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PAUSD: Passion for Learning/Thinking outside the box

Original post made by Parent of incoming kinder, Nixon School, on Feb 20, 2007

We have been exploring schools here, private vs. public. I have heard several parents at different PAUSD school complain that their children get burned out by the heavy focus on testing scores, and that their particular teachers at best don't praise creative and innovative thinking, and sometimes criticize kids for "not doing the assignment right."

I think the focus on the PAUSD school being good because of test scores is misleading, because these are also a special group of families that are able to live here. I feel that the most important aspect of education is fostering a true love of learning, excitment for exploration and encouraging novel problem solving and thinking outside the box.

Also in talking to the principle of our neighborhood school, she seemed to brush the open ended questions off, and say I would be happier at private school. But not all of us can afford private school, nor really want to if we can avoid it.

So how does your neighborhood school do on these matters? Am I just hearing from a small subset of unhappy parents?

I am focused on neighborhood schools, as the lotteries are moot for the choice programs - we didn't get any of those(the SI reportedly had 3 spots for English speaking non-sibs and 90+ applicants!).

Comments (39)

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Posted by Inside the Box
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 21, 2007 at 4:41 am

You can think as much outside the box as you want, however if you and not getting enough math and science your box may not mean anything more than a stupid lunch box.

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Posted by Parent of incoming kinder
a resident of Nixon School
on Feb 21, 2007 at 8:12 am

I would rather not make this a post about educational philosphy, but my philosophy is that kids WANT to learn, and they will learn all the math and science and reading necessary, if guided, while exploring passions and learning to problem solve. Hands on learning, interdisciplinary learning, etc are all great tools. I am NOT a so-called "unschooler" - I believe in education, I have just seen too many kids coming into Stanford that can pass the SAT, but don't know what they love, don't know how to figure that out without someone telling them, and see learning as drudgery. They have a hard time adjusting because so much of college requires a passion for learning and the most successful thinkers stimulate novel thought in others (e.g. thinking outside the box).

Again, I am most interested in whether the PAUSD really is about the test scores, preparing kids for SATs, etc. or whether the impression that I have of "getting the work done in the manner the teacher says wihtout creativity" is blatantly wrong. Getting info second hand is difficult, so I am hoping to expand my catchment of comments.

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Posted by ElementarySchoolParent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 21, 2007 at 8:58 am

My kids are in Palo Verde - we moved to Palo Alto to give the kids an opportunity to get an all round education and not an education just focused on academics. We have not regretted this decision at all.

Most of my friends, who live in the South Bay are sending their kids to a private school. If I compare the academics between the schools, the kids from the private schools know way way way more ! At second grade they already know what a "square root" means. Their spellings are way advanced comparison, the PAUSD's math at the second grade level is at a much slower pace. But - the math is there, the reading is there, the science is there - its done at a slower pace, while encouraging the children to "understand" and not just "remember".

My kids have enough time to read books that are outside the cirriculum which helps them explore the library and the literature that is out there. This is what I found was another thing that was missing with my friend's kids - they had too much reading material coming home from school. Yes, they learnt how to read - but they are not learning to make the decision of "if they like a certain book, if they want to continue with that category of books".

In the end, to me, it all depends on how adaptive the child is. If the child has a tendency to explore - then PAUSD does definitely provide the opportunities to learn way beyond the cirriculum. But there are children who fare well in a much controlled environment - and for these children the "in-the-box" will work much better.

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Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 21, 2007 at 9:45 am

Parent -- I share your concerns one hundred percent (I started a thread here a while back about creativity and PA schools and got some depressing responses). I have heard the same complaint from Stanford professors, too. Stanford students are supposed to be the cream of the crop and yet many have little passion for learning and little creativity in their thinking -- we're not doing any of our children a favor if this is what the best are like.

If you want to put it in economic terms, turning out kids like that is bad for the country. I prefer to put it in humane terms -- turning out kids like that is bad for the kids. I think we owe it to our children to offer them a path to a life-long love of learning -- not the cynical passing of tests for the sake of passing.

Is it bad in the PAUSD? My impression is that some PAUSD elementary schools are less grade-obsessed than others, but the reality is that the district is working within a State environment that has chosen to measure educational achievement in very narrow terms and within a town where many parents also measure education very narrowly.

Kindergarten in the district (like elsewhere) is now very academic. Many children have a hard time adjusting to it and pressure is being applied down even further in to preschool to get children ‘prepared’ for kindergarten when kindergarten used to be about getting children prepared for grade school. From everything I’ve heard, by middle school here the academic-only pressure is really on and burnout is a real problem.

So what to do about it? I know the school district is aware of the danger of student burnout and of the stress that a scores-obsessed school culture can impose on students. Officially the district pledges to educate 'the whole child' and not just turn out high-scoring but unmotivated drones.

Private schools are (for the most part) not a realistic alternative because tend to answer to parents who are even more grade obsessed than parents with children in public school.

The only answer to this problem, I suggest, is for parents like yourself (and me!) to get actively involved in the school district, to lobby for change in thinking, especially among other parents.

That certainly shouldn't involve lowering expectations for students. I think children who are motivated will do very well academically. But it might involve being willing to have lower test scores because we are spending less time on teaching to the test and more time working with children to engage them with their material and foster their curiosity – to take trips and do experiments and follow their interests in ways that there simply isn’t time for now because we want everyone to test exceptionally well.

