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Parents ask board to fix 'bifurcated' schools

Original post made on Jan 18, 2012

In sometimes tense exchanges, parents Tuesday demanded a greater sense of urgency from the Palo Alto Board of Education on fixing what they called a "bifurcated school system -- one for the wealthy and one for the economically disadvantaged."

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 18, 2012, 9:52 AM

Comments (179)

Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 18, 2012 at 10:15 am

The data referenced in this story can be found at:
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link


Posted by Parent middle school, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 10:42 am



"This is a conversation that's been going on at least five years and there's been very little progress, especially for black children in this district," Clark said.

"The way I see it, the people who should feel most 'unsafe' are the parents who are suffering under this dual system.

"And when we want to talk about it, we get a lecture about civility."


I could not agree more WHOLEheartedly with Clark's comments.


Posted by Old Palo Alto, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 18, 2012 at 10:47 am

I'll bet the kids that are flunking Algebra 2, black, white, or green, are also flunking their other courses. I doubt this is a course or subject specific issue, it's an effort and misplaced blame issue.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Fed-up parent, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2012 at 11:10 am

"Palo Alto long has struggled with the achievement gap, publishing student data and agonizing over how to fix it."
Yes, and poured more and more into the cause, creating programs that take bigger and bigger bites off the pie.

"The district is currently under state sanctions for having a "disproportionate" number of underrepresented minority students in special ed."
Always wise to draw the line along race. Perhaps it's disproportionate because this district has the more sensible standard and actually care more? This issue reminds me of the "issue" of having disproportionate number of certain races in prison.

"The best district in this regard -- Hawthorne in Los Angeles County -- had 75 percent of black students who were tested ranking "proficient or above" in Algebra 2."
Just label any ol' math class "Algebra 2," and we'll be able to both beat that 75% rate AND reduce academic stress at the same time.

Seems like the Daubers are always ready to hold the district accountable. What role do the kids' parents have? I take my kids' education seriously, and sacrifice a whole lot for it. Should we be punished if other kids' parents don't put in the same commitment to their children's education and well being as we do? If one can barely afford (whether time-wise or dollar-wise) one child, why have more (or any)?

Are these idealistic groups addressing this issue of parent accountability??


Posted by A, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 18, 2012 at 11:14 am

As the father of a Gunn student who struggled greatly with algebra 2, (and who is white, high income, and getting an A in most other subjects), and as a math major myself, I can tell you exactly what the problem is.

The issue is that even lower track classes have to cover too many topics for the allotted time. For example, how many readers studied synthetic division in high school? I know I never did, and I went to one of the best Prep schools in the country.

All these more exotic topics are fine for kids with innate math talent who can absorb it quickly, but for most others, it simply means there is less time to absorb the more fundamental topics, and they end up learning nothing.

This is exactly the same issue as with the chemistry curriculum in Palo Alto.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 11:32 am

> For example, how many readers studied synthetic division in
> high school?

Gosh .. haven't heard that term for a long, long, time. I'm pretty sure we studied this in one of my college-prep Algrebra classes in high school.

> I know I never did, and I went to one of the best Prep schools
> in the country.

> links above ..

The numbers of black students taking Algebra II is pretty low, so these small numbers might not prove a lot. However, why not have those claiming that the PAUSD is not doing a good job take a field trip to a few of these schools, interview the teachers/students, and let's find out what is different between the high scoring and low scoring districts.

Let's not try to make rational decisions based on claims like this.


Posted by What do your links mean, Ken?, a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2012 at 11:38 am

Ken,

Can you explain the links you sent and how you're interpreting them?

From link 1:
- PA is in the bottom 20% of CA school districts in terms of % of black students passing Algebra 2 CST. But, there are only 15 students taking the test. Is this even statistically significant? If PA gets 1 more student passing, we are in the middle of the pack.

From link 2:
- PA is in the top 15% of CA districts in terms of % of Hispanic students passing Algebra 2 CST.

From link 3:
- PA is in the top 30% of CA districts for educating socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

Am I reading this correctly?


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2012 at 11:41 am

Maybe someone should check their old stats text for some insight. When you have small samples (like 12 or 15 students) you are going to generate outliers that are just sampling artifacts. I read recently that the highest incidence of various cancers is found in small, rural US counties - which is alarming (for them) until you find out they also have the lowest incidence, because the small populations tend to generate outlying statistical results.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by nomeaning, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 18, 2012 at 11:49 am

Those testing scores have no important meanings in pausd. The reason for that is by the time the kids get into high school,they already know the star test is for school's reputation and it will not have any effect on their records.They are not small kids any more,they will not treat the test as real thing, I heard some kids saying that personally that they do it to raise their parents' property value,there is no need to prepare for it [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by The Truth, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like an earlier post pointed out, the majority of these kids are struggling in other classes also and not putting the time in to achieve.

Problem starts with students and level of effort in most cases. Education starts at home and with individual student and students need to see THEIR ROILE IN why they are struggling. But of course that would effect self-esteem of students if they had to get honest with themselves and take responsibility for their failure.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm

The link above that points to a spreadsheet dealing with black students showing that 19 PAUSD black students were tested in Algebra II.

So, what does that mean in terms of percentages?

#| Percentage
| of Total
1|5.3%
2|10.5%
3|15.8%
4|21.1%
5|26.3%
6|31.6%
7|36.8%
8|42.1%
9|47.4%
10|52.6%
11|57.9%
12|63.2%
13|68.4%
14|73.7%
15|78.9%
16|84.2%
17|89.5%
18|94.7%
19|100.0%

So .. if four more students score at "Proficient", this moves the PAUSD into the 25% grouping, which is about %62. If 9 students (total) were to test at "Proficient", this would move the PAUSD to 50%, or #8.

These sample sizes are too small to be meaningful.

Now, what are the actual scores for these students? In other words, are these black PAUSD students testing at 750, or 650, in Algebra II?

And one more point--the claim that the Algebra II being taught in the PAUSD exceeds State standards should mean that the students would do better on the CST tests, than not. So, why are the black students failing to test at "Proficient"? It would be very interesting to have the PAUSD release the final grades for those students who failed (in an anonymous fashion, of course).


Posted by BH, a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2012 at 12:31 pm

These kids are Probably doing bad in math is because the tachers are not doing their jobs good enough and since these kids most likely don't get extra help(tutoring) they are not testing proficient.


Posted by The Truth, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm

the lack of statistical significance is a major problem - how can we be perceived as teaching math properly if we are not aware of what it means?


Posted by Corey Levens, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm

The issue being presented here deflects us from the real issue at Palo Alto's high schools, namely, that they do not do a good job of addressing the needs of students in lower tracks or students that cannot keep up. The solution most often offered by teachers to addressing the needs of these students is to go hire a tutor. The problem is manifested most obviously in the minority populations, but is very real in the mainstream population as well. While focusing on the effects on the minority population is certainly legitimate, the solution is to be found in addressing the shortcomings in the system as a whole. I'm now on my third child attending Gunn, and the problem has been there since the first day my oldest started in 2004.


Posted by What do your links mean, Ken?, a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Given the limited data points available for STAR testing for PA in 2011, I ran the #'s for the last 4 years for pass rates among AA students in Algebra 2. (I don't have the nice spreadsheet that Ken has :-)).

2008 PA #'s: 15 AA students, 34% pass rate
2008 CA #'s: 12% average pass rate for AA

2009 PA #'s: 13 AA students, 15% pass rate
2009 CA #'s: 12% average pass rate for AA

2010 PA #'s: 8 AA students, **results not reported due to too little data**
2010 CA #'s: 14% average pass rate for AA

2011 PA #'s: 15 AA students, 7% pass rate
2011 CA #'s: 16% pass rate for AA

Average for AA for last 4 years (excluding PA 2010 data):
PA: 18.6% pass rate
CA: 13.5% pass rate

My objective conclusions (looking at the past 4 years):
1) Pass rate for AA is very low, both for PA and CA as a whole
2) Pass rate for AA in PA is also very low, although higher than CA.

My subjective comments:
1) The test scores for all of our students need to be improved. I volunteer in private, free, afterschool tutoring and this is one way I feel I can personally help.
2) Palo Alto's test scores for minorities follow the trends for all of CA (and probably the US in general), and there's no easy answer (although see #1 above for a way you can personally help).
3) The tone of the We Can Do Better group is very unhealthy and disrespectful, and I feel this group is doing a lot more harm than good. I feel this group has taken on all of the PA board and teachers as adversaries and has been hijacking the agenda for too long.


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 18, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Thanks for all of the comments. I can respond briefly and provide some context for understanding the point of these comparisons, and then comment at greater length later if useful.
We decided to gather this data in response to this claim by Radu Toma, the math IS at Paly, in the San Jose Mercury News:
Toma said that while students elsewhere may pass Algebra II, 45 percent of CSU and UC students must take remedial math. That doesn't happen with Palo Alto graduates, he said. "When our kids finish with Algebra II, we are not pretending they completed Algebra II." Teachers, he said, are doing everything possible to support students in achieving their personal best in math. (see Web Link). Mr. Toma offered this opinion as evidence for the opposition by the Paly math department to making Algebra II a graduation requirement, because some substantial number of students just can't learn Algebra II (and unfortunately, those students are disproportionately poor and minority students).
If Mr. Toma's claim is correct, then those Palo Alto students who actually taking Algebra II should be scoring well on the Algebra II CST test, which is the standards-based test administered statewide after completion of Algebra II (Kevin Skelly, the PAUSD superintendent, suggested the CST test as the appropriate measure of teaching and learning in courses). They should do particularly well when compared to students from other math departments who are only "pretending" to teach Algebra II.
Unfortunately, that's not what the data shows. Instead, in PAUSD:
7% of black students rated proficient or above, which is 147th among
districts in California (highest is 75%)
38% of Hispanic students rated proficient or above, which is 58th
among districts in California (highest is 87%)
33% of socioeconomically disadvantaged students rated proficient or
above, which is 114th among districts in California (highest is 86%)
65% of white students rated proficient or above, which is 11th among
districts in California (highest is 79%)
It's clear based on this data that our math teaching is achieving
results far below what is demonstrably possible in other districts in
California, including both affluent and non-affluent districts. This
is particularly true for poor and minority students -- at least for
Algebra II, we have top-flight results for white kids, one of the
worst districts for math teaching in the state for black and poor
students, and truly mediocre results for Hispanic kids. There's a lot
of room for improvement in teaching here. That's why we called on the school board to provide professional development to math teachers to enable them to teach Algebra II to a more diverse set of students.
On a couple of other points: these results are from the entire population of CST results, rather than a sample, so statistical significance is irrelevant -- we know the actual number precisely. It's true that if more students had scored higher on the CST tests that PAUSD's rank on these lists would be higher -- that would have been a great outcome, but it didn't actually happen.
In terms of tone -- we're providing real data that's needed to have an honest conversation about what's working, what's not, and where we should go from here. No one sees teachers or the board as adversaries. I'm sure that the math teachers, including Mr. Toma, welcome an open discussion of the points that they've raised in their letter and in the media, otherwise they wouldn't have made them in the first place. If there are disagreements, I'm sure they are about means rather than goals.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm

> 7% of black students rated proficient or above,

Based on a sample-size of 19, this is one student.

The language of "millions" should not be used when we are talking about "ones and twos".


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Unfortunately this story did not report the full context for the discussion. The full context is that the Paly Math Department IS, Radu Toma, was interviewed by the Mercury News and reiterated his view that certain kids cannot be successful in Algebra 2, and that it would be folly to place all students on an A-G pathway to college. In response to the reporter's question about why other districts seem to be able to get this same population of minority and disadvantaged kids to pass Algebra 2, Toma stated that other districts with better results are merely "pretending" to teach Algebra 2, unlike at Paly where he "really" teaches it. According to Toma, "When our kids finish with Algebra II, we are not pretending they completed Algebra II."

Read the story here:
Web Link

If that was true, then it would be reflected in the STAR (CST) scores of students who have completed Algebra 2. If Toma is correct, then Palo Alto students would be expected to be more likely to be be "proficient" or above on the STAR test that is taken at the end of Alg2. As Toma himself stated in the Merc, standards are not the same as achievement.

These data analyze achievement. And what they show is the opposite of what Toma asserts. Far from showing that other districts are merely "pretending" to teach while Paly is "really" teaching, they show the opposite. Black students in 147 other CA districts are far more likely to score proficient or above after taking Algebra 2 than those in PAUSD. In Palo Alto, our students are scoring worse than those who took "pretend" Algebra 2. That's some mighty fine pretending.

It seems like some posters are concerned because numbers of black students taking the CST for Alg 2 are small. While it is true that a change of a few students could make some difference, that does not diminish the significance of the fact that only 1/15 black students who took Alg2 in PAUSD in 2011 scored as proficient or above on the CST test, nor does it diminish the importance of the fact that 147 school districts in CA have far better results with their black students then we do in developing Alg 2 proficiency.

As to the numbers, 15 black students took the Alg2 CST in 2011. Only 1 of those students passed it. In order to be in the upper quintile (33 school districts) for black achievement on the Alg 2 CST, we would need not a small change but a rather large one. The cut-off to break into the upper quintile is 34% (we are currently at 7%). To meet the cut off of 34% we would need to have 5 additional students testing proficient or above (6/15). To be in the upper half of school districts in the state, we would need to have 20% of our black students, or 3 black students, pass this test. That would mean 2 additional students. A change of one additional student (doubling our success rate), would move us to 13%, which would still leave us at number 112, with 111 schools doing a better job.

Of course, even if we improved by 500%, we would still only be getting around a third of our black students to proficient, which would still leave us with a massive achievement gap when compared with white students, two thirds of whom are proficient or better on the same test. So even if we somehow were able to vault ourselves into the top quintile, we would still be horrible. We would just be less horrible relative to other California school districts.

Ultimately it does not make sense to quibble with the numbers by asking "how bad are we really" ? The answer will not be flattering. PAUSD does a bottom-scraping poor job teaching poor and minority students. This poor performance is not, unfortunately, limited to Algebra 2. The Algebra 1 numbers are bad, as are those for geometry, and other subjects.

The point of this exercise is twofold: first, they make it clear that we have a dual system. We have a top-flight school system for whites and asians and a terrible school system for black and poor kids. That's unacceptable. Second, the Paly Math IS is just wrong when he says that other schools where Black and poor kids pass Algebra 2 are achieving their high pass rates by faking it.

More to the point, when will the Paly math department stop pointing the finger at everyone else ("slackers", VTP kids, minority parents, other teachers all over the state and their students) and look inward at their own teaching methods and success/failure rates? Often teachers in PAUSD high schools seem to use their failure rates not as a sign of poor teaching but as a sign of rigor, which is a misreading of signals that has led to epidemic levels of student stress as well as poor minority student outcomes.

The math teachers at Paly and Gunn do not seem to take these scores as any reflection on their teaching. If 7% of my students passed the final, I would be home crying and banging my head on the table asking where I went wrong. I would probably consider a career change, or head down to the Carnegie Center on Teaching Excellence to sign up for some professional development. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

PAUSD loves to congratulate itself. I have never seen a group of people who love singing their own praises as much as this school board. Never have so few praised themselves so heartily for so little. The last year that I have spent sitting in those board meetings listening to those people throwing party after party for themselves has been just mind-blowing.

What these numbers say to me is that we have a lot of room for improvement. There are dozens of districts, such as South Pasadena, that really seem to have cracked the code on how to obtain excellent results from minority students while maintaining high standards and achievement for all students. These numbers dispell the myth that black and brown and poor kids cannot learn higher level mathematics since there are 147 districts in CA alone where they are doing a better job of it than we are, despite the fact that most of them have a lot less money than we do We have a lot to learn from these districts and as Kevin Skelly says, we need to get after that.


Posted by PAUSD Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Parents who are concerned about your child's math achievement...Explore Kahn Academy. It saved my daughter. 20 minutes per day made a word of difference. It is free. It is easily available online. Try it!

It is also a great resource if your child is struggling with a concept on their homework. The site provides GREAT instruction and practise.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I think the problem with math teachers is that they have to teach a large class of kids at different levels even in high school. Even in the lower lanes there are kids of different ability levels and a teacher must move ahead even if all the class don't get it. It is not always feasible for that teacher to give the slower students any more time without holding the class up completely and perhaps even not covering all the curriculum on time. It is also realistic to understand that some of these students cannot stay after school for extra help or even come in for lunchtime help as they may need help for several subjects in that time frame.

For some of these students it might be better to get them to spend at least half of every period with a resource teacher, aide, or parent volunteer. There is little point in a struggling student sitting listening to material moving ahead when they haven't grasped the last material.

We need to address these slower students at the time they are in school without causing them more problems or causing the class as a whole to move slowly.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 2:28 pm

> While it is true that a change of a few students could make some
> difference, that does not diminish the significance of the fact that
> only 1/15 black students who took Alg2 in PAUSD in 2011 scored as
> proficient or above on the CST test, nor does it diminish the
> importance of the fact that 147 school districts in CA have
> far better results with their black students then we do in
> developing Alg 2 proficiency

Not only are the sample sizes too small to be attacking the Math Department as is being done here, this data set is only for one year. Given that STAR data is available back to about 1998, it would seem only reasonable to look at the data back several years, as one poster has done for us.

Additionally, this poster provided data for the whole state, not just the districts which happened to score better this past year. Looking at one year's data and trying to claim anything from arrogance on the part of the math department to possibly institutional racism is not helpful at best, and irresponsible, at worst.

> 147 better districts posted better scores ..

So what??? There are about 1100 school districts in California .. which means that the PAUSD scored better than 950 other districts. The implication that unless the PAUSD is #1, something is amiss is not rational.

And keep in mind, that the "proficient" is a rather arbitrary notion, the numerical value of which changes yearly.

> What these numbers say to me is that we have a lot of room
> for improvement.

Without the raw scores for each of the students, there is no way to make such a statement. If "proficient" for this year happened to be a raw score of "X", how far below "X" are the black students testing less than "proficient"? This information is just not readily available from the State. Perhaps the PAUSD could make this data available, however.

If all the students were testing "proficient", it's hard to believe that those attacking the PAUSD's math department would not be doing the same claiming that all of the students are not testing in the "advanced" zone.


> To be in the upper half of school districts in the state

At #162 (out of about 1100 districts), the PAUSD is in the top 50% of the State.

> would still leave us with a massive achievement gap when
> compared with white students

Based on a sample size of 19 .. Right.

---
What is sad about this situation, though, is that it's doubtful very many of those on the school board could wade through these numbers, and make any sense out of what is going on inside the schools here in Palo Alto.


Posted by 2 plus 2, a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Educational research indicates that going smaller rather than from large to ultra-large would improve the achievement gap. Going ultra-large, as we are currently spending our infrastructure/Measure A money on in a big way, promises to at least present more systemic challenges to and probably negatively affect a lot of the areas we want to improve (the achievement gap, connectedness, opportunity, math scores, etc).

