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Showing posts from 2020

What We Need To Fight Is Fascism

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While campaigning in Florida, Trump made the following statement, "We're not supposed to have a socialist — look we're not going to be a socialist nation. We're not going to have a socialist president, especially a female socialist president, we're not gonna' have it, we're not gonna' put up with it." "Socialism" has always been a bad word for Americans, so Trump is associating this dirty word with Senator Kamala Harris. Having the government control every means of production is indeed unattractive, but this is not the brand of socialism progressives aspire for in this country. There is a lot of merit in providing everyone with a good education, preventive health care, and clean energy. Working for equity in education is not evil. Wanting that everyone has the means to see their doctor regularly is not wrong. Responding to the challenges of climate change is not immoral. What is in fact immoral is fascism.
The signs are clear, according t…

The Pandemic Is Still Here

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President Trump is known for spewing lies so fast that it is challenging to keep track, but one lie is so important that we should not ignore. On the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump claims, "We're rounding the corner. It's going away." It is not. On the same day Trump made this absurd and dangerous claim, the United States recorded its highest number of new COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 is not going away for one simple reason: A significant number among us still continue to ignore simple yet effective ways of mitigating the pandemic: Wearing a mask, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings especially indoors. Trump continues to hold rallies without enforcing these important measures. And at the same time, Trump insists that every school district open their schools. We cannot open schools if we have not gained control over the spread of this coronavirus. But Trump like most of his supporters do not see the logic. Do we not care about our children and their teachers? I gue…

Words from a President Matter

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I have the impression that my previous post, "Facts have no bearing on how one feels", may have been read as "How we feel has no bearing on facts". The two are very different. What often makes education particularly challenging is correcting misconceptions. What we think normally becomes a part of who we are and when what we conceive gets refuted, it appears to be an attack on ourselves. And this is especially true when these misconceptions are intimately connected to our values. For example, Trevors and Duffy have recently found that correcting misconceptions regarding COVID-19 are going to be difficult since these involve moral values and emotions. We already know this with issues like climate change, diversity and inclusion, and gun ownership and violence. All these issues require collective action, but with strongly held misconceptions, corrective measures will simply remain out of reach. The coronavirus pandemic will continue to grip our world, sea levels will…

Facts Have No Bearing On How One Feels

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I would never ask students in my class if they believe in the Pythagorean theorem. Instead, the proper question would be: "Do you understand the Pythagorean theorem?" I would never ask students in my class whether they reject the notion that the earth is flat. What is appropriate is: "Do you know that the earth is not flat?" Facts have no bearing on how one feels. Asking someone about their belief has nothing to do with how well they understand. Some people may understand but may still reject to believe. So when Senator Kamala Harris asked the nominee for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, whether climate change was real, it was not asking how well the nominee understood climate change. It was probing the nominee's character and identity.

And Barrett's response suggests that she is deeply religious. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with being religious. Religion provides us with a different window from which we can view life and the world. Religion, a…

Learning from History

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President Donald Trump often condemns history classes that tell the truth. Back in July, the Fairfax County School Board voted to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples' Day. The motion that was passed included the following statement: "Indigenous peoples have been and continue to be the victims of prejudice and systematic discrimination as a result of 500 years of oppression and violence that began with European colonization, and it extends to the systematic oppression indigenous people face today throughout the Americas." We might easily embrace, as Michael J O'Leary did, the words of Native American scholar Stan Rushworth: "the difference between a Western settler mindset of, I have rights and an indigenous mindset of I have an obligation. Instead of thinking that I am born with rights, I choose to think that I was born with obligations to serve past, present, and future generations, and the planet herself." In fact, these words may even serve as insp…

What Does the Fly Know?

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On the East Coast, the debate went way past the bedtime of my children. Nevertheless, my kids caught the first thirty minutes of the exchange between Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence. My daughter was asking me before the debate if this was of historical significance, if her future children would ask her what she was doing at this time. Without doubt, the discussion could be certainly educational. It would have been a battle between two ideas. On one side, there would be a government that would rein in health care, carbon dioxide emissions, and systemic racism, while on the other side, only free market forces would be expected to shape our future. Unfortunately, the debate did not materialize as a battle between these two. Instead, as my two children noticed, there were distortions of facts. My children went to sleep before the debate ended so they did not get to see the fly on Mike Pence's head, a fly that seemed to know a lot about what was being said.


