Showing posts from August, 2013

Calculators in Classrooms

In a previous post in this blog, "Why So Many Elementary Students Aren’t Mastering Basic Math Facts", Lynne Diligent wrote:
...Unfortunately, I am now running across a number of 14-year-olds who are using calculators to add 5 + 3, or 7 + 6, or 9 + 2. What’s even worse, THEIR TEACHERS LET THEM!!!! I personally think calculators should just be thrown out until about Grade 11, or whenever math involving higher functions on calculators is started. Prior to that time, they shouldn’t be allowed in school at all.... In one exam I wrote for General Chemistry, I asked the students to provide the number of ways by which I can distribute 10000 balls between two containers with one container having 9997 and the other the remaining 3 balls. The mathematical equation that provides the answer to this question is the following:

The number of ways for the above case, 10000 balls, 9997 in one box and 3 in the other, is equal to (10000!)/(9997!)(3!). The problem some students encountered is tha…

Performance Based Bonus: Lessons from Bill and Melinda Gates?

An article in the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss has the following very catchy title: "Microsoft’s lesson on what not to do with teachers". It starts by citing an op-ed piece written by Bill and Melinda Gates in the Wall Street Journalback in 2011:
...At Microsoft, we believed in giving our employees the best chance to succeed, and then we insisted on success. We measured excellence, rewarded those who achieved it and were candid with those who did not. Teachers don’t work in anything like this kind of environment, and they want a new bargain....

Corruption in Public Schools in the Philippines

No matter how good the research is, no matter how well the intentions are behind education reform, and no matter how fool-proof the designs for implementations are, corruption can destroy everything. This is a repost of an article originally published on 27 August 2013 in the Philippines' alternative news journal Bulatlat. The alleged corruption here involves hiring and treatment of teachers. This strikes public education at its core.

‘Teaching items for sale’, other corrupt practices prevalent in some public schools – ACT

The principal of a public school in a province in northern Luzon allegedly asked newly-hired teachers to pay P50,000 each.


MANILA – Licensed teachers Athena, Vanessa and Elena (not their real names) came all the way from Northern Luzon to expose their school principal who allegedly asked for money in exchange for being granted teaching items or permanent positions.

With their faces covered, the three teachers from Pangasinan pr…

Bring Your Own Device

"Bring Your Own Technology" promises to accelerate student learning. Social media is indeed widespread now and it is important that students learn how to use these capabilities to facilitate learning. There are opportunities for greater collaboration and creativity. Being able to use technology is indeed a skill that should now be taught in basic education. However, there are serious obstacles. First, there is a question of equity. Technology does not make education cheaper. Not everyone can afford the devices as well as access to a network. Second, there is a question of appropriateness. Simply recognizing that being connected on a network is important does not imply that all of classroom activity be based on the internet. Inside Forsyth county schools in Georgia, there is internet connectivity all throughout the schools but there remains a "device down" time during which students are not allowed to use any technology.

The fact is no matter how attractive the phra…

Meditation: Helping Students Get More from Lectures

Paying attention is without doubt the first step in listening to a lecture. When a mind wanders, there is hardly any reception. Listening and following a lecture do not really work well with multitasking. Watching a movie demands an undivided attention. My son watches a movie that he likes repeatedly. What is surprising, in my case, is that with each repeat, I become aware of some details I have missed after watching the movie only once. And I thought I was paying attention. Inside a lecture hall even writing down notes can prevent a student from following the flow of the lecture. Retention of the material presented in a lecture is challenging so taking notes is a way of storing the lecture in pieces of paper that hopefully can be easily retrieved in the future for review. Thus, the choice has to be made on whether to try as hard as possible to listen or write as much as one can with the hope of making sense out of all of the notes later. 

To address this problem, Jared Ramsburg, a doc…

When the Going Gets Tough....

