"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein
Showing posts with label Education Reform. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Education Reform. Show all posts

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Did Educators in Universities in the Philippines Miss the Big Picture?

Posing this question probably sounds disrespectful. Contempt, however, is the last thing this blog is about. This question is more of a bewilderment bordering into frustration. Some of the ills the new DepEd K+12 curriculum is addressing are problems currently plaguing the higher education system in the country. The main reason why diplomas from the Philippines do not compare favorably from those abroad is not really about what students have been taught in elementary or high school. It is the typical college curriculum that has not kept with the demands and opportunities of this world. Philippine institutions of higher learning have become cradles of remedial education and for this reason, university faculty have not been using their knowledge to teach courses with substantial content. Diploma mills have become widespread and courses offered in college are truly no different from those provided in decent high schools. The new DepEd K+12 curriculum was in fact seen by some university faculty in this light and lent support in the hope of curing the problems currently plaguing university education. In this light, it is mind boggling to see the following headline:

Above captured from Rappler
Colleges should not be providing remedial education. The objective of getting rid of diploma mills, of course, means educators at the college level who are not providing higher education must leave. What is even more perplexing is the reality that problems in higher education could have been addressed without an expensive and highly disruptive shift to a new basic education curriculum. It becomes apparent then that one of the aims of DepEd's K+12 is to simply transfer faculty from colleges who are not serving the goals of higher education to the added two years in basic education, the senior high school. It does seem that people were not paying attention.

DepEd undersecretary Yolanda Aquino was pretty clear in describing what the additional years of K+12 entail:
"In senior high school or Grades 11 and 12, the subjects are Languages, Literature, Math, Science, Contemporary Issues (global issues, politics and governance, society and culture) Social Sciences or Humanities and track-specific subjects. Those who will go to college will take any specialization in academics while students who prefer tech-voc will continue to specialize in the course they took in Grades 9 and 10. At the end of the school year, students will earn a Certificate of Competency (COC) in Grade 9 and a National Certificate 1 or II in Grade 10. 
Students in Grades 11 and 12 will undergo apprenticeship or practicum at companies identified by their schools. Quijano says the TLE courses are according to labor demands and in partnership with the business sector and the community."
And the following statements from a consultation meeting involving the departments of labor and education as well as the commission on higher education should have been crystal clear:
“Redundancy is an authorized cause of termination of employment. Because of economic exigency, employers will be forced to terminate employees. Those who do not have students, are no longer needed,” said Romeo Montefalco, Jr., officer in charge of the Bureau of Labor and Relations of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
Montefalco met with teachers and non-teaching personnel of various institutions from across Mindanao in Davao City recently to discuss the K+12 program of the government. Also present during the consultation were officials from the DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
 
At the consultation, the fear of the college educators was highlighted. Faced with the gnawing concern, Montefalco said those who will be losing their jobs will be most likely “absorved” by the government to teach in public schools.
He said there will be about 85,000 open posts for teachers as the government will implement the K+12.
 
Another solution seen is for college professors to teach students in grades 11 and 12.
The plans have been laid out clearly, in my opinion. Of course, these are not necessarily well thought. Transfer of college faculty to senior high schools assumes that the logistics are in place. Are the college faculty in the same place as the high schools that need them? That would be the first question.

K+12 in the Philippines is really different from education systems in other countries. People easily mistake the new curriculum as a simple copy of what is done in the West. It is certainly not the K-12 system of the United States. The two additional years are basically in the middle, between primary and high school. In fact, it is quite difficult to distill what Grades 6, 7, and 8 really are in the US system. Some have algebra during these years while others do not. That is why there is a movement called "The Common Core", to ensure that the topics covered would become uniform across the country:

The Common Core in Math for Grades 6, 7, 8 in US K-12
The additional two years of DepEd's K+12 really have something different in mind. It was not really meant to address problems in basic education. Educators in universities should have known this. That is why it is perplexing to see some of them raise concerns now.

The fact that K+12 is trying to address problems in higher education is one of its greatest weaknesses. Higher education, unlike basic education, is certainly not for everyone. Problems in colleges should have been addressed at a much smaller scale. The problem in basic education centers on learning outcomes and adding two years only skirts around the real issues of poverty in communities, shortages in resources, and lack of support for teachers. K+12 may in fact drive unwanted people away from higher education, but it does not solve the problems of basic education.





Thursday, June 5, 2014

Too Many Are Sitting on the Sidelines

Education International, a voice of teachers across the globe, is currently conducting an online survey to assess teaching and learning conditions worldwide:

Online survey
It is odd that a survey like this one seems necessary just to get the right information from the ground. The survey consists of several questions. Here are some of the questions in this survey that are very much relevant to finding the actual teaching and learning conditions inside schools.

Answers to questions such as the ones shown above are crucial to fully grasp what conditions pupils and teachers have to deal with inside their classrooms. In the Philippines, accurate answers to these questions seem quite difficult to obtain. The president continues to insist that there are no shortages but news articles as well as images from the ground are telling a different story. The classroom below for example is not one where the teacher has decided not to use desks. There are simply no desks in this particular classroom that the students could use.

