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When Our Actions Defeat Our Intentions

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Vikas Mehrotra reminds us of the story of the "cobra effect" in a Freakonomics radio podcast. The story is an anecdote from the time India was a colony of Britain. The British wanted to address the large number of venomous snakes in India, but in the process of incentivizing the killing of cobras, the population of these venomous snakes actually increased. The reward for killing a cobra led to breeding of cobras for the sole purpose of collecting a reward later. When the British found that the program was being abused, the reward system stopped, and the breeders were forced to release their snakes into the wild. Such is an example of a perverse effect as predicted by the law of unintended consequences. Our intentions are more than often noble, but we must keep ourselves vigilant with the actions we choose to take.

The previous post on this blog talks about the disparity based on socio-economic status of advanced academic programs between schools in Fairfax county in Virginia…

The Advanced Academic Program of Fairfax County Public Schools

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The Institute for Educational Achievement has just released an advanced reading copy of a report entitled "AMERICA AGREES: PUBLIC ATTITUDES TOWARDS GIFTED EDUCATION". The report is a "compilation of results from a national opinion poll assessing the general public’s understanding of and attitudes towards gifted education". One major finding of the poll is that the American public has a good grasp of what "gifted" means, and how this greatly differs from a "high achieving" student. This distinction is reflected in the following items the poll includes: Gifted students are rare, and gifted students need special programs. In the poll, gifted students are considered different from high-achieving students. High-achieving students are often characterized as students with "Guts, Resilience, Initiative and Tenacity (GRIT)". In addition, a supermajority of Americans agree that giftedness is not associated with family income. In Fairfax county, …

Do Not Use the Word "Trash": A Lesson On Water Pollution

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Last night, I happened to browse through my son's study guide in his seventh grade class on Investigations in Environmental Science. The topic was eutrophication and the guide was asking my son to describe in his own words water pollution. The guide specifically stated not to use the word "trash". "Trash" does seem a general word and perhaps, it is time for my son to use specific terms. Not using "trash" may also help my son appreciate the fact that water pollutants responsible for eutrophication are often invisible to the naked eye. Water pollutants in the form of floating objects are of course easy to spot, but invisible ones, like nutrients from fertilizers, may easily be the factor that turns a living lake into a dead one. Years ago, in the town where my mother was born, I helped the local administration initiate a wastewater management project. The project faced strong opposition and perhaps, part of the reason was most people in the town had nev…

What Research in Education Badly Needs

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This semester, with great help from my teaching colleagues, General Chemistry is now taught at Georgetown with an overarching narrative, a story that binds and embraces all the topics covered. Chemistry is all about atoms - this is how we explain matter and all of its properties. Thus, even with a myriad of research publications showing up every year from chemists, some of which may end up gathering dust in libraries or go unbrowsed on the internet, these papers can still serve as foundations for future work for these not only contain descriptive observations and stand-alone guesses, but have gone through the test of either fitting in an established theory, or refining or even changing an existing one based on evidence. Myths have a much smaller chance of survival in the field of chemistry now since both the past and future are considered, and fads are then easily identified for these are simply not sustainable. A chemist cannot really cling on an idea just because it sounds appealing…

Excellence Gap versus Excellence Shortage

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Lack of equity is a problem different from lack of excellence. The National Association of Gifted Children in its position statement on excellence gaps declares, "Closing excellence gaps is both a social-­equity issue and a workforce development issue that carries national competitiveness and security implications." There is nothing inherently wrong in this statement. However, it detracts us from the central issue of equity. The workforce development issue is in fact less clear since it is really difficult to gauge whether the United States is lacking in talent or not. Excellence shortage is a matter of opinion. Lack of equity, on the other hand, is based on evidence.

The graph below provided by an article published in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning shows vividly the excellence gap.


These are the percentages of students by race and year that have received a GPA of 3.0 or better at the University of Virginia. While at least eighty percent of Asian and White Americans…

Born in August - More Likely to Have ADHD

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I was a senior in college when I was 19 years old. I was therefore young compared to most of my peers. Back in first grade when conduct was part of the report card, I should just say that my rating under the subject left a lot to be desired. This continued even in the later years of elementary school where my math grade approached 100% while my conduct grade was stranded at 78%, with 75% as the passing mark. At least, I passed. Imagining myself as a student in an elementary school here in the United States makes me wonder if I would actually be more likely referred to an evaluation for some condition such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Perhaps, I would. There is a study that just came out in the New England Journal of Medicine that goes through data on children in the US who were born in the period from 2007 through 2009 and were followed through December 2015. The paper's very interesting finding is that "rates of diagnosis and treatment of ADHD are high…

"Treating All High School Students Equally"

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“To be clear, the Court is not saying that petitioners are not gifted, contrary to their claims. The Court is merely saying that the K to 12 Law was not infirm in treating all high school students equally. The Manila Science High School students are, after all, high school students just like all other students who are, and will be, subjected to the revised curriculum,” the Supreme Court of the Philippines stated in its ruling upholding the constitutionality of the country's K-12 curriculum. Equity, however, does not mean equality, and an effective education is one that responds to student's needs. The previous post on this blog, Focusing on What a Child Needs in Basic Education, talks about the problem of labeling children without actually addressing the needs of each child. This statement from the court is a very good example of how we terribly miss the central point of education.

It does catch my attention whenever my alma mater, Manila Science High School, appears on the ne…