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Gunn and Paly shun Newsweek ranking

Original post made by Tyler Hanley, online editor of Palo Alto Online, on May 21, 2007

We just posted this story on Palo Alto Online. Thoughts?

Gunn and Palo Alto high schools have chosen not to participate in the annual Newsweek advanced-placement (AP) test rankings this year, citing the desire to reduce student stress and a feeling of competition.

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Comments (34)

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2007 at 11:46 am

I think we have enough of an enrollment growth problem. We do not need national 'advertising' to compound it.

I agree with the Gunn/Paly principals. Good call. Our kids are not a dog and pony show - they have nothing to prove but to themselves.

An excellent lesson about bucking peer pressure.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2007 at 11:53 am

Whereas I do agree with this in principle, since I had already heard the story on Channel 2 tv this morning, I wonder if declining to participate may not make the story more newsworthy and even more interest is aroused as a result?


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Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on May 21, 2007 at 11:57 am

The fact that Paly has "only" ranked at or below the level of several high schools in surrounding districts (Mtn View, Saratoga, several others) for this particular survey must play into this decision. There is no way that this was truly a principal-level decision unless you are willing to believe in big coincidences!


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Posted by enough already
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 21, 2007 at 11:59 am

Good for Gunn/Paly! I've always found Newsweek's particular measure of success odd.

This decision seems consistent with the "no class valedictorian" policy. There are too many good students to rank a best one; there are so many excellent schools in Palo Alto there's no need to rank a best one.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2007 at 12:49 pm

I like the decision. The "ranking" thing is odd, in any case, since it "ranks" on numbers of kids taking the APs, not results, and not other factors, and there are schools which have pretty much every kid sign up for an AP, regardless of ability or interest.

I also don't like the pressure toward trying to get as much college under a student's belt before s/he is done with high school.

Around here, I tell my kid "relax a bit, go to the Dance, go to the Game, meet your friends at the Baskin Robbins" and s/he laughs at me, telling me that all the friends' parents are telling their kids " now is not the time for fun, it is the time for study..you can't go to Homecoming, you can't go to the Dance, go to the Birthday party for only 1/2 an hour, then come home and study! High School is for study!".

This from a group of kids in the hardest classes with all 4.1 and 4.2 GPAS, taking every AP test they can get.

I am not thrilled with the lack of balance in this area. I completely support the drive to do your best, but it seems there is a growing contingent of parents pushing their kids to the point of ignoring the social/emotional growth necessary to survive once kids leave the home. And, a just one family, it is hard to fight that peer pressure. ( Who would have thought any of us would ever have that problem with peer pressure?)


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Posted by Parent of high schooler
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Thank you resident, I agree wholeheartedly. It is time we let our teens have a break. I don't think they should spend all their free time partying, but too many of them don't have a life outside of school unless it is "something that will look good on college apps" which boils down to the same thing.


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Posted by Mom of 3
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2007 at 2:19 pm

Judging a school just by APs is wrong. AP is good, but the overemphasis is unhealthy. Too many kids are burning out by the time they arrive at college. While we want our high schools to send kids to colleges in high numbers, a lot of kids need a gap year (or 4 or 5) until they figure out what they want to do, and we also need kids who will go into trades and services needed in any community – college not wanted or needed. We need to educate all the kids and we need to offer a wider range of courses that appeal to kids who may not be interested in college and who need options that let them increase their awareness of life's possibilities.


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Posted by simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on May 21, 2007 at 2:34 pm

This is a really good move and very encouraging. Well done Paly and Gunn for pushing back against Newsweek's ridiculously narrow definition of educational success. That's educational leadership!


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2007 at 3:19 pm

To Parent of High Schooler:

I am so glad you reminded us about the "doing what looks good on apps". I hear that myself from mine and the "friends" of mine, and am appalled. I remember thinking a LITTLE bit about that, but the emphasis is backwards now. "Back in the Day", no matter how high achieving we were, we did what we felt was "RIGHT" for us to do, and then figured out how it would fit into the college apps. We didn't start in 9th grade calculating which paid or volunteer job, sport or after school activity was right based on what would look good on the college app.

