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Showing posts from 2019

Climate Change Is Real

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In 2017, a survey showed that the percentage of Americans who believe that God created man in present form reached a low of 37 percent.  In March of 2019, a poll showed one-third of Americans still do not believe global warming is caused by human activities. It is not surprising then that a study finds a significant association between those who deny evolution and those who deny climate change. It is indeed unfortunate to see substantial "antiscience" in a developed country like the United States. However, what is more alarming is that less than half are worried about climate change. And among those who are worried, very few are probably aware of what it would take to stop carbon dioxide emissions. Andres Jimenez, a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates District 38, states that "The time to fight climate change, preserve resources, and invest in renewable energy is now!" And he is correct.


Whether it is doable or not, that is the question. Most of our carbo…

Is My District a Stronghold of Discrimination? Apparently, It Is.

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My house belongs to the 38th District of Virginia. A Democratic candidate, Kaye Kory, for the State Delegate of the 38th District recently described the neighborhood with these words: "Little River Turnpike is a highly developed drag where it’s common to see Hispanic immigrants waiting for work outside the Home Depot." In the description, Kory also mentions the premier high school in the United States, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, where only 2% of low-income children are enrolled.

Thomas Jefferson High School Student Demographics
The above lies in stark contrast with other high schools in the neighborhood, Annandale, Justice and Falls Church:
Annandale High School Student Demographics

Justice High School Student Demographics

Falls Church High School Student Demographics
Kaye Kory labels herself with "progressive leadership for a progressive district". This is not progressive leadership for a progressive district. Danieli Evans Peterman, a Ph…

Budgets and Values

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"Putting one's money where one's mouth is" is an old saying that prescribes us not to just talk about problems, but actually do something about it. This instruction may be useful in making someone honor their commitment but an additional exercise that may be enlightening is to look at where one puts his or her money. After all, where we spend money speaks volume with regard to what we deem worthy. The budget of a government reflects its values. The Philippines relies on the community during a week in May to prepare classrooms for the school opening in June. It is called "Brigada Eskwela". For the Department of Education, "Brigada Eskwela" brings together the community to help prepare classrooms. For the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, "Brigada Eskwela" is a “mere band-aid solution” to the “convulsions” of the country’s educational system. Basic education in the Philippines sits on the shoulders of the national government, but "Briga…

Congratulations, Karen Keys-Gamarra

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Karen Keys' Gamarra captured last night the largest number of votes, endorsing her for one of the "at-large" seats in the Fairfax County School Board. Gamarra has been with the school board for one and a half years and yet, has initiated and supported the following:
Presented a motion to amend the opioid curriculum to make sure our students understand the dangers of casual drug use of any kind including the use of marijuana, new levels of potency and its impact on addiction leading to opioid use.Sponsored a budget amendment to provide more behavior intervention teachers to improve the experience of our special education studentsSponsored a budget amendment to reduce discipline referrals and increase restorative efforts.Sponsored a budget amendment to maintain Title I funding for our high poverty schools.Sponsored a motion to address disparities in advanced academics by increasing access for all students (study in progress).Focused on anti-bullying efforts and greater unde…

We Must "Walk the Talk"

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Decade after decade, it is the same story. It is true that segregation is no longer dictated by law, but it is now indirectly enforced by housing prices, school programs, and zoning policies. We have candidates for school boards who appear to be championing equity in our schools. The sad bottom line, however, is that things have hardly changed. In "Who Gets Served in Gifted Education? Demographic Representation and a Call for Action", it is clear that the under-representation of low-income children, English language learners, students with disabilities, Blacks, and Hispanics in advanced academic programs persists.


And the state of Virginia is no exception:


In Virginia, Asian American children are seven times more likely to be identified as gifted or advanced than a child considered either as an English language learner or as a child with learning disabilities. It is also guaranteed that this disparity really draws a line based on family income.

