Paly, Gunn top nationwide rankings

Schools soar in U.S. News survey, but students and admins call rank unimportant

Palo Alto and Gunn high schools were ranked among the top 100 in the nation by a U.S. News and World Report survey released today.

Out of 18,790 public high schools, Gunn netted 66th place and Paly trailed only slightly into 85th place.

The survey sought to measure a school's "college readiness" by comparing school scores to state averages and gave Gunn 64 out of 100 and Paly 60.3 out of 100.

Yet the rankings matter little, Gunn Principal Noreen Likins said.

"They will have no bearing at all on what we will do at school," she said.

"We do what we think serves our students best. That is not influenced by what some other outside agency says," she said.

Comparing schools' scores isn't useful, Gunn's student body president Max Keeler agreed.

"I don't think we need to make a big deal out of it because we don't need to focus on comparing ourselves to others schools," he said.

And focusing on rankings can create more stress for students, Paly sophomore Olivia Diamond said.

"A lot of the time test scores bring on a lot of pressure," she said.

To dampen the competitive atmosphere rankings can foment, Paly and Gunn opted not to participate in a Newsweek ranking last year that asked schools to reveal how many students took tests, Assistant Superintendent Scott Laurence said.

Yet the U.S. News survey required no active participation from schools, using data made available by states.

Only 40 states made the information available to the magazine publishing firm and others had incomplete data for the survey's chosen year of 2005-2006, according the U.S. News Web site.

College readiness was determined in a three-step process of comparing students' scores on math and reading proficiency exams to statewide averages, the site states. After looking at the school overall, judges then considered whether disadvantaged students, defined as black, Hispanic or low-income, outperformed averages in those categories.

Then the survey considered how many students took Advanced Placement exams and how many passed.

According to this scale, the number-one school in the nation is Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Va.


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Posted by Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2007 at 1:02 pm

You failed to mention that Monte Vista High in Cupertino was 59 on the list- beating both Paly and Gunn.

overstressed kids and obsessive parents - keep up the good work, my home equity thanks you.

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Posted by jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 30, 2007 at 1:41 pm

Actually I am very surprised that there is a twenty point difference out of 100 between Paly and Gunn given the same demographics.

Why is Paly so far behind ?

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Posted by Titan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2007 at 2:01 pm

Well, its obvious, isn't it?

"Green ain't mean compared to Red."

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Posted by why
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2007 at 2:18 pm

It seems to me one of the major difference comes from the average number of APs taken by each student. Why do Gunn students on average takes that many APs?

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Posted by That's Why
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 30, 2007 at 2:36 pm

"It seems to me one of the major difference comes from the average number of APs taken by each student. Why do Gunn students on average takes that many APs?"

More Asians...

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2007 at 2:50 pm

Percentage of Asian students?

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Posted by joan
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 30, 2007 at 2:59 pm

I am also interested in why Paly is so far behind-- is there some

difference in the teaching philosophy and accountability demanded of teachers and students between the two schools ?

My children are grown but if I were moving to Palo Alto with kids these results would certainly influence my real estate choices.

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Posted by why
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2007 at 3:03 pm

Asian students population looks like a factor, but Gunn probably has probably only 15%+ more Asian than Paly.

Also, Cupertino schools have MUCH MORE Asian students than Gunn. Still Gunn students are taking more APs on avarage, if the U.S. News and World Report's number is accurate.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2007 at 3:59 pm

Paly has the EPA VTA students. Gunn has Los Altos Hills.

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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 30, 2007 at 5:37 pm


That difference of 19 places between Gunn and Paly is out of a total of about 19,000 schools, not 100, so it's not very significant. They are both excellent schools as measured by this study's standards.


You're right that the perception of schools based on these kinds of rankings have an impact on real estate decisions. Often, the perception that there's a significant difference between schools based on even small differences in test scores or rankings like this becomes a self-reinforcing reality as new residents make their housing choices based on school reputation. The academic achievements of Mission San Jose H.S. in Fremont (number 46 in this study), where I taught for more than twenty years, benefited greatly from this process.

I wouldn't choose to live in Fremont rather than Palo Alto based on a 20 position difference out of 19,000 in high school rankings. But I certainly wouldn't rule out living in any of the neighborhoods that placed well in this study out of concern about secondary school quality.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2007 at 7:30 pm

It is the people, not the teachers.

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Posted by The stats
a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2007 at 8:31 pm

Gunn: Whites: 55.4% Asians: 31.4 Blacks: 2 Hispanics: 5 Others: --

Paly: Whites: 64.3% Asians: 16.5 Blacks: 5 Hispanics: 7 Others: --

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Posted by another Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 30, 2007 at 8:33 pm

Can anyone show meaningful differences between Gunn and Paly course offerings, teachers, achievement? Please inform us if so. Then the school board needs to take notice.

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Posted by The stats
a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2007 at 8:41 pm

Paly parent:

No, there is no meaningful difference. The curriculum is the same. There may be 1 or 2 more AP classes available at Gunn, that's it.

It's all a question of demographics. People summed it up above: Asian students tend to take more AP classes etc...

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 30, 2007 at 9:00 pm

You know, if you've got to have the 66th-ranked school over the 85th-ranked school out of 19,000 schools, you've got problems. (And probably should just shoot for Cupertino, which has lower housing prices.)

I thought both Gunn and Paly ranked lower before and that the gap between the two schools was larger.

And, also, if we're going to do the ethnic thing, I thought Gunn also had the reputation as the "Jewish" school, which is also an academically high-achieving group . . .

Seriously, I thought Paly tended to be a bit more restrictive in who got access to the advanced classes than does Gunn, which would mean, possibly, a greater percentage of kids at Gunn would get the chance to take more AP courses.

So, Paly--and this is totally secondhand--has a more stratified student body.

But aren't the API scores almost identical?

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Posted by PAUSD student
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2007 at 9:46 pm

I know everyone wants a very politically correct and detailed answer as to why Paly trails Gunn when it comes to APs and test scores.

But it's all very simple. The difference in the academic atmosphere at Gunn and Paly is due to the number of Asians at both schools. A good number of the Asian kids at Paly were raised in a "white" society with "white" lifestyles. On the other hand (partly because the ESL program is only at Gunn) a good number of the Asian kids at Gunn were raised in a very Asian society with Asian lifestyles.

Once you accept this, all the differences between the two schools become so clear! This is why Paly's sports teams are better than Gunn's - except the badminton team. This is why Paly's test scores are generally a bit lower than Gunn's. This is why more PAUSD National Merit semifinalists are from Gunn than from Paly year after year after year.

This also explains why Monta Vista is so much higher than Paly and Gunn in the rankings. They have more Asians and Indians than white people.

Don't believe me? Try actually talking to people with different backgrounds, race, and ethnicity. It has to do with priorities. Sometimes, scores and GPAs just matter more to certain people than others. So I'm not saying that only or all Asians are smart. All I'm saying is that they (or their parents, really) usually care more about how many APs they are taking and what their test scores are.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 1, 2007 at 1:48 am


I understand why you're saying what you're saying, but frankly I think it's a bit simplistic. I'd be really surprised if, say, kids who needed ESL were creating high verbal scores.

Different cultural values--sure, that's part of it--but the difference, frankly, isn't great enough to mean all that much. We're talking about two schools that are both in the top 1 percent of schools nationwide.

However, when Gunn ranked well ahead of Paly some years ago--around 55 v. Paly's 300, I did notice that Gunn became a big selling point. In other words, those who care about scores went for Gunn and I think we can assume, no matter what their ethnic background, they're going to focus on their kids getting high scores.

Yes, it's a trait you see in the Asian immigrant community--and easy to understand if you look at the university systems in the Far East--but it's not exclusive to them. And I wouldn't say some Asian kids grew up living a "white" lifestyle--American, I think--in other words, kids who aren't the kids of zero-generation immigrants.

The immigrant drive to succeed at all costs (broad generalization here, not saying it's true of everyone) is not unique to Asian or Indian immigrants. Historically, you see it over and over again with different immigrant groups. We see it now among East Asian and Indian kids because those are our two big immigrant groups that earn enough money to live around here (and have the education to value education).

Of the Asian kids at Berkeley, a huge majority of them have at least one immigrant parent.

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Posted by laura
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2007 at 4:35 am

Instead of quibbling over the slightly different scores of two highly superior high schools we ought to give thanks in this holiday season that we live (and can afford) to live in a fantastic school district with such dedicated teachers, parents and students. When I talk to friends all over the country I hear about mediocre school districts their kids are in, knifings of kids over a leather jacket or an IPOD, and general lack of interest in getting a good education. Here in Palo Alto we have the opposite problem! It may be a competitive atmosphere to say the least but lack of motivation is not a problem here! We have smart students who succeed and do well. I for one would never live anywhere else. We are in a special little bubble here - what's wrong with that?

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Posted by PA Indian Dad
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2007 at 12:09 pm

Dear All,

I appreciate all the candid conversation here without getting racially confrontational.

Please allow me to ask if there is any way to find where will PA Challenger School fit in the ranking quandry? Above/Below Gunn/Pali and/or Above/Below Cupertino schools.

Thank You.

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Posted by Jeff
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 1, 2007 at 12:50 pm

This is a list of bay area HS names of their top-100 --

rank school name
---- -----------
49 Mission San Jose High Alameda County, Fremont, California
59 Monta Vista High Santa Clara County, Cupertino, California
66 Henry M. Gunn High Santa Clara County, Palo Alto, California
69 Lowell High San Francisco County, San Francisco, California
72 Saratoga High Santa Clara County, Saratoga, California
73 Lynbrook High Santa Clara County, San Jose, California
85 Palo Alto High Santa Clara County, Palo Alto, California

It seems a joking...

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2007 at 1:04 pm

Sorry, Laura, you missed the point. It is not the buildings, and it is not the faculty. It is the culture of the people in attendance and their attitude toward education that makes all the difference.

