Students, parents challenge schools on math Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Dec 14, 2011 at 11:40 am
A coalition of students and parents challenged the Palo Alto school board Tuesday to ensure the district's two high schools offer a basic, non-honors track in math and science that satisfies entrance requirements for University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) schools.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 10:51 AM
Posted by member, a resident of Menlo Park, on Dec 14, 2011 at 11:40 am
This seems ridiculous to me. The AG requirement is really way too low. Children in nearly every other country have CALCULUS as a graduation requirement. Paly's existing requirements are already WAY below that of almost every developed country in the world and behind that of many developing countries. Watering it down for 90% of students so that a few can pass a lower bar is just asinine. Let's be proud of our (somewhat) higher standards. If he problem is 10 kids can't pass, fight for remedial tutoring, don't water down the curriculum for everyone else.
Posted by Huh?, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 11:40 am
The person who moved here because the schools are the best, and now wants to complain because they don't cater to non-performers, is like the person who buys a house under the flight path and then wants to close the airport.
Posted by araj turos, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 11:46 am
The tone of the debate was to blame the schools (and the teachers) for deficiencies in preparation or the capability of students. Of course there are many reasons for the historic disparity in the grade and course level success of different groups of students, and the school curricula and teaching standards and methods may be one reason. But it's time for parents who complain about our schools to assert their primary role they have in the education of their children and assume their responsibility to work harder with their children at home, to change their work habits and instill in them good study habits from early years onward so that they would have no problem surpassing the AG math requirements when then reach high school.
Posted by Tracey Chen, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 11:47 am
Wow. It amazes me how little actual information really long story (for this paper) can contain. Lots of emotions. Lots of he said she said. And some interesting statistics. I'd be interesting in seeing a bit more of the actual percentages. In finding out exactly what "high" standards are supposedly being put at risk, and exactly what the young woman considered "unnecessary high barriers" to what she achieved. I don't even remember algebra, but I do kind of think that 3 divided by 17 is less than "20%" so I don't see how that is "disproportionately high" (relative to non-non-whites). However, it's a shame that 20% aren't getting the education they could have. So much these days is just fight, fight, fight. And pick a side. Can't we just report the issues at hand and let people THINK. What exactly are they trying to change in the math departments? Who wants what changes and what exactly are their plans to achieve them? And who opposes the changes and WHY?
Posted by recoveringteacher, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:03 pm
Toma is absolutely correct in that lowering standards (required courses) will lead to lower expectations (of the students) and hurt the school's reputation through lower achievement. It doesn't take a math genius to figure that one out. The over-sensitivity of parents in this town is bizarre and part of living-in-a-bubble mentality. Most California parents would be thrilled to have their children attend such a respected, high-achieving, public educational community. Parents should switch their "volunteer" hours of attending these meetings to offering free tutoring to students who need it.
Posted by Rob Schoeben, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:04 pm
No one said anything about watering down the curriculum for the high achieving students. If your kids are in a higher lane that far exceeds A-G, you need not even participate in this debate (unless of course you care about all kids, not just your own).
The irony is that we actually need to *raise* expectations and requirements for a basic math lane to ensure that it meets the minimum entrance requirements for the UC and CSU systems. It's unacceptable that students can come out of our high schools having successfully completed one of our prescribed paths, yet they don't qualify to apply to our state college system.
In raising expectations and requirements, we will also need to provide the support these students need to be successful. Sounds fair to me.
Posted by The Truth, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm
Attending Palo Alto Schools is a gift. It is an opportunity for a great education whether black, latino, etc...... Put in the work and good things happen. Just a fact that some have to work harder than others. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] You get out of life what you put into it.
Posted by Frank, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm
I think we're missing the point - the Palo Alto High Schools have 4 different math lanes. Clearly a student who can step up to a challenge should have that opportunity - and they do. What we're talking about here is should a student who could pass the A-G level math be denied an opportunity to go to UC or CSU because we don't offer an A-G level class only ones that are more demanding?
I think the Kevin Skelly is correct - when he says PAUSD should align its graduation criteria with the A-G requirements. Pally and Gunn both do offer Calculus and AP Calculus. That's not the problem nor is it on the chopping block. This is about getting the maximum number of children qualified to get into colleges.
I would love it if PAUSD could raise the floor of it's "graduation criteria" above A-G but only if we do not loose any children along the way.
Posted by Distresses by the watering down, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:12 pm
I hate that a venerable math dept like Paly's gets subjected to these comments. Of course the math dept should have good standards. Why do the remarks of a few whether accurate or not lead to a dumbing down of an entire dept. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Carlos, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm
Please, stop pointing fingers every time your kids don't measure up. That's life, and they'd better realize this sooner rather than later. Criticizing the district or a teacher for some 'obvious' realities just perpetuates a feeling of entitlement among our youth, and they'll face a shocking reality once they get out into the real world and have to compete for jobs against other people who just decided to work harder/smarter.
And for those who claim to be speaking on behalf of underserved minorities, please stop using 'us' to push your agendas. I immigrated from south of the border, but don't want anybody to 'dumb down' the curriculum to help my kids have an easier time and get better grades.
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm
I have child who struggled with the lowest lane Algebra 2 at Gunn and barely passed. I, myself, am an engineer and use math all the time. I majored in math and physics at one of the country's best colleges. I took algebra 2 at one of the countries best private prep schools in the 1970's. What I saw was that the algebra 2 course my son took was far more comprehensive and faster-paced than anything I ever took. To help him with homework, I had to learn topics that I know I never studied (synthetic division for example). Trying to cram so much so quickly into the minds of kids who have no innate talent or interest is counter-productive; they will just forget it. I am all for giving advanced students as much as they can absorb in the field for which they have a passion. But you also need to allow those who have no innate talent to absorb a more reasonable amount more fully.
As Rob Schoeben and Frank point out, the Board resolution presented last year by Dr. Skelly asks for alignment of the highschool graduation requirements with the entrance level requirements for the California State and UC system (A-G).
For a full discussion of the initial resolution presented to the Board, please review the Board package from the PAUSD Board meeting on May 24, 2011. The Board package can be downloaded here.
The presentation on this topic starts on page 25 of the package.
The Resolution which can be found on pages 38-40 in this Board package was not adopted by the Board.
For more information about the A-G achievement rate for the class of 2011 please see the staff report included in the October 25, 2011 Board package. The report starts on page 31. 23% of Paly graduates and 18% of Gunn graduates did not attain A-G upon graduation.
To affirm Rob again - It's unacceptable that students can come out of our high schools having successfully completed one of our prescribed paths, yet they don't qualify to apply to our state college system. In raising expectations and requirements, we will also need to provide the support these students need to be successful.
A college diploma is the new baseline for 21st century jobs. The local economy is dependent on attracting and retaining a workforce with strong math and science skills. Raising expectations and supporting our students in meeting these is the right thing to do for the students, for our local economy and for our county to successfully compete in the global marketplace.
Posted by We love PALY, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm
My son is a senior is Palo Alto High. He told me that many of his friends graduating last year told him that PALY prepared them well, especially in math, that none of them are having problems academically in colleges. These kids I am referring to are studying in UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, UChicago, and U of Michigan ... etc.
My son never has Mr. Toma as a math teacher, but I know kids love him and love their math teachers in PALY!
Posted by Ken Dauber, a member of the Barron Park School community, on Dec 14, 2011 at 1:02 pm
This story unfortunately lacks context both about the letter and the actual events at last night's school board meeting. For the letter itself, you can read an editorial published in the Palo Alto Weekly and the associated discussion at Web Link. A copy of the letter can be downloaded at: Web Link The resolution that We Can Do Better Palo Alto, along with Parents Network for Students of Color, Student Equity Action Network, presented to the board is at: Web Link
Since no one who has read the letter has actually defended it, including the Superintendent and the principal at Paly, I suggest that you read it before drawing a conclusion. While the letter raises a number of concerning questions, the fundamental one that we addressed last night was whether Palo Alto's high schools should provide, in the standard lane, a curriculum that meets but does not exceed the UC/CSU standards for entrance to our public universities. The letter from the Paly math department acknowledges that there is a group of students who currently do not graduate with an A-G curriculum because they don't pass the Algebra II class as taught at Paly, but that the class could be changed so that it still meets A-G standards and those students could pass. The math department refuses to reduce the difficulty of the class, even though it is in the lowest lane, because it would hurt the district's "reputation," presumably for rigorous math teaching. Failing to provide a path to college for students who could actually meet the high A-G standards set by our state university system is unfair and inequitable. That failure disproportionately effects minority students, although most of those affected are actually white students because of the relative size of these populations. This issue is not confined to math -- there are no non-honors chemistry or biology classes that meet the A-G lab science requirements, for example.
At the end of the evening Board members, led by Melissa Baten Caswell, actually requested that the Superintendent report back in January on whether and to what extent classes in the standard lane across different subjects exceed the A-G standard. That request mirrors the first part of our resolution, and Dr. Skelly agreed to do so.
Also, to those of you who disagree with the protest against the Paly math department, please, don't express yourselves here only. Send e-mails of support to the Superintendent, Mr. Skelly, to the board, to the math dept at Paly. They should not hear only from that small group of protesters.
Posted by only if remedial, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 1:19 pm
Be careful, there are unintended consequences when you make class content decisions one at a time. Yes there are four lanes of math. One ends in Alegbra 2, the two higher lanes take algegra 2 on the way to Calculus. If you dumb down alegbra 2 for those seeing it as a terminal math class, those other lanes now enter the high math course less prepared and those teachers must fill this gap too. If there were an A-G level Alegbra 2 it needs to be just for terminal math students, then I think you would find all those students lumped together for all their other classes as the numbers sound small.
Posted by citizen, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm
Interesting to see so much "comments" every time that PAUSD is talking about academics. I am a US citizen now but I came from other developing country which US has been "looking" down to it. I am proud to be a US citizen now and really hope no one destroy its high-reputation in this world, I am serious, don't dump US to some kind backward lower standard country!!!! In my past "developing" country, the school has a standard of what is required as a high school graduate. In fact, every grade since elementary school, there is a standard. If one student could not past that standard, he/she has to repeat the grade, no exemption. Here, in this highly educated city, people are talking to lower the standard of high school :-(. For sure, if school lower its requirement of math, yes, everyone can pass and "graduate". If you call 10+10=20 is Algebra 2, sure 100% will pass. But, does this mean that a student is really learning anything for their future life? What do your parents want? Just a diploma that said that you are graduated no matter what you know? Or, you should really learn the skill that represent this diploma? I'd say if a student cannot pass the standard, then that is the fact. They can study harder to gain their status or live without it in the life. Many jobs do not need Algebra 2 at all, just find those jobs for living. Don't mess up the whole education system/standard.
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 1:51 pm
my feedback for those parents who comment as the following:
"Parents and student activists have seized on the comment as "arrogant, elitist and paternalistic," reflecting a math and science program at Palo Alto's high schools that caters to high achievers while failing to offer a "basic" path to college for many students
DON'T WATER DOWN THE MATH CURRICULUM ANY MORE, IT'S A SHAME.
web-based learning tool:
It is not hard, we have so many talent people in silicon valley, please recruit only limited but excellent math teachers(temp is fine too) to use web-based (webinar) conference to deliver math subjects for our students. let our current "mass math teachers" act as tutors or sitters to assist students to master their learning in daily base (for all math lines - from basic to advance)
Learning math/science can be fun and interesting, if some of us never have such good experience, don't limit your potential by saying I only want to know a bit. Today, information technology improve our learning life cycle, we should have better chance to locate multiple resources, dynamic learning ways to master math/science from our education institution or communities.
ASK FOR BETTER WAY TO LEARN, NOT ASK FOR LEARN LESS.
Posted by needsfixing, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm
To those who are so worried about the math lanes being dumbed down. There is NO need to dumb down the math curriculum in the higher lanes. Our high schools should have A-G courses available. There should be an Alg II that is given at a reasonable pace and covers similar materials compared to other high schools. The math dept has so many lanes that this should not dumb down the higher lanes.
There is a big disconnect between what is taught in middle school classes (which should be preparing students for high school and more difficult classes but often do not) and what is expected at the high school level. Palo Alto has so many bright students that many just learn the material on their own or hire tutors to help them. So high school teachers think everything is fine (i.e., our middle schools prepare them well) when it is not and the middle schools do not prepare them well.
At the high school level, this leads to AP classes that are exceptionally difficult or the other choice, regular lane which is way too easy. When our AP classes are compared to how they are taught in other high schools and what is covered, our AP classes move extremely fast, with much extra homework, and curve the grading. That is not about mastering the material -- that is about being gate keepers.
So, there is a problem here not only with the minority students who want to meet the A-G requirements. There is also a skewed system for the higher level students too.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm
I find this whole debate confusing.
Is the proposal to bring in a 5th lane of lower but acceptable standard to enable those students who find math hard reach the required standard to get into college? If this is an additional lane for students who may excel in English, Social Studies, foreign language or something else but find math difficult and need a slower paced class, I am fine with it. Since each year there are more and more students at our high schools, the number of classes in each lane must be increasing each year. Making one of these classes slower paced for those who need it is taking nothing away from the brighter students, as far as I can see. Or am I missing something?
I don't think this needs to dumb down the existing 4 lanes, it is called adding an additional lane which is slower paced.
Posted by Capbreton, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 3:27 pm
The harsh reality is that there is no "right" to have a path to the UCs for anyone. The "barrier" of actually having an academic standard today, which is, candidly, not a high one, exists for a reason.
Or should we just create a "pretend" standard that games the system and forces the UCs to stuff two years of remedial basics into these kids, which means they never get a UC degree that means anything either.
Look, Paly is literally awash with program after program and resources for disadvantaged children of all sorts. To the point that there are very few programs for the majority of the kids.
Posted by citizen, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 3:43 pm
Why every student has to meet A-G? So, they can go to UC or CSU? If you are not prepared to join UC or CSU, why do you have to force it? So, next step is to lower UC and CSU standard to meet those 20% students? Then what, you got UC and CSU diploma, but still cannot do the work that a college graduate should do. Then, you lower the standard of graduate school or even PhD program?? So, eventually, a US PhD is equal to college degree of other country? What a SHAME!
For the parents of those 20% students, make your kids study harder, much harder, please. A society does not need every citizen to be college graduate. There are many other jobs there for them. Otherwise, US college graduate is equal to high school graduate in other country.
Posted by My 2 Cents, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 3:54 pm
Hmmm...When did having high expectations of others (students, parents, or teachers) become such a negative idea?
To have high expectations does not necessarily mean "lowering the bar" or "watering down the curriculum". Think of it as adding more stepping stones in a path or adding more space between the stones in the path. Higher expectations can make reaching a goal more difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Challenges are experiences, and experiences are necessary for the brain to develop.
If we, the adults, work together to put supports into place that help every student reach his/her goal, then we are doing the right thing.
Please, let's ALL try to "Teach the children well."
I just sent mine in. I encourage all others, who satify the age limit (65 as of next June), to register their opposition to lowering the standards in Palo Alto schools, by sending in their own exemption! It will also save you about $600 of after-tax dollars...a double win!
Who knows, maybe the school board will wake up to those who (formerly) supported them.
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm Walter_E_Wallis is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
If 20% of the graduates make UC that is OK with me. The rest are better served by an early entry into the job market. It should be illegal to make any racial identification at all. Classify all students by their performance and group them accordingly.
Posted by math teacher in another disttict, a member of the Addison School community, on Dec 14, 2011 at 4:06 pm
I have to say as a middle school math teacher in another district (not PAUSD), I am finding that some students will not do the work no matter how much I make myself available to provide additional help.
I think that some students don't want to learn or are not always encouraged or helped at home. It is a shame to keep pointing at what teachers can do when sometimes it is intrinsic motivation of the student and some further encouraging of parents that will make the difference. That is what my parents did for me -- they were huge advocates of education and this resulting in my entire family graduating college. It's not the teachers that make all the difference, it is the family infrastructure and the home values.
I wish I had an answer since as a teacher I want to help all students. It's just that after daily offerings to help the most struggling students and those students deciding to not participate in the help one does stop offering.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 4:25 pm
It's unfortunate that you haven't really made an effort to understand the issue at hand. There is no watering down of standards. If you have tutored or worked with any student in the PAUSD math program, you will find that even the minimum level class far EXCEEDS the standards. Yes, we all want high standards for our students to excel in the world as we know it now. As a public school, there is an obligation to provide classes that MEET standards. Most students here are very impressive and bright... but they are pretty humbled by the extremely high standards. There's a reason they all say that college is a cake-walk in comparison to PAUSD.
As one of the previous posts stated, some students may need more stepping stones along the way.... and not providing a program the meets standards is wrong. There is no suggestion whatsoever to dumb down the top lanes, which probably exceed most college level classes. (It seems to be normal for PAUSD students to achieve 4s & 5s on their AP exams and still get a C in class. The rationale for that is beyond me.)