A week af…

The School Year for Public Schools in the Philippines Has Begun

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The Philippines is one of the countries in Southeast Asia with a large number of COVID cases. Its president has ordered the suspension of in-person classes until a vaccine is available. The Department of Education, after postponing for several months, finally opened the school year with remote learning this past Monday. There is no doubt that a significant number of children would be left behind, especially those with very limited resources. In fact, it has been reported that about 3 million students did not enroll in this school year (more than 10 percent of the expected enrollment). The weeks leading to the school opening were marked with extremely tiring and challenging preparations. A day before the first day of the school, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines noted that materials were still being reproduced and collated by teachers from locally made learning modules as master copies from the central office of the Department of Education had not arrived yet. The p…

Teaching Racial Sensitivity Is Not Insane, White Supremacy Is

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We can never solve a problem without facing it. When a black school board member tells me that she would always get stopped at a grocery to show her receipt after self-checking out while others would not get checked, we need to pay attention. Yes, there are gaps due to socio-economic status, but it must also be taught that a significant source of these differences lies in racial injustices in our society. Work places need to be made aware of the importance of inclusion and diversity. Schools are, of course, important as children grow in a society where racism has become too banal. When we have a president who says, "If you were a certain person, you had no status in life. It was sort of a reversal, And if you look at the people, we were paying people hundreds of thousands of dollars to teach very bad ideas and frankly, very sick ideas,", the more we need to teach our children as they grow up to recognize and respect their own and those of cultures, the more we need to show o…

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Champion For Equity In Education

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During my high school days, the boys were taking a class on automotive while the girls were in a home economics class. My son, on the other hand, really enjoyed taking a home economics class in middle school. He learned how to bake, how to cook, and how to sew. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was uncomfortable in her home economics class as she longed to join the boys who were doing shop in school. Equity in education involves not only equity in race or socio-economic status. Equity also includes gender. Educating all means educating all, no exceptions. Ginsburg's opinion on the Supreme Court decision to force the Virginia Military Institute to include women in its admission illustrates her firm belief that we are all still working toward the more perfect union in which there are no more people excluded or ignored. Ginsburg's tenure in the highest court of the United States truly embodies what we are seeing in yard signs nowadays: "In This House We Believe: Black Lives Matter…

Physical Activity Is Now Even More Important While Schools Remain Virtual

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Fairfax county public schools have been opened virtually for two days now. After all the classes, my children and I ride our bikes in our neighborhood. We spend some time in my children's former elementary school, which has a nice and empty parking lot. With five to six hours of staring at a laptop screen, children do need a break. Their online classes have been running smoothly yesterday and today. There was, however, one incident today in my daughter's class. The teacher lost his wifi connection and got removed from the online class. As soon as this happened, some of the students started playing loud music with explicit language. The chat box was filled with the "f" word and there was chaos. Online classes are indeed very challenging especially when the technology does not cooperate, but even with no technical glitches, there remain huge intrinsic challenges in a virtual classroom. Screen fatigue is a real issue and even with breaks between classes, sitting idle in…

What We Now Know About SARS-CoV-2

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Earlier this year, we were hoping that the novel coronavirus will be less threatening during the summer period. Cases in the United States had continued to rise and countries in tropical areas were equally vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. We also thought that the virus was spread mainly by droplets which probably did not travel as far as 6 feet from the source. Now, there is enough evidence that SARS-CoV-2 could be airborne and therefore, could travel much farther. What remains, of course, is the required conditions before we could safely open schools. There is no possibility of transmission if there are no active cases. This condition unfortunately remains elusive at the moment. A vaccine seems the only way to get out of this predicament but in all honesty, a safe vaccine is still so many months away. But we can control this pandemic if we understand its transmission and act accordingly. And one thing is clear, we must avoid indoor gatherings. Using data on SARS-CoV-2 transmissi…

"What About Us?"

