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Teachers propose new classes for Palo Alto

Original post made on Jan 29, 2014

Palo Alto school board members reacted to teachers' proposals for a host of new class offerings for 2014-15, and indicated they would support new policies prescribing how the district should handle bullying of disabled and minority students.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 29, 2014, 9:59 AM

Comments (63)

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2014 at 10:13 am

Love the idea of a money management class, but make it a high school rather than middle school offering.

The English is something I am on the fence about. But, I wish the literature offerings could be improved. So much of the literature is depressing. I would love to see some biographies of people who have overcome disabilities to achieve much included and perhaps some classics such as Little Women, Moby Dick, Austen and Dickens. Much of the present offering is very hard for non native English speakers to decipher - yes I mean decipher, as it is hardly written in conventional language.

I would also like to see more emphasis on English grammar. In this age of spell check and textspeak, kids are finding it harder to write because their grasp of grammar is so poor. Even on this forum, someone said they "could care less about..." instead of saying "could not care less". It will soon be the case that they are teaching better English grammar in foreign countries than English speaking countries.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2014 at 10:15 am

I watched the board meeting last night. The board members, particularly Melissa Caswell, treated the English teachers terribly. Watching Caswell lecture these highly intelligent, careful, motivated teachers on pedagogy was surreal. It's too bad that a few vocal members of the community, like Jon Foster and Lauren Janov, can derail a change that will improve equity and achievement for all kids.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 29, 2014 at 12:25 pm

The Paly English teacher's proposal to do away with laning is a good example of site based leadership. The Board has held the position that it champions site based leadership when, in fact, it champions elite-based leadership.

Ms Janov and Mr Foster are the faces of the [portion removed] impulses in our community who see progressive change as an affront to their view of public education as the bastion of elite preparation. Ms Janov was instrumental in blocking the implementation of the Gunn Advisory Council recommendations which would have expanded counseling resources for Gunn Students - effectively providing a more level playing field for those who use school based resources instead of private resources for tutoring and college preparation. The Board voices support for site based management to cloak their true vision for the District as an elite preparation machine - taking credit for our children's outstanding achievements while blocking initiatives from parents, students and teachers which are designed to provide a more equitable distribution of services for all students. A more equitable distribution of services is seen as a threat to a small cadre of parents who use their money and access to lobby the Board and District Administration for their own narrow interests.

Palo Alto politics is not that much different from Washington where our elected officials and public servants fail to pass legislation which is in the interests of the many since they are entirely beholden to and captured by the interests of the few. Like Washington, our local discourse is focused on a he-said/she said brand of journalism which characterizes the dialogue at last night's meeting, not as a take-away for our children but as another round of gossip in the Dauber vs. Board skirmishes, thus trivializing the content and mis-directing community frustration.

Similar to what is happening on our national front, the Board has blocked the democratic process - failing to implement the Homework Committee Recommendations, the Gunn Advisory Council Recommendations, the Paly Teacher's Laning Recommendation and even the recommendations of the Federal Department of Education. It should be of grave concern to the citizens of Palo Alto, that their democratically elected School Board is captured by a small group of [portion removed] elites.

Please let the Board know that Ms. Janov and Mr. Foster do not speak for you or your family. Please let the Palo Alto Weekly know that PAUSD Board meetings are not episodes of People Magazine. Issues based reporting which clearly identifies the negative impacts of Board inaction on children is highly valued by our community. Please get involved in the next Board election. In the last election, narrow interests with deep pockets overwhelmend the electoral dialogue. Don't let it happen again.

Posted by parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Thank God for Lauren Janov and Jon Foster and Louise Valente. The emphasis on Special Ed kids and their concentration in various classes just goes to show once again Kevin Skelly's disdain for the Special Ed community and now we have Katherine Baker to add to the mix. Paly and PAUSD are prepared to throw them under the bus to keep people like Michele Dauber and Sara Woodham happy. Disgusting proposal. There are not 6 kids who would be hurt in this mean-spirited proposal more like 60. Good on you School Board for seeing right through this attempt to push it through without gathering input from the community. Shame on you Heidi!

Posted by High school not college, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 29, 2014 at 1:25 pm

I wonder about creating thematically based pathways in high school. Students need a strong foundational education. We're talking about 15 year olds. Yes, they have interests, but this is too early in their lives to specialize. The majority of college students end up switching majors. Starting on a narrow path too early could be a mistake.

Many of the high schoolers I know are happy to have laned classes available. Finally the pacing of the class can be better suited to the students. Students who are ready to go faster and be challenged are not still being slowed down by a glacial pace needed to accomodate students who do not take academics seriously. Everyone is not the same. Differentiation of levels within a single class sounds great, rarely actually works.

Posted by Special ed parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2014 at 2:12 pm

@parent, I'm sorry but you are not making sense. Several English teachers at the board meeting said that concentrating special ed students in English 9 made it harder to teach them, because it means that teachers have something on the order of 6 special ed students per class rather than 2 or 3. Special ed students will benefit from less segregation.
I heard Jonathan Foster speak last night. He was complaining about English 9A being "diluted" by students from English 9 (even though the teachers said that the students taking the two classes are not actually all that different). Another speaker and the teachers quoted research that says that all students including special ed and students at the top do better in more diverse classes, which proved Foster to be wrong.
I don't agree with "Gunn parent" on everything he says but I agree that the opponents of this change are coming from an elitist place but it goes against the evidence that the teachers were quoting.

