Stiffer graduation requirements for Palo Alto?

Schools propose to align grad criteria with entrance rules for UC, CSU

The Palo Alto Board of Education tonight (Tuesday) will discuss a proposal to stiffen high school graduation requirements beginning with the class of 2016 to ensure that more students are prepared for college.

Up to 82 percent of Palo Alto graduates already fulfill the so-called "A-G Requirements," necessary for admission to the University of California and California State University systems as well as to top private institutions.

But school leaders long have been troubled that a number of capable students take a less rigorous academic load, possibly not realizing that Palo Alto's existing graduation requirements fall short of the standards of a full college-prep curriculum.

Under tonight's proposal, drafted by the district's Director of Secondary Education Debbra Lindo, extra assistance as well as an unspecified waiver process would be available to students who are struggling with the extra load or students who are in special education, if needed.

Additional mandatory coursework under the proposed new requirements include two years of foreign language (none is currently required), a year of physical and lab science (Palo Alto currently requires two years of science, without specifying a lab) and an additional year (beyond the two years already required) of math.

Tonight's recommendation does not include a requirement for Algebra 2, which is mandatory both for entrance to UC and CSU. However, Lindo said, "The goal of our staff is to work toward raising the graduation requirement to include Algebra 2 in the near future."

School staff has suggested a June 14 board vote on the proposal. The item tonight is specified for discussion only.

Since 2008, the district has had a strategic plan goal "to better align graduation requirements with college entry requirements" as well as to boost the percentage of students, particularly "underrepresented minority" students, who fulfill the A-G Requirements.

In the class of 2010, 85 percent of graduates district-wide had fulfilled the college prep requirements, up from 76 percent a year earlier. However, only 46 percent (11 out of 24) of African-American graduates and 50 percent (26 out of 52) Hispanic graduates had completed the full A-G course load.

Duveneck parent Sara Woodham, a member of the Parent Network for Students of Color, said she plans to comment tonight in support of the proposal.

Gunn parent Linda Lingg, a member of the school's Site Council, called for more detail.

"Any time graduation requirements are increased in a top school district there is the potential to increase dropout rates across all races and also among special ed students," Lingg said.

"In the case of this proposal, much more detail is needed before an adequate evaluation can be made."

Lindo was not available to comment on how Palo Alto's current and proposed graduation requirements compare to those of other school districts.

In other business tonight, the board will discuss a proposed policy to protect trees on school campuses, a proposal to give three years' notice to terminate Stratford Schools Inc.'s lease on the Garland school site at 870 N. California Ave. and an amendment to the lease of the old Fremont Hills elementary campus to Pinewood School.

The board also will hear a presentation on the budget outlook for 2011-12.

Tonight's public session, which follows a 5:30 p.m. closed session of the board, begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.

Chris Kenrick

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Like this comment
Posted by One Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 24, 2011 at 10:34 am

Sure, make it harder for kids to graduate! And is this supposed to ease the stress at the high schools?

Like this comment
Posted by another mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2011 at 10:47 am

What's the point of a diploma for passing classes that are too easy to prepare our kids for college or quality jobs?

Like this comment
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2011 at 11:01 am

Please keep in mind that not EVERY student needs to go on to college.

Like this comment
Posted by Proud & Caring Paly Mom
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 24, 2011 at 11:05 am

The current classes AREN'T too easy, hence the stress issues of the kids. This is talking about requiring additional courses to the course load now, which does equate to more stress.

And for the record, every diploma counts and IS important for every child, regardless. IT IS AN HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT so DON'T BELITTLE IT. And, not every child will go to a UC or a CSU school whether it's due to grades, choice or simply not getting in even though they are very qualified students. Remember, California is in financial turmoil..cuts, cuts & more cuts. There are many other educational pathways of success in life after high school. It's not UC/CSU or doom. This topic is very important and all avenues need to be discussed and weighed.

My children currently follow the UC/CSU system and ignore the Paly grad requirements, but it would be nice to have more support.. instead of... "Oh, you don't need to worry about that class, it's not a graduation requirement."

