"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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

School Feeding Program

Nongovernment organizations as well as the Department of Education in the Philippines are actively pursuing programs aimed at addressing severe malnutrition in young children. Data show that such programs are well managed although metrics such as child weights need to be accurately measured to assess the actual impact of these programs. Addressing malnutrition of school-aged children is obviously a good first step to alleviate the harmful effects of poverty on education. Unfortunately, before a child enters a school, proper nutrition is already crucial for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Poverty during these early years are now well known to correlate with both behavioral and academic gaps as early as when a child enrolls in kindergarten.

Schools also try to inform children and parents of healthy nutrition through these posters.
Above copied from The Rappler
Johnson and Markowitz have recently published a paper in the journal Child Development:

Of course, one should note that the above study is from the United States where programs that respond to early childhood as well as maternal nutrition do exist. For example, in Fairfax county, there is a Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This program provides:
A Monthly Nutritious Food Package
WIC provides nutritious foods to supplement the dietary needs of WIC clients. The foods provided by the WIC program are rich in protein, iron, calcium and vitamin A and C. These nutrients are commonly shown to be lacking in the diets of WIC clientele.
  • Pregnant women and partially breastfeeding women (up to 1 year postpartum) receive: juice, milk, breakfast cereal, eggs, cash vouchers for fruits and vegetables, whole wheat bread, and beans or peanut butter.
  • Fully breastfeeding women (up to 1 year postpartum) receive the same as above, plus, cheese and canned fish.
  • Postpartum (up to 6 months postpartum) women receive the same as pregnant and partially breastfeeding women; but, no bread and less milk and juice.
  • Fully formula fed infants (0 to 6 months of age) receive: iron fortified formula or any other state allowable infant formula if ordered by the physician.
  • Fully formula fed infants (6 to 12 months of age) receive the same as above, plus, infant cereal and baby food fruits and vegetables.
  • Partially breastfed infants receive the same as fully formula fed; but, less formula.
  • Fully breastfed infants (6 to 12 months of age) receive: Infant cereal, twice as much baby food fruits and vegetables, and baby food meat.Children (1 year up to 5th birthday) receive: juice, milk, breakfast cereal, eggs, cash vouchers for fruits and vegetables, whole wheat bread, and beans or peanut butter.
Even with this safety net, a significant number of young children still experience episodes of food insecurity. Social and emotional behavior, as well as approaches or attitudes toward learning are compromised even with just one episode.

Providing a healthy and education environment for children is important. This, however, needs to begin with ensuring a healthy pregnancy, and good nutrition during the infant, toddler and preschool years. Nutritional deficiencies at these erly stages can have dramatic effects on the development of a child's brain. This is no different from the fact that schools in the Philippines are facing serious challenges in the elementary years. Two years of additional high school cannot solve this problem. The government simply cannot wait until children enter school before it acts.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Free Appropriate Public Education

Providing every eligible child a "Free Appropriate Public Education" is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the United States. The Supreme Court of the United States has just ruled unanimously that schools cannot settle for "minimum progress" specifically in the case of a child with disabilities. "When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all", according to the opinion issued by the Supreme Court. With this decision, the court clearly takes seriously what "Free Appropriate Public Education" means.

Above copied from the supremecourt.gov
The case involves an autistic child whose parents have sued the Douglas County School District for not providing "Free Appropriate Public Education". With the IDEA act, a child with a disability such as autism is entitled to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The public school in Douglas did provide an IEP but the parents argued that the IEP was not producing any meaningful result. The parents took the child to a school that specializes in educating children with autism. The school employs a "behavioral intervention plan" and there is evidence that the child has begun thriving in school. The district, however, refused to reimburse the parents for their tuition expenses at the private school for autistic children, making the claim that the public school has already done what was required by law.

This recent decision made by the US Supreme Court is inspiring. The high court basically states that one should not look at the law to determine how a child needs to be educated. Instead, one must look at the child. "No law could do that—for any child", says the opinion by the court. What is good for a child needs to be supported by both evidence and application of expertise.

In stark contrast, the Supreme Court in the Philippines still has not decided on the various petitions filed against Republic Act 10533, the law that authorizes DepEd's K to 12 curriculum. While justices in the US leave the decision to educators and gives a stronger voice to parents who advocate for their children's education, the justices in the Philippines seem to have chosen not to listen to parents, teachers and students, leaving the future of basic education in the Philippines to the whims of its lawmakers and politicians.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How Much Do We Know About Learning?

Most readers of this blog have gone through school. Naturally, I might be able to assume that readers of this blog have formed some opinions regarding education. After all, we have experiences. So we must have ideas of what is effective in teaching or learning. Perhaps, we should then check if our ideas are correct or not. Boser from the Center for American Progress recently did such a survey in the United States and found that most people actually do not know what research-based evidence tells us regarding education.

Above copied from the
Center for American Progress
So I am curious as to how readers of this blog compare to the respondents in Boser's survey. Boser used multiple choice items that he created to survey Americans on their beliefs regarding learning. The actual questions Boser used, however, are not listed in the report. Luckily, Anya Kamenetz of NPR composed a quiz that captures Boser's survey, and I am taking the liberty of using that quiz for this blog to find where readers of this blog stand.

Please complete the following survey. This is short, just seven questions.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why We Need Liberal Arts in College

As an undergraduate student at the Ateneo de Manila University, I was required to take 5 courses in Theology, 4 courses in Philosophy, 2 courses in History, 4 courses in Spanish, 4 courses in English, 2 courses in Filipino, 2 courses in Economics, 1 course in Sociology/Anthroplogy, 1 course in Psychology, 1 course on the Philippine Constitution, and of course there was Citizen Military Training and Physical Education. These added to the required science courses of Calculus, Physics, General Chemistry, Quantitative Analysis, Organic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Industrial Chemistry, and Analytical Chemistry and a couple of electives in Computer Science. I would agree that the curriculum I went through was indeed heavy. In order to graduate in four years, I had to carry a full load for three summer sessions. Perhaps, this was one extreme. The other extreme, I believe, was passed recently by the University of the Philippines Diliman University Council. The Philippine Collegian reported on its Facebook page: "In a vote of 302-31 with 44 abstentions, the UP Diliman University Council (UC) has approved the motion to change the General Education (GE) program, March 20." The new program now requires just a minimum of 21 units of General Education.

