Town Square

Post a New Topic

Student-achievement data indicates room for improvement

Original post made on Sep 25, 2013

Palo Alto Unified's Academic Performance Index (API) score, gathered by the California Department of Education, indicates that the school district is making slower progress with some groups of students than others.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013, 9:18 AM

Comments (92)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:18 am

It's time for people to behave reasonably and maturely when it comes to understanding these achievement gaps, and it starts w/ stopping the blaming game on our schools and the officials.

As a Latin-american immigrant from a family that understood the importance of education, I think the school district provides equal opportunities to all kids, regardless of whatever 'ethnic' label some of you might want to put on them to play the race card to push your agendas.

I see black and Hispanic kids from solid middle class backgrounds doing as well as whites and Asians. This tells me the PAUSD is doing a good job.

Let's not be politically correct, and address the real problem: many of the kids who are falling behind come from less-than-ideal family situations, and the difficulties at home also manifest themselves in below-average school performance. This is life, and neither the PAUSD nor the best schools in the world can do much about it. Maybe it's time for those vocal and regular critics to go do something to help these families, and stop blaming the PAUSD and wasting limited school resources on a problem that is deeper and impossible for schools to address.

This is why I think the Tinsley program contributes to creating a permanent achievement gap that schools can never solve. It was a bad experiment made possible by some collective guilt back then. It hasn't worked and it's time to discontinue it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:25 am

Carlos,
That touched my heart and was so, so honest. Finally, someone tells the truth and makes sense.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:43 am

Thank God for the vocal and regular critics. They are the conscience of the district!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:50 am

Carlos commented that: "many of the kids who are falling behind come from less-than-ideal family situations, and the difficulties at home also manifest themselves in below-average school performance. This is life, and neither the PAUSD nor the best schools in the world can do much about it."

This is false in many ways:

1. Most obviously, other top ranked schools do much better than PAUSD with these same students, and students who are far more disadvantaged. Thus it is demonstrably false that there is nothing that schools can do. Other schools do far better than PAUSD with the same kids.

2. Why do students from less than ideal family situations do better in other top ranked districts than in PAUSD? This is an important question. But what we can know is that their lack of progress in PAUSD is entirely or even chiefly the result of their family or poverty because similar students do far better elsewhere including in districts that are rural, poor, and have high concentrations of poor and minority students.

What is going on in PAUSD? Here are some hypotheses: (1) our teachers have gotten used to teaching kids who are heavily tutored and well-prepared. That is easy in comparison to teaching kids from harder circumstances with less preparation. Most people prefer easy tasks to hard ones. There has been little or no accountability for the learning of the more challenging students.

(2) The problem is mostly in high school not in elementary school. In high school the level of tracking stunts the learning of struggling students, as most academic research indicates that rigid tracking harms lower-performing students by segregating them in classes where there are low expectations and no higher performing students.

(3) The problem is mostly in math and science rather than in ELA. Tracking is most extreme in these subjects, see (2) above.

(4) PAUSD is not a learning organization. Site based control makes it very difficult to compare schools, disseminate best practices, ensure uniform quality, or discontinue ineffective initiatives. The board is ineffective, and mostly likes to hear good news. High test scores are good news. Kevin Skelly has tried to shift attention to lower-performing students and has done a pretty good job but there is a real desire on the part of the board to just have happy talk. Skelly was much more willing to admit the problem last night than was Board President Dana Tom who sounded out of touch with reality.

Tom lashed out at Latoya Baldwin-Clark very inappropriately, saying that the fact that PAUSD lags so far behind other top-performing districts isn't that bad because even though we're 62d, it's out of 200 and so at least we're not 199th or something like that. He ignored or misunderstood completely the fact that we're 2d for whites and Asians, and 62d for blacks. And other top ten districts are also in the top 10 across all these subgroups. Tom was embarrassing to watch, simultaneously appearing to be tone deaf to the issue and angry that he was having to talk about it. Melissa Caswell was the only board member who made sense last night, but she is increasingly isolated.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Agree, it's the home life
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:56 am

I was going to comment exactly what Carlos already posted. Well said, Carlos!

Even our students with "advantages" have a difficult time with the academics in PAUSD so how can the district expect the disadvantaged minorities to do well?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Agree, it's the home life
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:06 am

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Adobe
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:08 am

I think Carlos is exactly right. All the data are there for you if you want to take a closer look at API scores of various schools and breakdowns by education level and ethnicity: Web Link.

Observer, I'm sure your heart is in the right place, and we would all like to see all students score high on the APIs. But I'm not sure of the validity of your statement, "other top ranked schools do much better than PAUSD with these same students, and students who are far more disadvantaged".

I would challenge you to go to look at the data at the website listed above. Find me a school in California that takes in children of the socio-economic/ethnic background you're talking about in similarly large numbers as PAUSD and does "much better than PAUSD with these same students".

I think you'll have a lot of trouble trying to find a school that proves your point. The fact is that API scores are overwhelmingly correlated with socio-economic background and education levels of the parents. So PAUSD can't really take most of the credit for the high test scores of Asian and white students with upper middle class parents with PhDs, nor can it take all the blame for the relatively low test scores of children from poorer backgrounds whose parents didn't graduate from high school.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:10 am

I couldn't have said it better than Carlos.

Carlos - please run for school board and I will vote for you.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:22 am

Read the story. It says that all the other schools in the top 10 do significantly better for minority and poor children than PAUSD. They have an achievement gap but it is smaller.

PAUSD is unique among top-ranked districts for the poor relative achievement of its minority and poor students. In other top-ten districts, all students are in the top 10 for their subgroup. Only PAUSD has top-ranked schools for white and asian students but significantly worse school rankings for its minority students.

You asked for the names of some districts that do better with poor and black and brown students than PAUSD. Here's a list of all 111 districts that do better with poor students than PAUSD. We ought to at least be as good as Selma, Imperial Unified, and Yuba City. Enjoy:

Arcadia Unified
Oak Park Unified
Los Alamitos Unified
South Pasadena Unified
Temple City Unified
Manhattan Beach Unified
Laguna Beach Unified
Coronado Unified
El Segundo Unified
Walnut Valley Unified
Beverly Hills Unified
Irvine Unified
Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified
Rocklin Unified
Clovis Unified
Sierra-Plumas Joint Unified
San Ramon Valley Unified
Redondo Beach Unified
Bonita Unified
Alhambra Unified
Scott Valley Unified
Glendale Unified
Albany City Unified
Sanger Unified
Temecula Valley Unified
Lammersville Joint Unified
SBC - Pacific Technology
San Marcos Unified
Culver City Unified
Las Virgenes Unified
Murrieta Valley Unified
Carmel Unified
West Covina Unified
Claremont Unified
Poway Unified
Dublin Unified
Burbank Unified
Los Molinos Unified
Pacific Grove Unified
Glendora Unified
San Gabriel Unified
Scotts Valley Unified
Brea-Olinda Unified
Garden Grove Unified
SBC - Aspire Public Schools
Torrance Unified
Plumas Unified
Val Verde Unified
Golden Valley Unified
Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified
Downey Unified
Imperial Unified
ABC Unified
Hacienda la Puente Unified
Redlands Unified
Calipatria Unified
Upland Unified
Castro Valley Unified
Princeton Joint Unified
Milpitas Unified
Mariposa County Unified
Gridley Unified
Tustin Unified
Silver Valley Unified
Selma Unified
Carlsbad Unified
Travis Unified
Alameda Unified
Riverdale Joint Unified
Surprise Valley Joint Unified
Beaumont Unified
Center Joint Unified
San Lorenzo Valley Unified
Conejo Valley Unified
Saddleback Valley Unified
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified
Yuba City Unified
Pleasanton Unified
Covina-Valley Unified
Carpinteria Unified
Templeton Unified
Anderson Valley Unified
Charter Oak Unified
Desert Sands Unified
Bellflower Unified
Mountain Valley Unified
South San Francisco Unified
Calistoga Joint Unified
Shandon Joint Unified
Orange Unified
Fremont Unified
Paramount Unified
Capistrano Unified
Lake Elsinore Unified
Ceres Unified
Corona-Norco Unified
Valley Center-Pauma Unified
Rowland Unified
Coast Unified
Ripon Unified
Middletown Unified
Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified
Kings Canyon Joint Unified
El Rancho Unified
Snowline Joint Unified
Baldwin Park Unified
Newport-Mesa Unified
Morongo Unified
Simi Valley Unified
Bear Valley Unified
Eastern Sierra Unified


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:23 am

> other top ranked schools do much better than PAUSD with these
> same students, and students who are far more disadvantaged.

There is nothing in the data released by the State, relative to school performance, that allows anyone to make this statement truthfully.

The students in other district are not "these same students". At best, students in other districts might be classified as "disadvantaged", but even this classification is not very meaningful--since there are no laws in the US that force class distinctions on the people--like there has been in countries like India. But in no way are the students in one district the same as students in another district.

Home life is a very important contribtuter of student performance. It's time for people to understand this, and see what can be done to better motivate students from homes where education is not as appreciated as it should be.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:32 am

Bob, you seem to be putting forth a theory that Palo Alto's poor and minority students are somehow more disadvantaged than poor students, for example in remote rural areas where the children are mostly those of migrant farmworkers. What is your evidence for that or do you have none?

Of course the data exists -- it is cited right in the story. Do you people read?

Poor and minority students in PAUSD are probably precisely the opposite -- they are probably slightly better than those elsewhere since their parents took the initiative and effort to get them into PAUSD, either by moving here or by signing them up for the VTP program. They are probably somewhat more interested in education than other poor and minority parents, for example in Ceres or Ripon.

