Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - March 28, 2014

Guest Opinion

English 'lanes' limit students' ability to compete

by Gina Dalma

The Palo Alto Unified School District's board recently came upon an opportunity to innovate for the better and give all our kids a much better chance at being competitive in the 21st century. They were making the choice whether to keep or abolish English "lanes."

In our school district as well as others, parents of higher-achieving students and school administrators have strongly advocated for differentiated paths that put students into lanes according to their level of proficiency — the assumption being that this provides them with more of an individualized instruction, but in fact it does the opposite.

We are limiting students' growth and learning experiences as well as putting boundaries on their potential. We know that students rarely move to a different lane regardless of their academic growth and that highest lanes usually get the best teachers (though at PAUSD they are now rotating teachers).

What is the impact on our kids' belief in their abilities if they are placed in specific proficiency paths from their earliest teen years? I am sure Carol Dweck, author of several works on new research about the power of motivation, would say that we have an institutional "Fixed Mindset."

We have an incredible opportunity today to provide our students with the best education, but we have to let go of some of our preconceived ideas. We are in the midst of what should be the biggest education shift of the last decades. New academic standards, funding formulas for school districts, brain research about how we learn and educational-technology innovations are all part of the revolution.

The need to provide a better education for our youth has also never been greater. Globalization and hyper-connectivity have created a world, as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman often states, "where average no longer guarantees access to a middle-class life" with employers having access to mind-power world-wide — be it for high-level tasks or rote processes. In Silicon Valley, where one out of every five households has to make do with less than $35,000 a year, education is a matter of survival.

So the conditions are right from the demand side as well as from the supply side to re-create our educational system and achieve the outcome that public education was intended to provide — be the engine of growth and the great equalizer.

Sadly, this is exactly where the rubber meets the road and we go back to the "lanes" issue. Education is competitive — only so many students receive the fat envelopes at the end of high school and those fat envelopes are still a significant predictor of future earnings. As author Alfie Kohn suggests, this competition creates a frame where parents "not only want their child to get ahead, they want their child to get ahead of others. The sorry part is that this frame of mind and its loudest voices seem to be driving the school district's policies, undermining the impact of reform for all children.

There is not only the very important social justice lens through which we should think about this; it also makes academic sense for even the students currently at the top that we engage and care about all our students' success. Being in an inclusive classroom creates the kind of environment that mimics where our children will have to succeed in their future.

We are cheating our students out of a chance to gain key skills by narrowing the set of peers that they interact with. Real life will present them with the need to collaborate, create, develop critical thinking and communicate with a diverse set of individuals. Why don't we model that in school by providing them these opportunities in the classroom? The best teachers are the ones that are able to engage their highest-performing students to help their lowest-performing students. Students also learn more deeply as they teach. Lower-performing students may accelerate their learning from peer support.

Countries that are recognized for their quality education, such as Finland, do not have lanes. They believe all students can achieve. Teachers focus on all students mastering the material, and schools support teachers to ensure that success. Everyone does well because of the shared belief that everyone can.

I applaud the teachers who are urging that lanes be eliminated at PAUSD and am disappointed that the plan is no longer on the table. Silicon Valley is a world model for so many other things: entrepreneurship, innovation, drive to improve the world. Why is it not a model of 21st century education? We believe, and have repeatedly seen, that anyone with drive and vision can start a technology venture and change society. Why don't we believe that any 13- or 14-year-old can master school lessons? Why do we slot some of them into second-class citizenry before they even have a chance to start?

The biggest challenge to our nation's growth is our widening income gap. I am sure that much of this is a result of thinking that for some to succeed others need to fail. I don't buy that and really hope that our school and community leaders don't buy that either.

Gina Dalma is an education advocate, has been working for the past decade in education philanthropy and is the mother of two teenagers in Palo Alto.

Comments

Posted by Another Mother, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Wow! Gina - We need you on the school board!! I was watching the school board meetings on TV and watched the evening the teachers made the presentation to the board with the idea to remove the lanes in the freshmen English courses. The teachers have their finger on the pulse of our student body. I remember hearing the kids at Paly defining themselves by their freshman English course choice as well as their math lane - just as the teachers said. I am astounded at the "business as usual" school board. The community needs to wake up and help choose people who will do what is right for our students.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Gina,

This was not an issue about first and second class learning, and you mislead.

The parents with concerns about this proposal were a cross-section of parents. Special education parents and parents of high scoring high achieving students who literally dreaded an "Advanced" class for their students because they did not want the additional homework. The parents worried about losing resources for high achieving students were likely not the biggest obstacle.

The Board asked right and left about HOW Special Ed students and those with D's and F's were going to be adequately supported.

Mind you, nobody that is high achieving and was in the lower lane by choice complained about being in the lower lane, or having to be with what you call second class students. You go that wrong.

What all this says is that rejecting the English lane proposal had less to do with "mindset" and more about answering other questions first. The goals are not contradictory, just how to get there in the best possible way.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2014 at 3:03 pm

As the parent of a child who has struggled to get a C in English I feel that mixing my child with a lot of high achievers who enjoy reading and writing essays is not a good mix for my child. My child enjoys reading, but some of the content of the English classes has not been easy reads. Any time a discussion about homework reading taking a certain number of hours is not the way it works for my child who takes at least double.

For my child, being with others who take longer to read, find it easier to write shorter essays and who struggles to get a C makes much more sense. In a classroom of students with similar abilities, my child feels much smarter and able to work at a suitable pace. When my child is with a group of students who are reading faster, writing longer essays with no problems and getting much better grades, my child feels like giving up as there is no way to compete.

Education is not a race and treating children of different abilities and learning styles that they are all the same and can do the same work is insulting those that find it naturally harder. For some children, reading War and Peace is a breeze. For others it is a long hard marathon. Please let those who need to read at a slower pace and write at shorter lengths do so.

By the way, War and Peace was in my day, not in the day of my child who finds some of the material assigned at school utterly depressing.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2014 at 3:43 pm

I'm glad the author is talking about social justice, because that is what this is about, not education. If you want Paly to be a social justice laboratory, and your kids to be the subject of the experiment. go for it. If you care about education, there is plenty of data that shows tracking leads to better educational outcomes.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Gina,

A note on FInland. It doesn't track, but it has extra teachers for struggling students, no testing, and little homework.

"There are few, if any, mandatory tests in Finland until a single exam at the end of high school. There's also little homework. Why you ask? Finnish school principal and former teacher Kari Louhivuori told Smithsonian "It's nonsense. We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.""

Web Link

We have mini-college campuses where not everyone knows your name, and homework is a big problem. The board questions may have been trying to see how this could be done when we are not Finland.

Finland also has longer recess, and a 15 minute break after every lesson.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Gina,

This week NPR reported the results of a recent study about academic laning teens which found that when all students with different abilities are grouped together (the Paly 9A proposal) BOTH the lowest performing and middle groups perform WORSE.

That is worth repeating:

Low ability students performed significantly worse when grouped with high ability students.

Middle ability students, when separated from both high and low ability students, did much better too.

"[O]ur results highlight both the significant role that peers play in the education production process and the theoretical difficulties in manipulating peers to achieve a desired policy outcome."

BTW your facts are not what happens in 9th grade at Paly. You say "We are ... narrowing the set of peers that they interact with."

But English is just one class. Freshmen have 7 periods a day and over half of them are one-size-fits-all. All lunch clubs and after-school activities are open to all regardless of academic ability too.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2014 at 6:00 pm

@Not Again - You are incorrect about Finland not tracking. They do it much much more dramatically that here, starting in high school:

"Delineated High School

While there is little grading and in essence no tracking in Finland, ninth grade does become a divider for Finnish students. Students are separated for the last three years of high school based on grades. Under the current structure, 53% will go to academic high school and the rest enter vocational school."

citation: Web Link


Posted by weekly reader, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 28, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Gina,

It is obvious that you care and mean well but you have been listening to those who would put their brand of social justice in front of education; something which has been backfiring for decades. Education of every student is the only way to achieve social justice. Laning is the only way to achieve learning for every student.


Posted by mom, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2014 at 6:29 pm

I had seen kids who could teach teacher in her class, also I have seen kids who did math 2+2=22 in third grade. There is no way you can mix them up.


Posted by Reality check, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 28, 2014 at 6:39 pm

There's a lot of misinformation going on in these comments. To take a few:

@topical misstates the research she cites, which is here: Web Link. It wasn't a study that showed the negative effects of delaning. It was actually almost the opposite. It was conducted at the Air Force Academy. At the academy, half of the students were in mixed ability groups (the standard practice at the Academy). The other half of the groups had lower-performing students and higher-performing students, without a middle group. The lower-performing students tended to associate with each other, maybe because there were more of them than before and maybe because of the lack of the middle group. That left them dependent on each other for help and insight. Basically, quasi-tracking. They performed worse than the lower-performing students in the mixed ability groups.

The research, which informed the Paly English teachers proposal, shows that delaning benefits both lower-performing and higher-performing students.

@weekly reader wants to contrast laning, even extreme laning (5 lanes of math at Paly) as somehow natural, compared to mixed ability groupings, which are "social experimentation." Laning is social experimentation. We can ask, how well does it work? Well, Stanford University's School of Education doesn't place its teacher education students in PAUSD secondary schools because of the excessive tracking. PAUSD underperforms many other districts for minorities, less affluent students, and probably others who don't benefit from expenditures of private funds. Why not question whether laning is an experiment that has failed?


