Wednesday, November 14, 2012

East Versus West: Differences in Learning

UCLA Professor Jim Stigler talks about the observations he made as a graduate student at University of Michigan while comparing American against Japanese classrooms. Apparently, in the US, a student struggling with a lesson implies lack of ability while in Japan, struggling is seen as an opportunity. In a Japanese classroom, it is clear that academic success is not so much about what a student knows but more about a willingness on the part of a student to work and struggle to learn. It is not about intelligence, but more about motivation. Japanese classrooms focus therefore on effort. It teaches the students that the process is important. It is the most important lesson in life, persistence in the face of challenges, profoundly affecting behavior. One vivid comparison involved giving a class of first grade students a problem impossible to solve. Inside the American classroom, students gave up within half a minute saying that they have not seen such a problem before while inside the Japanese classroom, students continued to work on the problem until the one-hour period was over.

There are certainly advantages and disadvantages between the two different cultural views of learning. Japanese students do well in science and math but American students are more individualistic and creative. There is perhaps a middle path that reaps the benefits from the two culturally different approaches. Of course, a middle path that combines the shortcomings of both approaches is likewise possible, one that destroys creativity and at the same time, does not encourage perseverance. This a serious question that one must ask especially with DepEd's K to 12. In an abandonment of "rote learning", are we sacrificing the lessons of perseverance and practice? The reason why Americans have been comparing their schools against those of the Japanese is to see why Japanese students outperform American students in math and the sciences. It is a quest for the reason behind an "Eastern advantage". The Philippines, although it is in Asia, does not have this "advantage". It must therefore look at what it has lost in its culture.

To learn more about Stigler's work, please listen to National Public Radio's Alix Spiegel,














Stevenson and Lee have also provided extensive comparisons between Eastern and Western schools in the following monograph:
http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/1166090
In this monograph, they also noted the following:
Although more emphasis was generally given to effort than to ability as a basis for achievement, the relative strength of the belief in the importance of these factors differed among American, Chinese, and Japanese mothers. Relative to the Chinese and Japanese mothers, the American mothers placed greater emphasis on ability; Chinese and Japanese mothers placed greater emphasis on effort as an explanation for achievement.  
When parents believe that success in school depends on ability in contrast to effort, they are less likely to foster participation in activities related to academic achievement that would elicit strong effort toward learning on the part of their children, such as doing homework, attending after-school classes, and receiving tutoring. American parents, in fact, did not use these activities with great frequency as means for improving their children's scholastic performance, even though they were willing to provide such supplemental activities for their children in sports, music, and art. Mothers who emphasize the importance of ability may ask if such activities are useful for children of low ability and may accept the poor performance of their children. If the child has high ability, the mother may question whether such activities are needed. A greater emphasis on ability appears to be related, therefore, to American children's lower accomplishments in elementary school.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

K-12 Myth: The Promise of Employment

by Vencer Crisostomo
Repost from Philippine Online Chronicles
http://www.thepoc.net/commentaries/17357-k-12-myth-the-promise-of-employment.html

Before it went into recess last October, Congress rushed the passage of the K-12 law into 2nd reading. Several legislators opposed the move and questioned motives behind the railroading and said there should be an evaluation of the effects of the first semester pilot of the program before passing the law effectively adding 3 years to the basic education cycle.
The Department of Education's propaganda campaign, meanwhile, regarding the K-12 programhas been in full throttle these past months -- their offices churning out press release after press release -- in an attempt to get public support for a program that has already been rejected by various sectors a few years back.

As the school year opened however, the media blitz could not cover up the tragic state of the country's educational system which again reminded the public of why it is unthinkable to add more years to the education cycle in the first place.
DepEd has tried to respond by asking the public to set common sense aside, have faith on the government's goodwill and trust its claims regarding the program.
However, many of claims the DepEd is selling are myths being sold as truth. Among them, the promise of employment after graduating from the program.
Will more jobs be really available to the youth once they finish K-12?
According to the DepEd, the additional years will make our kids more "mature" and will give them "skills" needed to prepare them for jobs. This is the fantasy scenario being promised to the youth and their parents, packaging K-12 as a "bitter pill" or a sacrifice worth taking.
The problem with this claim is that it assumes that there are plenty of jobs available; it's just that students are not "employable" enough. This premise is, well, kind of ridiculous.
It ignores the fact that today, even college graduates have difficulty landing jobs. Unemployment has been on the rise, not because of shortage of "capable" people, but because there is no clear plan for an independent and sustainable development program which will provide jobs. The promise that the K-12 will solve the problem of unemployment is a false one.
What the program will successfully do, however, is increase the number of people competing over scarce jobs by creating more "semi-skilled" laborers in a shorter cycle and throwing more people as young as 18 years old into the wide ocean of unemployed.
A bigger labor reserve will push wages down further and subject our workers to greater exploitation. The real motive is thus revealed: to attract more investments by making PH labor cheaper.
More "employable," in the case of K-12 means more "exportable" and more "exploitable."

..nasa balangkas ito ng .. patakaran ng gobyerno sa paglikha ng trabaho  ang mang-akit ng malalaking kapitalistang dayuhan at lokal para mamuhunan sa bansa sa pamamagitan ng paghahain ng mura, bukod pa sa siil, na lakas-paggawa, at ang itulak ang mga manggagawa at mamamayan na mangibang-bayan para lang makapagtrabaho.

