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Is Gunn High School's student culture racist?

Original post made by PA Dad on May 21, 2008

A pretty good definition of a racist is someone who, when trying to explain any particular set of human behaviors, thinks first to offer an explanation in terms of race. Such racism is offensive to us both because it is inane as an explanation (people of any particular race are, obviously, all very different) and because the stereotypes it promotes are dangerous (it encourages us to discriminate against people simple based on their race and you need only a passing acquaintance with American history to know where that can lead us).

Yet when asked to explain Gunn High School's higher ranking in a recent national survey, Gunn student body president Max Keeler explains the difference in terms of race.

"Gunn senior Max Keeler, student body president, said the school's culture is "self-challenging," largely due to the large Asian population at the school," reports the Weekly's Arden Pennell.

When a commenter in this forum called Keeler on the apparent racism of his remark, a pile of Gunn students wrote in to defend him. (see Web Link).

Even when your racial stereotype is positive, though, it is still a racial stereotype.

For me that begs the question: is Gunn's culture a racist as it seems?
What's the worth of graduating children who score well on their AP exams (what the new ranking measured) when they turn to reductive, offensive and just plain inane explanations for what happens in their own school?

Comments (103)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2008 at 9:24 am

When the schools stop requesting and publishing demographics of students in schools listing race as one of the questions, we might agree with you.

Unfortunately, the US society always breaks down all sorts of data into racial demographics. This makes us very aware of what different races are likely to be involved in. It is this societal atmosphere that makes us look at racial demographics and make statements based on this.

For example, if race was not something that was apparent by looking at a person, then statements pertaining to race would not happen unless the individual made that fact known.

Another way of looking at this is to see whether the students at Gunn or Paly were made up of kids with parents who are high achievers themselves, Stanford professors, high tech CEOs, etc. and then try to evaluate the student body on this. This doesn't happen because the type of parents a group of high achieving students have is something that is not evident to someone by just looking at this group. It may indeed be the case, but how can we tell.

Race is unfortunately something that we can tell just by looking at someone. We could also judge by whether these students all had Abercrombie t shirts or Nike shoes, but then that would be too materialistic and it has nothing whatsoever to do with whether a kid was brainy or not. Oh, I forgot, race has nothing to do with it either.

Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on May 21, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Why the knee-jerk assumption that "Asian" only refers to race? It could mean a general Asian cluture, which the quoted student appears to respect as promoting a challenging learning environment. He would not be accused of racism if he referred to a large, say, German immigrant or first-generation element that was excelling academically, would he?

Posted by defender of truth, a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Yup...he was referring to the strong educational value of the Asian culture, not saying Asians are inherently smarter. I am grateful that the younger generation can just tell the truth as they know it, and not worry about all the BS PC stuff that we older folks do.

He and all the rest of the students understand full well that the culture at Gunn has become more competitive and challenging because of the changing culture engendered by the increasingly Asian population.

It is a reality that the Asian population has the highest test scores ( whites score as much below Asians as other colors score below whites on the standardized tests, has the highest college grad rates, the highest family incomes and the lowest out of wedlock birth rate.

These come from cultural pressures.

So, don't start throwing around the "racist" crap.

Posted by truth teller, a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2008 at 1:15 pm

BTW, I don't think it is unfortunate at all that we break down into racial demographics, or financial demographics, or single parent demographics, or religious demographics. I think it is good to see people in all different lights to help us understand ourselves.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 21, 2008 at 1:17 pm

PA Dad,

Racism has a narrower definition than the one you give it--primarily it's meant discrimination and mistreatment based on someone's "race". Attendant with that are negative stereotypes and assumptions based, again, on someone's race.

I don't see Max Keeler's comment as innately racist--he's made an observation, which may or not be supported by stats (my guess is that it would be). He *doesn't* say that these kids do well *because* of their skin color or heridity.

When you start making claims that something cultural is biologically innate, then I think you're veering into the territory of racism. I just didn't see this here. Keeler's comment may not have been PC--but I don't think it's racist.

As for negative v. positive stereotypes--there's a wonderful blog written by an American of African and Korean descent who's living in Korea (Metropole). He once wrote of the difference between stereotypes of Asians and blacks--"Just once I'd like to walk into a room and have people assume I'm smart."

Posted by ng, a resident of Hoover School
on May 21, 2008 at 1:18 pm

People from India do not see themselves having anything genetically or culturally in common with people from China, Japan etc

The term Asian is there for misleading and inaccurate

Gunn pushes math and science, Paly pushes journalism, theatre and football, its nice we have some diversity

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of College Terrace
on May 21, 2008 at 1:59 pm

OhlonePar -- I agree that 'positive' stereotypes are not as bad as negative ones, but they are still stereotypes and I'd contend that they still do harm, *and* that they are still racist. Far better to wait to judge each other on the content of our actions and character than to have expectations placed on us based on our genetic heritage (such as the automatic assumption that someone walking in the room is either smart or dumb based on their physical appearance).

As for cultural stereotyping not being racist, I think it is only steps away. It dangerous when it links stereotypes of behavior to particular ethnicities. Doing it in a 'positive' context normalizes it when the consequences are far nastier (e.g. it makes it too easy to say 'those low test scores are all thanks to our school's high percentage of students of African-American culture' etc. Would you say African-American culture (whatever that is)is inherently antithetical to academic success? Of course not.).

All of which is to say there's a very good reason to avoid reductive cultural stereotyping. Besides, it too has poor explanatory power. As the post immediately after yours points out, 'Asian culture' is so descriptively vague as to have almost no value (except, perhaps, to someone looking to discriminate unfairly).

It's the poverty of such reductive explanations that got to me this morning. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] That's what makes me worry for the culture of the school, if such assumptions are part of the fabric of the school and never questioned.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2008 at 2:11 pm

As the parent of a middle schooler and high schooler I have to listen and hear what they tell me about their friends. They both happen to be in high lane math classes. They tell me that there are very few non-asians in these classes. They tell me that "everyone in their class" gets out of school tutoring in math. They tell me that they can't see their asian friends outside school hours because they have tutoring sessions or classes except for holidays. They tell me that they are glad they are not asian.

Get an average AP class and look at the kids. You will probably see a lot of asians. Ask an average AP class what their parents do and you will probably find that they are all Stanford Professors, or Doctors, or Lawyers or have their own start up successful high tech companies.
You can look at the the kids and see that they are asian. You have to ask them about their parents to find out the latter. My sneaky suspicion is that their parents are high achievers too, but you can't tell that by looking at them.

Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on May 21, 2008 at 2:12 pm

So why do you think you're more intelligent than the student body president "at one of the supposedly best schools in the country"? (Advanced age doesn't do it.)

As student body president, Mr. Keeler is certifiably an eminently respected member of the student body, is intimately attuned to its culture and, in my view, has made a succinct, honest, and likely accurate appraisal of the school's academic atmosphere. There is no objective reason to accuse him of racism or stereotyping.

Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on May 21, 2008 at 2:14 pm

Oops. Sorry, Parent (and anyone else who slips in while I'm typing this). My comments were aimed at PA Dad.

Posted by ng, a resident of Hoover School
on May 21, 2008 at 2:16 pm

There is a great deal of evidence that some parts of African

American culture are "inherently antithetical to academic success"

Bill Crosby, Tip O'Neal, Obama, Sowell and many others have pointed this out many times.

This not racist, it is just facing reality

Posted by Gunn Alum '07, a resident of Barron Park
on May 22, 2008 at 2:13 am

Gunn senior Max Keeler says that "the school's culture is "self-challenging," largely due to the large Asian population at the school."

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

As a recent Gunn graduate, I can honestly state that the school's environment is abhorrently racially ignorant. During my first quarter in college, I learned more about American-race relations in my writing class than my entire career in P.A.U.S.D.

I will be honest and admit that I used to state despicably racist [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I largely attribute my previous and Max's current racial ignorance to the racist attitudes Gunn engenders. Gunn offers no classes on race relations, and the social sciences department fully neglects contemporary race-related issues.

Yes, Gunn is a great academic school, but Max Keeler's comment should not and cannot be neglected as a trivial racial statement. HE IS WRONG TO SAY THAT GUNN IS A GOOD SCHOOL BECAUSE OF IT'S ASIAN-AMERICAN STUDENT POPULATION. Gunn is a good school because its students, whatever race, have amazing opportunities and privileges in Palo Alto. If there were a large African-American population residing in Gunn's side of Palo Alto, as opposed to a large Asian-American population, Gunn would have the same success rate. I wonder how many Palo Altans have actually thought about why Palo Alto does not have a large black population? (By the way, the Gunn class of 2007 was composed of ONE black student. So much for Brown v. Board...)

Gunn's lack of racial education is one of its major problems. Additionally, the school's lack of diversity (90% asian and white, you can check the stats, is not diverse) hinders honest racial discussions. Gunn students are isolated from the reality of racism in the United States, and Max's comment is one example of Gunn students' ignorance.

Posted by Stop the Racism, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 22, 2008 at 6:14 am

Gunn Alum '07

"If there were a large African-American population residing in Gunn's side of Palo Alto, as opposed to a large Asian-American population, Gunn would have the same success rate."

On what possible basis do you make this statement? You completely ignore the high value that Asians put on education and hard work, and by doing so, you diminish them. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Yuck, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2008 at 8:42 am

PA Dad,

You cannot be serious. If you think Keeler's remarks were racist, you don't understand racism.

He offered no stereotypes, positive or negative, and made no reductive claims. He merely offered an explanation for Gunn's success based on his observation. He's probably right in suggesting that Asians do better and that their presence fosters a competitive academic spirit.

Ask yourself why you are so stirred up. Why are so many quick to explain away Asian success as the result of tutoring. Or as the result of a one-sided (unhealthy and practically un-American) focus? Why so dismissive of Asian success? Why so defensive?

The answer is obvious and sad. You feel threatened by the success of Asians, and you set a poor example for kids. Keeler is not insecure--I'll bet he has plenty of company--and sounds like he is living in the real world. You, on the other hand, are insisting that we all pretend to live in a world that doesn't threaten you.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2008 at 8:50 am

The make up of the student body at Gunn (and Paly) is due to the fact that they are children of reasonably affluent, dedicated, high achieving people. These people are the gene pool which have contributed to the high achieving students at Gunn (and Paly). Please note, I have not mentioned race in this paragraph.

If high achieving African American parents are living in this area, then their kids are part of the high achieving student body. Likewise, any other ethnic group.

High achieving families move into Palo Alto for the belief that the schools are good. Consequently, this is what is making the schools good. If we bused in students from Oakland (for example) and sent our residents to say private schools, I would doubt very much if Gunn and Paly would have the same sort of successes.

It is the families and their influences that make the schools good. But, even the best teachers in the World(and I know we have some) can not make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of College Terrace
on May 22, 2008 at 11:54 am

Parent -- I agree with you. I think income, level of education and interest in education on the part of parents far better explains the performance of a school like Gunn than the number of students belonging to an amorphous category like 'Asian.'

And, of course, high achieving African American parents *do* live in this area (Stanford faculty members, for example) and their kids *are* part of the high achieving student body.

