Showing posts from 2018

"Don't Blame Heavy Workloads for Suicide of Teachers"

A headline of a recent news article on the Philippine DailyInquirer caught my attention this morning. The secretary of education, Briones, was reported to had drawn attention to the "unprofessional" correlation made by certain individuals or groups that connect heavy workloads to suicide incidents among teachers. It is true that the specific driving force behind a suicide is complex. It is often a combination of impulsiveness and a variety of external factors and circumstances. However, there is no uncertainty regarding the relationship between heavy workloads and stress. More importantly, heavy workloads are obviously not good for an effective basic education. A heavy workload, regardless of whether it is the primary cause of suicide or not, should be addressed for the well being of teachers and their students.

Therefore, it is not proper for the Department of Education to brush aside concerns regarding heavy workload simply because there is no "direct evidence" t…

Training Special Education Teachers

The American Academy of Special Education Professionals lists ten roles and responsibilities of a special education teacher. Most of these roles especially those that pertain to a classroom no doubt require something in addition to what we expect from a general education teacher. It follows then that a special education teacher not only knows content and pedagogy that apply to all students in general but also specific strategies or toolkits that help address challenges and strengths special students have. Foremost, a special education teacher must be aware of the Golem effect, where lower expectations simply lead to poor performance. Special students after all do not simply have challenges. They also have strengths.

With the additional responsibilities, it does seem that special educators should be the cream of the crop among teachers. What is disconcerting at the moment, as reported by the National Council on Teacher Quality, is that some states in the United States of America actual…

Should We Encourage Young Children to Use Their Fingers When Doing Math?

I was recently reminded of an article written by Boaler and Chen a couple of years ago on why math teachers should encourage their young students to use their fingers while I was browsing through Facebook.  These authors were apparently drawing their conclusion from a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology by Berteletti and Booth. Unfortunately, this article is an excellent example of how the public can be misinformed by not reading properly the research article. In fact, one sentence in the summary of the research article should have forced Boaler and Chen to be more thoughtful before they write scientific findings for public consumption. Here is the sentence: "Interestingly, better performance in subtraction problems was associated with lower activation in the finger somatosensory area."

And here is the graph:

What is shown above is how much a certain region in the brain is activated, specifically the somatosensory region (an area in the brain that is know…

Teens on Social Media

A new report is available from Common Sense Media. The report is on social media use of teenagers based on a nationally representative survey of more than 1000 13- to 17-year olds in the United States. The major findings of the survey are: an increased usage of social media by teenagers compared to the survey made six years ago, a generally positive experience is reported by teenagers who use social media, and a continuing concern regarding a lack of self-regulation in using social media devices.

Social media keep us connected. And in general, there is no doubt that this additional means of communication is beneficial. The report shows first of all that daily usage has increased over the past few years although the percentage of users has decreased a bit. Teenagers are checking social media much more frequently.

Another finding is that social media seems to make teenagers less depressed. This is only expected from any additional means of communication or expressing oneself.

One discon…

Excellence and Equity Can Go Hand in Hand

Back in 2009, Tom Loveless of the conservative Fordham Institute warned against the detracking of schools in Massachusetts. He suggested that tracking (grouping students according to abilities) leads to higher achievement since advanced students are given wider opportunities and greater challenges. Loveless, in his article, was specifically referring to the public schools in the state of Massachusetts, where detracking has become widespread in middle schools. Fast forward, ten years later, the state of Massachusetts has received the honor of being number one in the nation in terms of K-12 achievement, scoring high on all criteria: current performance, improvement throughout the past 15 years, and in addressing the poverty achievement gap. Excellence and equity can indeed be realized at the same time.

Massachusetts in the only state in the United States that scored a grade of B+. New Jersey gets a B and Virginia gets a B-. These are the only states that are blue, blue-green or green on…

We Are Biased

Meritocracy is often used in education for some perceived efficiency. Sadly, part of that efficiency entails a selection process that provides society with laborers of differentiated skills. Not everyone can be a CEO. The Philippines' K to 12 has a tracking program in senior high school and during my basic education years, students are divided into sections based on their past performance. Obviously, there is a question of efficiency versus equity. If schools only focus on how much their students actually learn, there is no question that equity beats efficiency. As standardized exams show, "High- and low-poverty classes that used ability-based reading groups “almost always” scored lower on average than those that used them “hardly ever” on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress."