Groups also question why the program is towards providing labor for foreign capital. Sarah Maramag notes:

What the K-12 program aims to achieve, therefore, is to reinforce cheap semi-skilled labor for the global market. With young workers, mostly semi-skilled and unskilled workers now making up an estimated 10.7 percent of the total Filipino labor migrant population, it comes as no surprise then that the government is now programming its youth to servicing needs of the global market.
The DepEd is packaging K-12 as a program to "improve" the quality of education, but the program is actually a neoliberal attack aiming to further press down workers' wages and subject more Filipinos to exploitation.
Packaging the K-12 as a program with a "nationalist" character thus is height of deception. The program, together with programs of contractualization and two-tiered wage system, is one that seeks to please big foreign banks and capitalists by making our workers and people suffer lower wages and further exploitation.
More jobs via K-12? DepEd's myth: busted.
Stock photos from POC. Some rights reserved
.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Health Care and Basic Education

Almost twenty years ago, a paper appeared in the journal Public Choice that cites the inevitable challenges of providing services such as health care and basic  education:
http://www.springerlink.com/content/w394372168713921/
There are indeed striking characteristics that both health care and basic education share. For one, universal education, and child and maternal health care are among the Millennium Goals of the United Nations. Second, as pointed out by Baumol's article, these services are quite distinct from other human enterprises, such as building automobiles. Production lines designed to perform precisely each step in making cars can be made. There is room for custom-made automobiles, but for the purposes of general production, uniform lines can surely take advantage of advances in technology to lower costs of production and increase efficiency. Health care and education do not quite easily lend to these innovations. Each patient requires individualized attention and whether this is accepted or not, education is more about learning than teaching, making basic education as personal as health care. Both basic education and health care have a strong influence on a society's well-being. For these services to benefit society, these must be of high quality. A health care program or a public school that is failing can even do harm to society.

There are differences between health care and education. With regard to evidence-based research, health care is miles ahead of education. Reforms in education continue to be implemented without supporting data and studies remain poorly designed, without proper controls. On the other hand, the practice of medicine has been faithful to clinical trials and data. Health care, however, does not do well in terms of equal access. A public option, for example, in the richest country in the world, the United States, does not exist. But public schools still do.

The question that Baumol asks in the article is: Should these services remain in the public sector or should they be privatized? Current situations perhaps can answer this question. Health care is privatized in so many places. Excellent health care is available, but surely, not for everyone. Similarly, there are excellent schools that are both private and exclusive. These schools are, of course, not for every child. Privatization always tends to provide excellence first before access. Thus, there is that tempting conclusion that if quality is desired, one should privatize. To take the other option, that is, to continue with the public sector or government to provide or run these services, is then equated to low quality and inefficiency. Finland shows clearly that this is not the case. There are no private schools in Finland. Finland emphasizes equality and yet, Finland is in the top in terms of quality basic education. Excellence therefore can come with equality. When basic education is not seen as a vehicle to get ahead in life, better learning outcomes are achieved. Providing health care and basic education, without doubt, are different from making automobiles. The health and education of the members of the society are comparable to security, peace and order. I do not think societies have ever explored on a large scale the privatization of its police force or firefighters. I wonder why....

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"From Poverty to Power"

The following is an article posted in a blog by Duncan Green, author of "From Poverty to Power". It describes the "right to education" movement in India in the light of two primary schools, a teachers' group,  and a women's savings club. While thinking about the Philippine situation, I think Green's article is worth our attention:


India’s fight for the right to education


Originally posted on November 9, 2012
http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=12458


