Palo Alto students make up about 54% of the demand for "counseling". The annual report doesn't go into much detail about the issues facing the roughly 9% of the middle/high school students in Palo Alto that have asked for help from is NGO. Drugs seems to be an issue for some schools. What about the PAUSD?
This 54% number is truly fascinating, and really does require some more detailed explanation by someone--possibly from the PAUSD, but these ACS folks might be a good place to start, however.
Posted by Mole hill, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2012 at 5:18 pm
Well, of course PA students make up 54% of the demand for counseling. ACS stands for "Adolescent Counseling Services after all". Actually, I am surprised PA students do not make up more than 54% of that demand.
Another number of note:
260 Palo Alto high school students came in for counseling. Well, since we have somewhere around 3800 high school students in Palo Alto, this means that about 7% of all high schools students requested counseling for all issues, including academic stress, but also peer relationships, family issues etc.
Of course, we all wish it was 0% of students who need counseling. But when I see that only 7% of students seek out counseling, and that even less seek it out because of academic stress, this surely reinforces my opinion that some groups take the mole hill of academic stress and turn it into a mountain, when it is NOT an issue for 90 +% of all PA students !!
Posted by Mole hill, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2012 at 6:51 pm
OK, Bob, fair point. I actually had not seen that graphic.
However, it remains that only 7% of high school students in Palo Alto used ACS services for all reasons combined. In other words, academic stress prompted less than 7% of Palo Alto high school students to seek counseling. I just don't find it overwhelming.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm
> In other words, academic stress prompted less than 7% of
> Palo Alto high school students to seek counseling
It probably is less than that. Without the summary, or perhaps the raw data, all we know is that "academic stress" is at the top of the list. It's a shame the Weekly didn't publish the complete list of student complaints, with the number of students, and student ages, having those issues.
However, the point about academic stress perhaps being less of an issue than the general public has been led to believe does stand.
Posted by susie, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2012 at 9:14 pm
I think that these kids dont have long enough lunch breaks - free of books, computers, video games. They need to move, just like Michelle Obama said. Instead they now sit in the libraries and play computers. They need fresh air and friendship. At the moment they get neither.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2012 at 7:22 am
> just because not a lot of kids are going doesn't mean not a
> lot of kids are having problems
And because a lot of kids aren't "going" (presumably for some sort of outside help) then that proves that a lot of kids are having issues with stress? If you want to chide someone for poor "logic", maybe it would pay to use better "logic" when doing so.
And pray tell, just what are "problems"?
Unfortunately, emotional stress is not something that can be measured, like height, or weight. So we are left with having to deal with a number of indirect metrics, which makes this a very elusive matter to deal with.
Posted by More Info?, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 24, 2012 at 7:31 am
Student - Is ACS available - on campus or by phone - before or after school, during lunch or during your prep? If not, you should make an appointment with your counselor or the school psychologist during those times.
Mole hill - Thanks for pointing out that the percentage of HS students ACS served was 7%. No number is a good number but at least PAUSD doesn’t have a rampant problem.
I work with student health stats. For some added perspective, compare our 7% getting ACS' help stat with these stats:
About 8% of US youth ages 12-17 had a major depressive episode in a year.
26% of US high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for an extended period.
ACS’ 10-11 annual report sheds light on which PAUSD students seek help and why.
5 top presenting issues: Communication with Parents, Academic Stress, Peer Relationships, Depression, and Anxiety (in this order? could a student select multiple stressors making it impossible to conclude whether one would have been a problem without the other(s)?)
Who got ACS help?
A disproportionate number were low-income under-represented minority students (compared to their representation in our district) and so I suspect not many (any?) were kids most think are the most stressed out - those taking the highest lane/multiple APs (who don't tend to be URMs).
Here's the data for all students ACS served 10-11:
Income: 42% low (PAUSD demographics: 9% are low-income), 51% middle and 7% high
White - 40% (PAUSD demographics: 53% are white)
Asian - 13% (PAUSD: 32%)
Hispanic - 33% (PAUSD: 10%)
Black - 8% (PAUSD: 3%)
That PAUSD's underrepresented minorities are more likely to need counseling help than Whites and Asians tracks with Healthy Kids Data and CDC's stats too.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2012 at 8:04 am
> That PAUSD's underrepresented minorities are more likely to need
> counseling help than Whites and Asians tracks with Healthy Kids
> Data and CDC's stats too.
Having trouble following this logic.
Keep in mind that there are about 570 students from EPA, which is more heavily Hispanic and Black. The socio-economic backdrops between PA and EPA are different, which means that there is a good chance to be comparing "apples and oranges".
And also don't forget that the number of Blacks and Hispanics residing in Palo Alto is fairly low--so these small percentages mean a very small number of actual kids are asking for help.
While helpful, this article, and possibly the work behind it, is still not solid enough to help us understand what is going on at the PAUSD.
BTW--this issue of "stress" ultimately needs to be linked to the level of difficulty of instruction in the schools, which includes the possibility of courses being intentionally designed to exceed State standards significantly.
Oh, and according to Santa Clara County medical officials, about 10% of the kids in Santa Clara County has attempted suicide, although there is very little hard evidence provided to back up that claim.
Posted by More Info?, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 24, 2012 at 8:33 am
The stats I cited are PAUSD's which includes East Palo Alto students.
My point was to point out which racial groups are using ACS' services more than their relative population in our district would suggest.
If 100 students used ACS in 10-11:
Proportionate representation based on our district's numbers: 53 would have been white, 32 Asian, 10 Hispanic and 3 Black.
Based on ACS' actual numbers: 40 were white (13 fewer), 13 Asian (19 fewer), 33 Hispanic (23 more) and 8 Black (5 more).
Academic stress could include too much homework, any homework, too many tests on one day, hard to understand teachers, physics projects that take up Christmas vacation, tests that cover material not taught in class, having to take a math class without a solid base, inability to learn foreign languages easily . . . the list of what students may consider "academic stress" is quite long.
Without seeing exactly how the ACS survey asked this question, you cannot conclude what role, if any, curriculum beyond what the UCs require played into it.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2012 at 8:47 am
Don't forget that students who are experiencing stress also turn to local counselors outside the ACS. I know of many. You can't conclude anything about adolescent counseling as a whole just by looking at ACS's statistics. Some students, out of concerns about privacy, don't choose to go to the ACS (even if this is based on a mistaken sense that their privacy might be compromised).
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2012 at 8:53 am
> Based on ACS' actual numbers: 40 were white (13 fewer),
> 13 Asian (19 fewer), 33 Hispanic (23 more) and 8 Black (5 more).
Thanks for the additional information. However, with sample sizes this low, making claims of "proportionality" (or "dis-proportionality") seems meaningless. Moreover, what is the basis for using a non-weighted extrapolation of census representation against ACS "requests for help"? While this data is interesting, is it compelling enough not to look a little deeper?
> the list of what students may consider
> "academic stress" is quite long.
True .. which makes the claim difficult to believe when too many items are on the list.
> you cannot conclude what role, if any, curriculum beyond
> what the UCs require played into it.
Agreed .. but with all of the hoopla over the "A-G Alignment" that has been going around, coupled with the possibility of instruction that has been designed to focus on the top 75%, then this issue of stress in "minorities" might enter the discussion if someone were looking for things to explain "stress" in the PAUSD.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2012 at 9:27 am
We don't really know much from this article as it does not include sufficient facts nor a link to the presentation.
However, we already know that academic stress is a significant mental and social-emotional health issue for our kids. Project Safety Net Item P-8 recommended reductions in academic stress in order to improve childrens' health in 2009, and the Board adopted this recommendation and then finally implemented it this year in a 2011-12 focused goal to identify and eliminate sources of unnecessary academic stress. One such source is unnecessary or excessive homework and Charles Young has been doing an excellent job in leading a committee for the district that is going to recommend a board level policy on homework purpose and volume.
Another source of unnecessary stress is a lack of connectedness with caring adults in the schools which will tend to militate against the excessively competitive and achievement-oriented youth culture there. On this score, We Can Do Better Palo Alto believes that the use of an advisory system such as that in place at Paly for the last 20 years, provides a better level of connectedness than does Gunn's traditional counseling model. This is particularly true for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors (75% of the school population) who rarely see counselors, compared with seniors who have much higher use as they prepare post-high school plans and college applications. The district has now hired a consultant who is analyzing the relative strengths and weaknesses of these two programs in order to ensure that all students have access to equally good counseling programs and we look forward to hearing the results of her study.