Photo copied from Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez Full Facebook page

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Poverty and Graduation Rates

There is a correlation between the income level of a family and graduation rates. In a previous article posted on this blog, "Functional Literacy and Out of School Children in the Philippines" the following data from "Why are some Filipino children not in school?" have been highlighted:

Above table captured from "Why are some Filipino children not in school?"
The following figure also brings out the striking correlation between poverty and not graduating:

Downloaded from "Profile of Out-of-School Children in the Philippines"
The above shows the situation in the Philippines. One may be surprised to see that such correlation also exists in the United States. It is surprising because the United States unlike the Philippines has Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. (Financial Assistance To Local Educational Agencies For The Education Of Children Of Low-Income Families). The United States also has a nationwide School Breakfast Program and a School Lunch Program. There is also Head Starta federal program that provides early childhood programs for low-income families. Title I and these programs aim to provide additional resources to schools that serve children from low income families. Thus, it is interesting to examine what the current situation is in the United States. Here are the most recent data from "Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenges in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic" :


The problematic states in the above map are pink in color. These are states where the high school graduation rates for non low-income students are still below 80%. Quite a number of states have already reached 90% graduation rates for children who are not experiencing poverty. Massachusetts, for example, has 94%. The situation is dramatically different for poor children:

Almost every state in the above map is pink and eighteen states are seeing below 70% of their poor children graduating from high school. The situation looks grimmer with students with disabilities:


Only a third or less of students with disabilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Nevada are able to finish high school. Are the government programs in the United States not working? The programs mentioned above do have a positive effect on poor school children and those with special needs. The problem lies in a shift in emphasis on education reforms. The report, Poverty and Education: Finding the Way Forward, points out the following:


The above programs can work but these need to be implemented seriously with great commitment. Lip service is not enough especially when the government spends much more effort on curriculum reforms and antagonizing teachers. Programs that do not address poverty directly can in fact do harm. One can see that the list of programs that do not help address the problem of poverty in schools matches a lot of the effort that the Department of Education in the Philippines does (Its focus on K+12, performance-based bonuses, and private school vouchers). The Philippines does learn from the United States. The problem is that the country unfortunately copies only what is wrong.




Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Case Against a Curriculum

There are various media through which information may be disseminated. Popular press and social media have the widest reach. With regard to very important issues, mass media indeed shoulder a great responsibility. With complicated matters, pundits are necessary to provide expert opinions so that the public could be best informed. Oftentimes, materials that need to be digested by the public are quite voluminous, deep or too complex that the eyes of an expert become indispensable. Reforms are being introduced on education in the US and in the Philippines. Unfortunately, in both cases, the media seem to have failed in informing the public. With a poorly informed public, political strategies are then very much in play. In the Philippines, where politics is still personality based and oligarchic, the media dropping the ball on correctly informing the public about education reforms serves the purpose of keeping everyone in the dark. In the United States, keeping a reform under a low key may initially be beneficial at the first stages, but in the end, backlash will occur if people suddenly discover something very consequential is being imposed without their knowledge. Continuously misinforming the public works very well in an oligarchic society. However, for a bitterly divided and partisan society like the United States, lack of information fuels only further bickering and propaganda from both sides. A midst this predicament, I am not even sure we know what a curriculum is.

In the Philippines, the K+12 curriculum had been introduced. The curriculum change was so extensive that it was completely mind boggling that it managed to pass both houses of legislature without any hitch. The main items in the new curriculum are (1) compulsory kindergarten, (2) two added years at the end of high school, (3) spiral curriculum in math and the sciences, with science being introduced as a formal subject only in the third grade, (4) mother tongue based - multilingual instruction, with reading and writing in English only being introduced in the second grade, and (5) emphasis on the use of inquiry-based learning methods.

This blog has laid out various criticisms of this curriculum in so many posted articles. In addition, there is likewise the question of implementation of a curriculum. This blog has also cited some learning materials and their current low quality. Lessons are indeed the tangible manifestation of a curriculum inside a classroom, but one still must not confuse what needs to be taught against how it is being taught.

Objections to the K+12 curriculum in the Philippines are basically mute. This blog has been one of the few voices and one reason I heard (This one comes from Filipinos with PhD's) is that we should simply trust DepEd since these people know better. There is widespread apathy. One reason behind the lack of engagement is that unlike my peers, I have children who are just beginning formal schooling. The children of my high school classmates, for example, are now finishing college. Unlike my peers, basic education to me is not simply a memory from the past, but an actual scenario on which the future of my own children depends.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When Non-educators Provide Answers

One would not ask a plumber to work on one's dental filling. One would not even request for a professional opinion from someone who works on pipes on what should be done with one's tooth. That would be stupid. Yet, in education, individuals who have no experience in teaching are not only quick to offer their opinion, but are even confident with their misguided suggestions. Take, for example, those who think that schools are run like prisons. These people try to malign school systems by stating that classrooms are nothing more than places where students can no longer question and must simply accept what is taught. These people have not even tried teaching in a classroom where pupils can not sit still or keep quiet. To suggest that order and discipline are unnecessary for teaching simply illustrates a complete lack of practical knowledge regarding classrooms. Still, these individuals think they hold the key to reforming education.