Despite our discussions about Cubberly, there are no plans, If we want to lessen the systemic challenges to narrowing the achievement gap, we would do better to spend the money on improving (rather than so much on enlarging) the existing schools and spend the savings (from not going ultra-large) on reopening Cubberly,


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm

@ Bill

I don't have time to try to explain everything to you so I will just focus on one of your concerns. The rank ordered data is for every single district in CA that reported any scores for black students on Algebra 2 CST scores. So we did not, as you assert, score "better than 950 other districts." We scored at the very bottom of the entire universe of districts reporting any scores on Alg2 for black students. We are most assuredly not in the top 50% of districts.

Again, it is not helpful to argue about the data. The data shows what it shows. What we need to do is figure out how to dig ourselves out of this deep hole.


Posted by Trentz, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm


Dauber wrote:

"Again, it is not helpful to argue about the data. The data shows what it shows."

As a number of comments point out, please give us a little more statistical power to work with to make our conclusions. And stop trying to editorialize.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 3:16 pm

> Again, it is not helpful to argue about the data

We are arguing about the lack of data, poor analysis, and the possibly the lack of honesty on the part of those pushing some sort of agenda at us. One year's data doesn't prove anything anymore than a child's having a 102 temperature during the few days he/she has the flu.

By the way, if one looks at the API scores for California for 2010-11, more than half of the State's students are ranked less than "proficient". The overall picture of education in California is pretty bleak, based on the API results. Attacking the PAUSD because of the inability of a handful of minority and "poor" students to test "proficient" on one given test is absurd.


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 18, 2012 at 4:16 pm

@Bill
Thanks for your interest in this data, although I do think if you're going to be making unsupported charges of dishonesty you shouldn't hide behind anonymity to do it.
In terms of your substantive points:
1. This isn't a sample, so there's no issues with sample size or representativeness in terms of reasoning to a population value. Am I missing something about your argument here?
2. It's true that this is a single year's worth of data, and it would be useful to get a longer view. We'll be releasing more data as I have time to process it. However, the achievement gap in Palo Alto is a long-standing problem, universally acknowledged, so it's unlikely that this is somehow a wild anomaly. I have looked at the data for CST results for other subjects for 2011, and there are similar results. I'll post those shortly.
3. The districts listed in each of the spreadsheets includes all those districts for which Algebra II CST results are available for the relevant subgroup. CST results aren't published if the cell size is less than 10, to protect student privacy. Some of the "missing" districts fall into that category, although most are elementary districts that aren't relevant to this comparison.
4. The data shows "room for improvement" in that it demonstrates that other districts are able to get better achievement results with similar populations of students, so the argument that we've hit some kind of ceiling on achievement in Palo Alto is contradicted by the evidence. Needless to say, it also suggests that the claim that other districts are just "pretending" to teach Algebra II while we're teaching the real deal is suspect, since in many cases they're getting better results than we are.
I don't think that pointing out that other districts get better results than we do, and that our teachers and students would benefit from learning how they do that, constitutes an "attack" -- any more than I'm "attacking" you by pointing out that this isn't a sample, it's a population.


Posted by Carlos, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 18, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Let's get real. Let's stop blaming the 'system' for our own shortcomings.

As an immigrant of 'color' myself, I find our school district and available resources to be good (despite the budget limitations), and I think it's a color-blind system that will reward those who work hard and/or smart.

As in anything else in life, some kids will be show natural aptitude for certain subjects and will do perform better than their peers. If your kid isn't one of these naturally gifted kids and/or isn't working hard enough to keep up, then having the parents scream and point their finger at the 'system' won't help them at all. The vast majority of parents with kids in the school district feel good about it, despite what a small/loud/angry/vocal minority might want us to believe.


Posted by What do your links mean, Ken?, a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Michelle/Ken,

I've never met Mr. Toma, but it seems to me the CST test results for Algebra 2 support the claim that our students do better than statewide average.

Using the alg 2 pass rates from your google docs:

Hispanic students in PA ranked in 67th place out of 367 school districts statewide.

Socioeconomically disadvantaged students in PA ranked in 115th place out of 383 districts statewide.

White students in PA ranked in 11th place out 365 students statewide.

The obvious bad statistic is that black students ranked in 148th place out of 165 districts, but as I and others have pointed out, this is a very small data point (15 students) and PA's black students scored higher than statewide average if you look at the last four years overall.

And the most telling statistic...PA's students as a whole (ignoring all breakdowns by race/socioeconomic/etc) are proficient or better at Alg 2 70% of the time compared to 33% statewide. I got this data from the star.cde.ca.gov website, which I believe is the same place you must have used.

It seems to me that pretty much no matter how you slice it by race/socioeconomic status, our Alg 2 students are passing at a higher rate than the state average.

You have said not to quibble with the data, but you brought up the data and in this case, at least, I think the data doesn't support your claims.

Having said that, I think we all agree that there's a lot of room for improvement among all individual kids. It is very hard to be successful in life without a decent understanding of math.

I'm undecided if it ultimately helps kids by making Alg 2 requirements easier so that more can be eligible for 4 year colleges. What I am certain about (and what I feel is a better use of my time) is that volunteering to provide tutoring or extra services to actually teach struggling (or minority or gifted) kids will help both their understanding of math and their ability to get into colleges.


Posted by Steve, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2012 at 4:47 pm

This may be an intractable problem for a community like PA.

We have a substantial population of our children living in families in which parents and grandparents have advanced degrees and who work or have worked in academic/research environments. Those kids have an academic advantage due to their home environment over kids who come from more "normal" affluent environments, in which bachelor degrees predominate (e.g., Sunnyvale, Cupertino). You are asking a lot from a teacher who has 20 kids in his class that come from these "normal" professional homes (who will succeed or fail based almost entirely on their effort), 10 more that come from families of Ph.Ds (for whom it comes so easy they're bored) and 3 kids who come from economically disadvantaged homes in which education is a priority, but a priority that comes after putting food on the table and keeping a roof over one's head (it is an important goal, not an expectation). I don't doubt a lot of the "underachievement" stems from those 3 kids just feeling under-served by their teacher, their parents, the district, and the other kids. Despite what the Constitution says, all people are not created equal and unless we set up a tracked system (which introduces the whole labeling problem), you just can't teach the same lesson in the same way to all the kids in the PAUSD and expect to get the same results.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2012 at 4:57 pm

These discussions are not going to be productive unless they include the impact on this district of students who are tutored, who take the course ahead of time in order to ace it without being taught the material in a Palo Alto classroom, who as the result make the teachers believe they are doing a great job, and jack up the curriculum in order to engage these students, who in fact are learning the material elsewhere. If these minority students are not doing the above, then of course they are failing in a system like this. When we complained of a math teacher in middle school who could not make himself understood in English, we were told he has a PhD, as if that magically conferred upon him the ability to communicate the material. Teachers who have grown accustomed to the over prepared students, who make them look good, do not want to hear this. But the district will not solve this disparity problem unless it confronts this truth. BTW, until it is resolved, which it may never be, if you want your child to succeed, get him or her a tutor.


Posted by Cindy, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 18, 2012 at 5:25 pm

If people want to do something for the community, go to the schools and volunteer to help tutor struggling students for free, especially in math. Do it, not because you want to get something out of it for yourself or your child, but to help someone else succeed. Not all solutions come from the school - some come from the community itself. The principal at Paly will welcome you with open arms if you show up and volunteer to tutor.


Posted by Others with a-g aren't doing better, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 5:39 pm

If you think setting a-g as the graduation requirement will magically change things for minority students here in Palo Alto, take a look at the success (or rather lack of it) that San Jose Unified has had with defaulting to a-g in order to graduate which it did a decade ago.

SJU fared much worse when you compare its a-g completion rates to PAUSD's:

2007-08 - 23% (SJ) vs. 46% (PAUSD)
2008-09 - 30% (SJ) vs. 100% (PAUSD)
2009-10 - 23% (SJ) vs. 100% (PAUSD)

Web Link

The San Jose Mercury reported that in San Jose Unified "only 42 percent of seniors -- compared with Palo Alto's 80 percent -- last year completed them with a C or better, as UC requires."

Last year 86% of SJU's African American students graduated from high school compared to PAUSD's 96.9%.

Two years ago only 17 of SJU's 150 10th and 11th grade African American students took Algebra 2 and scored proficient or better (11% of the African American population in those grades). Last year SJU had only 9 out of 145 (6%)take and do well in that course. (STAR data had too few to record for 9th grade and does not report out for 12th)




Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 18, 2012 at 6:12 pm

@Others -

We didn't actually have a 100% a-g rate. The data online is erroneous. Diana Wilmot said she was going to correct it but I guess she has not gotten around to it yet. The actual percentages for minority students were extremely low.


Posted by RussianMom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 18, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Loudest not necesseraly the majority. Stop equalizing all students. Yes, we have a lot of PhD kids, tutored kids, great in many subjects kids, gifted, hard working. And as in any other district - kids who are passing time at school. EVERY child has a chance to bloom at PA at her/his OQN level. Michele, what will close the gap? Why? Work harder, use the resources and try to have PASSION for studying. Many immigrants, many hard working families struggle to live in PA for better education. Don't spoil it with wining about 'disadvantaged' kids. Not all were born or would like to be Landau.


Posted by Silent majority parent, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 18, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Frankly, if the transfer program does not work well for 10-15 black students per year, maybe we, or East Palo Alto rather, should drop the program and find other solutions for its students, at least the black ones.

After all, no one is forcing students to transfer to the Palo Alto school district.

Let's stop distracting the board with this, and let's stop the vitriol. All this is going to achieve is undermine the whole school district and undermining the district will not help any students, of any color.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm

"1. This isn't a sample, so there's no issues with sample size or representativeness in terms of reasoning to a population value."

But it is a sample - the students of California are grouped into samples that we call school districts. When the samples are quite small (e.g., 12 black students), even if the results are randomly distributed, you'll get outlying result. If you have a bowl with a million marbles, half red, half blue, and you choose 12, it wouldn't surprise you that you choose 9 that are blue and 3 red. Same us true here - that a small group shows an extreme result doesn't mean the grouping caused the result - it is an artifact of choosing a small number.

I don't know if we do a good bad or indifferent job at education black students, but I do know that comparing result of these small groups does not tell you much of anything meaningful - except perhaps about the biases of those doing the interpretation. Maybe try looking at twenty years of data and see if the result is the same.


Posted by Others with a-g aren't doing better, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 7:49 pm

I see the district's revised numbers but uneven under those PAUSD's a-g completion stats for African American students (43%) in 07-08 and 08-09 are still much higher than San Jose Unified's which has an a-g graduation requirement, by a wide margin. Our low 2010-11's a-g rate (15%) certainly seems to be an outlier from which such sweeping conclusions should not be drawn.

Why the focus on math as the culprit when 76% percent of PAUSD students who graduated without a-g were missing an English class and over half were missing a foreign language. Even if PAUSD watered down its Algebra 2, most of those kids would not graduate with a-g.

If you think having the district go a-g will force the district to water down its Algebra 2 class so those kids can graduate, then you'd see San Jose Unified offering an easier Algebra 2 class than PAUSD (perhaps it does) AND lots of African American kids passing. Yet that is not the case. Very, very few of SJU's African American students take Algebra 2 let alone score proficient in it (6% and 11% recently) despite it being required for graduation.

A-g is not the problem and it is not the solution.


Posted by on a positive note, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm

i'm pretty sure that at least two african american students in gunn's class of 2010 who passed a-g, one enrolled at harvard. that is cause for celebration.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm

@Others

African American students in San Jose had a 22% Algebra2 CST pass rate, not 9%. Out of 49 black students who took the Alg 2 CST in 2011, 11 students were proficient or above, which is, pitifully enough, 11 times the success rate experienced by Palo Alto students.

I can assure you that if Kevin Skelly somehow got Palo Alto to San Jose's 22% black proficiency rate in Algebra 2 he would literally cry with happiness, so your condescending comments about San Jose are misplaced.

Let's try a thought experiment: what would happen if the WHITE passage rate for the CST for Algebra 2 was equivalent to the black (7%) or even the Latino (38%) passage rate rather than the current white passage rate of 65%? I am pretty sure that there would be a mob headed for 25 Churchill Street with pitchforks and torches. The board will all be tossed out in the next election, and Kevin would be out of a job. Some white and asian parents would move to Cupertino and Los Gatos, and private school applications would quadruple as families scrambled to get out of one of the crappiest districts in the state. White flight and panic would set in.

So why do you think it is wrong for black and hispanic families to want better results for their kids when you know that these passage rates would be seen as a massive failure if it was white kids who were achieving at this level?

These scores are the result of poor teaching methods -- there is no other plausible explanation for why, for example, South Pasadena has nearly double the rate of hispanic student proficiency on the Alg2 CST than we do.

I agree with the post by Observer regarding the impact of tutoring. Many parents made precisely this point at the board meeting last night. White students might well have lower passage rates without the assistance of private tutoring.






Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm

I mean 11 times the number of students who passed.


Posted by district teacher, a resident of Woodside
on Jan 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm

I often wonder how Algebra II in PA is different from Algebra II in other districts. One difference might be that teachers in other districts might be aware that they are teaching children in a public school, not young adults in Ivy League colleges. Some PA teachers expect children to have the hustle and frontal lobe development that adults have. Also, it seems that there is an implied message at the high school level that students must have a tutor to succeed. What about access to a free public education? There should be no expectation that students should have tutors.

While I found the Paly math department letter absolutely shameful and embarrassing to my profession, the silver lining may be that some real and hard conversations addressing the elitism may begin.


Posted by Michael O, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Jan 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Perhaps instead of talking about statistical significance one could show the statistics. 1 of 15 (7%) black students taking the Algebra 2 exam passed compared to 300 of 462 (65%) white students. The probability that these two groups are different due to chance (using a two-tailed Fishers Exact Test) is 0.00000624, or 0.000624%. Any statistician would say this is significant. Power calculations are probably irrelevant since the number of African American students in Palo Alto schools is and for the foreseeable future is going to be small. Just because there is little power doesn't mean the statistics are irrelevant. The question that needs to be asked about outliers is whether this particular year is an outlier. My understanding is that it is not -- every year the proportion of black students passing Algebra 2 is much lower than white students. This past year, on it's own, is not something for the Palo Alto community to be proud of: one single black student was proficient on the exam.

These are the California test results and are not necessarily related to the difficulty of the classes themselves. A high school with "easy" Algebra 2 should have more students fail the test, not more pass them; that Algebra 2 is "hard" in Palo Alto is apparently not helping black students pass the exam. I'm not sure what other people think, but it may be the teachers who need to work harder as much as the students do.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 18, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I am not sure the CST is a "best" measure of performance. My guess is that there are a number of kids who really don't care about their results (the score has zero impact on them) so they just don't try very hard.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm

@Michelle O - we have to specify what we're comparing. You compare one PAUSD sub-group (blacks) to another (whites). I am sure that results you pointed out are not solely due to chance, just as your stats showed - socio-economic strata and parent education level probably play a big role, among other things. I imagine that's why some earlier posters compare PAUSD's black sub-group results to others (San Jose, South Pasadena), to try to control for those factors. But then the significance tests are different of course.

My experience is that most stats-based arguments go wrong not on the math, but on making sure we measure and compare the right things. Especially in education (where proper controls are almost impossible to come by) it is very hard to draw conclusions powerful enough to match the emotions involved.


Posted by Math teacher - other district, a resident of Addison School
on Jan 18, 2012 at 10:09 pm

It is fascinating to me that there is so much emphasis being placed on the high school math grades --- what happened in elementary and middle school? Did these students all of a sudden begin flunking math during high school?

Why aren't we looking at the real problem? What has been and is being done for ALL students to help them in math? There is passing from grade to grade in elementary school -- what about remedial math in elementary school? What about having an actual math teacher teach elementary students or at least have the focus in elementary school be adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing?

As a middle school teacher, I am shocked at the lack of basic math skills that students possess. If we focused on quality versus quantity we'd be much better off.

Let'd get back to basics for all students and look at solving the problem at the elementary school level.


Posted by D. Bolander, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 18, 2012 at 11:42 pm

I usually enjoy a good game of "shoot the messenger" myself, but I see that I am humiliatingly outclassed by those who have already commented in criticism of people who have presented a quantitative view of performance of a publicly funded organization.

I was also hoping to advertise that I, too, had taken statistics courses by remarking on validity of extrapolating from small sample sizes. Unfortunately, Ken Dauber has already explained — several times — that the results are the population, not a sample, so I cannot even mount a decent criticism of the technique used.

Nuts.

Now I need to accept the data as presented and consider what it means.


Posted by Parent of Jordan, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 19, 2012 at 12:04 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Michael O., a resident of Terman Middle School
on Jan 19, 2012 at 12:12 am

To Me Too: We can all agree that you don't need a statistician to tell us that to have only a single black student in PAUSD pass the Algebra 2 exam -- regardless of socioeconomic background -- is appalling. They took the class, which is not required, for goodness sakes, and should have been prepared by it to pass the test. These are not kids who didn't take the class -- I wouldn't expect them to pass it!! The class and the teachers teaching it -- not the parents, not their ancestors, not their color, not their bank accounts, the music they listened to, their out-of-school activities -- was most likely the reason so few passed.


Posted by Some statistical training, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 19, 2012 at 12:20 am

Michele, I don't understand why you keep hammering on the 7% statistic. Others have pointed out that it seems to be an aberration from recent PAUSD data. It distracts hugely from your argument, because it seems to be your central piece of evidence yet it's not the right statistic for this point. You need more data than one year (and more than the four years someone pulled up as an example) to establish that PAUSD is doing much worse for its black students than other districts. (To address what D. Bolanger said, yes, the 7% *is* a sample. We're talking about the population of PAUSD (or PAHS?) students who are black and who take Algebra 2. The sample is last year's PAUSD black students who actually took the CST in Algebra 2.)

To address the second issue brought up, I have no doubt that PAUSD's black students do much worse than its white students on a statistically significant and socially/educationally significant basis, and this is an issue. Part of the problem is that most of PAUSD's minority students are at a substantial socioeducational and economic disadvantage compared to most of its white students. I suspect this is more a socioeducational issue than a racial issue -- my experience with black students in PAUSD who are from professional/academic families living in Palo Alto is that they achieve right along with the white and Asian students in the honors-lane classes.

I support including professional development for teachers to reach minority students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. On a related note, I'd be the last person to line up in support of how the Paly math department runs. But I do not support insisting that this is a racial issue without having data to support it (which requires running the appropriate statistical test on the appropriate data). We can do better, but it's a disservice to everyone to misuse statistics.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2012 at 12:22 am

@D - here's a link to Tversky and Kanheman's "BELIEF IN THE LAW OF SMALL NUMBERS" Web Link, the seminal work that led eventually to a Nobel for Kanheman. Most people, even professors, are suckers for small number statistics. Read and enjoy.

