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Do Palo Alto's high schools give too much homework?

Teachers attempt to shift focus to quality of study, not quantity

Editor's note: This cover story on homework by Weekly Staff Writer Elena Kadvany was prompted in part by a lengthy discussion among community members on the subject, begun in December on Town Square, the Weekly's online forum. (See "What gives the school the right to give my child homework). The topic generated hundreds of comments, among the most active discussions in the forum's history.

With the death by suicide last weekend of a Gunn High School senior, many people have questioned the role of excessive homework in causing stress and even depression in some students. It is not our intention with these articles to make a connection between homework and suicide, and in fact, the parents of the Gunn senior stated this week that they do not believe academic pressure was a factor in their son's death.

There is clearly a desire within the Palo Alto community to grapple with the effects of high school homework loads as well as parse the complexities of the district's policy and its implementation in schools. This story aspires to contribute constructively to that community dialogue.

Many Palo Alto high school students report feeling overworked, overburdened and overstressed by unrelenting workloads and expectations.

"Junior year I prioritized homework and studying over sleep," said Palo Alto High School senior Jack Brook, who plays varsity soccer, writes for the school's Verde magazine and is taking four Advanced Placement (AP) classes. "Staying up past midnight was routine, and I often woke up an hour early to continue what I couldn't get done the night before."

Gunn High School sophomore Martha Cabot took to YouTube late last year to publicly question the unrealistic demands that she said her peers face.

"Is it really expected from a student to take that many APs, maintain good grades, do after-school sports, have positive social life and finish homework on time?" she asked in a video that quickly went viral.

And it's not just the students who are bothered; parents say their family time — and family dynamic — is often impacted by "the homework wars," as one Palo Alto parent and Gunn teacher calls it.

"I am a veteran of the homework wars," said Lettie Weinmann, who's taught at Gunn since 1989. "When my son was younger, it was a frequent battle. We tried bribing him with M&Ms, impounding his LEGOs, and every support strategy in the book. ... The end result may have been that the homework was completed, but I think it also had an effect on our parent-child relationship. It set us up as his adversaries instead of his support system."

Other parents complain that the constant studying infringes on family life.

"I want to draw better and healthier boundaries between the school day and family time, better and healthier boundaries between school and home," wrote one parent on Town Square, the Weekly's online discussion forum, noting that schools appear to be crossing those boundaries unrestrained.

The parent asked for an explanation of the legal basis for homework, and the resulting thread, started mid-December, has garnered nearly 500 comments.

But while students and parents have been the ones voicing their complaints, teachers have not been ignorant of the outcry. In an effort to change the culture around homework, and at the same time improve students' learning, more and more Gunn and Paly teachers have begun taking a different tack on homework, experimenting with blended-learning models, "flipped" classrooms and innovative educational strategies that challenge traditional notions of homework.

Two years ago, longtime Gunn High School science teacher Eric Ledgerwood "flipped" his AP Environmental Science course. Instead of lectures in the classroom and traditional homework assignments, his students now watch 10- to 15-minute interactive video lectures at home that Ledgerwood has created. During class, they ask questions about the content, engage and grapple with each other over the topics and work on long-term research projects. In theory, the flipped classroom offers less rote instruction and homework and more time for deeper, collaborative learning.

"I don't give anywhere near as much homework as I used to," Ledgerwood said.

"I think the real beauty of it was — and this is the whole idea of flipped learning — I can do more things in the classroom with the kids when I'm not just talking at them," he said.

In Paly's new Social Justice Pathway program — a "school within a school" that starts sophomore year — project-based learning and collaboration reign, and homework is treated as something to be completed at home if it is not finished in class.

Homework is graded for completion, rather than performance. Overall grades are not A's, B's, C's or D's on homework but rather "mastery," "proficient," "competent" or "emerging."

"The idea is that we're really trying to get them to focus more on the learning as opposed to the grades, but those are difficult things," said history and social sciences teacher Eric Bloom, who has been at Paly for 17 years and created the Social Justice Pathway with longtime English teacher Erin Angell. "Especially in Palo Alto to say, 'Don't worry about the grade. Just worry about the learning.' And they're like, 'Yeah, OK, but what am I going to get?'"

Bloom and other teachers are hoping to chip away at that attitude, as conversations at both high schools move from how much homework to give to what kind of homework to give.

"Are we measuring student learning, or are we measuring compliance?" Palo Alto High School Principal Kim Diorio asked. "Those are the big philosophical questions we're having as a school."

"We want kids to be excited about school and excited about learning," Diorio said. "So what are the systems that we have in place that are getting in the way of that? Is homework one of those systems?"

---

Since Ledgerwood flipped his AP Environmental Science class two years ago, the role of practice has been shifted away from homework and into the classroom.

His first tools in this shift were short YouTube videos that students were required to watch, take notes on and do some related bookwork on at home.

This year, he's using EDpuzzle, a free platform with video-editing software and tools — so teachers can embed questions or quizzes in the video lectures and block students from skipping ahead in videos to reach the quiz — and a searchable database of related educational videos from sources like the Khan Academy and LearnZillion.

Despite the shift and reduced homework load that comes along with it, Ledgerwood acknowledged there will always be a need for "certain content acquisition" through homework.

"Sometimes what we call 'drill and kill,' where you have to do 50 math problems at the same time, or for language, you just have to memorize your verbs or whatever it is — I think that's always going to be a subset of what we do," Ledgerwood said. "I think that's where the homework will reside."

But, "As far as homework when you're doing process-driven things, I think it will really shift."

Though as Gunn's only environmental-science teacher, Ledgerwood was able to transform this one class, the same changes are slower moving for a course like chemistry, which is taught by multiple teachers who work together to make sure their curriculum and assignments are similar.

"I didn't have the opportunity necessarily yet to do something really revolutionary for chem," he said. "It's on my agenda."

Another teacher at Gunn, Phil Lyons, gives no homework, even in an AP-level course, and claims not only more intellectually engaged students but ones who still score high on the AP exam. Lyons, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is quoted on a 2008 blog post by nationally known education speaker Alfie Kohn, author of "The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing."

"Each year my students have performed better on the (A.P.) test. ... I would feel justified encroaching on students' free time and I'd be willing to do the grading if I saw tangible returns, but with no quantifiable benefit it makes no sense to impose (homework) on them or me," Lyons told Kohn.

Kohn, who gave a talk earlier this month on achievement and learning at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, is staunchly anti-homework.

There is "one more contributor, one more practical issue that we could get rid of tomorrow with the damage that it does," Kohn told the crowd of mostly parents but also educators and Palo Alto district administrators. "It is making kids work the equivalent of a second shift." (At this, the audience burst into applause.)

"Homework is literally all pain and no gain," Kohn continued. "What it produces is frustration, exhaustion, family conflict and nagging, less time for kids to do stuff they care about when they get home and loss of interest. Homework is the greatest extinguisher of curiosity that we have."

Lyons told Kohn that after eliminating homework — a decision he came to over the course of his career — students became visibly more curious, independently bringing in news articles relating to what they had learned in class. (Other Palo Alto teachers, too, have said that as they've become more experienced, they've given less and less homework.)

Similarly, a 2013 study on the nonacademic effects of homework in privileged, high-performing high schools, co-authored by Denise Pope of the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and nonprofit research group Challenge Success, found that more homework does not equate deeper learning.

"Although we found that students completing more hours of homework also tended to report greater behavioral engagement in their schoolwork and classes (as measured by students reporting they often or always try hard, pay attention, and complete assignments), this connection does not mean these students were deeply learning the material, enjoying the work or finding it meaningful or helpful," the study reads.

"If there was an easy fix, it would have been done so long ago," Pope said in an interview. "But I do think there can be a better understanding on the part of educators and parents as to the proper and effective role of homework. There's a big confusion between rigor and load."

Paly's Bloom agrees that the debate over homework should not be about the number of minutes assigned but rather the quality of those assignments.

"I get that minutes are the symptom and by controlling around minutes we can have this conversation, but it's not the minutes," he said. "It's the assignment that is the question and whether or not this should be homework, and what is the function of homework and how do you add value to it?"

Kohn argues that homework should be the exception, not the norm. Teachers should talk with students openly about the work they're being asked to do and "meet a high burden of proof" for students to work that second shift at home, he said.

But teachers, and many students, in fact, recognize that for some classes, there is a value to that second shift.

"I don't think homework is ever going to go away," said Gunn physics teacher Lettie Weinmann. "I think students need to think about the world around them outside of class if they are going to understand it, especially in science. It's all around you. We want our kids to know that physics happens outside of the classroom as well as inside."

This could be swinging on a swing to understand forces or looking at shadows to learn about light, she said.

---

Paly senior Tira Oskoui said she has the most homework this semester from her AP Calculus BC class, the highest level math course offered at Paly. Her norm is about two hours per assignment, but that can jump to four hours "on the really bad nights," she said. The class' description in Paly's 2014 course catalog offers an estimation for hours of homework, as many do, of four to six hours — per week.

But, Oskoui said, "The class moves at a really fast pace, so if we weren't given a lot of homework, I don't know if people would be keeping up with the class."

Paly senior Brook had similar feelings about AP U.S. History, which has the notorious reputation as being Paly's most demanding class. Usually taken junior year, the course requires reading over the summer before the class starts and annotated reading linked to quizzes that are usually given two out of the three times a week the class meets.

Though Brook described the class as a "soul sucker" homework-wise, teacher Jack Bungarden made it "one of the best classes I've ever taken."

"It was a worthwhile class," Brook said. "Most of the work we had to do was very helpful, even though there was just so much."

Even this rigorous course has recently shifted slightly, with Bungarden now offering students three chances to opt out of the regular reading quizzes if they for some reason can't get it done. Many teachers do offer this kind of flexibility, making some or even all assignments optional. At Paly, for example, AP Psychology has started making homework (primarily reading), test corrections and pre-test review optional.

"So far I've done basically everything that was optional, but it's less stressful knowing if you do badly on it, it's dropped, and if you end up not having time, it's fine," Oskoui said.

Four Paly teachers also piloted last fall a homework-pass program in the hopes that offering an olive branch of flexibility would open up the lines of communication between teachers and students about homework. In exchange for either a free extension or excused assignment, students had to meet with their teacher over lunch with the goal of having an open, judgment-free conversation about their workload.

The passes were the product of a school-culture hackathon, hosted by the Stanford University d.school, that Bloom and a small group of teachers and students who form Paly's school-climate committee attended one weekend. They were tasked with answering the question, "What could you do to make school better?" (And in the vein of an action-oriented hacker mindset, "How can you accomplish that on a small-scale by the time you go back to school on Monday?" Bloom said.)

The pilot passes were offered to about 250 students. About 35 students used the passes and about two-thirds opted for an extension rather than an excused assignment, Bloom said.

"The idea is that (students) wanted just a little bit of flexibility so that they could make mistakes," Bloom said. "And then it was this piece of, 'Well, I could talk to you about it and we could do this, but what about these other teachers that are not as flexible?'

"That's where we learned, it's not the homework. It's all these other factors. Homework is just this symptom."

