What Does Research Say About Policies in Basic Education

William J. Mathis of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder has recently published a policy brief, "Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking ", a 10-part review of several education policy issues, examining closely how these policies are supported by scholarly research. In the first installment, the three policies discussed are teacher evaluation, common core standards, and preschool education. Although these policies are very relevant in the US since these are among the pressing issues public school education the developed country faces, the insights or findings are equally relevant to the Philippines, a country that is trying so hard to fix its basic education system.

The following include excerpts from Mathis' article:
On Teacher Evaluation:
Teacher quality is among the most important within-school factors affecting student achievement. However, research also suggests that teacher differences account for no more than about 15% of differences in students’ test score outcomes. Other school factors such as class size reduction and adequate, focused funding are also research-based ways to improve education. Further, non-school factors, which are generally associated with parental education and wealth, are far more important determinants of students’ test scores.

Mathis emphasizes that teacher evaluation must be first and foremost a tool that can guide a teacher on how to improve teaching. Secondly, teaching involves a diverse set of roles such that gauging teaching effectiveness cannot be simply reduced to test scores. At the school level, research points out to a great need for good teacher evaluators. It is within this context that the jobs of school heads and supervisors are crucial to the success of a school.

On Common Core State Standards:
  • The adoption of a set of standards and assessments, by themselves, is unlikely to improve learning, increase test scores, or close the achievement gap
  • The nation’s “international economic competitiveness” is unlikely to be affected by the presence or absence of national standards.
  • Children learn when they are provided with high-quality and equitable educational opportunities. Investing in ways that enhance these opportunities shows the greater promise for addressing the nation’s education problems.

The Philippines' DepEd's K to 12 puts a lot of faith in its new curriculum when research clearly shows that standards and assessments are the least significant factors in education outcomes. Equity and quality are so much more important and as long as these are ignored, problems in Philippine basic education will continue.

Program quality is absolutely critical. While no one factor can be considered determinative, the key program quality elements include:
  •  Small class sizes and ratios – 20 or fewer children, with two adults.
  • Well trained, adequately compensated and qualified teachers.
  • Strong links to social and health services.
  • Attention to families’ needs, including wrap-around child care.
  • Adequate and appropriate supplies and materials.
  • Appropriate and sufficient indoor and outdoor space.
  •  A mix of child-initiated and teacher directed activities with substantial time for individualized and small-group interactions.

Mathis is examining here preschool education. But the elements remain the same with kindergarten which the Philippines has made compulsory in its new K to 12 curriculum. Again, requiring kindergarten is only the first step. It does not accomplish the job if quality is absent. The current implementation of kindergarten education in the Philippines fails miserably with the above quality elements in mind. Class sizes are not small, twenty five pupils with one adult is more than twice the ratio cited above. Kindergarten teachers in the Philippines are not adequately compensated. Kindergarten in the Philippines is not full day - it can therefore not provide social and health services to the children. Classrooms are lacking and everything is insufficient. The sad part is that this level of education is the cheapest and has the highest return on investment. Instead, the Philippines extends itself further into two additional years in high school, sacrificing quality for quantity. It is clear that the Philippines does not have the resources. Therefore, the Philippines even has better reason to focus on policies in education that have much higher returns.

The entire report that includes the above three sections can be found at http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/options