Still processing my recent visit to see Oxfam India’s work – posts continue next week with the great debate on India’s middle classes.
Education is fine example of the strengths and weaknesses of judicial activism in India. The Right to Education (RTE) Act was passed in 2009, arising out of constitutional amendment in 1999 that redefined the right to life as including education (!). Private schools challenged the act, especially its requirement that they reserve 25% of places for lower castes, but the Supreme Court upheld it.
To see what all this means on the ground, I duck out of my boring conference and head for Madanpur,  a colony for slum dwellers ‘rehabilitated’ in 2000 – i.e. their previous homes were steamrollered and they were shunted to the margins of Delhi. Its current population of 145,000 earns income from construction, domestic work etc – almost entirely in the informal economy.Girls shift at the primary school, Delhi
Oxfam India’s partner, the slightly ungrammatical EFRAH (Empowerment for Rehabilitation, Academic and Health) is an RTE activist NGO working with schools to implement the Act – part support, part watchdog (‘they like us, and they are afraid of us’). There is plenty to work on, as the gap between the Act and reality is great: it mandates school management committees with equal teacher/parent representation, but there are none to be seen in Madanpur.
We visit a primary school (up to grade 5, hundreds of kids milling in a tiled playground – right) and catch the headmaster trying to beat a retreat on his motorbike. He reluctantly returns for a few minutes before heading off again, pleading a meeting. We meet the teachers in a hot staffroom with stationary fans – the electric’s been off for 12 hours. They teach 2,500 kids in two shifts – girls in the morning, boys in the afternoon; the teachers claim 80-90% attendance rates, but today it’s more like 60% (they blame the upcoming festival season).
The teachers’ big beef is not wages, but the ‘PTR’ – pupil teacher ratio. There are no classes with less than 50 kids, and many are standing room only. But they acknowledge it was worse before – at least there are more notebooks now.
An aside on service delivery v Oxfam’s ‘rights-based approach’: ‘You keep coming and asking these questions but our lives don’t improve with all these foreign visitors’, say the teachers. ‘Plan India gives us water tanks – but what do you give us?’ But EFRAH says the local government promptly diverted money elsewhere when it heard about Plan’s plan. Service provision certainly makes rights-based work more difficult. ‘Fine, you can come and talk about rights, but what are you going to give us?’
A few streets away, we meet a women’s savings group (left), arrayed in their best saris in a tiny but tidy, sweltering one room house. Their savings group, Delhimain complaint is that they don’t teach their kids anything at the school. ‘Any time you go there, the teachers are not in the classrooms, they are ‘doing paperwork’. The kids are just wandering around. We know there’s not enough teachers, but the ones there are don’t even try to teach. We have to get private classes on top’. All the women are paying for at least some private tuition – $5 per month per subject, all in ‘unrecognized’ private schools which are often no better than the public ones. The women’s big complaint is on the lack of a school management committee or any other source of accountability: ‘they never call us, never call meetings. Teachers and parents need to work together.’ Some parents are filing Right to Information cases to find out how many PTA meetings have been called and who was invited. Another recent RTI case asked how many teachers had been budgeted for, after which the school hired an extra teacher.
Next stop is a group of fifty 13-18 year old girls, in grades 7-10. When we ask what they like about school, there is a resounding silence. Instead, they have complaints – on the lack of toilets, electricity, having to sit on floor. They do like the morning shift though, because it reduces risk of ‘eve teasing’ (sexual harassment). When we ask them how much actual teaching they receive in a 5 hour shift, the average is about 2 hours.
They all want to work (doctors, teachers, police inspectors ‘so I can hit the boys when they harass the girls!’, media) and aren’t under pressure to get married, but ‘We are getting educated, but we can’t work.’ Male relatives stop them going out to work because they’re ‘afraid our character will be put into question’. They insist it’s still better to be a girl ‘we can handle households, children and outside work – but maybe we need to learn karate!’
So it all comes down (doesn’t it always?) to governance and institutions. A combination of increased spending, accountability via school management committees and improved teacher training (it’s largely privatized and ineffectual – recently only 6% of trainee teachers were able to pass a basic test) could turn things around. But that approach is under challenge by contending ‘solutions’ in the shape of privateShashi_Tharoor_WEF public partnerships and the pulling in of the private sector, whose consequences could include increased inequality and exclusion.
Meanwhile the government looks set to kick the RTE can down the road by postponing the deadline for its implementation from 2013 to 2015, underlining the point that in India, getting the law passed is just the start. Implementation is the real battle. Still, the week after my visit, Shashi Tharoor (right), who helped launch the new Indian edition of From Poverty to Power, was made education minister, so let’s hope he takes matters in hand.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

When will PNoy put the right people in charge?

by Flor Lacanilao


Scientists renew concern on climate adaptation

My post last week gave examples on improving the work of scientists and media in climate disasters. I mentioned, Our typical news report on climate-related issues often lacks evidence-based information (properly published experts or studies). For example, the news report “Reclaiming land seen as measure to deal with climate change” (Inquirer, 11/1/12) mentioned a department secretary, a bureau director, an architect, a government reclamation agency, and the University of the Philippines National Institute of Geological Science or NIGS  (see Key role of scientists & media in climate disasters, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8 Nov 2012).

But no scientist or properly published study was cited. It failed to mention the well-published NIGS geologist Dr. Alfredo Mahar Lagmay  
 
Here is another example of a news report in this week's issue of the journal Nature, showing how scientists and engineer scientists discuss plans on climate adaptation. 

Malcolm Bowman (who specializes in storm-surge modelling at Stony Brook University in New York) has "advocated a system of sea barriers or dykes," like those in London, the Netherlands, and Russia. The system pictured by Bowman and others consists of an 8-Km-wide barrier, 6 meter-high, that could be opened and closed at the entrance to the harbor, and other structures. The cost is about US$15 billion, Estimates of the damage caused by "Sandy" is between $30 billion and $50 billion.

On the other hand, some scientists worry that a single focus on sea barriers could be counterproductive -- like disrupting river outflow, increasing sedimentation, upsetting ecosystems, and  exacerbate flooding in areas that are not protected. Also, sea barriers do not protect against severe storms that produce inland flooding.

Cynthia Rosenzweig (co-chair of the NY climate panel and a senior scientist at NASA) says, “Sandy clearly shows that we have to do the barrier studies now. . . But I think we need to consider an integrated and holistic set of solutions, and not put all of our eggs in the barriers."  Scientists and government officials must ensure that any rebuilding is done with the long view of global warming in mind. She adds.

Full text in "Hurricane sweeps US into climate-adaptation debate" (Nature, 8 Nov 2012)
The way governance of science and education in the Philippines goes, I think the message to the Filipino academic scientist can be seen in the Science editorial last week, which says in part:

"Scientists insist on believable data both in work and in public life. Bright young scientists do not accept nonsense from those in power, and they will not be eternally patient with those responsible for it. The response of the scientist to nonsense is both conceptual and practical: to recognize it, expose it, and try to fix it."  (The Scientist as World Citizen (2 Nov 2012).

