Showing posts from October, 2016

The Long Road from Reading to Comprehension

I teach the second semester of General Chemistry at Georgetown and at the beginning of the course, I often tell the following to my students: "Last semester, you were introduced to a vast array of concepts and tools beginners in chemistry need to learn. By now, I hope you would be able to carry a conversation with a chemist and understand some of the language that chemists use. Chemical equations should now look similar to a sentence written in grade school level. This semester, it is time to see the fundamental concepts (the basic ideas and emotions) upon which chemistry is built. And I hope that after this semester, you will be able to see how things fit together and begin to see the world in the way chemists see it."

I also share with my students a poem I wrote in my mother tongue:

Makatang Dalita
Mga titik sa harap ng aking mga mata,
sukat na walang malay tulad ng mga bata,
hanap ay pagsasama upang maging salita,
anyo at damdamin nasa kamay ng makata.
Ang mga pusong ngayon ay …

Virginia Does Well In Science

The NAEP Science results are now available. Schools in Virginia have scores higher than the average across the country. Not only are the average scores higher, but also the number of students reaching both basic and proficient level. In fourth grade, the state ranks among the highest in the country. In eight grade, the state drops its ranking suggesting that the state needs to focus on the sciences in middle school. Data for individual states for the 12th grade test are not available, but one can extrapolate that Virginia only goes down further since performance in this test depends more on knowledge and such knowledge is cumulative.

In fourth grade, Virginia ranks near the top in terms of average score, percentage of students reaching basic and proficient levels:

Virginia looks better when one looks at the percentage reaching proficient level than when one considers the percentage reaching basic level. This suggests that the school system may be less equitable than it should be. This…

Free College Education Is Not Free

Politicians make promises. Of course, a lot of voters are also quite cynical. There are, however, promises that are obviously difficult to keep. There are also promises that may be attractive at first, but after a thoughtful analysis, may actually end up hurting society. One example is free tuition in state colleges. We in fact have heard this from Bernie Sanders in the US. In the Philippines, there is a bill currently filed in the Senate for free college in state universities and colleges (SUCs). Appealing this proposal maybe, free college education is not free.

Such bill is actually as bad as the DepEd K+12 law passed in 2013. One glaring similarity between the two is the lack of consideration for what is necessary to implement the law. Another is its complete neglect of unintended consequences. And lastly, although both claim to help the poor, these measures will make matters worse. 
Free college education is not free. Similar to basic education, it requires input or resources, whi…

Why Teachers Quit

A recent report from the Learning Policy Institute, "A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S.", projects a shortage of about 100,000 teachers by 2018. Worse, the shortages are not uniform across the country. The South is already experiencing severe shortages while Massachusetts still has a surplus. The needs also vary with subject. The demand for teachers for mathematics, science, special education and English language learners runs above the supply in most states. Worse, schools that need teachers the most, schools that teach poor students, are often the first ones to suffer. One big reason behind this shortage, according to the report, is the significant number of teachers quitting.

There are about 3 million teachers in US public schools. Thus, a leaving rate of 8% corresponds to 240,000 teachers quitting every year. One can easily compare this with the number of persons who have completed a teacher preparation program for example in t…

US Public Schools Fail Students with Disabilities

The headline on PJ Media Parentingmaybe harsh, "The Evidence is Clear: Public Education Fails Dyslexic Students". Sadly, the truth is that public schools over the past decade in the United States have not been able to bridge the achievement gap between students who have disabilities and those who do not.

Even when using exams that are guaranteed to align with what was actually taught inside the classroom, students with disabilities are significantly left behind. Schulte and Stevens, in their study of North Carolina elementary students find that "When disability status was determined on the basis of special education placement each year, the achievement gap was larger across grades than when the subgroup of students with disabilities (SWDs) was defined more broadly, including students who had exited special education or who were in special education anytime between Grades 3 and 7. Regardless of the identification criteria, the SWD subgroup showed lower average achievemen…

Why Equity in Schools Is a Must

Brian Butler, a principal at the school my children attend, posted on Facebook, "For example we tend to select "the good kids" to be school safety patrols in elementary school because they seem to always do the right things and don't cause trouble. Over the years this practice has not set well with me as I began to notice that the kids who are most left out especially in elementary school are boys and more importantly boys of color. How could I in good conscience say any school that I am a part of is for the success of every child if in certain areas I nod and wink at practices that totally go against my words and beliefs." 
Butler's main point is equity. "All means all". Every child must be given the opportunity. Equity is indeed important in schools. And it is not necessary for the child alone, equity is likewise a must for teachers as well. At the heart of labeling children and setting expectations according to such labels is in fact an abroga…

What Type of Leadership Do We Need in Education?

Time and again, what we need differs from what we want. What we need often requires a thoughtful consideration while what we want usually aligns with our immediate perception. In education, this seems to be the case as we press hard to see instant results. For instance, reform often focuses on curriculum with the notion that once standards are changed, quality automatically follows. In the process, we then forego other important factors necessary for the improvement that we seek. Even with the leaders we choose, we seem to prefer those who can deliver what we want right away. Consequently, we frequently end up with heads who will say what we want to hear and appear to do what we want done, but in the end, do not really change anything.

Back in 1978, James M. Burns, a presidential biographer, defined two types of leadership: transactional and transformational. The following are the definitions of these two (from Wikipedia):
Transactional leadership also known as managerial leadership, f…

How a Child Learns Math: Conceptual versus Procedural

My mother-in-law taught my daughter while she was in kindergarten how to add numbers. When adding for example 8 and 4, the five-year old child was instructed to put her hand on her chest and say "8", then she should proceed counting from there, "9, 10, 11, 12" (four more, to add 4 to 8). That was how she was able to arrive at the correct answer, "12". My daughter was actually proud when she was able to do it correctly on her own with any addition question thrown at her. At first glance, one might think that my daughter was simply learning a procedure, but the mere assignment of "8" as a starting point represented a very important concept in mathematics, the cardinal principle:  The idea that the last number reached when counting the items in a set represents the entire set. My daughter did not need to count from 1 to 12 to determine what 8 + 12 was. She could simply start with "8".

