Top high school test scores called 'blessing and curse' | October 26, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 26, 2012

Top high school test scores called 'blessing and curse'

Students in Palo Alto's 25th percentile are 75th percentile of state, nation

by Chris Kenrick

Top test scores were cited as a blessing and a curse Tuesday, Oct. 23, as the Palo Alto Board of Education reviewed results from the 2012 Advanced Placement, SAT and California Academic Performance Index (API) measures.

This story contains 489 words.

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Posted by parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 25, 2012 at 10:21 pm

"Parental education level was tied to student performance on the SAT, with a 2010 average for students whose parents have graduate degrees and a 1705 for students whose parents did not go beyond a high-school diploma or an associate's degree."

Really? Wow. So what about the 1770 for the kid who's mom has an MBA from Santa Clara, strait 4.0 in graduate and undergrad in college, (Graduated from Gunn), working full time mother, who DID NOT PAY FOR THE $700 SAT STUDY COURSE? Maybe the statistics could address that?

You know, I KNEW there was a reason I told the Gunn administration 30 years ago to go straight to h-e-xx when I was a Junior refusing to be herded in to take the PSAT...

Posted by @school, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Someone please parse this sentence:

"But board members worried aloud that Palo Alto's overall stellar test averages are unduly discouraging to the many strong students who do not meet them."

If they are strong students, then why they do not meet the test averages. If a student does not meet the average score, then he/she must be below average; very confusing! I suggest that instead of worrying, the Palo Alto board members should learn from their above-average students and study aloud their statistics subjects!

Posted by parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 25, 2012 at 11:10 pm

@school - because maybe the school board is recognizing that the test scores are meaningless measures of student performance? Palo Alto's averages are padded by $$$ period. $$$ to pay for the exorbitant test taking tutoring, $ to send kids to the summer school programs and the afterschool programs, and paying for tutors, and the math program down the street (etc) for years upon years. So the smart kid and strong performer, well adjusted and teachers favorite, who doesn't meet "the average" test score is an utterly meaningless measure of how smart or successful that kid is.

If the kids not making the average scores must be 'below average' then explain please the kid who gets A's in math class at Gunn, who scores 'below basic' on the state test scores?
Hint: You can't. Its utterly meaningless.

Posted by Rose, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 25, 2012 at 11:17 pm

@school The issue is which population you compare a given student against. A "strong student" may exceed state curriculum standards and place well above the state average on standardized test but not fare so well when compared against only Palo Alto students. Which average is the "important" measurement? How do we define successful performance; exceeding the average in Palo Alto or exceeding the state average? More importantly, how do colleges define success?

Think of it in the same way as your income bracket in Palo Alto. If you have a salary of $500k per year you have an extraordinary income as compared to most people on the planet, most people in the US, most Californians, and even most Palo Altans. If you compare a $500k income to those living in say Professorville, you are not anywhere near the top income bracket (exclude retirees for the sake of this analogy). Most everyone around you has a much higher salary. Does that make you poor, an under-achiever? NO! But it makes it very hard to compete to buy a $5-10 million dollar home. This, is life in Palo Alto.

We need to help our kids find their way in life without damaging them!

Posted by Recent PALY Alum, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2012 at 4:24 am

Dear Parent,

Statistics measure the whole population of students, never a specific student. It is completely possible for a Palo Alto school to have a student in the case you described--the statistics would never know. What is interesting is that you can make inferences based on the statistics to see how likely it is for a case that you described to exist.

In response to the article, as I am in college now, I really feel this shock of moving out of the Bay Area bubble. Sure its nice to not have to worry about academics as much since Palo Alto students are used to the rigor and competition, but it is the result of four years of working hard. Other students are working hard now. There really isn't a way to show this to students than to actually have them experience it, and they will experience it in college or when they move out to get their first job.

Posted by Wilson, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 26, 2012 at 7:37 am

> Other students are working hard now. There really isn't a way
> to show this to students than to actually have them experience
> it, and they will experience it in college or when they move out
> to get their first job.

Good advice.

Having watched the Board discuss this report on academic performance, I felt that those five individuals were really confused, or generally just didn't "get it". The comments from Camille Townsend were vacuous, as well as the rest of the Board, for that matter.