Posted by Giraffe, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 22, 2008 at 11:00 pm

I suppose there are a lot of definitions of 'racism', but I kind of like the traditional one (well, _a_ traditional one) found in Webster's, from 1933:
Web Link

1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human
traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an
inherent superiority of a particular race

By 'race', I think it is clear that they mean genetics, not culture.
So, I don't think Pa Dad's 'pretty good definition' of 'racist' is pretty good at all. It is flat out wrong. 'Racist' is such an inflammatory word that it bothers me to see it misused in that way.

From PA Dad's quote, it is obvious to me that Keeler wasn't talking about race at all, he was talking about culture. Call Keeler a 'culturist' if you must call him something, but please don't call him a racist!

Posted by History Researcher, a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2008 at 6:03 am

It never ceases to amaze me how we continue to be ignorant of truth: "History" is the interpretation of events as related by the privileged. The circumstances that allowed a people to gain privilege, the account for how this came to be is often included in the history of those oppressed and that does not get told or "His Storied".
Any one who cares to actually research ancient history and religion and archeology or anyone who has ever just simply lived among others of any cultural/racial difference for a length of time understands the great lie we have made to hold onto our current privileged status and also knows at whose expense. Pretense of superiority is the little secret that the prevailing privileged attempt to hide from themselves, but archeology and artifacts reveal the truth of other great cultures and civilizations that existed and that were non white and non Asian, and that we do not want to acknowledge. Yes, racism is institutionalized at Gunn and at Paly and we need to continue to address this. Camp Anytown and similar programs help, but are limited to how many students they reach.

Posted by Face Facts, a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2008 at 7:34 am

To deny a reality of generalization for fear of being racist is burying your head in the sand. Gunn alum 07, be careful to think analytically and above the propoganda you are going to be fed for 4 years.

To deny that the "Asian culture" places a greater value on educating their children than the "White culture" which values education more than the "Black or Hispanic Cultures" is to deny a reality supported by the most factual evidence one can have.

I won't go over the usual numbers: please look them up.

Rate of high school graduation of different "races". Rate of college graduation of different "races". Which "race" is in the highest earning of couples? Which in the lowest?

The danger comes in small minds trying to draw conclusions that are NOT cultural from these facts. Acknowledging generalities is not to say that an Asian descent person can't fail school or a black person can't be a Rhodes scholar. THAT is what we need to be careful of, the silly individual conclusions or generic genetic conclusions that silly minds could draw. We don't need to deny the reality of cultures, we need to teach good thinking skills.

Otherwise, we would need to be careful of NOT saying such sexist comments as fewer women go into the top levels of science and math for fear of small minds thinking we are drawing some kind of genetic sexist conclusion..oh yes, that is right. We have already been there. The same silly thinking concludes that factual comments are a slam on women, without thinking rationally of reality. Ask Larry Summers

It is a disease we have, this fear of facing facts.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 23, 2008 at 9:09 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of College Terrace
on May 23, 2008 at 9:32 am

Face facts -- the problem with the facts we're talking about here (achievement scores on standardized tests broken down by race) is that the facts are based on self-reported membership of racial groups -- not cultures.

We do that kind of reporting because of a history of racist bias against people simply on the basis of their genetic heritage. But the data such reporting gives us does not indicate membership of particular cultures. Maybe people who choose to report their children as African American in Palo Alto self-identify as belonging to African American culture, maybe not. Maybe the people reporting themselves as Asian see themselves as being culturally Asian, maybe not. We don't know because that's not what is being measured.

One legitimate complaint against this kind of ethnic fact-gathering is that some categories seem to be more culturally constructed than others. 'Hispanic' and 'Asian,' for example, both seem to include people from widely diverse ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. That just makes the reporting of even less value, to me.

So we don't have scores that can be said to reliably distinguish between students based on culture. Is culture predictive, though? I think, to an extent, it can be.

But when it comes to the power of culture as an explanation, I much prefer more nuanced explanations of student success than ascribing it to the influence of a vague 'Asian culture,' whatever that is. Like I said before, income levels, family support, a culture of hard work, belief in the value of education are all more powerful cultural explanations than that – and they are values that I don't see as the exclusive province of any one race. Weren't these characteristics that we're currently ascribing to 'Asian culture' ascribed to many other immigrant cultures in the past, for example?

I'm not so much 'denying the reality of a generalization,' as saying generalizations have little predictive value, especially if we use such vague cultural constructions as 'Asian.'

What worries me is how easy such cultural generalizations can slip into racial generalizations and perpetuate prejudice based on what we are rather than who we are.

I can believe Max Keeler was using 'Asian' as shorthand for a set of culturally defined values, as many here have suggested. I still think we need to ask, though, if that is both intellectually vacuous and dangerously reinforcing of stereotypes of racial, as opposed to cultural, groupings. To the extent that it was, I think it betrays a big hole in the education he is getting at what is otherwise a clearly outstanding school.

Posted by Another PA Dad, a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2008 at 10:43 am

PA Dad -

Self-identified Asians score higher than any other self-identified group in just about every school in the bay area which has a statistically significant (self-identified) Asian population.

It happens year after year, and influences neighborhoods and real-estate values etc.

It's real and a fact.

You are working hard around this fact, but what are you trying to say?

1. It's not a fact.
2. Your world view forces you to conclude that this is a coincidence.
3. It is a self fulfilling self-identification; those students who do well call themselves Asian.
4. There can be nothing about Asians that help explain this fact, or, if there is, it's not a culture of high expectations.

There is a set of people who think, "We shouldn't say anything, anytime about people of a given race, because 150 years ago we enslaved Africans and that was bad."

This thinking is a slap in the face. It's almost as if there is a presumption that we are so unclear about the problem with slavery that we're afraid we might accidentally do something bad if we talk about race.


Racism is important and difficult to eradicate. It hurts the effort to confuse the issue with a chimera . Most here are not racist. We can talk about race without being racist. Avoiding discussion of race is the wrong way to go. Avoiding facts in the name of "tread lightly around race" or political correctness is not the way toward progress in racial relations.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2008 at 11:26 am

PA Dad,

You have confused Hispanic and Asian. "Hispanic" is explicitly defined by culture. "Asian" and "African-American" are not.

You are right that we do not have scores that perfectly distinguish between students based on culture, but we do have scores that distinguish between students based on race/ethnicity.

In particular, we have scores that show Asians out-performing their non-Asian peers. You claim that this kind of generalization has little predictive power. Well, I'll predict that Asians outperform others at Gunn the next reporting cycle. Like to bet on it? No, huh?

But in any case, predictive value is unimportant. What is relevant is EXPLANATORY value. We have a group of kids doing well, so it makes sense to look at that group to discover what things underlie their success. (Those things may work for others.) In any case, there is nothing wrong or racist or vacuous about naming that successful group.

You seem deathly worried that someone is going to say that the underlying cause is genetics ("Asians are smarter than others"). I don't hear anyone else saying that, and allowing the discussion to be hemmed in by a vague worry is severely limiting. Your extraordinary defensiveness leads you to imagine arguments no one is making--for instance, no one suggested a culture of hard work is "the exclusive province" of Asians.

Asian academic success is a very strong trend, so it's worth looking at. Why does it happen? I'd guess wealth and parental level of education don't come near explaining it.

Keeler did not speculate on what about Asians has resulted in their success. He just pointed to a fact: At Gunn, Asians do better.

Posted by sore loser, a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2008 at 1:27 pm

PA DAD, Look around you. There are Asians everywhere.

You're just sore that this student body prez is honest in saying that Gunn's success is largely due in part to Asians.

Whites aren't the only people in this world.

Posted by Have some respect!, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on May 23, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Pa Dad, Have some respect, please! What's racist about recognizing that a large number of Asians at Gunn really do in fact do well?

Posted by PA Dad is White, a resident of Professorville
on May 23, 2008 at 1:34 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Face Facts, a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Another PA Dad...extremely well written. I wish I had written it myself. I have copied it to my computer. Hope you don't mind, I will probably use it else where...attributed to "another PA Dad".


And yes, Another PA Dad claims midtown, but we aren't the same people.

Posted by Face Facts, a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Parent, just made it through yours. Awesome post also. I have copied it to my computer, under your moniker also.


I can't help but think about how "Achievement Gap" discussions, based on race, are not only completely ok but encouraged in order to understand why 2 colors of people, brown and black, DON'T do was well as whites and ( what color are Asians??), but it is NOT ok to discuss why Asians do better than everyone else.

Both statements are based on race-based statistics. What is wrong with this? PA Dad, would you be having the same discussion points about Achievement Gap thread?

Posted by Face Facts, a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2008 at 2:36 pm

Mr. Keeler, good job. You stated the truth as you saw it, and those of us who can face reality applaud you.

Don't let worry over how people might misinterpret what you are saying stop you from continuing to stating reality. There will always be people who will twist what is said.

Posted by gn, a resident of Hoover School
on May 23, 2008 at 2:46 pm

Nobody is allowed to talk about race and the VTP student achievement gap without being the target of ad hominem attacks, this is a shame because their are clearly some cultural and other factors associated with race that can predict performance.

A forthright discussion of these factors could lead to defining best practices that could be applied to boost under achievers performance.

Re Gunn there are aspects of the culture of teaching and administration there that boost performance among pupils-- they deserve some credit.

A small example is that you do not get the self righteous shouting from parents and pupils about issues like the theater and journalism programs that you hear from Paly.

The teachers at Gunn act more " In Loco Parentis" IMHO

Posted by Karen, a resident of College Terrace
on May 23, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Is Max Keeler too young to run for the school board? If not, I will support him, becasue he tells the obvious truth, something that has eluded our current and previous school boards.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 23, 2008 at 4:34 pm

PA Dad,

Your arguments use a slippery slope fallacy--i.e. acknowledgment of something associated with a particular racial group leads to racism.

I don't buy it.

That said, I don't think Asian culture, per se, (of course, that lumps a large and diverse continent with a couple of billion people is a single culture)is more educationally oriented. Fact is, the actual countries (China, India) that provide most of our "Asian" immigrants have large uneducated populations. Part of the drive to get your kids educated at all costs at one of ten colleges that you see here comes from the fact that getting into one of those relatively rare university spots in India or China (or Japan or South Korea) is make-or-break.

Our immigrants from India and China are some of the brightest and most motivated people those countries have to offer. They're taking chances and they have both the money and education to be allowed into the U.S.

Yes, I know, I'm talking about immigrants and first-gen kids of immigrants while there are Asian-Americans who are fifth generation. That's because kids who are fourth- and fifth-generation perform similarily to their fourth- and fifth-generation Caucasian peers. (Also, after four or five generations, you're starting to look higher rates of intermarriage.)

So well-educated immigrants with that immigrant drive to succeed in America, land of opportunity. Historically, you'll find similar high-performing groups.

Meanwhile, our Hispanic immigrants tend to come from poor and working-class groups who haven't had access or expectations of education. If we had the same class of Indians or Chinese immigrating in similar numbers, we'd be hearing the same complaints about underachievement that we hear about Hispanics.

We see a wider range of achievements among whites here (yes, in Palo Alto) because there's a wider range of whites in both terms of SOE status and education. Not ALL of Palo Alto is educated and affluent. Half of Palo Alto rents--this isn't Hillsborough.

Not every parent of Asian ancestry pushes their kid--however, I've seen it in action and I'm friends with some previously pushed kids. It's a real phenomena--and, frankly, it's not that hard to figure out how to do it. Having listened to friends who were on the receiving end, however, I don't think the emotional repercussions are worth it. Depression rates among Asian-American youth are sky-high. The kids learn a *terrific* work ethic, but the fear of failure can be overwhelming.