The numbers in the story are in fact based on a sample - the sample of kids who happen to live in Palo Alto and happen to belong to a certain sub-group. The sample is small (e.g., 15 black students taking the Alg II test in Palo Alto last year), hence the chance of an outlier is high.

If we had a population of 3, we might get 33% passing one year, 100% the next. One's a disaster, the other we throw a party! Each result is "accurate" (after all, it's a census not a sample right?) but neither tells you much when comparing to other populations (e.g., the previous year, the next town over, the national average). If you think of it as a small sample (just the 3 kids) of an overall population (e.g. all the kids in California that year, or all the kids in town over 20 years), it seems obvious why the variation might be high - we've just plucked a few sample points from what in a fact is a large pool.

All this says is that we shouldn't base much on "alarming statistics" without looking more closely and thoughtfully. Lies, damn lies, and statistics - truer words were never spoken!


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2012 at 12:35 am

@Michael - sorry I referred to you as Michelle O. above (must of been thinking of the First Lady). I'm not sure what the numbers tell us. With a population of 15, it makes sense to go through them one at a time and understand each case, as well as the context around them. Without a fuller picture, I don't think any of us can responsibly judge what is going on. You may feel that is a cop-out, but after a lifetime of working with numbers, I know how often I've been fooled (and foolish) in jumping to conclusions without a full set of facts.


Posted by Fed-up parent, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2012 at 1:23 am

Michael O says: "The class and the teachers teaching it -- not the parents, not their ancestors, not their color, not their bank accounts, the music they listened to, their out-of-school activities -- was most likely the reason so few passed."

Absolutely. Blame the class and the teachers, it has nothing to do with the student's culture, socio economic conditions, values, inner drive, and maturity. Neither do the parent's persistence, guidance, support, and encouragement play any part in all this.

Ken & Michele: instead of pouring so much time and energy into criticizing the district, how about show them how to do it? Get yourself a typical class with kids of varying abilities, background, and support level, and teach them. If you indeed "can do better" then I'm sure all the kids you claim have been "neglected" by the system will flock to your school. And each camp can have something they're happy with.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 19, 2012 at 1:26 am

The only students who appreciate Mr. Toma (Paly's Math Dept. Instructional Supervisor) are the super-elite math students because those are his favorites. He considers everyone else slackers. Toma is rude and uncaring and comes from a culture different than American culture. He is ruining the lives of students both at Paly and Jordan by his demanding math curriculum. Out of all their classes, my children work on math for the most time. Jordan and Paly are trying to cram too much into their heads. I cannot even help them with the math because it's too difficult. My child went to see Toma for help and he made him feel stupid. When a student cannot even ask his teacher for help without backlash, there's a big problem and it's name is Tenure.

Our family can afford tutors, but a warning to the elementary school parents who move here for the schools, get ready to shell out $50-$100/hour for a math tutor. Times that by three because you'll need tutors for science and world language too. And if you have more than one child, it's even more expensive!


Posted by Come on, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2012 at 6:58 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2012 at 8:53 am

@some training and me too.

I agree that more years of data would be informative. I also think that trajectory information over some time period would be useful.

Please recall that the purpose of doing these time consuming data analyses was to call into question Mr. Toma's assertion that everyone else is merely "pretending" to teach Algebra2 while at Paly he "really" teaches it. If that was true, you would expect that the population of PAUSD black students who took Algebra 2 in 2011 and took the CST to rank at the top of the CST not at the bottom. I take some of these comments to indicate your belief that it is impossible to prove or disprove Toma either way because the numbers of black students in any one year taking the Alg 2 CST not only in Palo Alto but nearly everywhere else are so small that the results are likely to be more or less randomly distributed. Therefore, in your view, even looking at the Algebra 2 CST data for any school with small numbers of black students taking the test is worthless. I take it you would exclude from this analysis any school with fewer than [some number of black students in any one year] taking the Alg 2 CST in order to, in your view, rule out the effects of random variation.

On this point, I note that twice as many Hispanic students took the Algebra2 CST as black students in 2011 (30 rather than 15), so perhaps you will find these numbers more persuasive. 38 percent of PAUSD hispanic students taking the test were proficient or above, which is around half the proportion of white and asian students. Over 57 districts did a better job than PAUSD teaching Algebra 2 to Hispanic students. Some of those doing better than PAUSD include Oakdale (69%, n=32), Turlock (56% n=141), South Pasadena (63%, n=27). Some of the districts doing better are very similar to us, some are quite poor rural areas. So again, lots of room to improve. At a minimum, the Paly math department should stop bragging about how it is doing a better job than all those fake pretend teachers.

We are reporting on the district's CST scores relative to other districts for 2011. You may of course make of these rankings what you will. I interpret them to show that the Paly math department is incorrect that everyone else is faking their Alg2 teaching. I also interpret them to mean that there is room for PAUSD to improve its teaching of minority students, and that there are other schools that are doing a better job than we are with this population, not by accident, but because they have made a concerted effort to improve their teaching.

I also note that which black students attend PAUSD, like charter, magnet, and STEM schools, is nonrandom. VTP students have to apply and this means that in general come from more motivated and ambitious families who are more focused on education. Thus, we would expect them to outperform otherwise similar black students. This fact is highlighted by Stanford sociology PhD student Kendra Bischoff, who reported on the VTP program and found that there were only very small differences in standardized test scores such as the CST between those students accepted into VTP and those who applied but were not accepted, but large differences between those who applied and those who did not apply. There are unobserved variations between those who apply to VTP and those who do not that lead to these results. The same is likely true of minority group members who live in Palo Alto versus those who live in San Jose. We might expect to find that those black and hispanic parents who move to Palo Alto are more motivated, more ambitious, and more invested in education than otherwise similarly situated group members. All of this argues in favor of stronger PAUSD scores for minority students relative to other districts, not weaker scores. Yet we find that PAUSD's minority students perform relatively badly on the CST despite these unobserved differences among students and despite our math teachers' claims to be better than other teachers.

This is not a random sample of CA black students. This is the entire population of black students in Palo Alto who took Algebra 2 in 2011 and then were tested on what they learned in that class.

While it is only one year of data I think it is still informative, though more data would indeed be better. Perhaps "some training" and "Me Too" will download the data for prior years and volunteer their time to analyzing it and making the results freely and publicly available.


Posted by Palo Alto Graduate, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2012 at 9:08 am

I graduated from Paly several years ago. I respect and admire the math teachers I had at Paly including Mr. Toma. He is tough but dedicated. He expect you to work hard and I think that's the problem. Most of the students here have not learned to work hard and take school seriously. A lot of them told me that their parents don't care and why should I? From a student's point of view, I've seen so many remedial programs in PAUSD already starting in elementary school to help these students. I think parents need to take responsibility and help their kids. Have them stay home on school nights to do homework vs hanging out with their friends. I believe change has to start at home. Please stop blaming the school, the teachers, and the community. Look within and help your kids.


Posted by BH, a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2012 at 9:12 am

If everyone Else is "Pretending" to teach Algebra 2 and get better results than Palo Alto school. Then PA math teachers and Mr Toma should pretend to teach algebra 2 like the other schools to improve these students performance in Math without requiring a tutor.


Posted by different, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 19, 2012 at 9:20 am

They are comparing apple with orange.Since pausd has majority of its students at or above proficient level, the teacher has a much great challenge in teaching high and low at the same time.With other school districts,there is no such problem.When we look at data,we need to put a particular school's general environment into consideration.


Posted by Cindy, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2012 at 9:21 am

I agree with "Math Teacher". Let's also look and start at elementary school. The problem doesn't just show up in high school. This goes for reading and writing as well as Math. A friend of mine is tutoring kids in high school (for free) and said she is shocked that they cannot read and write. What is being done at all levels before getting to high school?


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 19, 2012 at 9:32 am

Thanks for your interest in this data. In order to get a broader picture of math achievement, I've also pulled together the 2011 CST data for Algebra I and Geometry for PAUSD. There is a consolidated spreadsheet with links at: Web Link
You'll note that the picture for black students is essentially the same for Geometry and Algebra I as for Algebra II (which should go some distance towards dispelling the idea that the Algebra II data is somehow anomalous). For Hispanic students, Geometry is a bright spot, although Algebra I and Algebra II are not good. White and Asian student achievement is consistently in the top 15 districts. I have yet to do socioeconomically disadvantaged except for Algebra II, but will post that when available, along with 2010, which I'm also working on.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 19, 2012 at 9:42 am

@Palo Alto Graduate: [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] But some teachers are teaching college level material with college-level workloads. The students are not mature adults yet. This is not college yet. My husband has all the bells & whistles graduate degrees and he even thinks the workload is too much. The middle school upper math lane takes a minimum of two hours per night (not just my child). Why does this school district think math is the end all?


Posted by different, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 19, 2012 at 9:57 am

Math hard?It is an economic growth engine.


Posted by Jordan Parent, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 19, 2012 at 10:09 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I do think the teachers are having a bigger challenge teaching a wide range of students at current budget.
@Paly Parent,
@Palo Alto Graduate: I cannot believe your posting. But some teachers are teaching college level material with college-level workloads. The students are not mature adults yet. This is not college yet. My husband has all the bells & whistles graduate degrees and he even thinks the workload is too much. The middle school upper math lane takes a minimum of two hours per night (not just my child). Why does this school district think math is the end all?


Posted by Thanks for the data Ken, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 19, 2012 at 10:12 am

Thanks for pulling together the data Ken. This is great.

Can you change the column showing "Rank among CA districts" to a column showing PERCENTILE rank among CA districts (e.g. 6th percentile (165 out of 175 districts)).

On another note, @Michelle, you've made some good points about why we should expect PA's black students to do even better than black students in general, and the fact that they're doing worse is troubling. If we truly want to see how well our schools are teaching to VTP students, the best way would be to compare PA's VTP student test results against our neighboring school district's VTP results. Since we'd be pulling from exactly the same pool, this would get rid of almost all other factors except the affect of our schools and teachers. I, for one, would love to see this data to see how good a job PA is doing in this area.


Posted by D. Bolander, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 19, 2012 at 10:37 am

We can quibble over nomenclature, but the numbers in the tables refer to everyone in the group.

We can quibble over whether this applies to the school district, but that is the legal mandate.

We might have a nice discussion about whether aggressively teaching math is a good idea.

We can avoid the question posed by these numbers in all manners of ways.

Wouldn't it be more honest to just say, "we don't care" or "it's too hard"?


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2012 at 10:55 am

@"thanks"

Thank you for recognizing the amount of work that this took Ken to do. Because he makes it look so easy it is easy to overlook just how much work it is to do this. I am not sure if the district even has the capacity to produce these rankings given the amount of engineering it took to do it. I think that his willingness to donate his time in order to refute the damaging claims of the Paly Math IS that all children (barring a cognitive or other relevant disability) can learn Algebra 2, is really commendable.

On the subject of special education I do want to make the point, and will be making it at subsequent board meetings, that from my perspective the issue of special education is a red herring. It is true that a small number of students have cognitive disabilities that would prevent them from completing higher level math. But those students would have an IEP that would be tailored to their abilities and would be exempt from any graduation requirement that they complete a course of instruction they were not capable of completing. They would still graduate and their diplomas could not legally be stigmatized or otherwise indicate that they were not "real." Everyone at the district office, including Kevin Skelly, already knows this. I suspect that is why Kevin seemed so surprised by the objection of special ed parents last May when he proposed raising grad requirements.

The real danger is not that too few IEPs and accompanying waivers will be given out. It is that too many IEPs and waivers will be handed out -- that children arriving from EPA will merely be saddled with a diagnosis and waiver upon stepping off the bus. If the graduation requirement were raised, the real danger of unintended consequences would be that our disproportionality would increase to even higher levels.

We need to ensure that those kids who are in special education and who are waived from any Algebra 2 requrement are really incapable due to a disability rather than merely suffering from the "learning disability" of "being black in Palo Alto." Half of black males in Palo Alto have IEPs. That is ridiculous -- so much so that the State of California has sanctioned PAUSD for it. The same lazy teachers who do not want to teach Algebra 2 to students that they think are not up to snuff will be likely to recommend IEPs for those same students so that they can slap them with waivers and keep them out of Algebra 2 even if it is required. We will have to be very vigilant against over-diagnoses and excessive waivers, not the reverse. Stanford Education Law Clinic, start your engines.

We also need to ensure that the type of learning disability really means that the kid cannot do the work. Kids with ADD are often exceptionally intelligent, and can do Algebra 2. Kids with physical disabilities can do Algebra 2. Kids of normal intelligence with depression and other mental illnesses can do Algebra 2 so long as they have sufficient social-emotional support and their teacher is not operating under the delusion that he is a "mathematician " teaching at the elite Palo Alto College rather than a math teacher at Palo Alto High School. Although it might sound good to say that we are all just worried about the "special ed kids" we should not allow teachers to use disabled children as a scrim to hide behind and excuse lousy teaching.

I was also wondering how PAUSDs VTP students do relative to others. If I get around to it I was planning to email Kendra and ask her whether that data exists. I had the impression that it did not from this story: Web Link. It may not be possible to break it out as it appears that the vast majority of Tinsley kids come to PAUSD, and we are the only K-12 participating district.

Finally, from my perspective this is all important for a couple of reasons -- first, because it is fundamentally unfair and inequitable to have a top-flight district for whites and asians and a seriously lousy one for black, brown, and poor kids. This is simple justice.

Second, I think that the deep underlying problem in the PAUSD approach to math -- and perhaps some other subjects -- is really highlighted by the Paly math letter. The district is excessively focused on reputation at the expense of student social emotional health and educational outcomes, and this is true up and down the curriculum and with respect to all students. Students in PAUSD high schools (and increasingly in our middle schools too) suffer from extreme academic stress trying to live up to the demands of reputation.

Misplaced notions of "rigor" dominate a commitment to synthetic learning. The pace of instruction does not match the ability of many students, who are forced to get tutors if their parents can afford it. As a result, parents have been dragged into a tutoring arms race, which has extended the school day for students, has propped up failing teachers with private instruction, and has eroded students' sense of self-confidence and competence. The district has an unrealistic impression of the success of its instruction because tutoring is invisible. All of these problems are related, and all have similar cures: we need to get at what is going on in these classrooms and ensure that our teachers are using up to date instructional practices that have been proven to work to enable all kids to be and feel successful.

There is nothing more stressful than failure.




Posted by elite tutoring the issue, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 19, 2012 at 11:21 am

With so many in the HS population here who are high socio-economic level with "Tiger Parents" and therefore, elite tutoring the norm, this raises the bar as to what we think of as "normal" and real normal-progressing students are excoriated as "low achieving." It is ridiculous and inaccurate. I've known a bunch of Tiger Cubs who would have fallen flat on their faces (especially in high level Math) without the extreme Tiger Parenting.


Posted by Engineer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 19, 2012 at 11:54 am

Thanks for posting this data. It makes it much easier to assess what is really going on to have some hard information. To me, the question this answers is not whether minority achievement is low in Palo Alto schools. We already know that. The question is whether it could be better. I gather from reading the Mercury News article that Mr. Toma at the Paly math department thinks that his teachers are already doing the best they can. In fact, everyone else is teaching fake Algebra 2 classes.
If I went to my boss and told him that I had achieved maximum performance for a system, and he showed me that there were a hundred competitors who had done better, I would apologize, go back to my desk and figure out what they know that I don't. I certainly wouldn't tell him that all of their performance data is faked, or that performance doesn't really matter, or that we need a new measure that I could do better on.
Come on, this isn't that difficult. Here's a list of 10 districts I copied out of one of these spreadsheets that are doing at least 6 times better than we are in teaching Algebra II to black students: Hawthorne, Walnut Valley Unified, Clovis Unified, Los Alamitos, Merced Unified, Tustin Unified, Capistrano Unified, Glendale Unified, Manhattan Beach Unified, Dublin Unified. How about having Mr. Toma give them a call to find out what they are doing differently? Isn't that what we're paying for?


Posted by Trish Davis, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Thank you Ken and Michele for crunching the numbers and for your efforts on behalf of PAUSD students. You take a lot of flak from anonymous posters for providing a voice to many parents and students in Palo Alto who have been suffering in silence for years and wondering what is wrong with them and/or their children because they are struggling in PAUSD. Elite tutoring and Engineer also make excellent points.

Whatever PAUSD has been doing in the past is demonstrably ineffective when it comes to teaching black and Hispanic children in the district and there is obviously room for improvement. Moreover, using best practices in teaching will benefit ALL of the children in the district and encourage those who have given up on even taken math classes within the district. More PAUSD kids can get their math credits at Paly instead of going to SIL, St. Francis, or Foothill for math classes.


Posted by Old Palo Alto, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm

My son falls into the category of academic prodigy. He is at least 2 grade levels above his teaching in PAUSD and will probably finish calculus before middle school. Why? He and I "work" (it's really play!) on it together every night for about 30 minutes. He likes math because he likes the time he spends with me, and I love it. We also work on Music, Statistics, Literature, Organic Chemistry and many other subjects including sports! Essentially we explore anything he's interested in.

The issue is deeper than a bad teacher. I had plenty of bad teachers along the way. I got A's in their classes too. School and standardized test scores came very easily to me. Why? I was genuinely interested in the subjects. I still remember most of what I covered, even material as far back as elementary school.

Maybe we should ask the students who are failing, and passing, 3 questions: 1. What do they do at home?, 2. Do they feel it is important to pass these classes?, 3. Who are their role models and why? I bet we'd be surprised by their answers. And, it would reveal a lot about their successes and problems.


Posted by Rob, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm

How about asking how many kids are getting tutoring? if most kids are getting tutored, then the teachers need to adjust their methods.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm

"will probably finish calculus before middle school."

My guess is that your 5th grader who is now finishing calculus will provide great evidence for the Paly math department's success in teaching calculus to him in the 12 grade. Folks, can anyone doubt that we have a tutoring problem in Palo Alto?


Posted by different, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm

What is wrong with tutoring,what is wrong with wanting to learn more,what is wrong with private schools?


Posted by Cindy, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm

The goal of every child succeeding is where we should keep our focus.

Let's look at a student who is a gifted artist. He/she wants to go
to art school rather than a 4 year college. He also has great
difficulty with math and science. If we assume he is just not
able to make it through algebra II or enough science classes, what is
the consequence? Will a high school diploma with a waiver disadvantage
them in the application process to art schools? It could very easily
have this effect. Did A-G make this student more or less successful? If they had muscled their way to a C, would it have made a major difference in their future life? Would this increase the pressure on this student at a district that already has problems with over-pressured children?