The thrust of their comments seemed to reflect the more-political-than-not atmosphere about student wellness that has permeated the school district for the last couple of years.

Student performance is tightly linked to parental education levels. Schools can only do so much. The unachievable goals of equality of outcome has perverted too many of our institutions, with the predicatable results that resources are wasted on trying to change the system rather than motivate the students as individuals.

Sadly, none of the Board seemed to understand that.

The comments by the recently graduated PALY Alum make far more sense than all of the comments by our Board. It's a shame that we are going to have these same people guiding our school system for four more years--we really need new blood to return the focus to the purpose of public education--rather than social engineering.

Posted by Balance Needed, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2012 at 8:30 am

The pressures of needing to work so very hard just to "keep up" with students who will burn out freshman year is very hard for many to deal with. When EVERRYONE is only satisfie with their child being #1, it ruins many for a long time. I don't want to go back to the cops patrolling the rr tracks days.

Posted by mamajawa, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2012 at 8:44 am

Our schools used to be more than just an API score. Glad my sons graduated in the 80's with high SAT scores without tutors or special classes, Take it once and move on. You might want to refer to the cartoon "Pearls before Swine" or May 6th 2012.

Posted by mamajawa, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2012 at 8:53 am

Sorry for the typo---should of course have been of not or. Blame it on my eyesight.

Posted by Wilson, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 26, 2012 at 9:03 am

> The pressures of needing to work so very hard just to "keep up"
> with students who will burn out freshman year is very hard
> for many to deal with

This is an interesting thought, if only to note that high schools generally only track college entrance statistics—not college graduation stats. Nationally, 4-year college graduation rates are abysmal. Retention rates for freshmen are often 50% or so. Some CSU schools post 4-year graduation rates at less than 10%. Even 6-year graduation rates are nothing to crow about—with most schools claiming about 50%.

With the high performances demonstrated by PAUSD students, one would think that they might enjoy a much higher college graduation rate. But there simply is no way to know that at the moment.

This situation calls for a rethinking of what role high schools play in the preparation of our young people for their futures. There has been a concerted effort to focus on college as the next step. Clearly, college is not for everyone. It will take a lot of sober leadership to recognize that fact, allowing schools to refocus on other topics, such as business-oriented skills.

It’s a shame that some of the local booster clubs don’t work to create a pool of former PAUSD students who might be useful in creating a kind of “feedback loop” to provide insight to students wondering about their futures—based on the experiences of people who lived in Palo Alto and went to the PAUSD only a couple of decades ago.

Posted by Ducatigirl, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Has anyone noticed how many Paly grads end up dropping out of college ater a year (or even less), burned out and claiming that college was too much like a big Paly?

Has anyone kept track of all the promising Paly grads who are so burned out they don't want to see the inside of a school ever again?

My husband was in the first category. He ended up taking a two-year break from college, just to recover from all the burnout. And then he went to a community college out of town, because he could not stand the idea of four more years of a "big Paly".

Posted by Confused, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I find these discussions about PAUSD to be fascinating in that there is little discussion about what goes in other high(er) performing school districts right here in the Bay Area such as Cupertino, Saratoga or even Fremont and San Ramon from the East Bay. All of these districts have schools and students that routinely score higher than our schools. And yet there is zero discussion on learning from them. If we were the top performing school district in a league of our own, I would understand the lack of discussion since there would be nothing else to compare to. However we are far from that point nationally - or even within our own region. Should we not have some humility to discuss what some of those other districts are doing well and to adopt such practices here that would benefit our children?

Posted by data please, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 26, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Ducatigirl--Where are you getting your information from? Can you provide us with a link showing how many Paly grads drop out after the first year of college.

"Has anyone kept track of all the promising Paly grads who are so burned out they don't want to see the inside of a school ever again?"
Is there actually anything to keep track of? Are there really a significant number of Paly grads that are "burnt out"??As with the above, please provide some data to back up your claims.

Posted by Old Palo Alto, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm

There is no such thing as a 'curse' for high test scores, only blessings. I think the real issue is every parent wants their kid to shine, which is great, but it's harder in a more competitive environment. Parents should understand that they can only fan their kids' flames so far, then it is up to the kid. I have a kid that is a star athlete and academic. It has nothing to do with me, the kid is self motivated and has been that way since a very early age. This kid will always be under the microscope of envious people trying to find fault. Myself, I'd rather just be average, it's a more pleasant path.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm

@Confused - Don't you think Cupertino and Saratoga score better because they are doing something differently, or because they have majority asian student populations?