Since the United States Congress could not decide how to combine spending cuts, tax increases, and program reforms, automatic spending cuts in particular categories of federal outlays called sequestration are now in place. Sequestration is supposed to be a blunt instrument, being applied across the board. Public schools receive some funding from the national government. Taken as an aggregate, contributions from the Federal government amount to about ten percent of the operating expenses of public K-12 schools:

The aggregate, however, does not tell the full story since the dependence of a public school on federal funds is not uniform across schools. Public schools in poor communities rely more (as much as 50-70 percent) on the national government while schools in wealthy communities do not (less than five percent). Thus, when it comes to schools, sequestration affects schools that are already facing the challenges of poverty. Sequestration is happening and it may be informational to lo…

Pork in the Philippines: Political Patronage, Power and Corruption

The notion that stealing taxpayers' money and funding bogus programs or projects define government corruption is quite misleading. Such notion can make one think that by simply imposing tighter rules or oversight, the problem will go away. The corruption goes deeper than just stealing public money. It is political patronage that makes pork barrel in the Philippines intrinsically bad. When taxpayers' money is wielded to gain influence and exert political pressure - it actually does not matter if the projects funded are real and no one is pocketing any of the funds. Political patronage itself destroys the democratic system. Thus, public school teachers represented by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers and the Teachers' Dignity Coalition are both demanding for abolition of pork barrel in the Philippine government system:

What "Irreplaceable" Teachers Think....

We hear from politicians often what needs to be done to improve basic education. We hear the voices of policy makers and reformers. This blog has also shared views from teacher groups or unions in the Philippines as well as in the United States. But what do teachers who have been recognized as effective and among the best in the United States really think? The New Teacher Project (TNTP) tries to answer this question in its new paper, "Perspectives of Irreplaceable Teachers":

The first piece of result that really caught my attention is the view of these teachers on ineffective teaching as a problem in education:

What is striking is how the number of "Strongly agree" shrinks from the profession in general (41%), to the school district (20%), and to one's own school (8%). The problem seems to be disappearing as one gets closer to home. Is this similar to Brian Langley's Lesson #1 on education: "Americans think the nation's public schools are troubled,…

Issues Other than Learning

Education does focus on learning of students. Resources, however, introduce additional issues to contend when reforming education. Resources used for teaching are created by people. This creativity comes with a price and a tag "All Rights Reserved":

Increasing Higher Education Costs: Oregon's Plan

Here are some data for the United States regarding student loans that have been collected by the American Student Alliance:

Nearly 20 million Americans attend college each year. (Source: Chronicle of Higher Education)Of that 20 million, close to 12 million – or 60% - borrow annually to help cover costs. (Source:Chronicle of Higher Education)There are approximately 37 million student loan borrowers with outstanding student loans today. (Source: Federal Reserve Board of New York)There is roughly somewhere between $902 billion and $1 trillion in total outstanding student loan debt in the United States today. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports $902B while the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau reports $1T.Of the 37 million borrowers who have outstanding student loan balances, 14%, or about 5.4 million borrowers, have at least one past due student loan account.Two out of five student loan borrowers – or 41%- are delinquent at some point in the first five years after entering repay…

How Students Use Online Materials: Recorded Lectures, Slides and Notes

Working in a classroom for decades teaches a teacher a lot. Every class is different but throughout the years there are indeed characteristics that seem to hold true most of the time. There are certainly variations among different levels of education. There are issues that apply strictly only on graduate courses and research. Obviously, a kindergarten class is vastly different from that of a senior high school. I remember one of my teachers describing students as growing horns as they advance from one level to the next. Characteristics that seem to withstand the test of time seem to be of human nature. Take, for instance, what is referred in the Philippines as "ningas kugon" (flaming cogon grass). This refers to a cultural trait of being so eager at the beginning of a task, but then quickly losing enthusiasm soon after. Another example is procrastination. We do tend to delay things up to the very last minute. In the classrooms, waning enthusiasm and cramming are characterist…

"Defending the Early Years"

Do you want to know the current status of animals in the National Zoo? Make me a friend on Facebook and you will get almost a weekly update by way of photos of animals taken in the zoo by me or my son. My son and I regularly visit the National Zoo and if we happen to be in a different state and that place has its own zoo, you may find us touring that zoo as well. My son really likes wild animals especially the big cats. My son enjoys seeing animals and going to the zoo feeds that interest. He likewise reads books and watches documentary videos about animals in the wild. What is really amazing is the amount of material I have learned myself.