Why on earth would people even suggest that the problem is the students rather than the pedagogical strategies or other education systems affecting outcomes? Who knows? Easy? Cheap? Racist? I don't know. Anyway, put forth your evidence that PAUSD's minority students are somehow uniquely bad in all the state.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by No surprise
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:40 am

I really should NOT be any surprise to anyone that the real reason PAUSD is so strong is because the parents will not let it fail. The district continues to ignore the fact that there is an extraordinary number of students who are tutored throughout their entire 12 years. Parents who can afford it (about 90%) readily buy extra help during the year or during the summer. The district has long said that the number of kids being tutored cannot be measured, so they ignore it. I have heard numbers as high as 75 % of the kids at Gunn have private tutors or use services like SIL to supplement the teachers. This should be examined to see if there is any correlation with the achievement gap. And if there is, what does it say about the quality of the teaching (not blaming the teachers, per se as curriculum can hinder even good teachers).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 25, 2013 at 12:20 pm

The excuse that "we can't teach these kids, they have a (bad home life/low work ethic/slacker syndrome/long bus ride to school)" wears thin when you see that there are many other districts doing better than we are.
I am very happy to see that the superintendent reacted to this evidence better than some of the die-hards on this board. That bodes well for our future progress.
I am sorry to hear that Dana Tom decided to react by shooting the messenger. If everybody got on the same page and put their shoulder to the wheel, we might be high-ranking for all students. Let's make this about the kids!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Victor
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 25, 2013 at 12:42 pm

I am a second generation child of immigrants and I don't agree with Carlos. I care a lot about school for my kids and I see that teachers don't take them seriously and don't push them as hard as other students. I want them to keep up with the best students.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by AA mom
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Dana Tom didn't care about putting in better counseling at Gunn because his children go to Paly. He doesn't care about these data because his children are in the highest scoring group. He was so condescending to that African American woman it made my heart hurt. He said we were in the 60% percentile. What if we were in the 60th percentile for Asian students? Would he be all "that's great, it's real progress, we're doing better than the worst." No one in PA would think that was acceptable if we were first for black students, first for hispanic students but 112th for Asians. But that is what Dana Tom thinks we should be happy with.

The saddest part of the meeting was when he started to talk about how much he cares, and then went on to say that our underrepresented students should just be glad we aren't scraping the absolute bottom but are just mediocre. I would love to see what Dana Tom would do if suddenly 111 districts had better scores for Asian students. Please, don't patronize us Dana Tom. We're not stupid despite what you seem to think. We know what a percentile is and we know what 62nd means. Tell you what, when Asian students are 62nd and black students are 2d we can talk, OK?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Not to excuse our performance as a District, but imagine you are one of only 30 African American students in your school of almost 1900 (Gunn) and one of 64 in your school of 1900 (Paly), that has to feel isolating.

As a long time PAUSD parent (20+ years), EVERY child I know who struggled at Paly ended up with either significant tutoring or more often at another school.

There are multiple issues at work, a statistically small # of minorities students (even Hispanic is around 10% at the HS level), teachers that don't need to instruct because so many students are pre-taught or tutored, and the worst, the lower track kids that have been taught they are slackers and screw-ups and therefore act like it. I have one child that for a variety of self-inflicted reasons was in a number of low track classes for a year, the kids in her classes misbehaved and generally acted like stereotypical low performing students. Only exceptional teachers (think Arne Lim) can control the class and teach kids who think they don't want to or can't learn.

BTW - I'm one of the parents that pulled my child out of Paly.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 12:58 pm

> Of course the data exists -- it is cited right in the story.

No, the data does not exist. For instance, the State does not release:

1) Number of parents in homes of each student.
2) Income of parents in homes of each student.
3) Absenteeism of students in each school.
4) Expulasion/Suspension rate in each school.
5) Vandelism in each school.
6) Whether parents are native-born, or foreign-born.
7) Number of homes in District where English is primary language.
8) Dollars spent on student body not reported to state.
9) Number of homes in District having Computers/Internet access.
10) Number of hours parents spend helping students with homework.

All of this data is necessary to understand the performance of students in a school setting. There is no doubt that high performing students are going to be from homes which offer re-inforcement to the underlying skills needed to achieve in the classroom.

> Do you people read?

Do you people ever think through issues beyond the shallow treatment of issues, as provided by the Weekly, or other "advocates".

Study after study have pointed out that home life, and the education of the parents--particularly the mother--are significant contributors to student academic performance.

[Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm

So you have no evidence that PAUSD's poor and minority students differ in any systematic way from similar students in other districts. You don't even have a hypothesis as to why that might be.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 1:36 pm

> 4) Expulsion/Suspension rate in each school.

Ooops .. seems that this data is available on the State DoE web-site.

Sorry.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Going back to my school days, there was a stigma attached to "latch key kids". There was the general feeling that those who did not go home each day to find a mother present who would make sure they got home, did some chores, ate dinner and did homework, were not going to do well in school, would end up not going straight home but more likely to get up to mischief somewhere with the "wrong company". Whereas we might call this stereotyping today, it did seem to follow true in my day. Nowadays there are few homes where the mother is waiting for the children to come home, but coming home to an empty house is still problematic for some. Many elementary and middle age kids do go straight to afterschool childcare or after school activities. Even many high schoolers do not go straight home after school. But there are still those latch key kids who might be the ones who are not achieving well in school. Identifying who these are is difficult for a school, but it might help them to be able to go to the library or a homework club in school without having any type of stigma attached to it could be the thing that makes a big difference.

It really isn't anything to do with income, culture, where they live, that is going to make a difference with some kids. A lot of it will depend on their own self esteem and their parents interest in them as people first and academic support second. Educating some families that it is parental support that can help make a big difference. Even in a family where parents are working all hours, the parents should be able to find 10 minutes each day to ask if the schoolday has gone well, if all the homework has been done and if there is anything the parent could do to help overcome any problems that might be going on, would make a very big difference in the lives of some students who are having a hard time at school and appear to have no support from home. It could be just as simple as that, a couple of questions a day.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Stats 101
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2013 at 1:59 pm

The conclusions reached in this article and by some of the comments are completely bogus and driven by a lack of understanding (or purposeful ignoring) of statistics.

School test scores are driven almost entirely by child and parent subgroups. With very high confidence, test scores follow the rule:

Race:
Asian > White > Hispanic/AA

Income Level:
Kids with higher income parents > kids with lower income parents

Education level:
Kids with highly educated parents > kids with lower educated parents

In fact, without knowing anything about the school or teachers, you can pretty accurately predict the school API scores based on demographics.

For example, Cupertino has higher API scores than PA. In the next few years, PA should close this gap as the percentage of Asian children enrolled in PA (especially in elementary school) continues to increase.

How does this relate to the Achievement Gap?

As a result of Tinsley, many of PA's minority students come from groups with parents at lower income and education level. In Manhattan Beach, the API results show that there are very few kids at all coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This is why you can't compare PA minority API scores with Manhattan Beach's minority API scores. It is equivalent to comparing PA's white API scores to the API scores of white students in a poor coal mining town in West Virginia.

There are at least two honest ways to actually measure whether PA is doing as well as other schools in educating disadvantaged groups:

1) Compare groups of Hispanic/AA kids whose parents have the same education and income. For instance, compare PA Hispanics whose parents have high income and education levels with Hispanics from another school district with high income and education levels (i.e. Manhattan Beach).

2) Compare Tinsley students in PA with Tinsley students in Menlo Park or neighboring school districts. In fact, for those passionate about this issue, you should ask (or even beg if needed) the school districts to provide this information. This is the truest way to measure how good a job PA is doing compared to other similar districts.

Please no more articles from PA online using bogus stats. If you want to use statistics, get a quote for this article from a statistician without a political agenda so we can start to have a serious conversation.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Stats 102
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 25, 2013 at 2:23 pm

@Stats 101

Let's review. The data shows that PAUSD's API scores for blacks, Hispanics, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students are lower than many other districts in the state, including those of other highly ranked districts overall. (By the way, these data are not "bogus stats" -- there are actually no statistics involved here, unless you count sorting as statistics).
It's a little hard to see what your contention is about the effect of race, but it seems that you are arguing that socioeconomic status is the root cause. Let's grant that. In that case, Palo Alto's rank for socioeconomically disadvantaged students should be the "truest" measure of how well it does in educating these subgroups, since it's not confounded with race. Palo Alto's ranking for this group is 112th in the state. That indicates that PAUSD is underperforming other districts in educating these students.
More generally, your post seems to say that if we don't know something with precision, we don't know anything. But we do know something from this data, clearly. Since statistics is the science of knowing things without precise measures of the entire population, I'm a little confused by your overall claim of expertise.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Observer,

I think the difference between the PAUSD's achievement gap and other places is Tinsley. Other districts do not import relatively poor minority students over the county line. This makes for an unusually large socioeconomic split (take a look at the housing prices) that *also* falls along racial lines--you can't be a poor white and apply for Tinsley. You're going to get less of an achievement gap in other districts because there's not the same kind of artificial gap.

There are a couple of ways to look at the numbers--one is, of course, the achievement gap--how do the AA/Hispanic kids in the district do compared to everyone else in the district? The other would be to look at how those kids do compared to their socioeconomic peers within the state--i.e. not simply by race, but by income. I'd expect PA still has a ways to go, but I think that would give us a better sense of what the district should be doing.

So, if you go next door to Sequoia, you get an AA score of 672, down from last year's 682 (PA's AA--761) and a Latino score of 703, up from 699 PA's--795). So, I'd say it's arguable that the PAUSD API bump is about 90 points--a combination of, I'd guess, some affluent minorities who actually live in PA and have a high level of education; some highly motivated parents looking for their kids to have a better life; and some good school/district things.

So there is a real question, I think, of how much we can ask schools to compensate for other factors such as income level and parental levels of education.