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Mr. Recycle,

You're right, at age 16, in Finland a division/crater appears, with 43% going into Vocational school if those students "do not score high enough on the matriculation exam." So, Finland everyone scores well, until 43% of the students have a graceful exit.

Web Link



Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Reading these comments makes me wonder what Paly English teachers were hanging their hats on with their all-in-advanced English proposal.

Gina erroneously refers to Stanford's Carol Dweck in support of no laning. These are Dweck's views on grouping students by ability from her book "Self Theories":

"I am not enough of an expert on these aspects of educational practice to
endorse or oppose ability grouping."

"What I can say is that within an incremental theory system [which Dweck promotes], there is no stigma to being behind. It is simply a fact: Student A does not read as fluently as student B at this time; student C is not as advanced in math as student D at this time."

"In the incremental-theory framework, we acknowledge the fact that the different students are now at different levels (without seeing this as a reflection of a fixed ability), and we turn everyone's attention to the task of learning."

"It is in this effortful, involving learning process that students experience self-esteem, not from attempts to camouflage their skill level."

"Thus, an incremental-theory framework, and our view of self-esteem within
that framework, allows us and compels us to tell the truth. It is a truth
about present levels of skills and knowledge, (not about permanent ability),
and about how to work toward higher levels of skills and knowledge."


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Reality check,

"PAUSD underperforms many other districts for minorities"

PAUSD does not lane English until 9th grade. It re-lanes in 10th. This issue is only about 9th grade.

"Why not question whether laning is an experiment that has failed?"

Well, since 9th grade English is the only experiment being asked to be questioned, it makes sense to first rule out things that have nothing to do with mindset.

Everything Topical points out from Dweck's book about mindset seems far more relevant than the 1989 research on de-tracking the teachers brought up.

How stupid do people think 9th graders are? They are well aware of their abilities and their peer's abilities. They know their best interest have nothing to do with labeling a class called "Advanced."

At Paly "Advanced" means stress, more homework it means competition.

Has it ever occurred to anyone that kids just want the best teacher who can teach them to write better or read better. Especially the kids who struggle, they need real help.

The board was asking the right questions about this issue (supports for struggling students, how to stop passing forward all the D's and F's minorities are getting in English). Barb Mitchell digressed, with this being a choice issue. It's really not.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2014 at 7:57 pm

Gina,

The title of this thread should read

"9th grade English lane limits students at Paly"

The 9th grade English lane at Gunn is not being questioned, and neither are the other English lanes at Paly.

Really, the board should ask the Paly and Gunn teachers to have a common proposal, and report back.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2014 at 8:20 pm

reality check,

"It wasn't a study that showed the negative effects of delaning. It was actually almost the opposite. ....The lower-performing students tended to associate with each other, maybe because there were more of them than before and maybe because of the lack of the middle group. That left them dependent on each other for help and insight. Basically, quasi-tracking. They performed worse than the lower-performing students in the mixed ability groups."

You're kind of butchering the recent study. It wasn't a de-facto tracking inside a de-tracked class.

This is the link to the NPR interview.

Web Link


Posted by Reality check, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 28, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Read the study that "not again" cites. Here's the link: Web Link. It doesn't really bear on this issue directly, but if it means anything, it's that fully mixed ability groupings do best for students at the top and the bottom.

You can listen to random parents' pedagogical theories, or you can listen to the Stanford School of Education. They don't place their students in PAUSD secondary schools, because they don't think the instruction, particularly in math and science, meets the standards they want their students to learn. They do place their students elsewhere up and down the Peninsula. A big piece of that is excessive laning.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2014 at 8:48 pm

Reality Check,

Your post suffers from the same affliction that the Paly teachers' report did: no research is cited.

Here are clips from old online discussions about the research NOT shared that night:

"Mentioned but details not shared:- Education research that supports the English 9A proposal"

"At the beginning of the teachers' board presentation, they mentioned research but said they did not bring it with them that night. Their written report to the board didn't mention anything either."

"It may help people if they were given the Paly teachers' research that they... mentioned. I could not find it. "

This is what a poster said the research says:

"best studies on tracking in EdExcellence which sums the research up like this: 'the association is clear: More tracks, more high-performing kids and fewer failures. Fewer tracks, fewer high-performing kids and more failures.'"

To be fair, posters also mentioned that the Paly teachers did refer to "the most compelling study" which was from a school in New York that de-tracked. Paly teachers omitted a few important facts about that high school though. It had:

(i) 1 teacher for every 11 students, compared to Paly's 1 to 30,

(ii) much lower SAT and AP scores (Paly's: 1935 and 4.3. South Side High's: 1618 and 1.8), and

(iii) struggling students who are required to take two English classes a day to Paly's one, which "could be the reason for students' success at that school."

Also omitted from the Paly English teachers' report was that its accreditation reviewers called out Paly's different lanes in both English and math are one of Paly's "areas of strength."


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Topical,

"1 teacher for every 11 students, compared to Paly's 1 to 30"

Class size is probably the most critical issue.

Reality check,

The peer-effect study in the high achieving Air Force academy actually seems very relevant to Paly, much more so than the NY school.

If you combine large class size issues with peer-effect, your quasi-traacking theory happens.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2014 at 10:13 pm

I have two kids who have gone all the way through PAUSD. One breezed through everything and was often bored; the other struggled academically. They're both good kids, but they're different.

Ms Dalma's essay is essentially a cogent argument that the pubic school system should only educate less-talented kids, and more-talented kids should be sent to private schools. (If they can afford it of course.)


Posted by Fed up , a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 28, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Let's face it: Eliminating lanes will automatically lower the level for all kids. Anyone who has children identified as GATE knows what happens to gifted children in PAUSD for English (until high school). We are told that GATE children benefit from "differentiated instruction" within the common classroom. You know what? That is a bunch of BS. The teachers don't have the time, will or energy to do anything special for those gifted kids, and they don't. My kids were never given special attention for their English language talents prior to high school.

Eliminating lanes will amount to eliminating higher level work.

Higher performing kids are already hurt by some policies such as not disclosing weighted GPA distributions. Colleges only get unweighted GPA stats. How is that fair for kids who challenged themselves, take honors and AP classes and get Bs, when they cannot be distinguished from kids who took easy A lower classes when looking at the GPA stats?

Enough is enough. There is an all out assault to destroy excellence in this district, in order not to hurt the feelings of the lower performing students. Parents, wake up! Defend the quality of education in this district. It's been increasingly threatened in recent years.


Posted by sigh, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 28, 2014 at 10:28 pm

Another example of why the Weekly shouldn't let uninformed agenda-driven residents write opinion pieces.


Posted by no irony, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2014 at 10:51 pm

They also allow irrelevant comments that do not add to the conversation...


Posted by mom, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2014 at 11:06 pm

For a district like pausd, it should allocate some classes outside school such as in a local college for a maximum 40 credit units.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2014 at 12:07 am

Fed up,

"Defend the quality of education in this district. It's been increasingly threatened in recent years."

This is one narrow view of the issue, centered on competition, as is the opinion piece.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2014 at 7:42 am

Reality Check,

The key take-away from the NPR-reported study was that MIDDLE ability students did BETTER when educated WITHOUT the higher and lower ability students sitting next to them.

Yes, lower ability students did better in the control (all 3 groups together) than when just high and low were in the same room, but you cannot conclude from this study that that is the best arrangement because the study did NOT evaluate separating lower ability students from everyone too.

Bottom line: To optimize middle ability students' learning, teach them separately. That leaves two choices for the other two groups: either (i) group lower and higher ability students together knowing that that is WORSE for LOWER ability students, or (ii) separate lower from higher ability students too.

Which does other research tell us we should we do? Per EdExcellence's survey of the research, (ii): SEPARATE lower from higher ability students too.

Bottom line 2:

- separate is best for learning,

- who your classroom peers are matters and similar trumps dissimilar,

- optimize learning per Dweck by picking honesty over platitudes and teaching in a classroom environment that is best for learning so that self-esteem will come from effort and the accomplishments that follow that.

In Paly's case, keep 9 and 9A (better yet, add one more lane for the middle students) and recognize that just setting "high expectations," slapping on "Advanced" labels, and forcing everyone to sit next to students who read War and Peace for fun makes things worse for students.

That said, IMHO all of this was "equity" talk was window dressing for the Paly proposal which came from:

- A painful recognition and frustration that differentiation does not work, hence why students in both 9 and 9A got Ds and Fs, and

- The teachers' cry for help which they took into their own hands by offering only one level of English which would make it possible for them to hand-place only one or two special education students in a classroom, which, as Gina states, gives them 20+ other students who can help teach and make their jobs easier.

But apparently special education families, in additional to the points raised above, don't want 15 years olds, who know nothing about how to teach students with learning differences and IEPs, teaching their child.

And other families think it is reasonable to expect that their children will be taught English during English period and not use that instruction time to be forced to be untrained and unpaid teachers aides.




Posted by Palo Alto Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2014 at 8:23 am

This opinion piece brings to mind two thought-provoking articles about elite approaches to education that Palo Alto parents and high school students might be interested in reading.

One is "The Disadvantages of An Elite Education" by William Deresiewicz (published in The American Scholar) at: Web Link

The other is "The Hazards of Success" by Richard Brodhead (based on his address to Yale incoming freshmen as Yale College Dean): Web Link


Posted by I'm a little slow, a resident of Juana Briones School
on Mar 29, 2014 at 9:13 am

I think I get it: we need to segregate our students in some form of a separate, yet equal, system. Then our schools can be as excellent as we imagined them decades ago.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2014 at 10:57 am

Gina,

Anyone interested in social justice I would hope can appreciate what Topical just posted. De-tracking is a trend of the past (which is why you can find many schools that went that way before), but the most current conversations on ability grouping say that more important are the many questions brought up by the Board of Education.

