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Lottery By the District (Not the Principals)

Original post made by Duveneck Mom on May 9, 2007

It seems that some people question the legitimacy of the lottery at Ohlone.

Shouldn't the lottery be done by the district, not by individual principals, and no essay should be required? The fact they are applying is enough indication that the family believes in the philosophy of the program.

Comments (54)

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2007 at 3:24 pm

My understanding is that the drawing is done off school grounds in the presence of at least two other non-Ohlone people.

The essay, as such, is simply a recap of Ohlone's principles, which are in the essay book.

Because there are families who apply to both Ohlone and Hoover, which have dramatically different educational philosophies, no it's not clear that a simple application means you understand the ideas behind each school's educational philosophy.

But seriously guys, the most "unfair" thing about any of the lotteries is sibling preference--the number of open spots is dramatically reduced at any of the choice schools as a result. (And many of the neighborhood ones.) I don't think anybody really wants to stop that, however, because that would create other inequities.

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2007 at 4:41 pm

The hoover site says even siblings are part of the lottery.

Posted by never-picked, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 9, 2007 at 6:18 pm

It is ironic to me that a principal who is in the middle of a "trust" dispute with administration is so unwilling to have a fully transparent lottery draw. If it is truly a lottery, for any of our choice programs, how hard is it to put names in a hat, gather the community out on the field, and announce the names of the "winners", in a public forum.

The scenario described by OhlonePar sounds more like an application process, which has no place in a public school.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2007 at 9:11 pm


How is it being in an office a sign of an application process? As I understand it, it is pretty much names in a hat. The waiting list continues to be a lottery--the names on the waitlist go in the hat or hat equivalent and are drawn for waitlist spots.

Palo alto mom, I hadn't heard that about Hoover. Is it truly an equal lottery or is there a sibling priority? The kid I knew going to Hoover had two older siblings there. Has there been a change in policy?

The program where I don't think there's a fair lottery process is Young Fives. The odds of getting in seem much higher if you're from
Preschool Family. But maybe PSF provides the bulk of the applicants as well.

Posted by Never-Picked, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 9, 2007 at 10:12 pm

Ohlone Par,

I made a mistake. I thought I read in a post that you said Charles got a list of the names pulled from the hat in the order they were pulled, reviewed the essays, and chose which ones she liked and those were the people she allowed in. Now I can't find the post, so I must have made a mistake, and I'm sorry. But I believe that if you were to dig a little deeper into how students are transferred into your school (as opposed to the names from a hat, which I will believe you if you say the essays are irrelevant -- but then why do them), you might be surprised.

Just as an FYI -- we were told when we applied that if we also applied to Hoover, our applications to both schools would be kicked out. We could apply to SI and Ohlone, but because Hoover and Ohlone are supposed to be diametrically opposed, you couldn't be interested in both.

I think you're right about Young Fives. That's another place there should be a speaker system, a hat, and a big crowd of people waiting to hear the results. And why are siblings granted into the Young Fives program? At the other choice programs, I understand not having elementary school aged children in two different schools, but that's not the case for the Young Fives program.

Duveneck Mom is right: All lotteries probably should be handled off campus, far away from principals, in a very public way, and where there would be fewer questions of fairness and trust. As a district, we're losing trust all over the place as it is.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 10, 2007 at 12:24 am


I was also told that applying to both Ohlone and Hoover was undesirable. My sense of the essay is that it was kind of a doublecheck, but also one of the means of figuring out where to place the child--along with the info. from the preschool.

I don't know about the transfers, but it's possible that it's not random. We have a third of all the teachers kids in the district, which doesn't seem random either.

I can tell you that the Ohlone draw is fast enough that there's not a lot of time to fiddle around with it. A couple of things do seem to help--being in the Palo Verde district and having a girl. Ohlone takes an equal number of boys and girls, but there has been, I'm told, been more boys than girls in the lottery. In my own experience, the parents of boys worry a bit more about the sitting still expected at many of the schools. Now that I think of it, nearly all the families I know who got in by the open lottery (rather than sibling preference) had daughters. Not exclusively, but it's definitely easier.

The sibling preference thing can be huge. Ohlone has 70 kinder spots each year, but sometimes has fewer than 20 openings for non sibs. SI has had, I'm told, as few as two.

I expect MI will have the same issues and serve very, very few families as a result--particularly since there won't be the late transfer option that there is at Hoover and Ohlone.

I didn't know that there was sibling pref. at Young Fives--that's just kind of strange.

Posted by PA resident, a resident of Escondido School
on May 10, 2007 at 6:33 am

Never Picked, you were right. Here's at least one post from another thread:

Let's be clear, Ohlone's is only a qualified lottery--just ask Ohlone principal Susan Charles. When you apply to the school you fill out an information sheet that asks you to state your reasons for applying and to say what other choice programs you have applied for.
At last year's Ohlone Kindergarten information night Principal Charles flat out said that after she's randomly drawn each sheet, she reads them and then accepts or rejects them based on how she likes what people have written. So your child's name may well be drawn early enough to get a place but be rejected by the principal in favor of others whose parents said the 'right' thing.