The problem with selection or "tracking" in schools is this. We are biased whether we admit it or not. A recent experiment involving psychology students and preservice te…

Parents Do Not Want Their Children to Become Teachers

For the first time since 1969 when Phi Delta Kappan (PDK) started polling the opinion of Americans on public school education, a majority now would not want their child to become a teacher in a public school. Here in Fairfax county, Virginia, it is the first school day. Hearing that most parents now desire their children not to choose the teaching profession as a career is disheartening. On September 5, the National Teachers' Month will begin in the Philippines. Sure to dampen this celebration is the recent death of a newly hired kindergarten teacher, Shannen Espino. The death is a suicide. According to the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, "Espino teaches two classes from 7am–4pm, even her lunch breaks are usually spent in the Office of the Principal doing tasks especially assigned to her; she prepares different logs, multiple lesson plans per day, worksheets which she herself must provide; she underwent 3–4 observations since her start last June which is brought about by the …

Upping the Education Game

We all want our students to become engaged in their learning. Martin and Torres of the National Association of Independent Schools wrote, "Engaged students are more likely to perform well on standardized tests and are less likely to drop out of school. The conditions that lead to student engagement (and reduce student apathy) contribute to a safe, positive, and creative school climate and culture." So I was pleasantly surprised yesterday afternoon to see my daughter's teachers this coming school year in our front yard. The school decided this year that its staff would be visiting their students and families before classes begin. The school calls it the "Community Walk". I was not the only who was impressed, another parent clearly was, as shown on a Facebook post.

Certainly, there are a number of ways to increase student engagement. Getting the children excited right at the beginning of a new school year with a "Community Walk" is definitely a step in …

Wrong Track in Senior High School?

With the new K to 12 curriculum in the Philippines, various tracks are now offered in the last two years of basic education. The various options available obviously make it possible for students to find themselves later unprepared for the courses they decide to take in college. A student, for instance, who finishes the accounting business management (ABM) strand in the senior high school academic track, is now required to take additional courses if the student chooses to enroll in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) major in college. These additional courses which are now called "bridging programs" are either taken during the first year of college or over several weeks in the summer before college starts.

There are bridging programs in the United States, but these are different from the ones that are now appearing in colleges in the Philippines. In Coldwater High School in Michigan, for example, the "bridging program" is an option for students…

Chalkboards versus Interactive Whiteboards

Chalkboards are disappearing. I no longer have one in the lecture hall where I teach General Chemistry. A couple of years ago, Kim Kankiewicz wrote in the Atlantic: "At a cost of up to $5,000 per classroom, schools invest far more in installing interactive whiteboards than in training teachers to use them." The training is necessary since an interactive whiteboard is supposedly so much more than just a white board on which we could use markers with different colors. Yes, we can project images on it. And with various software, make it interactive. Unfortunately, studies show that "interactive whiteboards have not raised the levels of pupils’ achievement and do not necessarily impact the quality of classroom learning."

While the rest of the world are replacing blackboards with whiteboards, a 2017 dissertation notes that teachers in Japan are still using chalkboards. Back in 2015, it is estimated that three out of four classrooms in Japan are still delivering content …

Pepederalismo and DepEd's K to 12

While the current administration is trying to campaign for major changes in the country's constitution, Mocha Uson manages to create a viral video that has captured the public's attention on the proposed federal form of government. The video echoes what I have heard recently from a professor at the Ateneo regarding how the consitutional reform is being sold to the public. Not any bit more profound than Uson's video, the public is being told in these campaigns that in federalism, any family is guaranteed to eat three meals a day. To woo customers, advertisements need to be simple and it must appeal to our gullibility. And in the case of politics, the objective becomes even more focused; Fire up the base. After all, we now live in a world where knowing less means greater confidence.

The campaign for federalism is actually no different from how K to 12 has been promoted by the previous administration. During the initial implementation of the new curriculum, banners that equat…

What Do Filipinos Really Think About DepEd's K to 12?

"If majority of those who will be in the review are those who support the program from the very beginning, this is a futile task. Involve teachers, students and most especially parents in the review," says Revenendo R. Vargas, founder of the Parents Advocacy for Children Education and an instructor at the Institute of Religion at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines, as he comments on a recent announcement made by the Department of Education regarding its plan to review the K-12 curriculum. Well, if you ask the teachers, this is one of their recent calls: "Prevent Depression and Suicide, Liberate Teachers from Clerical Tasks".

I can actually relate to this call. During the limited time I have spent with some elementary school teachers in the Philippines, I find that clerical work really consumes the time, attention and energy of school personnel. For instance, I can see the importance of a school working on an action plan (Here is an example from 2006) …

"The Top Philippines Education Blog on the Planet"

This morning this blog was mentioned on a Facebook post by Feedspot Blog Reader. This blog has been rated as the "top Philippines education blog on the planet" based on Google reputation and Google search ranking, influence and popularity on social media sites, quality and consistency of posts, and Feedspot's editorial review. To all the readers of this blog, thank you.

The number of Facebook members that have liked this page is only 453. This is dramatically smaller than the number of Facebook fans that the other sites have., number 3 on the list, for instance, has more than 200,000 Facebook fans. The Commission on Higher Education, number 4 on the list has nearly 1 million followers on Twitter. This blog does not even have a Twitter account. So I guess what brought up this blog into a high spot is its Google reputation and Google search ranking.

Now, on its seventh year, I could only hope that I continue to be able to provide readers of this blog quality i…

What Should DepEd's First Priority Be?