Posted by The big picture, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2012 at 2:34 pm

@Confused: It is not really not “apples to apples” comparing Pausd with other high performing school districts in the bay area. Remember both Gunn & Paly have the kids within the Tinsley Program, that cannot be discussed easily among the school board without coming across the wrong way. Just how would Pausd test scores compare to other districts when those scores are removed from the “equation”? Many of the kids in the Tinsley program do not have as well educated parents and have much lower incomes so many unfortunately have much less advantages than kids whose families can afford to live in Palo Alto. Maybe I am wrong but somehow I doubt the Cupertino school district and other higher performing school districts have as many kids from lower performing socio-economic areas enrolled at their high schools…

There is also the status issue of colleges among Palo Alto parents. The kids are very aware of elite colleges here since many parents have graduated from top tier colleges themselves. As the population of educated families increases in the future, there are even more limited openings at top tier colleges so educated (and wealthier) parents take advantage of any way they can to “elevate their child for admission” – whether it is enrolling their kids in private schools with smaller class sizes & flexible curriculums, competitive sports or unusual activities, college alumni donations, expensive tutoring, summer programs, after school math & science enrichment programs, specialized internships, you name it…All these require money which parents gladly fork over to help their kids with the increasingly competitive admissions process.

How many Pausd kids actually don’t use academic tutors, outside “enrichment” courses and SAT/ACT classes/tutoring? If parents are employed in an academically challenging field, like engineering or science, don’t you think they are helping their own kids with tough AP, honors or rigorous courses? Did the kid actually score that well on their own, yes some do… or was it parents helping with challenging homework, the after school enrichment instruction explaining difficult subjects more thoroughly or did the long term tutoring make the fundamental difference with achieving higher standardized test scores?

Posted by Dean, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Again in the interest of full disclosure, I am a former resident of mid-town (De Anza Elem,, Wilbur, and Cubberley).

No question about it, the education I received in the PAUSD propelled me into college and life (I started college out of state at a midwestern land grand school and was miles ahead of my contemporaries).

I doubt its long term effect got me into a top notch ACC school for grad school (that was a Blessing from God and great timing!).

The rep. of Palo Alto's schools though is something nationwide I've seen in the eyes of those college grads I told that I was a PAUSD grad.

The quality of the education was in the 50s and 60s and continues today to be the city's greatest export to the world.

Posted by Ducatigirl, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Ducatigirl is a registered user.

The neighborhood my husband grew up in, as well as some of his friends, from the classes of 1995 thru 2003 had a lot of burnouts.

Friends with kids in Cupertino and Fremont say that the Asian kids do not participate in after school sports as much as the American citizen (and this includes Asian-American, etc) kids, or do anything that takes them away from completeing homeowork or other academic work. Asian and Indian co-workers have stated similar feelings about too many after school clubs and sports, and say they forbid them for their own children.

I personally think it is a narrow view to have, there is more to life than schoolwork, but our Chinese neighbors next door say that this is what childhood is for, they can have fun and friends after they get out of college. They are from Hong Kong.

An Indian employee of my father says in his family in Madras, it was MD or PhD, nothing less. So, setting higher standards from the get-go may be one factor.

I did not go to school here, so I only know what I have been told by alums and other people who have been through top-performing schools. But personally, I believe in "whole child" education, and not farming your kids out to tutors evryday after school.

Then again, maybe we are simply not the "master race" after all. Our kids need recreation, sleep, and friendships.

Posted by Blah Blah Blah, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I sure am glad that my children graduated from PAUSD system in the mid-late 90's. Then it was possible to get into a good university (well at least for my kids) without having a prep course and tutors and endless helicoptering. I encouraged my children to find their own passion. I encouraged them to fill out their own college applications. They did and they succeeded to get into good schools and to pursue their passions. I am just appalled at how much the worth of an student in this town is measured in test scores. I guess going to school for many these days is a sentence to be endured for so many kids. This saddens me. I feel so fortunate that my children weren't used as pawns in the numbers games that school districts play. These numbers are not the sole measure of whether we are successful parents or not.Raising happy, engaged and socially, emotionally and physically healthy children should be the way we measure our success. I feel for young people who do not have a way out of this because of the pressure from overbearing parents. Lighten up parents!

