Showing posts from March, 2019

What Schools in the Philippines Need: Toilets and Safe Drinking Water

It is important that all members of a society are functionally literate. UNESCO defines the following: "A person is functionally literate who can engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his own and the community’s development.". Functional literacy is one of the key targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. Achieving this goal is obviously an objective of basic education. Unfortunately, while we focus so much on reading, writing and mathematics, we might just be missing non-academic factors that in fact strongly correlate with functional literacy. Examining data from 2008, researchers find that in the Philippines that within the region of Luzon, functional illiteracy of school-aged children correlates with sources of drinking water and type of toilet facility.  After spending a lot of time…

The "Preparation Initiative"

"Read on grade level, write legibly, know basic math,distinguish between a claim supported by evidence and an assertion, ask for help, stay organized, and break down a project into smaller parts" complete the list necessary for any level of education. This list is provided by Douglas Reeves in "The Getting Them Ready Myth" at Creative Leadership Solutions. The list as noted by Reeves is not exactly identical with what teachers often do to help prepare their students in the future. Plenty of time is of course devoted to acquiring knowledge in basic education, which is by the way important for reading comprehension. How we comprehend what we read relies heavily on our background knowledge. But what is unfortunately missing are the skills required to thrive in learning: learning to ask for help and making oneself organized.

There is a desire to narrow the achievement gap between low-income and high-income children. It is a fact that low-income children have lower gra…

Giving Every Student an Opportunity

In some school districts in the United States, students are provided the choice between different curricula in high school. Some students, for instance, are given the opportunity to enroll in advanced classes in math and the sciences. Obviously, the presence of more academically rigorous tracks means a stratification within a school. Taking an advanced course can essentially lead to a greater opportunity to learn in the years to come when the advanced course serves as a preparatory stage for future courses. These future opportunities afforded by advanced courses taken in high school can translate to better college preparation and success later in a career. Limiting the enrollment to these advanced courses based on prior performance or achievement basically denies the opportunity and exposure to students who fail to meet a given threshold. This is an example of inequity in basic education. And there is plenty of evidence that students of low socio-economic status as well as minority gr…

Research Shows School Suspensions Do Not Help

Early this month, the following was reported: "Documents obtained by WAMU showed that children in Fairfax County Public Schools, some as young as 6 years old, were restrained or put in seclusion multiple times. In some cases, a single child was confined to a room almost 100 times in a school year. Fairfax parents told WAMU that the routine isolation of children caused trauma." And during the school board meeting this month, Fox5 reported that "A parent interrupted the meeting, shouting that Fairfax Schools locks children in cages, in reference to discipline used on her autistic student. The outburst followed reporting from WAMU radio highlighting the county's use of seclusion and isolation for students with special needs. The reporting revealed a video which appeared to show a child pushed into a room as they struggled to get out."

A candidate for the school board whom I strongly endorse has spoken regarding this issue.

It is truly unacceptable to replace respo…

Not Sending Your Child to a School Because of Gangs

With the news of gang activity among students enrolled in a school in our neighborhood, a knee-jerk response is to find a different school. Most comments unfortunately on a community blog for our neighborhood are along this line. Some are even harsher, going as far as blaming the schools for taking so many undocumented immigrants. A year ago, as reported by WTOP, Jay Lanham, director of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, also cited the significant number of unaccompanied minors in Northern Virginia, as a factor that gives rise to the number of children vulnerable to gangs. My initial reaction as I related in a previous post is a profound anxiety. But as I pass through the hallway into my office at Georgetown, I am regularly reminded of what an educator should be by this poster on one of my colleague's door: I'M AN UNAFRAID EDUCATOR WITH AND FOR UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS.

The knee-jerk response from authorities and school administrators is often greater patrolling and …

Gangs in Our Schools

"He had to take knives to defend himself, and screwdrivers. He had razors and he told me, 'Mom, I'm going to defend myself with them, but it's not going to be enough.' Police have not confirmed a motive for the killing, but said Chicas and several members went to a meeting at the clique leader's home in the 7000 block of Varnum Street in Landover Hills on March 8. "During the meeting, a violent attack took place where our victim was stabbed as many as 100 times," said Major Brian Reilly with the Prince George's County Police Department." These are excerpts from a news report this past Friday on NBC Washington 4. News like this one is extremely disturbing. But the news really hit home when I read "Chicas was a student at Falls Church High School". This is the school my son is scheduled to attend a year from now. And it only hurts even more when I read in the comment section of an Annandale blog the following: "I agree this is a…

Do Teachers Really Matter?

A study in Texas shows that Teach for America (TFA) is making a significant difference in the learning outcomes of students in basic education. Beth Hawkins of T74 reports that students taught by TFA members perform significantly better in eight subjects that include math, science and English. The only subject in which no positive impact is observed is reading. The comparison is made against students taught by teachers who were not affiliated with TFA. Presumably, these are teachers who went through the traditional route of training and education.

Although TFA lists the following minimum requirements:

In order to be considered for admission to the TFA corps, you must have abachelor’s degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.50 and U.S. citizenship, national/legal resident status, or be a DACA recipient. 

