford study was simply a survey of news articles.

We need basic education. We need to learn math. We need to learn to read. What does $2000 per month mean in the Philippines? It is a lot of money for just working as an online troll.

We need basic education so that we become less gullible because sadly, those who have been entrusted to inform the public will not hesitate to fool us.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

No More Algebra?

Math is beautiful. Algebra will help you with developing critical thinking skills. You will use it in the future. These are some reasons often provided to justfy making algebra as a required course. One can say the same thing about art. Art is likewise beautiful. You may likewise use what you learn in an art course in your job. Besides, our planet "earth" is simply "eh" without "art". However, there may be a slight difference between art and algebra. Students find algebra as a major hindrance to obtaining higher education. In community colleges, passing algebra has become a barrier to graduation.

Removing algebra as a required course in community colleges has recently gained momentum in Calufornia. Jude Thaddeus Socrates, a professor of mathematics at Pasadein posted the following on Facebook:

Above copied from Facebook

But before arriving quickly at such a conclusion, we may need to pause.

First, the challenges of algebra in both high school and community colleges of course lie on so many factors outside of mathematics itself. Poor performance in algebra, as in other academic subjects, correlates with poverty. Poverty is often the real barrier to graduation, not algebra.

Second, algebra provides some unique learning opportunities. Zalman Usiskin, professor of education at the University of Chicago wrote more than twenty years ago on American Educator (Spring 1995) the following:

Usiskin cited the following features of algebra:
  • Algebra is the language of generalization. 
  • Algebra enables the person to answer all the questions of a particular type at one time.
  • Algebra is the language of relationships between quantities
  • Algebra is a language for solving certain kinds of numerical problems.
But most important of all is perhaps conveyed by this thought-provoking parargraph from Elizabeth Staple at PurpleMath:
It might have been assumed, for instance, that Shaniqwa would be pregnant by the time she was fourteen, Jamal would be in prison, José would grow up to be a pool-boy, and Maria would be a maid. So these students would have been assigned to something like "consumer math": low-level math that was presumed to be "useful" for "that sort". Blonde, blue-eyed Tiffany might have been expected to marry well after a short and trivial "career", so she'd have been assigned to bookkeeping. Only Eustace James Whittington III would have had any chance of attending college, so only he would have been steered into the algebra class.
There is indeed one more difference between art and algebra. Algebra can be used as a tracking instrument by either not requiring it or teaching it poorly to students.

Finally, algebra is such a powerful tool that a person not knowing it can be easily taken advantage of by people who do know algebra. If people can do it easily with fake news, they can do as well with twisting numbers.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Accuracy of Students' Surveys

Some colleges still provide questionnaires to students to evaluate their instructors. In educational research, students' self-reports are often used. It is therefore necessary to gauge how accurate these reports are. After all, a teacher knows quite well that even in basic recall tests, not all students get a perfect score. And these tests taken by students are of course high stakes than a simple survey which neither rewards nor punishes a student for accuracy. Since surveys still require some bit of cognitive skills, it is also possible that errors in students' surveys will not be random but systematic. The chance that a student who does not well academically will likewise not be so accurate in answering questions in a survey is high. In an instructor evaluation, it is probably not surprising to see results correlate with the students' academic performance. Yet, these surveys are sometimes used for merit decisions for the instructor. How reliable then are students' voices? In the Philippines, young children are even seen protesting against the Duterte administration.

Above copied from Bobi Tiglao Facebook page

Rosen and coworkers have recently investigated the accuracy of students' surveys. They find that as the questions become more potentially sensitive, accuracy dramatically falls:
We find that students are reasonably good reporters of course-taking patterns but poor reporters of more potentially sensitive questions, including when the student completed Algebra I and the grade earned in the course. We find that lack of accuracy in student survey reports is consistently related to several student characteristics.
The lack of accuracy is an important finding but more troubling is the observation that inaccuracy correlates with student characteristics. And this is vividly seen when students are asked to report the grades they received:

Above copied from Rosen et al.

In the above table, the numbers in bold are the percentages of correct responses for each letter grade. One can see that accuracy correlates with higher grades. However, this is probably much more than just a correlation with a student's cognitive ability since the errors are not random. A student is more likely to report incorrectly a higher grade than a lower one. One can see this with "C" students, they are more likely to report incorrectly a "B" than a "D" (47.7 versus 6.2, respectively). Responding to a survey means revealing something about ourselves. When such information becomes sensitive and potentially reflecting something not so good about ourselves, we are naturally inclined not to answer truthfully.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What Makes a School Excellent

We hear this very often: "Children must be taught how to think and not what to think". Margaret Mead wrote this statement in "Coming of Age in Samoa". What we do not hear often is what follows: "And because old errors die slowly, they must be taught tolerance, just as to-day they are taught intolerance". As a result, we frequently fall into this false dichotomy of content versus skills. Mead was warning us of indoctrination, not knowledge transfer. On the other hand, it is true that basic education nowadays is usually measured using standardized tests. Schools deemed excellent are those whose students score well in these exams. Nehring and coworkers, however, find in a recent study, "What real high performance looks like",  that in these schools "task demand for a student in the interpersonal and intrapersonal domains was either rare or wholly absent". Seeing that this is the case obviously only fuels further the division between teaching skills versus content, but the study finds a few schools that do help students gain deeper learning. What makes these schools truly excellent may be surprising.