That said, Dana Tom continues to be nothing on the school board. While I think there are non-school reasons for the achievement gap that doesn't mean an achievement gap is desirable and I think Baldwin's making some legitimate points. This district *isn't* geared to helping poor kids. They're not, so to speak, the target market and, by high school, they're a small enough group that they don't impact the overall status of the district. So the district shrugs off the gap as a mild embarrassment--after all, it doesn't affect our housing prices, right?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Stats 101
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2013 at 2:56 pm

@Stats 102,

Please read what I wrote again.

Scores are a function of ALL three categories (race, income, education). Create two groups whose kids are the same in ALL three categories and you will likely find very similar test scores. However, compare poor black kids in East LA with rich black kids in Manhattan Beach and you will not get similar scores. Compare poor white kids in one town with poor Asian kids in another town and you will also not get similar scores.

You told me to look at socioeconomic scores as an indicator that PA was doing badly. Without even looking at the API pages, I can tell you you're making the same wrong argument in that you're again picking only 1 of the 3 key indicators for API scores. Want to know the school district with the highest scores for socioeconomic disadvantaged students? Arcadia Unified. Here is the link to their API results (Web Link). I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to see if anything looks interesting about the demographics of that school district. Are you suggesting that PA should look to Arcadia Unified to see what they're doing right?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Norteno
a resident of Triple El
on Sep 25, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Thanks, Carlos, for your input. I have noticed for several years now that there are several other districts that simply do more with less, due to parental involvement.

Yuppies are often not the most involved parents, just the ones with the most money....which does not guarantee success I school!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Intro to Logic
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 25, 2013 at 3:22 pm

There are a ton of schools throughout the state in that list above that have far more disadvantaged students than Tinsley and many more of them. Yet they are doing better than Palo Alto. It is unfortunate that in such a supposedly smart community there are so many people who do not understand logic or basic functions like comparisons. Hopefully TS is not a random sample.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Duvy dad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2013 at 3:27 pm

But Norteno, we seem to be doing less with more?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Alice Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 25, 2013 at 4:12 pm

It would be interesting to break this down by who had preschool family and early childhood education and who did not. Who had nursery school and who did not, what the income of the families was and what the breakdown of single Mom or economic indices. I would guess that those with early education 3 year olds in school NOT day care would reveal much higher scores than those who are not stimulated early on.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by hmmm
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 25, 2013 at 4:26 pm

You mention MBUSD's 2013 Growth API Scores. How do they really compare?

"Manhattan Beach Unified School District" : Web Link
Students with Disabilities -12
Hispanic or Latino -10
Black or African American -32

"PAUSD": Web Link
Students with Disabilities +32
Hispanic or Latino +7
Black or African American +16

Only one district is moving in the right direction!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by drop it
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Sep 25, 2013 at 4:32 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by when
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 25, 2013 at 6:19 pm



Carlos,

You make yourself sound like a voice of authority because of your name "Carlos" and that you're a "Latin-american immigrant from a family that understood the importance of education" . Be specific. If you would be from Argentina for example, you could be 100% Italian.

Latin America is not exactly a shining example of solving achievement gap issues in education, or economic opportunities, note the recent riots in Brazil.

It's pretty clear there is room for improvement, as admitted by district officials themselves. Difference between here and Latin America is that there is more visible accountability, that which you don't seem to be culturally comfortable with.








 +   Like this comment
Posted by teacher
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 25, 2013 at 7:01 pm

When these scores get released, whole communities of teachers at each site sit around lunch tables and talk about how to reach each student. We chat during yard duty and try new things. We analyze data and alter the ways we teach. We make more eye contact with families and we ask more questions. And most of us will never tell anyone about these conversations. Certainly not on this forum because so many of the comments that get posted here are hostile to our work or to the district that hires us and supports us. But please be reassured that the district cares and that the teachers care. I've seen it and I am proud to be part of the solution. Part of the attempt at a solution. It is a feeble attempt and there are few cheerleaders, more critics. But we are here. And tomorrow I'll open my classroom door and smile and teach every single kid. Those that are advanced and those that are basic on the STAR tests.
This forum brings me down most of the time I read it. I just thought I'd add my tiny bit of hope. Palo Alto can do better and it is - but those who use that phrase here rarely mean that in a hopeful way or in a way that honors those of us who are working so hard to teach our kids.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2013 at 7:08 pm

[Portion removed.] Next time "you" and your "fellow teachers" are sitting around the lunch table agonizing over each child perhaps some evidence about what works and some proven strategies from the over 100 districts getting better results would be of interest. No one doubts the sincerity or concern. But sincerity never moved the needle. This isn't Coach Carter. These kids have to get up every day in a failing situation. So spare us the bathos and start looking at the evidence based practices.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ms teacher
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 25, 2013 at 7:13 pm

I have a different perspective than my colleague. I appreciate it when parents get involved and look at the accountability metrics and point out where we can improve. For me the fact that other districts are doing better in some ways gives me hope. It's a spur to take a closer look at my practice.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by teacher
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 25, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Observer,
That is exactly what we do. We look at what is working in other places. We use research based methods.
You said nobody doubts my sincerity or concern. But it sure sounds like you doubt it.
Yeah, I'm a teacher.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Anyone who believes that the Paly math department sits around dewy-eyed agonizing over the CST Algebra 2 scores, trying to figure out how they can make better eye contact with the VTP families to encourage them -- I have a bridge for you. So not all teachers are even sincere.

Let's commit ourselves to finding out where the problem is located (see para. 1 above), and to figuring out how to create accountability for solving it. Much of the problem is site-based control -- there is no way to find out what works and require schools to implement what works and stop implementing what doesn't. The only time this happened was when the state mandated that we address disproportionality (and when the feds mandated that we address discrimination and bullying). The rest of the time -- unless the state or feds are forcing it -- no accountability. If teachers want to see progress, insist that your school implement best practices, stop implementing things that don't work, and insist that you be held accountable for it. Stop acting like every school is independent -- it isn't. Welcome being compared to other schools as a chance to learn. Become a learning organization.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Adobe
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 25, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Thanks for the posts, Teacher, and for providing some much-needed perspective from someone who is actually doing the work of educating our children.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Teacher - I thank you for your dedication and commitment to your students and I think most of the PAUSD teachers are committed, dedicated educators who are absolutely deserving of our thanks. Unfortunately, a small number of your peers contribute to the achievement gap because of their arrogance. They act like college professors or elite private school teachers with the goal of flushing out the "losers and slackers". These individuals have no place in public schools and no place in elementary or secondary education.

In my experience with PAUSD, elementary teachers are generally fabulous, middle school half wonderful and half useless, high school, half dedicated teachers, and the rest have retired on the job and/or are college professor wannabees.

My apologies and thanks to the teachers who pick up the slack for their colleagues.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2013 at 8:19 pm

PA parent said it better than I did. But one slight correction, elite private school teachers are not trying to weed out students. Teachers at private schools are expected to work for the success of every student to the extent possible. Private schools have selected and smaller populations so it is a different environment. I would say that Paly math teachers, for example, fantasize themselves as faculty members in UCB engineering, or the Chicago econ department -- a large major at an elite university that has to eliminate all but the most hardworking and talented students. Not, of course, the function of a high school in any way.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by when
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 25, 2013 at 9:39 pm

PA parent,

"In my experience with PAUSD, elementary teachers are generally fabulous, middle school half wonderful and half useless, high school, half dedicated teachers, and the rest have retired on the job and/or are college professor wannabees."

That's our experience as well, and if only this tidbit could be dealt with up front.

Sad is that the good or wonderful teachers in middle and high school don't get anything more than the bad teachers, not even credit for being wonderful. The good teachers remain good or get better, the bad teachers have no incentive to improve.

College professor wannabes do not belong teaching teenagers. High School is a very sensitive time for kids, and just because HS prepares kids to go to college, it's not supposed to be college.






 +   Like this comment
Posted by Agree
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 25, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Re Observer's posting about "Paly math teachers. . . fantasize themselves as faculty members in UCB engineering". What a false accusation! That only describes the Department Head, Radu Toma, who is abrupt and impatient; he even wears blazers to school. Most of the math teachers are quite good and very caring, although the BC and AB lanes are a bit rigorous, requiring hiring tutors or parent tutors. And Charlotte Harris speaks way, way too fast. At Open House, while other teachers took the full 20 minutes (and would prefer more time), she took only 5-10 minutes and said she had no more to say, so we all sat and waited for the bell.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent of a Toma student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Radu Toma is an excellent teacher. His students love him. He teaches mostly the highest level classes. I am pretty sure this year he only teaches AP Calc BC, so only the very top students and they are very happy to have him.

So, all the complaining about him on him is ludicrous.

And OMG, he wears a blazer... He should be ashamed of himself!! NOT. What a ridiculous thing to judge him on.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Ok lets judge him on his written record. The Paly math letter is now a nationally famous example of shameful bad teaching. I think it gives us some pretty good clues as to why our poor and minority students fare worse than other similar kids. Shameful that our board just sat there like lumps and said nothing when it came out. None of them deserve to be public officials if they are so confused about what is good and bad teaching. And those horrible teachers ran Phil Winston out of Paly. I guess we know who wears the pants in this district -- the Paly Math department. Not Dana Tom, clearly.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JrPrison
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Okay - we get it. White/Asian scores are based on money, tutors, enrichment, and life experiences that are enriching. For everyone else, our scores depend on the teachers. These scores are not a surprise to anyone who has has a discouraging teacher. The one thing that we need is some positive motivation to succeed.

Jordan is run like a prison. It has a punitive attitude towards students. If you're late- zero. If you don't score perfect first-pass, zero. If you are disorganized, zero. If your teacher can't explain the material, zero...

Im not saying the teachers have to be positive and motivating every day, in fact, all they need to do is STOP being demotivating. Stop grading us on compliance, obedience and perfection. For god sakes, stop giving homework and test on material that has not been taught in class.

