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Showing posts from November, 2017

On Salary Hike and Performance Bonuses for Public School Teachers

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We pay people for the services they render. When we are pleased with the service we receive, to show our gratitude, we sometimes give tips or bonuses. There is a theory that we may get better service if there is a reward attached to better performance. Somehow, this idea has become prevalent in the teaching profession. Whether this is true or not needs to be addressed in research, in which other factors that contribute to learning outcomes are controlled. Past research has often used for comparison, schools that provide performance bonuses against schools that do not. Such comparison unfortunately is flawed because we are in fact comparing different schools. A better comparison is one that looks at the same school and examines whether teachers being awarded bonuses really lead to better learning outcomes. The answer to the question of whether awards lead to greater student achievement from a recent research study is no.

Dara Shifrer, Ruth L√≥pez Turley, and Holly Heard report in "…

Achieving Equity in Basic Education Is Swimming Against the Tide

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"For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them." It sure sounds biblical since it is from Matthew 25:29. And within that context, this saying is about faith. But one can argue that this likewise applies to knowledge. As our knowledge increases, our capacity to learn becomes greater. With little knowledge, the potential to acquire understanding becomes smaller. Inequity in education does seem natural. It is therefore clear why establishing equity in our schools requires commitment and effort. This becomes even more obvious when we consider the fact that we often make schools even more discriminatory. Research, for instance, in the United States reveals that disadvantaged students are frequently assigned inexperienced and ineffective teachers. 
The work published in the American Educational Research Journal looks at two states, Washington and North Carolina, over the past two decades. Du…

Breadth versus Depth: A Question of Impact

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I often teach General Chemistry in the Spring. While teaching a General Chemistry course this Fall semester, I am now asking myself how much of an impression do I really leave on my students. Some students do come with a very strong background in the subject because of advanced courses taken in high school while some do not. Since General Chemistry is required for admission to medical schools, there are even students enrolled in the class who have not seen Chemistry for so many years. These are students who already have finished a degree but have to return to college to take the required science courses. The Fall course on General Chemistry, guided by popular textbooks, often spends the first couple of months with a quick survey, a smorgasbord of chemical concepts and phenomena. With this breadth, students, including me, actually wonder if Chemistry has a story to tell. Surely, the topics discussed seem totally incohesive. Exams are, of course, taken after a number of lectures have be…

Computer Use Leads to Poorer Learning Outcomes

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

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

In Students, Computers and Learning, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development)reports that basic literacy and numeracy skills must come first before students are able to benefit from technology. The use of computers and smart devices both inside and outside the classroo…

21st Century Skills versus Basic Skills

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

This point can be more easily understood by citing one concrete situation. It may sound far…

How Could We Fight Our Own Bias

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

The study was authored by researchers from Pennsylvania State University and was published in the American Journal of Public Health. It examined 13- to -19-year longitudinal data that included kindergarten social assessments and later outcomes such as higher education, employment, criminal activi…

Wrong Numbers and Fake News

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


Another recent example is from the Washington Po…

I Hope Our Children Are Not Watching Duterte

In a previous post during the 2016 presidential elections in the United States, I wrote:
"We are the role models for our children. Our children watch and learn from us. A nation's leader may not be necessarily a diplomat, or born with a sweet tongue, but with all certainty, a nation's leader talks to his or her constituents. Months ago, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reminded us that we need to make sure that our children could be proud of "the choices we are about to make, the goals we will strive for, and the principles we will live by", since we are our children's role models. Every adult is, and a nation's leader is one of the most important role models." That post also shared thoughts from award-winning author of children books, Candy Gourlay, who spoke about the fears of what leaders say in public, how this can adversely affect our children.  It is truly unfortunate that the current president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, seems …

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

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




One cannot deny the fact that the influence of social media on various aspects of life in the Philippines has indeed remarkably increased. And politics is, of course, no exception. Yes, this may be a reason to rejoice as more people become more politically aware or engaged, yet there a…

Preparing Teachers of Mathematics

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

The following are some of the exhibits provided by The Teacher Education Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M) in 2008 of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). This is an interesting study because it includes both the Philippines and the United States. It also includes countries that perform very well in international standardized exams in math like Singapore an…

Inequity in Education in the Philippines

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


Below is a socioeconomic classification of the Philippines in 2009.


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

Vertical differentiation is particularly pertinent to the issue of access, and shapes the educational…

"How Much Do You Know About English Language Learners?

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

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











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

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


Teachers in the Philippines often do not receive all of their monthly salary because of deductions from loans. It is estimated that teachers currently owe 163 billion pesos to various lending institutions. This is more than 200,000 pesos per teacher, which is roughly equivalent to the starting annual salary of a teacher in the Philippines. How much public school teachers are pa…