Posted by Thank you activists, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 4:31 pm
Fortunately the board is not accountable to these threads, but to the students and public that go to the board meetings, and speak up. Anyone truly opposing this resolution I'm sure would not hesitate to do so.
The reality is that most people in the district understand that the resolution would serve everyone, so I'm grateful to the parents and student activists for stepping up. THANK YOU
Posted by a roundtable resident, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 4:42 pm
I founnd it's facinating to read all the comments. I'm not an expert of high school math but I do know the following facts: Overall the math standard in US middle and elementary schools is much lower than that of western Europe, China and other Asian countries. I traveled to these countries and compared what students learnt in their countries with similar age. Then I just moved from eastcoast to westcoast and found that california standard is lower than that of the state I came from. Maybe this is too general overall but I do think this question a lot: how low can we go?
I don't know much about school politics but overall my kids love their school and it's a very nice community. Hope we can focus on the positives of our school community and use our energy to make it even better!!!
Posted by Paly graduate, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 5:21 pm
I am a recent Paly graduate. I loved my Paly Math teachers. I finished AP Calculus BC and went to Stanford for Math in my senior year. I found the math curriculum to be challenging. I pushed myself and worked hard to do well. Some of my friends didn't want to work hard. I made hard choices- study instead of hang out with my friends or go to party. My friends didn't want to work hard and they even said that their parents don't care. They need to be motivated early on. So, parents, please help your kids! Expect them to stay home on school nights. Expect them to take challenging courses. Expect them to make progress. Palo Alto has great schools! Teach your students to work hard and take responsibility! Changing the system to fit their needs will not benefit or help them. Would you change the UC graduation requirements then?
Posted by Lydia G, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 14, 2011 at 5:47 pm
As a current student of Mr. Toma and four years of Paly math, I cannot speak higher about the program. My math classes have not been easy, yet Toma and his colleagues are always available to push a student who needs a little extra help. Should I need help on anything math-related, myriad resources are available--and not just to me, but to all--including tutorial sessions where students are allowed to access teachers one-on-one, free and dedicated student tutors, and other opportunities to meet with the teacher for tutoring and to discuss a plan of action to succeed. Why lower the standards for lesser-achieving students when they have the means and resources of succeeding? I say that instead of lowering the standards for those students, push them to do better. Paly's math program forms students of exceptional talent and intellect; lower-achieving students should not be insulted to be any less.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 5:47 pm
Unfortunately this story is poorly written and the facts are not reported accurately. But the comments have become so racially offensive so quickly that I really don't care to post into this thread and I think it might be impossible to bring it back into line with a reasonable discussion. Example:
"I have to say as a middle school math teacher in another district (not PAUSD), I am finding that some minority students will not do the work no matter how much I make myself available to provide additional help."
First of all, Chris's story unfortunately pitched the angle as "black parents picking on beloved white teacher and demanding lower standards." But this is a false and misleading picture of what is happening. Rather, the Paly math department wrote a letter attempting to influence board policy. In that letter, they stated their view that minority children cannot pass Algebra 2. It turns out that in Palo Alto, Algebra 2 is much harder than it should be -- it is taught well above the state UC/CSU standard. Therefore we have requested that the lowest, basic lane of Algebra 2 be taught at, rather than above, this standard. There are many wonderful challenging offerings for students who want to take on an extra challenge in our schools. That is great. But for students who may not excel at math but still want to attend a 4 year public college, we should offer that chance too.
That is all this is about.
The parents who spoke last night, contrary to Chris's story were a multi-racial coalition that includes just as many white parents as African Americans. The parents were not angry or bitter. They were calm, respectful, and orderly. We were professors, engineers, and lawyers. We merely want a path to college for all students who can meet the standard set by the UC/CSU system. As Resident said, what about the student who is really good at English but not so strong in math? Should they be barred from Cal State Fresno? It is not reasonable to do that. And it is really not reasonable to have teachers setting district policy, which is properly done by the board.
At this point, this story was so incorrect, so misleading, and so inflammatory that this entire board is filled with racially charged and destructive comments. I personally am offended by 2/3 of the comments here, like the one I quoted above. The most responsible thing for the weekly to do at this point is to take this story down, along with these postings, and start over.
Posted by Put yourself in others shoes, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 5:48 pm
Is it really so difficult to understand that there are children who struggle with math and who need a math lane taught at the California state standards, not some higher arbitrary standard set by The Paly math teachers?
Yes, there are many gifted and talented children in this community, but we are not all gifted in the same areas. Your child may be gifted in math. My child may be gifted in music. Our neighbor's child may be gifted in swimming. The point is that we should all be working to make each of these children successful, and providing the gifted musician or the gifted swimmer who struggles with math a pathway to college by teaching the standard level math lane in a more accessible way is not rocket science.
We have Stanford University across the street and the Khan Academy right next door. If we put our hearts and minds to it, I am sure we can help all of our children in PAUSD pass Algebra II at a minimum and meet the goals of the district while providing the opportunity for all of our children to attend the college of their choice.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm
It is not fixing the problem to go into that post I quoted and delete the word "minority." It changes the fact that what you have here is not a legitimate viewpoint at all and portrays it as if it is legitimate. What this middle school teacher actually said is that minority children are lazy. But you changed it to a sane and reasonable comment rather than the bigoted racist claptrap it was. Why would you try to save this person's comment? It's absurd. Delete the entire post, don't go in and edit it to pretend a reasonable person wrote it.
You are not fixing the problem you are papering over it.
Posted by other parent, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 6:01 pm
My last post was entirely removed, so I will repost here the information it contained.
There are parents in this district who advocate making all classes easier, not just Alg. 2. Some of these parents are part of the group named "We can do better Palo Alto" led by Michele and Ken Dauber. If you consult their Facebook page, you'll see that they have discussed making AP classes easier. Some even suggest getting rid of AP classes.
This says to me that bringing in an easier Alg. 2 class could just be a first step that will be followed by asking that other math classes be made easier, including high lane classes.
This is not fear-mongering. It is based on what I have read written by parents and members of the group "We can do better PA". Look it for yourself.
Please, contact the high school math departments, and express your support for the current classes as they are and for the teachers. Please, write and e-mail the PAUSD Superintendent, Mr. Skelly, and the Board of Education members. Their addresses and e-mail addresses can be found on the website of the Palo Alto Unified School District. Tell them that we don't want the content of math classes, or any other classes in our high schools, to be lowered.
Posted by Parent of a high school kid, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 14, 2011 at 6:17 pm
Radu Toma is one of the most educated persons in PAUSD. I agree with him and other math teachers that lowering standards for Algebra 2 will not help underachieving students to get into universities.
Actually Algebra 2 and Geometry contains the material that ALL (yes, - ALL!!) kids in Asia and most European countries normally learn at 7-8th grades. It happens simply because elementary grades in these countries are not counted as a free daycare, kids are not supposed to go to school just to have fun, as they do at PAUSD during K-5 and sometimes even during 6-8 grades! In Asia and Europe education really begins at the very first day of school and continues step by step all the way through the school years. Thus, there are no so much stress or sleep deprivation. Well organized material given at right order is memorized in a normal pace and produce solid knowledge.
Now let see what we have here. A lot of fun during first 9 (!) years of school and a huge amount of materials that supposed to be learned at last 4 years in order to get to a college. The order of science courses is reversed: it is impossible to understand biology without chemistry, and it is impossible to understand chemistry without physics, and all of this science courses are impossible to understand without strong knowledge of math! Now kids simply forced to learn everything in a hard way: memorizing without understanding. The textbooks provide only partial and insufficient information for every unit, so parents of high achieving students are forced to hire tutors to help kids to learn a materials they supposed to get from school.
Thus, the bottom line of this:
We shouldn't lower our already low standards, but it is necessary to pay attention to middle and elementary schools. When the school materials will be spread rationally on all 13 years instead of compressing of everything into the last 4, we will have less reasons to blame high school teachers, and nobody will think that algebra 2 is difficult.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm
We have not advocated making AP classes easier. This is not an accurate statement, it is false. We have, however, advocated for ensuring that this district offers a standard lane that meets the standards of the UC/CSU system so that all children in the district who are willing to put in the work to meet that standard have a path to college.
This proposal is entirely unobjectionable and so uncontroversial. Both Phil Winston and Kevin Skelly agree with us. The Board will likely agree when they receive the report of the superintendent on this topic.
You are ill-informed but I guess that is easy to do when you are anonymous.
Posted by A Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 6:22 pm
Many of the elite private schools are getting rid of AP classes and creating their own "intensives", classes taught with more rigor and depth than the AP curriculum. These schools are the vanguards of education. They object to the lack of depth of the AP curriculum and view their new courses as more challenging and engaging for their students. Unfortunately, many in this community are not as forward thinking.
Posted by Kacey, a resident of Mountain View, on Dec 14, 2011 at 6:26 pm
I attended and spoke last night at the session. I'm not sure this article or the comments fairly represent the issue. It reads like an editorial.
It's frustrating and disappointing to me to see Palo Alto so conflicted with a very simple request. In the shadow of Stanford, a community that has produced HP, Cisco, Google, and now Facebook there are resources available to support 100% of the students attending this public high school. Not just the $, but the skills and expertise and ability to help our students in our school succeed.
Math and the other college requirements can be taught to all students at all levels without diminshishing the quality of education. Do you want proof? I'd be happy to share with you real facts and best practices from the Bay Area, California, and countries around the world.
To start, locally we have the Kahn Academy www.khanacademy.org that has provided a free online curriculum that covers a range of subjects from very advanced to basic. Other countries are teaching math differently because they have discovered that people learn differently.
Why study math? Why teach math? Why require math? It's fundamental to how our world works today. This doesn't mean that we all need to understand calculus proofs. No, but we also live in a world overloaded with information and the ability to think analytically and be able to use math as a tool is fundamental.
A college degree and ability to read, read, and reason is baseline in the 21st Century.
Rather than complaining to withdraw financial support to the community, I would hope to see more people in Palo Alto volunteering to help each other rather than attacking each other. I offered my services last night to assist. I would like to see others take a positive step towards this goal. Teachers, parents, coaches, students, residents, and the community. You are fortunate. Share your gifts with others to help make Palo Alto a safe and healthy community to all students including those with different backgrounds and experiences.
Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 7:19 pm
It is interesting that the "We can do better" facebook page calls this article "terrible" and accuses the author of "fanning the flames of racial antagonism" when in reality this article is quite balanced and mostly just presents the facts. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I don't see the racial overtones that the posters on this thread are being accused of. Every class is open to every student at Palo Alto High School, there is no "gate keeping". Students just need to do the work and put in the effort. I agree with the poster who asked the question about how much time a student spends on their math each day. In addition, I would also ask the question of how do the non A-G students engage in the entire learning process - are they on time for class, present every day, taking advantage of the free after school tutoring center, behaving and focused during class, doing their HW daily, how do they spend their free periods?
Posted by Wynn Hausser, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 7:21 pm
@parent: The guest opinion was responding to the Paly Math Department letter, which is where the racial issue was first raised. That's why the piece addressed them.
All - As has been suggested above, please educate yourselves about the issue and our group before casting aspersions.
You might be interested to know that the majority of parents involved in this issue are not advocating for their own kids or complaining about their own kid's experience. Instead, believe it or not, we are fighting for the good of the district as a whole. Public officials prove again and again that the only way to make sure they are accountable is to, guess what, hold them publicly accountable. If you read the resolution and listen to what we are saying, we are simply asking the district to match words with action.
IMHO, PAUSD should be a leader, a trendsetter, a district based on best practices and the latest research on what works. Instead, too often, we are complacent and defenders of the status quo. The district should be serving all of its students, not just the top achievers. But too often it fails to do so.
The Stanford School of Education refuses to send its students to teach in our district. What does that tell you?
Thanks to those of you who do engage in responsible and thoughtful discussion. I am always interested to listen to and reflect on other perspectives. Sometimes I even change my opinion. Unfortunately, too often, this is not a forum conducive to civilized discussion.
Posted by other parent, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm
@ Wynn Hauser
You say: "The guest opinion was responding to the Paly Math Department letter, which is where the racial issue was first raised. That's why the piece addressed them."
I beg to disagree. I see no mention of race in the teachers' letter. They mention VTP but not race, and in my opinion what they are really talking about is socio-economic level, not race. And that's very valid.
As to the Stanford School of Education, isn't that the School of Education that had its charter school closed down in EPA because its results were so poor?
Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm
Wynn - I agree that PAUSD should be a trend setter and that we need to find a way to close the achievement gap and also help more students(of all backgrounds) be A-G. I think we just disagree on the way to achieve that goal. It is likely that there is not just one pathway to achieving this goal and I hope we find a way to incorporate a variety of strategies that improve our districts performance for all students.
I do think that the We can do Better facebook was referring to this article (and not the math dept letter)- here is the entire post
"Wow, PA Weekly you really blew this story. Good job fanning the flames of racial antagonism for no damn reason at all."
I think if we are to achieve our goals we need to look at the students as "students" and not classify them by their race, gender etc.. We need to find out why they are not succeeding and my question is "are they fully engaged in their learning" "what effort are the non A-G students (of all races) putting into their studies". Once we have this information we may find that we need to find ways to help this group become better "at doing school" (probably starting at a younger age than high school) and that with the right engagement/effort many of these students will be able to complete the A-G requirements in the Palo Alto Schools - and attend college with a strong background that will serve them well in a college environment.
It is likely that there will also be students that, even with full engagement/effort and focus will not be able to complete the A-G requirements (maybe math, maybe foreign language maybe science - or maybe a combination of these). Is it fair for these students to have to obtain a waiver to graduate high school? They may want enter vocational training or a program where a high school diploma is required but not A-G.
Posted by Mari, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm
I can't believe how many of the comments attribute students' failure to pass the class to poor study habits, reluctance to seek help, etc... For heaven's sake, maybe some students do try their best but math just doesn't come easy to them? That was me when I was in high school. I barely passed Algebra I at the small, private school I attended, and did not pass Algebra II, despite my being there every day after class getting tutored by the teacher! Back then they did not test for learning differences, but I'm pretty sure that is what I had and both my kids have inherited it in different degrees (even though they are smart and gifted in certain areas). Fortunately I did so well in English, history, and other subjects that I compensated for the poor math and was able to get into the elite college I attended. So it is not the end of the world if somebody cannot pass classes in the highest math lane and it may certainly not mean they are not trying! Not everybody is an Einstein at math! Another lane meeting the requirements of CSU/UC should be sufficient and then the math whiz kids (Probably will be my son in 5 1/2 years) would still have their top, hardcore lane. No I am not saying students should not strive for the highest lanes, just that they are not for everybody. And it's not that I don't understand the value of math; on the contrary, my husband is a google engineer and math genius. Between the both of us, we are constantly trying to teach our kids the importance of math and spend a lot of time on homework with them.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm
The actual quote from the letter directly mentions minority students, saying: "Many of these [students who cannot pass Paly's accelerated version of Algebra 2] are VTP students or under-represented minorities."
This story should have linked to the letter, but didn't. Please read more carefully next time or I will have to lower your grade. If you don't receive a lower grade I don't know how I can maintain my high standards for learning.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 8:44 pm
In what surely must be the worst job an editor can have, someone over at the Weekly has been handed the unpleasant task of editing the racist posts and trying to make them seem reasonable. For example:
The original post from "member" said:
Watering it down for 90% of students so that a few minorities can pass a lower bar is just asinine.
It now reads:
Watering it down for 90% of students so that a few can pass a lower bar is just asinine.
Editor -- the original poster meant to be a racist. What's the purpose of altering their words and their meaning so that that essential fact is misrepresented? Just delete the post -- you shouldn't be helping them to seem civilized when they're not. The correct consequence is exclusion from the forum, not helpful edits.
Posted by Kathy Sharp, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 8:47 pm
Thank you Kacey, Put yourself in other shoes, My 2 cents and resident for putting forth workable ideas which address the issue. 23% of Paly graduates and 18% of Gunn graduates in the class of 2011 did not attain A-G upon graduation. Many did not complete Algebra 2, but others did not complete the required 4 years of English, or two years of foreign language. This is in a community which is home to Stanford professors, Google engineers, employees of Apple, Tesla, Facebook, Oracle, Cisco, HP .... We are rich in resources and rich in talent. Our employer base needs us to do better than allowing 1 in 5 graduates to be directed away from the California State or UC System. If we want to maintain our place in the global economy, we need to do things differently. A four year college degree is baseline for jobs in the 21st century. As a manager in a Fortune 500 company, I am hiring right now for an entry level position. I cannot consider someone without a BA and am flooded with resumes from candidates with MBAs.
We do not need to lower our standards to allow more children to succeed. We need to pull our community together to support the Superintendent, the Board, and our teachers in implementing effective and innovative teaching methods to support a wider range of learners. Khan Academy is widely adopted in MVLA with great results. The district is piloting innovative practices such as pairing a Special Ed teacher in a regular ed class so that learners with disabilities can also succeed in the college prep curriculum.