Less punitive, more forgiving. Allow some second chances. Help us correct and learn from mistakes rather than punishing mistakes.

And please get rid of the most demotivating teachers - they destroy any possible interest in learning forever. You can start with the entire science department at Jordan, and their dept head.

There: positive, concrete steps to close the achievement gap.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent of PAUSD Alums
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I grew up in Palo Alto and lived there for many years. Enough years to see the city grow from a sleepy university town of mostly middle class people to one of costliest small cities in the country. Enough years to see not only the socio-economic gap between the resident students and the VTP students grow more extreme but also the gap between residents and faculty at PAUSD. The have and have-not, "other side of the tracks/freeway" divide has never been more pronounced.

Does anyone really think PAUSD is withholding services for lower-performing and/or disadvantaged students? I canÕt imagine such a thing.

I am an employee of the District at the elementary level and know there is an abundance of programs and services actively in place for providing extra help: special one-on-one teaching (Resource) help for students with specific learning issues (not necessarily economic ones); English Language development for students including tutors for students speaking a double-digit number of languages; translators; reading specialists doing one-on-one in and out of the classroom support; after-(and sometimes before) school tutoring (Academy) in small groups; differentiated instruction in the classroom; educational counseling; computer classes for parents; computers for students to bring home; and the countless hours spent advising, assessing, conferencing, consulting and discussing student needs. I watch teachers attending workshops, participating in District staff development, working collaboratively to share ideas and best practices for all students and especially for students who are struggling.

Our VTP students are not the only disadvantaged students in the District, but it's suggested here that that's the population we're talking about. I'm seeing many specific numbers being mentioned when comparing PAUSD to other Districts but I wonder about some others. How many VTP students do the other Bay Area Districts have compared to PAUSD? How wide are those socio-economic divides? How many other districts in the state have court mandated transfer programs? What difference might that make in outcomes? What are their s-e ratios? And though we all know that every single child is precious and every single student is important, how many students are we actually talking about?

As important as it is to do everything possible for our disadvantaged students, the schools can't do it all. We are required to provide an equal chance but how can we do this alone? What can or should we expect from the families of our disadvantaged children? As it is now, there are no expectations. The schools can only work hard during the day and can do nothing about what does or does not happen at home at night. Then the schools do it all again tomorrow. I know from my own experience that children take their cues from their parents. We have a far greater influence on them than the District, the school or the teacher. We cannot abdicate our responsibility to them by asking the schools to do more than we are willing to ourselves.


This achievement gap is a big issue for our society at large. We all must work toward just and equitable solutions. And there will never be a stopping place. We have to keep going down the road. And while weÕre going, all we can do is our best, today. No matter what else is going on around us, because of what is going on around us, in spite of what is going on around us, we canÕt wait for things to be right. The most important thing we can teach our children is an ever-increasing sense of responsibility for what they learn and who they are. They have to see us doing it ourselves to know it matters.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JrPrison
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:09 pm

@Parent writes: "Does anyone really think PAUSD is withholding services for lower-performing and/or disadvantaged students?"

Perhaps not directly. But when the teacher sends us home with homework that was not covered in class, who gets the right answer? The kid with the tutor or the kid without?

This sucks! [Portion removed.]

This just exaggerates the disadvantage we have.

I know the b.s. Excuses: teachers don't have tome to cover all the material; the curriculum ' ...is a mile wide and an inch deep' ( Milliken -thank god he's gone) blah blah blah. [Portion removed.]

But let's be honest. When homework and tests cover material not in class or not in the text, who suffers? The Asian kid who's tiger mom checks his homework? I don't think so. In fact, they love this, as it is another opportunity to game the system and pull ahead.
When the teachers cater to this crowd, it affects other students.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Here's a blog about the Paly Math letter by a teacher (Dan Meyer), who said "If I were a parent of one of those students, this determinism would probably drive me out of my mind."

Web Link

Dan Meyer, the blogger, is a PhD candidate in math education at Stanford, and was named one of Tech & Learning's 30 Leaders of the Future and an Apple Distinguished Educator. His blog is widely read. There are 97 comments on his post on the Paly math letter, nearly all of them ridiculing and excoriating the Paly math department.

We're definitely getting attention for our strategy. Are we a lighthouse district yet?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Agree
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:46 pm

@Jr. prison: Jordan Middle School has the good and the bad. Paly's teachers are superior overall and are more available to contact than Jordan's teachers. Don't worry - your grades don't count for college apps yet. Enjoy your time at Jordan so you aren't burnt out by the time you get to high school and your grades matter. Just pick up good study habits in middle school and don't worry about your grades.

Observer, what is the outrage about the letter? The math dept. is saying that students shouldn't be forced to take Algebra 2 to graduate from Paly. Students can take the class if they want too, but it's a waste of time for the teachers to have to teach students who don't care about Algebra 2 and it's torturous to the students who don't care to take Algebra 2. The teachers are actually letting the students off the hook by not forcing them to take Algebra 2; I see it as caring.

World Language is now a considered a core class and two years are required to graduate from Paly. This is a huge mistake which will stress out students. World Language in PAUSD is out-of-control-rigorous, much more difficult than Algebra 2!



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Member Name
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 26, 2013 at 12:03 am

PAUSD, like Palo Alto is driven by image. PA must be the best and the brightest. PA used to be a city that included working families, shops owners, and middle class working people, like teachers. Teachers cannot afford to live in this city, even two-parent families can barely afford to live in this community. How many single parent-one job, double parent two-three jobs can afford to live in this city? Per the article the other week, Chinese immigrants are the most prolific home buyers (pay in cash) in the city. Chinese parents send their children to PA (and other cities) schools and do not even live here. Dana Tom and the rest of the ineffectual school board would not speak so glibly about PAUSD "progress"/scores if if it was their (Chinese/white) children who were ill effected. We already know how the PAUSD failed more than one disabled child. The test scores are only part of the equation, attitude is not mentioned and Dana Tom and the rest of the school board demonstrate that negative attitude. The negative attitude regarding Blacks (students) in Palo Alto is disarming:in the schools,in the shops, on the street, by the police. But Palo Alto will probably have fewer concerns about Black/Hispanic American kids in the schools; there will be fewer Black/Hispanic kids and more Chinese kids so the scores will go up. Right?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Great expectations
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 26, 2013 at 6:24 am

A Latino of modest background has so much stacked against him when he walks into many PAUSD classrooms because the teacher's expectations are often so low. Ask a few young black males if they ever sensed that a teacher or two ever had low expectations for their abilities. Heck, ask Kevin Skelly what he said about our Latino children a few years ago. The Play Math Letter was representative of how a majority of PAUSD teachers feel about a minority of our kids. Perhaps LaToya Baldwin should speak the Teri Baldwin of the teachers union, PAEA, which seems to be pretty vocal about only making $10,000 per month, but not so much about non-white or non-Asian kids.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JrPrison
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 26, 2013 at 6:53 am

@Agree- your advice makes no sense. Students are being systematically demotivated (many white kids too) and your advice is what? 'learn to not care'?

Then, when I get to Paly I'll reach the promised land where I'll be shoved into lower lanes because I have been taught to not care?

Right? Thats what you're sayin: kids are put in Alg2 and ignored by Toma because we don't care. Well guess wher we learned that- from your advice and Jordan teachers!

Really. It makes me want to scream. If Toma had an ounce of professionalism he would walk upstream and find out why he has students arriving in his class who don't care. Why not figure out what is broken that creates those kids disengagement, and demand it be fixed?

He suffers the same shortsightedness you have: patronize the discouraged and punish the disengaged. How about fixing the broken system! Your post is an apology fir the broken system, and while your advice may seem well meaning, buried withi is the I
Plication that you can't or don't want to fix this problem.
[Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MomOf3
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 7:03 am

I was walking behind Gunn, first day of school at 10:30am. Group of approximately 10 teenagers were not at school. Yes, let's ask the teachers to run outside and reach those kids, engage them more and offer the available resources.
We can count and recount scores, blame school and teachers, but if the child don't want to work, and work hard, there is no achievement, only gap.
Carlos, you got my 100% support.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by truthy
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 26, 2013 at 7:32 am

Hey there Momof3, that's brunch time at Gunn. We interrupt this ignorant rant to bring you a fact.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 7:57 am

Here's the math letter for those who have not read it: Web Link

In it, the Paly math department (the entire department signed this letter) argues forcefully that PAUSD should not require 3 years of math to graduate including algebra 2 because that would require the district to "drastically lower standards" and "dilute" the curriculum so that "VTP and underrepresented minority" students could pass the class.

The letter states that ensuring a basic level course that all students can take would harm PAUSD's reputation for rigor: "diluting the standards in our regular lane to basic benchmarks that might allow every student to pass Algebra II would end up hurting our district's reputation." According to the math department, these VTP and minority students can just go on "to community colleges and jobs" and should not expect to graduate with the requirements to attend a Cal State campus if the cost is a reduction in the district's reputation.

And what of all those districts where poor and black and brown kids do learn advanced math like San Jose Unified? They only pretend to teach Algebra 2, teaching a watered down version. How do we know it's watered down? Kids who couldn't pass it here in our amped up version can pass there.

In the mental cul-de-sac of the Paly math department, it's a prior that poor and black and brown kids from uneducated families "objectively" cannot pass a "hard" class like Algebra 2 (that incidentally many middle schoolers pass all the time -- it's Algebra 2 not multivariate calc -- you would think Algebra 2 was designing a nuclear warhead to these "teachers"). If they are passing it somewhere else, the schools are cheating to give them a fake pass. What's important to these "teachers" is that PAUSD's reputation for "rigor" remains high -- teaching all comers is not their job. Their job is sorting them into "college material" and "community college and jobs material." Guess which race goes into which pile?