One last thing, I think it's weirdly arrogant to pretend there are no cultural differences.

Posted by Susan, a resident of Green Acres
on May 23, 2008 at 5:55 pm


You left out the Vietnamese, who had everything taken from them. They are remarkably successful, and over a short period of time.

Some cultures are more successful than others. I think this comes from centuries of facing the consquences of failure. You seem to be saying something similar, but in a different way.

This student body presdient at Gunn should be praised for telling it like it is. He should not be made to feel bad about telling the truth. The people who are criticizing him should feel bad about themselves.

Posted by What If, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 23, 2008 at 7:35 pm

If someone said, "that school has great sports teams because of all the blacks that go there," would that be racist? Seems that way - it implies that all blacks are good athletes, and that other races are less good. Even if the teams at the school were led by fine black athletes, it isn't "all the blacks" that make the difference - it is those particular good athletes who happen to be black. (Please read African-American where I wrote black - it is too hard to type it all out each time.)

If most of the kids taking advanced Math at a school happened to be boys, would it be fair to say "that school is strong at math because of its large population of boys?" Of course not.

Or if a school had a problem with violence that happened to be committed mostly by Hispanic kids - would you feel ok about "we have a violence problem because of our population of Hispanics"? I wouldn't - it stereotypes Hispanics as violent, while in fact the problem is certain violent kids who happen to be Hispanic.

Correlation does not mean causality. That many Asian students do well at Gunn does not mean they do well because they are Asian. There are non-Asians who do well; and Asians who do not do so well. So to say "the school does well because of the large population of Asians" is a mistake. Same with the blacks, boys, and Hispanics in the examples above.

We want to be careful about this, since this kind of logical/linguistic slip results in stereotyping - assuming that certain people are/behave certain ways because of some unrelated attribute. Stereotyping often leads to prejudice and bias, which can lead to outright bigotry.

I'm sure Max meant no harm though - perhaps he was mis-paraphrased (since it wasn't even a quote I believe).

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 23, 2008 at 11:45 pm


I also left out the Koreans, Thais and Japanese. I did think of them, but I chose the groups that have a fairly strong presence in the Palo Alto schools.

I don't think specific cultures are geared toward success--I think it's particular segments of various cultures. We get the relatively affluent and educated emigrants from Asia--yes, even, from Vietnam. It's not a question of having money when they come here, but more of the values and expections they bring. The Vietnamese in San Jose, for example, are quite different SOE background than the Hmong who emigrated at the same time and for similar reasons. The Hmong who were from poorer and less-educated backgrounds have had a tough time of it here.

The tendency to import one's sense of class isn't new--you see it in the early aristocracy of Virginia (younger sons of the aristocracy of Britain), the poor whites of the South (descended from the poor Scots and English of northern Britain). The Irish emigrants, who were poor and starving, took a much longer time to succeed than did the more affluent German emigrants of the same time period.

What If--I think you're using slippery slope reasoning here. No one made those kind of statements--I don't think people are making the correlation/causation error here.

We're not all the same, we don't all have the same backgrounds. We don't all have identical views about parenting. I know my views are influenced by my upbringing and my parents' views. I know darn well that I *don't* place the same value on my kid getting into Stanford as do some other parents I know. I know I wasn't treated the same way that some of my friends were.

It's just not the end of the world if those differences and their consequences get aired occasionally.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2008 at 3:11 pm


I think you left out the deep trends in Asian society, especially Confucian filial piety, among the Chinese. Asians, generally, have strong trends of respect for family, respect for authority, hard work, avoidance of personal public displays of ego, respect for education. These traits, although not absolute, are sufficient to to create a critical mass of culture that cuts across class.

I think your essential take on why Asians are successful in education is misplaced, becasue you ignore these deeper trends.

You said, " I don't think specific cultures are geared toward success". I disagree with your analysis.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 24, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Jim, while Chinese is a culture with many fine qualities, I don't think it has a corner on the success market. China is doing well today, but for several decades and centuries lagged pretty badly. In recent times, Korea has done well, before that Japan; prior to that the US did very well with mostly European cast-offs; before that Europe conquered the most of the world. All have their virtues, which were held out as a model in their day (remember when we all studied Japanese organizations in the 1980s?); but in the long-run they all seem to reach pretty similar outcomes.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Me Too,

China has a two-thousand year old tradition of Conficianism, and derivatives thereof. It is the glue that has held the place together, over many centuries. It even survived Mao.

The interesting thing is that children from that culture can thrive in a much more individually ambitious culture, like America, in the 21st century. Ironically, the American-cultured kids tend to flounder.

I agree with you that dominant cultures are of time and place, but we are here in 2008, and it seems that the Asian influence at Gunn propels it to great academic heights. Perhaps we all have something to learn from that culture, instead of dissing the student body president, who pointed out the obvious?

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2008 at 1:23 am


Half of China's population consists of peasants. Only a small percentage of China's population goes to college (around 10 percent). Many of those colleges aren't up to western standards. Only one Chinese university--University of Beijing--is considered world-class.

Despite China's enormous population and recent economic growth, there's a lack of Chinese international powerhouses. The Chinese, themselves, know that these sort of things are issues and are trying to figure out how to encourage innovative thinking.

In Silicon Valley, we have a large and well-educated Chinese-American and Chinese immigrant population. Despite this, there seems to be an under-representation of Chinese-American leading cutting-edge companies. Jerry Yang, at Yahoo!, is the exception who springs to mind. Before that, I reach back to Wang Labs. You see a lot more entrepreneurial drive and innovation from the Indian-American community.

I think many of the traits of Chinese culture that you mention lead to kind of conservatism--you're teaching kids to play it safe. Playing it safe and doing what you're told by your parents can get you to a secure niche in life, but but it discourages you from taking chances and it doesn't teach you how to fail and get up and try again.

So, long-term, no, I don't think American kids flounder. One of the interesting things about the current college situation is that kids who transfer into four-year colleges (i.e. they didn't have the grades to initially get in as freshmen) do as well the kids who entered as freshman at the UCs.

Also, succeeding in life is about a lot more than the college you attend. There seems to be very little difference in long-term career success if you attend any of the 100 or so top-tier schools. It's a different situation with grad schools, but plenty of careers don't require grad school.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 25, 2008 at 8:25 am

Jim, I agree, nothing wrong with studying what Chinese culture has to offer. But as with anything else, it makes sense to assess with a critical eye. That Indians, Vietnamese, and Koreans are also doing well (in my kids friendship circles anyway) suggest that the distinctive features of Chinese culture may not be the biggest drivers. My sense, personally, is that the kids who do well are the ones who work hardest; hard work is a virtue is just about any culture.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2008 at 9:08 am


You make some good points - as usual. However, one thing that you mentioned is not necessarily the case. Many kids do not get into UCs first time from PA not because their grades are not good enough, but simply because of the volume of kids applying to multiple colleges and getting multiple places. This means that all the PA kids can't get in regardless of good grades and good SATs. These kids would have got in from other school districts, but the system is geared not to take more than a certain percentage from any one school district. Therefore, those bright kids are going to Foothill or other colleges and getting in on transfers. I have seen it happen over the past ten years or so.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Hi Parent,

I wasn't referring specifically to Palo Alto kids and the crazily competitive situation here. I actually know some kids who did have mediocre grades in high school and average SATS who decided at the local or non-local community college to start paying attention. They then did get into the UCs and did very well there. I think, if anything, this might be more common with bright kids in mediocre districts--they're not being challenged and tune out. When they hit college, they start to pay attention.

Unlike some of their pushed peers, the late bloomers are enthusiastic and great college students--they're sort of the opposite of burned-out. Their self-motivation is also strong (nothing like a couple of entry-level jobs at Ikea to make one appreciate school.)It's a question of maturity for a lot of these kids.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2008 at 2:45 pm


The Confuscian ethic extends beyond China, to include Japan and Korea and Vietnam, etc.. No, it is not called that, exactly, in those places, but it is, nevertheless, expressed in generic ways. There is respect for older people, authority, hard work, study, etc.

Th point is, I think, that given the opportunity, such people flower in a place like the U.S., where personal freedom is allowed, big time, but is best expressed with the personal responsibilities that are engendered with the immigrant Asian populations. This, I believe, is why Gunn HS is flourishing, and not floundering.

OhlonePar, I think you are wrong about your projections, becasue you are basing them on past history. The engineers of the future are overwhelmingly Asian (including Indians). Even in the U.S., the engineering classes are filled with Asians. You have a kind of relaxed attitude about this, apparently thinking that some magical entreprenuial spirit will derive out of liberal arts majors to lead the engineers of the future. I think this is naive, at best.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 25, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Personal responsibilities? I actually don't see that. I have some thoughts.

Sadly, I often see highly-pressured after-school, evening, and weekend academic programs in Silicon Valley aimed at the Asian community -- paid for parents who can afford this. Why? To get ahead of the other student, to get the A, to aim for school prizes. The ultimate of learning/teaching to the test. Sometimes these programs are secretive. Some children disclose that they are forced to do these programs, clearly indicating a lack of interest and motivation but a definite obedience, to be sure.

To learn? To discover? To explore? To supplement a particular academic interest? Generally, No.

Rather, these parents' goals are to get their kids heavily prepped in advance for Math, SATs, AP courses. It is incredible that we have come to a time when many students "take the course" before taking the course in high school- this is ethically dubious if not actual cheating. Sure, these students feel more confident than their peers who are actually studying and doing the classwork and learning on their own as they take a class. A big point of this seems to be to demoralize others. I hear some students yawn and state they already learned the material with their tutors.

It is artificial not genuine accomplishment.
To claim one ethnic group is more intelligent and better students, more motivated than another at Gunn is preposterous.

You want to read a book about Physics before taking a Physics class, OK. You love Physics and find a summer course, OK.
You want to secretly go to a prepping service which is under the table, and be tutored in the actual curriculum the summer before, with the actual text book, I have real issues with this and believe this should be disclosed to school officials.

Ever wonder why the schools look the other way when so many students are prepped/tutored? How much of the education comes from actual learning at PAUSD high schools and how much was fed in advance?? It is in PAUSD's interest to not own the truth about this. They want to take credit for high SAT scores, etc.

How about manufactured students - students directed, carefully managed by parents who pay for many years of tutoring in order to apply for selected universities. Who demand an A. In the end, it's a sad thing. It's not real world at all. It's more about "winning" and less about achievement. The worst situation I know of involved a young man typing out a school essay dictated to him by his personal tutor.

I see above average abilities, above average motivation (usually) around here. There is no inherent distinction by race. I see an incredible amount of parental pressure and maybe it would be better to let more students run their own academic lives.

I would think that students who direct themselves, make their own choices into career paths will be the most creative and feel the most rewarded in the end. I would think that students who have been pressured and heavily prepped would know that they had not done it (achieved those A's) by themselves. Guess what: some of your peers do their own work but they may get the A- which you look down at. I'd rather get the A- and know that I owned the work.

Parent who encourage high achievement are to be applauded. Parents who manufacture so-called achievers are not. Parents who offer to pay for a SAT test-prep course are making a nice offer to their students. I'd just love to see situations where the student actually has a choice about this.