While not a big fan of George Bush, the idea of No Child Left Behind, has some merit here. In addition to testing and accountability for students, we need to put in place the supports to ensure that A-G for all is an attainable goal.
Thank you to the student and community volunteers who provide tutoring services. We need more. Thank you to those who donate to PIE and who supported the parcel tax. Your monetary support is important.
I can envision a future where our community can proudly claim not only hundreds of National Merit Scholars, high SAT scores but A-G for all. These are not incompatible goals. We can get there together.
Posted by Wynn Hausser, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 8:50 pm
@other parent from Adobe Meadows: Go back and read the letter again. Paragraph 3, line 11: "Many of these are VTP students or under-represented minorities." Since the district talks about VTP by saying "Goals of the program are to reduce the racial isolation of students of color in the Palo Alto, Ravenswood and other San Mateo County school districts ..." both references are explicitly racial. I won't get into the racial code in other parts of the letter - one has to be highly sensitized to this issue to recognize those cues.
@Palo Verde Parent: I appreciate your thoughtful comment. And yes, you are correct that that specific comment was referring to this thread. It is possible that we simply disagree about tactics to reaching the same goal. But the data is stark. There is absolutely a racial element to the disparity in achievement that can't be denied (this is not only the case in PAUSD). So while I agree that other elements need to be looked at, to ignore race as a factor is to ignore the elephant in the room, which can't ever lead to adequate solutions.
Posted by LaToya Baldwin Clark, a resident of Stanford, on Dec 14, 2011 at 9:15 pm
Wow. Who would think that asking for a "regular" math class that meets but does not exceed the UC standards would be so controversial?
Last night, there was a great group of parents, students, teachers and community members who rallied to have the Board take public responsibility for educating all students. Some people in that group I'd never met before, to dispel the notion that we were a homogenous fringe group. We are white, black, and multi-racial, lawyers, professors, math teachers, and PhD/JD candidates from Stanford. Our professions demonstrate that education is extremely highly valued in all our lives, and for all our kids. Our presence at the meeting last night demonstrates our commitment to public education.
Race has been brought up here, but not in the context in which we have raised it. Race is an issue with regards to the Paly math department because Mr. Toma and his colleagues made it an issue. To the poster who says the letter only referred to VTP and not race - you are wrong. The letter clearly refers to "VTP students or underrepresented minorities." The letter clearly says that the reasons many VTP and URM students cannot pass regular lane Alg II is because of "poor math background, lack of support at home, low retention rate, [and] lack of maturity." The letter states that these kids not only lack the cognitive ability, but also lack good parenting and emotional maturity.
Does what goes on at home matter? Of course it does. But let me be very clear: we live in a district where parents take their kids educations EXTREMELY seriously. ALL parents. The Parent Network for Students of Color held an event last month to clarify the A-G requirements and work with parents to make sure they were educated. This event took place on a cold night and lasted several hours. More than 80 parents showed up. More than I've ever seen at a board meeting. Every time I talk to a minority parent in this district, the conversation goes to how we can best support our kid's education. It is insulting for anyone to assume that what is going on at home is the "real" problem.
The past 40 years of research consistently shows that teacher expectations are crucial for high achievement. This same research also consistently shows that teachers save their lowest expectations for minority students and get the lowest results.
Comments on this board show that the wider community does too.
You want to know about the work habits and effort of students who fail to reach A-G. Why this might be relevant (although see the research on expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies), how about the District fix what the District can fix, and then see where we are? None of us can go into people's homes and their brains and see exactly how much effort they are putting into a task. (And guess what? Public education has ALWAYS been meant for the most disadvantaged to have a pathway into the middle class, or the means to stay there.) But we can go into classrooms and see if they are being taught using proven methods that differentiate learning. We can observe how teachers treat certain kids, placing assumptions about their background into their expectations. We can see if the pacing of the "regular" lane classes correspond to the California standards and the standards of UC/CSU. And then we can make the appropriate adjustments. We can be ADULTS that help guide CHILDREN instead of placing the blame on the CHILDREN themselves. We, as adults, know that going to college is the current baseline to have a decent standard of living. We have to do everything WE can to make that goal a reality for kids. Those are all things we can DO NOW. That's all the resolution is asking for.
Posted by Sara W., a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm
How does providing a separate Algebra II course that provides UC/CSU-level rigor for non-would-be mathematicians, who would otherwise graduate today with zero Algebra II skills diminish PAUSD standards?? It doesn't.
As a public school district, the Administration and Board of Ed are obligated to ensure that it delivers the greatest level of education across its spectrum of students. The Paly Math Dept letter demonstrates that this is not even a goal.
There is no effort on the part of advocates for the resolution presented at the Board meeting to "water down" the level of existing courses. Clearly, there are students who thrive in the current environment, but clearly many do not. And I mean even among students who complete these courses. Students who are currently "over-tutored", stressed out and overwhelmed trying to keep pace with existing courses (knowing that they want to be competitive in applying to the broadest range of colleges, not just UC/CSUs) will have a reasonable alternative under this resolution. Would-be mathematicians and their teachers will benefit from smaller class sizes with more like-minded peers. Win win.
This issue is about providing pathways for all students to have maximum options after PAUSD, wherever they choose to go. The extent to which the Math Dept practices at both high schools contribute to limiting student options post PAUSD is unjust and must be addressed now.
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 10:31 pm
@Mari You raise a good question.
But I'm curious. Did the 20% of students that did not fulfill the entrance requirements receive a grade of C- or above in all of the other required "A-G requirements" besides Alg 2? I suspect that this was not the case for most. If these students are doing poorly in their English, Science, History, etc. classes, then lowering the standard for Alg 2 would not help. In reality, it would help very few students. These students would have an even greater difficulty understanding subjects like physics, chemistry, statistics, etc. Even students learning high levels of calculus struggle with these subjects. By lowering the Alg 2 standards and still maintaining the high level lanes, you are essentially creating a bigger gap between those who are performing poorly versus those in the higher lane. Lowering the standards seems to be only a short term solution to a much larger problem. The high schools can't lower the level for ALL of the "A-G" requirements. I really wonder if these students were "held back" by Alg 2 or if these students just did not making C- grades in the rest of their classes. If this is the case, then it seems that the focus of this discussion is entirely wrong. It shouldn't be about lowering the standards for math, but seeing how we can help these students make the C- grades necessary to attend A CSU/UC
Posted by Trish Davis, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 10:40 pm
The district's focus goals include improving the A-G graduation rate as well as identifying course offerings that need to change in order to facilitate A-G completion. Those goals are 100% compatible with the requests made by the diverse group of parents who spoke publically at the board meeting last night. The problem is that the board does not seem to have any sense of urgency around accomplishing its own goals.
Posted by other parent, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm
I found an interesting piece of statistics in one of the articles referenced in this one:
"Among members of the (PAUSD) Class of 2011 not completing a-g, half went on to two-year colleges and another quarter are attending four-year colleges that do not require a-g as a prerequisite, Wilmot said."
So, 3/4 of the 20% of students who do not meet the UC a-g requirements still go to college. We are down to only 5% of PAUSD graduating students not going to college. Are we to really believe that 100% of them are made for college? That's wishful thinking.
We should keep our math classes as they are in high school and focus our energy on giving attention to kids who are struggling in lower grades, as early as Kindergarten, and we should actually even do early intervention through a preschool program for all.
Posted by Andrea, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 11:25 pm
I went to Escondido, Jordan & Paly & I take great offense at so many of your comments. Math was not my best subject & at Paly I had two horrible math teachers. For two years myself and the majority of my class learned nothing & scraped by. These two teachers were old, mean, unhelpful, lacking compassion and understanding. WE were all in the wrong not them. Those were crucial learning years lost and left many of us unprepared for classes to follow. I did have tutors and help but when you aren't taught the basics and lose so much then how do you catch up?
Do you know how hard it is to be an average student at Paly? I had brilliant parents but I struggled and not a teacher or counselor ever asked if things were ok or why. When you are surrounded by over achievers who get 1400 on their SATs and breeze through upper level classes you feel less than. Comments like dumbing down and seeming as if it's our fault if we don't make it really makes me mad. I'm not a minority either . I can only imagine how kids like me feel now with a community like this on top of all the school stress they already have. How disheartening to feel like they don't matter or aren't worth it. They deserve the chance to go to college just like everyone else . With this crappy attitude I could see if many say why bother trying. How ridiculous to fulfill all the requirements and not pass this class because it is not at the basic level . For some kids this is their ticket out and a chance for a better life. Maybe they have given it their all and still fall short.
I am disgusted with how this community has become so elitist and stuck up. Palo Alto used to be a nice supportive small town, now no one cares about anyone but their own & images. How many suicides will it take to wake you all up?
Posted by other parent, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm
@ Thank you activists
Your following statement is completely misleading: "the Resolution proposed by activists moves it closer to RAISING the overall standards."
The group "We can do better PA" does want fulfilling the UC a-g requirements to become the basis to graduate from high school in PA. They currently are not. HOWEVER ...
HOWEVER, simultaneously, they want the Alg. 2 class students would now have to take to graduate to be made EASIER to pass than it currently is, so that the graduation rate does not sink in the process. That's not exactly what I'd call raising standards.
Note that one local school district has the a-g graduation requirement, it's San Jose. Its graduation rate is much lower. Other local high schools that are much more similar to PA don't have it: Lynbrook, Monta Vista (Fremont USD), Los Gatos, Saratoga High, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Atherton, Woodside, Piedmont, etc. DON'T HAVE an a-g graduation requirement.
Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford, on Dec 15, 2011 at 12:56 am
Not everyone is suited to attend college; that is simply a fact of life. Sharon (above) seems to be the only person who has brought this up. Let's fact it, some of the happiest people around are no Einsteins, and I include myself in that group!
And those on the thread who accuse others of bigotry really need to get a clue and stop race baiting.
Posted by Math is just the beginning, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 15, 2011 at 7:27 am
Ms. Dauber, Ms. Sharp and all the other We Can Do Better people who have posted here,
How does We Can Do Better's anti-stress push a few months ago jive with its new push to require that Palo Alto kids take extra classes (Alg 2 and an extra year of foreign language) so they can graduate a-g compliant?
Why isn't it OK with your group to accomplish the same end through counseling and making sure kids and families know about a-g? That way kids, for whom math is not an interest/strength or who don't want/see the need for so many years of a foreign language, get to graduate and free their schedules up so that they can take classes that interest them.
Your push adds to their stress AND stigmatizes them as they struggle, for lack of ability or interest, in those classes you want to require.
The only way your two seemingly opposite positions make sense is that they are part of a larger plan to make all a-g classes easier (in your eyes reduce stress).
But you can only get there by watering down the current standards which work exceptionally well according to most students in our district when surveyed.
Here’s how standards get watered down. It has to do with how class scheduling works when our district is making budget cuts.
- If the district offers another math lane for a few kids, it has to hire another teacher. There is no money to do this. Even if the money was there, you undoubtedly will cry racism when a disproportionate number of kids in that lowest lane are low-income and/or minorities. It’s a "no win" for our district.
- So the district has two choices:
- To free up a teacher for these few kids and let enrollment grow substantially in the advanced classes. There are lots of problems with this approach for both the teacher and students in terms of learning and stress. Aren't we at or near our all time high student: teacher ratio in those classes already?
- Keep the class but water down its standards (mixing advanced and less advanced kids in a lower-expectation class).
Be careful what you wish for because there is no easy way to differentiate among kids in classes with such a wide ability range other than grading on a very tight scale and with a strict curve. The class may be easier contentwise, but it will be more competitive and more kids will get low grades and so be boxed out of UCs/CSUs and many other colleges because of their lower GPAs.
I suppose the teachers could give everyone As, but then UCs/CSUs would only have SAT scores to base their admissions decisions on. This would still be to low-income kids/underrepresented minorities' disadvantage.
So, your goal of getting more kids into UCs/CSUs will not be realized, but we will be left with more kids with lower grades and fewer college options (for the current non a-g kids) and less learned (for the a-g kids).
BTW- It's not just math class your push to lower standards will happen in. Why not Spanish, Japanese and French because some kids are not getting those a-g credits either? More classes will certainly be targeted by your group.
So what is the solution? Your focus on high school is way too late. The solution is getting these kids the help they need in our elementary schools. Ask yourself why the board put together a Math Task Force to do staff’s work introducing elementary teachers to best math teaching practices? If we can get help for our achievement gap kids there it will pay dividends for them throughout middle and high school.
Posted by Put yourself in others shoes, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 7:29 am
While it is true that not everyone wants to go to college, it is a basic matter of equity in education that a public school must provide a path to college for all who do want to go. Paly and Gunn do not currently provide such a path, which is inconsistent with the goals of this school district and the laws of this country.
Thank you Andrea for your heartfelt comments of personal experience. I will add that many children of all races in this community have had positive and negative experiences with the math department at Paly. If you or your child's experience has been positive, that's great. The concerned citizens and students from Paly who spoke at the school board meeting believe it is important for more children to have positive interactions with the math department, not just your child.
Posted by Get a grip, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 15, 2011 at 7:46 am
Why the fixation on We Can Do Better Palo Alto? There were all kinds of people who spoke at the board meeting; students from Student Equity Action Network, parents from PNSC, and individual parents. Some people in this community have an irrational reaction to any mention of change in the schools, as if your right to bear arms has been threatened. Maybe you don't know any better because you've never been outside of Palo Alto, but there are actually best practices in education that achieve results that are not currently used in our schools.
Posted by Thank you activists, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 9:02 am
other parent, Adobe
"Note that one local school district has the a-g graduation requirement, it's San Jose. Its graduation rate is much lower. Other local high schools that are much more similar to PA don't have it: Lynbrook, Monta Vista (Fremont USD), Los Gatos, Saratoga High, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Atherton, Woodside, Piedmont, etc. DON'T HAVE an a-g graduation requirement."
From what I have heard over the years from people in some of the districts you mentioned, such as Los Gatos and Mountain VIew -they have a thriving AP system similar to Palo Alto. They have partly similar student populations to Palo Alto, with active tutoring and hard driving academics, likely with a similar achievement gap between Asian and white students, with Asian students ahead of whites.
I call communities such as Los Gatos, Palo Alto, Woodside, and Mountain View fairly "advantaged" like Palo Alto and maybe they think A-G is below them, so they choose alternate competitive systems to judge themselves against. Toma referred to them as the peers he's afraid of losing reputation with.
As much as Toma thinks he knows the definition of success, the reality is that there is no way to judge the success of our schools with arbitrary measures. That is a problem for me because I don't think it serves the students in the best possible way, and I find it offensive for my tax dollars.
Everything appeared to be dandy in Palo Alto, but suddenly we have 4 student suicides in six months. To reduce stress, a Homework committee is called because it turns out the community considers it a big problem, big enough to call a 26 member committee!
This culture developed from arbitrary ways of defining success has already demonstrated serious ills, and the same culture is quick to accuse students and families, of not working hard enough, or being slackers. A virtual lynching, in the name of high achievement in academics.
I think A-G is a public service to define how to spend tax dollars. Schools are held accountable for specific goals that impact all students equally.
Palo Alto Algebra II "Platinum Edition" is fine and wonderful to have, it can and should continue.
However, for my tax dollars for public school, I want an Algebra II class that fits a well-established recognized standard. Do you realize how California set these standards?
It is absolutely not dumbing down to request a non-arbitrary standard. It is a smart thing to do.
I am sure that the kids who are fulfilling the rest of the A-G standards, in high flying Palo Alto, but are held back by an Algebra II Platinum Edition class, that they could better manage if it were a regular state standards Algebra II class, are extraordinary kids.
It means they will have also fulfilled
15 COLLEGE PREP courses with a grade of C-‐minus or be<er, including:
Math, through Algebra 2
3 years (4 years recommended)
2 years (3 years recommended)
2 years (can be waived with SATII or AP exam)
Visual and Performing Arts
College Prep Elec4ve
Students who fulfill A-G are choosing to do MORE work than what is required to obtain a graduation diploma from PAUSD.
From what I see, you can graduate from Palo Alto schools with LESS Math, and NO Algebra II.
At least give credit where credit is due.
To be a minority student in Palo Alto and fulfill A-G in a culture of academic PUMPING and GREED is astonishing.
Posted by Charles, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 9:26 am
The cost of attending college is not cheap as you can tell from the protesters on the news these days. These students owes 100k government loan easily when they graduate. There is no guarantee for a good offer after all. Vocational school is not a bad choice/investment for the individual since the cost is much lower and the pay is not bad at all. Furthermore it saves the time and money you spend on getting the "degree". Now if you are really RICH and insists on getting your kids to the college anyway, you can either hire a full-time tutor or taking your kid to the private school. I believe, the Pally school provides the opportunity for those who are willing to work hard regardless of the background.