Above copied from Philippine Collegian
The University Council is chaired by the chancellor and is composed of tenured and tenure-track professors in the university. Subject to the approval of the Board of Regents, the University Council has the power to prescribe the curriculum. Thus, it is almost certain that the new General Education curriculum will be implemented in the coming school year.

Ateneo de Manila University, however, is still requiring a much larger number of units in its core curriculum:
The Loyola Schools is particularly proud of its core curriculum, the primary instrument of formation through which the Ateneo spirit of excellence and service are articulated and passed on to students. It consists of 24 units of courses in the Humanities, 24 units of courses of Language courses, 17 to 31 units of Mathematics and Science, 21 units of Social Sciences courses, and 6 units of electives.
Why professors in a leading university in the Philippines would vote for a reduced General Education curriculum is indeed baffling. Perhaps, these professors are not aware of the following articles:

Above copied from MasterStudies.Com

Above copied from The Chronicle of Higher Education

Above copied from The Washington Post

Above copied from The Chronicle of Higher Education
It is obvious that by reducing the General Education requirements, professors at the University of the Philippines are discounting the importance of being well-educated in college. Possibly, these professors are persuaded by DepEd's promise regarding its new K to 12 curriculum:

These professors are perhaps convinced that General Education subjects are going to be taught in high school. Obviously, this can only be true if the General Education courses taught in college are identical to the ones taught in high school. Surely, these two are vastly different.

I had fond memories of one Economics professor I had at the Ateneo. He was particularly appreciative of having chemistry majors in his class. We apparently brought something unique to his class. Our background indeed provided an additional perspective to economics, after all, we were in the natural sciences. Our presence had similar effects on our classes in philosophy, theology, psychology and literature. The best way to achieve cross-disciplinary thinking, which is now required to tackle present challenges in quite a complex world, is a diversified education. We will not achieve this by reducing higher education into a "narrow vocationalism". General Education courses in college are higher education subjects meant to broaden one's perspective and at the same time, encourage critical thinking not just in one's chosen field, but also in complex areas. These are not courses taught in high school.

Professors at the University of the Philippines may indeed be teaching subjects at the high school level. This maybe the reason behind the choice they just made.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"They're Supposed to Feed Them So They Do Better in School"

Arguing that after-school and summer programs have not shown evidence of being effective, the Trump administration is now proposing to eliminate $1.2 billion in grants for these programs. Providing nutrition to needy children is obviously a benefit in itself. On the other side of the globe, Manila archbishop Tagle has called for Catholics to participate in Fast2Feed, a program that provides nutritious meals to thousands of poor children in the Philippines. The faithful are encouraged not just to fast but also exercise acts of charity during the current Lenten season.

Above copied from the Philippine Star
For Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, true compassion is not asking its citizens to pay taxes for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC), a program according to Mulvaney, "does not work". In justifying the elimination of this after-school program, Mulvaney said:
"Let's talk about after-school programs generally. They're supposed to be educational programs, right? And that's what they're supposed to do, they're supposed to help kids who can't — who don't get fed at home, get fed so that they do better at school. Guess what? There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually doing that. There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually helping results, helping kids do better at school."
The problem with the Trump administration is its flagrant disregard of facts. There is evidence:
For the 2013-2014 academic school year, 9,556 centers received federal funding to implement the 21st CCLC grant. The majority of these were classified as school districts with community-based organizations following second. This program has served a total of over 2.2 million people and employed 116,845 paid and 31,054 volunteer staff. The majority of the paid staff were school day teachers and most of the volunteers were reported to be college students.

The inclusion of school day teachers as the primary means of staffing the program is a critical aspect to program success. Education professionals who can bridge the school day with out-of-school time staff the afterschool program. This best practice is a hallmark of high quality. The statistical results also support the value of this program. Both in mathematics and literacy/English, students showed improvement in achievement. This was further supported by teacher evaluations of student improvement both in achievement and behavior.

Over the past year this program served 1.8 million students across 54 states/territories. This translates to 1.8 million low-income students having a safe place to receive academic enrichment. This enrichment leads to improvement in achievement and behavior. In the long run these areas of improvement, as well as 21st CCLC students developing a positive relationship to school through their participation, means that these students are more likely to persist to graduation. The data and performance indicate that this broad reaching program touches students’ lives in ways that will have far reaching academic impact.
Yes, we can leave the obligation to care for the poor to the religious like the way they do in the Philippines. But our government is supposedly a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We are the government and obviously we can choose to take care of the needy. If Trump cuts funding to programs that help poor children in school, I hope we do understand that we indeed have made the choice. In Trump, we simply chose not to care anymore.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Why Do We Hold Onto Myths in Education

In a post I made years ago on this blog, Hooray! No More Trigonometry,  I wrote:
"...The Philippines is one country that is enslaved by superstitions and pre-enlightenment religion. In 2006, a meeting was held between leading Philippine scientists, the Department of Science and Technology, and members of the House Committee on Science and Technology. In that meeting, one congressman related the story of how a relative was trying to find a cure for cancer. According to the congressman, even scientists at the National Institutes of Health in the US had given up, but it turned out that the cure for cancer was drinking one's urine early in the morning. Apparently, according to that congressman, the urine that built up during one's sleep contained the remedy for cancer. And there was no response from any of the attendees of that meeting...."
Of course, I was among the attendees so I was likewise silent. I guessed I was shocked with what I heard that my mind basically froze. Myths such as this tend to linger because they are often not challenged. Stubborn myths are often untestable. I will not certainly volunteer anyone including myself to drink one's urine to prove or disprove such a hypothesis. Myths that are prevalent are also frequently held by people with authority and influence. In this case, it may not be wise to challenge a member of the legislature whose vote is needed to increase funding in the sciences.

