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High school graduation criteria debated

Original post made on Jan 28, 2012

Algebra 2 has become a focus for a debate over whether the Palo Alto Unified School District should boost its graduation requirements to meet entrance criteria for the California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC).

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, January 28, 2012, 7:27 PM

Comments (32)

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2012 at 9:02 pm

A friend of mine who teaches in another state, says her district deals with this issue by offering an extended session (extra long class) of the math class with the same curriculum. Please consider this option.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2012 at 9:42 pm

I couldn't remember what's taught in Algebra 2. In case anyone else has the same issue, here's the CA standard Algebra 2 questions and answers.

www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/documents/rtqalg2.pdf


Posted by Claire, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 29, 2012 at 7:34 am

On what basis can a PUBLIC school district deny a California diploma to a student who meets California graduation standards?

Raising expectations may sound good, but it will have the unintended consequence of denying a high school diploma to students who meet not only state standards but PAUSD's already heightened expectations — heightened due to our district's famous academic rigor within existing course requirements. The present-day PAUSD diploma is worth more than the diplomas of almost all other school districts in the state.

The goal should be to award diplomas, not deny diplomas.
I'd rather see multiple layers of diplomas (standard, with honors, with high honors, etc.) than fewer diplomas.


Posted by Paly Alumni, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2012 at 9:34 am

a high school diploma should mean something. palo alto isn't a random town in the middle of know where, its a city in the heart of the silicon valley. If 18 year olds, can't do simple algebra, how are they going to survive in this town? algebra is not hard, and understanding it is key to know matter what you end up doing. Just because not everyone is required doesn't mean thats a good thing. Change has to come from somewhere, and as the most highly educated city in California, it should start here.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2012 at 9:42 am

Paly Alumni

Grammar and writing should be key to whatever a student wants to do. If they don't know how to start a sentence with a capital letter and understand the difference between "know" and "no", as well as the ability to put a coherent sentence together, then we should be very worried for them. I think we should be starting with their English skills, not their math skills.


Posted by paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2012 at 10:53 am

Paly does not teach are "regular" lane of Algebra 2, the math department has made the class much more challenging than the UC/CSU standards require. That needs to change.

In addition, Paly does not teach a regular lane of Biology (required for graduation) or Chemistry, teaching only Advanced and Honors levels of these classes.

Not every student is advanced in math and science. We should have regular lanes for these classes.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 29, 2012 at 2:24 pm

i think math is wonderful, but I had a hell of a time learning it. At the time I graduated from High School I do not think but one math class was required and I had a very hard time with it. I struggled with math, not really sure why, until after taking Beginning algebra 3 times, and Intermediate algebra twice, I pushed through the calculus classes DiffyQ, with all A's.

Math, abstract and symbolic thinking is very important to be able to think in my cases I think it was the terrible way these classes were taught and the horrible teachers and lack of any tutorial or supplemental support. No one ever took the time to explain what algebra was to me. It was only an odd obsession that math was important and key to lots of things in the world that kept me pushing at it.

There used to be very good programs on TV, that showed math in action. The "Mechanical Universe' series on PBS had very interesting basis animations showing how equations balance with real world physical examples I do not see anything like that now. We are very clearly afraid of smart citizens especially if they are poor. In India they are educating people, so no matter what we do here, they will succeed the rational thing for us to do would be to have a manhattan project in education in America but I think the top 1% thinks it can just keep buying the best from India forever.


Posted by George, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Maybe it's time to request the State Auditor to do a complete review of the District. Claims that there are no "regular tracts" of this, that, or the other, is disturbing. The school board is close to useless, since they generally will not answer questions placed to them about serious issues involving problems in the schools.

What's needed is someone who has the power to demand access to district information and staff, and the authority to review the district's actions, and policies. Right now, all we can get is a certain amount of political genuflecting to the school board by the superintendent, and no way for the public to put questions to the staff that will be answered, or answered fully and truthfully.

It certainly makes sense that there should be a set of standards for high school graduation that every high school should be bound, by law, to expect of enrolled students. It's really not clear that the public should be expected to fund a school where the staff feels entitled to do what it wants, and does not have to answer to the public for its decisions.

A full audit is about the only way to find out what is going on at the PAUSD.


Posted by Puzzled, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I would like to know what is the connection between the Daubers and the Palo Alto Weekly that this topic is brought back up week after week after week in the Weekly. Frankly, it makes no sense to bring it up so much out of all the problems facing our city and our schools.


Posted by Puzzled, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm

@ Anonymous from Another PA neighborhood

Your link it to the CA standard test website (CA dept of education)

It is not a link to the UC requirements, which are a completely separate thing.


