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Kids doing all the math ahead over the Summer

Original post made by amaninpaloalto on Jun 18, 2007

Hello all,

what do we all think about Palo Alto Kids being put through math classes (matching exactly next years cirriculum) ahead of time during the Summer Vacation.

Yes - less than one week after school ends - The real work starts in the Math batttle for A+s in the schools

The schools i believe have a don't ask don't tell policy - it helps the scores overall and Math is so important - much more than say French - which is being cancelled by Paly this year. They dropped German too.

Let me ask you all - Is it Ethical work through the entire cirriculum in Math (somewhat secretly i might add) during the summer?

Comments (32)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2007 at 8:50 pm

Not sure if this is what you are talking about, but this was one experience....

Daughter didn't do any of the extra challenge homeworks in math in 6th grade and was not put in top lane, even when we asked. She then performed very well in 7th grade and was recommended for the 7th grade bridge class. On the day of the final exam, the teacher messed up the timing and daughter didn't have time to completely finish the exam. She failed the course by 1% (got 89%) and she needed 90% to get into the better lane. Consequently, she had to repeat the course as regular 8th grade math even to the extent of having the exact same homework and assignments during the year. She was given no more challenge than the rest of the class and was consequently bored right through 8th grade. She worked well in high school, even to the extent of doing an AP class, but she felt really cheated being forced to give up four weeks of summer.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2007 at 9:07 pm

Aman - I'm not quite sure what you are describing. Are kids being forced to take math by the school? Or are they volunteering to do it? Or being told by their parents to do it?

If anybody wants to do math (or something else) over the summer, I imagine they could do worse. Maybe a little overkill just prepping for next year's math, but maybe it will free up time for other pursuits during the school year. If parents are pushing it, I suppose that's their business, just as with parents who push sports, or music, or even camping (you should hear my kids complain about that last one).

If the school is "making" them - that seems not right - but not sure how that would work...


Posted by aman, a resident of Stanford
on Jun 18, 2007 at 9:38 pm

The people who are pushing their kids ahead a grade by using this approach...won't be the ones reading these posts.
Understand - they are teaching the exact math ciriculum - one grade ahead over the summer

There is no other summer class like it

Its great for grades though !

Saratoga High Scandal was over this

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2007 at 10:31 pm

It seems a little strange, but is it a problem that the community should be concerned about? They want their kids to do well in math. It doesn't seem like cheating - they are putting in the extra time and doing the work to learn.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 18, 2007 at 10:37 pm

Hi Aman,

Someone else posted about this--I thought it was Parent, but maybe a different Parent?

But, yeah, the idea is to have the kid take a summer class that contains the coming year's math curriculum. That class then becomes an easy A because it's essentially a repeat course.

Since it distorts the playing field--the more able kid may be doing worse because he/she's doing it for the first time--I think that kind of course should be part of the school record. If everyone knows a student is taking a course twice, then the results can be judged more accurately.

I thought the Saratoga High scandal was over a kid swiping a test and passing it on to kids who had the class later.

Posted by aman, a resident of Stanford
on Jun 18, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Actually Saratoga
had something to do with taking similar ciriculum matching math classes over the summer at West Valley College i believe

Posted by natasha, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 19, 2007 at 6:32 am

Fred, I think the problem is not that they are learning math so much as that they are studying so that they will be ahead and then taking the same class. This isn't a situation where they take the course so they can advance into another class. They are just trying to get an advantage over all the other kids by skewing the playing field. Now, many might argue that any child in the class is free to do the same thing, so is it really unfair? My response is that imho the parents who encourage this are teaching their children that the grade is more important than the learning. And also, if every kid did this, what would be the point of having the class at all? It creates more of that pressure to spend every waking hour "keeping up" -- myself, I won't encourage this practice in my kids. I hope they work hard, play hard, keep a well-rounded life and continue to love learning despite the pressure for grades. I'm not saying the practice is immoral or unethical (though if there is nothing wrong with it, why do kids pretend they haven't seen the curriculum before? There is something vaguely sneaky about pretending you are coming at is fresh like the other kids when you aren't, but I don't think the fact of studying in itself is objectionable) but I think it is a little sad that the kids are under this much pressure. What are they all rushing towards?