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 26, 2012 at 3:48 pm

There is serious grade deflation at Paly, and it is hurting our students in college admissions and by increasing stress. It is much harder to get an A in BC Calculus at Paly than a 5 on the AP test. Almost everyone gets a 5 on the BC Calc AP at Paly. But less than half of students get A/A- in the course. The situation is similar in AP US History and AP Physics. Honors English classes at Paly are notorious for tough, subjective and unpredictable grading.
Grades matter in college admissions, and Paly is undermining its students.

Posted by Recent PALY Alum, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Dear Paly parent,

Yes, after having gone through all the work that PALY has put me through in the past four years, I look back and am amazed at how much workload and stress I have gone through. When my brother (in PALY right now) asks for advice, sometimes I can only tell him that you'll just have to get through it.

But this is for good reason. Whomever I talked with at colleges appreciated that PALY and Gunn are hard schools. One admissions officer from a top tier school even said that the minimum GPA requirement isn't really a requirement for PALY and Gunn students. It is almost a blessing that we are put through this rigor this early because many of my freshmen classmates are shocked by the workload in college. I'm doing better than many sophomores and juniors because PALY taught me the study and test taking skills needed to do well in top tier colleges.

It may seem unfair right now (especially sophomore and junior year), but your son or daughter will have a much easier time in college than his or her friends.

Posted by Michele, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 26, 2012 at 4:24 pm

So glad we are out of this madness - once the kids out in the real world they see how overdone it all was.

Posted by Blah Blah Blah, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2012 at 4:26 pm

@Recent Paly Alum: My second child did not have to take math in his first year of engineering at a prestigious university because he was beyond the freshman math class that was required. What is the need to take AP BC Calc (I think that was his last Paly was so long ago now)in HS and then sit a year of math out at University? Doesn't make sense to me.

Posted by Recent PALY Alum, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Dear Blah Blah Blah,
Well, depending on the school, it may be easier or harder to get ahead in classes. I'm doing multivariable calc right now even though it isn't a requirement for my major, but is still a very useful class. With all the AP classes, I can very easily pursue double majors and minors.

Probably the greater benefit that many student do not see until a few years into college is that the way PALY teaches math and science in the AP courses really hones in on analytical problem solving skills. These are very useful when you're thrown a problem different than one's you've seen on homeworks or lecture in the test. They do this a lot in college in all courses. It's not memorize the algorithmic AP questions anymore.

So, although I may not be able to take as many advanced math and engineering courses as I'd like, I do feel that taking BC and Stat early and not using it for some time is worth the problem solving skills that PALY teaches well, often better than college.

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 26, 2012 at 6:16 pm

"@Recent Paly Alum: My second child did not have to take math in his first year of engineering at a prestigious university because he was beyond the freshman math class that was required. What is the need to take AP BC Calc (I think that was his last Paly was so long ago now)in HS and then sit a year of math out at University? Doesn't make sense to me."
It depends on the university, but because credit for the lower-division class is granted the student can sometimes begin taking sophomore classes freshman year and eventually even a graduate course senior year.

Posted by @school, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Judging from the news and comments on this topic, apparently what keeps the Palo Alto education board and many Palo Altan(?) awake at night is that their school performed better than average in an already low performing state school system. There is absolutely nothing wrong to work hard and get good grades. For every school like PALY, there are probably ten schools in the state that performs well below average in international standards. Kudo to parents who spend money and time to help their kids succeed. We need more of these parents. We need more of these students. I hope one of these kids grow up to be my doctor when I get old and sick. If good news keep you awake and you are looking for something to worry about, just think about the next 4 years if the tea party prevails.

Posted by YSK, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2012 at 12:51 am

PALY used to be the number one high school in the nation. What happened?

Posted by Recent PALY Alum, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2012 at 5:49 am

If you look at the rankings, especially USWNR, you will find that PALY is somewhere around 29 in the state (Gunn 17) out of 2407 schools and 152 (Gunn 112) out of 22000. That's the 98.8% (Gunn 99.3%) in state and 99.3% (Gunn 99.5%) in the nation. When you're looking at long lists of high schools in these rankings you get worried about why PALY and Gunn don't show up as #1 and #2, but we forget that there are thousands of high schools out there. Of course, this is assuming that the rankings are accurate (which is not true), so take these statistics as a grain of sand.