It is not possible to conclude whether or not minority students are experiencing higher levels of stress from this data because although they are overrepresented in the referrals to counseling, we do not know what each racial group is seeking help for. It is not hard to believe, however, that academic stress would weigh quite heavily on those students for whom succeeding in PAUSD is the most out of reach. In certain subjects such as math and science, our curriculum is maladjusted and our teaching is poor quality for students who need more assistance. This is obviously stressful for those kids.
Our achievement gap, and our relative lack of success in preparing minority students to attend college when compared with other California districts do suggest that our schools are extraordinarily stressful places for some children. This is particularly true for those who are not highly advantaged through educated parents, income for tutoring, and the wealth of other outside resources available to many children in this district. Not having resources that others have is highly stressful, particularly when it appears that such resources lie behind many of this district's vaunted statistics.
Academic stress is harmful by itself, like any form of stress (work stress, family stress, etc,) It also is a causal factor in more serious mental and physical ailments such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, cutting, promiscuity, substance abuse and addiction, and risk-seeking behavior. There are many reasons to think that it is not healthy to subject teenagers or any race or ability to adult or excessive workloads and stress levels. The fact that some kids will meet excessive expectations does not mean it is healthy for them to do so.
The district is taking some steps to assess the stress in our schools. It will take strong and long community involvement to ensure that these analyses are expertly conducted and are not a whitewash and rubberstamping of the status quo ante.
This report from ACS is a reminder that the problems of the last few years are not behind us and we cannot just return to business as usual.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2012 at 11:41 am
Absolutely. Please look back through the recent threads from the past few weeks on a-g alignment that are references in other posts in this thread. What you will see there is a lot of information about this issue.
For example, the entire Paly math department signed a letter indicating that they do not believe that poor and black and brown kids should be given a college preparatory math curriculum becasue they are not capable of learning Algebra 2, characterizing the students as "slackers" and discussing the students and their families in disparaging terms. The superintendent of schools has repeatedly apologized for this letter. You can see the letter on the We Can Do Better Palo Alto website in both english and spanish. This letter I think documents the problem with instruction for some of our our students. Obviously it is stressful having a teacher who has publicly stated to the entire universe that the teacher does not believe you can be successful and that you are not welcome in upper level courses.
Second, you will see links to a host of data from the CST scores posted by Ken Dauber (California State Standards Tests) documenting that Palo Alto performs significantly poorly (and badly compared with other CA districts, including some quite poor and rural districts) in the education of poor and minority kids, particularly in math and science.
Feel free to email me at email@example.com for more information. I don't want to post that stuff into this thread because it is off-topic but please look through the prior threads and stories and then let me know if you need more information. You can also find much of it on the We Can Do Better FB page.
Posted by Walter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm
>> "In certain subjects such as math and science, our curriculum is
>> maladjusted and our teaching is poor quality for students who need
>> more assistance."
> Whoa... Can you back this up?
Oh, great--guilt by assertion! What about a little proof? So, this "WCDB" crowd says: "just listen to what people are saying!" Yeah, like that is the sort of information you can take to the bank, or get a solid conviction on. What bunk!
Teacher quality is incredibly hard to measure. There are no standardized tests that can reveal how good a teacher is. The "barrier to entry" for teaching in California generally is a BA/BS and a teaching certification. There are "Emergency Credentials", but from reading the Department of Education data on the PAUSD, there aren't too many people with "Emergency Credentials" employed.
Other school districts sometimes have more experienced teachers "team" with less experienced teachers until some level of performance is achieved. In those circumstances, written evaluations are performed. Since "tenure" is the goal of most teachers, all of this material is involved in the evaluations. Unfortunately, this sort of information is generally beyond the reach of the public. Presumably this goes on at the PAUSD, but is there something on the District's web-site that outlines how teachers are initiated into the teaching ecosystem of this District?
So .. how many of the people contributing to this topic on this blog actually are students, with a complete understanding of the education process? While sometimes there are students contributing .. these are kids who don't understand much beyond their limited views of the world. While interesting, there contributions are at best just glimpses into the issues at hand.
What about having an audit that would allow people at various levels of the teaching profession to sit in on classes, review lesson plans, and to make video recordings for use in their evaluations? That might be possible in a non-government school, but what about a unionized, government school? So far, no one at the PAUSD has made any noises about actually trying to determine the quality level of its teaching staff .. at least in a meaningful way.
So .. anyone who makes claims about anything at the PAUSD does so without any real data. Maybe they are right, and maybe they are wrong .. but basing any claims on the discussions on these blogs would be very dangerous.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm
While counseling is a benefit to some, academic stress needs to be prevented. Paly's principal, Phil Winston, has by made beneficial changes to our school. The block schedule has greatly reduced stress for our students, amongst other changes he has made. He is a fantastic administrator because he is involved, open-minded, and sincerely cares about his students and parents.
Of course, academic stress on the homefront is an issue that families need to deal with. Parental pressure to succeed in academics here is high. Parents should choose correct lanes for their children. Too many of them push their children to take all high lanes, resulting in severe sleep deprivation and stress for their children. Having children (they are not mature adults yet) take college courses in Junior and Senior year is too stressful, because they also need to study for the SAT, engage in extracurriculars, and take 6 classes (more classes than in college). The teachers cannot all be blamed for student stress.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm
Thank you; and thank you especially for using your real name. I think anonymity on these boards is a pernicious trend and I strongly encourage everyone regardless of their viewpoint to use their real name to post about the schools so that the board can learn that it has to be accountable to the community.
Posted by Patricia, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on Feb 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm
Please remember .... these numbers are for the ACS counselors only ... not the school counselors employed by the District. Many, many more students see their guidance counselor because they have an established connection with that person. Please don't assume that, from the numbers of this survey, these are the only students seeking help on our campuses.
Posted by Kelli Hagen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2012 at 9:37 pm
I'm very aware of prior threads and of WCDB and the CST scores in math and science. My question has to do w/ a weakly supported statement that "our curriculum is maladjusted and our teaching is poor quality for students who need more assistance." I agree, this is off topic for this thread, but you made the statement here. Please be specific. Where exactly is the curriculum maladjusted? Do you have evidence that the teaching for these students is of poor quality? These are HUGE claims and really shouldn't be made w/out support.
Leading research certainly lists these both poor teaching and a maladjusted curriculum as possible contributors to an achievement gap, however the list of factors, as you know, is actually quite substantial. How have you landed on these two factors as the absolute?
As Walter explains, it is dangerous and irresponsible to make such correlations.
A positive and open communication with the teachers and administrators is by far the best approach. We are certainly not above reproach but will not be your scapegoat either. A bit more respect and deference to our profession might be helpful too. Please don't assume that WE don't know what the issues are and that YOU know how to fix it. I can guarantee you that WE have been dealing with these issues long before WCDB came along. A collective effort will certainly get better results.
I welcome the open discussion and in just the same manner that my husband is annoyed with being held accountable for the sins of bad lawyers (I'm sure you can attest) many of us good teachers are annoyed with being held accountable for the sins of bad.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2012 at 10:46 pm
I appreciate that you are giving your name and profession. I will tell you what I think but I think it is clear that you are so angry that it is not going to persuade you. First of all, in my view there is sufficient direct and indirect evidence for both of these claims. First, is there a curricular adjustment needed at the low end? By the district's own admission, at the last board meeting, our science classes at Paly are not correctly calibrated. We currently offer honors Biology and Chemistry and have no basic lane of either class being taught at a basic a-g level. The Paly principal and science IS proposed to the board that these classes be renamed and adjusted to make them basic offerings. They differed somewhat in their statements to the board about whether or not the classes would be altered in order to make them more accessible, with the IS stating that the change would be in name only while Phil said that there would be changes to the syllabus in order to make the classes a basic a-g offering more accessible to all students. That's "direct" evidence. For indirect evidence I would suggest the fact that students are instructed in the Paly catalog not to take Biology unless they are concurrently at least in Algebra 1A. To me this is circumstantial evidence that this is not a basic biology class, since not all freshmen can take it, only those in honors math. Other freshmen must take "conceptual physics" a class that is very likely to be more conceptual than physics, since physics (unlike biology) actually does require math for problem solving. This will be a terminal physics class without any trajectory. It will be a-g compliant and I am glad for that and think it is a good development, but I don't understand why Gunn can offer a level of bio to all freshman but somehow the Paly science department can't. That evidences a clear need for curricular adjustment at the low end. The very fact that Paly is down at the board trying to add conceptual physics and either rename or revise its Bio and Chem classes is evidence that there is a curricular adjustment needed. So it is silly to argue otherwise.