Posted by 100th Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2007 at 7:46 am

I don't care at all what kids study over the summer. I don't care if they take the exact same class over the school year, and get an "A" as a result. They worked for it, they deserve it.

As long as the class isn't graded on a curve. If it is a curve, I get irritated. THAT is something that should be disclosed, since those kinds of darn grades become competitive for "spots" in colleges.

You don't think the teachers are smart enough to figure out who already knows this stuff and take them off the curve?

My son spent the year studying "extra" in Chem because he loves it, and wanted to take the Chem AP test. ( Trust me, no parental pressure..sheer peer and self drive. He does this sort of stuff for "fun"). He and several of his friends. They, of course, went way beyond the class level of the chem class, so the teacher took them "off the curve" so that the rest of the class could be fairly graded at the CLASS level, not against the AP level. Very impressive of the teacher.

I hope other teachers figure this sort of thing out.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2007 at 8:54 am

Thanks for sharing your experience 100th. I tend to agree with you.

If the class is not on a curve, I really can't see the harm - in fact, if anything, the non-prepped kids are better off since the teacher needn't spend much time on the well-prepped kids. There is a fair discussion to be had about how useful or wise this is (I'm not sure, I'm sure a lot depends on the details), but it doesn't seem like a big community concern.

If the class is on a curve, it may be unfair - but there's a slippery slope. If a kid has an after school tutor, is that unfair? If s/he is taking a lighter course load, is that unfair? If s/he has no extra-curriculars, is that unfair? If s/he was held back a year in kindergarten, so is a year older, is that unfair? We all accept that some kids (not all) will prep for SAT's etc. - so prepping for important tests well ahead of time is clearly not unfair on the face of it.

The point is that there are a variety of things that would help one do better in a course (above and beyond native ability), and we don't really control for it, esp if it is a result of the student actually putting in more hours (isn't that what teachers want?). The summer-preppers are putting in the hours ahead of time to learn the material - it does not seem fair to punish them for extra effort.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 19, 2007 at 10:55 am


Is it fair to punish kids who might have to work during the Summer?

If it's a legit practice, why not just make sure it's part of the school record? Aren't a lot of these courses done at the community colleges? Why not require CC transcripts be part of the overall transcript?

Posted by Aaron, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 19, 2007 at 11:26 am

The vast majority of HS kids in Palo Alto could, if they WANTED to, get into summer math classes (or at lest take tutoring) . Only a small handful make this choice. Some take music instruction over the summer, in order to be first chair in the school band or orchestra. Some take voice lessons for the same reason. Some do volunteer efforts in order to get community service points. Some take baseball and basketball lessons, dreaming of the pros or the school varsity team. However, most just hang out and get bored. By the end of the summer, their parents can hardly wait to get them out of the house! A little hang out time is good, but too much is a negative thing.

I am glad to see that some kids are making the effort to get ahead. It shows some snap. It also shows that they, or their parents, understand the intensity that will be required of them down the road, assuming that they want to be assigning orders, rather than taking them.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 19, 2007 at 12:27 pm


What makes you think it's the kids who are voluntarily doing this? It's the parents signing those checks.

Doing the same curriculum twice is not the same as enrichment by taking voice lessons. But, like I say, just make it part of the record. If I were a college admissions committee, I'd want to know how the kid did on the course the first time he or she took it, so I could compare that grade to the grades of those who took the course one time.

Posted by natasha, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 19, 2007 at 12:36 pm

Aaron, the difference between what you describe and what was raised is that a musician who improves gets to be in a more advanced position in the orchestra. The singer gets the expertise to move up to solosit status. An athlete who improves gets a chance at a more advanced position on the team -- up from JV to Varsity for example. The analogous situation to your examples would be a student who studies all summer in order to jump ahead into a more advanced class. What was described in this thread was different: students studying all summer so that they could study the identical subject and curriculum the following year while pretending to be confronting the material for the first time. The notion of secretly learning the curriculum in order to look brighter or whatever is just strange to me. I'd prefer that kids felt proud of their extra efforts, enough to say "Hey! I took initiative! I am motivated and dedicated" instead of doing it to top out the curve.

