News

Palo Alto high schools score high in Newsweek rankings

Participation in ratings has been controversial in the past

Gunn and Palo Alto high schools rated better than 99.7 percent of U.S. public high schools in Newsweek Magazine's "America's Top High Schools Rankings" released earlier this week, school district officials have announced.

The 2014 placements are based on 2011-2012 school data gathered by the Westat Inc. research group.

Gunn High School ranked No. 38 and Palo Alto High No. 56 in the nation based on achievement scores and college readiness (the latter a combination of enrollment, graduation and attrition rates, ratio of counselors to students, and weighted AP/IB/SAT/ACT composite scores).

A separate assessment focused specifically on how schools support the academic success and college readiness of low-income students was also conducted. On that scale, Gunn ranked No. 61 and Palo Alto No. 146.

Participation in the Newsweek rating system has been somewhat controversial in Palo Alto over the years. In 2007, the district decided not to provide data to Newsweek at all, citing unhealthy levels of student stress associated with competition. Since then, the two high schools have yo-yo'ed up and down the list, in part due to changing methodologies used by Newsweek. Last year, for example, Gunn came out as No. 583 while Paly was No. 161.

About this year's results, Superintendent Glenn "Max" McGee stated in a press release: "We are proud of this recognition by Newsweek and congratulate the students, families, and staff who work diligently every day to achieve these outstanding results. However, these rankings also inspire us to do more to support our socioeconomically disadvantaged students through implementing effective programs, to recruit and retain high quality teachers, and to help each student reach his or her full potential."

In addition to Paly and Gunn, local area high schools also ranked in the top 500: Leland High School in San Jose, 54; Los Altos High School, 71; Mountain View High School, 189; Homestead High School in Cupertino, 403; Cupertino High School, 491.

More information regarding this year's methodology is posted here.

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by yeah for us!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Wow, what an excellent state Skelly left this district in. McGee has a lot to live up to!


3 people like this
Posted by not so fast, Tabitha
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 10, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Actually if you look at the rankings, those districts with minority and poor students scoring above the state average have a "star" next to the school name in the rankings. Guess which 2 schools did not get a star? If you guessed Paly and Gunn you are correct!

Palo Alto: It's great if you're white and rich.

I hope Max has small feet because those shoes he has to fill are tiny.


7 people like this
Posted by Father of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Wow. I wonder where the Palo Alto schools rank in "recreational" drug use, study-aid drug use, cheating and dollars spent on private tutors and SAT prepping.


3 people like this
Posted by Gunn 07 Alum
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:58 am

"Wow. I wonder where the Palo Alto schools rank in "recreational" drug use, study-aid drug use, cheating and dollars spent on private tutors and SAT prepping."

"recreational" drug use -- Gunn and Paly -high
, study-aid drug use--Gunn-low, Paly- can't say
cheating-- Paly, high. Gunn-med
dollars spent on private tutors and SAT prepping- Paly --Exceptionally High, Gunn--High


7 people like this
Posted by Gunn Alum 07
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2014 at 1:06 am

What Gunn and Paly both lack is moral development. True community was absent when I attended Gunn. Bullying, electronic/phyiscal abuse, and drugs were commonplace and accepted. Administration and Phil Winston (dean at the time) did little to create any meaningful solution or foster any sort of unity/community. The same individuals who committed these offenses are 25 now and still exhibit the same character defects and thinking errors--even after four years at top tier universities. Character development would serve the students of Gunn and Paly more than any test scores or Newsweek rankings. A sense of unity and brotherhood wouldn't hurt either.


7 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 6:57 am

Re: moral development. Maybe I'm too old school...but it seems to me that the parents and families of our students should be responsible for this...not the schools. By the time kids reach HS, their parents should have them on the right path.

I don't believe that our schools should be looked upon as our 5-day/week nanny program. The responsibility to develop the character of our children starts and ends at home.


1 person likes this
Posted by What
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 11, 2014 at 7:22 am

Now you're against moral development and ethics?

That's not "old school." Old school included moral development in education. See e.g, the Dialogues.

You kids get off of my philoctetes!!!


Like this comment
Posted by yeah for us!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 7:23 am

Hey, not so fast, I looked and it's the #1 and #2 schools that don't have a star next to them!

In this district we collectivize failure and individualize success. I think there's an Australian term for it "tall poppy syndrome" where anyone standing out is cut back to size. Here we say: "He only got that scholarship because of tutoring" or "She only got that internship because of her parents". Now you can read "Not so fast"'s comment in context.