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Posted by Jeff
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 1, 2007 at 1:05 pm

Plus whether the usnews report is accurate or not, as far as i heard, Asian people(chinese, japanese, korean, indian...) care academic scores seriously more than sports and social activities... perhaps this is due to their cultures which is nothing wrong; however, Paly is still my #1 favorite.

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Posted by nowhining
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2007 at 1:47 pm

Walter as usual has a point.

Let us just check three examples:

Ronald McNair academy in Jersy city, nj

Total enrollment: 584:

Minority enrollment :46% , disadvantaged student enrollment :34%



Masterman, Philadelphia
46 % white, 31 % black, 15.4 %Asian, and about 7 % Latino.

These 2 schools are public, in areas in which independent schools are the norm for middle
and upper middle income. Most students in these schools are either at poverty level or just hovering above it.

Now, the 3rd school:

northside prep, chicago

28% minority, 31% disadvantaged

So, as you see it looks as if these better ranked than-pa-schools have a much much higher number of disadvantaged students than either Gunn or Paly. So, Is it the attitude of palo alto parents or that of their children that doesn't permit either of the two PA high schools to have a better ranking? Scapegoating won't make any school better. It is nice though to be able to have some sort of measurement, (for what is worth), and be able to pronounce confidently:
there are at least 66 schools better ranked (some much much better) than the Palo Alto's. Let us see why and how we can improve. Maybe some more minority students? Some african americans? Some more latinos? As we can see in the above 3 examples they seem to be doing quite well somewhere else...Why not in Palo Alto?

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 1, 2007 at 2:09 pm

I find it hard to believe that racial percentages (of students) are the only measure determining a high school's success. Are we really talking about parental $?

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Posted by retired teach
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2007 at 2:29 pm

OY! Sometimes I can't believe my eyes... "Why is Paly so far behind ?" Really? You think Paly is behind? Ridiculous!

And... "Paly has the EPA VTA students. Gunn has Los Altos Hills." Gunn also has VTP students. The LAH argument is interesting as it appears that in some regards, Paly parents give more (and sometimes large singular) donations to the school. See the swimming pool debacle. It would seem to me that their are equally wealthy parents in north PA.

"The curriculum is the same." Not exactly, but pretty close. There are different philosophies in different departments. There are even sometimes discussions between two parallel departments about whether or not things should be more or less similar. The answer is, it depends.

"Are we really talking about parental $?" Yes and no. I've seen wealthy parents who don't give a hoot about what their child is doing and I've seen single working parents who are very involved in their child's schooling. I think (and other opinions will differ) that it is not only about parent participation, but positive parent participation. For instance, knowing when NOT to put their hands in their child's education, and how to teach their child to make informed, intelligent choices on their own.

Get over the numbers. I know some of you live your lives by numbers - I hope that's not what you want for your kids.

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Posted by Ex Gunn Student
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2007 at 2:46 pm

What is the big deal? To have both schools in Palo Alto being in the top 100 is an achievement! Both Palo Alto & Gunn High Schools deserve a round of applause! Lighten up! But keep up the competition! Go Titans! LOL.

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Posted by Can't believe it!
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2007 at 2:46 pm

Wow! I can't believe all the "concern" about the differnece between the two schools' scores. Will this top ten list take on a life of it's own, become part of future real estate listings, spawn a new task force on school performance, create new battles over high school boundaries? And will the teens now see an opportunity for yet another lame excuse to add to the list about why they are so stressed that they must get drunk on the weekend? Puleeze!

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Posted by nowhining
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2007 at 3:22 pm

I have no qualms with anybody about how they educate their children. Those who dismiss numbers altogether do so at the risk of not being able to make any sense of many aspects of life. (Next time you have surgery I'll give you the surgeon who passed his board exams with the lowest classification) As i said in my previous post " It is nice though to be able to have some sort of measurement, (for what is worth)". It is of course worth some but not all. My point with the percentages of disadvantaged youth was two fold:
a) to answer those who blame the EPA/EVA students for the worsening of scores that much better ranked schools have much higher percentages of disadvantaged students: how do they do better?
b) to make a point that (in the schools I mentioned) the school itself takes the lead in making good students out of a pool (the disadvantaged ) that has traditionally not done very well. Their rank is better because they take the lead to really improve. The parents that anonymous, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, mentioned are not even middle class, mostly as I said are poor or just above poverty level (as those in Philadelphia or jersey city)
Palo Alto looks at the numbers and the rankings and happily denies reality. Those schools are better schools. But if we put our heads in the sand and say " Can't be because are we much greater than that" we really not wanting to learn. And that's why the Palo alto schools as good as they are aren't better. The first school on the list is T jefferson in Alexandria, Va where my child (who is a high school teacher) lives. It's not just better than either Gunn or Paly. It's much much much better on every single level. Why don't we want to find out why? What are we afraid of? How can we do better just on the strength of self- congratulatory notes that ignore the facts?

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Posted by Just wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2007 at 3:23 pm

But are they having fun?

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Posted by really
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 1, 2007 at 3:49 pm

This falls under the scope of a solution looking for a problem.

19,000 schools. Both schools are in the top 1/2 of a percent, but neither are #1 or even #2. Let's get cracking. Fire the new super...he's been here over a month and hasn't done a damn thing to get our high schools out of the top 1/2 percent into the #1 and #2 positions.

Let's get rid of all the teachers because they certainly can't teach when you look at these rankings.

Oh and the students -- put them all on probation as they are certainly an unmotivated bunch.

Or...get a life. You don't always have to improve and bemoan that which is already excellent but not perfect. Geez.

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Posted by joan
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 1, 2007 at 4:56 pm

If you bet on sports or the stock market you would understand the significance of the difference in scores between Paly and Gunn.

If I were making a decision about which hospital to go to such a difference in score would inform my decision.

Of the 7 schools in the Bay Area that are in the top 100 Paly came last.

The fact is the last time both schools were rated by Newsweek 2 yrs ago in their best 1000 high schools Gunn came 55th Paly came 300th.

These results disturbed some people so the schools no longer participate in the Newsweek ratings.

Some would call that approach to the problem Denial.

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Posted by joan
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 1, 2007 at 4:57 pm

If you bet on sports or the stock market you would understand the significance of the difference in scores between Paly and Gunn.

If I were making a decision about which hospital to go to such a difference in score would inform my decision.

Of the 7 schools in the Bay Area that are in the top 100 Paly came last.

The fact is the last time both schools were rated by Newsweek 2 yrs ago in their best 1000 high schools Gunn came 55th Paly came 300th.

These results disturbed some people so the schools no longer participate in the Newsweek ratings.

Some would call that approach to the problem Denial.

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Posted by nowhining
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2007 at 5:03 pm

you just made my point. You think improvement is not something to devote serious effort.
The tale of the hare and the turtle might apply.

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Posted by EAP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2007 at 6:17 pm

Denial results as defensive self-protection, in the face of incontrovertible evidence that one's expectations are not what they thought.

What really surprises is the lack of knowledge about what actually counts re: the student's ability to learn and thrive in college. the latter has mostly to do with the attitudes and habits that one brings to the college or university environment.

What's really going to surprise our newer generations - and their parents - is how much more competition for relatively fewer jobs is going to increase.

I support public education with great gusto, but we have a long way to go in instilling a sense of urgency about learning in our culture, generally.

Harvard and Stanford are not a ticket to the top. Anyone who has been to either school, or others in their rank, knows this.

I don't understand the angst toward the goal of achieving entry to just a select number of schools. Life, learning, and education is more far complex than that. How much do we lose - and miss - in the quest for a narrowly defined goal, such as the university that we will attend?

Something is amiss with that goal, and there is a real disconnect between the pressure vs. odd of achievement of that goal (to gain entry to certain universities) and the long-term *relative* results of a certain kind of success (usually, measured only one way) achieved by only a very small percentage of those who accomplish the goal.

How many Harvard graduates end up rich and famous? Certainly, more than those who attend Emporia State, but are those odds worth the cost, and lost opportunity in other spheres? I'm beginning to wonder.

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Posted by Oh,brother
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 1, 2007 at 6:29 pm

"It is the culture of the people in attendance and their attitude toward education that makes all the difference." Walter_E_Wallis

I agree with Walter and I don't think people should discount the influence of a culture on the greater school community - peer pressure.

I remember when Mission San Jose had a great football team. Do they even have one now? The percentage of Asian/Indian population is very high now at Mission San Jose. I do not say that in a derogatory tone - it is just a fact and therefore, an influence in school culture.

I remember when I was attending high school Cubberly was the school of no money, Gunn was new money and Paly was old money. I remember one student transferring to Paly for his last two years because it would increase his chances of getting into Berkeley. I remember Gunn was known for its trucks in the parking lots and boys trying to lasso the garbage cans.

Chill out Palo Alto.....each school provides a unique environment that well prepares the kids for college. Now you just have to work on the entitlement and spoiled issue and you will have very well prepared kids for life.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 1, 2007 at 6:41 pm

If you think it makes a difference, just ask someone if they bought their home in the Gunn neighborhood and they would like that neighborhood moved into the Paly catchment area? Gunn people not only value their real estate as being worth more than Paly neighborhoods, but they bought there wanting their kids to get into Gunn and would threaten law suits or whatever if they didn't get in because of something like a boundary change.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2007 at 7:40 pm

Another way to look at this is by the funding per student:

Fremont Unified (Mission San Jose) $191.3M for 31,526 students: $6,068/student

Fremont Union High (Monta Vista/Lynbrook) $120.5M for 10,607 students: $10,721/student

Saratoga-Los Gatos (Saratoga High) $33M for 3,028 students: $10,898/student

Palo Alto Unified (Gunn/Paly) $120.5M for 10,607 students: $11,360/student (2005 budget numbers that I could find on website).