Second, there is both direct and indirect evidence that our math teachers are unsuccessful with poor and minority students and other students who struggle. First, we have their own testimony in their horrible letter. I have yet to hear anyone other than a signatory of that letter defend it and that includes parents, students, professors of education, Kevin, Phil Winston, and every member of the board. So if you want to defend it you can but you won't have any company. Second we have the CST scores which show that we could be much more successful than we currently are -- compared with other districts, we just aren't doing a very good job teaching math and science to poor and black and brown kids. We also have a lot of circumstantial or indirect evidence: look at all the tutoring shops, storefronts and tutoring recommendations and lists. Look at the surveys in the strategic planning documents that show that somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of PAUSD high school students and a large proportion of middle school kids as well are receiving tutoring. That indicates to me -- and to many other parents -- that the quality of instruction and the pace of the curriculum are leaving a lot of kids behind. Many parents are paying to supplement their childrens' instruction not because they are type A competitive parents but because our kids cannot keep up with the workload or cannot understand the material the way it is being presented.
Am I saying that every teacher is terrible? Obviously not. That is a straw man and a reductio ad absurdum and I never said it. Some of our kids teachers have been great, particularly at Barron Park School where they really do expect every child to learn. But I'm not afraid to say that the evidence points to a need to upgrade our teaching methods and instructional practices in our high schools and that we need professional development to ensure that we are receiving a high quality education for every single child regardless of race, or ability.
By the way, poor teaching is not like a guided missile or a neutron bomb that only hits its intended target. The fact that we have demonstrably weak teaching of poor and black and brown kids means we have demonstrably weak teaching that probably is impacting other kids in lower lanes and even across the spectrum. It's just that their parents have the money to buy their way out of it.
Posted by Mole hill, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2012 at 11:18 pm
How brave of Kelli Hagen to come and confront WCDBPA on this forum. I admire you for doing this Ms. Hagen. Kudos to you.
My child has Ms. Hagen as his teacher this year and cannot say enough good things about her. The same child had Mr. Toma as math teacher at Paly as well and thinks Mr. Toma is a fantastic teacher who cares a lot about all the students at the school.
I've had enough of the way our wonderful teachers are being put down around here. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 25, 2012 at 5:25 am
The quote from M Dauber's post earlier in this thread:
"For example, the entire Paly math department signed a letter indicating that they do not believe that poor and black and brown kids should be given a college preparatory math curriculum becasue they are not capable of learning Algebra 2, characterizing the students as "slackers" and discussing the students and their families in disparaging terms."
The letter did refer to kids as slackers, etc. But it did not resort to socio-economic bashing ("poor") nor did it infer any sort of racial bias. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
I have already suggested that they create a "basic" Alg2 class and then take the current class as an honors class. Simple and no drama.
Posted by I love PAUSD, a resident of the Greater Miranda neighborhood, on Feb 25, 2012 at 6:52 am
Dear Crescent Park Dad:
Thanks for your accurate and pithy post. I am so tired of the race/class baiting that I have given up, but I am glad you haven't.
The race/class baiting takes away from what SHOULD be the actual goals of a supposedly liberal and compassionate area: Each kid/teen gets taught in a way that suits him/her to achieve the most opportunities s/he can. Simple..nothing to do with race..nothing to do with "class".
I have had 3 extremely different kids, each with unique challenges. Our PAUSD has done more than I ever dreamed would be possible with each of them. Each has been able to survive and thrive to the best of his/her ability within PAUSD. I can not imagine a more flexible,supportive, child-centered school district anywhere. Period. I am tired of the PAUSD bashing and live in eternal gratitude to all the hard work and loving individual attention each has received to help them on their way.
Academic stress is a separate concern. There is tremendous, I mean TREMENDOUS, competition in our community for "the top" ..the top in school, the top acceptance to a top university, the top in a sport or academic competition. This is a cultural phenom distinct to our District, and rare in our nation. Beyond brainwashing our kids, there is nothing we can do to change the most competitive amongst them.
The best we can do is assure there is a minimum State standard to graduate, default to a UC standard of graduation ( the a-g) to assure nobody who is capable of completing such a standard is accidentally left out, with ease of getting off that track for those who wish. We need clarity that this track is not for every kid, and need to honor and respect equally kids who are on the "Top" track with kids who are on the "regular" college track, the "junior" college track or the "vocational" track. We need excellent roofers and plumbers, 2 year degrees like LVNs or electricians, as much or more as we need PhDs in physics. After all, who will build the houses, the roads, the hospitals; who will give the medications in the hospital, fix the plumbing or the PG and E wires, cut the trees over the roads, who will fix the cars or truck in the food for the PhDs who are completely dependent on others to survive, as we all are?
So, yes, "academic stress" is real, differences in abilities are real, but this District is outstanding in its ability to deal with all kinds of learners of all "colors" and "classes", abilities and drives..I know from personal experience.
Posted by couch potato, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 25, 2012 at 7:15 am
"I have already suggested that they create a "basic" Alg2 class and then take the current class as an honors class. Simple and no drama." "Just stop the poor & race baiting and pursue the obvious and simple solution."
Your proposal for an Alg2 basic class does not sound familiar. At least not from any board packet.
A basic Alg2 class was brought up by the community, including we can do better, and parents of students of color when the Paly Math department letter became public (thanks to we can do better). I recall La Toya Baldwin Clark's opinion on this back in December.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a member of the Barron Park School community, on Feb 25, 2012 at 8:25 am
Despite all of the overheated language about race-baiting, gutter tactics, etc., there seems to be a lot of agreement on some basic principles:
1. Academic stress is an issue in our schools that we should focus on addressing, in accordance with item P-8 in Project Safety Net's plan (Web Link). The first line of P-8, by the way, is "In recent years, there has been growing concern over the degree of stress and distress within Palo Alto’s teen population." PAUSD has several focused goals addressing academic stress this year, including changes to homework policy, counseling structure, and project and test scheduling.
2. There should be a basic lane A-G college preparatory curriculum that meets but does not exceed state standards. The relevance of the Paly math letter to this discussion is that it clearly states that we currently do not have such a curriculum (Web Link). See, for example, the statement that: "diluting the standards in our regular lane to basic benchmarks which might allow every student to pass Algebra II would end up hurting the district's reputation." The school board is scheduled to hold a meeting on March 13 to hear from the various instructional supervisors on this issue. Board members and the Superintendent have expressed their commitment to a basic A-G curriculum.
3. All students, regardless of race and class, should be well served by our schools. The truth is that PAUSD has not done a good job in this regard. It is one of a handful of districts statewide that has been ordered by the California Department of Education to address the disproportionate assignment of minority children to special education, our CST scores for math and science are much worse than other districts for black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students, and our A-G graduation rates for minority students are much lower than for white and Asian students. (The charge that citing these facts is "race-baiting" is just silly -- unless we want to abandon our commitment to educational equity, we need to be able to talk about how well we are actually doing).
The relevance of the Paly math letter to this point is that it cites household income and VTP status as factors that make it impossible for some students to pass Algebra II, in the course of arguing that Algebra II should not be a graduation requirement: "We live in an affluent community. Most of our students are fortunate to come from families where education matters and parents have the means and will to support and guide their children in tandem with us, their teachers. Not all of them...We are concerned about the others who, for reasons that are often objective (poor math background, lack of support at home, low retention rate, lack of maturity, etc.) can't pass our regular lane Algebra II course. Many of these are VTP students or under-represented minorities." Given the success of other districts in educating precisely these students, it's important to reaffirm our collective expectation that our teachers will accept this as their responsibility, rather than conclude that these students can't be taught.
All three of these points are strongly connected to academic stress, not just the first. Everyone wants to be successful in their work, students as well as teachers. Failure to meet expectations is stressful. That's why we have suggested to the Board that the district should be doing a better job in supporting our teachers in teaching the full range of students in our district, through professional development and clear expectations.