These are the "teachers" who have given PAUSD the bad scores discussed in this article. There is no mystery as to why PAUSD is a top ranked district for white and asian students and a low ranked district for minority and poor kids. We have low expectations (I mean you can't get a whole lot clearer on that score than this letter -- what's remarkable about the letter is that they are so arrogant that they wrote down what white people usually only say privately with the blinds drawn) for these kids. We don't expect them to learn more than they need to make change at Subway.

If you want to know why we have low scores for these kids, it's because no one held these math teachers accountable for this horrible letter. Radu Toma is still the Instructional Supervisor of the Paly math department several years later. Nothing happened. Now Dana Tom, school board president says to PASS's Latoya Baldwin Clark "well we're in the 60th percentile for black students -- 60% of the schools in the state are worse than us! We're better than Compton! We're better than East LA! That's who Dana Tom thinks we should be compared to -- the district's at the absolute bottom. Go ahead black parents -- throw a party! You pay a million dollars to live in a cracker box in a district that's better than Compton! Don't like it? Stop being uppity."

Dana Tom to black parents: "sit down and shut up, we're in the 60th percentile and we're trying to improve. We would like an A for effort even though we won't give your kids the same."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by StopBlame
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 26, 2013 at 8:12 am

Well said Carlos!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 26, 2013 at 8:18 am

We're ok with Toma. The guy doesn't want to dumb down Alg 2. Good.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 8:25 am

That's what "honors" and "accelerated" tracks are for, not basic lane. Why would you not have a basic lane for all students who aren't that turned on by math but still need a basic level of proficiency to go to college?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 26, 2013 at 8:50 am

Actually, CST scores have shown that the district lags behind many others in teaching Algebra 2 to disadvantaged students. It's not a question of dumbing down, it's about smarter teaching. A perfect example of what Dauber is talking about.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Adobe
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 26, 2013 at 8:52 am

Observer,

Have you ever sat down and taught math to the students you are describing here? If not, I think you should rein in your contemptuous tone when talking about the teachers in our schools and perhaps listen to what they are saying.

Is the letter so flagrantly offensive? The teachers are saying that students with hugely disparate socio-economic/educational backgrounds have widely varying performance in math. Any measure of academic achievement--STAR test scores, graduation rates, SAT scores, etc.--provides overwhelming evidence that this true, no matter how much you want to reflexively scream that any such talk is racist.

The letter does not say that all students from disadvantaged students are incapable of learning higher-level math. I'm sure that the teachers are thrilled when they work with students from that background who are willing to do the work and show the aptitude necessary to succeed in the tough math classes. Your [portion removed] caricature of PAUSD teachers who won't lift a finger to help dark-skinned students itself is offensive and simply not accurate.

You seem pretty set in your opinions, so I'm sure this post won't sway you. But I hope other readers here won't be so dismissive of the people who are doing the actual work of educating students every day in our classrooms.






 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 9:09 am

Adobe asks: "Is the [Paly Math] letter so flagrantly offensive?"

Yes. The attitude of those teachers in that letter has no place in a classroom, particularly public school. If they were private school teachers they would have been fired. If they were charter school teachers, for example at Eastside Prep, they would have been publicly humiliated and then fired. Because they are public employees they have some rights that must be respected, however, Radu Toma should not be in a management position. Period. The End.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Agree
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 26, 2013 at 9:15 am

[Portion removed.]

Well said, Adobe. It's easy for non-teachers to scream about teachers not doing their jobs correctly. There is always a math teacher available in the math department if a student needs help during school and after school. Teachers at Paly are accessible. Students also volunteer to tutor for free. Passing a class at Paly is not difficult. The students just need to want it. And therein lies the problem. As the old saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make 'em drink."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 9:20 am

Yes I see what you mean. You can't expect dumb pack animals to learn Algebra 2. How silly of me. Those "horses" just fritter the day away smoking crack, eating watermelon, and listening to rap music. We try to supply them with the proper essentials for a cultured life, but they just want to lays around waiting for the free Obamacare, footloose and dependent.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by observerfromthe otherside
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 9:34 am

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by navel gazing
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 26, 2013 at 10:13 am

"...high ranking not just for advantaged students"
Very odd comment. WCDBPA considers 80% of Palo Alto students to be "advantaged".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 10:29 am

Why is that odd? This is a well-to-do community and most of the people here enjoy many advantages. Those who do not have advantages to the same degree include underrepresented minorities, who suffer from racist stereotypes and low expectations even if their parents are well-off, and (by definition) economically disadvantaged students. There is nothing odd about that. What's odd your lack of basic understanding of the definition of "disadvantage," and of the geography of where you live (one of the richest places on earth).

The more I think about it the more I think that using real identities on this forum would improve the quality of commenting. People would be afraid to post [portion removed] comments like this one, or they would be reluctant to post (one hopes) the [portion removed] above blaming the VTP students for not wanting to learn math instead of the teachers who rejected them as unteachable. What is the social benefit to be gained in having these kinds of comments? I'm with YouTube. If you don't want your identity associated with what you are saying there is probably a reason related to what you are saying.

In my case, I'm not going to be the only person posting with my real name [portion removed.] I've tried it and it is like signing up to be burned at the stake.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by when
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 10:41 am



Paly Parent, Downtown North

"Dumbing down" is relative.

Toma expressed concern that Paly's reputation for Math competitions would suffer if Algebra 2 was taught differently. It makes no sense why the lowest Math lane needs to keep at par with the higher Math lanes, since they are not in any competition. There are so many Math lanes, and the lowest has to be as smart as the rest?

Kids in the rest of the country are getting into college with what you call "dumbed down" classes, I would say it's dumb to overwork students unnecessarily.

Toma himself fretted about kids taking Math in independent learning schools which is "unfair" to those who don't have the money. Where is the logic in this concern, after he insults the group for being slackers?

Toma's letter was just plain stupid, and the reputation of the school will suffer until we are smart enough to teach all levels, and serve all levels.

I would not be surprised if our reputation for arrogance and hyper tutoring is not already hurting kids when they apply to college.

You can't have it both ways, the bad students are bad because of their parents, but the good students are good because of the schools.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Agree
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 26, 2013 at 10:44 am

@Observer: People's beliefs are based upon what we have experienced ourselves, so I'm sorry if you have encountered racism or doubt about your aptitude. It would be more helpful to volunteer to help VTP students in the classroom than to post on this forum. I would hope people would get in the trenches and witness classroom teaching instead of posting without evidence. To my point, I know of VTP students with engaged and caring parents who prioritize education and their children do well in school. And to my point, if a student doesn't want to do well in school, it's not the teacher's responsibility to teach them.

When my children are placed in group projects with students whose parents don't care, the students do not participate in the projects. Excuses: need to catch the bus after school, no transportation to meet after school.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by navel gazing
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 26, 2013 at 10:45 am

@Observer,
So, if you're just a regular Joe doing you're 9-5 job, you're now "advantaged"? And are now on par with the millionaires and billionaires in this city? [Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 10:50 am

@agree -- those are crazy excuses! I can't believe that some kid would use the fact that they are far from home, have no way to meet after school, have no transportation, and their parents are working two jobs as an excuse. If someone said that to me, I would be like, why don't you just go back to picking grapes and none of that "Huelga!" crap either, just get out there and get me some grapes for my Pinot Jose. Can you imagine? I asked my maid about that. Margarita (or is it Marguerite...funny names hard to keep straight). Marge (as I call her for short), do you think that these kids need transportation or should they just walk? Not to sound harsh but I mean in Mexico they have to walk I'm sure -- it's a third world country. So they are probably good at walking, am I right? And Marge said "Vete a la mierda perra blanca voy a cortar si sigues hablándome. Y he robado su ropa interior y se la di a los sin techo." I am not sure since I don't speak Spanish but I am confident she said "yes, they should walk. In no way should the district provide a late bus for them."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 11:07 am

casey is a registered user.

From the API data, there is a lot of information that is not publicly available. In terms of African American students, we can see the overall Palo Alto Unified API score, but the API scores by school are missing for privacy reasons because of low enrollment numbers.

It's also hard to determine whether any of our current instructional philosophies (neighborhood, Hoover or Ohlone) work better for certain populations because the number of African Americans, Hispanic/Latino and Socioeconomically Disadvantaged students at many of the schools are not numerically significant. The school district probably has this data, but we do not. We also do not have a breakdown that tells us whether African American and Hispanic/Latino students whose parents are college-educated professionals score as well as their white and Asian peers.

That said, I think it is wrong to blame the Tinsley families for the achievement gap. If these families did not understand the importance of education, they would not be sending their children to Palo Alto for schooling. However, we first have to acknowledge the differences in resources that may be at the root of the problem.

Even in kindergarten, children come into the public school system with different educational backgrounds. Some may have attended preschool and can read and write before they even set foot in the classroom. If a child attended two years of preschool, they may have already received 2,600 hours of instruction (52 weeks x 5 days/week x 5 hours/day x 2 years). How big of a difference this makes, I don't know. The school district should have this data since they ask at the time of enrollment which preschool, if any, a child has attended. We don't have any of this longitudinal data. Do children who have attended Challenger for preschool fare better in elementary, middle and high school? How about the ones that have attended a Montessori? We really need to know this in order to correctly identify and solve the problem.

Now, on the first day of school, there may already be an achievement gap. It is not entirely the fault of PAUSD. If the student who did not attend preschool just depends on the 4-5 hours in school to meet his or her educational needs, that gap may not be closed. The advanced students are also in class for that same amount of time, and probably are learning at an accelerated pace because they have already figured out how to read. If the gap is not closed at this early age, a 3-4 month gap in kindergarten may widen to a 3-4 year gap when high school rolls around. By then, there may not be enough hours in the day to make up the educational deficit.