The stubbornness stems not fro…

The Search for an Educated Voter in the Philippines

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It is easy to claim that gifts and favors decide which candidate will win in an election in the Philippines. This is actually very simplistic. Using policies and performance as guides in fact do not offer a clearer way for voters to decide. In so many ways, in a developing country where there are so many needs unmet, prioritization becomes an overwhelming task. A flyer intended to inform voters in a municipality in Ilocos back in 2016 illustrates this challenge:


One candidate, Cornelio Carta,, Jr., favors health, education, agricultural assistance, peace amd security, and community events while the other candidate, Riolita Balbalan, focuses more on helping the needy, water and sanitation, roads, and community facilities. Balbalan won the election in 2016. Recently, Carta run again for mayor but lost again while Balbalan won as vice mayor. Given the wide range of responsibilities shouldered by a local government, it is not easy to pick and choose. One can only guess that a voter will p…

We Hold Elections Inside Schools in the Philippines

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During election day, Filipinos have the opportunity to visit public schools because voting precincts are located inside classrooms. It is therefore highly likely that Filipino voters are aware of the conditions of public schools in the Philippines. And some are a bit surprised to see two different classrooms. In the photographs below, Senator Bam Aquino (left) and Bongbong Marcos (right) vote in an elementary classroom in Tarlac and in Ilocos Norte, respectively. Some people could see a difference between the two classrooms.



Here is the current president, also voting in an elementary school in Davao City.



So Filipinos had a chance to see their schools. Public school teachers serve as election officials in the Philippines so Filipinos not only have seen the classrooms but also the people who take care of our young. We entrust to these teachers the future of our children and yes, we also entrust to these teachers our votes. The question remains however, whether we actually see.


Elections in the Philippines: Miseducating the Filipino

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Since education assumes a very important place in a society, it is without doubt dependent on politics. Today is the first day of early voting for endorsing candidates to the school board in Fairfax county by the Democratic party. And in the Philippines, on Monday, the people will elect both national and local leaders. A high school classmate of mine is running for membership in the local council of the city of Manila and in one of my posts, he wrote, "Ibulid mo sa kahirapan ang tao, pakainin mo ng limos, pabobohin mo, paasahin mo, itolerate mo ang mga mali, magbebenta ng boto yan, palaging aasa sa politiko, at tuwing eleksiyon dahil gutom, ibebenta ang boto. Walang matinong politiko ang maiboboto." (Throw the people into poverty, feed them with alms, make them ignorant, give them false hopes, do not correct their wrong ways, then they will sell their votes, they will always rely on politicians and on every election because they are starving, they will sell their votes. Thus…

Karen Keys-Gamarra for Fairax County School Board (At-Large)

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I strongly endorse current school board member at-large Karen-Keys Gamarra. Fairfax county needs someone who will faithfully implement the One Fairfax policy on inclusion and equity. This matter is important especially in basic education. Karen Keys-Gamarra is committed to providing the best learning opportunities not just for a chosen group but for all students enrolled in Fairfax County public schools. I first met Karen Keys-Gamarra in person during a school board meeting back in December. It was in that meeting that Karen Keys‐Gamarra requested the Board to consider a work session to discuss "inequities of opportunity and access for historically underrepresented populations to Advanced Academic Programs". In addition, Karen has always fought for maintaining Title I funding for high poverty schools in the county. From promoting restorative efforts and reducing disciplinary or punitive measures to protecting the rights of special education students, Karen has always champio…

When We Are Looking Yet Cannot See

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"If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck." In education, we do not seem to follow this simple rule. We can never address the problem of inequity in education if we continue with practices that undermine fairness. We can pretend as much as we want that we are advocating for education for all but our practices remain the single loudest testament to what we actually embrace. In education, there are gaps in achievement and excellence based on family income or race. Everyone can see this. What we often fail to see is that we insist with programs that are clearly discriminatory. The Advanced Academic Program in my county is a glaring example.


Compared to all students, children from low income families (Those who qualify for free or reduced meals (FRM)) are three times less likely to be enrolled in levels 3 and 4 of the Advanced Academic Program (AAP) in Fairfax county. The likelihood of either a Black or a Hispanic child being…

What is in a Score or Grade?

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It is that time of the year. Some students are taking standardized exams and it is near the end of a school year so students are about to receive their final grades. Getting admitted to a college depends on these two so it is important to know what information one really gets from a student's score in a standardized test and from a student's grade point average (GPA). These two measures are already known to correlate with a student's graduation rate from college. This can be seen from a graph drawn by Preston Cooper in Forbes Magazine based on data presented in a study by Matthew Chingos.


From the above graph, it is clear that high school GPA is a much more discriminating tool and is a better predictor than scores in a standardized test when it comes to success in college. Except for the fact that students who score less than 800 are sharply less likely to finish college, there is not much difference among students who score above this threshold. As someone who has worked …

Equity in Education: Income and Race

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Diversity is important in education. Jeanne L. Reid and Sharon Lynn Kagan at the National Center for Children and Families, Teachers College, Columbia University cite several research that demonstrate that "peer diversity may also offer important social benefits to all children, irrespective of their socieconomic status." Diversity offers opportunities to hear and see different perspectives. While we pay attention to integrating schools in terms of race, we cannot neglect other forms of segregation. One form, which clearly is on the rise based on a recent work by Reardon et al. is segregation by income. They find that "that income segregation has increased sharply in recent decades among families with children and that income inequality is a strong and consistent predictor of income segregation." This is residential segregation but since schools are often assigned to a child's zip code, residential segregation can lead to segregation in schools.

