'Superman' hits Woodside High School Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Sep 28, 2010 at 12:08 pm
Woodside High School is cast in an unflattering spotlight this week with the nation-wide opening of the documentary "Waiting for Superman," a portrait of a troubled U.S. public school system. The movie has been commented on by President Obama and promoted by "Oprah."
Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, September 28, 2010, 9:13 AM
Posted by TimothyH, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 28, 2010 at 12:08 pm
All parents and educators should see the documentary "Waiting for Superman". The counterpoints offered by Woodside Principal David Reilly in response to this film's portrayal of Woodside High School are reason enough to see the film, as his statistical points do not map directly to the film's assertions.
"Waiting for Superman" states that 32 percent of Woodside's graduates meet entrance requirements for California's four-year public universities. From information in this article, Mr. Reilly only provides data at the course level or from the point of view, or "plans", of graduating students - very far from the reality of being accepted to the UC campus system.
Reilly: In Woodside's class of 2010, 93 percent of graduates had plans to go to college, about half at four-year and half at two-year colleges...the remainder, he said, chose military service, "gap-year" experiences such as travel, apprenticeships or employment.
Reilly: "...freshmen entering Woodside are registered in college-prep classes that satisfy the entrance requirements for the University of California and the California State University systems."
These statistics do not answer the question, and mean very little in defense of Woodside or the "public school versus charter school" topic of the film. I also argue that while students heading for 2 year community colleges are attending undergraduate collegiate programs, the entrance requirements are designed to accommodate a maximum amount of acceptance and are not relevant in comparison to the UC admission standards.
The real answers are due in response to charter students such as Emily Jones, who "says she would have been 'put into the low classes' at Woodside because she's not a good test-taker, and "at Summit, "Everybody takes the same classes, even though you might not be the best speller or the best at taking tests," she said.
"Everybody's taking the same thing and it's a great place to be."
Request to Woodside and all public school administrators. Please address the issue before bringing up your defenses. There is clearly a problem, for which the cause & resolution is the issue, not the blame.
Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View, on Sep 28, 2010 at 2:11 pm
Maybe Mr.Reilly needs to retake some BASIC math classes, so he learns how to add FACT and not OPINION to what he says...
Too much of his rebuttal to the film is based on speculation, not hard data.
The people who pay for his diatribe are not getting their money's worth.
The bottom line: How many actually graduate and ARE admitted to ALL upper level education facilities?
YOU have the numbers. YOU know the FACTS. How about making ALL THE DATA PUBLIC, which is required by all TAXPAYER PAID EMPLOYEES???
Then the PUBLIC can decide who is more accurate, " Superman " or a chairwarmer defending his paycheck or a FAILED SYSTEM?
P.S. One of my parents was good enough to go farther in the ranks at the SJUSD then you have done here ( teacher to top administrator INCLUDING being principal at multiple schools )...By NOT playing the " good enough " game...Dealing with FACTS creates it's own reward....
Posted by JA3+, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Sep 28, 2010 at 5:27 pm
A Noun Ea Mus: Sadly, the Nation is a highly-biased publication, with a far left point of view. It's glory days of investigative journalism lie far, far in the past. While some may find the magazine's current tilt worthy of support, others will likely find the diatribe a tad tough to swallow. It's movie 'review' is far from relevant here.
Posted by stretch, a resident of another community, on Sep 28, 2010 at 6:10 pm
Someone a couple of entries before this one should maybe think about going back to school. It's a sad commentary, when someone writing about the failure of the school system can't even write a legible response!
Posted by member, a resident of Atherton, on Sep 28, 2010 at 7:56 pm
There is a deal between community colleges and public California universities that if a student goes to a community college, they are guaranteed entrance to a four year school as a junior (not sure if state or UC or both). Just because a student chooses to go to a community college doesn't mean they have failed. There is nothing wrong with this. Maybe they can't afford a four year school or they aren't ready to go away. Our babysitter graduated as a valedictorian, chose to live at home and go to the local community colleges for two years, moved to Davis, got her degree and is now working and owns her own home at the age of 26. It was the right thing for her to do.
Also, I think Principal Reilly only wanted the movie people to come to the school to get the facts and talk to people. Many, many kids from all walks of life are thrilled with their Woodside experience.
Posted by mutti, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Sep 28, 2010 at 8:07 pm
I've worked in Ravenswood schools for over 10 years and am tired of people putting out the 65% drop-out rate figure. No one can figure out where it came from. A closer number, as determined a few years ago by a study done at Menlo College put it closer to 26%. Still not good, but a lot better! When I tried following a group of Belle Haven students who went to Menlo Atherton High School, I came up with about 9%. Would someone please do a good study and publish it widely?