I wish the best for all of our kids and beyond. I simply worry about student stress and their fear of failure due to feeling suffocated and overwhelmed. Our children currently need more support now, and will surely need more support in the future. This is a good thing, with the right support base, more kids will succeed.

Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2011 at 11:12 am

Is there any particular reason that PAUSD requires 4 years of social studies, which is 2 years more than required by UC/CSU?

While trying to match UC/CSU's requirement, why not give out a bit of freedom where possible?

Like this comment
Posted by Where did this come from?
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 24, 2011 at 11:39 am

I tutored a college student in math for four consecutive quarters. This student would not have graduated from high school had the requirements been like those proposed. Everyone is not equal in their ability to grasp Algebra II. Please lets not have two opposing initiatives - lower stress and mandate higher math.

To another mom:
I guess you would prefer that the cashier at the grocery store, the delivery driver coming to your door, or the person serving you at a restaurant not be a proud high school graduate. Or, perhaps you would like to increase the cost of these services by having more college graduates fill those spots. Or, we could fill those spots with criminals who the system totally failed, because they were not able to graduate and felt they had no place to turn except crime.

My own kids did quite well in the PA schools and satisfied the proposed requirements, but I am shocked that Palo Alto is even having these discussions. I agree the achievement gap needs to be reduced, but that is better accomplished through communication and attention to the student, not by making it easier for those at risk to fail.

Like this comment
Posted by Etaoin Shrdlu
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Do the PA schools have a curriculum for students who wish to pursue a vocation instead of heading to college like Germany, where in-school education is combined with an apprenticeship at cooperating companies?

Like this comment
Posted by Tired of Palo Alto Negatude
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Article states "Lindo was not available to comment on how Palo Alto's current and proposed graduation requirements compare to those of other school districts." It would certainly behoove this person to get informed!!

I agree with the comments by Sue, give where you can give, reduce other areas that are overkill
and I TOTALLY would like an answer to the question posed by Etaoin Shrdlu: Is there a vocational track as in Germany. If there is not one, I think there should be. NOT EVERYONE needs to go to college and we should value all members of society. Furthermore, adding to the math requirement? Please...

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 24, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I thought the District wanted to broaden the definition of success by supporting a diversity of talents and interests.

Of the 215 credits needed to graduate, 165 are in required subjects leaving just 50 for student choice. If they increase math, foreign language and science requirements, that leaves little room for students who wish to focus on the arts, music or vocational training.

Art schools require a portfolio not foreign language or more math & science.

Current Required credits:
English-40, Social Studies-40, Math-20, Science-20, P.E.-20, Vocational-10, Art-10, and Living Skills-5.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Students in Focus on Success and Resource programs also wind up with 40 credits of study skills class, limiting electives further.

Like this comment
Posted by 3rd Gen PA Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm

This is nuts. It is easy for parents and students to work out their own personal graduation plan (for UC/CSU or otherwise) with a well-informed guidance counselor. There is no need to make graduation harder than it is. Any parent who is having trouble with a child who protests taking a class that is not required for graduation needs to sit down with the guidance counselor and the child to work out what the child plans or hopes to do post graduation. They can agree upon their own plan, and follow that rather than forcing the school to make requirements flow down that are excessive for some.

I returned here so that my children could attend the same schools that my parents and my siblings and I attended because the schools are very good. The school system is strong and challenging enough (and provides a good enough education) without turning every school into a prep school.

Like this comment
Posted by One Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Gunn does not have any vocational track--don't know about Paly. They have a splattering of vocational courses but nothing that would lead to a job. You would have to go to Foothill or DeAnza for that and pay for it. The Gunn course catalog lists a "Resource Opportunity Program" (aka vocational), though no one EVER talks about it and I don't know anyone who took it. But I don't think the ROP course is at Gunn--I think it would be off campus.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm

This will be interesting. Gunn Mom has some good points about classes outside of A-G. And "3GPAR" puts it - any family who sees their kid going to college can figure out what courses are going to be required.

Just like it is now.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it????