If myths are stubborn in medicine where a much clearer relationship can be established between evidence and a hypothesis, the area of education is a much more fertile ground for unfounded beliefs. Unlike physicians who regularly read primary literature in their field, teachers, principals and education policy makers rarely read peer-reviewed publications in neuroscience and educational psychology. Instead, what frequently happens in the field of education is this.  Interventions are usually introduced in meetings or workshops by individuals who have the zeal to cure problems in education but are often lacking in scientific discipline. Consequently, interpretations of scientific reports are usually clouded with wishful thinking and the desire to help is intense enough to make the unscrutinized belief appear to be true. Such eagerness likewise propagates these misinterpretations as challenges are now perceived as threats. It is personal. Correcting such myths now will only yield resentment.

Years ago, Paul A. Howard-Jones wrote a perspective in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. In this article, a survey is presented showing how various neuromyths persist in education. Although there may be some cultural or even religious influences on how these myths linger, the persistence seems universal:

Above copied from
Nat Rev Neurosci. 2014 Dec;15(12):817-24. doi: 10.1038/nrn3817. Epub 2014 Oct 15.
Browsing through these popular myths brings one thing in common. Each one is significantly consequential. It makes a myth attractive if it is revolutional. Each one offers something dramatic. Each one is therefore tantalizing.

The most prevalent myth in the above table is "learning style". Nearly all of the teachers surveyed in five countries subscribe to the unsupported idea that students learn more effectively in their preferred learning style. In the Philippines, there is even a Center for Learning and Teaching Styles that actively advocates the Dunn and Dunn model. "Learning Styles" are indeed attractive, but as Pashler concludes:
There is growing evidence that people hold beliefs about how they learn that are faulty in various ways, which frequently lead people to manage their own learning and teach others in nonoptimal ways. This fact makes it clear that research—not intuition or standard practices—needs to be the foundation for upgrading teaching and learning. If education is to be transformed into an evidence-based field, it is important not only to identify teaching techniques that have experimental support but also to identify widely held beliefs that affect the choices made by educational practitioners but that lack empirical support. On the basis of our review, the belief that learning-style assessments are useful in educational contexts appears to be just that—a belief.
Some of these myths are also appealing since they contain half-truths. Take, for instance, drinking water. Dehydration is a very unhealthy condition so it is logical that being hydrated is important for learning but not drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water a day will cause our brains to shrink is clearly an exaggeration. Some of these myths are attractive since they offer great optimism. Being told that most of us only use ten percent of our brain does provide a huge room for improvement. Unfortunately, such idea is simply that, a blind optimism.

It is really difficult to get rid of myths in education because of so many reasons. It is imperative that a strong linkage be made between evidence-based research and education policy making as well as teaching practice. Sadly, even "evidence-based research" has now been used as a catchphrase to propagate some of these myths and only someone who is familiar with scientific literature can tell the difference. And unlike drinking urine, these misconceptions in education are not repulsive. Some are even highly appealing.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Why the Supreme Court in the Philippines Must Scrap K to 12

Although opposition to DepEd's K to 12 largely centers on the two additional years, a better reason to scrap the new curriculum is its glaring lack of support from research-based evidence. The new curriculum has been based on myths and misinterpretations of pedagogical theories. One of these myths is teaching children according to their individual learning style. The Philippines does not have experts in neuroscience so it must listen to the voice of leading researchers from other countries in this field. One such voice comes from eminent scientists in the United Kingdom: "Teachers must ditch 'neuromyth' of learning styles."

Above copied from The Guardian
Among those who signed the letter to The Guardian are scientist-educators in the United States:
  • Professor Steven Pinker, Johnstone family professor of psychology, Harvard University
  • Professor Hal Pashler, Distinguished professor of psychology, UC San Diego
Harold Pashler in 2009 chaired a review commissioned by the American Psychology Association to look specifically on the validity of learning styles. The review concluded:
"We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number. However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all possible versions of learning styles have been tested and found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all. Further research on the use of learning-styles assessment in instruction may in some cases be warranted, but such research needs to be performed appropriately."
The recent letter to The Guardian reiterates the findings made by this review. It cites the following as major problems with the "learning styles" approach.
  • There is no coherent framework of preferred learning styles. Usually, individuals are categorised into one of three preferred styles of auditory, visual or kinesthetic learners based on self-reports. One study found that there were more than 70 different models of learning styles including among others, “left v right brain,” “holistic v serialists,” “verbalisers v visualisers” and so on.  
  • Categorising individuals can lead to the assumption of fixed or rigid learning style, which can impair motivation to apply oneself or adapt.
  • Finally, and most damning, is that there have been systematic studies of the effectiveness of learning styles that have consistently found either no evidence or very weak evidence to support the hypothesis that matching or “meshing” material in the appropriate format to an individual’s learning style is selectively more effective for educational attainment.
Of course, underneath all of the above reasons is the fact that catering to "learning styles" draws too much resources. It is expensive and since it is a hoax, it is extremely wasteful and therefore damaging to an educational system as well as to teacher education.

Unfortunately, "learning styles" is adapted by DepEd's K to 12 curriculum:

 It is embedded in Republic Act 10533:
Make education learner-oriented and responsive to the needs, cognitive and cultural capacity, the circumstances and diversity of learners, schools and communities through the appropriate languages of teaching and learning, including mother tongue as a learning resource.