Charles' main concern, she said, was to throw out the names of people who were applying to both Hoover and Ohlone, on the principle that they could not therefore be serious about Ohlone's philosophy. Notwithstanding whether parents have justifiable reasons to apply for both, it's certainly the case that this is not a completely random selection process. At least in the case of Ohlone, the principal gets a veto.

Now you can choose to trust that Charles is only vetoing children in this one situation. But since the process is secret, who knows.

Do we perhaps need to have admissions for lottery programs controlled by a neutral 3rd party? Would the principals at Ohlone, Hoover, Young Fives and Escondido accept this? If not, why not?

Posted by Mom of 3, a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2007 at 8:02 am

State law provides for sibling preference in schools, and it doesn't matter what kind of school. Keeping sibs together is generally good for everyone: kids, families, schools. Scattered kids mean scattered families, late arrivals & pick-ups, less participation in PTA or less "investment" (time, energy, money) in the school and its culture. Teachers will get more support from parents who aren't frazzled by dashing around town, especially for yoiung siblings. You can let older kids wait on their own for pick-up, but elementary schools want kids off campus 10 minutes after school is out. It's a burden on them to have to supervise kids who arrive too early or are picked up too late.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2007 at 8:57 am

I am shocked to hear about the fact that young 5s is based on a lottery.

When my daughter applied to kindergarten, because she has a late November birthday, I was told by official letter that there was a place for her in young 5s if I thought that it would be a better suit for her rather than kindergarten. Since my daughter was already reading and bored at preschool, I didn't relish the thought of waiting another year to start kindergarten so I declined and have never regretted my decision.

I think that the decision for young 5s should not be up to the parents but to the kindergarten teachers. A short interview in June with each child with a late birthday should give the qualified professionals some idea of the kindergarten readiness rather than any other criteria.

I have heard anecdotes of parents putting their child in young 5s for reasons other than readiness. These contain reasons like "being the first to get their drivers licence rather than the last", "being bigger than the rest of the class to give them an advantage over others in sports" and "holding them back so that they can be with a neighbor, or just one year apart from a sibling". All these reasons sound very bogus to me. If there are not enough places at young 5s, then these are the people who should be weeded out. Their places should be available for children who truly need them due to being not yet ready for kindergarten. The kindergarten experience is now less of an experience, but more of a year of academics and if a child has had no or very little preschool experience, has language or other communication difficulties and is still very clingy to parents, then these are the children who will hold their whole class back in kindergarten and should be in young 5s. I know this from experience, I have volunteered in many kindergarten classrooms and see how a child who is not ready can be a hindrance to the teacher and the whole class.

Posted by Simon Firth, a resident of College Terrace
on May 10, 2007 at 9:33 am

Parent -- I agree. A lottery for young fives is absurd for exactly the reasons you state.

It's the one 'choice' program that should absolutely not be a choice!

Other districts (including Menlo Park, I'm pretty sure) have just such a screening process to make sure that places are distributetd by develomental need not parental whim. It's not a huge burden to the district to screen and the benefits -- both in getting the help to the right kids AND to ensuing that regular kindergarten classes are filled with kinder-ready students -- are considerable.

Once we have the new Superintendent in place I am going to be actively lobbying for this change to be made.

Posted by beyond that, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 10, 2007 at 1:07 pm

As a parent of late fall children (who attended K elsewhere as we lived elsewhere, we did not live in PAUSD) I find the assertions that parents are "holding their kids back" and putting them in Young 5's so they can be biggest for football, get their driver's license first, etc. VERY offensive. I have not heard of anyone doing this. We certainly did not do this.

On the contrary, I have heard of parents going district-shopping in order to find a district to take their 4 year olds who were turned down elsewhere. Sometimes these kids require an inordinate amount of the K teacher's time. Some parents feel a great source of pride when their children graduate at an early age (16, 17). I don't think this should be the main focus.

It was very tough deciding what to do with kids who are born just before/just after the CA cutoff date for K. Children's development (fine motor skills, etc.)doesn't happen at one time, I would say it goes in waves. Even early readers may not be ready for academic K if they are so much younger (age 4 3/4 compared to 5 1/2) than the other students.

True, I wish back then we had better guidance and the option of putting our kids in something like PAUSD's Young 5's - that sounds like a valuable option. That said, we found a wonderful private K that accommodated a wide range of children very successfully.

BTW I have read that there is currently a bill involving preschool (universal?) in California that will also put the cutoff date for K to September, rather than November. All children will start K at age 5. Cutoff dates are different in other states. I was told Georgia has September 2.

Posted by anonymous mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2007 at 1:46 pm

Young 5's appears to be run at the pleasure of the director, mainly for the benefit of the preschool family kids, who are over-represented in the classes. Since the same director runs preschool family, you would think if she were effective there would be fewer preschool family kids in the Young 5's program. Sibling preferences is another example of how this program is not serving the district for its intended purpose.

