Showing posts from May, 2017

School Vouchers: Is It Simply Throwing Money at a Problem Or Stealing Money?

"Throwing money at a problem" is a commonly used phrase for education reforms that do not yield positive results. The Trump administration is a big fan of the voucher system and in its proposed budget, more than a billion dollars will be added to support school choice. This increase comes with an overall decrease of nine billion dollars in the Department of Education's budget. This move comes even after Trump's own Education Department reports on dismal results for the scholarship opportunity program in the District of Columbia.

Trump administration's insistence to support school vouchers has earned the following remark from Democratic senator Patty Murray:
"When Secretary [Betsy] DeVos’s own Department’s independent research office tells her that siphoning taxpayer dollars into private schools has a negative impact on students, it’s time for her to finally abandon her reckless plans to privatize public schools across the country,” Having a "negative im…

Do Philippine Schools Produce Idiots?

The title of this post is a modified version of an article published in The Economist in 2012.

After all, based on the average score on the high school National Achievement Test in the Philippines, a majority of students are failing, very similar to the predicament faced by teenagers in Romania. There are in fact additional similarities. Romania also witnesses its bright young citizens receiving education abroad and immigrating for good. Romania likewise does very well in academic competitions. Similar to the Philippines, there is not one university in Romania that is ranked among the top 500 in the world. There are a lot of things that are the same between the two countries that one can easily write an essay on Philippine education by simply replacing "Romania" with "Philippines" in The Economist article.

One glaring similarity between the Philippines and Romania are the reasons why basic education is a huge disappointment. According to The Economist:
One of the r…

Literal and Inferential Comprehension: Duterte's Statement on Rape

In basic education, interventions on reading  have been known to improve significantly literal comprehension. On the other hand, enhancing a child's inferential comprehension is much more challenging. The reason is simple. Making inferences often requires drawing a lot from the reader's knowledge. In addition, how we infer ususally depends on our own experiences. Take, for instance, a recent statement by the president of the Philippines that if his soldiers have raped three women, it would be on him. To this Reuters adds, "Duterte is known for his informal, no-nonsense style and his speeches are often loaded with profanity, threats and jokes about taboo subjects, which offend some, but are taken lightly by many Filipinos."

Duterte is trying to lift the morale of his soldiers who are currently fighting a terrorist group in the southern island of Mindanao. He has declared Martial Law and while exhorting his troops to do their job, he tells them not to commit abuses. I…

My Students Demand Partial Credit

Two months ago, I posted on this blog an article entitled "What do my grades really mean?" Recently, I just received evaluations from my students. I guess these evaluations were my grades for my teaching. Since the evaluation was online, less than half of my class participated. Less than a quarter of the class bothered to write comments and going through what they wrote, it seemed like there was only one complaint: I did not give partial credit. Although these gripes are coming from a few, their remarks appeared loud and clear. Apparently, these students not only did not know what their grades really meant. They also did not know what "partial credit" meant. To me, these students seemed to be expressing that receiving partial credit was their right. Such disconcerting attitude reminded me of an essay a Physics professor once wrote in Newsweek:

Wiesenfeld lamented about the students' "indifference toward grades as an indication of personal effort and perfo…

Islamic Terror in the Philippines

For someone who is thousands of miles away from what has transpired in the Philippines, I am clearly clueless of what is actually happening. In contrast, I have a much better grasp of what occurred in Manchester. For Marawi City in the island of Mindanao, there are tons of misinformation. With the reported clashes between an Islamic terrorist group called the Maute group and government forces, it has become evident that a major news source in the Philippines, is also a source of fake news.
The above photos turned out to be those of a different bombimg accident that happened several years ago. The Reuters'report yesterday was much less sensational:
Five Philippine soldiers were wounded on Tuesday in a clash when they raided an apartment where Islamic State-linked militants were hiding in a city on the southern island of Mindanao, the army said.
The focus of the raid was about 15 militants belonging to the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State in the Middle Eas…

Activating Inappropriate Existing Knowledge

Nicole McNeil of the Department of Psychology at Notre Dame published a paper in Child Development about ten years ago entitled "Limitations to Teaching Children 2 + 2 = 4: Typical Arithmetic Problems". She offers a different title on a version of this article at Notre Dame: "Don't Teach Children 2 + 2". Of course, it is widely known that arithmetic fluency correlates with good performance in algebra. For instance, a study involving about 200 undergraduate students concludes "computational fluency had the strongest effect on algebra achievement". So, why should we not teach children arithmetic? This recommendation is actually more about how knowledge can sometimes hinder learning.