My test: try having a conversation with a high school student. You will see some differences. Just because your parents paid for heavy SAT prepping and forced you to take it back in middle school (which you then remarked on to your peers in order to demoralize them)does not make you superior to others and necessarily knowledgeable and intelligent.

Posted by Morris, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 25, 2008 at 6:29 pm

PAUSD parent,

I think you are saying that you don't like Jewish mothers.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 25, 2008 at 8:29 pm

Pausd Parent, you are certainly entitled to your view and others may share it. But I would not be quick to judge other's parenting approach. If people are cheating (per the school rules) that is one thing - the example of an essay dictated by the tutor would be cheating. But encouraging, insistent or even demanding parents is really a choice they make, given their situation and their child. It may not be the right choice of you, but we rarely know enough about others to judge. I generally don't either applaud or condemn other people's parenting; it is too situational.

On kids being prepped and tutored - I'm not sure what the problem is. The kids are putting in time and doing what sounds like extra work. The goal of education is to master the material; how they accomplish this seems unimportant. I'm not sure, but it seems like you were implying that this should be controlled or somehow penalized. I'm not sure I see what the problem is.

As you say, if you would rather your kid got an A- and owned the work, then what the other kids and families do doesn't matter. That seems right to me. If you kids share that view, then it seems like you'll both be fine.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2008 at 8:51 pm


My point is that given the high number of Asians in those engineering classes--and this has been the case for a while--we're not seeing the expected number of East Asian tech CEOs. This isn't history, this is current--the founder of Facebook is still only in his early 20s. As I say, the obvious exception to this is Jerry Yang.

We do see a good chunk of Indian-Americans starting up companies, but Indian culture is not Confucian.

Me Too,

The prepping issue becomes a question of level playing fields. If a kid takes a course twice, but is only graded on it the second time--then a false premise is being created. A more able kid who is only taking the course the first time appears to be the poorer student, but may well be the more talented one.

I think it also sends a clear message to the kids that it's about the grades. Not reporting those extra classes on a college application is considered a form of cheating by the universities, by the way. Morally, I think it's not that big a step toward actual cheating. Taking the course ahead of time v. getting a hold of the test? How morally different, really, are those two things?

It would be different if taking these classes and prep courses were all above-board and *factored* into the academic records, but they're not. And *that's* problematic.

Kids know this, by the way. The kids who don't take the extra courses know that they're at unfair disadvantage. The kids who do tend to feel inadequate. Their parents are basically telling them that they're not good enough to do without a bunch of extra help.

Thus, the high stress and depression rates among kids at the competitive high schools.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 25, 2008 at 9:09 pm

OP, you focus on one part of what PAUSD Parent mentioned, which is kids "taking the class twice." (I'm guessing then that you are ok with the other aggressive prep/tutoring efforts.) I assume that means they audit the course elsewhere and then take the same class again, since they don't seem to want credit for taking it the first time. I'm not sure what the colleges think of auditing a course, or if they care. If they do care and inform kids that they need to report auditing, and them a kid does not, then that kid is cheating. If they don't object, or don't inform kids to report it, then that kid is not cheating, just doing very hard preparation (it sounds like spending twice the time as a kid who takes the course once). If the school itself doesn't prohibit it, then again, it is just hard preparation.

It may indeed be challenging for the kids who spend less time preparing. But presumably they are spending their time on other things they value more. I remember my brother, a good student and a good athlete, feeling challenged by kids who had much more time than he did to study, given his rigorous practice and game schedule. But he had good grades and great sports accomplishments to show for his time.

So if in fact there are rules and some kids are breaking them, then that should be dealt with - they are cheating. If those kids are just working very hard, within the rules, I think you do them, and perhaps other kids, a disservice by implying that what they do "is not a big step from cheating" or otherwise to be dismissed. It seems to me that they are working their ass off to learn the material, and in fact, in the end, they do.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2008 at 9:34 pm


I continue to think that you are living in the past. The CEOs in this country are a reflection, to a point, of Terman and Hewlett and Packard and Shockley, etc. However, these guys are now dead, and it is a new day.

The United States is always an onging experiment. I fail to see how you can deny that the new business leadership will be of Asian descent. Asians, especially the Chinese and Indians are currently dominating our educational system, in engineering and math, becasue they work their butts off. They will become the business leaders, going forward.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 25, 2008 at 9:52 pm

The prepping/tutoring/coaching I am referring to is parent-paid, parent-driven. I do not object to a child forging ahead following his/her interests. However, the extent of math prepping is so ridiculous here as to almost necessitate everyone else joining in or else being considered behind (honor's level). The number of prepped students far exceeds the number who are in love with math, truly gifted and wanting to go ahead.
In fact, one of my kids had some contact with a true math genius student and he was polite and not terribly well known as he was modest and didn't feel the need to constantly broadcast his giftedness.

I do not refer to remedial tutoring.

I really pity a financially challenged parent with a student with high math interest. This child will have to learn as he or she goes -in the classroom - wow, what a concept! - while many of his/her peers have been tutored two years ahead and are therefore labeled "gifted." It is not a level playing field, and since they are playing for grades, recognition, college aps it is known that the stakes are high, but at what cost?
Be honest with your teachers if you have been prepped in advance of the exact curriculum. This rarely is done. If it is not shameful, why is it hidden. Well, it's a competitive weapon.
Better yet, do your own schoolwork. Be proud of your own efforts.
Here's another Palo Alto example: children have mentioned over several years there is a parent (female) who has hold of the exact honor's math curriculum. She tutors a group of students on a paid basis (ahead of the exact curriculum, mind you) and my student must compete against these students. It strikes me as deceptive this is not disclosed to the middle and high school. This parent also preps her students for the top math competitions that honor students are required to participate in. My student expressed interest to one of these peers who informed my student my student would not be welcome or appropriate because my student is white. (I would be opposed to paying for this anyway, because I have misgivings that it is ethical since it is hidden from the middle and high school teachers and I just don't believe in this system). The students I know of in this group don't all love math by any means but their parents require them to take honor's classes.
Anyway, a lot of students are prepped to an inch of their lives and I therefore do not believe they are inherently superior, more intelligent, or more dedicated than my hardworking student who does his/her own schoolwork.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 25, 2008 at 10:13 pm

Pausd Parent, some kids have advantages over others, and I guess being able to find and afford great tutors is one of them. It doesn't make them better people, though they may indeed perform better. If they todl their teachers they had tutors who introduced the material before the class saw it - what should those teachers do? Lower the tutored students grades for studying ahead? It sounds like those kids are putting in the work and investing time and money in learning the material; hard to penalize that.

In sports, some kids join out-of-school clubs, get private instruction, and attend the "right" summer sports camps. They may play better or maybe just get more playing time than a kid who has the same level of (or better) natural gifts. Is that unfair or somehow wrong? It doesn't seem so - it is just the way the system works.

I don't personally subscribe to having my kids work that hard to get the highest grades. But if others do, and work their butts off to get ahead, then I respect their choice.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Palo Verde School
on May 25, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Fine. I think I am referring to a practice more extreme than you envision. Just about everything is parent-planned and managed in the scenario I am thinking of and an above-average child who benefits grade-wise, opportunity-wise from this scenario should not be praised as superior or more of an academic leader than a child who does his/her own work and perhaps does not receive quite the same level of recognition (grades, awards) though this student may also be quite successful.
What one really has to wonder about is how fit some of these kids are to pull their own weight/make their own arrangements as they age.
I think the kid who has some time (because parents haven't scheduled advanced tutoring) and this kid goes out and gets a job - THIS ought to be recognized by today's university admissions officers! The kid who stands on his or her own feet should be recognized not privileged braggarts.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2008 at 11:06 pm


I don't think the Google boys or the founder of Facebook have much connection to Terman or HP. The founder of Facebook is a whopping 23.

I'm talking Web 2.0 here--and I'm not seeing a lot of East Asians starting these companies. It's strikingly different than the situation with Indian-Americans.

There's an analogous situation in China--tremendous economic growth, but where's the innovation? I think there's a cultural conservatism that has played a part in this. I think risk-taking and winging it aren't strong Confucian values.

Me Too,

You're supposed to report any courses you take--including ones at JCs and ones over the summer. People don't. Otherwise, why take them twice--unless a kid failed the first time? So, I think it's dishonest.

As for the tutoring mentioned by PAUSD Parent--I *would* report that parent's activities to Churchill and I would institute an honor code to go with those honor classes--that code would requiring reporting on any outside help. If that parent has possession of the honors math curriculum and is teaching it ahead of the class schedule then she is enabling cheating.

I don't think it's analogous to extra coaching in sports--not when the actual curriculum is used. Sports coaching tends to be above board--this seems closer, morally, to doping--the creation of an under-cover advantage. In other words, it doesn't sound like math club or a math group where kids explore stuff beyond or outside the curriculum.

I don't like other extreme prepping for other reasons--I think, over the long term, it's counterproductive. You're not going to find too many educators who like it--and professors tend to hate it. I've known some of the end results--and, yes, my friends who are offspring of pushy parents, did go to some top schools, but the emotional baggage they now have wasn't worth the price of admission.

Posted by Got to believe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 27, 2008 at 10:20 pm

'You're supposed to report any courses you take--including ones at JCs and ones over the summer. People don't. Otherwise, why take them twice--unless a kid failed the first time? So, I think it's dishonest."

Not only is this dishonest but it does impact the student who is taking an advanced math class to challenge themself and to learn. When a teacher regularly begins a class with an overhead projection of a problem and then asks the AP students, "How many of you know how to do this problem?" (the majority of the class raises their hands) you have to believe that the teacher is aware of the advanced prep that is occuring. This is another way to beat the system and win at any cost.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 27, 2008 at 11:00 pm

Well, you folks view this different than I do. "Possession of the honors curriculum" - is the curriculum a secret? Is the textbook and topics to be covered not available to all? Are old or sample AP test questions not available to look at? A kid hires a tutor to help him study the material ahead of the class, so s/he understands it better when they get to it in class - and that's cheating that you would "report to Churchill"? The kids are doing extra work!

And you're supposed to report classes you take - if they are auditing classes and not enrolling for credit, then they aren't "taking" them, sorry. Where is this reporting requirement specified - is it on the PAUSD web site somewhere? Handed out the first day of school? And if the students did report it, how should their teachers respond - grade them harder? How do you think admissions depts should react - "She audited Organic Chem over the summer - what a loser! We don't want a kid like her" or somehow discount her actual grades?

OP, if you and others think excess prep really has bad long-term effects, well, then it is its own reward. In that case no need to "punish" kids now, they'll get their own just desserts later.

It sounds like sour grapes to me - like the parent of the kid sitting on the bench because kid getting playing time "really isn't any better than mine but went to the special sports camp last summer and got to know the coach." That happens too, and at some level isn't "fair" but at another level is just the other kid working hard to get ahead (yes, aided by his family). If your kid wanted to do the extra work, he could get the playing time. What matters most is what you got when you show up on the field or take the test.

As PAUSD Parent points out, if the kids aren't spending their time studying, they presumably are doing something else that could and perhaps will be appreciated. I read an article last year (NY Times?) where admissions officers praised kids who had "regular summer jobs" (malls, groceries, parks) instead of "public service trips" to Botswana or Guatemala. I actually believe that - the elite schools are looking for well-rounded kids, not just straight A's or packages. But straight A's never hurt.