Posted by Kelli Hagen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 25, 2012 at 8:25 am
I'm afraid you have made an unfair assumption that I am "so angry that it is not going to persuade you". This is the WE vs THEM mentality that will contribute to the divide between your goals and those who can perhaps put them into action. I hope I come across as professional, humble yet informed in my opinions and willing to do whatever I can to contribute to the advancement of ALL students, as this would reflect my heart.
I am frustrated however, at the WCDB bias and misinformation of the WCDB postings. For example, re: that "we currently offer honors Biology and Chemistry and have no basic lane of either class being taught at a basic a-g level". As our IS and principal defended at the board meeting, these courses were not correctly calibrated to their name, yet you miss that it is due to the fact that the "Chem A" that we teach at PALY IS a basic, standards based chem and not an accelerated chem as the "A" denotes- thus the proposed change. I have been teaching since 1991, have taught at 3 different high schools and 1 university and can assure you that the "Chemistry A" lane is indeed a standards based lane and is absolutely taught at the a-g level.
And that we only offer Honors Biology at PALY? Have you ever been in our biology classes? Have you gathered any evidence (student survey, parent survey...) re: the level of difficulty of the curriculum? That our curriculum is too high is truly NOT the issues. We only started offering Honors Biology this year- in addition to the standards based biology lane we've always offered.
Your statement, "evidence points to a need to upgrade our teaching methods and instructional practices in our high schools". Again, points to, perhaps but certainly does not correlate with. My original point is that you cannot claim that the evidence says anything that you say it does. First of all, it's a statistically insignificant sample which has NEVER made a correlation between that that you claim. As I said in my last post, we are certainly not above reproach but will not be your scapegoat either.
Please, we are a highly educated community that is not persuaded easily by an argument w/out sufficient evidence. Let's find a way to CORRECTLY assess the problem, not just make assumptions.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a member of the Barron Park School community, on Feb 25, 2012 at 10:24 am
Thanks for your comments, it's great to have a teacher involved in the discussion. As I said earlier, I'm sure that we all share a basic commitment to student learning.
With respect to Biology particularly, there's substantial evidence that the class isn't being taught in a way that meets but does not exceed A-G standards at Paly. I'd be interested to hear your reaction to these questions, since the discussion at the last Board meeting clearly left some Board members confused.
1. The name of the class is being changed from Biology 1A to Biology, but the instruction to students that they should only take the class if they are also enrolled in the advanced Algebra 1A class is not changing. Students who are enrolled in Algebra 1, the basic lane Algebra class, will continue to be told not to take Biology. (That's why we have the curious recommendation that students take Conceptual Physics in 9th grade rather than Biology, even though physics probably would benefit from having taken more math).
2. Gunn has 3 lanes of Biology, while Paly has 2, and expects all 9th grade students to take biology, regardless of their math lane placement. A reasonable conclusion is that the lowest lane of biology at Gunn (which still meets A-G standards) is being taught at a more accessible level than the lowest lane at Paly.
3. When Phil Winston, the Paly principal, was asked by Melissa Caswell at the Feb. 14 board meeting specifically about whether the Biology class was changing in content, not just in name, he said that it would be changing in content (see the video linked atWeb Link, at around 13 minutes). He later said that he would report back to the Board on how exactly the course would change. It seems that there is some internal diversity in the science department on this question. Phil seemed to hint at that in noting that the department has a "long history of not changing, not evolving" (at 14:13).
4. PAUSD's success in teaching biology to black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students is particularly poor when compared to other districts in California. We've compiled the CST data for 2010 and 2011 for math and science, which can be found here: Web Link and Web Link. For biology for 2011, PAUSD ranked 129th in California for black students, 103rd for Hispanic students, and 115th for economically disadvantaged students. For 2010, PAUSD ranked 201st for black students, 57th for Hispanics, and 287th for economically disadvantaged students. I don't know specifically what is behind these results, but it seems likely that it is a mix of curriculum and teaching strategies. I hope that the Board explores this question in more depth at the March 13 meeting, at which the science instructional supervisors will be present.
The Chemistry achievement results are better overall, but it appears that there is a steep dropoff in the number of black, Hispanic, and poor students taking science between biology and chemistry. For 2011, for example, the number of Hispanic students in chemistry is 33% of the number enrolled in biology. The pattern is similar for black and economically disadvantaged students. For white and Asian students, there is a dropoff but it only half as large -- for white students the number of students in chemistry is 65% of the number in biology. (These numbers can be found at Web Link). This pattern may indicate that biology is serving as a filter for progressing through an A-G science curriculum, but you may know more about what is going on here.
Posted by Kelli Hagen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm
First of all, I will share my opinions but know that they are just that. I don't feel I have the authority to speak for PALY science or the district as a whole. Our principal, Phil Winston and our IS Michelle Steingart do an excellent job of representing our school and our dept publicly. I also fear that I am just repeating what both Phil and Michelle have already said.
To your points:
1. Phil explains, even after specifically being asked, that the math lane for a Biology placement is a recommendation- not a requirement. He even goes on to say that we welcome students who want to take the challenge and jump lanes.
2. Traditionally, I get students the year after they take Biology and I am not under the impression that the course is too rigorous for any or all. This is why I suggested you gather info. Parents? Students? How is the rigor of Biology? I suspect that we have always taught (at least the 4 years that I've been here) standards based Biology (the same as Gunn's lowest). The name change, as Phil and Michelle state, is because the name "Bio A" did not represent the course that we have always taught- it has not been an accelerated course, thus to make it more clear to all, let's name it what it is- Biology.
3. Will the content change? Probably not much since the it is already and has always been a standards based course. Phil answers that the change is really in aligning the name with what we have always taught and will teach.
The department has a "long history of not changing, not evolving". I suspect that anyone who has been in the district for awhile knows that this is indeed the case. I'd also note that it is our history, and not our current status. The science dept has made many positive changes in recent years- ask around. We continue to move past our history and think this is what Phil is alluding to. The "Conceptual Physics" conversation/decision in our dept was made in a very positive, democratic manner which took all professional opinions into account. This took time. I believe we are all on board and have all thought it a good idea from the start, we just wanted to make sure it was done right, for the right reasons and has intended outcomes.
4. This is indeed the question. I just think it dangerous and irresponsible to make such a blatant correlation that these #'s are due to the teaching that's occurring in the classroom. Certainly, this could perhaps be the case, but it's a pretty broad jump. Bring on the staff development and lets hope it helps. I can assure you, we've been through the training, we try to employ the pedagogy and I'm sure many of us are even qualified to run the training sessions. I'm not saying we can't improve, but from what I've seen from my colleagues, we have AMAZING teachers at PAUSD. If you REALLY want to fix the problem don't assume you know what the problem is without really knowing what the problem is.
I'm not sure but I think there are around 1000 school districts in CA, correct me if I'm wrong. Having all of the data is really important if we're going to list statistics.
So, that's my spiel- sorry so long. I appreciate our concerted efforts on the homework committee and know we really do have the same goal in heart. I just need to advocate for my profession that gets beat up too often. Keeping the conversation respectful, the kids first and a common end goal in mind will certainly bring about the most expedient and successful changes.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a member of the Barron Park School community, on Feb 25, 2012 at 5:55 pm
Thanks again for your reply. In terms of biology, I'm frankly still puzzled by the connection between advanced algebra and biology. The language in the 2012-13 Paly course catalog (which despite Phil's statement at the board meeting, states that Alg 1A is a "prerequisite") is, "Prerequisite: Freshmen in Biology should be enrolled in Algebra 1A or higher math. Freshmen in Algebra 1 are recommended to take Conceptual Physics as freshmen and Biology as sophomores" (see Web Link, p. 62). Phil's explanation at the Board meeting that students who are enrolled in Algebra 1 tend to do poorly in Biology 1A (to be renamed Biology) seems consistent with the idea that Biology is pitched at a level above the basic lane, particularly such Gunn makes no such recommendation about its basic lane Biology class. I think it makes sense to make sure, given these facts, that Biology really is being taught at but not above the state A-G standards.
Do you have an opinion about the relatively fewer number of black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students taking Chemistry? Reasoning about the difficulty of biology based on the impressions of students who make it to Chemistry raises the problem of selection bias, given the size of falloff (2/3 of black, Hispanic, and disadvantaged students) between Biology and Chemistry.
