Paly 'de-laning' proposal off the table

Plan for single ninth-grade English lane questioned by board, parents

Palo Alto school district officials have withdrawn their recommendation to de-lane freshman English at Palo Alto High School after the proposal was met with resistance from school board members and many parents.

Paly English Department chair Shirley Tokheim said Monday that the proposal – a pilot program that teachers had been preparing for 18 months -- has been stricken from the board's tentative agenda for Feb. 25.

"As you can imagine, we are extremely disappointed and upset at the news," Tokheim said.

Paly Principal Kim Diorio wrote a message to parents Tuesday saying that two lanes of freshman English will be offered this fall, as they have been in the past.

Diorio previously had also supported the proposal, telling the board Jan. 28 the de-laning would address "structural inequalities that exist in our system."

Superintendent Kevin Skelly said he withdrew the proposal after community members raised concerns, persuading him that "there's additional work that needs to be done by the English Department over at Paly.

"Much of the additional work is recognized by the staff at Paly...and the decision was made that this was not the right time to implement a change," Skelly said.

Currently, second-semester eighth graders are given the choice whether to take the year-long "English 9" or "English 9 Accelerated" – called English 9A.

But teachers said there's little rhyme or reason as to which students choose which lane -- a high percentage of students choosing the "regular lane" have scored "proficient" or "advanced" on standardized English tests, suggesting an aptitude for the more challenging class.

And yet, Diorio told the board Jan. 28, freshmen who chose regular-lane English begin to "self-identify as being in the dummy class – they see themselves right off the bat as not being as smart as their peers."

The freshman choice for the regular lane also makes students less likely to take honors or Advanced Placement English or U.S. History later in high school, English teachers said.

Teachers, with backing from the district office, proposed that English 9A be offered as the single choice for Paly freshmen starting this fall.

"We believe all high-achieving students who enter Paly ... should receive rigorous instruction and benefit from the high expectations of an accelerated English course," Associate Superintendent Charles Young said in his Jan. 28 proposal to the board.

"We believe any struggling students, with appropriate supports, will also benefit from this rigorous coursework."

The "small number of students" who need additional help would get it through tutorials, extra programs and classes which, in some cases, would be "co-taught" by a special education teacher, the recommendation said.

The teachers said other high-performing high schools in the area -- including Los Altos, Mountain View, Saratoga, Monte Vista and Lynbrook -- have unlaned freshman English, and in most cases, unlaned sophomore English as well. At Gunn High School, freshman English is laned.

Four of the five school board members and several parents expressed skepticism about the de-laning proposal when it was presented Jan. 28, though other parents spoke in support.

Members said they'd been flooded with emails about the proposed change, and all but Heidi Emberling indicated they were not prepared to vote for it.

They questioned whether the teachers' plan offered enough "specific scaffolding" and intensive extra help for regular-lane students to make them feel successful in an advanced class.

"If we're going to ask our struggling kids, who are already struggling, to go up to 9A (accelerated English) that does have a faster curriculum with more vocabulary and more time on task, then we've got to provide something different," Vice President Melissa Baten Caswell said.

Board member Dana Tom said his "fundamental discomfort (with the proposed change) is trying to understand how you can effectively challenge and support the students in the class when you have a larger range than what you have today."

Board President Barb Mitchell worried that the proposal is "catching parents and students by surprise," with ninth-grade signups already underway.

"What I've learned about our community is that parents and students love choices, and the difficulties about this discussion is it's perceived as a subtraction as opposed to more choices," Mitchell said, suggesting that parents be given more time to digest the proposal.

Board member Camille Townsend said the many lane choices offered to students previously have been cited as a strength of the Palo Alto school district.

Only Emberling supported the English proposal as presented.

"I think it's nice to start with a level playing field and differentiating within the classroom," she said. "We trust the professionals in our district, and this is a pilot program."

At the meeting, parents Sara Woodham and Ken Dauber backed the English teachers' proposal while parents Louise Valente, Lauren Janov and Jonathan Foster questioned it.

Skelly said he would do further work on the proposal and bring it back to the board.

The following day, Tokheim announced to several hundred people attending eighth-grade parent night at Paly that English 9A would be the sole choice this fall.

"I also invited the parents to come to one of two parent gatherings at Paly the following Tuesday (Feb. 4) to talk further and have any concerns addressed," Tokheim said.