It is part of teacher training, as declared in a memorandum issued by the Commission on Higher Education (CMO no.52, s.2007):

Even the Science Education Institute of the Department of Science and Technology embraces the myth of "learning styles". In its Framework for Philippine Science Teacher Education, the following describes an effective science teacher:

This blog has also touched on this topic on several posts:
Rest assured though, this message will fall on deaf ears. That is why the title of this New York Times article sounds true:

Above copied from the New York Times
In the Philippines, "learning styles" have been institutionalized. One simply has to read the column of an education policy maker in the Philippines to see the dire situation of Philippine basic education:
In other words, there is no one correct way to teach something. Even in the classroom setting, we could lecture, have group discussions, simulate real-life situations, do cases, have exhibits, hold debates, dance, dramatize, sing, and so on. A good teacher, in fact, changes her or his mode of delivery or “teaching style” depending on the “learning styles” of students. It is not what the teacher is comfortable with that is important, but what the student prefers.

If education policy makers are ignorant of evidence-based research, what can one reasonably expect from lawmakers or even the justices of the Supreme Court. I am still hopeful though, hoping that the justices in the Philippines do the right thing for education in the Philippines.

Please listen....

Above copied from
Paul A. Kirschner, Stop propagating the learning styles myth, Computers & Education, Volume 106, March 2017, Pages 166-171, ISSN 0360-1315, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2016.12.006.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What Do My Grades Really Mean?

Going through school, we really have learned the ABC's. And I am not talking about the alphabet. I am talking about the letters commonly used for reporting our grades. Based on these grades, we are able to compare ourselves against each other. With grades, we leap into labeling each other as either "good" or "bad" student. We even go further by comparing grades we obtain in one subject against another subject. I got an 'A' in math but only a 'D' in reading so I must be 'smart' in mathematics. We have even gone to the far end of equating grades as requirements to either enter an exclusive school or getting a job. In reality, the letter grades do not really mean that much. An 'A' in math does not really tell us what a student has learned. Math is too broad of a category and unless we have access to the quizzes, exams, homework, and other tools that are incorporated in this final grade, we really cannot tell how much a student has learned. It is perplexing that we have basically equated grades to our identity, allowing these letters to shape who we think we are.

In basic education, there is indeed a need for a teacher to communicate to the parents how a child is progressing in school. This communication needs to be concise but also meaningful. My children currently attend martial arts classes at Master Dietrich's Karate in Burke, Virginia. Dietrich encourages his students to bring and share their report card. It is part of a "black belt attitude" training. Sharing report cards whether these are exemplary or not is important for a family, for a community. For bringing a report card, Dietrich gives an "attitude" stripe and when a student earns a new belt, the student that has the most "attitude" stripes receives a trophy.

Master Dietrich with my two children winning their trophies for attitude.
Dietrich pays close attention to the first part of the progress report. An example is shown below:

The report uses a numerical scale:

  • 4 -consistently demonstrates
  • 3 -usually demonstrates
  • 2 -sometimes demonstrates
  • 1 -seldom demonstrates

The above report card is an example of Standards Based Grading. First, it highlights the fact that each student is an individual learner. The marks are not cumulative and are not expected to be averaged. The students’ grades are representative of the student’s progress at the time the teacher writes the progress report. What is being graded is also made very clear. For each subject, this is likewise transparent. For instance, the following is an example for mathematics:

Surprisingly, Dietrich's Karate also works on a Standards Based Grading system. There are no "ABC's" or "123's" that need to be averaged. To advance, a student must demonstrate a technique that has been recently taught.

Standards Based Grading is evidently a more meaningful and understandable way of communicating a student's progress in school. It has also been shown to have "both higher correlations and higher mean scores and grades across the overall population and sub-groups" in a Colorado study. This is one area where the Department of Education in the Philippines is obviously way behind. While the new K to 12 curriculum is touted as "learner-centered, inclusive, developmentally appropriate, relevant, responsive, research-based, culture-sensitive, contextualized, global, constructivist, inquiry-based, reflective, collaborative and integrative"it still clings to the traditional grading system:

Above copied from DepEd Order 8 s.2015
The traditional grading system is really a facade. It does not really inform us of what a child has learned. All these grades do is to destroy the growth mindset that is necessary for students to thrive. Furthermore, it allows parents to compare their children against other children using a meaningless basis. It also teaches students to compare themselves against each other. It teaches nothing but wrong.

Above copied from Big Nate

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Streaming and Tracking in Basic Education

I am an alumnus of Manila Science High School. To be admitted to this school, students take an entrance examination and must have a grade of at least 85% in Mathematics, Science, and English subjects, and a grade of at least 83% in all other subjects. Once enrolled, there is a star section in each year. Forty students with the highest grade point average for each class are assigned to these star sections. I was in the star sections of Bohr and Einstein during my last two years of high school. My high school education is an example of both school streaming and class tracking. Entrance is limited to students with above average academic performance thus students with similar academic performance are grouped in one school (school streaming). And within each class, the top students are placed within one classroom (class tracking). These two ways of grouping similar students can indeed benefit instruction in basic education since it allows for lessons to be customized. However, there is the question of inequity especially when teachers are not randomnly assigned and resources are not equitably distributed among schools or classrooms. Since academic performance correlates with family income, homogeneity can happen in terms of socio-economic status in which rich children study in one school while those who are poor study in a different school. Extreme homogenity is therefore expected to lead to higher achievement gaps.