Posted by Not as puzzled, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 29, 2012 at 6:56 pm

@Puzzled -- I don't see the Daubers mentioned in this article, but I do see that the school board has this item on its agenda for Tuesday's meeting: Web Link
Maybe that's why the Weekly decided to publish a story about it? Just saying.


Posted by 4 years of social studies?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2012 at 11:31 pm

"Palo Alto exceeds CSU/UC criteria in social studies, demanding 40 credits -- four years -- in contrast to CSU/UC's 20 credits."


Does any college require 4 years of social studies? or why Palo Alto doubles the basic requirement?


Posted by Perspective, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 30, 2012 at 4:50 am

To "4 years of social studies" : I agree.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2012 at 8:44 am

@George, Agreed that a state audit of PAUSD courses is necessary. Parents are entitled to see objective data and analysis and not the District's self-serving reports. Further, it is high time the PAUSD graduation requirements are reviewed and updated when 4 years of social studies is required to graduate but only 2 years of math.


Posted by 4 years of social studies?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2012 at 10:56 am



Admitting I'm paranoid, I wonder if changing the 4 years of social studies would cause a problem with the teacher unions because they can't lay off any teachers. right? No enrollment in all the social studies classes, no jobs.

When the calendar debate was raging, an obstacle to the "compromise" alternative (finals before break; not starting early; uneven semesters) I think was that the social studies department objected to uneven semesters as it messed up kids signing up for electives in the Spring.


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2012 at 11:32 am

I agree with the poster named "Resident" above. I am appalled at the English grammar usage that is prevalent. (Newspapers are guilty also.it is so easy to do in grades K-3. (Parents, you can go on-line and get the materials for the time-honored "Palmer Method" and teach it at home.) For almost every graduation gift I've given in the last few years, the thank you note, if sent, was hand printed - some with errors crossed out. Just this past week, a survey of business and industry indicated that applicants who had a good grounding the 'liberal arts' were more likely to get a job. English grammar and writing skills are being destroyed.
The basics start in grades 1-8. Diagramming is one of the best methods for teaching grammar. By 7th grade, I could diagram compound-complex sentences.
I also had Latin which is valuable in teaching the English language.

And while I'm at it, I must say I HATE the word/s "you know", "I"m like' and "like" interspersed frequently in normal conversation. This garbage talk (also known as "Valley Girl") started about thirty years ago. Listen to the millionaire athletes, especially in football and basketball. They are very poor examples to young people. MY opinion: Algebra II may not get a person a good job, but being able to speak and write well just may do it. The way things are going there won't be much competition. A course in basic manners wouldn't be a bad idea either.


Posted by Puzzled, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2012 at 12:34 pm

I think we should keep 4 years of social studies in high school. The reason is that we don't just want high school to be a college prep school. We also want high school to produce informed, thinking future citizens. I already think we don't teach enough critical thinking skills in schools. We will teach even less if we diminish the social studies requirement.

There barely is any social studies taught in elementary school, and it is repetitive, mostly local history. Then, there is some in middle school but not in depth. We need the 4 years of high school S.S.

S.S. teaches our government, how it works, why it is the way it is, how it worked in the past. It teaches what happened in the world, how and why wars started and ended, how and why civilizations and countries thrived and then collapsed. It is essential!

Our kids need to know all this to be future citizens and engaged in what happens in our local area, in the country and in the world at large. Please, do not cut Social Studies.

(I am not a Social Studies teacher or anyone remotely connected to that field).


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Words were omitted in my post above.

i agree with the poster named "Resident" above. I am appalled at the English grammar usage that is prevalent. (Newspapers are guilty also.) Evidently, hand 'writing' a/k/a cursive isn't being taught either. Legal documents require a "signature"....or an "x" with a witness. It is so easy to do in grades K-3. (Parents, you can go on-line and get the materials for the time-honored "Palmer Method" and teach it at home.)

It does not take Algebra II to get a Ph.D. in Greek studies, any history, the arts or music, or English literature.


Posted by Puzzled, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2012 at 12:55 pm

@ Not As Puzzled.

Alright. The graduation criteria are indeed on the Board's agenda. However, so are 9 or 10 other topics, including fees for summer school, class size and other issues of great interest to the public. Yet, only the graduation requirement/math issue is, once again ('sigh'), picked up by the Weekly and thrown out for publicity and more forum discussion. It's every week it seems. To me, this seems to be very biased on the part of the Weekly.


Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I agree with George above:
"Maybe it's time to request the State Auditor to do a complete review of the District. Claims that there are no "regular tracts" of this, that, or the other, is disturbing. What's needed is someone who has the power to demand access to district information and staff, and the authority to review the district's actions, and policies.
It's really not clear that the public should be expected to fund a school where the staff feels entitled to do what it wants, and does not have to answer to the public for its decisions.
A full audit is about the only way to find out what is going on at the PAUSD."

