News

'Broad action' encouraged to fix district's achievement gap

Palo Alto school board, public laud group charged with making set of strategic recommendations

The Palo Alto school board and members of the public Tuesday night looked back at the district's history of attempts to improve minority achievement and lauded Superintendent Max McGee's creation of an advisory committee as a promising, fresh step forward in a more actionable direction.

"In the entire time that I've been here, this issue of minority achievement has been woeful and sad and horrible, especially to parents of color," said Kim Bomar, parent and co-chair of Parent Advocates for Student Success (PASS). "The need for this task force has been woefully obvious."

The superintendent's committee, for which he will start taking applications this week, will be made up of students, parents, teachers, staff and community members. The 18-member group will be given the task of diving deep into district data; gathering input by talking directly to current students and recent graduates, their families, faculty and staff; and looking to other districts and experts in the field for best practices on closing the achievement gap.

McGee released with this week's board packet an ambitious package with internal and external data, a draft application, a meeting schedule and the goal of getting the committee's final report to the board in April or May.

"We have been talking about and working on the achievement gap for a long time," said board member Camille Townsend. "Is this anything new? The visibility is. And that in and of itself is worth something."

All board members expressed excitement and support for the advisory committee, with a few suggestions for how its work could be enhanced.

Heidi Emberling advised McGee to contract with an outside expert to lead the work. She said there are "tough and sensitive issues" surrounding the achievement gap – unconscious biases, institutional racism, gender equity, stereotypes and cultural competence – and an experienced facilitator with expertise around such issues would help.

Parent and school board candidate Gina Dalma similarly said that simply looking at data and creating metrics won't be enough.

"For us to close the achievement gap, we have to have those courageous conversations around the unconscious biases that happen in each and every one of our classrooms," she said.

Emberling pointed out that a professional facilitator has been hired before to help with committee work, in 2012 for the Gunn High School Guidance Advisory Committee.

President Barb Mitchell said she would support hiring a facilitator if McGee and staff decided they needed one.

"It's an ambitious undertaking given the timeline," she said. "It looks reasonable right now, but we know how these things go and there are so many ways this could go deeper. I would certainly support the concept if it would support you and staff members and committee members."

McGee said he hadn't considered the option yet but would look at it before finalizing details about the committee.

Others urged McGee to include in the committee's evaluation an internal analysis of existing district and community work around the achievement gap.

"I am particularly pleased to see the reference to research, timelines and metrics in the committee's charge," said Sarah Sands, speaking on behalf of school board candidate Catherine Crystal Foster. "I hope that you will also assess our existing programs and practices to evaluate their effectiveness in addressing the achievement gap and causes for that gap."

Vice President Melissa Baten Caswell said that, as someone once told her, "'It's hard to find that one silver bullet.' It's a combination of things. We have to make sure all of our programs work together."

Townsend echoed that sentiment, suggesting the committee look not only at past data but at work individual teachers are already doing in their classrooms that yield results on minority achievement.

"What do we have already? It may not be some new program," she said. "It may be going back to some basics."

Baten Caswell also asked McGee how he plans to recruit people for the committee, suggesting he take advantage of Palo Alto's robust neighborhood association groups to advertise. He said he is planning to send the application out with the next edition of "Max mail" – his email update that is sent to all district parents and anyone else who signs up for it.

Townsend also suggested that McGee look to the many community members who have worked on these issues for years and take advantage of their historical knowledge.

Mitchell also urged the superintendent to look at alternative sources for recruitment, such as recent graduates and Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP) participants.

Parent and school board candidate Ken Dauber said the committee should look no further than across El Camino Real to tap expertise at the Stanford Graduate School of Education -- and not just for the work of this committee. He said Stanford doesn't send student-teachers into Palo Alto's high school math and science classes, though it does for some surrounding districts.

"We are missing out on the benefit of having that resource across the street," he wrote in an email after the meeting. "I think we should be doing everything we can to engage that expertise about best practices, not just in the context of the committee."

Dauber, who several years ago brought to the board the 2010 and 2011 California Standards Test (CST) scores to illustrate the need to address the achievement gap, presented the 2013 CST scores Tuesday night to further underscore the point.