Let's say we have a student who has mild auditory processing difficulties. They are functional in all their normal classes, but the immersion style of language education is a disaster for them. Under current rules, that student could go to an outside organization to find a form of teaching language that fit their learning style, pass the language requirements for A-G and attend UC schools. Under Palo Alto standard graduation rules, all mandatory classes must be taught in district or by middle college. So the student would now be stuck with having to go through the immersion classes and fails. Did A-G make this student more or less successful? Should they be able to graduate with a waiver or without one? Did we violate their rights to a "free and appropriate public education"?

Furthermore, A-G requirements are for California state school system. The requirements are not all the same for other universities. So why require A-G? Make sure students who want to go to California state school understand what the A-G requirements are, but don't require students who want to finish high school and do something else take all the A-G requirements just to get their high school diploma.

There is a problem, but forcing every student to take A-G requirements to graduate high school is not the right solution.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm

There is nothing wrong with tutors. There is something VERY wrong with a Public school system where students are expected to get a tutor for a regular lane class in order to pass. EVERY subject should have a regular, college prep (not advanced or honors) level taught to the UC/CSU standards. Students should be able to pass the class as taught as long as they do the work and study. They should not have to take an accelerated math or science (Paly does not have a regular lane of Biology or Chemistry, only advanced).

To the Parent from Old Palo Alto - obviously your child is exceptional in many categories. But many children struggle academically through no fault of their own. They work hard, study, ask for extra help (which sometimes teachers give and sometimes they don't). Just because things come easily to your kids does not mean it comes easily to every kid.

Also, the District will let you take a class outside of PAUSD, even if its a grad requirement, if your student has failed the class. You might have to make a fuss as a parent, but they will allow it. They will used to have an "independent study" option for grad requirements which was generally an easier version.


Posted by Silent majority parent, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Two points:

1) Math IS taught quite badly in PAUSD at the levels of elementary school and early middle school.

Then, students are hit with "real" math somewhere between 7th and 9th grades and it is a difficult transition. All of a sudden, they are required to "show their work", while until then all they had to do what to give or check the right final answer, no other questions asked. We should start "real" math from day one! Students should be required to show their work as early as in elementary school, starting with simple problems and gradually mastering more difficult ones. And grades should be based partly on the work shown, not just the final answer.

Of course, kids will fall through the cracks with the current system and not be ready for high school math. I whole-heartedly agree with the comments saying that the actual problem is with how math is taught in elementary and middle school grades, not high school in Palo Alto.

Logically, this lack of rigor in teaching math at the lower grade levels partly explains why parents resort to tutors early on and keep doing it, which is our second problem.

2) Tutoring

Yes, there are kids who are tutored and pre-taught math in Palo Alto and it is a problem. My children, who have taken high level math classes in PA high schools without outside help (other than their parents making sure homework is done), are witnesses to it. Not only can those prepped students distort the district's test results but they are also a problem in the classroom.

My child, a sophomore in high school and in the highest level math class, tells me that the freshmen who have skipped a grade for math and are in the same class as sophomores are the most DISRUPTIVE students in the class. Most likely, they have pre-learned the topics and are bored (and maybe a bit smug too for some?). In any case, they act up and are the most disruptive students in class, which is a problem for the teacher and the other "normal" students. This too is unacceptable. I vote for pulling them out of math class completely.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I think really what we have to ask ourselves is how many hours a day do we want our 13 year olds, 14 year olds, 15 year olds, as well as 16 and 17 year olds doing school work each day.

As it is they are in school, what 7 hours a day. Then if they have say 30 minutes homework for 5 of their classes each day, that makes 9 1/2 hours of school work. On top of that many of them are getting 1 hour day tutoring or private lessons. Is that the way we really want our youth to spend their days? Should our youth really be spending 10 hours of their waking day doing schoolwork?

Not sure about anywhere else in the world, but it sounds rather Dickensian to me. If we want to improve our system and how to improve our standards against the rest of the world, it is not pouring more time into their day doing tutored schoolwork or homework, but how about lengthening the school year. Rather than 10 - 12 hours school work each day how about getting more than than 180 days actually in school each year. We try to cram the same amount of learning into a shorter school year than our academic overseas competitors.

I would like to see an hour a day longer in school with less homework and a longer school year so that the kids have time to take the knowledge in at a slower pace and digest it better.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2012 at 3:14 pm

@Cindy

1. I don't understand why you would assume that your gifted artist example who wants to go to art school is "just not able" to complete algebra 2 or 2 years of a lab science to complete a-g. Neither of these requirements is particularly onerous unless you have a class that is poorly calibrated or a bad teacher or both. One of my kids went to RISD and she completed pre-calc (not the highest lane) and three years of lab science (bio, chem, physics). I don't think this is unreasonable for art school at all having had a child who went to art school. Incidentally she also had an IEP for depression and due to attending an excellent high school with gifted teachers (ETHS) that expected success for all its students regardless or race or disability, she was highly successful. So art school and lack of interest would not be a justification for a waiver in my opinion. And I can give you another reason. That gifted artist may want to go to graduate school in something that requires math and science. My daughter became interested in art preservation and restoration for graduate school and there was a big math and science requirement for applying to those schools that thankfully she was able to meet due to her high school education and the ability to take chem at Brown and URI (which she wouldn't have been able to even consider if ETHS had had such low graduation requirements. Being an artist is the worst reason I have yet heard for lowering the bar. I can tell you that the best art schools (RISD, Cooper Union) are not admitting students who have not had a rigorous curriculum in HS even if they are very gifted. You would be surprised at the number of highly gifted art students there are out there.

In your second example the child has a learning disability (cognitive/auditory processing) and would be able under the terms of an IEP to take his language requirement elsewhere and at district expense if the district does not offer an opportunity for that child to have a free appropriate public education at Paly or Gunn.

Let's not let our imaginations run wild creating roadblocks where there need not be any. There may be issues to address but they are not reasons not to expect success for all kids and to require teaching and curriculum to enable that success.

MLD


Posted by Cindy, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm

@Michelle
Let's solve the problem. Making A-G a requirement is not the right solution. Not everyone who graduates high school wants to go to college. Why make college admission requirements to California universities a requirement for graduating high school? If student doesn't want to take 2 years languages, for example, why require it? If they graduate high school and decide they want to go to California University at some point later, they can always take language. Why make it a requirement to graduate high school? Why make Algebra 2 a requirement? If the student wants to take it, they should be able to take it, but let's not make A-G mandatory for all for a high school diploma. That's why it's a high school diploma. It's not called a "pre-UC requirement diploma."


Posted by Others with a-g aren't doing better, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Only 16 or so students in Paly's 2011 11th grade Algebra 2 class were underrepresented minorities out of the 170 who took that class in that grade that year.

96 in that class that grade that year did not score proficient or better; 80 of them were White or Asian. Since the number of White and Asian non-proficient kids was 5 x that of URMs, this does not shake out based on race.

41% (7) of the URMs in that class that grade/year were economically disadvantaged.

12 in that class had parents who had not completed 4 years of college.

7 students were disabled.

1 was an English learner.

Any combination of these other factors (economic status, disability, ELL or less educated parents) could have played a role in why the outcomes of the URM students might not have been as strong as the others; so, again, you cannot conclude from the STAR data that Paly has a bi-bifurcated race-based education system.

As a poster suggested above, it would be easy for the district to interview those 17 students (who are seniors this year) and see who falls into which category. Find out where they took the class (at Paly, Foothills or SIL); the data does not tell us that either. Ask them what they attributed their STAR scores to; I have a high schooler and know that many kids don't take their STAR tests seriously.


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 19, 2012 at 5:20 pm

@Cindy
I see your point about choice, but we have the unfortunate fact that choice doesn't actually seem to be driving who passes with A-G and who doesn't. I wrote this in a post a while ago, and I'll repeat it here since I think it's still relevant:
But right now we have a situation in which many students don't have the opportunity to go to college, whether they want to or not, because of the lack of classes that meet the A-G requirements taught at an appropriate level. The fact that those students are disproportionately black and Hispanic makes this not just about free choice of future career paths, but the translation of systemic disparities in opportunity into outcomes in our schools. I also wouldn't equate A-G exclusively with college -- when Russlynn Ali, currently the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, was in California advocating for A-G for all for large urban districts like LAUSD, she talked about A-G as preparation for work or college.

The question of whether to require A-G as a graduation requirement has a practical aspect -- what about kids who can't pass an A-G curriculum? -- and an organizational component -- what changes would that produce in our schools, and are those changes positive or negative? As the Superintendent emphasized at the May school board meeting, waivers of the A-G requirement provide an option for students who can't (or even don't really want to) pass an A-G curriculum. Those students wouldn't be worse off with a waiver than they are currently -- they would have exactly the same transcript, and they already know that they aren't graduating with A-G.

So why bother to have A-G as a graduation requirement at all? I think the answer is that it shifts what is now a private, essentially imperceptible event -- failing to take and pass a college-ready curriculum -- and turns it into an event that the school has to be accountable for and can manage. The Superintendent emphasized this at the May meeting, and I think he was right. If students are expected to have an A-G curriculum in order to graduate, then counselors will be accountable for ensuring that they take the right classes. If students are expected to pass A-G classes in order to graduate, then teachers will be accountable for teaching A-G classes that meet the standards that students can pass (this is precisely why the Paly math department wrote the letter opposing A-G as a graduation requirement -- they don't want to be accountable for teaching A-G classes that students can pass). If students are expected to pass A-G classes in order to graduate except if they have a waiver, the school administrations will be accountable for ensuring that the granting of waivers is an opportunity to determine whether it's really in the student's best interest, and for probing into whether the waiver represents an organizational failing rather than an individual choice. Right now, no one is clearly accountable at any step in the process, and as a consequence we have students not being prepared for college through an impenetrable combination of bad counseling, low expectations, lack of appropriately pitched classes, and diffuse responsibility.

@Others -- I don't think anyone is claiming that we have a "race-based" education system, but we do have a system that disproportionately disadvantages poor and minority children -- I think that's clear from the data I've posted, and the overwhelming mass of data that it is consistent with. Some of that has to do with issues that you've identified that correlate with racial and ethnic differences, and some has to do with racism more directly. I don't doubt that improving the teaching in a way that benefits those minority kids who are now not achieving to their potential would also benefit other students -- in fact, as you point, it would probably benefit them even more in strictly numerical terms. Are you making a different point than that?


Posted by Cindy, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2012 at 8:12 pm

If we adopt the A-G requirement, can we drop Living Skills, drop Career Tech Education and drop Social Studies from 40 to 30 credits for high school graduation requirements since those are not required for minimum high school graduation in CA and not required for entry into UC system either?

Minimum high school state requirements:
Web Link


Posted by Cindy, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Maybe this is a dumb question, but perhaps someone can explain this. Paly has 4 math lanes, right? One of them is Algebra, Geometry and Algebra 2, right? One is Algebra A, Geometry A, and Alg2/Trig A. Isn't the first one standard, the second one advanced? And there are two additional advanced tracks. If a student is on the first track, why is this not sufficient for UC requirements of 3 years of math including Algebra 2? Are people saying that even that is too advanced, even though it's not labeled "A" for advanced?


Posted by Silent majority parent, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 19, 2012 at 8:51 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by pausd watcher, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 19, 2012 at 11:57 pm

@Cindy: PAUSD only requires 2 years of math in order to graduate high school. That's part of what this whole debate is about; requiring the third year, Algebra 2, is part of what would be needed to meet the a-g requirements.

@Silent majority parent: As far as I can see, the "We can do better..." group would like the lowest lane math class to conform to state standards and no more. Yes, this is easier than the current PAUSD policy, in which even the lowest lane covers more material than is required by the state.

I don't have a pony in this race. My child has been fortunate enough be able to succeed in the highest math lane without tutoring, and had a wonderful experience with Mr Toma. But I see no reason why students for whom math is not their strong suit should have to go beyond state standards in order to attend a state university.

I have also been impressed with the Daubers' calm and informative responses to some very nasty comments. I don't necessarily agree with everything they are pushing for, but their civilized tone has certainly been appreciated.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 20, 2012 at 5:58 am

Like it or not, STAR test results are not pure. As mentioned early in this thread, there are students who just cruise the test as fast possible - they don't take it seriously at all.

I would be interested in comparing SAT Math scores, as well as SAT Subject Test Math II scores. I think everyone would agree that the students taking those test are somewhat more motivated and concerned about the results. I cannot predict the outcome, but I would expect better performance given that the results have a direct impact upon college admissions.

Our college art student is taking a life science class this semester (required). She has already figured out how she is going to do her final project by using her C++ skills that she learned at Jordan and Paly...so, I would also agree that you cannot assume that an art major can coast or avoid traditional academic courses.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2012 at 8:08 am

> it is a population

Not in a multi-year review of the data. One year's contribution can hardly be seen as the totality of all data—or a "population".

Moreover, the use of the word "sample" is intended to describe the suspicious the use of only 19 student's scores to claim that the math program is "horrible" (for minorities, anyway). Keeping in mind that these 19 scores were obtained from one test session for 19 students, which took 2-4 hours to sit through. The scores maybe be meaningful in trying to gauge the performance of each student against the whole, but it can hardly be seen as an indictment of the program.

If all of the performance data were on the table—test scores, home work evaluations, teacher evaluations, student attitude surveys, other test scores (such as English CSTs), tutoring utilized, tutoring required, etc. then perhaps there would be a basis for making claims about the program, based on all the relevant data.

(As a side note, it is a shame that these sorts of internal audits are not performed within the PAUSD periodically, without having the parents go on the war path. There are many, many, problems with education that these sorts of audits would help to highlight.)

As previously stated, there is more than ten year's data on-line. It would be better to use all of that data before making these sorts of sweeping claims, rather than the test scores of 19 students whose identities must, and motivations, must be necessarily anonymous.

It is very likely, that with the small numbers of minorities enrolled in the PAUSD that its "rank order" will hop around from year-to-year, given that the performance of 4-8 students will affect this "rank order" so much.

> anonymous claims

In this town, people who have spoken up about school district issues often find their cars "keyed", or their homes damaged, in one way or another. If you don't know this, then you have not been fully appraised of just how hostile open discussions about government-run schools can be in this town. Best to stay anonymous in these matters, than run the risk of costly repairs to personal property made by truly "anonymous" thugs that walk the streets of this town.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2012 at 8:40 am

Thank you 'Silent Majority' for your two points above. The pre learning and tutoring that go on have an impact on these issues and need to be addressed. I so often hear these students referred to as smarter, when that isn't necessarily the case. Yes, there are students in the district who are naturally more gifted in any number of areas, but when someone has taken the class ahead of time, or is being tutored numerous hours outside of class, it has an impact on the teachers, the other students, and on what takes place in the classroom. To ignore this, to slap the racism label on it, to call it low expectations, are not going to help resolve these problems for our children, who deserve a real world approach and a great education, no matter what their parents are doing or not doing to get their kids to the front of the line.


Posted by Fed-up parent, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2012 at 8:51 am

@pausd watcher

I wish I could agree with you regarding the Daubers' tone. Unfortunately I find their tone towards the district in general, and the Paly math teachers in particular, hostile and condescending.

Mr. Toma's letter has given them the sacrificial lamb they've been looking for to advance their own agenda. Meanwhile, neither Dauber has mentioned how they're going to hold parents accountable for their part as parents. Or talk about what exactly these "lousy" teachers are supposed to do differently.

Granted PAUSD is the only public school system I've been exposed to, but in my observation so far the teachers are far from lousy. Like another commenter had mentioned, I think the biggest challenge these teachers have compared to their private school peers is the range in kids ability within one class (special ed, english learners, kids who really should have been held back, problem kids, etc). And acceptance in private schools is not guaranteed so parents tend to be more willing to do their part so as to avoid expulsion.

Reading the Daubers' comments on Mr. Toma, I now see why teachers and professors need tenure. It can serve as a necessary evil.


Posted by Barry, a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2012 at 10:25 am

Here is a solution to all this never ending nonsense from the Dauber clan. Get a slate together and run for School Board, determine your real support, and if you get elected, you can really get to work and feel the pain of public service.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

Resident, I'm sorry to say that there are plenty of parents in this district who would not mind if their kids had to do homework all day long and into the wee hours in the hopes of glorifying the parents one day with admission to an Ivy League or other boast worthy school. This relentless behavior on the part of parents has a huge impact on not only their own children, but their peers, their teachers, their schools, and other district parents. While preaching that everyone else's children should step it down, they are nonetheless working very hard to keep their own children performing at a level that is commensurate with the parents' need for glory. This behavior can not be legislated away, and Social Services won't step in on behalf of these children, however, the district and community will continue to bear the brunt of the blame for the resulting problems unless they are openly discussed.


Posted by parent, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jan 20, 2012 at 10:40 am

We need to know how many kids are taking and passing the math and world language A-G requirements outside of PAUSD. That number should be added to the 170 who did not meet the requirments for 2011. I'm guessing it would go up to at least 200 students.

Also, how many of the students of color were on modified curriculums? Those on modifications will not be as likely to meet A-G as those IEP students who are getting accomodations.

We should not be counting the students of any race who are on modifications in these pools due to the nature of their disabilities.


Posted by another parent, a resident of Ohlone School
on Jan 20, 2012 at 10:50 am

Who is Ken Dauber to tell me that a waiver system should be good enough for my student? We have no information on the details of the waiver, nothing in writing from the district saying that the transcript would not differentiate, it is all verbal. If we are so trusting of the school district, why don't we just trust that counselors will be doing what they have always done and inform kids that they need to pass A-G to get to a CA funded 4 year institution?

An A-G mandate sends the wrong message to our kids - that all who do not meet it are losers. And it increases the stress level of our kids - giving them something else to compete on. The Daubers are being hypocritical - going against their original message of lowering stress.

Is there more to their agenda?


Posted by Cindy, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 20, 2012 at 11:06 am

@pausd watcher - I still don't understand, why make Algebra 2 a requirement to graduate from high school? PAUSD is following the state standards for math requirements to graduate from high school - 2 years. They are offering an Algebra 2 class - it's available. A student can take it if they want to meet A-G requirements. But if a student doesn't want to, why make them take it to graduate high school? I can't believe 100% of the students, even in Palo Alto, want to go to UC after college. The courses are available - educate the students and parents about what A-G requirements are, but don't force them to take them to graduate high school. If students want to go to UC after high school, algebra 2 and 2 years of world language are available to them. If they want to do something else that doesn't have this requirement, why make them take these classes to get a high school degree?


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 20, 2012 at 11:52 am

Wow. Well I guess if Bill is right I should be looking at my cars for signs that "fed up" and "another parent" have keyed them.

While I understand the deep distrust of the district expressed by "another parent" and by others who oppose a-g graduation requirements I would like to point out two things. First, this current debate is NOT about a-g graduation requirements. It is about making sure that we have a pathway to college for all students who want one. At this point, the CST data make it clear that we don't. Poor and black and brown kids have poor chances of making it to a state publicly funded 4 year college coming from PAUSD. If I had an African American or Latino child I would not send them to PAUSD high schools. I would move to MVLA (or one of the hundreds of districts that do better for these students) or send them to private school. I might start lobbying for a charter school, and with scores like these I am kind of surprised that minority parents haven't already started a charter movement. That's harsh but so are our CST scores.