The biggest differences between PALY/Gunn and schools compared with higher-ranking schools:
Many top schools are selective in some way, particularly magnet public schools that take the top few students from each of the many standard high schools in the city. The only thing selective about PALY/Gunn is the high home prices.
Many of these higher ranking schools have "technology, science, biotechnology, engineering" somewhere in their name. These schools have a focus on getting research and students into top competitions that will bring their ranking up. Well, in my opinion, that's what college is for and it is much better to get a solid foundation on fundamentals, which PALY and Gunn do very, very well.
Finally, many of these schools require ALL students to take certain AP/IB tests pretty much to boost their ranking. It's good that PALY and Gunn don't have this focus on optimizing the numbers but rather on delivering the best education to both the top 25% of students and the rest of the students.

From my experience meeting these students at summer programs and now in my first year of college, the top 25% of PALY students (very likely Gunn as well) are roughly the same caliber as students that these high-ranking schools churn out. Just look at the "college map" in one of the Campanile spring editions. The vast majority of students here go to really good colleges.

Posted by On the Internet..., a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2012 at 6:53 am

Recent Paly Alum, I am so impressed that you have taken the time out of your busy college career to comment so extensively about the marvelous perfection of our math teaching at Paly. Your in-depth grasp about why this magnificence doesn't translate into rankings is remarkable, and is certainly matched only by an actual Paly math teacher. I'm sure they are all grateful that you are taking the time to peruse PA online despite your busy schedule.

Posted by why Ken?, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 27, 2012 at 8:24 am

Here's why:

"recent Paly alum" wrote that he looks back and is "amazed at how much workload and stress" he endured in high school. He tells his younger brother who is also stressed out that "you'll just have to get through it." But no matter, this stress is in the service of a higher purpose: getting into a good college. In fact, "it is almost a blessing that we are put through this rigor this early" because it helps to "do well in top tier colleges."

In other words, high school is a almost unbearable load of work and stress, but don't worry kids, because the point of high school is no longer to be a kid, explore your interests, or have fun. The point is to get into a "top tier" college and to lap the competition once there.

The ideas in this email are frightening for many parents. The pressure on children to treat high school and even middle school as chiefly or even solely as a race for college -- as a crucible to be endured with the spoils to the winners is a part of why we have to have, running in parallel with this academic pressure, an entire program of targeted mental health interventions and initiatives.

When our kids consider 4 years of their childhood to be harsh but necessary so that they can beat out the competition in college admissions and for college grades once there, there is a problem. We all love to speak in cliched terms about wanting schools where kids can find their passions. Does that look like what this "alum" is promoting?

Our stress has ramped up over the past 10 years in Palo Alto but our college acceptance rates have not gone up commensurately. We need to look at other high achieving in the country (and in this area) where stress is not treated as a virtue but as a problem. Kids can be both happy and high achieving. That's the right vision, not this pointless race to nowhere.

That's why Ken Dauber is going to win this election.

Posted by parents, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2012 at 8:31 am

The schools don't put the pressure on the kids. The parents do and often the kids want to achieve and "be the best". These kids are raised to be competitive in everything. Why not work to change parent attitudes instead of blaming the schools for everything.

Posted by why Ken?, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 27, 2012 at 8:59 am


It's not either/or the parents or the schools. It's both/and. This election campaign is a form of parent education. Parent attitudes are being changed by learning more about the issues of stress in the schools because Ken has run an issue-based campaign. Every forum is parent education about academic stress, as is every newspaper article, and every blog post -- like this one. That's why Ken's campaign is catching on -- because parent's appreciate the information, the data-driven approach, and the evidence from research. As they learn more, they realize that the choice between high stress and high achievement is a false choice. We can have both student health and high achievement -- in fact, we can't have one without the other.

The old saw you are trying of "don't blame the schools, blame the parents" is just a "divide and conquer" strategy for keeping the status quo. Palo Alto is an educated community that wants high achievement for all with excellent student health.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2012 at 9:13 am

What research proves your point?

Posted by Confused, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2012 at 9:32 am

@school: Thank you for a great comment.