Posted by Here we go again, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 29, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Paly and Gunn offer college courses that most colleges will not accept or give credit for--so why bother? What the colleges consider college level is NOT what PAUSD considers college level--either stop calling these courses colleges level or stop offering them. It is false, deceptive advertising.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2014 at 2:26 pm

There is nothing wrong with having English classes that suit different types of students. Some students can manage 1 hour reading per night plus a lot of writing for homework, others can't for various reasons. It is nothing to do with their capabilities just whether or not they can manage it. Some English classes are "easy" not because of the material but because of the homework load.

A student who finds an English class hard, may just find the amount of homework hard to focus on. It does not mean that this student can't do math, science, enjoy literature or be a budding biologist or historian.

Trying to find out what interests a student has, is part of education, not a means test.

Posted by DeeDee, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 29, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Too bad no one asked Ol' Skelly how he feels about the transcript hacking that's been going on for a while. The 9th grade lane is less important than the kids now in colleges they wouldn't have gotten into if they hadn't changed their transcripts, surreptitiously over the last couple of years.

Skelly needs to be sent away. He covered up for last year's Principal Phil's inappropriate behaviors & now he won't reveal the cheating extent. Morality is a virtue Skelly lacks.

Every parent whose kid is miraculously accepted at amazingly top schools this year needs to know that it could be due to hanky-panky Skelly knows about & won't publicize or report to the police-FBI.

Posted by parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Special Ed parent, I'm sorry that my comments were kind of terse. But I am referring to special ed students such as those with dyslexia and dysgraphia or ADD/ADHD. These students usually need to have less reading per night and writing assignments spaced further out and with slightly more writing instruction. A great disservice would be done to those students if the lanes were collapsed and the English teachers are very well aware of it. Increasing from 3 to 4 books/sem or increasing the difficulty level of the books impacts them severely. Lane 9 is very appropriate and often lane 9A is not (this happened with my children at Gunn). The special ed students referred to in the proposal are likely special day class students or very severely LD - that is why the small numbers are being quoted.
Frankly I don't care whether Jon is an elitist because what he wants is good for students like mine by coincidence.

Posted by Parent and Board Watcher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Dee Dee:

As has been often noted during the tenure of the acting Supe, "More Skellytons will be revealed". This is really sad to hear about all of the moral failings that are being modeled to our students and staff. Its time for open and honest governance. This district is only as sick as its secrets.

It's time for a superintendent. End of story. And, while were at it, could we please have some potential open and honest school board members step up to the plate. We want to have a Board that will give direction on how to serve our children better and stick to enforcing those directions. It would appear that the current board often does neither.

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2014 at 3:17 pm

@Barron Park parent:

De-tracking english language arts has been studied. All research finds that all students -- those at the bottom, those at the top, and those at the middle, do better. Please remember that this is ninth grade english we are talking about, not quantum mechanics. There is no need to have tracking in 9th grade english class. The teachers were very clear that they would be providing extra support, differential instruction, and that special ed students would do better not worse. You are not balancing the benefits of not being in the "dummy class" and dealing with stigma, labeling, and the documented adverse impact of being in a segregated class for the kids in English 9. You are looking only at the downside of workload without realizing the benefits that being in a mixed class will bring.

Believe me, your interests do not converge with Foster's. He is concerned with one thing and one thing only and that is preserving the status quo ante of the high-achievement, high-stakes, high-stress culture of PAUSD. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Jacobin, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 29, 2014 at 3:42 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2014 at 3:46 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Shame on the Board and Skelly, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2014 at 4:06 pm

I am surprised that the newspaper did not mention the the Jordan Student who tried to tell her story with bullying and how she was interrupted more for more than 2 times by Ms. Mitchel who did not wanted the public to hear the truth. They are trully showing that they do not care about students. It takes a lot of guts to speak in front of others and this little girl had the courage to go and speak off only to be told to stop talking because the subject was not at the agenda. She was talking on the item of middle schools. Our elected officials are failing our students along with Skelly. What a shame!

Posted by Experienced Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Firstly, if the Jordan English department weren't so weak, we'd have better freshman writers. They don't teach children how to write AND they use peer editing! How can a middle school student possibly correct a paper as well as an English degree graduate? Even when a Jordan teacher corrects the paper, it's weak corrections. Back in the 70s, there were two lanes and PAUSD was known for its strong English departments in middle school and high school. We were all taught how to write every day of class and were assigned one-page papers often, which were returned in a short period of time (within a week) with many helpful comments. Nowadays, papers aren't returned for weeks or MONTHS! Isn't correcting papers after school part of an English teacher's job description?

Secondly, how can lower-end students be mixed with students who will progress up to AP English? How would a teacher grade such a huge range of papers? This is going to result in middle-of-the-road students (who might earn an "A" in regular lane English) earning "B"s because they are competing against students who read 500 page novels in their spare time. Diorio's comment about negative self-esteem in regular lanes? Pffft, at least they won't drown in the higher lane class.

The English department supervisor needs to be sure there is some distinction between the higher lane and regular lane because it all depends on the teacher. My children have been in both lanes, and sometimes the higher lane is easier than the lower lane. Both are in the regular lanes now and their teachers are grading way too hard.

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2014 at 4:19 pm

experienced [portion removed] says that there is no way that "lower-end" students can "mix" with kids who are "destined" for AP's? Then she says that the "higher lane is often easier than the lower lane."

Which is it, Defenders of the Status Quo? Is it that the "lower-end" [portion removed] need to be kept from the gate, or is the gate in the wrong place or not even a gate at all? Or is "experienced" actually informing us that the elite kids not only don't have to be "mixed" with the "lower-end" kids but somehow they forced the "lower-end" kids to do all the real work [portion removed.]