So why does Mission San Jose do so well with so much less funding?

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2007 at 8:15 pm

Here is an article from the November 2005 WSJ which describes the demographics in Silicon Valley schools. This article is 2 years old, so I would assume the data is a bit different. This discusses test scores between ethnic groups and differences in parents, and much more. I wish I never found this - *sigh*

Web Link

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Posted by Jeff
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 1, 2007 at 10:39 pm

perhaps it's true that asian students spend double/triple or even more time on learning the book knowledge than white students... it comes up with me the questions -- are they really interested in book/academic learning? or care scores too much? or some sort of forced by parents due to their cultures? potential of academic achievements, how high???

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2007 at 5:47 am

Can someone find out whether a discussion like this would generate the interest of communities with the bottom 100 schools?
Is there any doubt that Texas schools would rank high in football schools?

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Posted by Mary
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 2, 2007 at 5:50 am

If only students had to have a 'mental health score' to graduate! Perhaps colleges and universities would find that more valuable than SAT's and GPA's. Where would all of these highly rated schools rank? Getting the parents tested and ranked would also help.

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 2, 2007 at 10:57 am

Having taught at both Mission San Jose HS and Palo Alto HS, I would much rather have my sons attend Paly; it has a much more innovative and varied curriculum, giving me greater confidence that my boys would find opportunities not only to leave high school with a well-rounded academic foundation, but also with greater chances to develop as an artist, athlete, robotic engineer, journalist, or whatever else they might find interesting. Someone asked how MSJ does "better" for less money. Part of the answer is simple - they have a six period day. Students can take more classes here, and the extra classes they're taking are not necessarily AP classes, but are the kinds of classes that make Paly so fantastic. Check out our choirs and bands, our ceramics and photography courses, our robotics and engineering, multiple journalism outlets, sports medicine, biotechnology courses... None of those help our rankings in these kinds of measures, though.

It's not important to me that my children take eight or nine AP classes during high school, rather than two or three or four. If that's really the most important thing to other parents, there are plenty of Paly and Gunn students who do take that many APs and experience the accompanying stress that goes with it. For some students, that's okay, and for many, it's a mistake that they push themselves through. However, just because it's more common at Mission San Jose than at Paly or Gunn to take more AP classes hardly suggests to me that Mission is therefore a better school.

But more importantly, it's a bit sad to me that we're expending such energy trying to figure out what's wrong with our schools when we're among the best of the best, but upset that statistics don't prove we're THE BEST of the best of the best. I don't mean to suggest for a moment that I'm satisfied with where we are. I am one among many Paly staff members who dedicate considerable time and energy not only to doing the best teaching we can, but also working outside the classroom to do what we can to improve Paly. The broader community could do better to focus on the actual programs and conditions at our schools, to recognize our considerable strengths and offer suggestions to help us improve, but without the hand-wringing over rankings such as this which offer only a narrow, monochromatic snapshot of a much more complicated and colorful reality.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2007 at 1:08 pm

I'm wondering about the meaning of "comparing school scores to state averages" mentioned in the article.

Since California is known to score lower than most states on average, does this mean that the ratings have been normalized, and that our schools are placed higher than they would have been if the comparisons were absolute?

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 2, 2007 at 1:19 pm

David - Both in middle and high school (Jordan and Paly) my kids favorite subjects were often their electives. They learned a lot in those classes, skills that will probably be more useful than algebra or chemistry. I have often wondered how many kids at Terman, JLS and Gunn take advantage of electives other than music and language compared to Jordan and Paly. The value placed on individual skills vs. group efforts seems evident in the sports which each high school excels at.

BTW - I always find it amusing to read that real estate in the Gunn School district is more expensive than the Paly district. Anyone look at the price of houses in Old Palo Alto, Crescent Park, South Gate, Professerville etc. compared to anywhere in south Palo Alto?

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Posted by joan
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 2, 2007 at 3:58 pm

This Friday the WSJ had a ranking of the 100 best US high schools based on the % of students who get accepted by the best universities.

The only school that made the cut in this area was Menlo School.

Interestingly quite a few of the no fee high schools that scored very well are are Catholic.

One public high school that scored well was Princeton High.
The article states that this is because many of the school parents are Princeton faculty who encourage academic achievement.

How come we do not have similar results in Palo Alto with so many Stanford Faculty here.

Which high school has the most Stanford Faculty as parents I wonder.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 2, 2007 at 5:23 pm

I'm just curious as to how many people posting here are in the top half of one percent of, say, net worth or their profession?

This agitation about not being no. 1, is, frankly, just a bit weird.

I think, always, you have to look at how the schools are being measured. Both US News and Newsweek are big on AP tests--the more you take, the merrier. What seems to be less important is the actual pass rate. Paly's rate is actually slightly higher than Gunn's--93 percent to 90 percent, both are higher than higher ranked schools--Monte Vista's pass rate is 85 percent. No. 4 ranked Oxford Academy has an AP pass rate of only 68 percent. No. 10-ranked Preuss has an appallingly low pass rate of 31 percent.

Meanwhile, the no. 1 high school in the country has a pass rate of 97 percent, but, since it's a merit-application school, has 100 percent participation.

So, what this says to me is that: Thomas Jefferson has a much narrower mission than a high school with open enrollment--so if you compared the performance of, say, the upper quarter of Gunn and Paly, you might get a better sense of how the schools compare regarding high-achieving students.

What Oxford Academy's and Preuss' scores say to me is that these are schools where too many kids are taking too many AP classes for which they're not ready. Back in the way-old days when there were only a few AP courses and a relatively small percentage took 'em, it was the norm to pass--which, unless things have changed, only requires a 3 out of 5 score. Out of the 50 kids who took the AP English test with me decades ago, exactly 1 didn't pass. And we were a crummy high school.

So both Gunn and Paly strike me as being a bit more responsible to their students than some of their higher-ranking brethren. I know that if my kids take AP courses at lowly 85th placed Paly, actually passing the test is pretty much a given.

One of the other things that's missing is the actual enrollment of the schools--a tiny specialized charter is working off a different framework than a large open-enrollment school. I wouldn't even put schools which have merit admissions on the same list as schools that don't. I'd also split small specialty schools away from larger open-enrollment schools.

By the way, when did Paly's catchment area become less pricey than Gunn's? The Newsweek rankings a few years back certainly gave a boost to south Paly, but the average home price is still higher north of Oregon, excluding the hills. My impression is that people used to pay up more for a particular elementary, though the overcrowding situation made a dent in that.

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Posted by questioner
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 2, 2007 at 5:32 pm

Amusing to see soooo much interest in a couple of data points from, in my opinion, a fairly subjective ranking of high schools. I have some questions for the expert analysts out there:

1. Would a studious and/or smart student be successful regardless of where he/she went to high school?

2. No one mentioned Castilleja. What's the ranking of this supposedly top-notch private school where annual tuition and fees top $20K.

3. Given that several other Bay Area high schools are ranked higher, is the truly higher real estate prices in Palo Alto warranted?

4. Gunn and Paly may not be on the Wall Street Journal's top 100 list based on admissions to a subjective list of "best universities." Would Gunn and Paly be the best high schools in the nation if admissions to Stanford only were used to determine rankings? Rumor has it that Monte Vista/Lynbrook (I forgot which) did not have any student accepted to Stanford this year.

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Posted by a Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 2, 2007 at 6:28 pm

David Cohen, thanks for your comments. As a parent of a Paly student, may I please get your take on the subject of AP courses. (I don't know you but appreciate your thoughts)My student is concerned about the future college admissions process. (This student is academic but has not had advance tutoring/prepping so common of academic students at Paly, so is not skipping a year of Math, or taking AP Chem at same time as Physics A, for example.) I feel my student is doing a regular honor's academic course of study consistent with Paly recommendations.

Why is my student concerned? - The race to take AP courses is starting freshman year. I know a sophomore with 2 APs under her belt already from freshman year (one was computer science), she is enrolled in at least one AP course as a sophomore. It used to be APs were just about only for seniors! Some students/parents are really calculating at Paly and these students are taking an excessive # of AP courses, after being tutored/prepped the previous summer (NOT courses those students are necessarily interested in for their future-- I sincerely doubt they really value APUSH as well as AP Chem - most people are not that multi-faceted) strictly for a competitive advantage when applying to college. We aren't talking about earning college credit so as to have advanced status upon entering a college. We're talking just about getting into a college in the first place. My student meanwhile continues with an elective my student highly values (but is lower prestige and grade points than an AP) instead of taking an extra AP. My student's peers think this is a bad idea and pressure my student with their superior strategy.

When these students from the SAME high school go to apply to the same 10 colleges, who do you think stands out - the one who followed his/her interests and quite appropriately took 2 APs; or the one with the 6 APs all over the map subject-wise but stands out from the sheer # of AP courses taken? So I see this as a bad horse race, the race to one-up your fellow students by taking more AP courses so you look superior on your college applications. It is very unfortunate.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2007 at 7:49 pm

I wonder if anyone has looked at the demographics of comparing how well the parents of the two schools are educated. In my experience, well educated parents, regardless of their income or whether they rent or own or even own really expensive homes, are the determining factor in how well educated the kids come out. It is true that sometimes hard working low income parents produce kids who are really amazing students and it is also true that very well educated, high powered parents produce kids who are so disinterested in school that they barely scrape pass, but this is usually the exception rather than the norm. If we have a gene pool of very well educated, smart parents, they are going to produce the best students. Looking at the demographics outside of race and instead looking at what educational standards and what professions the parents have, are really much better determining factors.

And going back to my earlier comment, the amount of well educated parents from Los Altos Hills sending their kids to Gunn and the fact that more of the EPA transfer students who generally come from lesser educated families, go to Paly, may account for some of the differences.