Flor Lacanilao
Retired professor of marine science
University of the Philippines, Diliman

Friday, November 9, 2012

Teaching "x = 'why'"

Previously, I shared in this blog the experiences of a Washington Post reporter who went back and spent a year taking high school math. A lot could be learned by returning to the classroom. Having been in a profession offers new perspectives, certainly a new vantage point, to see high school education. These are anecdotes yet useful insights can be drawn from all of these. Another useful immersion has been recently described by Harvey Mudd College professor of mathematics Darryl Yong. Professor Yong spent his recent sabbatical teaching high school math classes in a large urban school district. Yong wrote a wonderful piece describing his experiences as well as his thoughts on this unusual excursion in the Notices magazine of the American Mathematical Society:
http://www.ams.org/notices/201210/rtx121001408p.pdf
The piece illustrates an example of how higher education may be able to help society understand the needs of basic education. For such an immersion to be genuine, it is important that classroom conditions are not altered simply to please a guest lecturer in high school. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose of experiencing first hand what it really means to teach elementary or high school. Professor Yong clearly did not receive special treatment as the following excerpt demonstrates:

...As a final illustration of the kinds of frustration that teachers face, here is an excerpt of a letter I received from my school district a few weeks after the end of the school year.
Dear YONG, DARRYL:
Our records show that you have received an overpayment as a result of a change that was processed in June 2010. The total adjusted gross amount  of your overpayment (reduced by any
retirement contribution) is $12,197.66. This letter is intended to advise you of  your options in repaying the identified overpayment.
The letter was not signed by anyone, there was no contact person listed, and there was no phone number to call! The letter seemed to make it impossible to contest the overpayment; it only listed options for repayment and threatened referral to a collections agency if the amount was not repaid....
Seeing the above proves to anyone without any doubt that this immersion was real and what Yong has to say about teaching in high school reflects a genuine scenario. What he describes in his piece is therefore worth our time. His reflections provide a deeper vision of basic education seen through the eyes of a professor in mathematics. And here are the main points, which he appropriately calls lessons, that he raises in his essay:

  • Basic education schools are complex. Even this is still an understatement. When schools fail, explanations (or excuses) offered are usually too simplistic, thus, depriving society the complete view to address properly the problems. In the Philippines, the old ten-year curriculum described as congested has been pinpointed as the main culprit in the poor state of basic education. The explanation, however, is more of a justification to go to K to 12, than a sincere and in-depth examination of the situation. These are excuses and are no different from knee-jerk comments made by high school teachers regarding how poor they perceive elementary school education is. As Professor Yong writes, "Simplistic diagnoses are dangerous because they encourage quick fixes. Instead of long-term plans for systemic change, school reform becomes a series of short-lived fads that cause teachers to become jaded by unfulfilled promises of improvement." This explains in part why reform after reform, problems in basic education remain. 
  • It helps to have a teacher who has mastery of the subject content but this is no guarantee for high student learning. Yong cites a study made by  Hattie (John Hattie, Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, Routledge, 2009.) that shows that a how a student views himself or herself with regard to the subject counts significantly towards the learning outcome in that domain. If a student begins with a perception of weakness in mathematics, this has serious implications on the student's performance in math. Thus, if student's performance correlates with what we perceive as high quality teaching then effective teaching must be able to address and correct a student's preconception of the subject. Perhaps, this is a major difference between an effective and an ineffective teacher. The following excerpt from Yong illustrates this vividly:
I initially spent a great deal of time thinking of fun or creative lessons that would get students excited. These lessons rarely worked because they were often too complicated or inappropriate for my students’ mathematical development. Instead, I began to design my lessons and accompanying student work so that (1) all of my students could successfully complete the first problem or task independently, and in which (2) the sequence of problems/tasks matched my students’ tolerance for challenge and self-concept. 
This strategy not only increased student learning but also eliminated most of the discipline issues in my class and relieved the pressure of having to develop whiz-bang “fun” lessons every day. 
                    • There is a great need to understand correctly what the teaching profession entails. No different from the practice of medicine, the teaching profession is an ongoing learning. Only with the realization of the emotional, physical and intellectual demands of teaching, would society understand and begin to truly respect teachers. If society treats its physicians in a similar manner as teachers are currently treated in the Philippines, for example, one could only wonder what will happen to the quality of health care and medical services.
                    • The last lesson Yong shares is that the "Written curriculum does not matter." What matters is what actually occurs inside the classroom. In this respect, the teacher serves a central role.
                    Yong's experiences are rich with insights and I invite everyone interested in improving the state of basic education to read his article


                    Thursday, November 8, 2012

                    Teacher Quality: Getting the Right People to Lead the Classroom

                    Teachers shoulder a great responsibility of molding the future citizens of society. Yet, only a few countries (Finland is one example) demonstrate a highly selective process for teacher education. Teaching schools, for example, are far below medical schools in terms of competitiveness in most places. Raising the quality of teachers will involve two important factors: attractiveness and selectivity. The teaching profession must attract young minds who have the talent and teaching colleges must select only those who qualify. This is the case with the medical profession. And yes, it is perhaps the reason why health care costs are a great deal to any society. To achieve the same with basic education, it will come with comparable costs and priorities. After all, education is as important as health.
                    Marc Tucker, downloaded from http://hechingerreport.org/content/qa-with-marc-tucker-why-we-need-a-new-reform-agenda-to-compete-internationally_5915/
                    Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy (United States) recently wrote an article, "Teacher Quality: Who's on Which Side and Why", outlining what it takes to make the teaching profession both attractive and selective. Below is an excerpt:
                    ...No one believes that high SAT scores or ACT scores, or high high school grade point averages by themselves guarantee that a candidate will be a good teacher. Everyone I know believes that a passion for teaching and an ability to relate well to young people are very important characteristics of good teachers. But these are not mutually exclusive qualities. The record shows that countries that recruit their teachers from a pool of people who score high on their college entrance exams, had high grade point averages and also show a passion for teaching and an ability to relate well to students produce higher student achievement across the board than countries that leave out one or more of these qualities when they are recruiting their students....
                    In addition to stating what seems to be obvious to many, the article also points out a dilemma faced by teaching colleges when becoming selective thereby connecting issues in higher education with those of basic education. Teaching colleges from the point of view of entrepreneurship do not favor the selectivity requirement to uplift teacher quality. Having less students hurts the bottom line of these institutions. Being highly selective and serving the needs of basic education do not make teachers' colleges profitable.