As you point out, the Biology CST scores raise a question that needs addressing. I don't agree, though, that it's "dangerous and irresponsible" to suggest that there's a connection with teaching. The data shows that our black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students do worse on the CST tests than do students from those subgroups in more than 100 other districts. Given the inherent advantages that PAUSD has when compared to most of the districts that are outperforming us -- in terms of funding, class size, overall level of achievement -- we should be doing much better. I do agree though that the data doesn't contain a definitive answer to the question -- it should stimulate an urgent search. Our teachers are obviously the ones best placed to conduct this search, and I'd be happy to have you lead the charge.
As to the number of districts in California, you're right that it's about 1,000. The number of districts reporting CST data for high school science courses is much lower, though, because many districts don't contain high schools, and results aren't reported where the number of students taking the test is too small for privacy purposes. If you look at the underlying CST spreadsheets (linked at the URLs in my post above), you can see the total number of districts reporting numbers for each test. For the 2010 biology CST for economically disadvantaged students, for example, PAUSD was tied for 287th out of 416 districts reporting results (putting us in the 31st percentile statewide). For black students in the same year, we were tied for 201st, but only 219 districts had results (putting us in the 8th percentile). These are obviously terrible results, but I actually think their real significance is in pointing out that there is a lot of room for improvement based on the concrete results being achieved elsewhere in our own state. (It's also worth pointing out that the results for white and Asian students are typically in the top 20 districts statewide -- I haven't done the analysis but I'd be surprised if there are many other districts in the state with the kind of gap that we have here in PAUSD).
I understand your desire to advocate on behalf of teachers. I think that the best way forward is to have honest conversations, based on data, about where we fall short of our goals as a district and where we can do better. Like all adults, teachers as a group are neither all terrific -- clearly, the Paly math letter doesn't represent our highest and best collective ideals -- nor all terrible -- my experience as a parent in the district and on the homework committee has shown me that many teachers are dedicated and capable. I'd rather have us focus on the substance of the matter, as we're doing in this discussion.
Posted by Kelli Hagen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2012 at 7:26 am
I'm not sure how to answer your question re: the prerequisite vs the recommendation for Biology. I can only speak to the fact that as a sophomore teacher, a number of my students came from Alg 1.
"seems consistent with the idea that Biology is pitched at a level above the basic lane"- again, your best answer will come from the community and those who have taken Biology. Community?
"Do you have an opinion about the relatively fewer number of black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students taking Chemistry? Reasoning about the difficulty of biology based on the impressions of students who make it to Chemistry raises the problem of selection bias" Again... I am under the impression that Biology is a fairly "easy" class, based on the comments of my chemistry students. Perhaps the sample is skewed as you say, but I don't think your rationale of "why", is correct.
"I don't agree, though, that it's "dangerous and irresponsible" to suggest that there's a connection with teaching." Please don't misquote me- I did not say there could not be a "connection" to teaching, but rather that there is definitely not a "correlation" to teaching. Correlation implies a statical basis and there is none with these low sample numbers. Let me say it again, it is dangerous and irresponsible to suggest that there's a correlation with teaching.
3 kids/ soccer/ baseball and birthday parties this weekend. Must go!
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2012 at 8:10 am
@ Ken: Your wife expressed an opinion that accuses the Paly Math Department of socio-economic and racial bias. She either needs to stand by that statement with facts or apologize. We can talk all day about policies, stubbornness, reputational pride, etc. and the effects on the students who, for a variety of reasons, don't take and/or pass Alg2. Just stay out of the gutter with baseless, dubious and unsubstantiated claims that an entire department of teachers are biased against poor and "brown and black" students. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Ken Dauber, a member of the Barron Park School community, on Feb 26, 2012 at 9:13 am
@"Crescent Park Dad"
First, I think you're hiding behind anonymity in order to be publicly rude, and I challenge you to use your real name.
Second, here are the facts about the Paly math letter. We have a long-standing achievement gap in the district that manifests itself, in part, in a large gap between the A-G graduation rate for white and Asian students on one hand and under-represented minority students on the other. The district leadership is trying to address that gap by aligning our graduation requirements with A-G standards. The Paly math department wrote a letter to the Board, intended to be secret, opposing that effort because it would require teaching an Algebra II class that meets A-G standards that all students can pass. They are aware that the way the class is currently taught has a disproportionately negative impact on poor and minority students (that's why the letter says of the group that "can't pass our regular lane Algebra II course" that "many of these are VTP students or under-represented minorities").
I don't think this reflects "socio-economic and racial bias," which is a phrase that appears only in your letter. I do think that it reflects a clear understanding on the part of some teachers that there is an observable set of connections among race, affluence, and achievement, and decision to respond to that in their letter by defending their current practices. The alternative that the letter presents is that these students should go to "community colleges or jobs" rather than 4-year colleges. I think that represents a serious misunderstanding of the responsibility of teachers to educate all students, and a position that is contrary to the district's stated policy to do all that it can to narrow the achievement gap. That's why the Superintendent has publicly apologized for the letter. If you have a different reading of the letter, you should offer it.
I think that the right course at this point is to affirm the district's commitment to an A-G track for all students and ensure that our curriculum and teaching match that commitment. That's the goal of the March 13 Board meeting at which instructional supervisors will be present. I encourage you to attend that meeting, and even to publicly take responsibility for whatever opinion you have about the actual substance of these issues.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2012 at 10:22 am
I really have appreciated this dialogue and your thoughtful answers to questions. I hope that we can continue to hear from you and from other teachers about this important topic and about academic stress.
I did have a thought about your comment that: "I am under the impression that Biology is a fairly "easy" class, based on the comments of my chemistry students." At the board meeting it was clear that the entire basis for implementing first "Integrated Science," and now "Conceptual Physics" and for having the "prerequisite" (which is what the catalog calls it) of "Algebra 1A" for taking Bio is that it is NOT easy for a substantial subset of kids. Those are the kids that you are not seeing in your sophomore Chemistry class, however, because they didn't make it into Bio as freshman in the first place, and then consequently did not get to Chem as sophomores. (You said you are a sophomore teacher but perhaps you have a few juniors and seniors in your classes as well?)
That is, just getting into Bio is hard for a certain proportion of students (which is disproportionately poor and minority). So those kids are not in Chem as sophomores to express an opinion to you about whether Bio is easy or not, because they lacked the "prerequisite" or the teacher recommendation to take Bio as freshmen.
Then, there is also a 65% drop off in the number of minority and poor kids who took Bio to those who took Chem. So 2/3 of those poor and minority kids who did take Bio at any point, whether as freshmen or later, may not ever get to chem and may not ever be present to inform you about whether or not Bio was "easy" for them. Those who did find it easy are in Chem and those who did not find it easy may not be there to testify about their experiences. That is what is meant by "selection bias."
Another piece of evidence that tends to contradict the idea that Paly's version of basic level "bio is a fairly easy class" is the fact that fewer than half of black, hispanic, and poor kids scored proficient or above on their 2011 CST tests (in 2010 only 15% of black students were proficient or above in Biology).
Thus, I wonder about whether it is best therefore to characterize that class as "easy" since some students definitely did not find it to be "easy" and might feel badly seeing it described that way by a teacher.
I raise this not to say that you are not a great teacher -- from everything I hear you are a wonderful teacher. But you may not be seeing the full range of variation in your sophomore Chemistry class. Specifically you are not seeing those students who either did not get into Bio as freshmen at all because they lacked the prerequisites or the large group who did not find it easy and therefore did not progress to Chemistry as sophomores.
Posted by Kelli Hagen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2012 at 11:35 am
Really good point. I should have been more careful and more clear on my description. I never meant to imply that Biology is "easy" for all. I meant to say that as far as a STANDARDS based class goes, I hear that it is easy compared to other levels of Biology and NOT above standards. Thanks for catching that.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2012 at 11:42 am
I know that for me on these forums, it is hard to be as precise with language as I would like all the time, and easy to say something I wish I had said better. Plus you can't edit your post once it is up. I hope we can all forgive the little mistakes and focus on what matters.
Posted by couch potato, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2012 at 2:23 pm
Thank you for what you do. These posts get emotional, and angry, but the questions are about real students.
There is a big connection between academic stress and Math and Science options for kids who are not in the mid/high lanes.
The new 9th grade honors Biology class introduced this past year was a surprise to many people. To qualify, you needed an A and the recommendation of your 8th grade Science teacher, and also to be in the higher Math lane.