At least in some classes, homework is relatively low-stakes, Oskoui said, so the pressure is not as great. In most of her classes at Paly, it's been weighted only 5 to 10 percent of the grade. But it still can induce stress if it makes students feel like they won't be ready for a future test.

"When I'm doing the homework, if I find it's really hard, I'll be like, 'Oh my gosh, what's the test going to be like?'" she said. "In math especially, if I really struggled with a homework assignment, I'll get stressed thinking about the test in the future."

Weinmann said she's also seen the overall homework load at Gunn increase as more students enroll in more AP and honors classes.

"I think I have whittled back on the amount of homework I assign," she said. "I can't say that other teachers necessarily have or have not, but what I have seen is that more students are choosing to take the AP and honors courses than ever before."

She said that when she first arrived at Gunn, the science department, for example, offered only AP Biology and AP Physics B, with a total of five sections of classes. About 12 percent of the study body enrolled in an AP-level science course, Weinmann said.

Today, Gunn offers 16 sections of AP science courses and has added AP Physics C (calculus-based physics), AP Chemistry and AP Environmental Science to the roster. About 22 percent of Gunn students enroll in these classes.

Despite the pockets of innovative teaching practices cropping up at Paly and Gunn, Weinmann said that widespread change will require providing teachers more time to collaborate.

"Individual teachers plugging away at it in their own classrooms, which is happening right now, is not going to be nearly as effective as when we have an opportunity to work together towards this common goal," she said.

---

A district-wide review of homework practices is likely to appear on the Board of Education's agenda this year, with newly elected member Ken Dauber in particular pushing to keep the issue at the forefront of his colleagues' minds. Dauber has asked that staff review the implementation of the district's homework policy, which was approved in 2012 and was reportedly rolled out unevenly at schools (Read: District homework policy roll-out stalls).

"We shouldn't assume that there is some part of a student's day that is somehow dedicated to homework and the job of the schools are to fill it," Dauber said in an interview. "Just like everything else, we should be able to demonstrate the educational payoff for the time. And if we can't, then we don't have a right to use it because kids have other things to do with their life after school."

"It really needs to be assessed on its merits of, 'Is this providing an educational benefit?' both in terms of its content and also its quantity," he added. "We need to be willing to modify our practices based on what we learn from that."

But as the often-slow wheels of government turn, Alfie Kohn, for one, urges teachers and parents to be the agents of change when it comes to pushing for structural changes at their children's schools.

At his talk this month, Kohn urged teachers to not feel restricted by the grade they're required to give at the end of a semester and to use their time to shift students' focus from assessment and performance to learning and engagement. He told a worried mother in the audience, frustrated by the educational options for her almost-kindergarten-age son, to organize with other parents to put weight behind her concerns.

"You don't have to wait for the school to move in order to do some good," Kohn said.

Comments

14 people like this
Posted by wake up and smell the roses
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 30, 2015 at 8:04 am

Homework is graded for completion, rather than performance. Overall grades are not A's, B's, C's or D's on homework but rather "mastery," "proficient," "competent" or "emerging."

This is what we need for a homework policy!

We don't need or want an overly simplistic "10 minutes per grade", which means absolutely nothing and can never work. Whoever thought that was a good idea?


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 8:13 am

My kid is a Gunn Junior taking several AP's and most have a quite reasonable homework demand with the exception of APUSH, AP US History. Since I quiz her on the material, I frankly can't understand why anyone would want to remember most of that history. I'm pretty sure most, if not all, of our school board, city council, state and federal legislators would do pretty poorly on the AP US History exam.


31 people like this
Posted by forced march - for what?
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 30, 2015 at 9:33 am

I can't understand why PAUSD is so interested in a forced march in all aspects of their schools - it starts with the ridiculously short lunch times in elementary (and I understand middle is no better - 10-15 minutes - seriously?) PE only once or twice a week and it takes off from there. Everyday is exhausting and not age appropriate.

We pulled our kids out after elementary and now they attend a rigorous private school. My kids were more stressed and overwhelmed at the end of each day in PAUSD elementary then they are taking honors classes now.

Why? Well, to start with private schools have 20 fewer days of school and reasonable expectations. The breaks are spread through the year and the kids have time to catch up on sleep and work. Nothing snowballs. The incentives are entirely different. Their public school friends appear to have more homework (for similar courses) and it's clear they have less time - and it shows - many of those kids look exhausted. There appears to be almost zero flexibility for the public school kids. No doubt many of the public school kids are admitted to many of the same colleges as private schools kids - but the private school kids have had a much calmer education and a lower chance of burnout in college (of course there are exceptions within families - some people are just crazy) . PAUSD makes noises and has endless meetings about schedules, expectations and homework loads, but at the end of the day it's all still the same. Smoke and mirrors.

Calmer doesn't mean intellectually easier - it means incorporating breaks and considering what's age appropriate.

I know there are wonderful teachers and lovely parents in PAUSD, but that's not a reason to tolerate the existing rat race. PAUSD counts on parents being too exhausted an overwhelmed to unite and they fuel the fire by pitting different groups of parents against each other. Not so different than the many corrupt and tyrannical governments throughout world history. It certainly worked in our family - I was so exhausted working and having small children and trying to volunteer as much as I could that I didn't have the energy to go to the school board meetings. I tried, but it's too exhausting and depressing to try to unravel what's really going on at Churchill

I hope for the future of all kids in PAUSD that there are parents who have more time than I did to mount a serious fight against the District and make meaningful change. They could start by letting kids eat lunch.


24 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 10:21 am

It's simple.
Yes, there is too much homework.
Yes, Paly says they are working on this but little is changing.
Yes, teachers ignore the guidelines and still give homework over breaks and holidays. Talk to any student and they will tell you.
relaxing homework on the night after a kid commits suicide is not enough and a very shallow response.
I have 2 students at Paly and see nothing is changing. As a family, we will do our best to manage this for our remaining 2+ years. Then we all leave and move on to better and more rationale lives.
Wake up Paly.


17 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Jan 30, 2015 at 10:32 am

Yes, I have thought for years that schools give too much homework. It is a burden that competes with other things of importance like music, sports, and sleep! I agree, it can become a bone of contention between student and parent to try to comply as well. Tone it down.


35 people like this
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 10:35 am

Jordan had ridiculous amounts of homework.

Often accompanied with poor instruction, unclear directions, poor use of Schoology, hidden expectations, secret rubrics, punitive late policies.

The Science department should be let go and start over. English might be close second.

The only progress you can see at Jordan is that after-school detentions for late homework has stopped; but the teachers who pressure students with such tactics are still there, and the principal who supports them remains in charge.

It remains a dismal place; I would like to see the school come clean and openly declare an end to mistreating students.

Getting new leadership would demonstrate a real change in attitude.


16 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 10:36 am

Wow, thanks for this article, I felt like standing up and cheering!

I hope parents will call on the district to implement more course, honors, and AP courses with no homework, call them H-NH or AP-NH courses. Let kids choose between AP-H and AP-NH courses. I think there will always be people whose way of learning will preference AP-H. But there are also those who need AP-NH and who learn better that way. Perhaps kids will find they can take an AP-H course for something reading-intensive that they would otherwise never be able to benefit from, because they have the option of taking AP-NH courses for everything else.

I think it's not possible to "win" an argument over homework or no homework absent any clear legal ability to set boundaries on the school day. Even when there are few minutes of homework, or fewer assignments, the problem I see is how any homework at all sucks away my child's focus like some kind of dementor out of a Harry Potter book. (Except for very clear practice homework, as in math, which I think all of us find helpful, especially since it is easy to do in a predictable amount of time.)

Just like the teacher above who found his AP students doing better on their scores when they didn't have homework, I find my own child is more engaged, more interested, and more able to do personal projects when there is less homework. Having the chance to COUNT on having our own time after school everyday would reliably allow for a healthier social life, too.

We should be innovating at Gunn, too, for the whole program. Why don't we have a tech and science equivalent of the Paly social justice program at Gunn? Please, with all the urgency of caring for the value of every child, let's make it so. (Not just because of tragedy, though the impetus to act is important, too, but because it's the healthiest and most educationally sound thing for the kids who need it.)


6 people like this
Posted by Nixon Parent
a resident of Nixon School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 10:53 am

I think that the way they gave out homework in college could serve as a model for PAUSD. For each course, there is a level of knowledge and mastery a student is expected to attain, and the grades are largely assessed by a few major exams, or a few essays, depending on the class. There might be some homework and problem sets given throughout the quarter to ensure that you are progressing appropriately and learning material that might be expected to be on the major exams, but these assignments are very de-emphasized, and count for very little toward the final grade. In such a system, the homework becomes essentially optional/flexible, and the student can be the best judge of how helpful the homework is toward achieving their goal, and can choose not to do it. Homework only starts to suck when it starts to feel like jumping through hoops, going through the motions, trying to grub for grades so that a teacher can get a power trip over your compliance.


24 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:07 am

I actually don't think kids have too much homework. I think they just need to take reasonable amount of difficult courses or take courses based on their aptitude. I have two nephews (in 4th grade and 3rd grade) who go to two different private schools and they do 2-3 hours of homework a day and weekends too! That compares to almost zero homework for my 6th grader at Terman, and that's about the same amount of homework my high schooler has! If high school becomes too easy, how are our kids going to handle college? AP and honor classes are designed for kids that have aptitude in those subjects but nowadays many parents/kids treat it as a normal level class which of course puts a lot of stress on the kids. If we should change anything, it is not to change what high school offers, it is to change college admission criteria. If colleges stop counting AP classes, then I am sure many kids won't be taking AP classes anymore. I think Gunn is great to offer so many AP and honor classes which essentially meets all our kids' needs. We as parents just have to be brave enough to tell our kids not to overload on honors or AP's.


22 people like this
Posted by Grace
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:08 am

Palo Alto High Schools ABSOLUTELY give too much homework! As a physician who attended a top college, medical school and residency program, I learned a lot of subject matter but never had as much "homework" as these poor kids at Palo Alto Schools. The teachers need to teach the work, the kids need to learn the material (however they choose) and then pass the exam. This works in college and medical school. Colleges often give minimal homework, just lectures, a few assignments and exams. Medical School definitely didn't have homework, heck, some people barely made lecture at all. The goal is to learn the information, however, a particular student accomplishes that. Homework is a wast of time! These very bright kids could be accomplishing so much more with their brains freed to think and enjoy the world after school.


14 people like this
Posted by enough!
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Yes. I complained about this back in the late 90's and early in 2000's. I gave up telling my kids to go to bed. The homework load is heavy, and if a kid plays a sport, it's almost overwhelming. By the first two months my kids were in high school, there was no longer a 'bedtime." I gave up. I quickly saw it wasn't just my kids. It was their friends too. My kids were not allowed out from Sun night through Thursday night. They could do homework and play their sport, and that would often take them through until 2 am. If there was project or something else due, 4 am.

They even had work to do over Christmas break. That was appalling to me because kids need to be kids and take that time to de-stress.