Nearly 100 eighth-grade parents followed up by attending one of two information meetings offered by English teachers last week.

At a Feb. 4 evening meeting attended by about 30 parents, some questioned how teachers could sufficiently "differentiate" their instruction for a special education student sitting side by side with a highly advanced student.

Others said their children had little interest in an accelerated English class, preferring to devote their time to challenging math and science classes.

Another parent, whose daughter was a special education student at and graduated from Paly, said her daughter was bored in regular-lane freshman English, but thrived in advanced sophomore English and is now in graduate school.


Posted by Reggie, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2014 at 12:09 pm

I don't know what is going on with this school board. How can they reject a program which hard working teachers have been preparing for 18 months with such lame reasoning?
Shirley Tokheim and the wonderful Paly staff - you should know that most of the Paly community is behind you and your wonderful efforts. Obviously the school board will recognize very fast that their decision is not... very smart.

Posted by full story?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2014 at 12:19 pm

How could Tokheim announce to 8th grade parents that there would only be 9A without the requisite Board approval?

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall when 100 parents showed up for her personal invitation to have concerns addressed.

Posted by Paly Alum, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2014 at 1:10 pm

This is fantastic news - thank you to the School Board. The parents and three of the School Board members have children who have experienced high school at Paly so they understand, while the English teachers are on the other end, and don't understand the students' perspective.

There has always been two lanes of English, even back in the 70s. Just as all students should not be in the same math lane (there are FIVE math lanes), English students have different aptitudes too, and different capabilities depending upon the English teachers who taught them (or didn't teach them). Students who don't read well should not be in the same class as those who are reading 500 page books for fun. Or be in the same class as the students who can attain 700 scores on their SAT Verbal and Writing sections. Mixing students with 300-500 scores on SAT Verbal and Writing with those with 600-700+ scores? Makes no sense at all, and would cause stress for the upper tier (boredom) as well as the lower tier (how can I even compete and earn a decent grade?). Moreover, Jordan's English department is weak, so those who write well by 9th grade either have natural aptitude or parental help, or outside classes/tutors.

I hope PAUSD can raise the writing skills to the reputable level it was in the 70s and 80s, where we were all taught writing skills in class on an ongoing basis. Teachers now seem to care more about the analysis than the writing skills. Both need to be taught, but we've experienced English teachers who don't want to put in the time to correct papers, which is the only effective method to teach writing skills. Many teachers have peer grading - how can a pre-teen or teenager correct a paper as well as an adult with an English bachelors or graduate degree? And if your child has the pleasure of having Hinton as a teacher, he's a cool guy, but he doesn't return papers for months, there are no comments on the papers, and he rarely gives "A"s in regular lanes or honors lanes. How can a student learn to write with such deficient teaching?

When I went through PAUSD, we were assigned easy one-page papers every 1-2 weeks and they would be returned with red pen markings so we could learn from our mistakes - circles, red arrows, etc. Writing often was good practice and we learned from our mistakes. Examples: write about a clock; write a persuasive argument; write a letter to the president. They don't need to be papers with deep analysis to learn to write. Some teachers who comment now do it online, which not only takes a longer time, but isn't as effective (they can't circle a whole sentence and draw an arrow). There were 500 students in my grade level, so the number of students weren't less than now. Perhaps there were more teachers or teachers weren't distracted after school by the technology and additional access to entertainment we have today.

Posted by Emma Isabella, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2014 at 1:18 pm

So, no Teacher Advisory at Gunn because the Board allowed the Gunn teachers and adminstrators to stonewall them under the guise of site-based control, but the Paly English teachers and administrators are stiff-armed from de-laning freshman English because they can't be trusted to provide adequate support for any students who may struggle? What happened to PAUSD having nothing but the most highly qualified teachers? As usual, this school board caters to the elite at the expense of equity.

If there truly is site-based control, then Paly should just go ahead and de-lane freshman English despite the protestations of the worst school board history. If they can't force Gunn to adopt Advisory, they can't stop Paly from delaning freshman English.

Posted by Emma Isabella, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Paly English Dept. should have just delaned freshman English without telling the Board. Skelly seems to get away with that and get a raise to boot!

Posted by full story?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Emma Isabella,

This one will be hard to spin as an equity issue.

Gunn English is laned in 9th grade and does better with the achievement gap students, and has graduated more achievement gap kids A-G ready.

Equity would be to give Paly what Gunn has in English.

Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2014 at 2:05 pm

All the students I know who did not take English 9A did so simply because they did not want the additional work. It is more work than the regular lane, it's not an honors class so you don't get extra GPA points and you can easily lane up sophomore year. More work for little upside. In contrast, the lane you are in for math and science in 9th grade really does affect what you can take in the later years.

@full story - Gunn does better with ESL kids because they use their PiE $$ (in part) for smaller English classes instead of a TA system. They also have a different mix of ESL/Achievement Gap kids than Paly, many of their immigrants are from Asia and Russian with Mandarin being the most common language spoken at home after English.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Most of the above is not true. English 9 now has the same content as English 9A, with the same homework loads. The reason you can "lane up" sophomore year is that the classes are not actually different.

There is no evidence that Gunn does better with ESL kids because of smaller English classes (they are smaller by at most 1 student).

The real difference between English 9 and English 9A is that minority students are concentrated in English 9. The school board has decided that Palo Alto should have racially segregated English classes. Literally, separate but equal.

Maybe OCR won't notice (fingers crossed).

Posted by full story?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Paly Parent,

From a related thread Web Link

"college-readiness rate for the most recent high school graduating class was 85 percent — 90.8 percent at Gunn High School and 79.6 percent at Palo Alto High School."

From PAUSD December 10, 2013 Board Packet
College Readiness Report

131 students did not meet A-G
92 from Paly, 39 from Gunn
84 No disability
117 not VTP
108 not Socio-economically disadvantaged
56 White, 31 Hispanic, 16 Asian, 14 AfrAmerican

Graduates missing 1-2 courses to be A-G ready
English 48.3%
Math 29.3%
World Language 25.9%
Science 19%

It is a cross section of students who struggle with Paly English or Paly English struggles with a cross-section of students.

Posted by full story?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Paly Parent,

If what you say is true, why not place minority students in 9A, and teachers get to have what they are seeking.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Summary statistics like those cited above don't even demonstrate what fully story? is trying to say, much less prove it.

The teachers have already aligned 9 and 9A. They are the same class, with the same content and expectations. This proposal is to recognize that by getting rid of English 9. Both classes have the full range of ability. Why have two classes with the same content? The biggest differences:
1. Minority students are concentrated in English 9 (I don't think there are any black or Latino students in 9A!).
2. Special ed students are concentrated in English 9.

Let's ask the school board the question, "Should PAUSD have racially segregated English classes?" The Paly English teachers don't want to keep teaching racially segregated classes. The school board, and some prominent members of the community, apparently disagree.

Posted by Sorry Paly English Teachers, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 11, 2014 at 3:25 pm

[Portion removed.] The plain fact is that Paly has a segregated freshman english program. They know it and are trying to fix it. All the black and brown kids are in 9. All the white kids are in 9A. [Portion removed.]

It is shameful. The Paly english teachers are being treated like crap by this horrible board. This is the worst PA school board in history and they deserve to be ignored. [Portion removed.]

Emma Isabella you are right -- the teachers do not run things unless it is convenient to let them. In the case of Gunn, it was just convenient to let them think that they were running things. Who was actually running things? The Paly elites who didn't want the district to spend the money on improving Gunn counseling. That's who showed up at the board meetings to speak against Gunn counseling improvements [Portion removed.] The same people who don't want 9A. I think what you are really seeing here is elites want money spent on their kids, and don't want money spent on non-elite kids, whether it is the kids of South PA at Gunn or the kids of black people at Paly. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Educator, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2014 at 3:40 pm

[Portion removed.] My children have been in regular lane English classes and there are white and Asians in their classes. Sure, you won't find minorities in the 9A classes, but they are allowed to enroll if they please.

And it's incorrect that the same coursework is taught at the same rate in both lanes. In fact, teachers can teach the same material, but teach and grade differently, as is true of other subjects too. There is no consistency across the departments in Paly. Teacher interpretation is always in play, with some trying to be too creative and others sticking to the basics. And the decriptions of the two lanes of English in the catalog are way off base, depending on the teacher. My son took 9A in freshman year and it was incredibly easy, yet someone else took 9A and it was difficult.

Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2014 at 3:46 pm

@Paly Parent

" Minority students are concentrated in English 9 (I don't think there are any black or Latino students in 9A!)."

My hispanic children both chose to take 9A and 10A - one is currently in the the course so please don't make blanket statements without data.