8th grade Science is no cake walk, and it would be interesting to see what percentage of kids actually qualified for the new honors option. I doubt the kids who qualified were chomping at the bit for the extra work and speed of the class because nobody wants more work when you're 13! Anyway, the issue is that 8th grade Science is not easy, but the teachers kept saying that they needed that rigor because High School Science demanded it.
If 9th grade Biology and High School Science is easy, why is 8th grade Science made so hard?
They work you hard and scare the living daylights out of you in Middle School about how tough Science is in High School. Is it that surprising that struggling students "check out" after 1 year of Science in HS?
If the regular Biology class is not hard, then someone needs to tell the Middle School Science teachers to relax.
Hard Science should not be the excuse to have kids leave HS with no Science. Thank you and teachers for any and all efforts to motivate even struggling students to have more Science in HS. The high flying kids have more than enough options, the lower track option has been neglected.
Posted by Daubers are correct, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm
From what we observed, the Daubers are correct in their observations (which are far more extensive) and analysis of the situation in our high schools. Thank you for caring for ALL our PAUSD students -- you have the correct attitude. I think a lot of what happens here is designed to trip up the unaware, and this should not be like this.
Posted by Gavin, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2012 at 3:51 pm
If you are tired of hearing all the excuses, and demands from [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] parents of underperforming kids that Palo Alto high schools spend ever more money to force feed math standards, etc., then you can simply do the one thing that our school board will understand: Opt out of the parcel tax, like I did.
Posted by Pulleaze, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 27, 2012 at 1:09 am
@couch potato: A big dose of fear of not being in the right science lane? Get real. Even the regular physics and chem classes use college textbooks so they are not easy "A" classes. If a student is not good in science, he/she should not be forced into taking the honors science classes, which are rigorous. It's posters like you who spread unnecessary fear among parents with younger children.
Some parents and students want to torture themselves by taking too many honors and AP classes and spread fear amongst others that the student is disabled if the child is not in enough honors or AP classes. This is a straight path to students having psychological problems and remembering their high school years with disdain. I've heard too many stories of students burning out after attending Ivy League colleges and subsequently taking a leave from college the next year.
And why do the Daubers have to make this a race issue? It's not a race issue. Any student who has parents who cannot help them with schoolwork due the parent's lack of education or caring might have difficulty in school. I know of some non-minorities earning "D"s.
If my comments reveal a lack of reading prior postings, it's because certain people write long dissertations which we are all tired of reading.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2012 at 10:49 am
How does the pace and standards of Paly's Chem1A (now Chem) compare to that for LAUSD. I note by the way that "Pulleeze" is wrong, you are correct, and our text is a standard HS text and one of the LAUSD approved texts. LAUSD has a very detailed curriculum guide for this text that lays out the standards and pacing, which you can find here:
I am wondering whether you can tell us how what you do in the basic lane of Chem compares to what they do in LAUSD and how we compare in terms of (1) the material covered; (2) the pace of coverage; and (3) the amount of pages of homework assigned if you can tell, when compared with LAUSD.
I am hoping that this is something that would be pretty easy for a chem teacher to look over and give us some ideas about since I think there is a lot of speculation out there and it would be fantastic to get your perspective on this question.
Posted by Huh!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2012 at 11:31 am
Who cares what LAUSD does? I prefer PAUSD thank you. I am a parent of young kids just entering PAUSD and I do *NOT* want standards lowered. I don't want teaching at the state standard. I want it well above the state standard. I was educated in lousy public schools in a blue collar town. I want my kids to be educated with bright over-achievers for peers. That way they know what excellence is before they get out into the real world. Ken and Michele your efforts are not supported by many parents.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2012 at 2:45 pm
@ "lausd?!" and "huh?"
I agree with you that LAUSD is a large, poor, urban school district that teaches one of the most high-poverty, high minority populations in some of the most gang-infested and troubled communities in our state and in our nation. Thus, I would expect that PAUSD -- as nearly the polar opposite of that as one can get -- should be doing much much better than LAUSD for its students, regardless of race or class. There should be no comparison in our results, across the board, in every category. As the aptly-named "huh?!" puts it "who cares about LAUSD?"
Thus it is disheartening to me and to other advocates of educational equity to find that in many categories, we are either behind or in a virtual dead heat with LAUSD in the education of minority students. For example, on the 2011 CST for Algebra2, Black students in LAUSD and in PAUSD scored identically -- 7% were proficient or above. On the 2011 Alg1 CST for black students, it was again a virtual tie between PAUSD (16%) and LAUSD (14%), and for black students in Alg1 in 2010, in which PAUSD had 18% scoring proficient or above to LAUSD's 13%.
In science, LAUSD scored better than PAUSD for the education of black students in Biology in 2010m, with 24% of LAUSD black students scoring proficient or above, compared with our 15%, though we did manage to edge out one of the worst school districts in America (go PAUSD!) the following year, with our 37% compared with their 25%. Who cares about LAUSD, indeed.
But that is not why I asked the question anyway. I asked the question because LAUSD as a leader in the a-g for all movement has spent a lot of time and effort in thinking about its curriculum and has produced thorough, thoughtful curriculum guides intended to meet state standards and provide support for teachers in teaching hard-to-reach populations of kids in helping them to attain the goal of meeting a-g and attending a 4 year college.
Whatever the relative differences in student strengths and financial resources between the two districts, I think we can agree that there is no reason to think that the teachers and administrators in LAUSD are not top-knotch educators who want to succeed at their jobs. Thus, there is no reason to doubt that their guide is a worthwhile document from a district that has thought long and hard about the precise problem that now confronts us. Only the most ignorant observer would decide that the dedicated educational professionals at LAUSD have nothing to offer us from their experience because they teach a more underprivileged group of kids than we do. If anything that means that we should be willing to listen and learn from them all the more.
These guides contain a lot of interesting information about topics that appear to me to be directly relevant to our issues: social-emotional learning, culturally relevant teaching strategies, accountability, closing the gap, and so forth. But I am not a high school teacher so that is why I asked the opinion of someone who is.
Posted by lausd???, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm
< You say: "LAUSD as a leader in the a-g for all movement has spent a lot of time and effort in thinking about its curriculum and has produced thorough, thoughtful curriculum guides intended to meet state standards and provide support for teachers in teaching hard-to-reach populations of kids in helping them to attain the goal of meeting a-g and attending a 4 year college.>
From a LA Daily News article last year reporting how LAUSD has fared under its a-g for all policy - in two words - not well.
"the rate of students passing those classes remains alarmingly low, according to a [LAUSD] district review of the [a-g] program. . .Since the passage of that policy, the number of students passing the mandated math, science, English and foreign language classes with a C or better remains dismal...[LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy] "Obviously we have a long way to go". . . LAUSD board member David Tokofsky...said the new rules became more about politics than students."
Last year, only 24 percent of LAUSD's Latino, 20 percent of its Black and 40 percent of its white students were set to graduate passing a-g.
The article reported that 8 years before that - before a-g was required - 36%, 45% and 52% completed those courses.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2012 at 5:25 pm
“The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alteration of old beliefs. ”
― John Dewey
I think you are missing an important part of the topic of this story. While the headline is about passage rates, the story focuses on availability of the a-g curriculum. For example, the board member who complains of poor planning and implementation and politics is complaining about the failure of the district to plan to change its course offering because "individual schools differ greatly in how well they are giving kids access to rigorous courses."
PAUSD parents, who are accustomed to the idea that all the classes their children take (with the exception of the stealth "Integrated Science" class at Paly) are a-g certified, do not necessarily understand the political and social context of the a-g for all movement. In other, less fortunate districts like (LAUSD) the struggle has been to get the schools to offer an a-g curriculum that all students can have access to. Here, our struggle has been quite different: to get teachers to agree to teach that a-g curriculum, which is rich and available, to all comers and at all lanes, including the bottom lane, to give all access to it rather than as a special preserve for the high lane students.
A research report from 2005, before the a-g requirements changed has some interesting observations. (see Web Link)
This report notes both problems: only about two thirds of kids even had access to an a-g curriculum (lower for black and hispanic students) and the passage rate was lower still. A report from Ed Trust West at around the same time noted that: "access to the A-G courses isn’t equal, between schools or even within schools. Student after student in LAUSD tell of unfulﬁlled attempts to get into A-G classes, learning too late about the courses required
for college admission, being unable to get into the overcrowded courses they need, and being told outright (and prematurely) that they are not “college material.” See: Web Link)
However, LAUSD has actually had some success in raising its graduation rates since adopting a-g. See: Web Link. As I said above, this is a very poor district with a lot of kids facing real challenges. The fact that PAUSD is ranking comparable to LAUSD in any way on any measure for any of our kids should make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, parents.
