News

Behind the achievement gap

Students of color describe economic, social reality behind test-score disparity -- and district rolls out new programs to help

Like many teenagers, Palo Alto High School senior Ashley Beal wants to speak her mind and have adults listen. This November, that meant telling Paly staff how commuting to school from East Palo Alto means missing out on sleep and dealing with insensitive teachers.

The discussion between students from East Palo Alto and school officials opened up some staff members' eyes, Beal said.

"Now some of my teachers really do understand" the challenges she faces, Beal said.

But ask her if she thinks more such meetings could be successful, and she is dubious.

Students often skip non-mandatory school events either because they don't have time to go or don't understand the value of the events, she said. This one took place during class time and offered lunch, so many could make it, she said.

Beal is one of 557 students who live outside Palo Alto or are zoned for a different school district, yet opt to attend Palo Alto's high-achieving schools under the 1986 Tinsley court ruling for racial integration and educational equity.

The difficulties Beal faces as a Tinsley student are part of the complexity behind the district's so-called "achievement gap" -- the fact that black and Hispanic students, who comprise 4 and 9 percent of pupils respectively, consistently score lower on standardized tests than white and Asian students.

Social factors, combined with financial and historical influences, form a tangle of causes behind the score difference, school officials, students and parents say. There is no single reason for the test-score disparities; for example, data show that middle-class black and Hispanic students as groups don't score as high as other middle-class students, proving the difference is not solely based in economics.

Other factors include school environment and whether students feel confident and safe, educators say.

The district has not been blind to the issues, though, staff say. It's spent nearly a decade using tools such as academic programs and parent outreach to combat the problem, Director of Elementary Education Becki Cohn-Vargas said.

The latest effort is a campaign kicked off last year to create the right environment so every student is ready for college, she said.

It includes equity training for school principals, improving crucial instruction in reading and instituting a brand-new College Pathways program to coach kids from kindergarten through high school, she said.

The parent-founded Parents Network for Students of Color has also been a catalyst for awareness and change, according to co-founder Elaine Ray, Cohn-Vargas and others.

The task ahead is complex and challenging, everyone agreed. But they said the district is moving in the right direction, and, given the new programs, significant progress could be just around the corner.

Of the school district's 11,172 students, 1,010 are Hispanic and 413 are black, and many are Tinsley students, also called voluntary-transfer students.

In many ways, the struggles of voluntary-transfer students are like those of typical Paly students -- finding time for homework amidst extra-curricular activities or picking out a dress for a dance.

But these problems are frequently compounded by tough economic reality, the voluntary-transfer students said in November, speaking to Paly staff and Superintendent Kevin Skelly under the assurance of anonymity.

They take after-school jobs to help their parents, but that cuts into homework hours, several said. Budgeting money for a prom dress can take weeks of planning, they added.

When Beal gets home from one of the two jobs she holds, she starts her homework and skips a few hours of sleep, she later told the Weekly.

But just as upsetting as financial challenges is when teachers lack sympathy for students, the students also said.

Speaking after the meeting, Beal, who has a black mother and identifies herself as bi-racial, described how dealing with suspicious teachers makes school harder.

"When we're tired in class, they'll think it's because of something stupid, like we're staying up all night," she said.

One teacher is reluctant to offer help with homework assignments, the teen said.

"She'll think that I'm goofing off or I'm not studying enough and she's, like, 'Just study more,'" she said.

The teacher doesn't understand students lack family resources, she said.

"Most of our parents have not even gone past high school," and Paly's demanding homework assignments can confound parents who try to help, she said.

Many teachers don't have a clear picture of what life is like for students from East Palo Alto, agreed Paly teacher Letitia Burton.

"What happens across the freeway, happens across the freeway. ... It's not this community," said Burton, who teaches the Living Skills class and advises the club Black Student Union, composed almost exclusively of voluntary-transfer students.

"During the [1998 flood, people knew about Palo Alto kids, but no one knew about East Palo Alto kids doing their homework by candlelight," she said.

Yet if teachers were to talk to students and visit them at home, they'd get a clearer picture of the teens' lives, she said.

Communication is crucial, Beal said; several teachers' attitudes changed after the November meeting.

Those who missed it continue to have an incomplete picture of her experience, she said.

Student struggles don't arise solely from suspicious teachers. Teens themselves often lack enthusiasm for school, students said.

Voluntary-transfer pupils frequently don't show up at events the district or school organizes for them, Beal said.

Student enthusiasm is low, agreed Paly senior Donnie Salas, who also commutes from East Palo Alto.

"There's not a lot of motivation I see coming from kids in East Palo Alto," said Salas, a football player who is heading off to the U.S. Marines' boot camp after graduation.

Many are unconvinced it is even possible to earn high grades, teacher Burton said.

"It's easy to come to Paly and think it's too hard. ... I would like the students to be much more open to academic success ... and really encourage them to buy into [it," she said.

It can be difficult to be one of the only black or Hispanic kids in a challenging class, but that's a discomfort students must be counseled to deal with, not avoid, she said.

And they need to overcome mistrust and assumptions that teachers are inaccessible, she said.

Parents are key to keeping kids engaged, students said.

"The main thing in my family is education," said Gunn High School junior Keith Jones, who like Beal and Salas commutes from East Palo Alto.

His parents would definitely notice if he slacked off, said Jones, whose mother teaches in Palo Alto.

Unaware or busy parents can't encourage kids, though, Salas said.

"Both ... parents might have two jobs at least so they're not home all the time to tell you, 'Do your homework,'" he said.

The lack of active parents is glaring, Beal said.

She and her mother were frequently two of only a handful of attendees at school events organized for families of voluntary-transfer students, she said.

"They just don't show up anywhere. Either they don't have ways to get there or they're not informed of them because kids probably don't want to tell them," she said.

"Or they think it's a waste of their time. Or they're working. Or they just don't feel like it," she said.

How to get parents and students more engaged is a tough question, Salas said.

"It sounds like a hard paper that you just don't want to write," he said. "I wish I knew. I'm sure if we knew then that wouldn't be that much of a problem."

Perhaps finding a neat solution is tricky because problems of ignorance or disinterest are rooted in a larger historical issue of social inequality, some say.

Palo Alto resident Mary Randolph, a woman who is black and whose daughter just started kindergarten at Addison Elementary School, would agree.

"This is a social problem that's bigger than Addison, that's bigger than Palo Alto," she said.

Seeing so few black faces in the schoolyard is "a slap in the face" that reminds her of America's history of slavery and injustice, she said.

"I feel very frustrated and very alone. I don't know what the school district can bring to my life and my daughter's life," she said.

While her family is educated and relatively well-off, many people assume Randolph has a low-income background because of her ethnicity, she said, adding that other black mothers in Palo Alto told her of similar experiences.

"We're a super-minority here. We're educated, and we're trying to feel like we fit in," she said.

She worries her daughter will be negatively affected by the potentially isolating environment, she said.

"I felt a little shocked when I didn't see any African-Americans [at Addison. I felt I was catapulting my daughter to similar identity-crisis issues that I grew up with," said Randolph, who was raised in a predominantly white neighborhood.

The imprint left by historical injustice makes it difficult to create an atmosphere where minority students excel, Burton said.

Social research shows students can be intimidated into scoring poorly by negative stereotypes, she said.

And like other people, teachers begin to believe stereotypes they hear again and again, she added.

"It's pre-conceived notions. It's not ill-intentioned. ... Let's say you learned Latino students are not as bright. You learn to expect less and not push as hard," she said.

"You may be trying to be kind and understanding without realizing how detrimental that is," she said.

Yet it is precisely this subtle but harmful prejudice that the school district is targeting, education director Cohn-Vargas said.

The first step is having an atmosphere where people can talk freely about race and identity, said Cohn-Vargas, who wrote her doctoral dissertation about stereotypes and how to make classrooms feel safe and supportive.

Some educators think not talking about race means that all will feel included, ignoring it just makes some groups feel left out, she said.

"People very well-meaning say, 'Well, we want to just ignore race because everyone won't treat everyone the same,' but it [can go overboard so people feel like their voices aren't heard," she said.

Not talking about race ignores reality, she said.

"We don't live in a colorblind society. The majority of our prisons are filled with people who are African-American and Latino while our colleges are underrepresented in those groups," she said.

Aiming to open up the conversation, the district has organized events for black and Hispanic parents and students for the past nine years, she said.

The discussions help root out the "soft bigotry of low expectations" mentioned by Burton and others, she said.

Teachers "well-meaningly may think, 'Oh well, this child can't do that level of work because their family hasn't been to college,'" she said.

But hearing from parents and students clears up harmful stereotypes, she said.

Indeed, when Beal discussed challenges with school staff in November, she didn't ask for school to be easier.

Rather, she said she wanted teachers to provide better SAT preparation classes.

The IvyWest lessons she attended through a Paly scholarship weren't demanding enough, Beal said. Her score would have gone up more with better lessons from a company such as Princeton Review, she said.

The district also offers an array of programs to keep kids from slipping academically, such as after-school reading help through Academy and Gunn's Focus on Success, which teaches smart but struggling kids organizational skills.

But the latest district effort, launched last year, aims to support kids both academically and socially, Cohn-Vargas said.

It represents a change in approach from simply trying to raise scores and close the achievement gap, she said. Rather, schools will now focus on helping all kids to get to college, she said.

All of Palo Alto's principals got equity training this year to assess how well schools support black and Hispanic students, she said.

They will encourage staff to create welcoming classrooms while concretely monitoring student progress through the hard data of grades and scores, she said.

The district will also increase reading instruction at middle school, where a serious gap can develop between students who read well and those who don't, she said.

And a College Pathways program is being piloted at Gunn High School and some middle and elementary schools that feed into it, she said.

Only 47 percent of black and 54 percent of Hispanic students at Paly had completed University of California entrance requirements at graduation in 2005-2006, compared to 92 percent of Asian and 78 percent of white students, according to school documents. (The district doesn't publish data when fewer than 11 students of a certain ethnicity graduate because it can invade students' anonymity and privacy, so Gunn scores for black students that year are unavailable, according to Assessment and Evaluation Director Bill Garrison.)

But College Pathways will follow individual students all the way through the system, working closely with parents to make college a real option, Cohn-Vargas said.

Some parents are already active -- and providing an extra measure of passion and feedback to district efforts -- through the Parent Network for Students of Color, she said.

The network was formed in 2005 when Palo Altan Elaine Ray, who is black, sensed her daughter needed a supportive community in a sometimes-biased environment.

"My daughter ... seemed to be having a great time at Gunn but then started complaining about people sort of questioning why she was in high-level classes," said Ray, who teamed up with parents Marvina White and Linda Allen to form the network.

It has grown from three initial members to a larger group that teams up with the school district to organize events, she said.

The fruits of the partnership were apparent earlier this month in the buzz filling a Nixon Elementary School auditorium during an event entitled "PAUSD: Offering the best education for all?"

A panel of officials from other districts discussed strategies to boost student confidence before a packed crowd, which lingered after the event in excited clusters, with people comparing favorite ideas.

Teachers have added to the momentum. Gunn physical-education instructor Selena Hendrix-Smith started a group this fall to foster success for minority students called "Colors."

Early signs of success appeared this month after she invited black and Hispanic Stanford students to visit Gunn and discuss college, she said.

"Students have asked about college options they weren't thinking of before. Some students weren't taking it seriously" but they are now, she said, noting several were inspired to attend an information fair about black colleges shortly thereafter.

All these efforts are gathering steam at just the right time, Cohn-Vargas said.

"Now is a really important juncture because we have a critical mass. A new superintendent and board are very interested in this issue. We have parents in the community ... [and a large number of staff that are committed," she said.

And the springtime creation of a new Strategic Plan is ideal for setting future priorities, she said.

The stage is set for change, Ray agreed.

"The system as a whole and particularly the superintendent and school board members are really paying attention," she said.

Progress may be slow but the groundwork is there, she said.

"It's going to take a while. These are very complicated issues. But I think we're on the right track," she said.

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  • Comments

     +   Like this comment
    Posted by 13% vs 87%
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 6:02 pm


    I think an undue amount of attention is given to the students from East Palo Alto/Menlo Park. Sure something should be done to help them achieve.

    In the meantime they are about 13 % of the population according to you. That leaves 87% of the school population unaffected by this topic. And whilst there are many programs to help bridge the gap for lower performing students, there is a dearth of programs for GATE students. Until high school they are not offered classes to suit their level of ability AT ALL. They sit in regular classrooms profoundly bored and eventually sometimes disruptive.

    I will have more good will about doing YET something MORE for low achieving students the day something at all is done for high achieving one.

    (Note that classroom differentiation is a total joke. Nothing is done, or next to nothing,for high achieving students within the setting of regular classrooms. Teachers don't have time for that)


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by joan
    a resident of Professorville
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 6:19 pm


    Most of these under achieving pupils should be apprenticed to a trade at 14 or 15yrs.

    By the time they are in high school they are never going to thrive and catch up academically.

    It is a waste of time and resources to pretend otherwise and it handicaps the other 87%

    In the UK they have faced up to this reality and are going to implement such a trade program ,we should do it here.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by RWE
    a resident of South of Midtown
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    Similar tracking is done in Germany. What's interesting about that is the income potential of the trade-oriented students often exceeds that who go on to traditional university educations.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Mary
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    What underachieving students are we talking about? I know many white middle class underachievers here in Palo Alto. Why don't we talk about the kids who have no work ethic and have their parents do their projects or maybe the kids who have their parents enabling them through their homework? Many of the kids I know at Paly are tutored at a very high cost (financially). I also have witnessed many middleclass kids who are rude and disruptive and do poorly in school. What about them? Should we kick them out and have them go to trade school? I feel being a student in Palo Alto is challenging regardless of which side of the freeway you live. Just because school is challenging as a child or young adult doesn't mean the student has no future. I went to Paly 20 years ago and struggled tremendously. Many teachers gave up on me and although it was hard, I was able to become a great success as an adult.
    I had a conversation with my children this weekend about friendships. The majority of their friends are either black or Latino (all three of my kids are white middle class). They felt that the "white kids" they go to school with are snobby and mean. The kids my children spend time with are polite, smart, and come from solid loving homes. These kids pick up after themselves and have impeccable manners. You cannot judge a person's character by their color or socioeconomic status.

    Remember: we are talking about children! They're not even done growing.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by John
    a resident of College Terrace
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    "I also have witnessed many middleclass kids who are rude and disruptive and do poorly in school. What about them? Should we kick them out and have them go to trade school? "

    Mary,

    Yes. My only caveat is that we would be kicking them up, not out.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by joan
    a resident of Professorville
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 7:44 pm



    I would like to know more about the German approach, it seems to set non academic students up for success.

    Another example of failed social engineering are of our elite law schools. They accept may black candidates who are less academically qualified than other students.

    Less that 50% of these students ever pass a bar exam and practice law.

    They have wasted years of there live, got themselves in debt and experienced a cruel sense of failure because of some well meaning but flawed social engineering program.

    We need to set up less achieving students for success, not build Potemkin villages.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by What's-Really-Behind-The-Achievement-Gap?
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    > The difficulties Beal faces as a Tinsley student are part of the
    > complexity behind the district's so-called "achievement gap" -- the
    f> act that black and Hispanic students, who comprise 4 and 9
    > percent of pupils respectively, consistently score lower on
    > standardized tests than white and Asian students.

    Blacks and Hispanics consistently score up to 25% lower on standardized tests. This is a national phenomena, not unique to the PAUSD. Claims about how good the schools are in Palo Alto come into conflict with reality when the test scores of Blacks and Hispanics are compared to Whites and Asians, however.

    > Only 47 percent of black and 54 percent of Hispanic students at Paly
    > had completed University of California entrance requirements at
    > graduation in 2005-2006, compared to 92 percent of Asian and
    > 78 percent of white students, according to school documents.

    For the length of the article, there is almost no evidence of exactly what the "achievement gap" is for non-Palo Alto students. Data does exist on the CA Department of Education web-site that allows one to guess, although it does not allow the public to determine the non-Palo Alto scores from the Palo Alto scores.

    The PAUSD is long overdue providing the public such a reporting.



     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Obvious
    a resident of Adobe-Meadows
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Cultural/family disregard for academics = achievement gap.

    Sure some kids will overcome their parents and environment and some kids from good environments will find a way to fail. But when you take into account a large population, if mom and dad don't care and if you grow up in an environment which elevates sports/fashion and having a good time over the serious business of education, it doesn't matter much what your teachers are going to do.

    You will fail.