Posted by Experienced Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2014 at 5:53 pm

[Portion removed.] My post states that my children are in the regular lanes - they are not interested in AP English. To those who think children are all born to the same types of families (who prioritize academics) and have the same genes (parents with advanced degrees), I've got a swamp to sell you in Florida. How can a "disadvantaged" student (defined as one who's parents don't prioritize academics and do not have advanced degrees or the income to pay a tutor) compete with a student who is on the opposite end of the spectrum? The "disadvantaged" student will barely keep their head above water. By having a regular lane, the "disadvantaged" student will learn more and stay out of "D" range because less is expected of them.

Yes, depending on the teacher, the higher lane is easier than the lower lane, so the I.S. needs to somehow straighten out this issue. It's a crap shoot.

How common are stories of disadvantaged students who overwhelmingly succeed without the help of an outside family? They should not be ignored by the schools, but they should not be expected to perform as well as those from privileged families who have parents and tutors to help them.

Posted by Mom2, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 29, 2014 at 6:37 pm

mom--re: de-tracking language arts "All research finds that all better." Please cite whatever you are referring to here. Not true.

"The teachers were very clear that they would be providing extra support, differential (sic) instruction, and that special ed students would do better, not worse."

If this statement had any truth in it, there would be no reading specialists, educational therapists or writing tutors--and no need for any high school student to need help with SAT prep, writing essays for college applications, etc. Then the standardized test scores for special ed students mainstreamed in elementary, middle school and ninth grade should be equal to that of their peers, right? Why wait? Teachers should have taken care of this years ago. Except it isn't true. Some students learn at a different pace or in different ways that one teacher might not be able to meet.

These are such false and loaded statements. It is clear that "mom" has been listening to the recent PR messages and not at all in tune with what has happened for years in the district. There is no way she has had a student who struggles with reading or writing--or has had any issue requiring extra support from teachers in high school to actually claim what she does about one teacher meeting every disparate need of every student in every class. It is not a realistic expectation for anyone.

Want data? Look at the steep decline in ERB writing scores from the past five years. When the percentage of students formerly in the advanced category flips to below basic, it is a clear sign that most teachers are not meeting the instructional needs of all students--even the most highly capable--let alone those with learning differences. Why are parents worried about Common Core? It has more to do with the gap in writing skills that our district has ignored for years.

Experienced Parent is right on re: how things have declined in the PAUSD English Dept since the 70's.

Oh, and thinking that the district can more easily ignore the one to three slower kids than six in a class is telling. It isn't that those needs will actually be met. The scores are just less glaring and easier to explain as "part of the curve." Struggling with a subject and having to sit next to others who sail through it and find it "super easy" does nothing positive for the struggling student.

Imagine if the math lanes were removed so everyone had to take calc BC to be "better prepared for college." What? Math isn't your thing and you aren't planning to major in a related area in college? Doesn't matter. Since it is more about the reputation of the district to only offer accelerated paths, this is the one set for everyone in the district.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 29, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Experienced Parent & Mom2

[Portion removed.]

"They (disadvantaged) should not be ignored by the schools, but they should not be expected to perform as well as those from privileged families who have parents and tutors to help them."

Actually the mission of our public school system is to allow students from all socio-economic backgrounds the opportunity to learn and achieve. We do not have a different expectation set for students based on race or class. As was pointed out in the State of the Union speech, the son of a barkeep is now Speaker of the House and the son of a single mother is now the President of the United States. I am the child of a gardener and have an advanced degree from Stanford and a management position in a Fortune 500 technology company.

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Experienced parent

I am not your research assistant, so I won't feel the need to provide you with the voluminous studies on de-tracking. You can start with the book that the Paly teachers referenced last night, which has a title that is sure to shoot you over the moon, De-Tracking for Excellence and Equity. Web Link.

The research is absolutely clear that in ELA there is no benefit for anyone in tracking. Still the tracking wars rage on because rich, white, entitled people utterly lose their marbles in places like PAUSD at the very thought that being in the "high reading group" isn't better for little Madison. In a 21st century economy, Little Madison needs to work with diverse people and homogenous grouping is problematic. But more than that, there is no benefit for her educationally that can be measured on any test devised to find it. One study found that the real reason for the tracking wars are that parents are trying to advantage their kids and they have a belief, founded on nothing, that tracking does that.

Ronald Reagan tried to dismantle the US Department of Education more or less in reaction to the idea of de-tracking. Tracking is what freed white America from having to give a crap about integration and if the courts weren't going to let white people stand in the schoolhouse door, at least it could let them put the black kids in the slow goddamn reading group? Do you feel me Alabama?

So now I will really blow your mind. This isn't Alabama. Seems obvious. This is a town with a very large, very advanced high end. Do you know what tracking is bringing your kids, rich, white, Palo Alto? It's not higher achievement. It's bringing you a world of ruthless competition in which all the highest achieving kids are put in one class together, a Hobbesian war of all against all for the A. [Portion removed.]

Posted by asdf, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 29, 2014 at 7:58 pm

It's quite amazing that those asking for academic rigor on these forums are called elitist whilst those wanting to dumb-down the district are positioning themselves as after equality.
Mind-boggling really. They have a confused version of equality. To realize full and effective equality it is necessary to treat students differently according to their different circumstances. That is not elitist. [Portion removed.]

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Why are those who want equity the ones who are always invited to leave the district? I paid two million dollars for my house, and I pay 20K per year in taxes, plus your measures A-Z. [Portion removed.]