Right now all that is on the table is ensuring that the Paly (and Gunn) math department offer a basic lane Algebra curriculum that is accessible to all students and that we are not blocking the college pathway for minority kids. Are you opposed to that?

This is not contrary to our desire to lower stress in the schools. It is entirely consonant with it. Having a basic lane, regular, nonhonors track math lane that leads to Cal State Chico or Fresno or SJSU for all students is exactly about lowering stress. It means that students will have the opportunity to take super-math with Mr. Toma but also to take regular college preparatory Algebra with a different teacher and still have the chance to go to college without feeling bad about the fact that they didn't understand super-math. Are you opposed to that?

Reducing stress is NOT the same thing as reducing expectations. Right now we have a system where the treadmill is set to 11 for white and asian kids and where it is turned off for black and brown and poor kids. White and Asian kids have to run for their lives to keep up whether they want to or not, sometimes pulled along by tutors, sometimes getting flung off. Black and brown and poor kids who want to compete are sent the message that college is not for them. We believe that it is possible and desirable to have a regular, normal lane where both the white and asian kids who want to go to college but don't want to run the gauntlet, and the black and brown kids who want to go to college but don't currently have the chance can both experience success, and happiness. Do you oppose that?

Michele Dauber









Posted by Engineer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 20, 2012 at 11:54 am

As somebody commented earlier, there is a lot of shoot the messenger going on here. Does anybody want to defend the results that PAUSD is getting with minority students, as reflected in the data that has been posted? Like I said yesterday, as parents we should want our teachers to look at evidence that they could be doing better and improve. And if they say that they can't, we should push back with data. What's the big deal here?


Posted by Carlos, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I've asked for this before, and I will keep on asking for it until some of you drop your racist assumptions and arrogance:

If you aren't black or brown, would you stop assuming you know what "we" want, and stop speaking on our behalf (under-represented minorities), and use "us" to push your own pesonal agendas? As a Latin-american immigrant, I'm fine with the current school program, and don't want to water it down for my kids to have an easier path.

Some kids won't make the cut, and I would rather have them realize that early enough so that they can work harder and/or look for other ways to succeed. Don't want them to go into the real world later on and not be able to handle failure once daddy or mommy are not around to blame the school or the "system" for their own limitations.


Posted by another parent, a resident of Ohlone School
on Jan 20, 2012 at 12:26 pm

On the contrary, the debate is about making one group of students who are not capable of or not interested in meeting the A-G requirements feel like they are inadequate simply because another group of students are not being served. We can easily make A-G the default without creating an intimidating situation for our struggling students of all races. These students already think Community College is a path to be ashamed of without the whole community making it into a law. Many of those who plan to attend Community College are not entering their names into the Oracle article telling where everyone is going at the end of the year. A move like this will just confirm their feelings of low self-esteem. It sends a terrible, terrible elitist message.


Posted by Not a race issue, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 20, 2012 at 12:27 pm

@Michele - I have come to better respect some of your positions over time.

One objection that I have with your previous post is classifying students by race.
To group all Asians and whites together is erroneous.
Race does not imply values.
There are a number of Palo Alto asians and whites who do not go to college, per the studies mentioned above.
I know it's easy to just "round up" from 80% to 100%, but this misdirects the underlying problem, which is that we need to have baseline classes that do not require tutoring or parental involvement.

A more helpful student classification is based on income.
- Affluent parents can afford tutoring/enrichment and generally are more available for support.

- Economically disadvantaged kids typically can't afford the same tutoring/enrichment and their parents may not be as available because of having to work multiple jobs or at odd hours.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Of even greater concern is the number of African American students who score "Not Proficient" on the California HS exit exam - required for graduation. At both high schools, about 10% of the students scored "Not Proficient" in English and Math (which is still unfortunate, given the resources of our district). At Paly 55.6% of AA students were not proficient in English and 40% were not proficient in Math (more AA students than disabled students scored Not Proficient in English at Paly). At Gunn, 46.2% of the AA students were "Not Proficient" in English and 61.5% were "Not Proficient" in Math. Students start taking the CASHEE as sophomore, so hopefully by senior year, everyone is caught up and eligible to graduate.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm

@ "another parent"

I think "not capable" and "not interested" are different categories.

I don't think it has to send a terrible elitist message. But I do agree that there is a risk that in this district it could given the way that the district's teachers feel about kids who they think don't measure up -- as expressed in the Paly math letter. So I get that it is a potential problem. On the other hand, the vast vast vast majority of white and Asian kids who do not have IEPs are already passing a-g. We are talking about a really small number of white and Asian students who did not have disabilities. Meanwhile we have a very large (i.e., virtually all) proportion of black and brown kids who don't make it.

It's not about kids "choosing" not to do it, since if that was the case it wouldn't be correlated with race. But it is nearly a perfect correlation with race. So it isn't "choice" when nearly all the black are apparently "choosing" not to go to a public college. So you can tell stories about "choice" but if you read the Paly math letter and the CST scores, and the a-g data, I think that narrative is unsupportable.

I think that is the conclusion Kevin Skelly came to which is why he proposed this in the first place.

As Ken said, the idea behind a-g is to hold the schools and the teachers accountable for getting these kids college-ready. Please do recall that this is not our (We Can Do Better's) proposal (although Ken has worked on this issues with Ed Trust and with the DoE for many years) , it is Kevin Skelly's proposal. As you can plainly see from the really appalling way the Paly math department has behaved, this is a heavy lift for Kevin to accomplish, since the teachers clearly don't want the job of teaching all students.

So, I guess what I would like to hear is how do you plan to accomplish getting the teachers to take seriously the task of creating college opportunity for minority kids? That's the job that Kevin is trying to do, and he is trying to do it by making principals and teachers accountable. If you have another way to create that accountability, what is it?

In terms of value preferences, I would favor this, even with the risks of stigma that it might bear and I had one kid who definitely would have been waiver material and went to JC. Just knowing my kid it really would not have bothered me that he was getting a waiver even if there had been a giant red W on his diploma -- which there won't be. The thing that bothered me was that the district just wanted to push him off the a-g track because he had ADD and they just wanted him to graduate with whatever minimal work they could. The teachers started telling him in 9th grade that he didn't "need" to take math or science and could just take auto shop if that was what he liked even though he had been a strong student. To me, that was stigma -- getting pushed off the college track. The transcript is where the stigma happens not the waiver.


Posted by Barry, a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Carlos, you make the most sense in this issue. I guess they are just going to ignore your comments and continue harping on ad nauseam. Unfortunately, its one thing to try to improve education (which we all wont). Its another thing to always look to government to solve our every problem, the result is usually failure.


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 20, 2012 at 4:48 pm

I've updated the data, which now includes Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry, and also includes all data for economically disadvantaged students. See:

Web Link for a summary spreadsheet with links to the underlying spreadsheets.

In brief, the data shows that:
* The poor results relative to other districts in the state for black students for Algebra II are repeated for Algebra I (165th in the state), and Geometry (91st in the state).
* Hispanic students have very low results for Algebra I in relation to the state as a whole (149th overall), but have better results for Geometry (7th in the state). That's still a gap of 30 percentage points in achievement versus white students and 40 points versus Asian students, but it's definitely a relative bright spot.
* As you would expect from the above data, we do particularly badly with economically disadvantaged students in Algebra I (192nd in the state) and Algebra II (114th in the state), though better in Geometry (26th in the state).
* For Asian and white students, our worst performance across these subjects is 10th in the state (for Algebra II for whites, and our best is 2nd (Geometry for Asians).

The dismal results for Algebra I, both relative to the state and in absolute terms (16% proficient and above for black students, 27% for Hispanics, and 26% for poor students), point to the importance of improving the teaching of that class in addition to Algebra II. In general, as we pointed out in the Board meeting on Tuesday, we think this data strongly supports the need for professional development for our math teachers to enable them to effectively teach a diverse group of students.

It certainly refutes the false opposition between rigor and inclusion that we've been hearing -- many districts in California achieve better results on standards-based tests with the same student populations that we're failing with, and with fewer resources.

By the way, if anyone has technical skills (particularly with MySql and PHP, or has more developed statistical skills) and would like to help out with this analysis, send me an email at kenneth.dauber@gmail.com.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I repeat - CST scores are not a good indicator. MANY kids don't care about their scores. Some will just bubble a pattern to get the test done. At the very least, most kids don't try very hard and I highly doubt that in our district any high school kids "study" for the test. There are some districts that actually teach to the test and spend A LOT of time on "how" to take the test and practicing for the test. It is a very big deal to the school and the kids are rewarded for doing well. That is not the case in Palo Alto. Has anyone looked at SAT scores for the various groups?


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 20, 2012 at 5:15 pm

@Parent

What is your theory of why the black and brown and poor kids are just "bubbling a pattern to get the test done" while the white and asians are doing well?


Posted by elite tutoring the issue, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm

"Has anyone looked at SAT scores for the various groups?"
answer: don't bother - SAT scores are raised by certain parents spending lots of $$$ for extreme tutoring. This is well known. I have known some kids who started taking the SAT in 7th grade (didn't count but could be used for JH CTY). Scores do not fully accurately reflect achievement or aptitude but ARE crucial for elite college admissions and competition is tight around here, with high level students aiming for perfect scores - so the naive are run over.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 20, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I think there is a portion of ALL the kids that just "bubble" or don't try. The difference is that since the African American population is so small if you have just a few that "don't really try" then that can heavily influence your scores. When the population of test takers is greater it doesn't have as great an effect.


Posted by Palo alto graduate, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2012 at 7:53 am

I stand by my comment above. I support our high schools. We have caring teachers and admins. I'm successful today because of their great teaching.

I don't understand why there's so much resentment towards homework and tutoring. Isn't 2hr of homework similar to 2 hr of sports? I don't hear parents complain about their kids spending hrs after school playing sports? If you want to be good at something, you will naturally spend more time on it. Now, I don't understand why parents complain about tutoring either. First, don't we already have tutoring for low achievers in pausd? starting in elementary school, pausd offers remedial reading and math classes. Isnt that free tutoring? Why would private tutors bother you?

Let's spend our efforts and resources wisely.


Posted by Fed-up parent, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2012 at 8:19 am

@Michele

"So, I guess what I would like to hear is how do you plan to accomplish getting the teachers to take seriously the task of creating college opportunity for minority kids?"

How is this any different from the current system? Are you saying there's nothing whatsoever in place to ensure teacher accountability? You can create opportunity up the ying yang, in the end it's up to the individual to take advantage of them.

Perhaps this is what you are trying to do, rather than allow the individual to choose, you wish to make it mandatory so that you can hold the teachers, the district, the community, etc accountable for other people's choices?

The problem with your assertions is that the current system does provide every student with opportunity to succeed, including those who choose to take classes they're passionate about (even if they're not within the A-G requirements), and/or those who have no desire to go to CSU/UC system. And you want to take this away from the kids.

None of us know the motives behind Skelly's proposal, and I don't wish to second guess him. But since you keep using his proposal to defend your agenda, let me offer one you may not want to acknowledge. The district is very proud of their CST results, the number of AP classes taken, etc. CSU/UC eligible graduation rates can give them yet another bragging point.

To require those classes from all students just because you feel they're important is presumptuous, patronizing, and as Carlos stated, arrogant, on your part.


Posted by PA Parent, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 21, 2012 at 9:00 am

We need to start this conversation at elementary and middle school levels. Kids get to high school with a wide range of math preparedness. This district needs a better elementary math program.


Posted by Fed-up parent, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2012 at 9:49 am

@PA Parent

"This district needs a better elementary math program."

Not just math, and not just elementary. Even sixth grade is way too easy at this district. If there's stress among the kids it's probably because the jump from "easy" to "hard" comes too suddenly.

This is why my kids get extra academics outside of school. Not to "beat" the competitors but to avoid the shock of that jump.

The school system I went through had us work hard from day 1 so it became a habit. But school days were slightly shorter so we had more time for fun stuff. Summer vacation was also shorter so we didn't have to spend the first month of every year re-learning things.

Minimum requirement to graduate was Trigonometry, yet about 45% of the class regularly graduate having completed Calculus. No one was stressed out because we were trained and well prepared for the workload.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 21, 2012 at 10:12 am

Fed-up parent - the point that you are missing is that teachers are held a lot more accountable for all students passing classes which are graduation requirements. As an example, the Economics teachers (Econ is a grad requirement) are really good about trying to make sure all the students pass. The opposite seems to be true in Math and Science particularly. It seems to be almost a point of pride to fail a portion of the class.


Posted by different, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 21, 2012 at 10:20 am

@above

There are so many differences between an economic class and math/physics classes.It is universally agreed that the later are much harder. Those are the common experience of all the kids, especially in USA.


Posted by PA Parent, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 21, 2012 at 10:20 am

Agree with "Fed-up Parent"

We need a better writing program, too, at the middle school level.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 21, 2012 at 10:29 am

@"not a race issue"

You are right that economic disadvantage plays a large role in these results, because race and poverty are so closely correlated in our society and community. And it is also true that, because of the demographic makeup of Palo Alto schools, the majority of kids graduating without a-g are white and asian.

You are completely correct also that the goal (which I have stated several times throughout this board but is worth repeating) is to have a basic, college preparatory, nonhonors lane in math that meets but does not exceed the state A-G standard that all kids can be successful in without the aid of outside tutoring. Thanks for restating that.

@"fed-up" -- Ken and I were looking at the CST scores over time last night and noted that black kids tend to go off a cliff in mathematics in 5th grade. That is, up to middle school there is a pretty good percentage of black children scoring "advanced" (the highest category) but proficiency plummets and the number scoring far below basic and below basic expands dramatically around 5th grade. The pattern is similar but less dramatic for Hispanic students. So, you are correct that something happens to minority children at the end of elementary school. As "not a race issue" points out, the same pattern obtains for economically disadvantaged kids (and for you "small numbers" skeptics out there, around 100 poor kids in each grade are tested). Although this is not longitudinal data, it provides a reasonable snapshot of the situation.

For example, in math, 33% of poor kids are advanced (the highest category) in second grade, but the percentage advanced falls over the years to 21% in 5th grade and 7% in 7th grade. Meanwhile, the proportion scoring "basic" (failing) grows from 21% to 38% over the same period. The effect is more pronounced for black kids.

So, my theory is that kids start out roughly doing similarly in second grade. But as math gets increasingly difficult, children from families that can afford it obtain private tutoring or start tutoring their kids around 6th grade in order to ensure that they make it onto the high math track by 8th grade. The tendency to obtain tutoring is so normalized among so many families here that no one thinks much of the competency gap that it is creating and sustaining.

Teachers tend to mistake the high performance of the majority of kids for information about their teaching rather than about tutoring, and the classes are increasingly difficult for students without tutoring. By high school, poor and minority kids start dropping out of math entirely.

So out of an honest desire (such as that articulated by "fed up") to keep their kids from being left behind in high school, parents have obtained "extra academics out of school" as "fed up" has done. Not to hurt anyone, but to ensure that their kids can get to good colleges. This is what an arms race looks like and the losers are poor kids and families who can't afford "extra academics out of school" (i.e., tutoring).

That, in a nutshell, is our problem.

MLD


Posted by Fed-up parent, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2012 at 10:50 am

@Michele

"to ensure that their kids can get to good colleges"

Sorry, but you're wrong. I never said such is what I want, please stop patronizing others.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 21, 2012 at 11:00 am

@fed up.

Oh, you're right. You never mentioned college: "This is why my kids get extra academics outside of school. Not to "beat" the competitors but to avoid the shock of that jump."

I'm not patronizing you -- I am using your obtaining of tutoring for your kids to keep up with the curriculum as an example of what is going wrong in PAUSD for kids who are not as "fortunate."

I am trying to answer you calmly and provide data that can inform the discussion despite the fact that you are really aggressive and personally insulting. Why don't you stop being anonymous and take public responsibility for your comments instead of lobbing nasty-grams behind the shield of anonymity.


Posted by Fed-up parent, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2012 at 12:35 pm

I have reasons to stay anonymous.

I think a strong K-12 education is very important, and like I said, I do not want my kids to be subject to a program which suddenly jumps from easy to tough. But you assumed incorrectly that this is because I want them to go to a good college.

You're certainly dedicated to your cause, which I admire, but I wish you would stop assuming that you know what's best for everyone.


Posted by RussianMom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Michelle,
With all my respect to your passion for education, I have a few questions:

How many people/adults at our current place can you find who doesn't know how to read (2 grade)? how many out of that group Can write 5 page essay? Did the number decrease? Curriculum gets harder by grade (surprise) and some kids reach the learning ceiling. Nothing to be offended. Great surgeon not necessarily will pass statistics, right?

How are you planing to stop dedicated student/family (you can give it any name - passionate, tiger, tutor) from progressing above the school level? I understood that its not your goal to limit students without 'problems', just to create an easier approved by CA path for struggling students. But isn't PA all about HIGHER STANDARTs than already low CA requirements? Aren't your noise (pardon my harshness) take from already limited resources? Aren't transfer students aware that this district is not an easy ticket? Aren't the majority families paying all those crazy home prices to live in the district with ABOVE AVERAGE state education?

Michelle, with all you enthusiasm and education, interview failed kids, not statistics and try to find the failing point. Family? Values? Hard work? Dedication? What is it? And then maybe you'll have a bit different picture.

Also, reducing students stress - better balanced program, less busy work, higher level counceling, more social interactions, even fundrasing events organization - another appreciated area in the district. But please don't dance around Mr Toma letter and try to close the gap. ALL, EVERY SINGLE hard working student at any level deserve the respect and needed assistance. But the initiative needs to come from the student and not by lowering the requirements....


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Michelle & Ken,

Your throwing out the "race card" is a conclusion that is not supported by any evidence. I don't think the Instructional Supervisor at Paly is discriminating against Latinos or African Americans because of their race, nor do I think the school system is setting specific standards directed to exclude Latinos or African Americans.

The standards of each math lane apply equally to everybody.

Dictionary defines racism as "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race "

You want to lower the standard of a particular math lane so that more Latinos and African Americans can succeed - to me that is determining someone's capacity by race.


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm

@common sense
I think you've misunderstood our points both about the problem and the solution.
Noticing that there is a correlation between achievement and race doesn't mean asserting that the cause is racism, nor does trying to find a solution constitute racism. I don't know what you mean by the "race card", so I can't respond to that. But I can refer you back to the data that we've downloaded from the California Department of Education that shows that PAUSD is in the top 10 districts statewide in math achievement for white and Asian students, and does much worse for poor and minority students (see Web Link). I think our teachers, with proper support, can do at least as well as other districts in the state in educating all of our children. The solution involves both teaching classes in the basic lane that meet but don't exceed the state A-G standards -- a change that would probably benefit mostly white students, incidentally -- and learning what works in other districts to teach a diverse group of students.