One can assume that TFA places a premium on academic excellence. One simply has to look at the tips the TFA website provides to applicants:

Although, it may seem encouraging to see th…

Why Advanced Academics Should Be Provided to All

What students learn in a classroom obviously depends on instruction. Resources can definitely influence effectiveness of instruction. For these reasons, both curriculum and infrastructure can undermine equity in basic education. Parents know this so when they try to get the best opportunity for their children, they are not merely acting based on vanity. Differences in opportunities are the main drivers of gaps in achievement. We see this in early childhood education. Young children raised in families that can afford enriching activities are often better prepared when they enter kindergarten. Inequity is not just a perception. It is real and it has consequences. Thus, when school children are provided different curricula and different resources, we simply should not expect similar outcomes. This is why it is important that advanced academics be provided to all and research supports this.

The most recent example from research is teaching early algebra. In real life, students are first s…

Teachers Are Role Models

"There were a million black boys last year who wanted to play basketball in the NBA. Of that million only 400,000 will even make it to play high school ball. Of that 400,000 only 4,000 will make it to play college ball. Of that 4,000 only 35 will make it to the NBA. Of that 35, only 7 start. And the average life in the NBA is 4 years. So the real problem is that we have a million brothers looking for seven full time jobs that last 4 years and yet last year we had 100,000 jobs available to be a computer programmer, engineer or doctor and only 1,000 brothers qualified. So our appeal to black males is to realize the odds, that which you do the most is that which you will do best. ... So we have the ability in either math or science or music and sports. That which you do most, is that which you do best. If you play basketball from 3 o'clock to 9 o'clock you will be a very good basketball player. If you went home and went to the library you would be a good scholar. We need mor…

Honesty Versus Competence

"Donald Trump won the electoral college against most predictions. Looking at the voters’ pre-election evaluations of the candidates on key characteristics, we discover that most voters generally perceived Trump as more honest and trustworthy but less competent than Clinton." This is what Fabio Galeottia and Daniel John Zizzo wrote in their paper, "Identifying voter preferences: The trade-off between honesty and competence". The authors did note that although Trump won in electoral votes, Clinton won the popular vote. Is competence more important then for voters? While Galeottia and Zizzo worked on an experiment involving college students to find what is more important to voters and found that in this specific study, voters tend toward honesty, one must note the fact that even in this seemingly homogeneous group of voters, it is still plausible to categorize voters into the following groups: ‘Profit-maximizing’, ‘Absolute competence’, ‘Absolute honesty’ , ‘Relative …

The Problem Is Not the Curriculum

After citing current disheartening data for basic education in the Philippines, senator Gatchalian asked for a review of DepEd's K to 12 curriculum. Here we go again. This is exactly the perspective that brings us farther from actually addressing the problems of elementary and high schools in the country. The solution does not lie in the curriculum. The solution requires that we transform the schools into genuine teaching and learning institutions. For these, resources are needed. These should be provided first. Second, we must embrace the fact that instructors need to be empowered so that they can become effective teachers of our children. A curriculum obviously cannot address these two important steps.

Resources cost money so we should not waste any more funds that do not really address the problem. There is no other way to solve shortages in education. These needs simply must be met.

It may sound as an overused idiom, but effective teachers do not really grow on trees. Genuine …

DepEd's K to 12 Initial Results

This blog started about seven years ago. One of its first posts was an opinion article I wrote and was previously published by the Philippine Star. In that article, I emphasized that DepEd's K to 12 was not the solution to the problems plaguing basic education in the Philippines. Now, the initial results are out and the outcomes are dismal. Scores in the National Achievement Tests are down, passing rates in the licensure exams for teachers are now at their lowest level, and employment data indicate that high school graduates are unable to find work.

Senator Gatchalian, a staunch supporter of K to 12 during its initial implementation, shared these grim outcomes recently. In his presentation, he shows how scores in the national assessment for both grades 6 and 10 have dropped since the implementation of DepEd's K to 12:

Gatchalian also mentions that it is now far easier to become a lawyer, citing that the current passing rate for teachers is only 27 percent.

This comparison, by …

Facts Before Critical Thinking

"Factual knowledge must precede skill" is one of the guiding cognitive principles that Willingham uses in his book, "Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers". The reason behind this principle is simple: How can one think if there is nothing to think about. There is an ongoing disdain for facts retrieval practice in basic education. A popular mantra is "to teach children how to think and not what to think". Obviously, simply forcing students to memorize a set of facts is not sound education. It is, however, only with background knowledge can a mind begin to make connections, analyze, and construct new knowledge. Teaching facts is important. I think the real problem is we often lack direction or purpose when we teach facts. What facts should we teach our students? And as Willingham notes, "This question often becomes politically charged rather quickly". In the Philippines, this becomes all so real as illustrated in the f…

Children Are Naturally Attracted to Good

Psychologist Travis Langley asked this question: "Why write about heroes and villains in days when they seem hard to tell apart?" Heroes are those who inspire us while villains are those who strike fear in us. It seems simple enough for children to recognize superheroes and the villains they fight. Perhaps, as we grow older our thinking becomes more complex that we stop seeing morality in black and white but in different shades of gray. About three years ago, Yale researchers Arber Tasimi and Karen Wynn showed that "children and even infants, although motivated by material rewards, are nonetheless willing to incur costs to avoid “doing business” with a wrongdoer".

This morning, I saw several photographs posted and shared by a teacher and children books' author, Genaro Ruiz Gojo Cruz. One picture that really drew my attention is shown below:

The photograph came with this caption from Cruz, "Nang makita ko ang mga batang ito na nagtatakbuhan patungo sa kubol…