Those who get slots in the program have to apply in January or February, 8 or 9 months before school starts -- kids change a lot in that time. The program is small, so really should have slots open for teacher referrals, for kids who just are too immature after a few weeks of regular kindergarten. The program should serve the kids most at risk of having to repeat kindergarten, you can't tell that from birthdays, especially not 9 months before the kid enrolls in kindergarten (a lot can happen in a child's development in that time). I know at least one child who had to leave our district this year to get a young 5's program after the teacher told the parents he probably would have to repeat, and I know one child in our class who will likely have to repeat because the child's parents just weren't keyed into our system enough to know you had to see your child is too immature to start kindergarten nearly a year in advance to get into the young 5's program. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on May 10, 2007 at 4:20 pm

I also know of a child who was clearly and medically diagnosed as an Young Fives candidate, but because there was no space the child entered kindergarten. The teacher, parents and doctor all had no doubt in their minds that Young Fives was the right program for this child, not kindergarten. It was a painful year for all -- parents, teacher, volunteer parents, classmates, and of course the child, who ended up repeating kindergarten.

I feel very strongly that the PAUSD district should fix the fine programs that they currently offer (Young 5s, SI, Direct Instruction, Connections), making them available to all who are interested and qualified, *before* we worry about introducing additional exclusive programs that will again benefit only a few.

Posted by jsd, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2007 at 4:57 pm

Yes, in an ideal world, there would be room in Young 5s (or Ohlone, or Hoover, or SI, or a new MI, or a neighborhood school) for every child who needs it in the district. Trust me that the people who manage/teach/run Young 5s wish they could help all the families and kids in need of the program. Facilities and funding are not there.

Perhaps my view is somewhat biased because I know the director personally, but I have seen nothing to imply that the Young 5s lottery is "rigged". I personally know of at least one Preschool Family kid this year, who's a great Young 5s 'candidate", who is on the waitlist for next year (that is, he lost the lottery). The Y5's application process includes indicators of youngness (not just calendar age). And, if I recall correctly, a recommendation by the child's current preschool teacher indicating her/his opinion that the child would indeed benefit from a 2-year approach to kindergarten.

The director is not placing kids whose parents want them to be the biggest in high school sports or get their drivers' licenses first--unless the parents are incredibly convincing liars, in which case the stink is completely on those parents (if they exist) and not the director.

Perhaps, if Preschool Family is "over-represented", it is because of increased knowledge about the program/trust in the director, since they are co-located and co-managed. The parent network at PSF is also incredibly active in passing down information about great programs and resources. I do think there is a need to get out the word about Young 5s earlier across the district.

I also think everyone involved realizes that it's tough to "make a call" on a child's readiness for August Kindergarten in January. Logistically, because Young 5s enrollment decisions impact PAUSD elementary enrollment, I think it all has to happen in concert. I don't begin to understand (not do I have any desire to!) all the bureaucracy that happens between February and August. . . If there's a way to shorten that timeframe, I would hope the powers that be would have already done so. Perhaps I am naive.

Those of you who think there should not be a lottery for Young 5s, do you have a proposal to make? How would you prioritize kids for the program? I'm not asking to be snotty, I'm really curious to know what good ideas are out there. (I'm also a believer that it's one thing to complain about a situation and another entirely to offer a suggestion of possible improvement. There's so much complaining in our community right now, myself included. . .)

(Disclaimer: I am a current Preschool Family participant and have been on the Young 5s tour and information session but have never entered the Young 5s lottery.)

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2007 at 6:32 pm

Perhaps the Young 5's lottery should be based on the input of Kindergarten teachers, not preschool, with no prefernce given to a siblings.

Posted by Jamie, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 10, 2007 at 9:58 pm

I think the young fives program should be expanded. Well before PAUSD considers expanding choice programs for luxury subject matter.

Young fives readiness is a key prerequisite for closing the achievement gap - one of the alleged strategic priorities of this district.

Every school should accomodate a 'young fives' level kindergaren classroom by sorting their incoming kinders appropriately. Talk to the current kinder teachers. You'll hear that at least 1/4 to 1/3 of each classroom would be qualified for such a program. So if its not every school that hosts one, then it should be every other school. The 'young' level classrooms should be carried forward until the kids can gradually work their way back in to mainstream.

There should be a ranking system at each school, by kinder teachers, with input from preschool teachers (if any), and parents, to determine which kids need the slots the most.

This is the kind of value added enrichment programming that would really benefit every single child in the district. The young fives would be served, and the mainstream classrooms/teachers would also be relieved of those special needs kids, allowing more focus and/or customization on the 'ready' group

Posted by Never-picked, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 10, 2007 at 10:36 pm


Every school should have a young fives room. Or the program should at least be expanded to a North side site, a West side site, and a South side site. Has the program ever expanded, even as our kindergarten curriculum have become more stringent and the district enrollment has increased?

To add to your very valid points about readiness, if I child is in need of some sort of intervention, say speech and language services or occupational therapy, it is better to identify those needs and begin those services earlier. Early intervention means greater success and fewer problems down the road.

Back to the notions of lotteries, the question of the lottery system in the new MI program is going on in other strands. People are very concerned that it will not be a blind lottery (if such a thing exists here in PAUSD), or, perhaps even more worrisome, that it will be a bllind lottery and key PACE people may not be pulled -- resulting in a choice program and a charter school.

What a mess.

Posted by Y5 alum, a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2007 at 7:55 am

Please, please, please don't post "things I heard" as if they were substantiated truths. Fourteen years ago I heard the exact "reasons" and yet when I asked for the person who allegedly said those things, nobody would admit they'd ever heard from someone directly. No parent I ever met in young 5's gave those reasons. Our children just weren't ready for Kindergarten. The program is sound, run beautifully and as fairly as possible. To even hint that the director has in any way compromised the lottery or the program itself is tantamount to slander and only displays ignorance.