First, the study makes it clear that "21st Century skills" is a misnomer. These skills are not really specific for our current times, These are likewise important for all centuries that came before us and for those that are about to come.

Above copied from Nehring et al. 
Second, what emerges as the essence in high performing schools is this:

The Teacher

This is probably not surprising but we can not deny that we look at what subjects are taught or what facilities are present in gauging whether a school is good or not. The "emerging themes" that Nehring and coworkers find in exclennet schools are not possible with one quick glance at a school. If one wants to find where deep leaning occurs one must look deeply. Here they are:
  • It was the teacher, not the subject. 
  • Teachers focused on disciplinary knowledge. 
  • Teachers were attuned to the social-emotional dynamics of their students. 
  • Teachers adapted their teaching to the moment. 
  • Teachers had a wide repertoire of effective moves. 
  • Instruction was tied to complex assessments. 
  • Teachers built strong relationships with students. 

What makes a school excellent? The answers is an excellent teacher. What makes a teacher excellent? The list is shown above.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Teaching Our Children About Climate Change and Petroleum

Representatives of countries around the world when they met in Paris seemed to be united in acknowledging the perils of a continuing rise in carbon dioxide emissions. Although we are beginning to feel the consequences of higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, next generations are much more likely to face the new challenges climate change brings. How we teach young children regarding this issue is therefore an important task to address. Victoria Hermann in US News offers some advice: "Doomsday narratives about climate change don't work."

Above copied from US News

Hermann is responding to a New York Magazine article by David Wallace-Wells:

Above copied from New York Magazine
Hermann cites a study by Haeffel and coworkers that links hopelessness to a decrease in goal-directed behavior. In this work, depression is shown to correlate with a decrease in our desire to find solutions and make decisions. This is basically what hopelessness entails. Hermann therefore suggests that we focus on positive stories as related by the photo (shown above, Fishermen planting mangroves in Aceh Indonesia to reduce coastal abrasion) that accompanies her article. We can still do something about it. We like happy endings.

We probably should learn a thing or two from the petroleum industry. Children in Oklahoma are provided science lessons sponsored by the oil industry. There are books for young children. One example is Petro Pete's Big Bad Dream. 

Above copied from OERB
This story centers on a young boy's dream of what might happen if there was no petroleum industry: No clothes to wear, no toothbrush, no school bus, no tires on a bicycle, and no soccer ball to play with. The story ends with Pete waking up and realizing that it was only a dream. All the petroleum-based products were back. It was such a happy ending.

We need stories of hope if we want to teach our children. Perhaps, Hermann does have a point:
"We are at a point today where every decision we make counts in deciding what America’s climate change story will be – including the fundamental decision of how we tell climate change stories. Let’s start telling stories of hope and heroes."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Errant Science Scholars in the Philippines"

The Commission on Audit (COA) in the Philippines is once again calling for a refund of allowances and other benefits from former students of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) system who did not enroll in a prescribed science course in college. This time, COA says 115 PSHS graduates owe 18 million pesos. Three years ago, COA wanted 32 million pesos from 121 PSHS students. The math behind these figures somehow does not seem to make sense. However, the fact that the Philippine government expects adolescents to make a life-defining choice at a very young age with serious consequences is much more troubling.

The 2017 report comes from Manila Bulletin while
the 2014 article is from GMANews.
In 2014, COA claimed that 23.5 million pesos were wasted on 48 students who did not finish high school and 73 graduates who did not enroll in the prescribed courses in college. To this number, COA added 8.7 million pesos, an amount the agency suggested could have been generated if PSHS did manage to collect. This partly explains the difference between the two amounts.

The PSHS system provides living allowances. The amount could be as high as 4000 pesos per month if the student comes from a low-income household. Enrolling in PSHS requires passing an entrance exam, thus, selecting only those graduates from elementary school that have good academic background. Upon enrollment, the student and parent signs a contract which includes the following:
“Pursuit of Course in Science and Technology: The scholar-awardee shall pursue a course in science and technology, falling under the specific needs of the manpower development of the Department of Science and Technology and the DOST Council, such as the Basic Sciences, Applied Sciences, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Biotechnology, and the like...
...Reimburse to the government the full cost of the scholarship in the event that the scholar willfully abandons the scholarship or fails to take up a science or science-related career at the university level. However, the latter may be subject to a waiver on a case-to-case basis.... ”
What the clause "case-to-case basis" means is, of course, ambiguous.

Apart from the strange math COA employs, there are serious mistakes in COA's thinking. First, COA makes the grave assumption that if a student does not pursue a mandated course in college, the money invested by the government on a student's high school education is wasted. PSHS is considered to provide quality secondary education to its students. The main reason why the government puts money into this school system is to raise the status of science and technology in the country. Improving science and technology not only requires scientists but also a citizenry that is knowledgeable in the sciences. Whether or not a scholar actually pursues a career in the sciences, a student educated in PSHS means that the country now has at least one more citizen who is not ignorant of the sciences. Having a solid foundation in the sciences is likewise useful in endeavors outside of basic, applied or biological science. Now, there are real cases of waste in Philippine government spending. One example is the following:

The second grave mistake is the contract itself. In Europe, the right to pursue a freely chosen or accepted occupation is considered a fundamental right. Promoting science and technology indeed requires providing students quality education in the math and sciences. PSHS helps in building a science and technology force for the country by providing an education that hopefully motivates students to pursue a career in the sciences. This is the best we could hope for. After all, basic education should remain a place where students are still discovering not just the world around them but also what their strengths, talents and interests are.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Teaching Politics in a Classroom

Children attending school do not come from a vacuum. Children's values are shaped at home and this equally applies to politics. Children enter their classrooms already with beliefs. We normally equate our beliefs with our identity that in the face of threats against what we hold is true, our normal reaction is to double down and become even more deeply entrenched in our stand. In psychology, such reaction is explained by our intrinsic desire to avoid cognitive dissonance as well as the backfire effect, our tendency to hold onto our beliefs even more strongly when given contradicting evidence. It is therefore not easy to teach politics in a classroom. Polarization of society can be permanent.