The emotional aftermath of this proposal did not fairly show that the board was asking all the right questions, many which the teachers themselves agreed needed to be addressed. The board seemed to be saying, flat out offering that what this needed (and was not in the proposal) was an allocation of resources. If anyone was thinking about the students and social justice they should have been saying yes, the re-labeling is secondary to changes that actually address the education of students first, not just the mindset issues.

Contrast the board's thorough questions to Ken Dauber's comments which were something along the lines that the teacher proposal was a great story, data and research based (one research citation), and where "automatically" you could close the achievement gap by eliminating the regular English lane. There is nothing automatic about this issue. Even Heidi had a legitimate question, about how the success of this pilot would be measured. The answer by the way was "qualitative" measures. It's worth your taking a look at the recording of the meeting.

This is the most concerning piece of all, that there is no way to measure the progress of struggling students in English. Grades are not the best way because teachers grade differently. If Heidi wants a pet project, this is one to zone in on. How do you measure that the students who the teachers are most concerned about are writing better, reading better than the year before. One of the comments was also that there are supports like tutorial, I don't understand that. To me this sounds that there are some students for whom the classroom time is valuable and ok (the higher achieving kids), but for the struggling kids classroom time may be a waste of time, as they have to re-do it outside. How do you measure this? It used to be way back when that you had pull out groups. A class was mostly together, but a few times per week you had a smaller group of kids doing something more advanced or remedial. English really lends itself to that, you can have re-enactments together, discussions together, lectures together, but for the actual reading and writing, kids would gladly go at their pace with their ability group. If these things are not done because people are afraid to offend, the real offense is not using student's time better.

I would gladly ditch the English 9 lanes if all the board's questions were addressed. There are some really good things about having a broader mix of students, no objections to that at all. The choice issue could be overcome because that's not really the issue.

I'm a little slow,

"I think I get it: we need to segregate our students in some form of a separate, yet equal, system. Then our schools can be as excellent as we imagined them decades ago."

This article has an inset about being the slow kid in class. One would hope that things evolve, and using systems of the past, in a new and improved way may not be bad at all.

This Atlantic article "Let's Go Back to Grouping Students by Ability" covers a lot of what has been said on this thread, Web Link


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2014 at 11:27 am

topical,

If all the board's questions would be meticulously answered with a real plan, especially assessment, measuring results, and there would be real resources added, 15 year olds would not be teaching each other.

The teachers and the board should work the tracking, and de-tracking out. I would be OK with either as long as it's not the "automatic" version, where puff magically the achievement gap disappears with a re-labeling of a class. If they end up going with tracking, I would want to know why not start tracking earlier. There appears to be no communication between the middle and high schools on this issue, even at the Board level. They listen to the teacher groups separately. They should request that they present jointly.

If everyone is so worried about 9th, a key issue is also 8th. Resource allocation should target seamless integration between middle and high school.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2014 at 11:56 am

I am the poster, parent of a student who struggles to get a C in English posted above.

I still don't get any of this. My child is not stupid or lazy, just finds English a hard subject. I know my child's capabilities and I know my child's abilities in other subjects are good - just not in English. My child mixes with a great group of friends, a great mix in different classes and is bright, intelligent and has good self image.

From reading all this, why should my child be forced to do an "Advanced" English class with students who really enjoy English? In the same way I might ask why should a child who struggles in math be put in an "Advanced" math class, or even in a class of Spanish for Spanish speakers? The point is that a one size fits all education doesn't work even for those good at academics. I would rather my child read literature, form opinions, write essays, that are compatible with ability and interest and get a good grade, rather than struggle and fail in a class that is full of those willing to move faster and want to do more in the subject. My child's self worth is good because of knowing strengths, weaknesses and interests. My child will never be on a Paly sports team or get the leading role in the school play. But my child will do well in life nonetheless. A good grade in a regular class adds to self esteem. A poor grade in an advanced class does nothing to help and probably takes away self esteem. Learning from a teacher in a class of those with similar abilities seems natural. Moving at an advanced pace and expecting help from the class geniuses does not.

We are not talking about all kids as being Ivy League material, but at the same time they are not going to be spending their working lives flipping burgers either. These kids are going to be in good jobs, earning good money and raising their families hopefully in an area they want to live in - either here or elsewhere. They deserve to be helped at their level and with their abilities, in the subjects they have a natural flair for and in those they struggle with. This is not an issue about minorities, or achievement gap, but it is an issue about what education really means for every individual student. My child may not write the next international best seller, but what he might be able to do with a good education following natural abilities and interests is just as valid a goal.


Posted by No limits, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2014 at 12:06 pm

My freshman is enrolled in English 9 and will enroll in English 10A next year. The curriculum is essentially the same between the regular (9) and 9A class; the texts are just explored in more depth, and essays more frequent in the 9A class.


Posted by sigh, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 29, 2014 at 12:30 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Parent,

"A good grade in a regular class adds to self esteem. A poor grade in an advanced class does nothing to help and probably takes away self esteem. Learning from a teacher in a class of those with similar abilities seems natural. Moving at an advanced pace and expecting help from the class geniuses does not."

The NY high school the teacher's research studied is an IB school which is not really a choice system and the students are more likely on the same page, so to speak, With tutoring, AP and a more competitive culture at Paly, students can be really far apart in abilities. You bring up a good point about the importance of grades to feel motivated, and with a ridiculously broad range, grades can trump all efforts to make your kid feel good about themselves. The odd thing is that most of the benefits of having mixed abilities (mixed conversations, exposure to diversity) end up benefitting the higher achieving students more than the struggling. They get to be good at English, good readers, good writers, polished at home every day, able to handle any homework, AND they get to be exposed to the other side of life, to round them off. There is probably a happy medium in this whole mess, but that will take creativity and not necessarily copying somebody else's model.


Posted by burn her she's a witch, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 29, 2014 at 3:07 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2014 at 3:46 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Marie is a registered user.

One thing not mentioned here is the fate of an advanced student in a mostly middle achievement class. I was educated in the early 50's and 60's and went from a totally tracked junior high school to an untracked high school. After being in an advanced 8th grade math class (algebra was not offered in that school), I went to a totally untracked algebra class, whichmoved at a snail's pace. My eagerness and enthusiasm to learn resulted in my being bullied and harassed. That year was the worst for me. Fortunately, by the following year, self-selection weeded out the worst bullies, but I would not wish that experience on any student.

I am sure heterogeneous (in ability and past experience) classes can work in some cases with appropriate teaching and small class sizes. But when I was in advanced classes surrounded by other kids who actively valued learning, I learned more and was so much happier. College was a life saver for me. I'm not sure my experience directly relates to PAUSD, as I was in a much more diverse school with a high percentage of ESL students and no AP classes. PAUSD is much more homogeneous. However, I still think that teaching students with widely varying abilities and experiences is an exercise in frustration for teachers and students alike.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Not again,

I just listened to the January discussion about Paly's all-in-Advanced 9th Grade English proposal.

Here is what School board candidate Ken Dauber said:

"Terrific example of data driven analysis"

"Eliminating the difference between the two lanes will automatically mitigate the achievement gap."

"I strongly support this change."

And his wife Michelle Dauber:

"[On academic research]: When de-laning has been studied, what has persistently emerged from the research is a quite persistent finding in educational research across long periods of time, studied in many different settings, that children in the top do better."

"[Children at the top] are helped by being in mixed ability groupings because they have the opportunity to help to teach [pointing the Paly English teachers who are nodding in agreement]."

They sure are big fans of the proposal.



Posted by Off Topic, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2014 at 4:47 pm

@Topical
I have to admit that I'm not an expert on this topic. However, I also watched the video of the January board meeting.
It's clear that the proposal came forward because the Paly principal and English teachers had given the proposal considerable thought and research. Their conclusion was that de-laning of 9th grade English would be in the best interests of all of the student groups. You may feel that you have more expertise or insights on the subject than they do.
As to the audience members who spoke in support of the proposal, I don't understand the problem with them supporting "data driven analysis" and citing research that backs up the position that top tier students would also benefit. And I'm neither surprised nor offended by the Paly English teachers nodding in agreement.
Finally, if this helps narrow the achievement gap, then we all benefit and I'm for it.
It sounds like you may have some other ax to grind. Good luck because your ax seems a bit dull.


Posted by Reality check, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 29, 2014 at 5:03 pm

It is well worth listening to the board meeting at which the Paly English proposal was presented. You'll get a different picture than the one being presented here by opponents of the proposal.

A crucial piece of context for this is that English 9 and English 9A now have the same content, have the same homework requirements, and are both taught using differentiated instruction. English 9 contains a wide variety of students, including students who received Advanced and Proficient ratings on the CST standards tests. However, all of the black and hispanic students are in English 9, along with nearly all of the students with IEPs. Thus Paly is teaching two identical classes that differ in their name, and in their racial composition.

Why are the two classes the same? Because at the last Paly WASC, the WASC committee commented on the racial disparity in 9th grade English and the effect it had on minority students' taking more advanced classes later in their careers. The Paly English department responded by raising expectations in English 9, to the point where the two classes are now identical. Along the way, they learned that freshman students don't need two different English classes, and in fact they benefit from having a range of abilities in the class. That is consistent with the academic research on this subject.