Please don't post unless you have your facts. You hurt good people that way.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2007 at 8:29 am

I am the parent who posted the bogus reasons I have "heard" about holding children back from starting kindergarten. These are parents who have chatted to me over the years when their children were well up the elementary years of school. This is what they say then, possibly forgetting some of the other reasons that they held their child back and possibly done at a time when there were not so many academic expectations for kindergarten. I did not try to indicate that these were things I heard that were anything other than anecdotes. However, for every person who thinks that their child may need to wait another year but are not sure, it is often reasons like this that others may put on them (friends, family, etc.) that may sway them into their decision.

It is therefore imperative that the readiness for kindergarten be determined by the k teachers themselves rather than the parents. The parents can be swayed by multiple reasons, whereas a k teacher knows very quickly whether a child is ready by unbiased observation rather
than the protective instincts of a well intended parent.

Posted by Palo Alto Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2007 at 11:00 am

There is a statistically improbable amount of children admitted "by lottery" into the Young 5s program from Parents Preschool, which is also based at Cubberly.
There is no honest reason for all of the choice lotteries not to be held in public at the District offices by neutral PAUSD officials instead of principals being allowed to literally hand-pick the kids they want.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2007 at 11:37 am

When one group or another is over or underrepresented, it is better to not jump to the conclusion that something is fishy. Usually it is the applicant pool has fewer of one than another group.

I suspect it is exactly as one of the posters mentioned with Young 5s and Preschool Family. I was at Preschool family, and the Young 5s program was well known, and well respected, and pretty much desired as a "standard" for anyone with slightly less mature kids. So, a lot of us applied.

But, as I have gone through the school system, I have found very few parents who have even HEARD of young 5s. So, I suspect a lot of people who needed it didn't know about it, so didn't apply.

I agree, young 5s should be reserved ONLY for kids who "qualify" developmentally, nothing else, and should have a number of spots available for kids who come into K and get "screened out". And, it definitely should be the ONE program that takes absolutely everybody who needs it, regardless of how big it needs to grow.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2007 at 4:08 pm

WE should absolutely expand young 5's, either at Greendell or -- how about at Ohlone? Seems it would meet a more fundamental need and be a far better fit than MI. And I seriously doubt it would come with any controversy.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on May 12, 2007 at 4:51 pm

Interesting idea, parent. Or how about expanding Ohlone so fewer families are turned away, expand Spanish Immersion at Garland so fewer families are turned away, and expand Y5's at Escondido in the resultant space so fewer are turned away?

BTW, I have few problems with SI at Escondido - it's a good mix. My suggestion comes from a place of being able to offer programs to most everyone who is interested and qualified....*BEFORE* we start offering yet another exclusive program in the district.

Posted by For Fair Lotteries, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2007 at 8:54 am

The board policy lists who gets what priority in neighborhood school kindergarten lotteries. The board policy for the choice programs though are vague, just saying that the lottery practices be consistent and non-discriminatory.

Web Link

It is worth repeating Mom of 3s comment that state law allows schools with lotteries to give some groups preferences. OK is sibs when at the same school at the same time. But if your group is not on the state list, you don't get to jump to the head of the line.

The sibling priority right doesn't appear to apply to a school like Young 5s since the siblings are not being schooled in the same building. What Young 5s has sounds more like a legacy priority which is not on the OK list.

The same holds true for the neighborhood schools which are over-enrolled for kindergarten. It used to be the case that legacy priorities were allowed (once a family member touched the school -- parent or sibling -- all others got a free pass in) until the district caught wind of that practice several years ago and put a stop to it. At the same time, Young 5s children were given priority into their neighborhood schools the year after Young 5s -- but that practice was supposed to be stopped when the school board said that that was not OK either.

The suggestion that the lotteries be held in public by district staff is a good one. If you probe, you will learn of parents who were able to pull special favors at both Young 5s and Ohlone. Some reasons are compelling, others less, but none allowed under the state rules. It is human nature – principals are personally involved and it is hard for them to say no to a compelling case -- but the process should be fair to the compelling cases they do not know about too.

So what better than to let an off-sight administrator do the lottery name pull -- and if the public wants to attend, they should be able to do so. Add to that clear selection criteria given to all whom ask and the elementary schools would go a long way to take the parent "mistrust" issue out of the lottery equation.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 16, 2007 at 11:44 am

For Fair Lotteries,

On Young Fives, I can see there's a real point to the needs-based admission. I know a lot of the kids who have gone into Young Fives and some would have been fine in kindegarten and some were so not ready that putting them in kindegarten could have had awful consequences.

I know at PSF, the teachers make Young Fives recommendations and Sharon Keplinger comes in and observes.

Perhaps, Young Fives should have some sort of needs criteria--sort of a ratings systems. I think that would be "fairer" than a straight lottery.

As for Ohlone, the lottery does seem to be a lottery. Do other things happen--yeah, I think so too. I'd be inclined, though, to think they happen after the initial lottery. I have not heard any stories, but I just tend to be a little cynical. People do get swayed.

What, really, are the odds that the son of PACE's leader won't get into MI? I'm sure they're not the same as they will be for everyone else?