Posted by Apologize to the Teachers, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 11, 2014 at 4:51 pm

The School Board should apologize to the teachers and the students. Their action was absolutely rude, inconsiderate, and thoughtless.

I suspect more board members resisted de-landing than parents, because this is just nuts.

Posted by Sorry Paly English Teachers, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 11, 2014 at 5:32 pm

First they made the teachers wait until 1:00am now they won't even do them the courtesy of allowing them to present their plan. This is disgusting. I know that this is expensive but what if we recall this board. If we get enough signatures we will have 5 seats instead of 2 up in the fall. that means we could really make a difference instead of having Ken Dauber alone [portion removed.]

Posted by Apologize to the Teachers, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 11, 2014 at 5:42 pm

The Board should reimburse, out of their own stingy pockets, the teachers for all the time and money they have spent on putting the de-laning strategies together. Such a waste!

A recall,of most of the Board members, as well as the Superintendent, would be a good solution for most of the PAUSD's problems.

Posted by A sad reality, a resident of Juana Briones School
on Feb 11, 2014 at 6:27 pm

The board is just not that good. I would have laughed at a recall a few years, but I'd sign up for one now.

Posted by Tantrums are not necessary, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2014 at 6:28 pm

In the professional work force, teams work on projects for years and are turned down by boards but they don't have tantrums and demand apologies. Those who agree with the teachers, such as Heidi and Sarah, have no children who've experienced high school yet.

Posted by Sorry Paly English Teachers, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 11, 2014 at 7:21 pm

I just watched Kevin Skelly mumble though a non-explanation about what happened and why the decision was made to tank the de-laning proposal. Ken Dauber made the innoccuous comment that it should be public why the proposal was made and then withdrawn and Skelly hemmed and hawed, he talked to "people" and had "meetings" and "not everyone agrees with Mr. Dauber that everything should be public." I doubt that very much. I think that sunshine is the best disinfectant. So two weeks ago Charles Young recomnmended this, and now he's missing in action, this is cancelled, there won't be another try before the board, and this is DOA. Goodbye teachers, we held you until 1:00 publicly humiliated you, and now whatever you can't ever come back. You've been sent to Argentina. This is so corrupt.

Posted by Sorry Paly English Teachers, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 11, 2014 at 7:39 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2014 at 8:08 pm

So sorry to hear that the de-laning was shut down. I have a child going into 9th grade at Paly next year, and I
was hopeful that we were making some progress w all of the craziness. I can always hope. Sorry to the teachers,
and the kids.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Dear Sorry Paly English Teachers,
I'm wondering, where did you watch Superintendent Skelly explaining why the proposal is not going back to the school board?

Dear Tantrums are not necessary,
I'm the parent of two Paly alums, one current student and two future Paly students and I support the English department's proposal. Three of my kids were in the un-laned 9th grade English classes as part of the TEAM program at Paly. Differentiation in the classroom worked beautifully in challenging kids at their own level, and the mixed-ability classes create a vibrant environment for discussion of literature and life.

Posted by Paly Alum, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2014 at 9:43 pm

Sally, how can you compare TEAM classes to the rest of the school? If TEAM were run the same way as the rest of the school, why would it be called TEAM? TEAM is also optional and those who choose it have commonalities. From what I've heard, it attracts the Ohlone Elementary parents.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Paly Alum,
The composition of students in the 9th grade TEAM program is similar to the composition of students in the rest of the freshman class, and thus there are students with a similar range of abilities. I do not recall any particular elementary school being more represented in the program. Perhaps you are thinking of the JLS Connections Choice program, which is a popular choice for Ohlone grads. The curriculum for the Paly TEAM English class is also very similar to the rest of the 9th grade English classes, other than the fact that 9 and9A lanes are taught in the same classroom. What distinguishes TEAM is that all the students have the same teachers for three core classes (English, social studies and science) and there are also field trips and other activities related to curriculum. There is no reason that differentiation within the classroom can't be as successful in all the 9th grade English classes as it is in TEAM.