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Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 2, 2007 at 10:06 pm

Ahhhh, these things are SOOOO stupid? How can you base "top schools" solely on test scores? It's absolutely absurd. Many of the top colleges now don't accept AP tests (mine didn't), so if one school sends 20 percent of their students to such schools (while another school sends 1 percent), that actually HURTS their ranking in this. Ridiculous. I wish US News would stop harming education and give this crap up.

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 2, 2007 at 10:17 pm

Dear Paly Parent,

Our college placement staff would really be the best people to ask, offline, for specific questions about college applications and the influence of AP courses. This student should also talk to his/her teacher advisor about these concerns.

(From here on, speaking for myself and not for the school)

You wrote "when these students apply to the same 10 schools" - and I think you identified the real problem. I think we have too many people in our community locked into thinking about too narrow a range of schools. I've known students who talk about wanting to go to Ivy League schools without being able to name more than a few, or describe the schools, their programs, their communities. They want name recognition. Even after years as an advisor, I'm still learning each year about schools I had never heard of that are apparently offering a quality undergraduate education.

I've never known an adult who looked back at high school and thought they should have studied harder because of their college placement results. (Not saying they don't exist, okay?). I've known adults who looked back with regret at high school thinking they should have studied harder because they missed out on a chance to learn something, or develop habits and skills. I believe students should work hard and pursue knowledge and learning for their own sake, develop interests, curiosity, and critical thinking skills, and then do careful research to find the best college matches for themselves, rather than the best names or the best rankings.

A student who is not intrinsically motivated to take the extra AP classes might not be a good fit with colleges that would require those extra courses and then immerse the student in a campus environment surrounded by those "super AP" students. Meanwhile, a school that's a good match could provide the environment and the spark to change a life. The Ivy League name guarantees nothing about the individual student's experience at a school; college is what the students makes of it.

There was actually a study out a few years ago that found Ivy League grads less likely to be "happy" or "satisfied" with their lives (not sure what the term was, and admittedly, it's kind of a fuzzy concept). Just last week, the Mercury News had an article about more Silicon Valley CEO's coming from public colleges. I think anyone with any breadth of experience outside of academia or a single industry must know successful individuals who come from all sorts of college backgrounds.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 3, 2007 at 12:10 am

Wasn't there some study not long ago which showed that there was no difference in longterm success between kids who went to a top ten school as opposed to one who went to one somewhere in the much-larger top tier?

I also thought there was a study that showed long-term success had much more to do with the individual student than the school--i.e. kids who were admitted to Harvard/Stanford, but went to a less prestigious school did as well as those who went to Harvard/Yale.

My personal experiences and observations jibe with that. A prestigious college can help with the connections to some first jobs and with grad school--if you've got the college grades. But after that, it matters less and less.

It would be interesting if schools where there's a lot of academic pressure simply put a cap on how many AP courses could be taken by a single student. Or if colleges only calculated a limited number for establishing GPAs. When the high school years become all about the college application, you start losing a lot--time to focus and develop personal interests without an ulterior motive; time to hold those first jobs and learn how to function in the workplace; time to, frankly, push a few limits and figure out who you are.

I think, also, just looking at some of the posts here, there's a tremendous lack of perspective--and if the adults don't have it, then their adolescents sure won't. Needing to be no. 1 by some half-baked standard (I mean, you do realize that as a newsmagazine, US News & Report has always been sort of bush league?) is pretty much a guarantee of longterm unhappiness.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2007 at 9:37 am

I am one adult who wished I had worked harder at school and got better results. I blame it on the fact that I went to a private school run by old fashioned (even at that time) perspectives that thought girls didn't need a good career, just educated enough to get a good husband, and that was the need for college. I had no career advice, no college advice and no help from the school to show me how I could be doing better. Just lousy results.

I think I am one person who would have benefited from the schools round here whereby just doing your homework on time is part of your grade. Wow. That part is easy. Now, memorising Shakespeare speaches, that was hard, pointless, and does not help me in my life today.

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Posted by nowhining
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2007 at 10:05 am

nobody is basing their opinion of schools SOLELY on rankings. Rankings are only an indication of relative standing. The high school ranks for the US news are ONLY for public schools.
Some top schools (independent) will not publish their students' stats. Namely, among the top schools in America, some Friends' schools will not even rank their students or have AP courses, so they are not included. What is a fact is that some public high schools
(Masterman in Philadelphia and McNair in Jersey City, for example ) recruit from one of the poorest pools of applicants in the country. They are better ranked than the Palo Alto schools. So, parental education seems not to make a difference upwards when the schools' instructional and social development is geared to teach all students well. That is why the schools mentioned are very good and better ranked than the PA's.

One of my children attended a quaker school for high school . With only 84 seniors they managed to have 14 National finalists and close to 45% admission to the Ivy league schools. One Ivy took a staggering 12 students from the class. You are telling me that such a school isn't any better than Gunn of Paly? Do I think that its facilities, small classes superbly friendly and tolerant atmosphere and their close to 50% scholarship students, do not deserve the 23,000 I was paying? I think it did. One of the things it did is that it payed
into the scholarship fund for poor students. I never heard from anybody at the school that its poor students were holding the stats down. The school counts among other 2 Nobel Prizes , inventors, venture capital people, NBA players, movie directors, etc.

It is the shameless excuses ( namely transfer students) that Palo Altans give when confronted with the facts that makes me think that they are just on the look out for academic scapegoats but unable to look for its system weaknesses. A good school is always looking for ways for improvement. Great schools do not look at their raw material but as a challenge . And yes, Palo Alto high housing prices are not justifiable in terms of great schools.

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Posted by qwerty
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 3, 2007 at 10:42 am

yes we should definitely look for weaknesses, but not assume that these rankings give much valuable info for identifying weaknesses. we could boost these rankings by pressuring top students to take more ap classes and slower students don't even try it. would that make the schools better? the rankings would go up though.... pretty meaningless. and to compare a tiny private school to a large comprehensive public school has pretty limited usefulness too. one can learn from the other but you can't just point here point there and voila, there's the answer to the problem.

truth is, there's no single answer to "better" school - the question is.... better for whom? in what way?


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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 3, 2007 at 11:14 am

- nowhining said, "(Masterman in Philadelphia and McNair in Jersey City, for example ) recruit from one of the poorest pools of applicants in the country. They are better ranked than the Palo Alto schools. So, parental education seems not to make a difference upwards when the schools' instructional and social development is geared to teach all students well. That is why the schools mentioned are very good and better ranked than the PA's."
The key word there is "recruit." Hats off to those schools and students - I'm sure they are doing good work and deserve some of this recognition here. But there's really a key difference when it comes to dealing with a smaller student body and in a situation where every student has chosen that school and buys into their program. So, those other schools are ranked higher, and that's all well and good. Do they offer as many electives, sports, extra-curricular programs, arts, work programs, the same level of counselling and support..... if it were a question of where to send YOUR child, can you honestly say these rankings would really determine anything? Do you think students in some of those schools might not jump at the chance to attend our schools? (I'm not saying ALL, but certainly some). And if AP classes really are THE thing for your kid, aren't there plenty of PA/Gunn kids who can find exactly what they need and thrive, excel, and reach the "best" (or at least most competetive) colleges? Seriously folks, tso much wrong int he world and we're carrying on about the tiny little things that make our great schools less than perfect??? Sure, they should be examining themselves with a critical eye and I'm pretty sure they do that, and it seems like the new supt. will be encouraging more of that. But stop the pointless comparisons on nearly meaningless statistics.S

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2007 at 11:34 am

Comparing public to private is like comparing apples to oranges.

Many small private schools will only accept academically high achieving students, regardless whether they are privately funded or scholarship. There is an entrance proficiency test and an interview, both for the student and the student's family.

For example, take Castilleja; I know of one reasonably bright PA student who failed the math part of the test to get into Castellaja from one of our good elementary schools. I also know of one family who failed to get in, not because of the student, but because the family was not willing or able to be prepared to devote the right amount of time and volunteering to the school.

Public schools, cannot and should not, be so choosy. They get what they get.

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Posted by nowhining
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2007 at 2:20 pm

well, what about comparing Masterman and Mcnair to Pa's schools (there are others of course)?

the independent school in question is not so tiny: 1000 students. Not to confuse the issue I will refrain from speaking about other aspects. My point was that if such school has produced such successful people and 49 of its students were on scholarships (when my child was there) and come from poor families why don't the PA schools with students with an such embarrassment of riches produce better results?

Are the PA schools good only because the a substantial number of its students come from educated parents? If that's the case the PA schools are not that great. Its students are.

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Posted by Not Impressed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2007 at 7:29 pm

Right. Give me filet mignon, I'll make you a great steak...

So what - PAUSD is good at delivering AP testers from a pool of kids that otherwise would be passing AP exams anywhere they went. Because we have a demographic of parents who care about their students education and make sure the kids are doing that.

Why isn't the district doing better? Because they're only good at educating easy to educate kids. They're just picking off the low hanging fruit and they aren't designed or have any intention of doing anything else.

If they were committed to closing their achievement gap you'd see new programs focused on acheivement gap issues. Instead you see new programs (and more new program) that cater to the high achievers. Like looking for ways to do foreign language in the elementary schools - they're putting time, money, energy into luxuries, instead of energy into making sure all students are getting it in English. PAUSD put closing the achievement gap on its strategic plan over 3 years ago, and made zero progress. Its called lip service.

If you didn't notice, there IS an achievement gap component in this ranking. Palo Alto will never be ranked higher until they take their own achievment gap problem (small as that may be) seriously.