@RussianMom
I don't think there's a zero-sum relationship going on here, in which we have to pay for achievement at the top with failure at the bottom. On the contrary -- having courses in the basic lane that meet the state A-G standard, and teaching that enables students to actually meet those standards, not only won't hurt achievement at the top, but might actually improve teaching and learning across the board.


Posted by Jordan Parent, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 22, 2012 at 12:23 am

To Ken Dauber,

I do think it is kind of like zero-sum game. Why do you think we have Kinder to 12th grades? Since kids are needed to be taught at different level. To care for different level of students, more resources are needed.


Posted by Jordan Parent, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 22, 2012 at 12:45 am

I agree w/RussianMom. Pure statistics can not find the real problem.


Posted by Jordan Parent, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 22, 2012 at 12:55 am

Ken: On the contrary -- having courses in the basic lane that meet the state A-G standard, and teaching that enables students to actually meet those standards, not only won't hurt achievement at the top, but might actually improve teaching and learning across the board.

Can you give me your statistic on your above statement? "Might actually" improve, is it your opinion or a fact? Might?


Posted by Please look at your own statistics, Ken, a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Ken, your own data shows that your interpretations are completely off base. You point out rankings in the state but fail to mention how many districts there are in the state with students in each group. For instance, you say Hispanic students ranked 149th in Algebra 1 in the state but you failed to point out that there are 429 districts which means that PA ranks in the top 35% in the state not stellar but definitely not "very low" as you called them. You classify Hispanic scores for Geometry as "better" - actually they rank in the top 2% in the state.

You also said we did "particularly bad" with poor students. The results for poor students are in the top 35% statewide. The geometry results which you called "better" are in the top 7% statewide.
In fact, PA ranks in the top 1/2 of nearly every at-risk subgroup and often in the top 1/3. The only tests where PA ranks below the midpoint statewide are the black results for Algebra 1 and 2.

And Michelle, you say would move to MVLA if you had an AA or Latino child - please look again. PA soundly trumps MVLA in nearly every score in Ken's data.

Bottom line...statewide test scores for black, hispanic, and poor kids across the state are much lower than for white and asian kids. This is a completely legitimate concern, but it is a statewide problem, and hardly unique to PA.

Please drop the statements about PA being somehow even worse than almost any other place due to our teachers; it isn't.

On another note, teachers are one (small) part of the overall equation. They are neither the main reason some of the PA sub-groups do particularly well nor the main reason some PA sub-groups do poorly.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2012 at 5:58 pm

I don't think that bringing up tutoring means it is a bad thing. However, it has an impact on all these things and pretending those who get tutored are just smarter is just wrong. These issues are important and complex and they deserve a comprehensive solution, not a whitewash by the faculty or a label of racism by their opponents. Nobody will win if all these factors are not accepted as part of the system these students are in. Nobody will win except those students whose parents are working every day to make sure their kids have the advantage. Any student without this will be left in the dust in comparison and is likely to be labelled, 'average', 'dumb' or 'underachieving' when it is often the parents, not the students who are driven.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 22, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Hi "please":

Mea culpa. I was only half right. MVLA does a better job teaching math to black students than Palo Alto but not Hispanic students. MVLA has also has far better rates of a-g graduation than does Palo Alto for black students (and around the same for Hispanic students).

MVLA has a higher proportion of its black students scoring proficient or above in Algebra I and Geometry than Palo Alto. In Algebra I, for example, MVLA has 24% proficient and above, as compared with 16% in PAUSD. In Geometry, MVLA has 31% of black students scoring proficient or above, which is basically double PAUSD's proportion.

I mentioned MVLA only because it is nearby and thus families could easily choose to live there rather than in Palo Alto, find a nicer house at a cheaper price, and enjoy schools where their child would have a better chance of attending college (39% of MVLA black students graduated a-g in 2010). I was thinking particularly of a mom (she happened to be white but that is neither here nor there) who nearly broke into tears at the school board meeting when she talked about moving her family (including 2 African American children) to Palo Alto because it was going to be a great gift to offer her kids to have great schools only to discover that the district's outcomes for black children are not very good.

Some interesting results in Santa Clara County for minority achievement as demonstrated by math CST scores are found in Gilroy and San Jose. Despite being a relatively poor, rural area, Gilroy is better than Palo Alto in Algebra I for black (53% proficient or above, compared to 16% for Palo Alto), Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged kids.

San Jose is a large urban school district that Mr. Toma specifically criticized as offering "pretend" Algebra 2 classes. San Jose does better than us for black students in Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2. So much for the notion that they are only "pretending" to teach.

All of this is kind of beside the larger point. The point isn't that minority families should move or send their kids to private school, though some of them may choose to after they read through these data. That was obviously hyperbole on my part. The point is that there are plenty of places around California that are doing a much better job than PAUSD in reaching and teaching minority students from similar backgrounds and with similar strengths and weaknesses as those who attend school in our district -- and they are doing in almost all cases with less money and other resources than we have.


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 22, 2012 at 8:27 pm

@Please look at your own statistics
You're right to point out that PAUSD is not at the bottom of the statewide rankings, and that, as you say, "Bottom line...statewide test scores for black, hispanic, and poor kids across the state are much lower than for white and asian kids. This is a completely legitimate concern, but it is a statewide problem, and hardly unique to PA."
However, we're not arguing that PAUSD is at the bottom of the rankings, or that the achievement gap is unique to Palo Alto. Instead, we're pointing out, contrary to statements from the math department at Paly, that it's possible to achieve much better learning outcomes, as measured by standards-based tests, than we do in Palo Alto. It's not true, at least according to the data, that math classes that are more inclusive do at the cost of becoming only "pretend" classes. If dozens or hundreds of districts, depending on the group and subject, are doing better than us, then there is room for growth. That's why we're calling for money to be spent on professional development to help the math teachers teach effectively to a diverse set of students.
If you're happy with a situation in which we routinely outrank all but a handful of districts for teaching white and Asian students, and do much worse than that for poor and minority students, I'm not going to be able to convince you otherwise. But the data doesn't support the view that that is inevitable, or unconnected to teaching.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2012 at 9:51 pm

@Ken, it is a matter of proportion. Do these stats tell us something alarming? Or do they point out something we need to work on (even more than we already do)? Or are they just artifacts of small populations? Your posts, though thoughtful, run to alarmist interpretations (paraphrases of some Dauber posts: "San Jose has 11x our success rate!" "This is fundamentally unfair and inequitable." "These are dismal results both relative to the state and in absolute terms." "We need to dig ourselves out of this deep hole").

Extreme views are not unusual on these on these boards, heaven knows, and you are entitled to your views. But it seems like you may have your agenda made up ahead of time and selectively interpret stats to bolster your case. In that case, we needn't feel the same alarm (guilt?) that you feel about these numbers.


Posted by Is it really that complicated?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2012 at 12:27 am



It's nice to have data on California, the thread could included other states, but is it even necessary to have all this data to KNOW that teaching better IS possible?

One look at the four Math lanes at Paly, and you know the lowest lane is an after thought & anyone who has gone through Middle School math laning in PA knows the ugly side which is basically a culture of bullying the kids who don't make the high lanes. If your kid is good at Math not only do they go in a higher lane, you see them turn into a Math snob. No surprise, the lowest Math lane looks like Siberia.

PAUSD needs to add a lower Math Lane in Middle School that has a respectable future. A true lower Math lane should not mean dead-end Math, but a slower way to increasingly higher levels of Math, with state of the art teaching to kids who may struggle with Math, and proper attention to them. It should also have a purpose the way they do it in Germany, where learning is tied to future professions. The fast lane can get to Trig by 10th grade or higher, and the slow lane doesn't even have to get to Trig but still have all these years to be solid on the basics or more. Remember you can always jump to a higher lane, but if you remain in the lowest lane, it should also have a future.

I would get rid of Geometry for the lowest HS lane to instead focus on getting Algebra solid as a rock, with an eye towards more useful Math classes, like Business Math.

Kids who are not future Siemen's competitors may want to start a small business. We talk, talk, talk, about the different avenues of success but the only one that seems to "count" are the fast tracks destined for future Nobel prize winners. Get real people!

Thank you Ken for all the work and taking the pains to appeal to these great staticians,









Posted by Fed-up parent, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2012 at 1:14 am

@Carlos
"If you aren't black or brown, would you stop assuming you know what "we" want, and stop speaking on our behalf (under-represented minorities), and use "us" to push your own pesonal agendas?"

@RussianMom
"Michelle, with all you enthusiasm and education, interview failed kids, not statistics and try to find the failing point. Family? Values? Hard work? Dedication? What is it? And then maybe you'll have a bit different picture."

@Jordan Parent
"I agree w/RussianMom. Pure statistics can not find the real problem."

The above are never addressed by the Daubers. Seems like they're not actually interested in the real problem. So @Me too, you may be right that "[they] may have [their] agenda made up ahead of time and selectively interpret stats to bolster [their] case".


Posted by is it really that complicated?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2012 at 6:53 am


Fed up,

Can you clarify what you are exactly fed up with?

a) Daubers not addressing a real problem - what is the real problem then?

b) that there is an ulterior agenda - what's your theory on that

c) the numbers not good enough - for what?

Full sentences to clarify would help.


Posted by Fed-up parent, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2012 at 8:19 am

@is it really that complicated?

Just read the entire thread and you will understand where all those quotes are coming from. I don't need to say much more, since much has been said. But, when facing people who are convinced they've identified a problem for which they have the best and only solution, then there's nothing anyone can do or say to make a difference. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2012 at 10:09 am

I was talking to a teacher friend from another state and she says the way they deal with this, is to offer an extended period of the current curriculum Algebra 2 for the students who need extra instruction. She said they chose not to alter the course content, even though they could have.


Posted by Engineer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm

This is my first experience reading this board, so I don't know if demanding that other people respond to every random point is expected or not. But here is how I would respond to Fed-up parent:

@Carlos

"If you aren't black or brown, would you stop assuming you know what "we" want, and stop speaking on our behalf (under-represented minorities), and use "us" to push your own pesonal agendas?"

Carlos seems to think that he can speak on behalf of all under-represented minorities. I doubt if that is true (Carlos, if I am wrong, please provide your evidence). I also doubt that Carlos owns the issue of equity in education. Also, why read this board if what you want to do is to tell people to stop posting?

@RussianMom
"Michelle, with all you enthusiasm and education, interview failed kids, not statistics and try to find the failing point. Family? Values? Hard work? Dedication? What is it? And then maybe you'll have a bit different picture."
@Jordan Parent
"I agree w/RussianMom. Pure statistics can not find the real problem."

It is always true that knowing more information means that you know more information. It doesn't mean that you don't know anything until you know everything.

The above are never addressed by the Daubers. Seems like they're not actually interested in the real problem. So @Me too, you may be right that "[they] may have [their] agenda made up ahead of time and selectively interpret stats to bolster [their] case".

How about talking about the data, rather than trying to shoot the messenger?


Posted by Charlotte, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 24, 2012 at 9:45 pm

@ "Is it really that complicated?"
You wrote, "One look at the four Math lanes at Paly, and you know the lowest lane is an after thought & anyone who has gone through Middle School math laning in PA knows the ugly side which is basically a culture of bullying the kids who don't make the high lanes. If your kid is good at Math not only do they go in a higher lane, you see them turn into a Math snob. No surprise, the lowest Math lane looks like Siberia."

I attend Paly, and I can say for sure that there is NOT a culture of "bullying." I dropped a math lane, which was an easy thing to do, and I felt no negative feelings from my peers while doing so. One of my friends dropped with me, and I think we're both doing fine. Additionally, the higher lane does not produce snobs (Where are you getting this information? As a student, I find it somewhat insulting that you would make this outrageous claim without citing any sources. All of my sources are firsthand & through my friends, but I could do some research if you'd like. I believe student polls are inaccurate, however, so it's not an easy topic). The higher lane produces the math "die-hards" who spend much of their time doing math & socializing with other math people -- to DO math. It's not like they're isolationists or snobby, they just have a bit less time.

As for the lowest lane being Siberia, I can't actually say anything about that. Most of my friends come from the top 3 lanes, where most of the Paly population resides. I think I've only met one or two people in the other math lanes. It's not anyone's fault that the classes are small, would you prefer that other students drop math lanes to make the lower laned classes more crowded? There's no easy solution to this, if one at all, so it's not worth complaining about.

Also --"I would get rid of Geometry for the lowest HS lane to instead focus on getting Algebra solid as a rock, with an eye towards more useful Math classes, like Business Math."

Geometry is a required CSU class. If you would like to have students to attend a California University, they HAVE to take it. Not to say that every student needs to or will go to one, of course. But something like 25% of Paly Grads go to CSU's, so it's reasonable to have Geometry included in the class. Also, about business math, perhaps not the best time? Also, are you proposing that they lane math so that if you're in a lower lane they assign you to a job... job school or something? Please elaborate....


AND TO EVERYONE -- I, having read through some but not all of the posts, still have a question. Okay, assuming Paly makes a math lane which meets PURELY A-G requirements (Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry) who is going to fill it? According to you guys, there is a math lane that is "too difficult" and causing students to fail. Okay, fine, some of the students will drop from that math lane into the newly created A-G class. But, given what I know about the population of the lesser 2 math lanes at Paly (I actually believe there are 5, but only 4 listed. There is a lower one -- I think) it'll be nearly impossible to have both the new lane and the old "too hard" lane. If the new lane is created, the students in the "old" class would move up or down, making it likely too challenging or too easy. I would assume that the "old" class caters to SOMEONE well...

Also, please to not take offense about the "higher" and "lower" math lanes. I honestly cannot think of any other way to describe them, for I agree that Paly's name scheme is a total nightmare.


Posted by a-g not required, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 25, 2012 at 6:13 am

Michelle,

Humm . . . seems like UCs don't hold steadfast to a-g for all after all. In yesterday's Mercury:

"The state's public universities admit thousands of students every year who do not meet minimum admission requirements...The 10-campus UC system boosted its 'admission-by-exception' numbers by 60 percent in its current freshman class...'A student who's missing (a required) course may still be stronger than another student,' said Kate Jeffery, the UC system's interim undergraduate-admissions director. 'When we look at students comprehensively, we're not as worried about whether they meet minimum requirements.'"





Posted by Is it really that complicated?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2012 at 7:23 am

Charlotte,

While I don't have first-hand specific bullying incidents to report, there are elements of a "culture" of bullying, that I still think could apply, relating to the Math lanes. (one that could sort of qualify is the Paly Math letter and Toma statements, for singling out certain students because of ability and race, in unfavorable or distasteful ways). Do any students refer to other students, as slackers adding a racial reference?

I do agree with you however, that relating to students, I cannot prove this, and that I may be wrong.

I maintain that the lowest Math lane looks like an after-thought. Interesting that the students in the lowest math lane may not even be generally known by kids in the other three lanes, and maybe there aren't even any kids in the lowest lane, which begs the question of why have it at all.

As for a business math elective geared for the lowest math lane, it's a question of resources and opportunities. If the resources would be available to offer the broadest of opportunities to students, then it becomes a matter of student choice. By offering alternative math paths, it does not steer anyone away from math lanes they need or require for their academic or professional aspirations. An Intel competitor would likely know that even if they would love to take Bus math, they could not give up calculus for it. But there is a kid out there who may want to be a Yoga teacher, or a Chef, and they may want those skills.

Is the CSU requirement specifically for Geometry? Does A-G also specifiy Geometry?


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2012 at 7:40 am

Oh for goodness sake.

If you read the actual article (which you did not link to -- I wonder why: Web Link, it says that the total number of UC students admitted to the UC system without a-g was 780, mostly international students who don't have access to an a-g curriculum but are still academic stars (and also, not coincidentally, full tuition payers. It is well-publicized that the UCs are admitting more international students in order to boost revenue.)

It also says that the CSUs are moving to restrict exceptions and have cut the number of students admitted without a-g by HALF over the past year.

There are reasons to be concerned or to oppose a-g for all that are valid, such as Palo Alto's teachers, particularly in math, have a poor track record of getting minority students to pass college preparatory math and show no interest in developing that skill set (see the Paly Math letter: Web Link

It is a little worrying about whether this same group of teachers will get the direction and professional development they need to help all students to graduate or whether they will just do what they are currently doing, shrug their shoulders, and fail the minority kids, while blaming it on their "family background." Such kids would still graduate, because they would be given waivers or some other exception so that the district's graduation rate does not decline, but it wouldn't do anything to change the status quo ante, which is getting more kids to college. The teachers would simply continue to blame the kids themselves, and their supposedly deficient families. Another valid reason to worry about a-g for all is that adding foreign language will be stressful for kids who are already stressed out. I don't think 2 years of Spanish is an overwhelming load but some parents might differ on that one.

I support a-g because I think that the requirements are reasonable, and it is unfair not to give every kid the preparation they need for college and for success in life. I don't think it is too onerous and there are plenty of districts in the state, poorer and more rural than we are dealing with populations of way more impoverished kids who do far far better than we do. As far as I can tell, the only problem with implementing it here is our teachers are deluded about their real role -- they think that they are "mathematicians" rather than teachers in a public school who have the job of teaching all comers. We need to change that mindset.

It is not a valid reason to object to make up false stuff or post misleading things implying that a-g isn't even necessary. That's totally ridiculous.

MLD


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2012 at 8:03 am

@"is it complicated"

The a-g standard requires some inclusion of Geometry:

"One unit must either be a course in geometry or part of an integrated sequence that includes sufficient geometry, such as IMP I, II, and III (see note below for acceptable course combinations)."

See: Web Link

However, we don't really have a big problem in Geometry -- our minority geometry rates scoring proficient or above on the CSTs, while nothing to write home about for black students, are nowhere near as bad as for Algebra 1 or 2. The math department doesn't object to teaching Geometry even to those they disparage in their letter.

Let me say one last thing about these teachers: I personally teach (and am good at it by Stanford standards, having won the Gores Prize for teaching excellence). I teach smart, motivated kids, usually from upper class backgrounds who often have had every advantage in life. It is the easiest job in the world. Most days I wake up and cannot believe I get paid what I do to basically watch these kids teach themselves. Were I to go to Modesto Junior College I would work a lot harder and for harder results. I have no illusions about what I do. Mostly I try to get out of the way so that these kids can do their own thing. It is harder to teach kids who aren't teaching themselves. Of course some people would rather teach those really motivated kids who don't take much work to teach -- it's fun and easy.

But that's not what public education is. There are jobs working at elite colleges and prep school but Paly is not one.


Posted by a-g not required, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 25, 2012 at 9:54 am

Michelle,

It sure would help these discussions along if you read things carefully. The Mercury article does not say what you claim (that a-g waivers into the UCs apply "mostly" to international students who don't have access to a-g classes).

