"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

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.

Please click to read the rest of this post >>>

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.

Please click to read the rest of this post >>>

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.

Please click to read the rest of this post >>>

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.

Please click to read the rest of this post >>>

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.

Please click to read the rest of this post >>>

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.

Please click to read the rest of this post >>>

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.

Please click to read the rest of this post >>>

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.

Please click to read the rest of this post >>>

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.

Please click to read the rest of this post >>>

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.

Please click to read the rest of this post >>>

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.

Please click to read the rest of this post >>>

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? 

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
"Low corresponds to schools in affluent communities"
Math Scores
Above figure downloaded from
"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

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?"

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The National Achievement Test in the Philippines

There is information to be gained from data. Tests in schools can be informative. Scores of students provide a quick glimpse of the current state of education. Thus, it is useful to have these numbers. These numbers may not tell everything in detail with high accuracy. Nevertheless, test results allow for a useful perspective. The National Achievement Test administered by the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines, a set of standardized tests addressing the major subjects taught in school, is an example. These tests are given to Grade 3 where students are assessed in both English and Filipino (These two subjects comprise two thirds of the exam) and Math and Science (These two account for the remaining one third). A different set of tests is given to Grade 6 pupils where each of the following 5 subjects is assigned 40 items: (Science, Math, English, Filipino and Social Studies). Another set is administered to fourth year high school students (This is currently the last year of basic education in the Philippines since K+12 has not been implemented yet for the additional two years in high school). The scores in these exams are reported as percentage of items correctly answered. A mean percentage score (MPS) of 75 percent is currently set as the goal of the DepEd. The following are data from a presentation made by the National Education Testing and Research Center, entitled "NAT Overview and 2012 Test Results".

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Third Elementary Education Project

The "enhanced" K to 12 curriculum of the Philippines' Department of Education (DepEd) is estimated to cost PhP 150 billion. More than ten years ago, the Philippines embarked on a project called the Third Elementary Education Project (TEEP). This project was about PhP 10 billion. First, the project identified the 23 most depressed provinces, which are shaded in the following map:
Above map copied from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00220388.2012.700395

Monday, July 8, 2013

Young Children Can Learn Math through the Arts?

Math and science are both human endeavors. We see both in our everyday lives. And yes, young children likewise do. Counting steps while dancing, recognizing shapes in art work, playing with colors - these are activities that offer great opportunities for young minds to begin exploring mathematics and the sciences. It is during these early years that children develop their interests and desires. The brain of a child is built to learn and grow. Exposure to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) during the early childhood years equips a young child with the path towards developing a positive attitude towards these disciplines.

The music and arts are ways by which we express ourselves. It starts as early as finger painting or working on a coloring book. While a child begins to master a language, he or she likewise explores other means. In these early works of art, a child begins to create, think and communicate. Children even begin to work with each other at an early age. STEM is also about creating, thinking, communicating and collaborating. These are skills that are likewise necessary to do well in math and science. Thus, early childhood education is really a continuum not just through the years, but across disciplines or subjects.

Math can be taught through the arts. This is the driving force behind a program pursued by the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in the state of Virginia. It is called "Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts". It aims to "hit two birds with one stone". As emphasized throughout the articles in this blog, priorities in basic education should be placed in STEM and early childhood education. Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts attempts to address both while taking advantage of programs in arts that naturally attracts young minds. The US Department of Education provides the following specific example:

Wolf Trap Teaching Artist Amanda Layton Whiteman leads a preschool class in movement as part of the Early STEM/Arts Program. (Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.)
Downloaded from