But then, I disagree with you, Aaron, about the notion that children who have childhoods will necessarily be the Gammas of society later. And the notion that children who spend their childhoods trying to get ahead will be Alphas as a result. I'd rather teach my kids to follow their intellectual passions and take the hard courses and risk a B than to try to put something over on everyone and get the easy A+ for work they are repeating.

I'm not saying the other kids have to change, because I don't think what they gain is something my kids need. I'm just saying I wouldn't want to give that message to my own children.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2007 at 12:51 pm

OP - Thank you for that perspective. I'm not sure how any kid is "punished" as a result of this practice though. As Aaron says, some kids spend time on math, some on work, some on other pursuits. They all get the benefit of that experience and miss out on the others (as reflected on their college applications and life outlook). You might put more value on "enrichment"; some families, apparently, think time spent covering school material is more valuable. Let a million flowers bloom!

I don't know how these courses are done or where (in fact, I'd never heard of this practice before this morning). If they enroll in an actual course at a community college, I suppose it could/should be handled however that is normally handled - I don't believe it is totally new or novel that high school kids take community college courses. If they are normally reported on the transcript, seems like that should be the case here; if not, or if it is at the option of the student, then that sounds ok too.

Not sure if the high school really has a dog in this fight though - if some kids want to work harder (legitimately - not cheating) to do better, not sure why the high school should object or act in some way to punish the perpetrators. School-year tutoring (something to your point more available to well-off families) falls roughly into the same category - it is extra time and money, it helps your grades, if in the end you perform better on the test, you get a better grade. Should it be "reported" - never has been, and it doesn't seem necessary to me.

I tend to think that the more selective colleges, with lots of experience with ambitious kids and families, see through some of "hot house activities." Certainly SAT tests (though heavily prepped by some) show some differentiation. I have been struck, as an alumni interviewer for my alma mater, at the high performing kids that get dinged despite strong resumes and transcripts. So I am not too concerned that the extra effort of pre-studying, extreme as it seems, actually moves the needle that much.

Sorry to ramble, must be a slow day for me!


Posted by anonymous parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 19, 2007 at 3:15 pm

Once again OhlonePar asks the right questions.

Fred is unfamiliar with the specific practice we are concerned about and needs more details, so here goes.

It's really good to have increased awareness of this practice, which I believe to provide an unfair advantage to some, and at the least it is deceptive to one's school record of grades, courses, accomplishments.

Grades in academic courses are really important now. Some people (=parents)will do anything to ensure their kids get above straight A's. Though this applies a little to other subject areas, Math is "king" here. Don't leave anything to chance, much less have the child do his or her own learning.

*Oddly, we have found PAUSD to offer a strong Math curriculum. Disagree? Why not take it to the school board. But parents don't do that; they prod and pull their kids to move at a faster pace just for competitive reasons.

What we are discussing here is a growing practice of not just prepping a kid ahead a bit in Math or having a tutor, but *complete and total hand-holding*, actually doing the complete year's curriculum in advance (usually the honor's curriculum).

We are NOT referring to supportive/remedial tutoring. We are not referring to enrichment of a general or topical nature, either. It's ironic to think that once upon a time, to say you had a tutor would have implied you needed remedial it is a status symbol and part of some students' year-round lives (though hidden from school authorities and not on record).

This is an incredible advantage. The child with this complete prepping feels very confident of getting an A and does not need to work much on a daily basis during the next school year. The child may attempt to intimidate classmates who have not already done the curriculum and shake their confidence. I have seen this first hand. The intimidation is done purposefully in some cases for competitive reasons, in other cases just casually but it results in demoralizing the "regular" students who need to pay close attention to the teacher's lecture to learn new concepts: "...Oh my tutor said this is easy..." "Oh my tutor taught me this last year..." etc. Children still converse among themselves even though parents are quiet about this practice.

