Showing posts from 2019

Lessons From Our Children

The previous post on this blog, "Why Labeling Students as Gifted Is Wrong", received this comment from former Mason Crest Elementary School principal Brian Butler: "Maybe we will start to listen because it’s shared by a student, a young girl who was labeled “gifted!" What the student was saying, however, was exactly what evidence-based research had been informing us over the years. Nonetheless, there are indeed lessons to be learned from our children. My daughter has taught me more than once. She could really be a source of wisdom and this week, a story she wrote reminded me of one important thing we all need to teach our children. Here is her story which I think pretty much sends the same message as Linda Creed's lyrics in the song, "The Greatest Love of All".

One Eye Curse
By: Amelia M. de Dios

Long ago in New York City there was a wealthy family (The Jeffersons). They had everything but they were mean to anyone that was not as wealthy as they were. …

"Why Labeling Students as Gifted Is Wrong"

This is a video worth watching....

Active Versus Passive Learning

In "The Dangers of Fluent Lectures', I think Colleen Flaherty extracted the correct message from a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the difference between how much students have learned and how much students think they have learned: "A study says smooth-talking professors can lull students into thinking they've learned more than they actually have -- potentially at the expense of active learning." Instead of focusing on the difference between strictly didactic lectures (passive learning) and those that allow students to work in groups, hold discussions and solve problems on their own (active learning), Flaherty sees that the difference really lies in how much students think they really have learned. Students can first be given the opportunity to solve problems on their own before being provided the answer or students can be spoon-fed. In the former case, students receive a more honest assessment of what they know…

Inequity in Our Schools

Surely, it is not a straight line but there is definitely a correlation. Schools with children who qualify for free or reduced-fee lunch have teachers with fewer years of experience. This is the situation in Prince William County elementary schools in Virginia according to InsideNova:

What Lessons Should We Really Learn From Successful School Systems?

For improvement, we often look around us and copy what seems to work better. This happens as well in basic education. The challenge in education, however, is that schooling is not one specific task. It cannot be distilled in one activity or even one policy. Education is a system composed of many parts that work together and affect each other. Lifting one specific aspect is not necessarily the same as copying the entire system. And if done carelessly, we may even be attributing success to the wrong aspect. Take, for instance, the curriculum. We may hastily ascribe the apparent success of schools in Finland to what they teach and how they teach. What if the success of these schools really hinge on how well prepared their teachers are? In this case, what they teach and how they teach really do not matter. What really makes them successful is that the teachers are better trained. Simply copying Finland's curriculum therefore is not a recipe for uplifting schools without considering th…

What Would Fairfax County Do With Its Advanced Academic Program?

Near the end of last year, the school board of Fairfax county decided to review its advanced academic program. Part of the decision is to seek advice from experts in advanced academics programming and equity. The board wants to hear what experts have to say. Well, experts in another school district in the United States, New York City public schools, have already spoken. Their recommendation is the immediate elimination of "gifted programs". One can guess then that in the near future the board at Fairfax county will face the same question New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is facing: Should one implement what experts recommend when the recommendation can possibly lead to political suicide?

One simply has to look at comments posted on news articles reporting this recommendation to grasp the strong objection to this recommendation. Here are examples from the Washington Post:


The “progressive” race to the bottom continues....Ohhhkay... time to acknowledge the 800-pound go…

Homework or No Homework?

I was looking at the recent activity on my blog this morning and noticed that a post I made more than two years ago was suddenly receiving quite a number of views. The post was "No Homework Policy" And browsing through a Philippines' news site explained why there was an increase in interest on this topic. Bills have been filed in the House of Representatives in the Philippines. One of the bills would even impose a fine of P50,000 or imprisonment of one to two years on teachers who would violate the no-homework condition. I did not know that giving homework to one's students could be considered a crime. Giving homework might not be doing good in basic education but it should never be regarded as a felony.

As noted in the previous post years ago, research is quite clear with regard to homework. Homework has modest effect on the academic achievement of older students (grades 7-12) and has no effect on younger students (Kindergarten to grade 6). Seeing that homework does …

Are Schools Equalizers?

Horace Mann, one of the first great advocates of public education, wrote in 1848, "Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery." As pointed out by Adam Harris at the Atlanticthere are "schools that are bringing poor kids into the middle class". I guess it is easy to cite a particular instance in which a child born in a low socio-economic family is able to climb up to a higher income bracket later in life. And in most cases, this feat is indeed made possible by education. Unfortunately, anecdotes are often exceptions to the rule. Citing one or two or even a hundred cases is not enough evidence to show that schools are indeed equalizers. Recent research demonstrates that schools in the United States are in fact not equalizers.