Posted by Sorry Paly English Teachers, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 11, 2014 at 10:40 pm


Kevin Skelly did not really "explain" what happened. In response to Dauber and Wolf's questions about what happened to the proposal he gave kind of a rambling disconnected thing that referenced the community who showed up against and for the proposal at the last meeting, plus "conversations" that happened with "others" and the parent meetings at Paly that happened but he didn't give any information about any of the content at those meetings or what happened at them that caused the proposal to be killed rather than revised, and he said that "the Paly teachers know what they have to do better" but he didn't tell us what it was and then he said first that it couldn't be public then that maybe it should be, he didn't know, then that not everyone agreed with Dauber that it should be public what happened, and what he seemed really to be saying is "you lost the election and no one up here is making me say what happened publicly so I'm not even if maybe I should. He never gave a coherent narrative of who said what, who was against it, what the issues were, why it was a problem, how he plans to address the racial inequalities identified in the WASC and by the teachers, what the plan is going forward -- nothing. Literally, zero content. Just, some talking happened but it's private, no board member is making me say what it is, so no.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by New low, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 11, 2014 at 10:57 pm

No one can respond to secret criticisms and shadow critics. The arguments cannot be public because then they could be disputed and the public could have a real chance to weigh in. And if the racial issues were known, they could swing the public. So discussion is being truncated and silenced before it can occur. It is precisely the opposite of what public discourse should look like on important issues of public policy.

If it was to be a public discussion then the minority students and families would weigh in, we would be looking at data and statistics. That information will never be disclosed or discussed. This is a cover up of segregation in the English program. Dr. Skelly, please disclose the racial makeup of English 9 and English 9A.

The Weekly was wrong. This is the nadir.

Posted by Paly Alum, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 12, 2014 at 12:11 am

Sally, how many minorities, VTPs and ESLs choose TEAM? Maybe those who choose TEAM are of similar backgrounds, parenting, and aptitudes, not the gamut that we see in the other English classes so perhaps there isn't a large amount of differentiation to disturb the class in TEAM.

Posted by Do right by the kids, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 12, 2014 at 12:30 am

[Portion removed.] Here is the reality -- there are roughly 500 students in each grade at Paly and, not surprisingly, the students have widely varying abilities and interests. There are five lanes of 9th grade math and three lanes of 9th grade science. No one is complaining about that. But two lanes of English? Heaven forbid! (Even though Gunn has three lanes of 9th grade English.)

PAUSD offers a single lane of English -- all abilities in the same classroom for the first nine years of students' education (kindergarten through 8th grade). The world will not end if, starting in the tenth year of the students education, they have the opportunity to choose between two different English courses. If the concern is that English 9 does not adequately prepare students for higher level English in later years, then change the course so it does. If English 9A is really the same as English 9, then change it so it is truly an accelerated course. And what's more, before even thinking about de-laning English, make sure the existing classes appropriately challenge all students regardless of their ability, make sure grading is consistent between different teachers, make sure all classes have real writing assignments, and make sure teachers provide substantive feedback to students on their writing in a reasonable time frame. If you talk to students at Paly, you'll find that none of that is the case. So enough of bashing the school board and the superintendent and let's focus on providing the best education possible for the students.

Posted by Former Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 12, 2014 at 7:33 am

When it comes to what's possible in the classroom in terms of differentiation, I would defer to Dr. Shirley Tokheim, Paly's Instructional Supervisor for English, and her English teacher colleagues, particularly Kindel Launer who has been teaching 9th grade English with great dedication for years at Paly. They said they were confident they could manage that particular challenge. They gave a lot of good reasons for deciding it was time to de-lane English at Paly.

One reason that sticks with me is how English is different from math and science in that the issues discussed are more cultural and geared to developing critical thinking skills. For those discussions, it helps to have diversity and everyone benefits from that. The teachers said they are currently teaching the same basic curriculum with the same basic homework for both lanes right now, and the biggest difference between the classes now (other than teacher variation as noted by some parents above) is the racial make-up and the number of students with IEPs. Currently the "lower" lane is populated with more minorities and special needs students. That hardly seems right.

For years now, there is significant research showing that teaching multiple abilities within the English classroom at this age does not harm anyone and in fact has advantages to all students in the classroom. The teachers cited some of this research, and others speaking at the meeting made reference to a larger body of research on this topic.

The English teachers know what they're doing; they are not out to harm the kids. Sally Torbey makes some great points about the TEAM experience, which should give fearful parents more confidence to try something that might be new to them but that could benefit all kids.