We need everyone to be taught the basics. We need to aim for every child to score at or above grade level.

But we also need to give our children the message that we respect them for taking risks, for making mistakes, for trying new things that may not be their forte but which allow them to know themselves better and find out what they do love.

Read Po Bronson’s recent New York Magazine cover feature [Web Link] to see what an obsession with measurable intelligence does to children’s willingness to try anything new.

Would parents -- and local owners of real estate -- be willing to put up with such a change in focus? I think a lot would be unhappy about lower test scores initially. But maybe if the school community communicates its broader definition of success and explains how precisely its graduates are making a better contribution to society that insecurity can be overcome.

I think a lot of the educators in the district and some Board members are sympathetic to this argument. What really needs to happen is for more parents to get on board -- that involves education that can come from the school district and from other parents.

A lot of people talk about PAUSD being a beacon or lighthouse school district – one the nation watches. A new emphasis on educating children for a life of learning (what they will urgently need, after all, to do well in the global economy) at the expense of state-rankings would get plenty of (positive) national attention, I’d argue.

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Posted by PV Parent
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Feb 21, 2007 at 9:54 am

While I do agree with Elementary School Parent above, I would point out that although I do not have many friends in private schools with which to compare, I do have friends with children in Ohlone which may be what the type of system the original poster has in mind. This system tends to have a different approach from the neighborhood schools here and I have not heard of a private school with a similar approach. It may be worth getting into this lottery because there is the possibility that this school may take in more kinders this year due to the overall size of the school being increased.

I would also like to point out that although we do expect our schools to teach our children academically, we do have great opportunities outside school to give them a love of learning and how to be balanced individuals. There is a movement to enroll even high achievers in extra classes to keep them ahead of their class and there are plenty of opportunities for this in Palo Alto. There is also a great wealth of classes (see the Enjoy catalog) and after school activities, boy/girl scouts, sports,etc. etc. and in many ways these outside school activities become the catalyst of who your children turn out to be.

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Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 21, 2007 at 10:12 am

PV parent says: "There is a movement to enroll even high achievers in extra classes to keep them ahead of their class and there are plenty of opportunities for this in Palo Alto."

I think that's symptomatic of the problem we're talking about here. Non-academic after school activities are surely what such children need -- not more of the same when they are already doing well academically. What is the point of that? And more importantly, what are the costs -- to them and to us in terms of narrowing their development?

I agree that outside interests help a child discover what they want to be. And there are wonderful resources for that here that can take some of the pressure off schools. Of course unstructured play might be the best way of all to allow a child to make that discovery. We need to give the next generation of Jobs and Wozes time to tinker, the next wave of Jerry Garcias or Donnas time to write songs, the next wave of innovative writers, botanists, politicians, world-changers time and space to know who they are and find out what motivates them -- rather than making those decisions for them.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2007 at 11:52 am

I've been in the PAUSD system with two kids for over 7 years (1 kid K-5, now in JLS, and second K-2 so far), and the experience I see is NOTHING like what you described. The teachers are all, without exception, looking for ways to nurture the whole child, including creativity and attempting to provide challenge at the right level. The teachers will LECTURE the parents on keeping stress down, and expectations simple. The teachers are resistent to putting too much emphasis on test scores. They RESIST giving you specific scores on report cards. They will tell you how LITTLE the test scores actuall mean before they hand them over to you. They actually fight parents who push too hard, too fast on academics. My daughter's Kinder teacher actually got in an argument with a Dad at back to school night because he was pushing on the need for early computer exposure, she was completely against it.

The parents you are supposedly talking to are way off base. Or they (or you) are intentionally instigating a bad rep for PAUSD for some reason.

Reading between the lines of your post - it sounds like the kinds of complaints coming from the neediest, most demanding, types - the ones who think the school system owes them a customized program. If this is you, then that's probably why your principal suggested you look in to private school - you're probably driving the principal crazy over analyzing the neighborhood school. And you're going to drive everyone including yourself, your kid, your teacher, your classmate parents, your principal, crazy by having unrealistic expectations.

Here's how it works in Palo Alto. Bring your kid (show up), and let the teachers do their thing. They're good teachers and they care about the kids. Volunteer your time at the PTA and in the classroom. If your kid needs more, you'll be the first to know - the teachers will tell you. If they need less or have challenges, you'll be the first to know - the teachers will tell you. Then YOU pick up the slack - the world doesn't owe you a living. The teachers don't do everything for every person. They do their best.

And to Simon, Kindergarten is NOT "very academic". Ridiculous. First Grade isn't even very academic. In fact my son was bored stiff in Kindergarten because it was all about art and the most basic of basics. He finally started to do his 'work' in First grade because it finally was something other than art!

And middle school is not all about burn out. My sixth grader is playing after school sports, taking piano, and choir, she does less than an hour ~total~ of homework per night (because she futzes around with it), and then she still sits around bored at home half the time.. And she goes to bed at 8:30! (voluntarily!)

Where are you people getting this stuff? Are you making this up because you're complainers? It sounds like it.

The real problem in Palo Alto these days is that everyone thinks they need to complain about something, nothing is good enough, because its not perfectly customized to their special whims and fancies. There are a whole heck of a lot of people instigating problems in the PAUSD school system in recent months, so they can get something 'special' and as far as I can tell, those are the parents that are just a bunch of spoiled brats.

