Showing posts from April, 2019

In the United States, Housing Problem Is a School Problem

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

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

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

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

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

"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?

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

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

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

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

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?"

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…

Basic Education Is Supposed to Be NonPartisan

Elections are coming soon both here in Fairfax county and in the Philippines. In our district, April 24 is an important date. On the evening (7 pm - 9pm) of this day at Annandale High School, members of the Mason District Democratic Committee will decide whom to endorse to take the Mason District seat in the Fairfax County School Board. Yes, only members of the Mason District Democratic will get to decide. That is about 300 individuals deciding for the thousands and thousands of children enrolled in the public schools at Mason District. The endorsement from the Democratic Committee since this basically decides who will win in the November election. It sure brings an exclamation to an opinion raised by Jay Spiegel at The Connection;
"School Board elections are required to be non-partisan. While this is technically true, it is actually a fiction." Becoming a school board member, however, requires more than rubbing elbows with the right people. Just read what one of the candida…