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Pretentious advocates of equity may sell you "school choice". Do not be fooled. As we witness a display of arrogant and wishful thinking during this week, I received yesterday a copy of a book that captures what really takes to achieve limitless possibilities. In the new book from Solution Tree, "What About Us?", it becomes crystal clear that at the heart of a successful school is a spirit of teamwork where teachers learn from each other by humbly sharing practices based on evidence and courageously learning from their mistakes. "School choice" only encourages competition, which is simply the opposite of what is badly needed to support every learner in our classrooms. It is not competition, but collaboration that is imperative. The problems basic education face cannot be solved by one teacher in isolation, a predicament any contest dictates. The challenges we face cannot be solved by schools competing against each other for there is simply so much to lear…

When Both Faith And Science Are Abandoned

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We can definitely choose to live in an alternate universe, where the United States of America does not lead the world in the number of cases of COVID-19. We can pick instances to prove a point. We can pick someone, including myself, to demonstrate that some individuals can climb out of poverty. Why stop there? There is always a possibility, however minute, that a poor individual can hit the jackpot in a lottery. "You’re far more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime (1 in 12,000) than win the lottery (roughly 1 in 258.9 million)." Who cares? But even faith should not change the words, "For God so loved the world" into "For God so loved America". Yet, we do it. We can easily abandon both faith and science when we choose to live in an alternate universe, one that fits every single prejudice we have. We can choose to live in a fantasy world. Everyone has that right but we must choose leaders who uphold the truth. It is not true that "this el…

What Online Education Has Forced Us to Do

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It is difficult to see what is good with regard to having education confined to an online setting. My son was watching some sort of an orientation from his high school two nights ago and it was painful. The presentation was simply a transplant from what schools in our area normally had done in-person. In-person was not as mind numbing since one could always smile and socialize with other parents and for students, with their friends. Without the opportunity to mingle with other parents and students, there was nothing really "live" in that synchronous session. Yet, there must be something good about the learning platform that the pandemic had forced on all of us. Alfie Kohn talked about three things on his blog, all of which concerned grades. Fall semester had not started yet for me, but we had to give qualifying exams to our PhD students. So I had to write my own exam and in an online test, a multiple choice format was the easiest to compose.

Assessment is of course required i…

How Much of Learning Would Be Lost This Coming School Year

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Basic education in both US and the Philippines this year will be largely online. I have heard from several experts on online education that takes at least a year just to develop an online course. Certainly, what we will see in a few weeks is not really online learning but just an emergency type of instructional continuity. There is simply not enough time to build online courses and provide the necessary training to instructors. With this in mind, the learning loss this academic year in elementary, middle and high schools can be significant and researchers at McKinsey & Company have recently warned, "These effects - learning loss and higher dropout rates - are not likely to be temporary shocks easily erased in the next academic year."


So even with average remote learning, which is probably already a high bar for schools to reach since there are just barely weeks to prepare, a student stands to lose 3-4 months of learning. In the Philippines, remote learning faces huge chal…

Inequity in COVID-19 School Closures

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As schools decide to hold virtual classes, it is important to look at what has transpired back in Spring. Online learning as it happens inside a child's home is sensitive to the resources a household can provide. Obviously, there is access to technology. Likewise, parents are now a much bigger factor in their child's education. There are, of course, differences in what parents are able to do to assist in their children's education on top of the technological demands of online learning. How various households have accessed the internet during last Spring when COVID-19 abruptly moved classrooms online offers a glimpse of the inequity schools should anticipate this coming Fall. The differences based on socio-economic status is significant as shown by a recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Children from wealthier households are clearly provided more resources. 



The study looks at search engine results during the time COVID-19 closed schools in Spr…

We Must Act Collectively

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With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise in the US and other countries, it becomes apparent that non-pharmaceutical interventions work only if these are all observed simultaneously. Most schools are currently planning to hold virtual classes only. This intervention has been recently associated with a 62% reduction in COVID-19 incidence rate and a 58% reduction in the number of COVID-19 related deaths. These reductions are clearly substantial, but these are obviously associated with effects from other interventions. Students are asked to sacrifice significantly this coming Fall with schools remaining closed for face-to-face instruction. It is a travesty if schools remain closed while bars remain open during this time. The reopening of schools hinges on the current incidence of COVID-19 in the community. Schools remain virtual so that community transmission is avoided. It is only fair that the community practices the other necessary interventions so that there is hope that students would …

Choice Comes with Responsibility

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Almost half of the children in Fairfax county chose 2 days per week of face-to-face classes. With this choice, schools then have the responsibility to keep everyone (students, teachers and staff) safe while on campus. Although this translates only to about 25 percent occupancy, the risks are thought to be unacceptable. Now that the choice of going one hundred percent virtual has been made, this decision also comes with responsibility. That responsibility, of course, is primarily the education of our children in a virtual environment. And this is challenging. As research has shown, distance learning is a lot more inefficient than face-to-face learning. In a study involving an introductory physiology class, students perform poorly in exams that require comprehension when the content is delivered online. The scores are markedly lower for students in distance learning. 