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2014 at 8:31 am

The discussion has omitted McGee's comments below. I continue to be encouraged by his acknowledgment of the areas where we need to improve and his commitment to do so. That's a refreshing change from the prior administration and the way the board jumped onto Skelly's cheer leading. I hope that the new board and the community will support McGee's broader definition of success.

About this year's results, Superintendent Glenn "Max" McGee stated in a press release: "We are proud of this recognition by Newsweek and congratulate the students, families, and staff who work diligently every day to achieve these outstanding results. However, these rankings also inspire us to do more to support our socioeconomically disadvantaged students through implementing effective programs, to recruit and retain high quality teachers, and to help each student reach his or her full potential."


Like this comment
Posted by What
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 11, 2014 at 8:39 am

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by yeah for us!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 9:42 am

@parent

There's always room for improvement but results don't get much better than this. Hopefully McGee will continue to set high expectations for all students.

We'll find out next year if we've taken a step backwards with this new hire. As I said, Skelly left him a district in great condition, let's see how McGee nurtures it.


Like this comment
Posted by What
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 11, 2014 at 9:53 am

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Walter
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 11, 2014 at 9:58 am

The contrast between McGee and Skelly is pretty amazing. What a breath of fresh air! Think about the messes we could have avoided...


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2014 at 10:24 am

@ yeah for us
Unfortunately cheer leading doesn't make us better and, fortunately, much of the parent community believes there is a broader definition of success in our schools than test scores.
It is interesting that the leading four candidates appear to now be running on platforms emphasizing improving how we address social/emotional issues and social equity in our district. This suggests positive changes on the horizon in these important areas, provided that all of the candidates are truly willing to stand up for the students in these regards once elected. It seems that McGee continues to emphasize a broader definition of success at every opportunity. Let's hope that the board will support him.


5 people like this
Posted by yeah for the students!
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2014 at 10:43 am


We don't have enough cheer leading in life. We have plenty of bad news and plenty of problems in this world of ours. And I know my kids and all of their friends put in hours and hours of studying. SO KUDOS TO THEM and this is great news for PALY and GUNN. And I think we should give credit to the teachers and students first before Skelly and McGee. Keep it real guys. Not everything is bad. Where are the glasses half full people?


6 people like this
Posted by Been There, Done That
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2014 at 10:59 am

Love the posting from "Father of 3": "Wow. I wonder where the Palo Alto schools rank in "recreational" drug use, study-aid drug use, cheating and dollars spent on private tutors and SAT prepping."

I think the drug use is low, but the cheating, private tutoring, and SAT prepping is very high. The SAT prepping can't be changed, however. I hope the new BoE members and Max can work on the rigor of workloads because a lot of the cheating and private tutoring could be avoided if there was some way to enforce continuity in teaching and grading policies.

Plus, we need to clean house - allow parents and students to anonymously give teacher feedback to the administration (don't allow the teacher to disperse evaluations in class). There are some very bad teachers who shouldn't be teaching - they are torturing instead, either through their bad teaching or through homework overload. Many parents don't speak up because they fear retaliation. I spoke with one of my child's teachers about the extreme rigor of his regular-lane class, and my child ended up with a "C" in his class (the homework was subjective). BTW, for unofficial postings, see the very accurate, ratemyteachers.com: Web Link

Many students in "college prep" schools around the nation have 2-3 hours of homework - laughable to PAUSD students.

Some students get by with easier teachers, but others have the challenging teachers. There shouldn't be such a wide margin.


1 person likes this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 10:59 am

Really surprised to see no mention of Menlo Atherton high school or Mission San Jose high school across the Bay.


1 person likes this
Posted by Yessssirrrreeeeee
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2014 at 11:41 am

Mission SJ High School is approximately 85% Asian, the last I read about it ( which was about five years ago--it is probably higher now).

I am surprised that school did not score better than Gunn and Paly.

Also, the high schools in Dublin and San Ramon, which have high scores and predominantly South Asian students should have performed better.


Like this comment
Posted by yeah for us!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 11:56 am

@Parent, Did you read the article?

The definition of "success" is our high schools rated better than 99.7 percent of all U.S. public high schools. And, focused specifically on how schools support the academic success and college readiness of low-income students was also conducted, ranked #61 and #146.

Please show us the data around your "broader definition of success" in our schools where we are doing so badly. How are comparative schools doing with your "broader definition of success"?