Posted by dontspinthedata, a resident of East Palo Alto, on Sep 28, 2010 at 8:28 pm
Mr. Reilly actually confirms the movies reference to the UCLA data with his own data. In fact, when I counted the number of student accepted to four year colleges last year at Woodside from the data Mr. Reilly provided in his letter I got about 25%. This is actually lower than the number referenced in the movie. Publicly accesible data on the CDE (California Department of Education website) also shows that less then 40% of Woodside graduates have taken the courses required to be accepted to a four year college or university.
I actually saw the movie and believe that they are not trying to single out Woodside - they point out that it is a high performing comprehensive school compared to other big schools in California and the country. Instead, the are pointing out that this model of school is no longer effective in getting enough students prepared for college. The state of California currently gets about 25% of its students prepared for four year colleges. Loads of data are pointing to a need for about 3x that many students in the next 10 years.
It is shame that instead of talking about a very real problem facing public education Mr. Reilly and the SUHSD have chosen to use a strategy of "deny the problem and claim the data is incorrect".
Let's talk about our issues and figure out how to improve upon them! Our community's youth and the future of our economy are counting on it!
Posted by John Galt, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Sep 29, 2010 at 10:24 am
Welcome to the Michael Moore-Al Gore style Exploitation Crockumentary! You who cheered and applauded their Hit Pieces as Docunentaries now taste the bitter fruits of another's use of the snipe-for-profit propaganda. Think about it.
Posted by Ayn Rand is dead, a resident of Stanford, on Sep 29, 2010 at 10:49 am
Amazing how blah and John Galt have formed opinions about the movie without seeing it--but what can one expect from disciples of a discredit communist spy. I will wait until I see it before commenting on the film
Posted by Observer, a resident of another community, on Sep 29, 2010 at 11:11 am
yes the community college to CSU/UC is a terrific deal. here is more information on the program Web Link and the admission requirements Web Link Be sure to look in the left column for links to even more information Moreover, the community college themselves are excellent institutions in their own right.
However if high school students haven't taken the basic UC/CSU entrance requirement in high school, then they are taking these high school courses in community college. That's just saddling students with high school debt and overburdening a community college with remedial courses.
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Sep 29, 2010 at 11:12 am
To JA3...Funny you seem unable or unwilling to directly say what in the Nation article (web link posted) you specifically disagree with, or any facts in the article you can disprove. Instead just an ad hominen attack on the entire publication. I will leave it to interested readers to themselves follow the link and read the article if they so desire. But please, at least have the....oh what's the word, "courage", "Intellectual honesty".....to discuss what the article says instead of the easy cop-out of just lambasting the entire publication.
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Sep 29, 2010 at 5:53 pm
I suppose one person's common sense is another person's bias. And while The Nation definitely has a progressive or left wing perspective ("bias" if you will) that should not preclude one from addressing the specific issues.
Further I merely posted the link to the article!
One may dislike The Nation. But one, only at their peril, would ever summarily dismiss an article or expose printed in it.
Posted by sonny, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Sep 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm
Here's a corrected version of your post: Someone in a previous post should, perhaps, think about going back to school. It's a sad commentary when one who writes about the failure of the school system hasn't the ability to construct a coherent sentence.
Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community, on Sep 29, 2010 at 7:45 pm
Argue all you want if Woodside is a failed school, but I'm sure most posters here would acknowledge that there are failed schools, and that in general USA schools cannot compete with many counterparts, particularly in Asia.
Why is this?
It wasn't true 50 years ago.
Do you think it might just possibly be a consequence of liberal social engineering?
Posted by Old Palo Alto, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 29, 2010 at 8:19 pm
""Why is this?
It wasn't true 50 years ago.
Do you think it might just possibly be a consequence of liberal social engineering?""
It's easier to import brains from foreign countries than it is to develop your own national intellectual capital. Obama's comments on schools is hypocritical given the Obama administration's massive defense budget compared with the educational budget. It's clear where the current democratic AND republican interests lie; build a bigger military to protect what's ours and continue to skimp on infrastructure and education in the long run.
Posted by TimothyH, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 30, 2010 at 11:53 am
Regarding posts by Outside Observer & Old Palo Alto (which raise very good discussion points, thank you):
This is the 64 Billion Dollar Question. 50 years ago, American public curriculum prepared a balanced K-12 education with the 20th Century literacy and analytical goals for graduates. Expectations for college were not near "100%" as the manufacturing-based USA had worker needs across the full spectrum.