The proposal from the Paly English teachers is not to engage in an unproven experiment in delaning. It is to remove from the books the now-false distinction between English 9 and English 9A that only serves to communicate to some students that they are not capable of excelling in English. The fact that those students are disproportionately minority students makes that worse. It is also designed to reduce the concentration of special ed students in a small number of classes, which makes it difficult to teach them effectively.

If you want to oppose the proposal, you should explain why you think Paly should have two English classes with the same content but different names and racial composition, and why you think the professional judgment and work of these teachers over a period of years should be summarily dismissed. And you should do that without falling back on anecdotes and mischaracterizations of what they said.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Off topic,

Your point has been made over and over again. That lay people should not be discussing what is for the realm of educators and experts. Calling our lay discussions here an ax to grind is unnecessary.

topical,

I had not picked that up, that the persistent findings are about the benefit to children at the top. That's what's so mixed up about this issue. It sounds socially just for underperforming students but in implementation it could be a nightmare. Questioning this should not be this hard, and maybe the teachers and the board will be able to work this out.

Reality check,

What you bring up was sort of a surprise to me. That the classes have already been merged, and what's left is a postural "choice" process. Yet one more issue for the board and the teachers to figure out. What I think will help students is answering each an every one of the questions asked by the board members. It there was a transcript of the board's questions it would be better, but among the big ones are NEW resources for struggling students, class size, the D's and F's of URM being passed forward, assessments to measure progress. I am not in favor of a superficial "automatic" label change. I do not oppose one, two or three lanes, as long as the structural issues are addressed without emotions. This is not a mindset issue in my opinion.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Reality check,

Btw, all structural issues adequately addressed, as I'd mentioned before, if tracking "wins" then the Board should see about starting tracking in 8th grade, and there has to be a more seamless transition from middle to high school. It was terrible to hear these teams don't work together more closely. If de-tracking "wins," I suggest the Board and teachers read the article I previously posted, and let the community know how issues of achievement will be handled, and measured.

"Let's Go Back to Grouping Students by Ability" Web Link

Whatever theory "wins' the Board and the teachers should let the community know very clearly and specifically what they have decided, and demonstrate how their decision is a win for the students.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Reality Check,

You say "at the last Paly WASC the WASC committee commented on the racial disparity in 9th grade English and the effect it had on minority students' taking more advanced classes later in their careers."

What the official WASC reviewers said is to give students a choice (open enrollment) and noted that Paly's different lanes in English are its "areas of strength."

You ask why Paly should "have two English classes with the same content"? Given the research mentioned above, it shouldn't. But it turns out that it doesn't at least when I looked at the course descriptions this time last year for the 2013-14 school year; English 9 is easier than 9A - less reading, less writing, and less homework.

Even if it were true that Paly teachers ignored the course description and secretly morphed English 9 into 9A this year and so are no longer teaching English 9 content - BTW changed curriculum without the board's permission - the teachers reported that 9A remains more rigorous than 9 and is not watered down. So when you say the "same" you mean all 9th graders now have lots of reading, lots of writing and lots of English homework whether they signed up for it or not.

You also say "all of the black and hispanic students are in English 9." No. There are lots of underrepresented minority students in English 9A.

Finally you say again that "that is consistent with the academic research on this subject." That is not what the research cited and discussed at length above says. Maybe you missed my reply to your earlier post: "Your post suffers from the same affliction that the Paly teachers' report did: no research is cited." Citations please.


Posted by Reality check, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm

I watched the tape of the board meeting carefully. If you do that, you will see that the teachers did answer each and every one of the board members' questions. The board didn't kill the proposal because the teachers didn't answer questions. It was obvious that they had already decided that they didn't like the proposal, and having their questions answered wasn't relevant to that decision.

Why did they not like the proposal? If you listen to them, what you will hear is that some parents spoke privately to board members. While we can't know what they said, the parents who spoke at the board meeting in opposition to the proposal expressed concern that higher performing students in English 9A would be harmed by the presence of the students who are currently in English 9. The fact that English 9 also contains high performing students who are evidently not being harmed was mentioned but was apparently not persuasive. The research mentioned by the teachers and by Prof. Dauber at the meeting was apparently also not persuasive.

The blogger from the Atlantic that you are citing is not really an authority on this topic. He's a secondary school teacher and former EPA official. Do you think he has some special insight here?


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Reality Check,

A previous PA Online poster offered a transcript of sorts from that board meeting on the point you make: "the teachers did answer each and every one of the board members' questions."

What Paly teachers said they needed to make their proposal a success but did not have and questions Paly teachers said they did NOT have answers to:

"1. On the work the Paly English Department still wants/has to do:

- Better serve all students when teaching a wide disparity of abilities in one classroom ~ Paly's English IS

- Figure out a way to require struggling students to go to tutorial and get support ~ Paly's English IS

- To evaluate the pilot's success, get 40 hours of district time to devise quantitative metrics and gather suggestions of ways to gather qualitative information from students and parents ~ Paly 9th Grade English lead

- Bring English class sizes down - #1 priority ~ Paly principal

2. On information Paly English teachers said would be helpful to know:

- Why 8th grade students select 9 instead of 9A and why students in 9A who are scoring 3s - not proficient - chose 9A instead of 9. ~ Paly 9th Grade English lead

- How the 13 English 9 students, who tested below proficient and still need more resources to succeed, are doing now ~ Paly's English IS

- Parents' thoughts and concerns ~ Paly's English IS

3. Paly's Observations:

- 73% of English 9 students are overqualified for that class, 27% are not.

- 56 9th grade students at Paly have IEPs/504 plans. IEP and 504 students are enrolled in both 9 and 9A.

4. Mentioned but details not shared:

- Education research that supports the English 9A proposal

- How resources will be allocated to better support struggling students

- Paly's revised English 9 alignment and pacing plans

- Paly's plans for de-laning other grades and subjects "


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Reality check,

"He's a secondary school teacher and former EPA official. Do you think he has some special insight here?"

I think his being from EPA is not a problem. I disagree with your reasoning about the board's decision to not approve the proposal. The answers the teachers gave were not the answers I would have wanted to hear. I can see how they and others could have thought the same.

I've heard the accusations that the board made up their mind up, and you need to take that up with the board. I can only go by the meeting record, their questions were important, and remain unanswered for me.

I know the concerns expressed in the questions from the board represent a cross-section of parents. Are you from Paly? They would sound familiar to you too. I didn't even get a chance to write in, imagine what they would have heard from me.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Reality check,

The answers I wanted to hear would have been more thorough. The best answer of all came from the Paly Principal "Bring English class sizes down - #1 priority."
Everyone should have just shook hands on that one and left the room. Or it could have been tied to the proposal in the first place. That would have made sense. We have this plan, let us experiment, it involves xyz, and we can do it if we bring class sizes down because... That thought process was missing. Anyway, we'll eventually find out what will happen, the past is past.


Posted by I see what you did, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2014 at 5:46 am

"If you want to oppose the proposal, you should explain why you think Paly should have two English classes with the same content but different names and racial composition,"

They don't. Your straw-man fallacy fails at this point. Rest of your comment is ignored.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2014 at 7:40 am

No horse in this race. Both our kids did TEAM at Paly...

My only question on cited research is the use of the Air Force Academy study. No one acknowledges the background of the peer groups. Big mistake. As most people know, acceptance to any of the three military academies is an unusually rigorous process...that involves far more than good grades and test scores.

Referencing peer groups who segregate at USAFA, is the equivalent of taking the top 10% at Paly and breaking them up into 3 performance levels. Not exactly an accurate picture of a "normal" student body. The A+, A and A- students hang out in separate groups? Sorry, but this does not remotely relate to the concerns for the general student body.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 30, 2014 at 9:23 am

SAT scores, which are nationally normed, are probably the best thing one can look at to determine whether the student pools are comparable.

Students at both Paly and the Academy are just about as close as they could be on that measure.

Air Force Academy average SAT scores:

Math 669
Verbal 642
Web Link

Paly grads' average SAT scores:
Math 674
Verbal 640

Grades vary significantly from school to school so aren't helpful.


Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 30, 2014 at 10:17 am

SAT scores are not a good measure of the "student pool". Participation in the test is optional for a High School student while every student at the Air Force Academy took the SAT test. I would also be willing to bet that percentage wise there are many more students with scores over 2300 at Paly than at the Air Force Academy. I would also be very surprised if any students at the Air Force Academy scored under 1700 on the SAT. I don't believe that Palo Alto High has the same relative homogeneous population as the Air Force Academy population and comparing average SAT scores would have to use that premise.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2014 at 11:19 am

[Portion removed.]

I like the comment above to the effect that de-tracking will water down the curriculum for high level students. I disagree and there's no evidence for that but I like the comment because it is unadorned and clear. The fear and loathing of "others" in this thread is crystal clear. [Portion removed.]


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2014 at 11:27 am

Crescent Park Dad,

"Sorry, but this does not remotely relate to the concerns for the general student body."

The research used for the English proposal is a book which studied a school in New York with a student pool which also does not relate to the concerns of the Paly student body. That is problem #1 - the research that was used on de-tracking forces apples to oranges comparisons - the board asked about this.

There are more issues besides student population. the NY school is an IB school for example. Class size 11 I think. Their study is about de-tracking. I would like to start understanding the difference between tracking and laning. Are we using research on tracking that is irrelevant to laning? Or does Paly have tracks not lanes. There was comment that nobody "ever" moves lanes. Really? On this thread someone posted going from 9 to 10A. When pressed on data, a teacher did say they would like 40 hours of Dana Wilmot's time. There were many "we don't know's" about data, and facts on student paths.