I know the legacy system is out at the public schools--I met a parent in that situation and that the schools no longer hold slots for Young Fives--I know a parent who got into Ohlone one year, went Young Fives and ended up waitlisted.

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2007 at 3:53 pm

Not sure how truly "fair" our lottery system is - by giving preference to siblings the available slots are often reduced to almost none (I know its important to keep families together, but there are many people with kids overflowed to multiple schools). Funny how all famous former football players got their kids into SI - a coincidence or are the principals picking their students? Do SI, Hoover and Ohlone have the same percentage of special ed kids as the neighborhood schools? Would the PACE supporters automatically get their kids into MI? Taken collectively, does the ethnic balance of the choice programs reflect the ethnic mix of our district - if not, is that fair?

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on May 16, 2007 at 4:14 pm

Palo Alto mom,

As a parent at Escondido with their phone directory in front of me, it appears at a glance that the ethnic balance of SI is fairly diverse. *Possibly* not quite as diverse as Escondido's general population, but then Escondido is more diverse than most of the other elementary schools in the district. If any ethnic group is under-represented within SI, it'd be the Asians (but not including South Asians.)

I like For Fair Lotteries' idea for having the lotteries held publicly. I can think of no reason why the district should deny such an across-the-board policy for all choice programs. How do we get them to put this on their agenda? It would alleviate much gossip, bad feelings, and possibly biased decisions -- if indeed those are occurring.

Posted by sis, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 16, 2007 at 11:20 pm

I think the district is not looking for more work at Churchill. The entire recruitment/selection process is handled by the sites for that reason. In the past, I remember a district representative witnessing a lottery selection procedure at which I also was present.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 17, 2007 at 12:09 am

I know Ohlone has a special needs class and Susan Charles wants another one if she takes in MI. The special-needs kids spend some time in the regular classrooms. I think it's actually a good environment for those kids because of the community orientation and the hands-on approach.

I agree that there's a basic inequity because of the sibling preference, but I don't think it's going anywhere. Schools rely on their communities and that means families. Also, it's just unreasonable to ask people with more than one child to try to be in two different places at the same time every school day. It's just not reasonable.

But it does point, again, the nuttiness of adding another small choice program when it would work better to expand the ones we have.

Posted by Yet Another Parent, a resident of Escondido School
on May 17, 2007 at 9:19 am


What I'm suggesting is a district-wide *policy* of open lotteries where the public may attend. The lotteries can still be conducted by the individual sites, requiring no extra work from the district.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2007 at 1:49 pm

I think its inappropriate to excuse imbalance in a lottery program because 'the applicant pool is skewed' so the results of the lottery will automatically be skewed.

There is a significant problem if the applicant pool is significantly skewed.

Our history is chock full of examples where one group has set itself apart from the others "voluntarily" and created very unsavory results.

If we're talking about young fives, that's a program with a specific purpose, and it should be based on need (ie: readiness). If there's an issue with parents not knowing widely about the program (and this is absoluately true) then there should be awareness efforts. Preschool and Kinder teacher referals based on readiness should be part of the process.

But If we're talking about Hoover, Ohlone, MI, SI - then we need to find out how and why the applicant pool is getting skewed, and fix it.. It NOT ok to let a demographic skew go unaddressed. A segregated program is damaging to the fabric of the community. You can't force a particular demographic makeup, but you should be able to address the root cause that creates the skew. Perhaps its just better parent awareness of what's available, or perhaps its program content or management changes.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 18, 2007 at 12:12 am


I think this came up in one of Fred's threads a while ago. Ohlone's demographics are a little hard to gage because 25 percent don't check a box. Down on the ground, that figure coincides pretty well with the number of mixed-race children at the school.

I think the other issue is how the school's demographics are trending. I think both Ohlone and Escondido have become more diverse. Hoover, on the other hand, has become dramatically less so. While the other two schools are within acceptable margins of the district's demographics, Hoover is way off.

And, yeah, I think the district should care about this, but probably won't given Hoover's steller API scores.

It's a real issue though--should you have magnet programs that skew that extremely without doing something about it?

Posted by Never-picked, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 18, 2007 at 6:41 am

What happens if you look at diversity in another way. Hoover school draws from all over Palo Alto. Ohlone functions essentially as a neighborhood school (Board Documents regarding the area advisory group). Is Ohlone a neighborhood school because that many more people from the neighborhood apply, or because Charles wants people who will say "yes" when their name is picked "randomly" from a hat. If you have a choice program, it should be drawing district-wide; otherwise, what you have is a neighborhood school with some transfers. So call it that, and get rid of the lottery and all of the bad feelings that go with it.

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 18, 2007 at 6:49 am

This talk about the "root cause" is wrong-headed because it assumes there is something wrong.

It's clear that certain ethnic groups tend to prefer different educational approaches. There is nothing wrong with that and nothing to "address" or fix.

Despite the contorted justifications for the imbalance at Ohlone, the issue is the same there. Sure, let's support better awareness! But after that, what are you suggesting? Modify Ohlone's constructivist approach to appeal to certain groups? Set aside quotas for certain groups?

Nonsense. Let parents pick and choose (and let the demographics fall where they may).