Another pervasive thought among non-educators is an aversion towards rote learning.  Skills are seen as the means and end for education. There is no need for content. Again, this thinking comes from ignoring what learning really entails, and more importantly, how the human brain works. One would have thought that with the preponderance of computers, people would be able to relate easily to the difference between memory retrieval and processing. These are two tasks a computer does. In fact, even web browsers store previously viewed content. In this manner, retrieval takes much faster. Is it too difficult for us to realize that recalling something we already know takes much less effort than trying to come up with the answer from scratch? Nevertheless, some still blindly believes that skills are way above content. The fact that any expert in any field became an expert because of their experience and knowledge in their specific trade does not matter.

Memory is very important. In chemistry, it helps to know what the element symbols are. In biochemistry, it helps to have the structure of each amino acid at one's fingertips. With mastery of content, the brain can then spend its energy more on higher skills. This is the point that most people who hate memorization fail to see. The important thing is that neuroscience highlights the importance of having content locked in memory. There is research-based evidence that shows why it is important that young children do memorize addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of numbers. This was not after all a crazy idea handed down to us by our teachers and parents four decades ago. Here is a recent paper from the The Journal of Neuroscience:


The bottom line is that fluency in arithmetic counts. A brain that does not have to exert any effort to figure out that 5 time 5 is 25 by simply retrieving this information from memory can do a better job with determining what x is in (x + 1)(x + 1) = 25. The authors of the above study conclude:
...From an educational perspective, our results provide the first neuroscientific evidence demonstrating the fundamental importance of fluency in basic mental arithmetic in the acquisition of college-level mathematical skills. Furthermore, they significantly extend our understanding of the relationship between simple arithmetic and higher level math competence beyond that revealed by behavioral data alone. Specifically, the relationship between PSAT Math and functional brain activation during single-digit arithmetic was significant even when controlling for PSAT Critical Reading, revealing neurocognitive mechanisms specific to PSAT Math not evident from reaction time analysis alone. 
In conclusion, the present data are the first to demonstrate that brain mechanisms associated with elementary arithmetic skills are related to performance on a broad ranging, educationally relevant measure of math competence at the end of high school. Thus, the importance of early arithmetic skills for math competence is not only evident at a behavioral level. Their acquisition appears to impact the construction of neurobiological architectures across development, which may in turn support the acquisition of high school-level math skills that have significant consequences for progression into higher education. Finally, the present findings demonstrate how neuroimaging data can inform our understanding of educationally relevant issues and thus demonstrate the power of an educational neuroscience framework.
This again illustrates why it is important that our views on education are backed by evidence. Otherwise, we would be millions of miles away from the truth.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Have We Lost Our Minds?

The DepEd K+12 curriculum is supposed to be implemented in phases. For this reason, some students remain on the old curriculum while the new curriculum is being introduced one year at a time. Only the students who enrolled in first grade in 2012 would have gone through the new K+12 curriculum while in high school, only those who began first year in 2012 would have received the new 6-year secondary education. This means that during this year (school year 2013-2014) first and second year high school students are under the new curriculum while third and fourth year high students are still studying under the old 10-year basic education program. The phased implementation is in fact displayed in one of the web sites of the Philippines' Department of Education:


With the above phased implementation, it is clear that grade 11, the first of the additional two years at the end of high school, can only be offered in 2016. The reason is simple: Only in 2016 would the first year high school students in 2012 have reached this stage. Providing the two additional years before 2016 would introduce the new curriculum to students who have not gone through any year of DepEd K+12. Students who would finish fourth year of high school in 2015, for example, have not had any opportunity to experience DepEd K+12. Yet, we see the following news:


Seriously? The additional years brought by DepEd K+12 will indeed require additional classrooms. Basic education, however, requires so much more than just classrooms. Colleges have not even figured out how to handle the drop in enrollment in 2016. Now, it is going to come sooner. Where are the additional teachers coming from? Has this been sorted out? But most importantly, this fast track completely throws out the phased implementation. Providing grade 11 in 2015 to half the students means throwing hundreds of thousands of students into a new curriculum that was not intended for them. Students who would be finishing grade 10 in 2015 are students who went through all ten years of basic education under the old curriculum. Does this mean grade 11 is simply an appendix? President Aquino's thinking clearly illustrates what DepEd K+12 is really all about. It is not a holistic reform of basic education. It is simply a cosmetic addition. DepEd K+12 simply adds two years at the end of high school for show. This is one conclusion that can be easily drawn from the president's action, the truth that DepEd K+12 is nothing but a mere hodgepodge. The phased implementation is a hoax because it really does not matter. The president has shown this crystal clear.

Contrast this to the way educators in Finland think. Here is a quote from Pasi Sahlberg:
”Reforming schools is a slow process. To rush this process is to ruin it.”