    Time to stop fretting about the achievement gap. The schools cannot fix what is broken at home. Teaching is hard enough and resources are being wasted on those who don't care.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by SkepticAl
    a resident of Ventura
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    Joan writes:
    Most of these under achieving pupils should be apprenticed to a trade at 14 or 15yrs.
    By the time they are in high school they are never going to thrive and catch up academically. It is a waste of time and resources to pretend otherwise and it handicaps the other 87%.
    In the UK they have faced up to this reality and are going to implement such a trade program ,we should do it here.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    I am proud of the fact that we live in a nation that does not tell underachieving fourteen-year olds to go learn a trade, you need not develop academic skills. I fail to see how other students are "handicapped" by not being picked to swim in an elitist little pool in mid-adolescence. You talk about pretending, but you seem to be engaging in it. I've known a number of late bloomers who were certainly underachieving in high school, but then found their spark and their calling later, graduated from college and put that education to good use. We have decades upon decades of data showing that those classified as underachieving are disproportionately people of color and from families of more recent immigrants, and we have no shortage of examples of excellent educational programs right now in this country that are successfully reaching these students and turning them into high-achievers. Nothing "pretend" about it, but you have to look deeper than the most broad level of numbers - consider the thousands of individuals to whom you'd gladly deny future options based on their circumstances and choices in childhood. Childhood, Joan, seems a bit early to close doors.

    I can hear the response: "if there are programs that are so successful, why the continuing achievement gap?" Well, unfortunately, most of those programs require a combination of vision and money that doesn't exist broadly enough, and on a national level, I'm guessing that gains for some and losses among others would counter each other statistically.

    Bottom line - if you could guarantee that the gatekeepers for this tracking system you envision would not produce a racially biased result, maybe we could talk. I don't know how you could expect anything other than a race-tainted outcome, however, given that race is so strongly correlated with poverty, low quality schools, and lack of access to all sorts of care and infrastructure, especially in our inner cities.

    Meanwhile, here in Palo Alto, can you tell me we'd actually take those flaky, disorganized underachieving white and Asian kids from rich families and be able to place them in a trade apprenticeship, and forget about college? Of course not, because with time and faith and high expectations, many of them will come around and go on to succeed in academia and professional life. Joan, I'm sorry that your expectations are so low.

    Not to say I have any problem with trades or non-college avenues in life. I have immense respect for anyone who knows their work and works hard and honorably. But I'd like as many high school graduates as possible to have options.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    Obvious

    Stating the obvious, he/she is right. No matter how bright a child is, the home environment and attitudes will be the real achievement factor. Even in the midwest where the demographics are almost totally white, there will be underachievers because the farm or the factory or the mine are the reality for the future, or the parents' expectations for the child.

    The 7 up show on PBS shows this in its original statement "Give me a child at the age of 7, and I will show you the adult". As the years have gone by in this original reality show, the ones who have succeeded (in what we may call worldly terms) are the ones from families who made them succeed.

    The only exception with the Tinsley kids, is that the fact that the families have opted for this lottery, have followed through to high school despite the extra difficulties of living far away from school and classmates, mean that these families themselves have got the right idea for their kids in trying to get them to do better than the previous generation. The ones who never even tried to get into Tinsley must be even worse off than these successes.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by SkepticAl
    a resident of Ventura
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 10:03 pm

    Obvious......... not so obvious. We have no shortage of parents in any demographic who lack some particular skill set in parenting, or have the skill but not the results to show for it. Inability to do something ought not to be equated with lack of desire. If wanting were doing, none of our children would be lying, rude, cheating, materialistic, substance abusing slackers..... and yet, there they are. I've known many students who struggled with these things in high school despite the best efforts of concerned, involved parents, therapists, educators... So, when you have a notable segment of the population struggling to keep their children engaged in school, that doesn't mean they don't care. They may not know enough about American schools to access all that's available, to advocate effectively, or to understand what their kids are going through. There's also plenty of evidence that cultural differences even interfere with parents' understanding of their rights and how to communicate and coordinate with schools and teachers.

    So, I'll agree schools can't fix what is broken at home, but it's not always obvious what's broken. Successful schools have figured out that sometimes, what's broken is communication, and that can be fixed. You also state, "Teaching is hard enough and resources are being wasted on those who don't care." Yes, teaching is more than hard enough, and yes, at some point we all reach a point of giving up. However, that's a tragic moment. It is precisely those students who APPEAR not to care to who most need our efforts. Because if we don't push past the appearance of apathy, or break through the reality of apathy, we pay a much larger price as a society. Can students who seem totally disengaged turn around, care about school, start succeeding? Yes, they can. But much more rarely when they sense that the grown-ups who should know better have given up on them.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Look at the Data
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Of the "top" 10 K-12 unified school districts in CA, here's how PAUSD ranks by Academic Performance Index (API) subgroup:
    White 1st of 10 - TOP of subgroup ranking
    Asian 1st of 10 - TOP of subgroup ranking
    Hispanic or Latino 9 of 9 (1 N/A) - BOTTOM of subgroup ranking
    African 6th of 6 - BOTTOM of subgroup ranking

    This is horrible! PAUSD can do better, and I for one am glad the district is shining a light on this topic. Not every student is going to be a national merit scholar, but if they graduate from Paly or Gunn, don't you think every should meet CSU/UC admission requirements. They can chose to go to trade school, but let the choice be theirs, not a choice due to limited options.

    Here are the other "top" districts: Arcadia, Irvine, La Canada, Manhatan, Palos Verdes, Piedmont, Poway, San Marino, San Ramon.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Terry
    a resident of Midtown
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    That's interested data. Can you link to the source? What does "top" mean here?

    I wonder what impact VTP/Tinsley has on that? It is often said that test scores generally measure the value of the real estate next to the schools. If PAUSD brings in non-local students (if they are mostly black and hispanic), that could explain some of the divergence above.

    Don't get me wrong - I hate the idea of underperforming kids, and would rather spend money raising the bottom 20% than enhancing the top 20% (sorry GATE folks). But the question is the meaning of the API data above.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Thank you
    a resident of another community
    on Dec 18, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    Thank you SkepticAl. I always enjoy your posts but rarely respond. I particularly enjoyed:

    "Meanwhile, here in Palo Alto, can you tell me we'd actually take those flaky, disorganized underachieving white and Asian kids from rich families and be able to place them in a trade apprenticeship, and forget about college? Of course not, because with time and faith and high expectations, many of them will come around and go on to succeed in academia and professional life. Joan, I'm sorry that your expectations are so low."

    So true...Perhaps not an achievement gap, but an "expectation gap"?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
    a resident of Midtown
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 2:24 am

    The educational value of a bus ride is vastly over rated. The intellectual component of a craft education is underrated.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by perspective
    a resident of Midtown
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 6:19 am

    Achievement ability in order from most to least

    Asian
    Then, 20 points below on Standardized tests
    White
    Then, 20 points below on Standardized tests
    Alternating Black/Hispanic
    Percent kids born to single moms, in order

    Asian: 14%
    White:28%
    Hispanic: 48%
    Black:68%

    Hmmm: Anything strike anyone as completely beyond the control of PAUSD?

    Agree 100% with Obvious. A great family ( one with 2 educated, hard working parents who model academic success and hard work) in a bad district will probably produce successful kids. A bad family ( single, uneducated moms who are receiving government checks to care for the kids) in a great district will probably produce unsuccessful kids.

    Before the cries of "racism" begin, let me state the obvious. 93% of all kids living in poverty in this nation are living with...single moms. Kids in poverty are on government subsidies...

    FAMILY,FAMILY, FAMILY.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by the other side of helpful
    a resident of South of Midtown
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 6:24 am

    to add on to perspective:

    Add to it the fact that our teachers and administrators fear trying to talk to black kids' moms/dads about issues in school for fear of being called "racist" and sued...and there is a double problem. The schools are damned if they do ( try to help), and damned if they don't..and the kids are the ones who suffer doubly. They start to fail in the schools, don't get the help they need because of the biting of the hand that tries to help, then finish failing.

    There needs to be a Good Samaritan law for school districts.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 8:58 am

    There seems to be one major difference between the "have" families and the "have not" families. The former feel that you have to work hard to get what you have and the latter feel that it is their right to expect "the government" to give them what they don't have as a concession for being poor so that they have what the "haves" get by hard work. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that we shouldn't help the poor, or that they are not willing to work hard, but there is a fundamental attitude difference that will make one group succeed whatever and the other to blame their lack of success on anything other than themselves.

    For a child in a less affluent family to succeed to do as well as their potential, they need more than their family's influence. They need something deep inside that makes them want to succeed in spite of the bad hand life has dealt them. So, yes, we want these to succeed, but I fear that those with the right amount of drive and determination are few and far between.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by k
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:01 am

    SkepticAl refers to programs that... "require a combination of vision and money..." Why is it always about money? Taxpayers are constantly harangued that we need to spend more money yet it is exceedingly difficult to track where this money goes. I have heard horror stories about Oakland Unified (where they are many underachieving students, sadly). I understand the per pupil spending is very high (sorry, this comes from KGO radio recently so I don't have a reference)

    I don't buy that it is all about our failing to provide sufficient resources.

    I remember a newsweekly story (Newsweek?) maybe 10 years ago comparing an upper middle class American high school with an average looking French one. The American school had decidely glamourous facilities (much fancier than Paly or Gunn, BTW) and "resources" including a huge computer lab that cost a fortune -- whereas the French one had absolutely bare bones basic facilities (few if any computers, as I recall) yet the French students achieved much more. They had a longer school day and school was taken seriously. I believe there was more respect for the teachers.

    At the same time, as an aside, I am sympathetic to high school transfer students in PAUSD for one particular thing. I doubt if their moms and dads can afford to pay for constant math tutoring outside of school, as has become prevalent around here, with advance learning of the curriculum. Many students are "ahead" or coasting getting good grades on that basis. I doubt EPA/Menlo students could afford to do that so it is NOT a level playing field here.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Education-Begins-At-Home
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:08 am

    There was a recent article in the NYT that deals with this issue:

    ----
    Web Link
    December 9, 2007
    Parenting
    In Gaps at School, Weighing Family Life
    By MICHAEL WINERIP

    THE federal No Child Left Behind law of 2002 rates schools based on how students perform on state standardized tests, and if too many children score poorly, the school is judged as failing.

    But how much is really the school's fault?

    A new study by the Educational Testing Service — which develops and administers more than 50 million standardized tests annually, including the SAT — concludes
    that an awful lot of those low scores can be explained by factors that have nothing to do with schools. The study, "The Family: America's Smallest School," suggests that a lot of the failure has to do with what takes place in the home, the level of poverty and government's inadequate support for programs that could make a difference, like high-quality day care and paid maternity leave.
    ---

    There is little doubt that education begins and ends in the home. The schools can only do so much.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by JLS Parent
    a resident of JLS Middle School
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:18 am

    The principal of JLS has just sent a message home to JLS parents that winter break should be used as that, a break, and to value the time together as families rather than using it as a catch up and socialising whirl. Good idea for us all.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Look at the Data
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    The API scores are listed on the CA Dept of Ed website. Select PAUSD, then the other districts to compare.

    Web Link

    It's just a ranking, but of the unified districts with the highest overall API's, not only are our students of color at the bottom when compared to these other districts, but PAUSD has the largest gap between our white/asian and hispanic/african american students of any of the "top" districts. These kids are being left behind. If we're such a great community and school district, shouldn't we expect all of our students meet state benchmarks?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by perspective
    a resident of Midtown
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    I agree with Education-begins-at-home except when it becomes "government's fault" and so we need high quality day care etc.

    "Government", which I admit with shame I voted for, is what CAUSED so many of the family problems today by paying women to have babies they can't care for. I voted for policies which I now know helped destroy the family. When young women/teen girls think that having babies is the ticket to life off the "government", and young men/teen boys think that their sexual "prowess" carries no responsibilities, we end up with what we have today. MORE kids with no DADS married to their MOM..which results is what we see.

    So, no..I completely disagree. The solution is to not only NOT expand government subsidies to unwed mothers, but to decrease more than we have the incentive to have babies before marriage. ( Like, if you can't care for them, they go up for adoption, ...or..you have one you can't care for, the taxpayer will foot the bill but only if your tubes get tied...or only if you go into a group home where you must finish your schooling and you learn how to be a decent mother, AND you are on the kind of birth control that comes in a needle every 3 months..ANYTHING to discourage unwed motherhood would go a long way to decreasing poverty/bad education in kids)

    Fewer single mom families, fewer societal fall-out in schooling.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Albert Franklin
    a resident of Woodside
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    I wonder how Alexandre Dumas, who in France is black, would rate academically in Santa Clara County? Would he be gay here in Palo Alto? Could he have ever written "The Three Musketeers?" If the answer is a resounding no, then I suppose the black businessman in Germany with the last name of Fuggar whom I presume is not gay, but here in Palo Alto, he most definately either be forced into that catagory, or outright hung with an idiot's sign about is neck! Why else, 653 years ago, were blacks exterminated in Europe? Why else would a pope, that had sex with his daughter, and whose son they raised by the name of Caesar who had sex with his mother/sister, as his father/grandfather on both sides got him to murder his sister's rightful husband" All in the name of Church and Country? Is he not whom the Italian writer coined his book called, "The Prince?"


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by joan
    a resident of Professorville
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 1:35 pm



    I cannot understand the gross prejudice against trades and crafts expressed by educators on this forum.

    This country was build by tradesmen and craftsmen, they are not second class citizens.

    A typical welder, for example, knows a great deal more about metallurgy and earns a great deal more than a typical liberal arts graduate.

    What about mechanics, builders, carpenters, medical techs, computer techs, police, firemen etc these people make a contribution to society and make a very good living doing so. What about military enlistees.

    Non of these occupations require a college degree.
    Consider some entrepreneurs , Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates(till last years) do not have degrees-- look at the value they have created.

    I know of many police officers who later decided they wanted to go to law school. Nothing is fixed in concrete, people can pursue academics later in live if they choose.

    This prejudice by educators is outrageous.

    Give non academic high school students a chance at dignity and income by teaching them a trade rather than forcing them through Potemkin village like failed education programs that build an educational bureaucracy that serves the interests of the teachers union not that of the kids, their parents or society at large.

    Lets follow the example of UK and Germany and provide an evidence based trade education to 14 and 15yrs old who do not thrive academically in our schools.

    Let us start these programs in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto now !





     +   Like this comment
    Posted by SkepticAl
    a resident of Ventura
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Why it's about the money... (HUMAN RESOURCES INVESTMENT 101)

    Successful school reform requires study (staff or consultant hours), initial and ongoing staff development (many more hours), and in many/most cases, improved staffing ratios at schools (more people, more salaries, more benefits), and improved retention (aided in part by competitive salaries).

    It's not the computers and the brand new text books that eat up the money - it's the human resources. Sounds expensive - heck, it is expensive. Until you add up the back-end costs of under-investing in education - inflated costs in welfare, prisons, etc. There's plenty of evidence that investing in education pays off for society in the long run, but for some reason, people would rather pay to incarcerate than educate. It always surprises me that a liberal artsy guy like me would have to explain basic investment principles to the conservative business types.

    So, back to someof the comments about single mothers, welfare... it's all well and good to take steps one way or another for the future, but dealing with the students who've already been born.... Do you want to invest in proven strategies and human resources to do what we can to give kids the education they need, or cynically cop-out, throw your hands up in the air, and save your hundreds of dollars short term only to pay out thousands in the future? The macroscopic picutre looks bleak, and I'm not arguing that schools can fix homes. But get away from the huge picture for a second and see that change is possible. It's happening. It's working. Learn about it! Demand it! Fund it! (and for those of you most concerend about your bottom line... take the long view on this investment strategy - you'll be okay!).


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by SkepticAl
    a resident of Ventura
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Joan -

    If you're responding to me, I went out of my way to extol those who work in trades, crafts, etc. I like the idea of exposing students to all avenues open to them, and yes, they should know that a top technician, plumber, etc., can earn more than many in white-collar jobs. While I went an academic route, I greatly value the time I've spent doing carpentry, electrical work, and even a little bit of agricultural labor (yes, actual day-long stints in the fields picking fruit). My grandparents were shopkeepers, a clerk, and a railroad worker - all of them hard-working and honorable people who provided for their families and contributed to their community. I even agree with Walter that "we underestimate the intellectual component of craft education." Amen.

    You advocate closing certain paths at an early age, based on an approach that will, if history is any indicator, make race and class-based decisions rather than education and merit-based decisions. While I am interested in comparitive educational approaches and policies, I am not convinced to do what other nations are doing just because they're doing it, which is the main argument you've made. You actually do go one step further, claiming that we handicap some by helping all, though I'd argue that you're assuming a "zero-sum" model that won't bear out under scrutiny or research, and certainly doesn't bear out in my experience.