Bottom line: I would trust Dr. Tokheim and Kindel Launer's professional judgement on this topic more than the school board members, and more than parents who seem to be anxious about change, or about their kid getting dragged down by "slower" and more diverse kids in their class. My high school did not have lanes in English and it was fine for everyone. Elite kids can learn a lot from kids they view as less elite (which is in itself a myth to be dissolved), especially in the type of discussions that take place in freshmen English class.

Finally, aside from the merits of the proposal, the process here seemed disrespectful to the teachers (making them wait until after midnight to make their case at the board meeting and not giving them a chance to come back, as promised). Since when does the board tell the high schools how to teach English? I really wonder about the role of the board in these types of questions. Seems like micromanaging to me. The board has enough trouble managing what it should be managing -- why go looking to get involved in the business of the English department which should be the management concern of Paly's principal and/or the district office (both of whom supported the English teachers). And if the board does get involved, where is the district leadership to help them and the public understand why this change is being sought? "Let's give them a shot," as Skelly said at the board meeting, doesn't really do it in terms of leadership. The public burden seemed to all fall on the shoulders of the English teachers, without district leadership to help guide them through the political process seemingly thrust upon them. It's really all a shame and unclear as to why this process involving the board occurred. I think the teachers were hung out to dry.

Posted by Brian, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 12, 2014 at 9:46 am

Whew! Thank you Former Paly Parent for the most reasonable, logical, intelligent discussion on this thread. I hope everyone reads it. And you didn't even have to resort to the standard PA Online nastiness. Thanks.

Posted by gunn parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2014 at 10:09 am

could it be that the english classes are segregated due to a faulty counseling/advisory system at jordan and paly?

Posted by Educator, a resident of Portola Valley
on Feb 12, 2014 at 10:35 am

I second the kudos for Former Paly Parent. He/she nailed it. The level of dysfunction among the the board/district administration in their handling of this, bullying policies and myriad other issues is astounding. At every turn, I think "you can't make this stuff up."

Posted by PalyParent9009, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:01 am

The English teachers had been working on this proposal for 18 months, but the parents were not informed that this was in progress. So when it came up before the board, it was a surprise. If they had spent some time educating parents as to why this was good for all kids and why it is good to have lanes for science and math but not English, they may have gotten more support.

And the board totally disrespected everyone's time by going until 2am.

Not handled well all the way around.

Posted by Wha?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:04 am

"De-Lane"??? Could someone explain this interesting use of English used here? Not all of us are in the know about a word that isn't in an English dictionary.

Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:10 am

Sally Torbey says "Paly TEAM English class is also very similar to the rest of the 9th grade English classes, other than the fact that 9 and9A lanes are taught in the same classroom." - good point

I agree so why not run all 9th grade English this way and have both 9 and 9A in the same class? Then the classes are heterogeneous but students can still choose between 9 and 9A. In TEAM some students receive credit for 9 and some for 9A but they are all in the same classroom with the same teacher at the same time. This approach makes a lot of sense to me Instead of just requiring all students to take 9A?

Posted by Paly Parent Too, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:25 am

The part that isn't explained, I think, is why the English department feels they can't get "proficient" scoring kids to be challenged and learn well in a 9 versus 9a class. The kids have few enough choices, why take one alway? If a student isn't really all that interested in English, wouldn't differentiation mean you would work to have that person learn all they can, regardless of the class.
I am more concerned about the kids with learning issues who would feel intimidated by the 9A class, something that all the differentiation in the world wouldn't cure. What do the Resource teachers and department have to say about this?

Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2014 at 1:19 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Informed, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Former Paly Parent and PalyParent9009 make excellent points:
1) a big problem was that parents were not informed that this change was coming - so it felt as if something was being pulled over on them and they resisted. There needed to be an explanation ahead of time explaining the reasons for the change - mistake to leave it to right before a School Board vote...

2) Leadership is needed, Mr. Skelly - not just "let's give them a shot". The English teachers were hung out to dry in the same way that Jacke McEvoy is the job of the Superintendent to work with the teachers and principals and be the public face/leadership for the district...

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Re: Former Paly Parent

You may not be aware that all new classes need Board approval - that has been long standing practice. Thus, the presentations and discussion in order to make a judgement. In this case it wasn't a rubber stamp.

A deeper question is whether a large number of teacher retirements over the past few years played a role in this snafu, with new teachers less aware of the required process.

Posted by Former Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 12, 2014 at 2:44 pm

@Paly Parent

Thanks for that information. I had not heard that. Do you know the source of that requirement that the board approve all new classes (board policy or other regulation)? If so, are you able to provide a link to it? That would be interesting to look at.