I do understand that the school is under pressure by parents who want their kids in Ivy League schools, and there aren't enough hours in a day to teach all there is to know to get the kind of grades required by these institutions.

Just a bad situation all the way around.


5 people like this
Posted by Data Based Decision Making
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Thrilled this is a public discussion and so happy to hear about teachers who are breaking the mold with reduced or no homework loads and measuring the positive result of their change. Gunn Teacher Phil Lyons' shift in teaching his AP class seems to prove: less homework = more positive results. PAUSD needs more data driven studies. Lets see some real data analytics applied to this re-evaluation of PAUSD's homework policy.


12 people like this
Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:30 pm

PA mom is a registered user.

Yes, PAUSD schools DO assign way too much homework, and it's ridiculous! The things I want PAUSD to focus on instead are critical thinking skills and fostering a love for learning.

When I went to Greendell in Palo Alto in the sixties and early seventies, we weren't assigned homework until (brace yourselves, now) the fourth grade. I was appalled when my son, who has special needs, had homework starting in 1st grade. He had literally NO time for a life beyond schools, eating and sleeping because of homework. Our solution was simply to not make him do all of it. The school principal did a school parent survey on how much homework they wanted their kids to get, and it was about evenly split down the middle between parents complaining about the heavy load of meaningless homework that took away family time, and the "tiger"type parents who wanted their kids to get even more!

Years later when my daughter started Kindergarten, I was appalled again when she was assigned homework, in Kindergarten! I didn't make her do it, and told the teacher honestly that I didn't feel it was important to her overall learning.

In 1st grade, my daughter had a wonderfully flexible teacher who allowed her to bring in her own projects in lieu of the ones she assigned, and there were many. The thing was that my daughter loved learning, but on her terms. She was constantly creating art projects and engaging me in educational activities with her, reading, etc., and I thought it seemed illogical to tell her she couldn't do the learning projects she loved and make her do ones she didn't like instead. Her 2nd grade teacher wasn't so flexible, and that's when her school stress started.

Homework based on cramming facts and figures doesn't foster critical thinking skills; having class discussions does. It helps kids learn to question accepted ways of thinking and think outside the box. Too much inflexible homework kills a love for learning, and fostering a love for learning should be what school is all about.


6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Data - I think there is by far enough information to move forward and provide a program of mostly "flipped" classrooms, immediately, by next academic year. We must demand this. We can talk this to death and nothing will happen. There is enough information to act, now.

However.

I think the only way to move forward and innovate is by creating choices, rather than trying to impose one way of doing things over the whole district. The problem is that there will always be people who see the very intense traditional experience as "the" way to go, especially since this is a diverse community with people coming from other countries and cultures where the educational system really IS overtly a sorting of those who are best at the intense academic hamster wheel than others. Thus, there is no "winning" an argument over whether an intense academic experience is best or a high-quality "flipped" program with more autonomy and project-based learning is best. To some extent, what is "best" will always depend some on the desires and beliefs of the families and insisting that this tension be resolved before taking any action is both unrealistic and robs families whose children desperately need the "flipped" option of what their children need to best educate them.

I say this as someone who preferred the "hamster wheel" myself and whose child excels and does such amazing things if freed from that and able to have more autonomy. I look back at my early life just out of college and I can see now that it took me years to learn how to be autonomous myself. I think if we retain a "hamster wheel" option, we need to think about how to help those students learn autonomy because studies show they are less able to finish tasks they set for themselves (as opposed to what others tell them to do).

Making such choices immediately available will also make it possible to show those who choose to enter the very intense homework side that there are high-quality options, and should they realize the very intense homework-heavy program is not for them, they can make another high-quality choice, they don't have to just choose a "dumbed down" course load, because (as the teacher above demonstrated) the test scores are even higher in some of those courses without the homework.

But the time is well past continuing to study this to death. We already have a project-based option in elementary school in this district. It's high time we carried it through to high-school. Maybe we can't reproduce Ohlone, but we can implement what Esther Wojcicki describes in her book, what teachers like she and Lyons and Ledgerwood are already doing, and make it possible for kids who need that to choose only that kind of approach in their schedule.

If it's not possible to fully implement with Gunn and Paly teachers by next year, please make it possible for some of us to at least use independent study to get what we need that way. Homeschoolers of gifted kids consistently seem able to deliver the core material in 2-3 hours a day and have the rest of the day for higher level projects. We should be able to do that in school, and if we can't get it together to do that by next year, we should at least work with parents to allow it through independent study.


3 people like this
Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Create choices, not a blanket policy.

Case1: There are many kids who have exceptional time management skills, who manage this level of homework easily.

case2: Then there are kids, who have challenges to overcome, who get drowned in the amount of work that is expected and it really hurts their growth.

case3: Then there are kids, who can tackle the amount of homework, if they tried, but they don't want to attempt for one reason or another


Reducing the amount of homework and the challenging work is a disservice to the kids from case1.

Reducing the amount of homework and lowering the level of challenging material is absolutely beneficial to the kids who have their own challenges to tackle

Case 3 -- well, the parent, teacher(s) and the child(ren) should work this out.

Create options for the amount of homework, let the kids+teachers decide on what is appropriate. Allow the kids to move between the homework lanes ( start with a higher homework level, if it doesn't work out move to the lower level or vice versa )




12 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mum
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Yes there is too much homework and I believe it is used for grade inflation at Gunn. Mastery of the academic material takes a back seat to conforming to over zealous homework assignments. Yes the AP classes of Econ and Statistics are trendsetters allowing students to opt out of homework contributing to their mark. I have one child who mastered the knowledge of two AP courses resulting in a 4 and a 5. His goal was simply to learn and enjoy the material. Unfortunately his non conformist ways of being unwilling to do unhelpful homework and morally unwilling to just copy someone else's work resulted in a D and an F on the Gunn scale marking. The teachers take great pride in the rigor of their program and are inflexible to change. Not saying he was correct in his behavior but he knew how to learn the material well. Isn't that the goal


13 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Yes, students have too much homework, but our family has always pushed sleep as essential above everything else. (My children have learned that when they are run down from lack of sleep, surprise, they get sick.)

Because the homework grind competes with sleep and their outside interests (which is what makes them interesting young humans to be around in the first place), their grades come back lower than they hope. it's ok. The 80% extra effort to claw your way up the curve is just not worth the cost in my mind. I really don't know how some kids pull off 4.0 GPAs but Palo Alto is a very perverse and, yet, amazing environment.

If you take a lot of intelligent people (the right tail of a bell curve) and put them in one community... it makes an interesting, engaging community of people who are creative and fun to be around. BUT if you put this select group on a new bell curve, a lot of intelligent people feel downright stupid or become ruthless competitors. In a normal community, these people might become very fine artists, engineers, writers, scientists. In Palo Alto, really bright kids won't even consider those futures if they're not in the top lanes. I think this is a shame.

Consider the Palo Alto student who (gasp!) drops a lane in Math, goes off to a state school to eventually major in... math... then continues on to graduate school to get a PhD in .... math.... at an Ivy.

Palo Alto is amazing and perverse, but we have to get our kids out into the world to get a bigger perspective than this little bubble inside a bubble.


9 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:01 pm

To Forced march.
If you kid is telling you he only gets 10-15 minutes for lunch, you need to check the veracity of your child.


15 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:08 pm

You know raising my kids I had a simple policy.
Homework first, fun and games second.
Seemed to work both have degrees and doing very well in their respective careers.
A huge part of the "homework" problem is parents who don't think it is important, who have no control over how their kids spend their home time.
Getting an education,or succeeding at your career, is not a 9-5 activity.


5 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

The most pertinent truth about homework is that it's part of a relationship: the relationship between the teacher and his or her students. This seems obvious, which is perhaps what causes people to so easily forget it.

Homework is assigned by the teacher and done by the students. It's not assigned by the administrators and done by the students. It's not assigned by a District committee and done by the students. It's not assigned by the School Board and done by the parents... Etc.

And so, any change in the homework situation will absolutely depend on the participation and good will of the teachers—and will only come about when teachers and their kids are in closer touch with each other about the problem.

Students, for a variety of reasons (pride, fear, self-consciousness), are loath to complain to teachers; teachers, for a variety of reasons (including some simple, very human limitations that we all suffer from) are slow to correctly asses the amount of work they're asking for or accurately judge its proportions within the entirety of a student's busy, work-crammed life.

To close this gap in communication, the grassroots initiative "Save the 2,008" offers a novel solution, laid out in full on the campaign's website: www.savethe2008.com. It's the best possible approach.

It's Step Two of the initiative's six-point plan, and is called "ClockTalk."

On this topic, moreover, it's my fervent desire to spare an already suffering community even more suffering.

We should abandon all efforts to enforce the current homework policy. Such efforts will only make a miserable school more miserable, a depressed school more depressed, a dire situation more dire.

Teachers were never adequately included in forming the policy, and they don't find it realistic. Efforts to monitor, regulate, oversee, or sanction their homework practices will only make them more miserable than they already are.

They're miserable because no one cares about them. Is anyone sending them thanks for doing the grueling, deeply emotional work of being with bereaved teenagers all day, again and again, month after month, suicide after suicide? Is this even mentioned in the papers or online?

Do people drop of vases of flowers at the Gunn main office so that all the teachers will see how grateful we are? (No, people don't. I dropped off flowers on Monday and there wasn't another bloom or blossom or thank-you card in sight.) Are our teachers heralded in the newspapers, in letters-to-the editor? No.

The teachers have been insulted for years by poor, neglectful, high-handed leadership. Their workload has been added to with no recompense whatsoever. Teachers have no sense that the community likes them, cares about them, or has their back, and this is thoroughly in line with the treatment they've been accorded.

Given this situation, it will be impossible to force them to execute a policy that already does not have their sympathy. They would be completely justified, in my opinion, in resisting such attempts. A policy of enforcement will produce an even more stressed campus, gripped by an even blacker mood. I know these things from experience: I taught for 15 years at Gunn, including through the six suicides of 2009-10.

Not until people start writing thank-you cards to Gunn's teachers, taking flowers, asking for extra, "battle pay" for them, and showing up at the School Board and writing letters-to-the-editor on behalf of these amazing public servants will I believe in anybody's tenderness or care for them or appreciation of what they're going through for the kids' and the community's sake.

Sincerely,

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept., 1995-2010
(co-founder, with sophomore Martha Cabot, of "Save the 2,008")
www.savethe2008.com


6 people like this
Posted by Not Roger
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Ha! There's is always someone like Roger in these discussions. "Well in my day..." LOL

Times have changed Roger...times have changed. Without kids in school now your opinion is not an educated one. I'll listen to the comments of the people dealing with the current issue....you know, people with some skin in the game.
Thanks for your assumptions about lying kids and lazy parents though. Constructive for sure.


7 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:36 pm

To Not Roger
Your attitude is perfect, blame the system. Raising kids is our job. not the schools, both my kids and I are in the education field, and what you purport to be saying is that the system is failing, I disagree.
Not to lessen what is happening at Gunn, the problem is not in the system, it lies elsewhere, and we haven't found it yet, a few years ago we had the same issue at Paly. Homework is not the cause of suicides, lets be real, or at least try. Answer me this , who knows your kids better than anyone?
If you don't answer "me" your doing something wrong.
It is so easy to point the finger and blame everyone and everything , but that solves nothing. We need to find the problem and solve it.