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Posted by qwerty
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 3, 2007 at 9:22 pm

yeah, i totally think pausd needs to address its ach. gap and show some progress by varoiuos standards instead of having a built in explanation for various shortcomings. but i do think that overall we have great schools, and where we need improvement, i just don't think these rankings are the evidence of any shortcomings. so if it seemed like i was saying everything here is a bowl of cherries, not what i meant. look -what if a bunch of overstressed kids with five AP classes to drop to four, or from four to three, and if every spot in those classes was filed with a student finally pushed into more challenging curriculum by taking their first AP class?? no change in the rankings, probably, but could be a huge improvement in the school. that's why these rankings are so pointless ---- why don't pepole see that?? -- there's soooo many factors that could change school quality in the eyes of any actual thinking person, without changing the rankings, and soooo many factors could drive the rankings one way and the school quality the other way. if you think of your own children strictly by their numbers, i feel sorry for you, and if you don't, i wonder why some of you woul reject that line of thinking about your kids but apply to everyone else's, cause that's what you're doing if you take a little statistic or ranking and think you have the whole story.....


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 3, 2007 at 10:06 pm


I'll compare Masterman and McNair to Gunn and Paly. Masterman has a 74 percent AP pass rate for its students; McNair, 51 percent. Again, Gunn's AP pass rate is 90 percent and Paly's 93 percent.

It's pretty clear that actually passing the AP tests wasn't a big factor in how the schools were ranked, which I find just strange. I mean, if your students don't pass half their AP tests, you're not delivering. Period.

There seems to be a fairly big debate as to how to control the quality of AP classes and what they mean. My sense of it is that as more and more AP subjects are introduced and kids load up on more and more of them, they've been essentially dumbed down. If a school has a 50 percent AP pass rate then that school isn't really teaching college-level work. It's more likely to be slapping the AP label on what's essentially an honors high school course.

So the high AP pass rate at Paly and Gunn says to me that a)the school's actually do teach an AP curriculum and b)they don't push kids into AP courses to make their stats look good.

Are the kids here smart with high-geared parents? Sure, of course. But not exclusively--neither school has merit-based admissions criteria.

Could the schools be better--sure. But I don't think a newsmagazine's guidelines for rankings are good grounds for educational policy.

I mean, top 1 percent--doncha think your kids can get the stuff they need to do college-level work? I mean, isn't that sort of the point?

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2007 at 2:28 am

Schools are more effective when students want to be there.

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Posted by nowhining
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2007 at 9:36 am

many schools (some of the very top independent schools) do not teach AP courses because they doubt their validity ( among which the very prominent quaker school is my youngest child attended). So the kid is free to take them but they don't teach them. Quite rightly too because top universities are not giving credence to them ( among which the Ivy league school my youngest attend- her 5 AP statistics gave said child exactly zero credit). On the other hand to get even a 3 in AP courses is much harder when you are a child of very poor uneducated parents.... In order to compare schools you really need to know them. Admissions officers do. And their choice in the higher education I know is very clear. They want students that have shown fortitude, hard work and good qualifications. They really don't care which car you drive to school ....
Actually, if the student commuted a couple of hours a day just to get a good education instead of jumping into their BMW (courtesy of a show off lenient parent) that gets you points....
But as Walter very well says the students have to want to be there....and the atmosphere should be one conducive to learning.
btw, I looked for a PAUSD list of the higher education students and couldn't find any. It would be interesting to find out which schools admitted them in the last few years. Do you know were one would be found? PA high schools could be at the top of the list with a little effort. Instead basking in some glory seems to be too satisfying for serious action.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2007 at 11:30 am


Why do Gunn and Paly need to be higher? Seriously? The kids do get into Stanford and the Ivies.

I think the schools could improve--but I'm not sure my idea of improvement would actually make them climb in US News' rankings. I don't see the point of pushing kids to take AP exams whether or not they can pass. I don't see why a high school is better when kids take 6 AP exams instead of 3.

I don't think either school coasts on its laurels--not with Palo Alto parents around.

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Posted by phhhhhhhh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2007 at 6:29 pm

I cannot believe people who won't be satisfied until Palo Alto's high schools rank number 1 and 2 in the country on such lists as the one discussed here.

What do they think Palo Alto is? The number one town in the country? Based on what? The fact that their precious selves live here?

How much more arrogant can one get?

All that when it is a well established fact that the schools someone attended ultimately make little difference as to their future success in life, the only critical thing being getting a college education and graduating.

So sure, let's improve Paly and Gunn, but I beg you to stop whining about our rankings in this list (or others). Let's stop taking ourselves for the center of the world. That will do this town and its kids a lot of good.

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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2007 at 7:59 pm

Oh, brother said: “I remember when Mission San Jose had a great football team. Do they even have one now?”

They do have a team but it has fallen on hard times, as you might expect. A few years ago, MSJ didn’t field a varsity team and concentrated on building up the JV and freshman program that year in order to be more competitive going forward. No luck there. I think they went winless this year.

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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2007 at 9:04 pm

Common Sense:

You contrasted the per pupil expenditure ($6,068) at Mission San Jose H.S. in the k-12 unified district of the city of Fremont (easy to confuse locally with the Fremont Union High School that Monta Vista and Lynbrook are part of) with Palo Alto's $11,360 and asked why MSJ does so well with so much less funding.

David Cohen's comment above suggests some of what the additional funding gets for students in Palo Alto Unified--more support services, far more electives, better facilities and the like. These beneficial inputs may not register in the indicators that the ranking services look at, but they do register in kids' experience of being schooled and are part of what I value about PAUSD.

But another point to note is that in addition to the six period day at MSJ many of the students are either being tutored or attending after school or weekend classes of various sorts, paid for by their families. It would be interesting to know how much families spend to supplement the basic education provided by the school in each school setting.

High schools in Fremont (5 comprehensive and one continuation) are like children in a large family with limited means. The district can't be seen to favor one over the others in funding, facilities or overall support without generating great resentment. This is trickier in a large district like Fremont than Palo Alto, where the two high schools are similar in so many ways.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2007 at 9:24 pm


You made me laugh. And you even admit to living in PA--usually a nonresident comes in and makes fun of the, er, sizeable Palo Altan ego.


You point to something that I hadn't thought about--it says something that both of PA's high schools are up on the list. I wonder if any of the other districts listed pulled that off--all of their high schools in the top 100.

We can go about puffing up our chests some more now.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2007 at 10:51 pm

I would feel a lot happier about this if US students were coming out better in the lists of international ratings of high school students in math and science. At the moment we are doing dismally and whether other countries are doing better, or we are doing worse, we are steadily falling down the ratings and this is just not good enough.

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Posted by paly student
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2007 at 11:24 pm


there is an entire book that the district puts out every year detailing which schools kids applied to, who got in, who was deferred, and who was rejected. it also lists the students' gpa's and sat scores. (the students, of course, are not named.)

i don't think it's available online, though, so you'd have to go to the schools.

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Posted by Oh Brother
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 5, 2007 at 9:22 am

Why you find schools higher on the list with a lower pass rate is because they encourage more students to take AP courses that necessarily are not at the top 5% of the class. For example, my son took World History AP knowing it is one of the most difficult tests to pass. He loves history and even though he did not get a 3 or above, he did benefit from the rigor of the course work.

Many schools in the list have the ability to open AP classes to more students because they are not overcrowded as I would say many schools are in the Bay area. Therefore, leaving AP classes to the discretion of the administration as to who gets in and who does not.

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Posted by View from both schools
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2007 at 3:52 pm

I have had kids at both Gunn and Paly and my sense is:

Kids take more AP classes at Gunn because they are easier;

Parents move to South Palo Alto because they care about test scores. Parents who can afford to move to North Palo Alto are more confident in their accomplishments and don't need test scores to assess their student's success;

You can't judge ability by ethnic stereotypes. How many more Asian students have outside tutoring...look at Kumon, etc. You just can't generalize;

Parents in South Palo Alto are always trying to compare schools and think Gunn is better. I don't hear parents in North Palo Alto mention Gunn, care about Gunn's test scores, think they are a better school, complain about what perks they may get that Paly doesn't have.

Both schools have their strengths and weaknesses but test scores are not a problem at either school. Other people probably wish they had this kind of problem.

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Posted by omg
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 5, 2007 at 4:34 pm

It is simply down to Gunn having smaller class sizes. Sheesh! As good a reason as any given on this list and less xenophobic than some.

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Posted by Don't Worry. Be Happy
a resident of Nixon School
on Dec 5, 2007 at 6:29 pm

Woe is Palo Alto -- looking to improve its two schools who are in the the top 1/2% out of 19,000, but alas don't rank #1 and #2. Some people will always worry and never be happy. Listen to the song. Then listen to it again. Then post some more comments about our woefully inept high schools. Unbelievable!

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 6, 2007 at 12:07 pm

Below are some clippings from a blog by Emmet Rosenfeld, a teacher at Thomas Jefferson HS - the #1 school in the current rankings.

I last wrote about this over a year ago ... when Newsweek’s list came out and we weren’t on it. TJ and other selective public high schools were not ranked but instead relegated to a sidebar for being, well, selective.
Our principal announced the news to staff in an email that took a measured tone. While he acknowledged the significance of the recognition he also noted that we were ranked not for “the uniqueness of our curriculum and the rigor and creativity of our student projects … nor as a result of our commitment to innovation [or] interdisciplinary connections,” and went on to add, “In my ideal world, [rankings] should reflect the degree to which [schools] prepare students to develop original ideas and influence progress in society.”

More voices saying that these types of rankings don't tell the whole story - maybe even offer a distorted story. And quite refreshing to see that the folks at TJ aren't trumpeting this ranking as such a big deal; they're proud of it, and should be, but this wasn't huge. On their home page, this news receives no more play than kids winning contests or going on interesting trips. Again, I'm not suggesting Paly and Gunn should coast - we need to assess ourselves rigorously and look to improve, but not concern ourselves much with this type of comparison.

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Posted by Numbers, Schmumbers
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 6, 2007 at 2:01 pm

And ask ourselves the same question their principal did:

Do Paly and Gunn prepare students to develop original ideas and influence progress in society?

