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Showing posts from October, 2017

Addressing the Effects of Poverty on Basic Education

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Poverty profoundly affects education. Poverty's grip on education manifests on the first day of school. Children from poor families are less prepared in kindergarten. Learning gaps are already substantial and are only bound to grow. Recent research in the United States on kindergarten preparedness mirrors the gaps observed in later stages of basic education highlighting the importance of addressing the effects of poverty on education during the early childhood years. Academic gaps based on socioeconomic status are only expected to persist if we keep ignoring the significance of a holistic approach in early education.

Investments in preschool education have increased in the United States. Parents are now much more aware in their vital role of preparing their children for school. Yet, academic gaps measured at the beginning of formal schooling remain associated with socioeconomic status (SES):


The above graph clearly shows that poverty's effects on education are extremely stubbo…

A Scientist Costume for Halloween?

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My children did not pick a scientist costume for Halloween. That is good, I guess. Judging from children's books, the image children have regarding scientists may not be flattering. Take, for instance, Mr. Galvin, the science teacher in Big Nate, or Dr. Diaper from Captain Underpants.


Why dress up as a decent scientist when a costume for a mad scientist is less than half in price.


Popular culture provides young children with images of a scientist. Unfortunately, even with books for young minds recommended by the National Science Teachers' Association, according to research published in School Science and Mathematicsthere are clearly stereotypical images:
"This study utilized the Draw-A-Scientist Test Checklist (DAST-C) to assess the illustrations of scientists in the most recent three years of NSTA Recommends book lists. A total of 15,778 images were contained in the 148 books from those lists, of which 1,676 were of scientists. ANOVA procedures revealed no significant …

"School Myths"

The Atlantic has a new Facebook page that tackles misinformation in basic education in the United States. The page is called "School Myths". The Atlantic writes, "“School Myths,” a new series by The Atlantic, debunks some of the more persistent misconceptions taught in classrooms across America, from the fallacy of the food pyramid to the pitfalls of the grading system." Its first episode posted weeks ago tackled lessons on nutrition taught in classrooms. Unfortunately, the information provided to students in these lessons are now known to be largely incorrect. The food pyramid in the nineties has now been shown to be misguided. The problem is not only with the wrong facts but also on the inherent bias behind the guidelines as the nation's Food and Drug Administration is in reality a federal government agency that promotes the United States food industry. These myths do linger. For instance, we continue to demonize coconut oil while ignoring the fact that not a…

Middle School: A United States Experience

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My son is currently in his first year in Middle School. He reads both "Big Nate" and the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid". Anya Kamenetz in a recent article posted on NPR, "Switching To Middle School Can Be Hard On Kids, But There Are Ways To Make It Better", starts with a quote from the "Diary of the Wimpy Kid":
"I'll be famous one day, but for now I'm stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons." There are countries in the world other than the United States that have middle school in basic education. The Philippines is not one of those countries. Even with its new K to 12 curriculum, there is no middle school. One may suggest that grades 7-10 are now junior high school and 11-12 are senior high school, yet that distinction still does not match the fact that in the United States, middle school and high school involve separate schools, separate set of teachers and administrators. Anyway, my son's experience with middle school is th…

Inequity in Education

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Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding of Vanderbilt University find that African American children are less likely to attend gifted programs in basic education. The same is true for Hispanic children. While 16.7% of the student population are Black, only 9.8% in gifted programs are African American. For Hispanics, 22.3% of students are Hispanic yet only 15.4% of students enrolled in gifted programs are Hispanic. Such is a glaring demonstration of inequity in basic education. In the Philippines, although the population is more or less homogeneous in terms of race, a much more striking inequity exists according to family income. In 2011, the Philippine Collegian reported that half of the entering class in the University of Philippines, Diliman campus are from "millionaires".

This year, there are no tuition and miscellaneous fees because of the new law that covers these expenses for all state universities and colleges. In the Philippines, the wealthy therefore is not just ab…

"Young Children Are Spending More Time in Front of Small Screens"

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The title of a news article must accurately reflect its content. "Young Children Are Spending More Time in Front of Small Screens" is the title of an article posted on NPR. In this case, the title is quite accurate: Children are indeed exposed to small screens as "98 percent of homes with children now have a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone". The survey made by CommonSense finds that usage of smart devices by children under 8 has skyrocketed from 5 minutes per day in 2011 to 48 minutes per day in 2017.



Whether this trend is a good reason to worry about requires a deeper appreciation of what the title really says. The title does not say, "Young Children Are Spending More Time in Front of Screens". Missing the word "Small" in "Small Screens" changes what the news is about. In fact, the survey finds that the total screen time has barely changed from 2 hours and 16 minutes per day in 2011 to 2 hours and 19 minutes per day in 20…

"Love to Learn"

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The following is a guest post from Mike Tomelden, who directs a school feeding program in the Philippines, Good Men Feeding Program. It is always easier to appreciate a post by seeing photographs of the children in need. So we start here with the children and end with a brief description of Tomelden's project (More information is provided on the Facebook page, The Reading, Literacy and Feeding Program):
Love To Learn  by Mike Tomelden Grade 1 Previous weight: 34.2 lbs. Current weight: 38.2 lbs.
Grade 2 Previous weight: 30.36 lbs. Current weight: 32.2 lbs.
Grade 2 Previous weight:38.5 lbs. Current weight: 42.5 lbs.
Grade 2 Previous weight:42.2 lbs. Current weight:55 lbs.
Grade 2 Previous weight: 39.38 lbs. Current weight: 52.0 lbs.