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Posted by PV Parent
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Feb 21, 2007 at 12:11 pm

I would like to clarify my post above in case it has been misconstrued. I tried to give an open minded opinion and stay out of personal preferences.

There are many classes and activities which are academic and non academic for those who are interested in doing this in Palo Alto. Many people do feel the need for them and that is why places like "Score" in midtown are doing so well. There are also many other activities in the Enjoy catalog, girls/boys scouts, Little League, AYSO, etc. for those who want to get involved in these type of activities. Many people do have their kids over scheduled, but many just like to do a lot less. Some like to do nothing other than have playdates or trips to the park after school. Any of these activities will help to mold a child. My own preference is to let the child have activities they enjoy but also to have time at home to do their own thing. Unfortunately, nowadays, doing their own thing often involves playing video games or watching tv, rather than writing songs or playing around with electronics kits. It is hard being a parent and we give each other advice but we are learning too.

School is where a child learns academics, and yes if they are failing at school, the teachers will let you know. You as a parent are the one to teach the remainder, whether it be from some type of after school activity that you actively pursue, or from free time. The important thing is to get to know your child and help them to find out what interests them and then give them the opportunity to do this. You may end up learning something you knew nothing about, but remember that it is a bonding opportunity and the more time you spend now with your child in their realm rather than pushing them into yours, the more you will have precious memories later and a happier relationship with your adult offspring.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 21, 2007 at 12:26 pm

With two who were educated entirely in PAUSD, one of whom now is in college, the other a junior at PALY, I feel pretty comfortable saying that they both came out just fine educationally and personally, and their school education, along with their mother, deserve the lion's share of the credit.

I think the most important thing that either kid said to me over the years was "I want to play with a friend." And we would arrange for them to do so.

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Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 21, 2007 at 12:31 pm

Parent -- I'm glad to hear of your experience. It sounds like the teaching staff at your schools are responding to parents in just the way I would hope. That they need to do that, though, perhaps suggests that grade-obsessed parents are more prevalent -- and may therefore have more impact on the values and directions of the district -- than you suggest.

Please don't be too hard on the original poster. He/she was repeating what s/he'd heard about the schools and asking for reactions. What's wrong with that?

So you don't think burnout is an issue in PAUSD -- that's very good news. But to ask whether it is so is surely not to be a pot-stirring 'complainer' but to be a responsible parent. How else are parents with children entering the district supposed to be making their vaunted 'choices'?

Do you think, maybe, your hostility is perhaps misdirected – do you really think parents should not ask questions of the schools they attend? Should we really just send our children to school and take whatever we get? Is that really what you are saying?

I’m with you on not wanting a balkanized school system where everyone carves out their little niche program. And I agree that teachers shouldn't be micromanaged. Maybe parents advocating that are what you are against. Then fine.

But this is PUBLIC education--born out of a conversation between the participants. Information (what the original poster was asking for) is what makes such a conversation productive of the best possible educational environment for our children.

Where are we getting this high-pressure-academics stuff? From talking with parents. From seeing the school district offering discussions on stress-reduction. From the national conversation on teaching to the test. From the way that real estate agents sell Palo Alto schools. From the flowering of academic prep factories in our neighborhoods. It’s out there.

As for kindergarten -- a lot of educators tell me it is more academic than it used to be. I'm glad it isn't more so. If your child was bored, that's too bad. Palo Alto is supposed to be a differentiated instruction district, so I'd hope that teachers could provide stimulating material for each child that matches their ability. Did you ask for more challenging tasks or were you happy to let your play out the year?

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2007 at 1:03 pm

You're right - my hostility was directed not at this poster but at another group out there currently that has emerged that thinks a public school system needs to be everything to every person.

A public school system, should be expected to do its best for as many as possible, and yes that means being somewhat generic in a lot of areas, focusing on the highest priorities, and 'differentiating' only within some limited bounds, as resources permit, because it IS a public school system, with limited resources.

When parents want to get a customized specialized education, they need to go elsewhere - either at home, or to a private school. I am very angry with the group of parents right now who think they need to build a language academy within PAUSD or else... or else what? Their kids are all going to be a bunch of failures? That's a lie and they know it. PAUSD school system is very good, and their kids will get a very good education if they bring them.

But that's not good ~enough~ for them, because they want different-special-out of this world-customized. And they're willing to damage the entire district to get it - for themselves, to serve their own self centered needs, and no one elses. Its selfish and spoiled.

You are right. I shouldn't have misdirected my anger at the original poster so I apoligize to Parent of Incoming Kider. But he/she should be aware that they're getting bad information from a few individuals for some reason. The school system she described in her original post is not the way this one operates.

And, to answer your last question, when I saw my son was bored in Kindergarten I didn't go sit on PAUSD or his teacher to make it all perfectly right and wonderful for him and him alone. I encouraged her to give him more challenge when she could. And she sometimes did. But I made sure he had more advanced books, and activities, math and spelling games, and some afterschool activities, etc at home. And yes, I went to a few extra parent teacher conferences, and consoled that teacher who was worried and mistaking his lack of interest in his work, for lack of motivation for learning in general - when in reality, he was just not interested in coloring and cutting and pasting.