I'm over being nice about the thinly-veiled racism behind this attitude. You're not saying that you're against equality, it's just that those kids, who just happen to be poor and black and hispanic, have "different circumstances." Here's a "different circumstance" for you all to think about: most of your kids are going to be downwardly mobile in a big way. Yes, as you head off to drive Brooklyn and Adler off to their piano lessons, pitching coaching, club team practice, tutoring, test prep, volunteer hours, and the many sessions with their shrinks, Amy Chua is right behind you. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Mom2, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 29, 2014 at 8:37 pm

mom--One book published in 2008 about one school's experiment from 1987 totally relates directly to the current academic demands, expectations, college requirements and population that we have in PAUSD in 2014. Really?! Are you seriously arguing that this one book's perspective and the word of a few teachers who brought it to the board meeting now represents "all schools" "all students" or "all teachers?" Of course they found *one* reference to support their agenda. Ugh, seriously?

This entire line of discussion and disagreement doesn't even relate directly to the loaded term "tracking." If you've gone to any PAUSD parent meeting on the topic, it's not "tracking" it's laning in PAUSD--so that students can change lanes in different subjects depending on how fast they want to go. Students aren't currently restricted to a track at all--although from what I have read about last night's meeting, it looks like Paly teachers are proposing to change that--for the reasons you mention. There is research about the negative effects of tracking which is why you are using that term--and why the teachers brought that particular book to cite. Twisted, right?

It's not elitist in any way to expect more than one option for each subject. [Portion removed.] I get it. You don't want *your* child in the "slower" lane. I have absolutely no problem with it for mine. In your world, the "accelerated" 9th grade English class should be required without another option for all students so you don't have to have an uncomfortable conversation with your student or friends. It's tough luck for the students who don't want an accelerated pace, extra homework, or a teacher who won't teach the skills that are missing. [Portion removed.]

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2014 at 8:46 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by asdf, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 29, 2014 at 8:56 pm

With my British spelling? I would have very poor marks with my lack of u's and s's.

I don't know how wanting academic rigor equates to racism but you have a bit of a problem with understanding equality in general.

I grew up here and, unlike you I didn't come to "change" the schools. [Portion removed.]

Posted by references, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2014 at 8:59 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Parent and Board Watchercer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2014 at 9:00 pm

If I am not mistaken, I watched the cable coverage of the meeting last night and I believe that Melissa mentioned that her son had been cast into the lower lane reading group (do they require children to be reading in Kindergarten in this district these days?) and that he was negatively impacted by that. Melissa, how do you think think those that are always cast in the lower cast feel in this district?

I agree with many of the comments in here that claim that this district is elitist and is only out to support the maintenance of the district's scores.

[Portion removed.]

Maybe the Social Justice Pathway could put a serious dent in this district's reputation by encouraging students who really want to make a positive impact on the world to move forward with academic support in the process. I applaud the teachers who have put considerable thought and work into developing a curriculum that supports good values. Maybe some of the students who would enter this Pathway could teach their parents a thing or two about values and morality. Probably the students of elitists would not enter this Pathway (or at least would not get support from their parents to walk this walk in life.

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2014 at 9:26 pm

[Portion removed.] can't you even find one study that shows that tracking in 9th grade ELA harms the kids at the top? With all the fake-o science you can scoop up off of right wing websites? You can't find any? The best you got is that the teachers have only one book? [Portion removed.]

Posted by trying to be helpful, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2014 at 9:35 pm

[Portion removed.]

The research in this area is something I work with and know well. Check out Kulik, Marzano and Slavin's studies showing that students who learn with those at their own learning level, struggling with struggling students and advanced with advanced, learn more than they learn in a mixed setting.

This is good news for teachers who surveys show do not have enough time to differentiate in classrooms that can have student preparation levels that span 8 years. Sounds about right for Palo Alto 9th grade. There are the uber smart students who are reading at college level and students still working with 6th grade materials --- 8 years.

No need to bring race or "white" into this. The Public Agenda Foundation found that African-American parents oppose heterogeneous grouping as much as white parents do and support for it in both groups was quite weak.

What is important as mom2 points out is that students are not tracked all day so they can experience the richness of knowing a wide range of students and learning from their perspectives. That doesn't have to happen in English class where most minutes most eyes should be on the teacher or in a book. There are many ways students interact on high school campuses - sports teams, chorus, theater to name just a few.

Posted by asdf, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 29, 2014 at 9:45 pm

An affectation isn't the same as spelling. It's this detail that you're lacking. Your latest attempt is to push the onus of proof onto those opposing your change
If you want change, it is up to you to show that change will not be detrimental to our students. This is where your proposal faltered last night. Since that argument was lost, you've changed tack in this thread to a charge of "elitism" when it patently isn't true. [Portion removed.]

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2014 at 10:07 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2014 at 10:19 pm

This is from the National Association of School Psychologists. It summarizes the research, including the studies you cite, and comes to the opposite conclusion: Web Link

"NASP opposes the use of tracking, a permanent approach where students are assessed and placed into specific classrooms with peers of similar ability, because of its demonstrated negative effect for many students."

Even the gifted education wingnuts (which I assume make up some disproportionate fraction of our Dear Readers) admit that "the practice of comprehensive full-day grouping of pupils into different classrooms on the basis of general ability or IQ is not supported by Slavin's best-evidence synthesis." No one has shown that full-on tracking in ELA shows any gains despite years of frantic massaging of data. This is an article of faith. It's not science.