The scores for Hispanic students in Algebra II showed that 33 percent left the class at proficient or above (which ranks Palo Alto at No. 84 in the state), compared to 38 percent in 2011 (then No. 59). For socioeconomically disadvantaged students in the same class, the proficiency rate in 2013 was 29 percent, and Palo Alto ranked at No. 129 in the state (compared to 33 percent and No. 114 in 2011). For African-American students in biology, 32 percent were proficient -- No. 152 out of the 218 districts with enough African-American students to report. In 2011, the rate was 37 percent and the district was at No. 129.

"That is a lot of districts statewide who are doing better than we are in educating similar students, and that represents a real opportunity for us to learn from them and do better," Dauber said.

One recent Palo Alto High School graduate and a frequent speaker at board meetings, Al Brooks, returned Tuesday night to reiterate his and others' interest in participating in the committee work. Brooks graduated in 2012 and also co-founded nonprofit Student Equity Action Network (SEAN) after years of experiencing and working on the disparity in achievement between minority students and their peers in Palo Alto.

"We will be involved in this process as much as we can be," he said. "This is something we can't let continue to occur in our schools, something I (was) afraid would be continued to be ignored, but luckily this work will continue to go on."

Brooks also stressed the importance of gathering community input. McGee has said part of the committee's work will include hosting public forums or hearings with the community.

Baten Caswell also asked McGee if he had any sense of the price tag for the committee yet.

"Is this 10 percent of our budget? Is it 5 percent of our budget? Is this going to be net-zero because we're going to be replacing programs that aren't working as well (as we anticipated)?" she said.

McGee replied that he's not sure yet but knows there will be additional costs. Included in the committee's charge is estimating the cost for implementation of each recommendation it issues.

Many of the members of the public implored the board to give McGee and the committee a long leash when it comes to this work.

"I believe and hope that you agree that in order to fix what's broken, we're going to need broad action. We're going to need bold steps. We're going to need to do things differently," Bomar, PASS co-chair, said. "My encouragement and advice to the board is that you've done great work recruiting and getting Dr. McGee out here. ... I would encourage you, as a parent, to give him broad latitude so that he can be as successful as possible with this task force."

Comments

3 people like this
Posted by The Sixth Board Member
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 15, 2014 at 10:12 am

I watched the board meeting on TV (can't go down there until all hours of the night myself). Ken Dauber presented new data showing that we actually are doing worse in some classes (math and science) than we were in 2011 for these students. That blew me away. While this school board and super were off spending our money on fighting the federal government OCR, Rome burned. And why are we learning this from Ken instead of from the district staff?

[Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by What's The News
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2014 at 10:23 am

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by How to Apply?
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 15, 2014 at 10:48 am

How do I apply to get on the committee as a parent?


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 11:33 am

Included in this discussion should be the fact that struggling students whose parents have means pull their usually white students out of PAUSD and send them elsewhere for school. Parents without these resources must rely on PAUSD to educate their kids.


1 person likes this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:03 pm

> Ken Dauber presented new data showing that we actually are doing worse in
> some classes (math and science) than we were in 2011 for these students.
[Portion removed.]

Will he be putting his data on-line, including the sources he has used to make his findings?


1 person likes this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:11 pm

> Included in this discussion should be the fact that struggling
> students whose parents have means pull their usually white students
> out of PAUSD and send them elsewhere for school.

Is there any meaningful data to back up this claim?


1 person likes this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:31 pm

This from the same school board that shot down the well researched plan to un-lane English classes at Paly? [Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:46 pm

@Really? - unlaning is the problem, not the solution. If you want to help low achieving student, create a new remedial lane for them. delaning is reducing the gap by putting a ceiling on the high achieving students.


Like this comment
Posted by Voter
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Bob,
[Portion removed.]

The source of the data is the California Department of Education, which releases data files containing all of the standards test results for every test and every demographic group in the state. Here's a link to the web page where you can download the 2013 STAR test results: Web Link. It's the second result for the Google query "download star test results 2013".


2 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:58 pm

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Oh .. and as to the PAUSD's doing more poorly in math over a two year period--we have had Everyday Math in place for about five years now. Those promoting it--namely a small group--if memory serves, should be asked to explain any dip in scores.

We were assured by teacher after teacher that EDM would help those on the bottom of the socio-economic spectrum. Well, we adopted EDM--so why should there be any dip at all?