Above copied from Manila Science High School

A recent study scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology looks at the effects of streaming and tracking on reading performance in forty countries. The abstract is as follows:

Chiu, M. M., Chow, B. W.-Y., & Joh, S. W. (2017, March 6). Streaming, Tracking and Reading Achievement: A Multilevel Analysis of Students in 40 Countries. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000188

Grouping similar students together within schools (streaming) or classrooms (tracking) based on past literacy skills (reported by parents), family socioeconomic status (SES) or reading attitudes might affect their reading achievement. Our multilevel analysis of the reading tests of 208,057 fourth-grade students across 40 countries, and their parents’, teachers’, principals’, and their survey responses yielded the following results. Streaming was linked to higher reading achievement (consistent with customized instruction), but tracking was linked to lower reading achievement (consistent with more help opportunities). Students had higher reading achievement when classmates had stronger past literacy skills (suggesting sharing ideas) or extremely poor ones (help opportunities). Also, when classmates have higher family SES, students had higher reading achievement (suggesting sharing resources), with diminishing marginal returns. When classmates’ family SES differed more (more diversity), students with greater past literacy skills had higher reading achievement (Matthew effect). Lastly, when classmates had better reading attitudes, students with lower past literacy skills showed higher reading achievement (modeling, norms). When classmates’ reading attitudes differed more, students had higher reading achievement (contrasting cases), although extreme differences weakened this link (less homophily). These results suggest that streaming across schools and mixing of students within classrooms (by past achievement, family SES and reading attitudes) are linked to overall reading achievement.
At least, for reading achievement, it appears that streaming across schools is beneficial, but students need to be mixed within classrooms. Thus, based on this study, the idea of having Manila Science High School as a selective school is good, but the practice of having star sections in each class is not. In addition, the authors conclude, "These results also suggest avoiding extremes, where severe school streaming reduces help opportunities and sharp differences among classmates prevent customized instruction by higher achieving students."

Since I left the Philippines, there are now numerous science high schools in the country. Based on the TIMSS Advanced 2008 International Benchmarks of Mathematics, these schools are not performing well:


Aside from students from the Philippine Science High School (PSHS), students in other special science classes in the Philippines, unlike students from other countries, are not even reaching intermediate benchmark scores in mathematics. 

Streaming for a science high school aims to provide students with a challenging learning environment focused on math and the sciences. Unfortunately, a science high school has also been equated to being an elite and prestigious school. Worse, with DepEd's K to 12, the curriculum of Manila Science High School has dramatically changed, the following subjects have been removed according to Isaac Ali Tapar, president of the Manila Science High School Teachers Association:
  • Grade 8: Biology, Theoretic Research, Physical Sciences (Chemistry and Physics), Geometry and Intermediate Algebra; 
  • Grade 9: General Chemistry, Biotechnology & Research, Physics and Advanced Algebra; 
  • Grade 10, Introductory College Physics, Analytic Geometry and Introductory Calculus as well as Advanced Chemistry and Research.
Without a special science curriculum, a customized instruction, streaming no longer makes much sense. For this reason, a petition has been long filed by the parents of students in Manila Science High School before the Philippines Supreme Court. Sadly, after two years, there is still no response from the court:

Above copied from the Inquirer
The harm that DepEd's K to 12 has done to basic education sadly goes much farther than this. With the introduction of tracks, students are now being segregated within schools. It will just be a matter of time before the effects of demoralization and assimilation materialize. The Philippine basic education system will easily become a school system of self fulfilling prophecies and heightened inequity.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I Miss Classes in College and My Parents Are to Be Blamed

I taught at the Ateneo de Manila University for two years and during those years, I had only one student (out of more than 200) who missed class ten percent of the time. Attendance in the classes I taught, as well as in the courses I took when I was a student, was always close to being perfect. Missing lectures in higher education can have a huge impact on academic performance since for a course, there are usually only three lectures every week. It is thus only expected that attendance correlates strongly with grades. Back in 2009, Soto and Anand concluded "Our direct logistic regression showed that the most significant association for passing our Cell Biology course was perfect attendance." Attending a class of course is only the first step in taking responsibility for one's learning. Truancy therefore shows an immense lack of responsibility.

Basic education in the Philippines faces enormous challenges. One area is teacher quality. Thus, it is especially troubling to see low passing rates for the licensure exam for teaching. Only 33.78%, for instance, pass the exam for secondary teaching in September 2016. A paper by Revina Ortizano- Mendoza published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Multidisciplinary Research offers an insider's view at a teaching college in the Philippines. The paper, "Attendance and Parental Support: ItsInfluence to College Students’ AcademicPerformance" provides disturbing data regarding college education in the Philippines. About a hundred students have been randomly chosen for this study. The first important piece of data is attendance. Attendance rate is apparently very low, about 70%. Students' motivation is self-reported and for this measure, students claim that they are highly motivated. Students are also asked about their perception of the school climate and most regard their teachers and peers as highly supportive. Most rate the school rate very satisfactory, if not outstanding. The students in this study are from Lourdes College in Cagayan de Oro City in Southern Philippines.

Above copied from Lourdes College, Cagayan de Oro City

Someone who frequently misses classes in a teaching college is not likely to facilitate the learning process in the future inside a classroom with dedication, competence and compassion. Not surprising, less than half of Lourdes College graduates in Teacher Education pass the Licensure Exam for Teachers. Only 37% pass the elementary test and 43% pass the secondary in September 2016. Such poor performance is only expected with such high number of absences. Worse, more than ninety percent of these students cites low parental support. While students think they are highly motivated and they feel supported by the school, these students frequently miss class. And they blame their parents. Taking responsibility for one's learning is a very important academic skill. This will be impossible for teachers to teach if they have never learned to take such responsibilty themselves.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A March for Science

Scientists are not really in a privileged position to tell us what ought to be done. Science only reaches its conclusions by making careful observations and performing controlled experiments to test a hypothesis. Science works with data, not values. Evidence from science unfortunately is now increasingly either being ignored or even distorted by policy makers. A precarious situation is therefore unfolding across the globe in which we rationalize instead of reason. On April 22, 2017, a March for Science has been organized in various places to demonstrate what science really is and why we need to nurture and safeguard the scientific community.

Above copied from
 The march has been organized in various cities across the world.

Above copied from
However, there is no march scheduled in the Philippines. It is worth noting that chemists in the Philippines have been recently active in voicing out against a bill that has been approved in Congress.