Here, again, is what it says, quoting:

"The state's public universities admit thousands of students every year who do not meet minimum admission requirements. Some are athletes or musicians."

"international students...accounted for some of the overall increase"

"'A student who's missing (a required) course may still be stronger than another student'...The admission-by-exception policies reflect the universities' belief that test scores, grades or classes should not limit applicants."

"When we look at students comprehensively, we're not as worried about whether they meet minimum requirements."

The key is that the student needs to be a strong applicant in an overall context. A-g is a factor but not a requirement.

The number of students who qualify for this UC a-g exception is not large but neither is the number of PAUSD African American students who score below proficient in Algebra 2. In fact, some of them may have been admitted into UCs in the past despite no Algebra 2.
-

Some kids' brains are not wired for math (Dyscalculia believed to affect 3-6% of the population) and others are not wired to learn foreign languages (those with dyslexia and auditory processing disorders).

Your push for a-g does not take that into account but rather forces round pegs into your square hole or requires them to beg for a discretionary waiver - –"discretionary" class waivers is something students with learning differences would rather not have to add to the long list of things they already have to advocate to get.

It is far more humane to recognize that some of our students have these limitations, to reward those who work to the best of their abilities with high school diplomas, and to advise all students that if UC/CSU is a goal they should take x classes.

But you know all of this.

You are after something much different which is to get classes to be easier in our high schools. Why though? Most of the kids at Paly are doing quite well with how easy/difficult our classes are - 75% have better than a B average GPA and 90% have at least a C+ GPA - even with Paly math classes in the mix.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2012 at 10:09 am

I am going to ignore your selective quoting of the story. You are eliding the facts but I already posted the link so people can read it for themselves. 780 students were enrolled at all of the UC campuses combined without a-g last year, out of a 72,000 admitted students. Parents: if you like those odds for your kids, please oppose a-g for all.

Nobody is going to have to "beg" for a waiver, let alone kids with IEPs. Kids with IEPs are going to get what they already get, a free appropriate public education that does not require the blind to see or the lame to walk or the dyslexic to read or those with dyscalcula to do math. That would violate federal law and it is just deceptive panic peddling.

Yes, I think that the curriculum and teachers and school board and parents are overly focused on the high end. One negative consequence of that is sky-high academic stress for average kids. Another is sky-high failure for poor and minority kids. I want to fix both of those things and you think they are hunky-dory.

One reason is because high achieving kids are easy to teach. Another reason is that they are easy to trot out as trophies to represent our great schools. The school board never misses a chance to congratulate themselves on what a great job they are doing. But the real test of whether a school system is good isn't whether it succeeds with the easy, gifted, privileged, and advantaged. The real test is how it does with kids who have none of those things. By that measure, we are doing worse than a lot of poor districts.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2012 at 10:28 am

As I noted in a prior post, CSUs have slashed "exceptions" to a-g by 50% over the past year. It is not clear whether budgetary constraints will even allow it to continue. (UCSD only enrolled 3 such students in the past 2 years based on fairness considerations).

The total freshmen enrolled at any campus of a CSU without a-g was around 2,300 out of a total of admitted freshmen 230,757. So again, parents: if you like those odds for your kids, by all means, do not work to ensure that they receive a college prep curriculum,. Those of you who do think that every kid in PAUSD deserves to have a change to go to a publicly funded college, please support a-g for all.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2012 at 10:44 am

Michelle - you again mischaracterized the article on UCSD exceptions; they cut back on exceptions not because of "fairness", but because they found those admitted with exceptions had trouble succeeding. Here is the quote from the article:

"UC San Diego has enrolled three excepted freshmen each of the past two years, a period that follows three straight years when it enrolled about 70 of them through a special program.

The school saw that the specially admitted students were not performing well, said Mae Brown, the school's admissions director."

And speaking to the odds - the odds of getting accepted to a UCLA, UC Berkeley or UCSD taking the lowest lane of Math, is poor as well.


Posted by a-g not required, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 25, 2012 at 11:12 am

Michelle,

No reason to go round and round with you on this other than to say read my post carefully too. I did not say it is an easy way into the UCs, I raised to to point out that UC admission is not as black and white as you continue to paint it.

And about your assurances that a-g waivers will be granted freely and willingly - you should talk to the community whose kids have special needs, IEP-stamped or otherwise. Even the seemingly easiest waivers to get are not given out freely in our district, so your assurances that there is nothing for anyone to worry about if your vision of the PAUSD world is realized is pure unsupported conjecture and conflicts with the experiences at least some of the families with kids with diagnosed and undiagnosed needs have had.

You must know as a lawyer that a law can be interpreted in many ways depending on your interests. That's why we have judges. But most disputes don't go to court because few have the time or money to pursue it even when they feel they have been harmed. Laws are of little help to them.

The beauty of not being so rigid with a-g is that kids are given choices. No administrator has to make subjective assessments. No families have to undergo expensive and time consuming evaluations to get an IEP for their otherwise fine-functioning child who just finds it difficult to understand non-English audio input (required to learn a foreign language) or has met his or her limit on math abilities.

And don't forget the impact on the kids who don't want to go to the UCs/CSUs. The colleges they want to attend may not have such rigid course requirements or they opted to take a career instead of a college track. These kids don't need a-g and do not have IEPs. In your world they would be required to take classes they don't need or want and can't use that class time for classes they would like to take instead.

I grant you that your suggestion of a-g for all has appeal on the surface but the devil is in the details which is something you are evading, probably because, as a lawyer, the details do not support your position.


Posted by Real Stats, a resident of Stanford
on Jan 25, 2012 at 11:14 am

Michele and Ken,

One of the biggest problems with your argument is that you two don't seem to understand the statistics you are trying to use to prove your point. You harp on the fact that only 7% of PAUSD students rated proficient on the Algebra 2 CST test. Others have pointed out correctly that this is a very small sample size and you two still don't seem to understand the point.

Yes, this is the "entire population" of student in the PAUSD who took the test this year, but it is a small subset of the black students who have gone through PAUSD recently and taken the test.

For example, if one student took the test this year and he/she fails that is a pass rate of 0%. Terrible right? But what if at another school I had 10 take the test and 4 passed? That's 40% and much better, right? But if I randomly chose one of those 10, odds are they failed. Who knows, maybe the first school actually teaches kids better. This is an extreme example, but you get my point. A sample of 15 is just too small.

As was already mentioned, if you look at the data for the last four years, 18.6% of black PAUSD students have rated proficient compared to 13.5% statewide in Alg 2.

There is a problem with an achievement gap in PAUSD and the United States and I'm sure there are steps we can be taking to make things better, but if you are going to use statistics to try and show PAUSD is failing its black students, make sure you understand how to use them.

As is obvious if you actually look at a more meaningful sample (4 year avg), for Alg 2 PAUSD is actually far exceeding the state average.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 25, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I graduated from Palo Alto High School about 4 years ago and do you want to know what the real problem is? The damned culture. At Paly in my grade, there were two very distinct cliques that were separate from the main group. The Asians, and the Blacks. Contrary to all you politically correct people, the Asians didn't perform better because we received special attention or anything, it was because we were expected at home to finish our homework and study for tests. This wasn't even talked about because it was so obvious to us that this must be done. No special treatment from teachers, no help at all from them really. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

What really should be done is to make the parents take responsibility. And don't give me that "economically disadvantaged" crap. My mother worked at a cafeteria most of the day and came back exhausted, but still made sure when she came back to just make sure that the homework was done, even though she didn't understand any of it, until she realized she didn't have to do it anymore because it became second nature for me to just finish my work. And this is a kid who got into so much trouble in elementary and middle school he got suspended twice.


Posted by Is it really that complicated?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2012 at 1:56 pm



Michelle,

I completely get what you're saying, thank you and Ken.

My point on Geometry is separate from the ability to score well or not. It's about the opportunity cost of taking a full year, or 1/3 of these student' HS Math learning, for a class that is marginally useful, even for advanced Math concepts.

The A-G option to instead include Geometry as part of another class, "that includes sufficient geometry" could add months of room for learning or reinforcing other more important concepts in Algebra, and still fit the necessary basic Geometry in there.

The higher lanes don't spend a whole year on Geometry, they have better things to do, and I believe so does the lowest lane.



Posted by is it really that complicated?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm


Anonymous,

What I have heard about the Asian clique you bring up is that they cover the material ahead of time (not everyone I imagine). That impacts teaching because some teachers rely on kids in the district already knowing the material, and not having to teach.



Posted by roberto sanchez, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jan 25, 2012 at 8:06 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 26, 2012 at 12:07 am

@Real Stats
Please see the data that I've already posted about Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry for black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students, at Web Link.
Thanks also for finding out the 4-year average for black Algebra II proficiency -- at 18.6%, that would place PAUSD at 88th in the state if it were the actual rate for 2011. That underlines the point that we have been making, which is that there is substantial room for improvement in math teaching for these students, as shown by results in other districts.

Why are we making this point at all? Because the math teachers at Paly wrote a letter, reaffirmed recently by Mr. Toma, claiming that they were already achieving the best results possible with these students, that some significant number just can't learn Algebra II, and that any change to math teaching would lower our standards to that of the "pretend" teaching going on in other districts. If you want to argue that these results somehow don't provide evidence for that conclusion, then go ahead, but at least do so directly and taking all of the evidence offered into account.

Your argument about small numbers is inconherent, since what it actually demonstrates is that a single case isn't necessarily representative of a larger group -- say, a group of 10. The fact is that the results of the 2011 CST tests are known with precision, that they span a number of tests, subgroups, and grade cohorts, and that they show a clear pattern. Would it be helpful to have more data? Yes, of course, as always. But as someone above commented, just because we don't know everything doesn't mean we know nothing -- although you can certainly choose to decide that any level of evidence is insufficient. Since what is at stake here is whether we should try to do better in educating a diverse group of students, I think the evidence is more than sufficient.

@a-g not required - A clear, spelled-out policy on alternative graduation requirements is a prerequisite to adopting A-G as a graduation requirement, and we support holding the district to account for articulating such a policy. But once they've done that, we think it doesn't make sense to lose the benefits of an A-G graduation requirement of increasing access to college because of suspicion that the policy won't be applied as written.

@common sense (?) - I have to conclude that you're purposely misstating the article that you're claiming to rely on. See this paragraph: "That, and budget-related enrollment constraints, led UC San Diego to dramatically cut back on exceptions.
"We had so many students who meet minimum eligibility that it just wasn't fair to admit exceptions," Brown said. "We turn away thousands and thousands of qualified California residents, so we're very careful." (If anybody cares, see the thread above for what's at stake).


Posted by Charlotte, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 26, 2012 at 7:04 am

@Isitreallythatcomplicated?
"Do any students refer to other students, as slackers adding a racial reference?"
"Is the CSU requirement specifically for Geometry? Does A-G also specifiy Geometry?"
I googled it and my final answer was yes.
"The higher lanes don't spend a whole year on Geometry, they have better things to do, and I believe so does the lowest lane."
Actually, I was in the highest lane freshman year and they did spend the entire year on geometry. The trig part was at the very end of the year, and only for a month or less.
As for the separation surrounding math, it's really more of a subtle thing. Because kids in the lower math lane share a class fewer - likely two, because science honors has a math requirement - with the "top" laned students, they don't socialize with them (the "top") and separate from them. This is somewhat inherent of laning in a large school, however, so the blame is not Paly's. As for the "slacker" bias, that's not really how it is. Sure, some kids are labeled slackers (not going to lie) but only if they never have their homework in class. Students don't judge eachother by their math lanes, but by how hard they're trying (or how little, if they want to be impressive)... We don't judge each other on the basis of race. The time students mention race is generally in the context of Affirmative Action.
As for your business idea, I don't know enough about the plan to make a full judgement. There is a class entitled "Business Law," however, which seems similar to what you suggested. It covers calculations (for tax, the average square footage of a plan, etc) in the final project. <--- making a starter business after estimating all the costs & seeing if it's feasible.

I'm still curious about who is filling this "desired" math lane.


Posted by Is it really that complicated?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2012 at 8:29 am



Charlotte,

There seems to be an option in A-G to include Geometry as "part of" another class, as long as a "sufficient" amount is covered.

Geometry for the highest lane makes sense because it goes somewhere, but I have yet to hear a good argument of how it helps students who may choose not to go beyond Algebra II. In life, you just simply don;t need a full year's worth of Geometry.

Business Law is not the same as business Math.

While students may no judge each other by race, the way schools teach, and the way they allocate resources should not produce such different results for different races, as it happens in PAUSD.

School districts around the country are proving that PAUSD is behind the curve on this one. The district itself self-reports it can do better (they have to as a public school). Race is actually NOT a factor when schools excel at serving all students equally. I have not read the whole article yet, but a recent report on this topic brings up how smaller schools can make a difference. A-G, small schools, nothing should be off the table.

Web Link




Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2012 at 9:23 am

Digressing slightly I know, but I think Business Math is an excellent idea and should be open for all and any students as an elective. With all the high level math I did, when I actually started working I had no idea of simple bookkeeping (dr,cr,profit,loss,ledgers, etc), no idea of how to interpret simple data information, simple and compound interest, stock market lingo, stock fluctuations, converting fractions to decimals (except at the very basic level) and so on. I know that nowadays much of this is done by computer, but that probably only compounds the "mystery".

Charlotte above is a good example of why this should be taught (no disrespect intended) but if a student doesn't understand the difference between business law and business math then it shows that there is a gap in the practical knowledge they are not being taught.

Education is many things, but one of its functions must be to teach young people how to function in the adult world and we are most definitely failing on that score.


Posted by Charlotte, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm

No disrespect taken, but I didn't mean to say that business law is the same as business math -- it's not. My word choice of "Similar" is probably a bit too extreme, perhaps I should have said along the lines of, or maybe. I don't honestly know enough about the content of what could be the business math class to comment on it (My knowledge of the business world is limited, I've read a few books on the current state of affairs & various papers on economic theory, but that's it.) Anyway, the class "Business law" is taken as two semesters that can be taken together or separately, one which focuses more on business, the other on law (I believe? Quite possible I'm wrong). I have no objection to a business math class, but I imagine that it's a somewhat hard class to cover just because of how it's split (you'd likely need some math qualification to come into the class, plus what kind of textbook would be used? Some of the theory would likely overlap with AP Econ - interest rates, bonds, current grants - and a bit with the basics of Business law, like mortgage, bankruptcy, and the types of businesses. I think it's a valuable class, however, I don't know how it would exactly fit in as an elective -- Career Tech Ed, I suppose? But semester or year? Adding a class to the list of electives is hard, especially if it's a class with too few sign-ups, which ends up getting canceled.)

About interest -- we do learn about interest in math class in both seventh & eighth grade, plus Sophomore year (or junior, depending on the lane -- I think). We don't learn everything, however -- just the basics on how to do continuously compounded, quarterly compounded, annually compounded, etc. But at least it's already mentioned as you go through Paly.

"There seems to be an option in A-G to include Geometry as "part of" another class, as long as a "sufficient" amount is covered"
Fine by me, because most of Geometry is spent writing out proofs that take up more time than they're worth. But do consider that some of Geometry is spent reviewing Algebra & learning Trig regardless of what lane you're in (the amount of time differs lane-to-lane though)

"function in the adult world" Honestly, I think Palo Altans are quite well prepared for the world ESPECIALLY if they (we?) read a lot. As the most educated city in California, Palo Alto's day-to-day conversation is educational. In Palo Alto we work hard (internships & school)and learn how to spend money (saving money is fun and, when on a small allowance, necessary -- go Costco!). I think Paly and Gunn do a fine job of preparing us for the adult world.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Charlotte

You sound like a nice responsible high school student and I am glad to hear your opinions.

I am pleased you have learned about interest, it was something I never understood until later. I also find you enlightened in your comments about school classes.

I also think it is good you feel prepared for your adult life. You don't say how old you are, but I think you are pretty typical of what our average Palo Alto high school feels of how prepared you are for adult life.

Have you ever had a job? Have you ever gone for a job interview? Have you learned how to dress and act for a business meeting, or a high society function - which fork to use? Have you learned how and when to file your taxes? Have you learned how to balance a checkbook? Have you learned how to buy a car or get insurance?

Sure, our students know how to apply to college and fill in financial aid forms. You probably know how to drive and how to use a credit card to buy gas, but can you change a flat tire or check the oil?

Living Skills has probably taught you all about drugs, contraception and STDs. But has it taught you what you might need to rent an apartment?

Community service may have given you the opportunity to volunteer some hours for something worthwhile, but have you seen what it is like to live in poverty in Mexico? Or had your home and parents washed away in a tsunami?

Sorry to sound harsh, but saving money by buying in bulk at Costco isn't the same as living on a tiny budget.

Please don't get me wrong, I am not critical of you, just the system. Some of these things may be taught by your parents, or by family circumstances. But not all Palo Alto students are going to get that. I just would like to see better living skills taught at school. The fact that you don't see it is just why I think it should be done.

If you indeed do have some of the above experiences then I apologise for sounding condescending. But alas, many of your fellow high school students definitely need some help in these areas.


Posted by Charlotte, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 26, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Regardless of what experiences I've had (I think writing out my experiences would be quite a bore -- both for me to write and you to read) I agree with you completely on your point about Living Skills. I'm currently enrolled in it, and it's mainly about expressing yourself & (yet another) sex/drug education unit. I understand the need for these, however I don't understand how these topics manage to take up an entire semester. Were the topics compressed, I think that much of what you've above mentioned could be added - and easily. It's not unbelievable to have a 1 or 2 day trip to the Auto shop to teach everyone how to look at oil & change tires. And much of the above could be taught simply by lecture.
On the upside (after that somewhat bashing review I felt obligated to post something positive), Living Skills now allows Community Service related to religious activities now. They didn't previously. And the teachers, regardless of what I think of their class, are enthusiastic about what they teach.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Charlotte

Sorry, I have just come back to my computer to apologise, I was a bit too rough with you. I shouldn't have done so. I think it was the Costco comment that did it.




Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Charlotte

I have just read your most recent post. I think you and I would get on very well. We certainly seem to agree on more than we disagree.


Posted by Charlotte, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 26, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Haha, don't worry about it, and no apology needed. I actually appreciate when people come out and speak their mind rather than conforming to society's idea of politeness -- especially online, because the internet exists to allow this to happen.
I originally wrote the typical fill in the blank "Well, actually I've ___" and then realized how arrogant and condescending I sounded. I figured it didn't give off the best impression, even if online. As for the Costco comment, I don't mind -- I just felt like endorsing Costco because I like their -14% margin & Customer oriented services.
.... And back to the main topic!