Achievement gap…

In the United States, Housing Problem Is a School Problem

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Children generally attend the schools within the neighborhood their family lives. When neighborhoods are segregated according to house prices, schools are inevitably segregated according to family income. To address inequity and lack of integration in schools, it is equally necessary to address residential segregation. It is therefore easy for me to endorse a fellow faculty member at Georgetown University, Alicia Pierhoples, who is running for chairperson for the county board. Georgetown University's student newspaper Hoya notes, "Georgetown University Law Center professor Alicia Plerhoples is running for chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in hopes of aiding Fairfax County's disadvantaged communities by focusing on affordable housing and early childhood education."


This blog first mentioned Professor Pierhoples in Why We Need to Pay Attention to Our Prioritieswhere she correctly points what priority our school district should choose: Commenting on a rec…

Segregation Not Only Happens Between Schools But Also Within A School

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Like Ricardy Anderson (Democratic nominee for school board from the Mason District), I have a child enrolled in Advanced Academic Program Level IV. Similarly, I also have chosen to keep my child in the same school instead of transferring her to a designated school for advanced academics. Keeping a child in the same school does look like preventing segregation but as Whitney L. Pirtle, a sociologist and professor at the University of California Merced,recently notes on the Atlantic, "The public focuses its attention on divides between schools, while tracking has created separate and unequal education systems within single schools."


As parents, we do want the best for our children. But we must make this desire apply to all children, not just ours.

Pirtle ends her article with both sadness and honesty,
"While my individual actions and choices are important, their impact is limited. Until we can develop better admissions tests, or pass legislation banning these tests altoge…

Ricardy Anderson Wins Democratic Nomination for School Board

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Congratulations to Ricardy Anderson for winning the nomination of the Mason District Democratic Committee for a seat in the Fairfax County School Board. In Anderson's address to the Mason District community, she also thanked Jessica Swanson for running a great race and for her service to Mason District. Swanson did bring something valuable to this election, her advocacy and experience, and I only hoped that Anderson would pick some of the things Swanson mentioned during last night's election. One particular item was in response to a question regarding making a choice between having one full time advanced academic resource teacher in each school or having one additional full time head-start teacher. With limited resources, the school board does have to make the choice. And in Swanson's response, she stated that our budget must reflect our values. Swanson advocates for early childhood education especially for low income children thus, it was straightforward her to make the c…

Climate Affects Basic Education

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Every year I teach general Chemistry, I spent a couple of lectures on greenhouse gases and climate change. This time, as in other years I highlight the fact that the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere continues to rise. And it has been above 400 ppm for several years now. 400 ppm maybe seen as a tipping point, but one thing is clear, carbon dioxide levels will be at least this high in the coming years. Human activity has caused this and unfortunately, even with reduced emissions, neither a drop in carbon dioxide level nor global mean temperature will occur. We must be prepared then for what climate change entails. Even basic education is not immune to global warming.



In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (USA), Heather Randell and Clark Gray show that warmer temperatures correlate with fewer years of schooling in Southeast Asia:



These are the predicted years of schooling among children aged 12 to 16 as a function of the temperature a child…

Teaching Math and the Plasticity of the Brain

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Jo Boaler and her student, Tanya Lamar, recently made the following statement on Time magazine:  "A number of different studies have shown that when students are given the freedom to think in ways that make sense to them, learning disabilities are no longer a barrier to mathematical achievement. Yet many teachers have not been trained to teach in this way." This is quite a lofty statement and yet, it is difficult to find research supporting this generalization. Accepting this statement actually means that the only reason why students with disabilities are not doing well in math is the teacher. There are correct and wrong answers in mathematics and in the sciences, there are fruitful and unproductive approaches to understanding nature. For this reason, both math and science require a combination of procedural fluency and conceptual understanding.



Take for instance the addition of fractions. Without the correct procedure and an understanding of fractions, one may simply add th…

Table of Hope

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"This painting reveals a story of greater hunger than a plate of rice could satisfy. What these children are starved for is love." - Joey Velasco

Today is Holy Thursday. This is a repost of Table of Hope: A Reflection.