But what I didn't do was get all twitterpated about how awful PAUSD is, and figure that the whole community owed me a refund because my kid wasn't being perfectly served hand and foot by the system.

There is something to be said for being part of a COMMUNITY and not an island unto yourself, and not being all about 'getting yours', but instead understanding that being part of community also means using the community resources for the betterment of the whole (rather than the perfected betterment of you personally). So in my case 19 kids were doing great, and the 20th kid was doing OK, and I had to adjust to that. It was right for 95% of the population, and that's a public education... So be it.

Yes, go ahead and ask the questions - and if its not working for most then be a catalyst for change. But when its working well for most, and just not working for YOU then take a closer look at what needs fixing..

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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 21, 2007 at 1:33 pm

I like the tone of this thread - are things getting more civil around here?

If I could offer my $0.02 as a teacher, I think tensions arise sometimes because despite the values most often espoused publicly, there are other values that come into play when things get tense, and students get unintended messages. On the first item, what I mean is that we talk about the intrinsic rewards of learning, the whole child, creativity, etc., and then teachers (me included) have a tendency to slip into use of "college" as the measuring stick of choice. We certainly should prepare students for college, but not because college is in and of itself the goal, but rather a path to some other options. I've also heard parents start talking about college readiness in middle school, and thinking about course selections in terms of college applications in ninth grade. I've heard parents overlook or deny symptoms of trouble and insist to me that certain grades and certain colleges should be first and foremost in everyone's mind.

Then, unintended messages. I imagine telling my children in ten years (when they hit high school) that they should learn for learning's sake, find their own path, etc., but then they'll look around at me, their mom, their grandparents, aunts and uncles - 4 Ph.D.s, 4 M.D.s, 3 M.A.s, from Stanford, Brown, MIT, Northwestern, NYU, Cal, UCLA, Davis. Probably like a lot of other families around here. So I can say what I want, but what pressure will they feel regardless of what I say? I've had students who have no idea what Ivy League schools are really like but they know they want to go there. They don't like reading, pressure, or purely intellectual pursuits, but they want to go to Harvard or Yale with a 3.3 GPA. So there's a degree of pressure and conformity in the air around here that's hard to counteract. Doesn't mean we should give up, but it's a challenge to be sure.

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Posted by Another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2007 at 2:16 pm

Parent, your anger is misdirected at parents who do not believe PAUSD is preparing their kids for the 21st century. Your beliefs and values are not their beliefs and values, and vice versa. That's why there are alternative programs in this district and why there are policies that support both neighborhood and alternative schools. If you don't like the policy that provides for different educational values, then tell that to the school board instead of blaming other parents who are playing by the rules set by the school board.

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Posted by Parent of incoming kinder
a resident of Nixon School
on Feb 21, 2007 at 2:23 pm

I really appreciate all the comments. It is useful to me to hear the conversation - and perhaps I am dense but I never sensed any hostility in any of the posts. I appreciate people's honest, non-sugar coated opinions.

I have seen a few private schools that espouse the kind of philosophy I entertain - these are generally described as "progressive education schools" like Peninsula School. The kids there are much more academic then I would have thought - the kinders are reading and writing at much the same level at the public school kids, but the education is individualized too. But despite trying to get into these places repeatedly, the bottom line is we don't have the money to pay. I certainly don't hold the schools in ill-will for picking a choosing which financial aid students they can accept and increasing diversity.

Regardless, I appreciate the point that the public school cannot be everything for everyone. While I feel strongly about how I would like my child to have, I realize that there are others who feel differently. My best friend wishes it is more academic and feels she has seen the research to back her point of view up - and we are still friends : ). It does seem like a lot of it has to do with teachers too. I wonder if neighborhood school could do more to help "match" parents and teachers, within reason of course??? Just a thought. Of course, I do realize that if they do some of that, some parents will scream because it didn't work out perfectly for them.

The unintended messages are paramount. I deep down was proud that my child learned to read before Kindergarten, even though I also knew that it didn't matter in the long run and feel that kids shouldn't be forced into academics too early. I often wonder whether that spurred by son's interest in reading, if he could just sense that. And, I do want my child to have the doors open to do whatever he wants. I come from a rural state, where academics wasn't valued - football was. I had to fight to get out amid the "people from here just don't go to top colleges or college at all" attitude. But now the doors have been opened and I see the value in that education. But then again, I wasn't burned out by the time I got to college and grad school, because it was all my instrinsic love of learning that got me there.

I do in a strange sense find comfort in the responses here. It is good to be reminded of my power as a parent regardless of what the school is saying, and to influence the conversation with the schools. I have met more people that seem to espouse the values of education that I do than not (or maybe they are just being nice!), but I would hope that starting the conversation could translate into change if that is indeed true.

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Posted by another Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 21, 2007 at 9:44 pm

Dear Parent of incoming kinder,

Let's look down the line - at the high school level.

Thank you for asking such thoughtful questions.

My thoughts do not have to do with creativity, different styles of learning, etc., but rather certain parenting practices around here. They will affect you and your child.

Some of us have children who are now at the high school level in PAUSD but who were not educated at a young age in PAUSD. So, I have to focus on what I see day to day at the high school level. I will tell you that there is often a high stress level in the high schools, it is very competitive with constant chatter of SAT scores and grades (and constant attempts at oneupmanship (sic)), and it is tiresome. To me it is in poor taste. (I'm not sure how you would be able to avoid this in a high-achieving district, though.)