The authors you discuss advocate for differentiated instruction in heterogenous groups, and the sparing use of flexible ability groups. Not tracking and its euphemistic cousin, "laning."

Posted by loquacious, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 29, 2014 at 10:21 pm

The American spelling of "whilst" is still "whilst". Though I am given to understand Leeds is a lovely city on the edge of a moor. Downton Abbey country isn't it? Now back to that parrot.....

Posted by Trish, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2014 at 12:04 am

Bravo, Mom from Professorville, Bravo! You are fearless, eloquent, and 100% correct about Palo Alto elites.

Posted by Trish, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2014 at 12:31 am

Isn't it interesting that the Board can't force Advisory on Gunn over the objections of some teachers and the principal because "site based control," yet it can stop Paly from de-tracking freshman english, which is supported by the english department and the principal? Where is the site based control in this situation?

You can't have it both ways, School Board.

Posted by trying to be helpful, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2014 at 5:05 am

Mom from Professorville,

Since when is offering students choices in English "a permanent approach" and "the practice of comprehensive full-day grouping of pupils into different classrooms"? Others have pointed out to you that it isn't.

You choose to overlook that most of Paly's 9th grade classes are one-size-for-all and the ones that are not allow students to CHOOSE which lane per subject they want. This is nothing close to using placement tests on day one to slot students in an irreversible 4 year college preparatory or vocational track. Both Paly levels of English are college prep. Both are UC a-g. Students can move up or down, at their choice, even mid-year.

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

Posted by trying to be helpful, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2014 at 5:15 am

Google South Side High School, the high school in the book Paly recommends, which has de-tracked all classes since the 1980s.

If anywhere, de-tracking should work there. That high school has one teacher for every 11 students compared to Paly's English classes which are in the 1 to 30 range.

While students at South Side High are getting 3 times the individual attention from teachers that Paly teachers are able to give, it has not cracked the code on racial integration, private tutoring, school/life balance and differentiation with its accelerated-for-all curriculum in all classes, all the time solution.

South Side High School Reviews:

Not That Integrated: "minority students ...say they don't feel welcome and they never get chosen to be a leader. Have you seen an African-American student be a leader?"

Private Tutoring: "I've heard that this has an accelerated curriculum, but as a freshman attending it, the school really doesn't prepare you well for Regents ...instead there are review classes which cost extra money, which is just silly. "

High Stress: "moments where they approach the edge of sanity as a result of sleep deprivation, is worth it. ... drowning in work and miserably confused...Complaining about the workload is part of South Side culture ... you were working till 3 AM"

Needs of Individual Students Not Met: And for at least these two students, the needs on both ends of the spectrum were not met by high expectations and whole school grouping practices.

"School only cares about those excelling in their classes. If your child has a learning disability or low motivation they usually are lost in the crowd."

"has continually reduced the opportunities for the students with the most ability to excel ...while concentrating on kids with special education needs."

South Side's state test scores mentioned in the book are impressive but the Regents exam is not the STAR test so apples-to-avocados - you can't compare the two.

What you can compare though are average SAT and AP scores. Paly's: 1935 and 4.3. South Side High's: 1618 and 1.8.

Posted by parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 7:32 am

The bottom line:

It is far worse to be sitting in a room full of advanced students while they watch you struggling than for you to have to tell your friends at lunch you are in a different section of English. The first case is humiliation day in and day out for a year. The second case is a few moments of embarrassment at the beginning of the year and maybe some follow-on teasing depending on your friend group.

Are we sure this is about the students? Maybe it is about those parents who compare what levels their kids are in. With de-laning they will not have the humiliation of saying 9 instead of 9A.

How humiliating will it be when the student needs to drop Spanish or Chem because the English reading is too hard?

Posted by games, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:11 am

You know something's up when Skelly, the Daubers, and Paly English teachers are all on the same side.

Just to keep things in perspective - Gunn English (choice of a regular lane) has been doing a much better job (or not failing as badly) at graduating under represented minorities, A-G. Anyone interested in social justice could make this a case study.

[Portion removed.]

I'd voted for Dauber thinking he stood for taking better practices at one site to other sites. Not so, apparently Dauber is not immune to being arrogant about educational research (which we know changes, is frequently wrong, and teachers trump all) with disregard to what happens on the ground. [Portion removed.]

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:38 am

Sorry, English IS, not math. LOL.

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:42 am

The Paly teachers presented evidence that (1) most schools in the area do not lane their 9th grade english classes; (2) most students in english 9 have similar CST scores (proficient and advanced) as do those in 9A but someone directed them to the wrong class incorrectly. There are fewer than 50 students in English 9 who score basic or below basic in all of 9th grade english in Paly.

That means that all but a handful of students in freshman english at Paly are fine. Only a few (about 10%) need help. But they aren't 10% of their English 9 classes -- they are 10% of all freshmen. They are 30% of English 9. More than 70% of english 9 students can clearly handle 9A. They aren't going to be "sitting in a room full of advanced students while they watch you struggling." They are clearly able to do it [portion removed.]

So, that leaves us with just 50 students in the lower lane who are struggling. Are you suggesting that Paly should have an entire LANE just to keep those 50 students away from little Dex and Madeline, rather than giving teachers (WHO THEMSELVES WANT TO DO IT) the chance to try differentiated instruction and flexible grouping within a consolidated de-tracked class?

If the Paly math department was ever to suggest such a thing, hosannas would ring from the heavens. As it is now,. we are left to marvel at how the Paly english department managed to be so culturally different than the sorting machine in the math department. Three cheers for the English IS who said, in response to the [portion removed] question from Dana Tom [portion removed] "we don't want to get better at sorting kids."