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2007 at 4:01 pm

I still say it is more relevant that US high schoolers are falling behind their worldwide counterparts in math and science and any domestic ratings are not worth the paper printed on.

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Posted by elise
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 6, 2007 at 4:55 pm

this ranking is only based on the number of ap's kids take. gunn takes more so they're higher on the list. but anyone who is familiar with the extracurriculars at paly and gunn know that paly students are generally more well rounded which is why paly's sports teams, art and music departments are as a whole better off and with more talent than those at gunn.

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Posted by enough
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2007 at 9:49 pm


Hopefully you'll eventually learn that both schools have great merits. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Dec 7, 2007 at 2:39 pm

Before fretting over coming in at ONLY 85th or 65th, wouldn't it be helpful to know the actual scores?

Does anyone know what the algorithm is for determining ranks, or what the raw scores are? If, for example, the spread in scores from 1st to 100th is miniscule, then it's rather silly to be worrying about a cross-town ranking difference of 20, or even that we're not in the number 1 spot. However, if there's a significant difference between 1 and 65 or between 65 and 85, then maybe it's worth looking at. My hunch is that it's not.

Who knows, maybe the difference in scores comes down to an extra dozen students taking AP classes at Gunn. If we had this sort of raw data, we'd know whether some of the earlier questions on this thread such as "Why do Gunn students take that many APs" and "Why is Paly so far behind" are valid questions.

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Posted by Gunn's Fastest
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 8, 2007 at 3:23 pm

Hmmm. The answer lies in the parking lots.

Palo Alto: European sportscarville.

Gunn: Hondaville.

We're slightly more motivated on the southside because our parents won't give us sportscars, we've got to buy our own.

Seriously though. Let it go. 20 places? Just celebrate the fact that paly sports trump gunn. and gunn celebrate the fact that we don't do as many drugs, or get as drunk as paly. yay. all better now.

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Posted by joan
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 8, 2007 at 4:28 pm

Paly is more a poets and athletes high school, Gunn is more a maths and science school.

Rankings tend to ignore poetry and athletics unfortunately

In the Newsweek ranking 2 years ago the differences were quite pronounced. Gunn # 55 Paly # 300

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2007 at 4:55 pm


The Newsweek rankings are almost solely determined by number of students and number of AP courses they take.

What I find bizarre about the US news rankings is that they don't seem to factor in how many students actually *pass* the AP tests they take. I mean if you're going to do these kinds of simplistic quantitative rankings, how about factoring in a few results?

I'd also, if I were going to do this kind of reductivist stuff, give different weights to the scores--if 30 percent of a class at School A gets a 5 on their AP chemistry exam and School B has no 5s, doesn't that say something about the caliber of the instruction? Even if a higher percentage of School B's students take the AP chemistry exam than School A?

Gunn's Fastest, so you think there's a big split between the Haves and the Have Mores?

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2007 at 7:26 pm

These rankings are almost entirely irrelevant to long-term adaptation in a world that will be orders of magnitude more complex in 50 years. We are aiming at the wrong things, with much of our curriculum being driven by those who have a skewed vision of what looms in the future.

Look at China's ranking system; it's an extreme example of what we're beginning to do, here.

Does anyone think that those who succeed at the top in China, or China as a whole, will profit from the narrow-minded ideas about curriculum there - ideas that have prevailed for centuries? If you don't think so, read a bit of long-term ethnography, and discover for yourself what narrow-mindedness in academic preparation has wrought, Read Needham's "Science and Civilization in China", or Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel, or Landes' "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations", or any of a host of other tomes that describe the structural flaws about groupthink in education and culture.

We are frittering away young intellectual energy in subservience to an educational system that is not very adaptive, in spite of the hard-=working people who dedicate their lives to it.

Make sure your kids learn to "learn" (as opposed to simply "believing"), wonder, and discover. In addition to that, insist that they learn the social skills necessary (including culturally relevant skills) to succeed ( which is far from what most kids today are learning).

The tsunami of eager internationals is just beginning to rise; we have little villages in India where street kids are starting their own banks, and they're about to become empowered via distributed knowledge systems, and technology. What are your kids doing? I hope they're learning as many foreign languages as possible; learning the fundamental basics math, logic, and science; being exposed (heavily) to the arts; enjoying a diet mostly free of junk; spending lots of time with responsible adult mentors; and having time to simply play.

Newsweek is a business, selling fear, myth, and trendy solutions - all in order to find more eyeballs to sell to advertisers.

Relax; you know what's right for your kid(s).

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Posted by phhhhhhhh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2007 at 7:35 pm

Gunn and Paly have much more in common than things that separate them. You can take just about the same academic classes at Paly as at Gunn (including, I believe, all but one of the AP classes offered at Gunn).

So, saying that Paly is more about poetry and athletics and Gunn more about academics is a gross overstatement of differences.

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Posted by TitanViking
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2007 at 8:35 pm

Bottom line is Gunn still rates higher but Paly is catching up. I wonder how the profiles of their NMS semifinalists compare.

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Posted by TimmyTheTitan
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 8, 2007 at 8:59 pm

It irritates me that in the alphabet G comes before P. In the rankings Gunn comes before Paly, yet the title of the article is "Paly, Gunn...." the article starts "Palo Alto and Gunn..."

editors, I understand if you're going to present the sports coverage "paly, gunn" because paly performs better. But seriously, let us be first when we win for a change. pretty please?

OhlonePar, I think Gunn's Fastest is saying there's a difference between Hunger and "Not quite full"

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2007 at 11:41 pm


Don't think anyone's truly hungry at either.

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Posted by hi
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2007 at 2:34 pm

everyone should just go to camp everytown

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Posted by Science is important
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 24, 2007 at 11:41 pm

If you look at the all the innovations in the Valley, they have to do with Math and Science: Yahoo, Google, eBay, YouTube. How many liberal arts majors fathered a new baby venture in the recent history of the innovation?

My point is that Math is the foundation of everything. Gunn seems to have an edge on Math and Science.

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Posted by Many things are important
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 25, 2007 at 9:15 am

My point is that Math is the foundation of everything." Nonsense.

Only a few people need math or science for their work. Many more need a wide range of skills, including those acquired in, yes, the liberal arts. Innovation in the valley would never have happened without a variety of skills. No need to make math a fetish.

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Posted by math is important
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2007 at 11:22 am

>> My point is that Math is the foundation of everything.

> My point is that Math is the foundation of everything." Nonsense.

Math is far more important to people that the "Nonsense" comment would have you believe.

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Posted by Nowhining
a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2007 at 11:29 am

Ranking: #26
Dr. Ronald McNair Academy High School

Schoolwide Reading Proficiency 100.0%
Schoolwide Math Proficiency 100.0%

Enrollment 584
Economically Disadvantaged 34.1%
Breakdown by Ethnicity
White 25.2%
Black 23.6%
Hispanic 22.4%
Asian/Pacific Islander 28.6%
American Indian/Alaska Native 0.2%

This and other schools with a much higher ranking than either Paly or Gunn high and a disproportionate percentage of disadvantaged students in a town of low incomes tell us more about the PAUSD than we would wish to learn....
Of course, we would need to know distributions and other statistically relevant measurements to make a better assessment of the meaning of the rankings but the fact is
that both PA high schools should have done much better given parental education and income+self congratulatory attitude.

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Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 27, 2007 at 11:54 am

If PA high schools could choose which 500 students they wanted to educate, our scores would be different.

McNair is a small school which admits students based on their PSAT scores, ethnicity, teacher recommendations and grades. A bit different than the PA High schools...

"General admittance is based on a consensus of PSAT scores, academic performance from the 6th through 8th grades, extracurricular activities, and teacher recommendations. With the primary goal of diversity through affirmative action, the school's enrollment is based on a quota of 25% White, 25% Black, 25% Hispanic, and 25% Other (mostly Asian)."

And there is much more to life and school than math - how often have you used algebra or calculus in your adult life?

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2007 at 12:06 pm

" How many liberal arts majors fathered a new baby venture in the recent history of the innovation?"

Ignorance born of accidental success is now well established in our culture. Perhaps a read of this last year's commencement address at Stanford will help regain some sanity

"IN THE FRAY: The Impoverishment of American Culture
Remarks delivered by Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the
Arts in his Stanford Commencement Address on July 17, 2007

There is an experiment I'd love to conduct. I'd like to survey a
cross-section of Americans and ask them how many active NBA players,
Major League Baseball players, and "American Idol" finalists they can
name. Then I'd ask them how many living American poets, playwrights,
painters, sculptors, architects, classical musicians, conductors and
composers they can name. I'd even like to ask how many living American
scientists or social thinkers they can name.

Fifty years ago, I suspect that along with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays
and Sandy Koufax, most Americans could have named, at the very least,
Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, Georgia
O'Keeffe, Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price and Frank Lloyd Wright. Not
to mention scientists and thinkers like Linus Pauling, Jonas Salk,
Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead and especially Dr. Alfred Kinsey.

I don't think that Americans were smarter then, but American culture
was. Even the mass media placed a greater emphasis on presenting a
broad range of human achievement. I grew up mostly among immigrants,
many of whom never learned to speak English. But at night watching TV
variety programs like the Ed Sullivan Show, I saw -- along with
comedians, popular singers and movie stars -- classical musicians like
Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, opera singers like Robert Merrill
and Anna Moffo, and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong
captivate an audience of millions with their art.

The same was true of literature. I first encountered Robert Frost, John
Steinbeck, Lillian Hellman and James Baldwin on general-interest TV
shows. All of these people were famous to the average American --
because the culture considered them important. Today no working-class
kid would encounter that range of arts and ideas in the popular
culture. Almost everything in our national culture, even the news, has
been reduced to entertainment, or altogether eliminated.

The loss of recognition for artists, thinkers and scientists has
impoverished our culture in innumerable ways, but let me mention one.
When virtually all of a culture's celebrated figures are in sports or
entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young. There
are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that
are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child's
imagination, and we've relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.