I also know that a lot of the "credit" for children skipping a grade level in math, etc. is due to parent-paid structured tutoring, coaching, and heavy-duty summer courses. While there are some actual child geniuses out there (more power to them - the real ones sometimes don't brag!), there are also many quite ordinary students who are enrolled in bigtime efforts to boost their scores over their mid-high achieving peers. Some parents are quite committed to this course of action in this time of heavy competition. So even if you are in the public school system here, be fully aware you may feel compelled to pay big bucks so your child can have the chance to compete on a (semi) level playing field.

By the way, I do not have criticism of PAUSD teachers or the curriculum - they are not the issue.

I DO feel teachers should be required to obtain correct background information on their students each year, by directly asking parents if their child has already done the curriculum (Trig or whatever). I know this information is usually hidden from teachers.

Years ago there was a firestorm at one of the high schools like Saratoga High when it was discovered *some* students in an AP Math course had done the identical course the preceding summer at West Valley College but of course neglected to mention that fact as their classmates sweated out the course material at the high school and worked for their grades (which would affect their college admission prospects)! There was a dilemma as the principal tried to figure out what to do with this situation - I recall he ended up leaving the school.

For some this parent practice means an easy A. Some of us have kids who actually come to a class like this to learn the material then and there, but my students tell me they are the minority in this. It is quite common to be heavily "prepped" in advance and this practice is demoralizing to other students and gives some credibility to the idea that some are only there for the grades, not for the interest (or the adventure) of learning and standing on one's own two feet and being responsible for one's own performance.

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Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2007 at 12:12 am

It would be interesting to check on how the overacheiving students (prodded by overacheiving parents) fare once they get into the college of their choice. I bet a large percentage either burn out, or settle into a less self-challenging routine more suited to normal humans.

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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 22, 2007 at 1:05 am

In a recent article about a talk given by Denise Pope Clark, there was mention of long-term study that looked at what happened to students who were admitted to Ivy League schools but then chose other options. Apparently, they did just as well professionally but were more satisfied and fulfilled. (Sorry for the lack of any citation on that - maybe someone else out there knows more?)

I'm sure many of us know of or experienced some disheartening or even tragic story of a super-bright high achiever who crashed and burned after high school, and likewise, stories of "late bloomers" who had no interest or motivation in high school but latched on to something later, developed their strengths, and thrived. So, as a parent I'm learning more all the time what it means to have hopes and aspirations for your own child, but as a teacher and as someone who's simply been around a while (the decades are adding up), I have plenty of reason to know quite well that you can't predict the future, can't control it or guarantee it, and you have to be willing to do like Steve Martin in the movie Parenthood, and just ride the darned roller coaster.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 22, 2007 at 8:29 am

Lets be honest parents - most of us, who value and respect education and those who have seen what good education means to life in general, want our children to excel, want our children to get the best possible education. How many of us have told our kids - oh, its ok, you don't want to focus on math in the elementary school, thats fine - its not going to make a major difference anyways -- or -- ok, you don't want to read even though you are in the second grade -- thats ok !

When our children face such challenges, don't we, as parents, go the extra mile and work with the child to get him/her to an acceptable level ( acceptable level to us as parents and not what the district expects ). Don't we get involved with the homework, don't we get involved with the science projects? Why do we do all this - we do this because we know the value of the education and we all know what it means to get a good foundation.

True - some kids are early high achievers and some kids are late bloomers. Fast forward to the college admissions -- how will you feel when your child gets accepted in a good college? Won't you at that time, be thankful about the number of hours that you had spent with your child in school, trying to get the basic concepts correct, trying to get the basic math correct.

I think, as parents, we are runnng away from the truth when we declare that "I don't want to push my child, its ok with me if my child does not do well in the school system". Whether we admit to oursleves or not, we all push our children to some level. Some try to hide behind "we have to do this, because its peer pressure" - but we all feel happy when the child comes home with a "star" sticker !

I am not for private tutions, I am not for 100% academics, but I take homework seriously, I take science projects seriously, I take the softball games seriously and I take the playdate committments seriously ... these are somethings that are important to me and I feel that they lay a good foundation for the future education, social interaction and basic respect for the mankind. Like most parents, I hope that my children will get into a good college, they will turn out to be good and decent human beings. I know I will be the first one to arrive at the college graduation ceremony and I know I will attempt to be the loudest one to cheer when my child gets the college degree. Do I know all this is going to be a reality, do I know right now if my child will actually complete 4 years of college - no I don't and in the end I know I will love my children no matter what. But, if this becomes a reality, I will not regret the emphasis on the importance of education, the hours that I spend/will spend with them through the coming years ... I feel its my duty as a parent to guide them, it will help the future generations to come to lead a comfortable life.

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Posted by also Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 22, 2007 at 11:23 am

I think it is also true to say that for good Paly students, not necessarily excellent students, but hard working, well rounded, students with good grades, it is hard to get into college because these high achievers are applying to all the UCs, good colleges, etc. and end up with 10 - 15 acceptances to choose between. They of course can only accept 1, but all these other places are not offered to our good students, who get no acceptances at the UCs, or whatever. These good students then have to go somewhere else for their first two years of college and reapply after two years to get into the college of their choice. They usually make it because they are used to working well and do much better than their college peers from less well performing school districts. Consequently, it would be better for good students to move from Palo Alto for their senior year so they can compete against the better students in other districts which do not perform so well.