You go girl.

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:50 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by No Skelly 4 Us, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:59 am

Why is Skelly still employed here? His dishonesty with the BOE should have been enough for his termination. Add to that the CONTINUED dishonesty, hiding of facts, coverups, laziness, [portion removed].....he should be unemployable anywhere ever again for all that.
[Portion removed.] He should never have been hired in the first place. PAUSD may as well have no leader at the helm.

Posted by games, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 9:00 am


yes the English teachers were very clear about what a burden it is for them to teach kids with special situations and they want to spread them out.

That's probably what the schools with this practice aim to do. Call it that then - diluting the lower lane so that they are not such a burden on the teachers.

Otherwise, the effect net net is that after 9A, all students who are at the bottom will go to regular lane 10, regular lane 11 if these same students are not repeating English and never get to 11 or 12.

Posted by games, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 9:03 am


Sara Woodham was wrong too. And if she represents SEAN, she should have known better.

Posted by Been Around, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2014 at 9:08 am

[Portion removed.]

Can't base a laning decision on student self-esteem (Diorio's comments). A below average student is going to feel stupid whether in the regular lane (versus high lane) or at the bottom of the class in a one-lane-fits-all class. (And frankly, I'd guess that most students here feel dumb at some point due to the high intelligence factor of some of the students). The main issue is parents pushing their children to the higher lane when the child doesn't want it. My children are in the regular lane and are fine with it. They know they are smart and could subject themselves to more stress but don't want to. Keeping the lanes allows students to have some control over their workload/stress level, which is positive because God knows some of the teachers (even regular lanes) expect way too much. Paly is so teacher-dependent and there isn't enough regulation.

Posted by Mom2, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 30, 2014 at 9:13 am

[Portion removed.]

Options are not evil. Parents of students of color should absolutely help their students make choices based on their abilities and interests, not some loaded racially prejudiced advice from someone else [portion removed.]

Don't throw the baby out with the bath water because you claim parents of students of color are incapable of making solid choices and therefore every 9th grade student needs another two hours on homework added to their already full plates. [Portion removed.]

Posted by games, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 9:28 am

mom. Proferssorville

"we don't want to get better at sorting kids."

Not sure if you noticed, but the proposal to cut the 9th grade regular lane is a re-sorting proposal.

Posted by parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:03 am

Differentiation does not work for kids in the middle lower sector when the pull to the advanced side is too strong. That is what we have in PAUSD. There will be some kids who have a class with their very own aide or resource teacher who will be taken care of. The advanced will be given extra work. The teacher will manage the classroom. The bulk of those 50 kids that were mentioned earlier will be floundering and there will be no specialized instruction to help teachers understand their dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADD/ADHD, etc. The solution will be to give them summarized versions of the Thomas Hardy or Dickens books. Their reading level will then drop. But the teachers will be relieved of that portion of their duty and Skelly will report success. Just look in any elementary or middle school classroom in the district to check this phenomenon out.

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:09 am

[Portion removed.]

De-tracking ninth grade english promotes the achievement of the more than 70% of kids who are in the low track now. Laning sets kids on a path that keeps them in a particular track. Given the racist political realities of a community like PA, there is no reasonable possiblity of de-tracking the school. However, as Kevin Skelly said very eloquently at the meeting, every kid deserves a shot. They should all arrive at HS with an equal shot, a chance, not put in a box or told that they can't reach for the stars. These teachers were crying when they left that meeting because they put their heart and soul into that proposal. Their love and desire to reach every kid was palpable. [Portion removed.]

For the handful of kids who will struggle, promoting inclusion for them with other kids rather than segregation in a special ed class is exactly the policy of full inclusion that the district is committed to. [Portion removed.]

I'm sure Dr. Skelly knows that de-tracking 9th grade english is a good proposal and is morally the right thing to do. But he also knows the board and the community and he knew it had zero chance of success. His handling of the topic more or less set it up to fail. He allocated 10 minutes on the agenda for the nuclear bomb of de-tracking at Paly. Even though it was only 9th grade english and even though it had been in the works for years, and even though it had the full support of the principal and teachers, and even though we supposedly have site-based control (snort) he should have known that it would take more than 10 minutes. He scheduled it on a day that had a dozen items, and put it near the end. It wasn't heard until after midnight, nearly 1:00am. That was offensive. That was not giving the teachers a real chance to be heard or considered. Then his defense of them was pretty lame. He said "I thought I owed them a chance to come here and make their case." [Portion removed.]

Posted by mom, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:21 am

@barron park parent

Yes you are right about some of the crit you are offering. However, the special ed parents who were there because of the bullying item that was finally heard at 1:15 am were supportive of the proposal. The parents who came out against it were wealthy, white, and concerned about the watering down the advanced lane with the inclusion of "them." The board member comments, particularly those of Tom and Caswell were some of the most offensive I have ever heard at the board [portion removed.] Tom said that the strugglers should be identified and put into small segregated special ed classes. Caswell was ranting about how her son should have been in 9A but he was in 9 and he was told to read Dickens and there was something about Romeo and Juliet that no one could follow, and then there was the idea that de-tracking might be fine for "blue collar" schools or community with different [pause] ethnic makeup, but not here, not us, not in our lovely town for our lovely kids.

There were no parents there of struggling students or students of color asking to keep English 9. [Portion removed.]

What is the evidence that the 50 kids who struggle are going to be any worse off in 9A than they are in 9? [Portion removed.]