    Having known and worked with nearly a thousand young people in the age range you're talking about, or slightly younger, I'm extremely skeptical of the claim that we should make restrictive decisions for them regarding their path to adulthood, based on what we've seen during their childhood. I know too many people who looked to be going one way at that age and turned out another way. How would you justify implementing a flawed system to make those restrictive decisions for other people, or, how would you prevent the flaws from arising as so much history suggests they would? I'm not arguing that we have a perfect system now, but knowing our imperfections, that's why I think we're obligated to keep open as many options as possible.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by joan
    a resident of Professorville
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    SkepticAl


    We have spent over 40 yrs and trillions of dollars on the failed programs you advocate.

    These programs have not just failed they have made the situation worse for those they were supposed to help.

    70% of black children are born to single mothers.

    50% of the prison population is black vs 12 % of the US population

    1 out of every 3 black males have been in prison and are part of the criminal justice system

    50% of the black gay/ bisexual population is HIV/AIDS positive.

    More money for these failed ideas is a crime.

    We need trade programs that provide marketable skills and dignity in our high school and performance based pay for teachers ( HR 101 )

    No more wasted money and wasted lives!




     +   Like this comment
    Posted by RWE
    a resident of South of Midtown
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Closely related to this topic, another thread in this forum, here...
    Web Link
    "What IQ Doesn't Tell Us About Race, and Intelligence"

    Also, "joan" misconstrued the information I offered about Germany as an endorsement of her ideas about compulsory tracking. I offered no such endorsement - and, in fact, consider the German tracking system to be dysfunctional, due to the age at which children are put into their respective tracks - some as early as age 8, or nine. That doesn't seem like a good thing at all.

    In fact, the German public school system in under intense scrutiny at the moment, with private school enrollments rising precipitously over the last decade.

    That said, Walter Wallis' comment "The intellectual component of a craft education is underrated." is very true. We should not underestimate the value of offering options for kids who *voluntarily* - due to interest and aptitude - choose to pursue a career track that doesn't include university study. My sense is that we shuold be opening up our community colleges (we already do, to some degree) to high school students who are motivated to learn a trade, because (as stated in a prior post) there is very good income potential in many trades, and one can live a very creative and fulfilling life within the context of tradesperson, or craftsperson.

    As for the achievement gap, a reads of the article linked to, above, will provide some good clues, based on good research, about how IQ measures up as an dependable indicator of intelligence.

    I like SkepticAl's take on much of this; he seems on target.

    Certainly, the prior educational background of one's parents is a huge indicator of success in school; the research is there.

    There is a reason that someone once coined the term "Cycle of Poverty". It has to do with the self-reinforcing cycle perpetuated out of ignorance about how the system works. One gets access to the "system" - how it works, and its main players - through education.

    We must keep on trying to reach and help children who are disadvantaged. Means testing is one strong tool to help us in this quest.

    We either pay on the front end to educate and enlighten young minds, or we pay for the waste of that mind, later. This is another "inconvenient truth" that we have to live with, and ignore at our own, and our society's peril.






     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .5 %
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    13%,

    "there is a dearth of programs for GATE students" and those kids "sit in regular classrooms profoundly bored." Give up. This will not change. The schools will not meet the needs of the gifted because no pressure has been brought to bear. The schools will not really differentiate instruction because it is difficult and hard work (though the word sounds nice ;)).

    It is no coincidence that the schools fall all over themselves to serve special needs kids--their parents organized a national campaign that resulted in federal legislation. Unless you follow that lead, you won't see change. But before you know it, your kid will finish school, bored but mostly unscathed, and you will forget about your struggles with teachers and administrators. And nothing will have changed.





     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Brit
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    In response to the comment that the UK guides underachievers into crafts at 14 or 15, this information is slightly wrong, outdated and not thought of as prudently wise by educators. Whereas this was the case 30 or 40 years ago and did weed out the differences at the 11+ stage, this has been going away recently almost entirely. The two tier educational system definitely echoed the class system and the differences between the haves and have nots. It gave those in the lower tier a feeling of not being bright enough and the others a feeling of superiority which they didn't deserve. It also contributed to crafts people who left school with little chance of employment as although they were possibly proficient in their craft, they were poorly educated in all things relative to running a business, making social, political and to a large extent political decisions and quite often unable to fill in a simple employment form let alone a tax return.

    The idea of crafts is diminishing anyway. Look at something like car repair, a computer ability is necessary to understand the repair equipment. Looking at plumbing, construction, tailoring, electrician, etc. etc., the playing field is evening out as the equipment necessary to do this work becomes much more automated and less skillful.

    No, let our high schools offer crafts as electives, but train our young people to be leaders in their craft fields as the employers and business owners rather than the blue collared leckies.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by RWE
    a resident of South of Midtown
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    joan, I think you're a troll, but just in case you're serious, here are a few considerations for your balance sheet.

    How many wars have been started by white men? What did they cost?

    What was the cost of the disenfranchisement of the entire African continent, by white men? How about South America? How about much of Asia?

    What was the capital cost of the infrastructure displacement caused by white slavers, that continues to this day?

    You need to get a clue about both sides of your biased balance sheets.

    How many white persons actively - and successfully - tried to keep minority members from getting an education, and then actively discriminated against those minorities who did? What did that cost? Who should pay for the damage? (btw, we're still paying for this travesty).

    That you would, among intelligent people, somehow equivocate the absolute need for educating those that are at disadvantage- or deign to decide the future of a child not fully formed in intellect - because the *self-fulfilling prophesy* brought on by those who are hateful and small-minded enough to believe that the fate of certain persons in certain racial groups is sealed, is an indication of your rather uncomely bias - the very bias that causes the very sorry statistics in your self-fulfilling scenario, from which you appear to get a visceral thrill out of quoting.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by RWE
    a resident of South of Midtown
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    .5% - that's what PUBLIC education is all about in America; it's an experience of SHARED responsibility for the WHOLE.

    There are many who opt out of public education; that's their right. Perhaps you might consider that as a course of action.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by joan
    a resident of Professorville
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 2:49 pm



    Brit your assertion are incorrect
    you are referring to the 11+ which pretty much went away in the 70s with the introduction of comprehensive schools.

    These schools have failed --Potemkin villages--

    I am referring to the new education initiative which will be fullyimplemented in the next 4 yrs in response to the massive failure of comprehensives.
    You can read about it on BBC, Economist, London Times etc or you can access the legislation at U gov. It is an evidence based approach as opposed to a political one

    Essentially this will mean compulsory education up to 18yrs for every one. Trade schools for some, traditional academics for others.
    The approach respects diversity and deals with the reality of how you help young people succeed.
    It has nothing whatsoever to do with the 11+

    Show me a tradesman who does not have basic commuter skills-- you must be living in the third world.

    Also I would like to see these automated plumbers, soldiers,firemen,policemen, builders etc you refer to-- where are they hidden ?

    We need trade education to provide dignity and wealth for those who do not thrive in 19 century academic contexts




     +   Like this comment
    Posted by joan
    a resident of Professorville
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    RWE

    There is nothing you or I can do about the past.

    Some people, among them Indian intellectuals, believe the the British colonization of India was a net benefit.

    Slavery was an abomination, it was not the monopoly of white males however.

    My ancestors came to America in dire poverty at a time when Irish and Italian Catholics were cruelly excluded from educational, job, political etc opportunities.

    What did they do? they organized around the churches, build trades, built their own system of primary, secondary and tertiary education, which is still in many ways best in America-- Georgetown
    Notre Dame etc etc.

    Initially it was a culture built on trade and crafts, the next generation maintain those and built upon them.

    I do not know what a troll is but it sound like an insult, I am serious-- I resent the insult and I want you to retract it!



     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Robert
    a resident of Crescent Park
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    joan wrote:
    >> Some people, among them Indian intellectuals, believe the the British colonization of India was a net benefit.

    Well, some people believed that some other people are only 3/5th of a man. Some people believed that some other people should be gas'ed. Some people said that Africans wouldn't mind being enslaved.

    You are incredibly, well, short sighted! The fact that some people uttered some crap is an argument for nothing!

    Think about it, and retract _your_ comment!


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Paly77
    a resident of another community
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Okay, so there is a achievement gap in our schools! DUH!
    Bottom line; you need a HS education to move on.
    I remember back in the seventy's my Paly counsulor threw me out of her office for stating that I was considering junior college, and, or military service! This was before the "No Child Left Behind" BS that came out of Washington!
    The thing is, every person has the desire to learn. Maybe we should throw out all the bean counter statistics, and let the kids use their so called freedom and choose their own path!
    Last of all, I have to agree with Mary's (posted 20 hours ago)comments!
    Paly77


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by PA mom
    a resident of Crescent Park
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Look at the Data - you are comparing the API scores for top ranking schools - and state " PAUSD has the largest gap between our white/asian and hispanic/african american students of any of the "top" districts." I don't doubt the data, just the demographics. How much of the achievement gap is is a "failing" of our district and how much is the fact that the other "top" districts are educating a group of kids from only their community. What % of our "failing" minorities are not Palo Alto residents? What kind of support do we need to be giving the whole family of these students?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by joan
    a resident of Professorville
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    This the UK plan moving forward for streaming into academic and vocational training at 14 yrs.
    We need programs like this here, some fresh thinking some evidence based ways to help kids succeed.



    The Department for Education and Skills confirmed plans in January to raise the school leaving age in England to 18.

    This means that, by 2013, all pupils will have to stay in education or training until the end of the school year in which they turn 17. By 2015, this leaving age will be raised to the 18th birthday.

    This will not mean that pupils have to stay in the classroom or continue with academic lessons, but they will have to continue to receive training.

    Schools Minister Jim Knight said: "We want to get the very best out of all young people. That is why from September 2008 we are introducing the new Diploma qualification which will provide the best of basic skills, theoretical knowledge and practical work based learning.

    "We are also driving forward a massive expansion in apprenticeships from 150,000 to 240,000 to ensure every young person that wants to learn in the work place can do so.

    "With these new choices young people can then carry on learning until they are 18, with many benefits to them and the economy as a result."


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by anonymous parent
    a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    That's just the point - if you think of it, we (Paly community) are being "blamed" for our students supposedly not achieving enough - and these students are not from our school's catchment area in the first place. That said, we should still attempt to help them, but it makes comparing us with other regions in the country difficult. Maybe a better approach is to work towards incremental improvements within PAUSD (not meaning NCLB, though)


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Reality Check
    a resident of Midtown
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    joan, the UK is not the US - just a thought. If you're not a troll, I'm George Washington...

    I know its fun to track and crib Google for unrelated insights, but isn't it time to move on?

    you said:
    "My ancestors came to America in dire poverty at a time when Irish and Italian Catholics were cruelly excluded from educational, job, political etc opportunities.

    What did they do? they organized around the churches, build trades, built their own system of primary, secondary and tertiary education, which is still in many ways best in America-- Georgetown"

    Your ancestors were not forcibly taken from their homeland and shipped like freight, overseas, where they were separated and bred, like animals. And, just so you get your history straight, your ancestors had the vote well before liberated black slaves did. So, by no stretch of the imagination, did your ancestors face even a fraction of the disadvantage that black slaves did.








     +   Like this comment
    Posted by 5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    RWE,

    "that's what PUBLIC education is all about in America" Well, that is the way many teachers and administrators see it: teach to the middle because that's easiest and too bad about the rest of the kids. Not sure why you think jettisoning some kids is the American way.

    FYI, private schools are even worse. Their business model is based on having round pegs for round holes.



     +   Like this comment
    Posted by RWE
    a resident of South of Midtown
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    .5% - - Looks like you're a home schooling candidate.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by joan
    a resident of Professorville
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 5:03 pm



    As a matter of fact the Irish who were sent to penal colonies in

    Australia for political activities were treated as slaves.

    The Irish were also starved to death by the English in the Famine

    The Nazis treated the Jews, Poles and Russians as slaves.

    The Japanese treated the Chinese, Koreans and Philipinos as slaves.

    Stalin treated millions as slaves in USSR and so did Mao in China

    Slavery has a long and shameful past.

    It was White Males who put an end to it by the way, recall, Amazing Grace.

    The fact is at some point you have to move on.

    People trying to assuage their white guilt have done a gross disservice to blacks in the USA.

    Drop the guilt already.

    Even South Africa has moved on from its racist past.



     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Robert
    a resident of Crescent Park
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    Joan - I really want to thank you for your comments - somebody has to get the historical perspective right!

    Thanks for that!
    -- R

    [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by joan
    a resident of Professorville
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Reality Check
    a resident of Midtown
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by joan
    a resident of Professorville
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 7:23 pm



    "How many of the ethnic groups you describe suffered a fraction of the injustice that slaves in AMERICA suffered, as people on American soil?"

    Well-- you can read The Great Terror by Robert Conquest from Stanford about Stalins enslavement and slaughter of a combined total of 80 million.

    Maos count is similar, they have a pretty good library in Palo Alto if you can not use the one on campus, I suggest you ask there for a good reference on China.

    Hitler enslaved maybe 20 million and killed 6 million Jews, thats well documented

    Niall Ferguson from Harvard has written about these issues in War of the World

    So overall about 200+ million people were enslved and slaugtered in the the 20 century alone.

    You can go back to the Aztec practices of slavery and cannibalism if you want. The Egyptians etc etc

    You will find there is nothing unique about the experience of blacks in America horrifying and tragic as the whole thing is, but again at some point you have to move on with your current life.




     +   Like this comment
    Posted by REality Check
    a resident of Midtown
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    "You will find there is nothing unique about the experience of blacks in America"

    Wow! Your ignorance in this matter is nothing short of stunning. How about keeping to the point?

    In case you haven't noticed, we're not talking about purges or genocide here. We're talking about people forcibly taken *from their culture and homeland*, herded and bred like animals (if they were lucky).

    Chinese, Russian, Irish, etc. etc. immigrants came to America *of their own volition*, with their cultural heritage intact. That is NOT the same as anything else you describe.

    HIstory 101

    Again, how many of the ethnic groups you describe suffered a fraction of the injustice that slaves in AMERICA suffered, **as people on American soil**?

    Answer that question, or move on.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Thank you
    a resident of another community
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    Joan, you are citing South Africa as a model of diplomacy and equality? Or are you just stating that South Africa has moved on from its guilt?

    That is shameful! Have you ever been? Have you been to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Seweto? South Africa is a boiling pot of water, ready to overflow.

    Sadly, I cannot find a quote that mimics the same thought found in a sports analogy: You (the team) are only as strong as your weakest player.

    Do you not see how closing any kind of gap that may exist is beneficial to all? Do you see that how history does help to determine the future and that future is now?

    I am not against trade schools, at ALL. Matter of fact, I think more students should be led down that road and that we should elevate the status of what trade schools are--a viable and valuable option that serves themselves and the community. What I take offense with is your "tone" and your dismissal to send any student who is not academically achieving (currently) to a trade school. I think that both avenues should be revered. With that said, what is wrong with working hard to elevate EACH student and taking some sort of responsibility of that task as a community?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Look at the Data
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:52 pm

    We have african american and hispanic students living throughout PAUSD-probably some in your neighborhood, they are not all VTP. Granted this article focused on the VTP kids, and they do have some special circumstances such as transportation, but the other issues might be said for many of the students of color throughout the district. As the article states, even our middle class hispanic and african american kids are underperforming their peers. The cause is not just socio-economic based. There's something else going on, right here in Palo Alto.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by paly student
    a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    Woulda helped if sometimes some of them weren't rude to teachers?
    Respect = two way street
    I respect the difficult situations they are in, but it is no excuse to be rude in class, as I have witnessed.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .00001%
    a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 11:24 pm

    [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

    This is America, and we happen to have something called "liberty" and "freedom". If students want to be apprenticed, they can CHOOSE to do so. Certainly as a high school student I can tell you that choice has been brought up numerous times, and you have no right to suggest what people SHOULD do.
    [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 8:54 am

    RWE,

    I just take consolation knowing that in Palo Alto ALL children are gifted. Keillor is so modest in his smugness.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by In the Top 4
    a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 10:09 am

    On the relative low placement of PAUSD underpresented minorities to those in other top districts, check this out.

    If you assume that all the low-income students are also under-represented minorities, you'll see a different picture that suggests that the better performing top-10 API schools mentioned above do better with under-represented minorities because those students are not low income.

    Of the list someone mentioned above, resorted this way many of the "top" 10 fall out and only 3 schools do better than PAUSD does.

    Anyone know what the URM API's actually are for Aracadia, Poway, PAUSD and Irvine? Is the spread large or are they closely clumped together?


    Piedmont - none of the URMs are low income
    San Marino -- 83% of the URMs are NOT low income
    La Canada -- 80%
    Manhattan Beach -- 80%
    San Ramon -- 78%
    Palos Verdes -- 78%
    Irvine -- 57%
    PAUSD -- 53%
    Poway -- 50%
    Arcadia -- 21%












    )



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    Posted by RWE
    a resident of South of Midtown
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 10:31 am

    "I just take consolation knowing that in Palo Alto ALL children are gifted"

    Truer words were never spoken. And, we are all spokes on the wheel.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Bluecollar Boy
    a resident of another community
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Fact check: Keillor only claims that "all the [Lake Wobegon] children are above average." RWE's "gifted" is plain vintage New Palo Alto. That's what makes it so refreshing to watch reality intrude on Smuggyland by the Bay. Welcome to earth over there.


