Showing posts from October, 2015

Parents and Teachers and Basic Education

November is almost here. Once again, in Virginia, nature provides our eyes with an awe-inspiring scenery of autumn leaves. The green pigment chlorophyll has dominated all throughout summer but when the days get shorter, carotenoids, mostly orange or yellow, and anthocyanins, mostly red, begin to emerge. Schools have nearly finished through one quarter. Carving pumpkins coincide then with parent-teacher conferences being held inside classrooms. This is also a time for parents to sit down with their child's teacher. It is an opportunity for parents and teachers to join their heads together and examine how a particular child, their child, is doing in school.

Every child is unique so it is no surprise that each child deserves a moment of reflection. Unlike examining results of standardized exams that provide for instance a nation's report card, these conversations are as individualized as possible. There are ways by which one can view basic education, through an overall lens or th…

How Much Time Should Be Devoted to Standardized Tests

A typical chemistry major would spend close to a total of 1000 hours of lectures and laboratory work in various chemistry courses. At the end, if the student desires to pursue graduate studies in chemistry, he or she may take the standardized Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in chemistry which takes about two hours and fifty minutes. The GRE chemistry exam is less than 0.3 percent of the total time spent on chemistry courses. In stark contrast, elementary and high school students in the United States spend nearly ten times more on standardized tests.

It is thus promising to hear the president of the United States proposing to limit the amount of standardized tests in basic education.

The call from President Obama comes after the Council of the Great City Schools has released its report, Student Testing in America’s Great City Schools:An Inventory and Preliminary Analysis.

What is disheartening after a closer look is the specific call made by President Obama: "...capping standard…

In Adversity, Boys Suffer More

Similarities between boys and girls do outweigh differences between the two. However, there are apparently circumstances that can magnify dissimilarities. A working paper from Northwestern University shows that race, poverty, broken homes, and low parental educational attainment lead to larger differences between boys and girls. In all cases, boys significantly have more problems than girls do.

The following graph shows how differences in learning outcomes between boys and girls are affected by these factors:

Black boys are more likely to miss school than black girls. Boys from poor households are more frequently absent than girls from similar socio-economic status. Disadvantaged boys tend to be less prepared for formal schooling. Boys whose mothers are high school dropouts are also more likely to be dropouts. In all cases whether it is poverty, race or low educational attainment or absence of a parent, the gender differences are markedly greater, with boys not performing as well as g…

Adding Years and Quality in Basic Education

Failing in the early years of basic education can not be mitigated by adding years at the end of high school. In contrast, adding years at the beginning just might. There is, however, no guarantee. The idea behind providing formal schooling to young learners comes with the hope of preparing children for basic education. In the United States, children are introduced to a school setting before they reach five years old to equip them with skills necessary for kindergarten. In the Philippines, DepEd's K to 12 introduces the mandatory kindergarten year as a dry run for the elementary years. On the surface, preparatory school is sound. And there is evidence that early child education helps. However, as with other education reforms, success is not guaranteed. Simply adding years to basic education, even in the early years, does not necessarily mean better learning outcomes.

A research report recently released last month by researchers from Vanderbilt University is certainly an eye-opener…

Transparency and What Data Can Inform Us

Transparency is important for it provides information for the public about what their government is doing. Transparency promotes an informed citizenship that can then engage, collaborate and participate in governance. Governments make decisions, create programs, and draw policies. All of these actions require information that can be used to increase effectiveness and efficiency, as well as curb graft and corruption.

In basic education, data on funding is important. Funding is the direct link between taxpayers and the schools. Funding dictates how much resources are going to be made available in schools. Thus, funding connects data on education in various dimensions. When the public is provided with access to such data, public engagement is enhanced which can only help a democratic government in making quality decisions.

Transparency is only the first step. Data need to be analyzed correctly in order to extract useful information. An excellent illustration of how access to information …

Worst of Both Worlds

There is no perfect basic education system in the world. Each one has weaknesses and strengths. Transplanting an education system from one country to another is also not straightforward, as there are things outside the curriculum, learning materials, and pedagogical methods that can also shape basic education. Our culture, what we value, and how we basically treat each other can affect profoundly our schools. Worse, if we are not thoughtful enough, we just might copy from other countries what is wrong.

To strive for what seems to be unattainable, it is important that we choose one value as a cornerstone. For basic education, I believe this value is equity. It is not enough to set high standards, what is more important is to provide every child an opportunity to reach such high standards. This does not happen by solely wishing. This can only happen with an unwavering commitment to funding schools adequately, promoting the well-being of every child, and recognizing that basic education …

What Teachers Need to Be Empowered

Ten years ago, I held workshops for elementary school teachers in the Philippines. During that time, I sat down and had a casual conversation with a male teacher. He was not participating in any of the meetings I had scheduled for teachers, but he was quite eager to share with me what he nows about managing a classroom filled with young children. There I was, quite eager to share my ideas and yet found myself on the receiving end of experience. That dialogue was quite brief, but such encounter, in my opinion, was demonstrating to me in a simple but direct way what was necessary to uplift the teaching profession.

The previous article in this blog, A Seed Needs a Fertile Ground, illustrates by a specific example, how professional development and adult learning can happen inside a school. A recent white paper by Mehta and coworkers from the Transforming Teachingproject housed at Harvard University, offers a picture that broadly captures the main challenge in building quality teaching.