In the audit, I would also like to see a review of the grades (A,B,C etc.) and distribution of grades in Algebra 2, biology and chemistry. I do not think that our high schools are colleges and as such, they should not be graded on college type curves. We can have classes that adhere to CA curriculum and not be considered "pretend" as the Math dept IS states.

An audit, by a qualified, objective authority will pull our community out of this ongoing, divisive debate.


Posted by RussianMom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Common, you choose to live in a district with ABOVE average public school. Don't push your child to A+++++ path and let them choose the topic of their passion. There are so many roads to success. Don't try to audit, simplify, clean the road. Trust and support your child. S/he will find the way. And trust the teachers, even the worth ones. Your child will grow and will need a skill to live and work with all characters. Are you planning to simplify it then? God, please stop me from closing the gap path.


Posted by Go Ahead, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm

@George and others - if you think the school board is "useless" and not responsive to important concerns, please run in the next election. Or encourage like-minded friends to run. The elections are not highly contested - in the last decade we have had a total of 20 candidates for 12 open seats, and in the last election, two incumbents ran unopposed!

The position requires a fair amount of hours, no pay, and a lot of patience - hence we are lucky to have responsible people step forward to volunteer to serve. If you feel strongly that the job is not being done well, please step up and help make the city better.


Posted by Concerned Retiree, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2012 at 1:32 pm

So the debate is a concern that too many children cannot pass Algebra II. Too many of these children are Afro-American or Hispanic who presumably came to Palo Alto for its exceptional schools. And now, they -- or their parents -- are complaining that the standards are too high??
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2012 at 2:23 pm

@Concerned Retiree, with all due respect, I think you are not informed of the culture shift and current system whereby wealthy parents game the (education) system by pre-prepping (at high cost) their precious teens to an extraordinary degree so they are way ahead of math and science curriculum (honors), in fact regardless of interest/ability. It is not an issue of dumbing down the standards. It is an issue of having authentic students who do their own work. This has led to an ever greater disparity between Tiger-parented, often wealthy kids and "regular folk." I think the public school system, even a "top" one such as PAUSD, must serve all students, even the non-prepped ones.


Posted by paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Concerned Retiree - no one wants to "dumb down" the curriculum. We would just like a lane of Algebra 2 that is taught to the standards set by the UC/CSU. The current Algebra 2 - even the lowest level - is taught far above those standards. We would also like a regular (not honors or accelerated) lane of Biology and Chemistry to be taught at Paly. Gunn offers regular lanes of both.

These issues affect more than just minority kids - but they are disproportionately affected.


Posted by Former Math Teacher, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 5, 2012 at 12:04 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Whether someone wants to learn Algebra 2 because they are interested in the material is an individual decision. Whether a person needs it for their career is fairly unlikely since I can tell you almost no one except math teachers and mathematicians would use this material in their job. Those of us who like math find it interesting, but most of the world does not. Whether the Palo Alto High School math department is populated by self important bureaucrats should not matter to someone who wants to learn math. My advice to the minority students is to study the Algebra 2 mathematics as I do for fun and not worry about the personalities you will meet in Palo Alto High School. Whether it effects which college you attend I suppose is a problem but there must be other routes to achieving your goal such as going to a junior college. I tend to go with those who want a [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] course of algebra 2 that meets the UC/CSU standards for those who aren't interested in math and to have a more rigorous version for those who like math and are good at it. What I request is that you don't let the Palo Alto High School math department stop you from enjoying mathematics.


Posted by concerned parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2012 at 8:57 am

Was very taken aback by the comments above of the former math teacher. While he/she says they weren't being serious, there is a lot of heavy duty stuff in there about IQs etc. that is very troubling, and you wonder where those ideas come from. At least the writer encourages kids to enjoy mathematics notwithstanding the attitudes around them. With the Paly math letter, you have to wonder if there are teachers who think of the minority students seriously in the way that was written about above.

Let's focus instead on the fact that we are modernizing our graduation requirements for everyone, as this is the 21st century, where math, science and world language matter, and are required for public college admissions. Let's finish updating an archaic graduation system that has no defenders because it lacks rationality. It's just a by-product of who knows what from a by-gone era. Why do we have four years of social studies when this is not required by colleges or the state? That year could be used for electives, advanced courses, etc. Let's have a pathway make sense for our kids, and use the differentiation option of alternative pathways that Dr. Skelly is proposing to get the best academics for our kids.


Posted by former math teacher, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 7, 2012 at 8:39 pm

My posting was sarcastic, but apparently Concern Parent took it seriously.