There is a lot to learn from how early childhood education really works. Children learn while playing. Of course, this is no different from a chemist who pretends to be working in a laboratory, but is actually enjoying the quest for a greater understanding of how protein and peptide structures define their function. It is no different from trying t…

Teacher Voice

This is an excellent talk given by Jose Luis Vilson, a teacher and blogger in the United States. It was given a year ago but Vilson brought this back in his blog with the following memo: Teacher voice is the collective and individual expression of meaningful, professional opinion based on classroom experience and expertise.  What developed shortly thereafter were a plethora of discussions of what that looks like, and how we employ that in different settings. I came to realize a few things: People aren’t always ready to change the paradigm to make decisions more democratically.Teachers don’t always have the time or energy besides doing the best job possible in the classroom.The education debate as a whole hasn’t evolved from just picking one side and one group of people to side with. These points make for a lack of teachers activating their voices. For those of us who do this selflessly (sans incentives, rewards, titles, and permission), it often feels like punching a wall with your ba…

Next Generation Science Standards: Objections from the State of Kentucky

Residents of Kentucky are objecting to the teaching of evolution and the role of humans in climate change as mandated by the next generation science standards. The following is a video from HuffPost Live that discusses the issues:

"Theory doesn't mean hunch. When we talk about evolution as a fact, it's positive. It's true that evolution is happening. The theory is how we explain it. So evolution is fact and a theory."
-Robert Bevins

Scorecards in Education

There are unfortunately two extremes in perception. On one hand, scores can mean everything. While for some, scores can be easily ignored. Nevertheless, numbers are amazing for these seem to feed our desire to see things quantitatively so we can easily compare. The problem with both extremes is that numbers are used improperly to reach unfounded conclusions in the former while the information that can be obtained is dismissed in the latter. For example, scores in international exams serve as a good gauge to compare basic education in math, reading and the sciences between countries. Poor performance in these tests diagnoses problems in early education since some of these tests are administered to fourth grade students. Using these scores to determine bonus pay to teachers is improper. This is taking the scores to mean everything. Sweeping poor scores under the rug likewise misses the important assessment purpose of these exams.

Schools cannot be rated in a simple way. This is a fact a…

When Illustrations and Colors Make Textbooks Expensive and Less Effective

Adding colors and drawings to a slide presentation has always been deemed important. No one wants a black and white figure for example. It is boring. People even add some animation to slides. For a show, these may be helpful. It captivates the audience and makes the material perhaps more interesting. For pedagogical purposes, these additional gravy may not only be unnecessary, but also harmful. in addition, these "enhancements" cost more time and money. This hypothesis has been demonstrated to be true by a recent paper published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, "Extraneous Perceptual Information Interferes With Children's Acquisition of Mathematical Knowledge":

The above paper basically examines the effects of adding extraneous items on learning materials in elementary textbooks. Examples provided by the paper are presented in the following figures:

Adding a Year versus Subtracting a Year

To say that reading through various arguments on basic education often leads to confusion is accurate. Research in education is certainly very different from research in basic science. The study of education is a social science. In the social sciences, there is a pervasive problem in research - having a valid control group. Boot and coworkers explain this in "The Pervasive Problem With Placebos in Psychology: Why Active Control Groups Are Not Sufficient to Rule Out Placebo Effects", published in the journal Perspectives in Psychological Science:

Textbooks in Philippine Public Schools

This is a repost of an article from Jose Carillo's English Forum.