A Seed Needs Fertile Ground

The Commission on Elections has set the following dates, October 12 through 16 this year, for filing of candidacy. It is no surprise to see posts and news about candidates saturating both social and mass media. Among the candidates for vice president is Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of a former dictator. While in the Senate, Marcos Jr. in a press release stated the following, "the K to 12 program, which will add two years of schooling, is not an effective way to improve the quality of education in the country. Instead, raising the competency of teachers and upgrading educational materials are the keys to raising the quality of education of Filipino students."

Reforms in education will only work with good implementation. Changes in curriculum can only be delivered to the classroom through its teachers. Teachers need to be prepared. Teachers need to be on board. Without support and engagement from the front line, education reforms are bound to fail. For this reason, empowering…

DepEd's K to 12 Has Reached the New York Times

Micaella Serrano, a 16-year old student at Batasan Hills National High School, is now spending her nights and weekends against DepEd's K to 12. An article on the New York Times starts and ends with her story.

The article briefly mentions the numerous legal challenges submitted before the highest court in the Philippines. Some of these petitions are based on lack of public consultation as well as the potential loss of employment and tenure for thousands and thousands of university employees. The main point of the article, however, is the view that the government is ill prepared for the new curriculum. DepEd's K to 12 requires a tremendous amount of additional resources. For a government that cannot even provide a decent ten-year basic education program, K to 12 really sounds like a disaster of our own making.

This blog started with First Things First, an article first published in the Philippine Star. In that article, citing the two biggest problems Philippine basic education f…

How Much Screen Time Is Appropriate for Children?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently posted an article on its magazine addressing the issue of how parents should manage their children's exposure and usage of technology at home. The themes explored in the article begin with the realization that with a device, children are actually doing the same things as in other environment such as playing, reading, communicating, or getting entertained. The main difference lies only in the medium. With a smart device, it is either purely virtual or merely online, not face-to-face.  Thus, figuring out how much screen time is appropriate for children should be guided similarly as determining how much time should a child be allowed to spend in a playground, if the screen time is about playing.

Screen time can become isolating. As in watching television, parents need to be involved. Viewing a show together can enhance social interactions between children and parents. Playing a video game together is really no different from playing a b…

Are Public School Teachers in the Philippines Asked to Pass Everyone?

There is a year-old open letter posted in the blog Definitely Filipino that has found its way once again in social media. The letter is addressed to the secretary of education in the Philippines, Bro. Armin Luistro. Since the additional pay a teacher may receive depends on given measures, it seems that schools are tailoring its policies to game the system. For instance, performance based bonuses are fueling the need to keep dropout or retention rates in schools low. The letter therefore talks about the perception that mass promotion is encouraged in public schools in the Philippines.

Of course, there is no specific memorandum from the Department of Education in the Philippines that dictates mass promotion. DepEd Order No. 73. S. 2012provides the steps that need to be taken when students fail. It is described in one short paragraph within the 125-page memo:

The following is my opinion as posted previously in this blog:
...As demonstrated in this blog through numerous articles, poorer le…

Are We Teaching Poor Children Less Math?

Obviously, there is inequity in society. If such inequity also exists in education then the effects of poverty in schools are likely to be magnified. This unequal treatment can in fact start at the curriculum level. Children from affluent families can be given access to a richer and deeper instruction while those from poor families are provided less. This may sometimes happen in differentiated instruction, but is nearly guaranteed to manifest in academic tracking. Differentiated instruction often aims at addressing the needs of a student thereby alleviating inequity. On the other hand, academic tracking is deciding the content and skills to be taught based on a perceived ability of a student. Students from poor families usually have weaker background preventing them to qualify for higher academic tracks.

The Opportunity To Learn (OTL) can be quantitatively measured by examining the curriculum. This factor is separate from resources such as learning materials, teachers and infrastructu…

What Do Those Slippers Really Mean?

Actually, in the photograph below, Jesse Robredo is sitting on a sidewalk with other men barefoot. In wearing slippers or going barefoot, there is an obvious sense of humility. What should not be missed in this picture is that Robredo is sitting with other men. It is a humbleness that is rooted in recognizing that the challenges and victories in life are shared. Robredo's slippers need to be understood in the proper context of his ideal of allowing and encouraging citizen participation in government decision making. This ideal is best appreciated in Robredo's approach to solving problems in basic education.

Robredo served as mayor of Naga City for three consecutive terms starting in 1989 and another three consecutive terms from 2001. Naga City was home to schools that were apparently ranked first in the Bicol region based on results of National Achievement Tests. Robredo, however, noticed that the ranking was actually hiding something very dismal. Naga City's mean performa…

World Teachers' Day - 2015

A teacher's intangible yet priceless reward is witnessing an appreciation from his or her pupils. A picture of a teacher receiving symbols of gratitude is indeed an inspiring sight to behold. Across many countries, inside schools, World Teacher's Day 2015 is going to be celebrated with the expected demonstration of thankfulness for those who are tasked with the noble mission of preparing the young for society.

This year's celebration of World's Teachers' Day attempts to go much farther than merely acknowledging the vital role played by educators worldwide. The theme for this year is Empowering Teachers: Building Sustainable Societies.

The specific message for this year's celebration is nicely summarized in the following statement:

Teachers should be empowered through the provision of decent working conditions, well-resourced, safe and healthy working environments, trust, professional autonomy and academic freedom.
Empowering teachers requires much more than givin…

Promised Versus Delivered

What matters to basic education is not what a government legislates, but what a government actually delivers.