Posted by Another View, a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 28, 2008 at 7:12 am

PP, OP, etc.

One view of what you are saying is that there are students who learn what they are interested in when they are interested in it, or when their teachers guide them to it.

And there are other students who learn stuff even though they are not interested in it, or when their parents guide them to it. And their parents guide them to it when they think it will most help their academic record.

You think this is unfair to the former group. I don't know which group is more indulgent.

A person who puts in the focus and effort needed to reach their goals (e.g. academic record) is valuable in our society. That is not the same as a person who can more easily learn what they are interested in, but it's fair. Even the brilliant will not get a great record without taking the tests and doing at least some graded homework.

What of students who are not interested in homework? Is it unfair to them because other parents succeed in getting their kids to do their homework? What about prepping for a class by reading ahead in a textbook - is that unfair? When I had the luxury in graduate courses to do that, I found it extremely helpful. In fact, I liked to skim and survey through entire books as soon as I got them, and read any part I was interested in. Was I being unfair?

What about the kid who just doesn't see multiplication used much, and therefore doesn't have an interest in it? Is it unfair to that kid that other kids learn it just because they are told to learn it? Or because their parents exposed them to the practical applications of multiplication?

An academic record reflects what has been learned. It's been used (I believe inappropriately) as a guide to relative natural ability (and sometimes leadership ability!) by many. When people focus on their academic record, it raises the bar for academic performance and changes the ability of an academic record to show natural talent, or performance/effort ratios. You now can have a very smart kid with an unremarkable record.

The record now shows what a kid learned, by whatever means.

This may actually be convenient to those who care about academic records, because in the long run effort matters more.

But I think "fairness" only enters into this to the extent that an academic record was previously abused or overused, and to the extent that there is an expectation that that misuse should continue.

An academic record is just what it is. It doesn't show initiative, brilliance, creativity. It shows focus and effort toward the record.

Posted by you guys are scary, a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2008 at 7:32 am

Acadmic success has always been a result of differing family factors.

From parents who sit with their children 3 hours every night to help them learn, to parents who send their kids to daily and weekend tutors, to parents who punish kids for Bs, to parents who reward kids for As...

good grief...those of you who are so concerned about the "level playing field" are very scary. Next thing I know you will be demanding that the government take our kids at 3 years old and keep them for 10 hours per day while we go to work to make sure that every kid as the same opportunity.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 28, 2008 at 9:12 am

As a Paly parent for the past 6 years with kids who are naturally bright at maths, there are a couple of points I would like to make. I would point out that although my kids are bright at maths, we have never paid for them to be tutored to get ahead, although with hindsight, it may have been a good idea.

The first point is that every time I have been in a math back to school night, the teacher has without fail mentioned that he/she has a list of tutors for those students who need them. There is a feeling that this is for the kids who are struggling, but as I read between the lines, it is for the kids who are not keeping up with their peers because the peers are already being tutored. This list ranges from older kids who are willing to tutor the younger kids, to professional ex-teachers willing to supplement their retirement from tutoring. It seems that the teachers are used to being asked for names of tutors, the list exists and they are only too happy to let the students be tutored. Whether it is because they feel sorry for those who are learning stuff for the first time or because it makes the teachers life easier if they know the students are all going through the material for the second time, or a combination of both, I can't say. But, I do see this as my kids have got older and they are the ones being recommended to younger kids as tutors.

The second point, is that if you don't get your kids tutored, my bright kids get the feeling that they are "stupid" if they don't get the new stuff first time like the rest of the class. They don't like admitting to the teacher that this new concept isn't understood and please could they say that again. When the rest of the class seem bored and my child has to ask to have something explained again, that does very little for their confidence. For this reason, the idea of getting tutoring may make sense as you don't want your child to be in the company of those who think he is stupid because the teacher has to explain something a second time.

There is definitely a chicken and the egg situation here. You are stuck between a difficult situation and a difficult situation. Many of the bright kids get tutors because they are bright, and other bright students get the reputation of being stupid because they don't get tutored. It is a no win situation.

Posted by pro-choice, a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2008 at 9:17 am

Come on you is full of choices...just make them and move on.

BUT PLEASE, don't force your choices on me.

Posted by Got to believe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2008 at 1:10 pm

"There is definitely a chicken and the egg situation here. You are stuck between a difficult situation and a difficult situation. Many of the bright kids get tutors because they are bright, and other bright students get the reputation of being stupid because they don't get tutored. It is a no win situation."

Paly parent, you have this right. The biggest issue here is the student who wants to learn but feels behind before the first chapter is complete. Some of the teachers are more willing to teach to the top students rather than teach the class the way most of us were used to being taught. A new course should be taught to all as if it was the first time they were taking the course, otherwise what is the point.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 28, 2008 at 1:23 pm

GTB makes a good point. The issue is not that some kids are "over-preparing," it is if the teacher somehow is catering to the faster kids at the expense of those who are not going as fast. That's a problem in any setting, so long as the kids are qualified and equipped to learn. It seems like a fair issue to talk to the teacher or department head about.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 28, 2008 at 2:03 pm

There is a great advantage to those with financial means and the network to get in on advanced prepping (not openly advertised, not open to all). The kids who already know the material are at a great advantage. When it counts ( the semester or year they are in the course for grades), they will be getting tested on familiar material. No, everyone can't get ahold of this specific material (I inquired at the district office after being so puzzled when a couple of students told me all about this tutoring they were receiving) but some adults here do and they apparently save it and share it with their network, along with the exact texts. (Yes, I realize many texts are available for purchase on the net, that isn't my main point.) But is it becoming necessary - in order to be reasonably competitive - to go out and BUY in advance each text for each high school math and science course??

Again, we are speaking of the most advanced levels of Math, a high stakes kind of world around here, where there is a great competition for top grades for college admissions purposes (plus occasionally other subjects - some students also do honor's/AP level of Bio, Physics, Chem in advance, too under parental arrangement). We are not discussing any form of remedial tutoring, which may be helpful for some students from time to time and is nothing to be ashamed of.

We are talking about students having everything smoothed in advance for them by their parents (yes time will be devoted to this prepping by the student but I would argue against the notion that this is their own effort as they are being totally handheld and spoonfed) compared to those who make their own way, stay up late figuring out complicated Math AND usually succeed, though on the timeline of the actual class and therefore SOMETIMES not getting an A because they are learning the material then.

I wouldn't be so offended except this is an under the table practice and really rather deceptive and most certainly affects those without the financial means and...I find it unethical.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 28, 2008 at 2:13 pm

No, it is not the "top students" getting this prepping - the students are mostly all pretty competitive at the top level.

From my observation, the students getting this prepping are in the top Math lane but do vary in their talent, interest in Math yet their parents uniformly are requiring A's in the this lane and preferably, getting tested out to go ahead one grade. I would call that the #1 goal of parents I have met here during my time in Palo Alto! I definitely know a couple of kids who have moved ahead who are neutral about Math (complaining a bit about having to go to the prepping/tutoring but complying under parent threat) and since it took multiple tries under parent pressure to get the kid to pass, I would venture to guess these are not child math geniuses.

We are all individuals with individual situations, but the acute awareness of college entry competition at present has made some parents pour thousands into this prepping. God help the late bloomer - such a concept is unheard of and unsupported in Palo Alto.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 28, 2008 at 2:14 pm

So what info is not available? The textbook? The curriculum? Sample tests? I assume it can be gotten from the teacher. Is that not the case? What course are we talking about? I'm not sure what the teacher (or anyone) has to gain from keeping the curriculum a secret. If it is, then I tend to agree, it should be available to all.

In terms of means - yes, I suppose those who can afford and want to invest in tutoring may do better in school. Just as kids whose parents send them to sports camp may be better in sports, etc. If that's how they choose to spend their money, it isn't really for us to judge. We can all afford to live in Palo Alto; I bet there are families in other towns who envy our advantages. Twas always thus.

PAUSD Parent, you seem to have a problem with the parents helping or supervising. You may disagree with that approach, but that is really their choice to make, how little or much they want to aid, guide, or direct their child. I don't really think it is any of our business, so long as the child is the one doing the work that is turned in.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 29, 2008 at 9:00 am

You clearly have not the slightest idea what I am talking about. I guess it is hard to convey. It is a product of our modern times in Palo Alto and the ultimate in secret weapons being used by a certain group of parents. Just don't label their students the "academic leaders" until you understand what they are up to.

I understand students may be tutored if they need help and sometimes parents help. That is not the issue at all. Even top students need help sometime and they should seek it and receive it, of course.

I will speak about one compelling case that is entirely different. You must not be familiar with HS honor's Math in PAUSD. It is already a strong curriculum with great teachers. We are fortunate to live in PAUSD compared to many other districts.

Tests are not available to the public. I am quite sure you cannot "go to the teacher" in advance to get the DETAILED curriculum, after all there are a bunch of teachers, all busy and professional, sometimes they switch what they teach. Students who learn as they go - isn't that what you're supposed to do when you take a class?? - are going to be challenged. Most of the students are very bright and Math is the top status symbol here. Remember this point. But it isn't a level playing field by any means.

Rather, this is about a time when grades are crucial, class standing is crucial, college apps are highly competitive. Therefore, some have instituted questionable under-the-table practices to gain a definite edge, and to then describe such students as superior or gifted is a farce. Yes, some feel one cannot begrudge those with opportunities to take those oppotunities (parent paid tutoring).

I was speaking about a system that is year-round, year after year, with personal guidance, homework and group dynamics of competitiveness and goal-setting, too. Can you imagine the costs!

One can argue that this is by choice, and perhaps not necessary, but it has quite effectively given a great advantage to the tutees! This situation I have been told about little by little for about several years involves a mother/tutor who has told her group of tutees NOT to reveal to school/teachers that she is prepping them. (One teacher asked tutored students to raise their hands, and only one of the tutees in this group was honest and raised her hand. I give kudos to that student for honesty.) One of the tutees told me this! How she got ahold of the exact curriculum is unknown to me, too. But - these students are prepped to the last detail in advance of taking honor's Math and middle and HS. This is extraordinary and ighly advantageous to these students. And guess what - the final kicker - it is secretive and not advertised to the general public. It is an incredible support system for a select group of students. And I have just described ONE situation.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Barron Park
on May 29, 2008 at 11:02 am

Sorry to be so slow. I think I do understand what you mean. And I agree it is extreme. And I do see why it would make things more difficult for the non-participating students.

But I don't see why this activity is a big concern. The kids are doing extra work. Maybe a lot, maybe with parental guidance, maybe with super tutors, maybe in secret. And it is not for "help" but to excel. But, end of the day, the students aren't cheating - they are doing extra work. And they take the tests on their own.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 29, 2008 at 11:25 pm

Me Too,

If you are given a test ahead of time, no you are not taking the test on your own.

Cheating's a huge problem in colleges--it was a nonissue in mine. Some of this is the Internet, but a lot of it is this mentality of grades at any cost.

I mean why do these kids need to be heavily prepped and tutored ahead of time *except* to get an A. It's not to learn the subject--because why do it twice--kind of a waste of time from that perspective.

It's all about the grade and it's all about getting into a rather narrow set of colleges.