I have a reccurring nightmare. I am in Rome visiting the Sistine
Chapel. I look up at Michelangelo's incomparable fresco of the
"Creation of Man." I see God stretching out his arm to touch the
reclining Adam's finger. And then I notice in the other hand Adam is
holding a Diet Pepsi.

When was the last time you have seen a featured guest on David
Letterman or Jay Leno who isn't trying to sell you something? A new
movie, a new TV show, a new book or a new vote? Don't get me wrong. I
have a Stanford MBA and spent 15 years in the food industry. I adore my
big-screen TV. The productivity and efficiency of the free market is
beyond dispute. It has created a society of unprecedented prosperity.

But we must remember that the marketplace does only one thing -- it
puts a price on everything. The role of culture, however, must go
beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on
their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond
price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture
should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass
accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us.

There is only one social force in America potentially large and strong
enough to counterbalance this commercialization of cultural values, our
educational system. Traditionally, education has been one thing that
our nation has agreed cannot be left entirely to the marketplace -- but
made mandatory and freely available to everyone.

At 56, I am just old enough to remember a time when every public high
school in this country had a music program with choir and band, usually
a jazz band, too, sometimes even an orchestra. And every high school
offered a drama program, sometimes with dance instruction. And there
were writing opportunities in the school paper and literary magazine,
as well as studio art training.

I am sorry to say that these programs are no longer widely available.
This once visionary and democratic system has been almost entirely
dismantled by well-meaning but myopic school boards, county
commissioners and state officials, with the federal government largely
indifferent to the issue. Art became an expendable luxury, and 50
million students have paid the price. Today a child's access to arts
education is largely a function of his or her parents' income.

In a time of social progress and economic prosperity, why have we
experienced this colossal cultural decline? There are several reasons,
but I must risk offending many friends and colleagues by saying that
surely artists and intellectuals are partly to blame. Most American
artists, intellectuals and academics have lost their ability to
converse with the rest of society. We have become wonderfully expert in
talking to one another, but we have become almost invisible and
inaudible in the general culture.

This mutual estrangement has had enormous cultural, social and
political consequences. America needs its artists and intellectuals,
and they need to re-establish their rightful place in the general
culture. If we could reopen the conversation between our best minds and
the broader public, the results would not only transform society but
also artistic and intellectual life.

There is no better place to start this rapprochement than in arts
education. How do we explain to the larger society the benefits of this
civic investment when they have been convinced that the purpose of arts
education is to produce more artists, which is hardly a compelling
argument to the average taxpayer?

We need to create a new national consensus. The purpose of arts
education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct.
The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings
capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.

This is not happening now in American schools. What are we to make of a
public education system whose highest goal seems to be producing
minimally competent entry-level workers? The situation is a cultural
and educational disaster, but it also has huge and alarming economic
consequences. If the U.S. is to compete effectively with the rest of
the world in the new global marketplace, it is not going to succeed
through cheap labor or cheap raw materials, nor even the free flow of
capital or a streamlined industrial base. To compete successfully, this
country needs creativity, ingenuity and innovation.

It is hard to see those qualities thriving in a nation whose
educational system ranks at the bottom of the developed world and has
mostly eliminated the arts from the curriculum. Marcus Aurelius
believed that the course of wisdom consisted of learning to trade easy
pleasures for more complex and challenging ones. I worry about a
culture that trades off the challenging pleasures of art for the easy
comforts of entertainment. And that is exactly what is happening -- not
just in the media, but in our schools and civic life.

Entertainment promises us a predictable pleasure -- humor, thrills,
emotional titillation or even the odd delight of being vicariously
terrified. It exploits and manipulates who we are rather than
challenging us with a vision of who we might become. A child who spends
a month mastering Halo or NBA Live on Xbox has not been awakened and
transformed the way that child would be spending the time rehearsing a
play or learning to draw.

If you don't believe me, you should read the studies that are now
coming out about American civic participation. Our country is dividing
into two distinct behavioral groups. One group spends most of its free
time sitting at home as passive consumers of electronic entertainment.
Even family communication is breaking down as members increasingly
spend their time alone, staring at their individual screens.

The other group also uses and enjoys the new technology, but these
individuals balance it with a broader range of activities. They go out
-- to exercise, play sports, volunteer and do charity work at about three times the level of the first group. By every measure they are
vastly more active and socially engaged than the first group.

What is the defining difference between passive and active citizens?
Curiously, it isn't income, geography or even education. It depends on
whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts.
These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of
individual awareness and social responsibility.

Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world
-- equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Artaddresses us in the fullness of our being -- simultaneously speaking to
our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory and physical
senses. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as
stories or songs or images.

Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions. And it
remembers. As Robert Frost once said about poetry, "It is a way of
remembering that which it would impoverish us to forget." Art awakens,
enlarges, refines and restores our humanity."

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 27, 2007 at 12:15 pm

Science is Important,

You're working from a very Silicon-Valley-centric viewpoint. Not all new ventures are technology-based. MBAs, come of whom of liberal-arts backgrounds have founded companies. Fashion designers have founded huge companies and have art backgrounds. The world of publishing, online and off, is heavily liberal-arts in background. Written communication at this time matters--and that's where you'll find a concentration of the liberal arts.

Which isn't to say I'd ever discourage one of my kids from going into the math/sciences, but there are other subjects and they do matter. (If nothing else, nerds are notoriously poor at selling their own stuff.)

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2007 at 12:28 pm

"If nothing else, nerds are notoriously poor at selling their own stuff"

Exactly. How many engineers remain at the helm after a series "A" financing?

Just for fun, we should be looking at all the fancy financial algorithms generated by number devils for various banking and lender schemes. Once they've done their harm (look at the subprime mess,as well as past financial system collapses in Russia, Japan, etc. etc. etc.), _billions_ of people suffer from the fallout, while the schemers reeceive no consequence other than massive profit.

We need a serious re-infusion of the humanities in our culture, beginning with some prerequisites that the Socratics insisted were necessary to achieve a good life.

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Posted by Nowhining
a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2007 at 5:03 pm

true, McNair chooses their students FROM THE POOL THEY HAVE, which is low income, low education . PA students are already self chosen given their attributes. Do not forget 34% of McNair's population is disadvantaged. I could very well show other better ranked schools with equally high percentages of disadvantaged students: there are many. But the point is that cultural blocks( many asians) will not explain PA's test scores, not the least because many asians ( I don't like the term but I'm using it because the posts do) do not actually have have high scores. For all it is worth, the PA rankings conclusion is that due the high percentage of whites, those determine the average grades- and they are just not as good as others with a more diverse socioeconomic background.
If many on this post had a modicum of knowledge of elementary statistics (elementary mathematical skills) you would know that the 12% minority students at Paly and the about 7% minority at Gunn couldn't possibly have the effect of pushing those schools to their rankings . It is their 88% and 91% white who do.

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Posted by Nowhining
a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2007 at 5:12 pm

OOPs.I was looking at some other stats... so my last sentence should have read: It is their 88% and 93% white respectively who do.

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Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 28, 2007 at 9:10 pm

Thanks to RWE for posting the thoughtful speech - I agree with the sentiments!!

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Posted by Wendy
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 30, 2007 at 1:48 am

There is a very important factor a lot of us missed when reading the scores and ranking: STUDENT PICKING. The magazine actually explains in the first article why the #1 school on the list is so successful " picking top students and feeding their passions...". Gunn and Paly should be a lot higher in ranking if these top 100 are all by 'open enrollment'. For the 2 schools who take in anybody in the the community, we are doing extremely well.

Also, anybody notice that not too far from us " Pacific Collegiate Charter' in Santa Cruz is ranked #2 of the 100. "Oxford Academy' in Cypress, CA rank #4(with open enrollment).

This is a public school list, not for private school as some may be interested.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 30, 2007 at 2:16 pm


Where do you get the stats that Gunn and Paly are 88 and 91 percent white? Or 93 percent white? You're misreading the term "minority" here--I'm pretty sure it's a reference to disadvantaged minorities--i.e. Hispanic and African-American.

Gunn is 53 percent white, 34 percent Asian. Paly is 62 percent white, 21 percent Asian. And, yes, the Asian scores tend to be slightly higher than the white scores, but Palo Alto's scores were also high when it was a less mixed population--so I think it's more about socio-economic status and educational levels of the parents.

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Posted by Los Altos Parent
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 30, 2007 at 7:51 pm

The discussion here has been very interesting. I posted a related question which I think belongs in a different thread: Is there a significant difference between PA schools and other affluent/high-achieving districts such as Los Altos or Menlo/Atherton?

Web Link

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Posted by used to live in pa... glad i don't now
a resident of another community
on Jan 1, 2008 at 7:21 pm

.. wow, can't believe all this discussion over a few points! Who cares! We used to live in palo alto, we moved and get this... not only did our children have a life out of school and studying..but they got into great colleges with some palo alto kids.. imagine that.. and we weren't even listed in the " top schools"

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Posted by Joan
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 2, 2008 at 3:58 pm


The humanities have been infected by a geriatric 60s philosophy which is plagued by an anti American anti-male, deconstructionist philosophy in which there is no truth only narratives.

It is this nonsense that led to the Stanford anthropology department splitting into 2 departments, a scientific one and a narrative one.

The decline of the humanities means that fewer men take these worthless courses and instead take science, engineering and business.

Many parents are questioning why they should pay to have their offspring indoctrinated by this narrative nonsense and are wisely advising their kids to steer clear.

The humanities is not what it was 30yrs ago, about which the Stanford speaker was talking .

Unfortunately because of their tenure it will be a while before the current batch of humanities faculty are discarded, until then parents should guide their kids to science, engineering and business

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 2, 2008 at 5:10 pm


30 years ago, the humanities departments were still post-60s. During that time and through now, there have been a wide variety of approaches in the humanities--not all schools fall into your generic right-wing summary.