Above copied from the
The issue at hand are provisions in the bill that "equate dangerous  drugs with precursor and essential chemicals". Precursors and essential chemicals have not been clearly defined in the bill and as chemists point, these include a large of number of compounds that are not solely intended for the manufacture of dangerous drugs. The chemists are therefore asking legislators to consult with experts when drafting laws before they wreak havoc on industry, agriculture, health, education and research. Whether legislators in the Philippines will actually heed this call remains to be seen. Lawmaking in the Philippines recently has not been guided by science. On the other hand, there is a senator, a world boxing champion, who often quotes the bible:

Pacquiao says Bible allows 'responsible mining'

What often divides the public from scientists is the public not knowing how scientists work. This is understandable since there are not that many scientists so the chances of someone personally knowing well a scientist are quite small. This is true not just in the Philippines but also in the United States. This gap can be easily seen in how the public has a high regard for scientists:

Americans trust scientists, but, at the same time, most Americans have opinions different from those held by a majority of scientists.

There is indeed a huge disconnect. And the gap is as fundamental as not understanding the nature of science and how science works. Perhaps, we likewise need a "March for Education". But that may not work either. We rationalize too much that even in our search for knowledge, we only pick those that support what we already believe. What we need is a "March for We May Be Wrong" because that is how science really works. Only with that acknowledgement can we really see the evidence right before our eyes.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It Is Not That Easy to Switch to a Growth Mindset

Students are supposed to grow inside classrooms. This is what education means yet we often fail in instilling a growth mindset in our students. There maybe a simple reason: We continue to treat students according to what we perceive as their talents or abilities. We act as if we have a crystal ball and can predict who will excel and who will struggle in school, and then treat students accordingly. As a result, we actually force our predictions to happen. We talk about the importance of effort and strategies yet most of our actions often focus on what we can already see instead of what we can achieve. Our students are unable to develop a growth mindset simply because we keep treating them with a fixed mindset. We can easily talk about a growth mindset, but actually having a growth mindset guide our decision, our teaching, our action, is a different story. And if we do not change how we act in our classrooms and how we perceive and treat our students, "growth mindset" will simply remain a sound bite.

The website Thoughtful Learning lists in the following table several phrases through which we emphasize a fixed mindset.  It also lists alternatives that support a growth mindset.

Thoughtful Learning
then proceeds in suggesting an "easy 5-step process to fostering a growth mindset in your classroom".
  • Believe it
  • Teach it
  • Model it
  • Nourish it
  • Assess it.
Of course, the above is nothing but easy. Most of us grew up being told of how important talents are. That does not change easily. And it is apparently more difficult when we are aware that we do have talents. This does not only apply to adults but also to students who are currently doing well in school.

The following is a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology:

The following graph, which shows the personality mindset scores, a measure of a student's beliefs of personality changeability, clearly demonstrate that improvements in mindset beliefs are quite fleeting:

Above copied from
Orosz G, Péter-Szarka S, Bothe B, Tóth-Király I and Berger R (2017) How Not to Do a Mindset Intervention: Learning from a Mindset Intervention among Students with Good Grades. Front. Psychol. 8:311. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00311

Peter DeWitt, I think, correctly identifies the problem with the following:
The problem with the growth mindset, and why it's sometimes a low-hanging fruit, is that school leaders and teachers do a book study on it, but their practices really don't change as much as their monologue does. Talking about a growth mindset is easy, but having one is harder than we may think. We are all guilty of having a fixed mindset at the same time we are touting that we should have a growth one.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Day Without Women

Today is International Women's Day. For some, it is "A Day Without Women". Schools in Alexandria City, Virginia are closed because 300 teachers have requested leave. At least, parents have been given notice a day in advance. Still, it is difficult for parents who have no access to instant childcare. Elementary schools are indeed the best places to feel what happens when women do not go to work. Almost ninety percent of primary school teachers in the United States are female.  The same holds true for the Philippines. The teachers I had when I was in elementary school are all women. I would not be going to class then if we had "A Day Without Women".

Above copied from WJLA
The first teacher I had who was male was in high school. I had male instructors for two subjects: physical education and practical arts. Of course, the contrast was really striking when I entered college. Most of the teachers I had at the Ateneo de Manila University were male. The situation in the United States is similar, only about a third of tenured and tenure-track professors in PhD granting institutions are women.

Primary school teachers obviously are as important as university professors. After all, they are the ones that really prepare us for higher education. Nonetheless, women have been at the frontiers of human knowledge and have been influential leaders in this world. On this day, it is indeed timely for the website of the Nobel Prize to assemble the video below. These women have changed the world like the primary school teachers who have helped us grow.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Outcome Based Education in Chemistry

More than twenty years ago, Bruno Manno wrote in Outcome-Based Education. Has It Become More Affliction than Cure?, "Although having adopted, in general principle, a focus on results, many educators have proceeded to promote vague outcomes emphasizing values, attitudes and behaviors often reflecting quasi-political and ideologically correct positions -- rather than knowledge, skills and other cognitive academic outcomes." Outcome Based Education, of course, is another favorite catchphrase of both the Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) in the Philippines. How closely Manno's comments apply as well to these education agencies in the Philippines is quite remarkable as seen in a paper in the Asia Pacific Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, a journal published by the Lyceum University in the Philippines. The paper lists competency, credibility, commitment and collaboration as learning outcomes. In this list, it is quite obvious that knowledge, skills and other cognitive outcomes no longer form the majority of the output we want to see from education.

"Implementation of a Proposed Model of a Constructivist Teaching-Learning Process – A Step Towards an Outcome Based Education in Chemistry Laboratory Instruction", a paper written by Paz Reyes of the Lyceum of the Philippines University, Batangas City, proposes a model of instruction for chemistry depicted in the following figure:

Above copied from
Implementation of a Proposed Model of a Constructivist Teaching-Learning Process–A Step Towards an Outcome Based Education in Chemistry Laboratory Instruction
PB Reyes
Asia Pacific Journal of Multidisciplinary Research| Vol 1 (1)
There is nothing inherently wrong with the seven goals listed for science laboratory instruction. The assessments employed and the analysis of the learning outcomes, however, paint a largely different picture, one that points to a profoundly disconcerting status of chemistry education in the country. Since outcomes have been laid out in terms of the 4 C's: competency, credibility, commitment and collaboration, assessments are geared toward measuring these.