Friday, November 1, 2013

China's Reform on Basic Education

Based on the PISA tests - the Programme for International Student Assessment, China is home to the best performing schools in the world. In published reports, Shanghai and Hong Kong are among the top of the international ranking. PISA's leader, Andreas Schleicher, also notes that the results from Shanghai and Hong Kong are not mere pockets of success in China's educational system. The entire country, even schools from the poor provinces, has performed well in the PISA tests. Sean Coughlan of BBC quotes Schleicher in his report "China: The world's most clever country":

"... Mr Schleicher says the results reveal a picture of a society investing individually and collectively in education.
On a recent trip to a poor province in China, he says he saw that schools were often the most impressive buildings.
He says in the West, it is more likely to be a shopping centre.
"You get an image of a society that is investing in its future, rather than in current consumption."
There were also major cultural differences when teenagers were asked about why people succeeded at school.
"North Americans tell you typically it's all luck. 'I'm born talented in mathematics, or I'm born less talented so I'll study something else.'
"In Europe, it's all about social heritage: 'My father was a plumber so I'm going to be a plumber'.
"In China, more than nine out of 10 children tell you: 'It depends on the effort I invest and I can succeed if I study hard.'
"They take on responsibility. They can overcome obstacles and say 'I'm the owner of my own success', rather than blaming it on the system.""
Amid this success, China is now paying attention to an unwanted side-effect of its successful education system:  Excessive academic burden on children. The country is concerned about its children not being afforded a balanced and healthy environment to grow. To address this problem, the Ministry of Education has drafted ten rules to guide China's new reform on education. The rules are currently open for public comment from its citizens and these rules are as follows:

  1. So that local governments are able to promote a balanced compulsory education, enrollment in any school should not be based on grades or certificates. It must be based solely on residence ("nearest school" admissions policy)
  2. Students and teachers are to be placed in classrooms randomly. No tracking is allowed.
  3. All entering students must be assumed to be starting at zero. No advanced classes nor accelerated programs are allowed.
  4. There should be no homework. Parents or communities, however, can engage their children in field trips, crafts' activities, and library visits.
  5. There are no standardized exams for Grades 1 through 3. Standardized exams are to be given only once per term and other tests cannot be given more than twice per semester.
  6. No numerical grades will be given, only qualitative descriptions, "Excellent", "Good", "Qualified", and "To Be Qualified", will be used.
  7. Beyond the textbook, neither schools nor teachers should recommend supplementary materials.
  8. Extra instruction after regular school hours, during holidays and breaks, is forbidden.
  9. There should be a minimum of one hour per day for physical exercise and recess.
  10. Supervisors at all levels are to be held accountable for the implementation of these rules.
I am happy to see that China is seeing the fact that a child must be given the opportunity to experience being a child. I remember that when I was in grade school, I had always looked forward to going to school. Of course, there were also things that made school less attractive then. I never liked numerical grades. I never liked competition. I did not like homework nor supplementary materials for education. I did not like projects. I believed that we were attending schools to both learn and play, and not be subjected to cottage industries. I think there is a thing or two to learn from China's recent education reform.




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Reign of Error" in Philippine Basic Education

This post provides an overview of several articles in this blog that relate Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error to problems and solutions in Philippine basic education. Reign of Error specifically refers to the US educational system, but there should be no doubt that there is likewise a reign of error over Philippine basic education. It is true that there are differences. Ravitch, for example, emphasizes that there have been significant progress in US basic education. Public schools in the states have indeed gone a long way and there are indeed programs that work. In the Philippines, there are isolated bright spots but the overall picture is dramatically bleaker. The United States is likewise so much richer in resources while the Philippines does not really have that much. The Philippines can not afford to waste both time and resources. It is therefore more important that the vision and reform to solve problems in basic education are both grounded on solid evidence. Ravitch's call is both timely and urgent in the United States, but it is of greater significance to the Philippines. Most of the issues raised in the Reign of Error are relevant to the Philippine condition. More importantly, most of the solutions proposed are equally applicable to the Philippines.


This post reviews solutions proposed by Ravitch to address problems in basic education in the United States. There is one article in this blog specific to the Philippine situation for each of the eleven solutions:

SOLUTION NO. 1 Provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.

Addressing Problems in Basic Education Inside the Womb

With this suggestion, Ravitch illustrates a perspective that places education as a goal and not as a means. This is a very useful frame of reference since it does make the objectives a lot clearer. Trying to solve education problems while aiming to use education as a means to solve other problems can be very confusing. Do we improve education to solve economic problems or should we address first the economic problems that lead to poor education? The latter approach is more likely to succeed simply because it attacks the problem at its root.

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SOLUTION NO. 2 Make high-quality early childhood education available to all children.

Quality Early Childhood Education

The kindergarten curriculum of Philippines is guided and inspired by recent research and findings on early childhood education. That is the good news. Unfortunately, this is not the entire story. The Philippines is currently unprepared for a proper implementation. A curriculum (how and what to teach) can only be as good as its implementation. Quality matters in early childhood education. In this area, just having something is not necessarily better than nothing. Simply endowed with the correct vision is not adequate for only realization can make the difference.

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SOLUTION NO. 3 Every school should have a full, balanced, and rich curriculum, including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, geography, foreign languages, mathematics, and physical education.

What Is a Good Education?

Basic education is so much more than turning children into college or career-ready individuals. Basic education is caring for the whole person. Basic education is the investment made by society for its future. As Ravitch describes, "A citizen of a democratic society must be able to read critically, listen carefully, evaluate competing claims, weigh evidence, and come to a thoughtful judgment." Without such skills, a democratic society is sending election ballots to people who are not equipped to make an informed decision. There is nothing wrong with teaching skills important in domestic services (cooking, cleaning, laundry) in high school. But there is something wrong if these become the primary subjects taught in high school.

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SOLUTION NO. 4
Reduce class sizes to improve student achievement and behavior.