McNeil, in a much more recent work with other researchers, highlights the importance of understanding math equivalence, that is, appreciating what an equal sign really entails. To assess how well a student understand math equivalence, questions like the one shown below can b…

Textbook Plague in the Philippines

In Fairfax county, public schools do not use textbooks in elementary. The same goes for middle school. Instead, teachers use resources that are either available on the internet, or handouts that can be easily reproduced with a copying machine. Working with this type of learning materials obviously avoids textbooks that are too expensive to correct if they are found erroneous. Mistakes can be easily addressed with materials that are digital and originals can be corrected before placing them on a Xerox machine. With the new K to 12 curriculum and mother-tongue based education in the Philippines, a need for new learning materials automatically follows. The Department of Education in the Philippines has performed very poorly in this task. First, the Department has continued with contracts on textbooks that are no longer aligned with the new curriculum. Second, the new textbooks designed for the new curriculum have been poorly written, proofread and edited. Perhaps, it is a blessing that s…

Farewell and Best Wishes to a Great School Principal

"Great leaders don't set out to be a leader, they set out to make a difference. It's never about the role, it's always about the goal." -Lisa Haisha.

I received a message today from the principal of Mason Crest Elementary School, Brian Butler. He would be leaving Mason Crest to join the Office of School Support, helping other principals and school administrators in his new role. Mr. Butler in his message did assure parents that Mason Crest would not "miss a beat" in his absence. He did make a difference in the school. His leadership was not so much about being a boss, but on how the school strove to serve each and every student under his guidance. Advocating and working hard to create a professional learning community was his focus. His eforts were towards ensuring that Mason Crest was a school that truly took student learning seriously. His leadership was indeed transformative. Nonetheless, my daughter was not happy to hear of his departure. Neither wa…

We Need to Listen to Non-Filipinos Regarding Slavery

Back in 2008, a classroom inside Georgetown's Medical Center witnessed the gathering of some of the brightest Filipinos in the world. It was the 28th Annual Meeting of the Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineering. The meeting, mostly composed of talks given by Filipino scientists and engineers, had two guest speeches. The first one was given by Nobel laureate John C. Mather, "From the Big Bang to the Nobel Prize and on to the James Webb Space Telescope", and a second one was delivered by Georgetown University professor of sociology and anthropology, William McDonald. McDonald's talk was entitled, "Filipinos in the Age of Migration". McDonald's presentation was at least as disquieting as the recent article from the Atlantic, A Story of Modern Slavery in America. At that time, it was perplexing me to hear a talk during a scientific meeting from a Westerner that dealt with our people's moral issues. Six years later, McDonald wrote an ess…

Masters and Slaves Among Us

One evening I spent in the house of my PhD mentor, her husband brought this topic to our conversation. He spent a few years in the Philippines and one of the things that made him very uncomfortable was the number of domestic helpers some households had in the Philippines. He talked about it with a profound sense of contempt and aversion. I spent years being educated in a Jesuit institution advertising itself as a school that shaped men and women for others yet I never heard a single lecture that pointed out one of the greatest ills of Philippine society. The parking lots during my college days were often full of cars with chauffers spending their entire day waiting as my classmates went through their classes. I had long been in the midst of masters and slaves. I had received a doctorate degree in chemistry and had learned quantum mechanics but my mentor's husband was still lecturing me that evening on slavery.
After reading about the Atlantic's piece, "A Story of Slavery…

Adaptive Tests

Writing an exam for a class needs to be thoughtful. First, we would like the test to be precise in measuring learning outcomes. A student's score after all can be easily influenced by how the student feels about the exam. Both motivation and engagement in an assessment are important in order to gauge properly learning outcomes. Of course, in my class at Georgetown, most students take exams very seriously. And in one exam I recently gave, a student even realized that the questions were progressing from one to the next. It was a series of questions regarding how to arrange atoms in an octahedral arragement.
First, I asked how many ways can we arrange two "three of a kind" in an octahedral fashion. There are two:

The next question dealt with three symmetric paired objects that are linked.

