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Parents ask board to fix 'bifurcated' schools
Original post made
on Jan 18, 2012
In sometimes tense exchanges, parents Tuesday demanded a greater sense of urgency from the Palo Alto Board of Education on fixing what they called a "bifurcated school system -- one for the wealthy and one for the economically disadvantaged."
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posted Wednesday, January 18, 2012, 9:52 AM
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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm
Unfortunately this story did not report the full context for the discussion. The full context is that the Paly Math Department IS, Radu Toma, was interviewed by the Mercury News and reiterated his view that certain kids cannot be successful in Algebra 2, and that it would be folly to place all students on an A-G pathway to college. In response to the reporter's question about why other districts seem to be able to get this same population of minority and disadvantaged kids to pass Algebra 2, Toma stated that other districts with better results are merely "pretending" to teach Algebra 2, unlike at Paly where he "really" teaches it. According to Toma, "When our kids finish with Algebra II, we are not pretending they completed Algebra II."
Read the story here:
If that was true, then it would be reflected in the STAR (CST) scores of students who have completed Algebra 2. If Toma is correct, then Palo Alto students would be expected to be more likely to be be "proficient" or above on the STAR test that is taken at the end of Alg2. As Toma himself stated in the Merc, standards are not the same as achievement.
These data analyze achievement. And what they show is the opposite of what Toma asserts. Far from showing that other districts are merely "pretending" to teach while Paly is "really" teaching, they show the opposite. Black students in 147 other CA districts are far more likely to score proficient or above after taking Algebra 2 than those in PAUSD. In Palo Alto, our students are scoring worse than those who took "pretend" Algebra 2. That's some mighty fine pretending.
It seems like some posters are concerned because numbers of black students taking the CST for Alg 2 are small. While it is true that a change of a few students could make some difference, that does not diminish the significance of the fact that only 1/15 black students who took Alg2 in PAUSD in 2011 scored as proficient or above on the CST test, nor does it diminish the importance of the fact that 147 school districts in CA have far better results with their black students then we do in developing Alg 2 proficiency.
As to the numbers, 15 black students took the Alg2 CST in 2011. Only 1 of those students passed it. In order to be in the upper quintile (33 school districts) for black achievement on the Alg 2 CST, we would need not a small change but a rather large one. The cut-off to break into the upper quintile is 34% (we are currently at 7%). To meet the cut off of 34% we would need to have 5 additional students testing proficient or above (6/15). To be in the upper half of school districts in the state, we would need to have 20% of our black students, or 3 black students, pass this test. That would mean 2 additional students. A change of one additional student (doubling our success rate), would move us to 13%, which would still leave us at number 112, with 111 schools doing a better job.
Of course, even if we improved by 500%, we would still only be getting around a third of our black students to proficient, which would still leave us with a massive achievement gap when compared with white students, two thirds of whom are proficient or better on the same test. So even if we somehow were able to vault ourselves into the top quintile, we would still be horrible. We would just be less horrible relative to other California school districts.
Ultimately it does not make sense to quibble with the numbers by asking "how bad are we really" ? The answer will not be flattering. PAUSD does a bottom-scraping poor job teaching poor and minority students. This poor performance is not, unfortunately, limited to Algebra 2. The Algebra 1 numbers are bad, as are those for geometry, and other subjects.
The point of this exercise is twofold: first, they make it clear that we have a dual system. We have a top-flight school system for whites and asians and a terrible school system for black and poor kids. That's unacceptable. Second, the Paly Math IS is just wrong when he says that other schools where Black and poor kids pass Algebra 2 are achieving their high pass rates by faking it.
More to the point, when will the Paly math department stop pointing the finger at everyone else ("slackers", VTP kids, minority parents, other teachers all over the state and their students) and look inward at their own teaching methods and success/failure rates? Often teachers in PAUSD high schools seem to use their failure rates not as a sign of poor teaching but as a sign of rigor, which is a misreading of signals that has led to epidemic levels of student stress as well as poor minority student outcomes.
The math teachers at Paly and Gunn do not seem to take these scores as any reflection on their teaching. If 7% of my students passed the final, I would be home crying and banging my head on the table asking where I went wrong. I would probably consider a career change, or head down to the Carnegie Center on Teaching Excellence to sign up for some professional development. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
PAUSD loves to congratulate itself. I have never seen a group of people who love singing their own praises as much as this school board. Never have so few praised themselves so heartily for so little. The last year that I have spent sitting in those board meetings listening to those people throwing party after party for themselves has been just mind-blowing.
What these numbers say to me is that we have a lot of room for improvement. There are dozens of districts, such as South Pasadena, that really seem to have cracked the code on how to obtain excellent results from minority students while maintaining high standards and achievement for all students. These numbers dispell the myth that black and brown and poor kids cannot learn higher level mathematics since there are 147 districts in CA alone where they are doing a better job of it than we are, despite the fact that most of them have a lot less money than we do We have a lot to learn from these districts and as Kevin Skelly says, we need to get after that.