Like this comment
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Not Roger.
Glad you know the definition of "veracity".
You must have done your homework. Did you thank a teacher.


2 people like this
Posted by Former Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Kids need to do some homework to learn. I have to say that Gunn prepares students well to handle college. I asked both my sons (graduated from Gunn a couple of years ago) about Gunn, they both said that Gunn prepares them well for college. They don't think Gunn is that tough or too much homework. They said college is much harder. One is at Berkeley currently, and he said Berkeley is much harder than Gunn. What I am afraid is that if Gunn lowers its homework standard, kids will be happy and parents will be happy. However, your kids will leave your safety nest without your support as soon as they head out for college. If then college is so tough, a 18-year old will have a tough time in college without your daily support. College is not immured for suicide, so parents, you need to prepare your kids well enough to handle it by themselves before they leave you !!!


3 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recyce
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:17 pm

@forced march - for what? - would you share which private school you chose? I think it helps with the context of the discussion, and also would be helpful for those looking for options.

@not roger - You attack Roger for not having a current student, but he seems more well informed about the lunch schedule than current parents. Lunch for middle school is 35min, not 15. That said, 35 still seems too short to me..


2 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:21 pm

I have been thinking about this quite a bit over the past couple of weeks.

I am not sure if I know the answer. Part of the reason for this is it is so hard for me to quantify how much my child is actually getting. Yes I can see a list of assignments, but I know that at least part of these assignments are often started and sometimes finished in class. I can see my child sitting doing "homework" but some of it is reading, some of it is on the computer and some of it is writing or similar. It is often hard for me to see how many times he has edited, reworked or otherwise spent on a page of typed homework. Likewise when he is reading, how many times he has had to reread a paragraph, or taken notes, or stopped to look for further information half way through.

In other words, as a parent, unless I sit beside my child all the time it is hard to work it out. Yes, he spends a lot of time "doing homework" but is all the time spent focused? I am more concerned with the time he finishes homework and gets to bed. I am also unable to ascertain with the amount of time spent "studying for tests" as opposed to completing assignments that are going to be graded. Studying is not quantifiable in the same way as assignments, and some assignments take longer for some students than other. Preparing a presentation is another area where it is hard to ascertain just how much time my child takes on preparation and practicing.

So to summarize, I have no idea how much time my child really takes to do homework. I know how much time he spends doing homework, but with getting snacks, looking for materials, trying to log in on "stupid websites that don't work" (a phrase that can mean almost anything in computer terms) and how much time is spent on focused homework, the answer is I don't see how I can know.


5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Former Gunn parent,

Thanks for sharing your experience. Your post exemplifies why there should be choices. You clearly do not see the alternative of project-based learning as including rigor and high achievement, and that's fine. Your children did better with what we have, and that's good, too. But please realize, school is for educating children, and other children learn optimally differently than yours did. This is not about hard work or rigor, this is about pedagogical approach and how other people choose to lead their lives to the fullest, including education.

I want a project-based "flipped" choice precisely because the current program is destroying my kid's drive and curiosity. This is a child capable of truly disciplined, hard work, more than peers, frankly, but the contrived circumstances of a very narrowly focused traditional academic load all day is a mismatch. He's already achieved things in middle school that a lot of college students never do, because he has the intellectual curiosity and had the time and support to pursue them. There was no "safety nest" -- in fact, I want the option so my child can be more autonomous.

Have you ever considered that college might be harder for kids who are too used to being told exactly what to do all the time? (I say this having gone to MIT myself.)


18 people like this
Posted by Fed up with the whining
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:37 pm

I have children who went through Palo Alto schools from Kindergarten through high school in recent years. They did not have too much homework! They managed to take some AP classes, have a job after school, hang out with friends and be in a tech club while having enough sleep. I even sometimes wondered if they had enough homework!!

So, what is the catch? There were a couple of things that made this possible.

One is that they did not chase after all As. They accepted Bs, especially in hard classes such as AP Calc. And so did we, as their parents. We decided that Bs were good enough. Did that preclude them from going to some of the most prestigious universities? Probably, and so what? Our oldest, now in the workforce does better than many former classmates that crammed to go to more prestigious universities.

Other thing? They took only the APs they were really interested in and that were not crazy making. They refused to take AP English (not so interested) or APUSH (too much work), and took AP CalC BC and AP science, econ, language classes instead, because that is what they liked.

It is all about being balanced. However, in order to be balanced you need to make reasonable choices. These choices are up to the parents and their students. Do not give in to the pressure of the college race. It is useless anyway.

Do I think schools should cut homework or water down the curriculum? NOOOO! They prepare the kids beautifully for college and the AP classes my children took were their favorites. Furthermore, even my kids will tell you that classes like math take practice, just as playing the violin does. Homework is necessary for proficiency.

Parents need to revise their expectations of their kids. I guarantee you that there is no other solution to the current problem.

By the way, one last note. Even if all homework is eliminated, and all grades too, and the curriculum is watered down, and on and on, "top" universities will still not take all 1,000 Palo Alto graduates every year. They will find another way to weed out the field. And in the process, our kids will stop learning and getting ready for college as well as they have all these years. Bad deal for everyone.


7 people like this
Posted by gunnparent
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:40 pm

As a freshman at Gunn, my teen was getting 4-5 hours of homework per night. We joked that teachers must love weekends because there were no classes to interfere with time for homework. What especially bothered me, is that at times my child spent far more hours on projects for her electives (and I hear this echoed from other parents) than she did on core subjects. I think elective teachers frequently expect far too much from teens in terms of their outside of class assignments (and I'm not referring to courses like photography where you expect to spend substantial time on projects outside of class).


7 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:46 pm

I have 2 kids at Gunn. The amount of homework at Gunn is outrageous. It results in lack of sleep and extreme stress on the kids and families. Teachers are working in vacuums and piling on the work with complete disregard for the well-being of these students. It is not realistic to tell the kids not to take difficult courses. This is not going to happen in our community, but we can limit the amount of homework that is assigned in these and all of the other classes. Martha Cabot had it 100% right when she described kids coming home to do a second shift after school. Adults wouldn't be able to handle this, I don't know how we can expect teenagers to.


4 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:49 pm

To Mark Vincenti, I definitely agree that homework involves teachers. There were teachers on the homework committee, though. If teachers want to improve homework it seems that there are many ways they can do that consistent with the policy. They just have to stay within the time guidelines. If they don't want to abide by the district policy, they should be accountable for that in their evaluations, just like any other policy.

I agree that more thanks are in order, but continuing to assign amounts of homework that violate district policy shouldn't be contingent on that.

Thank you for your efforts for our students


3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 3:09 pm

We see diametrically opposed experiences and opinions in Fed Ups and Gunnparents posts. There is no "winning" this argument, because each is making an honest expression from their own experience and needs. We should make choices that make it possible to give both sides a good education, and we already know how to do this and are doing it at the elementary level and in some classrooms at the high school level.

There should not just be two choices, one with the traditional home-work heavy experience that Fed Up prefers and at which his/her children apparently excelled, and forcing others who don't like it to take a "dumbed down" option if they need a different approach. There is too much evidence that the former way is not the only or the best way to educate all children.

We can and should create another option for people who want to set better boundaries between school and home and whose kids LEARN and ACHIEVE better through the "flipped" classroom project-based model. Why should the only option for people who choose work-life balance be an inferior education, why shouldn't we offer the kind of pedagogical approach that allows them to get an equally high quality or even better quality (because it's individualized) education for their kids as well?


2 people like this
Posted by Teacher follow the rules
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 30, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Marc you are just wrong that teachers didn't have a chance to participate in the formulation of the policy. Here were more teachers on the committee than parents. They cannot just resist the policy. That's wrong.

They have to follow board policy. This is how it works. If they don't want their high paying jobs and their autodidact students they can go elsewhere. Filing a grievance about having to follow the policy? Every taxpayer should be outraged.now they want a fat raise too! Bend over Palo Alto.


12 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Fed Up,

It's interesting you bring up violin. My kid plays advanced violin in an advanced children's orchestra. Their performances are so much more advanced than the high school orchestra, even though the high school teacher is also very good and many of the same children attend. And yet, the kids in the youth orchestra don't need any homework or grades to perform at a much higher level (and come to think of it, they also get college credit).

The program with more self-direction and autonomy, in which the "teacher" gives the kids more independence, treats them with respect and has realistic but very high expectations, is the one in which the kids excel more. There is no mandatory homework, which allows the kids to spend their time actually playing and practicing (and doesn't kill the desire to like filling out practice sheets). Which experience mirrors more the real world? The advanced orchestra.

You may be fed up with the whining of those whose kids need something different than yours, but I'm fed up with the whining of people who want to impose an absolutely soul-deadening, mismatched, narrow pedagogical approach on everyone else just because it works for you. Every child has their gifts, we should be working to individualize education so that every child feels supported to find and hone those gifts.


12 people like this
Posted by Gunn Father
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 4:15 pm

Suicide is a complex issue.There are not easy fixes. That said, every straw on the camel's back matters. Too much homework, usually with uncoordinated schdls, at Gunn is stressful. I have a Sr there, I see this all the time. Gunn is a dreary place , some paint might help --- maybe having the AD get all the banners out of the old gym into the now not so new one ,2 yrs and counting , could pump up a little school spirit. Anything that makes kids want to go there vs not being able to wait to get out of there , would be positive . Amazing for a school of 2000, how few letterman jackets on boys or girls you see, almost none ... again, not a great sense of community , not a positive sense of 'belonging' . Teachers that wont allow students to provide extra credit so that a C might become a B is stressful. Is that so hard ? Not talking about raising an A to an A+ here.
Parents taking their foot off the tutor gas pedal might help . As a Gunn student asked me, 'why do we need tutors? isnt that what teachers are for ?' So there are many contributing issues but there is no denying that be it the above or environmental issues that some of suggested, there is something different at Gunn and it is not conducive to happiness and mental health. Something triggers those on the edge to proceed fatally at Gunn.
Ask yourself parents, if you had an 8th grader , would you send him/her to Gunn? I hope the answer will change over time but for now , it is a resounding , "NO".


5 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mum
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jan 30, 2015 at 5:13 pm

We as a family have supported our kids to decide what kind of Gpa they are willing to accept considering the balance and costs involved. This should be their personal decision however Palo Alto as a culture made it very difficult to stick to this. Every parent of a junior or senior loves to discuss college plans, SATs and applications. They send a messAge that normal in Palo Alto is acceptance into an IVY league. Let us change the perception of "normal". I unfortunAtely can not cite the reference but it has been shown that groups align their behavior to what is perceived as normal. At college campuses they made a concerted effort to tell students that they was very little binge drinking and poor behaviors and subsequently the drinking incident rAtes were radically reduced. As parents we can make one EASY CHANGE TODAY. Let's make normal expectations to be what works best for the student. Instead asking the ubiquitous "What College they are applying to?" We should frame our conversations to allow many options. What are you planning for next year? Have you considered a gap year? Let kids know there are all kinds of paths availAble to them and they are not defined by their acceptance or rejection letters.