                    If I may use an analogy, research in the basic sciences can never be funded by the market. Yet, the United States and other developed nations fund research. It is one of the obligations only a government could provide. Thus, on similar grounds, teacher education falls into this category. A government must subsidize if not fully support teaching institutions so that these colleges can be more selective. This is only one of the factors. The other is making the teaching profession attractive. Again, with a public school system, the government is one of the employers of teachers. Salaries and working conditions can dampen without any doubt enthusiasm and dedication. All of these seem obvious but somehow there are some who still think that privatization and free enterprise can provide teacher quality. No, only a government representing the society as a whole that is genuinely committed to uplifting the teaching profession can.

                    Wednesday, November 7, 2012

                    Basic Education: Is It Pre-College or Pre-Vocational

                    The following is a repost of an article in ThinkProgress. With the two additional years of high school in Deped's K to 12 as well as the major changes in the curriculum of the first ten years of education plus kindergarten, it is important to keep focus on what basic education really is.

                    "This material [article] was published by the Center for American Progress"

                    Math And Literacy Are Vocational Skills


                    There’s something very strange about the conversation around vocational education in the United States, well captured by the fact that Motoko Rich’s article on cuts in federal spending on vocational skills posits a disjoint between job training and reading:

                    In European countries like Germany, Denmark and Switzerland, vocational programs have long been viable choices for a significant portion of teenagers. Yet in the United States, technical courses have often been viewed as the ugly stepchildren of education, backwaters for underachieving or difficult students. In a speech to the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium in April, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that “at a time when local, state and federal governments are all facing tremendous budget pressure” advocates for vocationally oriented education “must make a compelling case for continued funding.” In his camp are those who say students need to concentrate on basics like math, literacy and history to prepare for college and the jobs of the future, rather than learning a narrow technical craft. In this view, bright students like Mr. Kelly, who have the potential to do college-level work, should be put on that path, or schools will have failed them.

                    It seems to me that there’s a gaping void out there between “students need to concentrate on basics like math and literacy” (forget history) and “students need to go to college.” Literacy is a very important life skill. It’s difficult for me to think of a job for which literacy wouldn’t be a useful skill to have, and of course it’s not like you see retired people sitting around saying, “Now that I’m out of the labor force, I never have occasion to read.” Students need to concentrate on literacy so that they know how to read. Math is similar. I visited a vocational school in Helsinki where they were training people to be stylists. They were learning about makeup and manicures and haircutting. But they were also learning some accounting. There’s no reason to think someone has to go to college to someday start her own hair salon, but it helps a lot to know something about how to keep the books. And, again, not only is math a vital skill here but literacy is going to help you a lot in terms of researching the market, what it takes to start a business, etc.

                    It seems at least plausible that a vocational setting of some kind might be the most compelling setting for some people to learn these basic academic skills. Certainly there’s something a bit odd about some of the aspirational “everyone must go to college” rhetoric out there. But we need to keep in mind that at the low end, the outputs from the American educational system are currently really really bad. It’s not about everyone needing to have basic reading and math competency so they can go to college; it’s about everyone needing to have basic reading and math skills so that they know who to read and do basic math.

                    Tuesday, November 6, 2012

                    Would Robots Replace Elementary School Teachers?

                    A recent article in Slate talks about ongoing research on the use of robots in classrooms:

                    A National Science Foundation project led by Scassellati, Breazeal and USC professor Maja Mataric aims to push these limits. The team is working to develop robots that can help children with disabilities learn social and cognitive skills. In order to carry out meaningful interactions, though, these robots have to be able to learn on their own so they can understand an individual’s personality traits and social cues.

                    The project has its own website:

                    http://robotshelpingkids.org/index.php


                    The American Federation of Teachers


                    The Blue Ribbon Campaign

                     "Access to free, quality education is both a human right and part of the essential foundation for economic growth in every nation," said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. "With this toolkit, students and educators in the United States help give a voice—and hope—to the millions of children around the world who still seek access to quality education."
                    —Randi Weingarten, AFT president
                    blue ribbon The American Federation of Teachers is a partner in the Global Campaign for Education, United States Chapter—the international coalition of faith groups, non-governmental organizations and trade unions supporting access to quality basic education for every child in the world by 2015. As we campaign in state capitals and school districts to protect quality education for children in the United States, we are mindful of the 72 million children in the world who do not have a classroom or teacher. With our partners in the GCE-US, the AFT is leading the Blue Ribbon Campaign in the United States, a grass-roots effort to build an understanding that education is the key to economic development, social stability and vibrant democratic governance.

                    Get Involved

                    Join the Blue Ribbon Campaign. Add to the national blue ribbon chain by mailing your links to: Global Campaign for Education, U.S., 750 First Street NE, Suite 1040, Washington, D.C. 20002. The chain will be included in a press event to mark the introduction of the Education For All Act.