The Classroom: Where Learning Is Supposed to Happen
To support learning, a conducive atmosphere is very helpful. Learning does not easily happen by just providing a curriculum. The environment plays an important role in the implementation of any curriculum. Without a favorable setting, learning can become very difficult, if not impossible. The physical infrastructure is important. As for shelter, a house in a slum is significantly different from a decent apartment. Still, with the resilience of the human spirit, people survive in houses made of cardboard. Children still can learn in classes held under a tree or a bridge. It is in the absence of supporting social and emotional structures that failure becomes a sure thing.

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SOLUTION NO. 5 Ban for-profit charters and charter chains and ensure that charter schools collaborate with public schools to support better education for all children.

Privatization of Basic Education Is Not a Solution
Schools can provide the illusion of being superior by controlling its enrollment. By being selective, requiring entrance exams and interviews, for example, so that only the students who have strong background can enroll, schools can indeed appear to be doing a good job in education. This is what business looks like, ensuring that an enterprise only gets the best of the starting material. Having only those who are strongly motivated right at the beginning, having only those who already have a good vocabulary as well as number skills, and having only those children who have parents who are equally engaged in their children's education certainly provide an atmosphere more conducive to a successful education. The big picture, however, is that this practice then forces public schools to work with a more challenging student population, not to mention the fact that private schools may only seem performing well because these have been limited to motivated students.

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SOLUTION NO. 6 Provide the medical and social services that poor children need to keep up with their advantaged peers.

Pork Barrel in Philippines Does Great Harm to Basic Education
The Philippines is likewise not endowed with unlimited public funds but poverty may come with some advantage when it forces the correct prioritization and decision to be made. On the other hand, poverty does exacerbate the ill effects of making the wrong choices or decisions. Poverty cannot tolerate wasteful spending but poverty should make obvious what interventions or social programs the government must take or make.

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SOLUTION NO. 7 Eliminate high-stakes standardized testing and rely instead on assessments that allow students to demonstrate what they know and can do.

Tests and Their Proper Use

Measuring learning outcomes is important. This, however, is not the only step in reforming education. These assessments must guide education reform. Prior to the above recommendations, the Philippines has been participating in international assessments. The Philippines also has its own set of national standardized exams. This blog has highlighted the results from these exams in various articles. These exams are given at various stages in basic education. There is one near the end of primary schooling, which basically gauges how much students have mastered arithmetic and reading. The results have been dismal for years. Not performing well in these exams at the early grades point to problems in the first few years of elementary education as well as in the early childhood education (preschool and kindergarten). Yet, DepEd K+12 adds two years at the end of high school. This is no different from prescribing an appendectomy procedure after seeing high levels of cholesterol. We must not only measure the knowledge and skills with care, but more importantly, respond accordingly to what the measures say.

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SOLUTION NO. 8 Insist that teachers, principals, and superintendents be professional educators.

Professionalism in Education

Professionalism does demand good salaries. Standards in teaching colleges can be set to a higher bar. Teaching exams can be made more difficult. Continuing teacher education can be imposed. But professionalism requires much more than these. It requires trust and respect. Teachers who are dictated exactly on what they should do inside the classroom are not being treated as professionals. We do not treat engineers, doctors and lawyers in the same way. Ravitch's solution number 8 is indeed a great challenge for it requires all of us to change.

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SOLUTION NO. 9
Public schools should be controlled by elected school boards or by boards in large cities appointed for a set term by more than one elected official.

The Past, Present and Future

What should not be lost in the above argument is the fact that opposition to a decentralization of education really has nothing to do with any harm decentralization can do to the learning of children. The arguments are really about communities in the Philippines not having what it takes to run a school. The arguments are about insecurity, personal interests, and turfism.

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SOLUTION NO. 10 Devise actionable strategies and specific goals to reduce racial segregation and poverty.

Poverty Crushes Education

High taxes plus a government so big that it controls almost every facet of life can surely stifle creativity, innovation and consequently, economic growth. A free market economy often brings out the motivation necessary for people to perform at their best. Unfortunately, a society driven solely by private enterprise without any government control assumes that each and every member of society is discerning enough to make the right choices. One additional assumption is that everyone has enough information and skills to become a successful entrepreneur.

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SOLUTION NO. 11 Recognize that public education is a public responsibility, not a consumer good.

Private Prisons Do Not Perform Better Neither Do Private Schools


Efficiency is usually touted when advocating privatization of government functions. The government is wasteful and oftentimes, not really accountable. Free market does have competition on its side. A business that does not keep up with its competitors, a business that does not reinvent itself every so often, a business that does not embrace disruptive innovation, will simply not survive. Not all enterprises succeed. Only half of new firms in the United States survive beyond four years (Business Information Tracking Series, US Census Bureau). Even big firms such as Lehman Brothers Holdings, Washington Mutual, WorldCom, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, have either permanently closed or filed for bankruptcy. Woolworth has been dethroned by WalMart. Borders has closed its doors. This is competition. This is truly the arena of disruptive innovation. Without doubt, there are government functions that can benefit from private entrepreneurship. Even public basic education can, just not in a way some people think. The production of learning materials such as textbooks can potentially add quality while reducing costs if this is assigned to the private sector. Even the food served in a school's cafeteria could be possibly better. One must not confuse these services or goods, however, to public responsibilities.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why School Reforms Fail

This blog just went through each of the proposed solutions in the book Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch. The solutions she proposed are rooted in a realistic view of what basic education really entails. The solutions must be based on a perspective that basic education is both a human right and responsibility. The solutions require first and foremost a recognition that poverty harms education. The solutions must come from where learning is supposed to occur, from inside the classrooms, most importantly, from the teachers who are working day and night on their thankless job of preparing the future members of society. Lastly, education should be focused on learning. Society should not throw all its other problems to education expecting that schools can solve these. Basic education is not an antidote to all of society's ills. Unfortunately, most education reforms are not built with the above in mind. For this reason, reforms fail.