We just need to stop blaming the Tinsley program students for the low API scores. That is a defeatist mentality. Admit we have a problem and figure out what we can do. We can never have an attitude that this is an intractable problem without a solution. In terms of the Tinsley program, these students are eligible for admission to kindergarten, first and second grade. The Tinsley settlement was also crafted before our recent change to young fives/transitional kindergarten. Maybe someone familiar with VTP can speak to whether Tinsley program children are eligible for young fives. If children who attend the young fives program have a demonstrated better outcome in kindergarten, maybe we need to extend the program. What about intervention during summer school? Does summer school improve educational outcomes? If summer school is helpful, I hope the recent funding issue doesn't threaten the program. We simply have to figure out which programs have the most impact for our socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

We may not be able to bridge the entire divide, but we certainly should be trying.

On the flip side, another set of parents are asking why PAUSD is doing so poor of a job at educating their socioeconomically disadvantaged children. The answer is that education requires a partnership between the schools and the parents. Yes, Palo Alto schools score well in no small part due to the efforts of the parents, who contribute generously, volunteer, and provide supplemental instruction.

Consider this. After 12 years of P.E., do you expect your child to receive an athletic scholarship to attend college? P.E. classes alone are not enough. If your child is not playing in a league or practicing on their own time, good luck chasing down that scholarship. Likewise, the standard level of school work may not be enough. You may have to locate educational resources for your child outside of the classroom, not because PAUSD is inadequate or a sham, but because that is the degree of commitment needed to reach that high level of achievement.

On a final note, I find both the attacks on Tinsley kids and Tiger Moms to be a bit tinged with racism. Go meet the other parents in your educational community and compare notes. We are all parents who care deeply for our kids, and attacks on other parents are not productive.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Agree
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 26, 2013 at 11:11 am

@Observer: Apparently, you haven't had children in school with VTP students because the lack of transportation excuse is always used. How can you post about the teachers not helping "disadvantaged minorities" if you don't even know that? And how can you translate Spanish if you don't speak Spanish? And how is it you have a maid but no time to volunteer at the schools to meet these VTP students? I find your life fascinating.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 11:39 am

@casey wrote: "On the flip side, another set of parents are asking why PAUSD is doing so poor of a job at educating their socioeconomically disadvantaged children. The answer is that education requires a partnership between the schools and the parents. Yes, Palo Alto schools score well in no small part due to the efforts of the parents, who contribute generously, volunteer, and provide supplemental instruction."

What the other set of parents, including me, is asking is not why Palo Alto is doing so poor a job at educating disadvantaged children. It is "why is Palo Alto doing so much poor at educating these children than every other district in the top 10 as well as over 50 districts statewide for hispanics, 60 districts statewide for blacks, and 111 districts statewide for low-income children."

There is something unique going on in PAUSD that is not working. The explanations you suggest all would be universal -- lack of early childhood preparation, parental engagement, income, etc. These are explanations for the achievement gap but not for the particularly poor performance of PAUSD compared to other high-achieving districts with this population. Even excessive tutoring for top students doesn't explain it, since other affluent high-performing districts such as Manhattan Beach and Arcadia also I am sure have tutoring booms. SO what is it about PAUSD that is uniquely not working for these students?

Here's my hypothesis: extreme site based control in which it is impossible to find out what is working and what isn't and then mandate strategies that work and mandate discontinuing strategies that don't work. The lack of will by the school board to impose accountability and evidence based practices is the culprit and until we crack that nut, advocates for these kids will have to run around from site council to site council and principal to principal hat in hand. [Portion removed.]

The second, related, failure is a democracy problem. Disadvantaged students are a classic discrete and insular minority in Palo Alto. VTP families are not just symbolically but literally disenfranchised. Even if this board wanted to care about this issue (and Dana Tom's patronizing percentile lecture suggests otherwise) it has no democratic incentive to do so.

The third and, also related, failure is money in politics - in this case PIE donors and PIE dollars which are flowing not to improving the school for minority and poor students but to providing "enrichment" for the children of donors. There is no way that $5M should be going to the kinds of things that PIE pays for when we have results like those reported on Tuesday night. If PAUSD was ranked 112th in the state for the education of white and Asian kids, you can bet your sweet Jesus that we wouldn't be putting $5M in to twice a month art and elective enrichment classes. We'd be all about the 3 Rs.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by navel gazing
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 26, 2013 at 11:50 am

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2013 at 11:56 am

Observer - There is something fundamentally wrong with calling out teachers by name (repeatedly) on this public site, and not using your own name. I don't know if what you say is true, but stop hiding.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 12:09 pm

@parent From one anonymous poster to another, you first.

[Portion removed.] PIE can raise money all day for the schools but the PIE donors should not be able to determine what the money is spent on in public schools. That is too much power to influence what is supposed to be a democratic institution. It gives people with the money to donate the ability to influence policy and leaves those without the money to donate (or the time to volunteer -- i.e., poor parents) with less of a voice in how the schools operate, which is anti-democratic and unfair. [Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2013 at 12:18 pm

observer - I'm not anonymously critiquing someone's job performance on a public site, so I see no need to out myself.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Adobe
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 26, 2013 at 12:29 pm

[Portion removed.]


" If PAUSD was ranked 112th in the state for the education of white and Asian kids, you can bet your sweet Jesus that we wouldn't be putting $5M in to twice a month art and elective enrichment classes."

The PAUSD kids you speak of here will never have low test scores. You know why? Kids from families where over three-quarters of the parents have graduate degrees (and most in extremely difficult technical subjects) will always score way above average on tests. This may not be fair, but it's the truth.


"You can't expect dumb pack animals to learn Algebra 2. How silly of me. Those 'horses' just fritter the day away smoking crack, eating watermelon, and listening to rap music."


This is just silly. No one here has even come close to invoking this kind of racist talk.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm

@Adobe

" If PAUSD was ranked 112th in the state for the education of white and Asian kids, you can bet your sweet Jesus that we wouldn't be putting $5M in to twice a month art and elective enrichment classes."

I think you are purposely not dealing with the issue being raised, which is the allocation of funds directed by PIE donors toward what they would like to see in the schools versus what is the most important priority. If you asked the parents of the kids who are below 800 API or who are not proficient or not likely to graduate a-g what PIE dollars should be spent on, I doubt very much you would hear "more advanced computer science electives" or "more science electives for advanced students." Their child may be several grades behind in math. Their child may have been rejected by Team Toma as being "objectively" unfit to learn Algebra 2. I am pretty sure if you asked those parents, even though they can't donate to PIE or volunteer because they are busy putting food on the table, whether they want more science electives that their child will never qualify to take or better math teachers it is pretty clear what the answer would be.

We have to consider where the money is going and whether that represents the highest and best use of those dollars. I understand that it is a fantastical question to ask white and Asian parents to consider, but that is what empathy is -- foreign though it may be. Try to imagine if YOUR child was 112th in the state. Would you want more classes they could never qualify to take or would you want to see every child over the minimum floor before paying out millions to enrich those who are already advantaged?

[Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by navel gazing
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm

[Portion removed.]
You don't need to donate to PiE. You are free to start your own fundraising initiative to reduce the achievement gap. [Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I'm not "criticizing others" for "making it happen." I'm criticizing the anti-democratic system of letting wealthy "others" "make" what they want to "happen" happen in our public schools.

I can certainly understand why you would rather talk about cupcakes (? whatever that's about) than about why you think it is fine for he who pays the piper to call the tune in public schools.

But please tell us why you think it is fine for unelected unaccountable PIE donors to decide what to spend money on in public schools?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Agree
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by navel gazing
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 1:42 pm

"There is something fundamentally wrong with calling out teachers by name (repeatedly) on this public site, and not using your own name. I don't know if what you say is true, but stop hiding."

+1; agree in full


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by NavelGazing
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 26, 2013 at 2:48 pm

NavelGazing is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paly'11
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Paly'11 is a registered user.

Hooray for Paly Math for finding a compromise within a tough education system that preservers academic integrity and quality while embracing evolving notions of education philosophy in order to better care for students' futures. Hooray for Paly Math for actually discussing the issues at hand (note, only 14 out of the 20 teachers in the department signed) and being diligent in researching and justifying its point. One interpretation of an admittedly poorly-chosen word (objectively) should not in anyway detract from the well-intending and solution-driven Paly Math staff, especially when a broader, alternative interpretation of the department's word choice is that the issues they have cited objectively hamper the ability of any student (as opposed to a specific student) to succeed in a math class.

For those who think by pushing this "amped up" math class we are needlessly marginalizing individuals and forcing them out of the 4 year college system (also indirectly the assumption that everyone is capable of passing Alg. 2), do a little research with a larger sample size before jumping to conclusions about Paly's educational direction and philosophy. This cursory article provides data (its up to the reader to trust the NYT or not) (Web Link) that shows that nationally 1 in 4 high school freshmen do not graduate because of math requirements such as Algebra 2, and of the 58% of incoming college students that end up graduating with a bachelor's degree, freshman year introductory math courses are one of the main reasons behind dropping out.

This brings up two points: (1) Don't blame shoddy teaching. Only ~4.5% (85/~1900) of Paly students failed Algebra 2, compared with the national averages above. It's not that Paly teachers can't teach class effectively; actually, they're doing one of the best jobs in the Bay (look at the graph on page 13): (Web Link). Those are all schools noted for prodigious math students that fill the ranks of UCB, MIT, CalTech, etc. and place at or near the top of annual local, national, and international math competitions - yet, Paly's department still has the highest success rate with the middle tier of students who work through Algebra 2. (2) Don't set up students to fail. Most HS math courses aren't rigorous enough or do not prepare students well enough for college math because literally almost half of incoming freshmen are failing their math courses. So under the universally accepted assumption that it is bad and inefficient to force students into academic situations they are unprepared for, it seems prudent that Paly's department recognized they needed to preserve their academic quality as opposed to an illusory ticket to graduating from a four year college. It also shows that the department is actively staying on top of national trends and patterns in education so that Paly students can still be the best among groups of incoming students.