It is difficult to change for the future, when the present day seems to be so successful. As American manufacturing declined and moved offshore, other countries used our own education model and prioritized curriculum areas that were necessary for the continued growth of their industries. In a real example, the rise of the Chinese public education system is based on 50 year old American models while America's present infatuation with standardized competency testing is actually using the old, obsolete Chinese model.
The "educational alignment" model to trickle down "emerging" industrial skills from companies to universities to preparatory schools has been a discussion for 30 years in America but has constantly been boxed up by the educational establishment that has misused the balanced model by not adjusting it to business forecast and needs. Outsourcing is old news. Importing knowledge is the real story. Films like "...Superman" are imperfect but are important to keep the education crisis in the public eye.
Posted by Sic Vita Est, a resident of Los Altos, on Sep 30, 2010 at 2:22 pm
As a fairly recent Woodside and UC graduate, I can say the limited information presented from the documentary seems to be either oversimplified or misleading. Woodside offers any student willing to commit towards a college education every chance to succeed. There are a multitude of extracurricular activities, sports, and student organizations that can help a student achieve this end. I rarely encountered a teacher who wasn't as concerned about a student's progress and future as the student him/herself, and who wouldn't go above and beyond for an interested student.
Yes, there is a fair bit of noninstitutionalized tracking initially. Most of which can easily be navigated by a parent who takes the time to speak with any number of school administrators and councilors. Even if the parent don't take the time to help place their children in the appropriate classes, teachers can and do recommend talented students for advanced classes. I was in a base science course my freshman year, but after much diligence I was recommended for advanced chemistry the next year.
Some advanced classes do require placement exams, but that is for the benefit of the student. How can they expect to earn college worthy grades if they're struggling with the material and assignments? Not being a 'good test taker' is a ridiculous excuse, as much of a college bound student's life is geared towards class tests, SAT, SAT II, and AP exams. Lets not forget the heinous exams a student will endure while in college, and those for graduate schools.
Woodside does have its problems, but it is unfair to generalize this school as failure when it produces so many talented graduates who go on to some of the best schools in the nation. Now, if this documentary takes the time to actually breakdown why so many students don't graduate from Woodside (the cited percentages seem too high from my experience), I might take the time to see it. It wouldn't be surprising if the graduation rate turned out to be more of parent and student failure than the school itself. Also, take some time compare Woodside's per student funding to schools in other states, and you might find yourself asking why this documentary is blaming the schools when the state/county/city provides them with such little funding.
Posted by Observer, a resident of another community, on Sep 30, 2010 at 2:57 pm
@ Sic Vita Est
you summarize the film observations quite well: some students do quite well, but many students are placed out of the college track or out of the diploma track. A call to action in the movie is what you seek: act to identify and to cure "why so many students don't graduate from Woodside" as well as other public schools around the country.
The other idea is the movie is that too many settings are not engaging students who then fail in large numbers: reflect on your own comments
"as concerned about a student's progress and future as the student him/herself"
"go above and beyond for an interested student"
The film is not an attack on teachers, in fact it devotes quite a bit of air time lauding teachers as one of the keys to turning the situation around. It does attack hurdles and low expectations which you portray as the norm
"there is a fair bit of noninstitutionalized tracking initially"
" How can they expect to earn college worthy grades if they're struggling with the material and assignments? "
The data is correct - Mr Reilly's comments bear that out and the school/district has reporte the same data to the state every year for many years.
Posted by foobar?, a resident of Stanford, on Sep 30, 2010 at 8:20 pm
"in general USA schools cannot compete with many counterparts, particularly in Asia."
I disagree strongly.
Our universities see the best students from Asia. If we look at the total Asian population vs. the total US population, our education system is far more successful at educating. Even if you look at the most narrow, Asian definition of education (which can be anything from "obtaining a high status credential" to "inculcating measurable and predefined skills").
Posted by Sic Vita Est, a resident of Los Altos, on Oct 1, 2010 at 5:44 am
Thanks for the encouragement to see the movie. The film is clearly well meaning and topical enough to warrant a shot, though I'll probably end up waiting for it to become available outside of theaters. Hopefully it will still be in vogue by then.
If one of the film's aims is to identify and cure "why so many students don't graduate from high school", I find the focus on Woodside to be a bad choice. Woodside is such a diverse and large school that there are too many variables involved to make generalizations. Perhaps, as Mr. Reilly mentioned, if the filmmakers had spent time at Woodside rather than solely base their views on mathematical averages, they would have seen that there are more homogeneous schools that would better serve their aim of portraying systemic problems in the education system. The school’s most pressing issues are related to the student body’s diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, and the resulting need to cater towards these differences. Without increased funding, its near impossible the Woodsides of the world to adequately engage every student. If a lack of school homogeneity is one of their issues, then they certainly picked an appropriate illustration.