Both United States and the Philippines are highly polarized in politics. Going through various Facebook posts makes it really easy to appreciate the theories of cognitive dissonance and the backfire effect. It is then a huge challenge for both basic and higher education to confront extremism which is sadly prevalent in our societies.

Beliefs are handed down from generation to generation. A Gallup poll, for instance, shows how teenagers' political views mirror those of their parents:

Above copied from
Teens Stay True to Parents' Political Perspectives

 And these beliefs also translate to ideological values:

Above copied from
Millenials after 2016

How can education possibly address the problem of a polarized society? Christopher Clark offers a perspective that can help answer this pressing problem. In Examining the Relationship Between Civic Education and Partisan Alignment in Young Voters, Clark saw that a good civic education, a combination of discussions, simulations and community projects; and an open climate where students are entitled to their beliefs but their opinions still need to be justified, can help prevent extremist views. Unfortunately, one without the other leads to extremism. A good civic education is inadequate if the climate is not open. An open climate, where anything goes, is equally bad. There is indeed a fine line such that one may be tempted to simply do nothing. Doing nothing unfortunately will simply propagate the polarization that we already have.

Antonio Contreras, perhaps considered as a polarizing figure by some, recently wrote quite a personal note in his column in Manila Times:
...I now teach at a university where most of my students come from the privileged and the elite. And I take this as an opportunity to expose them to the realities of life. I bring them critical thinking and theories in classroom settings, and then I take them out to the real world through learning activities that enable them to taste and feel poverty, deprivation, powerlessness and the horrors of maldevelopment, elitist exclusion and political corruption.
I would have wished that my detractors should have asked first my current and former students how I conduct my classes. I am strict, but not authoritarian. I exact discipline, but not as a dictator, but as a friend who happens to be their professor.
This could have also disabused their minds about my being a highly partisan demagogue.
My students can attest to the fact that I never use the classroom to impose on them my partisan political views, or to celebrate the President I support, even as some of my colleagues love to use their class time to espouse partisan hatred towards the Marcoses and President Duterte....
I spent my college years at the Ateneo de Manila University, an elite institution similar to de la Salle University where Contreras currently teaches.  While attending Ateneo, I had the opportunity to participate in immersion programs and there were indeed plenty of discussions and activities regarding political and social issues. The climate during the years I spent at the Ateneo in my opinion was not open. I distinctly remember one occasion when some of my classmates and myself started singing a Marcos' tune, March of the New Society or "May Bagong Silang", just to see how our instructors would react. I guess that was also the last time we sang that tune inside the campus.

Contreras is one of the very few people in academia I know who is obviously not pro-Aquino.  It is indeed a fine line for us in education to help prevent extremism. I think having a teacher who does not espouse the beliefs of the elite in an institution of priviliged students is a breath of fresh air. And I hope he remains true to his commitment not to impose on his students his partisan political views.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Towards a More Intelligent Discourse

When arguing in social media, one intention has become prominent, that is, to prevail. We no longer engage in a discussion to learn, but only to be triumphant such that the other side is vanquished. The current opposition in the Philippines, with its bygone years of power, continues to tread the path of divisiveness and its belief of exclusively owning the truth. The past administration has managed to put in place a new curriculum for basic education, complete with the following lofty goal: "To create a functional basic education system that will produce productive and responsible citizens equipped with the essential competencies and skills for both life-long learning and employment.” The same law, Republic Act 10533, however, fails to mention how this desired outcome will be measured. Instead, the law mandates only a review of classroom shortages and other metrics that do not really measure nor gauge whether graduates of the basic education are indeed "productive and responsible and are equipped with essential competencies and skills for both life-long learning and employment". Witnessing such lack of an evidence-based approach in basic education, it is no longer suprising that the Philippines is a country whose policies and programs are divorced from the reality experienced by most of its citizens.

When an evidence-based approach is disregarded, facts become simply what we wish to be. In this climate, an intelligent discourse is impossible. We now only express what we think with the sole objective of showing that others are wrong. Our posts in social media on issues are now merely spawning division and not building a community where ideas are exchanged. This is quite problematic in Philippine society. The current administration of Duterte enjoys popular support. Populism, however, is not guaranteed to be good. There are indeed policies and programs in the current Philippine government that require criticisms. After all, DepEd's K to 12 still needs to be evaluated and monitored.

When discussions become mere contests for supremacy, searching for truth now takes a backseat to winning. And it does not help when it is really obvious that it is not truth that one is after but power. Jonathan Kaiman of the LA Times, wrote near the beginning of this year "An unlikely opponent emerges against the Philippine president’s brutal drug war: the vice president":

Above copied from the LA Times
Kaiman, however, failed to see that for most Filipinos, the rise of Robredo as an opponent against Duterte's drug war is actually Robredo rising as Duterte's opponent. Opposition by Robredo is therefore deemed as a desire of the previous administration to return to power. Without a well-defined method of assessing DepEd's K to 12, I guess, in some sense, we maybe able to see if we, Filipinos, are indeed becoming more productive and responsible.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Teachers Can Speak?