Grade 3 Previous weight: 43.6 lbs. Current weight: 50 lbs.
Graduates of the Let’s Read program and beneficiaries of the Good Men Project Feeding program.


Love to Learn is an active apostolate by Margaux Romero Atayde, Mike Tomelden and Nikko Buendia, under the auspices of th…

Food Stamps and Academic Performance

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Children growing up in a poor family experience times when their basic needs are not met. Not having enough money to buy food and clothes can have a significant impact on a child's performance in school. In the United States, there is a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly called "Food Stamps") which provides financial assistance to poor families so that they can meet their nutritional needs. A family of four, for instance, can receive as much as $640 per month. In most instances, this amount is not really adequate for the entire month such that during the final days of the month, the chance of nutritional deficiencies becomes higher. Recent research shows that the academic performance of children correlates with the benefits cycle such that performance is poorer when the "Food Stamps" have run out.
When a math exam is administered 26 days after SNAP benefits are received, students' scores are lower:

Lower scores do seem to correlate …

"Weight of Evidence" versus "Balance" in News Reporting

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In an opinion article on "fake news" in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a former journalist and journalism professor, Crispin Maslog, wrote: "We drill into our students the principles of objectivity, double-checking facts, accuracy, fairness and balance in news reporting, as well as responsibility in opinion writing." Fairness, objectivity and balance are standards we often hear regarding news reporting. Both sides need to be heard. In fact, when I was trying to get my opinion on K to 12 published in the Inquirer, I was told that the editor would always want to have a reply from the other side. Since the Department of Education never made a comment, my articles were never published. While this norm on balance may be appropriate for political news, applying it to issues that are best addressed by scientific research is actually precarious. Other examples where balance in news reporting is problematic are climate change and drug addiction. On Rappler, Cecilia Lero wro…

Drug Abuse Is a Health Issue

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"...Comic book drug narratives construct a dichotomy between drug users and drug dealers. Users are typically presented as victims of predatory drug dealers. They may be physically, sexually, and morally degraded, but they remain victims who should be saved by the hero... By contrast, dealers are predatory villains who are criminalized and punished through the justified violence of the hero", writes Mark Stoddart in the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture. This is indeed the popular notion in society, a simplistic view that drug dealers are evil and that they are solely responsible for the drug problem a society faces. Unfortunately, such a narrative fails to help us see fully how a drug crisis actually evolves, as Stoddart notes in his paper.

How a drug trade sets foot in society is not as simple as how villains are depicted in comic books. In Saviano's "ZeroZeroZero", drug dealers are not simply criminals for they are often high in social stature …

Fake News, Critical Thinking, and Democracy

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"They were not all fake news. Within the pile were true stories of Pepto Bismol-colored water pouring from faucets, a tornado spiraling alongside a rainbow and the president of the Philippines urging citizens to kill drug dealers." These are lines from an article describing a class on "Fighting Fake News" at the Newseum where students from Annandale High School are given the opportunity to figure which articles are real. The exercise has confirmed one concern shared by educators in the United States. Due to "fake news" being on the spotlight for a significant amount of time, some adolescents in the United States now think that everything they read is fake.

In the Philippines, the Senate has decided to tackle "fake news" as well. Senators have met with bloggers supposedly in order to get a better idea of this new medium through which information is now transmitted. A former solicitor general, Florin Hilbay, has even gone as far as suggesting the …

Teachers Can Make a Difference

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October 5, 2017 is World Teacher's Day. Do teachers really make a difference in the education of our children? With all the factors that can influence learning outcomes, it is not straightforward to extract how much of the results can really be attributed to a teacher. Neverthelss, a recent study from the Netherlands that focuses on twins has been able to establish a relationship between teacher quality and student achievement. As a policy, twins in Netherlands are placed into different classes. Since most factors are often equivalent between twins, being enrolled in different classes allows for researchers to relate academic outcomes to the only factor that is different between the twins, teachers. Doing so reveals one characteristic that is important for teacher quality. It is experience.


Better academic outcomes are associated with teachers having more experience. One year of experience is equivalent to one percent of a standard deviation. And this relationship appears to be st…

"Magic 8" in Preschool Education

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A study that run for two years involving more than eight hundred preschool children across more than twenty classrooms yielded a set of areas that correlates with improved academic and social outcomes. These areas, called the "Magic 8", are reducing transition time, increasing the quality of instruction, creating a more positive emotional climate, teachers listening more to children, providing more sequential activities, fostering social learning (associative and cooperative) interactions, fostering higher levels of child involvement, and creating more math opportunities.


These areas are not listed according to any order, but it is still worth noting that the first is about logistics. The time between activities is not only a waste of time, but also a potential gap during which children can become easily distracted which can often lead to either bad or unproductive behavior. Quality of instruction goes beyond a child simply regurgitating information. It must include developm…

When Problems in Education Are "Not in Education"

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The former principal in my children's elementary school wrote this note to me sometime last week, "I have been traveling a lot and talking to many wonderful educators and was speaking to a gentleman about his school and he was talking about how great the kids were but there were some challenges. I asked him about the discipline and he said it was not bad but there was an uptick. He said, 'Well, Mexicans are moving in', with no malice from his voice just as if it were a fact that Mexican equaled trouble. But he followed up with, 'There are some great kids'. I am not sure he realized what he said or how it may affect his interactions with some kids. Please read this post from that lens. Change starts with honest self reflection... In reflection I have been guilty of this not proudly shared regarding unconscious bias." In this note the principal was referring to a post made by Bill Ferriter, "Second Guessing My Kids of Color".

Education is indeed m…