Also, I'm wondering whether this type of requirement for board approval would apply in this case since this is not a new class being offered, but instead an elimination of one lane of an existing class, or as the teachers seem to be saying, a re-labeling, since both lanes are now sharing the same curriculum. Any thoughts on that?

Posted by gunn parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Tough to argue publicly because those who don't agree with the proposed changed might be accused of not wanting racial equality. A convenient way for proponents to scare off rational educational arguments from the other side.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Anybody who's had kids in a "differentiation" class knows that it works for one cohort of students and shortchanges all the others. It's like "clean coal," it's a piece of spin that doesn't map to reality.

The fact this idea got so far says more about the Paly English department than it does anything else.

Posted by Sorry Paly English Teachers, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 12, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Thank you very much Former Paly Parent for your extremely calm and cogent analysis. To it I would add only that the community is absolutely in the dark as to why (1) the proposal has been rejected and what the shortcomings were perceived as being and (2) why the teachers were not allowed to come back for a public discussion of issues that would have led to a plan for the future consideration of their proposal.

What has been said publicly is that the public needed more preparation, and that more groundwork should have been laid. Would that not augur for another board visit so that the teachers could find out what is to be done to educate the community and prepare the way for this change next year?

It is unfair and unreasonable that this proposal has simply been killed with the only chance for public discussion and participation occurring at 1:30 am. It is unfair and unreasonable that no one even knows what the objections are, whether the teachers are being given another chance or not (based on Skelly's comments I would say definitely not), and what revisions should be made. Instead, the proposal was just taken out back and shot in the face and left to die on the pavement in the dark.

The whole thing is wildly undemocratic. Who liked it, who didn't and why? What would need to change to make it better? We will literally never know.

Posted by Quit whining like a child and move on!, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 12, 2014 at 8:37 pm

[Portion removed.] If it were a good proposal, the 1:30AM wouldn't have affected the outcome. The proposal was outrageous and ignorant.

Posted by Ohlone parent, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 12, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Why wouldn't the school board take the recommendation of the English teachers? I imagine the teachers know the students, curriculum and history better than anyone including parents and school board members.

Posted by Sorry Paly English Teachers, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 12, 2014 at 9:21 pm

So "outrageous," "ignorant" and "whining like a child" are the words of a mature gracious winner? I think that this board has clearly empowered some of the worst elements in the community. It's really sad to see this.

Posted by Childless, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 12, 2014 at 9:42 pm

We don't have any children as yet, so I don't have a child in the school district (yet). I am surprised that the school board would override the English teachers without much discussion? We moved to Palo Alto because of the schools and I am a little surprised and worried to see the professional teachers being overruled by elected officials on something like this.

Calling the teachers' ideas outrageous and ignorant makes me wonder, is this what people think of PAUSD teachers? Is the outside reputation real or is really about the high quality kids?

Posted by Sorry Paly English Teachers, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 12, 2014 at 10:09 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by full story?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2014 at 10:32 pm


Keep in mind the English problem is a Paly problem not Gunn.

Both schools have similar kids.

Posted by Do right by the kids, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:41 pm

To "Sorry Paly English Teachers": The community is not at all in the dark as to why the proposal was rejected. Four of the five school board members raised significant concerns about the proposal at a public meeting and many parents also raised concerns. In the wake of that, Kevin Skelly did the sensible thing and pulled the proposal. No mystery or conspiracy there. The reality is a good number of PAUSD parents prefer more choice over less choice and, as a result, the outcome here wasn't at all surprising.

To "Childless": We elect the school board to make the final decisions on issues like these. Most of the time, the school board goes along with recommendations from the teachers and professional staff. This was a relatively rare exception. And they didn't even overrule the teachers – they just raised a lot of concerns that, clearly, led Skelly to pull the proposal. Professional teachers are, hopefully, good teachers, but the community is entitled not to blindly go along with everything they recommend when it comes to changes in the curriculum.

Having said all this, I do agree it was ridiculous that this issue only allocated 10 minutes for discussion at the board meeting and ended up being discussed well past midnight. In my opinion, the ultimate result was neither surprising nor troubling, but the process was lousy.

Posted by Childless, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 13, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Thanks "Do right". I watched the YouTube video of the school board meeting. I didn't realize it was so late at night!