The former secretary of Education Armin Luistro, who is now president of de la Salle University, spoke recently in a forum at Ateneo de Manila University. In his speech, he says teachers should not be satisfied in their comfort zone. Teachers must speak on issues of importance to society. Luistro says that teachers can choose between being a "safe and happy teacher" or being a "Filipino teacher". Of course, Luistro has the following suggestion: "from the imposition of martial law in Mindanao to the growing number of suspected drug users and peddlers killed in the Duterte administration’s crackdown on the illegal drug trade". 

Since opposition to Luistro's K to 12 curriculum was silenced when he was in power, it is not surprising to see on Facebook the following posts:

From Rey Vargas of Parent's Advocacy for Children's Education:

From Rita Cucio:

Since one professor of de la Salle University has been targeted in a petition due to an opinion he expressed, this one is indeed timely. This is what Professor Contreras had to say:

Michael Purugganan joined in this conversation. He recently posted a comment on a previous article on this blog.
...Prof. Contreras may have acted in questionable ways, and he may spout opinions that are equally questionable, but as an academic he needs the protected space to do so. Unless his words or actions clearly constitute a danger to others, we need the freedom within the university to say unpopular things. If only so that their wrongness can be publicly (and academically) debated.
I tried to share my criticisms of DepEd's K to 12 when Luistro was just about to introduce the new curriculum, but the Inquirer would not publish what I wrote unless DepEd was given the chance to comment on what I had to say. That was a classic "catch 22" because DepEd never bothered to respond to my comments. This is one reason behind the birth of this blog.

Luistro, like other members of the former administration, is very selective when in comes to freedom of speech, human rights, and democracy. The fact that he clearly chooses only issues that go against the current Duterte administration only displays that Luistro is politically partisan. Yes, teachers can speak. Teachers should have been allowed to speak long time ago especially when Luistro pushed a grossly half-baked program into Philippine public schools.

We indeed should be able to speak because it is only through discussion that we can in fact determine what is right and what is wrong.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Bullying in Politics and Bullying in Schools

Racism and xenophobia are on the rise worldwide, according to a group of experts reports to the General Assembly of the United Nations. One of the experts, Ricardo Singa III, recommends that freedom of speech ends with hate speech and stereotyping. Ron Anderson notes in Politics Paves Path to Bullying World the extraordinary amount of coverage mainstream media in the United States has given to individuals who are making abusive and hurtful remarks. Such celebrity-like coverage may have made these political bullies serve as role models for both young and adults leading to an increase in bullying and hate crimes in the country. Not every disagreement in politics, however, is bullying. There is abuse that should not be tolerated, but there is also a valid discourse. We cannot label each and every statement as bullying simply because it is not to our liking. Doing so simply "undermines the horror of genuine attacks", writes Martin Williams of the Independent

Bullying is of serious concern in schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Department of Education in the United States offer the following core elements in their definition of bullying: unwanted aggressive behavior, observed or perceived power imbalance, and repetition of behaviors. Anderson offers this definition: Bullying means intimidating or overpowering someone weaker. Bullying targets the weak. Those who are bullied are often perceived as outcasts such as immigrants, minorities, orphans, lesbians, gays, transgenders and bisexuals. Their targets, the weak, make bullying a true nightmare. Bullying should therefore not be trivialized. "We also need to make a distinction between "offensive" and "abusive", concludes Williams.

In the Philippines, I recently came across a petition addressed to the administrators of de la Salle University concerning the online behavior of one its professors, Antonio Contreras. The petition was perhaps catalyzed by this twitter post:

Contreras was reacting to supporters of the vice president, Leonor "Leni" Robredo, who were accusing another government official, Lorraine Badoy, assistant secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, of bullying the vice president. Badoy earlier criticized the vice president for revealing the story of her picking up trash to furnish her daughter's apartment in the United States:

Above copied from Secretary Badoy's Facebook page
Philippine politicians often resort to gimmicks of painting themselves as simple and close to the poor. The above picture shows the vice president sitting beside a luxurious handbag. Contreras' main point is that this is not a case of bullying. Unfortunately, some people miss that important point.

Bullying is an important concern in schools. Citing cases that are not bullying miseducates both adults and children. As Williams states: "It undermines the horror of genuine attacks".

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pacquiao Versus Horn: A Lesson in Math

In boxing, if one does not win by a knockout, the victor is decided through a round by round scoring. A close round usually gives the winner of that round 10 points while the loser receives 9 points. A 10-8 score is often given when one boxer overwhelmingly wins a round. Thus, one simply has to win 7 out of the 12 rounds in a professional boxing match to be declared the winner. Winning 7 rounds means 70 points and losing 5 nets 45 points, leading to a total of 115. The loser scores 50 points from the 5 rounds won and 63 points from the 7 rounds lost, summing up to 113. The final score is therefore 115-113 favoring the boxer who has won two more rounds. In a recent boxing match, Pacquiao lost a hard fought fight via a unanimous decision when the three judges scored the match 117-111, 115-113, 115-113 in favor of Horn. Except for one judge, the call is indeed very close. Social media especially from the Philippines where Pacquiao currently serves as a senator are greatly displeased with the outcome. Posts showing the final statistics abound as if there is a simple lesson in math we have missed.