For the middle school level, this practice may lead to being placed in the highly regarded district "period zero" (skipping ahead into 9th grade honor's math when you are only an 8th grader, a nice honor). Period zero contains students who are justified in being there, and that's fine, and others whose placement has been planned and arranged by their parents (by doing the curriculum in advance, being able to barely test to skip a level or enter a level). These students then have ongoing tutor support. What about others who like Math and might have liked that experience? - They just do the regular honor's course at grade level, which is fine, but are made to look bad by comparison to these peers (my point is this is NOT an accurate reflection of the students' abilties - it's not a level playing field). Well, this problem has been discussed on other threads.

There are lots of talented kids around here, and a few true geniuses (in my experience, they are the quiet ones who do not always get the publicity)...but not all Palo Alto kids have the secret advantage given to them from their parents.

Parents have to have the money to do this and they certainly make the arrangements and put strong, consistent pressure on their children. The results? Whether gifted or not, the student has DONE the curriculum that some others are learning day by day in the classroom!

We are not discussing the scenario of a kid cracking open a book for the love of it - that is fine, of course! Nobody would pay any attention to that. Instead, what we are discussing is a trend, and I believe it should be disclosed to the school.

It's not comparable to other enrichment activities because your Math grade is vitally important on your transcript when you apply to college. The most important grades are Math, English, Science, History. And competition is very stiff.

I don't think the selective colleges are discerning practices like this yet - I hope they do soon or ask for a sworn statement regarding "years of tutoring" or "years of prepping" etc. on their applications. A few teachers around here have attempted to ask their students (and parents at back to school night), and both have not responded honestly. How do I know? -Because some children speak openly about their preparation everywhere EXCEPT to the teacher/school authorities.

So what's the problem - NOTHING, if there is full, written disclosure. Some kids are literally prepped two years ahead in Math here. Sorry, that did NOT happen during the normal course of their classroom education in PAUSD (that they would magically get two years ahead).

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2007 at 3:58 pm

Thanks Anon Parent, for elaborating on what you see going on.

I'm still not sure I get the problem. I don't see how it really matters if the kid studies math for the love of it or the parental pressure - the point is that they study. They get the grade because they earn it through doing the work. If they manage to skip ahead because they did the work in advance - well, that sounds reasonable to me (not necessarily what I want my kid to do - I skipped ahead and I actually think it hurt me in some ways - but that's another story!).

It is interesting that you seem to accept the premise that school/math is a zero-sum competition - so if one kid looks good, the others look "bad" by comparison. Is that the heart of the issue here? If so, I would question the core assumption. Sure, our kids compete for places at top colleges. But, even assuming that is a prize worth winning, I am not convinced that a better 9th grade math score moves the needle measurably (assuming you get a "better" grade - I think there are plenty of A's to be had in 9th grade math).

Personally, I would just let this one go. There was a time when no-one did SAT prep; now many do, but the world doesn't crumble. Some, I am told, hire college admission consultants starting in middle school - surely a hard-charging tactic, but we don't need to get too upset about it or regulate it. If we focus on our own kids, nurture them, help them find their passions and gifts, and ensure that they do the work expected of them, I believe they will come out very well in the end, regardless of what others do.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2007 at 4:07 pm

I don't think this particular practice harms the remainder who don't. What is more of a problem in my mind is that this group of students will also do multiple (and I mean multiple meaning 15 - 20) college applications at the most popular colleges. This group then gets accepted multiple times and of course can only accept one offer. Each college will only accept a certain number of applicants from the same high school but since this same group are being accepted everywhere as they have the best scores and grades, the rest of the peer group doesn't get offered the good colleges. This is what makes the race for the best the most troublesome. There is no second round offers after the initial offers have been refused.

This means that it is those excellent students that are getting into the best colleges and the very good students are not able to get a look in.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2007 at 4:24 pm

Yes, that's an problem that has interested me too, Parent, one that's apparently grown quite a big over the years.

I would have thought the colleges work it out though - if they are getting that many more applications from the same size pool of applicants, they should be getting lower acceptance yields, and therefore need to accept more kids. If they need to accept more in the aggregate, then they should be accepting more from each of the schools. Otherwise, if they used to take, say, 5 kids from PAUSD and yield 2 (40% yield), if application volume doubles (for the same set of kids) now they might get just 1 (20% yield), so they should compensate by accepting 10 kids to yield the same 2.