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    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Blue,

    Right, thus is Keillor's smugness modest. He hasn't met us.

    "That's what makes it so refreshing to watch reality intrude on Smuggyland by the Bay." Cannot happen. We are all high-tensile, identically machined spokes, and the actual messy world doesn't fit our blueprint. Either the blueprint is wrong or the world is wrong. You guess which. Hint: all PA kids are gifted.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Whitecollar man
    a resident of another community
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Bluecollar boy: even you are gifted...


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by veteranteacher
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    It's all about immigration folks.Check stats on how many English learners are now in CA public schools.You would be astounded at how many kids are 14 and learning to write a sentence in English.So much is spent getting these kids up to speed that top level kids are offered less. As a result, families opt for private schools.Teachers need to take so many more courses to accomodate the English learner, that many are leaving the profession.High school teachers want to share the joy of content not hours of subject verb agreement.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Joel K
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 4:41 pm



    1)A criteria for immigration should be fluency in English, the burden should lie with the immigrant not with American tax payers.

    2)In Palo Alto we need more support for gifted children or we will fall behind in a world economy. We waste too much trying to get underachieving students into college. Most of these students prove to have little academic aptitude, if the get into college they drop out.

    This emphasis on the laggards means the teachers teach to the middle.
    We need to hold parents accountable for the performance of under achieving students.

    If their family and peers do not value academic achievement there is nothing a teacher can with them at that age and we should stop pretending otherwise. Good vocational guidance and apprenticeship will serve these students better.

    Our competitiveness as and economy depends upon our excellence in math, science and engineering. We have fallen far behind in these areas compared with countries in Europe and Asia.

    We need to emphasize excellence and competitiveness not waste our time on "self esteem" which has proven meaningless.

    Self efficacy trumps self esteem, efficacy comes from struggle and performance.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Paly77
    a resident of another community
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Okay, .5% you need to wake up and smell the coffee!
    Maybe you should take a tour through the middle east sometime!

    Joel K is right! Our world is evolving to the point where we have to think about every action we take.

    Of course, the original subject matter was about a so called achievement gap in the PA school system.
    Seems like if .5% had their way with the blue print theme, than this would be a waste of all our valuable time.
    Paly77


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by TrustFundKid
    a resident of Professorville
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    We often see negative emotions towards "TrustFund kids"; "Rich kids" and likewise.

    What you people don't get is the fact that our parents really work hard to make life better for a lot of community members ! Both my parents are doctors at Stanford. One of them is a trauma center specialist - we have lost count of the number of evenings my parents have spent in the O.R. battling for someone's life ! Yes, they do make money - but everything comes with a price. Their job satisfaction is tremendous.

    I got tutored (now someone will say - because hte parents were so busy with the job, they shelled out $ to get the expensive tutor ). I wonder if my parents should have stayed at home and not given the community the full benefit of their work. The answer is "no". Our family is based on quality time vs quantity time. We make it a point to spend quality time every single day.

    Now why did my parents hire the tutor - probably because they know the value of education and respect education.

    The achieving gap mentions underprivileged kids - more than the lack of $; it is the lack of committment towards education - they lack committment towards education since they have to worry about getting food on the table.

    Can some people from this forun offer to tutor these kids? Why not - its a good use of your own time


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Sparky
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    TFK, dude - it's nice your parents are doctors, but don't fall for that "doctors give to the community" stuff. Doctors get PAID, as it sounds like yours do - just like investment bankers, school teachers, and janitors, they do the work because they get paid. They work big hours and sacrifice family time? I guess that's why they get the big bucks. They serve the community by serving themselves.

    I have no problem with their getting paid - the market sets their price, not them, and they have to earn it - but the "community service"/nobility thing is way off. They do their job; so does the janitor; both are equally noble and serving in my view.

    Arguably the guys who works on Wall Street putting together financial derivatives is do more for the community by taking .25% off commercial lending rates than a whole lot of high-paid doctors.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by RWE
    a resident of South of Midtown
    on Dec 20, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    "We need to emphasize excellence and competitiveness not waste our time on "self esteem" which has proven meaningless"

    There is some merit in this statement, but not in the way you might think.

    We've really been barking up the wrong tree in the *way* we attempt to instill self-esteem in children. What we've gotten wrong is the idea that a child can be "filled up" with self esteem, as if a child is a kind of "bucket" that, if rewarded enough, or told s/he is a "good boy/good girl" enough, self esteem will result. The latter approach is all wrong, and has resulted in way too many kids who have been bred to be too self-involved, and obsessed with pleasing others - especially one's parents and authority figures. That's where a lot of stress comes from, and a lot of the conflict about achievement.

    There's good work in the world of cognitive psychology that shows psychological well-being as something else entirely, and that accretion of self esteem comes more from helping a child to remove self-invented cognitive distortions to feeling good about him/herself.

    If we put what we know about the way the cognitive world works in play, we can do a lot more to instill happiness in our kids, and make then happier about who they are, which is a benchmark for lifelong success.






     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Dec 21, 2007 at 12:51 am

    RWE,

    I think you're right on. One of things I've noticed about people who succeed on their own terms is that they can deal with failing--and getting up, dusting themselves off and starting over again. Kids don't need endless and ultimately meaningless approval--they need honesty (done though with kindness, not meaness) and the kind of education that gives them the tools to know how to learn on their own.

    As for the whole gifted/GATE debate--I remember my old MGM classes--way back then we were "mentally gifted minors". Every year, a larger and larger percentage of the class was deemed "gifted"--until there were about five kids who *didn't* go off to "special classes"--about which time we switched from being "gifted" to being "academically talented". Even then, it struck me as kind of rough on those left-out kids and sort of dumb. Frankly, it's not like we were doing anything in "special classes" that took super-duper thinking caps. It was fun, but that was about it.

    Which is my roundabout way of saying that I don't think GATE kids are special-needs kids in the way kids who can't keep up with classwork are. My own "special needs" were met at home--books are amazing things. I'm not sure I even know what I would have done with computers--ahhhh, the possibilities!

    I think, often, with GATE kids, that instead of programs that fixate on the gifted aspect of these kids, we're better off with giving these kids some room to explore (and soar). Fixating on what makes these kids different (especially with those genius types) can be very hard on the kids--it can set up some insane inner expectations.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by not that you asked
    a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on Dec 21, 2007 at 7:36 am

    Any student, if not properly tended to academically, can end up unmotivated to learn and apply themselves. So all kids need attention, whether they are in the achievement gap because they are minorities, in it and not a minority, at the other "gifted" end, or in the middle.

    What Palo Alto K-8 schools need to do is to get instruction out to students at the level they need it by thinking about delivery methods not typically used in our classrooms, focus on what students need to learn even if it isn't fun or sexy to teach (grammar and multiplication tables), and once students have mastered something as demonstrated on an objective test enrich and accelerate (controversial at some schools here in town for some reason but not in my previous less famous and much more academically diverse school district which had no problem with acceleration because it was supported by the research).

    Any school can do better, even if it is in Palo Alto.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by PA mom
    a resident of Crescent Park
    on Dec 21, 2007 at 8:05 am

    By the time kids get to HS, much of their motivation comes from their peers, some from role models. If your friends are academically inclined and work hard at school, you are more likely to also. I have noticed that the farther along kids get in school, the more self-segragation there is. How can we change that?

    To Sparky with comment on Doctors - Janitor's don't usually have to work overtime to save a life. Not that they are not important, but jobs which are fixed hours provide a different lifestyle than ones which do not.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 21, 2007 at 8:28 am

    I wouldn't mind if these lower achieving family's parents were working hard to put food on the table. However, I am not sure that they are. They may be working hard at a couple of jobs, but from what I see of the lower income kids in my kids' schools, a lot of the money is being spent on luxuries rather than necessities. These lower income kids have more money to spend than mine, they have all the latest "toys", (cell phones, gameboys, ipods,) designer clothes and the best basketball shoes, Heely's, etc. etc. Now I know that the affluent kids have them too, but there are a lot of families who just can't afford to buy their kids all the gizmos, and perhaps wouldn't want to even if they could, because they are struggling to get by on one salary because the value in having a parent at home after school and available to their kids plus living in their own home in PA, means that money is tight.

    So, please do not think that these lower income kids have poor parents, sometimes it just isn't the case in real terms.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 21, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Holonepar,

    You kind of missed 13%'s point, sweetie. He or she was concerned about children who "sit in regular classrooms profoundly bored," not about the kids who get double extra-special grades with super extra-credit on the weekly (grade-level) spelling test.
    "Fixating on what makes these kids different (especially with those genius types) can be very hard on the kids" An interesting take, but you clearly don't have any skin in the game. What's hard on these kids is sitting in class year after year waiting for their peers to catch up. What these kids need is to be taught at their level (instead of one, two, three, four or more years below their level), meaning tracking, differentiation, enrichment and acceleration (skipping). What they clearly need is a special-needs mandated program--that would allow them "soar" and "explore." Not that it will happen--certainly not in this district (every child is gifted!).

    It's interesting how often in these discussions someone feels the need to say that these kids are not gifted, or that it's better to ignore the fact, or that they don't need to have anything different from their classmates.

    Fortunately, the present system of grouping kids by age rather than by level appears to be on the way out: I heard PAUSD is going to group kids by height instead of age starting next year. They're doing it by 1 inch increments, and all the kids who are taller than 6 feet will automatically graduate. It's scientific and it's progress.




     +   Like this comment
    Posted by HelloThere
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 21, 2007 at 11:11 am

    Infiltrating the importance of education cannot be done in a single generation. The kids who are in school right now, who cannot cope up with the academics or who do not get the importance of not dropping out of school - their parents were probably in the same boat.

    Rather than trying to make the kids from the current generation, the experts in math and science - make them aware of what education can get them; make them aware of benefits of education; make them aware of the problems with dropping out of school.

    Yes, it is like that the kids will drop out of school .. but they are more likely to focus on their kids being in school.

    Sometime ago I was an inpatient at Stanford. I had a night duty nurse, who came in from Hayward. She had dropped out of school at the age of 14, gone through tough times - had two kids by the time she was 18. She realized that if she had to make something out of her own life and had to prevent her kids from going through the same route that she went through, she had to get back on her feet. She completed her nursing program and at the age of 38 finally got her first employment. She said that she takes up the night shifts to make sure she pays attention to her grandkids during the day time, when her own kids are at work ..


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Paly parent
    a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on Dec 21, 2007 at 11:42 am

    The original subject has been changed. There should be a thoughtful discussion of the achievement gap but instead the focus gets turned to me..and my "gifted" kid(s). How sad but not surprising in Palo Alto. Then the person is resentful of those other pretender parents who are claiming THEIR kids are gifted. NO, I say, it's MY kids that are gifted...this is funny!

    I always notice a slight lack of respect for teachers/administrators when discussions turn this way...I do not believe teachers here are so clueless as to "hold back" your precious child. I HAVE seen the anger of parents when their child fails the test (objective measure, one would think!) to skip a Math year. Instead of realizing their kid doesn't qualify, they step up the tutoring, ask me what other administrators they can approach to pressure to get approval. Some parents are quite persistent.

    The change in focus in this discussion indicates that some Palo Alto parents have an exceptionally high opinion of themselves and their "gifted" children, it really can be laughable. With those poor parents bemoaning how their poor "gifted" children are being held back by PAUSD, one would think all the academic talent of the world was centered right here! It's really about winning at any cost.

    One problem is, I don't find a whole lot of kids operating on their own...while some may be, many others are constantly prepped/tutored in advance of their curriculum, leading to an easier time getting the grades compared to us normal folks who believe in our children doing their own work. The experience is quite different when you are learning instead of being prepped. It sure isn't real-world.

    And to think my non-tutored, non-prepped children have competed with these kids who often have been pushed/tutored/prepped at extreme costs and they end up about the same place/ usually similar grades!

    I do know of many students who don't know their own agenda they are so manipulated and scheduled by parents into a fully-managed lifestyle. They are harrassed by their parents into taking the test to get into period zero Math. I personally have not seen a lot of STUDENT led effort to "move ahead." How about self-motivation? How about some freedom of choice. How about being creative? No, it's the quest for the top grade and the thrill of "beating" one's classmates that's most important here. We are very oriented towards finding contests (of whatever nature) to win. Some parents encourage that attitude and belief and many students buy into it. That said, one should always try one's best, that is the correct philosophy, and it applies to all of our students.

    What I'd really like to see is students doing their own work, without the support of expensive, (often) secret tutors. Then maybe we could get more of a level playing field for our disadvantaged students.

    How about less bragging and more action? How about volunteering and/or working with the school board on the achievement gap issue as well as your issues of the needs of your "gifted" kids. Oh, I forgot, you decided not to focus on the achievement gap.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Joel K
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on Dec 21, 2007 at 2:59 pm



    By the time kids are 15yrs they are cooked as it were, they have chosen an identity and values and a peer group that will make that self reinforcing.
    If they do not value academics then train them in a trade so the can have some self respect and self efficacy.

    The only intervention shown to work , in term of changing adolescents basic values, is boot camp in the military, but thats not PC, or some dramatic religious conversion experience, but thats not PC either. Neither of these approaches are valued by the public school system .

    The new UK approach described way back in this thread some where is the best chance. Those who bench mark secondary education internationally see it as an evidence based approach that will be adopted Europe wide in the next few years.

    In terms of excellence in education, what is wrong with competition?

    Competition is the basis for our economy, sports, science, technology,entertainment etc the sooner kids realize that the better for everyone as that is the real world.

    The will to win is everything.

    By trying their best,failing, picking themselves up and trying again kids develop resilience and courage.
    The whole "self esteem" movement in US education turned out to be a box canyon, a dead end.
    Those who payed the greatest price were the economically disadvantaged because they were distracted from who it takes to thrive in this Darwinian world--

    the Will To Win.

    As the French say, love can not buy you money.



     +   Like this comment
    Posted by 13% vs 87%
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 21, 2007 at 10:07 pm


    Paly Parent:

    Why such eagerness to dismiss the concerns of the parents of kids on the other end of the spectrum?

    My kids have never been tutored... We have not intervened for any favor...

    It could actually very well be that they have (and maybe lesser abilities).

    All I know is how bored one of them is in school and how sad it is to see him vegetate there, and to have no support from PAUSD whatsoever.

    Anyway, it was just a "complaint" I have had for many years of being a parent in this school district. When I mentioned it to school board members in the past, it was dismissed as not a problem for them.

    We are on our own and I am taking note of it.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by 13% vs 87%,
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 21, 2007 at 10:08 pm

    It could actually very well be that they have received less attention than tutored kids with very vocal parents (and maybe lesser abilities)***


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Will Ray
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on Dec 21, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    The article "Bucking the Trend" may be a story about something that shouldn't exist, "racial achievement data" on kids in school. Minority success in academics is most likely tied to neutralizing this idea. This is done either by being deeply embedded into a group that shares similar visible traits or completely rejecting any group association based on visible traits. Culture makes an affirmative group association choice much easier, similar to religion, and has trumped race—e.g. the Black Jews in Israel, or the lighter complexion Nigerians in Africa.
    Why do we keep dwelling on race and academic progress? First, there is no such thing as race unless you make it up. Race (categorized by visible traits) is a negative social construct which has lead to oppressing certain individuals, and therefore as it exist in schools there is no positive race experience per se. Within racial groups positive comments about skin complexion and tone can occur, but it does not carry much intellectual significance or deserve grand conversation. Therefore on the issue of race, there is nothing to talk about except irrational fears that require the assistance of a psychiatrist or a good book.

    Back to the schools. As long as we classify kids in skin color groups or by visible traits, someone will create statistics on behavioral similarities like test scores, grades, and crimes, etc.. on these kids. Eventually, they will begin imitating each other, and like behavioral patterns will develop. This behavior can cross cultural lines.

    Why aren't kids of color (even middle class kids) doing very well in Palo Alto schools? Are these achievement gaps based on race or culture? Really we shouldn't dignify anyone with an answer who ties in race. How are the people with big noses doing? Most African Americans in this area are not experiencing African American culture, so it is obvious they have a identity crisis going on. White Americans exhibit this problem that is manifested in so many deviant behaviors that are not under a microscope. And, for the record, poverty and slang are not indications of someone who has experienced a significant amount of time in the African American culture. This is called ignorance among minorities–-although fun, exciting, and seductive in our pop steroid world—this behavior is not representative of African American culture. The same people that have made peace in a nation that condoned their brutal oppression, have contributed to America because educators took an interest in their personal development.