BTW I would rather hire a plumber with no college exp. than a college drop out..
Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 9:29 am
Math on any level is very hard for some students, they end up getting good grades because parents spend thousands on private tutoring to fill the gap. All around us in PA and neighboring towns, tutoring centers are springing up, in addition, many tutors come to your home or you go to theirs. It is a thriving industry even in this economy. Our school's high achievement is very deceiving, it is a reflection of what parents can afford on the side. I no longer contribute to PIE since it costs me thousands to supplement my children's education with private lessons. Students should be taught at school by the district educators, not private tutors. Any and every math lane than can help a student learn is a good thing.
Posted by Mac Clayton, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 9:40 am
After reading the news article, the math department letter and many of the comments, I want to say two things: based on my personal experience (through my children), Paly has an excellent math department; and, whatever your views on this particular issue you have to admire the level of engagement in the community on a matter of education substance and social significance (no Newt Gingriches in our town, suggesting poor kids work as janitors).
Posted by Trish Davis, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 10:29 am
For those who are interested in the facts surrounding San Jose Unified School District's success with aligning their graduation standards with A-G, thereby INCREASING the number of students who meet A-G, ready for college, and better prepared for entering the workforce, I recommend the book Diploma Matters, by Linda Murray. I especially recommend the early chapter which dispels the myths behind A-G for all, most of which have been raised in comments on this board.
Yes, SJUSD's graduation rate is lower then PAUSD's, but it is not because they adopted A-G. Their graduation rate actually increased when they adopted A-G. They realigned their curriculum, improved supports for teachers and students, increased expectations of all students, and allowed some of the most vocal naysayers (mostly older teachers) to retire gracefully into the sunset. They changed the culture of the district in order to improve the outcomes for and life chances of all of their students.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 10:59 am
I want to help to make the connection between We Can Do Better's work against high school stress and this crucial issue of our math curriculum. I made comments on this at the board meeting which anyone with a high tolerance for boredom and frustration can watch once the video is posted on community media. I will say that before watching you should brace yourself for a riveting 90 minute discussion of the width of seats in the new Paly auditorium during which board members were more animated and engaged in the all-important question of how big a chair should be (I am not making this up) than I have ever seen them engaged in the question of academic stress, educational equity, or other more pressing issues. Those must be some chairs.
Here is the connection between college-readiness, A-G, and academic stress for those who have asked:
1. There is nothing more stressful than failure. Having to trudge off to a math class where you are truly unable to keep up, where you are failing every quiz or test, where you have no hope of understanding the homework, and where your teachers have publicly announced in a letter to the community that they do not believe you can do it -- can you even imagine what that must be like? Yet we have around 200 students in that precise situation at Paly and Gunn right now today. The mental health issue around academic stress has been perceived in the community, to the extent that it is racialized, as a white or Asian issue. But what about minority mental health and stress? Black male youth are a highly at-risk group for social emotional problems, and have the second highest suicide rate in our society, just behind white male youth.
Some of these teens have taken our math classes twice or even three times and not passed, all the while knowing that their parents desperately want them to go to college and their peers and teachers do not believe that they can do it. If that isn't academic stress, I don't know what is. We Can Do Better is committed to the social-emotional health of all the district's children. For this set of children, raising teacher expectations and ensuring an appropriate college-bound curriculum will decrease academic stress.
Let me just put a finer point on it: this is a community that is happy to have these teens come over through VTP and play sports for us and win us some High School football championships but then would like them after the game to just quietly head back across the freeway and don't cause no trouble. The board needs to stop crying crocodile tears about minority achievement and make some changes. The paly math department has done the community a favor by putting in writing what we have long suspected to be true.
2. The math curriculum in this community does not work for a lot of kids, not just minority kids. The math curriculum is jacked up and it is causing a lot of stress for many kids, the so-called "kids in the middle." By teaching a curriculum that is unnecessarily difficult ("Platinum Edition," as one poster called it), at a pace that is too fast for weaker or average students, with a staggering homework load, and a needlessly steep curve, the teachers send the message that if you didn't get it the first time there is something wrong with you. Students feel inhibited from asking questions. They feel like failures when they take tests that are testing problems that they have never seen on homework assignments. We all know about these problems, and they have been going on for far too long.
Affluent parents have addressed this by hiring tutors -- often costing $75 or even $100 per hour. The tutoring industry in Palo Alto is a growth sector, with some new "Ivy league" tutoring center springing up on El Camino every day. Many affluent families have stay-home mothers who themselves have advanced degrees and are able to assist their children with math. The rise of large-scale tutoring has extended the school day and school week and also undermined childrens' confidence in their ability to do the work without a parent or tutor. Meanwhile, those without resources or with working parents are falling further behind. There is no reason that every child who wants to go to a 4 year college and is willing to do the work should not be able to go.
Instead we have a soul-crushing homework machine that is leaving many kids who are fully capable of going to Chico attending JC instead. Not that there is anything wrong with JC, but there is a big difference between having a 4 year college experience and not having one. Transferring is hard - the JCs have been defunded and it is hard to get all your requirements in the transfer pattern. My son, with his double PhD parents, and a lot of effort and initiative, was able to do it. He stated that it was very hard for the first-generation and minority kids to figure out the prerequisites and there was little help available to them. You have to be very savvy to ensure that you get all your reqs. People in this community treat JC as if it is a panacea but it is not. The transfer rate to a UC or CSU from JC for kids who did not graduate A-G is 7%.
Again, these are issues of academic stress. There is nothing more stressful than failure. I think that the high lanes are great for kids who want them. But no one should be dragged by tutors through a math curriculum they barely understand. It's making students hate math, for one thing, which won't serve them well later in life. But it's also making them dread going to school.
This district has great options for those at the top. We need better options for those who are average, and below average as well.
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:01 am Walter_E_Wallis is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
ALL high school graduates must be fully prepared to enter the job market. For the 20% who can benefit from a college education, more power to them. For the rest, a 4 year head start in the job market. Our colleges, like any business, want that rush of freshmen and sophomores to bust their butts and drop out.
Incidentally, the academic requirements for a journeyman card in any trade are fully up to a university degree program. And it pays better.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:15 am
I'm the parent of a child who graduated from Paly without the A-G requirements (and luckily, was able to get into a 4 year college that he likes). Our experience:
Terrible math preparation at Jordan.
Took Algebra 1 twice, struggled a great deal.
Finally took it at SIL, had a great teacher, worked REALLY, regained his confidence in his math ability. Continued on in math...
No one from Paly ever contacted us as parents about the fact that our child was not filling the A-G requirements. No one (including his advisor) had a conversation with him about it over the 4 years at school.
We should align our A-G classes with UC/CSU standards.
We should offer regular lane classes in Science (Paly currently only has Accelerated and Honors level Biology and Chemistry).
Teach Advisors should contact PARENTS to let them know that their child is not filling their A-G requirements.
Posted by other parent, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:40 am
@ palo alto parent
Huh? You need the school to contact you to know that your kid doesn't fulfill the a-g requirements? Seriously? The a-g requirements are posted all over the place on the school websites and elsewhere. Can't you print the list and then check what your kid is doing relative to the list?
This would be a terrible use of the increasingly LIMITED funds that the school district has. Do your job as parents, supervise your child and keep track of their classes and grades. You don't need the school district to do anything more than it currently does to know where your kid is at.
It is about time here to talk about PARENT RESPONSIBILITY for their kids' lives.
Posted by thought for the day, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:43 am
Rabbis taught, "Formerly, they would provide drinks to the house of mourners in the following manner: to the rich, in expensive white glass and to the poor in colored glass. And the poor people were ashamed. The sages therefore instituted that all should be provided with drinks in colored glass out of deference to the poor." (BT Moed Katan 27a)
a friend recently said to me, "Let's think about what it means to "drink from colored glass" - to be aware of the social implications of wealth and to create communities where all people have the opportunity for dignity"--in math class, too.
Give each student what he or she needs to attain their highest level of potential. Designing a math program that excludes students from our public higher education system is simply wrong.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm
Other parent - of course we knew that he was filling the A-G requirements - but not all parents do. Some parents never access the school websites. If the schools are capable of sending out report cards, schedules, etc. they are capable of contacting parents/guardians once a year about their a-g requirements (perhaps included on the end of the year report cards or schedules).
Posted by Get a grip, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm
Those who are not deliberately obtuse, willfully blind, or just plain selfish recognize that providing opportunities for all is the right thing to do. No one has suggested that kids who struggle with A-G should be appointed as valedictorians of their class. No one has suggested that kids who struggle with A-G should take your precious child's god-given spot at Stanford, Harvard, or Yale. What we are suggesting, no demanding, is that artificial barriers to success that block access to public higher education be removed so that every child has the choice to attend a California University. Whether he or she chooses to go should be his or her choice; not yours, not mine, and not the Paly math department.
Posted by other parent, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 1:05 pm
Oh, so, now it's the students who choose to go to UCs, and not UCs that choose the students who go there?
After making our primary education system one of the worst in the industrialized world, are we now going to dismantle the excellence of the UC system? This sure seems the goal.
Also, I'd like to know what artificial barriers there are. On another thread someone advocating the a-g graduation requirement and easier Alg.2 class was saying that there should be no trigonometry in Alg.2... Well, some trigonometry is actually required by state standards for UC/CSU.
So, what is it that is superfluous in the current curriculum exactly?
Posted by Another Parent, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 2:49 pm
Success in math in PA schools is largely about parent support, as basics are not taught by the teachers. If you're a parent, you'll have to take this on if you want your student to succeed, unless you have very independent learners. Also, it is up to the parents to find out what your child needs to do to qualify for the schools they want to apply for. Sorry, schools are not here to raise your kids. Okay, they should be teaching the math skills but are not - but raising and guiding your kids is up to the parents. Finally, not one suicide we've had among young people here in town was proven to have anything to do with parents pressuring their kids. It is wrong to blame the parents and to make rash generalizations about such a complex and painful issue.
Posted by Gavin, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm
I was wrong in my previous post about obtaining an exemption from the parcel tax. It is even better than I thought: If you are age 65 by June 30, 2013 (not next June), you can get out of this tax. I called a couple of friends, today, and they were eager to do it!
I hope all of those, who are eligible, will express their dissatisfaction with Palo Alto schools caving in to the gang that wants to lower standards. And save $600/year!
Once again, here is the link to the exemption form. It is very easy to fill out.
Posted by Thank you activists, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 3:34 pm
"So, what is it that is superfluous in the current curriculum exactly?"
At Paly , there are 4 Math Paths, starting in 9th grade, to 12th grade
Path 1, goes
Geometry 10th Grade
Algebra 2 11th Grade
Pre-Calculus 12th Grade
Algebra 1A/GeoA (9)
Alg 2/TrigA (10)
Intro to Analyis & Calculus (11)
AB Calc AP (12)
Alg2/Trig A (10)
Intro to Analysis & Calculus (11)
AB Calc Ap (12)
Path 4. The "highest" lane
Geom/Alg 2H (9)
Trig/Anlt H (10)
Analysis H (11)
BC Calc AP (12)
I would call superfluous (excessive, extravagant) having four 9th grade Math lanes, and four 10th grade Math lanes, when ALL of them seem to generally lead to some form of Algebra 2/Trig by 10th grade.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm
Gavin - you are not hurting the school district by not paying the parcel tax, you are hurting the kids and primarily the kids who don't have the money for tutors, etc. Less money means less instruction, larger class size, less choice, etc. It's the same thing when people threaten to not donate to PiE because they don't like the calendar change. It doesn't hurt 25 Churchill, it hurts the kids.
Posted by needsfixing, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 4:19 pm
I would like to know why the Paly math dept feels that adding a new course which covers Alg II similarly to other high schools and at a reasonable pace would mean a dumbing down of every other math course/lane they offer. I don't see why that must be so.
The real eye opener here is the Math dept admits there is a jacked up curriculum in Palo Alto than elsewhere. To add to that stress, students are not being well prepared in middle school. This hurts all students, lower to higher levels.
Reasonable people are asking that these classes and especially the AP's be taught in a manner similarly to other high schools. Our courses shouldn't be set up to cram far more material in them with esoteric tests and loads of homework. No wonder our students are overly stressed.
Compare these courses to Los Altos or Mountain View or Menlo high schools -- their students do not seem to be under the same pressures as here. This is not about lowering standards; it is about making these courses cover a certain amount of material and graded accordingly. Schools should not be turning the courses into an "arms race" with students gaming the system by taking the class in summer so as to get a good grade. Tiger parents are bad enough but tiger teachers need to be less focused on the reputation of their dept and more focused on providing a solid and challenging curriculum.
Posted by 2 cents, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm
It sure looks like you are lobbying to reduce lots of Paly’s teaching standards in lots of math classes, not just Algebra 2. Your post:
"The math curriculum in this community does not work for a lot of kids, not just minority kids. The math curriculum is jacked up and it is causing a lot of stress for many kids, the so-called 'kids in the middle.'"
Not sure how many kids "in the middle" at Paly are finding classes too hard unless you define “too hard” as getting a B instead of an A. 80% of Paly’s last graduating class earned a B average or better (unweighted). Only 5% had a C or below (from the school profile).
Not too sure how stressful the workload is on Paly kids either. The Developmental Assets survey shows that over half of Paly kids devote 2 hours or less a day to homework so there is 6 hours left in a day to de-stress or work harder, or do both, before bedtime.
With those stats and your aim at reforming many classrooms’ practices, don’t be surprised that not many people agree with you. They are not insensitive. They are not racists. They just think you have it wrong.
My two cents: You might gain more traction if you were less prone to hyperbole (claiming that you represent everyone from the middle to low performers and, I seem to recall, you are not happy with advanced AP classes either). If you work to craft individual solutions instead of going for systemwide changes you might be surprised by how many supportive posts you'd get.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a member of the Barron Park School community, on Dec 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm
Let's take some of this energy and thinking and send it to the school board. They should hear from the community about our desire to give all of our kids access to an A-G curriculum that prepares them for our public university system. Those of you who oppose this goal -- please write them too, giving them the full benefit of your reasoning on this topic. I've certainly found your arguments in defense of the Paly math letter illuminating, though I doubt that those whom you're defending have taken much comfort in them. The board's email addresses:
Melissa Caswell -- email@example.com
Barbara Klausner -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Dana Tom -- email@example.com
Camille Townsend -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Barb Mitchell -- email@example.com
I suggest you tell them that the Board should adopt the resolution that we presented, that (a) directs the Superintendent to report on the extent to which the district fails to provide an A-G curriculum in the standard lane, and (b) directs him to prepare a plan to fill the gap in time for implementation in Fall 2012, including how to support teachers and counselors as needed. This is, literally, the least we can do to reassert the value of equal access to education that is at issue here.
Posted by Michele dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm
In order to know the percentage of kids who struggle in math you would need to know the proportion who are failing and the proportion who have paid tutors or significant parental help in order to succeed. And it is obvious that graduating with a b average does not mean that the graduate received a b in math or science only that at the end of 4 years that was the average.
While the district has not (but should for the next Wasc) done a survey on tutoring tutors working in the district and many parents estimate that as many as half of students have paid tutors. Other, relevant estimates are that half of the algebra 2 students fail the course the first time they take it.
Posted by Huh?, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 6:06 pm
We should be careful about throwing around unsubstantiated estimates. They can take on a life of their own. In my asking around, I have found 1 paid tutor for one course among 9 Gunn families (mostly neighbors), representing about 13 kids. I would not based on that make the claim that very few families use tutors; nor would I say that over half do based on "people I talked to at a party" as one poster did above. Lots of heat here, but not a lot of light.
FWIW, my kids think parents diatribing about these topics borders on the bizarre, since they feel we have no meaningful understanding about how things work at school. An informed opinion worth considering!
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm
If anything is tiresome it is playing whack-a-mole with people who are so horribly ill-informed.
First of all, (g) in the A-G pattern is an ELECTIVE, not science at all. Science is (d). The two science classes you mention for 9th and 10th grade do not satisfy laboratory science. There is no normal lane lab science that satisfies the A-G science requirement.
Physics has already been called out by the WASC accrediting committee as being taught above the A-G standard and was an "area for improvement" in Paly's last accreditation report, according to Melissa Baten Caswell.
To view the Paly A-G science courses that do satisfy A-G please see the course catalog, page 11, here:
As this shows, the lowest lane Bio and Chem are Bio1A and Chem1A. We need laboratory science offerings meeting the (c) requirement of A-G that are accessible to all. According to the catalogy, students are not eligible to take the lowest lane of Bio (Bio1A) unless they are simultaneously enrolled at minimum in Algebra 1A. That means that students in Algebra 1 are not eligible to take lab science freshman year.
In the future I will have to reduce your reading comprehension grade in order to maintain my high standards.
Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm
It is posted above that "Other, relevant estimates are that half of the algebra 2 students fail the course the first time they take it."
Where is this information coming from? I think it is important that we stick to facts - it is very hard to be credible when such outlandish statements are made. Do you really think that 50% of the students FAIL Alg 2 the first time they take it? The schools must have data on this and I am pretty confident that this is not true.
Posted by Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm
Is it true that the lowest level Chemistry class at Paly is the same as the freshman Chemistry class at Stanford? I have heard this stated within the Paly community but don't know if it has ever been substantiated.
Posted by Discouraged, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm
Paly Parent: The regular chemistry class uses a college textbook, so yes, your statement is most likely true.
On another subject, for those who are unaware, World Languages at Jordan that are regular Spanish and French classes do not allow English in class, so they are basically immersion classes but not classified as immersion classes.
The level of academics is so high here that I have no choice but to hire math, science, and Spanish tutors for my children to make their lives easier. Otherwise, these schools are too much of a struggle because those subjects are teaching at too high of a level for a regular person. My husband and I have graduate degrees so we also help our children with their schoolwork.
Posted by other parent, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm
I am so sorry you are discouraged. Thanks for telling us that you feel you have to hire tutors. I'd like to know why you hire tutors. Is it so that your kid(s) can have all As, or is it because your children are really struggling and would get grades worse than Bs? I won't blame you either way, I'd just like to know because of our own situation.
Our son is at Paly in higher lane classes, and he gets Bs, in math and in science, but I have not hired tutors because he generally seems to get it, even though he's been having Bs "only". Furthermore, there is only so much work he's willing to do and he is dead set against tutors or extra work...
I have struggled with all this. Should we make him go down one lane so that he has more of a shot at all As and improves his overall grades and chances of admission? Or should we leave him in his current classes where he gets Bs but seems quite happy? Hiring tutors is out of the question for us. We just make sure he's done all his math homework every day and that's it. I'd really like to know more about your own case and more precise motivations for hiring all those tutors.
It's not simple being a parent here, I'll grant you that.
Posted by Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 15, 2011 at 9:23 pm
My child is in the lowest level chemistry lane at Paly. He does all of his homework, reads the book, takes notes, participates in class, and studies. He has a tutor that he sees once per week who helps him understand the material. He has a C. If he did not have the tutor, he would have a D or F. His sister is a college freshman and is also taking chemistry. She is astonished that his chemistry class at Paly is doing the exact same work as her college chemistry class, which has the toughest professor because it is taught by the Department head.
High school should not be as or more difficult than college.
Posted by Gavin, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 10:08 pm
Educational standards, at both the high school and college level, are in a decline, across the board. This country is in an educational decline, thus an economic decline. Palo Alto has, historically, been one of the exceptions, demanding higher, not lower, standards. Shoot for the stars, and we might, at least, land on the moon (literally).
The current gang of excuse makers want to take us even lower. I have seen this movie before. Instead of leaping from boulder to boulder, they want stepping stones, then it will be sand pebbles. If a student cannot do boulders then he/she should do vocational, with honor. Learn how to build a square rectangle out of 2x4s (it ain't all that easy!). Learn to make a great weld, or drill out cylinders or thread a pipe...above all learn to get up in time to go the job!
I have already made my choice, by requesting the parcel tax exemption. I hope that many others will do the same thing. It is long overdue to fight back against the gang of excusers. We need a school board that tells them to get lost, period! If enough people quit paying for this school board to make bad decisions, we might actually be able to turn this thing around! At least we will not have to pay for the folly!
Posted by parent, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 10:39 pm
Gavin, why are you still here? I thought you washed your hands of this.
Perhaps you haven't been paying attention, but the CA standards have pushed everything down a year... i.e. Kindergarten is now the old first grade whether Kinders are ready or not. Yes, there is an overall problem with the educational system, but it's not because of low standards. The proposal is to raise the bar to graduate with a diploma that can open the next door.
You see the glass half empty, but this idea is to make it half full.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a member of the Barron Park School community, on Dec 15, 2011 at 10:49 pm
Hi Gavin -- I was with you in your criticism of the "current gang of excuse makers" who refuse to advocate for higher standards for our students until I realized that you're not talking about Paly math teachers who want to exclude kids from Algebra II -- you're talking about the parents who want the math department to teach our kids to the A-G standards. In the current regime, these kids aren't in math class at all. I guess I'm missing how excluding students from college-preparatory math, and hence from a public university in California, is enabling them to "reach for the stars."
Let me once again encourage you, however, to share your incisive views with the Board. You'll find their email addresses above in another of my posts. Please be sure to let them know that you oppose access to A-G classes for all, that you agree entirely with all of the sentiments in the Paly math letter, and provide them with the same careful analysis you've shared with us.
Posted by other parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm
A little honesty would not hurt here.
Along with asking for all students to take math up to Alg. 2 in PA high schools, Ken Dauber, "We can do better Palo Alto" and some other people tied to them, also want Alg.2 to be made easier for those kids, i.e. watered down. Read their comments on how Alg.2 at Paly is currently unnecessarily difficult. So, Gavin actually has it right.
Gavin probably also guesses, like others here, that asking for an easier Alg.2 class is only the first step, and that once that's obtained demands will be made to also make other classes easier, all the way to AP classes, so that those kids who could not otherwise take them can also take them too.
Step-up: Algebra 1A, Geometry A, Algebra 2/Trigonometry Honors, AB Calculus AP
Highest: Geometry/Algebra 2, Trig/Analytics Honors (I think), Analysis Honors, BC Calculus AP
I was on the slow track myself. Definitely doable, but I wouldn't call it a cakewalk, and can imagine kids of average math ability finding it a struggle despite an honest effort. Kind of sympathize with the complainers here.
Posted by Math-Is-Good, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 8:14 am
> you are not hurting the school district by not paying the parcel tax
The parcel taxes have been promoted by the district, and its supporters as a way to increase teacher's salaries--Nothing More. There is little evidence that once the many parcel taxes were passed, that test scores went up in proportion to the dollars exacted from the property owners who were subject to this tax. Nor was there any evidence of teachers working longer hours, such as holding Saturday classes, or actually providing higher quality instruction, based on being paid more than $100K a year, as is the case with a goodly number of long-time teachers.
It's a shame that people claiming to be "the smartest in the world" know so little, or care to know so little, about the finances of their own school district.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 8:28 am
Here is the Paly math flow chart from the Paly website. This is just the PAUSD math flowchart. Note the sentence typed at the top, stating that "In PAUSD we strongly believe 4 years of high school math are a good predictor of success in college" and contrast that with the math department's regressive resistance to requiring 3 years of math, including Algebra 2 as required by A-G, for all students:
An undiscussed fact that is very important is that in Paly's most recent WASC report to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges for accreditation, the primary "area of concern" had to do with the fact that the curriculum is not accessible to all because it is too difficult in the lowest lane. The WASC self-study committee, comprised of Paly teachers and administrators, characterized this fact as "fundamentally an equity issue." (p.118)
The WASC is littered with commitments to align the curriculum in the standard (lowest) lane to the CSU/UC requirements and to ensure that it is aligned with other bottom lane classes inside Paly so that a reasonable progression in each subject is available. Math is one of the departments specifically called out to align its curriculum in this way, by SPRING 2009.
The primary overarching "improvement" that the WASC has to make is increasing A-G by minority students, and the primary mechanism by which the WASC was to do this was to ensure that the lowest lane was teaching a normal curriculum. But the math department resisted.
So, the blank stares and blinking we received from the school board on this subject on Tuesday night is absurd given the fact that Paly's own WASC report from 3 years ago specifically and clearly identified this problem -- that the curriculum is too hard in the lowest lane and that it exceeds state A-G standards, and that it is impeding a subset of Paly's students from attaining A-G, and that it is an equity issue. So, we aren't even the first people to say this -- Paly's teachers are.
It's worth noting also that when Melissa Caswell asked the Superintendent whether we are actually out of alignment with A-G standards (a fact she already knew from the WASC, by the way), he didn't say "No," he pointed to other math classes in the lowest lane as also being out of alignment. How do they know this? Because they have been receiving annual updates on the failure to make progress against the WASC commitments -- the next such update is scheduled for January, by the way.
Obviously what happened after that 2008 WASC is that Kevin and Debra Lindo proceeded to attempt to implement the WASC improvements that were required for accreditation. The math department then decided to fight a rear guard action against having to teach these students.
The big question is why the school board hasn't spoken out against this letter since it directly contradicts their own goals? How is Phil Winston to get these WASC goals done when his entire math department is in open rebellion against District policy and the Board is offering the math teachers aid and comfort? Why didn't the Board at least reaffirm their own goals for curricular alignment in the lowest lane? Clearly, no one up there is a profile in either clarity or courage.
Algebra 1A/GeoA , Alg 2/TrigA, Intro to Analyis & Calculus , AB Calc AP
Out of curiosity, I checked Roxbury Latin's Math lanes, which are on this link. Presumably one of the best ranked schools in the country. Web Link
They have THREE lanes, with emphasis on the LOWER two lanes to gradually get kids to a decent level. In other words, the emphasis is not "speeding" everyone into a particular lane, but it emphasizes LEARNING.
Roxbury Latin has two Algebra 2 classes and lo and behold BOTH have the same definition of Algebra 2.
Algebra 2 extends the foundation in algebra begun in Algebra 1. Students explore the classic elementary functions, namely polynomial, rational, exponential, and logarithmic functions. Other topics studied include conics, sequences and series, and triangle trigonometry. Students also become much more adept at using the numerical and graphing capabilities of their calculators. The text for the course is Brown, Dolciani, Sorgenfrey, and Kane, Algebra Book 2.
Posted by needsfixing, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 9:56 am
@Gavin -- you are worried that an added Alg II class which covers the material similarly to other high schools in the bay area will result in a lowering of all math lanes? How is that so? This request is very reasonable and according to the info listed above by the Daubers has already been recognized and requested by WASC.
Folks who keep saying this will dumb down all math at Paly would you please explain how you come to that conclusion?
Separate issue: the more advanced courses in math are taught at a much higher level than elsewhere. (This is stated in the letter from the Paly math dept.) This results in very stressed out students. Not all students are gifted in math. Those who are have ample opportunity to move through the highest lanes and even on to Stanford courses while still in high school.
Why should these students struggle to get a "B". This is not about lowering standards. That is a tiresome red herring. We have enough math courses to make sure students are appropriately challenged.
What math teachers seem oblivious to is that our middle schools do not do a good job of preparing students. Many students take math programs, have tutors, EPGY, whatever, so they can keep up. Students who do not do this are at a disadvantage. Then there is the highly motivated group that keep up by taking the class elsewhere so they can take it for a grade. The teachers then "jack-up" the curriculum for those students.
It is reasonable to align the material with similar high schools in the bay area and teach them at a reasonable pace with a reasonable amount of homework. I don't think the teachers can give out too many "A's" or too many "B's". Why this is so is beyond me, but it would be like taking the freshman class at Stanford and always using a curve designed to limit higher grades and to flush out students. High school should be about mastering the material -- not about upping the bar and screening out students.
Posted by Resident, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 10:45 am
I have learned quite a bit and appreciate the thoughtfulness many folks put in to their posts. Reading the comments of other parents has helped me understand better what my daughters were telling me regarding their experiences in taking math at Paly. For the record both of my daughters recently graduated from Paly and are doing well in top universities (not trying to brag, just making the point that they are hard workers and capable). They both did well in all subjects at Paly, with math being the only area where they occasionally asked for tutoring help. And they only needed help when the teachers were not effective (in other words they could "get the material, if the teacher taught the class). Mr. Toma in particular was not effective and was clearly not interested in making sure my daughter learned. And Toma is the head of the dept! He has an accent and is difficult to understand. He talks very quickly which makes it even harder to understand him. In my daughter's class they merged two lanes of students. The students in her lane had not been introduced to many of the symbols and conventions that Toma used. Rather than handing out a sheet with explanations or taking the time to explain his terms, he would fill up the board with his symbols and rapidly move on. He didn't have time to meet after class (always had "meetings"). If she asked questions during class he would ignore her or give her short, curt answers. So we had her go to a tutor once a week and she survived. She is taking calculus currently (in college) and getting an A. She tells me her college professor "teaches" and makes sure the students understand the material.
While I understand there is an issue about a-g, and lanes etc, there is also a very basic issue about attitude and teaching. My daughters had some very good teachers at Paly and Jordan, including in the math depts (Slack, Bowers, Himmelberger). But folks like Toma appear to only be interested in teaching the studetns who are at the highest levels (I guess the rest are "slackers"). This may be a difficult problem to address (due to tenure and unions), but it is a significant issue and seesm to be getting overlooked a bit in the discussion.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 10:59 am
Yes, you are right that teaching methods are an issue. I think perhaps that is one of the most important issues, right after curriculum alignment. Indeed, they probably go together since the results of many high-performing minority schools show that all children can achieve given appropriate instruction and support.
Here is an important fact given your comment. The Stanford teacher education program does not allow its students to student-teach at the Palo Alto high schools because the teaching methods, particularly in math, are considered antiquated, poor, and nothing we want our students to learn or emulate. As members of the faculty at the Ed school have explained it to me, is more or less what you describe: standing at the front of the room whizzing through the material at breakneck pace, questions are discouraged, no problem solving by students in groups, etc. We Can Do Better sponsored a public meeting on this topic last spring with Professor Jo Boaler, a Professor of Secondary Mathematics Education at Stanford and she showed videos explaining all of this much better than I can. Bottom line: yes you are correct.
But I have hesitated to go that direction before curriculum alignment because, frankly, these are the teachers we have and it is impractical to think we are going to get other teachers. We ran into this at Gunn with our daughter who was in Alg2Trig as a sophomore but everything was going too fast, same story. Thousands of wasted dollars on tutoring later, the teacher told us that she could not drop down a lane even though she was struggling because she was by far not the worst student in the class -- fully 1/3 of the class was essentially getting a D or F on every test. I found this to be evidence of a stunning failure on the part of the teacher and school but I obviously wasn't going to convince anyone at Gunn of that. When Ken asked the teacher, with some amazement, whether he thought that failure rate had anything to do with his teaching, I will leave it to you to guess at the answer.
So, here we are. We have the teachers we have, with the training and ideology of math instruction they have. Some of them are clearly better than others in terms of their flexibility and willingness to work with students who are not tutored or prepped and do not have double PhD parents like our kids, or who have learning differences. This is clearly an area for judgment on the part of Phil and Katya in terms of making assignments for Instructional Supervisors and who should teach what class to whom. But we aren't going to be cleaning house. So as a matter of strategy it seems wisest to focus on curriculum where there is a possibility of exerting control rather than on teaching methods, where there is not.
Posted by Math-Is-Good, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 11:31 am
> fully 1/3 of the class was essentially getting
> a D or F on every test.'
Interesting. Did this statistic actually come from the teacher's mouth?So, did that the class receive 33% Ds and Fs, at the end of the semester?
Isn't it time to try to get some hard data from the PAUSD before going all "helicopter"? Still waiting to see some PAUSD Algebra II tests posted on-line, so that we can compare them to the CA State Standards. Also would like to see a PAUSD Algebra II syllabus posted, so we can see if the Math Department openly admits to "juicing" up the material so as to exceed state standards.
So .. what about a Public Information Request for, say:
A list of final grades in all Algebra II classes for the past five years, to include:
Number of Students
Year/Quarter Course Given
Grade for each student
Student #1: C | Race=X
Student #2: D | Race=Y
Student #3: F | Race=Z
If the District refuses the request, then given the highly litigious nature of this community (at least where throwing frozen eggs is concerned), surely one lawyer-parent should be able to sue them--to get this information.
At the very least, anyone who is interested in investigating this situation should have access to this data.
Rather than expending the community's energy on nothing but "words", wouldn't it be better to actually get the real data, examine it closely, and then start asking some hard questions if the data tells a different story than the District's Administrators?
There are some interesting tidbits emerging from this dialogue, but nothing of much substance. Without the actual pass/fail rates for these classes, all we are getting is a lot of conjecture. We should be able to do better.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm
So, we have requested some of what you suggest such as the syllabus and tests etc. It is not legal for the district to release individual student work or anything that might render a student individually identifiable, nor would such information be necessary.
Yes that statistic was from the teacher. And no, those students don't fail the class because there is an implicit devil's bargain going on in which students who turn in the homework (which is of course not graded by a teacher - far too time consuming) receive so much credit for turning in the homework that even if they fail many evaluations they can still pass the class or even receive a B. Ask your student. Many kids just turn in the same paper over and over for homework, or turn in nonsense words, since the teacher just checks to see that there is a paper, not whether it is correct. I am not making this up.
Here are some interesting statistics that we do know from the 2008 Strategic Plan survey:
35% of students at Gunn and 48% at Paly (48%!!!!) disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that they are "excited about coming to school to learn."