Ducatigirl: Would you have the same opinion of being "balanced" if it were an athlete who spends hours and hours on sports practice but not on academics?

I think that a lot of the reaction that we see here is pure defensiveness on the inability to compete in an academic environment. Most Asians and Indians are honest enough to admit that they cannot compete on many of the sports that are played here or that the focus on sports (to the same level as they do on academics) is much more of a roll of the dice in leading to success. Consequently they focus hard on where they can compete through sheer effort and where the path to a decent life is much less of a roll of the dice - academics.

Is no one alarmed that we think we are the peak of performance in the world when every fact shows it to otherwise? Should not the focus of the community be on giving our kids the best possible chance to make a good life for themselves? All this talk about "happy, well balanced kids" is great if you are able to give them a trust fund as well along with their schooling. But for the rest of us, we will need to focus on teaching our kids on how to compete and make a good life for themselves.

Posted by Recent PALY Alum, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2012 at 9:41 am

Dear why ken?

I like the way you stated the issue in your second/latest post. Everyone has to endure stress, whether it is in high school, college, or not finding work after graduating from college. The Palo Alto School system does a great job in exposing students to this stress early on, partly because it is what parents want and pay millions of dollars to get houses in the area. This is different however, than creating a "crucible" of stress and overworking students such that we can dominate competition, because that is not the focus. There is a big difference between having to endure stress because it is good for you and being overworked. In my opinion (you will have to ask many other students to get a generalization for the whole school), PALY put me under enough stress to test my limits and learn how to do well in many challenging classes. Certainly there were some parts that seemed excessive and still do seem excessive, but it was very much worth the stress. PALY is likely close to the border between "good stress" and overworking students. The vast majority of teachers do a very good job at keeping this balance. The best way to test whether students are being overworked or are under "good stress" would be to survey alumni opinions about workload, for college freshman and seniors. The mechanics would be difficult because there doesn't seem to be a strong alumni network.

To On the internet,
Thanks for your compliment. I enjoy reading about what is happening back home and like the style of relatively educated discussion when compared with other forums such as yahoo. Ultimately the goal should be to create a product, whether it is education or your smartphone, that caters best to what is best for the user.

Posted by parents, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Why are we just talking about academics when we talk about stress for our kids. What about all the extracurriculars, including sports. Just like moms, kids can't have it all. You can't carry a heavy academic load, play on a school and/or club team, and do other extracurricular activities. I don't buy the argument that colleges are only accepting those kids. Why isn't there a call to reduce the number of hours kids have to practice every day after school and/or Saturdays instead of changing their curriculum That would certainly give them more time for their academics and thereby reduce their stress. So may be they won't win the championship but let's face it most aren't going on to professional sports just as most aren't going to IVY league schools. Yet they are working like they are.

Posted by palo verde parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 27, 2012 at 12:38 pm


I think you may be on to something. I think our kids feel like college is easier because college is different. They are no longer trying to build that resume. They don't play 3 sports (including 2 in the same season). They don't feel the need to do excessive community service. They don't take as many classes. They are not in class as long each day. There are not family commitments. In college, students focus on subject they enjoy, they pursue activities because they love them, not because they have to. In my opinion, college is less stressful because of these reasons, not because the curriculum is easier or less demanding or even better taught.

Our students are not stressed because of just one reason. We live in a community that has a tremendous amount of options for our kids. As parents, we need to help our kids navigate these options and make choices that don't overwhelm them.

Posted by Recent PALY Alum, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm

I never did sports in high school and am very glad that I made choice. It's incredible how much my classmates in high school and college have to practice, usually at least 2+ hours a day. When they get home, they're tired and don't pay as much attention to homework and studying as they should. Sleep is affected, which is the most important thing for a student. Studies have shown that much of learning, or transferring short term memory into long term memory takes place during sleep. If students can't get the 6-9 hours of sleep doctors recommend, then they sleep in class and it becomes a chain effect. I saw it in high school and now in college. Many athletes think that they can get into college through the sports door, but in effect it is just a trap. If they can get in without hurting themselves, they can't take as many classes as non-athletes and have to travel. I do feel sorry for those passionate about sports, I was passionate about robotics and when I had to cut back in order to study, I was furious, but high school and college only come once. There are other options such as intramurals that are not as time-consuming. Also, in some sports such as football, volleyball, and soccer, injuries are common and can put an athlete on the bench for months due to a broken bone or meniscus tear, let alone all the lost time in surgery and hospital trips.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2012 at 2:42 pm