    Latinos are trying to live a dual consciousness much like African Americans in the 1950's. I noticed how the article avoids discussing Asians who have a substantial stake in Palo Alto education--as if they are no longer minorities--there are poor Asian communities with the same problems as Latinos and African Americans. African Americans understand there is a game that must be played, but they hunker down to save what may be their souls at the expense of an awkward educational experience. They are probably trying to preserve their identity in its fragmented state due to much economical dislocation. Asian families are under great stress trying to prove, prove, prove. Do you really think it is fun playing the violin, being a nerd (a synonym for "square" or "drip."), sitting down doing homework all night under the pressure of your parents? There parents are looking at the material opportunities. It is documented that kids of color have more self esteem than Asian kids, so why do we over-value academic performance? Are they really getting the education they need? Something has to suffer, and it might as well be self esteem. Why? It is not documented, and you are not evaluated because you have poor self-esteem. How did race become so important? It is a way of getting a favor above your neighbor. Race is not culture, but many treat it this way do to past hostilities toward people of a certain skin complexion. It is as ridiculous as jailing all men with big noses and curly hair.

    That brings up the question about classifying people as a culture. Culture is not race, race is a by product of breeding and has nothing to do with intelligence. Opportunity has everything to do with success. Worse Socio-Economical conditions than others creates a higher hurdle to success. Showing poor academic performance by race is simple. Show me a micro or macro environment where numbers of students or scoring low, and I will show you the key conditions that are undermining academic performance.

    The schools have a simple problem. Although it is competitive, the playing field is not level for minorities. You say you want to raise academic achievement of minorities in school. End racism and discrimination (disparate treatment by teachers) in schools. It is easy, simply end racial classification and view each student as an individual. Stanford has had Ph.D.'s graduate who have brought every quirky habit and cultural custom from every corner of the globe. These things have nothing to do with embracing and educating.

    Intelligence, motivation, or desire to be educated "must be nurtured" in those that feel they are at a disadvantage when they start the game. A teacher who feels they are not well paid may have a axe to grind in a case by case situation. They may be only prepared to offer tests and grade papers at the average. Gifted and under developed students experience mid-education. A student knows when he/she is being mis-educated, and they think they can't really do anything about it. The helpless feeling makes them disengage mentally from the school environment. While they are there physically, they are not engaged. It is difficult to say, "Just buck up, pay attention, learn all you can by watching, in a place where certain kids can get a $40,000 car to drive five blocks to school--to most life is a party--I doubt more than half have career ideas. This is a luxury. How do you buck up in the midst of luxury unless you compete with it.

    When you walk into some situations in many parts of America, everything going on reminds you of the historical patterns created by racism. Even minorities fall into a trap of mediocrity, grouping together for survival in the workplace accepting lower level jobs. We can do better.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Dec 22, 2007 at 1:18 am

    .5 percent, your assumptions about me are erroneous.

    I wrote what I wrote because I know adults who skipped grades, went to college at 12, and took college courses in high school. I know some extreme cases in the high IQ department, so how one deals with baby geniuses is something to which I've given a lot of thought.

    Of these various people--the one who seems happiest is the one who didn't skip grades, but was quietly accelerated in certain subjects--he did attend math classes, but actually had specialied instruction via an online program. He was about four years ahead of the normal math track.

    Unlike a special-needs kid, it wasn't hard to help this kid. He just needed access to information and some instruction. No tutoring, by the way--this was all above-board with his school--the kid was motivated, independent and, yeah, that smart.

    He's a lot happier than my college-at-12 friend--and, though both are still pretty young--more successful. Collge-at-12 friend may have had the greater math gift (or not), but his role as prodigy sort of overtook his life. It overwhelmed, I think, his maturing in other ways.

    Isn't part of the point about being gifted is that you're that much more able and at earlier age to pick up information and, gee, educate yourself? I really don't get the attitude that gifted kids need to have stuff handed to them on a silver platter and that the school system is failing them if they don't get instruction that precisely matches their needs.

    It's a public-school system and it's got limitations. Profoundly gifted kids are rare--even here. I don't expect the schools to be a perfect fit for them. I've found, over the years, that the my-child-must-be-accelerated to be less about the child's actual needs and more about the parent's. Very bright kids are still kids and their development isn't even--a kid who does algebra at eight may have no idea how to make a friend.

    The teachers in the district aren't clueless--they know the district has bright kids and bright parents. I do think that they tend to get a bit jaded about "my child is gifted"--they hear it a lot. Hell, I've heard it a lot and the brutal truth is that the parents who say it have bright kids, but not the brightest ones. Those kids seem to have somewhat more discreet parents--because any parent with brains can figure out that an extremely high level of intelligence is, in its way, kind of a burden for a kid.




     +   Like this comment
    Posted by be kind to all kids, please
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 22, 2007 at 8:50 am

    OhlonePar and Paly Parent –

    How is it not OK to espouse prejudiced statements about racial groups, but dish them out about "gifted" children and their parents? Maybe you've only met the ones who prove your prejudice, but I've met plenty of happy, sociable "gifted" kids from nice families who give back to our community and who just want to learn because they know or quickly learned much of what is being taught in their elementary and middle school classrooms, especially in math. Most of them are not "profoundly gifted," though it shouldn't matter even if they were. (To Paly Par's comments, many of them through Grade 8 are there academically on their own accord, without the help of tutors or over-attentive parents).

    Sounds like OhlonePar you are a teacher. Are you comfortable telling fast learning students at your school that they have 3 choices for their formative years if they live here in Palo Alto - go to public school with little-to-no challenge in a core subject, stay home alone to learn or go to an elite private school? If so, that's a bit harsh don't you think for kids who just want to grow up with the kids on their block.

    Instead of dismissing these kids and parents, we should be happy that they, like other parents in our district, opt for all the richness and diversity public schools bring to children. And there too is the matter of fairness -- any parent who pays taxes in Palo Alto is entitled to have their child learning while in our schools.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Education-Begins-At-Home
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 22, 2007 at 10:29 am

    > Why do we keep dwelling on race and academic progress?
    > How did race become so important?

    Well, look to the Federal Government. Most of the obsession with race started in the 1960s. It is difficult to find any education statistics these days that is anything but a book about race. Mountains of numbers that prove nothing other than the taxpayers are backing the wrong horses in the Department of Education.

    > First, there is no such thing as race unless you make it up.
    > Race (categorized by visible traits) is a negative social construct
    > which has lead to oppressing certain individuals, and therefore
    > as it exist in schools there is no positive race experience per se.

    > Most African Americans in this area are not experiencing
    > African American culture, so it is obvious they have a
    > identity crisis going on.

    Not being members of gangs, and not getting involved in drive-bys, and not selling drugs on the street helps to create "identity crises" in these kids? Whatever happened to the "color-blind society"?

    > Why aren't kids of color (even middle class kids) doing
    > very well in Palo Alto schools? Are these achievement gaps
    > based on race or culture?

    If one were to examine the data obtained from standardized testing, culture would seem to be the main difference in those at the top of the performance scale and those at the bottom.

    > End racism and discrimination (disparate
    > treatment by teachers) in schools.

    Black academic performance is not typically better in mostly-black schools. So, are black teachers imposing "racism" on their black students?

    What is missing in this opinion is the role of the parents. Notice, the word parent does not appear even once. The government-centric view of education served up by this poster completely erases the home from the academic experience of "minorities". Without parents with strong adherence to the notion that education is important--all of the government schools will fail to educate children from homes where these cultural norms are not present.


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    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Dec 22, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Be kind,

    You know, I actually mentioned my *own* experience as a gifted child. My comments about parents who need to make an issue of their kids' talents comes from immediate experience. Like a lot of people in Palo Alto, "gifted" is actually the norm among my friends and within my family.

    In fact, it's so normal, that I don't think much of the fetishizing of intelligence that goes on here--it seems like a sort of insecurity, frankly. I mean god forbid the schools don't serve your brilliant child perfectly. God forbid they put more money into making sure "dumber" kids can read.

    It's my job as a *parent* to make sure my kid's talents are trained in a way so that expression of them becomes possible. My young, successful friend had parents who knew early on he was unusually bright (after all, so was the father in this case) and they quietly searched for ways that his need for an accelerated education could be met. I suspect his years in a normal high school where, yes, I'm sure not everything went fast enough, helped train him for the working world where most people aren't fast enough--even at the brainy companies, his gifts are still more the exception than the rule.

    By the way, I didn't say anything about the kids--why did you respond as if my comments about the parents were criticisms of the kids?




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    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 22, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
    I also know a number of adults who skipped, went to college early, etc., (I have to admit I do have some sub-genius friends, too) but I wouldn't dream of drawing general conclusions from few loose data points because I've given a lot of thought to inductive reasoning.

    The question is how best to teach these kids--not to jump them ahead but just to keep them interested in learning and school. Gifted kids have an extremely high drop-out rate, as you are no doubt aware: many of them don't make it through high school for various reasons, most of which are related to a failure to teach them at their level.

    You broach one idea about how to approach these kids: Let the gifted kids just teach themselves if they're really gifted! This was popular in the 80s and 90s, when schools used to just hand those kids college text books and send them off into a room by themselves. This approach turned out to be wrong (duh), and had less-than-happy consequences for the kids. So, no, gifted kids don't walk into elementary school ready to steer their educations.

    As for skipping, it is a fraught decision, and one that goes against the ethos of the day. Teachers and parents have imbibed the pop notion that it causes social problems, though the research shows the opposite. (As for the 12-year-old-goes-to-college example, there is no good answer for that kid. The flip side is: what if he had had to sit through six more years of classes covering stuff he already knew? Axe-murderer? Unanswerable.)

    Your real response--teaching gifted kids at their level is education on a silver platter--sounds good from your perspective, no doubt. Of course, if your kid's fifth grade teacher was using a first-grade reader, you might see things in a different light. I've found, over the years, that the every-kid-should-have-the-same-education view stems from parents who are insecure.

    Best teaching practices dictate differentiated instruction, something that would help these kids enormously by which only gets lip service in PAUSD, as 13% pointed out. Skipping grades would also be a help, but the district is superstitious. How, exactly, are these silver-platter solutions? How is your child's education impacted when other children get appropriate instruction? Not really, huh. God forbid some kid gets something different from what your kid gets.

    "The teachers in the district aren't clueless--they know the district has bright kids and bright parents." No, neither kids nor parents here are brighter than anywhere else, though this nauseating pat-yourself-on-the-back opinion is common (e.g. "gifted" is actually the norm among my friends and within my family"). Parents here are rich, value education, pay for tutors and push their kids. End of story.

    This kind of thinking is what leads to so many parents telling teachers "my child is gifted," as you put it. Frankly, the teachers deserve to hear it, since their mantra is "All kids are gifted." After all, if all PA kids are gifted, then all of them ought to be getting a gifted education.


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    Posted by Robert
    a resident of Crescent Park
    on Dec 23, 2007 at 8:37 am

    "Look at the data" said:
    >> As the article states, even our middle class hispanic and african american kids are underperforming their peers.

    I don't think this is correct. The article fails to provide properly state references.

    This, by the way, is a weakness in the original article and in many of the comments following it. The numbers are either fully completely cooked up or important references are missing.

    I'm waiting for the article on excellence in the African-American or Latino communities.


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    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Dec 23, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    .5 percent,

    Hmmmm, first you write that you wouldn't draw conclusions from a few loose data points. Then in the second paragraph you proceed to do just that. An extremely high drop-out rate compared to what precisely? A couple of sources place it around the same rate as the non-gifted. Even the more exciteable sites show that the vast majority of gifted kids graduate.

    My point is not that gifted kids should teach themselves--but that there are limits to what public schools should be expected to do. It's a question of limited resources. In the case of the kid who was quietly accelerated--it was via a specialized online program offered by Stanford's ed. program to the top 0.5 percent scorers on, as I recall, the standardized math test. (There was then a second exam for the program.) This was then followed up by classes at the local university while the kid remained in high school.

    I think the approach was effective, low-key and low-cost for this kid. He wasn't taken out of his age group, but he was able to work at his level in his area. So, my college-at-12 friend--it would have helped if he'd been living in a place like the Bay Area, where there's more cross-fermentation and a better chance of having a few more peers. The interesting thing about many prodigies is that they hit college and grad school and people around them who weren't prodigies (but very bright) have caught up. Prodigies seem to face a particular cruel expectations game as a result. You stop automatically being the best and yet to not be the very best can be felt as failing.

    It's actually pretty obvious from my moniker that I favor differentiated instruction--so, first of all, there are no "readers" in my kid's class and project-based learning works well for kids who would be slowed down by adhering to a class-average level. Even back when I was in school we were in reading groups for pete's sake. Heck, you can find examples of differentiated instruction regarding reading back in the one-room schoolrooms of the 19th century.

    At which school in Palo Alto is a fifth-grade teacher using a first-grade reader to teach the class? Because we are talking about Palo Alto. Which school has a bunch of teachers who are cluless about kids having different abilities?

    By the way, because the "my kid is gifted" is such a loaded and in many ways meaningless statement I don't use it with teachers. When I think my kid's developed a sudden proficiency in an area of which the teacher might be unaware, I give the teacher a specific heads-up. Apparently, I'm lucky because trying to work with the teachers works.

    Gifted kids aren't all alike--the areas of ability and interest differ--the expression can be very very different--so, yes, there has to be some individualized instruction--but where I differ from you is that I think that making that happen is my job. In part because I do have particular insight into the type of intelligence my kids possess.

    Say you had a kid with the potential to be an Olympic-level athlete--would you expect your local schools to provide all the coaching your kid needs to make it to the top? Or would you use what you could from the school and then seek out more specialized support and instruction?

    What if they were easily the best musician in the school orchestra? What if they showed extreme early musical ability? Should they play in a professional orchestra? Go on tour? Personally, I'd find the best private teachers I could and have the child play in one of the good audition-only youth orchestras.

    Is everybody gifted in Palo Alto? No. Is the percentage higher here than in other places? Hmmm, Stanford and Silicon Valley central? Unusually high number of academics, innovators and self-made millionaires--well, maybe the average level of intelligence is on the higher side around here. Would go with the school rankings and number of things like merit scholars. As I recall, the percentage of gifted kids in the district is supposed to be between 60 and 70 percent.

    Socially, water tends to seek its own level. I mean, theoretical physicists hang out with theoretical physicists. You sign yourself .5 percent, I'll bet the ratio of people who fall into that half percent in your social circle is greater than 1 in 200.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by be kind to all kids, please
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 24, 2007 at 10:25 am

    Ohlone Par

    Ah, here is where I think we agree and the rub at the same time. You point out with favor a kid who was quietly accelerated with the Stanford online program for top math students. "I think the approach was effective, low-key and low-cost for this kid. He wasn't taken out of his age group, but he was able to work at his level in his area." You are right, this is a good solution.

    When you are at a school like Ohlone which might embrace options like this, it is hard to appreciate the concern some parents in our neighborhood schools express about appropriate challenge. They are not looking for silver-platter treatment, just more of what Ohlone does for their students which is pace them according to their needs and skills.

    No one would name schools in a public forum like this, but call around and you'll discover that not all Palo Alto elementary classes have leveled reading groups and you'll hear of parents of kids who passed the qualification exam for the Stanford online program told no to bringing it into the classroom for their child, even if the parent covered the cost.

    I have no idea if this is the exception or the rule, but problematic none the less for the parent whose child it affects.

    And it isn't always just one subject as your Olympic analogy implies. Many kids at my school who are advanced in math, also find other subjects too easy too.

    Yes they can have their child do challenging school work after school, but that is if they have time -- don't work, don't have other children who take their time, have a child who doesn't have other things he would rather do after school like play -- or extra dollars to pay tutors. They may say to you that they pay their high Palo Alto property taxes so their kids can learn during the school day, and I'd agree. All kids benefit when they are all learning.


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    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Dec 27, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    For you, if a majority of gifted kids graduates, that's good enough. I think most people would set the bar higher than 50%, whether the kids are gifted or not.

    "My point is not that gifted kids should teach themselves." I see--and yet you said the whole "point about being gifted" is that you can "educate yourself," so your point seems to rather unclear from moment to moment. In any case, the model you suggest was tried and didn't work.

    It's nice your friend had success with his little specialized online program, but the public schools should be trying to meet the educational needs of all its kids. It's interesting how much it bothers you for someone to suggest that the district to teach kids at their own level, though revealingly you don't seem opposed when it happens via differentiated instruction at your kid's school.

    I think what you're saying is that your kid gets what he or she needs at Ohlone, so there is no problem. Kinda non-sequitur. Are you even faintly aware of the situation at other schools?

    As for the classroom readers, you missed the point completely. Many classrooms--even differentiated ones--use a basal reader as part of the curriculum. I asked you to imagine that the basal reader in your child's fifth-grade class was a first-grade reader. Imagine that the most challenging books available to read in the classroom were third grade level. Imagine your child read at fifth grade level. Got it? It's an exercise in imagining the situation for other people. Stretch.