This is not speculation, I know that many students from past years have failed to get into good colleges from PAUSD and successfully transferred to the best after two years in a state university, where they excelled to the extent that they were bored in college!!

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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 22, 2007 at 11:06 pm

I understand and respect the concerns expressed by the parents above, but I wish they were the exception rather than the rule. First of all, I hope I never get to the point where I am listing all the homework and projects I get involved with. If it matters to you more than the student, that's a warning light - back off. If you're consistently suggesting, correcting, and fixing, back off. Don't become a helicopter parent hovering over everything. Teach your children a more valuable lesson, more valuable than any grade, any project, any particular college. It's called self-reliance. If they need the extra help, teach them how to find it rather than just giving it out all the time. Is the A on that science project so gratifying to a child who knows that it was Mom's idea to use the tri-fold board instead of a flat poster, and it was Dad's suggestion to include this visual or that one? Back off. Your involvement sends the message that their ideas aren't good enough, their work isn't good enough, B's aren't good enough, and certain schools aren't good enough. Instead, teach them how to think and do for themselves. Maybe easy for me to say now when my kids are young, but I've seen enough of the damage done from the teacher perspective. And take it from me, there's nothing more unpleasant than busting a kid for turning in their parents' work. Talk about an awkward situation.

I've tried in my small way to practice with my 6-year old son. He has homework, but I won't make him do it. At this age, I'll remind him, and so far, he's only chosen to do it late one time. Later, when there are school consequences for lateness, I might remind him about those, but I vow I will never add consequences on my end. Nor will I ever pay him or reward him for grades. Education and knowledge are their own rewards, or they're not. That's how I was raised. No punishment or rewards for grades, no parents involved in my schoolwork. (Okay - my mom typed ONE paper for me, in 9th grade, when I had a typewriter but hadn't taken lessons yet!).

Another instance of putting good habits into practice early... When I arrived at my son's after-care and found him alone on the playground crying, I didn't ask the staff a thing about it. I asked my son, and when he explained it, I asked him if he wanted to follow up with the staff. When he said yes, I sent him alone to talk to them. When it was all over, ten minutes later, I didn't ask the staff member what happened, I just asked my son if the situation was better. Now, if this were a regular problem, I'd pursue it differently. But good, hands-off habits come in small steps over time. I don't want to sound boastful, but I'm proud that I stayed out. I'm sure it made all the children and adults involved feel better about it, and my son learned (and will have to relearn many times) that he can handle things himself by communicating. This won't work every time, but so far so good. As for the college admission thing, I don't know what the parents are saying to each other, or the kids are saying to the parents, but I haven't encountered many students on the school end who are complaining much when the whole college thing is sorted out. I do hear kids say they chose the wrong college for the wrong reason when they come back sometimes. I can't recall any adults ever still nursing the wounds of a college rejection. Once we get on with our lives, things seem to have turned out for the best. R E L A X!

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Posted by through PAUSD
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2007 at 12:32 am

Al - I like your writings...

My eldest enjoyed Briones, JLS and Gunn. He is REALLY enjoying the UC he's in.

Please, parents, don't push too hard. I swear he was just going to kindergarten yesterday. Slow down, cherish them, challenge them, don't do their hoimework, it's not yours to do. Your job is to guide them, not BE them. You have a hard enough job just raising them.

Also, talk to your kids' teachers as if they were the professionals - with respect and throw in some admiration if warranted. Don't throw things in their faces at the end of the day or first thing in the morning - make an appointment, you will get a much more thorough, thoughtful conversation that will benefit the both of you and most of all, benefit your child.

You probably know all of this, I don't mean to lecture, but knowing and doing are aften worlds apart. Keeping the discussion on the high road serves us all well.

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Posted by Parent of Three
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2007 at 11:20 am

As the parent of three PAUSD students, one in high school and two in college, I have had both positive and negative experiences with the teachers and administrators in the district. Some teachers are wonderful and you can "behave", as some have suggested, in a open and productive manner. Unfortunately, some teachers and administrators will see this type of parental behavior as weak and will dictate to those parents, even if not in the best interest of the student. Don't be naive, there are both competent and incompetent teachers out there and our district is no exception. Be assertive or deferential as dictated by the teacher or administrator at issue. This is public school and you have to keep your head out of the sand, determine the true nature of the education that your child is receiving and act accordingly. At the end of the day, don't fool yourself or your kids into thinking that grades don't count in our society...they do. The U.C.'s won't even look at a low "B" student unless the SAT scores are over 1800. If you and your student don't care about the U.C.'s, then just ignore this fact, but if you or your student are interested in pursuing admission to a U.C., a 3.0 GPA and SAT scores in the 550 range will eliminate you from consideration....regardless of your student's accomplishments outside of school. It's a decision that each student must make for themselves. There's no right or wrong answer.

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Posted by got the scoop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2007 at 10:13 pm

Sorry, Parent of Three, but you seem to be relying on something other than, um, the actual informatoin. What is your source for the statement about schools that "won't even look" at certain students?