There are also two ways because the above two are not superimposable on each other. These are like our hands, there is a right and a left, which are mirror images of each other but are no…

Fidget Spinners or Exercise?

Toys that allow a child to move their fingers are believed to be soothing. Since fidget spinners are quite popular, having one does not make a child stand out. Not being the odd person, of course, makes it quite an attractive intervention. The problem is that these toys are quite distracting so some schools have in fact banned their use inside classrooms. More importantly, there are no studies out there that have specifically looked at these toys. Instead, there are quite a number of studies that demonstrate that exercise, which includes gross motor activity, helps children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A meta-analysis of studies on effects of physical activity on ADHD published last year, for instance, shows a significant effect (g = 0.627) on both executive function and motor skills. A similar review done recently also shows that physical cardio exercise (an exercise that "raises the heart rate, stimulates perspiration, and makes one out of breath") …

What the "Yellowtards" Do Not See, but the Masses Do

Supporters of the previous administration have earned the nickname "Yellowtards" because of their leaders' penchant for this color. Based on a survey by the Social Weather Stations, the current president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is still enjoying a seventy five percent satisfaction rating, in spite of the international media being dead set on discrediting Duterte. On the other hand, the vice president and voice of the "Yellowtards", Leni Robredo, receives only fifty three percent. There seems to be a huge disconnect between the two groups.
There has always been a huge gap between policy makers and the masses in the Philippines. The current basic education curriculum, for instance, is basically unknown to the masses. And to some of the common people who are knowledgeable about the curriculum, DepEd's K to 12 is not a good idea. The masses may have a different way of seeing things. After all, their children are the ones who are studying in these …

Segregation Under A Different Name

Back in the early eighties, I was selected among rising senior high school students in the Philippines to spend a summer in the Ateneo de Manila University. The current Senate President of the Philippines, Aquilino Pimentel III, was in that summer class as well. At the end of that summer school, we all watched a play called "Kaharian ng Araw" (Kingdom of the Sun). The story was about a journey of two friends, Ponce and Paolo, both wanting to reach the famed and legendary kingdom but for different reasons. Ponce's desire was to be on top, to be number one. Paolo, on the other hand, simply wanted to support and accompany his friend. To reach the Kingdom of the Sun, one must pass through three other Kingdoms, the Kingdom of Rain, the Kingdom of Wind, and the Kingdom of Darkness. And in every step, one must give up something dear. Ponce had to give up Paolo near the end to enter the Kingdom of the Sun. Upon entering his long sought prize, Ponce realized that the Kingdom of …

Educating the "Whole Child"

In 2006, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) issued the following call to educators, policy-makers and parents: "We call on communities—educators, parents, businesses, health and social service providers, arts professionals, recreation leaders, and policymakers at all levels—to forge a new compact with our young people to ensure their whole and healthy development. We ask communities to redefine learning to focus on the whole person. We ask schools and communities to lay aside perennial battles for resources and instead align those resources in support of the whole child. Policy, practice, and resources must be aligned to support not only academic learning for each child, but also the experiences that encourage development of a whole child—one who is knowledgeable, healthy, motivated, and engaged." It is indeed ideal and soundly attractive but educating a "whole child" is a tough call. First and foremost, it requires "whole"…

"Learning About Vertebrates and Invertebrates"

My son who is in fifth grade is currently studying the differences between plant and animal cells. He is also learning about the backbone that distinguishes vertebrates from invertebrates. During a recent playdate, he and his friend were watching a Youtube video by DeMaio and his pals Iguana Greg and the Macho Crab. The kids are too old for Thomas the train, yet this video still seemed to capture their attention. They were both engaged as they listened to an iguana speaking with a peculiar accent and a crab with an attitude. Of course, after watching the video one could not stop saying "Iguana Greg".

Putting a human face on nonhumans (anthromorphism) is often used when teaching young children. Whether such addition of human characteristics on nonhumans helps learning has been examined in a research work scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology. This recent study actually involves students in college and high school and the conclusions are quite rema…