Showing posts from 2013

Another Year, Another Chance

The year 2013 is about to end. Another year has gone by. While it is usually the time to reflect on how to make things better, it is also en excellent opportunity to look back.

"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 

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.” - Brad Paisley

These two quotes crystallize the intersection between past and future. That point is always the day at hand, the present. This blog has gone through another year. This is a blog that shares findings from research on education as well as aspirations for the years to come. 

Massive Open Online Course: Only 4 Percent Kept Coming to Class

Here is a figure and a table relating Northwestern's Youngman's MOOC experience. This was about a course offered on Coursera called “Understanding Media by Understanding Google”. (These are copied from "Thousands of People Sign Up for Online Classes They Never End Up Taking", The Atlantic, 21 November 2013)

Education and Earnings

Here are two graphs from the Hamilton Projectby Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney. In the US, it still pays to have some college education.

Girls and Physics

Statistics informs. The usefulness of the information depends however on the analysis. Oftentimes, important trends may be buried under an aggregate. For example, a gender gap clearly exists in the fields of science and engineering in the United States. Data compiled by the National Science Foundation (excerpts are shown in a previous article in this blog) show that the percentage of females in these fields is lower than the percentage of females in the general population. By examining the data more closely, additional and more specific trends can be discovered as illustrated in "Not Lack of Ability but More Choice: Individual and Gender Differences in Choice of Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics" in which the authors concluded:
"Our study provides evidence that it is not lack of ability that causes females to pursue non-STEM careers, but rather the greater likelihood that females with high math ability also have high verbal ability and thus can…

All I Want for Christmas...

by John H. Thomas This is a repost from Chicago Theological Seminary's blog of Rev. John H. Thomas.

While the old holiday song suggests that children might want two front teeth for Christmas, this year I’d like to suggest an alternative: “All I want for Christmas is a teacher.” Sunday’s New York Times* reported the stark impact of the recent recession on schools, namely, the massive loss of public school teachers since 2008. According to Labor Department statistics, public schools across the country employ 250,000 fewer people today than they did prior to the recession. Meanwhile, pupil enrollment has grown by 800,000 students. To maintain pre-recession staffing ratios, public schools nation-wide would have had to add 132,000 jobs.

Chicago Theological Seminary's blog of Rev. John H. Thomas
What does this look like in the classroom? In Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a declining steel town forty miles outside of Philadelphia, the professional workforce of 600 prior to the recession …

Kindergarten Is Now Grade One?

This is a sequel to "Kindergarten is not daycare". Jill Walston of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) has prepared an excellent set of slides showing data regarding how kindergarten education in the United States has changed over one decade. The changes are dramatic and these are captured in the following figures (copied without permission from Walston presentation).

The first figure shows how much kindergarten teachers' perception has changed. A greater majority now expects kindergarten children to learn how to read.

Kindergarten in the US is now mostly full day programs.

With this increase in hours, however, subjects like music and art have not gained additional slots in a kindergarten child's schedule. Worse, times when children are offered art and music have decreased.

Consequently, preschool is now viewed differently by teachers.

The focus on math and reading is disconcerting. It clearly shows the emphasis on these subjects because these are covered by h…

Naughty Or Nice?

Naughty or nice? It is not that easy when it comes to evaluating teachers.

Early this year, the Philippines' Department of Education (DepEd) through Order No. 12 s. 2013 established a performance-based bonus system for public school teachers. This system is based primarily on students' test scores in the National Achievement Exam, the school's dropout rates, and proper liquidation of maintenance and other operating expenses. Perhaps unknown to DepEd officials, evaluating a teacher's performance using students' test scores is very much prone to error. Here are the reasons why such evaluation system is flawed.

Weeks later after the DepEd issued the order, a lecture was given by distinguished psychometrician Edward H. Haertel of Stanford University. DepEd should have listened to this lecture. The lecture can be nicely summarized in the following figures (All of these are copied from RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY OF INFERENCES ABOUT TEACHERS BASED ON STUDENT TEST SCORES):

Merry Christmas to All and a Happy New Year

The year 2013 is about to be over. It is holiday season. It is always a perfect time to reflect and look back. Blogs about education usually take a break at this time as well. This morning, however, I happened to come across an article in the Huffington Post entitled "This Is The Type Of Holiday Gift Every Teacher Wants" by Rebecca Klein. It was about a note math teacher Jennifer Davis received from one of her students:

Reading this note made me look at back more than a decade ago when I was still new at teaching General Chemistry at Georgetown University. At the end of each semester, students at Georgetown are given the opportunity to comment anonymously about the course they just took. The following are the comments I received from one class ten years ago.
I didn't do particularly well in this course, yet I think Prof. de Dios taught me much more than many of the classes I have done well in.  This applies to life and chemistry.Very challenging.  I liked the fact that we…

Myths and Facts Regarding Vocabulary

Language is one medium through which we express our ideas, observations and inquiries. Language is the bloodstream of learning. Language is our window and door to the world we live in. Language begins with our mouth and ears. Formal schooling then works through the first three years of elementary education, teaching us to use our eyes. Language, of course, contains structures. Without grammar or rules, language appears no different than a mere mixed bag of words. Without spelling, words appear no different than a random arrangement of letters. Throughout basic education, these language skills are supposed to be learned. The foundation of all of these is vocabulary. It is where language learning starts in the early years. It is where language learning continues in the adult years. Learning words is key to learning a language. Thus, it is necessary to look into evidence-based research to see what works and what does not work in vocabulary instruction.