Is that not what happens?


Posted by natasha, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 19, 2007 at 4:49 pm

I am not sure you are talking about the same thing as the original premise. This is not about skipping ahead, it is about taking the class twice while pretending to take it once. If there is no curve and as many people can get an A as can master the work, then no big deal. If the people repeating the curriculum do not force the class to move at an accelerated place instead of just taking a more accelerated class, then again, who cares. On the other hand, if the children are pretending to take the classes once just to seem "smart" and want to hide the fact that they take the classes twice then this is teaching them that the way they are is not good enough and they have to pretend they are more than they are.

As far as applying to a jillion colleges, well, that seems silly to me but it goes along with the drive for quantifiable achievements -- like so many notches in their belts. Plus, colleges are so random in their selection process that it could also be a fear-driven trend -- if you don't apply to 20 places you might not get in anywhere. Of course, I have a sister who got into a great college but found it was not a good fit so she studied like mad and got the grades and then transferred to Stanford, where she wanted to go in the first place. It worked out just fine for her. Getting in in the first place is not the end of the line. Transfers do happen.

I am interested in what happens to these kids who are force fed enrichment from an early age like so many Strasbourg geese. When they get to college, do they freak out when they are in a class where everyone is at the same level? Do they spend their summers cramming for the classes they are going to take? How do they compete and how do they approach competition? Do they know how to try again if they fail? Do they feel good about themselves or do they feel like they are "less than" if they are not perfect? And once they get out of school, what happens? MAybe they are all wonderfully well-adjusted and have great perspective on everything. Who knows.

A great parenting writer and lecturer, author of "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee", came to speak in this area recently and said that she thought many Silicon Valley parents are parenting without any joy -- they are approaching parenting like it is another project, approaching it with the same grim determination and intolerance for imperfection that they bring to their work. (By the way, that is a particularly great book for parents of bright, affluent children.)

So while the original question asked if it was fair to the other kids, I am curious what makes parents in this area push their kids like this. It seems so limiting to define success as acquisition of A-pluses and admission into one of a handful of colleges, especially if they can only do it by pertending to be something they aren't.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2007 at 4:55 pm


I believe I heard somewhere that Berkeley although its freshman class is getting bigger each year, this year its number of acceptances to offers was significantly lower than usual. This may be the reason, or something else of course.

Posted by Aaron, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 19, 2007 at 6:29 pm

"...It seems so limiting to define success as acquisition of A-pluses and admission into one of a handful of colleges, especially if they can only do it by pertending to be something they aren't."


That's a loaded statement, but I expect you meant it that way.

In the general work environment I don't know how to judge someone, other than by what he/she accomplishes. If they feel like they have to sweat it out every day, or if they are cool and confident, doesn't matter to me. Just get the job done. I don't pretend to know who they aren't. When they start making excuses, it is usually the start of a downhill slide - that is when I know what they are.

I've never seen a level playing field in my life. I hope I never would be very boring (and unfair). If a kid strives to get a step up, more power to him/her. That kid is going to need every ounce of effort to make it in the global economy. To pretend otherwise is, to my mind, foolish.

Posted by natasha, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 19, 2007 at 7:50 pm

Hey Aaron --

I went to a competitive high school and then to an Ivy League college. was shocked at how many kids I met in college who (a) would not take a class if there was any chance they would not get an A (so took classes they had already had in high school and got the grades, but didn't learn nearly as many interesting things as I did) and (b) studied secretly and pretended they didn't need to study in order to psych people out. Professionally, I have met people who didn't know how to take responsibility or risks. I believe this is in part due to the kind of early life situation we have been discussing, in which parents are so afraid of letting their children try and fail and try again that they insulate them with enrichment and "help" them do very fancy science projects that the kids themselves can't really explain, and where people are taught that the grade is more mportant than the learning.