7 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Fred is a registered user.

"Parents need to revise their expectations of their kids. I guarantee you that there is no other solution to the current problem."

Agreed. You can try to change the school, homework, cell phones, APs, bell schedules, etc. if you like. The pressure comes largely from perceived need to get into aspirational colleges, and the risk of not doing so. That comes from parents, and gets transmitted to and through students. Hard to change and definitely not under the control of the school.

In our family, we address it through consistently telling our kids that B's are ok (haven't dealt with C's), top lanes unnecessary, any college choice is fine, and that friends and "me time" is important. It hasn't been perfect, but we definitely don't have the problems some report in terms of homework overload, tutoring needs, or mental anguish.


15 people like this
Posted by Current Gunn Student
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2015 at 6:06 pm

I am currently a Junior at Gunn who is taking 4 AP classes and 2 honors classes. The amount of homework is NOT unreasonable. If you have a crap load of home work one night, that is your own fault for procrastinating. I, personally, only have about 2 hours of homework a night. On top of a couple of hours of robotics almost every day during January and February.

To the parents who say that our elementary schools and middle school have too much homework, stop coddling your children. This world is about hard work and PAUSD does a pretty damn good job preparing us for it. I went to Hoover elementary school, one of the more rigorous elementary schools and I enjoyed the homework loads. Sure, there was homework, but by no measure was it undoable. I went to JLS middle school. I thought it was a joke. I took the hardest classes available to me and still ended up wasting most of my day on the computer, finishing homework in an hour. I actually wish that my middle school had been more rigorous if anything.

High school was when I finally started to feel like I was really learning, and above all else, I'm loving junior year. I finally have the chances to load up on courses I like (mainly sciences). The homework load is DEFINITELY NOT TOO MUCH.

If you're kid is struggling, teach them to have a good work ethic now--it'll help later on in life. If you can't complete a couple of hours of homework every night, who's going to want to hire you?

Stop blaming our schools for stress. Stop adding on to the stress that teachers already feel. If the homework load truly is unbearable, drop a class-- don't just complain and expect the world to change to fit your personal needs. Part of growing up is knowing what you can and cannot handle.


9 people like this
Posted by palyhomework
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 30, 2015 at 6:28 pm

When a kid is down with flu, can barely open his eyes and the only thing he worries about is missed assignments in his PALY classes, there is something seriously wrong with the system. Only to return back the following week with NO slack cut for being sick, deadlines not shifted, there is something seriously wrong with the system. This is a kid who cares about school, has few after school activities( to accommodate unrealistic homework demands) and is generally engaged in learning and school. When all tests happen within the same week and not one teacher steps back even when kids let her know that they are slammed with tests, THERE IS SOMETHING SERIOUSLY WRONG WITH THE SYSTEM! So much for philosophical discussions and the pretense of doing something about it! Sometimes leaders need to take a stand and enforce change for the well being of students- it is a call to action.


8 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 7:12 pm

Dear Current Gunn Student,

Can I ask you a serious question? Do you really think this is all "coddling" and that everyone in the whole world LEARNS (not produces at work, learns) exactly the way you do? Can you please tell me in all honesty how you feel about the Ohlone program, because the kids who go there do the same curriculum.

(I ask as a current parent who went to MIT and graduated in top 10% of my class, and whose spouse has had lots of people working for him over the years and is not keen on the "perfect" students since they often don't seem to know how to do anything independently enough.)

Lastly, do your parents work all night, too, instead of coming home and having family time? No work-life balance?

These are serious questions, so I can understand how to answer. You seem to have a pretty narrow view of learning and success, and seem to be underscoring a lot of what people are saying here. I am not saying this to make you feel bad, but to have an honest conversation. Your experience is valid, I was like you. Not everyone else is, and the conditions you think are essential for success turn out to be very different in the real world


11 people like this
Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 30, 2015 at 7:33 pm

A Palo Alto high school student said it best that suicide might be not be caused by school stress, but it definitely doesn’t help. When will parents finally stand up against the true cause? The colleges and their admission process. It is a process that allows colleges to benefit in ranking and prestige on the backs of broken communities across the country. We should not accept that this is the only way for colleges to select students. When will college students themselves, who many suffered themselves, finally standup for children who each year face even more challenges if they do nothing.


9 people like this
Posted by Gunn Teacher
a resident of Woodside
on Jan 30, 2015 at 7:59 pm

I am a current teacher at Gunn and am trully heartbroken to see The blame game going in these public forums. We need to stop accusing each other and start working together. Can teachers do more? Absolutely. Can students offer valid view points without being attacked by adults? Surely, yes. Can parents do more to help their kids deal with stress? Of course. Can the District Office offer more leadership? Absolutely. Please - let's not let our differing opinions lead to us being fractured. It doesn't work in Washignton and it won't work in PA. We are all in this together. So let's start acting like a community.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Gunn Teacher,

I hope you don't think I am attacking the Gunn Student who posted above. He or she used some pretty strong words and negative sentiments against others and expressed a pretty narrow view that might ultimately be to his/her own detriment in life. I just want to understand more about where the student is coming from to express such a narrow view about what education is.

The opinion the student expressed has also been expressed by other adults. While those of us who want choices do not wish to take away theirs, they wish to prevent us from having ours. I hope you can see why that's worth discussion.


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 8:13 pm

"I just want to understand more about where the student is coming from to express such a narrow view about what education is. "

I was trying to hard to avoid using an ambiguous pronoun. Naturally I meant, I just want to first understand more about where the student is coming from that he or she would express such a narrow and negative view about his fellow students and what education is.


8 people like this
Posted by Gunn Teacher
a resident of Woodside
on Jan 30, 2015 at 8:48 pm

I'm thankful to read you did not mean to attack the student, simply open the dialogue. Thank you for clarifying. My post did mention my perception of your post - but I meant for it to go beyond that. No one has got the perfect answer. There is no silver bullet here. Life is messy and imperfect. The only way to move forward is for all of us to change: teachers, parents, students, and elected officials. There is plenty of blame to go around - and most of it is probably well founded. But that's irrelevant right now. I wish we would come together and change together. For our kids. For OUR kids. Thank you for considering my opinion. I look forward to working with all of you to change as a teacher and as a community.


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 9:19 pm

Hi Gunn Teacher,

Thanks for writing back. I did try to clarify to the student in my post that I was not asking rhetorical questions and did wish for both answers and the ability to engage over that opinion, which I can well see because I was a similar kind of learner as he or she is expressing. I also wanted to treat him or her as an adult an not be patronizing, maybe I should have been a little more careful in my phrasing.

When you say "there is no silver bullet here" I actually want to challenge you as a teacher to think about that in a more nuanced way. Maybe there's no silver bullet, maybe there is, we frankly don't know. That informs our problem solving.

Sorry for the folksy example, but I don't know how else to explain. When I was in college, we had a suite with single rooms surrounding an absolutely frightening sty of a kitchen, glass shards on the floor, greasy dirt over every surface, etc. We had all worked together to share the sweeping, mopping and other communal cleaning duties and yet there were recriminations and new strategies and nothing worked.

Summer one year, I stayed on another floor with different women, and suddenly, without trying, the kitchen was a clean center of life. You could actually cook there and sit comfortably on the floor in your shorts. Just before the semester began, one of the students who lived there during the school year was in a terrible mood because another resident was returning early. She said the returning student was a "pig" in the kitchen. I was really taken aback because the returning student was a friend (whose room was always so neat, it didn't seem possible). Sure enough, virtually the second that student returned, the kitchen transformed into the same unbelievable filth of my own suite.

I realized, sometimes it's really easy to think that everyone is contributing to a problem, but it really is one person's fault, or one influence is at the bottom of it. The reason we didn't figure it out in my first school-year suite is because we assumed there were many contributors and the problem seemed so protean. I moved onto another floor during the school year, but what turned out to be the single culprit in my original suite's kitchen lived there 3.5 years before the other residents got wise and kicked her off the floor. The place was clean overnight.

I'm actually not suggesting we go through the useless exercise of trying to identify a silver bullet. I am saying that we should not make any assumptions at all in trying to problem solve. This is too important. We should put everything on the table, brainstorm our way through absolutely everything, and eliminate anything that could possibly be a factor if it is within our power and justifiable on other grounds anyway. We should keep doing all the things we are doing already that we know are important -- and systematically solve the problem looking at every possibility and doing whatever is justifiable and within our power. One of those steps may well include an actual silver bullet, but we probably won't realize it if it is. It doesn't matter so long as we solve the problem. (That's the engineering method...)


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Posted by Gunn Alumnus 2010
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 10:35 pm

I was a student at Gunn when the 2009-10 suicides happened. I'm going to keep this post real and talk about my experiences straight up.

Personally, I don't think homework has as much as an impact as people think. Sure, some homework is tedious and at times, quite frankly, can be stupid. Sometimes teachers assign a lot; sometimes teachers don't explain the assignment clearly. However, it's up to the student to do what it takes to get the work done to the best of their ability. If the student feels like they did their best work then that should be the end of the assignment. But here is where I think things got complicated and messed up. Parents don't understand this new age kids, teens, and college students are growing up in.

I think parents are setting their kids up for failure. From a young age, my parents always told me I was "smart." I was "intelligent." I was "different." My parents thought they were doing a great thing by telling me I was an amazing, intelligent, smart kid. But I feel that that was the worst thing they could have ever done. When I got to the harder classes at Gunn, I had no idea how to handle failure. "Smart kids don't fail," I thought. "So I guess I'm not smart." Yes, I thought that because I had failed I was not smart. It also didn't help to hear peers and sometimes even friends pull the classic "I only studied for like 10 minutes, man. Don't worry you'll be fine." BULL. You can bet on Donald Trump's toupee that no one just studies 10 min for a major exam. The only way to do well on exams is to work hard and study. There aren't any shortcuts. There are always exceptions to the rule. I get that. But this isn't about that. If any current students are reading this and your parents told you as a kid growing up that you're "smart." Forget that. Hard work is where it's at. And you're still gonna keep on learning. That's the big secret. I guarantee you that if you work hard, to the best of your ability, you will find success. Notice, I didn't say, "you'll get an A." Success comes in different ways. People notice other people who work hard. Employers like people who work hard. Your teachers will notice your hard work and appreciate you for it. If your name's on the assignment, wouldn't you want to show how much of boss you are? Hard work is the key. And dare I say it, hard work is life. Build resiliency.

Yo. Parents. If you think what I wrote above was crazy, google "Carol Dweck" and "Melissa Morgan Consoli" I mean, you're probably on your phone anyway...
And while we're on that subject. Parents if you really want to help your kids out, that also takes hard work and effort. How to do it? That ain't my lane. But, unfortunately, there are no short cuts here either.