Above copied from
Boxing does offer simple lessons in math, but it is not in the way of total statistics. The match is weighed round by round and not by the total number of punches a boxer has landed. After all, the edge in the total statistics can be easily due to just a couple of good rounds. In one of the rounds, the ninth, Pacquiao connects 30 of 79 punches.

The 117-111 score is perhaps a real outlier, but one cannot deny that via a round-by-round scoring, this match does not have a real clear winner. And it is wrong to claim that Horn is not a deserving winner. Even the people at Sherdog.com give Horn the win:
Mike Sloan scores the round: 10-9 Horn (116-111 Pacquiao)
Gary Randall scores the round: 10-9 Horn (116-112 Horn)
Mike Fridley scores the round: 10-9 Horn (115-112 Horn)
A boxer can win a match with three good rounds only if that boxer succeeds in stopping the fight. Otherwise, at the end, it is the boxer who wins the most rounds who is declared the champion. Below is the final score card for the Pacquiao versus Horn WBO welterweight boxing championship:

Above copied from Wikipedia

Finally, to illustrate how the outcome of this match really lies in the judges' scores, Bob Velin of USAToday, shares his scores by rounds. Velin has Pacquiao winning 116-112, but he gives all 3 close rounds (Rounds 3, 6 and 11) to Pacquiao. Merely doing the opposite gives Horn the win, 115-113.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Depth Needs Breadth

Breadth and depth complement each other. Favoring one over the other is simply a false dilemma. Learning needs to follow the normal course of building knowledge first. Otherwise, there is really nothing to think deeply about if there is nothing to think about. Take, for instance, an introductory course in biochemistry. It is very difficult to unmask the various interactions and structures found in proteins if students do not even know the amino acids. Both recall of information like remembering which amino acids have hydrophobic side chains, and basic reasoning such as "like dissolves like" are important to understand how proteins fold and function. Some educators seem so focused on "critical thinking" that third grade material emphasizing basic recall and reasoning is now apparently considered "shallow":

Too shallow?
Here are examples (not grade-specific) of what could be required in an English Language Arts course at each of the four levels of the Depth of Knowledge scale, which get progressively "deeper." It's paired with the percentage of the curriculum researchers found at each level for third-graders in about 200 Nevada and Oklahoma schools.*

SOURCE: Hess, Carlock, Jones, & Walkup, (2009). 'What exactly do “fewer, clearer, and higher standards” really look like in the classroom?'


Stuart Cox Jr./Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Above copied from "Is School Too Shallow"

Third grade children are just about to master their reading. Third grade children are just about to learn fractions. Why are we even asking if third grade is "too shallow"? Executive functions are not even fully developed at this age (See control data of Maeder et al. 2016, for example). The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University reminds us that children need our support so that they could develop their executive functioning skills:
Providing the support that children need to build these skills at home, in early care and education programs, and in other settings they experience regularly is one of society’s most important responsibilities. Growth-promoting environments provide children with “scaffolding” that helps them practice necessary skills before they must perform them alone. Adults can facilitate the development of a child’s executive function skills by establishing routines, modeling social behavior, and creating and maintaining supportive, reliable relationships. It is also important for children to exercise their developing skills through activities that foster creative play and social connection, teach them how to cope with stress, involve vigorous exercise, and over time, provide opportunities for directing their own actions with decreasing adult supervision.
Judging whether a school is too shallow or not by simply examining its curriculum and weighing how much extended reasoning is present is actually what is shallow. Young children need a lot of support as they develop their cognitive skills. Education needs to be timely and appropriate.

Working as a researcher, I need to know my area in great depth. Outside of the laboratory, it is much more helpful to know a wide variety of subjects. It helps in talking and therefore socializing with other people. It helps in addressing daily chores or even challenges. Children need these as well. There is plenty of time after the elementary years to dive into critical thinking.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Poverty's Effect on Education Starts Inside the Womb

Children born in poor families have limited opportunities for learning during the preschool years. This is one reason why economically disadvantaged children are often less prepared for kindergarten and first grade. Poverty, however, harms education long before the toddler years. Poverty's damaging effects are already at work inside the womb. For this reason, economist John Komlos makes the claim that "In America, inequality begins in the womb":
Above copied from PBS Newshour
One parameter that higlights the effects of poverty inside the womb is a child's birth weight. Children born in poor families are more likely to have low birth weight (less than 2.5 kilograms or 5.5 pounds). In Korea, the likelihood of a low birth weight is four times greater in poor families. How a low birth rate affects education has also been examined recently in a study in Copenhagen. This recent work published in Pediatrics looks at intelligence at three adult ages (19, 28 and 50 years old) and extracts its dependence on birth weight. In order to tease out how intelligence correlates with birth weight, adjustments have been made to take into account other possible confounding factors such as gender, mother's age, socioeconomic status, gestation period, birth order, and a smoking mother. The study concludes that there is indeed a strong association between a child's birth weight and intelligence in young adulthood into midlife. The results at 28 years old are shown below:

Above graph based on
Birth Weight and Intelligence in Young Adulthood and Midlife
Trine Flensborg-Madsen, Erik Lykke Mortensen
Pediatrics Jun 2017, 139 (6) e20163161; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-3161
Children born at 3.0-3.5 Kg are chosen as reference in the above graph. Children born at 3.5 Kg on average have IQ scores 5.3 points higher than those born at less than 2.5 Kg. For the same data, one can likewise use socioeconomic status of parents as the category and the difference in IQ scores between the poorest and the wealthiest is about 15 IQ points, suggesting that the birth weight alone does have a significant effect on intelligence in adult life. It is obvious then that addressing problems in basic education must include those nine months between conception and birth.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"Let Them Eat Cake" Lipstick for "Not-so-underpaid" Teachers

For 45 Euros, one can buy a pink lipstick inspired by the "opulence of the court of Versailles" and send it to the the Philippines to help teachers in the war-torn region of Mindanao. After all, "teachers in the Philippines are neither underappreciated nor underpaid", according to the secretary of education Leonor Briones. Nikko Dizon of the Inquirer also writes "In times of despair, a clean hijab or a nice shade of lipstick—coupled with basic human kindness — can be one’s source of hope and courage." A paper published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, "What is appropriate and relevant assistance after a disaster? Accounting for culture(s) in the response to Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda", tries almost desperately to make sense of how assistance should be extended to victims of a disaster in the Philippines. It paints a disconnect between the values of international donors and those who are affected, merely deducing it to a disregard of differences in culture. But honestly, would you really follow my advice to buy a lipstick and donate it to victims of terrorism in the Philippines?

Above copied from
Lipstick Queen
Of course not, Philippine culture is not shallow. What is evident is that leaders in the Philippines often resort into facades to hide their inefficiency and corruption. The elite in the Philippines uses seemingly inspiring anecdotes to provide evidence on actions that they take. For instance, the former education secretary used an encounter with a principal in promoting the inclusion of lipstick in relief aid. His eyes were apparently opened when he heard a principal say "Brother, I want to look good when my students will see me. I want them to think that I have recovered so that they will be inspired to also move on." This is the same education policy maker in the Philippines who said:
"... If we look at the old education system, a lot of the subjects included are very alien to Filipinos, especially the sciences and math. I think that’s why in the past several years, we have rated very low in those two subjects, science and math. I think the old curriculum was not really enmeshed with essential elements of the Filipino culture. We have to ask the question: How does a Filipino naturally think?"
Obviously, Luistro is not the only person infected with this disease of turning assumptions into facts by simply making it sound reasonable. The current secretary of education Leonor Briones recently concluded that teachers in the Philippines receive good treatment:

Above copied from The Inquirer
The reason Briones used to reach such a conclusion is the apparent migration of teachers from private schools to public schools. There is a reason why in science we have standards. We know how long a meter is and we know how much mass really is one gram. Without such universal standards, we can easily make arguments that may appear sound but are actually quite erroneous. Whether teachers are underpaid or not can only be answered by asking whether their salaries are in fact adequate enough for their cost of living. Can a public school teacher afford all the basic needs of his or her family? Why teachers from private schools are transferring to public schools may simply be due to the fact that these teachers are simply in a much more dire situation.

Without using standards, one is really at the mercy of misinformation. For this reason, it is not possible to gauge the effectiveness of policies and programs taken by the Philippines. Its new K to 12 curriculum is a great example. One can easily issue a statement that K to 12 is a success, as Briones did in January of 2017:

Above copied from
Department of Education, Philippines

There is no assessment that backs up this assertion. In fact, during the opening of this school year, I happened to see the following post:

Lacanaria was first very impressed with the list of courses under the ABM track of the senior high school of DepEd's K to 12, but when she saw what subjects her daughter was currently enrolled, only Organization and Management was included. This was already after spending one of the additional two years of DepEd's K to 12. Worse, school had already been opened for a week and her daughter had not seen even the shadow of a teacher.

When we are facing an economic recession, we tend to buy traditional inferior goods, go and watch morale boosting entertainment, and of course, beauty products. In a dearth of research-based evidence, we likewise subscribe to mere impressions.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When Fake News May Cause Harm

Facebook is definitely a place where authenticity is not guaranteed. It is, after all, just one letter different from "Fakebook". "Social media can be dangerous if you think that that's real life", says Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, author of Everybody Lies. He says what people look up with Google is a much better "digital truth serum". And in his analysis, he finds that it is not the politically charged issues that really occupy people's deepest worries or concerns. People care more about their finance and health. This is where fake news can do real great harm. Recent research shows that we are less likely to be skeptical if we think that we are not alone. We are less likely to verify when we are in a social context, somehow feeling secure or "safe in numbers". Combined this with a seemingly "trustworthy" speaker, fake news can indeed be a serious societal problem. There are plenty of examples one can easily find by simply browsing through posts on Facebook. There are cases, however, where the jury is still out. One example is a recent advisory issued by the American Heart Association (AHA).