The one path we do know about is that if you get a D or an F, you do not have a path. This is the critical problem (also asked by the board), and to say "mindset" is going to solve this problem is an insult. But let's keep saying it will, so I can keep saying not again!

topical,

SAT data is of course very relevant when such a large part of the Paly population is taking the test. What the USAFA study alerts us to is students in the middle do better when they are not weighed by the extreme high or low. PAUSD is a living example of that dynamic, and has traditionally left the middle to the wind. I will add that the "rigor" of the USAFA sounds closer to home than the school in NY.

Given the complexity of experimenting with mixing and de-mixing the middle, it seems to me that all the other measures of teaching should be tried first. There was no data in the report on the total number of struggling URM (there are URMs in the highest lanes), or students with D's and F's. Are they really all in one class? Do all Special Ed students get D's and F's? This is the data that is missing, and should be reported. I would think the numbers are important, and knowing these students really well, to not just lump all the problems as the same issue.


Palo Verde Parent,

Do you think the NY school is a better comparable?

I just hope this phase of betting on the data will soon end because I keep thinking these students have been waiting 8 years to supposedly have a mindset change to help them, and we still have no idea what exactly we are talking about. PAUSD is at fault for not getting a grip on this, and waiting until 1 AM to get to it.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2014 at 11:34 am

[Post removed due to removal of referenced comment.]


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Mom,

Your accusation about racism on this topic actually needs a better response.

A way to avoid racism on this topic is that instead of looking at student's race, or achievement status, we look to respect a student's time in school.

The solutions (besides mindset) that the teacher's mentioned to help struggling students is to have them do extra hours outside of the regular English classroom. Mandatory tutorial, or other separate programs. Layer this with the fact that students who are getting D's and F's may not be reading and writing to their fullest potential.

While the concern about potential in the opinion piece is about the "fat envelope" and college competition, the students who have D"s and F's may not ever get to college. The competition is completely different here, it's not even a competition, it's survival.

With class sizes in the range of 30, re-mixing students AND asking struggling students to do mandatory tutorial does not sound like a good deal for the students who are struggling. They want to pass the class and know to read and write better, but the expectation being set for them is that they need to do mandatory tutorial (while their high achieving friends can go to see other teachers, and have a normal tutorial).

Can you suggest how mindset will better respect student's classroom time?


Posted by pamom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 30, 2014 at 12:59 pm

@mom -- you are very sure that there's no problem in one size fits all. Worse still, you are sure that ability grouping is racist. Why then do so many countries that are fairly homogenous have ability grouping? They do so because a group of 30 or more students with similar abilities can be taught by one teacher. Even with a group of 30 students their can be a wide range in their abilities.

It doesn't seem reasonable that mixing all ability levels together will be the most beneficial to most of the students.

And to call two lanes of English racism when Palo Alto has a very diverse population of many races, peoples, and countries, seems wrong.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Mom,

A parent of a student posted

"This is not an issue about minorities, or achievement gap, but it is an issue about what education really means for every individual student. My child may not write the next international best seller, but what he might be able to do with a good education following natural abilities and interests is just as valid a goal."

It's worth reading his/her posts because it brings up the fact that many students choose to excel/advance in other subjects, and may choose to not take advanced classes in English. The proposal aims for more students to take advanced English, and that is a great goal. Working on this goal is fine; however, English is the subject most missed for A-G readiness at Paly. That means many students completed all other requirements but could not be A-G ready because of failing English. Their issue is very different from going "Advanced."

Getting past the racism charges, there may be better solutions. Certainly fixing a weakness helps (class size) but what about more creative solutions. The block schedule I think presents a huge opportunity. What about mixing everyone for lectures, re-enactments, presentations, and then have 1 or 2 classes of the week where reading/writing is addressed in three or four different lanes. Lanes meaning a student can change up/down to their appropriate or desired level. Socially this might sound "bad" in 9th grade but I'd rather take that then to have mandatory tutorial.

Also, if laning was started in 7th and 8th grade, students would be used to it in 9th grade. Students get that they don't have to be on every high lane, and parents do too. If anything has been confirmed on this topic is that the "lower" (of 2) lanes does not have a stigma at Paly.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2014 at 11:35 pm

@ not again. With all due respect, my impression by your response is that you have no idea of what it takes to apply, qualify, receive nomination and then gain acceptance to one of the three military academies. Further, I seriously doubt that you have any idea of what it is like to attend the academies and what the students have to do beyond academics.

The Gunn/PA HS environment is nothing close to academy life.

No more to be said on this.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 31, 2014 at 7:48 am

Crescent Park Dad,

You are overlooking this: EdExcellence sums up the research before the Academy research was published like this: It is clear: the more tracks there are the more high-performing kids and fewer failures there will be. Fewer tracks = fewer high-performing kids + more failures.

The Paly English teachers' views are not researched-based. No one - not even Gina who put her name on a Guest Opinion that will be read by every person Palo Alto, including Stanford types, or the few proposal supporters on this blog – has pointed to a specific study that supports it.

That is because it is an ideology which is being used as an excuse to, as the teachers said, spread out special education students and place them in classrooms with more regular education students who can help teach them.

Unfortunately for those teachers, the families whose children they are teaching - high, middle AND lower ability - do not support the move.

[Portion removed.]


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 31, 2014 at 8:20 am

To your original point, Woodside Priory's educational setting perhaps is more like the Academy than Paly's is. Laning is thriving there.

Priory has two lanes of 9th grade English.

Priory also lets high ability students jump years and years ahead in math.
Priory's 7th grade Algebra 2 accommodation is out-of-the-box for Priory whose other top students take Algebra 2 in 8th grade, at the earliest, is the class that Paly's tippy top students take in 9th grade, and puts a student in college calculus in 10th grade.

Priory recognizes that students have different abilities – even in MIDDLE SCHOOL - and makes placements based on that.

Placing advanced students away from age and grade level peers and in the class that best matches ability is a placement that is NOT in a classroom with students who struggle with the material.

[Portion removed.]



Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 31, 2014 at 9:07 am

Another observation:

One of the English teachers' stated objectives of the all-in-one 9th Grade English class is to prepare all 9th graders to take AP English.

Let's see how fewer lanes has worked out for Paly students' AP enrollment rates:

In 2 laned English, 15% of seniors take AP English.

In 4 or 5 laned Math, 50% take AP Calculus.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2014 at 9:53 am

Crescent Park Dad,

I think where we might agree is that an experiment should try to use good data, at the beginning, middle, and end. If you listen to the USAFA ability grouping interview, they comment "As soon as we realized that we were harming the least able students, we stopped the experiment." If the experiment/pilot for English 9 were to happen, it would require much more data than what is available now. What interested me the most about the USAFA experiment was that it controlled ALL ability groups, and the findings about what happens to students in the middle.

It's unclear what the experiment at Paly would control, it appeared it would only control the lower ability group. I don't disagree with the theories that have led to the elimination of lanes in many schools for expectations reasons, but they assumed that there would be no low, middle or high ability groups. For the schools that kept lanes, there surely still are schools where the lower lane a second class education, and that is obviously fit to change. I completely believe that every student deserves the highest expectations, and equity.

However, The lower English lane at Paly was not considered a dumping ground, and the expectations are college readiness. The expectations for the Advanced lanes are to advance to take AP English. There are students of all races, in both lanes. The students and the parents do not see a stigma in being in the lane that does not lead to AP.

As topical pointed out, the teachers explained they would be able to handle the lower lane by diluting the number of Special education students in the lower lane. If you add all this up, to me it sounded like the experiment to help one , could harm another, including the one intended to help.

There is not much trust on peer editing at Paly. In Finland, they have specialized teachers to help struggling students, and we want to employ 15 year olds to teach during their first year of high school? I found out that my suggestions to use pull out groups is being termed "dynamic grouping." With more (qualified) resources to teach struggling students, and using the block schedule, this would be a better experiment to start with.

Gina,

"The sorry part is that this frame of mind and its loudest voices seem to be driving the school district's policies, undermining the impact of reform for all children."

If you are still out there. Speaking for myself, the parents I encounter at Paly are not that stupid to want to undermine reform for all children. Many of us have different type learners in the same family. It is a very diverse community, and to characterize the objections to this particular experiment as a need on the part of loud parents to put down others to get ahead themselves is inaccurate.

[Portion removed.]


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2014 at 10:50 am

Crescent Park Dad,

USAF's data probably also has a uniform classroom experience for each student. At Paly, student experience can be radically different from teacher to teacher. This complicates any experiment, so it really is worth taking a closer look before proceeding.


Posted by Priory Mom, a resident of Professorville
on Mar 31, 2014 at 11:17 am

Prior does NOT have 2 lanes of 9th grade english. Priory has one lane of English 9, called Foundations I. It does not offer an Honors option until Foundations II (10th grade).

Priory does not lane in math until Algebra II. Lanes at Priory are entirely optional and being in a regular lane does not in any way limit a student's trajectory into the higher lane the following year. Students can still take BC calc even if they are in the regular lane of other classes leading up to it. Even at the highest level there are only 2 lanes.

Allowing students to take classes earlier is not the same as laning. But in fact, students are discouraged from taking very advanced math before their peers get there. I am only aware of one case of a 7th grader taking Algebra 2 in recent history and it was an unusual situation of an extremely talented student with a very supportive family.

[Portion removed.]


Posted by Priory Mom, a resident of Professorville
on Mar 31, 2014 at 11:32 am

[Portion removed.]