---OK, this is from the district guide to college applications. Last years seniors in the district who were admitted to UCs:

berkeley: GPA range 4.0-2.96, 3.82 avg. GPA, SAT verbal/math avg. 715/742
davis: gpa range 4.0-2.45, 3.59 avg, sat 649/696
irvine: range 4.0-2.38, 3.51 avg, sat 643/690
ucla: range 4.0-2.38, 3.81 avg, sat 714/742
merced: range 3.94-2.35, 3.3 avg., sat 613/673
riverside: range 3.94-2.7, 3.37 avg, sat 598/666
ucsd: range 4.0-2.45, 3.37 avg, sat 684/721
ucsb: range 4.0-3.02, 3.63 avg, sat 669/698
ucsc: range 4.0-2.35, 3.49 avg, sat 641/677

and yeah, grades count in this society, but in the long run, they don't count nearly as much as a person's ethics, knowledge, personal qualities and habits, whether or not those were reflected by grades they got back in high school, so don't make your kids think otherwise... or is it too late?

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Posted by got the scoop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2007 at 10:22 pm

not wanting to be misinterpreted - I'm not saying the UCs aren't competitive. It's obvious they are. But at least we should have more and accurate information out there.

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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 26, 2007 at 9:43 am

Thanks, "scoop." It would have been interesting to examine the numbers with more of a breakdown and distribution of those numbers. For example, how many of those admitted with a lower GPA had higher-than-average SAT scores to balance out their application? And was there much a gap between the mean and the median GPA? Still, I appreciate your contribution here. I hope some other people take note.

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Posted by reader
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2007 at 10:08 am

I have only this anecdotal evidence to relate: last year UCSD and UCDavis sent a form letter to rejected applicants saying, " 40,000 students have applied for +/- 4000 openings, and of those 40,000 applicants, 12,000 have a 4.0 or better GPA".

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Posted by Parent of Three
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 26, 2007 at 10:49 am

I regret to inform you, Scoop, that your information is no longer accurate beginning with the 2007 admission requirements at the UC's. Unfortunately, you failed to do your homework and inquire about the facts before you wrote your comment; a comment that will mislead many readers. The facts are as follows:
1. If your have a student who is in the top 4% of their class then they will be admitted.
2. If your student doesn't fit into category one above, then he or she must fit into at least one of the following categories:
(a) Qualify by testing criteria alone by achieving an eligibility index score of at least 410 on all SAT testing. What that means is that your student must score at least a 700 on the Math, 700 on the Critical Reading, 700 on Writing and 700 on each of two SAT II subject tests. Not an easy task, even for some of the very brightest students.

(b) The other pathway is to qualify through a combination of SAT scores and GPA. However, you must have at least a 3.00 GPA to qualify beginning with admissions this fall of 2007. Don't fool yourself, Scoop, the students needs at least a 3.00 GPA in order to gain admission, unless they are brilliant and have SAT scores like those set forth in (a) above. Otherwise, a student must score at least a 500 on everything and have a 3.00 GPA to meet basic eligibility requirements. This will gain you admission to a Merced or Riverside campus. This is not a ticket to Berkeley, UCLA etc.

Of course, if there is a special need situation with learning disabilities present, then the rules change on a case by case basis.

Scoop, the only mistake I made was stating that 550, instead of below 500, will eliminate you from consideration. However, you probably already noticed that the information you provided in your posting illuminated the fact that the admission SAT scores at all of the UC's last year were above 598. Most UC's admitted students with SAT scores in the mid-600 to mid-700 range. Doesn't sound like I gave you bad information to me.

Final Note: I was not talking about the long term morality issues that you seem to have run to at the end of your posting. The point of my posting was to illuminate the fact that for college admission, grades and SAT scores do count, like it or not. You can attack the person who is stating it, but it is a fact.

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Posted by got the scoop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2007 at 7:21 pm

thanks for clarifying the difference between past and present/future - I'm all about more information, more accurate information, and less drama.

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Posted by Parent of Three
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 26, 2007 at 8:49 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by got the scoop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2007 at 11:59 pm

When I said "less drama" I was talking about the other drama, like grades are sooooo important and better get those test scores, and how utterly important it is to ~ahem~ certain people that their kids go to a "good" college because... what - it would reflect badly on the parents? Let the kids find their own way, and what the heck let them get lost along the way... that's how you really find yourself. Some of the most fulfilled people I know went to those "ghastly" lesser public schools and then totally changed careers two or three times anyways. Some of the most miserable people I've ever met are wildly successful in terms of degrees and prestige and income, and they were the parents of my friends and totally messed up their kids with all that "success" and affluence. So what if your kid didn't kick ass in high school and couldn't get into THE college of his/her/(your?) choice. If the kid didn't click so much with high school pressure and grades, why so gung ho on pushing into top colleges? And if they get academic later, there's still ways in through JC or jr. transfer, or master degrees. This community is so whacked sometimes, so fixated, so determined to make kids follow in the parents footsteps I guess.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by got the scoop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2007 at 1:08 am