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Etaoin Shrdlu - Palo Alto schools do not have a vocational track, nor do they prepare a student for anything but college. Unfortunately, not everyone is a college track person.

I don't understand why we don't just spend a little extra time and PiE money (College and Career is one of the major recipients of PiE $$ in high school) on individually counseling any student who has not signed up for the appropriate classes to fill the A-G requirements (a dumb name for them...) With the Infinite Campus program, I would think they could spit out a report of all the kids not "on track" and pass that on to the advisory teachers.

4 years of history - why? No colleges expect that. Many do expect more years of Science, yet we only expect 2?

BTW - Kids with IEP's , ESL and special day kids can be exempted from these requirements.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Kids with IEP's and ESL often fulfull A-G and more. Getting an exemption is demoralizing. Many of the kids who are not fulfulling A-G are not in these programs.

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Posted by another parent
a resident of Southgate
on May 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm

FYI to contextualize, San Jose Unified, East Side Union (SJ), San Francisco Unified, San Diego Unified, Oakland Unified and Los Angeles Unified have all adopted A-G alignment. Palo Alto is catching up to this standard, with the luxury that we already have high rates in this area except in under-served groups. College readiness alignment is part of a national trend based on Achieve Inc.'s American Diploma Project, which the State of California joined in 2008. Many states have already implemented college-ready graduation requirements. Achieve was created by state governors and business leaders to help raise academic standards to enable college and workplace readiness. According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, "We focus on high school graduation and college-readiness rates because they define life options for young people and reflect deep inequities in American society and education." The Silicon Valley Education Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation also advocate A-G alignment. A-G as the default requirement, with an opt-out option, as proposed in Palo Alto, is essentially becoming the standard.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 24, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Another parent - none of the Districts you mentioned (San Jose Unified, East Side Union (SJ), San Francisco Unified, San Diego Unified, Oakland Unified and Los Angeles Unified) require 4 years of Social Studies. Not all of them require 2 years of foreign language, 3 years of math and not all require our "Living Skills" course.

While college readiness is a great goal, we also need to make room in our students day for the things that give them joy, which is often music, art or theater. Too many requirements equals no choice in your schedule. We are blessed that our District is still able to offer such a rich selection of electives.

Like this comment
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm

We must remember...not every kid is college bound. Some kids will be lucky to graduate high school, and go on to a vocational/technical training in construction, autos, lab tech, secretary, animal tech jobs...

We must have 2 that is the "college bound" track, and one that isn't. Not every kid in Lake Woebegone is going to college, nor should we expect it to be the case.

Make it clear what UC expects and make this the default for kids, but allow kids who are clearly not heading in that direction to get a basic high school degree...

Like this comment
Posted by Barron Park Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Before they do this, they should probably try to figure out if any kids would be at risk of not graduating on time. It would be interesting for them to speak directly with the group of kids impacted to get their feedback. It is likely that some/all feel they could do the new requirements. On the other hand, they should try to figure approximately how many would end up dropping out. I think the students who are currently not taking the proposed courses should themselves have the chance to provide some feedback. It may be that there is some reason, like perhaps being busy with work or learning a trade or working in a family business, that they are making a reasonable decision to take a lighter load.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 24, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Please tell me how this addresses the issue of "stress" that the school board "says" they are focusing on. Not all students will be going to a UC/CSU right out of high school...

In the class of 2010, 85 percent of graduates district-wide had fulfilled the college prep requirements, up from 76 percent a year earlier.

What is wrong with an 85% rate?

Increasing the graduation requirement is an invitation to stress and while we are at it, let's just increase our student suicidal rate!

Like this comment
Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 25, 2011 at 12:36 am

Are you kidding me. I am doing fine in college. If I had pushed myself to fulfill the requirements proposed in this article, I honestly don't think I would be here today.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Grad
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 25, 2011 at 11:17 am

We need to strengthen the classes we have now rather than pile more on. I know that several students were too stressed out while I was attending and I am sure it is the same now. What is with this town and its constant need to stress kids out while in high school and have them burn out before the junior and senior years of college.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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