16% of students at Gunn and 34% at Paly were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with the level of help that they received from teachers when they had difficulty.
26% of students at Gunn and 32% of students at Paly disagree that underperforming students are supported to improve.
33% of students at Paly are unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with their level of enjoyment while learning. 27% of students at Paly are unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with the level of support from teachers for success. [I forgot to check these for Gunn and it is a pain to scroll around in the giant PDF. It's probably the same or slightly lower looking at the trend].
A shocking 40% of students at Gunn and 53% at Paly report being extremely stressed (the highest stress category) by tests.
Among parents some very disturbing trends also emerged from the data:
Around a quarter of parents at Gunn and Paly do not think grading is fair across teachers and courses.
Over a third of parents at Gunn and Paly do not think that underperforming students receive adequate support to succeed.
47% of parents at Gunn and over 50% of parents at Paly report paying a tutor for their child. The vast majority of these parents report that it is for "keeping up with classes or coursework" or to "reduce anxiety."
At least some teachers agree with the unflattering portrait painted of our schools' treatment of struggling students. 38% of teachers at Gunn think we need to do a better job with supplementary resources for underperforming students and minority students, and 21% of teachers at Gunn think that the school has low expectations for minority students. I could not find the Paly teacher survey online.
Posted by Herman, a resident of another community, on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm
A four year college or university is not for everyone who is 17 or 18. For those who cannot meet the basic UC/State requirements, and still want to attend college, what is so wrong about Foothill or another community college. As a Gunn grad of the 70's many students attended Foothill, with a great many transfering to UC Schools, and some even Stanford. Students doing well can transfer after two years without submitting SAT's or ACT's. My experience in life working as a college counselor is efforts to make everything equal or everyone is detrimental for that individual down the road.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:36 pm
Stanford does not really take transfer students. JCs are great, but they are underfunded and it is hard to get all the transfer pattern requirements in the 2 year period (or even 3 or 4). Furthermore, it is discriminatory to send the majority of our minority students to JC and reserve our 4 year college success for white and Asian students which is what we now do.
Posted by Herman, a resident of another community, on Dec 16, 2011 at 1:36 pm
Michele, quite honestly, I'm not sure what world you are living in. As a college counselor I monitor closely where students are accepted, and I see many minority students get into good 4 year private schools. Athletes, legacy kids, and minorities get special priority with grades and test scores below others -- many times way below other qualified students. And re to funding, both of my kids attend the UC system...huge classes, 2-3 tuition increases per year, etc. I'm not sure its much better than a good JC!
Posted by Gavin, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 2:37 pm
The fundamental flaw of the excuse makers, to include the school board, which listens to them, is the reasoning that all Palo Alto students should go to college. Where are the vocational classes that actually provide a realistic work path, after high school?
We don't need lower-and-lower math paths to get to somewhere that should not exist in the first place. We need serious directions that are bifurcated: Those that can hop boulders go to college; those that cannot learn a trade. We absoultely do not need kids warehoused in JCs or lower level UCs...pretending that they are going somewhere in a highly competitive intellectual environment. These kids need to spend their time learning to make a perfect weld, drive a truck correctly and safely, etc.
The essential change will not be made until enough of us pull our money away from the system that promotes the current folly.
One other point: Palo Alto should be competing against world standards, not some watered down Bay Area standards.
Posted by citizen, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 2:40 pm
"A shocking 40% of students at Gunn and 53% at Paly report being extremely stressed (the highest stress category) by tests."
Oh, yes, this is a very stressful society. I am stressed out at my work. But can I ask my boss to lower down the work load for me?? No, unless you are ready to quit. So, a little stressful is good, get used to it, all students will face the stress as soon as they join the workforce.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm
You are right in what you say. But, you must go further and say that in other countries it takes 3 years to get a college degree, there are no GE requirements in college and studying for the major starts on day 1 of college with declaring major at application.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 4:11 pm
My word, all of you have college educations, right? I'd say the real problem isn't the lack of math skills, but reading comp and logic skills.
Also a poor understanding of what a public school system's job is.
PAUSD isn't Harvard, it can't limit its educational mission to just teaching the best and the brightest. Their job is to educate ALL the students in the district. If the high schools don't offer an Algebra II curriculum that is readily accessible to nearly all of its students, the district is falling down on its job.
Sorry if the existence of a normal non-honors algebra II would make the district insufficiently exclusive and elite for some of you. I suggest you consider private alternatives so you don't have to think about people who aren't special enough for you.
Posted by other parent, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm
I have a hard time believing that people are demanding a normal non-honors algebra 2 class when there already one at Paly!!!
Look it up. It exists! And it qualifies for UC admission. And again, it is NON-honors.
What you are actually asking for is a watering down of the existing lower lane, non-honor class.
The problem is that asking for a watering down of Alg.2 is only the first step. Make no mistake about it. Once that's obtained, there will be the same demand for a whole range of other classes to be made "easier". And that's a big problem. Currently our students are well prepared for UC level studies. Those of us who have had children in college know very well that kids coming from less academic school districts often struggle badly once at UCs, because our children in college tell us that's the case. We don't want that for our own children. It's that simple.
Posted by needsfixing, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm
@Other parent -- are you reading the original story? If so, you would know that the math dept has been asked to offer this Alg II class and that according to WASC, Paly does not have a course that is standard for covering the material so that non-math majors can successfully take this class. AND,hello, by the math dept's own admission, they know this. See the Math Dept's letter to the school board.
Folks, the Math Dept admitted in the letter to the district that math classes here are often much harder than elsewhere. I don't advocate dumbing down at all. I advocate making these courses reasonable in the pace and content which is what has come under fire.
Before you jump on that again as dumbing down, please consider that we have many, many math courses in our district to challenge all levels and support the highest achievers too. If the highest achievers finish Calculus early, then there is a possibility that they can take more advanced math classes at Stanford.
What is being criticized is that the Math dept is not supporting enough all math students. It should not be just for the math whizzes.
Our request, for equal access to an a-g curriculum through having one lane -- the lowest lane -- be a regular class -- is district policy. Please look at the WASC report, which clearly lays this out. The district was supposed to have done what we requested in our resolution by the Spring of 2009, nearly 3 years ago. It is pitiful that they have not done it yet and the board should insist that they do it now.
The board should also make a public statement disagreeing with the letter, and rejecting its arguments. Finally the board should determine what support, professional development, and resources these teachers need to enable them to better teach students who are not highly motivated learners in math.
Posted by Gunn grad 2011, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Dec 16, 2011 at 7:03 pm
Adopting A-G reqs and graduation reqs may sound like a good idea, but not every student wants to enter the CSU/UC system post-graduation. I've known since middle school that I wanted to go to an out-of-state private school, so I didn't need to fulfill the extra science requirements (since I despise science anyways and it would have lowered my GPA).
My guidance counselor made sure I was aware of the A-G reqs, but I opted not to fill them. I guess that makes me one of the 20% who didn't fulfill them, but it was so unnecessary for me. Not everyone learns the same and I held many leadership positions at Gunn and in the Palo Alto community.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 16, 2011 at 7:09 pm
I strongly support the issues raised by the variety of concerned people about Math at our high schools.
Out of curiosity, to fathers who post that PALY has an excellent Math Dept. and who are fathers of students gifted in Math and who have received consistently strong education in the subject, I have just one question: did you or did you not have your student tutored (accelerated, of course -- not remedial)in Math?
In our experience, there was a tremendous amount of paid accelerated tutoring in high level Math here. This should NOT be the effective norm for public education, EVEN IN a fairly highly rated school district. It permits gaming the system when time comes for college apps.
The issue is not, to my knowledge, "slackers" and their "slacker parents" but rather parents who game the system with their precious tutored teens.
The over emphasis on Math here is way out of whack.
Posted by citizen, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 7:21 pm
This sounds like a chain reaction down the road. Not only for math, but also for other subjects, like English, history, biology, chemistry, and so on. Some students "who are not highly motivated learners in math". Then, some students who are not highly motivated learners for other subjects. Why you only talk about math here? Should PAUSD create a whole series of easy classes for every subject? Since Gunn and Paly is too crowded, maybe PAUSD should open the third high school with all easy standard classes for those who are not motivated students. Give them "A"s in every class and let them graduate as they wish. Do you think this is called responsible for our next generation? These students will suffer in UC/CSU and their future life. Which high tech company will hire those graduates? Will Stanford hire them? Can they do "stressful" job in any high tech company? No, not at all. You fail them from the beginning!
Posted by Trish Davis, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 7:21 pm
Thank you Michele for unearthing the Paly WASC report. Having read the 190 page report, it is astonishing to me that realigning the math and science curricula at the lowest lane to comport with A-G was laid out by the Paly teachers and administrators themselves as a key focus goal way back in 2008.
Posted by Thank you activists, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 7:25 pm
other parent, Adobe,
Though you are right that the Algebra II is in fact not an honors class, I think the poster referred to it as Honors, as an expression, in the same way I called it a "platinum edition" but it's really not platinum.
It's an Algebra II class that can be watered down and still be at an acceptable and very respectable level. It could be an Algebra II class identical to the one at Roxbury Latin - premier college prep school in the country. I'm not sure that Roxbury's Algebra II actually meets the state standards which look higher, but would it work for the "reputation" issue?
By the way, Palo Alto kids from the high lanes are not just prepared for college, they are over prepared so even if all your fears of adjusting the Algebra class would water down the high lanes, comes true, it's not like these kids won't be ready for college.
The culture of speeding in Math, and creating more and more speed lanes has sucked the air out of learning long enough. I'm not sure you can hold schools accountable for sucking the air out of learning.
But I hope there is a good chance to hold our (last I heard) public schools accountable for educational equity. No more putting lipstick on this pig.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 7:58 pm
I really think that this is the key statistic from the 2008 Strategic Plan survey:
47% of parents at Gunn and over 50% of parents at Paly report paying a tutor for their child. The vast majority of these parents report that it is for "keeping up with classes or coursework" or to "reduce anxiety."
This supports what We Can Do Better has been saying: there is a real problem with our jacked up curriculum when half of our students need paid tutoring (this does not take into account unpaid parental tutoring) just in order to keep up or reduce anxiety. Why are so many students in classes where the material is moving too fast or is too hard for them? Is it the case that many more students would be in the position that the VTP kids are in were it not for parents providing tutoring? One of my daughters was definitely saved from failure in an honors lane math class by a paid tutor and she was not permitted to drop down because she was not failing (due to the tutor). When we explained to the school that the only reason she wasn't failing was because of tutoring and we wanted her in a lane that she could succeed in without a tutor, they suggested that she was "not Gunn H.S. material."
I don't think this is a race issue. This is a much more thoroughgoing problem than that. I think that the school board is more comfortable with the idea that it is only URM kids who struggle rather than with the idea that white and Asian kids also struggle but have tutors. We need to explore the tutoring issue and its relationship to the minority issues. I think there is a lot of fear around looking underneath the tutoring rock.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm
I stand by my direct observation/knowledge of a majority of top Math lane PALY students (in recent times)having YEARS of parent-paid accelerated Math tutoring and it was not "for keeping up..." or "reducing anxiety" but rather for parents'competitive purposes -- irrespective of the students' actual talents or interests. It was to the point that I have labeled such students as not "authentic" students. This is not education or learning; it is competition.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 8:29 pm
An argument I keep hearing is that "other" (no PAUSD high level students) get to college and have to take a remedial math class. Seriously - so what? If you want to be an engineer - you need a lot of math. If you want to start a business, be a psychologist, design web pages, you probably don't need Algebra II or Calculus. Business math (most of which you can do by 7th grade) serves an awful lot of our population.
And if you get into a decent 4 year college and have to take an extra math class for no credit (because your school offered classes that fulfilled the college requirements without being MUCH harder just to protect the teachers "reputations") SO WHAT! You've gotten into college, hopefully since you are older and more mature, you are capable of handling more than in high school And you didn't have to go to a Junior College (which are also great alternatives) just because your high school math and science departments were arrogant and put the need to protect their reputations ahead of their students' futures.
Posted by Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 16, 2011 at 9:16 pm
50% of Paly students surveyed use paid tutors? Add in the students who get tutored at the ARC and the ones who get tutored by their advanced degree parents and the number is probably closer to 75%. This district has a huge problem with not only the curriculum and pacing, but also with the teaching. Wake up everybody!
Posted by Huh?, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 9:39 pm
Michelle, I don't see the survey numbers making nearly the point that you do.
Looking just at Gunn Student Survey (since my kids go there), 55% of students said they get no tutoring at all. 7% said they did, but for areas not covered by school (anything from SAT to native culture to other enrichment - who knows) - so that's 62%. Only 23% said they did it to keep up or build confidence. (This is from page 351 of the survey PDF.)
And I would speculate that since the survey was a self-selected sample of 266 students out of about 1800, about 15%, that it skewed toward students who were more engaged with school in the first place - and perhaps more likely to want to do well and/or seek help.
The parent survey numbers, which I believe you quoted from, are about the same - 53% report no tutors at all, 9% for areas not covered by school - for 62% again, same as the students. Another 9% of survey takers skipped the question altogether, which was 7% more than skipped the previous question - I'd speculate they skipped because they viewed it as not applicable to them, which suggests the "no tutors" number might be higher. (This is from page 367 of the PDF.)
And of course, the parents who filled out the survey are again a self-selected sample of 677 out of about 3600 parents, 19%, which I imagine is somewhat more engaged with their children's education and perhaps more likely to seek supplemental help.
There's an issue with the parents survey you might not have noticed - it seemed to allow multiple answers to that question (notice that the answers add up to way more than 100% - unlike the student survey, where they do total 100%). That means we cannot add categories together, since one family could have checked both boxes. So just looking at "to keep up" on the parent survey, it is 26% of the respondents - about the same as the student survey combination of "build confidence" and "keep up" of 23%.
So about a quarter of the students use tutors of any kind for any class, maybe (you wrote "pay for tutors" in your post - the question says "work with tutor(s) or take private class(es)," no mention of pay vs. volunteer that I could see - so presumably this would include peer and volunteer adult tutors in the Academic Center). We're an education-oriented community with a reputation for high performing students and strong schools - I guess that finding doesn't come as a big shock or point of concern to me.
You wrote "I really think that this is the key statistic from the 2008 Strategic Plan survey" - if so, does the above change the way you think about your group's mission around "jacked-up curriculum"?
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 10:24 pm
Thanks for your comment. While your concerns point to the need for better surveys on tutoring, some of your interpretations are incorrect and some are not really relevant to the big picture.
1. You have understated the sample size. Paly's survey had 582 respondents, out of a population of around 2000 (29%) , of which 92.3% answered the question on tutoring. At Gunn, there were 624 respondents, also out of around 2000 (31%), and 91% answered the tutoring question. I imagine you have doubled the number of parents or something in order to arrive at the 3600 number. I believe there was only one survey per child. If it was the case that there could be two parents filling out the survey for each child then that would be a more serious problem in terms of selection bias, but I do not think that was the case.
2. I am not super worried about selection bias here, though it is potentially a problem in any survey. It is hard to say how it would cut. It could be that the parents who are paying tutors were more likely to answer the survey than those who do not (those who are unhappy with the schools), resulting in an overestimate. It could also be that those who do not pay for tutors (those whose children are succeeding) are more likely to answer. I could imagine it going either way. That is one reason a better survey on this topic would be good. This is the best data the district has at this point and it is the data that the district uses to make policy. If you don't like the survey methods, I suggest you take that up with the district as they designed and administered this instrument.
3. You are correct (I had not noticed) that parents can check more than one reason. Not many did, however, as the numbers only sum to slightly more than the actual total (at Paly for example, the total sums to around 600 rather than 530 and at Gunn the number sums to around 700 rather than 600 (these are approximations). But even just using the raw category scores, I find these numbers highly problematic:
Gunn: 47% of parents report tutoring. I believe based on the question which asks about tutoring or private classes that the implication would exclude parental help and does fairly imply paid tutoring. But even if it includes ARC assistance, that diminishes the financial burden but not the problematic curricular issues. Of those who use tutoring, more than half report that it was for "keeping up." Another 13% report that it was to reduce anxiety. Even assuming that the 26% and the 13% are somewhat co-extensive, that means that approximately half of Gunn students have a tutor, and more than a quarter of Gunn students have that tutor to keep up.
Paly: 51% of parents report tutoring. Of those using tutoring, more than half (61%) report that it was to "keep up" and an additional (possibly somewhat co-extensive) 16% report that it was to reduce anxiety. This means that more than half of Paly students have a tutor, and two thirds of those with a tutor have it for the purpose of keeping up. Around a third of Paly students (31%) need a tutor just to keep up.
I personally find these numbers to be very alarming and no amount of hair-splitting or massaging of the data can erase the larger point -- too many kids (at least between a quarter and a third, and possibly many more) have tutors just to tread water. This signals a real disconnect between what is happening in classrooms and the real needs of actual children.