Gunn Guidance Counselors. Ya'll need to step your game up. Hard. The word "guide" in guidance is there for a reason. I remember a particular counselor telling me " I would totally get into UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz. No prob." Wrong. I didn't get in into either of those schools. In fact, I didn't get accepted anywhere to where I applied. What did I do? I went to Foothill College, had an amazing experience, and transferred to an awesome college. And students, you can do that too. I'm a big Foothill advocate. I would even say staying home for two more years allows you to develop your maturity, but I digress. Guidance counselors need to improve. They need to be real. Don't propagate the idea that Gunn students will be good because they're coming from a prestigious school. Give them practical advice along with the "everything will be ok" speech. Give them options. Life can take myriad of directions.

One last thing, students, if you're still with me. What I'm about to suggest might be blasphemous because we're all about "staying connected." Though, everything is up to you.

Delete your facebook. Delete your instagram, your snapchat, your twitter, tumblr, etc. Keep your Linked In, though; that actually could help you later in life. Stop playing videogames so much, don't watch tv so often, and in general, start thinking about toning down your internet use. Use your phone as an actual phone.

"Whaaa???- How are we going to stay connected with the world?"

Back in the olden days, I think it was called "hanging out." A process in which an individual communicates to other individuals to engage in recreational activities. Okay, that sounded a little mean and sarcastic, but in all seriousness, HANG OUT WITH YOUR FRIENDS.

Hang out with people. Talk to them face to face. More. In real life. Embrace your community. Turn "Social Media" into "Social REAL LIFE." You do realize that people have stayed connected to each other for thousands of years without the help of Facebook. I honestly wish I had done more of this as a high school student. More real life interactions. More memories...


TL;DR:

Homework isn't the main culprit. It's the mentality that some parents have reinforced in their children unknowingly: "You're smart." Change to: "You're a hard worker." Parents, really do your research about the environment your kid's growing in; don't just ask your children what it's like. Do individual research. Sometimes being a parent is actually like an actual job.

Counselors need to be informative and enlighten on the possibilities of life beyond high school and college. Success comes in different ways. Possibilities are literally endless. It's simply not enough to reassure students that everything will be ok. Show them the possibilities that the world has to offer.

Suggestions for students: Try to live more in the REAL WORLD, than the VIRTUAL WORLD (Social Media, tv, videogames, internet).





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Posted by Gunn Alumnus 2010
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:02 pm

One more thing. I agree with Mr. Vincenti's comment about teachers. I experienced nothing but support, encouragement, and understanding during the tough times. They wanted me to come to school; they wanted to see me present. Their doors were always open whenever I needed some encouragement. Teachers need recognition, too. They have thoughts and feelings about what's currently going on right now, and I can imagine that's it's just as tough for them as it is for the students. If giving apples to teachers was ever a thing, it should start to be a thing again...

No...?

ok...

Point is: Show appreciation to the teachers!


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:32 pm

Gunn Alumnus,

I'm sorry you had to learn that the hard way. My Dad always used that Einstein quote, "Genius is 99% perspiration" and all that. You're absolutely right, hard work is the most important thing.

I think you are misunderstanding the goal of people who want to offer a different choice for kids. Making an educational program that is about helping every kid reach their potential is not about teaching them not to work hard, it's about changing the system so it doesn't just work for the few kids for whom a really intense all-day study hall is the greatest thing ever. There is plenty of evidence now that a highly structured environment like that hurts kids' autonomy.

I've mentioned this before, but the Nobel Prize winner Pierre Curie's mother apparently said (according to Marie Curie's diaries) that Pierre was a "terrible student". He had trouble switching gears from one subject to another and needed... you got it... a block schedule, basically, so he could delve into subjects. So instead of judging her son to be not as smart as she thought he was, she judged the system as not meeting his needs, took him out of the system and gave him the kind of education he needed through tutors. This was not about shielding him from life, and no one can dispute his success. He was known for how hardworking he was. Curie's daughter Irene (the daughter who won the Nobel Prize) was deemed by Curie to be a "dreamer like her father", so despite how incredibly busy Curie was, instead of just telling Irene to back off on the classes she took and accept that she wasn't that smart, she basically pulled Irene out of school and homeschooled her with a few other university parents. Classes all before noon, no more than 2 subjects per day, and after lunch the chance for enrichment in Paris such as museums. Irene writes about how she learned about truly hard work from her mother, this is not about the kids getting a lesser education.

But school is for education, and a "one-size-fits-all Prussian model" is not the greatest way to educate every child. I still do not understand the propensity of some people (I'm not suggesting you) to want to force every other child into that model and not offer choices. Especially in this day and age where there are so many opportunities that just didn't exist even 3 or 4 years ago. It's like they'll fall apart if they think someone else could get an equal education in a more efficient way and have a life outside of school.




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Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:38 pm

In short, again: some people complain they don't get enough homework, some complain they get too much. They are probably both right. This is not about hard work, this is about how some kids learn.

School is for education. Our district vision is about helping all kids reach their potential. If they want to do that, they need to offer an alternative for some kids for whom homework is a dementor that sucks away their focus. As the teachers above pointed out, their classes didn't suffer in rigor when they stopped sending home homework. The kids were actually working just as hard or harder and were more engaged in *learning*.


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Posted by Gunn Alumnus 2010
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 31, 2015 at 1:33 am

Dear Parent;

It's one of those sleepless nights again. I didn't think coffee flavored macaroons actually had real coffee beans in them...

I totally agree with you. I misunderstood much of this thread because I honestly skimmed through it.

I also agree that it would be brilliant for kids to receive custom educations. I would have loved to rub elbows with Marie Curie and Einstein having found their services via Craigslist. Joke. In all seriousness, I honestly love your idea and wish it could become true. I just don't believe that it will happen any time soon.

The post I wrote assumed that we are all still playing the game; the system. Yep, I'm going to sound like a hippie right now. The education system is literally a system. It was designed by some people who think know which knowledge is important and which is not. The system's purpose is to churn out people who fill the needs of society. However, the needs of society are seen differently between those individuals with power and people like us. For the individuals that created this system, the needs of society are that which do not challenge their power and authority. Having a custom education would require officials to spend energy, time, and money. Things that they do not want to give up at all. Have you ever read how much the superintendent makes and all the benefits he gets? I doubt he would ever give those goodies up to help fund custom education. And how could I forget our good ol' buddies, College board and ETS. There's no way they would let school districts get away with custom education. They have to cash in on AP exam fees and SAT fees, prep and all that jazz.

With that said, custom education is not impossible. The concept of it exists right? I mean homeschooling exists. I just feel that the things we want don't make enough money. They want money. Money is everything. That's what Don Draper and Madison Avenue have taught us. And Don Draper isn't even real...

Society has created a stigma towards alternative education, simply because it doesn't fit the current system. If we can eliminate the stigma, I think we would be at a good start. Until then, I wish I could send you some Starbucks, Parent. I think we all need some deliciousness in our lives.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 31, 2015 at 2:13 am

Gunn Alumnus 2010,
Thanks for the mental Starbucks. I am up too late, too. Trying to get my own homework done :-)

There is a really great book called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. What I love about it is that is helps focus on what can be done to "drive the elephant" so to speak. We all have a lot more power than we think we do.

The ability to individualize education is a lot different now that it was even a few years ago. Things are changing so fast. Just giving people the permission to take a few classes outside of the system, of their own choice, and at no expense to the school, would make a big difference for some people -- so-called School-Homeschool hybrids. All that involves is allowing people to take advantage of independent study that already exists. There is a program in San Jose called Homestudy where they already do that (have been for 30 years). That program was brought in by Silicon Valley tech types, sure seems like we could do the same. The people running it openly admit that the community of parents finds better resources than they do, so they let people.

It requires some oversight on the district level, but even a single teacher, funded by PiE, would be enough. So, all it would take is one teacher, a PiE application or an interested well-heeled member of the community, and the district willing to let parents use the independent study a little more liberally. That's it. In the meantime, they can come up with a more formal program but they won't be depriving kids who need something else now.

Cheers!


12 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 31, 2015 at 6:19 am

Homework is grossly overrated as an enhancer of subject mastery and comprehension. Homework is more about completing an assignment so the student isn't marked down and punished by the teacher. The best comprehension and mastery of a subject is achieved through discussions, listening, experimenting, reading, watching.

Excessive Homework does not cause suicide, but the ridiculously intense competitiveness in our schools can push students prone to depression over the edge-there's little doubt about that.


9 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Gunn Alumnus 2010 and Parent, thank you for your respectful dialogue, and hope you get a better sleep tonight! Also thanks to the Gunn teacher commenting on the shared responsibility for supporting our young people in their quest for engagement and finding a worthy life's purpose through education. I wish we could meet in person at Starbucks, but not sure how to pass through the impermeable virtual barrier. Maybe we could have a day where we all wear silly bow ties and meet at a specific time?

As a current Gunn parent, the stories I hear regarding homework echo the broad range of perspectives presented on this forum today--from those students who are having a very good experience in high school to those who are detached and dispirited, just waiting for it to be over. There are problem areas in all the components of this equation: in the families, in the schools, and within the students themselves.

This forum is one way to educate ourselves, to examine what may be a response to the growing [perceived and real] pressures of today's world.
For example:

- Some students spoke at the BOE meeting about the harmful effects of peer competition--how friends from elementary and middle school suddenly become "enemies" because of competing for points or college positions. The sense of being alone [my interpretation] was viewed as far more important than pure academic stress.

- The focus on grades/achievement seems out of balance and impacting the school climates negatively

- Some students have 4 and 5 hours of homework per night because they over oversubscribed to APs and Honors classes that are beyond their skill levels, while others have high anxiety over their performance which makes them very inefficient {not because that much homework was assigned}; some simply have far too much assigned.

- There continue to be questions about classes being "made" more difficult than necessary; 2 examples: when the pace is increased as a result of some students saying they already know something [the teacher skips the material and moves ahead]; students scoring Bs, Cs, or Ds in an AP class but scoring 5s on the exams.

- Some teachers are oblivious to assigning homework reflexively, every weekend of the year, because they think the PAUSD community expects it.

- Some teachers have very little homework, run extremely engaging classes, and students learn.

- Not enough people are educating themselves about the many paths to success [however you define that] via college choice, gap years, community college, examining the lop-sidedness of achieving humans, supporting our children's known interests [music, writing, art, lego building, sports, etc] regardless of the earning potential.

- Our school board needs to step forward and provide appropriate district-level guidance and enforcement of their policies--homework, student feedback, consistency between site services, and data analysis

With both of our high schools undertaking a WASC [Western Association of Schools and Colleges] accreditation, it will be interesting to see if some of the many suggestions can be incorporated into our schools. In the meantime, we adults [both parents and teachers] can put some effort into fostering better relationships between students and teachers and students and their parents [more kindness, flexibility, support, communication and humor].


10 people like this
Posted by Current Gunn Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Dear Parent,

I apologize for the tone that I took on in my last post. I was angry when I wrote it since I'd been reading a lot of articles that have been attacking Gunn students, teachers, parents, and the district as a whole. I did not word some things the way that I should have and so perhaps I came across the wrong way.