At Priory there are 2 lanes only. If an advanced younger student (7th grade) takes Algebra I, then they will be in that (unlaned) class with 8th and 9th graders who may well have struggled with the material. Younger students are often the strongest students in the class because they were strong enough to go ahead, while students who are older in that class may have struggled a bit. In a school with 2 lanes, in which lanes are optional and flexible, students are in mixed ability groups at all times, all levels, and all courses.

Only a handful of students will take Priory's rotating series of three advanced electives that are for those who earned an A in BC calc during junior year and would like to take a more advanced math class during senior year. These are not AP classes, just advanced math classes. At that point, all the students would be pretty good at math, I am guessing.

But in all the core math classes, students are of mixed abilities. This would be true in BC Calc even, in which some students have struggled to get there by senior year while others may coast in a year ahead of that.

[Portion removed.]

For parents who are currently making a decision about Middle or Upper school, Priory is awesome. You won't be sorry if you come here and leave the PAUSD insanity behind.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 31, 2014 at 11:44 am

What I think you are thinking of is tracking - which is mandatory and permanent. Laning is optional and flexible and is what Paly's English classes are.

Priory Math

My source for what Priory does is based off of a year ago February Town Square post from a parent whose 6th grader is taking Algebra 2 in 7th grade there this year.

The Priory Course Catalog shows four different math classes open to 6th graders: Foundations 1, Foundations 2, Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1. It offers 3 for 7th graders including Algebra 2 and 6 for 8th graders.

Web Link

Priory English

The Priory course list shows that, in addition to Foundations I, it offers a 9th grade English class called "English Transitions." Web Link




Posted by Priory Mom, a resident of Professorville
on Mar 31, 2014 at 11:55 am

Transitions is not a lane. It is an extra ESL class that primarily serves overseas boarding students. There is one lane for English 9, and that is Foundations.

In terms of math, I have already said what there is to say. Your information comes from Town Square. Enough said.

The Priory is a great school. The motto is "Every Child is Known And Loved For Who They Are." If you are aching for your child to feel that they are known and loved at school, it could be right for you. My child is not some homework machine who exists to keep PA property values up. He has a varied set of interests and he can express them at the Priory.

I hear GMS is also very good.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Priory Mom,

[Portion removed.]

As I've posted before, this pilot would not get as much resistance if ALL data and necessary resources were in place to conduct it.

You probably have no idea what Tutorial is at Paly. It is a time where students can go see their teachers, in any subject. It would be inequitable (outrageous and ridiculous) for 1 subject to take that away from a student. It would also be an extra burden to place on students who already have a stressful time juggling multiple subjects. What kind of fairness in expectations is it to say, hey! you now have a class that is called "Advanced" please feel better, but you need to give up Tutorial.

What are struggling students doing during regular classroom time?! Classroom time is where they are supposed to be taught. Resources are sorely needed to better TEACH struggling students, and better data is missing to track the progress of ALL students.

[Portion removed.]

This is an article on dynamic grouping. [Portion removed.]

Web Link


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Priory Mom,

"You won't be sorry if you come here and leave the PAUSD insanity behind."

We looked at all the private schools, never thought they compared to public school, and we have never looked back.


Posted by wow, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 31, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Lots of misinformation going on here, reading down till this point. The air force study doesn't support laning, just the opposite. Research being cited from random bloggers and web sites with a conservative ax to grind in the math wars. Blanket statements about research literature that aren't true. Getting your info from Town Square? Not a good idea.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2014 at 8:53 pm

wow,

"Lots of misinformation going on here.....Research being cited from random bloggers and web sites with a conservative ax to grind....Blanket statements about research literature that aren't true....Not a good idea."

That's what they probably said when everyone thought the world was flat. Some still do. I'll share another random link which mentions technology. Web Link

Times do change you know, and it could be that there are more ways than one to help students.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 1, 2014 at 7:43 am

Take a look at what the Paly English department did to 12th grade English this year; it morphed the 12th grade regular and honors English classes into a one-size-fits-85% English class.

Their arguments in support of killing off Advanced English 12 and having regular level English 12 survive:

"[A]ccording to… the English department's instructional supervisor '...the more the [English] classes mix, the better for everybody — the better for the students, the better for the teachers.' … the English department does not see significant differences between the two merging courses....'In terms of content, expectations, grading practices, we figured that there was not really any reason that we could see to keep them separate.'" Web Link

That's the same thing said in support of merging English 9 and 9A, only this time killing off regular level English and having Advanced English survive:

"'There doesn't seem to be a big difference in the curriculum [between the two classes]' … Paly's ninth grade English teachers ...often use the same curriculum and grade breakdown for both lanes. ..both courses cover the same material." Web Link

Why different outcomes:

For the 12th grade English change, the teachers anticipated a "no" and so slipped the change in on the eve of registration, too late for it to be discussed or unraveled. Not pleased, rule books were taken out.

For the proposed 9th grade English changes a year later, Paly, after a refresher course on district policies because of the 12th grade move, followed the rules. It asked the school board for permission to make the change and sought input from students and parents. As anticipated the year before, the change didn't go forward because, according to Principal Diorio, "the school board and parent community were [not] behind us." Web Link

BTW, according to friends, that "no" from the School Board has not stopped Paly from effectively only offering English 9A anyway. English 9 is not listed in Paly's course catalog which says that "All freshmen take English 9 Accelerated." It has been close to impossible for families to get information about English 9, and, for those who asked, Paly's response has been "just take 9A." Paly teachers are calling meetings for parents whose children signed up for English 9 where they try to persuade them to take 9A instead. Is that in the rule book?


Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 1, 2014 at 9:18 am

I notice that you are mentioning a rule book and a rule. What rule are you talking about? Does the school board need to approve not teaching a class? That seems like something that the IS and principal decide.
This all feels like micromanaging to me. Why pay teachers with professional training if you don't trust their pedagogical decisions?


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 1, 2014 at 10:23 am

That decision is setting curriculum which our policies say is for the school board to decide.

Think about teaching creationism. Teachers don't get to teach whatever they want. The community decides what is appropriate for its students to learn and we act through our elected school board members.

That's why Paly teachers asked for permission to drop English 9. But for that rule, they would have just done what they did, but shouldn't have, the year before for English 12/12A - pushed it through without asking.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2014 at 10:28 am

Paly parent,

"I notice that you are mentioning a rule book and a rule. What rule are you talking about? Does the school board need to approve not teaching a class? That seems like something that the IS and principal decide.
This all feels like micromanaging to me. Why pay teachers with professional training if you don't trust their pedagogical decisions?"

If there was a rule, rule book, or basic expectation for appropriate communication, it's not "micromanaging" to want to know how or why there was an elimination of an advanced English class which is not AP English. A student who would not want AP but still wants the challenge and the honors level work is left with two choices, and not the middle one.

The short answer I heard about the elimination of the 12th grade English honors is related to the achievement gap. It could be related to not having enough students to sign up for the Honors class, or it could be the issue of the Special Ed concentration which the teachers have brought up. Most parents were not aware of the change. This means that for the parents who never knew the Honors option had existed before, and not now, they don't miss it. Easier to do in 12th grade, than 9th grade.

In the most recent random link I posted, it mentions that in a heterogenous class, the disparity among students can be very big. At Paly it can be huge - student surveys show that writing instruction needs major improvements, but once you introduce the TUTORING differences, the members of the 12th grade class may as well come from two different planets.

I don't understand the professional reasons for the merging in 12th grade, but the kids who can barely write should have more support. I'm less worried here about the 12th graders serving as teachers. The middle does get the short end as well if there are such vast differences.

The Board, the teachers and the Principal will need to eventually explain the reasons why they will decide on whatever has been decided (about 9th and how it all leads to 12th), and there will need to be data (other than grades) that measure progress. I cannot imagine that this would be called micromanaging.




Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2014 at 10:45 am

Paly parent,

If the teachers would just conclude that they will teach to the middle 9-12, that would be what it is. But they can't have it both ways, talking about Advanced, and competition and all that. The use of technology, better, frequent writing assessments, and dynamic grouping could be a happy medium. The days of decisions in the dark and no data need to end though.


Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 1, 2014 at 11:15 am

So the answer is, there is no such rule. Maybe one of you should apply to be the English IS.


Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 1, 2014 at 1:57 pm

David Cohen is a registered user.

Just for the record, class sizes at South Side High School do not average anywhere near 11 students. Their 9th grade English classes average 25-30, and always have, according to their longtime principal, Carol Burris (who emailed me after our board meeting to clarify this point). The 11:1 ratio is their *staffing* ratio: e.g., if they have 1100 students, that would mean 100 teachers on staff. With special education classes and other staff duties, staffing ratios are typically much lower than average class sizes. It's unfortunate that our department's invitation to return to the school board was effectively rescinded, because I emailed this information to Ms. Caswell so that she'd have a chance to make the correction publicly.

And while it might be true that South Side has overall scores lower than Paly, the most important thing I've seen is that all of their indicators of success have improved over time under this approach. They've closed their achievement gap significantly, raised their student body's average PSAT and IB scores, raised their participation rate in higher level classes, and perhaps most importantly to Paly parents concerned about this approach, their top decile is performing better in the detracked system than they did before.

Why not Paly? Is our community less deserving and excellence and equity, or less capable of delivering if we set our minds to it? If our community would like to give Paly teachers the chance to produce similar results with similar supports, we welcome the conversation about getting that job done. We have offered a low-risk plan that we think will improve outcomes and school climate. It's quite demoralizing to be entrusted with student learning but not entrusted to formulate and attempt reasonable plans to improve student learning.