So yes, I still think that is alarming and I think that most parents agree with me.
Posted by Huh?, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 16, 2011 at 11:33 pm
On the survey - maybe we aren't looking at the same survey results, here's my link from the PAUSD web site Web Link. For the Gunn students, starting on page 342, there are 266 respondants, as you can see on the first question (177 answered the Paly student survey). I'm not sure about the number of parent responses per child or how that was controlled for. Are we looking at different results?
I don't have a problem with the survey methods (why did you imply that I did?), I just pointed out the self-selection issue. In my experience with surveys (pretty extensive), sample design usually swamps all other sources of error - so definitely needs to be kept in mind when interpreting the data.
You headlined in your post that "47% of Gunn parents pay for a tutor [and] the vast majority of these parents report that it is for "keeping up with classes or coursework" or to "reduce anxiety."" That sounds much worse than the truth, which is that 26% of parents reported using tutors for "keeping up," with a lower number reporting "reduce anxiety." As you agree, you can't add the numbers together to get the "vast majority" together as you mention - it really just 38% (152 responses out of 401, including the double counting). And while you may feel the question implied paid tutoring (as you wrote in your post), it clearly does not say that.
I'm disappointed that you find this kind of analysis "hairsplitting or massaging of the data" - that feels like a "don't confuse me with the facts" reaction. I agree the data is interesting, but you have to take it seriously, not just cherry pick the numbers and interpretations that support a pre-determined point of view.
I guess I'm not that concerned with what you find alarming (the list seems to run long) - I'm concerned with figuring out the facts about tutoring (in this case anyway). And yes, I believe most parents agree with me on that. Hopefully you will too.
Posted by Thank you activists, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 17, 2011 at 7:01 am
Huh? and Michelle Dauber
Is it really that important to prove that tutoring is, or is not a problem?
I take the approach that tutoring, fair or unfair is a direct response to curriculum alignment and to how the schools teach students across achievement levels.
How Palo Alto is teaching students across achievement levels does not look pretty at this time. WHen this is corrected, tutoring might continue, but it will not be the insult to injury that it is now.
My beef with the Math inequity is that it shuts out students from more Math and Science and perpetuates an outdated, sick OLD system of educating only the elite. What is this, Imperial Russia?
Our local ntelligentsia who insist on shoving a group of students to JC or vocational schools have no idea that today (and the future) regardless of where anyone goes, it is imperative to have more Math and Science at all levels of achievement.
In Germany, they continually change and develop the much talked about vocational programs according to what the economy demands. If Germany needs workers to handle sophisticated machinery or lab technicians, they create vocational programs accordingly. Math and Science is important for all the jobs of the future.
We need more Math and Science in High School for ALL students, and not just elite students.
Posted by Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 17, 2011 at 7:29 am
I agree wholeheartedly with Thank you activists' last post. Wish this thing had a "like" button! The regular lane of high school math and science should not be college level and all kids need more math and science even if they are going on to vocational school instead of college. And to address the person who said college is expensive, of course it is! I hope you are not suggesting that therefore, poor and middle class people need not apply.
Posted by Flip the coin, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 17, 2011 at 9:20 am
Interesting discussion about the Strategic Plan survey results.
The same tutoring questions were asked of our elementary parents with almost identical results. Were responses differed:
How many do so to study material not taught at school: 15% (elem) vs. 9% (HS) which suggests that our high school classes are doing a much better job of meeting students’ intellectual needs than our elementary schools are.
How many do so to keep up: 13% (elem) vs. 28% (HS), a 15% difference. If you use the elementary numbers as a base (those for whom you can’t change the desire and inclination) and note that the question was NOT limited to math, 15% is not “most“ kids get tutoring because they find that Alg 2 is too hard.
15% is not a large number and it does not tease apart the kids who are trying to keep up in the advanced lanes vs those who are trying to do so in our most basic classes. Even if you don't accept the elementary percentage as a base and conclude that 28% in our high schools is unacceptable, doesn’t it still sure seem that that the problems start in our elementary schools where 13% need it “to keep up” even before they get out of 5th grade? Our focus needs to be K-5.
Interesting aside to a point raised earlier: only 3% go to outside classes/tutors “to get ahead,” so the anti-stress advocates often-cited “practice” of kids taking a class over the summer so they can ace it when they take it again during the school year is, if it happens at all, some subset of this 3% and is NOT rampant.
As for kids who don't have the means to pay for tutors, there is plenty of free help around. Khan Academy. Peer tutors. Teachers after school. If your teacher is not available/helpful, there are other math teachers in our schools to ask. So perhaps this isn’t a question of equity but one of how well informed people are about the options?
Personal aside to show the other side of the same coin. My child is taking advanced math in high school with minimal homework and NO tutors, peer or parent help. We do not begrudge others in the class who may be getting outside help. We are happy that the class is filled with kids who care about what they are learning and work hard at it, which is precisely why we chose Palo Alto public schools for our child.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 17, 2011 at 9:41 am
One point of the tutoring data is that that it is a proxy for how well the curriculum is matched to the abilities of the kids, and also for the effectiveness of teaching. If between a quarter and a third of high schoolers need tutoring just to keep up that is a very large number, representing a vast expenditure of private funds going to backstop the public education system. It also indicates that many kids, without those private tutors, would be doing far worse, and gives some evidence for the hypothesis that poor kids are failing because they don't have high-priced private tutors like their better-off counterparts, not because of "brain theory" as the math teacher letter suggests.
I do not think there is much to brag about in a system in which between 1/4 and 1/3 of the kids need remedial tutoring just to keep their heads above water.
In terms of what subjects are being tutored, I agree that we need better surveys to drill down. But I am quite sure that the most tutored subject would be math, followed closely by science. There are many websites catering to the "start your own business in tutoring" which is a booming business opportunity, and they all stress math and science as the most in-demand subjects. I don't think that is even controversial.
What is controversial is why we are all paying really high property taxes to live in a district with these great schools and then around a quarter to a third of us are actually paying for extensive private education as well.
Posted by Flip the coin, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 17, 2011 at 10:21 am
All kids benefit from more time with teachers regardless of how they are doing in class, so I don't see tutoring in large public schools as a black mark on our high schools. (Elementary school where class sizes are much smaller may be a different matter.)
Blending our large high school classes with one-on-one tutoring is one way parents have chosen to get their child the benefits small class sizes provide without paying hefty private school tuition to get it.
The challenge, as I mentioned in my post, is to figure out how all kids who want this extra individualized help can get it. There are tons of free resources at Paly and online. Perhaps someone can send the list out via Infinite Campus.
Posted by Thank you activists, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 17, 2011 at 11:27 am
Flip the coin,
I agree that K-5 needs a focus, so does Middle School, but it's predicated on High School.
Palo Alto High Schools have a variety of options for college prep, but they make the lower lanes a dead end. In such a system it's very easy to give up on kids who are not performing as high as their peers.
Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Dec 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm
I realize that this thread has centered around math and A-G, but there is a WHOLE lot more to A-G than Alg II. In fact less than 10 students last year graduated from Paly only A-G deficient in Math(this was in a power point presentation to the board). There are many other course requirements, including 2 years of a foreign language and 2 years of a lab science. In addition, in order to be A-G for the Cal States (the UC's have much more stringent standards) a student has to meet a certain eligibility index with grades and test scores. If the student earns a 2.0 in the A-G classes he/she must score a 1300 on the SAT (only counting the Math and Critical Reading sections). As the GPA goes up, the required test score goes down. One danger of making and calling the graduation requirement A-G, is that parents will believe that by graduation from a school that has A-G as its graduation requirements then the student will be eligible for admission when in fact there are a bunch of other constraints. There is also an issue with the "D" grade, as it counts for graduating from high school but not for UC/Cal State. If the discussion wants to center around making a 3rd year of math a requirement (then any student who starts in Alg 1 must complete Alg II), then talk about that, but if you truly want the requirements for graduation to be A-G, then everyone needs to fully understand the UC/Cal State eligibility standards.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 17, 2011 at 1:06 pm
On tutoring "surveys" --
I stand by my direct observation of numerous top students receiving parent-advantaged positioning for competitive purposes with superfluous tutoring to guarantee the "highest" paper record possible. Such students find it immeasurably easier timewise and effortwise to "receve" not earn an A in top courses.
At a certain point such deceptive practices affect naive parents/students or those who choose not to undertake such tactics for years.
@ Flip the coin: much "tutoring" (whether by a PALY parent - who used to have a group of students who secretly learned certain curriculum carefully in advance with her, or at one of the various tutoring centers that openly advertise where their clients have been admitted, screaming out Ivy and Berkeley etc. (and their various scores with their names and high schools -- often Lynbrook -- this is not confined to Palo Alto by any means!) is actually not disclosed to school associates or peers a kid is competing with.
We directly experienced a situation I well recall with a PAUSD Math class where the teacher DID ask students to raise their hands if they were tutored, and we directly KNEW of numerous tutored students sincee we KNEW these students, and my student reported seeing only ONE girl (bless her heart for her honesty) raising her hand. This was NOT an accurate count. The teacher did NOT have accurate information about what her students were doing. This affects choices about moving ahead with the curriculum etc. that place a non-tutored student at a disadvantage. The others had been told by the tutor (who happened to be a parent who ran a sophisticated, exclusive tutoring operation only open to certain students) to NOT admit to tutoring to any school officials. This is direct info as we know several students involved (some yrs ago, incidentally)
You expect "everyone" to admit when they have their kid uber-prepped for AP courses, etc.?
Try looking at the PALY student newspaper ads -- a recent one I have at hand (11/18/11) features ads with these proclamations:
"---(name of business)Tutors can help you raise your scores 200-450 points!"
"College essay support"
"---(name of business)
"high score guarantee" "SAT I/II Holiday boost"
"G 11-12 Complete college counseling Intensive classes SAT/ACT/AP
Colelge Admission - Application/Essay Writing
I cannot say for certain about these particular ads/services, but I have seen many in past (and fliers) that make it clear the purpose is to absolutely hand-hold monied students whose parents are "requiring" perfect SAT scores, AP scores, etc.
Such ads are generally NOT aimed at students seeking remedial support. They CAN be aimed at middle-high rung students, but their "prize" clients are those who already are advantaged persons. Really, it's parents who are maximizing their students' results based on outside intensive management that goes over the line of the student owning his/her own work/results. This artificially and incrementally raises the bar just that little bit for a kid, especially in Math.
At the very top level, the slightest of edge can make that tiny difference with competitive university apps. Most top universities will not make too many (imprecise, I know) offers to students form the same high school, even if practically EVERYONE at that high school is high performing and has the paper record. If you haven't been through the college apps process for several yrs, perhaps you don't realize current competitive "conditions" and to what lengths some parents are going to position their kids - to the point of secrecy.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a member of the Barron Park School community, on Dec 17, 2011 at 1:07 pm
I think tutoring raises obvious questions of equity, despite Flip the coin's argument to the contrary -- if private tutoring weren't more attractive in terms of time flexibility, commitment, preparation, and quality than the free alternatives there wouldn't be a thriving business for tutors charging $75 an hour and up.
But I think the most important consequences of extensive tutoring are not so obvious. What is the effect of tutoring on classroom teaching and learning? The debate above in this thread about the actual extent of tutoring, based on surveys of parents and kids, is happening because tutoring is private and happens largely outside of the view of teachers and other students. Effective teaching, though, depends on teachers being able to use the performance of their students as feedback about the pacing, content, and teaching methods being used in the class. If some of the students are getting taught outside of class by private tutors, their performance won't just reflect the classroom teaching, but teachers have no way of knowing that. From a teacher's perspective, the higher performance of tutored students produces a misleading signal that the course is paced correctly, and the performance of untutored students becomes a fact about those students rather than a fact about the class as a whole. Similarly, untutored students, particularly low-achieving ones, know that they are not doing as well as others but don't know that tutoring is playing a role, leaving them to conclude that it is their own relative ability that is the cause.
Concretely, we end up with a feedback loop in which the teacher doesn't have access to the signals he needs to appropriately shape the class to students' actual abilities and learning, which results in classes that move faster than they could without the presence of tutors -- which results in yet more need for tutoring, and a greater gap between those who have them and those who don't.
What's the solution? I think we need a community conversation about this, but we clearly can't ban tutoring, and for some students (though not 30% or 50%, or whatever the real number is) it's probably helpful in compensating for specific learning weaknesses. More awareness and transparency would certainly help, though. If teachers knew which students were getting help from tutors, they could incorporate that information into their evaluation of the effectiveness of their teaching strategies, and might be less likely to increase the overall pace of the class in response to the performance of tutored students. Even better, they might reinterpret the performance of lower-achieving students as stemming not from "objective" factors like family background, but from a lack of resources -- and put their energy into demanding more resources for those students, rather than lower expectations for them.
Posted by Thank you activists, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm
I see your point, and Michelle's earlier posts on why tutoring is an issue - unmasking tutoring can get to issues of teaching and learning.
I also hear Flip the coin's point, which I think proposes that with free online tutoring options, the tutoring playing field could just be leveled.
Do both of these tutoring ideas pre-suppose that the current curriculum alignment, course offerings, and options are fair to all student achievement levels?
I strongly believe that students in the lower Math lanes are being thrown to the curb by the district, shut out of better Math and Science learning opportunities in HS, in favor of students who are in the middle and higher lanes. And the REASON for this is because the Board and the schools have not put an end to the ideas spewed on this thread that lower Math lane kids have no business aspiring for anything in the first place, and that the lower Math lanes kids are slackers. Not only does PAUSD allow for this culture to spew in the schools, they ACT on it by offering LESS Math and Science pathways to these students.
I'm not even talking about college pathways, just about Math and Science pathways. As in developing country graduates all students with Physics.
Kids flourish at different times, and some may prefer to be teenagers instead of tutored automatons. They may be so out of the college arms race mill, that they just go to school because they have to. Does that mean we shut these students out of course offerings that can impact their future ability to get a job?
Math and Science are critical to every job. For example, a good writer, but poor Math student could be a Science writer someday.
If we really want to focus on LEARNING, then the curriculum, course offerings need to reflect that.
The day those ugly High School Math and Science flow charts change to serve lower Math lane students better, tutoring, teaching and learning will ALL change, I think for the better.
I almost choked when I saw that Algebra II class/Lane 1 nestled between Geometry and Pre-Calculus. If I had a student in the lower lane, I would actually not want to even waste an entire year of Geometry, when there are better ways to get it in.
That lowest Math lanes is just SO shabbily put together.
I think tutoring inequity is small change, compared to the curriculum and course offering inequity.
Posted by Thank you activists, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm
meant to say
If I had a student in the lower HS Math lane, I would actually not want to even waste an entire year ON Geometry, when there are better ways to get it in.
That lowest Math lanes is just SO shabbily put together.
THe shabbily put together Math lane in HS starts with the shabbily put together Math offerings in Middle School where the options in 7th grade are to be "regular" or faster.
Faster is really fast, and "regular" is Palo Alto regular. That means give up on a whole chunk of students.
If life was perfect, and people would not be sharks, we would have a slower lane in Middle School that feeds into a slower lane in HS focusing on learning and strengthening Algebra. Maybe have an applications offering, combined with a Science curriculum. This lane does not need to pretend they are in a rush to get to BC calculus, or to be a SIemens competitors, so allow this lane to take their time and learn carefully, and well. If you have the right teachers, that could be really really well.
Posted by needsfixing, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm
@former Paly parent I agree with you. @Thank you activists, you too.
I don't want standards to be dumbed down, but I think the material should be covered at a reasonable pace.
I think part of the problem is that the teachers do not want to give out too many A's and B's. So the teachers keeps increasing the difficulty of the material and speed up the pace, and meanwhile students who really want that higher grade get extra tutoring and take classes prior to the class that "counts".
Some will twist this view into activists trying to make the courses easier so students can get good grades and this will dumb down the curriculum. This is NOT what I am advocating. The curriculum should be to master a certain amount of the concepts and build each semester. It should be challenging but not esoteric with burdensome homework and quirky tests.
We have a large number of very bright students who are also being hurt by this pressure-cooker process in the advanced classes.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm
I think it boils down to the fact that the curriculum at present is geared for fast, independent learners, or those whose parents are willing and financially able to tutor their kids.
I was one of those math slow learners. I worked hard, but found the work needed constant explaining on my part. I could work understand one problem when the teacher explained it on the board, but put a similar problem of the same concept in front of me and I was lost.
I consider myself reasonably bright, I was good at most other subjects, understood arithmetic and facts, but math was hard for me. Even when I see my kids'homework, I know I knew most of it once upon a time, but not now.
So should someone like me be written off because I can't learn maths at an excelerated level? Should I have been told to go into the service trades because that was where I belonged? My parents were not well educated, so should I have continued the trend?