In my brief career as a math teacher, which was very unsuccessful at three schools, something I learned quickly was that if a student did poorly in my class, it was because I was a lousy teacher. The kid and his parents and the administration all agreed on this.

So I tried to understand why I was so bad at this. I found out that teaching in school is mostly about playing politics. The new teachers in the system mainly get the rejects and the remedial students. If the new teacher can stay long enough to get a clean credential and tenure, then things improve tremendously. Not many get that anymore. Hence the new teachers are tossed around until the either can't be hired anymore or they quit out of frustration. But those teachers who are good at "playing politics" can get through the system. It usually means keeping their mouth shut during the staff meetings.

So apparently the math teachers at Palo Alto High School haven't been doing their job very well, because there are a few minority students that are failing Algebra 2. The vast majority of the students are succeeding, it is just this one group that can't seem to hack it.

Just to discuss the sarcasm in earlier post (which was removed by Palo Alto Online), anytime a student fails it must be the teachers fault and if one group, especially a minority group, then the reason they are failing is because of the racist attitudes of the teachers.

This would not be how the administration would express it. They wouldn't call it racism, they would call it "diversity" or "multiculturalism". If one minority group fails then the teacher must not support "multiculturalism" which allows the school principal to fire this teacher.

So is everyone happy now that the school system is so political that a vocal minority can get any particular teacher fired if they can prove that statistically that teacher gave that one ethnic group lower grades? It doesn't seem fair to me, but then what do I know.


Posted by parent , a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 8, 2012 at 8:11 am



former math teacher,

You have a lot to say but it's unclear what case you are making. That it is a racial issue? That no change is necessary, that change is necessary, that the proposed changes are wrong, that the change is good?

WHat are you proposing?

If your point is that it's racism, OK so what. Personal opinions, a school policy does not make. At any rate, PAUSD is way past the debate on this topic, and leadership has finally started to set in.



Posted by former math teacher, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 8, 2012 at 10:35 am

You know what my point is it is that the public education in this country is so screwed up that we have people making a big deal over a few minority students who choose not to learn algebra 2. My point also is that the elitism at Palo Alto High School drives people nuts. I'm not surprised that some of these minority students feel alienated in the environment. I sure did that week I was there in 2005 and I am a fairly well off middle-aged white guy.

I've been reading the proposals of PAUSD administration and they make me sick. It is more blaming the teacher.

This is what I propose. Instead of all of these self important personalities blaming the untenured teachers because certain groups of students don't do well on the STARS exam or whatever, they make the kids passionate about learning the material for it's own sake. I'm tired of test scores and rankings and who is failing whatever course. As one teacher said at my last school "my students aren't test scores".

It is this emphasis on grades and college rankings and who is good and who isn't that is causing all of this fingering pointing. I taught in other school districts and the goals there were much more modest. The idea was if the teacher could reach one kid in that class and get him interested in the subject than he was doing his job.

I think my proposal would be to hire someone who relates to the minority students and can teach them in a way that they are comfortable with and if it turns out the minority students still aren't that good at Algebra 2, it isn't a big deal. We tried and it didn't work out.

My other proposal is to get rid of the personalities in the public school system. I've worked in industry many years and have never met such a group of illogical power hungry, petty people in my life. As an example when I asked the principal of one school if I could delay the exam of my algebra class one day because I didn't think the kids were ready, he said "do you want to quit or should we fire you"? No discussion and the untenured teacher was expected to keep his mouth shut and do what he was told. Now I never taught at PAUSD but I would be willing there are people like that in this district. My tax dollars at work.


Posted by observer parent, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 8, 2012 at 12:49 pm

It's outrageous that former math teacher is saying that minority students "choose not to learn Algebra 2", and makes statements like "if it turns out that minority students still aren't that good at Algebra 2". Sounds like he/she wrote the Paly math letter! The math data starts in elementary school, and blaming the children and suggesting that they lack the intelligence ("not good at it") is stunning. Imagine if we said this about girls, or any other group of people.

Former math teacher, I feel sorry for any minority students who had you for a teacher, given your attitude. Based on the above thread, your comments about IQs were previously taken down as being offensive, but it looks like you're still trying to find a way to spout this hurtful nonsense.

Let's focus on the topic of this thread: high school graduation requirements. They're being modernized for all of our children so they make sense in the 21st century. Let's talk about the merits of what those should be, not have teachers use this thread to anonymously dump on minority students. Aligning graduation requirements with the modern need for math, science and world languages just plain makes common sense, especially here in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley!


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I would be careful about bringing up the subject of teacher tenure - in our experience, there were some teachers rushed to tenure in an awfully brief period of time.
Anyway, I don't think untenured teachers are to "blame" in any way - it is a leadership issue here.


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