The syndrome cuts two ways--kids who aren't prepped think they're stupid because they're not learning as fast. I think it discourages talented students who can't put in that sort of time--i.e. some kids, like, actually get jobs during the summer.

Kids who are prepped tend to be insecure--they're being taught that they're not really good enough to do without all this extra prepping. This is part of the Hothouse flower syndrome that's talked about at the top colleges. Kids who do get into the elite schools and actually can't hack it. In a sense, their records mispresent them--they're not really acing all those math courses at the first go--they didn't really learn the subject that fast. They get to MIT and working like a dog stops being enough to keep you at the top of the class.

Meanwhile, those same kids have been taught that the only thing that matters are the grades. Real nice recipe for depression.

Why should kids follow their own likes and dislikes? Well, because they're going to be living their own lives. Pushing a kid to be an engineer who doesn't really want to be an engineer (or a doctor) doesn't make for a star engineer or a star doctor. It makes for a kind of unhappy adult.

Or, I've also seen this happen, the kid may really have the brains and temperment to be a terrific engineer or doctor, but the parental push makes them rebel. Not in high school, but once they get out of the house. I'm old enough to know highly talented and educated people who dropped out of their parentally approved professions--the pushing robbed these people of motivation.

Well, maybe I'll urge my kids to go into psychology, at this rate, there's a big future in the therapy business.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 30, 2008 at 8:36 am

OP, you have your parenting approach which you feel good about. Others have theirs, and I'm sure they feel good about that. Some send their kids to Hoover; you send your kids to Ohlone.

I'm sure a parent with a different perspective (HooverPar?) could write a similar post to yours pointing out all the shortcomings and syndromes your child may be prey to as a result of your approach. When it comes to parenting, though, it seems wise not to judge and let people do what they think best. If that means some kids are more prepped for class than yours, then you should prepare your kids to handle that, presumably by pointing out some of the advantages their upbringing brings them that others might not have.

On your opening line on cheating - I didn't see anything above saying kids who were tutored were given the test in advance. If you are aware of that, of course it is cheating and you would do good to report it. We all know taking practice tests on the same content is a standard preparation approach and not cheating of course. To say that hard work and dedication to do well in school is bad because it somehow leads to cheating - in the unlikely event that's what you meant, of course that's wrong.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 30, 2008 at 10:40 am

There is tutoring to varying degrees. Some of you don't sound like parents of high school students. If you were, you would realize what I am describing is a major competitive weapon in these competitive times where class rank in an honor's course is already hotly contested.

It (the particular tutoring group I described in detail, to give one example) would never be approved or endorsed if fully publicized, yet it is difficult to report owing to shadowy off the book systems and networks - word of mouth advertising. I tried once to report it, this resulted in a teacher looking into it by briefly questioning an entire class during a class period, and as I already wrote, only one student was honest to acknowledge about being tutored (and that's minimizing the program - it goes far beyond standard tutoring). That closed thesubject at the time.

Just the fact of being tutored is not significant, if you are lucky to have the $, and not something to raise any red flag - it is the particular details of this system which are outrageous and as I have been told include complete in-advance prepping, hand-holding including for high status math contests.

Actually, there was a scandal at uber-competitive Saratoga High about 10 years ago where some students were found to have taken Calculus AP (not sure if AB or BC) secretly over the summer (prompted by their parents), perhaps only as auditors??, but they did not report it to Saratoga High and then they took the exact same class as seniors for top grades (it was easy then, naturally). Other parents and students raised bigtime objections with Saratoga administration and there was a huge fight. (Saratoga also had problems with so-called top students breaking into school computers to alter grades. Cheating increasingly happens at the so-called top levels, rather than at the low, remedial levels.)

Incredibly, I think maybe Kevin Skelly was the principal there at the time caught in the middle (left shortly thereafter). This was all reported in south bay newspapers - I used to live down in that general region. I was acquainted with some parents of high school students and they said competition was out of control among PARENTS and that they would do anything for grades.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 30, 2008 at 10:52 am

clarification: the HS parents I spoke with said certain OTHER parents at Saratoga High would do anything for grades, any kind of manipulation was possible. As a result, one parent moved their kid to private HS because the atmosphere was unpleasant at the public HS.

Really, I just want to see a level playing field. How can those with less financial means, kids from EPA, compete with those who are hand-held/managed by sophisticated math experts on a year-round basis? I also happen to believe students should just do their own work. These same folks tend to dislike group projects also, anything cooperative is against their nature of self-interest and self-absorption. -But the stakes are high, can't argue with that. College admissions competition as at an all time high.

Posted by get to work or not, a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2008 at 11:56 am

level playing field does not equal the exact same input into each student. If it did, we might be regulating that ALL students have to be put into public boarding schools from the age of 3 to eradicate parental input and support differences.

We DO have a level playing field. Anyone can go to school and work hard. We can not legislate out either badly neglectful nor overly solicitous parenting.

So, I say, get to work or don't, but accept the consequences of your choices and stop whining.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 30, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Me Too and get to work,

Okay, so you think there's a level playing field. In that case, I think you'd agree that reporting all tutoring and audited classes should be no problem. If it's all above-board then it should be no problem.

If parents are willing to do anything to see their kids get As, then let's see what that it is. I think some of the "tutoring" crosses moral boundaries. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't--but let's make it transparent. Stanford has an honor code--there's precedent for this.

And we legislate things all the time--anyone want my lovely array of old carseats?

Me too,

I've said numerous times that I think Hoover's approach works well with some kids. I've probably defended Hoover more than anyone else in this Forum. Direct instruction has a good record with disadvantaged kids and kids with average to above-average intelligence. I think very bright kids don't always benefit from it--they need less of the repitition and benefit from more creative approaches. I think, in general, it works for kids who like or benefit from a strong external structure--sometimes because of their temperment, sometimes because they don't come from a home where there's a lot of strucure in terms of education. I think one of the things the high scores of DI schools indicate is that they can be an effective approach for underachievers--kids who flounder in less-structured environments.

That aside, of *course* I make judgments about parenting--so do you, so do all of us. Beating your kids because you've had too much to drink is never okay. Forgetting to feed your kids on a regular basis, also bad parenting.

So, I agree we're not talking about things that are as blatant in terms of bad parenting--but I don't like the long-term effects of some of what I've seen. The fact that cheating's become an endemic problem among good students is a problem--and, yes, I attribute its prevalence to the A-at-any-cost attitude of some parents. And, yeah, it's crappy parenting on several levels. I understand where some of that attitude comes from--and I think those parents genuinely feel that they're doing the best for their kids--that, yes, the world will fall apart if their kid doesn't get into Harvard/Yale/Stanford/MIT/Berkeley--but just because it's sincere doesn't make it a good thing.

Like I said, I know a fair number of adults who were on the receiving end of this kind of pushing--and they're not happy people, or even particularly successful--though they've got those desirable degrees.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 30, 2008 at 12:33 pm

PAUSD Parent, who has the responsibility or right to "approve or endorse" a tutoring arrangement? That's what I am missing. Who should "approve it" - what happens if it is not approved? You seem to be suggesting others should get an approval that does not exist.

In fact it a level playing field; any can work as hard as they like, seek whatever support they want to seek. That some can pay money is not the point, any more than that some have parents who are teachers or PhDs. "In advance prepping and hand-holding" seems perfectly legit to me, so long as they don't have access to the test itself. The test is off-limits - the questions are secret and you take it on your own.

To show things can get misconstrued, below the details on cheating scandals at Saratoga (from the wiki article on the school). Both of these are flat out cheating, stolen test questions - not extra tutoring or support, pre-auditing, etc. If you know of other scandals related to auditing or unfair study methods, please point them out - I couldn't find anything like that.

Web Link

On May 9, 1997, a junior revealed to her peers the essay questions of an Advanced Placement examination before it was given that day. The student received the information from a contact in Singapore, who had taken the test at an earlier time. When news of the leak later reached the Educational Testing Service, they gave students the options of (a) retaking the test, (b) cancelling their submission for a refund, or (c) receiving a score with only the multiple choice graded.

In January 2004, a comprehensive cheating scandal was discovered. The matter received national news coverage due to the extensive and technically advanced cheating methods employed, such as using a keylogger to steal teachers' passwords and change grades. While only a small number of students were involved in the scandal, the school has since been subjected to negative press concerning its competitive atmosphere. Eight students involved were suspended.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 30, 2008 at 12:51 pm

OP, you are more judgmental than I am. I haven't lived long enough (and doubt I ever will) to wisely recommend good policies on child-rearing or education in general. And I try to avoid generalizations about certain approaches will impact kids in the long-run. Kids turn into happy/unhappy adults for lots reasons, which are very hard to judge; well-raised kids become drug addicts and jerks, poorly raised ones are happy and successful. I think it is a good policy to stay out of other people's business unless they ask for advice or are doing something downright illegal.

On reporting all tutoring - come on, Commissar, you can't really mean that. As always, what would we do with that info? Would some tutoring be approved, others not? Would kids who are tutoring be graded or taught differently? The reporting implies a penalty for kids who seek outside support. If you have a tutor and get an A, does mean your A comes with an asterisk? Good luck with that one.

On the other hand, colleges can ask applicants anything they like, so if you want to get colleges to judge kids on total study support, not just classes taken, that's fair game. I'm not sure how interested they are or what they'll do with it, but you can try.

Posted by Big Al, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2008 at 1:55 pm

Howdy Folks!
Wanted to say the following:

We live in a racist society-
and to assume that we are all somehow
immune to this are being naive!

Posted by api scores, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2008 at 2:04 pm

PA Dad,
You accuse an HS student of being racist when he is reporting the facts. Facts consistently backed up by test results from Palo Alto schools. Your post says a lot more about you and your insecurities than racism in Palo Alto schools. Time to look in the mirror!

Palo Alto Schools' API Scores - overall and then by race: Web Link
Gunn: 899 (Asian: 939, White: 909)
Paly: 883 (Asian: 943, White: 894)
Terman: 940 (Asian: 987, White: 955)
Jordan: 923 (Asian: 978, White: 945)
Stanford (Jane Lathrop): 907 (Asian: 979, White: 922)
Elementary (sample):
Hoover: 981 (Asian: 994, White: 974)
Addison: 948 (Asian: <not reported>, White: 969)
Duveneck: 946 (Asian: 987, White: 953)
Walter Hays: 936 (Asian: 974, White: 966)
Ohlone: 904 (Asian: 950, White: 916)

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 30, 2008 at 2:09 pm

It's a long way from "asians score higher as a group on standardized tests" to "Gunn is competitive as a school because of the large population of asians" which is a paraphrase of what the article said.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 30, 2008 at 2:10 pm

Me to, there was a situation at Saratoga High involving students taking Calculus AP secretly (likely it was at West Valley College - local to them) the summer before taking it for the grade at Saratoga high -- then this was discovered and there were some real issues around this practice. I will try to research it - it was a big deal in the community newspapers - not sure but I had thought this was 10 years ago - maybe it was earlier than that. I was not referring to the other cases you found. Not sure if it is archived online.

Posted by Oriental, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 30, 2008 at 2:10 pm

Doesn't "racist" mean someone who prejudges others before they meet them? Doesn't it mean that they would not be friends with another race only because of the person's race? I think most Palo Altans are intellectual enough to be above racism.