Credibility is measured by students' self reporting of behavior and attitude:
  • I do not manipulate the results of an experiment just to get a high grade in the report
  • I never practice plagiarism in submitting research works
  • During examinations, I never copy from my seatmates
  • When doing assignments, I do it myself, I do not rely on the assignment of others
  • I use my own imagination and creativity in doing scientific investigations
Most of students say they agree, including the fifth one, using their own imagination and creativity. One sentence in the paper quickly invalidates this answer:
"The responses of the students on the teaching strategy of their chemistry laboratory instructor that they like most are: the thorough discussion of the procedure before the experiment and giving the expected result...."
For commitment, students are asked whether they agree to the following:
  • Learning chemistry requires a serious effort and special talent
  • If I am having trouble in chemistry, I try to figure out why
  • I have a real desire to learn chemistry
  • I put enough effort into learning chemistry
  • I am willing to master the knowledge and skills in chemistry course
Requiring a special talent goes in the wrong direction of commitment and most students strongly agree with the first statement demonstrating that they actually believe that chemistry in meant only for a selected few, those who have some sort of "chemistry" talent.

The students also appear to be quite "collaborative" as they agree with most of the following:
  • Enjoys working with the team 
  • Tries to get other team members involved
  • Responds calmly to others
  • Questions other’s task ideas constructively
  • Presents ideas about how to work on the task
The above results, taken from eighty five students taking a biochemistry course at the Lyceum of the Philippines University, Batangas City, surely suggest that in terms of credibility, commitment and collaboration, the students are passing with flying colors. Unfortunately, these are all bogus measures. One simply has to look at the competency measures to see a failing education in chemistry:
36 out of the 85 student-respondents or 42.40% got a score below 13 in the Science Process Skills Test and were identified to have little competence in cognitive skills.
Nearly two out of ten students cannot "measure exact volume of liquids with a pipette or with a graduated cylinder". This is a disaster especially when one considers that this is a biochemistry course and not an introductory course in chemistry in high school. These students have gone through General and Organic Chemistry.

What is even more troubling is that the paper even attempts to show that through their instruction, there has been progress:

Above copied from
Implementation of a Proposed Model of a Constructivist Teaching-Learning Process–A Step Towards an Outcome Based Education in Chemistry Laboratory Instruction
PB Reyes
Asia Pacific Journal of Multidisciplinary Research| Vol 1 (1)
First of all, what is being compared above are pretest and posttest results. The use of a p-value is only valid if the students have been divided into two groups: one control and one for the study, and postests between these two are then compared. Reyes writes,
"Based from the result, the obtained computed value of 7.942 is greater than the critical value and the resulted p-value of 0.000 is less than 0.05 level of significance, thus the hypothesis of no significant improvement on the cognitive skills given on pre and post test is rejected. This means that there is a significant difference and implies that there is an improvement in the student learning outcomes during the implementation of the constructivist model of teaching-learning process. This was also revealed by the mean value of the two test conducted."
First, the mean score going up from 12.3 to 14.0 in a 25-point exam, in which 17 is the passing score, is not an improvement. Second, a significant difference test is used only when comparing two methods of instruction. One cannot use this for pretest versus posttest. I sincerely hope that no instruction in the world would show scores going down between a pretest and a posttest.

If education policy makers in the Philippines are informed by poor studies such as this, it is no longer a mystery why both basic and higher education in the Philippines are facing enormous challenges.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Social and Academic Growth in Young Children

The goal of basic education especially in the early years is to support both the emotional and academic growth of children. Children who have adjusted to school life are more likely to do well in school academically. However, although these two areas of growth are expected to go hand-in-hand, in reality, social and academic growth seem quite independent of each other. For instance, during the past decade, early childhood education has significantly expanded in the United States and a recent report publiched in the journal Educational Researcher shows that children entering kindergarten in 2010 demonstrate higher math and reading skills than those who entered in 1998. However, children in 2010 do not demonstrate better behavioral outcomes than those in 1998.

Above copied from
Kids Today: The Rise in Children’s Academic Skills at Kindergarten EntryBassock, D. and Latham, S. Kids Today: The Rise in Children’s Academic Skills at Kindergarten Entry. Educational Researcher Vol. XX No. X, pp. 1-14 (February 2017). Washington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association.

One can suggest of course that pre-K teachers maybe spending more time on helping children to read and do math than supporting their social and emotional growth. Another reason is that behavioral growth requires physical activity and interaction with peers. A review of literature made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that recess, for example, is associated with positive outcomes in attention/concentration as well as on-task behavior:

Above copied from
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The association between school based physical activity, including physicaleducation, and academic performance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010. 
Thus, it is possible that more time is being dedicated to academic growth at the expense of unstructured and structured play, which leads to a neglect of the emotional growth of children. Another possible reason is the teacher factor. There is obviously a difference between helping children grow emotionally and helping children read and do math. A study published in the journal Sociology of Education finds that "teachers who produce better than average academic results are not always the same teachers who excel in enhancing social and behavioral skills." This study also adds that teachers who are best able to help grow emotionally are often those "who have greater experience and the highest level of certification".

Both social and academic growth are important for young children. It is therefore imperative not to sacrifice one for the other. A heavy emphasis on standardized testing in math and reading can greatly diminish opportunities for children to develop socially and emotionally in school. The data on preschool education shows that we may be accelerating the rate at which our children learn to read, add and subtract, but we are not helping them with their social and emotional needs.

Friday, March 3, 2017

"I Can Do a Better Job"

When the main issue behind a problem is incompetence, the solution is someone else perhaps can do a better job. Incompetence, although common, is not often at the heart of the major problems society currently faces. It is foolish then that most of the time society confronts a challenge, we simply resort to replacing the person in charge. The cure to most of the ills society currently faces can not really come from a competition for leadership but from a genuine collaboration. We fail to acknowledge the fact that the solutions require all of us and simply replacing the person on top does not really address the problem. We see this often in politics.