I can't tell you that other specific districts have lower quality math classes than Paly, but I can tell you as a Paly alum pursuing a STEM major at a top private university that Paly math puts you in a place far beyond other incoming students in terms of math education, and that this sentiment is shared by many other Paly alums in similar situations. It helps you succeed and stand out, which is so important in college now because its not enough to just get a degree if you pursue the four-year option. I can also tell you that, like the letter says, almost all of the local high schools in the area have chosen to reject Alg. 2 requirements. I can also also tell you that, as echoed in posts above, Paly teachers do not "a priori" discriminate based on race or socioeconomic status. They, following again the line don't put students in a position to fail, use their decades' worth of experience as math educators to help students figure out what courses make sense for them to take. You will not persuade me that a student who failed Alg. 1 will pass Alg 2; likewise, Paly teachers lane students in the same way. I'd hate to be the one of those 85 kids for which math is just not my thing who has to keep retaking math courses with younger and younger students just to graduate so I can go to vocational school.

Off topic solution to above problem: canceling course-specific graduation requirements at the HS level and course-specific entrance requirements at the four-year UC/CSU system allows students to better pursue alternative means of educational enrichment and excel and stand out in college through those avenues without leaving out to dry students who do not want to be forced into the four-year college framework and pursue viable alternatives vis-a-vis a high school diploma.

Off topic grad requirement amendment: Make statistics a required course.

-Paly Alum, Class of 2011


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PalyDad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 28, 2013 at 10:06 am

PalyDad is a registered user.

Hello Paly Alum:
Here are a couple of thoughts in response. You have missed some critical points that I think you will want to consider. First, You state that you are "a Paly alum pursuing a STEM major at a top private university that Paly math puts you in a place far beyond other incoming students in terms of math education

It seems very unlikely that you were in the lower math tracks at Paly.

The evidence you cite from the SVEF report does not address what this thread is about which is differences by race on various standardized assessments. The data shows clearly that while PA is in the top group for white and asian achievement on the Algebra 2 CSTs, when rankings for black and Latino achievement are analyzed, PAUSD lags very significantly. So, while you are correct that PAUSD's white and asian success for Algebra 2 CST is a statewide leader (reflected in the SVEF table you cite) this table does not break out the results by race. But in the education of black students in Algebra 2, PAUSD is not at the top of the ranking -- it is near the bottom. For poor students and for Latinos, it is also doing very poorly. There are dozens of districts around the state that do far better in gaining Algebra 2 proficiency for these subgroups -- many of them poor and rural districts with far less money.

Palo Alto can do much better than it is doing. It should be ranked just as well for black and Latino and poor students as it is for whites -- that is, PAUSD should have one of the highest rates for black achievement in Algebra 2 in the state. There may be a signficant gap between white and black achievement that we are working to close but there should be no gap between black achievement here and black achievement in other high-performing districts.

You say that there is a small number of PAUSD students who do not pass the CST for Algebra 2 but you do not acknowledge that this group is disproportionately comprised of minority students. These are students who are similar to minority students who are succeeding in Algebra 2 elsewhere. Why is that? The most obvious explanation is given by the Math Letter itself -- the teachers in PAUSD expect these students to fail while teachers elsewhere expect them to succeed. Other explanations have been given by math instruction experts at Stanford who point to Paly's antiquated pedagogical methods and poor practices that do not work with certain populations of students. There is much room for learning and improvement in that department.

No one doubts that it worked for you and for other high achieving students. That is not the issue. The issue is how to have a department that works for all students rather than one that selects the white and asian students for success in a 21st century technological economy and sends the VTP and underepresented minority students to "community college and jobs" to use Mr. Toma's cruel turn of phrase.

Finally, you have a quite paternalistic argument that somehow it is doing these students a kindness by not expecting them to take Algebra 2 -- "don't put students in a position to fail." Your assumptoin that these students cannot pass Alg 2 so it does them harm by putting them in over their heads is disproved by the fact that they are succeeding elsewhere in Algebra 2.

It is not the case that Algebra or higher mathematics is optional in our 21st century economy. I suggest you take a look at the Algebra Project, founded by Robert Moses: Web Link

Moses, an American hero, was on KQED talking about the importance of Algebra for citizenship:
Web Link

You are very young, so perhaps you can be forgiven for merely parroting the implicit biases your teachers have modeled. I suppose that the corruption of young minds is just one more benefit being delivered to PA by the Paly math department.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paly'11
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2013 at 2:39 am

Paly'11 is a registered user.

Hi PalyDad,

Thank you for your thoughts. This is an extremely long post because I, like you, feel very strongly about the discussion. I'll split the post in three: one dealing with the substantive issues you bring up related to the actual discussion regarding Paly, one dealing with the relevancy of Alg 2. as a requirement to graduate, and one dealing with the few unnecessary but alarming points you bring up that actually need to be resolved. So, unfortunately, before we actually engage the topic, let's clear that up first.

"You are very young, so perhaps you can be forgiven for merely parroting the implicit biases your teachers have modeled. I suppose that the corruption of young minds is just one more benefit being delivered to PA by the Paly math department."

Seeing that you should be quite older than I am, I'm surprised, really, given that the nature of your responses belies the assumed maturity you reflect by means of your age and role as a parent. If you would like to hide behind your assumed maturity vis-à-vis age to malign the basis for others' arguments, I'm sure you'll have your hands full trying to convince some of the more thoughtful commentators here of your opinions based on facts and reason alone.

I find it ironic given some of your points that you would patronize me based on logically irrelevant and invalid points such as my age. Since we both live in a 21st century economy and reside in the Silicon Valley, I simply am astounded by the veracity of your statement. Your point of view is blatantly offensive given that you don't seem to respect the person behind the opinion. If that is the case, well, I'm not exactly sure how we can have a reasonably coherent discussion about the issue at hand but will proceed regardless.

"It seems very unlikely that you were in the lower math tracks at Paly."

Yes, I took BC at Paly and was not in a lower-lane math track. Even so, that statement doesn't seem like a justification to restrict the scope of your assumptions regarding my opinion. If anything, being around the math department more so than other students given my interests and having tutored friends in and TA for students moving through the lower-lanes should give me more than ample perspective. I'm not entirely sure why this is relevant.

"this thread is about […] differences by race on various standardized assessments"

No, actually, the thread is not entirely about differences by race on various standardized assessments like you mention. There is a healthy section of the thread dedicated to discussing the Paly Math Department and its pedagogy with respect to the Math Letter published by the department regarding Alg 2. That might clarify some of the arguments I have made because you'll see what issue I'm actually discussing. Also, in a thread about race, I see no reason why a discussion about how these statistics imply a result unrelated to race is irrelevant (more on this later). I also wasn't earlier attempting to engage in the API discussion-related.

You mention teachers or policies in PAUSD throughout your post. I didn't make my points about PAUSD - I made them about the Paly Math Department, so I'll again stick to discussing that specific department.

Finally, in the process of answering your arguments, I'm only reminded of how crucial it is that people learn statistics.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paly'11
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2013 at 2:41 am

Paly'11 is a registered user.

Now that we are hopefully on the same page, I'd love to focus instead on the actual arguments regarding Paly's math department. I'll begin responding from the top of your post down.

I agree with you that achievement should increase for underperforming students just as I agree that achievement should also increase for those meeting expectations and those that are exceeding expectations.

I acknowledge that the SVEF table I cited doesn't show breakdown by race for Alg. 2 CST pass rates—it wasn't cited for that purpose. It was cited to demonstrate the aggregate statistic that the school is able to keep its rigor while passing the most students on the test—an indication that the department's high standards work.

You bring up racial disparity when it comes to passing SVEF. The SVEF data was from 2008 and designed only to show that the school is very competent at teaching. The 85 (4.5%) students who outright failed the course as mentioned by the Math Letter, however (as opposed to failing just CST), failed in 2012. Since about ~11-13% of the school of ~1900 is of African American or Latino descent, of course there are a strong number of students that identify as such who are passing. You argue out of the 85 (at least I believe so, as I'm confused whether you refer to those passing CST or those passing the Paly course with a C- or better, as the difference matters in regard to the Math Letter we are talking about vs. API scores), a disproportionate number are underrepresented minorities. I'd love to see the data on that, but even those numbers only prove a correlation. In order to argue race is a main factor motivating this disparity, you'd need a longitudinal study based in PAUSD following the same set of students from the moment they all begin to learn math through preferably the end of 12th grade to determine that there is some type of racial bias or an inability for PAUSD/Paly teachers to teach certain ethnicities at the same level as others. That doesn't exist. You also can't use a study done elsewhere to prove racism, because its not the same group of teachers and not the same system.

Given that nothing establishes a systemic racial bias within the Paly system (so why bring up racial divides when we can't implement race specific solutions to fix a problem because there is no race-specific problem), you'd have to look at it through some other point of view like socioeconomic status to better capture variables that have an affect on math achievement. There are two broad ways to look at it: one is through factors teachers can't control, and the other is the one they can. Those they can't control would be socioeconomic status, previous background in coursework, distance from school, parental education, family structure, etc. Those they can are associated with the school instructional method itself: teaching quality, teaching method, context of school, student motivation, opportunities for advancement, resource allocation, etc.

Going back to this statement you make: "You say that there is a small number of PAUSD students who do not pass the CST for Algebra 2 but you do not acknowledge that this group is disproportionately comprised of minority students. These are students who are similar to minority students who are succeeding in Algebra 2 elsewhere. Why is that? The most obvious explanation is given by the Math Letter itself -- the teachers in PAUSD expect these students to fail while teachers elsewhere expect them to succeed."