Regarding Carol Dweck and the idea of mindset, the issue at Paly is that the label of English 9/9A works against a growth mindset. We can try to mitigate it within the class, but with limited effects; the course label becomes a part of the student's identity. Maybe not always and for everyone, so individual anecdotes and hypotheticals don't hold much sway with me. Our decades of experience with thousands of students generally matches a body of research suggesting that students do internalize labels. (See below).

Whether you agree or disagree with ... whatever... just one person daring enough to have both an opinion and a name. I'm terribly disappointed in comments from all sides in that regard. But I'm not holding my breath, and not planning to return to this thread anyways.

For more information, see this research brief, and citations therein:
Web Link





Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 1, 2014 at 2:01 pm

David Cohen is a registered user.

Conclusion should have read: "Whether you agree or disagree with ... whatever... it would be nice to see just one person daring enough to have both an opinion and a name."


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2014 at 3:33 pm

David

" It's unfortunate that our department's invitation to return to the school board was effectively rescinded, because I emailed this information to Ms. Caswell so that she'd have a chance to make the correction publicly."

It is unfortunate for everyone that the board did not ask you back, to allow you to better respond to the questions they had for you, and for you and the board to agree on something. I hold the board and Skelly responsible for not doing the job of oversight of curriculum, and the issue of lanes in English. As qualified as all of you are, there is turnover in the district, and it should not rely on a matter of trust. It's a matter of governance. No rules should not mean no daylight, and maybe there should be new rules as a result of this situation.

The question the board failed to ask is how your objectives in 12th have impact on 9th grade decisions. Your message at the meeting was that you wanted URM and more students to aspire to Advanced, and more competitive levels. However the only option of Advanced work is AP, college level work in 12th. Why would you limit the Advanced level to AP and not offer a mid-range? AP for any subject has a very high threshold to attract a student, independent of ability.

Tutoring is a wildcard that is on steroids at Paly, and that is something that South Side High School does not have to contend with as much. If you look at other AP classes, many of those students have for years enjoyed and still enjoy a great deal of support. SSH is also an IB school. But getting into the weeds of this is what we rely on you and the Board of Education to work out. It needs to be worked out transparently and I hope you don't insist on the BOE and parents to accept experiments on the basis of trust only. With or without a Board invitation, you can also still explain your plans. Data is sorely missing to support many of your assertions for the pilot.

Names of posters here are going to be hard to get, when we see what happens to our own Board - public figures. If people stick to the issues and are not personal, I don't see a problem.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 1, 2014 at 3:35 pm

David Cohen,

You say with "similar supports."

South Side High requires struggling students to take two English classes. Paly's proposal: struggling students take just one - ADVANCED.

I watched the video of the board discussion and what jumped out was all 5 board members' concern that the Paly plan did not provide "supports."

The teachers were lobbed question after question about where in the proposal were supports for students who are failing or barely passing REGULAR English 9. How could those struggling to pass 9 possibly pass 9A with the significantly higher demands that would be placed on them?

It defies logic that students getting Ds and Fs in the regular lane will somehow, in 3 months' time, get a C or better average in the advanced class - by December's semester end - just because they are told that they and 100% of their classmates are advanced. The work is the work no matter what label you put on it.

Don't happen to pull your grades up by the end of the Paly English department first semester experiment? Don't satisfy a-g. Don't go to a CA 4 year college. (BTW - the "advanced" label isn't performing miracles for 9A students who are now getting Ds and Fs.)

The teachers struggled with the board's questions, repeatedly saying that they hadn't figured that out yet. They admitted that there is no way to require struggling students to get support at Paly. Even the 1 hour/week tutorial is problematic. There are lots of other students vying for teacher time in that one hour - so what? 3 minutes each once a week? - and if the need for English supports are now added to students' plates, that time takes away from the support they can get during tutorial for other classes.

If what my friends tell me is true - that English 9 might be dropped because of low enrollment, made low by the many obstacles Paly has put in 8th-graders-wanting-English-9's path - Paly teachers should be happy. They outsmarted the school board and did an end-run around concerned parents too.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 1, 2014 at 5:35 pm

David Cohen,

Something doesn't seem quite right.

You say: NY South Side High's "9th grade English classes average 25-30, AND ALWAYS HAVE, according to their longtime principal, Carol Burris (who emailed me after our board meeting to clarify this point)."

For 10th Grade English, Principal Burris reported English classes averaging only 16 students for 2004-05. Web Link That average recently jumped to 19-21 students. Web Link.

I suppose it is possible that 9th grade English classes are 50%-90% larger than 10th grade English classes, but that doesn't make much sense since typically 9th grade classes are kept small since what they teach is the foundation for success for grades 10-12.

That data shows that at South Side 29% of Blacks performed at the advanced level in English compared to 84% of Whites. So even if South Side has "closed their achievement gap significantly" (no data), it still has quite a long way to go.


Posted by Priory Mom, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 1, 2014 at 6:01 pm

David, you're a great teacher. What can I say. People are fearful about their child not getting into the college they attended, and it is making them do and say the wrong thing. In addition, Palo Alto is a pretty racist place. I'm not sure why, but that will probably be deleted. If it's not, let me go on and say that the racism is not of course limited to parents. Please go down the hall and thank the math department for fostering the sense among parents that (1) poor and black and brown students can't handle advanced work; and (2) it's perfectly fine to say that out loud.

I know that the math department is not the English department. But PAUSD did nothing whatever to give any consequence for the Math letter. This let the community know that the district and the community's love of tracking was A-OK. It shouldn't really surprise you to see the backlash against de-tracking given that it started in your own colleagues.

The thing that has surprised me about this is that it is NINTH GRADE ENGLISH. The fact that some segments of the community are so vehement in wanting tracking that they are willing to go to war over NINTH GRADE ENGLISH is shocking. Usually the emotion is from the math wars people. If you have to guess, you would say that math is really what they are worried about here too -- it's that this might be the entering wedge for a more general move to de-tracking.

That would be good, since PAUSD has way too much tracking. Our math track chart looks like a map to the NY subway system. It's ludicrous. BUt that will never happen.


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2014 at 6:38 pm

off topic English lanes comment.

@Priory Mom - you wrote:
"... and (2) it's perfectly fine to say that out loud...But PAUSD did nothing whatever to give any consequence for the Math letter..."

Let me "rehash" the fact that the letter was kept out of the public eye for many months.
I want to thank, again, all involved in bringing the letter to the public eye.
Maybe, hopefully, someday, the broader implications of that letter will be taken to heart by more people.

Happy April Fool's day!


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 1, 2014 at 6:54 pm

@ Priory Mom - hey, what's the demographic at Priory? I couldn't find it on the internet other than they have kids from other nations who can pay for boarding school. Why are your kids going there? Is the Priory in any way coping with any of the same issues that public schools in this country cope with?


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 1, 2014 at 6:59 pm

@ Priory Mom- I forgot to ask what the economic diversity is. I already know there are kids on scholarship but they still have to pass a test to get in, right? I went to private school. I know what the diversity looked like. There wasn't any. It's hard to compare apples to oranges and it's even harder to listen to an opinion that doesn't have skin in the game. Oops, that would be students….


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2014 at 7:36 pm

way off topic comment.

@parent - Crescent Park Dad noted above that - "No horse in this race. Both our kids did TEAM at Paly..." That is a fair disclaimer. Same as neighborhood, kids' school, anything.

Obviously, I am missing something. I am totally fine maintaining my ignorance, here.

Happy April Fool's day!


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 1, 2014 at 7:53 pm

@ village fool- Happy day to you -
Crescent park dad and Priory Mom have completely different comments. Unfortunately, the public is not aware of any issues at Priory as it is a private school. Again, she doesn't have any skin in the game. It's the same as the parent who claims Priory has no bullying issues. If that is true, they should receive some kind of national award for being the only school where this doesn't occur. Unfortunately, bullying, cliques, etc occur at every level of society and at every school. That parent is just in denial.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2014 at 8:07 pm

topical,

I hope the board and the teachers consider your observations.

I trust that all can be worked out if the teachers and the board work it out together. That 1 Am meeting was impressive because both the board and the teachers were addressing the issues, with the exception of the ninth grade changes in the context of 12th grade. They both forgot, and it is a critical point. The definition of "advanced" or regular work is in preparation to be AP English ready or IB test ready? It matters!

I'm not against one lane or any number of lanes. I think with with extremes of talent, tutoring, and struggling, you need to give each group tangible attention and equity. This is a district with enough resources, creativity, and technology to do it. To be equitable, it ALL has to happen inside the classroom, during the school day. The idea that a struggling or any student should take two English classes in 9th grade (or lose Tutorial) because that is necessary to attain AP English by 12th grade, or IB is odd. How that can even be said so casually is strange to me.

On the mindset issue, I thought that the Dweck mindset issue was about overachievers who never had an opportunity to fail (she studied Stanford students). It can be paralyzing to fall from being "brilliant" and better to focus on effort, and a growth mindset. Instead of telling your kid, "you are a genius", you'd say "good job, you worked hard, pat yourself on the back." Ability grouping for the purpose of providing supports (not for dumping grounds!!!) should not be inconsistent with Dweck's ideas.


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2014 at 8:16 pm

way way off topic comment.

@parent -
Thank you! My day!

No Horse in the race/No skin in the game. But maybe a bit when it comes to the English lanes topic?
Comparing apples to Oranges brings to mind the "comparable" issues which were brought to the PAUSD Board's attention, North/South schools wise. I doubt "north" has any "skin" in the "south"'s game, and vice versa, etc.

I am sill missing something. I am still totally fine with that.


