Showing posts from February, 2020


The New York Times has the following headline: "Japan Shocks Parents by Moving to Close All Schools Over Coronavirus". It seems like responding to a health concern has now been closely tied to politics. The stakes are high. And in a sea of uncertainty, the consequences for either doing too little or doing too much are severe. Right at the heart of this precarious situation is the unreliability of data. It is the reason why even experts are so cautious with their assessment. Still, there are pieces of data that one can deem reliable. Both fatality rate and confirmed cases, for instance, are skewed toward older age.

An article in the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology reports that nearly 90 percent of cases are in the age group of 30 to 79 years old. Consequently, the majority of the fatalities are also in this age group. What is worth noting is that even the fatality rate goes up with age, reaching more than 1 percent for 50 years or older:

The fatality rate remains low, 0.2 to …

Learning Civics

Civics is formally the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. And citizenship is about being a responsible member of a community or society. In the seventies when I was in high school, we were required to complete several hours of service for every school year as part of the government's Youth Civic Action Program (YCAP). Obviously, whether a student learn what civics entails depends on what the student does to fulfill such a requirement. I probably did not learn that much since most often, it felt simply like forced labor with no obvious opportunity to experience what it really meant to be a citizen. One year, I was scrubbing concrete steps of stairs with hydrochloric acid in a newly constructed building for our high school. I was not taught how to handle carefully the acid and I was made to work without gloves or a mask. At the moment, there is a bill in the Philippines Senate that aims to establish a citizenship program, giving college and senior high school students th…

A Picture Tells A Story

Images are powerful. Pictures can send a powerful message. At least, this has been obvious to a school teacher in South Africa who was dividing his class based on whether a child speaks English or Afrikaans. After a photo of his classroom went viral on social media, the teacher was suspended. More often than not, we need to see an image to see clearly something that is wrong. A picture can tell us right away, without any debate, that labeling children according to the language they speak is wrong. Labeling and segregating children in schools is wrong.

Yet, graphs seem to be not as powerful, like the ones shown below for the school district my children attend.

Gifted and Talented labels are being given at a much higher frequency to Asians and Whites in Fairfax county, essentially separating these children from Blacks and Hispanics. This segregation has been true for sometime now but there still has been no concrete action or policy taken to address this problem. Here is another graph t…

Standardized Exams Cannot Measure Excellence

We would like to measure the fruits of our effort. We would like to gauge how our schools are doing. Thus, we have standardized exams that are supposed to be much more objective than grades given by teachers. Consistency unfortunately does not automatically translate to accuracy and there are obviously limits in how much information test scores can actually provide. First, a single exam given to all students has an intrinsic limitation in coverage. Consequently, these exams are often geared toward determining deficiencies and not mastery. It is indeed a huge mistake to equate standardized test scores with excellence. In fact, recent research has shown that a standardized exam like ACT (originally American College Testing) cannot reliably predict college graduation rates.

The above graphs show how college graduation rates correlate with high school grade point averages (left) and scores in the ACT exam (right). Each of the gray lines is a high school. The ACT graph has much less variab…

An Important Survey from Fairfax County Public Schools

Parents of students enrolled in elementary and middle schools in Fairfax county now have the opportunity to have their voices heard with regard to the county's Advanced Academic Program. This time, the county is asking every parent not just those who have children deemed talented or gifted. It is an important survey as it poses questions regarding equity in the county's schools. I sincerely hope that every parent responds to the email and fill out the survey.

Here is the email (The links on the image below will not work on this blog - you will need to open the email that was sent to you by Fairfax County Public Schools).

The important equity question on the survey are as follows:

And to help you answer honestly the above question, how you answer these other questions may help:

How Do Senior High School Students in the Philippines Perform in a General Mathematics Test?

The PISA 2018 results placed 15-year old students in the Philippines near the bottom (outperforming only one country, the Dominican Republic) in its mathematics exam. These results show that mathematics education in the Philippines is failing in the first nine or ten years of basic education. Senior high school students in the Philippines are between 17 and 18 years of age and because of DepEd's K to 12, now have the opportunity of two more years of basic education. It is therefore important to see if these added years make a difference. With different tracks in senior high school in the Philippines, it is appropriate to gauge how students perform in a test that involves only general mathematics. With PISA, there is likewise a question of alignment between the test questions and the curriculum in Philippine schools. Thus, constructing an exam that is completely aligned with DepEd's K to 12 curriculum can avoid this problem. Leo Mamolo of Visayas State University did such an as…

What Causes the Black-White, Poor-Rich Gaps in Basic Education?

In the United States, gaps are obvious in public school education on a variety of measures. On average, Blacks score lower in standardized tests. With regard to school suspensions, Blacks receive a lot more than Whites do. In gifted programs, Blacks are underrepresented. Blacks are also more likely be retained in a grade than Whites do. On the other hand, white students are more likely to be enrolled in advanced courses than Black students. The same gaps appear between children of low- and high-income families. Thus, it is convenient to blame out-of-school factors for these gaps since  correlations between gaps and race, and between gaps and socio-economic status, are fairly strong. It is sadly a convenient excuse. By scratching deeper into data, researchers have found that most of these gaps are actually products of our discretion. This is the conclusion made by Kenneth Shores, Ha Eun Kim, and Mela Still in a paper to be published in the American Educational Research Journal. We are …

School Choice: Ignoring Evidence

It all seems fashionable now to reject evidence except when the evidence supports what we want to believe. The economy must be doing very well. We are told to just glance at the stock market indices. The numbers are indeed in record territory. These numbers, however, do not really tell the complete story. Stock prices are probably high because there is an excess of capital due to federal measures as well as tax breaks. In fact, considering not just the price of shares in publicly traded companies but also their earnings paints a very different picture. We may actually be approaching a moment of rude awakening. Ignoring evidence, simply because we want to, will not lead to better outcomes. What is happening in the stock market unfortunately has been happening for a long time in education. Diane Ravitch's new book, "Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America's Public Schools", is in stark contrast with Trump's approbat…