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2007 at 1:41 pm

PA Dad:

You have a kids' baseball league. Which contains 12 all stars, most of those happen to be all the first and second string pitchers and cathers for the entire league, and the best hitters, then you have 24 average players, 12 below average. How do you split them up - what makes for the best league experience? The fairest? The most rewarding? The best play, the best player development and growth?

The all stars get together and decide unilaterally to group together and form an all star team. Their choice, everyone else does whatever they want.

So, you have one team loaded up with all stars (mostly pitchers and catcher and the best hitters), and you have the rest of the teams that have diviied themselves up on some sort of random/fair method.

So now you've got three teams that are sharing the 'burden' of the below average players - each with 1/3 (4/12) of those teams made up of below average players. And one team who has singled themselves out as 'special', which is not required to share the burden of the below average players.

And now you play. The all stars can only find time to play a few of the pitchers and a catchers, the rest are playing positions in the infield and outfield they don't prefer or aren't that good at, because there are only so many spaces for pitchers and catchers. Those other pitchers/catchers never get to practice their own positions during the season so they are disappointed and don't develop. The teams they play never get any hits, so the all star fielders stand around bored the whole season. The best hitters (all loaded onto the all star team) never face any decent pitchers, get walked alot, because they loaded up all the pitchers on their own team, so they don't develop either.

What is the benefit for the all star team for having divided themselves out this way - did they have more fun? Did they improve their level of play? Were they challenged? Are they proud of their record? Are they better players in the end? Are they better sports? Did they learn anything?

How will they ever even know - because they've loaded the deck. Are they better off for having loaded up lopsided teams and avoided their 'good citizenship' responsiblity for pulling the below average players up to a higher level of performance through teamwork?

Did they impact anyone else when they decided unilaterally to segregate themselves this way?

When one group decides to choose their own segregated grouping, it impacts everyone, and it hurts everyone, including themselves.

A baseball league is not a great analogy for a public school system, because a - its private and the purpose is winning - so they can darn well load teams up, and its their right to do so. b - its designed to be competitive. Winning, not just learning is a legitimate goal. So in some sense, a baseball team is about survival of the fittest, whereas in a public school the goal should be survival of all, level playing field, etc.

So if the goal for the league was somehow survival of all - the only way you 'win' in the end of the season is if you've 'passed' every single one of the players in the league to their own next level of play - did the all star team really win? They actually probably came in last if individual development was the metric.

How do you divide up the teams for best results for everyone? Even the all stars would have been better off, learned more, had more challenage and fun if they would have allowed themselves to be distributed evenly among the teams - and taken on the challenge and the satifaction of diversity.

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 18, 2007 at 2:21 pm


I appreciate the time and energy you put into your intricate analogy, but it doesn't shed light on this issue.

I agree with you that all things being equal, it would be good to have all the races and ethnicities in our city perfectly blended in every school. But all things are not equal, and three things cut against that ideal: neighborhood schools, fairness and parent preference.

No elementary school perfectly represents our demographics, so we could force kids go criss-cross the city to create a perfect balance. We don't do that--even though diversity is desirable in itself--because it would be unwieldy and conflict with neighborhood schools.

Similary, choice programs do not represent our demographics, so we could institute racial quotas to make sure they did. We don't because it runs counter to perceived fairness of the the blind lottery system and puts that goal (perfect diversity) above parental preference. If whites disproportionately want to send their kids to Ohlone, why should they be penalized by having a reduced chance?

You are exercised by the perception that one race is choosing its "own segregated grouping." This is a psychological explanation you are imposing on a group that you don't know well. In my experience, those who choose Ohlone and Hoover are very committed to those educational models. They choose an educational model and not a race.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 19, 2007 at 1:10 am

Here we go again.

First, Ohlone is PV's overflow school so there is a preference given to kids in the area. The percentage that sticks in my mind is 50 percent--so hardly a neighborhood school with a few transfers. I can think of four families on my block who go to Ohlone and we're on the north side of Oregon.

PA Dad,

Nothing convoluted, quite straightforward. Again, though, I'd say the problem with Hoover is that it's become dramatically more segregated than it was. If it's just an educational choice than why the huge drop off of everyone but Asian kids? This isn't the situation at Ohlone or Escondido, both of which reflect changes in the district.

I don't think it's simply a question of changing demographics--none of the schools around Hoover show that kind of switch, though they do show a steady percentage increase of Asian students--but a school in a small district with a majority of white students having so few white students that their API scores aren't considered statistically significant?

This wasn't the case five years ago. Down on the ground, I know that five years ago I knew Caucasian parents who considered Hoover or had kids in Hoover. That's no longer the case.

That's not about educational philosophy, that's about something else. What that something is is subject to debate. Or, rather, should be.

As to Parent's general point, I think diversity matters. We are changing, once again, as a nation, and our kids will need to work together and will, no doubt, marry one another. Cooperation and understanding works best if it starts early.

Posted by Never-picked, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 19, 2007 at 6:41 am

Yes, OhlonePar, here we go again. You can't in the same thread say that the Ohlone lottery is a clean lottery, with little time to "fiddle" around with it, and then say that it is a Palo Verde overflow school. If a preference is given to any one large group (more than 250 of the 400 kids at Ohlone would otherwise go to Palo Verde -- not including kids east of Middlefield who would go to El Carmello and Fairmeadow; well over 50%), that school's lottery is no longer fuctioning in the manner of a blind lottery.