    As for differentiated instruction, of course it happened in one-room schoolrooms in the 19th century--a lot more often than in modern classrooms.

    You are right that gifted is a loaded term (All Palo Alto children are gifted!!), and you should not use it with teachers. You'll do best in working with teachers if your kid is a little bright but not too bright. Trust me, anyone with a gifted kid knows that getting appropriate instruction is extremely unlikely and that his or her family is on their own.

    Your comments about athletics and music are irrelevant: the central mission of schools is not to turn out Olympic athletes. The schools' mission is to teach, and the district's job is to teach each kid at his or her level.

    The population here gifted? Because we have stanford? Doubt it (though it may bring more Asperger's kids). Because we have Silicon Valley? Double-doubt it. Because there are rich people here? Now you've drifted into the outer realms of self-flattery. Naw, kids here are no brighter than anywhere else, though that may hurt local egos. They are richer and their parents do place a greater emphasis on education.



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    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Dec 30, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Be Kind,

    The quietly accelerated kid wasn't at Ohlone, but at a mediocre school in a crummy district. Given that it's possible to be accelerated two years ahead of the normal rate in math in Palo Alto, I'm not sure the parents would have done the Stanford online program if they'd been in Palo Alto. Yes, the kid was accelerated more than that, but a two-year acceleration would have kept him occupied. (And, yes, they have more than one child--four, to be precise. I don't think they could have done anything extremely time-consuming--i.e. drive an hour each way, say)

    My experience is with Ohlone, but I know people with kids at every other elementary school in the district and I've never heard of what you've described--from Duveneck, Addison and Walter Hays, I hear about high-pressure situations (though there seems to be an attempt to mellow out by the schools), though I know some kids thriving at them--specifically Duveneck seems to work well for at least one accelerated kid I know. The one school where I've heard a parent complain that her kid was bored was at Barron Park, which does seem to have a larger percentage of kids who need help.

    Have you found this problem an issue in every grade?


    .5 percent, looks like your kid is or was at Barron Park . . . I wonder how much the specific elementary has to do with it?

    In Palo Alto, most of the kids graduate--including the gifted ones. Since we're talking about Palo Alto, I think alarms about gifted kids not graduating don't really apply here. Gifted kids here do graduate--along with everybody else.

    I'll clarify what I mean about educating one's self. I think for mamy subjects, gifted children don't need tons of formal instruction, but they do benefit from guidance and direction--i.e. I'll show you where the puzzles are, but I'll give you space and time to find ways to solve them. The creation of solutions is self-education--and that's kind of the essence of giftedness--that creative problem solving and thinking outside the box.

    In other words, there is no fifth-grade classroom using a first-grade reader. Your complaint is that teachers are teaching at grade level and some kids read well above it. Is that really the end of the world? At worst it means the accelerated kid can do a 10-minute reading assignment in two minutes. In my own case, it simply meant that I always had the largest Scholastic Book order in the class (and I simply read all of the reader ahead of time).

    The district's mission is not to teach to each kid's level, but to get all of its kids to specified levels of competence. If your first grader can do multiplication, it's not the district's mission to teach her division. It is, however, the district's stated goal to make sure ALL the kids in the class can manage basic addition and subtraction.

    Yes, my kid goes to Ohlone, but fact is a lot of my child's learning takes place during breaks. I'd say the positive thing about the Ohlone approach is that the teacher is open to this. But the biggest intellectual challenges are introduced at home--again because I have a sense of my child's particular brand of intelligence and because I'm in a position to do things that a teacher responsible for all the kids in her class can't.

    I suppose I'd say that this is a weird advantage of the no-homework policy--it does leave room for individualizing education--more advanced books and the ability to work with the teacher on sort of a co-operative consultant basis.

    That said, I hear really different things in this Forum about Ohlone v. the other schools. There's a contingent who says there's very little difference, so little that Ohlone should just be a neighborhood school, while from you I'm getting the sense that Ohlone's so different that my experience with the district is not indicative of what goes on elsewhere in the district.

    But again, the differences might be exaggerated because we're talking about Barron Park v. Ohlone rather than Duveneck v. Ohlone.

    As for the population here being more gifted--ummm, yeah--because much of the work here has a base-level requirement of intelligence and education. The level of education is higher than average (along with income). And, yeah, we do have a world-class university in town and yeah a lot of those faculty members have smart kids they're sending to our schools.

    It's kind of obvious. Doesn't mean everybody's brilliant or working demanding jobs or that there aren't brilliant plumbers and factory workers. Or that some schools don't have more competitive and academic environments than others. Just that the average gets bumped up around here because of the kind of work force required around here.

    There is a basic self-selection process here--if you can't hack algebra, you're not going into engineering. You're not going to become a theoretical physicist at SLAC. You're unlikely to be that Nobel prize winner recruited to Stanford.

    Silicon Valley attracts bright people who want to make money (as opposed to, say, modeling, where height and looks matter more than one's facility with algorithms. Palo Alto attracts people who care about top schools--self-selection again. At the same time, there is an environmental factor--people around here CARE and know about math and science.


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    Posted by cathyjulee
    a resident of Community Center
    on Jan 1, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    I know a bisexual dating site named Web Link, where there are many hot and sexy bisexuals and bicurious looking to explore their sexuality. It's really very good.


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    Posted by 5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jan 3, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Ohlonepar,

    The mission you describe is called teach to the bottom, but no one in PAUSD subscribes to that. I think you are conflating several models, including the old teach to the middle (which actually did allow grade skipping as an outlet), which is also out of favor on a theoretical level. Nowadays, most support "differentiated instruction" in theory.

    One problem is that this requires a lot of time and energy to implement. Another is that kids arrive in school poorly socialized, and teachers have to spend a lot of time getting control, even with smaller classes, and so don't have enough time to implement it. Last, it is difficult for teachers to master. The result is that all schools pay lip service to differentiated instruction, but only a few teachers manage to implement in a significant way. Your own school, Ohlone, is head and shoulders above the other schools in terms of differentiation. (No, Barron Park is not our school, and this is not something that affects just one school. It's district-wide.)

    I'm happy for you that your child is getting appropriate instruction, but many kids are not. It's selfish for you to want enough differentiation to suit your child and begrudge appropriate differentiation for others.

    Your example of a first grader who can do multiplication is a good one. You believe it is not the district's mission to teach her division, but rather to let her sit while focusing on the other children. Again, no one in the district would support that. They would tell you their mission is to help each child make a year's worth of progress. So the district considers it its mission to teach her division. (They fail, obviously.)

    I'm sure you're right that most gifted kids graduate, but the 50% bar seems mighty low. You claim that Palo Alto has somehow avoided the wider problems (low graduation rates) affecting gifted kids (because Palo Alto is so special?), but you have no evidence for this.

    As for the first-grade reader, you still don't get it. It's an analogy. The point is that some children are spending large chunks of time in school waiting for something, anything new, something they don't know. As an exercise so that you could imagine what that might be like, I asked you to imagine your fifth grader reading a first-grade reader, "learning" first-grade sight words, "learning" to write first-grade sentences, allowed (perhaps) to select books from the second grade if they're lucky. You might be less than satisfied. In other words, lots of fifth-grade classrooms are using first-grade readers.

    You believe that giftedness means you can educate yourself, a common misconception. You also think that excelling at algebra and becoming an engineer is the mark of giftedness--I can tell you're not an engineer and not well acquainted with the species. All I can say is that you have your own, idiosyncratic notion of what giftedness is.

    Your claims about high intelligence in this region lie uncomfortably close to the ideas underpinning eugenics. The difference between kids here and those in, say, Watsonville boils down to wealth and culture and language. Bottom line: PA kids are average and PAUSD is failing to serve its gifted kids.




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    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 3, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    .5 percent,

    Nope, I'm simply quoting from the goals put out by the district itself--that and the reality of the heavy emphasis on testing and funding.

    As you yourself point out, there are many limitations on what teachers can and can't do in the classroom. I don't begrudge anyone differentiated instruction, but I do think that getting kids up to a basic level in a grade is a priority. When I mentioned addition, I was simply quoting from the district's *own* guidelines. So, yes, it is the district's mission to get kids passing those tests. There's nothing nebulous about this, it's right there in black and white.

    I'm aware that your first-grade reader was an analogy, but it is, in fact, a poor one that doesn't hold up to scrutiny. If you read my posts more closely, you'll see that I discussed it.

    Palo Alto's graduation rate is 94.6 percent. Since 60 percent of PAUSD kids are deemed gifted, it's mathematically impossible to have a below 50 percent graduation rate for gifted kids here. Even if every single drop-out is gifted. And something tells me that's just not the case.

    I'm hardly making a eugenics argument when I say that some professions require a higher level of intelligence than some others. I'd say it's obvious. I will say that I think that intelligence does seem to be partly inherited--and any number of studies back this up.
    Nowhere do I say all engineers are gifted. However, I doubt there are theoretical physicists with IQs of 70, but there are some janitors. Do you *really* disagree? (Again, doesn't mean there aren't brilliant janitors--people end up all over the place.) Please read my posts a little more carefully.

    I don't know if you're aware of it, but your posts come off as a bit antagonistic. You assumed, a priori, that I knew nothing about educating gifted kids and had no experience with it. Now you accuse me of being selfish. I mention this because I wonder to what extent this kind of attitude shows up when you deal with teachers. Even if you do know more than they do, it may not be helping your cause to let them know that.

    By the way, since you consider my definition of giftedness "idiosyncratic"--what is yours? I've given you a couple of examples of people I consider highly gifted in mathematics--would you agree that their accelerated ability to learn would indicate giftedness?

    Also, and I'll understand if you don't want to answer this--are you comfortable personally advancing your child's education where the public system falls short? I mean I work from an underlying assumption that I can pick up the slack, but perhaps you do not. I'm a bit of a DIYer.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jan 4, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Ohlonepar,

    Yes, it is one of the district's missions to get kids passing those tests. However, your point was that that single testing goal justifies failing to teach gifted children at their level. Only a simple-minded reading of the goal will get you to your conclusion. The district has many goals, among them having children make a year's worth of progress each year. Although there is nothing nebulous about this, it does take a little thought to come to grips with the need to weigh various goals.

    So, no that part of the guideline doesn't justify giving gifted kids short shrift.

    You don't seem to have grasped the analogy, so let me put it in simpler terms: the needs of your kids are met because they get a little differentiation; but the needs of other kids are not close to being met. I'm not sure why you feel entitled to get appropriate instruction for your kids and begrudge others the same.

    I also don't understand why you're overjoyed that at least 50% of gifted kids are graduating in Palo Alto. Most parents would see 50% as a pretty low bar.

    You waffle as to what gifted means. First engineers are gifted and now they're not. Same for the wealthy. Etc. Wherever you finally come down, this is the same kind of thinking that leads to eugenics. PA kids are no smarter than kids anywhere, though it may hurt your ego to say so.

    Clearly we are working with different definitions since you believe 60% of PA kids are gifted! I didn't mean middling to top achievers. Where did you get such a number? I'm not doubting you: it seems typical for PA to dumb down the definition--the only problem with your number is that it is not 100%. Let's get the mantra right: all kids in PA are gifted. Om.

    I'll just ignore the petulant personal attacks you make at the end of your post. They don't help your argument.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Arden Pennell
    Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
    on Jan 4, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Arden Pennell is a registered user.

    Hi all,

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts about achievement-related issues.
    I'd like to learn more about the experience of students in Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs in the district & the possible challenges of gifted ed. Please feel free to call me if you'd like to share your perspective. The number is (650) 326-8210 ext. 241.
    Arden


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 5, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    .5 percent,

    "Those kids"--that would be the great bulk of kids in Palo Alto. Most of the kids in Palo Alto don't come into a grade having mastered the skills of that grade ahead of time. So, yes, the district does teach to the majority--not the bottom, but the majority.

    The question then is how should the district teach kids at the upper (and lower) ends of the curve. You seem to think that a child whom you're indicating is in the top half of the top one percent is being given "short shrift" if he or she does not recieve an education geared to that.

    I think given the overall mission of public schools that it is unreasonable to expect that sort of specialization. I'm also unconvinced that it's necessary. I favor working in a cooperative manner with teachers to create opportunities for a gifted child--but I think it's reasonable that I provide these opportunities if it is difficult for the school to do so.

    A few more points:

    Again, since fewer than six percent of PAUSD kids fail to graduate, well over 50 percent of the gifted and nongifted kids graduate in this district. Since a somewhat higher percentage of gifted than nongifted kids graduate from high school in general, I think we're looking at a graduation rate for gifted kids of at least 95 percent in the district and probably higher. So, no, I don't think there's an issue with gifted drop-outs in this district.

    I haven't hedged about what "gifted" means--you claimed my definition was "idiosyncratic," so I asked you to define what "gifted" meant.

    You have failed to do so. I suspect the omission wasn't an accident.

    Do you actually understand what "eugenics" means, by the way? Saying that different occupations require different levels of intelligence has *nothing* to do with the idea people should be bred for "superior" traits. Are you really trying to argue that the intelligence curve among janitors is the same as among theoretical physicists? That there's a random distribution curve of intelligence across occupations? Even as slippery-slope reasoning, this is pretty weak.

    I'm sorry that the notion of there being a higher than average number of gifted kids in Palo Alto bothers you so much. Don't really understand why--it doesn't mean your kid's not special, after all. Heck, maybe you have the brightest child in Palo Alto.

    As for the number, I heard it from a PAUSD teacher once. There are various figures--since the district doesn't pull kids out, the figures aren't that firm--and, yes, how the word is defined does affect the stats. Also, I think because it's so competitive around here, the district bureaucracy just wants to avoid a headache and keeps testing to a minimum.

    As for petulance, I find it strange that my discussion of how different families and myself have dealt with schools can somehow be construed as "denying" your child a particular education. Yes, I *do* wonder how you've actually dealt with educators about this matter in part because of how you've chosen to discuss the issue here.
    Among other things, there's definitely a vein of how I couldn't possibly understand your issues--that the only reason I disagreed with you is that I was unfamiliar with the issue, even after I'd mentioned my experience as a kid with the gifted diagnosis and people I know well and love who were on the extremely high end of the spectrum.

    It comes across as a combination of helplessness about the school system, a chip on the shoulder about Palo Alto and a desire to deny the validity of someone else's experience. I can't imagine that it's a helpful attitude to have when having a discussion with a teacher around here.









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    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jan 6, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Ohloneparent,

    Yes, I do think that any child not taught at (or at least close to) his or her level is getting short shrift. On the one hand, you support the teach-to-the-middle approach for everyone else. On the other you are happy as a clam to get differentiation at Ohlone, which by definition is not teach-to-the-middle. So you want something special for your kid but begrudge it for others.


    I'm afraid you have your figures backward. A lower percentage of gifted kids graduates....

    You keep putting up your strawman about janitors and theoretical physicists. That is irrelevant to your argument that PA kids are far more intelligent than other kids. Besides being silly, this is dangerous, the kind of thinking that leads to eugenics.

    Yes, I' can imagine you're right that the district dumbs down the definition because of the nutty competition around here. Not only does it allow the district to avoid bureaucratic headaches, it allows them to ignore the differences between children. (It also leads to silly talk about PA children being brighter than others.)

    Ah, more petulant ad hominem. I'll ignore again.


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    Posted by done..
    a resident of Midtown
    on Jan 6, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Sorry, .5% ..you have completely lost my willingness to spend time on any more of your posts. Your assertion that "fewer" gifted kids graduate is hilarious...back it up. There is no way you are going to convince me that "fewer" gifted than typical kids graduate high school. Maybe fewer attend the ceremonies cuz they graduate early and head off to universities!! But, this District provides and incredibly rich opportunity for gifted kids. Heck, a Junior in HS can basically take nothing but college classes if s/he wants!

    So, sorry..I am done..

    OhlonePar...extremely well written and analyzed post. Thanks


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Seth
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on Jan 6, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Half,

    Good points. It would be helpful if you could back up your statements on graduation with some stats, but it is revealing to hear your story, which seems to come from the front lines in our district. I, for one, had not heard of this issue before, though my kids do fall into the broad middle category.

    I don't see why our district couldn't teach kids at their own levels. What do other districts do? What about Gate programs, etc.?

    That Ohlonepar, she has a townsquare history of arguing for special programs that benefit her kids and "begrudging" others similar programs, so I wouldn't take her seriously. She has passed into the personal attack phase, and the editors will soon begin censoring her. Wait and see. Her posts will become nastier, and the editors will close down the discussion. You're doing well to take the high road.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Terry
    a resident of Midtown
    on Jan 6, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    No need for the back and forth attacks, guys. Sticking up for OP (who I frequently disagree with) I have to say that she tends to put up pretty thoughtful posts (esp in the context of these forums) and I for sure do not think she deserves to be slammed. I agree we would all do well to take the high road.