This song was written in New York City Of rich man, preacher, and slave If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee, They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.
                                                                           - Woody Guthrie

Are We Using Formative Assessments Correctly?

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Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam start with the argument that formative assessments can easily raise learning achievement inside our schools' classrooms. The learning that can happen inside a classroom is driven by what students and teachers do, and if what they do is informed, their efforts can be more deliberate and hence, more effective. Thus, no one can really argue against the importance of formative assessments. The problem lies on how faithful we are with regard to what formative assessments do entail. Thus, we need to be reminded here with the definition provided by Black and William: "We use the general term assessment to refer to all those activities undertaken by teachers - and by their students in assessing themselves that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities. Such assessment becomes truly formative only when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet student needs." It is only formative if we indee…

Inclusive Education

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I am starting this post with two quotes. The first one comes from 92 governments and 25 international organizations. This is part of the Salamanca statement: "We believe and proclaim that every child has a fundamental right to education , and must be given the opportunity to achieve and maintain an acceptable level of learning." This is inspiring. The second one comes from a former principal, Brian Butler: "...this process of measuring students based on how far they are from the norm and then sorting and labeling into bins of “gifted, high, low, special” only produce ways of seeing and acting that discriminate and privilege some students in the expense of others...." And Brian Butler is correct when he adds, "I actually don’t blame parents as much as I blame our profession because many of us are ok with sorting and selecting and we reinforce this belief." This sorting is not only unfair but is likewise ineffective based on evidence from research. As schoo…

Why We Need to Pay Attention to Our Priorities

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Communities have plenty of needs and most are urgent. Knowing the difference between what is truly necessary and what is expendable is easier said than done. That is why our values often shape our priorities. And in education, our foremost duty is to provide opportunities for learning to all students. Equity and social justice must guide our priorities. With the under-representation of Blacks, Hispanics and low-income children in advanced academic programs, it may seem logical to have in place in each school accountability and direction. It may seem straightforward to see that only with a full-time personnel can a school truly address equity in advanced academics. It is clearly a need of great and urgent significance. In a larger scheme, however, this need can easily fade. Commenting on a recent budget hearing in our county, candidate for board chairman, Alicia Pierhoples writes, "17,000 low-income children are eligible for pre-K in FCPS but the Board has only added 36 new pre-K …

When We Choose What We Cite

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This evening, the advisory committee for advanced academic programs in Fairfax county will finalize its recommendations. For about a year, this committee has listened to presentations, has viewed some relevant data, and has seen some primary literature. Nonetheless, with just one meeting each month, it is unlikely that the committee has seen everything that needs to be considered to make recommendations. Moreover, as in any group, there are "knowledge brokers" and oftentimes, instead of drawing policies or recommendations from research-based evidence, policy-based evidence becomes the choice. Unlike in chemistry or in other physical sciences, in education, we often choose what we cite. Our meetings therefore simply become echo chambers and the public could suffer from not knowing the truth.

The introduction of the new K-12 curriculum in the Philippines is an excellent example. In A critique of some commentaries on the Philippine K-12 program, Flor Lacanilao lamented "..…

Larger Classes, No After-School, More School Choice

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Representative Mark Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, had this to say with regard to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, "DeVos’s assault on public education does not end with her ultimately retracted call for the elimination of funding for Special Olympics...." Looking at DeVos' budget proposal, one finds the following assertions: (1) "In fact, students may be better served by being in larger classes, if by hiring fewer teachers, a district or state can better compensate those who have demonstrated high ability and outstanding results"; (2) "21st Century Community Learning Center programs do not generate consistent student attendance or yield consistently improved academic outcomes"; (3) "This Budget builds on our efforts to give families more freedom, so that families can find the best educational setting for their children". Secretary Devos believes in larger classes, no after-schools, and school choice. And she says t…

"Why Can't Our Students Read?"

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I was reading an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that asked the question, "Why Can't Our Students Read?" And somewhere in the article, another question was offered, "Are teachers themselves competent readers?" In 2017, more than half of elementary school children in the Philippines were apparently "frustrated readers". Almost a quarter could not comprehend and seven percent were completely illiterate. Indeed, "Why Can't Our Students Read?" is an important question to ask. To answer this question, one should probably look at instances where we find students reading. One instance was shared by the principal at the school my daughter attends. My daughter's principal wrote, "We caught a very special patrol going above and beyond the call of duty this week. Amelia was not only keeping our kindergarteners safe--she was keeping them engaged as they waited for their bus."



My daughter is reading a book to kindergarteners a…