It seemed to me watching the video that the school board members had already made up their minds, and the teachers had good responses. I really felt that the teachers had a good proposal, but that there was no willingness on the part of the board members to come to a different conclusion.

I don't understand all of the politics of this, so I will leave it at that. I hope that this isn't how things happen normally.

Posted by stultus, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 13, 2014 at 4:44 pm

"It seemed to me watching the video that the school board members had already made up their minds"

Unless you get a huge parental turnout at the board meetings, don't expect to apply any influence to the board. It's the same "public" sitting there, week in, week out repeating the same old things to the board. No wonder the board now takes little notice of them.
As the weekly mentioned previously, there is a lot more input the board is receiving via emails and direct contact than happening at the board meetings. This is a problem since there is no details on what is influencing the board. On the other hand, considering the few people who come to the board meeting every week to be somehow representative of the general populace would be an even worse outcome since they've got their own agenda and don't care about the general populace.
Something needs to give. The current model is broken.

Posted by Addison parent, a resident of Addison School
on Feb 13, 2014 at 5:03 pm

The current board members are not going to do anything different. Three of them have been on the board for a decade or more. What you see is what you get. The only way to get change is the election this fall. I hope we see some fresh members who will break the board out of its routine. Imagine if most of the City Council were people who had been there for 10 years. They would be even more out of touch than they already are.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 13, 2014 at 6:02 pm

@Addison Parent - just to set the timeline straight, here's the year each current board member was first elected:

2003 Townsend
2005 Tom, Mitchell
2007 Baten Caswell
2012 Emberling

So Townsend has served more than a decade, and is in her third term. The rest have not, though Tom, Mitchell, and Bate Caswell are all on their second terms.

Posted by Palo Alto parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 13, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Whether you agree with their ideas or not, most of our board members have served our community for many, many years putting in hours of time usually to be criticized. I believe some of them ran for additional,terms simply because no one else "volunteered".

To all who would like things to be different, "volunteer" for school board. Even running should give you an idea of how critical Palo Alto is and how "grateful" they will be for your service.foU8e

Posted by future former Paly parent, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 13, 2014 at 9:46 pm

The teaching of English at Paly is very weak. I was shocked by essays written by my senior there. Poor structure. Poor sentences. Repetitive words. My child was in the high English lane for 3 years and received all As and Bs, yet never learned to write a decent essay.

I don't know if laning or delaning is the solution, but they need to get back to basics and teach students how to write decent sentences, paragraphs, and whole essays.

Posted by Addison parent, a resident of Addison School
on Feb 13, 2014 at 10:27 pm

Fred, thank you for that detail. My perspective: I hope that Mitchell and Tom step down after their two terms are over this fall. Fresh perspectives on the school board are valuable to the community, just as in the City Council.

Posted by Sorry Paly English Teachers, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 13, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Just because they aren't very good at their jobs doesn't mean that we should be grateful that they are doing them for free.

Posted by Tokheim can't manage, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 14, 2014 at 3:38 am

[Portion removed.] I agree with others that this would have gone much further if Tokheim had involved parents in an open process with the public.

Then more light would shine onto the real issues. The lane definitions matter little, this is true - they have the same curriculum today in 9 and 9A. The real problem is the wide range of disparity in teacher quality is completely unmanaged. Tokheim refuses to own this. Because she can't manage. One of our children got a complete dud in Eng 9A and our other child got a great teacher in Eng 9 - guess who learned more: Eng 9.

When I brought up issues with the problems, Tokheim was completely dismissive. The real problem with English is that the "level" is entirely random from the "lane".

So I wouldn't trust a delaying plan until they address the teacher management problem. Otherwise de-laning just further obscures what is happening in the classroom.

The problems are systemic in two dimensions between year-to-year: English in Jordan is an unmanaged, inconsistently taught mess with little focus on writing or analysis - this produces a crop of Freshmen with a wide range of abilities, and with gaps in learning everywhere.

Then we throw this mix into Paly where one class is taught in an organized, well thought out manner by one teacher, while the next classroom over is taught by an uninformed, disorganized buffoon. Unmanaged by Tokheim.

Lanes don't matter - the end-to-end system matters. Consistent quality teaching matters.

We lack both a system view and consistency of teaching.

It's a management problem.

[Portion removed.] So I am not surprised this proposal went off the rails. Now the question is whether they will start over and fix the real problems.

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