Low scores in standardized tests are known to correlate with the level of poverty in a community. In the Philippines, where most pupils enrolled in public elementary schools come from poor families, the question is whether schools near slums perform worse than schools in less indigent neighborhoods. In the case of Quezon City in the Philippines, this is apparently true. A study published in GeoJournalfinds that schools that lie closer to hot spots of poverty in the city score 3 points lower in the national math test than schools in less impoverished areas. This is not surprising. However, the study finds another factor that strongly correlate with math scores so much more than the number of squatters near the school. This factor is the presence or absence of a clinic inside a school. With a recent tweet from the Department of Education in the Philippines, the government may just have hit a good target for improving basic education in the Philippines.

The researchers from the Universit…

How Is Deped's K-12? Ask a Chemistry Teacher

It has been six years since I started commenting on basic education in the Philippines. In that first piece I wrote in the Philippine Star, "First things first: A commentary on K+12", I highlighted the serious challenge introduced by a spiral curriculum in the sciences: "A spiral curriculum in high school will require teachers with knowledge in all these areas at a sufficient level. These required teachers are not going to be available in numbers so this program will be poorly implemented." Fast forward to 2018, we are now hearing from Chemistry teachers in the Philippines. An article recently published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education reports, "...teachers revealed their disappointment as they narrated their participation in the spiral progression of chemistry instruction in the K-12 framework that it is not concentrated, extensive, and challenges instruction. Most of the respondents of this study reported how the curriculum does not spiral, des…

Are We Meeting the Needs of Students in Special Education

Detroit News reports that Michigan is the only state identified by the United States Departement of Education as needing intervention in special education. As mentioned in a previous post in this blog, "Access to Literacy Is a Fundamental Right", a district court judge in Michigan also ruled months ago that basic education is not a right guaranteed explicitly by the United States Constitution. News regarding basic education from Michigan do appear dismal but one must note that compliance dictated by the Federal government is truly a low bar to meet and that other states still need to address the needs of students with disabilities. In this aspect, for instance, the state of Virginia, although looking good (it is purple in the map below) is no exception.

Most states need assistance while Virginia is among the score of states that apparently meet the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The graduation rate among special education students in …

Advanced Academics: Aspiring for Both Equity and Excellence

I have been asked to serve in Fairfax County's Advanced Academic Program (AAP) Advisory Committee. In 2013, an external review of this program noted that "Overwhelmingly, parents and students believe that AAP is positive, important, and effective." In our neighborhood, my impression is that every parent wishes their child to be in an advanced academic program, and the children generally take pride when they are chosen to take classes that are advanced compared to those taken by their peers. Of course, all children should be provided an opportunity to acquire the greatest learning in their classroom. Equity is important. Placing students in an advanced academic program is, unfortunately, only the first step. Equally important to access is the effectiveness of the program. Sadly, in the case of the Advanced Placement (AP) program across high schools in the United States, greater access correlates with poorer learning outcomes. This is one of the major findings of a study p…

The Draft Constitution Fails to Address Problems in Basic Education

Decentralization may indeed be beneficial for the Philippines as the individual regions are freed from an Imperial Manila. Unfortunately, The draft constitution, with all its attempts to decentralize the administration, keeps basic education under the proposed federal government. The mere fact that one Department is responsible for nearly 30 million pupils, about 1 million teachers, and one hundred thousand schools is truly daunting. While analyzing how education reforms in Thailand have failed to materialize, Fry and Bi use the Philippines as an example to explain what is happening in Thailand: "Problems in implementing reform in the Philippines mirror those in Thailand. The implementation of reform in the Philippines has been adversely affected by a large bureaucratic highly centralized hierarchical Department of Education resistant to change." Most successful educational systems in the world demonstrate a diffusion of leadership from the center to local levels. After all,…

Teachers Are Stressed

Nearly two thirds of educators surveyed by the American Federation of Teachers in the United States report poor mental health for seven or more of the past thirty days. Nearly half say they experience stress on a daily basis according to researchers from Pennsylvania State University. Stress of course negatively impacts the health, sleep, and quality of life of teachers. But research is also unequivocal on one more important aspect of teacher stress: "Teachers in the high stress, high burnout, and low coping class were associated with the poorest student outcomes." Although we are often bombarded by fake news on social media, there is nothing fake about the series of rants we are now seeing from teachers in the Philippines. In less than 24 hours, an open letter written by a retired teacher has already garnered 10000 comments and has been shared more than 50000 times on Facebook.

Teachers' stress is a problem for all of us. It is a real crisis and we need to act to help p…

"Justice for Teacher Emylou"

News of a newly hired school teacher at Lapaz Elementary School in the Philippines committing suicide has gone viral on social media. The 21-year old teacher, Emylou Malate, is supposedly suffering from depression mainly brought by stress from her heavy teaching workload. A recent study from Morocco finds that indeed, heavy workload among teachers is the primary cause of stress, which is nothing new, as this have been known for sometime. An example is a study from Canada. The workload of a teacher becomes onerous when resources and support are lacking. Teaching conditions become even more untenable when respect is lacking.

The viral post comes with a "rant, an awareness and a call for help" (See below), explaining the circumstances of Emylou's working conditions. Although a novice, Emylou apparently has been assigned to a multi-grade classroom and is expected to submit more than 20 lesson plans everyday. And with all the burden, Emily has no one to receive support from, …