Honestly, the more I try to talk to my teen about the backwardness of this, the more s/he pushes me away and laughs about how little I know. Maybe I should take the opposite tack and start PUSHING HARD like the friend's parents so that s/he can rebel a little and relax a bit!


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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 21, 2007 at 3:23 pm

Paly and Gunn - congrats on a great decision!

Resident - thank you for telling your child to enjoy life! High school is for learning - about life, friends, passions and fun - not just academics. Your comment about parents are telling their kids " now is not the time for fun, it is the time for study..you can't go to Homecoming, you can't go to the Dance, go to the Birthday party for only 1/2 an hour, then come home and study! High School is for study!" breaks my heart. Will that child really be more successful at 30 than yours (defining success as having a fulfilling life?)

AP and honors classes should really be about pursuing a subject you love, not getting points on a transcript.


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Posted by Optimist
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 21, 2007 at 4:04 pm

I really feel out of step here. Paly and Gunn didn't push back on AP programs. According to the reports they pushed back on benchmarking their AP programs.


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Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 21, 2007 at 4:05 pm

I also agree with this decision. The competition is getting out of hand with APs - freshman and sophomores are taking some now (after having tutoring/prep), which I feel is ridiculous. All for the college apps. and to one-up one's peers at the high school.


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Posted by Future PA Resident
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2007 at 4:29 pm

Future PA Resident is a registered user.

Many of my friends chose not to buy in Cupertino because the schools are viewed as cut-throat (intensely competitive). I have to agree with them.

I like the move here by PA. There's more to a good education than test scores. Test scores are important, but not the only factor in my children's education. Extreme competition among students can be a liability. I've found the most effective people at my workplace to be great collaborators, not competitors.

FPAR


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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on May 21, 2007 at 6:48 pm

It is heartening to see so much support for this move. Along with good high schools that are dropping AP, and good colleges that are refusing to participate in US News & World Report rankings, could it be a trend? Let's hope so!

I hope the same parents talking about sanity and balance will not get *overly* stressed out about college applications. Much of the panic about low admission rates is driven by students sending in 12, 15, 20 applications, and much of that is driven by misplaced emphasis on the name recognition and rankings of schools.


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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 21, 2007 at 11:05 pm

Ben Franklin didn't go to high school or college. In fact, he had no formal education beyond 10 years old. Franklin was never a "teenager"; he was a "young adult".

The school ranking phenomenon is absurd. It proves and shows nothing other than what many of our fellow citizens have been led like ignorant sheep to believe is important about education. The sooner we recognize that learning is about wonder, self-discipline, and discovery - led by passion - the better. And the sooner we learn that these ingredients can be present in all of our lives - student, or not - the better.


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Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 22, 2007 at 9:31 am

RWE, I agree with you. You have a lot of knowledge and background on education.

For one thing, I remind my children that they can learn on their own - be self-educated in a subject that interests them...but you have to admit Palo Alto parents are generally pretty obsessed with status, public rankings, "achievements" of their children, particularly in Math.


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Posted by Mary Carlstead
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 22, 2007 at 10:56 am

I don't know if it is still done, but for years at Paly anyway, the last issue of the Campanile
listed what all the grads were going to do the next year. Parents would 'figuratively speaking' kill to get the right college or university after their offspring's name. Grads going to work, to the millitary, "traveling', or to what was considered a 'second tier' or small rather unknown college, or a trade school/vocational school felt almost guilty. Some students just lied to 'save face'. For years I advocated to do away with this practice. Is it still done?


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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 22, 2007 at 12:13 pm

Mary - they published it last year. I think its great to know where kids are going and how many, the names are unneccessary.


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Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 22, 2007 at 12:42 pm

I agree with Optimist's sentiment that "Paly and Gunn didn't push back on AP programs. According to the reports they pushed back on benchmarking their AP programs." If the school and district really wanted to make a difference they could limit the number of AP classes a student could take during a school year or even during their four years. If the number were limited then the students would be forced to hopefully select a class based on their interests.