Tale of the Text: A Mind-Numbing Torrent of Cringeworthy English
By Antonio Calipjo Go

The Department of Education (DepEd) simply ignored my commentary published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last June 10, 2013 (“Again, error-ridden textbooks”) and my letter to the editor published in the same paper last July 26, 2013 (“‘Worst learning material’ prepared for Grade 8 schoolers”) regarding the numerous errors that I found in two learning materials currently used by Grade 7 and Grade 8 students in public secondary schools. What did the DepEd’s deafening silence imply—that I was wrong in both instances, or that I was right? A great divide separates what is said and what is done, and it likewise separates what is promised and what is delivered. In the matter of textbooks, that which is promised but not delivered—that which is missing—is quality.

Fund More Books, Hire More Teachers First


"Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara should just add his pork to the DepEd budget so that the agency can continue supporting the GILAS Internet Project," said Mr. Rick Bahague, National Coordinator of the Computer Professionals' Union (CPU), as a reaction to Senator Angara's Bill to "provide every public elementary and high school throughout the country with a computer laboratory equipped with at least 10 computers."

In 2012, DepED allocated P1.8 billion to the GILAS Internet Project. The GILAS project is a private-sector led Internet literacy program which was turned over to DepEd on November 21, 2012. At that time, DepEd reported that 97% of all public high schools have computers while 68% have internet access with help from the GILAS project. "There is no need to pass a new law just to put computers in classrooms un…

Fordham Institute's Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

The New Science Standards drafted for US K-12 public schools did not earn high marks from the Fordham Institute. The following figure summarizes where the Institute thinks the new standards stand in comparison with science curricula currently implemented in the various states:

Education for Sale: Market Strategies

Last Saturday, this blog had "Why Basic Education Must Not Be Run By Market Forces and Strategies". Education offers ample opportunities for profit. Everyone that has a child is a potential customer. Every school district is a future market. The other day, I just happened to see an article on the ICEF monitor ("a dedicated market intelligence resource for the international education industry"):

Philippines creates opportunities in overhaul of K-12 education system
The Philippines is undergoing a major overhaul to bring it in line with education systems worldwide, starting with the K-12 sector. This change to domestic education policy has far-reaching consequences and is important for international educational institutions to consider when looking for potential new student recruitment markets.... Tackling the entire basic education to learn how markets see education reform is huge. There are so many possible avenues on which one can make business and, of course, prof…

A View from a Teacher Who Has Taught Online....

The following is a repost from The Edublogger.
Why today is my last day teaching online…Posted on July 23, 2013 by Ronnie Burt— I just submitted final grades for the last time. This means that today marks my last day teaching online.  For the past 3+ years, I’ve been an online adjunct faculty member at a university here in the US – teaching undergraduate courses in critical and creative thinking, along with a fair bit of writing and logical reasoning. But, I just can’t shake the feeling that my students would have been much better served in a more traditional face-to-face setting. So, sadly, I know that it is now time for me to put down my grading mouse and walk away from the keyboard. To be fair, I’m confident that all students did learn something in the classes I have taught, but that doesn’t mean I should call the courses a success. Let’s walk through many of the reasons for why I feel that education, including MOOCs (massive open online courses) and online distance learning, is tr…

Why Basic Education Must Not Be Run By Market Forces and Strategies

In the stock market, the week during which most public companies report their earnings provides suspense and anticipation among traders and investors. There is a bottom line and that is profit. A business that is profitable means good business. Perhaps, it is the unwavering focus on the bottom line that makes some people think that market thinking is applicable to other human endeavor like basic education. After all, education outcomes can be regarded as similar to profits. There is the belief that the efficiency and competition that markets impose on businesses can drive basic education in a similar fashion.