    FWIW I do think we all like programs that are good for our own kids and like less well those that don't. Check out the low levels of parent support for special ed and ELL programs in the district's community survey, for instance. That's just the way people are. My kid is in special ed - should I recuse myself from advocating those programs?



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    Posted by Parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jan 6, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Terry

    You make a good point about parents always supporting the programs their kids are in. You also further that with saying that the parents of ELL and special ed are less likely to make any noise about them either to the powers that be or on this Forum (yourself possibly excepted although they may be here without saying so). This is in fact a worthwhile point because the parents of ELL and special ed are likely to be more likely to be in the demographic group which are able or willing to make themselves heard. They possibly also have issues of language, lower education, lower abilities, lower incomes, etc. which puts them in the position that survival itself is the main instinct of day to day living, not either improving their child's programs by seeking out improvement or by volunteering.

    This group is likely to be left out in the cold on these matters because of their demographics and as a consequence there is less likelihood of these programs being discussed as a result.

    For this reason, Terry, people like you are doubly positioned to be able to be spokespersons for them.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 6, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    .5,

    I'm not putting forth a straw-man argument, I am putting together an example to make a point--that there is not a random distribution of intelligence across occupations. If there is a cluster of occupations that require higher levels of intelligence in a specific location then you can expect to see higher levels of intelligence in that area. It has zero to do with eugenics and says nothing about the basis of intelligence--whether it's nature or nurture at work, you'd still expect to see a cluster of more intelligent kids in an area where there's a cluster of occupations, such as theoretical physics, that demand a relatively high base level of intelligence.

    And, fact is, thanks to Stanford and SLAC, we do have a higher percentage of theoretical physicists than the average community and, thanks to exorbitant housing prices, a lower percentage of janitors and unskilled laborers.

    And, again, I don't deny your child differentiated instruction. I've talked about how people I've known have dealt with it. And, yes, at Ohlone, the bulk of instruction is geared toward the middle. The key difference is that project-based learning can be adapted *by the child* to reflect his or her level of development. They tend to be open-ended in a sense.

    It is, however, as rare at Ohlone as at any other PAUSD school to move a child ahead. And I know personally of kids at PAUSD neighborhood schools where the teachers work with the parents to give a talented child opportunities for differentiated and advanced instruction. (Which is why I've commented on your attitude--your experience is consistent with what I've seen or heard about--thus, I wonder what you're contributing to the situation. Yes, there is criticism, but not ad homimen--it's completely on-topic--i.e. your dissatisfaction with the district regarding your gifted child.)

    And, yes, you do need to back up your claim that gifted kids graduate at meaningful lower rates than non-gifted and that they do so in Palo Alto. You demand that I support arguments, but fail to support your own assertions--even a poster on your side would like to you to support your assertions with facts.

    Done, thank you for your support. I've actually done some digging around to make some sense of .5's assertions, but I don't see much that impresses me. There's a huge of amount of kind of odd emotional issues about the whole issue of "giftedness" and what it means. It's just loaded--and, of course, there's a minor industry of identifying and "treating" giftedness and thus viewing it as a problem instead of an advantage.

    Seth, I'm sorry, I guess we haven't had an MI thread for a while. I'm sure we'll get back to it again at some point. However, I have argued repeatedly that Ohlone's own program should be expanded to meet demand instead of having another program on its campus restrict that expansion.

    As for teaching to a child's level, it's one teacher and maybe an aide for 20 to 24 children. How do you manage individualized instruction in that context? And to what extent? Should there be classes consisting only of GATE students? In lieu of what? Is that even the best for the GATE kids who, among other things, need to know how to operate in a world where most people will not be as bright as they are.

    I've given some examples of practical approaches to getting a gifted child opportunities that I think work well--online accelerated math program, how to consult a teacher and work co-operatively. In my experience and those of other people I know, the district has had bright and even brilliant kids before and has some experience in dealing with them. What are your suggestions?

    I think that you and .5 percent might actually on different sides of the Ohlone-use issue, though it's not clear to me that .5 actually wants project-based learning.


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    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 6, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Terry,

    I say you should advocate away. I've found (and I include myself here) that people without kids in special ed or ELL tend to underestimate what's involved in educating these groups and why it matters. It's such a complex and rapidly evolving field of education--I'm always learning something knew when I talk to a parent or an educator in that area.

    How do you feel about the district's current policy of having special-ed classes distributed among the elementaries?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .5 %
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jan 7, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Ohlonepar,

    Strawman again. You claim that PA kids are smarter, then you shift to talk about occupations. Sorry, it won't fly. No doubt it is self-gratifying to think PA kids are smarter, but they are just richer.

    You talk about Ohlone, constructivism and differentiation, but I don't get the sense you really understand what is happening at your school. Of course most of the teaching at Ohlone is "geared toward the middle." That's because most of the kids are in the middle. Hello? One area where Ohlone shines is with kids who are not in the middle. For those kids, the teachers don't teach to the middle. The "project-based learning" is part of the constructivist approach, which is by definition differentiated. In that sense, Ohlone was ahead of its time, starting with differentiation well before the term existed.

    But you deeply misunderstand the process when you say the child adapts the project to reflect his or her level of development. The kids make choices based on interest, but make no mistake: the teacher is there providing advice, offering information, and guiding the child. The teacher's involvement (in project-based learning) is much more intensive than in other models. It is much more work. You do the teachers at Ohlone a disservice by imagining the children somehow achieve their choices magically (=they teach themselves through the use of their superior intelligence!).

    Because the Ohlone curriculum is so differentiated, there is much less need for skipping, so your point there is moot.

    Ask Susan Charles (or any Ohlone teacher) about these details if you don't fully understand. Have you ever watched a class at Ohlone?

    You also conflate differentiated instruction with "individualized" instruction. Again, you don't seem to understand the terms you're using.

    Er, you're the one who claimed that gifted kids in PA graduate at higher rates despite the national trend, so I'll leave you to dig that up. There are multiple national studies that show the general trend, however.

    You've trotted out plenty of canards (gifted can teach themselves, should not be segregated for social reasons, graduate at higher rates; differentiation equals individualized instruction, etc.). This doesn't add to the debate. Nor do the self-inflating comments on intelligence. Nor do the petulant ad hominems.



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    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 8, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    0.5 percent,

    Okay, so more of the same--lots of assertions, no real response to anything, no support for your claims.

    Now there's an attempt to change the topic to Ohlone with the rather humorous notion that I don't understand its educational approach--that I'm unfamiliar with it when I've talked about how I discuss issues with the teacher. And that somehow *you* have some expertise on the matter. Sure, of course--though at least your bolstering my suggestion that you and Seth are probably on opposite sides of the Ohlone usage issue.

    Talk about transparent tactics. You don't like my definition of "gifted", but you've avoided putting yours out there. You claim we should be concerned about gifted high-school drop-out rates in Palo Alto, but have provided nothing to support your concern.

    Your (lack of) facts speaks for itself.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jan 8, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Ohlonepar,

    Talk about transparent: same old same old: shift the debate, fail to respond, etc. and accuse me of the same.

    You have a lot to say about Ohlone, differentiation, and individualization, yet you don't appear to know the terms or understand the issues, leading you to make statements (such as that the kids themselves "adapt" the curriculum to their level) that simply make no sense. You bring a lot of emotion to the debate, but you haven't really engaged in the issues.

    (Ohlone usage issue? For what? Are you talking about Mandarin? Don't have the faintest idea what you are referring to. Is this germane to this issue?)

    Bottom line is that the district fails its gifted kids, particularly in elementary. Later, these kids have problems in school and, if they follow national trends, graduate at a lower rate than peers. On the other hand, a few people get a little differentiation, which suits their kids; they are happy, and some of them begrudge others any further differentiation.

    As for definitions of gifted, there are various ones out there. You'd really have to specify the context and how it is to be used. In any case, rest assured that it makes no sense to use one that classes 60% of PA kids as gifted. As I said, you might as well pursue that to the self-flattering extreme and class 100% of PA kids as gifted.

    Terry,

    I don't know why you should recuse yourself from advocating for programs that benefit your child. I do think there is a difference between favoring programs that benefit one's own child and undermining programs that don't benefit one's own child merely because the do not, which is at best selfish. That is, special ed is not high on my agenda because it has no bearing on my kids, but that is far from advocating doing away with it.

    I understand that the gifted issue does not affect everyone, yet it seems mean-spirited and selfish for those unaffected parents to insist that my child not get an appropriate education. Why, exactly, are those unaffected parents pushing for negative consequences for other people's kids? What do they intend to achieve? I imagine you might have a similar response to anyone advocating eliminating special ed laws. (And the appropriate education for gifted kids doesn't entail extra expenses for districts....)



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    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 8, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    0.5 percent,

    Hmmmm, any facts to back up your assertions?

    Anything that even logically supports your rather off-kilter allegation that I don't know or understand Ohlone's teaching methods?

    How about where you give us the RIGHT definition of gifted? Or give us the facts on the ongoing tragedy of gifted drop-outs at Gunn and Paly?

    How 'bout just a little something to bolster your claim that the distribtuion of intelligence is just the same among kids in Palo Alto and Watsonville?

    C'mon, you're losing your audience here. Even I'm getting bored.





     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jan 8, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Ohlonepar,

    You may not be aware of it, but your tone is getting shrill. As Terry said, why not take the high road?

    "Anything that even logically supports your rather off-kilter allegation that I don't know or understand Ohlone's teaching methods?" Scroll up. I showed you previously where your posts showed confusion.

    "How about where you give us the RIGHT definition of gifted?" Um, I guess you didn't read carefully when I explained that picking the "right" definition depends on what your aim is. There is no unqualified "RIGHT" definition, as educators will tell you.

    "Or give us the facts on the ongoing tragedy of gifted drop-outs at Gunn and Paly?" Well, you're the one who claimed the gifted kids graduate in higher percentages despite national trends, and we're still waiting for your data. Any luck?

    "How 'bout just a little something to bolster your claim that the distribtuion of intelligence is just the same among kids in Palo Alto and Watsonville?" Again, if you want to argue for the wacky proposition that PA kids are smarter, you'll need to back it up. As I mentioned, you've taken a disturbing line of argument, one that lies uncomfortably close to the ideas underpinning eugenics. Also, these suggestions make us the laughingstock of our neighbors.

    I still don't understand why you insist on your right to have appropriate differentiation for your child and insist that others should not have it. What is the name of that impulse? On the tip of my tongue.




     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Curious
    a resident of Fairmeadow
    on Jan 8, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    Here are some "defenitions" not just "giftedness", but also its levels and distributions in schools, depending on socioeconomics.
    Web Link
    "In public or private schools which draw from mostly a high socioeconomic population – and schools in districts where most of the parents are highly educated professionals – Level One children are average learners and constitute the majority of the students in such schools."
    So, yes, most of our kids are gifted; these kids usually do not have problems and are easily accommodated by our schools. But when you have level 2 or, even worse, level 3 - you do have a problem. If you are lucky and have open-minded and flexible teacher, your kid will be happy, but if you got someone who think that all kids work at the same level and supposed to do the same amount of the same work (like countless simple addition pages, when kid knows multiplication and likes to work with fractions and decimals) your kid will have to adjust to it... some of them are able to do so, others become frustrated, defiant or depressed.
    And yes, it is about elementary schools; high schools have a lot of flexebility and opportunities for different abilities, interests and styles of learning.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 9, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    0.5 percent,

    In other words, you're unwilling to answer any questions. Yes, we know.

    Curious,

    Thank you for the link. I found the breakdown interesting and it jibes with what I've seen--that in some ways it's easier to be bright more than it is to be very bright.

    I think the differentiated instruction question is an interesting one. As I've said, I know of some accelerated kids at the neighborhood schools whose teachers quietly find ways to accommodate them. The kids are asynchronous in their development--years ahead in some area, only a year ahead in others. So which neighborhood school seems to matter. (And, yeah, that rote repetition of stuff the kid knows is just deadly.)

    It is easier, I think, to differentiate at Ohlone, but it's not simple top-down differentiation. Basically, Ohlone works on sort of a spiral educational concept. A subject is brought in and then different groups of kids approach it at their level at a given time (and reintroduced to it a year later.) This is what I meant when I said the projects had an open-ended quality to them. If there's a class unit on penguins, say, you can see how some kids would deal with it by drawing a simple picture of a penguin, while another child makes a complex 3-D paper sculpture of the penguin. Another might write a penguin story. All are studying penguins at their level. The basic level might get quite a bit of instruction, the most advanced relatively little. They'll all be encouraged to think of solutions if they run into problems and given different problem-solving techniques. The more advanced kids will be asked to show things to the younger ones--a strategy that cements one's own learning.

    And it does take quite a bit of skill on the teacher's part to structure an environment where student-led learning takes place. I've been told by some educators that these sort of schools are a challenge to run--thus, my respect for Susan Charles. The Ohlone experience depends a lot on which teachers your kids get as a result. It can be pretty chaotic if not done well. I think there's a real back-and-forth at the neighborhood schools about introducing too much Ohlone Way. A lot of parents are more comfortable with more solid benchmarks and traditional educational formats. I think a fair number of teachers actually like the idea of project-based learning. It's kind of cool and fun to watch how kids create solutions (and teach one another, another part of the approach.)

    That said, for the most accelerated kids, a lot of the learning is happening at home with the teacher knowing what's going on. Very bright kids are going to be the exception, not the norm and I think it only makes sense to look outside the classroom or (as in the case of the young math whiz), look online and various educational centers.

    I'm a little leery of homeschooling because that assumes that the parents are actually qualified to teach their kids and that's just not consistently the case. There was an article in the New Yorker a year or so back about a young prodigy who killed himself--"Fire on the Prairie," I think--that touched on this. The parents were advised to homeschool their kid, but neither parent had even finished college. So the kid graduated from high school and college as a young adolescent--but the curriculum he studied were unchallenging to put it mildly.

    I think the isolation of the kid made all of his problems and his depression seem worse--he must have felt trapped in himself and isolated by his gift. I suspect in Palo Alto he could have found at least a couple of other kids like him.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 9, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    Curious,

    I've been surfing through the Ruf Web site, particularly her article on individualizing education. She mentions that: " Although there are many, many books and resources for differentiating curriculum, it is generally too much work and too cumbersome for most busy teachers and it still cannot reach the wide variety of learners that are part of the typical mixed-ability classroom. I cannot emphasize this enough."

    She goes on, however, to discuss ways that individualizing the curriculum can work, including, yes, self-teaching. Or as Ruf writes:
    "Pull together lessons from several books or workbooks that are at progressively higher grade levels. The way the material spirals and repeats makes this quite easy. Allow the child to do a few problems from each section at the end of each chapter. They can go back within the chapter to self-instruct what they don't yet understand. Let them use an answer book to check their own progress. Many very bright students can teach themselves when given this sort of material."

    It sounds like there isn't a consistent policy regarding this in the grade schools. It will be interesting to see if Barbara Klausner brings up the issue while on the board.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jan 10, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Ohlonepar,

    Hm, you're out on a limb: Answers that don't suit you cannot exist. Got it. You argue vigorously in favor of programs that benefit your kids and vigorously against those that benefit others. There's a word for that. (I'm sorry about your tapeworm--or did you become an editor? Cause I'm pretty sure you're not royalty.)

    Curious,

    Thanks for the link.

    As I'd pointed out, there are multiple "right" definitions for gifted. (There are others more tightly tied to IQ--mentally gifted morons of yore were, I think, defined that way--and others less tightly tied.)

    Yes, you are SOL in this district if your elementary kid above of the middle band, however it's defined. As Ruf notes, educators attend to the special ed kids but not the gifted ones. It was the same way for special ed until they got organized nationally. An actual program would be nice, but it's not going to happen.

    In the absence of appropriate education, the best one can hope for some help from competent, modern pedagogy: differentiated instruction, which is now considered best practice. I have spoken with parents from various PAUSD elementary schools, and my conclusion is that the schools talk the talk but don't walk the walk.

    Each school claims its classrooms are differentiated, but in fact there is just a handful of math classes where kids are grouped by ability. Oh, and a little leveled reading. That's it. Except, of course, Ohlone, where it is build into the whole approach.