Above copied from ABS-CBN News

But we are seeing the same in basic education. The current president of the United States, Donald Trump, and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, are both strongly advocating school choice. Deep in this advocacy is a misguided belief that simply changing the personnel in a school solves problems in basic education. This is grossly misguided because basic education suffers from factors outside the school. A charter school can only be the answer to the problems basic education faces if principals and teachers in public schools are the main causes of problems in basic education.

Fairfax county, where I live, is widely known as a place where charter schools have not sprouted. Jay Mathews of the Washington Post even wrote an article years ago with the title, "Fairfax charter school: An impossible dream?" That dream may actually come true with a bill just waiting to be signed into law.

Above copied from the Washington Post

In Virginia, local school boards currently have the authority to veto charter schools in their communities. The bill waiting for the governor's signature allows the"Virginia Board of Education to create new regional public charter school divisions with the power to approve new charter schools in areas of the state with persistently low educational performance." Charter schools go along the same vein as "I can do a better job". It is a simplistic view that failing schools should be replaced by private schools and that such replacement will solve the problem. It is a misguided hope that in the face of competition or threat of extinction, schools will improve. The problems basic education faces, like any other major societal issues, are far more complex than people not doing a good job.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

When We Think We Know What We Do Not Know

Intuition is our ability to understand something immediately without conscious reasoning. Intuition is shaped by our experiences. As a child grows, intuition is influenced by peers and elders. Thus, when a child enters a classroom, that child does not have an empty mind. We have recently and increasingly acknowledge the important role preschool years play on basic education. Children who were provided greater opportunities for exploration and play enter kindergarten more prepared. We do not really begin with a clean slate in basic education. Children begin school with some knowledge. Oftentimes, we see this as an advantage. However, this can also be a hindrance for learning especially for the sciences.

For instance, we often neglect water pollution. Nives Dolšak and Aseem Prakash cite one reason:
Water pollution is less visible. Of course, water is key to human existence. But one important insight is that water pollution often is not visible and therefore is overlooked. Citizens tend to focus on problems they can see and experience.
There are a lot of pollutants in water that are not visible to the naked eye and this of course clashes with our quick judgment that water is clean if it appears clear and colorless. Biology, like chemistry, is also affected by what students think they already know. And intuition can serve as a huge obstacle to learning. The theory of evolution, central to modern biology, frequently goes against what we have learned from our own limited experiences. Evolution takes place on a time scale that is obviously longer than our life span making the concept quite difficult to grasp. Coley and coworkers have worked on analyzing how our intituitive thinking is affected by learning biology. Their work has been published in the journal Cognitive Psychology with the major finding that intuitive thinking is so persistent that it should really be considered as a major challenge in science education:

Intuitive biological thought: Developmental changes and effects of biology education in late adolescence 
John D. Coley,Melanie Arenson, Yian Xu, Kimberly D. Tanner 
Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, United States, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, United States, San Francisco VA Medical Center, United States, Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, United States
A large body of cognitive research has shown that people intuitively and effortlessly reason about the biological world in complex and systematic ways. We addressed two questions about the nature of intuitive biological reasoning: How does intuitive biological thinking change during adolescence and early adulthood? How does increasing biology education influence intuitive biological thinking? To do so, we developed a battery of measures to systematically test three components of intuitive biological thought: anthropocentric thinking, teleological thinking and essentialist thinking, and tested 8th graders and university students (both biology majors, and non-biology majors). Results reveal clear evidence of persistent intuitive reasoning among all populations studied, consistent but surprisingly small differences between 8th graders and college students on measures of intuitive biological thought, and consistent but again surprisingly small influence of increasing biology education on intuitive biological reasoning. Results speak to the persistence of intuitive reasoning, the importance of taking intuitive knowledge into account in science classrooms, and the necessity of interdisciplinary research to advance biology education. Further studies are necessary to investigate how cultural context and continued acquisition of expertise impact intuitive biology thinking.
As mentioned in the above abstract, the researchers specifically looked at three components of intuitive biological thought: anthropocentric, teleological and essentialist thinking. Anthropocentric thinking, from the name, implies placing ourselves at the center of biology, that is, we use ourselves as the foundation for understanding biological concepts. We place ourselves apart from other species in the process. Teleological thinking always requires a goal or purpose for every event or existence. With this, we often incorrectly attribute natural occurences as purposedful events, like the sun shines for flowers to bloom, which is really no different from claiming that it rains when a political party that we do not like is holding a rally. Essentialist thinking is overgeneralization in the face of complexity. It is normal for us to assume that children are no more than carbon copies of their parents. All three can easily be seen as a major hindrance to understanding the theory of evolution. I have heard from a lot of people that they would never accept the theory that we humans and other primates share the same ancestors.

Clearly, how much a child uses intuitive thinking in biology can be measured. An example used by the researchers is a test on similarity, below is an example:
Of the following, which two are more similar biologically?
Choosing the pig and hen as the answer is an anthropocentric response. Both pig and human are mammals, both give birth to live young, both nurse their young with milk. A hen is obviously different from these two yet with a conviction that humans are unique from animals, we will always pick the two non humans as the answer in this type of questions. Amazingly, even biology majors think in an anthropocentric way given the following results:

Above copied from Coley et al, 2017
Students were given five questions similar to the example shown above and anthropocentric thinking is demonstratively present. Eight graders, colleges students, and even biology majors think that the human species is unique and should be set apart from other animals.

The above does illustrate a major challenge in science education. Yes, we do often complain about how children are not prepared to read and do arithmetic when they are young, but as they grow, science educators have to deal with the difficulty of making students unlearn what they think they know about science. And it is not easy and as the above results show; even those who receive direct college-level instruction on biology cannot easily unlearn.