Figuring out what skills are important for a young chi…

Addressing Poverty and Education: The Philippines Receives a Failing Mark

The Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education has recently shared some of the points raised by a UN committee with regard to basic education in the Philippines: "The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), in its Concluding Observations on the periodic report on the Philippines, asks the Philippine government under President Duterte to “strengthen its public education sector,” noting the “insufficient” funding for education, the “segregation” arising from the privatization drive, and the lack of access to quality education particularly among the marginalized sectors, including the indigenous peoples, children with disabilities and the rural poor.

A link is provided to the advanced unedited version of the report provided by the Committee so one may say that a part of my title, the "failing mark", is not justified. After all, on the segment on education, the Committee's report starts with saying, "While welcoming the impor…

If You Are Born Poor, Odds Are Stacked Against You

The odds that a poor boy growing up in a developing country would become a professor at a prestigious university in the United States are apparently very slim. An expert on statistics and probability who claims to be able to give the odds on just about everything in the universe would not even attempt to guess. One main reason why the chances are so low is that schools have become sorters instead of enablers.

Nowadays, there are even exams administered right before a child starts formal schooling. These tests are supposed to help identify which child is gifted, but in reality, these tests are simply distinguishing those who are privileged against those who are not.

Schools that serve children from poor families generally have less resources. We see this in a previous post on this blog, Wealthy Neighborhoods Equal Great Schools. In another post, Are We Really Teaching Our Children Science?, data suggest that schools attended by poor children do not have effective science teachers. But …

Graduation Rates Rise as Test Scores Remain Flat

Late this morning, US president Barack Obama visited a high school in the District of Columbia. He was sharing the great news of high school graduation rates reaching a record high of 83.2 percent. In his speech, Obama was touting the programs and policies his administration had implemented in basic as well as preschool education, obviously tying his record with the improved graduation rates.

The increase in graduation rates from 2010-2015 happened across all student subgroups as seen in the above table.

Graduation rates are, of course, acceptable measures for education outcomes. Unfortunately, being able to graduate is not the only way to gauge how well schools are working. After all, there is mass promotion.

Examining scores in the Nation's Report Card sadly tells a different story. The increase in graduation rates actually comes with either a flat or downward trend in both math and reading scores.

And the above trends appear as well across students' subgroups:




Wealthy Neighborhoods = Great Schools

As parents, we want the best for our children. Every parent simply wishes to give his or her child the best education possible. Schools require resources and wherever funds are scarce, the quality of education seems to suffer. Most developing countries unlike rich nations struggle in basic education because of poverty. However, we need not go outside a country to see that great schools are oftentimes in wealthy neighborhoods. A report from the nonprofit organization EdBuild in the United States shows that "income-based segregation between school districts is rising".

The report lists the fifty most segregating borders in the US. For example, number eight on the list are the school districts of Youngstown and Poland in the state of Ohio:

Another nonprofit organization GreatSchoolsprovides parents tools to "compare schools based on test scores and other available data, including student academic growth and college readiness". Ratings are in fact available for school …

Are We Really Teaching Our Children Science?

Unlike in the Philippines, young children have science as a formal subject in US schools. In addition, the new Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K:2011) provides data regarding science achievement in these early years for kindergarten and first grade students in the US. A recent examination of this data by Curran and Kellogg suggests a significant science achievement gap with African, Hispanic and Asian American children falling behind White children. Socio-economic status and achievement gaps in both math and reading apparently cannot fully explain this science achievement gap therefore indicating that schools are failing to teach science to these Black, Hispanic and Asian children.

The Asian-White gap is particularly disconcerting since Asian children generally score better than Whites in both reading and math as shown in the above figure. Furthermore, Curran and Kellogg have also found significant contributions to this gap coming from school factors. Teaching science require…

How Can We Improve Students' Reading Abilities?

Back in the Philippines, I took quite a number of standardized exams. After all, scholarships as well as admission to a college always came with an exam. In one of the reading comprehension exams given to me, there was a passage about one of America's favorite pastimes, baseball. I did not know much about baseball, not surprisingly, I found that part of the exam difficult. Matthew Lynch recently wrote "Black Boys in Crisis: They Aren't Reading" in which he cited statistics fromthe National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Education, the Educational Testing Services,and the National Assessment of Education Progress. He highlighted the fact that "only 10 percent of eighth-grade black boys in the U.S. are proficient in reading".

There are indeed racial gaps according to the U.S. Nation's Report Card:

Below, however, is an even bigger gap:

In looking at the scores, one must keep in mind that these are for children in eight grade. Thus…

How We Discipline Students in Schools Is "Trump-Like"

When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump mocked a judge for simply being a child of Mexican immigrants, we took notice. In 1972, when a black woman was told that nothing was available for rent in a Brooklyn complex managed by Donald Trump’s real estate company while a white woman was shown two available apartments in the same complex a few days later, the federal government filed a discrimination case against the Trump firm. And when Trump seemingly made fun of a reporter with a disability, we quickly denounced it. Yet, when we look at how our schools exercise disciplinary action, we see something frighteningly similar.

23.2 percent of black students were suspended at least once in high school in 2011-2012, which was more than three times, the rate at which white students were suspended. Almost one in five students with disabilities was also suspended during this time period. In elementary schools, the numbers were smaller but the disparity remained.

There is ample research…