And maybe that is okay. The real issue is, tell the people going in that they don't stand a chance if they're not a family of girls or they don't live in the Palo Verde district. Stop pretending it's a lottery. Call it an application process. Or make it a true lottery, and let the chips fall where they may. The real point is, being more truthful and transparent in what the process truly is would go a long way toward limiting the bad feelings that develop around the lottery systems.

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 19, 2007 at 9:37 am


You continue to make vague and gloomy statements about Hoover, but you say nothing substantive about what you believe is happening there. You also don't say what you would like to do about it. Close it? Quotas? You suggest nothing, and your remarks are just sniping at Hoover.

In any case, the troubling question here is why you find it objectionable to see Asians over-represented but don't have a similar problem with whites. Sure, some of it comes from your vested interest in Ohlone. I wonder if that's the only reason.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 19, 2007 at 3:08 pm


A clean lottery isn't the same as a lottery with no preferences. As long as those preferences are known and reasonable, it's not a big conspiracy. My understanding is that all the choice schools have some neighborhood preference built in.

But you have a point, the lotteries aren't blind lotteries--the sibling preferences take most of the spots at the get-go. (You don't have to have a family of girls, just an oldest girl . . .)

PA Dad,

I don't claim to know what's happening at Hoover. Statistically, however, something is. Ohlone's demographics are within the same range as nearby schools and the district as a whole. Hoover's aren't.

That's not a matter of "picking" on Hoover, but pointing out that this is happening and we don't have the "whys".

In other words, Ohlone's about 8 percent off the district's demographics. Hoover's more than 45 percent. The situation's aren't even close.

Would you think it okay if Hoover were 95 percent white? Because that's the kind of statistical variation you're looking at.

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 19, 2007 at 6:37 pm

Does anyone know how many non-siblings get into any of the choice programs in a given year. How many new kinder families are there, excluding the Tinsley students?

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2007 at 8:10 pm

PA Dad: Motive is not even an issue. The result of segregation is dangerous no matter the 'good excuse' that group might have for creating that situation, even if the excuse is 'its an accident'. The end results - the effects on the society - are the same. To be sure, the kids don't understand how they got there, some day they'll just look around and understand that they have been grouped together for some reason. The kids that are not in that program will see that they are not in that group, and those two groups will understand they are different and separate. And they'll take that with them, and that will grow. The intellectual justification for the origins of the how this came to be will soon be lost. The only thing the future will see and know is that it is.

Please take a look at the experiment that occured at our own Cubberly High School in the 70's called The Third Wave - if you think our smart and well adjusted Palo Alto kids are immune.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2007 at 8:28 pm

Web Link

A description of The Third Wave experiement.

"That's the sad thing. Teachers can trigger it by telling students they're special, they're part of a community, that they can do special things. All they have to give is their loyalty," Jones concludes. "It happens every day in school, only the paraphernalia isn't there. Kids aren't learning to ask questions. You create a population where freedom's just a spelling word."

Ron Jones, Teacher who conducted The Third Wave experiement at Cubberly, 25 years later.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2007 at 8:43 pm

By the way, I had learned about that a long time ago, probably when I was a student at Cubberly in about 1979. But re-reading the summary of the experiment (link above) what I find perhaps most impactful now is that the glue that held those students, the power that teacher tapped in to wasn't a phyiscal trait, or a performance trait, it was a teaching style, an 'educational model' - a philosophical, psychological change that made those students believe suddently they were "different" and "special". All they had to do was buy in to the philosophy - and they did. Easily.

So PA Dad - I think perhaps that this mentality that says its just a group of people that are grouping themselves based on comittment to an educational model/philosophical differences/samenesses - is really no justification at all. Its just as dangerous as blantent screening on eye color.

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 19, 2007 at 9:46 pm


You imply Asians are intentionally segregating themselves by race at Hoover, offer no evidence and say in the same breath you don't know what is happening at Hoover. You're just trying to stir up trouble for Hoover.

Sorry to say, Ohlone has the same problem in reverse, so your point comes back to bite you. It is very curious that you insist some devilry is going on when Asians are over-represented but have many, many excuses when whites are over-represented. I wonder why.


Since equal access is not in question, motive is the only issue here. And please, let's be accurate about Hoover and Ohlone. This is not segregation. These are choice programs with disproportional distribution of races.

I liked the article about the third wave and it has lessons for us today about fascism and the imposition of majority will on minorities. It warns us against allowing one group to impose its own educational approach on all kids. It teaches us to be tolerant of others who are different and have a different approach.

Posted by another parent, a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 19, 2007 at 10:21 pm

equal access does happen to be an issue since there will be a language barrier to entry.

Motive, as stated above, is irrelevent, no excuse for the outcome. The choice programs are not segregation by intention or by design, but if result in, then should be raising alarms for everyone.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 20, 2007 at 12:26 am

PA Mom,

It varies from year to year, of course, but the numbers do show up in various school board documents. Escondido's had only a handful of nonsib spots for non Spanish spots. Ohlone used to have about half (35) but the last couple of years the number's been well below 30. Hoover, I don't recall--fewer spots than Ohlone, but also fewer applicants.

PA Dad,

I've never said that Asians are intentionally segregating themselves at Hoover. Is that what you think is happening? Because I can think of some alternative scenarios. How, after all, would intentional segregation work in this case?

