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Do Teachers Really Matter?

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A study in Texas shows that Teach for America (TFA) is making a significant difference in the learning outcomes of students in basic education. Beth Hawkins of T74 reports that students taught by TFA members perform significantly better in eight subjects that include math, science and English. The only subject in which no positive impact is observed is reading. The comparison is made against students taught by teachers who were not affiliated with TFA. Presumably, these are teachers who went through the traditional route of training and education.


Although TFA lists the following minimum requirements:

In order to be considered for admission to the TFA corps, you must have abachelor’s degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.50 and U.S. citizenship, national/legal resident status, or be a DACA recipient. 

One can assume that TFA places a premium on academic excellence. One simply has to look at the tips the TFA website provides to applicants:


Although, it may seem encouraging to see th…

Why Advanced Academics Should Be Provided to All

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What students learn in a classroom obviously depends on instruction. Resources can definitely influence effectiveness of instruction. For these reasons, both curriculum and infrastructure can undermine equity in basic education. Parents know this so when they try to get the best opportunity for their children, they are not merely acting based on vanity. Differences in opportunities are the main drivers of gaps in achievement. We see this in early childhood education. Young children raised in families that can afford enriching activities are often better prepared when they enter kindergarten. Inequity is not just a perception. It is real and it has consequences. Thus, when school children are provided different curricula and different resources, we simply should not expect similar outcomes. This is why it is important that advanced academics be provided to all and research supports this.

The most recent example from research is teaching early algebra. In real life, students are first s…

Teachers Are Role Models

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"There were a million black boys last year who wanted to play basketball in the NBA. Of that million only 400,000 will even make it to play high school ball. Of that 400,000 only 4,000 will make it to play college ball. Of that 4,000 only 35 will make it to the NBA. Of that 35, only 7 start. And the average life in the NBA is 4 years. So the real problem is that we have a million brothers looking for seven full time jobs that last 4 years and yet last year we had 100,000 jobs available to be a computer programmer, engineer or doctor and only 1,000 brothers qualified. So our appeal to black males is to realize the odds, that which you do the most is that which you will do best. ... So we have the ability in either math or science or music and sports. That which you do most, is that which you do best. If you play basketball from 3 o'clock to 9 o'clock you will be a very good basketball player. If you went home and went to the library you would be a good scholar. We need mor…

Honesty Versus Competence

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"Donald Trump won the electoral college against most predictions. Looking at the voters’ pre-election evaluations of the candidates on key characteristics, we discover that most voters generally perceived Trump as more honest and trustworthy but less competent than Clinton." This is what Fabio Galeottia and Daniel John Zizzo wrote in their paper, "Identifying voter preferences: The trade-off between honesty and competence". The authors did note that although Trump won in electoral votes, Clinton won the popular vote. Is competence more important then for voters? While Galeottia and Zizzo worked on an experiment involving college students to find what is more important to voters and found that in this specific study, voters tend toward honesty, one must note the fact that even in this seemingly homogeneous group of voters, it is still plausible to categorize voters into the following groups: ‘Profit-maximizing’, ‘Absolute competence’, ‘Absolute honesty’ , ‘Relative …

The Problem Is Not the Curriculum

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After citing current disheartening data for basic education in the Philippines, senator Gatchalian asked for a review of DepEd's K to 12 curriculum. Here we go again. This is exactly the perspective that brings us farther from actually addressing the problems of elementary and high schools in the country. The solution does not lie in the curriculum. The solution requires that we transform the schools into genuine teaching and learning institutions. For these, resources are needed. These should be provided first. Second, we must embrace the fact that instructors need to be empowered so that they can become effective teachers of our children. A curriculum obviously cannot address these two important steps.


Resources cost money so we should not waste any more funds that do not really address the problem. There is no other way to solve shortages in education. These needs simply must be met.

It may sound as an overused idiom, but effective teachers do not really grow on trees. Genuine …

DepEd's K to 12 Initial Results

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This blog started about seven years ago. One of its first posts was an opinion article I wrote and was previously published by the Philippine Star. In that article, I emphasized that DepEd's K to 12 was not the solution to the problems plaguing basic education in the Philippines. Now, the initial results are out and the outcomes are dismal. Scores in the National Achievement Tests are down, passing rates in the licensure exams for teachers are now at their lowest level, and employment data indicate that high school graduates are unable to find work.


Senator Gatchalian, a staunch supporter of K to 12 during its initial implementation, shared these grim outcomes recently. In his presentation, he shows how scores in the national assessment for both grades 6 and 10 have dropped since the implementation of DepEd's K to 12:


Gatchalian also mentions that it is now far easier to become a lawyer, citing that the current passing rate for teachers is only 27 percent.



This comparison, by …

Facts Before Critical Thinking

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"Factual knowledge must precede skill" is one of the guiding cognitive principles that Willingham uses in his book, "Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers". The reason behind this principle is simple: How can one think if there is nothing to think about. There is an ongoing disdain for facts retrieval practice in basic education. A popular mantra is "to teach children how to think and not what to think". Obviously, simply forcing students to memorize a set of facts is not sound education. It is, however, only with background knowledge can a mind begin to make connections, analyze, and construct new knowledge. Teaching facts is important. I think the real problem is we often lack direction or purpose when we teach facts. What facts should we teach our students? And as Willingham notes, "This question often becomes politically charged rather quickly". In the Philippines, this becomes all so real as illustrated in the f…