In the above, two types of exams are used. MQ corresponds to questions that only require memory while CQ requires compreh…

"Things Are Different Now"

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We are staying online. Georgetown University is. And so are my children who are currently enrolled in Fairfax County public schools. It is therefore clear now what we need to plan for this coming Fall. This is not the first time, however, since we already had a taste of distance learning last Spring when COVID-19 closed schools abruptly. This time, however, we have the opportunity to prepare. And at Georgetown, we are asked to think about the new modality of teaching and learning. And since we had some experience last Spring, we are given the opportunity to look back and reflect on what our students have to say. Our students want flexibility without sacrificing academic rigor. The students also want transparency and communication, not a one-way thing, but one that includes them as active participants. And since our lectures or meetings are on Zoom, we are also reminded of this new condition, the "Zoom fatigue". There are several reasons why staring at a screen for some time …

Children and COVID-19: The Difference Between Mainstream Media and Primary Literature

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Browsing through Facebook, I saw a post that links to an article in Axios. The post has this clear conclusion:  Middle and high schoolers can spread coronavirus as effectively as adults. That, however, is not what the cited literature or study is saying.


The following table summarizes the data from the primary literature cited by Axios

The data above come from contact tracing. Children have very limited contacts presumably because of school closures. On the other hand, adults (20 years or older) have plenty of contacts. Measuring the rate of infection obviously depends on how many contacts (the denominator in %positive). The higher the number of contacts, the infection rate will appear lower. Of course, the higher number of contacts testing positive leads to a higher infection rate. The lower number of contacts from individuals 10-19 years old becomes more obvious with the following table (taken from the same paper):


With the disparity in the number of contacts traced for the age group…

Pandemic May Lead to the Rise of Shadow Education in the US

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With most schools preparing for one hundred percent virtual classes this coming Fall, parents may begin looking for alternatives. Before the pandemic, students in the United States have already been participating in private supplementary education. COVID-19 may therefore catalyze a rise in this shadow educational system which may exacerbate existing gaps in education. A study that looks at about 18,000 ninth grade students back in 2009 already shows a significant number of students (about 18 percent) participating in out-of-school programs. With parents anxious about their children being left behind, these numbers are likely to increase. The study finds that Blacks and Hispanics attend these private programs for "catching up" while Asians generally "aim to get ahead". 


Whenever a new market arises, of course, there are opportunities. A Martial arts school in Fairfax county, for example, tries to respond to this expected demand.


As educators, we must be vigilant with …

Children Under Age 12 Do Not Transmit SARS-CoV-2

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The deadline for choosing between "virtual only" and "in-person" classes for Fairfax county parents and teachers is tomorrow. Data on how schools contribute to the spread of COVID-19 is unfortunately scarce. There is, however, a town in France, Crépy-en-Valois, that has recently provided an answer to this important question. The study, not yet peer-reviewed, has been made available in MedRxiv. Although the paper is still in a pre-print stage and should not be used to guide clinical practice, it may be useful as we try to deliberate on what to choose for Fairfax county schools. The study authored by a group of epidemiologists and virologists from Paris has also been mentioned in a Sciencearticle that summarizes what we now know about COVID-19 and children.


Out of the 1340 individuals included in the study in Crépy-en-Valois, 139 are infected with SARS-CoV-2. That is 100,000 people if the total population is 1,000,000. New York, the state that has the most cases, has …

This September Would Be Different From Last March

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In March, classes in schools switched to virtual. It definitely came with huge challenges. Fairfax County public schools, for example, failed miserably in the first couple of weeks with its Blackboard platform crashing with the load. One might think then that this coming September might be a bit smoother. This would not be necessarily true. I likewise transferred to online with the course that I was teaching last March, but there was one thing that made it easier, which, unfortunately, would not be present this September. Last March, my students and I already knew each other. I had been with them for at least a couple of months. We have had two exams and plenty of both homework and classwork. This September, I would not have met my students yet. In K-12 schools, one could imagine the extra challenge for students who would just be starting either in kindergarten, middle school, or high school. These children would not have attended any class in their new school. All the teachers would …