Susan B. Neuman and Esther Quintero…

Reasons Why Other Countries Are Better Than US In Basic Education

Based on the recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), adolescents in the United States are below average in math, reading and science compared to students in other developed countries. The New York Times recently published an editorial offering three reasons why students in the US have not been performing as well as students in Finland, Canada and Shanghai:

Here are the three reasons:


Finland provides quality education to all children regardless of socioeconomic status. Children of both poor and wealthy families attend the same school. Finland shoots for equity when it comes to basic education. On the other hand, for teacher education, Finland aims for excellence. To demonstrate how difficult it is to become a teacher in Finland, out of 6000 applicants, only a tenth of these aspirants are accepted into universities for teacher education. To top this, the applicants already come from the top quartile of the high school graduating class.


Canada adheres …

Yet Another Graph Between Poverty And Test Scores

The data from the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) are now available. These are educational progress measures for large cities in the United States. For instance, the following are the average scores in 4th grade math:

Included in these assessments are the demographic profiles of each urban district. Thus, the percentage of students who are eligible for reduced price or free meals (another measure of poverty level) in each district is likewise available:
To put these two pieces of data together, the following graph can be drawn relating the average 4th grade math scores of each district to its poverty level:

Urban districts with lower poverty levels have higher math scores. This is no different from the other graphs previously displayed on this blog. Looking at the details, three urban districts seem to be performing much better than what is expected based on their poverty level: New York City, Houston, Boston and Dallas. On the other hand, Jefferson County in Kentucky, Washingt…

Teachers Are Neither Ignorant Nor Lazy, They Are Powerless

This is a follow-up to the previous post, "Teachers are ignorant, not lazy". The study highlighted in the previous post, Fryer's "Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools", comes with a clear evidence that performance based bonuses do not have an impact on student learning. That part is quite clear from the data. What is much less straightforward to see is the explanation on why bonuses do not work. My answer is that teachers are neither ignorant nor lazy, they are simply powerless.
To understand this, the following anecdote from the book "Reign of Error" by Diane Ravitch is particularly useful:
In 1991, a businessman named Jamie Vollmer gave a speech to a group of teachers in Indiana. He was an executive at an ice cream company who had come to conduct an in-service program for educators. He told them they needed to operate more like his company, whose blueberry ice cream had been recognized by People maga…

"Teachers Are Ignorant, Not Lazy"

"Teachers are ignorant, not lazy" is the title of a section in the conclusion of Harvard's Roland Fryer Jr. article in the Journal of Labor Economics. The paper, "Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools", finds that instead of improving learning outcomes, performance-based bonuses do not affect student performance, and in some cases, leads to deterioration. To understand correctly the phrase "Teachers are ignorant", the following quote from Robert Sternberg may be helpful, "There is no recipe to be a great teacher, that's what is unique about them".

Within this context, it can be explained why performance-based bonuses do not work in teaching. Fryer writes in his article, "If teachers only have a vague idea of how they could increase student achievement, then there may be little incentive to increase effort.". However, part of the study includes a questionnaire through which teache…

Digital Versus Print

Reading on a computer screen provides quite a number of advantages over reading on paper. The "search" or "find text" capability is really awesome. Using the right keyword, one can easily jump to the relevant section without browsing through so many pages. Not all books in print have indices and an index is usually a fixed set of keywords in print. It is not a matter of choice from the reader. With "copy and paste", it is also easy to take down notes. The flip side, however, is not taking one's memory into task anymore. It seems no longer important to remember something when that piece of information is so easy to retrieve.

Recently, I came across an article in Nautilus, "Paper versus Pixel":

First, I thought the above image was a bit ironic, having the child hold the reading material in print, while the adult is reading on screen. Reading digital versus print materials are indeed two different experiences. One, however, cannot avoid the wor…

Honoring Education Support Professionals

Prior to Thanksgiving in the United States, Americans celebrate Education Week. Since 1987, one day in this week is observed to honor education support professionals. These are individuals who work behind the scenes to support students and teachers and help schools run smoothly. As Rev. Jesse Jackson has clearly stated, "Children need all school workers. A person is not ‘just’ a janitor, not ‘just’ a custodian. Janitors can see children when teachers don’t see them. And bus drivers recognize that children who are disruptive on the bus are likely to be disorderly in the classroom. They are partners in education. We need each other to make this work."

Working with teachers, these education support professionals provide invaluable service to our children. Treating them fairly and justly is the least the government should do in return. The Department of Education in the Philippines seems to have a different idea. The following are press releases from the Alliance of Concerned Te…

Light and Sleep, Technology and Learning

Sleep deprivation interferes with children learning and memory as well as their general physical and mental health. There is a hormone called melatonin, which regulates the sleeping cycle. Light suppresses the production of melatonin. In particular, the short wavelength (near blue) component of visible light reduces levels of melatonin. The bright sunlight in the morning wakes up a person while the less blue (more red) light during sunset signals the body to get ready for sleep. This rhythm usually matches the day and night period keeping a person alert during the day and drowsy in the evening. The absence of blue light during the morning and its presence during the evening can alter the wake-sleep cycle of a person. Without the required suppression of melatonin in the morning, the rhythm is not properly entrained and the expected onset of melatonin when the light gets dimmed is delayed. On the other hand, exposure to blue light in the evening hours continues to suppress melatonin pro…