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Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 22, 2007 at 1:02 pm

The Stressed Out Student (SOS) group at Gunn is looking at limiting the number of AP courses a kid can take per semester as a way of reducing stress. Not participating in the High School ranking is just the first step at trying to remove some of the pressure. AP courses are college level courses, yet we expect our 16/17 year old kids to be able to handle the workload of 7 courses (and do band, theater, sports) when colleges only require a 5 course workload (with no requirement for outside activities). The High School ranking is convoluted: the nuber of AP tests taken divided by the number of students in the school.

We are consistently trying to push curriculum down onto lower grades--college down to high school, high school electives down to middle school, and even writing down to kindergarten. No wonder more kids are depressed in early teen years and have more mental health problems in college. We are not giving kids time to learn by erperience, but to learn by rote. I have heard so many parents of college freshman say that their kid thinks college is so much easier than Gunn. It used to be college was a step up in difficulty. It looks like we may have pushed that down a few grades as well.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 22, 2007 at 1:02 pm

The Stressed Out Student (SOS) group at Gunn is looking at limiting the number of AP courses a kid can take per semester as a way of reducing stress. Not participating in the High School ranking is just the first step at trying to remove some of the pressure. AP courses are college level courses, yet we expect our 16/17 year old kids to be able to handle the workload of 7 courses (and do band, theater, sports) when colleges only require a 5 course workload (with no requirement for outside activities). The High School ranking is convoluted: the nuber of AP tests taken divided by the number of students in the school.

We are consistently trying to push curriculum down onto lower grades--college down to high school, high school electives down to middle school, and even writing down to kindergarten. No wonder more kids are depressed in early teen years and have more mental health problems in college. We are not giving kids time to learn by erperience, but to learn by rote. I have heard so many parents of college freshman say that their kid thinks college is so much easier than Gunn. It used to be college was a step up in difficulty. It looks like we may have pushed that down a few grades as well.


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Posted by Midtown Teacher
a resident of Midtown
on May 22, 2007 at 1:18 pm

While I often cringed at the Newsweek assessment method, it did
reflect something good happening, and may have helped students
seeking admission to have that "reputation." The schools may have
forsaken a very useful marketing tool--in the aggregate. Good schools
report good results. (If taking too many AP tests is the problem, address that. Don't kill the message. National comparisons are
inevitable and need some common basis.)


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Posted by Another parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 22, 2007 at 1:51 pm

I agree with Gunn Parent, above. Stepping out of the Newsweek competition is a good start, but it does little to reduce student stress. If the high schools are serious about reducing stress, they should limit the number of AP classes each student is allowed to take. Otherwise, students are feeling pressured to take as many as they can.


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Posted by data vs info
a resident of Barron Park
on May 22, 2007 at 2:15 pm

Gees - how little faith we have in ourselves to interpret data rather than blindly accept it as info. Newsweek asks for data which they use to compile a ranking of schools based on that data. They CLEARLY identify how ranking is determined and how data was gathered.

Personally, I think it's a stupid way to rank schools, but I think it's even stupider -- (I know -- stupider is probably not a word, makes you wonder if I attended PAUSD schools or not. I'll never tell)-- for us not to provide data because we have such little faith in others to form their own conclusions as to the value or validity of the ranking based on this data.


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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on May 22, 2007 at 2:19 pm

I think the Newseek method of ranking high schools is highly questionable, and with one in college and another just beginning the HS Junior/Senior years college application process, I am staying informed about how our kids and schools are doing with the college admission exercise.

Both Paly (where mine have been students) and Gunn have national reputations as outstanding high schools that prepare their students well for college. Having visited a number of very good colleges and talked with admissions officers in the last few months, I feel pretty comfortable that my kids' attendance at Paly is viewed favorably by the folks who decide who to offer admissions to. This is not based on the Newsweek poll, but based on the colleges' experiences with prior Gunn and Paly students who have attended their schools. The Newsweek poll, I contend, means little or nothing to admissions officers insofar as their opinion of these two high schools is concerned.

So, for any kids attending Paly or Gunn, their schools' reputations are established and are to the students' benefit in the admissions process. After that, it is a matter of the student, not the high school that affects where to apply and where one gets in. And that level of evaluation includes a number of things about the student, at times including AP classes taken, not AP tests taken.