Just a quick look at Stanford doesn't show a scientific one and a "narrative" one. It shows, which is what I would expect--a science one--i.e. physical anthropology, meaning things like paleoanthropology and evolution (You spend a lot of time distinguishing teeth and jaw bits in physical anthropology) and cultural/social--i.e. your fieldwork isn't about measuring teeth it's about watching groups of people in action, how they relate, how their kinship systems work and how they view the world.

Different sets of skills, different areas of interests. And, yes, cultural/social anthropology does face certain challenges--there really is an issue with interpretive bias--you bring with you your ideas of how things should be and what you see and how you see is affected by that.

Your conservative filter, for example, means that you immediately interpreted the division in the anthropology department as a solely political one. While this may well have been a factor, there are other reasons to make that sort of division (which seems to be dissolving, anyway) based on the lack of overlap in the actual fields of study.

By the way, anthro. is considered a social science or, in some cases, a type of biology--it's not one of the classic liberal arts--i.e. literature, history. The people I know who encourage their kids to major in engineering, bus., etc. do so because they think their kids will get a job afterwards. The arguments within faculties tend to not matter a whole lot to non-academics.

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Posted by Joan
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 2, 2008 at 5:31 pm


Well I agree that the disaster in humanities education started before 1977 but it was not as pervasive at that time. May be we should go back to 1966, before the all truth is relative, you invent your own reality nonsense, infected academia. Cultural Anthropology at Stanford is certainly in the narrative deconstructionist camp, I know the background disputes very well.
Those who believed in science split with those who believed in narrative. Look where relativistic multi culturism has gotten Europe. The narrative cultural anthropologists actually defend the practice of female genital mutilation.Who are we to judge they bleat!

In fact many people are questioning the economic and social value of the current liberal arts education and the harm it does to young people. Just read, I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe, it is based on his research at Stanford and Duke Universities.

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Posted by Sparky
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 2, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Joan, you are telling people to read bad novels to understand academia? I'm sure Wolfe appreciates the plug!

I'm with OP on this - college kids could care less about the bickering of academics, and reading Derrida never hurt anybody (ok, except maybe for a bad headache). When did us old folks ever agree with the thinking on campus? It would strictly be a coincidence and would drive the kids crazy.

BTW - "look at what relativist multi-culturalism has gotten Europe" - that's a classic! On the other hand, what was the old Porter tune? "Fifty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong!"

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Posted by Joan
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 2, 2008 at 5:59 pm


well if you think what is happening in Europe is a joke then you think that the murder and rape of young women is a joke, that genital mutilation is a joke, that terrorism and violence is a joke, that the murder of homosexuals is a joke, that blowing up subways, trains and airports to kill and maim innocent people is a joke

Wolfes book is based on his non fiction articles, "Hooking Up" by the way.

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Posted by Sparky
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 2, 2008 at 6:34 pm

Well, Joan, I think you are more of a joke than most of Europe. But if you want to lay the world's ills at the feet of academic relativism, be my guest.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 3, 2008 at 5:50 pm


As I said, your own bias affects your interpretation of events. You ignored the fact that there is a basic division in anthropology--physical anthropology is very much a biological science, cultural/social is very much a social science. Different techniques, different issues.

Your spouting off about Derrida indicates to me that, no, you're not actually deeply familiar with the field--Claud Levi-Strauss is the name to kvetch about in anthropology. Derrida, of course, criticized the structuralists such as Levi-Strauss, but unlike Levi-Strauss he was never in anthropology. It's a matter of turf wars, essentially. (Which actually applies to much of the conservative attack on academics--it's not an accident, for example, that Camille Paglia is at a second-rate university. Since it's unlikely that she'll ever admit she's a second-rate thinker, it's easier for her to claim she's being held back because she's a rebel.)

I've read, by the way, both Derrida and Tom Wolfe. Wolfe is witty, but I wouldn't confuse his sharp wit for deep knowledge. Most of his career was in journalism--the ability to make quick assessments is more valued than the ability to create profound insights. He's an ironist and satirist, but when he tries to move past that his insights (and characterizations) fall flat. I'm thinking specifically of his AIDS-ridden oracular poet in Bonfire of the Vanities. The attempt at sweeping, magestic pronunciations just went *thud*.

The context in which things happen and why is part of the study of anthropology and can lead, in some cases, to forms of ethical relativism (such as female genital mutilation) with which you disagree. But your approach to this issue seems to be simplistic and sweeping. I always enjoy a mental challenge myself--i.e. I use the issue of ethical relativism to examine the foundation of my own mores. Somehow, I've read Derrida and still managed to oppose FGM.
I suspect that that's more common than the converse.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 3, 2008 at 5:59 pm


Joan kind of reminds me of that curmudgeonly book a couple of decades back--Closing of the American Mind? Damn, I remembered reading most of it and giving up about the time Harold whathisname? started blaming America's ills on the teaching of Nietzsche and the prevalence of rock and roll. I was young enough to know just how completely irrelevant Nietzsche and academic arguments were to anyone I knew--and we were the kids coming out of the top colleges.

Nietzsche did matter to a friend of mine who got a doctorate in philosophy, but I haven't even heard her mention him in 10 years.

Damn, what *was* the name of that book? University of Chicago curmudgeon . . .

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Posted by Isabelle
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Ohlone parent wrote: "My personal experiences and observations jibe with that. A prestigious college can help with the connections to some first jobs and with grad school--if you've got the college grades. But after that, it matters less and less."
This is so true! Take a look at educational background of many top managers, CEOs and CFOs. You will see that very few went to ivy league universities, but instead went to low profile schools like Indiana State University and the like.
What propels people to the top has more to do with their public speaking skills, sales and persuasion skills, management skills than subject matter expertise.
So if your dream is for your child to become a chief scientist or engineer, then sure you can push him/her into computer science program at Stanford or Princeton, but if you want to raise a CEO = enroll your child in public speaking, debates or drama class instead of Kumon (after school Math and Reading Center)

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Posted by Marina
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Jan 4, 2008 at 12:36 pm

I love Palo Alto Community! Where else can you expect people not only to hear about Derrida, but read his works as well!!!! I am so proud of people in Palo Alto who appear to be much more well read than in other affluent communities. Palo Alto rocks!!!!

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Posted by Arden Pennell
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Jan 4, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Arden Pennell is a registered user.

Hi all,

I'd like to learn more about education for Gifted and Talented (GATE) students in the district and the possible challenges of gifted ed. Please feel free to call me if you'd like to share your perspective.
The number is (650) 326 8210, ext. 241.
Have a great weekend,

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Posted by Sparky
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 4, 2008 at 5:37 pm

OP - Alan Bloom is your guy. There is a deep strain of that thinking in political philosophy departments - "old school" which in this case means Ancient Greek based. He did the translation of Plato's Republic that I and everybody else was taught on. He HATED Nietzsche, I believe, thought he represented the beginning of the end of western civilization - Nietzsche to Stalin to Elvis (and no doubt then on to Derrida, if he lived long enough to care about him) - one continuous downhill slide.

While he definitely had a bug up his butt about modern culture and academia (some of it definitely deserved, imho), I think it does him a disservice to lump him in with Joan. He was a good thinker and cared deeply about people and society.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 5, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Hi Sparky,

Okay, you have a point, but I did only compare the book to Joan--since I couldn't remember the poor guy's name. But I think the similarity is that Bloom saw things from such a specific perspective (classicist, academic, philosophic) that it was hard for him to wrap his mind around the fact that his core issues were weirdly irrelevant to other people. I think he had difficulty seeing outside his box.

Which I suppose is tied up in the essence of being a curmudgeon.

Isabelle, wow, you've waded through a lot of posts. Communication tends to be underrated until you have to have those skills. I suppose it ties in with that whole team sports helping future achievement stuff.

Good luck Arden--don't forget to interview Barbara Klausner. I look forward to reading your article.

Marina, every now and then we remember that we're a college town not just the center of the universe.

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Posted by joan
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 6, 2008 at 3:13 pm

Derrida was a fraud, I protested along with most of the
philosophy department at Cambridge when they tried to give him an honorary degree.

John Searle captured Derridas irrelevance well when he wrote

"..anyone who reads deconstructive texts with an open mind is likely to be struck by the same phenomena that initially surprised me: the low level of philosophical argumentation, the deliberate obscurantism of the prose, the wildly exaggerated claims, and the constant striving to give the appearance of profundity by making claims that seem paradoxical, but under analysis often turn out to be silly or trivial."

Sparky sounds looks he would make a good bed fellow for Michel Foucault

see link Web Link

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Posted by Sparky
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 6, 2008 at 4:22 pm

Joan, what a treat you are! Who are your good "bed fellows"? Tell, tell!

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 6, 2008 at 7:36 pm

Oh my god, Sparky, can I call it or what? Joan's an ex-denizen of a philosophy department--a British philosophy department at that. Of course Derrida's a fraud--he's French! And, while we're at it, let's just call his stuff lit-crit while we're at it.

I just love the way Anglo-French wars never really end. If you want to find a critic of any French intellectual just look across the Channel.

Philosophy cranks, gotta love 'em.

Sparky, will you be bringing your leather and handcuffs to your rendezvous with Foucault? I was once told he really, really used to enjoy his visits to San Francisco by a student of John Searle's, in fact.

I mentioned to an educated intelligent acquaintance that there was a debate about Derrida. "What's that?" he said . . . no, I really don't think Derrida's keeping kids out of the liberal arts.

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Posted by James
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 13, 2008 at 9:00 pm

Why are the houses in Palo Alto so expensive?!? So what if the schools are good, give people a chance here!!!

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Posted by Student
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 15, 2008 at 6:49 pm

If you're going to comment on academics at least improve your grammar and quit using students as your societal standing.

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