Keeping Our Eye on the Ball

As another year winds down, it is only timely to pause and reflect on what this past fifty weeks or so have shown and taught us. Remaining critical of an ill-thought curriculum tests our perseverance and commitment to good basic education. It is frustrating. It does not make sense. Our criticism, however, must remain within cogent arguments. One thing this past year and so many other years have been showing us is that addressing challenges in education involves much more than the curriculum. Poverty can not be ignored. The number of poor families in the Philippines remains high. About a quarter of Filipinos live on one dollar a day. How poverty is inversely related to education outcomes must be kept in our thoughts.

A recent report card from the state of Iowa tells of the same story. Iowa's Department of Education has rated its schools based on the following criteria:

  • Proficiency: The percentage of students scoring proficient or better on reading and mathematics assessments.
  • College and Career-Ready Growth: The percentage of students who are making the year-to-year growth necessary to be ready for college and career training by the end of high school.
  • Annual Expected Growth: The percentage of students making a year of academic growth in a year’s time on reading and mathematics assessments.
  • Closing Achievement Gap:A measure that reflects a statewide goal of narrowing the gap in achievement for students with disabilities, students who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, and English Language Learners.
  • College and Career Readiness: The percentage of students who score at or above a level of performance on reading and mathematics assessments that predicts a higher probability of postsecondary success. (Middle/high schools only.)
  • Graduation Rate: The percentage of ninth-grade students who finished high school within five years. (High schools only.)
  • Attendance: The average daily attendance of students, which is the total number of days students were enrolled and present divided by the total number of possible attendance days.
  • Staff Retention: The percentage of teachers, school administrators and other licensed staff members who remained employed in a school over consecutive school years.

Based on the above,, a school can be classified as one of the following: Exceptional, High-Performing, Commendable, Acceptable, Needs Improvement, and Priority, with Exceptional as best and Priority as worst. About three quarters of Iowa's high schools fall within the average ratings of either Commendable or Acceptable. Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant has collated and examined the results and cast these with eyes on poverty. Poverty is easily tracked within schools by looking at the number of children who qualify for reduced or free lunch. One of the figures McLeod presents convincingly the negative relationship between poverty and education:

Above copied from Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant
McLeod adds:
Zero of the 34 Priority schools have less than 33% free lunch eligibility and 30 of the 34 (88%) have more than half of their students who are eligible. In contrast, 27 of the 35 Exceptional schools (77%) have less than 33% free lunch eligibility and only 3 of the 35 (9%) have more than half of their students who are eligible.
A family of three in Iowa living on one hundred dollars a day is eligible for free lunch. This bar is certainly much higher than the one used in the Philippines to be considered poor, a hundred times higher! From the graph above, it is clear that as soon as a school in Iowa reaches 75% school free lunch, the best rating it could get is only "Needs Improvement".

Poverty is indeed the big elephant in the room when it comes to addressing problems in basic education. It is one major reason why DepEd's K to 12 is deeply flawed. The Philippines Department of Education and the Aquino administration have only made it more difficult for poor children to learn in schools. It is exasperating and infuriating.

Perhaps, 2016 would bring a better national leadership that actually understands better the plight of poor children in the country.  We could only hope.