                    Classroom Activities

                    AFT members across the nation are taking the campaign’s Lesson for All teaching activities into their classrooms and local community organizations, to focus attention on children in disadvantaged parts of the world who don’t have access to a quality education. Our teachers and students are creating links in the national blue ribbon chain (see Blue Ribbon Campaign classroom activity), and they are joining with others around the world, calling on politicians and policymakers to stand up for the right to a free and quality primary school education.
                    AFT members are integrating the Lesson for All activities into their classroom plans to help American children understand why education is so important, and what challenges disadvantaged students face when they lack access to quality schooling. This year’s Global Action Week theme focuses on the importance of education for girls and women in developing countries. The activities show students how they can bridge the gender gap and ensure girls have a fair chance at all life’s possibilities.

                    Take Action

                    Write to your U.S. representative and ask him or her to join with Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) in sponsoring the Education for All Act.

                    Monday, November 5, 2012

                    Indonesia to Drop Science and English in Primary Schools

                    "The desire to make classrooms enjoyable for children can work against education if the fact that learning requires work is ignored. Cognitive development is a process, and like other processes, requires both time and energy. Learning is rewarding and with children, the effort alone is integral to developing the brain. Without challenges, the brain will not master thinking processes. Making classrooms enjoyable means equipping the schools with the necessary materials and inputs for education, supporting adequately the teachers. It means creating an environment that is physically conducive to learning. It does not mean lowering the standards and expectations."

                    Recently, the Indonesian government has announced plans to reform its basic education:





                    Only Six Lessons for Elementary Students as English Also Gets the Ax
                    Jakarta Globe | October 12, 2012

                    "Following news that science and social studies would be largely scrubbed from the nation’s elementary school curriculum, the government has decided to make young Indonesians’ lessons even simpler by scrapping English language courses — all subjects said to be unduly burdening children...."


                    The above sounds similar to a statement made by Philippines' DepEd Secretary Luistro:

                    “Unlike in other countries, many of our Grade 1 students spend hours walking to and from school,” Luistro says. “They are tired when they reach school. I want them to enjoy school, not (to feel) that (it) is imposed on them.”

                    This is a disturbing trend in basic education in the South East Asian countries....

                    Scientists from the Eyes of Children



                    The following are excerpts and figures from the following paper:

                    Downloaded from academia.edu
                    Here are some of the drawings (downloaded from academia.edu) :

                    • "Depicting scientific knowledge as power (multiple legs and arms)"



                    • "Depicting scientific knowledge as ability to transform reality"

                    • "Being alone and spending a life deeply focused inside the laboratory"
                    • "Scientists can be destructive"


                    Drawings of scientists by children reveal their impression of science and scientists, but these also provide a glimpse of how society as a whole projects science and scientists to all of its members.

                    Sunday, November 4, 2012

                    Scientists, climate change, and the media


                    by Flor Lacanilao

                    Climate scientists have been warning about "the risk for big storms and serious flooding in New York" for the past 12 years. Perhaps this warnings -- together with the accurate, timely weather forecasts, and excellent preparation, like early evacuation -- have prevented more deaths, despite the biggest to hit the U.S.  

                    Death toll is less than 100. Compare that total deaths with those of our much less powerful typhoons -- like the 2009 Ondoy with 280 and the 2011 Sendong, said to be nearly 1,500 -- and the figures will tell you how much work we need to do seriously and capably. 

                    With the inevitable and increasing destruction from changing climate, like the superstorm, our governments and the public have only to depend on the important role of scientists and media people. Best and worst examples of these are seen in, respectively, developed and underdeveloped countries. 

                    One role of the scientists is to explain the nature and processes of climate change and related events, like those seen below.

                    In their job, crucial for the media people is to know first who the scientists are, so they can be effective in informing their readers with useful information. This will help the government and the public to effectively prepare for, and to lessen, the impacts and damage to property and human life.

                    Three examples are shown below: in an article by a climate scientist and two news reports -- by an international and a local media.  

                    Kevin Trenberth, who chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for which he shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, discusses -- in Super storm Sandy  (Scientist, October 31, 2012) -- the relations between  climate change and the destructive hurricane. Knowing the different key information in these events is important in designing ways of adapting to their impacts.

                    In the Associated Press release -- Scientists Look At Weather Pattern  (in Manila Bulletin, Nov 1, 2012) -- three reporters name seven distinguished climate scientists, led by Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University. They brief the readers on various aspects of climate change and the superstorm Sandy. Like the preceding science article, useful information on climate change and for adaptation measures is given.

                    A typical example of a news report on climate-related issue from local media is Reclaiming land seen as measure to deal with climate change  (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Nov 1, 2012). It does not name any scientist or give evidence-based (properly published) information. It cites a government Bureau Director, a Department Secretary, an architect, a government reclamation agency, and the University of the Philippines National Institute of Geological Science (NIGS). 

                    No scientist is mentioned, although there are 2 or 3 at NIGS, who have contributed useful popular articles, views, and advice on climate-related issues and disasters. Recent active contributor is Dr. Alfredo Mahar Lagmay.

                    Change of doing things is long over due, for those working and reporting on natural disasters facing our country. Increasing loss of human life and damage to property from climate-related events call for more  determined action -- with the right people in charge (Put right people in charge of science, education  (PDI Oct 20, 2011).