Posted by games, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:36 am


On behalf of all the students who were not A-G ready,and did not have the A-G requirements at Paly graduation because of English (only English), during the same three years or six years that this plan was in the making, I'd say really?

Or all the students who had to re-take English in summer school. Where is this data and the demographics?

As a matter of fact, the only data presented at the meeting was the amount of high scoring 8th graders who choose the regular lane in 9th grade at Paly.

Not even a comparison of this data to Gunn?

Posted by dumb and dumber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:46 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Eileen 1, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Eileen 1 is a registered user.

If we have site based control as a community value, I don't understand why the Paly English Department's proposal for English 9/9A was brought to the Board at all. The principal of Paly, the head of the english department, and the english department instructors all spoke in support of this new plan. They were all in complete agreement, they had data that supported their proposal, and they had been developing this proposal for the past 18 months.
Isn't this an issue that should be decided at the site level and not at the Board level?

It is odd that the current method of handling bullying complaints for non-protected classes of students is currently being dealt with on a school site by school site basis with no input from the Board, but how 9th grade english is being taught at Paly is a Board level decision. Failure to adequately deal with bullying by each individual school puts the district at risk of lawsuits and could lead to a large expenditure of taxpayer money. Combining two lanes of 9th grade english instruction at one of our high schools will probably not cost that much money, has the potential to help students at the high and low end of the academic range, and could be tried out for a few years as an experiment with little to no downside risk.

Why does the Board care more about de-laning one course at the 9th grade level than they do about legal exposure over handling bullying complaints at each of the 18 school sites inconsistently, confusingly, and possibly inadequately? I am mystified.

Posted by JLS mom of 2, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2014 at 1:05 pm

JLS mom of 2 is a registered user.

As much as I am in sympathy with (and amused by) the anger toward the board and community elites who ensured the failure of this proposal, I want to raise another issue.

It is fundamentally anti-democratic to hold important discussions of political issues in the middle of the night. I doubt very much that either Ken Dauber or Jon Foster wanted to be down there arguing either one side or the other of this issue at 1:00 am. It is unfair to all community members, whatever their views on tracking, to put an item on the agenda for 9:00 pm and call it at 12:45am.

At 1:45am the board held a discussion of the Resolution Agreement with the Office for Civil Rights. The district paid its lawyer to be there (and probably paid her travel time as well as her waiting time from the agendized time until 4 hours later). The public has been waiting to hear any board and public discussion of this important issue for more than a year. The public has been excluded from meetings that were closed for very dubious reasons, and has had little information. What information there has been has been courtesy of public records act requests by the Weekly, not the district.

The heads of CAC and WCDB as well as other concerned citizens wanted to participate in that meeting and sat for hours and hours. When the item was finally called at almost 2am, the board asked few questions, with one board member saying -- totally correctly -- that she just couldn't think at that hour. All in all, it was fundamentally anti-democratic, unfair, and unreasonable. It was unreasonable to place that item on the agenda at that time.

Earlier in the evening, a Latino middle schooler from Jordan put in a card because she wanted to speak about bullying. She could not speak at open forum, since it was on the agenda and the board does not allow comments on agendized items during open forum. So she put in a card for the "middle school" item (since she was a middle schooler that seemed not wholly unreasonable). The adult with her explained to Dana Tom that because she was a middle schooler she could not stay until the agendized time (9:45) for that item, so the student would like to speak earlier.

What happened next was disgusting and I want to ensure that at least someone speaks up for that student now.

The student had about 1 minute's worth of prepared handwritten remarks that basically said that she had been bullied and that she hoped that the board would adopt a complaint procedure covering all students. A few seconds into her comments, she was interrupted by Board President Mitchell who called her "out of order." She continued to read her comments. Ms Mitchell again interrupted her and said she would have to stop. The adult with her asked for her to be allowed to continue, and rather than just let the child finish her comments on bullying, Ms. Mitchell instead chose to instruct Dr. Young to turn off the microphone and stated that the adult with the child was to be ejected from the meeting by Dr. Young.

None of the other board members interceded or suggested that there was no harm in allowing her to finish her little speech. None of them said "what's the harm, the item is going to be on late, so let's allow this." None of them thanked the little girl, or treated her as if she mattered or they wanted to hear what she had to say. They all were just bystanders while Mitchell bullied both the little girl and the adult with her. Young was perhaps the worst bystander of all since he actually got up and shut off the microphone, abandoning his own personal responsibility to treat this child with respect, in favor of following unreasonable instructions.

There is a lot to criticize in the performance of Mitchell, the rest of the board, Skelly, and Young in this instance. But the real problem is that the bullying item, one that is of interest to students, was discussed by the board at 2:00 in the morning. Is that a reasonable way to handle public participation on this issue? And given that the discussion of this issue was being held literally in the middle of the night, was it consistent with the educatoinal mission, treatment of students with respect, and just plain old common sense and decency to chase this student from the podium rather than just let her say her 1 minutes worth of stuff, thank her, and move on? These people are really just beyond belief.

Posted by Emma Isabella, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Emma Isabella is a registered user.

Good points, Eileen1 and JLS mom of 2. I also want to point out that many kids, like my own, were perfectly capable of English 9A, but chose to take English 9 because they think that their math and science classes are going to suck all of their time and energy, so why take English 9A if it doesn't give you honors credit?

Finally, the poster who said people are "humiliated" that their children are in English 9 is spectacularly uninformed and projecting her own emotions about how she would feel if her child were in English 9. Typical Palo Alto parent.

Posted by JLS mom of 2, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2014 at 1:49 pm

JLS mom of 2 is a registered user.

