Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - October 15, 2010

Letters

'Waiting for Superman'

Editor,

We had an opportunity to see "Waiting for Superman" recently. This powerful documentary presents many of the problems in our education system, suggestions to fix it and some success stories.

Unfortunately, the information presented about Woodside High School in Redwood City, left an impression that Woodside does not do a good job educating its students — when in fact it is an outstanding high school where students receive a top notch education.

The filmmakers were offered an opportunity to learn more about Woodside, but regretfully, they declined. Had they visited Woodside and talked with staff, students, administrators or parents, they likely would have avoided some of the mischaracterizations and misrepresentations in the film.

The information presented in the film about graduation rates and college acceptances is very misleading. Those statistics came from a UCLA study that uses data that tracks students from 9th to 12th grades. The study does not take into account the number of incoming freshmen who are enrolled at Woodside and decide to attend a private or charter school, or move out of the area, without notifying the school before the school year begins. Nor does the study include the number of students who move out of the area during their high-school years.

Even more inaccurate, the study only includes the seniors who go on to attend California colleges, and leaves out the 10 to 20 percent who choose to attend private universities, vocational schools and out-of-state public universities and community colleges.

In fact, looking at Woodside's entering freshmen class of 2004 through the graduating class of 2008, 92.4 percent of those students graduated. The dropout rate was 4.9 percent (compared to the 38 percent dropout rate implied in the film). The other 3 percent of students either moved out of the area, changed schools or were reassigned to special programs. The film should have used just the graduation rate and drop-out data, but that would have inconveniently disproved its thesis.

As for tracking, the film is flat-out wrong. Woodside does not track. Students are given opportunities to advance in subjects if teachers and students think they will succeed.

"Waiting for Superman" suggests that Woodside is "living in the past." This could not be more wrong. Woodside is not only keeping up with the world around it but is an innovative leader, offering many great programs that are essential in today's world. These include an extensive offering of advanced-placement courses, robotics and engineering classes, environmental (green) education classes, and a Mandarin-language program.

In addition, Woodside is about to break ground on a state-of-the-art digital- and media-arts building where students will learn about photography, audio and video production, animation and Web design.

The Woodside staff is very focused on qualifying students for admittance to college. The school hosts "College Day" in October with special events for each grade level. It holds several "March into College" workshops for parents and students to learn together about college choices, the application process and financial aid. It also has an AVID program that prepares first-generation college students, or those students in the academic middle, for college.

"Waiting for Superman" paints an inaccurate picture and has regrettably tarnished the school's reputation. Again, had the filmmakers actually visited the school, this mischaracterization would never have happened. Unfortunately, there is no way for those of us who know the truth about Woodside to reach every person who sees the film. We appreciate this opportunity to shine a light on a wonderful school and set the record straight.

Sarah Blatner and Donna Habeeb

Parents of Woodside High School students

Train vs. education

Editor,

Economist Robert Gordon of Northwestern University points out in the Oct. 10 issue of Business Week that between 2005 and 2027 the U.S. gross domestic product will grow at the slowest pace of any 20-year period in U.S. history, going back to George Washington's presidency.

He attributes that to a stalling of productivity driven by stalled increase in education levels.

It seems that California, already near the bottom in education nationwide, is destined to accelerate that trend as we balance our budget by further reducing our education expenditures — while claiming to lead the nation by spending one tenth of $1 trillion to build a shiny, whizzy, high-speed train toy.

Don Barnby

Spruce Avenue

Menlo Park

Train problems coming

Editor,

If you think making High Speed Rail (HSR) go away solves all problems on the Caltrain corridor, consider this: The status quo is not sustainable, and what is coming may not be good.

Caltrain plans to electrify. That means 40-foot poles and catenaries to support overhead wires. Trains can be faster, smaller and more frequent for better service. Ridership will grow. Still more trains. Cross traffic will back up at grade crossings and grade separations will become necessary. The cheapest way will be to elevate Caltrain on a berm or aerial viaduct and that will be just as bad as the worst HSR alternative.

Bill Cutler

Park Boulevard.

Palo Alto

Don't vote

Editor,

Since the outcomes of elections for state Senate, state Legislature and U.S Congress have already been decided by the primary elections due to gerrymandering of districts, there is no point in voting for these offices.

I will not be casting a vote for these and I urge you to do likewise.

Raymond R. White

Whitney Drive

Mountain View

No on 23

Editor,

A structural transformation of the local and California economy is well underway, fueled by our long history of clean-tech and clean-energy innovation.

Meanwhile, Texas oil companies are spending millions in support of Proposition 23 to repeal California's landmark clean-energy and clean-air laws that have fostered that job-creating innovation. Big oil companies want to kill competition and jobs from clean-energy businesses, thus increasing air pollution and threatening public health.

Proposition 23 is deceptive. It claims to "suspend" clean-energy and clean-air laws, when, in fact, the conditions it requires to reinstate these laws have only occurred three times in the last 40 years. Instead of funding the clean up of the Gulf Oil Spill, Texas oil companies are opening their corporate coffers to kill clean energy and clean air standards in California so they can keep on polluting.

A recent study at the University of California, Berkeley, on the economic impacts of California's current climate laws, indicates California's gross domestic product will go up slightly with our current laws in place, but will drop significantly if Proposition 23 passes due to rising expenses from fossil fuels, environmental and health costs.

Proposition 23 would take us in the wrong direction.

We can choose how we navigate this already overdue economic transition to maintain our leadership in a healthy, clean-energy, clean-tech world.

Vote No on Proposition 23. And rally your friends and neighbors to do so, too.

Go to Town Square at www.PaloAltoOnline.com/square for more details and related conversation.

Lisa Van Dusen

Greenwood Avenue

Palo Alto

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