                    Flor Lacanilao
                    Retired professor of marine science
                    University of the Philippines Diliman

                    Oklahoma Education Truths

                    There is a blog called okeducationtruths that writes about public school education in Oklahoma:
                    I am amazed at the support this blog has received since I started it in April. I am a long time Oklahoma educator who thinks the false narrative about failing public schools needs to be refuted. While I don’t know everything about public education, I know enough to detect inconsistencies from the people and groups who would like to destroy it. With your help, I would like to give parents, teachers, administrators, board members, and any concerned Oklahoman a voice to set the record straight.
                    It had recent posts that Philippine educators probably should take note. One is "Still Blaming the Teachers" and the other is  "A-F Poverty Bias". And the following data of okeducationtruths shows something very important:
                    High poverty schools in Oklahoma are those with high participation in free/reduced lunch programs.

                    And apparently, this is not just specific to Oklahoma, a comment from an educator in Wisconsin points to a similar scenario:
                    Even an amateur's analysis of the state's school report card data is telling.
                    • A supermajority of Wisconsin's public schools with over 70% economically disadvantaged students were graded "Failed to Meet Expectations."
                    • Almost all below-standard schools had at least 45% economically disadvantaged students.
                    • In contrast, almost all graded schools with less than 10% economically disadvantaged students were considered by DPI's measurement to surpassed expectations.
                    Oklahoma and Wisconsin "education truths" are most likely applicable to other places. Poverty affects learning in significant ways. It would take so much more than a reform in curriculum to address this issue. Poverty is a factor that happens and exists inside a child's home. In the Philippines, poverty exists in both school and home. Teachers who teach in schools where majority of students are from poor families are more than likely suffering from poverty as well. School facilities are more likely to be wanting in poor neighborhoods. If poor children in the states of Oklahoma and Wisconsin (where schools provide free lunch to poor children) do not make the grade, what could we expect from poor children in the Philippines who go to classrooms with an empty stomach and receive lessons from underpaid and overworked teachers. And the Philippine government's answer to the worsening crisis in basic education is DepEd's K to 12, simply add two more years to schooling. We really need to look at the right numbers and the right data in order to lay out the right direction.

                    Saturday, November 3, 2012

                    How Technology Affects Learning: Views from Teachers

                    With iPads, Facebook, smartphones, video games, music, and others, technology now occupies a significant amount of a child's time in the United States (almost eight hours a day - National Center for Education Statistics, USA). Students in the Philippines probably face the same increasing amount of time spent on these activities provided by technology. Thus, it is time to ask how current technology affects student learning. The response from teachers is particularly important since their perspective comes directly from the classroom. In the United States, the nonprofit group called Common Sense Media recently published a survey of US teachers regarding this issue:

                    http://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/view-from-the-classroom-final-report.pdf
                    The highlights of this report are as follows:

                    • Entertainment Media, which includes television, social-networking sites, video games, internet, smartphones, iPads, texting, and others, according to 71% of the teachers hurt a student's attention span.
                    • Nearly 60% of the teachers say that the new media have also harm students' writing and face-to-face communication skills.
                    • 40% of the teachers say that students' critical thinking is also harmed.
                    • Among the various media, the most problematic according to the teachers are video games for elementary students, and texting and social networking for adolescents.
                    • Two-thirds of the teachers surveyed say that media have affected negatively the student's social and emotional development.
                    The report concludes:
                    This is not a study that can document whether teachers’ perceptions about media’s influence are accurate. It does not include any objective measures of attention span, writing, or face-to-face communication, nor any way to link outcomes to individual children’s media use patterns. However, it does surface some important and broadly held concerns of the nation’s teachers.
                    To read the entire report, please visit
                    Children, Teens, and Entertainment Media: The View From The Classroom

                    Friday, November 2, 2012

                    While the Philippines Moves to Spiral Approach, Missouri Does the Opposite

                    School districts in the state of Missouri are changing their science curriculum for Grades 6 to 8. The reform primarily changes science instruction from a spiral approach to a field-focus curriculum. The Philippines, on the other hand, with DepEd's K to 12 goes in the opposite direction. Without debating which direction is the correct one to take, both need to face the challenge of a major transition. Poor implementation of an education reform leads to failure even if the change is the correct prescription. A major part of the implementation is the transition stage, which is crucial for the success of the reform. It is therefore necessary to pay close attention to the transition process as this stage can easily lead to failure if not implemented correctly. Missouri's efforts are assisted by institutions of higher learning within the state. One is Lindenwood University.
                    The Spellman Clock Tower of Lindenwood University reflecting its view on education
                    One dissertation from Lindenwood University tackles specifically the transition of Missouri school districts to the new science curriculum: 
                    http://gradworks.umi.com/3450281.pdf
                    Abstract 
                    This investigation examined the transition from a spiral science curriculum to a field-focus science curriculum in middle school. A spiral science curriculum focuses on a small part of each field of science during each middle school year, more of a general science concept. In contrast to that, the base of a field-focus curriculum is that each grade level focuses on a specific field of science, more of a high school like concept. The literature reviewed provides a history of science education, the steps of the change process, and the importance of professional development. The literature review provided a basis for determining trends in the science education. 
                    The researcher collected a variety of data to understand the process that districts move through to transition to a field-focus science curriculum. Interviews provided information concerning the transition process of three Midwestern school districts that have arranged their curriculum into a field-focus alignment. Teacher surveys of one district supplied the perceptions of the professional development involved during the transition process. The researcher also examined school district student achievement data in the area of science. 
                    Suggestions made through this investigation focused on the Eight Steps to a Successful Change when implementing a field-focus science curriculum alignment. Following the suggested steps will help a transition go smoother.
                    This study specifically looks at the New Heart School District in the state of Missouri. The science teachers in this district have agreed to abandon the spiral approach and adopt a field-focus approach to teaching science. The rationale was simple - surrounding school districts that have instituted this reform are doing better in statewide standard exams. The following are among Alwardt's findings regarding the transition New Heart School District undertook:
                    • Transition is always difficult so it is important that evidence supporting the reform is shared. In this particular case, data supporting the notion that a spiral approach leads only to a superficial treatment of topics and does not prepare students for the the rigor expected in standard tests.
                    • Communication is vital between supervisors and teachers. These need to be regular so that updates and concerns are immediately addressed.
                    • All necessary materials required for the new curriculum are promptly provided to all teachers. This effectively alleviates tension and anxiety toward the new curriculum.
                    As Alwardt emphasizes, "Transitions are inherently difficult for teachers." While trying to adjust to the change, teachers still have the obligation to give the very best instruction to the students. There are no "dress rehearsals". It is therefore very important that teachers during this stage are heard and supported. With these in mind, one can evaluate how DepEd in the Philippines is implementing its K to 12. One should understand and appreciate the crucial role of teachers in education reform.