First, we shouldn't look at minority students from the lens of race: as explained above, do the breakdown in terms of socioeconomic status, ESL, etc. as it better captures the division. Second, if Paly Math expected them uniquely to fail, and assuming "expected" means that teachers will not teach these specific students in the same manner as other students they expected to succeed, how does you explain the majority of underrepresented minority students passing the course? If you were to look at it from a different perspective like socioeconomic status, which immediately would capture the differences between VTP and non-VTP students, that would explain the different performances of students within the same race while giving us a good framework to better solve the problem. Third, even after writing the above, I don't understand how expectations necessarily hamper students' ability to succeed so long as the teacher doesn't treat this student in class any differently than another student. In fact, teachers spend more time with students who are struggling in class than students who are doing well if those struggling students seek the teacher out—necessarily implying that whatever expectation they have has no bearing no whether or not they help those students. You can see this through the various makeup classes that teachers hold and their open-door policy for students to seek help during Tutorial and over breaks. I don't understand why it's an obvious reason like you say. Fifth, there's a human element that goes along with this: please go meet the teachers first before you make these statements. It's also downright ridiculous to simplify the debate to an issue of race.

Next, let's talk about the Math Letter. Looking back at the two types of factors that influence student achievement, it's clear Toma was discussing factors beyond the control of teachers (this would be made clear if you've ever talked to him). The word "objectively" can be interpreted differently than the one you propose; that is, it does not mean that VTP students by design will fail, for example, but rather that there are factors that objectively are making it much more difficult for the student to pass whose impact Toma can't change no matter what he does. Those factors are proven beyond any reasonable doubt (thus, the word "objective") to affect students' learning abilities. It is not paternalistic to say that a student is more likely than not to fail if there are major adverse factors that are proven to affect student's ability to learn. The various math lanes are designed so that each student, given his or her unique combination of these factors, can choose the lane best suited to maximize his or her achievements.

You allude to unnamed Stanford educators to support your point about unspecified outdated teaching methods at Paly. Without knowing whom they are and what methods you and they are specifically talking about, you leave me no way to respond.

I bring up my background to suggest that people should consider what the impact of reducing educational standards in foundational math classes for STEM majors would be. I claim this would be very bad; you can argue differently, and I obviously don't have any objective data to support my claim other than my experience as a student and those around me. Food for thought.

You bring up that an educational policy should work for all students. But what should the tradeoff be? Parity would seem to come at the cost of educational quality if measured by any statistical metric. The Paly Math department, with an Alg. 2 passage rate of 96.5%, would rather that we do not structurally disadvantage the remaining 4.5% who have already failed the course or others in the future who are more likely than not going to fail. That seems to me like a fine compromise that still looks out for the 4.5% because they can still graduate with a diploma. If we implement the requirement, it doesn't help preserve quality education while giving it to the entire student population—it decreases quality education while forcing students to fail. It's not like we can automatically pass the remaining 4.5% immediately within the next year. Students will not just fail the course, but fail to graduate as a result of the program because it is impossible to see educational gains in math of that magnitude within a year.

"The issue is how to have a department that works for all students rather than one that … sends the VTP and underepresented minority students to "community college and jobs" to use Mr. Toma's cruel turn of phrase."

You write as if all underrepresented minority students/VTP students fail, which really is a great disservice to the number of those who are succeeding and is mathematically impossible given the statistics cited. It's definitely not what I indicate when I write that there are those who choose these paths because they cannot pass Alg 2 to enter the UC/CSU system. Some students hate math or are just naturally ungifted at it, regardless of race/ethnicity/social economic status, etc. Why needlessly punish them by not even giving them a diploma, is the question I'm posing. Why force students who you've identified as more likely than not to fail a specific course into that very course? At Paly, all math lanes reach Alg. 2. If you can't pass the course, the teachers are saying that's all right because alternatives exist. And again, its not like there is a unique achievement discrepancy based on race that is happening solely in Palo Alto and nothing is being done about it. That's an absolutist look at an extremely relative problem.

I agree we can do better and that its a necessary goal. I disagree that blaming the school for failing to meet arbitrary interpretations of data is a solution to get there.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paly'11
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2013 at 2:59 am

Paly'11 is a registered user.

You also write that Algebra 2 is a necessity, citing our 21st century economy and Robert Moses. Let's delve more into this debate. A necessity for what? I'm not sure. If you mean for getting a job within computer science, well then, you obviously wouldn't have trouble with Algebra 2 in the first place! First, having spent some time now on the Alg. Project website, I'd appreciate it if you read the NYT article I had linked. Here are a couple of select quotes from the 2012 article:

"A skeptic might argue that, even if our current mathematics education discourages large numbers of students, math itself isn't to blame. Isn't this discipline a critical part of education, providing quantitative tools and honing conceptual abilities that are indispensable — especially in our high tech age? In fact, we hear it argued that we have a shortage of graduates with STEM credentials.

Of course, people should learn basic numerical skills: decimals, ratios and estimating, sharpened by a good grounding in arithmetic. But a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above. And if there is a shortage of STEM graduates, an equally crucial issue is how many available positions there are for men and women with these skills. A January 2012 analysis from the Georgetown center found 7.5 percent unemployment for engineering graduates and 8.2 percent among computer scientists."

And this:

"What of the claim that mathematics sharpens our minds and makes us more intellectually adept as individuals and a citizen body? It's true that mathematics requires mental exertion. But there's no evidence that being able to prove (x² + y²)² = (x² - y²)² + (2xy)² leads to more credible political opinions or social analysis."

Let's see what the Algebra Project has to say about it. I'm looking at their "The Need" page (Web Link).

"As a result, algebra has become a gatekeeper of higher learning, career, and economic opportunities."

I'd completely agree with this in the sense that people need to see that you have studied the subject to move to these opportunities, even if a majority of them don't require it on the job. But this is irrelevant because Paly is not systematically blocking students from trying to learn algebra. Look at the lanes: the lowest ends with Alg. 2 senior year, fulfilling the requirements of the Algebra Project. (Web Link). We are just refusing to make the Algebra 2 class a necessity to graduate.

The rest of the page goes on to discuss national statistics regarding disproportionate incarceration rates for African American males, alarmingly rising drop-out statistics, and pointing out glaring issues with teachers who do not have math degrees teaching math (a scary 68% in 1999.) None of these are endemic issues related to Paly; the second would actually be an issue if we were to implement the requirement. The Algebra Project says it mainly does work in predominantly low-income neighborhoods where most likely school systems themselves are broken. That's not descriptive of our school system.

We're not talking about basic algebra, like knowing how functions work, the ability to identify a clear cause and effect relationship using variables, and analyzing rates of change with slopes and graphs. We're talking about Algebra 2. There is a distinct difference.

I listened to Moses' KQED audio recording. Here are some quotes he makes:

"The historical shift from the industrial age, technology which drove the economy after the civil war and all through the 20th century, to this information age economy that we are transitioning into. The industrial age requires reading and writing literacy if you were going to access the economic arrangement, you had to be literate, just to read the instructions at a bare minimum. The computers are driven by a mix of algebra and logic. It has ushered in a quantitative literacy outside of the reading and writing literacy."

"The kids who are graduating with the equivalent of 8th grade literacy in reading and writing and math, they are destined to be the serfs of the information age. We are locking them up and sending them into prison. It's a real issue."

He goes on to say that the AP helps low-resource schools teach these issues to students. All of these points are good, but he doesn't describe the exact benchmark we need, and I can't find it on the site. We know we need more than 8th grade literacy in ELA and Math. That has been accomplished. He doesn't explain why more advanced topics in Algebra 2 should be required. If anything it seems that the Algebra Project should incorporate teaching statistics to their program along with more useful math principles to help explain many of the fundamental mathematical quantities influencing our lives—how to read a study or research, how to properly analyze data, how to read a poll and understand its impact, how to read the Consumer Price Index and understand what that means, how to understand the intersection of interest rates, inflation, and taxes, how to balance budgets, how to not get tricked by organizations with political agendas feeding biased data, etc.

Finally, back to the original discussion, I'd also caution you to view this in terms of an achievement gap rather than the continued increase in advancing results (if we were to look at API scores, for example):

"In my view, more harm than good usually results from framing student achievement primarily from a gap perspective, as opposed to an advancement (gains and excellence) perspective accompanied by strategic essentialism. By focusing more on student advancement over time, studies can both document the malleability of "intelligence" (something that benefits teachers who need a reason to invest in students) while also looking to identify accompanying factors that may have supported student gains. Shifting the focus away from racial and ethnic group comparisons also more closely mirrors the demographic reality of schools, validates students as worthy of study in their own right (exploring variation within groups), and puts the focus back on school contexts rather than variables that are not within the control of schools or teachers or researchers" (Guitierrez, 2008) (Article: Web Link) (Author bio: Web Link)

I hope this clears up the points you had with my earlier post, as well as my qualms with issues you've raised.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2013 at 5:43 pm

village fool is a registered user.

@PalyDad: I responded to your post here - Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2013 at 6:57 pm

rick is a registered user.

@Paly'11 >> I simply am astounded by the veracity of your statement.

I think you must have meant audacity. It was a slog but I did read your posts end to end.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


To post your comment, please click here to Log in

Remember me?
Forgot Password?
or register. This topic is only for those who have signed up to participate by providing their email address and establishing a screen name.

Easy Living
By Sally Torbey | 11 comments | 2,365 views

I Told My Mom She's Dying
By Chandrama Anderson | 10 comments | 2,196 views

Grab a Bowl of Heaven soon in Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 1,246 views

Fancy Fast and Fun!
By Laura Stec | 3 comments | 727 views

Campaign Endorsements: Behind the Curtain
By Douglas Moran | 1 comment | 387 views