Above cartoon copied from
The Problems With Education "Reform", and What to do About Them…
English teacher Pat Welsh wrote recently in the Washington Post, "Four decades of failed school reform". In the article, Welsh recalls his experiences and views on various school reforms that passed by during his forty years of teaching. He calls them "fads" that simply came and went. In one sentence, Welsh describes the reasons why education reforms fail:
All of them failed to do what I believe to be key to teaching: to make students care about what they’re studying and understand how it’s relevant to their lives.
Acknowledging the above as the key reason why most reforms come and go, without delivering any of the promised results, leads us to the undeniable fact that the teacher is indeed key to any reform that has any chance of succeeding, for only a teacher has the wisdom and experience that is required to make students care about their learning. Recognizing this key requirement in education means accepting that the solutions are going to be diverse, as diverse as the student population. There are no silver bullets, magic potions. Any education reform that touts itself as a "cure for all" is simply an illusion, no different from snake oil.

The following is the last section of Welsh's article, suggesting what measure may actually work:
What works? 
More than four decades of education reforms didn’t make me a better teacher and haven’t made T.C. Williams a better school. Rather, the quick fixes promulgated by headline-seeking politicians, school administrators and self-styled education gurus have in some cases done more harm than good. 
I found that the most helpful professional-development experiences involved fellow English teachers sharing what worked in their classrooms — always with the caveat: “This works for me; it may not work for you.” Being with people who loved doing what I did and exchanging ideas without any professional jealously was always reinvigorating. 
A passion for communicating one’s subject matter to the next generation isn’t among the 74 items on Alexandria’s Curriculum Implementation Walk-Through Data Collection list, which Sherman, who left Alexandria schools last month, used to evaluate faculty. But it’s what all great teachers have in abundance. And it’s what will keep them going when the next wave of reforms comes rolling through.
Teachers need our support and it is not just about money. More often than not, teachers are asking us what they normally ask their students. Listen....





Sunday, September 22, 2013

What Is a Good Education?

Even in higher education, there is the liberal arts curriculum. Although the specific subjects may differ from college to college, a liberal arts education is quite different from professional, vocational or technical curricula. Harvard takes pride in its liberal education and on its admissions web page, one can read the following:
The Value of a Liberal Arts Education 
A Harvard education is a liberal education — that is, an education conducted in a spirit of free inquiry undertaken without concern for topical relevance or vocational utility. This kind of learning is not only one of the enrichments of existence; it is one of the achievements of civilization. It heightens students' awareness of the human and natural worlds they inhabit. It makes them more reflective about their beliefs and choices, more self-conscious and critical of their presuppositions and motivations, more creative in their problem-solving, more perceptive of the world around them, and more able to inform themselves about the issues that arise in their lives, personally, professionally, and socially. College is an opportunity to learn and reflect in an environment free from most of the constraints on time and energy that operate in the rest of life.
Jesuit schools sum this up in a Latin phrase, "Cura Personalis", Care for the Whole Person:

Above copied from http://postmarq.tumblr.com/post/18392210430/marquette-cura-personalis
If this is an ideal for higher education, it must apply likewise to basic education. The introduction of DepEd K+12 raises the question on what the two additional years at the end of high school should be. Without doubt, what goes into these two years will likewise have an impact on higher education. Thus, questions have been raised regarding what general education courses should remain in college.

Nevertheless, a good basic education requires "Cura Personalies". Diane Ravitch makes this statement in the third proposed solution in her book Reign of Error. In the chapter, "The Essentials of a Good Education", Ravitch writes:
Solution No. 3 Every school should have a full, balanced, and rich curriculum, including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, georgraphy, foreign languages, mathematics, and physical education.
Basic education is so much more than turning children into college or career-ready individuals. Basic education is caring for the whole person. Basic education is the investment made by society for its future. As Ravitch describes, "A citizen of a democratic society must be able to read critically, listen carefully, evaluate competing claims, weigh evidence, and come to a thoughtful judgment." Without such skills, a democratic society is sending election ballots to people who are not equipped to make an informed decision. There is nothing wrong with teaching skills important in domestic services (cooking, cleaning, laundry) in high school. But there is something wrong if these become the primary subjects taught in high school. 

Cura personalis must not be confused with religion or character education simply because the Jesuits have embraced this phrase. Caring for the whole reason requires all the general disciplines that encompass human knowledge and experiences. And it does include even physical education and recess.






Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to Solve Problems in Education

This blog now averages about 1500 views per day. It has more than 600 posts and the number of visits from the Philippines has now reached a total of 300,000. It has been more than a year and while trying to condense this entire blog into its most salient points, I came across Diane Ravitch's new book "Reign of Error". (Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools (Kindle Locations 6029-6030). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)


The book is notably and strongly supported by data and research.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Throwing Everything at Education

Schools should teach good manners and right conduct. Schools should teach financial skills. Schools should teach family planning. Schools should teach that plunder is wrong. Schools should teach children what people in public office should be doing. More importantly, schools should teach children properly so that they do not grow up stealing taxpayer's money. Schools are expected to solve every problem society faces. Perhaps, it is one reason why schools fail. How about just being able to answer the following question? Provide conditions and reagents necessary for the following chemical reactions to occur:

We are throwing all sorts of national problems into the classroom as if the solutions lie within the corners of one small room occupied by a teacher and a group of students. As a result, learning goals become equated with an advocacy. In so doing, the actual goals of education are lost and battles are waged between beliefs. Children end up not learning how to read, write and do math. Children end up not knowing how to reason, relate and represent. Education is gravely compromised. 

Take the case of mother tongue based - multilingual education (MTB-MLE). In itself, this is a very significant part of any education reform. To implement this correctly, there are so many prerequisites. Focusing on learning and not ideology requires a careful and prudent approach, not a haphazard, unplanned, unsystematic, unmethodical, disorganized, disorderly manner. I think I may have used all the adjectives that appropriately describe the Philippines DepEd's K+12 curriculum. More than a year ago, I wrote in this blog, "Mother Tongue Based - Multilingual Education : The Strategy?"
DepEd's K to 12 is an example of a gargantuan reform that is founded on a set of promises made by President Aquino. Yet, it even includes additional elements that are not in the original campaign platform and some even runs contrary. No formal subject of science in the early years runs contrary to the promotion of science education. Dilution of the high school curriculum to include instruction that is better learned at home or other venues likewise contributes to congestion of the curriculum and a decreased emphasis on science. The spiral approach, not included in the promises, by itself is already gigantic. Both size and scope of DepEd's K to 12 come from various interests that have been blended and combined into one enormous package. By doing so, DepEd's K to 12 has something to offer to everyone who has a say or influence on how Philippine basic education should be reformed. It does not matter whether some elements may be disagreeable, as long as there is one element to which an influential group strongly subscribes. Each element has its own set of followers with zeal, who would be willing to turn a blind eye to the other elements. There are people who think that 12 years of basic education is a must. DepEd's K to 12 caters to this set since these people do not care if the other elements of the new curriculum are wrong as long as it involves two additional years. There are educators who are completely convinced that a spiral incursion through disciplines is the way to go. As long as this element is present in the new curriculum, everything is acceptable. DepEd's K to 12 thus caters to various sectors by providing each one with a piece of the pie. And since everything goes, why not add a new grading system. This may attract additional support and steer the discussion away from the real problems such as shortages in resources as well as poor salaries and working conditions of teachers. These interests become united into one since conviction behind one element is so strong that compromises are easy enough to swallow. "At least, we are getting what we want, never mind the entire picture," describes the underlying justification. Some who have advocated intensely for mother tongue education are no exception.
Thus, to those who think DepEd's K+12 is "castrated", perhaps, it is time to rethink and seriously ask the question: "Did we throw everything at education, and in doing so, did we totally compromise education?"






Friday, August 23, 2013

Issues Other than Learning

Education does focus on learning of students. Resources, however, introduce additional issues to contend when reforming education. Resources used for teaching are created by people. This creativity comes with a price and a tag "All Rights Reserved":
Photo Credit: Compfight

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Increasing Higher Education Costs: Oregon's Plan

Here are some data for the United States regarding student loans that have been collected by the American Student Alliance:

  • Nearly 20 million Americans attend college each year. (Source: Chronicle of Higher Education)
  • Of that 20 million, close to 12 million – or 60% - borrow annually to help cover costs. (Source:Chronicle of Higher Education)
  • There are approximately 37 million student loan borrowers with outstanding student loans today. (Source: Federal Reserve Board of New York)
  • There is roughly somewhere between $902 billion and $1 trillion in total outstanding student loan debt in the United States today. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports $902B while the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau reports $1T.
  • Of the 37 million borrowers who have outstanding student loan balances, 14%, or about 5.4 million borrowers, have at least one past due student loan account.
  • Two out of five student loan borrowers – or 41%- are delinquent at some point in the first five years after entering repayment.
  • As of 2012, only 700,000 borrowers had enrolled in Income-Based Repayment (Source:Project on Student Debt), but the Obama Administration estimates that IBR could reduce monthly payments for more than 1.6 million student borrowers. (Source: White House Fact Sheet)