I am certainly not going to sing the praises of the district's record. Implementation has been slow and difficult, compounded by slashing cuts to the state education budget that have fallen particularly hard on poor districts like LAUSD. But that doesn't mean that their Chemistry and Biology curriculum guides are not worth taking a look at to see if we can gain anything from the experience of their teachers. For pete's sake.
Posted by couch potato, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2012 at 5:33 pm
"What makes a school district great are its students. What makes students great are their parents. There's not a whole lot teachers can do to move the needle in some instances."
Yes PAUSD benefits from the highly educated and wealthy community. So much that there is a debate about how much teachers have to do with the success.
If students don't really count, only the parents, if I were a teacher, I would not want to waste much time teaching for know-it-all "parents" and instead focus on the kids who I would actually get credit for teaching.
Posted by lausd???, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 27, 2012 at 7:09 pm
The point is that LAUSD has had "a-g for all" for 5 and change years now and it has not performed the miracles that your group promises will happen if PAUSD goes a-g ASAP.
The article you post proves that point: The LAUSD Superintendent acknowledges that more is needed than just good teachers, his curriculum and "a-g for all." He believes, according to the article, that some of the blame appears to rest with the students who "are not getting the message" and presenting their own obstacles to graduation.
As long as the LAUSD Superintendent is puzzled as to why a-g isn't working all that well there, my advice to PAUSD is to not take your advice and instead look elsewhere for guidance; LA's problems could turn out to be the very things that you are waiving as solutions for Paly's science department.
Why not defer to our PAUSD professionals to make decisions about implementation and not micromanage this? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Kelli Hagen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2012 at 8:39 pm
Thanks for the link to the LAUSD Instruction Guide to Chemistry. It looks like a helpful guide. Reminders of good pedagogy are always helpful. I'll try to address your points as best I can:
1. The material shown is basically the science standards +. It is the same content on the inside of our teacher edition CA standard based text book. The chapters all begin w/ a chart like this that shows which content standard we will hit in each section of the chapter. Suggested HW, demos, labs and assessments are also included- as shown in this document.
2. A pacing guide? I don't see one. Again our teacher edition CA standard based texts provide one.
3. Homework assigned? Again, I don't see one (to what are you referring). I see suggested questions for each section- this content is also directly from a textbook. The HW I see in the chart is not a pacing guide but rather a list of various questions that align with each standard.
As a beginning teacher, one refers to the standards every time a lesson plan is written- it's drilled into us. These charts look very similar to the lesson plans we've all written during our first 1-5 years of teaching. From my experience, at that point, one KNOW the standards and knows how the lesson is tied to them- this is after all the point of writing these lesson plans. From then on, HOW to hit the standards is the focus of teaching. My best ideas ALWAYS come from my immediate colleagues and from my friends at Gunn, not from a textbook.
Posted by couch potato, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 28, 2012 at 12:43 am
Makes sense that teachers work from ideas from their immediate colleagues, and perhaps also influenced by student ("parent") general abilities. Compared to LAUSD, Palo Alto students have the benefit of the best education one can imagine in Science.
The question is then is how do we measure success.
The original topic of this thread, academic stress and now the achievement gap will hopefully be a part of the measures of success. The standards seem straightforward, and if hitting them is an art form, there appears to be plenty of wiggle room for it.
Those arguing that there is no room for improvement, it defies logic.
Posted by thousand paper cuts, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 28, 2012 at 7:16 am
The argument is that only one direction is being pushed by a special interest group. As seen in LAUSD, the approach proposed hasn't worked. Even Michelle's attempt to duck the issue and say it won't apply to PAUSD is a crock. The a-g curriculum hasn't helped. Graduation rates have dropped. Great way of reducing stress on the kids!
It's a terrible shame that the board is taking more note of a special interest group pushing it's agenda for it's own reasons than the teachers in the district who are trying to look out for the kids.
Posted by Kelli Hagen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 28, 2012 at 7:44 am
Student stress and the achievement gap are issues of which we should all be concerned. My point in joining this discussion in the first place is that in a district that has the best teachers I've ever seen, to place the blame on "maladjusted curriculum" and "poor quality teachers" will certainly miss the mark. I hope it is clear that I have been stating that as teachers, we are certainly not above reproach and will always benefit from our own continued learning.
In regards to the stress discussion that has been a focused topic for about 4 years now: There was a loud cry from the schools and community around the time of the suicides that brought everyone into action. What a painful time. Everyone wanted to find solutions quickly and it felt like we were endlessly in meetings to try and address the problem any way we could. Things that usually take years to implement (like a bell schedule and a block schedule) were expedited, for which we took much heat. Our advisory system was also updated to focus on connectedness. As a teacher, it is obvious that the actions taken were good and that the stress level has been reduced. A better measure of student stress should be our growth- it gives us a basis of comparison. Can we do more- yes. Is it still a focused topic in our circle- yes. Are we confident that we will continue to move in the right direction that ALWAYS focuses on the kids- with this group of colleagues, yes.
It's easier to rob a bank from the inside, I always say.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a member of the Barron Park School community, on Feb 28, 2012 at 8:49 am
@thousand paper cuts
It's certainly fine to be opposed to increasing the A-G graduation rate, and to aligning our graduation requirements with the state A-G standards. You should realize, though, that the district decided to "better align graduation requirements with college entry requirements" with a metric of "progress in aligning PAUSD graduation requirements with UC/CSU entry requirement" in 2008 in its Strategic Plan (see Web Link, p. 10). Increasing the A-G graduation rate is Focused Goal A-2 for the district for 2011-12. Both of these goals were adopted by the Board. The proposal to complete the A-G alignment is coming from the Superintendent.
I think we're all focused on how we can improve outcomes for students. There are some clear areas of deficiency that have been the focus of concern from the Board and in the community. One of these is the number of students graduating without an A-G curriculum. Those students are disproportionately minority students (though in fact most of those graduating without A-G are white students, because of the demographic makeup of the district). The connection between that issue and curricular misalignment arose as a result of the letter from Paly math teachers opposing the A-G graduation requirement because of their desire not to teach an Algebra II class that is set at the state A-G standard. The Board is holding a study session next month to examine the general question of the extent to which our high schools provide an A-G curriculum in the basic lane, a question that also arises looking at our science curriculum, and in particular biology (for which an advanced lane math class is listed as a prerequisite to a basic lane science class).
The question of whether teachers have the resources to effectively teach all students stems in part from the sentiments expressed by the math teachers and the A-G graduation gap, but it also arises when looking at comparative data on student achievement from the CST standards tests. PAUSD performs relatively poorly when compared to other districts in California in math and science achievement for black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students, particularly on the Algebra I, Algebra II, Biology and Physics standards tests (see Web Link and Web Link). That suggests, at least to me, that we should be trying to figure out what other districts in our state are doing better, and do that here. I completely agree with you that teachers should lead that effort, with encouragement and support from the Board and district leadership.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm
Simplifying the Dauber argument (as best I can) - most minority and/or less-affluent students at PAUSD do not do well in our schools. It is acknowledged that the bulk of these students are VTP students. The Daubers want PAUSD to adjust its teaching practices and lower its (admittedly high) academic standards so that these same students have a better chance of achieving a passing grade. Lowering the academic standard on basic (a-g) classes, e.g., Alg2, would apparently still meet minimum standards for UC/CSU. These changes are promoted as the Daubers believe the changes will foster a greater chance for VTP students to attend a 4-year college or university.
I'm not trying to be mean or callous when I ask this question: Why should the PAUSD high schools lower their standards for students who live outside the district (and who do not fully fund the district)? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't the transfer students (and their families) understand that if they apply and are accepted to PAUSD, that they should expect the classes to be tougher, the standards higher and that they (the students and their families) will have to step up their performance and commitment to meet PAUSD academic standards?
Think about it - most of the transfer families apply to PAUSD because of the academic reputation. Not despite it.
I understand the principle of public education - teach everyone and get them all to succeed. However, not all school districts are alike and there are certainly some better districts than others. PAUSD, LAMV, Acalanes, Rancho Santa Fe --- most of these districts are basic aid districts - funded primarily by the residents of the district, not by the state general education budget. Given the basic aid funding model (property taxes), the residents of these communities expect higher standards. Basic aid district residents are expecting "elite/private school" standards & performance in exchange for the higher property taxes they are paying.
