16 July 2007

The exception, not the rule

MY PREVIOUS post on the comparative performance of Naga City high schools, both at the public and private sector, drew two interesting comments, especially in regard to the outstanding performance of the science- and arts-oriented programs of the Camarines Sur National High School (SPA and ESEP) as well as the Naga City Science High School as a whole.

Dave, who graduated from the Ateneo de Naga, said: "I knew there was something good with those special programs in public schools. Why can't they be implemented on the entire public school system? Lack of funds?"

Speaking from experience, Donald aka Ducks, who has resumed blogging at a feverish pace, tipped his hat towards these Cam High and City Science students and quipped, "Now, if we could only implement their system with other public schools, it would be a big boost to the entire public school system and should be a welcome development for our public school students."

Mainstreaming these fine programs systemwide might be part of the solution, and funding consequently can become an issue, but it is only part of the problem. If you look closely at the data, these three public school programs are actually so because their students are pre-selected: this is where the "stringent admission policies" I mentioned in that post come in.

My son Ezekiel, for instance, is now a junior in the Cam High ESEP program and he made the cut by topping the admission test they took when they were about to graduate from elementary. They started out as three sections of 40 students each; when they graduate in 2009, there will probably be only one section left.

I understand the Special Program for the Arts (SPA) is also largely governed by the same rules, only that it is arts-oriented; you can only stay in the program if you meet a minimum grade-point average by yearend.

Naga City Science has a similar tough requirement: to be able to be considered for the admission test alone, one must belong to the upper 10% of the elementary graduating class. This is consistent with Mayor Robredo's commitment to create a separate track for those who did well in elementary, especially those coming from poor households.

The long and short of it: these top performers are your exception, not the rule, making them outliers and not the accurate representation of the state of our public schools.

The bigger challenge in improving the system is raising the performance of the average and below-average students. And to my mind, a good indicator of their performance is still Cam High, but those belonging to the regular RBEC curriculum: at 1,337 examinees (roughly 1/3 of the total) which placed only 13th overall.