I don't think so. I may not have been a budding engineer or physics major, but I deserved a college education and a professional career which did not involve math. Thankfully I was able to scrape through all that was necessary (mainly because my best friend was able to help me enough to pass the tests) to get me where I needed to go. I trust that a PAUSD education would have done and still does do the same.
Posted by palyparent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 18, 2011 at 8:24 am
It's a tremendous shame that it all goes back to the teachers' elitist attitudes, and I agree with the comment that they are stingy about grades and make Paly a pressure cooker as a result, pushing people to expensive tutors and learning the material in advance. What's so ironic is that the system is geared for the small handful kids who get into Stanford or the Ivies. However, many families get caught up in this mad race, but objectively, on a pure numbers basis, only so many will be admitted to these elite institutions from our school, regardless how outstanding everyone is. The teachers seem to relish playing the role of king maker for these select kids, and everyone else has to hope that their bloodied GPA won't exclude them from admission to many other good schools including the UCs. Kids from other public and private schools routinely have 4.0 GPAs, but here it's a bloodbath and kids have to rely on their SAT and AP scores to prove they are not "slackers," to borrow the Paly math department's pedagogic term. Our teachers freely give out C grades to good students as they enforce their Darwinian process, but unfortunately this is not Harvard and these grades are not perceived by colleges as the gentleman's C. This is why Paly teachers don't want regular lanes where students can do a good job with the material without devoting their lives to it and still get a decent grade, as it takes some of their king-making power away from them (which they still hold in writing recommendations). So new families beware of what is going on at Paly, try to talk to others who have gotten through it, and good luck. Above all don't pimp your kid out to Paly, find a path through it that works for your family and draw the line there -- your kid will have a good outcome because you have gone through Paly with a reasonable strategy. Otherwise kids end up feeling worthless because they have sold their soul to the Paly machine and the only redemption is an Ivy admission, which may or may not be there for him or her at the end of the day.
Posted by Thank you activists, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 18, 2011 at 10:01 am
Palo Alto mom, Duveneck,
"If you want to start a business, be a psychologist, design web pages, you probably don't need Algebra II or Calculus. Business math (most of which you can do by 7th grade) serves an awful lot of our population."
You had earlier pointed out this bigger thinking on the applications of Math.
Many in the community who are from the engineering world think that all the Math lanes in school should lead to engineer path math, and have not a clue about other applications or pathways. Based on this, PAUSD has created what is the only thing that deserves to be called "dumb" - the current Math and Science lanes that actively shut out non-engineer type students from more and better Math and Science education.
Not only that, a board member recently expressed parent concern (S) that in Middle School, could we perhaps consider adding a new math lane for the kids who feel the regular math lane is too slow, and the fast lane is too fast. That's what Lane 3 appears to be in High School. Which means yet again the concern for the ABOVE average students. Of course, resources are always ready for this priority. What a task! In middle school, both math lanes cover the same material at different speeds, but now the ask is for a lane that tweaks it to "just" the right speed for already high achieving Johnny?
The lane that is really missing in Middle School is a lower math lane. A true lower lane that does not cover the "same " material in 7th and 8th grade, at different speeds, but one that covers HALF of the material of the existing two lanes, in a different way, with teachers who have the necessary skill and attitude, and who use state of the art ways to engage kids in Math. A new middle school lower math lane that would have a California college pathway, because it would lead to successful completion of Algebra II in HS. These lanes (in Math) are not fixed, because you can change lanes any year with summer school, so there is also no cap on choosing to pursue higher levels of achievement. Science is sadly a different absolutely ridiculous mess in leaving kids out of the learning, actually because it's predicated on this engineering hat math.
At this point even the higher math lanes in HS need to be reviewed, if they are as poorly constructed as the lower math lanes.
Posted by needsfixing, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 18, 2011 at 11:10 am
@Palyparent, your statement:
The teachers seem to relish playing the role of king maker for these select kids, and everyone else has to hope that their bloodied GPA won't exclude them from admission to many other good schools including the UCs. Kids from other public and private schools routinely have 4.0 GPAs, but here it's a bloodbath and kids have to rely on their SAT and AP scores to prove they are not "slackers," to borrow the Paly math department's pedagogic term. Our teachers freely give out C grades to good students as they enforce their Darwinian process, but unfortunately this is not Harvard and these grades are not perceived by colleges as the gentleman's C.
You are unfortunately right. My student (also made National Merit) received a score of "5" on the BC Calculus AP Exam but only made a "C" grade in Toma's class.
Folks this is NOT about dumbing down. College admissions officers see the "C" and that either eliminates chances of admission or reduces them considerably. This is about allowing our students to earn the grade that would be comparable elsewhere.
Posted by Huh?, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 19, 2011 at 12:06 am
The complaints about tutoring truly seem misguided to me. The data seems to indicate that it is not nearly as widespread as some have claimed based on their anecdotal impressions. And the nefarious impact of this excessive learning seems pretty mysterious to me.
My impression (no data here!) is that the tutoring issue is a red herring. The root cause is the pressure that parents feel due to low admission rates of high-reputation colleges (which it terms is driven in large part from the demographic surge of high school grads) and anxiety about future economic opportunity, which translates into the competitiveness (largely parent driven) we see in the schools. That competitiveness causes worried parents to lash out at those they view as taking away the scarce opportunities - in this case Tiger Moms and others using "unfair" or "excessive" methods like tutoring.
I'm not sure I have the solution to all this, aside from just loving your kids and getting comfortable that they will be fine. But I am pretty sure than pitting parents against parents on the tutoring front (or pretty much any front) isn't going to help.
Posted by SanityPlease, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 19, 2011 at 11:12 am
@Huh, I think the point is that the pervasive tutoring is a symptom of the fact that Paly is on academic steroids, such that the coursework and grading is out of whack. I am not against tutoring, people should do whatever they feel works best for them to get through Paly. I have also heard of a kid who was in Spanish immersion, got a 5 on the AP, and got a C in Spanish. If top students as noted above get Cs, no wonder the kids struggling at the other end get Ds and Fs. It would be helpful to know the average (mean, median and modal) GPA of Paly students in the core subject areas.
Posted by Moira , a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 19, 2011 at 11:15 am
There are a few issues that all fall under the category of why PAUSD at high school level has problems:
1. Making sure the A-G classes has a level that meets requirements and not geared for higher math and science. As stated many times, if you can't get into college because A-G bar made beyond state requirements, you're being left behind. Not all college students will be engineering or technical majors. This will not affect the advanced and AP lanes, so those parents need to understand this.
2. It isn't just math classes that are at issue, although Mr. Toma et al certainly brought the issue public. Science and languages A-G also a hurdle for many (see remarks re languages below).
3. I know a large group of parents at both Paly and Gunn and I'm convinced that 1/2 at least of students have had tutoring to get above a C in many classes (what would be called average or above-average students by GPA). Tutoring is being used in all sorts of classes not just math and science, with languages being very typical. You must have 2 years of language for colleges. My son has had to have tutor for Spanish and I found out that new textbook caused a big increase in tutors.
4. Agreed that tutoring not easy to address, obviously private choice by parents with means to pay. Maybe kids/parents not admit it in survey, but it is very common. Gunn provides hand-out of 28 PAGES OF TUTORS, obviously not for a handful of struggling students.
5. Agree that the broader view of why this district has become increasingly stressful is tied to generalized anxiety over small number of spots at "top" schools and larger numbers of applicants. It is largely the parents putting that anxiety on their kids that if they don't get into a "perfect" school, all is lost. Sadly, after raising kids here for 18 years, I don't see that changing, it has only increased over time. I will be interested in seeing how happy some of these kids will be at 30 after their high school classes, college and career choices were made by others.
Posted by Thank you activists, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 19, 2011 at 4:49 pm
"The complaints about tutoring truly seem misguided to me. The data seems to indicate that it is not nearly as widespread as some have claimed based on their anecdotal impressions. And the nefarious impact of this excessive learning seems pretty mysterious to me…."
What is misguided is for the district or anyone to play dumb about tutoring, or to hide behind the impossibility of proving it. Palo Alto's stratospheric combination of money and education,may not necessarily be "data" to prove tutoring, but IS a factor for declaring advantage compared to minority students, minority being anyone lacking similar access. Access to some of the best summer camps in the country, internships, daily expert academic direction from highly educated parents (this adds up), world travel, college application coaches, SAT prep. As Michelle Dauber has pointed out, the tutoring and camp industry exists and grows for a reason. There are also more subtle things of the material nature that can be handy to motivate academically, such as tech gadgets, cars, etc. Collectively, the community's advantage of sorts, can't be hidden just because a group is so pure they don't use any of this.
I don't need irrefutable "proof" about tutoring, and I actually think that tutoring can also have very positive effects. The debate can rage on.
About the nefarious impact - Ken Dauber best explained it .in his post - "What is the effect of tutoring on classroom teaching and learning? The debate above in this thread about the actual extent of tutoring, based on surveys of parents and kids, is happening because tutoring is private and happens largely outside of the view of teachers and other students. Effective teaching, though, depends on teachers being able to use the performance of their students as feedback about the pacing, content, and teaching methods being used in the class. If some of the students are getting taught outside of class by private tutors, their performance won't just reflect the classroom teaching, but teachers have no way of knowing that. From a teacher's perspective, the higher performance of tutored students produces a misleading signal that the course is paced correctly, and the performance of untutored students becomes a fact about those students rather than a fact about the class as a whole."
In an interesting twist, you point to the root cause of what you term "competitive" environment. That may actually be the best way to look at tutoring, it's about competition and as you explain.
"My impression (no data here!) is that the tutoring issue is a red herring. The root cause is the pressure that parents feel due to low admission rates of high-reputation colleges (which it terms is driven in large part from the demographic surge of high school grads) and anxiety about future economic opportunity, which translates into the competitiveness (largely parent driven) we see in the schools. That competitiveness causes worried parents to lash out at those they view as taking away the scarce opportunities - in this case Tiger Moms and others using "unfair" or "excessive" methods like tutoring."
Ironic that if it's about stiff competition, the entire Math department can attack minority students on this very issue.
My two cents is that irrespective of tutoring, the district can serve all students as equally as possible. Holding out that school is still about learning, not just competition, fair learning can be reflected through the right course offerings for students of different achievement levels, lanes that are not imbalanced in favor of one group, or other arbitrary goals.
Your suggestion for people to get "comfortable" that kids will be fine, as long as we love them is nice; some suggest, just level the tutoring playing field with free online options. Both would be a way out for the district, to not to fix the lanes, the inequitable math and science course offerings as I've posted before, or the festering Math arrogant school culture (exemplified by the Math letter), towards students who are not in the most competitive lanes which hurts all students. These all have solutions.
Posted by Huh?, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 19, 2011 at 11:09 pm
Well, it is clear that some people are alarmed about tutoring, though it does seem more heat than light. I have to believe that if tomorrow the acceptance rate at Harvard and Stanford went back to 15% from it's current 7%, and so on down the line, including the UCs, that the concerns about tutoring, etc., would greatly diminish.
Posted by A former Student Teacher, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 22, 2011 at 8:19 am
About 6 years ago I observed for a week at Palo Alto High School in order to qualify for the math education at San Jose State. I saw Mr. Toma as well as others in the department teach. I felt Mr. Toma was one of the best teachers in the math department because he did have high standards in classroom management and math instruction. I still remember one geometry problem that he discussed that was really quite remarkable and made me appreciate his approach to instruction. Having said that the math department, especially the former head, goes out of their way to be difficult with everyone. They have this elitist attitude that they know better than anyone about what is right. As an example the teachers (or their graders) grade the homework by hand, which is very time consuming. Other schools in poorer districts have machines that mark the multiple choice answers very quickly so that the results can be tabulated quickly. At Palo Alto the grading is by hand so that each answer can be criticized for not showing complete work or sloppiness. This sounds good, but what a chore for the teachers! The reasoning I believe is to show the parents and students that the Palo Alto High School math teachers are better than there are. The teacher drills down on the poor kid's homework and makes him feel like he is a moron because he isn't perfect. Also teachers don't give partial credit. If the answer is wrong, it is wrong and it doesn't matter if it was a minor mistake. I personally came out angry at how I was treated just because of their elitist attitudes. They tend to judge people very quickly and make assumptions that this kid (or parent) isn't good enough and therefore their opinion doesn't matter. The irony is that these Palo Alto math teachers forget that they are there to serve the community and not decide who is good and who isn't and who can be ignored, etc.
Posted by Paly Graduate, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 22, 2011 at 2:03 pm
To the post above: I agree with your opinion of Mr. Tomas- He is the main reason of my success in Math. However, I disagree with your assessment of the department's grading practices. Yes, the grading is tougher than most in Palo Alto. But, isn't it about time that students are not pampered and protected in high school. This is the real world. I am very thankful for this. It taught me to work hard and be accountable for my own results. It did not add stress because I knew exactly how to improve and what to expect. It is definitely not the right place for someone who is not interested in learning and improving. You will NOT get an easy "A". And don't you want that for your students?
Posted by Obvious Answer, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm
There needs to be a happy medium where teachers teach, yet assign more "A"s. No one is asking for easy "A"s but for teachers to make attaining "A"s and "B"s so difficult that it affects college acceptances is completely unfair to the students. Colleges do not know that these teachers are so difficult - all they see are the grades. We have a low rate of Ivy League/reputable university acceptances compared to other schools, yet I'll bet our students are more prepared.
Mr. Toma is from Romania and doesn't understand the American way of helping others. His egotistic and rude personality may work for some, but not all.
On the flip side, there are some great teachers at Paly who do teach yet are lenient with grades. These teachers are the ones who truly care about students instead of the egotistic ones who prefer to work the students till they crack.
Posted by Matthew Gunn, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2011 at 4:43 am
Any reduction in standards in the highest lane of Paly mathematics would be an absolute disaster.
First the facts:
23 percent of Taiwanese students score as "advanced" in math.
4.5 percent of Silicon Valley students score as "advanced" in math.
(See Teaching Math to the Talented by Stanford Prof. Eric Hanushek)
In an age where a *strong* math background is increasingly important for success in fields from engineering to physics to finance, Silicon Valley is absolutely failing to produce strong mathematics students compared to other countries!
An outlier amidst this sea of low standards and mediocrity stands the Paly math department and Radu Toma. I can confidently say that Mr. Toma's *rigorous* and *time consuming* approach to mathematics are important reasons why my math background has been strong enough to support my present endeavor as a Finance PhD at the University of Chicago. Other friends of mine from Paly who have gone on to be a Stanford CS Phd, patent lawyer, or Google software engineers agree. Thank you Mr. Toma.
This isn't elitist. With time I've realized I am NOT particularly special with math. I've met some math geniuses and I'm not one of them. The key for me has been careful thinking, hard work, and practice. Years and years of practice. It adds up.
Taiwan didn't get 23 percent of its students scoring as advanced in math by having smarter kids than us. Taiwan did it by taking a rigorous approach to math and making its students work harder. We need more teachers like Mr. Toma.
Posted by Taiwan, a resident of the Esther Clark Park neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2011 at 10:41 am
"23 percent of Taiwanese students score as "advanced" in math.
4.5 percent of Silicon Valley students score as "advanced" in math."
1. High School is not mandatory in Taiwan.
2. High School admissions are determined by entrance exams.
3. The Taiwanese ministry of education has recognized that teaching to the test has given them good test scores at the expense of creativity in their students. Now they are struggling mightily to discover how to make their students creative.
Do these statistics regarding US vs. Taiwan high school math test scores mean anything relative to this discussion?
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2011 at 12:34 pm
Mr. Gunn - no one is suggesting lowering the standards for the upper math classes. We would just like the regular math classes to be actually be regular math classes taught to the UC/CSU standards - not the standards set by Mr. Toma. We would also like the math teachers to actually instruct their students.
Posted by Matthew Gunn, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 30, 2011 at 4:18 am
@mom You're correct; the debate is about the lower lane. I guess I'm suspicious of lowering standards in general.
@Taiwan The education research I've read all points to U.S. students significantly underperforming in math relative to other rich, industrialized countries, and that California is near the bottom of states in the U.S.. I don't think that conclusion is controversial.
This is part of what makes me suspicious of any effort to lower Paly's standards to match general California standards. California's K-12 is a disaster. From a Mercury News article on the CSUs, "About 27,300 freshmen in the 2010 entering class of about 42,700 needed remedial work in math, English or both."
@question The key importance of geometry to me was the method rather than the specific content. We started with minimal assumptions, axioms, then proceeded to build a geometry by using these assumptions and prior results to prove more and more complex results. This is the same underlying method used throughout all mathematics, and the precise, logical thinking employed I think is very similar to that employed in programming or engineering. Geometry is also nice in some sense because it's visual. Back when I was at Paly, I had a whole year of geometry, 2nd year was alg2/trig, 3rd year "analysis", 4th year BC Calc.
This is just me kibitzing from the sideline, but I think the most widely useful mathematics for most jobs are probably algebra and some level of probability and statistics.