There really is no pleasing some people. There still talking about one-off incidents that happened over 3 years ago. Check your sample.

@Walter, Hopefully McGee can keep with the good work of Skelly. Let's see how he plays out beyond this honeymoon period.


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:20 pm

My point is that our kids should be squared away before they enter HS. Nothing wrong with philosophical discussions to enhance or supplement...but all of the groundwork should be in place. Citizenship, kindness, tolerance, sportsmanship, ethics, healthy behaviors and decisions...all of these things should start at home. And the ongoing discussions and lessons at home don't stop at grade 9.

The schools should not have to be responsible for teaching little Johnnie that cheating on a test or picking on another student is unacceptable. Certainly can/should support these important characteristics...but blaming the schools for these individual bad choices and/or faults is blaming the wrong party.


1 person likes this
Posted by Sea - Seelam Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Well deserved.
Congratulations
Keep up the good work.
Respectfully


6 people like this
Posted by MDR
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:38 pm

A ranking based on test scores and graduation rates is clearly going to favor communities that consist of affluent, high achieving, well educated (i.e. college and graduate degrees) parents compared to other school districts that represent a population spanning a wider socio-economic range. How much of this "success" is attributable to the schoool system per se or to other factors that are independent of the school system is hard to discern. There may be rigourous statistical methods to deal which these variables, but the article didn't mention if the analysis took the social factors into account. Our schools offer lots of opportunities and some very good teachers, but let's not fail to recongize what this ranking is really a rank of.


1 person likes this
Posted by Sea-Seelam REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 11, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Hi all

Enjoy todays good news.

Have one of your high school student(s) to have a classmate who is struggling at school, studies wise, at home, socially and work with this this student and lift him/her as much as possible.

I had a situation, similar and I was lifted up and I performed well enough to get into a very highly competitive School of Engineering and graduated.

Do not ever give up and think positive.

Rest will come along!

Hold your negative thoughts for tomorrow - today the glass is half full.

respectfully


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2014 at 2:02 pm

@MDR Read the article. There are two rankings. The second ranks schools on how well the disadvantaged succeed in that school.


1 person likes this
Posted by Janet Dafoe
a resident of University South
on Sep 11, 2014 at 2:48 pm

I wish there were a ranking for how well Special Ed students do.


2 people like this
Posted by Former Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 11, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Just more justification for teachers to say they deserve a raise and for the board to pat themselves on the back!

Now ask the hard question--where would the school rank if 80% of the parents did not pay for tutors to help their kids get those grades? How effective would those teachers look if learning rested solely on the abilities of the teachers? We parents have created a monster and now it wants to be fed.....


2 people like this
Posted by great job, tutors!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2014 at 8:42 pm

The local private tutoring companies are doing an excellent job! Bravo!


Like this comment
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 12, 2014 at 7:25 am

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by woe to the naive...
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 12, 2014 at 8:33 am

Woe to the naive who don't realize they compete with kids whose parents pay for costly and elaborate prepping.


2 people like this
Posted by Fair comparison
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 12, 2014 at 9:30 am

"Now ask the hard question--where would the school rank if 80% of the parents did not pay for tutors to help their kids get those grades?"

Are you assuming that parents of all the other high-ranking schools aren't paying for tutors for their kids?


Like this comment
Posted by seventeen percent?
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 12, 2014 at 11:05 pm

I checked out the list and noticed that Gunn and Paly both boasted 17% graduation rates.
Isn't that, um, a bit low?


Like this comment
Posted by My Take
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Sep 15, 2014 at 11:23 am

Well done, district students and teachers!

I'm encouraged by our new superintendent's approach, and his ability to communicate, which will be helpful.

Let's try not to blame the schools for every problem. The intense pressure has many sources, including some very ambitious parents, the colleges that use their freshman class gpa and test scores as a marketing strategy, our own real estate industry that uses our student's achievements such as this ranking to increase our property values, not to mention some students pressuring one another.

Many teachers in this district are wonderful, while some rest on their laurels, not bothering to teach the material because enough of their students learned it elsewhere to make them look good.

The homework issue continues to be a problem for some students. But it is not a simple issue. If you insist that your student takes advanced placement or honors courses, the homework will be intense. College level classes are like that. They cover a lot of material. Homework should be useful and reasonable, but parents who allow or push their students to take on these classes have no business being surprised at the work load.This problem might be an unreasonable teacher, but it might just as well be an unreasonable parent.


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

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