    So, the PAUSD elementary schools claim to follow best practices but don't, and the best you can hope for is the exceptional teacher who is able to challenge your kid.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Curious
    a resident of Fairmeadow
    on Jan 10, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Self-teaching (or extra-teaching) after school is not the best option; kids still need to have play dates, sports, outside play, time with family and so on, even if they are gifted. But after 6 or more hours at school they still have their curiosity, imagination and needs for knowledge unsatisfied and they already tired. What is the reason for them to be at school? Other kids? In highly structured classroom there is not much opportunity to talk with friends. Recess? - would you go to school only for 1 hour play-time? O, yes, the "whole child"... but what if teacher is more interested not in different kids (there 20 of them after all, s(he) can't have individualized program for everyone); s(he) just teaches THE PROGRAM (grade level of course) and if kid doesn't fit to her program, obviously there is something wrong with kid, or parents, or both.
    What are academics at elementary level? For some teachers (and sometimes parents) it is just basic skills - ability to read, write and perform basic computations. These skills are only tools for acquiring new knowledge and understanding new concepts. Concentrating on that kind of academics can be useful for some kids, it can be useless or harmful for others, not only accelerated – any kid who is outside of the middle- low or high end or just with different learning style…
    Solutions? I think Ohlone style can be good choice for elementary level (we didn't get through lottery). Yes, it is teacher-sensitive, but at any place, time and approach it is always comes down to the Teacher. At the regular class you are currently completely at the mercy of the teacher. She is not required to let your kid self-teach him(her)self, she is not even required not to force the kid to do the same amount of the same work as everyone, even if s(he) learnt it couple of years before. I do not tell you have to have special programs for gifted - a little bit more flexibility would help many kids. Why kid can't just work at his/her own pace on the same math book as everyone, and then maybe have some kind of subject acceleration? Just generally improving elementary math education would be helpful. Most kids I know do have additional math – from parents, after school classes, score or other options. Is current math elementary program alone (without additional after school help) enough to succeed later in middle school math and advanced or even middle-level high school math classes? From what I saw at my school – it is at least 20 to 25% of kids who are able to work at higher level of math. Let them learn at school and have more free time to be kids after school.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jan 10, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Curious,

    Indeed. The solution is not cramming more academics in during the evening and on the weekend.

    Yes, why can't the kid just work at his/her own pace? That is, after all, what differentiation is supposed to support.



     +   Like this comment
    Posted by was gifted
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jan 10, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    I was identified as gifted in 3rd grade. After that I was pulled out of the classroom for special classes once a week. I was much happier when my teacher in 1st grade quietly gave me a higher level math workbook to work through on my own. Or in third grade where I was allowed to go through the spelling units as fast as I could (racing my similarly gifted friend). Both my friend and I eventually stopped going to the special gifted class since it made us different from the other kids.
    My husband was also designated gifted and he was bussed 45 min. each direction to a mostly minority school with a gifted enclave. Thank goodness our children don't seem to be gifted, but I certainly wound not support a program for them other than in-class differentiated instruction.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by perspective
    a resident of Midtown
    on Jan 10, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    Well said. I was placed in a "gifted" 6th grade class,away from my regular school, set apart from everyone else, with a bunch of other "gifteds".

    Our teacher played the guitar all day, with his adoring entourage surrounding him, and made fun of me and the other kid who wanted to actually do our math etc in class and ask for his help.

    We all went back into the regular 7th grade, and had to work our tails off to catch up to the level of the "ungifted" who had spent the prior year working.

    I vote for integrated schooling for all abilities as much as able..with programs matched to each "level" of kid in the class per topic. We have had several kids in each class in our k-5 who are far ahead in, say, math or reading, but behind in writing, for example. Our teachers have done a phenomenal job of being able to keep each kid challenged in each topic to his or her level.

    I like it that way. Keeps our kids together and integrated, doesn't "label" any of them one way or another, and keeps them challenged and happy in the best way I have seen in all the elementary schools (6) we have been in.

    GO PAUSD!


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 10, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    0.5

    Glad you liked a link that pointed out that, yes, kids in PAUSD tend to be gifted and that there's a link between intelligence and an area's socioeconomic status.

    Curious,

    My reading of Ruf is that self-teaching doesn't have to take place afterschool. Even in fairly structured environments, there are periods of quiet study. It seems to me that the self-teaching would be appropriately inserted there. I know with my four-years-ahead math friend was in a regular math class, but the agreement was that he would do his own work during that time. A little clunky, but at least it meant there was a math teacher he could consult and he wasn't spending afterschool time doing a school subject.

    Regarding Ohlone--I noticed that Ruf in one paper mentions that Direct Instruction is a good technique for average/high average kids, then above that, she recommends what sounds much more project-based, independent learning to me. So not simply accelerated, but different types of instruction for kids depending on where tests rank them. There's not just a quantitative, but a qualitative, difference in how these kids learn.

    The irony, of course, is that a lot of people apply to Ohlone because they want a less-competitive environment, while parents with a focus on high scores often apply to Hoover.

    Even with Ohlone's structure, however, as I said, I find a lot of the learning taking place at home--particularly some of the more explosive jumps. But having a cooperative relationship with the teacher helps a lot.

    As for what's learned at school--I think the social thing isn't just about recess. One of the biggest hurdles I see for the very bright adults I know is social. How do you behave in a world where you're almost always going to be the brightest person in the room? How do you learn to manage boredom? I mean I found the frustrations at school were nothing next to the idiocies of the workplace . . .

    For that matter, IQ tests and such get so fuzzy above a certain level. I don't know if there's much difference in achievement between someone in the 140 range and someone in the 180. Certainly there seems to be less difference than between 60 and 100 in terms of real-life implications.

    Perspective,

    Sounds like you and I attended school around the same time--our gifted teacher read us *Jonathan Livingston Seagull* . . . I think you were better off with the guitar.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .5 %
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jan 11, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Ohlonepar,

    Ah, so you did see the various gifted definitions in that link. Great.

    But no, the website does not support "a link between intelligence and an area's socioeconomic status." That is the fallacious conclusion you drew. You'd love the recent series of nutty articles by Saletan in Slate because he makes the same kind self-aggrandizing errors you do. He thinks we sadly must face up to the "fact" that blacks are less intelligent than others. As for you, you think poor people are less intelligent. At least Saletan realized his errors and made known his regret at his failure....

    I notice you go on to argue for a crude form of differentiation, so I suppose you've changed your mind on that. You should note, though, that it need not be "clunky," since models have been developed. It's just that PAUSD has not kept up.

    Last, it must be said that it is rude to crow at the advantages available at Ohlone while others do not have access. Given such remarks from parents who won the lottery, it's no wonder that there is ill will toward choice programs.

    Gifted,

    Well, differentiated instruction would be a good start, but there are other solutions. What is really needed is a federal program that mandates appropriate education for gifted kids (for all kids, really) like the one that exists for special ed kids.

    Perspective,

    It sounds like your kids got good teachers, but getting minimally appropriate instruction shouldn't depend on the luck of the draw. As for keeping kids "integrated," the Ruf link points out the problems with that. If the district cannot get it together, it ought to revert to the old model entirely and skip kids (again as Ruf suggests).



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    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 11, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    0.5 percent,

    Of course I saw the various definitions. There's no contradiction between those definitions and the one I gave--it specifically says that high-level kids benefit from self-teaching.

    You, on the other hand, denied that this was the case and then failed to supply your definition of gifted when asked.

    Curious made the link between higher IQs and an area's socioeconomic status--it was the original point of posting the link to Ruf's work.

    I've never opposed differentiation--when you made the peculiar assumption, I immediately pointed out that you were wrong and why it was obvious that you were. Any reader of the thread can see that.

    I simply think that there are limits to what we can expect public schools to accomplish in individualizing education. I further suggested that there were ways that one could work cooperatively with the schools to meet one's child's particular needs if they far ahead of the curriculum. (Ohlone doesn't skip kids, by the way, at most they'll move a kid up for one subject--even then, they don't skip grades.)

    Oh, and I did suggest that your attitude might interfere with your achieving goals for your child At this point, I'm certain it has. You make erroneous assumptions about people. You've repeatedly disparaged the children of Palo Alto in comparison to your child--I mean isn't that really the point of your claiming *repeatedly* that your child is in the top one-half percent, but Palo Alto kids are just average as a group? Your kid's the smart one, right? And other people have no business thinking their kids are anywhere near that smart or understand your suffering at the hands of the PAUSD as a result.

    You told me that I "clearly" had no stake in the education of gifted children--your kid was gifted, but neither I nor my child could possibly be. Even when I'd talked about my own experience as a gifted child a couple of posts earlier. You only backed off a bit when I gave you examples of how a couple of profoundly gifted friends handled school.

    In other words, you don't pay attention and you don't even know how to discuss the issue with someone who doesn't agree with you. For you, it's very black and white--so much so that you continue to make claims that have been easily disproven and cannot be correct--i.e. that a large number of gifted kids in Palo Alto might not graduate when the overall percentage of graduates in the district is so high that it's a mathematical impossibility that a high percentage of gifted kids aren't graduating.

    At which point, you switched to a bunch of goofy attacks. I mean, yes, I've watched an Ohlone classroom. Guess what, I even volunteer in them. Really, I don't even know why you even went there--it reeked of desperation--a grasping at straws.

    The end result is that despite my having sympathy and great deal of personal interest in the complexities involved in educating gifted children, you've lost any shred of credibility on the subject.

    And if you did it here, I'll bet you've done it where it matters--with the teachers and admins at the schools. Heck, you may be that rare soul who screwed up the Ohlone essay--they're big on community over individual attainment. It's right there in the literature.

    There's a story Susan Charles likes to tell about the prospective parent who asked about Ohlone's API scores. "I think you'd better go to Hoover," was her response. I honestly don't think she'd he that impressed by the emphasis on 99.5 percent you've shown here. It's not very whole child in approach.

    By the way, I'm not in the position to grant or deny your child differentiated instruction. But, yes, I do have the RIGHT to disagree with you.

    But seriously, I'd actually rather see you start thinking instead of blindly reacting.




     +   Like this comment
    Posted by perspective
    a resident of Midtown
    on Jan 11, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    .5%

    no thanks..went through desegregation once,don't want to do it again. My kids didn't get lucky, they had and have great schools. This is a District which, though not perfect of course, is truly struggling to bring diversity of abilities into the classroom, and is attracting the kinds of skilled teachers who can manage such a classroom.

    I will grant you it is a tough skill set. But, it can be done, and in the end the kids are much better off.

    I see the difference in the absolute brightest at High School here between the ones who went to PAUSD and the ones who were separated into the private schools when they were young and thus only with similar kids. The social skill set is missing in a couple of those kids, and not in the others. The ones who grew up in our PAUSD know how to deal with all kinds of people better, and will, frankly, be the kinds of people I would want to work with.

    The other two, and I include my own child in this, are not what I would call good in the social area. They are the two who went to small private schools and then landed in our high school. They are, frankly, handicapped until they learn how to deal with the rest of us mere mortals. For their sakes, I hope that happens soon.
    In the meantime, it just strengthens my belief that the road to productive happiness is the path of the integrated learning classroom.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by .5%
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jan 11, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Ohlonepar,

    Eek, I'm sorry to see that you've reverted to shrill ad hominem--I'm beginning to understand Seth's warning. Again, I'll ignore it and try to distill content from your post. (I'm still up here on the high road: feel free to join me.)

    Let's see, the contradiction in your remarks is that there are various definitions (as I'd previously pointed out), though you insisted that there could only be one correct one. And no, Ruf doesn't suggest that gifted kids can somehow educate themselves.

    "Curious made the link between higher IQs and an area's socioeconomic status" Well, someone posting under the name Ohlonepar claimed many times that rich communities have kids with "higher intelligence." Musta been Saletan posing as your evil twin, right?

    Your position is actually quite similar to PAUSD: you "support" differentiation yet you are content that the district doesn't have it (by we, I mean the non-Ohlone kids). But again, I don't think you fully understand the terms here, since you conflate it with "individualized education." You owe it to yourself to find out what is going on, educationally speaking, at Ohlone and at neighborhood schools. I think you'd be surprised. In any case, your position here is inconsistent.

    When it comes down to it, you clearly don't have a stake in the education of gifted children. You do seem to have a tremendous interest in arguing for special programs for your kids and against anything that would benefit others. What is the word for that again?



     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 12, 2008 at 2:34 am

    0.5 percent,

    Again, nothing ad hominem about it. You've been kvetching here and flinging accusations. "Shrill" on the other hand, is ad hominem--there are no vocal tones online and it has nothing to do with the arguments being made. Your dissatisfaction, however, does--it also affects your credibility--how much do we believe what you claim? How much do your emotions and bias affect your comments? I think it's particularly an issue because, as I've said, you've repeated claims that have been disproven (low graduation rates among the gifted in PAUSD--impossible as the overall graduation rates are too high to have high drop-out rates in the gifted category)

    I've never insisted on one definition of "gifted". You are the one who insisted mine was "idiosyncratic", but then refused to give a definition yourself. As continues to be the case. However, flexible thinking, creative problem-solving and self-teaching are documented traits in highly intelligent individuals and certainly a trait I've seen in them.

    Fact is, I don't think you really have a good working definition of "gifted" outside the fact that your kid did well on a test and learns faster than some of his or her classmates. I suspect you don't really understand what having that sort of mind is like--pro and con. You seem to be hooked on the idea of accelerated instruction and differentiation, including grade skipping. And your thinking is black and white enough that you really can't fathom why people disagree with your views. Your response is to denigrate them (as I said that's definitely the implication in your sneers about the averageness of snooty PA students in contrast to your brilliant offspring) and invalidate them (again, your whacky comments about me--you can't seem to make up your mind as to whether I know nothing about the school my kid attends or whether I'm so involved that I don't know about other schools. And of course your need to believe I have "no stake"--after all, how could I? I don't agree with you.)

    You did get one thing right. I don't have an issue with how PAUSD handles the GATE issue. My view is similar to Perspective's. I also just read the Po Bronson article to which Sanford Forte linked and I agree with much of it.

    We're very whole child at Ohlone, you know--we even feel that way about the smart ones.




     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Seth
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on Jan 12, 2008 at 8:07 am

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by perspective
    a resident of Midtown
    on Jan 12, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Seen It Before
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jan 12, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 13, 2008 at 1:30 pm


    Thanks Perspective, over the years, I've seen people come up with all sorts of notions about me online--including very strong assertions as to my sex--in both directions.

    Seth, Seen It,

    Nothing like a couple of opportuniests. If you agree with 0.5, why not help her or him out? Your motives (trying to get at me because we disagree on MI) would be less transparent and the thread would be more interesting.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Paly mom
    a resident of Midtown
    on Jan 21, 2008 at 2:57 am

    It seems like some of the people sending comments have a history with each other. I'm not a frequent contributor, but I'd like to add 2 observations.
    First, I agree wholeheartedly with "Look at the Data" that it's important to point out that not all African-American and Latino students come to PAUSD through the VTP. I'm not sure about African American students, but I know there are more Latino students at Paly who live in Palo Alto than Latino students living in EPA or East Menlo Park. As the mother of one of those students, I find it interesting that in discussions of the achievement gap, most Palo Altans immediately begin to express their stereotypes of minority students and parents. I guess it's easier to assume that the reasons for the achievement gap are lack of parental education, motivational problems, single-parent homes,etc.
    Ever since my daughter was in elementary school, I've been hearing these discussions, and rarely have I found faculty members or parents willing to consider that the schools might need to do anything differently to address the achievement gap. For example, along the way we have encountered some teachers who have obviously had lower expectations for minority students. While you can't get rid of a teacher because of his/her attitudes, the district might consider having workshops to make teachers more aware of their own prejudices/preconceptions and their effect on students. They could also consider hiring more qualified teachers representing the groups who are not doing as well as they should be. (At my daughter's elementary school there was one African American teacher, no Latino teachers and no Latino or African American teacher aides.)
    My second observation has to do with students who have been recognized as GATE. At the elementary level, little happens other than the occasional pull-out. I agree with the parents that think that more could be done, and it doesn't have to be done in a way that embarrasses the students. At the high school level, it seems, at least in the 9th and 10th grades, like most of the differentiation is done in math and science. Those who are gifted in English and social studies find the classes at the 9th and 10th grade levels unchallenging and disappointing. There's not much writing or critical thinking. Does this reflect the assumption that these subjects aren't as important as math and science? If students are gifted in these subjects, why shouldn't they get high-level classes which stimulate them and help them learn at the rate that they are capable of?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jan 21, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Hi Paly mom,

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. Interesting what you say about the relative lack of advanced courses in social studies and lit compared to math and science. I wouldn't be surprised at all if that reflects the pro-tech bias here. Certainly, I see more parents here fretting about falling behind in math and science than unfamiliarity with Shakespeare.

    Unfortunately, it looks like one of the things on the chopping block with the new budget cuts is GATE education. Of course, since there doesn't seem to be much of it, it's not clear what's being cut.
    I remember a friend of mine's kid was qualified as GATE in Mountain View and that meant a whopping $20 a year in extra funds.

    My own very minimal observation of the VTP kids is that they come into the schools less prepared and the parents don't know what the expectations are. As a young parent, I found that I picked up a ton of information from more experienced parents. In a sense, living in Palo Alto was necessary to know how to play the Palo Alto parent game. Even now, I find it quite complicated.


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