@Is it Really that complicated: "Anonymous, What I have heard about the Asian clique you bring up is that they cover the material ahead of time (not everyone I imagine). That impacts teaching because some teachers rely on kids in the district already knowing the material, and not having to teach."
Not really, wrong on a few things. 1) Very few people cover the material ahead of time, and those who do generally have tutors. These are actually (I hate bringing race into this, but it seems necessary because you've designated the achievers as Asians) mainly white students, as far as I can tell. So it's not the Asians reading ahead. 2) For many classes you're asked at the beginning of the year to read ahead in the textbook before the next class. I can vouch for this being true in History, Science, and English (although I suppose it's a book or play here), although perhaps not so in math. 3) In the higher lanes of math, reports inform me that the textbooks aren't that helpful at all for certain chapters, so they just wait until class anyway. 4) The Asians aren't exactly a clique. 5) Teachers really don't care if you know the material or not. They'll go over it anyway, unless the entire class can answer the quiz questions & have no questions about the problems. And even then, they go over it.


Posted by Is it really that complicated?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2012 at 1:11 am


Charlotte,

I've enjoyed reading your previous comments with Resident.

My comment about Asian clique was in response to Anonymous who said that aside from a general group, there are two groups, blacks and "Asian clique" (HIs/her term), and that the slacker issue was about Asian moms demanding more. I can't seem to find that comment anymore, it may have been removed because it sounded offensive. I replied to that post, basically pointing out the tutoring issue you bring up.

Another way to see the same point is that there is an economic reason why, for example, an Asian student (or any other non-achievement gap student) would have a tutor, and be "ahead" with what I call "built in" tutors -highly educated parents who have maybe both gone to college and more. Asians in Palo Alto happen to fall in the category of highly educated, and economically advantaged (enough to own a home here). But taking race out of it, as you suggest is really a better way to see it, and it then boils down to the other circumstances.

Teaching is absolutely impacted by the make up of your student "audience" and while teaching can sound perfectly acceptable to some or the majority, it is apparently not working for others. Or we would not be talking about "bifurcated" schools. You have brought up how this even happens socially, and while it's a consequence of the lanes, is it really ok? Does social stratification, for whatever reason, make for a safe learning environment?

I know somebody might now say, oh, my parents are not college educated, I am economically disadvantaged, I never had a tutor, and I am at the top of my class. PAUSD is fine for me. That doesn't make it so, the district itself considers the achievement gap a failure (maybe because it never improves), but here on these threads people against solving the problem argue that it's race, then they say it's not race, or say there is no problem!

Back to my bullying comment, as long as the achievement gap is not seriously dealt with, I don't think it's far-fetched to say it's a "culture" of bullying, and while students at large are not responsible for the failures of leadership on this issue, they could be part of the solution, by contributing ideas and suggestions as you have done so here.





Posted by Is it really that complicated?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2012 at 1:26 am


Charlotte,

"Fine by me, because most of Geometry is spent writing out proofs that take up more time than they're worth."

Imagine all that time. I am not of course suggesting to cut Geometry from any other lanes, Just that an an entire year is an eternity for kids in the lowest lane, for a subject that truly goes nowhere if there is no plan to beyond Alg2.

Also, with Geometry right smack in 9th grade, it cuts the continuity of covering Algebra right after the principles covered in Middle School, while the subject is "warm."



Posted by Real Stats, a resident of Stanford
on Jan 27, 2012 at 7:20 pm

@ Ken Dauber

Mr. Toma may be more or less correct when he claims as you say "that other districts don't really teach Algebra 2".

If I add the number of white, asian, hispanic, and black students together who took the test I get 781 students. About 70-75% of those students passed in aggregate. I was not incredibly careful about adding all districts together, but I believe this is #3 in the state behind Albany City and San Marino Unified, both relatively small district.

Obviously there is something going on here with black and hispanic students because they do have low pass rates in PAUSD relative to other districts, but they are so small in number that there may be some confounding variables at play. I took star tests and I have seen kids fill out the bubbles in various designs without even looking at the test. There is no incentive to do well. If only a couple of students who would have otherwise passed do this, it totally skews the statistics.

Keep in mind though, #3 overall in the state and #1 for schools with more than 250 kids taking the test hardly supports the accusations you are making.


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 27, 2012 at 10:48 pm

@Real Stats - I'm a little puzzled by your various efforts to elide the gap between PAUSD and better-performing districts on the CST math scores for poor and minority students. Just taking your latest post, you've (a) disappeared the gap by combining scores for all groups together, (b) suggested that that may be some "confounding variables" at play without suggesting what they might be, and (c) offered the idea that random bubbling could explain the results, though without explaining why our students might be more prone to this bubbling behavior than students in other districts, or why it would produce such a strong pattern across tests and groups. To me, at least, a fact that requires such effort to avoid is a pretty solid fact. I guess that's what you are acknowledging when you say that "Obviously there is something going on here with black and hispanic students because they do have low pass rates in PAUSD relative to other districts."
I do want to correct one misstatement in your latest posts -- we're not making accusations against Mr. Toma or the Paly math department, we're defending students against the accusation that they can't learn Algebra II, and (incidentally) other districts in the state against the accusation that they are teaching a pretend version of Algebra II. (I really doubt that you actually believe that this data support this "pretending" charge, which strikes me as just silly. If you want to publish your calculations we can have a discussion about it, although I suspect that what you're finding is that PAUSD is skewed more towards high-scoring groups than are other districts because of its relative lack of diversity).
Reading this data, the obvious next step is to learn how other districts are being successful with a diverse group of students. The math departments and the district should get on to that good work.


Posted by Waiver Wary, a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 28, 2012 at 9:32 am

I realize that many people think parents of Special Ed students are mentally challenged. This is an unfortunate stereotype which we live with. But does anyone really think that we will not equate the proposed and currently undocumented waiver process with the process we have been fighting through to get our students identified and protected by an IEP or 504? Of course we are wary of the waiver proposal because we have experience trying to get many staff members to respect the law an give our students the accomodations they need. We are eternally grateful to those staff members who are abiding by the law and who are rooting for our children's success.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2012 at 12:58 pm

@Ken - the facts are these: the population being looked at is very small; self-selection weighs heavily on it (e.g., EPA vs. PA residents); it covers only one field of study (math); and one test of that field (CST). You think the next step is "obvious" - I agree, but the only obvious next step I can see is to get more data, context and relevant analysis to understand what, if anything, the problem is.

Let's not try to make the data into more than it can be. Leaping to conclusions from limited data is often done, on matters small and very large, and usually leads to waste and regret. Let's be smarter than that. I hope the district will be, instead of trying to placate the squeaky wheels.


Posted by Qualitative , a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 28, 2012 at 5:00 pm

@ Me Too: Why the parting dig? So unnecessary. And it's a bit ironic - your assumption and "hope" that the district will be smarter or investigate at all - let alone "placate the squeaky wheels", which I assume you mean We Can Do Better PA and/or the Daubers.

I wish. And I would hope that the District would have already seen and investigated an achievement gap that has been around for a very long while. Let's watch that as it happens. So let's hear the district administration report out - and as soon as possible - their informed explanations for these results and put our concerns to rest. (... crickets chirping ...)

Because as a community and a public school district we should be asking these questions and concerned - about all students. This data troubles me greatly. Thank you Ken and Michelle for your courage and action on behalf of all students. This is worth questioning and investigating- regardless of whose "right" about sample size, etc.


Posted by Real Stats, a resident of Stanford
on Jan 28, 2012 at 6:22 pm

@ Ken Dauber

Let's get rid of the diversity issue then. If you just look at white + asian students, PAUSD is #3 in the state for pass % for any school with more than a handful of kids taking the test. This strongly suggests the teaching is very strong in PAUSD. I am no expert on education and maybe there is a real achievement gap in PAUSD that something should be done about, but that is not what I am trying to address.

You criticize the idea that Mr. Toma could be right when he says they are teaching Algebra 2 at a higher level than other schools. However, this data shows exactly that. It supports the idea that PAUSD teaches Algebra 2 at a higher level than almost anyone in the state.


Posted by paly '08 student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2012 at 2:47 am

@Ken and Michele Dauber

I wish that the rhetoric surrounding the current debate over updating the graduating requirements could be more polite and respectful, and I can't help but feel that We Can do Better Palo Alto and its advocates have contributed greatly to some very pointed and personal attacks on some of the dearest teachers of my Paly experience. You may criticize the words of the Paly math department, or their opinions, but please be respectful. They have made a world of difference in my life and in the lives of many of my friends, and people who *have actually taken classes with them* generally feel that they are some of the most dedicated, passionate math teachers around.

Further, I would like to point out that the summary of the statistics that have been so touted (Palo Alto's 7% proficiency and above vs. 38% overall in California) have been cherrypicked. I could equally cherrypick the data in the following way: The % of African-American students in California overall who received "Far Below Basic" in Algebra II in 11th grade is 37%. The same percentage in Palo Alto Unified (I could not actually find individual statistics for either school; results were blocked for privacy reasons) was only 20%. Now it seems our district is far outperforming California on the whole in terms of educational gap.

In fact, an examination of the data shows that while our district has less outstanding African-American performers on the CST Algebra II in the eleventh grade, our district also has less students who perform terribly poorly in Algebra II. I believe that if we only quote the proficiency statistic, we in fact commit the same "error" as some have accused the Paly math department of committing; that of expecting excellence or where it is not absolutely required.

I would also like to second the various comments on careful use of these statistics, as the percentages really do obscure how few students are really involved in the process. If there are only fifteen students' scores in question, each student is worth 6% to their category of performance.

I find the insistence on changing the graduation requirements to match those of CSU/UC's mistaken; though I agree that we should encourage all PAUSD students to continue on to college, changing our graduation requirements is a particularly heavy-handed way of doing this. Though Mr. Toma's letter was harshly worded, if changing our requirements would result in a lower graduation rate, that would be an adverse consequence indeed. Those who are advocating the change on the basis of the importance of a college degree when entering the work force can surely recognize the importance of the high school diploma.

Best,
--



Posted by paly parent, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 29, 2012 at 11:39 am

Paly '08 student -

You are missing a few points:

Mr. Toma believes that Algebra 2 should be taught to the more challenging standards he has set rather than the UC/CSU standards.

Students who are unable to pass the Mr. Toma version of Algebra 2 are often unable to get into a 4 year college.

I believe most students would rather get into a 4 year school and struggle a little in math rather than being denied a chance to attend a 4 year college because a math teacher thought his standards were more important than the states.


Posted by logic, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Whether a kid gets into a 4-year college or not,it will certainly depend on his/her rankings among all students in that particular high school. It does not mean if they get to pass algebra 2,then they will have an improved chance to get into college if they still are at the bottom rankings among the same grade students.That is why it is fair that students in other schools are given the same chances by the universities.If you score high in other lower ranking schools, then you probably have more chance to get in with at grade level algebra 2,but if you live in Palo alto,then there are simply too many advanced level kids score high in classes which are more advanced than algebra 2,then if you only barely pass the algebra 2, you will not get any better chance over the kids in the average ranking schools.


Posted by paly '08 student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2012 at 1:55 am

Paly parent,

If I may, I think establishing a simpler Algebra II class is the first step to a radical change to the math curriculum. Suppose a student takes the new UC/CSU standard Algebra II and the current Algebra II is renamed Algebra II A. Now the student wishes to proceed on to the next math class. Where can the student go? Currently Algebra II students go on to Precalculus, but clearly the new Algebra II class will not prepare students adequately for the Precalculus class which follows the current Algebra II. Suddenly the math department must invent another class to accomodate such a student. It would be quite unfair to limit a student's advancement in math simply because there is no logical class which follows their current class. And yet, unless yet another new class is added to the already complicated list of math courses, this student will be left behind; they can either take the new Algebra II A and waste most of their time, as the only subject our current Algebra II covers which is not UC/CSU mandated, is matrices and determinants, or jump into Precalc, a class meant for someone who has taken more math than them. And what if the student, upon finishing a new "lower-laned" Precalc, should wish to move on again? The creation of an entire new lane at Paly begins with the seemingly harmless addition of one class. Need I point out that budgets being what they are and space being limited, this is hardly a good use of our money or space? Many critics of the Paly math department feel that the laning is already too complicated. Why, then, should we add to the complication?

The other option, of course, is the infamous "watering down" of standards that the math letter implied would happen if we changed our graduation standards. Many critics have simplistically, if you will, implied that we need not change our courses; we need only add a new Algebra II class. But we have see that this is not feasible, so it only remains to examine our current classes and readjust our current lanes so that the "lowest" one is exactly UC/CSU compliant. I don't want to get into this, but hasn't it been show that teaching to the test makes students learn less? In any case, if we keep only four lanes, then students currently well-served by the program will then be squished into the upper three lanes.

Of course, some may point out that we needn't expect students taking the new Algebra II to continue in math. That would be deliciously ironic coming from people who are railing against the Paly math department for limiting or not believing in certain students.

I understand that defending the status quo can be easier, although in this case I would say calling foul because of some poorly worded statements is just as easy. I just want to point out that the math lanes at Paly are no accident. They have been honed and perfected, and, like many other subjects at Paly, students are very grateful indeed when they reach college. We need to remember that college is not an ending, but a beginning. Getting more students into four year colleges will do us no good if we have in fact set them up for failure or great hardship there.

It seems that the main support for the change in graduation requirements is to force accountability on the school for the college entrance of all its students. I argue that, with Paly's incredible advisory system, this is unnecessary; we can use the existing advisory structure to ensure that students have to discuss their four year plans with their advisor, and are encouraged to adjust them as necessary to meet uc/csu requirements. The adjacent debate regarding the math department's standards, especially Algebra II, has been brought into this conversation only by the math department's concern that in our enthusiasm to promote college readiness, we overlooked some practicalities. Somehow this became a reason to attack the math department teachers, calling them lazy and elitist, both of which are patently untrue. We should remember that it would have been a nondissue if not for the math department's concern for those students it was accused of neglecting.

I am not suggesting that the achievement gap is not important, or that we should stop looking for solutions, but I wish to warn against the radical embrace of heavyhanded policies, paired with disdain and disrespect for the impressive work I know most Palo Alto teachers do.

*I am having problems submitting this so I apologize if it shows up multiple times.


Posted by former math teacher, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 7, 2012 at 1:41 am

It is hard to think of a subject more neutral to race than mathematics. Is there such a thing as teaching math from a black perspective? Does anyone honestly think the Palo Alto High School math teachers are racists who teach math in way that only white and Asian students can understand and that black and latino students can not. If they do, please provide an example.


Posted by paly dad, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2012 at 8:45 am

The Paly math letter reflects that the Paly math department has entrenched views about who can succeed and who can't, based on their experience. They haven't retracted the letter, and the district hasn't repudiated it. The letter is indicative of the greater problem in the district, where the achievement gap starts in elementary school and is passed along, and children of color are put in special ed disproportionately. So by the time they reach Paly, you have a situation that has lead to the views expressed in the Paly math department.

However people are missing the main point -- that Dr. Skelly's proposal serves to modernize our graduation requirements for everyone. We should have purposefully designed graduation requirements for the 21st century, including math, science, and world language that are the consensus requirements for public college education today. By enabling alternative pathways, his proposal allows for the differentiation that so many people in Palo Alto wish for their children. For example, consider not taking the extra year of social studies that we require but colleges and the state don't. Consider using that year to take extra electives, or advanced math or science, or to pursue an independent research project.

We are going in the right direction, and we will all look back on this as the common sense thing to do, here in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley. We shouldn't have antiquated graduation requirements, we should have requirements that make sense. Dr. Skelly should remove the extra year of social studies and add that to the elective column to finalize and fully rationalize his proposal.


Posted by notsosimple, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2012 at 8:55 am

I like his ideas except a_g.If the achievement gap can be erased by simply raising the graduation requirement,then why did not Obama just propose it?It requires the willingness and dedication from our teachers and parents and family culture and all involved.It is just not as simple as the article suggests.If the teachers are doing this under undue unreasonable pressure,it will only backfire.


Posted by notsosimple, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2012 at 9:08 am

Just imagine,when a teacher calls the parents about the trouble with this kid, and the only response she gets was the parents' blaming on the school, what can she do? Does she need to continue to push the kid to achieve s_g. I have seen a very rich parent, when the school gave a c to his kid, he stormed into the office, took out a check ,asking the principal how much the school wanted.He would write a check for it. What can a principal do?


Posted by former math teacher, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 7, 2012 at 10:22 am

I observed the math classes in Palo Alto High School in 2005 for a week. I saw Mr. Toma's geometry class (normal level, not honors) and there were black students in that class being taught with the white and asian students. I also observed two honors classes, geometry/Algebra 2 with Jeff Billing and Calculus with Suzanne Antink, and I don't remember any minority students there.

The honor math classes were just awesome. These kids could do extremely complex math in a flash of a second. The teachers would have contests pitting both sides of the class against each other, each problem getting harder, and invariably some tall asian kid would stand up 5 seconds later with the answer. This was how long it took me to write the problem down! So anyone who thinks all students are created equal in math ability needs to rethink that concept.

On the other hand I observed a remedial math class and it was a little too friendly and politically correct. All the students were winners in that class even though some couldn't do basic math. I don't think this is reflection of students. The teacher thought she was doing what she was expected which was to keep everyone of the students happy and their self esteem high. I don't remember any black students in the remedial class.

The classes I observed that had black students, namely Toma and Mitchell and Carol Eng, were pushed hard to learn. They were not treated any differently than the white student and asian students, though I did observe some disrespect of one of the teachers from at least one of the black students and also from some white girls.

In summary the minority students are treated the same as the white and asian students. The honors classes at PALY have some unbelievably bright kids and it isn't because the teachers are better either. The remedial math class is too remedial in my mind. I hope the regular classes don't end up like the remedial classes.

Since I have done some high school math teaching in other schools I can say that there is this "attitude" in the Palo Alto High School math department that strikes me as repulsive, namely that they think they are so superior to everyone else. There are two teachers there that were named Math Teacher of Year nationally and they do get teachers who went to MIT, or who have masters degrees etc, but overall they teach the same stuff as all of the other schools do, including the low income high schools like Independence. They have to because of the California standards. The job is a grind so give them a break, but on the other hand I'm secretly enjoying this little controversy because I think some of them need a kick in the pants for their silly fantansies that they are better than other math teachers in other districts just because they get too teach some really smart kids.


Posted by parent, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2012 at 10:49 am

former math teacher,

I suggest you read the editorial this week which better describes how the district is dealing with the issue of bifurcated schools, and the Math debate.

Your perception from the remedial classes you observed at Paly, that they were not exactly where the "action" was, supports the need for change. And raising expectations is part of it.

Just because teachers view all students equally doesn't mean all students need to be fed the same pie. Differentiation is part of every classroom. The current way of dealing with differentiation is to send the poor performers packing, and self-congratulate about the stars.

I doubt any MIT professors were teaching the remedial class. It takes more than Math genius to teach students remedial math, and that 's the example you previously asked for, regarding how Math teaching can improve.


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