I come from a different background from yours, in which I was encouraged to go for it and had parents who had every confidence that would be the case. My parents would have been appalled at the idea that I take a class twice in order to appear more intelligent than I was or to guarantee a good grade (in fact, I did take a science class in summer school and they regarded it as a good stepping stone for taking the next science course up). All I am saying is that to the extent that parents give their children the messaage that they are not good enough without pretending to do it easily, and that the external validation of a grade is more important than actually striving to learn, that is a dangerous and counterproductive message. I differentiate that from telling a kid to do his or her best -- to "strive to get a step up" means, to me, to challenge oneself the most, learn the most, etc., NOT to take a class in which you already know all the material. How depressing to imagine that that prepares you for "real life" outside school.

I am not really sure how that sort of message leads a person to "make it in the global economy." Of course, if all we are talking about is business success later in life, then probably there is great currency in being able to fake people out. Myself, I am looking at a broader measure of success than that, and I lament what I see as the short-sightedness of parents who raise children to be worried about their future from a very young age, when the economics of these children's lives do not require the kind of life-or-death struggle you describe your own upbringing as having been.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2007 at 8:04 pm

I don't mind Aaron's "it's a tough world, get used to it" approach - but I offer this spin on it. As a couple of posters have alluded to, school is actually the place to LEARN things, not just get grades. So if kids are re-taking classes, when, for the same effort, they could be learning new things, they are making a trade off - instead of maximizing what they know, they are maximizing their grades. While fancy college degrees are helpful in life (presuming this helps you get one, which I'm not sure of), actually knowing stuff and how to push the envelope probably are worth more. Like Aaron says, it's the results that matter.

A study done of the graduates of a prestigeous East Coast business school showed that the mean net worth of the bottom quartile of the class exceeded that of the top quartile. Why? The top guys/gals went into consulting, i-banking, etc., make very good incomes, but didn't break out and make it big . The bottom guys/gals took chances; sometimes fell on their face; but sometimes, surprisingly often I suppose, made it very big.

You might want your kids not to be business people at all (I'm one, but no offense taken!), but the point is that high school grades don't necessarily equate to success in professional or personal life, no matter how measured.


Posted by tired of bickering, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 19, 2007 at 8:15 pm

The one unintended consequence of too many kids knowing the subject ahead of time - a math teacher no longer needs to teach.

In three years at Jordan, aside from a great teacher who went on maternity leave, my son had little or no actually teaching. (You know, explaining the concept, checking to see if the kids got it by looking at their work, explaining things in several ways...)

If most of the kids "get it" when the teacher writes a couple things on the board and says "do the problems" what happens to the kids who don't have tutors, etc. because the teacher doesn't need to teach.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2007 at 9:56 pm

Tired, do you have the sense that MOST of the kids are prepped ahead of time? My sense is that it is a very small minority...


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 19, 2007 at 10:10 pm

Ah Fred,

Now I think you're getting it. It's not about math enhancement. I have one younger relative who was extremely able in math and ended up being about four years ahead of grade level--first he worked through an online Stanford program and then took courses at Berkeley. But it was always above-board and he certainly would never have repeated a course.

To me, it's an ethical issue because if the first course is not reported, the student is misrepresenting her or his record. Part of what a grade measures is not just whether you can get a right answer, but how long it took you to learn how to get those right answers. If you're looking at a potential math major, say, there's a substantive difference between the A+ learned on one go-round and the A+ earned after a summertime C.

My recollection of JC courses is that you have the option to report them to your school, but don't have to if you don't need/want the credit.

To pretend to take a course for a first time in order to appear to be a more adept student than one is is simply dishonest. I don't know if you've talked to anyone who's sat on a college admissions committee, but misrepresentation and cheating have become a huge problem. (So is plagiarism within the colleges).

So, my feeling is that people can take whatever courses they want how many ever times they want--as long as it's part of the record. If it's simply a sign of drive and studying hard, then transparency is no problem.


Believe me, all the colleges knew all about my young relative's extra courses.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 19, 2007 at 10:25 pm


I don't know how you'd define "prepped ahead of time", but even at supposedly laid-back Ohlone, I'd say most of us make sure there are educational materials hanging around the house. Most parents I know send their kid to at least one camp with a strongly educational component to it.

In other words, I think there are very few parents in the district who don't do some sort of prep as a matter of course. The more extreme cases, where there's literal coursework being done ahead of time is simply the more extreme end of what's pretty standard around here.