That being said, I'm still sticking by what I said in my last post. That is, I really do believe that the current homework load should not change. Homework load is something that students sign up for. When we sign up for classes, the course catalog lists the expected number of hours for homework per week per class. Students who complain of heavy homework loads simply made some unwise choices. Furthermore, I really do think that homework is pertinent to building a good work ethic. You mentioned that the qualities that I believe lead to success are often not those sought for in the professional world. I beg to differ. What employer doesn't want to hire someone who works hard and can handle stress and large amounts of work? Students, if you can't work hard now, what makes you think you'll be able to work hard later? When you're job gets hard are you just going to quit? Especially if you have a family to support? This is why I think homework is important. Furthermore, like I said before, the homework load is by no means unreasonable. I am in easily what are some of the hardest classes at Gunn. And I'm still enjoying my life, pursuing my hobbies and extracurriculars, and getting good grades with only about 2 hours of homework per night. To Parent, do you really think that a good work ethic is not needed in the professional world? Clearly, creativity is values, but what use is creativity with no ability to work hard? As an alumni of MIT, you yourself must have been subjected to heavy homework loads at MIT. Would you really say that those homework loads were not necessary to master the difficult material? Class time if for learning material, homework is for mastering it.

To address your question of my opinion of Ohlone, I can't really say much since I only know one person who attended Ohlone and so I don't think my sample size if sufficient. However, from what I do know, I disapprove of it. While students at other elementary schools are able to slowly assimilate to greater homework loads every year, students from Ohlone enter middle school foreign to the idea of doing extra work at home. Although academic potential isn't exactly flexible, a work ethic is something that definitely can be built. And the earlier that it is instilled, the easier it is to maintain. Furthermore, I don't really see the point of not giving homework in elementary school. Elementary school homework took me less than an hour everyday and it also begins the instilling of the habit of working hard.

To address the question about my parents, they definitely live balanced lives. Although they do have to spend extra time on work in the evening sometimes, we definitely have tons of family time together and make a point to talk to each other especially during the evenings and on weekends. I'd also like to say that while not all of my ideas about hard work and homework come from my parents, some of them do. You see, my parents are both engineers. Engineers have to work hard. My parents work 9-6 (at least) everyday. Comparatively, school is 8:25-3:25. In industry, my parents work in solid 3-4 hour chunks of time with a lunch break sometime in the afternoon. School is not even close to this. There are passing periods, breaks, and many activities that happen. With the addition of a couple hours of homework, this still does not even compare to the amount of work that my parents do everyday.

Furthermore, my brother, a Gunn alumni, is currently in medical school. He often says that medical school is the hardest thing that he's ever done and says that it's easily many time harder than Gunn (in terms of class load and homework load). However, he agrees that hard work is necessary to make a good doctor and so he does it. And he's able to do it because he's been working hard ever since he was young. Work ethic is something that you can magically suddenly just have--it's something that has to be built.

Without homework, do you really think that my generation of engineers, doctors, musicians, entertainers, writers, and politicians will have the work ethic to succeed? This is a serious, genuine question.

I'd also like to say that I don't think I'm as narrow minded as I came across in my last post. I've tutored countless students at Gunn in math and science and have learned that different people have different learning abilities. However, I'll say this again: Although academic potential isn't exactly flexible, a work ethic is something that definitely can be built. A strong work ethic is pertinent to any job, any career. A hard worker will be valued anywhere.


8 people like this
Posted by Current Gunn Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Dear Parent,

I apologize for the tone that I took on in my last post. I was angry when I wrote it since I'd been reading a lot of articles that have been attacking Gunn students, teachers, parents, and the district as a whole. I did not word some things the way that I should have and so perhaps I came across the wrong way.

That being said, I'm still sticking by what I said in my last post. That is, I really do believe that the current homework load should not change. Homework load is something that students sign up for. When we sign up for classes, the course catalog lists the expected number of hours for homework per week per class. Students who complain of heavy homework loads simply made some unwise choices. Furthermore, I really do think that homework is pertinent to building a good work ethic. You mentioned that the qualities that I believe lead to success are often not those sought for in the professional world. I beg to differ. What employer doesn't want to hire someone who works hard and can handle stress and large amounts of work? Students, if you can't work hard now, what makes you think you'll be able to work hard later? When you're job gets hard are you just going to quit? Especially if you have a family to support? This is why I think homework is important. Furthermore, like I said before, the homework load is by no means unreasonable. I am in easily what are some of the hardest classes at Gunn. And I'm still enjoying my life, pursuing my hobbies and extracurriculars, and getting good grades with only about 2 hours of homework per night. To Parent, do you really think that a good work ethic is not needed in the professional world? Clearly, creativity is values, but what use is creativity with no ability to work hard? As an alumni of MIT, you yourself must have been subjected to heavy homework loads at MIT. Would you really say that those homework loads were not necessary to master the difficult material? Class time if for learning material, homework is for mastering it.

To address your question of my opinion of Ohlone, I can't really say much since I only know one person who attended Ohlone and so I don't think my sample size if sufficient. However, from what I do know, I disapprove of it. While students at other elementary schools are able to slowly assimilate to greater homework loads every year, students from Ohlone enter middle school foreign to the idea of doing extra work at home. Although academic potential isn't exactly flexible, a work ethic is something that definitely can be built. And the earlier that it is instilled, the easier it is to maintain. Furthermore, I don't really see the point of not giving homework in elementary school. Elementary school homework took me less than an hour everyday and it also begins the instilling of the habit of working hard.

To address the question about my parents, they definitely live balanced lives. Although they do have to spend extra time on work in the evening sometimes, we definitely have tons of family time together and make a point to talk to each other especially during the evenings and on weekends. I'd also like to say that while not all of my ideas about hard work and homework come from my parents, some of them do. You see, my parents are both engineers. Engineers have to work hard. My parents work 9-6 (at least) everyday. Comparatively, school is 8:25-3:25. In industry, my parents work in solid 3-4 hour chunks of time with a lunch break sometime in the afternoon. School is not even close to this. There are passing periods, breaks, and many activities that happen. With the addition of a couple hours of homework, this still does not even compare to the amount of work that my parents do everyday.

Furthermore, my brother, a Gunn alumni, is currently in medical school. He often says that medical school is the hardest thing that he's ever done and says that it's easily many time harder than Gunn (in terms of class load and homework load). However, he agrees that hard work is necessary to make a good doctor and so he does it. And he's able to do it because he's been working hard ever since he was young. Work ethic is something that you can magically suddenly just have--it's something that has to be built.

Without homework, do you really think that my generation of engineers, doctors, musicians, entertainers, writers, and politicians will have the work ethic to succeed? This is a serious, genuine question.

I'd also like to say that I don't think I'm as narrow minded as I came across in my last post. I've tutored countless students at Gunn in math and science and have learned that different people have different learning abilities. However, I'll say this again: Although academic potential isn't exactly flexible, a work ethic is something that definitely can be built. A strong work ethic is pertinent to any job, any career. A hard worker will be valued anywhere.


1 person likes this
Posted by Public school
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2015 at 3:02 pm

Current Gunn student,

Please know is that in providing an opinion about homework loads, I do not intend to attack anyone, as this topic is as much an issue at Paly as Gunn, and it is actually the subject of studies.

Homework research indicates that homework has marginal diminishing returns, and other factors have more impact on student achievement like class size. To the extent PAUSD is concerned with learning, and all students, they need to be mindful of these facts. I would think the same goes for work ethic. If studied, work ethic would likely be only a part of the picture of what makes a good engineer or doctor, but other factors would count more.

Two hours of homework every day is too much, and should not be considered prescriptive or a sign of success. Not for a public school.


6 people like this
Posted by Current Gunn Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 4:05 pm

On the contrary, studies show that a good work ethic is a highly desired characteristic of the work place.

Gunn classes are not even considered large. Less than 30 in most classes, providing for a comfortable atmosphere in which to participate, learn, and socialize.

Obviously, work ethic is only part of what makes a good professional, but I'd wager (and if you did a poll, I'd say the results would be the same) that work ethic plays a pretty large part.


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Posted by Current Gunn Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 4:06 pm

And how is two hours of homework excessive? This is a serious question.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 31, 2015 at 4:29 pm

@Current Gunn Student, by all means, and I'm not saying this tongue-in-cheek, keep up the good work. You do not sound easily discouraged. In the not-too-distant future, society will be looking to you as a doctor or engineer to keep us healthy or solve our problems. At the same time we will be complaining about how much you cost and that you don't pay enough taxes. I believe you will have a career that your college, wherever you go (even MIT), can be proud of.


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Posted by Public school
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Current Gunn Student,

The 2 hours as excessive is just my own 2 cents. It is suitable for some students, but not others, and it has nothing to do with work ethic. Usually work is better and more productive when you love what you do so allowing students more time and freedom to choose what they work on could make some students just as productive but in a different way. Some may just need more rest to recharge before the next day in school.

Professionals seem to think 90 minutes - 2 hours is a limit - per the Weekly story early last year, quoting Dr. Denise Clark Pope

Web Link


"Too much homework can diminish its effectiveness and be counterproductive, said Pope and her colleagues, citing prior research suggesting that homework benefits plateau at about two hours per night and that 90 minutes to two-and-a-half hours is optimal for high school students.

Fifty-six percent of the students surveyed considered homework a primary source of stress, the study said. Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33 percent said it was the pressure to get good grades. Less than 1 percent said homework was not a cause of stress.

In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems, including headaches, exhaustion, weight loss and stomach problems.

Pope and her colleagues reported that spending too much time on homework meant students were "not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills," failing to pursue hobbies they enjoy, dropping activities and not keeping up with family and friends."


10 people like this
Posted by Current Gunn Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Although homework definitely brings some stress, stress is something that we have learn to deal with. Let's just admit it. The work place is a pretty stressful environment. By learning stress coping strategies now when the stakes are lower, we are setting ourselves up to be dynamic professionals later.

And I honestly don't think that there's anything wrong with pressure as long as it's not excessive. Some pressure and stress can really push a student to try their best. Wanting to get good grades is fine. However, it is also important to be satisfied when you've tried your hardest. The key is to know that your best is enough and always will be. Just because an activity causes stress doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it. Just because your job gets hard and gets stressful, do you quit? Perhaps this sounds harsh, but we really need to stop coddling students. They can do this. We can do this. The stress and pressure is not excessive and helps set us up for later. No profession is perfect. There are always bumps along the way. Sometimes in your job, you have to do things that seem pointless. Sometimes homework seems pointless and not beneficial.

From 3:30 to 10:00 after school, students have about 6 hours of time. Sure, some of it will be used up doing everyday activities, eating dinner, doing hw, etc, but there is always time to do the things you want if you really try. I guarantee that if you take away a student's electronics (and I am NOT advocating for this), he or she will suddenly discover that he or she is bored with nothing to do.

We use homework as an excuse for not having time to pursue hobbies and interests, but the real time sucker is really computers, phones, TV's, etc.

So while it's great and more productive to be able to pursue the one thing you love, that's just not realistic. It's not realistic to do only history homework because you only like history. It's not realistic to do only parts of your job because you don't want to do the menial tasks.