                    Thursday, November 1, 2012

                    "x=why?"

                    Michael Alison Chandler of the Washington Post wrote a yearlong (2008-2009) series "x=why?" on high school math education.
                    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/x-equals-why/2008/09/wasnt_once_enough_1.html
                    The series had more than a hundred articles reliving one school year. Chandler, an education reporter, found a way to bring math in the classroom to the readers of Washington Post by sitting in a high school math class in Fairfax county. Fairfax county schools are among the best nationwide. Still, the articles describe current challenges of math education in the country. Chandler started this series with an article "Wasn't Once Enough":
                    Now I report to school every other day at 7:20 a.m. There, for 80 minutes each session, I join 27 other Fairfax Rebels in a windowless room, under the laminated gaze of Albert Einstein. Together, in somnolent camaraderie, we practice solving linear equations and graphing inequalities and take turns at the Smartboard. These days, I carry a three-ring binder full of graph paper in my canvas work bag, along with a TI-84 graphing calculator, a handful of mechanical pencils, and a purple, rubber eraser that smells like grapes. I am 32 years old. 
                    I have homework to complain about and studying to procrastinate, and last Saturday, I spent the better part of an afternoon holed up in a D.C. public library finishing a take-home test. I am not yet exactly sure what I am going to do with this algebra (or why I am doing this). This blog is part of my attempt to figure that out. 
                    x=why? is a place where I aim to bridge the cultural divide between math people and the rest of us, to make the abstractions of algebra a little more lifelike. Visitors will find scenes from math classrooms, profiles of people who use math at work, research about math education, debates about how best to teach math, and--why not?-- an occasional pop quiz, for which I invite you to submit your best, or your worst, word problems.
                    And after one semester, she wrote:
                    I have come a long way from the day I stared blankly at a Virginia Standards of Learning test, perspiring from the foreign language before me and flashbacks of a high school math teacher who once wrote on my report card: "Michael is not in the Circle of Knowing." 
                    Still, success in math comes at a price: Time. 
                    Effort and diligence make a good math student. The difference between the math student I am now and the math student I was 15 years ago is improved study skills and, thank goodness, a little less hormone-induced despair. (Oh and about $100,000 in college tuitions, a decade of work experience, and a Washington Post audience that gets updated on my quiz scores...)
                     And at the end of the year,
                    ...What I discovered at Fairfax High was a hard-working teacher who knew her math, a fast-paced, too-crammed curriculum, and a group of teenagers who mostly tried their best. Sure, there was a guy who snoozed in the back and a reliable smattering of shrugs when the teacher came around to check homework. But I was surprised by the high number of students who stuck around after class to ask for help...

                    ...I also learned a lot about math beyond Fairfax, including the wars over how math should be taught, how other countries approach training math teachers, and how many college students in the US still require math remediation.

                    We are far from our goal of becoming a math literate society. Many students still say they are uninterested in math, even in high-performing Fairfax County. But encouraging all students to pursue math further is an important start...
                    Indeed, the series presented a lot about high school math. Some are simple and short yet extremely thought provoking. One example is the short post entitled "Is Math Fun? Should it Be?. It featured a video made by a high school student in Virginia:


                    Chandler then wrote:
                    Math can be interesting all by itself if you don't get too fogged or behind. Many teachers I know try to lure students in with the concepts alone.
                    I recommend reading the articles of Chandler. After all, her quiz scores in algebra were not bad:

                    Wednesday, October 31, 2012

                    If K to 12 is ok, why need a survey to say so?

                    EDITORIAL - If K to 12 is ok, why need a survey to say so?
                    (The Freeman) Updated October 31, 2012 12:00 AM 


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                    The Department of Education has come out with the results of a Social Weather Stations survey that reportedly indicated more and more people have been convinced about the merits of the K to 12 program that it has rammed down the throats of Filipinos.

                    According to the survey (reports did not indicate who commissioned the exercise but it would surprise no one if it comes out that the DepEd itself did the commissioning), a whooping 72 percent of Filipinos have embraced K to 12.

                    Either the survey is a big lie (because most people you ask, rich or poor, young or old, hate the K to 12 to their guts) or a big letdown — why only 72 percent, considering that people have no choice but to accept it? It was forced down their throats and is now in force, remember?

                    Read more at http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=865335&publicationSubCategoryId=109