The main error with this thinking is that learning outcomes are so vastly different from profits. Basic education like public infrastructure serves society not just on an individual basis but as a whole. This one may be a crude analogy, but take, for example, a public restroom. I may not be using it, but since there is one, I need not worry while I walk around about stepping on s…

Testing in New York: Lessons to Be Learned

New York is currently facing a challenge. The scores from a state standard exam that is supposed to be aligned with the Common Core are not pretty. The New York Times reports: ...In New York City, 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the tests in English, and 30 percent passed in math, according to the New York State Education Department.The exams were some of the first in the nation to be aligned with a more rigorous set of standards known as the Common Core, which emphasize deep analysis and creative problem-solving over short answers and memorization. Last year, under an easier test, 47 percent of city students passed in English, and 60 percent in math.City and state officials spent months trying to steel the public for the grim figures.But when the results were released, many educators responded with shock that their students measured up so poorly against the new yardsticks of achievement....

Who Is Learning Online?

The following are not taken from peer reviewed literature so these numbers have not been vetted and the integrity of the sampling is uncertain. Nonetheless, like any public polling of public candidates, these surveys probably carry some degree of representation. Thus, these figures may still be of some interest. All of the figures shown here are copied without the permission of the authors but the sources are appropriately cited. As an appetizer, here is the first bit from

Facts We Need to Remember

Th Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty provides "20 Facts About U.S. Inequality that Everyone Should Know". I have selected to highlight two: Education Wage Premium and Incarceration to wake up those who are starting to equate critical thinking, successful entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativityto dropping out of school:

Education Wage Premium


House Bill 251 - Providing for Teaching Supplies Allowance

In the US, the school year is about to begin. Parents are now checking lists provided by schools on supplies that they need to provide for each of their children. In most places, sales taxes are suspended so that people can buy school supplies at lower prices. In Florida, the estimate for "back to school" supplies is US$ 90.  The following is a list of supplies and their current prices at major retailers, compiled by Karen Mawdsley at

School is already very much underway in the Philippines. In addition to the major infrastructure needs, schools are also finding supplies limited. Thus, public school teachers are forced to spend from their own money in order to get supplies they need for teaching. It is therefore no surprise to see the following image today on the Facebook page of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines (ACT):

The image above is used by ACT to solicit support for a proposed bill in the Philippines Congress: House Bill no. 251:

Basic Education in Other Countries

More than a month ago, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report on basic education indicators among its members and other countries.

Bringing a Curriculum into Life inside a Classroom

Although drawing standards for basic education is a daunting task, this remains a dwarf compared to what implementation requires. Designers of a new curriculum are completely in fantasy land if the required resources are not considered. New standards, if these really represent a change, come with equally new demands from each of the factors that play important roles in education: teachers, textbooks and assessments. The professional development necessary to prepare teachers for the implementation of a new curriculum alone can be gargantuan.

Take a Number and Wait

Belle Waring of NIH Record talks about how some of the buildings within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, Maryland are named in "Take a Number and Wait". There are more than eighty buildings and most are simply labeled with a number. More than ten years ago, I spent a year in a laboratory supervised by Robert Tycko. The laboratories were house in a building called Building number 5:

Public School Teachers Pay More Taxes

The Department of Finance and the Bureau of Internal Revenue in the Philippines recently published an infographic on the government's official website. The infographic is part of the Tax Watch campaign of these two government agencies with the objective of increasing transparency in tax payments. How the infographic relates to Philippine basic education is the realization that public school teachers are paying higher taxes than other professionals (accountants, doctors and lawyers) although teachers' salaries are the lowest among these professions:

Poverty and Education

"When a country is well governed, poverty and mean condition are things to be ashamed of. When a country is poorly governed, riches and honor are things to be ashamed of."

Confucius (c. 500 CE) The Analects, excerpts
We do not get to choose our families. At the time we are born, we do not get to pick which home to live in. Poverty in several ways is similar to race. We inherit it from our parents. Unlike race, however, poverty is not necessarily a permanent condition. If opportunities exist, people should be able to climb out of poverty. Education is oftentimes regarded as a way out of poverty. But poverty affects education. Thus, it is important to become aware of poverty and how it affects learning. Without such awareness and attention, education can even magnify income inequality. With the wrong policies and reforms, education can certainly make matters worse. Thus, efforts are not enough. The right actions are needed. Misguided reforms can do harm. A wrong medicine does …