Above copied from The Huffington Post
The advisory begins with a factual listing of how much of each type of fatty acids is present in various fats and oils:

Above copied from Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart AssociationFrank M. Sacks, Alice H. Lichtenstein, Jason H.Y. Wu, Lawrence J. Appel, Mark A. Creager, Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Michael Miller, Eric B. Rimm, Lawrence L. Rudel, Jennifer G. Robinson, Neil J. Stone, Linda V. Van Horn and On behalf of the American Heart AssociationCirculation. 2017;CIR.0000000000000510, originally published June 15, 2017
The advisory then states, "...because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD (cardiovascular disease), and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil." Such statement hinges on the assumption that saturated fats are linked to heart disease. Based on some highly publicized research, this view is apparently wrong. "Saturated fats are not associated with all cause mortality, CVD, CHD, ischemic stroke, or type 2 diabetes, but the evidence is heterogeneous with methodological limitations." This is the conclusion reached by de Souza and coworkers in a paper published in the British Medical Journal. And in a 2013 meta-analysis, Schwingshackl and Hoffmann state that "The present systematic review provides no evidence (moderate quality evidence) for the beneficial effects of reduced/modified fat diets in the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease." However, in a much more recent research article, Zong and coworkers find that "Lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, after multivariate adjustment of covariates." Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid. Who should we believe? The perceived absence of a connection in the previous studies between saturated fats and heart disease apparently is due to not considering what people have used to replace saturated fats in their diet. The AHA advisory therefore appears to be a response to a widely becoming popular notion that coconut oil offers health benefits. The title of a USA Today article covering this AHA advisory captures the message AHA wants to deliver.

In the Philippines, a producer of coconut oil, in response to the AHA advisory, Dr. Fabian Dayrit, current president of the Integrated Chemists of the Philippines and the chairman of the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Health, has written the following:

Above copied from
The Integrated Chemists of the Philippines
As teachers, we are very much concerned about our student's ability to verify information they get from the internet. As a society, we should be concerned with how people obtain information regarding issues that are of importance. Unfortunately, even on issues that are neither "Republican" nor "Democrat", progressive nor conservative, atheist nor theist, information often comes with a sales pitch. The reason is perhaps simple. It is not clearly black and white. In "Is All Saturated Fat the Same", Dr. David Katz writes, "In the real world, “all good” vs. “all bad” is reliably more about salesmanship than data."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Poverty and Higher Education

There are plenty of factors that can negatively impact the chances that a child born in poverty will graduate with a bachelor's degree.

Above copied from
Center for Poverty Research, UC Davis
Those born in affluent families have ample opportunities to visit zoos, museums, and even other countries during their early childhood years. Rich children can afford to spend their days in high quality preschools. They are introduced to a greater number of books in their homes. Their parents, unlike those in poor households who are often forced to work more than forty hours a week just to make ends meet, are able to spend more of their time and money with their young children. Poor children likewise spend their formative years in poor neighborhoods. The environment a child grows in is also strongly correlated with a child's chances of reaching college. Schools that provide basic education to these poor neighborhoods also experience the greatest challenges. Like a domino effect, even if a poor child manages to finish high school, graduating from struggling elementary and high schools means limited options in college admissions. These poor students end up enrolling in poor quality colleges.

Addressing all of these truly requires a gigantic effort. Improving outcomes in education clearly involves much more than reforming schools. It requires helping parents and revitalizing communities. And when a poor child does succeed in basic education, higher education must do its part as well. In this area, one can be easily tempted of the simple solution of tuition-free college. This seems socially fashionable these days. Unfortunately, one overlooks the fact that not only do poor children have trouble finishing high school, but when they do, they also have difficulty getting admitted to a high quality college. Recent research clearly shows that admissions officers in selective colleges in the United States are less likely to offer admission to poor students (Lower socioeconomic status (SES) students):

Above copied from
Improving Admission of Low-SES Students at Selective Colleges
Michael N. Bastedo, Nicholas A.Bowman
Educational Researcher
Vol 46, Issue 2, pp. 67 - 77
First published date: March-09-2017
The admission outcomes are improved slightly when officers are provided more detailed information regarding a poor student, factors that are relevant to an applicant's academic achievements. I served once in the admissions committee at Georgetown University and knowing that an applicant, for instance, is a first-generation college applicant, can be an important factor to consider.

Obviously, admission is only the first step. Poor children also struggle in college especially when they are so different from their peers. They need not only financial but also social support to thrive in higher education. The grip of poverty on education outcomes is strong. Solutions are not simple.

Friday, June 16, 2017

On Father's Day: Reflecting on My Role in My Child's Basic Education

One way to gauge the role of a father in a child's basic education is to compare various characteristics of school-age children for those who live with and without a father. A 2008 paper published in Social Indicators Research shows that fatherless children are less likely to be healthy, more likely to have attention problems, more likely to repeat a grade, more likely to be suspended, less likely to receive A's, and less likely to enjoy school. Not having a father seems to correlate with so many negative outcomes. Whether this is a clear proof of the important role a father plays in a child's basic education can still be debated since not having a father often correlates with other factors that are already known to affect a child's education and health. Poverty, for instance, is one important factor and this often correlates with not having a father. Another factor is racism since African American samples represent a significant portion in the studies conducted in the United States. Fortunately, there is now an international study on the effects of a father's absence on a child's cognitive and noncognitive skills that controls for socioeconomic background, measured by the child's mother's educational background. And the results are clear, in all 33 countries, a father's absence is associated with adverse outcomes in children.

The data come from the Programme for International Student Assessment’s release for 2012. Cognitive measures are based on scores on a standardized math exam (Numeracy). Noncognitive skills are gauged by responses to survey questions which generally ask how much a child attributes success to either effort or fate (Locus of Control). The results are summarized in the figure below:

Above copied from
Radl, J., Salazar, L. & Cebolla-Boado, H. Eur J Population (2017) 33: 217. doi:10.1007/s10680-017-9414-8
The effects are negative across all countries and it is apparently bigger for cognitive outcomes. Clearly, the effects of a father's absence on a child's education are not exclusive to the United States. It is therefore not due to being African American. It is not merely a product of racism. And since the above have also been corrected with mother's education and immigrant status, the effects seen above are beyond poverty.