I am Asian and grew up in the 70-80s and graduated from Paly and never felt racism. In fact, my boyfriend was a Caucasian, handsome, popular man on campus. And I hung out with the popular Caucasian pom-pom girls. I also dated other popular Caucasian boys.

How does a general statement about a culture get translated into a "racist" comment? It is true, Asians are very, very hard working people and academic performance is top priority for them. And when they see the high API scores of Gunn, they choose Gunn over Paly. I know this because I am Asian and have talked to Asian immigrant parents. Others know that Paly is just as good of a school. I know it is frustrating to all that many of these Asian kids have parents who have them study and do nothing else. We all want our kids to have some fun or extracurriculars and I am also frustrated by it. Seeing the real estate listings with Asians buying most of the houses, I fear for my son to compete in high school. But it is what it is. Those who don't like it should move to the midwest or south.

But don't call it "racist" when someone makes a general statement about a culture. It doesn't mean they are hateful people. They are often simply stating facts.

Posted by api scores, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2008 at 2:24 pm

No, Me Too, it's a short distance from:

"asians score higher as a group on standardized tests"

To Max's comment (not paraphrased):

Gunn senior Max Keeler, student body president, said the school's culture is "self-challenging," largely due to the Asian population's hard-work ethic.
"[Many of them] push themselves really hard. Other students feel they have to step up too," he said.
Keeler, who is taking Chinese and plans to study Asia in college, said the ethic is a good thing.
"It is completely not a bad thing. It's very good. It adds challenge," he said.

It *is* a long way from Max's comments to "Is Gunn High School's student culture racist?"

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 30, 2008 at 3:50 pm

Me Too,

Commisar!? Oh come off it. Reporting tutoring should be simple--in fact, you could just limit it to the kinds of classes where it's an issue--an honor code for honors courses.

If the tutoring is a fair, above-board strategy then reporting it should be a non-issue--in fact, people should be proud to report it they way they do extra-curricular activities. Would potentially make for better teaching as well.

If the tutoring/prepping issue isn't a problem, than transparency is no problem. The fact that you see my suggestion in such dire terms indicates to me that you do, in fact, think it's a tactic which gains value from its secrecy. Sorry, that sort of thinking may be valid in the corporate world, but it has no place in public education.

Note, I'm not saying any of these practices should be banned, merely reported. If it's truly an even playing field--again, reporting should be no problem.

And colleges do ask for that information--the same way Stanford asks its students to sign an honor code.

As for being "judgmental"--the problem with this kind of behavior is that it affects more than just the family involved. You mentioned the eight students who cheated at Saratoga as being a "small" number. Depends on how you look at it--that was eight kids cheating on one test--that's certainly enough to distort a grading curve to the disadvantage of kids who didn't cheat. And, sorry, the willingness to cheat has *everything* to do with parenting. If you teach your kids that you want As-at-any-cost then don't be surprised that they'll cheat to get that A.

To pretend that this sort of thing has nothing to do with parenting is an abnegation of parental responsibility. I think most of us grew up at a time when cheating was pretty much for losers--kids who weren't going to pass otherwise. In the Saratoga case, an A student passed on the test to a B student. You know, a B student doesn't need to cheat. Being a B student isn't the end of the world and it doesn't rule out going to college. But clearly among this peer group at Saratogoa getting an A meant more than being honest.

And, sorry, that type of attitude doesn't develop on its own. That the A student risked his own status to help out a friend (and 6 other friends) says to me that it wasn't just one family fretting over the difference between an A and a B, but a whole group. And, remember, this group was caught--there's no reason to think that cheating hasn't occurred at other times--anonymous self-reporting shows cheating rates of 60 percent among high-school students.

Personally, I don't want to work for a cheater, be married to a cheater, or have a cheater work for me. Call me judgmental, but I value honesty and trust.

Posted by sohill, a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2008 at 5:08 pm

api seems to be ignorant of statistics. Not only are the test scores not a number but a range they are also subject to the mathematics of margins of error. So, for example, Walter Hays: 936 (Asian: 974, White: 966) means exactly nothing because of the margin of error. Since we do not know the distribution of the scores all we can say in this instance is that Asians and whites (by which I think api means caucasians) have the same score, but indeed it maybe (depending on the other statistically defining factors) whites at WH perform better than asians or most whites perform better than most asians or any other, the number api provides give such little information as to be meaningless ( not to speak about what people call themselves when they do the test). The very naive and ignorant view of these statistical matters renders any pseudo analysis of results biased.

If api wants a more detailed explanation I can provide one, but it's long, requires moderate attention spans and that the learner be a bit bright at maths ( as our british friend? Paly Parent would say).

Posted by a, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 30, 2008 at 5:15 pm

sohill, why don't you provide it, then? since you seem so bent on arguing that whites are superior to everyone else.

As an Asian, when I see whites making such comments as PA Dad, I get very upset. It does not bode well for the white community to have such comments and views as PA Dad. I look down upon such comments. I see them as disrespectful and arrogant.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2008 at 5:20 pm

To put another wrench in the works of statistics.

We have many immigrant families from Europe here, British, French, Scandanavian, German, etc. and they would all be included in the white/caucasian description. Now obviously, most white/caucasian Americans did come from Europe at some time in the past, but recent immigrants where the children have either moved here having had part of their education in Europe or were born here to European parents, are also being raised by parents who expect more time spent in education than the 180 days of our school year. They may look on tutoring, particularly during the long summer which they are not used to, just as a supplement for the shorter school year and the shorter school day. These parents tend to not expect their teens to get jobs, start driving around and hanging out with friends, or even have a couple of hours playing sport after school. Maybe there are some of these students making the data skewed.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 30, 2008 at 6:20 pm


Maybe, but what I've seen with the kids of recent European immigrants is that they learn their parents' first language and they tend to go to Europe during vacations. Whereas the Asian immigrants are pretty much counting on sending their kids to U.S. colleges, the European immigrants want to leave open the European university option open. I suspect those kids would account for a large percentage of the kids in an IB program if we had one.

Europe just has more high-level universities for its population than does Asia. Since the fees tend to be more reasonable than those of private American universities, there's another incentive to make sure your kids are eligible for education in Europe. Same thing with Canada--the kids of Canadian immigrants may end up at American colleges, but I've noticed they will throw a Canadian college or two into their application pile.

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on May 30, 2008 at 6:23 pm

resident of the Adobe-Meadows,
I NEVER argued that whites are "whites are superior to everyone else" at all. You misread me.
You forgotten your high school statistics.
I was showing that the numbers that api provided cannot provide the explanation that asians perform better than whites. I used Water Hays numbers for that.
ALL test scores are a range precisely because of the margin of error. In order to be able to conclude from test scores or any other similar numbers you need to know what is the distribution of the scores, the media and the average, at least. You also need to know that
race is not well defined. Take for example a child of a child of an indian( from india) jewish mother with an indian father and a british father. Is this child caucasian, middle eastern or indian? Take a child of a filipino mother and an dutch father. Or of an african father educated in France and a french mother.These children can go in either group, so to begin with race is not well defined. Now let us see the numbers. For example Walter Hays ( since the example wasn't clear) Let us suppose that race is defined at WH by some criteria:
Walter Hays: 936 (Asian: 974, White: 966) as api provided and I am assuming these are averages.
Let us assume that we have a "typical" margin of error of 2 ( for a group of 500 students)
Margin of error ( or confidence interval) simply put it is
The range for Asians is 955-993
The range for "whites" 947-985
So as you can see it is possible for"real" whites scores to be within the range 983-985 and "real" asians scores to be lower for example with a range 960-971. lower than whites' scores. We just don't knowa nd it cannot be ascertained.
The problem is that we have no idea what the distribution of those scores is and if there are any far off range, for example and we have no idea what the median is for those scores
It looks to me that some posters want to fill in the gaps with their own home made bias.
With the numbers api provided you can conclude NOTHING. You could conclude something if the scores weren't so close, but they are. Statistically they are the same.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 30, 2008 at 6:29 pm


I don't agree with PA Dad, but I don't understand why you consider his comments disrespectful and arrogant? Honestly, I think that's the last thing he intended just from what he's said since. I think he didn't want to group everyone into one group because their ancestors hung out on a particular continent.

Sounds to me that you, on the other hand, want to take pride in being part of an accomplished and unified group. (There's no unified "white community" per se here--note the Civil War.)

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on May 30, 2008 at 6:33 pm


on my last post please read:
1st paragraph:I NEVER argued that "whites are superior to everyone else" at all
4th paragraph: a child of an indian( from india) jewish mother with an indian father or british father. Is this child caucasian....

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on May 30, 2008 at 6:35 pm

another correction please

margin of error is 2% (typo of course but some of you like to dwell on typos....

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on May 30, 2008 at 7:20 pm

Dear Oriental ,

you say"And when they see the high API scores of Gunn, they choose Gunn over Paly."


now let's look at the scores api provided for the two schools.

Gunn: 899 (Asian: 939, White: 909)

Paly: 883 (Asian: 943, White: 894)

Please answer me Oriental ( that is if you can)

Don't these numbers show that Asians perfom better in Paly than in Gunn?
(And if you weren't statistically challenged you could see that the scores for both schools are, well, the same)

Do these mean that the Asians of Paly are better students than the ones at Gunn ( I am just going with YOUR reasoning....)?
Do these mean whites at Gunn are better students than whites at Paly?

As to the question of tutoring, as we well know in the top colleges you are not allowed to
take a class if in fact your knowledge of the subject is such that you could pass the class without further instruction. For example, if you are a quasi native speaker of a language you can't take certain levels of that language. The reason for that is that students are in the great majority of time graded on the curve, this is, compared with others. So if your knowledge of the subject is much greater than your peers before class starts it is dishonest to ask to be compared- as it would be if Tiger woods was competing against me for example. That's why sports have competition levels. So those students that are force fed calculus AB and already know it before school starts should be doing either a different level or a different branch of the subject.Are their parents afraid of them being measured in real time? Besides, it's a really bad idea to give your child the notion that he is better because of a high grade if the grade was obtained under the pretense of being a student in that class, of belonging to it. Besides, it's not challenging enough. In the adult working life such student is going to have the same time as his co-workers to figure out a problem. He or she doesn't have more time than the coworkers to self tutor. I wonder if this doesn't translate in the feeling of "being no longer capable"

We should indeed leave race out of education....

Posted by No, and no, a resident of Downtown North
on May 30, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Sohill -

I don't know exactly what point(s) you are trying to make but some of your analysis is wrong.

First, we do know something about the distribution of scores. Even you seemed to accept that it is a normal distribution. The mean of one distribution is higher than the other. That means something, not nothing. It doesn't mean the lower mean could represent higher scores. The lower mean represents lower scores.

(Yes they don't tell us anything about any individual, and without knowing whether or not one racial category has a tighter distribution than another, the naive could be tempted to draw incorrect conclusions. )

Second, in the real working world, as work becomes more difficult and competitive the impact of preparation is much more pronounced.

In a negotiation, the prepared side will gain huge advantage.

In developing competitive software in a race with market windows, those with specific experience will have a huge advantage over those who think that to be fair, they have to start with those unfamiliar with the field.

Executives define better goals at goal setting time if they have been through a dry run in their own mind or with their own team before the goal setting season.

Preparation, obtained on one's own initiative or not, helps both in and out of school.