Posted by all in the numbers, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 1, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Priory is known of its hot-housing of students. It's not unusual to have 6th grade students doing 9th grade math (Web Link)


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 1, 2014 at 10:33 pm

@ all in the numbers - you are absolutely right. Private schools focus on academic "stars" - 6th grader doing 9th grade math - and those kids who can afford the tuition and the donations. Can't really compare that environment to a public school who accepts everyone. Parents who send their kids to private schools and then compare those schools in terms of their academics, bullying etc are just deluding themselves and trying to delude others by coloring the real picture.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 2, 2014 at 6:43 am

Did some digging on the struggling student supports provided at South Side High:

South Side reports that it allocates "generous resources to students who struggle" which it points out is "likely an important factor" for anyone attempting to replicate its success.

At the time South Side de-tracked, it also started:

- Offering instructional support CLASSES (not Paly's 1 hour/week voluntary group tutorial session offered at the same time for all subjects) and

- Carefully monitoring struggling students' progress (far beyond just wondering how the English 9 students who tested below proficient are doing now).

Supports are important and extensive and alone could be what made the difference at that school.

South Side's Supports:

Repeater Classes: "A class specifically developed for students who have failed a Regents exam and/or class. If a student fails the Regents exam, they must take the repeater…"

Support Classes: "These are extra help classes that support the academic subjects. Students are assigned based upon grades, teacher recommendation, counselor recommendation, or by parent request. For some students, these classes are mandatory academic intervention services."

Extra Help: "Available Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings during zero period."





Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 2, 2014 at 6:53 am

David Cohen: Carol Burris' South Side High, the NY High School which Paly English teachers want to use as a model, "raised their student body's average PSAT ...scores."

Again no data but here is some to consider. South Side High had:

* 1 PSAT National Merit semi-finalist to Paly's 31, and

* a 1618 SAT average to Paly's 1935, mentioned above.

Web Link

Apples to oranges.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2014 at 10:21 am

topical,

"Apples to oranges."

It's apples to oranges if your end goal is to provide supports to bridge the gap between an AP English student and a regular student, and apples to oranges to provide supports for an IB program. Once you are in a PAUSD classroom, it's apples to oranges depending on your teacher.

Moving beyond the open questions, what about solutions. Do you have suggestions?

My suggestion:

Before anything: Foremost should be the concept that you cannot pull out kids and deprive them of the general education that is provided inside the classroom, unless what you are offering them outside is BETTER. To me, better is not extra time, extra work outside the classroom and extra sacrifices (losing Tutorial) for the students or being in some babysitting situation. Supports depend on the end goal. You may need even more classes to bridge the achievement gap between an AP English student and a kid who cannot write and is running an F, than IB and regular.

People have to stop talking about apples and oranges in every respect. What about Common Core? What is the point of Common Core if the end goal is the obsession with competition, "fat envelopes," and AP English?

PAUSD should look at English K-12. If two lanes are creating so many problems, have Common Core K-11, and leave an Honors and AP English in 12th. It would be up to the teachers and district to support URM to make it to the Honors or AP lanes. They can measure their success that way.

The current song and dance of no lanes K-8, debate in 9th, lanes in 10-12 and a missing end goal is not good.


Posted by HadBothLanes, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 2, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Our experience has been that lanes don't matter much. The quality of teacher matters far more. Even if the research were clear, Paly's implementation cannot normalize out the LARGE effect of teacher skill.

We've had kids in both lanes: one good at English a strong reader who was in 9A and learned nothing while struggling with a disorganized, unhelpful teacher. No feedback on essays and no structured approach to writing . That teacher was a demotivating disaster.

Our other student struggled with 8th grade English and is a weaker reader and writer. He got a great teacher in English 9. Very motivating, a well sructured approach to writing, organized and covering a lot of ground. Outstanding. Our student is learning a lot more than their older sibling.

So in one regard, the teachers are right - laning doesn't matter; partly because they have already merged curriculum, but mostly because teacher skill matters WAY MORE.

Advice for parents - sign up for the hardest lane. If you get a good teacher, your student will do fine. If you get a poor teacher you can drop a lane and essentially roll the dice again on teacher skill.

What the board should have asked is what are the LARGEST effects on outcomes: lane structure, class size, supports or teacher quality. The start addressing issues top down.

As long as poor quality teachers are allowed to define their own lanes, the rest of this conversation is moot.


Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2014 at 8:47 am

HadBothLanes,

Your comment is spot on, but if there is turbulence because the board questioned the teacher's proposal, there is no going anywhere near the topic of teacher skill. The thread about the English Kerkuffle got near there with anonymous comments but even there, it was not pretty.

Edmund Burke posted on that thread

"There are many people, including friends of the de-tracking proposal, who have voiced persistent critiques of such things as the length of time it takes to get essays returned, some teachers being hard while others are easy (horizontal inconsistency), differences in curriculum, differences in grading -- all among teachers in the same class/lane. These appear to be concerns worth addressing. But should they hold up the de-laning issue? This seems entirely unrelated."

Unrelated? The Board should probably at least answer that question, and explain why it's unrelated.

So who knew, Heidi asked the best question of all. How do you measure success. There is no data to see if teacher skill matters. Can they measure teacher skill? There is no data to start any experiment for any solution, there will therefore be no data to measure in between, and none after. As one of the teachers mentioned, they will have "qualitative" measures.

Qualitative measures do not measure what is happening to students during all the time they have in the classroom (teacher skill). The supports discussed are looking to be external, and that is a mistake. South Side High may think it's smart to have double English classes, it's not. Time is the most valuable thing students have at Paly, the English teachers have the privilege of that amount of time with students (equal to other subjects), and they should be skilled enough to improve things INSIDE the classroom.


Posted by Former Paly parent, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 3, 2014 at 8:51 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by My Take, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 3, 2014 at 10:05 pm

I believe in some tracking, especially for English classes when there are actually three distinct levels of students. It is healthier for all students to be taught at the appropriate level in an effort to raise all students to their full potential. However, in this district, math tracking is used by parents to gain an unfair advantage for their students, who take the math ahead of time, show up at school and appear to be math geniuses. This creates a false sense among the math teachers, as evidenced in the infamous math letter, that not only are they amazing teachers, but that some students are just superior mentally. This is so prevalent that it has warped the math system in our schools. When a teacher sees someone from an ethnic group that does not tend to sign the students up for math classes ahead of time, they learn to assume that student will not be as good at math. It becomes a self fulfilling problem. I'm sorry if you don't like this, but it is true.


Posted by topical, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 4, 2014 at 8:35 am

Not Again asked for my suggestions.

A few observations first:

There are many things that I find disturbing about the Paly English teachers' only-English 9A proposal including that those teachers, who said that they studied this for 18 months, undoubtedly stumbled upon all of the information about their "model" NY high school mentioned above and decided NOT to share facts that didn't help their case.

The biggest missing fact is that Paly has nothing near the supports in place that South Side High has. Having 15 year olds fresh out of middle school help them teach doesn't cut it and could even make things worse for struggling students. How many 15 year olds are blessed with maturity and patience? How many know how to break apart Shakespeare's iambic pentameter verses? Nor does it help to add one more subject to the list of things students need to get help for during the 1 hour of group tutorials/week.

Again, South Side says that its "generous" supports (2 mandatory remedial English classes a day and zero period tutoring 4 days a week) are "likely an important factor" to its success.

Even if the teachers' proposal also asked for South Side High-like supports, which other Paly program did they plan to take the money from to pay for it? College counseling? Or re-arranging chairs within their department and dropping some journalism classes? Just imagine the turf-wars that would ensue. Our funding is probably half of what schools in Long Island have. And there is no will as a poster said above. Palo Alto parents prefer leveled-instruction over having their child take a too hard English class and then having to spend 2 hours in English a day, repeat the class over and over until they pass, and give up electives and after school sports because of it.

This "most compelling" study falls on that one fact - lack of supports - alone. There is nothing "compelling" about a high school which has 2x the money, 3x the supports, and 1/31st of the students with high PSAT scores as Paly has.

Worth noting: English 9A is rigorous. The teachers said so. Perhaps they have made 9 and 9A exactly the same now as they claim but that just means that Paly no longer offers a regular level of English. That is probably why so many students at Paly fail English making Paly's a-g pass rates so low. Gunn makes two lanes work; it offers two levels of 9th grade English, with different work loads, and Gunn is smoking Paly on a-g.

If Paly teachers go forward with 9A only - which again my friends say they are doing whether the school board likes it or not - MORE Paly students will fail English as early as 1st semester freshman year and, before they've even gotten their braces off, will have kissed their dreams of going to a 4 year college goodbye. The feel-good news to Johnny that we have very high expectations of him and have proof that he is "advanced" by the name of the class we've put him in does pitifully little to offset the painful dashed-college-hopes reality made possible thanks to Paly's English department's experiment.

My suggestion: Given that there is no extra money hanging around waiting to be spent, follow Gunn's model. Tried, tested and it works. Restore regular OLD English 9 class and content while keeping 9A and give Johnny a fighting chance to learn English, pass go and meet a-g. Apples to apples.

-


Also disturbing: that Paly secretly got rid of English 12A and because those same teachers did that without asking or telling anyone - even though they were supposed to - that change stands unchallenged and unchanged.

-


Eerything needs to be rolled back to where it was. That means bringing back English 12A this fall and re-doing 9th grade English enrollment this spring with fair and comprehensive disclosures about the English 9 and 9A differences.

Then, find a way to get more money for more "supports." Put a committee with experts who do not suffer from confirmation bias together to study the research and best practices. Come up with a proposal based on that and present that to the board, community and students.


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