The mere absence of a father unfortunately does not tell why and how these negative effects come about. And of course, as a father, I know that our mere presence cannot likewise guarantee more positive outcomes. The best we can do as dads on this Father's day therefore is to reflect simply on how we can best help our children in their development and schooling. And perhaps, it is no longer our absence that counts, but also our presence. Happy Father's Day to all.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pictures Help Us Learn..., Or Unlearn...

Reading a science article from a primary source is not that easy. I remember one scientist I worked with at the National Institutes of Health. He often emphasized the importance of figures in an article to his students during group meetings. A well-written piece in a journal is one whose figures allow for a reader to digest the main findings of an article without reading fully the text. For learning materials in basic education, pictures may have other purposes than figures do in a science journal article. Pictures may be present in a child's textbook not only to help explain a text, but also to elicit positive emotions. Figures therefore can be decorative as well as instructive.

Pictures like baby animals can elicit positive emotions.

Above copied from the Denver Post

One can imagine having the above photo accompany a text that discusses endangered species. This picture is both relevant and positive.

In contrast, a photo of maggots does not.

Above copied from The Shiznit
The above photo can be used within a text that describes the life stages of insects. It is relevant but the picture is generally unpleasant.

Recent research shows that relevant and positive pictures (PS) that accompany text actually help learning. Surprisingly, irrelevant pictures (simply decorative) but evoke positive feelings (PW) somehow benefits a reader as well. On the other hand, relevant but negative pictures (NS) are detrimental. And not surprisingly, irrelevant and negative pictures (NI) are worse. These findings are summarized in the following figure:

Above copied from
How Affective Charge and Text–Picture Connectedness Moderate the Impact of Decorative Pictures on Multimedia Learning.
Schneider, Sascha; Dyrna, Jonathan; Meier, Luis; Beege, Maik; Rey, Günter Daniel
Journal of Educational Psychology, Jun 05 , 2017, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000209
Clearly, we need to be thoughtful when composing learning materials in basic education.

Unfortunately, such thoughtfulness is severely lacking in the Philippines. In one textbook for children, there is even a need to add a new category: Incorrect Figures (IF). These images are related to the text, but provide the wrong information. The Cordilleran Sun highlights this in one of its posts:

Mario L. Flores II, Jessica Mariz R. Ignacio, and Rowel S. Padernal are listed as authors of this textbook intended for third grade social studies. The book introduces several indigenous cultures in the Philippines. The boy in the above picture is saying (translated to English), "A good day to you. I am Gambo. I live in Zambales. I like to play with my friends." At the bottom of the drawing of the boy, the caption says "Gambo is an Igorot". The picture is relevant and looks positive since the boy is smiling. Unfortunately, Igorots in the Philippines do not live in Zambales. Zambales is home to a different indigenous group called Aetas. Igorots actually live near the Cordilleras.

This new category (IF) is not included in the recent study on how picture connectedness impacts learning. I am guessing that such category, if included, will have the worst impact on learning, even worse than negative and weakly connected pictures. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Learning from Soccer: How to Improve Instruction

My son belongs to a soccer team that just won first place in their group in the Suburban Friendship League in Northern Virginia. Their team also scored the second highest number of goals, forty six in ten games, in the entire division. Armed only with skills and even talent can only bring a soccer team halfway to winning a game. Good positions and good decisions, and therefore, teamwork is extremely necessary.

Annandale soccer team celebrating their victory
The coach of a soccer team needs to see the field in its entirety and so does his or her players. Every play is indeed a learning opportunity. the coach helps assess every move his or her team makes. And between games, the team goes to practice, reviewing their past games, and studying what the team may be able to improve. Focusing on the importance of maintaining good positions, creating opportunities, keeping possession, and thoughtful defending, are obviously key principles. Still, careful planning, keen observations, and thoughtful revisions as a team are still necessary to improve from one game to the next.

With the above elements in mind, basic education can actually learn a lot from soccer. First and foremost, to become better, a team sports like soccer focuses specifically at improving plays. Improving players simply becomes a side product. Unfortunately, in basic education, we often emphasize improving teachers instead of improving teaching. Hiebert and Stigler wrote in the Educational Researcher:
We examine the distinction between teaching and teachers as it relates to instructional improvement. Drawing from work outside of education on improvement systems and from analyzing the Japanese system of lesson study, we contend that a focus on teaching can shape a coordinated system for improvement whereas a focus on teachers, common in the United States, leads to elements that are uncoordinated and often work against the continuous, steady improvement of classroom teaching.
They found that lesson study in the Japanese education system contains four essential elements:
  • Begin With Shared Learning Goals
  • Develop Widely Used Curricula That Invite Improvement
  • Produce Assessments That Provide Useable Feedback for Teachers
  • Design Professional Development to Enculturate Teachers Into the System for Improvement
Looking at each of these elements brings out an overall theme of "working as a team", similar to soccer. Collaboration among teachers, researchers and administrators is key. 

The school my son currently goes to, Mason Crest Elementary School, is a "A National Model Professional Learning Community at Work!" This is probably not surprising since its current principal, Brian Butler, not only played basketball at George Washington University but also played soccer in high school. We can learn important lessons from soccer, the importance of a shared goal, commitment to essential elements, useful observations and assessments, and practices that develop plays moreso than just simply developing players.