And, again, Ohlone, unlike Hoover, but like every other school in the district has become increasingly diverse. Hoover's the only one going the other way. Think about the numbers here and the variation. The district's about a quarter Asian and between 60-65 percent white. Ohlone's within a normal range of variation. Hoover, on the other hand has the district's demographic ratios more than reversed.

Again, this wasn't the case five years ago. It's not simply the case that direct instruction appeals only to Asians. I think there is a perception that Hoover is not simply a tough school (lots of people of all shades want that kind of education for their kids), but that it's become a school for Asians.

In other words, my guess is, based on the fact that Hoover doesn't have the highest number of applications of the choice programs, that yes Asian families apply for spots at Hoover--and non-Asian applications have dropped off.

Do I think this is a problem? Yes, as a matter of fact. Do I want quotas? No, I think that's inappropriate here. I do think some sort of outreach would be appropriate.

Okay, I've got to admit that the idea of Susan Charles creating a bastion of Caucasioness at Ohlone is pretty funny. (Have you been to the school, by the way? I think you might revise your conception of its student body.)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2007 at 8:52 am

Are we putting the cart before the horse here? Has anyone thought that the school district is providing a choice school that is predominately attracting one segment of the community? Maybe it is the service that is being offered is at fault and we should not be surprised if the customers were from one group.

Look at it this way. If we have a grocery store that specialises in imported goods, say Asian, or European, or Kosher, who would that store attract? If we offer a branch library where all the books are in languages other than English, who would use that library? If we offer a school where the teaching methods are an alternative to the American norm of what an elementary school learning system is generally expected to be, what sort of local residents would it attract?

Should we therefore abolish the grocery stores, make them carry more American goods and less foreign imports, or leave it as it is serving those it serves? Should we make the library take in more English books and put the "foreign" books at the back on hard to reach shelves, or should we leave it the way it is and let those who want books in other languages have a comfortable place to enjoy their niche reading. Should we fill the school with an unbiased group of students who enjoy the differences the school provides, roll back some of the differences so that it will be more mainstream, or should the school be turned back into a neighborhood school, or alternatively, leave it the way it is, able to attract those who enjoy the alternative methods and not worry about what the demographics look like?

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 20, 2007 at 9:23 am

Segregation - intentional or not - has no place in a public school. There is a perception by many in the district that Hoover is an Asian school, probably made worse by the sibling preference. Its not the teaching program - Direct Instruction is not only desired by Asians, look at DI at Jordan. An outreach program is a great idea. Additionally, the choice programs don't provide much of a choice if only siblings can get in.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 20, 2007 at 11:22 am


I know you and I don't agree on choice schools. However, I don't think Hoover's educational model exclusively appeals to one group. For most of its history, Hoover has been a school with a student body that looked like the rest of the district's. I'd never put one of my kids in a DI program, but it can be a very effective method for children (of all ethnicities). Ironicslly, I think it's a particularly useful method for disadvantaged kids who aren't coming from a particularly structured environment.

Aside from the segregation issue, I think an outreach program would be appropriate because I think DI does offer advantages to kids we don't think of as gung-ho academic types. I'm not sure it's being well-used as a resource.

As for Ohlone? I think it's a little better understood--Susan Charles is an effective marketer among other things--but there's a misconception that it's the right choice for kids who can't stay still. If you go into the classrooms, however, you see kids quietly working or sitting in a circle paying attention to one another. It's a much more structured environment than people realize. I think it's probably best for kids who have a natural degree of internal motivation.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 20, 2007 at 11:26 am

Palo alto mom,

There are some obvious reasons for sibling preference--convenience, fundraising from families with a long-term stake in the school. However, you raise a good point. Maybe there should be a cap on sib pref? At least 20 to 30 percent should be open spots?

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 20, 2007 at 11:59 am

It's obvious that DI appeals disproportionately to Asians and that Ohlone appeals disproportionately to whites, but there is no issue of segregation here, Mom. Sure, outreach is a nice idea in both cases, but let's not exaggerate the issues.

The misconception about Ohlone is really one about "kids who can't sit still." Most of these kids have issues because they aren't getting appropriate instruction. Ohlone is geared to teaching to each child, so the "sitting still" and other behavioral issues tend not to arise.

PA Dad

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 20, 2007 at 12:07 pm

PA Dad,

I think there's the inappropriate instruction issue--nothing like boredom for making a kid wriggle, but I've also been sort of taken by the multiple intelligence ideas. It's one of those things I find weak in terms scientific underpinnings, but useful on a practical basis. There really are kids who are kinaesthetic learners, who need to use their bodies to learn. For them, SPORTS, the earlier the better.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2007 at 4:47 pm

As a parent of active boys, I know that when kids can't sit still, it means that they haven't had enought exercise. If these kids walked to school, or used bikes, scooters, etc. and got to school with enough time to play in the playground first then they would be able to sit still and pay attention in school. If children are driven to school, eating their breakfast in the car, not being able to brush their teeth after a sugary breakfast, wiping the sleep out of their eyes, then of course as their bodies continue the waking up process, they will wriggle. There may be some correlation between those who can't sit still and sitting in the car while being driven to a commuter school. Has anyone looked into this?

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