Without looking at the evidence, it is tempting to hypothesize that schools are great equalizers if one assumes that inequity is much sma…

Why Music Is Important in Basic Education

Learning music is good in itself but it does more to basic education. When a child learns to play a musical instrument, a child also learns self-control or regulation. A musical instrument requires the player to shift between mental and physical tasks. Playing with others also demands attention and synchronization. And to produce flawless texture, memory is important. To become proficient in playing a musical instrument necessitates practice and therefore discipline. Being able to play music can bring a sense of accomplishment to anyone and therefore can assist in improving an individual's self-confidence. Lastly, playing music together is about working together. Music is much more about collaboration than competition. All of these can easily translate to benefits in math, language and science subjects. And recent research demonstrates this.

By examining the records of more than one hundred thousand high school students in British Columbia, Martin Guhn, Scott D. Emerson, and Peter…

We Should Not Confuse Equity With Equality

What the Parent-Teacher Organization in my daughter's elementary school is doing is definitely commendable. Before school starts, all students will be provided school supplies. Not all students in this school probably need this help, but providing this to all eliminates the need to identify those who are privileged and those who are not. This is what happens when everyone is treated equally.

We must, however, not confuse equality with equity. Equity still requires that we identify children who are in need, and provide something extra for them.

What Did You Do This Past Summer?

Mason Crest Elementary School has been holding watch parties during which teachers read a book every Tuesday evening on Facebook these past few weeks.

The sign at the entrance of the school reminds students to have a good summer and read! read! read!  The previous post on this blog, "Them That Has, Gets", talks about the summer learning loss that happens over the break. It is truly commendable that teachers at Mason Crest are keeping in touch with their pupils through social media. A recent post on Facebook from Sergio Jimenez opens our eyes to something that we should also consider when pupils return to school after the summer break: "Some kids are simply glad that summer is over."

"Them That Has, Gets"

It is a phrase that summarizes well a rule in organic chemistry, Markovnikov's rule, the carbon that has more hydrogen gets the hydrogen. Sadly, this rule likewise applies to basic education. Achievement and skill gaps between poor and rich children are already present even before kindergarten. And it has long been accepted that these gaps only grow with years of schooling. A study that started in 1982 even demonstrates that the difference between disadvantaged and better-off students grow during the summer months.

Recently, Paul T. von Hippel and Caitlin Hamrock have questioned the validity of the summer learning loss. In a study published in the journal Sociological Science, these authors conclude that the summer learning loss is simply an artifact of how children are tested.

Interesting to note is the quote at the beginning of the article, "Give me a child until the age of seven, and I will give you the man." In this paper, the authors actually suggest "that read…

Gaps in Science Education

Disparities in both reading and mathematics performance are well known. These gaps exist between Whites and Blacks, between Asians and Hispanics, between rich and poor, and between native English speakers and English language learners. What is perhaps less discussed is that this disparity is likewise evident in science. After all, achievement in science is dependent on both mathematics and reading. The gaps in science test scores are as wide as those in reading and mathematics. These have been illustrated by Paul Morgan and coworkers in an article published in 2016 in the journal Educational Researcher

Race Gap
Income Gap

Language Gap

With the accompanying analysis of the above data, the researchers make the following observations:

A significant knowledge gap already exists when children enter kindergarten.Growth in science is dependent on a child's progress in reading and mathematics. The fact that the knowledge gap in the early years predicts performance in eight grade is extremely…

"The Cult(ure) of Homework" and Detention

"The Cult(ure) of Homework" is the title of the first chapter in Cathy A. Vatterott's "Rethinking Homework". In this chapter, Vatterott highlights the following widely held but unexamined preconceptions:  (1) We must extend learning beyond the classroom; (2) Activities that are intellectual are more valuable; (3) Children learn responsibility through homework; (4) More homework means greater rigor; and (5) Homework means better teachers and students. These preconceptions are really nonsense. One thing, however, is certainly true: Homework can increase inequity in education. Vatterott correctly states, "Despite there being more diversity among learners in our schools than ever, many teachers continue to assign the same homework to all students in the class and continue to disproportionately fail students from lower-income households for not doing homework, in essence punishing them for lack of an adequate environment in which to do homework." I had to …

The Current State of Mother Tongue Based - Multilingual Education in the Philippines

Equity in education demands no less than the complete abolition of linguistic hegemony. Unfortunately, with the bulk of scholarly and scientific work published in the recent decades, English has become an effective international medium. In the Philippines, the DepEd K-12 curriculum has embraced a mother tongue based education to help children feel at home in their schools and, at the same time, preserve and nurture the various languages of the country. The program has been in place for about seven years now so it is timely to assess its current standing. The Philippine Institute for Development Study (PIDS) reports that nearly all public schools (99.5%) claim to be implementing a mother tongue program in kindergarten through third grade. Of course, with more details, the program looks less rosier. More than half still do not have the books written for this program.

PIDS uses a list of four activities as a minimum requirement to consider a school as fully implementing a mother-tongue b…

"That Little Girl Was Me."