Monday, August 19, 2013

Teacher Voice

This is an excellent talk given by Jose Luis Vilson, a teacher and blogger in the United States. It was given a year ago but Vilson brought this back in his blog with the following memo:
Teacher voice is the collective and individual expression of meaningful, professional opinion based on classroom experience and expertise. 
What developed shortly thereafter were a plethora of discussions of what that looks like, and how we employ that in different settings. I came to realize a few things: 
  1. People aren’t always ready to change the paradigm to make decisions more democratically.
  2. Teachers don’t always have the time or energy besides doing the best job possible in the classroom.
  3. The education debate as a whole hasn’t evolved from just picking one side and one group of people to side with.
These points make for a lack of teachers activating their voices. For those of us who do this selflessly (sans incentives, rewards, titles, and permission), it often feels like punching a wall with your bare knuckles, or breaking down a cement building with an ice pick. On one end, you have a well-versed, well-funded machine that has a set of coherent talking points on one end, and a passionate and divergent cluster of people on the other end. 
Here’s a few things we can do to build up our voices individually and collectively: 
  1. Educators can change the narrative by pushing for our stories to come to the fore with the right research and best practices to back them up.
  2. Educators can support each other (within reason) as often as possible, linking articles, blogs, and tweets of people they like and …
  3. Educators can highlight the things education deformers a lot less. 
Coming up with solutions ourselves, finding the right people willing to push those ideas, and building alliances takes a lot of hard work, but, as we deconstruct others’ arguments, we can build together. How do we get all those people to our table? 
http://thejosevilson.com/a-memo-on-teacher-voice/

Friday, August 9, 2013

Testing in New York: Lessons to Be Learned

New York is currently facing a challenge. The scores from a state standard exam that is supposed to be aligned with the Common Core are not pretty. The New York Times reports:
...In New York City, 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the tests in English, and 30 percent passed in math, according to the New York State Education Department. 
The exams were some of the first in the nation to be aligned with a more rigorous set of standards known as the Common Core, which emphasize deep analysis and creative problem-solving over short answers and memorization. Last year, under an easier test, 47 percent of city students passed in English, and 60 percent in math.
City and state officials spent months trying to steel the public for the grim figures. 
But when the results were released, many educators responded with shock that their students measured up so poorly against the new yardsticks of achievement....
English Scores
Above figure downloaded from
http://www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/ela-math/2013/2013-08-06FINALELAandMathPRESENTATIONDECK_v2.ppt
"Low corresponds to schools in affluent communities"
Math Scores
Above figure downloaded from
http://www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/ela-math/2013/2013-08-06FINALELAandMathPRESENTATIONDECK_v2.ppt
"Low corresponds to schools in affluent communities"

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bringing a Curriculum into Life inside a Classroom

Although drawing standards for basic education is a daunting task, this remains a dwarf compared to what implementation requires. Designers of a new curriculum are completely in fantasy land if the required resources are not considered. New standards, if these really represent a change, come with equally new demands from each of the factors that play important roles in education: teachers, textbooks and assessments. The professional development necessary to prepare teachers for the implementation of a new curriculum alone can be gargantuan.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Poverty and Education

"When a country is well governed, poverty and mean condition are things to be ashamed of. When a country is poorly governed, riches and honor are things to be ashamed of."

Confucius (c. 500 CE)
The Analects, excerpts

We do not get to choose our families. At the time we are born, we do not get to pick which home to live in. Poverty in several ways is similar to race. We inherit it from our parents. Unlike race, however, poverty is not necessarily a permanent condition. If opportunities exist, people should be able to climb out of poverty. Education is oftentimes regarded as a way out of poverty. But poverty affects education. Thus, it is important to become aware of poverty and how it affects learning. Without such awareness and attention, education can even magnify income inequality. With the wrong policies and reforms, education can certainly make matters worse. Thus, efforts are not enough. The right actions are needed. Misguided reforms can do harm. A wrong medicine does not simply fail to cure the illness. In some cases, a wrong prescription can kill.

There is poverty even in a highly developed country like the United States. A report from the Educational Testing Service by Richard J. Coley and Bruce Baker, "Poverty and Education: Finding the Way Forward", highlights poverty in America and its relationship to education outcomes:

To read this report please visit
http://www.ets.org/s/research/pdf/poverty_and_education_report.pdf

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lessons and Myths on Basic Education

The staff at InformEd has assembled 18 myths that quite a number of Americans believe. Some of these myths are indeed a bit contentious, as admitted by the InformEd staff, but a reasonable effort has been made to support their conclusions. These cannot be easily dismissed. Take, for example, the belief that some people have, not just Americans, that private schools are better than public schools. Do the data really support this belief? Apparently it does not:

Above figure copied from "18 Myths People Believe About Education"

Friday, July 26, 2013

"Should Spanish-Speaking Students Be Taught in English Only?"

This is the title of a report from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired on 18 July 2013. It is about a school district in New Britain, Connecticut. Most of the students in this district have Spanish as their mother tongue. Currently, only one in four students in the district can read proficiently at the end of third grade. One of the major problems the schools face in New Britain is absenteeism starting in kindergarten. Out of 1000 students, about 300 have missed at least 18 days during the school year. Among these students who miss kindergarten often, more than eighty percent are behind reading by the time they reach third grade. Home visits reduce the rate of absenteeism from 30 percent down to 18 percent, but test scores in reading are still far below satisfactory. A large majority (about 85 percent) of the students whose mother tongue is Spanish are still failing Connecticut's reading test. The new superintendent, Kelt Cooper, is working on changing this by implementing the English Language Development (ELD) method. Apparently, in Texas, Cooper had some success. The school district in Texas Cooper supervised rose from near the bottom in English proficiency scores in the state to near the top:

Captured from PBS video
"Should Spanish-Speaking Students Be Taught in English Only?"