My guess is that the teachers thought that unless they called the class 9A rather than 9 it would be DOA for the same reasons and at the same hands that it died anyway. The teachers were clear that they knew that the shift was going to require changes to their pedagogy and they said that they were prepared for that. Doubtless that would have been a great thing for the kids, less competition. But all that was a dog whistle that called out the more stress/more achievement/more homework folks.

Posted by Eileen 1, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Eileen 1 is a registered user.

@ JLS Mom of 2


I was at the board meeting from 6:35 pm until 1:10 am or so, when I finally decided that it was time to leave.
I witnessed the exchange between the young girl (she was maybe 11 or 12 years old) and the Board President, Ms. Mitchell, that you described. In my opinion it was an appalling display on the part of an elected official. The girl wished to comment on bullying in the middle schools and, yes she got up to comment during the time allotted for comment on new courses at the middle school level. However, she was 12 years old and had they let her speak the most time she could have taken up was 3 MINUTES! Instead, Ms. Mitchell cut her off and demanded to know if she would be speaking on topic. She was allowed to continue and when Ms. Mitchell deemed that she was not on topic she was once more cut off, being told to go to the back of the room and speak to Charles Young. Meanwhile, Ms. Mitchell turned on the adult who was with the girl saying, "I blame you for this." Ms. Mitchell was quite intimidating and controlling during the entire exchange. I wondered if at the next Board meeting a security guard would be present as the way Ms. Mitchell spoke it was clear that she was simply not going to put up with a child speaking at the wrong point in her agenda. In essence she used Mr. Young as a security guard instructing him to escort the girl and the adult with her from the microphone.

You are absolutely correct in noting that none of the other board members said or did anything to diffuse this situation. Now that I have had two days to mull the whole event over, it has occurred to me that none of us in the audience stood up for the child either. I wish I had. Instead, we all sat by in shocked silence while Ms. Mitchell dispensed with a 11 or 12 year old girl who only wanted to speak to her school board for a maximum of 3 minutes.

This young girl was caught in the crossfire between Ms. Mitchell and a woman who has been fearless in her attempts to get help for students in the district who have been bullied. The Board obviously does not like or respect this adult, but none of that is an excuse for how the girl was treated on Tuesday night by an elected representative of this community. Nothing can excuse Ms. Mitchell's behavior. I believe the girl is owed a public apology. She is a student in this district and she had the courage to come and speak to a group of adults about something that concerns her - surely supporting this kind of civic action in a child is more important than making sure she speaks at the correct point in the meeting. Especially when the agenda item that she wished to speak to was absolutely guaranteed to occur after 10 pm.

Posted by JLS mom of 2, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2014 at 7:44 pm

JLS mom of 2 is a registered user.

Eileen the child's name is Angela. We need to organize a way to honor her at the next board meeting. Ideas?

Posted by dancin man, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:35 pm

dancin man is a registered user.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I basically see this as more focus on the bottom academic portion of the school. While devoting more time, money, and programs into the academically weakest portion of the school is fine, aren't there already plenty of programs in place for that? Small Learning Community, AVID, and all those sorts of things are already in place, do we really need more?

I'd much rather see academic tracks created for more purpose than paly attempting to field a football team that can manage a 2.0 GPA. The upper middle tracks are generally heavily ignored, with horrendous class situations (the second highest math lane in palo alto public schools results in mixed classes between upper lane freshmen and lower lane sophomores) leading to the class paces not suiting a number of each class's students.

Although I support the removal of freshmen English lanes; English laning has always been a complete joke due to the mixed quality and difficulty of English teachers as well as the fact that freshmen can essentially self select which English class they intend to go into. As a former PAUSD student I can say that I was in classes with complete dolts who only made it through highest lane English classes off of inflated grading systems (vocab finals and such compensating for earning ~65% on essays) and were literally incapable of stringing together coherent sentences.

Apologies if comes across as a negative viewpoint on things. It just seems that there are so many pressing issues in the PAUSD education system and this doesn't address any of them.

Posted by Eileen 1, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Eileen 1 is a registered user.

@ JLS Mom of 2

One thought would be for everyone in the community who saw, heard or read about this event to come to the Board Meeting on Tuesday, February 11th and apologize to Angela during the "Open Forum" community speaking period. Each person would have 3 minutes and they could thank her for coming to speak at the last meeting and encourage her to continue to speak out when she has something to say. Those of us who were there last Tuesday could apologize for not supporting her right to speak. My idea would be to use the Open Forum period to address Angela on behalf of the community and to apologize to her on behalf of our elected representatives - since we are the ones who elected them. I do not believe it would be fruitful to directly address Ms. Mitchell or the other board members regarding this incident.

If anyone else has an idea about honor Angela at the next Board Meeting please share. If anyone is interested in my idea, put February 11th on your calendar and plan to speak at the "Open Forum" time. If you look at the agenda a day or two before the meeting you can see what time they anticipate that "Open Forum" will occur. Usually it is within the first hour of the meeting.

Posted by JLS mom of 2, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:22 pm

JLS mom of 2 is a registered user.

That's a great idea. I think that we should speak up for Angela and plan to ensure that she is respected. I hope all parents who would not want their daughter to be treated that way will come.

My son is working on his Eagle. When scouts are doing their badges they have to observe a meeting of a governmental body. I certainly would not have wanted my scout to watch the un-scoutlike conduct of our board. That is not how local government should work.

It is of course deeply ironic that Angela was bullied by the board president while trying to make a fairly innocuous statement in support of stopping bullying.

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