I do think your points about "feeling of capability" are on target. Preparation helps the result of the immediate challenge, and perhaps teaches something about what kind of preparation is helpful, but for many it is a heavy anchor. But for a few it is liberating - knowing that they know what they "should" know they can then feel free to create and make mistakes.

Posted by robert P., a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 30, 2008 at 10:15 pm

The real difference between those who do well in school and others is not RACE, its CULTURE.
Culture comes from your environment; mostly from home, family, friends, and associates. Ok, problem solved, thank me very much.

Posted by Oriental, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 30, 2008 at 10:34 pm


According to you,
Gunn 899
Paly 883

899 is a larger number than 883 so Gunn has the higher score. The Asians are looking at the API scores of the entire school rather than the Asian breakdown. Just as they see in Newsweek that Gunn is ranked higher than Paly. Never mind that Paly did not disclose.

Your tone is very negative. It's one thing to have some input in this, but to type essays and keep returning to add more...get a life! Go outside instead of sitting at your computer all day! I can only imagine all the nit-picking your children had to put up with.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 30, 2008 at 11:54 pm


Oriental is right--take a look at the real-estate listings, Gunn will be advertised if its the high school for the area. Look at who's moving where. Gunn's a bigger draw than Paly because Gunn ranks quite a bit higher on the Newsweek survey. To me, personally, the difference is negligible, but some parents do focus on scores. You might not agree with the reasoning, but Oriental's on-target as to what's going on. It's not exactly a secret--and it's understandable if you read about the educational systems in Asia. Rank matters. A lot.


I think you're making a mistake that others have made which is that public education is equivalent to the private sector. It's not. Grades should not be the point of learning, but a reflection of it. When you put grades over education--or external validation over internal rewards, you're subverting many of education's deeper aims. School is largely about long-term, not short-term goals. If all that's valued is grades--to the point of retaking classes just for a grade, then you're missing the point in a big way.

Yes, preparation matters, but so does being able to think quickly and flexibly. However, the aggressive tutoring/prepping seems to be heavily centered on skills that have little to do with negotiation--in fact, I'd say these kids end up with weaker negotiation skills--nothing like the playground for learning the early art of the deal.

Posted by At JLS, a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 31, 2008 at 1:21 am

My non Asian child was told by a Chinese boy at JLS, where both are students, that the Chinese are smarter...

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2008 at 8:37 am

Realtors are definitely "pushing" the Gunn emphasis. As a matter of interest, I decided to visit the open house in a new development in the Gunn area. I asked the realtor about the schools, not mentioning any level. I was told in very definite loud tones, (so that the Asian family also in the room?) that the home was in the Gunn district and PAUSD had to put any new residents in Gunn because this was their school, there would be no lottery and that the school had plenty of space. I happen to know that this is not the case and tried to mention that I had heard that it was closed to new residents. His reply was that PAUSD had to find places for all residents in the local schools. His reply was accurate in that yes all residents would get a place in a PAUSD school, but not necessarily their local neighborhood school. He disagreed and we left it at that.

The point is that realtors are using the schools to advertise and sell their homes and naming the schools on their information sheets is one thing (even with the disclaimer about checking the district for space) but when you actually talk to them, they are using it as a selling point when they think the potential buyers would be interested in that information. This is much more that just information when they put as much emphasis on this as I heard given to me.

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on May 31, 2008 at 9:04 am

OhlonePar has very good points. If we are to look just at perception I would say I have seen plenty of puzzled prospective hires and employees who simply do not understand that in addition to paying attention to their grades employers are also paying a lot of attention to who can work with others in an effective and creative way. Rank is the first layer that matters. Ultimately, who cares?

Please let my very successful children out of this. Why do you need be offensive? Apparently, you don't let numbers cloud your reasoning or you have a basic interpretation of them. I was answering to resident of the Adobe-Meadows challenge, dissecting the number in a mathematical manner as possible given the scant information they provided.
You can't just cram this info....have to understand it . You say ". Others know that Paly is just as good of a school" But still you keep at ignoring YOUR numbers:

Gunn: 899

Paly: 883

Unless you decide that you don't care for evidence both Gunn and Paly have the same test scores. Anybody with a bit of knowledge would say: THE SCORES ARE THE SAME ( school test scores are not a fixed number but a range) .

Waste no more time with the scientific illiterate?
You don't want to learn, don't learn. You want to persist in spreading your lacking in foundation opinion, go right ahead.
Oh well, so much for mathematical skills. You've got an F on this. Sorry.

And NO, you aren't right . . We don't know how many students of what "kind" take the test. In fact the presented numbers tells us not much other what the average scores are for the school for particular tests. I don't even know if those tests are required or exactly which ones they are.I know the racial make-up for the schools.
We do not know what the distribution of scores is in this particular case. I did not assume normal distribution. I don't know how "spiked" or skewed the distribution is. Have the scores been normalized? I assumed margin of error which for about 500 students-about 2%. I agree that if I know ALL the numbers I can make a much better assessment. But the other posters also base their assessment just on these numbers. So I do the same- like them have no other information. . In any case look at the scores ( again those inconvenient numbers)- all we can say is that the scores are the same within the margin of error (which is greater than 2% _ should be about 3% given the numbers)

Gunn: 899
Paly: 883

Us news rating the only one with some semblance of scientific approach: Gunn high #66,
paly high-#85 both on the top 100 of the best 1300 public high schools in the country. That says something about both schools. They are great schools.

Posted by Daniel Marche, a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2008 at 2:21 pm

The Third Reich banned IQ tests because the test scores proved that the Jews scored higher than the Germans on their tests for measuring intelligence.

Currently, the state of California discriminates against 88 percent of all California high school graduates in granting them admittance into California's university-wide system. Asian-Americans are the majority race at UCLA, not because they are over achievers, but because they score higher than Jews and Caucasians on the math portion of the standardized intelligence quotient test. Intelligence is higher correlated with performance on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT. "Asians are good at math and science." This is not an urban school-yard legend; it is a fact.

Males score higher than females on the math portion of the IQ test, but Females score higher on the language portion of the IQ test — balancing each other's scores out at an average score of 100 for both males and females.

Should we have separate but equal IQ test for blacks, whites, browns, reds, and blue bloods. The answer is no! The educational system needs to deal with reality and not try to politically correct it or Third Reich bend it.

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2008 at 6:37 pm

Daniel Marche says:

"Intelligence is higher correlated with performance on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT. "Asians are good at math and science." This is not an urban school-yard legend; it is a fact."
This obviously means that my family (some of whom scored the maximum) and all those hungarians and Bourbaki offspring , should be on a self congratulatory mood, but fortunately we are not that arrogant- in fact what you say has been disproved for at least 50 years ( are "nordics" more intelligent than Jews? ).
As a female who is a math graduate ( my field of work too) should I perhaps defer to your learned opinion that my math scores should have been lower than yours?

here it is an excerpt from a very respected source:
How the SAT came to wield such influence is really the story of a single non-profit institution: Educational Testing Service, which has been producing the test in the Princeton area since 1947.

ETS has the most idealistic of missions - to promote equal opportunity in the schools. It spends millions a year researching how to write multiple-choice questions that will reveal the test-taker's basic intelligence, regardless of race, sex or wealth.

To critics, however, ETS' power is too great, its testing biased, its results unfairly determining the fate of millions of kids every year.

"We've been castigated from the beginning," said Henry Chauncey, the educator who founded ETS in 1947 - and who is now 94 years old. "People who work in the field of testing should be accustomed to wearing a hairshirt."

Tests were not always the entryway into higher education. Before World War I, in fact, they weren't relied upon at all to get into most prestigious colleges.

Then came a Princeton University professor named Carl Campbell Brigham. During the war, he served as an assistant on the Army Mental Tests, which were being used to assign an influx of soldiers into jobs.

The test results, Brigham said, could be used with accuracy to predict a person's innate mental capacity - regardless of social station.

The problem was that the Army Tests were ridiculously slanted, rewarding anyone with a knowledge of brand names, baseball trivia and cuts of beef. When the tests were roundly flunked by recent immigrants and impoverished draftees, Brigham rushed to the conclusion that white, "Nordic" peoples were superior to Jews, Italians, Russians, Poles and Slovaks and African-Americans."

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2008 at 8:41 pm

What, it seems, we really need to see then is getting back to basics when it comes to testing education. We need a published curriculum, a specimen test and a final test (or tests) which follow the ascribed material. The tests need to be answered in a comely fashion, not multiple choice, on separate answer sheets and the answer sheets handed in and the question paper taken out of the exam room after the exam to be available for all to see.

Too long the curriculum and the tests have been surrounded in secrecy and no one outside the test room has the opportunity to see what questions have been asked. The fair way to test for learning the required material is to make sure that there is no secrecy in what is being tested.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 1, 2008 at 11:14 pm


According to a fairly recent article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell, the study that showed Asian-Americans as having higher IQs than other groups was flawed because of the Flynn effect. As overall IQ raw scores rise over time, the standardized IQ test has to be adjusted to compensate. Testing that takes place near the end of a 20-year period of using one version of the test will produce IQ scores that are artificially high. Thus, the study that showed Asian-Americans as having above-average scores is flawed in that it compared Asian-Americans tested late in the cycle to other groups tested over a period of time. When the scores were adjusted to compensate, Asian-Americans averaged slightly *below* Caucasians (93 v. 100). In other words, over-achievers (or, my guess, hindered somewhat on the verbal intelligence portions coming from ESL homes).

Even without taking the Flynn effect into consideration, Asian-Americans have a lower average IQ than do Jewish-Americans (109 v. 113).

But all of this, of course, begs the question as to what IQ tests actually tests. It's certainly not raw intellectual capability. Gladwell's contention is that these tests test our "modernity"--including certain types of thinking (i.e. abstract categorizations that would be useless or counter-productive in a hunter-gatherer culture.)

Jews are Caucasians in most cases, by the way and IQ tests aren't part of the college admissions process. You seem to be trying to say that the higher average IQ means that Asians do better in school and thus get into the UCs, but you haven't actually established that the correlation's that clear.

Posted by Casey, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2008 at 8:29 am

I love Palo Alto. We don't waste time arguing about which college football program is the best and whether the BCS rankings are biased. No. Instead, we got nuts over whether Gunn is actually a better school than Paly based on API scores. API proves nothing except that this country loves rankings. Best medical school! Best college! Best selling sedan in 2008. Yadda, yadda. The real truth is that high school rankings and scores are just means for educational administrators to pat themselves on the back and for real estate professionals to market 1,000 square foot houses for $1.5 million. If scores were truly a reflection of the school instead of the students, then all the Voluntary Transfer Program students would be high scoring college-bound kids. But, somehow, that doesn't seem to be the case. The Gunn and Paly magic doesn't rub off on all of them, for some reason. Statistical anomaly, I guess.

Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 2, 2008 at 9:06 am

Robert P's statement a few posts back that culture, not race, is key to academic performance is relevant to a discussion of mathematics achievement by different groups.

To generalize very broadly, most Americans tend to think you have to be very smart to do well in math. Another position is that you don't have to be extremely smart, you just have to apply yourself and work hard.

Any group that believes the latter and follows through on it in educating its children will show better achievement than one that thinks it takes exceptional intelligence to grasp mathematics.

Cultivating a belief that effort to master mathematics will pay off is a huge challenge for us in the United States, much less so in countries like China, Vietnam, South Korea and India.

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