Why should anyone vilify the PAUSD faculty for wanting to uphold the standards that the majority of residents expect from their schools?
Again - not trying to offend, but I believe the primary responsibility of the PAUSD is to best serve the residents who fund the district. If someone wants to transfer in - then they need to be ready to meet the (higher) standards of Palo Alto's schools, not the other way around.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a member of the Barron Park School community, on Feb 28, 2012 at 5:18 pm
@Crescent Park Dad
I can certainly see why you aren't taking up my invitation in my post above to take public responsibility for your ideas.
The basic thrust of your post belies your statement that "I understand the principle of public education - teach everyone and get them all to succeed." But I trust that Palo Alto residents largely accept that all children deserve to be taught, and can reach their own conclusion about the ethics of your central argument. I'll respond to a few of your misstatements, though. The failure to provide an A-G curriculum in the basic lane that meets but doesn't exceed A-G standards has disproportionate consequences for minority and poor students, but in fact most students who don't graduate with A-G are white and Asian, because of the demographic makeup of the district. No one has said that the bulk of these students are VTP students, despite the slippery language in your post. It would be convenient for creating an "us versus them" account to able to draw an achievement line, below which are VTP students and above which are Palo Alto residents, or below which are minority and poor students and above which are non-minority and affluent students, but there's no evidence for that.
Posted by jack, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm
This school district is changing. Palo Alto was once very liberal and hence very innovative and free thinking. That is what spawned Silicon Valley, a lack of pretension, a lack of ostentation, liberal values and free thinking. Now there are a lot of immigrants from Asia who prize test taking and test results above all. It is changing. The town is becoming less innovative and more rigid. I think this attitude to disadvantaged kids reflects this crushing conformism and race to the top of grades which stifles creativity and intelligence at the expense of grades. Its a terrible mistake. What happened to the Palo Alto I love?
Posted by student, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 29, 2012 at 3:23 am
Like you said, the Palo Alto you loved disappeared when parents started cheating their students resumes.
Do you really think that high school students are doing things that college degree holders and professor's can't do? Because that's what things like the Intel science competition are, it's basically hooking up some kids with some research where they do some petty contribution and get their name plastered on it and make a presentation.
Sad enough that we're way past just test results and grades. Getting perfect grades is baseline. Now you have to get perfect grades AND cheat your way to an amazing resume. Love that mindset, love Palo Alto. Yeah right.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 29, 2012 at 11:31 am
I never said I was against VTP. The "V" in VTP stands for "voluntary". Actually, families have to apply - and typically there is a lottery as there are more applicants than spots. Especially since siblings of PAUSD students receive an automatic spot.
All I'm saying is that my gut tells me that most Palo Alto families expect higher standards at PAUSD. It is the reason we have bought homes here and pay the higher property taxes. To that end, since most PA families want higher standards - it should be incumbent upon the students/families who voluntarily transfer into PAUSD, that they understand (ahead of time) what the standards are and be prepared to do the work and provide the support to make it happen. PAUSD should not lower standards unless a majority of the PA families want it that way.
Should PAUSD develop and provide programs to help those students reach the PA academic standard? Sure, why not. Bring the kids up - but don't lower the district standards.
My overall concern/opinion is that Team Dauber represents the squeaky wheel; they do not represent the opinion of the majority of families who live in PA.
As for the history of Silicon Valley and the political affiliation/viewpoint of those who started the valley on its course of innovation...both David Packard and Bill Hewlett were Republicans. Packard was Asst Secty of Defense under Nixon. John Chambers (Cisco) has donated over a $1mil to the GOP. Gordon Moore (Intel founder) donates to GOP candidates and the Intel PAC. The point is that political party affiliation and/or the lack of liberal viewpoints, does not determine how progressive our local companies or school districts run their businesses.
In the end - the Daubers do not represent the majority of PA residents. Neither do I for all I know. I have a problem with the Daubers trying to steamroll their version of how PAUSD should be - when it is apparent that a majority of PA residents have not backed the Dauber campaign.
Posted by Wow, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm
We'll find out what kind of support the Daubers have when one or more of their group runs for school board. Should be interesting, and an appropriate test of how much community support their approach and viewpoint. I actually think they have a useful role to play (and tons of energy!), but with their current methods and focus, they hurt more than they help.
Ken Dauber - you never answered whether you are still calling for Dr. Skelly to be fired. It's an odd topic to go silent on, given that you put wrote a newspaper editorial devoted to it.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm
OK, the level of personal invective here is just unreasonable. "Team Dauber," "gutter tactics," "cry racism," "steamroller", and now "shakedown." I thought they were supposed to keep this board civil in terms of tone toward individuals in spite of the tendency to go wayward due to the anonymity.
We're just citizens who formed a group of like-minded parents and we come down to the interminable Board meetings and express our opinion, just like you can -- anonymous nasty people -- if you want to come out and take responsibility for your identities and your views. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Why do you feel so personally affronted by my expressing my views and my effort to get the board to agree with me about it? This isn't your private club, it's a democracy.
We Can Do Better members are participating in community discussions and board meetings and important public discussions about our schools and civil institutions. We are using data, facts, evidence, and argument. Our research on the topics of academic stress, mental health, and the achievement gap has been -- sad to say - far better than that conducted by and proffered by the district itself. I think that the data we have presented has enlivened and enriched the discussion even when our view does not (as it usually does not) prevail.
In terms of my views on the superintendent's leadership, I would say that my view of him has improved somewhat, in tandem with a commensurate decline in my view of the School Board. Now you can sharpen your knives over that one.
Posted by Wow, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 29, 2012 at 6:23 pm
Michelle, so that means you retract your call for Dr. Skelly to be fired? Do you regret putting an editorial in the paper to that effect?
I wonder, esp. since you clearly are sensitive about how other people talk about you and your efforts. Calling for Dr. Skelly to lose his job and saying that the Paly math department are bigots has real implications in terms of organizational effectiveness, beyond just hurt feelings. This is one of the key ways that I think your efforts probably hurt more than they help.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 29, 2012 at 6:39 pm
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Then you assume and label me a Republican when in fact I'm a registered Independent who has voted for Feinstein, Boxer, Eshoo, for years. Voted for Obama. Voted for Clinton. Voted for Kerry. I think Bush II was one of the worst presidents in US history. In the last 3 decades, the only California Republican that I have found any hope for has been Tom Campbell.
Using phrases such as steamroll is hardly personal. It is a metaphor that suggests that your group/team is trying to push through your own agenda without consideration of the opinion or wishes of the greater majority of PA residents. Just my opinion.
If you really think you're right, then run for PAUSD BoE (if you have the time). Then the public will let you know where you stand.
Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Feb 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm
"I disagree with your views. But I wouldn't begrudge your right to express them and if I knew your identity I wouldn't sit around fulminating on a public message board about what an ass you are for expressing them in public"
Really..... it seems to me you did not feel that the teachers in the Paly math dept had a right to their opinion. Even worse you gave your own interpretation of their opinion. You have accused everyone in that dept. of being a racist and a poor teacher.
Now Crescent Park Dad is just stating his view (and for all we know he may be correct when he states his OPINION that We Can Do Better Palo Alto may not be the majority opinion) and you attack him....
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm Michele Dauber is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
PVP: the key distinction that you are missing is in the "expressing them in public." The Paly math teachers did not intend to ever express those views in public and have them debated and aired by parents, taxpayers, and students. Rather, as the superintendent has stated in the course of apologizing for the letter, these teachers believed that the letter was secret, and that they were communicating their view directly to our elected representatives (which I might add, are not necessarily their representatives, since they do not all even live in Palo Alto) in order to influence the educational policy of our district without any public debate or discussion whatsoever.
Please bear in mind that this letter went to the board last May, and in part due to this letter (which you and I never saw) the board voted down the district's proposal for A-G for all, even though it is a district strategic plan goal. Our public policy was hijacked by our employees, acting behind the scenes with no public discussion or debate, never taking responsibility for their views in public, and giving the public no chance to respond.
That to me is absolutely outrageous. The board should have placed that letter into the public record and responded by refuting it and distancing themselves from it publicly. But to date not a single board member is on record even disagreeing with the sentiments in that letter or apologizing to the community for it. This will be absolutely be an election issue.