Can anyone explain the dip?


Like this comment
Posted by Goodbye Bob
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 15, 2014 at 1:26 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 15, 2014 at 5:04 pm

@Bob - the problem with the declining test scores is that they need to be realigned to to EDM, and ask how students feel about math, not if they can actually solve problems (there are calculators for that).


3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 16, 2014 at 11:10 am

Hopefully something good comes out of this effort.

Certainly changing the HS graduation requirements to the UC A-G requirements will help a great deal. Students can't slip under the radar by just doing the minimum and therefore not becoming college eligible.

Unfortunately other factors such as the lack parental encouragement, involvement and support is not something that can be solved in the classroom.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2014 at 12:17 pm

> the problem with the declining test scores is
> that they need to be realigned to to EDM,

Sorry, but this answer makes no sense. The whole idea of standardized tests is to determine whether students within the domain of the test are learning the materials (ie “standards”) upon which the tests are based. Suggesting that we have to somehow “align” the CST scores to accommodate the EDM approach to teaching not only is nonsensical.

> and ask how students feel about math,
> not if they can actually solve problems

What? This is not why we spend over one-half trillion dollars a year running the public education system!!!

Why not just ask the students how they feel about school, and then teach to that level?

> (there are calculators for that).

Calculators are for doing arithmetic—which arguably is “mathematics”, but only at the lowest level.

Mathematics is about solving problems with symbolic logic, using a set of rules to manipulate the symbols. It’s a shame that the complexity of mathematics exceeds the ability of young minds to grasp. But certainly adults should be able to know the difference between arithmetic and mathematics.

As to the use of calculators—it’s totally possible that as tablets and smart phones become more powerful, handheld calculators will be replaced with tablets/software. It’s even possible that these devices will be able to do simple algebra. But without understanding the rules, and techniques, this sort of technology might well prove more disruptive, then helpful.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Multiyear experiments with smaller High Schools has produced impressive results. Schools with 100 or less student per grade provide more attention and less differentiation.

Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Why dip in math scores
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2014 at 6:55 am

Agree with Bob.."--we have had Everyday Math in place for about five years now. Those promoting it--namely a small group--if memory serves, should be asked to explain any dip in scores.
We were assured by teacher after teacher that EDM would help those on the bottom of the socio-economic spectrum. Well, we adopted EDM--so why should there be any dip at all?"

My kids were in 1st when EDM was enacted. Basic math skills were not covered that well for my child. She did not have the basic number/addition/concepts down after 2nd grade. She needed a lot of remedial help and practice at home. Now, a 5th grader,, after 1 1/2 years of private tutoring she is mostly caught up. However her self-esteem and belief in herself and feeling proficient in math is at a low level. I expressed a lot of concern about all children being required to memorize their math facts in 1st/2nd when some did not understand the basic number concept (my daughter). This concern fell on deaf ears, it was a grade level requirement at the school. I

EverydayMath should be studied and reviewed if the scores are going down. There are a lot of deficiencies in the Program. The Consultants that pushed this program should be held accountable for the results or lack thereof.


Like this comment
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 6, 2014 at 4:16 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

I see a lot of discussion about an "achievement gap". How are you going to encourage our best and brightest to develop to their full potential? Gen Z presents a whole new challenge that will require you to review and update the educational paradigm.
The implication I see is that "closing the gap" would involve a Procrustean policy that would attempt to flatten the difference between high and low achieving students to a mediocre average. That is NOT acceptable! There needs to be MORE gap, not less. It must be up to individual students and parents to decide how much effort to make to be below or above average, and by how much. There is a critical need for ALL of our students to be challenged to achieve their fullest potential.
And how about closing the achievement gap in sports? Since I lacked the bulk to be a football player, should I have lower self-esteem? Should I have been in a "remedial" sports program? And why did my teachers lower the classes expectations just so the jocks could maintain passing grades? Yes, I got great grades, but I suffered in college as a result, I had not been sufficiently challenged in high school to perform up to the expectations of a top-tier college. Yes, my good grades got me in, but I was at a big disadvantage to those who came from schools that had properly prepared them.
If parents want their children to succeed and excel at top-tier colleges, they must INSIST their children be exceptionally well educated, not just given an "average" education.
cc: PA School Board


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