During the presidential debate of the Democratic Party, Kamala Harris threw a knock-out punch at Joe Biden, "That little girl was me." Commentators quickly recognized that the former vice president was slammed on his trivial attitude toward school segregation. In my opinion, however, the more important statement that Harris made was this, "We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly." Harris is right. For so many decades, schools in most districts in the United States have remained segregated. In some states, it is called "gifted programs" while in other districts, like Fairfax county, it is called "advanced academic program". Brian Wright and coworkers noted in a paper published in Gifted Students of Color, "that to be indifferent to this persistent lack of equitable access and opportunity to gifted education is to engage in an active and conscious state of aloofness and inattention in order to maintain the status quo." It is…

A World of Problems We Only Promise to Address

Gifted or advanced classes exemplify the absence of equity. The segregation of neighborhoods represents the epitome of income inequality. Climate change is caused by the way we live. These issues are now part of our social consciousness. In the recent primary elections in Virginia, candidates may have touched on one if not all of these concerns. Our future leaders have no choice since the world seems to agree that these are indeed the pressing issues of our times.

Mentioning the issue is one thing. Doing something about it is another. Each one of these huge problems has a solution and yet, we often end with undelivered promises for the actions required truly entail a change of heart, an overhaul of one's mindset.

Abandoning advanced or gifted class is definitely an alluringly simple answer to addressing inequity in education. After all, research has shown convincingly that "expert performance is predominantly mediated by acquired complex skills and physiological adaptations&q…

A New Way of Recognizing Students

This morning, the administration of Poe Middle School gave excellence awards to its seventh grade students. Unlike previous years, the awards this year were not described in the usual terms of scores in exams or grades in courses. It was nonetheless a recognition and its message was clear. Yes, the students got good grades but the awards were about the student's journey into learning. The awards ceremony I witnessed took Carol Dweck's advice of "Praise Children for Effort, Not Intelligence" to a palpable level. The administration at Poe Middle School described the awards as "aligned with Fairfax County's Portrait of a Graduate and International Baccalaureate Learner Profile Traits.

Fairfax County schools provide the following profile for an IB learner:

IB Learner Profile The aim of the IB programs are to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful…

How Do Children Learn Math

Similar to constructing a house that starts with a foundation, the mathematical skills and knowledge of a sixth grader are influenced by what this sixth grader knew or learned during preschool and the early elementary years. Grade six pupils in the Philippines average less than 35% in the 2017 National Achievement Test. With this poor performance, it is useful to examine the relationship, if there is one, between early math knowledge in kindergarten and first grade, and later math achievement at the end of elementary school. Such a relationship, called a "math trajectory", can be useful in pinpointing which items in early math are highly predictive of math performance in sixth grade. Bethany Rittle-Johnson and coworkers have recently mapped a "math trajectory" for low-income children by following the progress in math of over 500 children in Tennessee from ages 4 to 11. Since these children come from a disadvantaged background, their path in math is likely to be sim…

Comfort Rooms versus Faculty Offices

Due to plumbing and other required fixtures, comfort rooms are more expensive to build than regular offices. Back in 2015, Figueroa and coworkers find that while 50 out of 75 provinces in the Philippines satisfy the recommended number of pupils per classroom only 7 meet the number of toilets necessary for schools. The recent move made by teachers of converting comfort rooms into faculty offices, characterized by the secretary of education as dramatic and touching, seems to illustrate both a lack of awareness of how important comfort rooms are for students in schools and the uniqueness of these rooms when it comes to plumbing and fixtures.

There is no question regarding how much the government is playing catch-up with resources required in basic education. Even with funding, providing these facilities still requires actual construction, and the Philippines simply lacks the capacity to achieve this with a highly centralized bureaucratic system. All of these will therefore take time.


The Dismal State of Philippine Basic Education Is Aquino's Legacy

When the new DepEd K to 12 curriculum was introduced, it was clear that the government would not be able to deliver what it promised. Shortages were already widespread as the number of school-aged children had expanded considerably. Both addition of kindergarten and two years of senior high school were expected to exacerbate the problems in Philippine schools since the government was still catching up to the needs of the old 10-year curriculum. Yet, despite these extravagant revision, the new curriculum was ill-planned and foolishly implemented. This could no longer be denied as illustrated in the poor performance of students across the board on the national achievement tests. This is Aquino's legacy. The Duterte administration with its education secretary Leonor Briones are now tasked to save a sinking ship.

To illustrate what the government must do to rescue its failing education system, we should look with a healthy dose of realism at the following post on secretary Briones'…

A Propaganda Can Backfire

Angela Phillips can find support for her assertion in the recently concluded senate elections in the Philippines. She writes in a chapter in the book Political Communication in Britain, "... a campaign that relies mainly on attacking the opposition, without also providing positive reasons to vote, often backfires...." There is a fine line separating propaganda from evidence-based research. Propaganda often has a negative connotation. In the Philippines, the problems plaguing basic education require our attention. As members of the academic community, we must insist on pursuing the truth. Education, however, falls within the social sciences. Raising our children is shaped by our values. Addressing these problems, without doubt, likewise falls inside a political arena. We must be thoughtful then and work hard to ensure that we are not already starting with an answer to the problem and are simply relying on picking evidence that supports our predetermined conclusion.

Recently, …