I was clued into the situation by parents with older kids. That's also where I learned that kids who were late readers, for clear developmental reasons, saw themselves as dumb from the age of six on.

We're a district full of competitive parents, of course that trickles down to the schoolground.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 20, 2007 at 1:20 am

OP, that first post came across as a bit condescending, which I would say is uncharacteric of your posts, but maybe I'm just cranky today ;-)

When you say the practice is unethical, it seem that you are in short saying that it is breaking some rule; it is cheating. Is that right? But I believe that unless somebody - the school, the colleges - writes down a rule against it, it is not cheating. Just as employing college admit consultants, or years of SAT prep, or heavy use of tutors, while all unattractive in my view, is not cheating.

You (or I or others) may feel that there SHOULD be a rule; but if in fact there is no rule, then the beef is more with the rule makers than with the kids taking the courses. The high schools don't appear to have a rule, per your recollection (which sounds right to me); I have never heard of a college requiring anything beyond the high school transcript. (Does anybody have recent experience with this? I checked my alma mater web site and there is not discussion of it.) It doesn't seem like there is a rule to break.

So we can agree the practice seems like a bad idea. Maybe there should be a rule (though enforcement seems hard - the student can just not officially enroll, or a group of kids can hire a teacher, so nothing to report). But for me, I don't see enough harm to others to justify the effort.

And, FWIW, my kids go to farm camp in the summer, without a wit of educational content to be had as far as I know. My older daughter learned to milk a cow. We do try to get them to read - my 9 year old wants to read every Nancy Drew ever published this summer if she can make it through. If they have a mystery solving course in fifth grade, she'll be well-prepped! Maybe we are at the less competitive end of the spectrum.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 20, 2007 at 3:03 pm

Hi Fred,

Sorry if I came off as condescending, I didn't mean it that way--more that you saw what the issue was.

Re: ethics. There doesn't have to be a "rule" by a college for an action to unethical. Lying is unethical, but much of the time, lying is legal. I think "cheating" is pretty specific. I think, as I said, the practice, when not disclosed, is dishonest in that it misrepresents how and when a student is actually learning. Wasn't it Kant who said lying was one of the three great wrongs. Lying is common--we all lie--but it's also deeply destructive. Pick the political scandal of your choice for that one.

Thus, I'm not interested in banning the practice, but I am for transparency. And, that, I think is more achievable. I mean, it may be that some college admit. committees will see the double-coursing as a sign of a hard worker. But it's above-board.

As for it being a small number--one of the problems with it is that it skews the learning environment. If one kid through concealed pre-coursing is getting a college spot from a kid who works just as hard and is actually more able, then there's a problem. Kid no. 2 basically gets punished for being honest.

The lesson learned? Cheat. Game the system. And don't think your own honest efforts are good enough.

I'm guessing from the age of your kids that we're both from an era where cheating and gaming the system for a privileged few spots just wasn't the issue that it is now. I didn't quite believe it when an academic friend started complaing about plagiarism. It was such a nonissue when I was in school.

But it is different now.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 20, 2007 at 4:58 pm

Just a follow-up, an acquaintance of mine whose been on college admission committees says that it is breaking the rules if you don't list *all* courses you've taken--so if you taken a math course at the community college over the summer and don't list it on your application, you are breaking college application rules.

Posted by wondering why we push so hard, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2007 at 10:18 am

"The one unintended consequence of too many kids knowing the subject ahead of time - a math teacher no longer needs to teach."

Thank you"tired of bickering" for bringing up this point. In fact, my student's teacher in an AP math class would start each class with an overhead problem. The first comment by that teacher was, "How many of you already know how to do this?". The teachers are well aware of the pre-classes and do you want to know how this affects the other students? The teacher did not spend any time on properly teaching the concepts. The students who did not spend their summer taking this exact class fall behind immediately. My student was taking the class for their own interest and was not concerned about the "A" as much as being interested in the challenge. It is a real shame that these types of student REALLY get lost in the shuffle of our high schools.

Posted by anonymous parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 23, 2007 at 8:39 pm

Is there anyone from PAUSD secondary education reading this?? If so, I hope your eyes have been opened.

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