My comments on tracking were mostly in response to the seemingly ignorant views of the student who tries so diligently to escape a Woodside education. I could understand the student wishing to avoid the harsh social scene at Woodside, but her desire to avoid a poor education is wholly unfounded. Not being a good test taker and wanting to participate in advanced classes seems to be a non sequitor. If she can't perform well on tests she's in for a rude awakening when its time to take college placement exams such as the SAT. If her problem is ability based (indicative of an inadequate primary school) she can't hope to perform well enough in advanced classes to glean the material and earn the grades that make advanced classes worth the effort. In this possibility she would be better off taking the non-advanced mirror class, though I can understand her reluctance to attend a school with large class sizes
As for the comments on guidance for interested students, it stands to reason teachers are only able to help those who ask for it. Students uninterested in their education will not approach faculty for counseling. Teachers attempt to motivate their pupils, but there is only so much they can do before funds before funds, time, student's home, and other non-school specific factors impede them.
Lets also not forget it is impracticable, economically, for every student to have a college diploma. Its not that I'm an elitist trying to preserve the value of my education, but it would be unfair to graduates of lesser institutions to rate jobs no better than menial labor after the amount of money, time, and effort required for a degree.
All of that said, I don't like my education tarnished (whether the view is a bad education or having risen above non-existent barriers) from what seems to be mischaracterized portrayal of Woodside. There is obviously a problem with such a low graduation rate, but without the films specific issues with Woodside being presented there is an unfounded and unflattering image of Woodside being made into a spectacle nationwide.
On a side note: I was a student of Principle Reilly prior to his advancement to administration, and he was probably one of the better english teacher's the school offered. He was approachable, knowledgeable, and explained complex matters in a way the the students could easily digest. Hopefully this matter doesn't tarnish his reputation, as these problems are inherited to this new appointment. Hopefully he will be given the same amount of patience to cure Woodside's ailments as our President has been to cure the nation's.
Posted by Observer, a resident of another community, on Oct 1, 2010 at 12:33 pm
@Sic Vita Est,
on your side note: I agree with your praise for David Reilly ... he is tackling some hard issues and comes across as skilled, engaged and concerned. Let me also thank you for providing your perspective in detail: it makes for a deeper, richer discussion on a .
on your feeling that Woodside is too complex to reach conclusions -- that's exactly the importance in touchstones of diplomas and college readiness to assay the situation, no matter how heterogenous. "Waiting for Superman" examines other schools as well, but their point is that the issues of graduation rates and college readiness span many locales including seemingly-gleaming suburban schools. Schools can succeed at transforming students who enter off track whether skills, ability or experience -- even when the student doesn't launch the process.
Stating that college will not be right for everyone a different question. Having the skills and options remains critical whether being prepared to succeed in college or being an engaged active citizen.
Posted by Joebob, a resident of Portola Valley, on Oct 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm
I saw the movie. Really a must see. Like any documentary it is quite a bit of propaganda. The teacher's union is demonized and certainly they are culpable. However it ignores the biggest problem - lousy parents. Charter schools excel in part because the parents are involved. It also ignores the third biggest problem - school administrators who are not doing their jobs. In fact the besides the kids, the central characters are heroic administrators. We pay these people to keep the unions in check. Obviously they have done a very poor job.
And speaking of administrators doing a poor job, here is an email sent to my sophomore in Sequoia District child's email account (not to the parents). It would go so much better for these people if they just told the truth rather than stay with the "95% planned" lie.
Dear Sequoia Union High School District Parents,
You may have been reading and hearing lately about "Waiting for Superman" — a new documentary about public education in America. In the film, five students are profiled as they pursue an alternative to the traditional public schools in their communities. Four of the students come from inner city neighborhoods and the fifth student is a Roy Cloud student, Emily, who was pursuing an alternative school in our district when the movie was filmed in Spring 2009.
The filmmakers reportedly chose to include Emily's story due to the claim that she "would have unwillingly been put on a non-collegiate track." We know that, had Emily enrolled in any of our comprehensive high schools, she would have been registered in college preparatory classes meeting UC/CSU A-G requirements, like all freshmen (other than students with special needs and those requiring focused interventions). At any of our comprehensive high schools, Emily would have had multiple options for developing an academic program tailored to her individualized needs and interests, and she would have been offered a quality college preparatory program - as rigorous as she desired - at the same time enjoying unparalleled opportunities for enrichment, on a campus with some of the best facilities and faculty anywhere.