A full-page real estate ad on the back page of the Friday Daily Post features a "School Overview" with a chart of school and 2012 API scores. In my view, this artificially inflates competition and worry right here and brings into question the supposed worth between our elem, MS, and high schools. ALL PA schools score well and to split hairs to such an extent is part of the overly competitive attitudes that are fanned here. Still, for those only focused on Palo Alto, fyi when your kid hits the big college scene you will readily observe thousands of high-achieving students from all over this country, of a variety of ethnic backgrounds - we even know a very, very high achiever from a midwest FARM (oh, the horrors to the typical PA parent!

In our experience, there is an increasing cram school mentality here in parental efforts to "prove" little Johnny or Suzy are "the best," the highest scorers (SAT, AP, class grades, math competitions, etc.) and it's like a second job for a lot of parents.

Some of these kids are pliant and put in the time (but not the enthusiasm...) -- it's rote learning -- and the joke to me, as a parent of young adults, is to see peers of my kids who rushed to do BC Calc AP as juniors at PALY and then now have no particular use for that -- it was merely a tool to assist with competitive college admissions and to "beat the other guy" (the peer at PALY). Why does it matter? -- it was tiresome and took away the ENJOYMENT of learning at the time for many.

A mention of manners (including online) might help to reduce bragging and bring some self-awareness to some who desperately need it. Too much oversharing and psyching out the other guy for competitive purposes. Another surprising competitive tool which I thought negative was: SECRECY - surprisingly effective. Very, very quietly do something key to improve your extra-curriculars over your peers. Yes, college admissions are competitive now, but what about friendship.

Academics are important, but character and self-motivation and decency are also important not only for "success" but also for humanity.This includes doing one's own work. We can't prevent mommy from working hard from day one to assist her kid/s, but steps can create a more meaningful learning environment here: require student and parent to sign a statement they have not previously studied the exact curriculum in advance of taking an AP course would be one feeble start at it.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Our schools are doing great, scores are up, and people are complaining about it. If our score were down, people would be complaining about it. It does sort of raise the question of what measurable results those on this thread would propose for the schools?

Perhaps we should congratulate the students and teachers for doing so well, be pleased with the result, or at least suggest what measures you would substitute instead. I would be very interested in those responses.

Posted by Parent - middle school, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2012 at 5:10 pm

It starts with the Parents and ends with the Parents. We parents are highly educated and know the benefits of getting into a good University (it is about the connections and opportunities you make as much or more so than the learning at the University). So we pay top dollar to live in Palo Alto AND we do everything to help our child do well academically - including finding and funding whatever extra-curricular academic help such as tutors or after-school programs - that will give our kid the edge. The problem is that the kids are caught up in an arms race - since all parents are doing this and setting high expectations for the their own kid it is not easy for the kid to be at the top but they all try sometimes to such an extreme that it has negative consequences on the kid. I sometimes wonder if the teachers in high school just did not teach at all (imagine they just sat there and let the kids do whatever they want) - my guess is that our kids would still do well on the state test and SATs etc... because of the extra-academic work and the high parent expectations. In the end, the parents are paying top dollar for houses that allow their children into schools like Gunn and Pali but at the end of the day these same parents anywhere else would have pushed their kids to do well on the tests anyway regardless of the neighborhood or the school. So why live in Palo Alto and put your kids into an environment with so many kids that have hyper Parents? It is probably easier for your kid to get into a good University if they were in a different community.

Posted by Participant, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2012 at 10:54 am

In all these discussions of high student stress, helicopter parenting, and the race to nowhere, the elephant in the room is the impact on Palo Alto education culture from the influx of people from other countries, whose purpose in coming here is to take advantage of the good schools. The reputation for excellence, for which our community works so hard, accompanied by the regional job market, has resulted in this influx. When people come here to take advantage of the excellent free public education, their emphasis on competitive behavior, avoiding 'fun' youth activities, and the goal of admission into a high status college has a direct impact on the local culture. By driving up the standards, working harder than is healthy, and spending what social time they have counting grade points and comparing awards and achievements, they add pressure to any student whose family is trying to provide them with a balanced life and education. For Dauber and friends to pressure the school district, trying to force them to fix this, without openly talking about this pressure we are all under, is like trying to force the president to fix the economy without admitting that Congress stands in the way.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 29, 2012 at 11:28 am

Excellent point! Our schools are not perfect, but they are pretty amazing in spite of all the other factors that significantly impact our community. And they are amazing because they attract people who value a high quality education. Lots of big fish in a small pond is a good "problem" to have.