So my question is who is the intended audience for this ersatz Newsweek survey? I don't perceive it means a thing to admissions officers, and it has no bearing on how a particular family feels about their particular kid's chances of getting into a certain college, does it? Testings and rankings can be helpful for certain things, but I fail to see value for any potential constituency in Newsweek's work product.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2007 at 3:10 pm

The real beneficiary of this poll is our real estate prices. That plus the fact that many move here for the schools. If it wasn't for these polls, the realtors wouldn't have something to brag and justify about high prices to potential buyers and families wouldn't be buying million dollar tear downs just to move here.


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Posted by laura
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2007 at 8:41 am

Both of my kids went to UC Davis and did four AP's at Gunn to get in there. They also worked and did sports. One night I went in at 6:30 pm to call my daughter to dinner and found her asleep on her bedroom floor surrounded by books, project materials, notebooks, etc. It struck me that we are penalizing our kids by loading all of this stress on them at such a young age. Many of them are not mature to handle it and turn to other influences (bad) to cope. Luckliy, both of my kids were sensible and handled it well and did well at college. on the plus side UC Davis was not as difficult as Gunn!


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Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on May 23, 2007 at 3:04 pm

Paly 'shunned' little. Last year, they made only a mediocre showing among peninsula schools, falling behind Mission San Jose, Monte Vista, Mtn View, Los Altos, Burlingame, M-A, Saratoga, others.

Dont get me wrong- this is good company-- there are a lot of very good high schools in the area, and Paly is certainly one of them. But the PR generated by shunning this ranking makes PAUSD look much better then the results would have.

(For the record, yes, Newsweeks methodology is poor, and yes, test scores are given more credit then they deserve. My point is that I view this action by the district as a symptom of the problem, not a search for a cure)


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Posted by Gunn Grad
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on May 23, 2007 at 3:11 pm

I think is was a wise decision by Gunn and Paly to remove themselves from the Newsweek ranking.

As for the stress at schools: the only way this is going to change is if college stop looking at APs and extracurricular activities, which won't happen. Whether in Palo Alto or not, motivated students will want to get into the best schools possible and the way they can do this is to take a lot of APs, participate in a lot of extracurricular activities, and get good grades, all of which will be stressful. So, that is something all those concerned parents out there are going to have to learn to live with. Getting into college isn't like what it was "back in my day" -- more, higher-qualified are applying to colleges today and to get an edge in acceptance, students are going to have to be stressed out.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 23, 2007 at 3:12 pm

Eric,

Gunn's was in the top 100 and this is your idea of a "mediocre" showing.

Paly was in the top 500--once it got in its paperwork. How mediocre is that?

Shows you how out-of-scale expectations are around here. No wonder kids in competitive schools are showing anxiety and depression rates on par with kids in the inner city.

Both the Newsweek rankings and the US News college rankings are a dangerous ill-thought game because they limit what's acceptable. Kids and their parents feel that only 15 colleges are acceptable--even though the best college for a particular child may be no. 150, but be the right size and have the right focus for a particular kids.

We've gotten focused on the quantitative at the expense of the qualitative.


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Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on May 23, 2007 at 3:29 pm

OhlonePar, I think you need to re-read my comments- you seem to have missed my meaning. Paly (not Gunn-I actually never mentioned Gunn) did, in fact, do "only" OK when compared to the local schools I mentioned, and that SHOULD be just fine with Paly, now shouldn't it? My premise is that the fact that Paly was "only" on par or 'below' many nearby schools is a factor in this decision-- harder for them to maintain the perception that they are head and shoulders ahead of many of the excellent nearby schools when Newsweek claims otherwise.

In other words, I think that you and I generally agree. I think that your last comment is an excellent encapsulation of the issue and wholeheartedly agree with it.


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Posted by JF
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2007 at 11:52 am

Great decision!! Congratulations all Palo-altans! That ranking is too Chinese-style and ridiculous. Our kids should never be ranked that way.


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Posted by JF
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2007 at 11:52 am

Great decision!! Congratulations all Palo-altans! That ranking is too Chinese-style and ridiculous. Our kids should never be ranked that way.


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Posted by Ithoughttheyshunned
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2008 at 11:04 am

Newsweek rankings are out today and Gunn moves down to 81 and Palo Alto moves up to 329.

So what happen to the shunning


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