On average across the district's four comprehensive high schools, 95 percent of graduates in the Class of 2010 planned to pursue college following graduation. The remainder choose military service, travel and other "gap-year" experiences, employment or other paths.
When the filmmakers were in the area following Emily's story, they declined our offers to learn about our schools. Had they spent any amount of time with us, they likely would have avoided some of the mischaracterizations in the film and realized that, unlike the four other students profiled in the film, students in the Sequoia district have nothing but quality options from which to choose as all of the traditional and alternative schools in the Sequoia district are of high quality. In the film, Woodside High School is singled out and misleading data is presented relating to student outcomes. I am working with the administration of Woodside to correct the record and to help ensure public perceptions accurately reflect the school's high quality and academic success.
We will continue to take pride in all of our distinguished, award-winning schools and our ongoing pursuit of even higher levels of achievement for greater numbers of students. We will continue in the current year and beyond to offer our richly diverse student body a quality education, stellar preparation for college, and an enriching high school experience.
Posted by educator, a resident of another community, on Oct 1, 2010 at 5:04 pm
It may be true that only 62% of Woodside's freshman students go on to graduate from Woodside High School, but the way it is presented is misleading. When my daughter went to WHS, her freshman class was quite larger than her graduating class. This is not because students dropped out or failed. The attrition occurred because students moved away, enrolled in alternative programs, changed schools, etc. Another reason for attrition was because a number of students were expelled. For this, I applaud Woodside's administration. They set high behavioral expectations and stood by those expectations. Students were expelled for ignoring the rules that ensure a safe and secure educational experience. Woodside's no tolerance policy for certain behaviors promotes a safer and better learning environment for all students. I never felt my daughter was unsafe at Woodside. She took general ed courses, and she was successful. Ironically, my daughter was a poor test taker like Gugenheim's "Emily". She is dyslexic, so objective tests were incredibly difficult for her. The staff at Woodside provided her with alternative assessments as needed, and they taught her the best ways to approach tests. It appears that Emily, along with Guggenheim and Oprah, erred in their assessment of Woodside High School. One thing my daughter learned at Woodside is the value of multiple means of assessment and the importance of thorough research. Maybe it's not too late for Emily, Oprah and Guggenheim to enroll... It might do them some good! Thank you, Woodside, for a fantastic experience.
Posted by Frances Griffin, a resident of Menlo Park, on Oct 3, 2010 at 8:45 pm
I note that the filmmaker said in a recent interview about the students he observed "The biggest problem is a lot of families' first language is Spanish." How ignorant can you get! My similarly ignorant pediatrician told me not to speak another language to my pre-school age children because, in his(ignorant) opinion, if I did so, "They will do badly in school." Fortunately I knew it was nonsense because I know something about language acquisition and the advantages of being bilingual. My son is not just still fluent in Serbo-Croatian: he later aced AP French. He attended public high school where hePmwM got a way better education than I did in private school. He was a National Merit Scholar and got a degree in Physics from Stanford University. Wow, I guess being raised in a non-English environment did not hurt him. Mr Guggenheim needs to study up on bilingual education! He could start by seeing the film "Speaking in Tongues," recently shown on PBS.
So why do the children of poor Spanish-speaking families have trouble? It's the poverty, Stupid.
Posted by Frances Griffin, a resident of Menlo Park, on Oct 4, 2010 at 3:23 am
Why are poor people poor? Is it genetics? Well in the case of poor immigrants from Mexico it has a lot to do with the legacy of colonialism plus American money and weapons that help the establishment put down unrest from poor folks, plus lack of access in many cases to even the most basic education.
As more and more middle class Americans fall victim to bank and broker scams, including robo-signing of foreclosures, plus unemployment due to outsourcing, and escalating medical costs, it will become more and more evident that genetics is not the sole cause and perhaps not very important at all in leading to poverty.
Posted by Parent, a resident of another community, on Oct 8, 2010 at 7:55 am
We are failing our children as a nation. It does not have to do with what one high school or charter school is doing for one student. It has to do with what this country is doing overall to all of our children. How many times are we going to cut funding from our schools, and then to have the audacity to blame schools and school districts for failing students? We as a country have failed our children, not just recently but for decades!! These schools are doing the best they can with whatever means are given to them. As for Charter schools where everyone gets placed in a AP class regardless of their grades? Why don't we just pass out high school diplomas in kindergarten?