Another thing to consider is the recent report in the SFChronicle about the overuse of the modified CST tests in other school districts which has a direct impact on scores (overinflated by several percentage points). That will directly impact how PAUSD scores are interpreted because we will appear to not do as well in closing the achievement gap. Like I said before, our schools are not perfect, but they have been slammed by some people based on data that now appears to be questionable.

Posted by Participant, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Parent, I agree it's a 'good' problem to have in many ways. I'd much rather cope with the impact on my children of overzealous students who are being pushed too hard by their parents than, say, the influence and dangers of gangs on campus. However, the problems that arise from the high numbers of students like this are challenging for families who want our children to have a normal childhood, peers who still have a soul, and a reasonable view of their own abilities. When our community markets our real estate based on academic achievement by the students, they have to work harder so that our homes retain their market value. When politicians blame the district, or the superintendent, or a math teacher for the whole problem, it obscures this reality.

Posted by Say No To Anti-Asian ranting, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Participant wrote:

"the elephant in the room is the impact on Palo Alto education culture from the influx of people from other countries". . ." their emphasis on competitive behavior, avoiding 'fun' youth activities, and the goal of admission into a high status college has a direct impact on the local culture" . . ."they add pressure to any student whose family is trying to provide them with a balanced life and education" and finally (and most offensively) that these children [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] do not "still have a soul."

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Yes immigrants are often very hard workers. But their children have "souls". How dare you say such a thing in a public forum about the children of our neighbors? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] As an Asian, I am tired of hearing about how my children are taking away from your kids something that you feel entitled to. It must be because I am a Tiger mother or have done something unfair. My kids play sports. My kids do activities. And I want my kids to be healthy! I am supporting Ken Dauber and a lot of Asian families are because we value student health and high achievement, and Ken appreciates diversity [portoin removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Participant, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Actually, if you read my post, you will see that there is no race or culture named. This is because the influx I'm pointing out cuts across all cultures and is simply a matter of people who come here in response to Palo Alto's highly rated schools. If I was going to blame this on a race, I would do so. My comment about students not having souls is not a criticism of the students, but my opinion of the impact overbearing parents have on them. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2012 at 2:56 pm

It is a shame that when we start discussing this issue we have to start using labels to describe the different cultures in our schools.

We do have many different families and some of these families have different cultures. Some families do go overboard on their emphasis on studies and homework while others go overboard on their emphasis on sports. Other families like to balance the hard work of academics and/or sports with outside extra curricula which may be art/performance related and yet others are very involved in religious activities.

These different family cultures do make a difference to the school culture. To discuss something as basic as grades and academic performance without acknowledging the difference in family culture is trying to make an omelette without breaking eggs. It can't be done unless the whole range of differences are not mentioned.

Posted by Go on..., a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2012 at 3:46 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Caring Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm

@Say No to Anti-Asian Ranting

Thanks for saying what needs to be said. I am glad that you recognize what is going on. I am finding Participant's postings very offensive myself.

"I am supporting Ken Dauber and a lot of Asian families are because we value student health and high achievement, and Ken appreciates diversity which you clearly do not." is well said. Ken is the one who has been most supportive of all aspects of our student's health and that is why I will vote for him. Many of my Asian friends have also expressed the same feelings about Ken and his interest in diversity.

Posted by Karen Karpen, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Participant- [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] One of the great joys of the Palo Alto community is getting to know the wonderful families from around the world who come here. Get to know them- you may find that your soul is enriched.

Posted by Peggy Duncan, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 29, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Peggy Duncan is a registered user.

I have also been impressed with Dauber's stand against stereotypes. That has no place in Palo Alto but I hear it far too often.

Posted by determinant, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2012 at 9:17 am

determinant is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff due to misstating of facts.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.