And as for "reader" and the letter about all the 4.0 applicants - thanks for sharing that. Great eye-opener. See folks, even if you or your students stress and stress and stress some more to get those grades, no guarantees at those coveted top schools (unless maybe you've got those legacy connection$). And you know they didn't only accept 4.0s, so that's even more thousands of 4.0s not getting in. So here's a thought - let your kids pursue their interests, develop a passion for something, encourage them to learn and challenge themselves, don't sweat every 0.1 and never utter the words "it'll look good for college"! Help them understand, realistically, all the options and the consequences without pushing - and I mean all, as in "the following grades get people into the following schools generally, AND there are these other FINE options if you can't or don't want to break your a** to get every A"). Jeez, considering how hard some people push in the community, with letters and meetings and teachers and Town Squre (!), you gotta wonder what it's like to be a student in their house. But anyway... when the time comes for college, THERE WILL BE GOOD OPTIONS for everyone, and they will have enjoyed the ride through HS, (hopefully), and they'll be enthusiastic about pursuing something somewhere, instead of plowing into college burnt out already and not really excited about learning as much as partying. You don't always get your first choice, but you make the best of other good options. Heck, I didn't get the jobs I wanted right out of college and I got a bit down about it, then I went another way and no regrets at all. What a good thing I didn't get those jobs that first year. Can others out there relate to that feeling - thought it was bad at the time (girlfriend/boyfriend dumped me, college rejection, lost out on a great job), and then my life went this other direction and thatnk god it did.

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Posted by Parent of Three
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2007 at 6:32 am

Scoop--You really need to stop attacking people just because they are successful. Unmotivated, poor and stupid doesn't guarantee happiness either. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Those numbers you provided from the district guide in your earlier posting are self-reported acceptance numbers. Let's focus on providing accurate and complete facts here. {Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 27, 2007 at 10:37 am

Parent of Three - I believe you do a disservice to the debate by your last post. I, for one, appreciate seeing someone taking on the prevaling attitude, and I fail to see what you've characterized as "attacking people." I think that "got the scoop" has been critiquing a tendency towards overly narrow definitions and undue pressures. Nowhere do I see a suggestion that people should be attacked for their success, but rather the bold suggestion that, if success is defined by degrees and money, it hardly suffices as a singular worthy goal in life.

You also offer this nifty retort: "Unmotivated, poor and stupid doesn't guarantee happiness either." Again, I can't see what you're responding to. Did someone suggest that those qualities do guarantee happiness? The comment suggests that you're standing up for the idea that grades and colleges can be directly equated with motivation, wealth and intelligence. But, as I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, that may be a correlation, but there are other paths to the same outcomes.

Now let's see if we can't continue the dialogue without any more [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] (n.b., that was me copying and pasting, not anything really removed).

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Posted by got the scoop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2007 at 3:16 pm

yeah, what SkepticAl said!

But just FYI, I dont want to seem down on academics or UCs or other competitive schools. I've got my degrees and honors from top universities in CA, I work hard and I think I'm doing fine for myself thank you very much. But that's me - I like academia and I thrive under pressure. I've just seen too many kids, personally and professionally, dealing with lots of stress and mistaken notions of what's at stake at this point in their lives, and around here we have an overabundance of role models of one sort, and a lack of role models who chose other routes to success.

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Posted by A PARENT
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2007 at 8:55 pm


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Posted by Greeler
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 6, 2007 at 10:23 pm

I think the bigger problem is that we have very mediocre teachers across the board. The older generation is forgetting and younger people simply don't know what a great teacher is. A teacher who inspires students, to whom students look up to and whom they respect is a thing of the past. Don't get me wrong - most teachers nowadays do care about students, but they are so often rather incompetent in the subjects they are teaching, afraid of being intellectually challenged, they lack that important combination of passion and depth of knowlegde which makes up an inspirational teacher . Where are the Platos of modern times? Where are the prototypes of the English teacher in "Dead Poet's Society". I had a chance to interact and observe a number of teachers in PAUSD and I have not seen anybody who could come close. Mediocracy and mediocrity, but with good intentions.

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Posted by \'sigh\'
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2007 at 11:47 pm

My son, at his Palo Alto elementary school, was told by his teacher that he was not to proceed faster than his classmates on math material that was very easy for him, that he had to wait for the rest of the class...

So much for encouraging talent and exploration...

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Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 7, 2007 at 8:58 am

Sigh, that's disappointing to hear given that PAUSD is supposed to offer differentiated instruction. Can you tell us what you did about the situation? Did you speak with the teacher? What did he or she say? Did you take it further?

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Posted by \'sigh\
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2007 at 4:01 pm

Simon, sadly, I did not do anything. His teacher is a sweet-heart, but I have years of experience with the Palo Alto school district and trying to enrich gifted students' education through the school goes nowhere.

Two examples:

My daughter (now in college) was identified as gifted in writing. Nothing was ever offered to her above and beyond what he classmates did... It was not until high school and AP classes that she got anything extra, if AP classes qualify as an extra.

When my son already knew everything his fourth grade teacher was going to teach about electricity, I approached her and ask that he get to do a special project. She said she would look into it, but eventually came up empty handed... Of course she was not electricity expert herself... It was up to us to do the enrichment and we turned outside the schools to do it.

One board election campaign, I went to a small neighborhood meeting of a candidate once. I brought up the topic of GATE children. Her anwer basically was along these lines: "Well, we have so many GATE students in Palo Alto we can't do much... they'll be fine anyway... it is the low performing students who need our attention." I believe it is still the prevailing attitude throughout the district, especially with No Child Left Behind (although it predates No Child Left Behind). In the race to ever improve test scores, the obvious thing to do is focus on underachieving students and leaving the other students alone.

Did I say that my son is bored at school?...


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