3 people like this
Posted by Gunn Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 31, 2015 at 6:14 pm

I honestly feel that the stress is caused by the overachiever themselves kids feeling that they aren't good enough or that their parents will ashamed of them if they don't get into a prestigious university.

The problem isn't the school, its the kids. The overachiever kids that take 5 AP classes, think that they must get straight A+'s, graduate with honors, etc. They themselves are putting the pressure onto themselves, not the schools.

I get reasonably good grades, I have an AP class, but I manage my time well and don't get stressed. However, the overachiver kids think that anything lower than a 4.0 GPA is bad.


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Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2015 at 6:17 pm

@Public school - Current Gunn Student said they had 2 hours of homework a night, and the study you posted said "90 minutes to two-and-a-half hours is optimal". So why argue that two hours is excessive? It sounds rigorous, but not at all excessive. For the poster that said their kid had 4 or more hours a night, that sounds awful. Projects over holiday breaks sound awful.

Kids are going to have two hours of homework in college, so learning to do it in high school is important preparation. I'm a little shocked that @Grace claimed "Medical School definitely didn't have homework" - wat? You must be excluding studying from your definition of homework.


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Posted by consider this
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 31, 2015 at 6:18 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Public school
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2015 at 6:42 pm

Current Gunn Student,

I agree with everything you say about the value of some pressure and wanting to get good grades. Good stress. And I agree with you that the 6 hours could be more efficiently used if it were not for computers, phones, etc. In my view, this is one of assets in our district, that we have kids who care about their work.

But it's not good for everyone to have 2 or 2 1/2 hours of structured work at home after school. It's just not because everyone is different and there should be some wiggle room. To be working a the margins is too risky for some students, whereas for those who are capable of more homework, they can still devote time to studies.

Thank you for understanding this is my personal opinion (that 2 hours of homework per day is excessive), and I acknowledge that the 2 hours or 2 1/2 appear to be OK according to experts.



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Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2015 at 8:22 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@Current Gunn Student blames the other students for their own experience:

"Homework load is something that students sign up for. When we sign up for classes, the course catalog lists the expected number of hours for homework per week per class. Students who complain of heavy homework loads simply made some unwise choices. "


I think you have been lucky. Or at least you have not experienced the range of teaching that we have experienced. Normal lanes, no AP's and homework is a complete chaotic mess. Untaught in class, so our kid has to teach themselves (or stare confused at homework for hours). Poorly organized homework, missing handouts (one teacher failed to provide my son a handout because she did not make enough copies; her response: "oh well, I ran out. maybe you can get a copy from someone else. the bell rang, the kids were gone, he got a zero. Nice")

We have had teachers with double jeopardy: you do the homework once for points, then you have to collect it all back and turn it in again as a unit packet. If you lost it, or were sick, or cannot find it - guess what? You get another zero. So you are penalized for homework twice.

We have had detentions handed out for late homework. Literally - stay after school for an hour. Do your late homework, turn it in (for ZERO credit), then you get to go home and do tomorrow's homework; however with one less hour in the day to do it.

We have had enormous papers assigned on 3 days notice, and countless holidays with homework assignments in violation of the policy.

ADD on top of this homework regularly hitting 3-4 hours per night, and some nights as much as 6 hours.

All in regular classes.

So NO, we have not all been as lucky as you.

When you say: " ...Students who complain of heavy homework loads simply made some unwise choices. " I think it is rather myopic about the trials of your fellow students (if you are actually a student), and quite callous.

In short, you are wrong.


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Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2015 at 8:31 pm

Reason is a registered user.

I think all of the items above (and much more) are common practice with what goes wrong with homework. This is what the homework committee was referring to when they requested higher quality rather than higher quantity.

To the point of this article, high quality homework is well taught before sending work home. Is well organized, is described clearly, has a clear deadline. (Did I mention teachers that would not tell you the due date? Priceless incompetence - and she is still teaching English at Paly).

Quality homework has a defined goal, and reasonable expectations. The homework is entered in Schoology in written form, and may be started in class, or at least discussed without surprise. It is not assigned on Friday, due on Monday.


Homework of this form is a dream. It gets done very quickly, with no fuss, and the kids get some practice in the material.

We had a Bio teacher at Paly who had some kind of magic - she was able to get both our kids to do regular homework all semester. It never once needed reminding, never needed prodding, never needed surprise handouts, missing or chaotic instructions. It was not an impossible assignment (we have had math problems that were mathematically impossible to solve.). This Bio teacher just managed to get work done with no problems. She understood what quality homework is, and how to assign it.

We need more of that.

The schools have the capability, they just need to learn from the best in class sitting often times in the next classroom over.

But that won't happen until they start to care about the impact quality has on the lives and misery levels of their students. Some teachers "get it" some don't.


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Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2015 at 8:39 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@Marc Vincenti writes:

"They're miserable because no one cares about them. Is anyone sending them thanks for doing the grueling, deeply emotional work of being with bereaved teenagers all day, again and again, month after month, suicide after suicide? Is this even mentioned in the papers or online? "



Um, yeah. We did send them thanks. The PTA raises money for teacher appreciations, coffee carts, and other items. I gave double.

Do we need to grovel and fawn over every day? Okay - sure I have given some recognition to some really outstanding teachers. But honestly it has been more problematic teachers than outstanding ones.

No way am I buying flowers for a teacher that makes my kids life miserable. Are you nuts?

Why you never received any appreciation is a good question, but I bet you had some PTA coffee cake and a Latte.


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Posted by Former Gunn Student
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2015 at 10:32 pm

I attended Gunn several years ago. I remember that classes were rigorous and there was potentially a lot of homework (I don't know for sure, as I have nothing else to compare it to). But that was not the main issue at Gunn. The main issue was the environment. Teachers favored kids who were bright and were doing well in class leaving those of us who were struggling unsupported and feeling like failures. I distinctly remember certain teachers who told me to drop AP classes instead of offering to help, when I didn't understand something. Teachers seemed mainly to be interested in test scores. Students were also very competitive with each other. Those in higher level AP classes were less willing or happy to collaborate and help each other out; instead, they were focused only on getting that "A" on their report card. Much of this probably flowed down from parents, who were pressuring their kids to excel. Homework or no homework, the environment was toxic. I ended up doing very well post-Gunn and only then did I realize that I am actually intelligent and have a lot to offer.

As a side note, although Gunn is a stressful environment, life is just as stressful if not worse. If these kids cannot handle Gunn then how are they going to succeed in college? I personally found college to be just as academically challenging and much more stressful in other ways (learning to pay bills, live away from home, etc.). It is great that we are all so focused on Gunn, but this type of focus is nonexistent in colleges or in any future environment. People are just let free to live their lives, with no parents there to complain to teachers or the administration. Just a thought.

I think if any changes can be made at Gunn it will need to focus around the culture of the school, and that will likely be difficult. Can the school limit the number of AP classes that students are taking? I would also see if the school can help students find tutors or form study groups to encourage collaboration. Support groups would be helpful for students to learn to deal with stress or to let go of some of the activities that are stressing them out; much of this is a choice that they make. Students need to learn how to support each other and both students and teacher should be discouraged from discussing college acceptances and SAT scores. Guest speakers and mentors can be brought in to show these kids just how successful you can be by attending any UC campus, and perhaps how much money you can save in the process. An ivy league education is not a recipe for success and happiness..far from it, actually.

It really doesn't matter in the long run which school you go to. What matters it the type of person you become and the relationships that you make and sustain. I have attended college and graduate school and saw for myself what true leaders and successful people of the world are made of, and where they come from. It's too bad that these kids are so focused on school and grades that they are missing out on the important things in life.


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Posted by Current Gunn Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 11:08 pm

@Reason

To those who say that I simply got lucky in my assignment of teachers, I say this:

I have had some of the hardest teachers at Gunn. I had a hellish time in chemistry last year because I chose to take the honors class. I knew what I was signing up for. I knew that it'd be hard and that it'd be a ton of work. And it was. The teacher even lost my labs a couple of times. I'd redo them only to find that the teacher had found them. And I'm not talking about just filling in a couple of charts. I'm talking about full out lab analyses that took probably at least two hours each. It was extremely frustrating, but as I pointed out before, a little bit of stress and pressure is good-- it teaches you important coping skills that are going to be needed later on in life. If everything is so easy now, what are we going to do in the future when the world stops trying to cater to our specific needs? Sooner or later, people are going to expect us to start being able to make good choices for ourselves.

Having been in some of the hardest classes, I think I can say that I've had my fair share of hard teachers. Last semester, I even had an English teacher who was so picky about how he wanted his English papers written that I felt that my voice was being drowned out in my own essays. It was a learning experience. You can't always do things the way you want to. Sometimes, you have to do things the way other people (your boss) want you to do it regardless of how meaningless or boring you think their method is.

I have also had teachers who collected homework for double points (probably 2 or 3 teachers now). This system actually should work to the student's advantage since you get points both for doing it and for turning it in. Just don't lose it. Learning organizational skills is also important.

Never in my time so far at Gunn, however, have I heard of students receiving detentions for not completing homework. Perhaps the student was really slacking off? Because I really love my teachers and I don't see them doing anything that they don't believe is truly beneficial for students. Some of the most amazing people I've met are teachers.

Also, 4-6 hours of homework for regular classes is ridiculous for any normal student. Unless this student has bad study habits, gets distracted easily, procrastinates, or something along those lines, 4-6 hours is absolutely unheard of even among honors classes. I'm sorry if your student's experience at Gunn was as such, but I really do think that his or her experience is something of an anomaly and among the very very small minority.


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Posted by Current Gunn Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 11:14 pm

I apologize. Perhaps 4 hours of homework is heard of, albeit rarely, but I have personally never heard of any student having 6 hours of homework in a single night, even among the honors and AP classes.


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Posted by Public school
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2015 at 11:39 pm

Current Gunn Student,

Some of the things you mention are egregious - teachers losing labs you worked on for 2 hours, giving grade points for turning something in (that is not grading).

Schools are also organizations which are supposed to adhere to standards and a company run with such sloppiness would be out of business.

This is what ranks really high up in unnecessary stress and there is no place for that in schools. No, you are not being taught work ethic at school, that is not in the curriculum. If you had less homework, you could actually have a job and test your work ethic there. I'm not sure from what era of the school of hard knocks some of these teachers come from, but they need supervision.


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Posted by Current Gunn Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 11:43 pm

Giving points for just turning things in is actually really good. Homework is thus graded on completion and not accuracy (in all of my classes both past and present), giving students the opportunity to make mistakes and not be penalized for them. Students are expected to master material through homework and make their mistakes when doing homework so that they can fully understand what is being taught. Having your work lost sucks, but not everything is always going to work out perfectly and school is a great place to practice what to do when such a scenario does come up.


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Posted by Marc Vincenti & Martha Cabot
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:24 am

Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

ClockTalk!

At "Save the 2,008" we offer a homework solution that's friendly to everyone—parents, students, teachers.

It's a confidential website through which our kids and teachers can continuously dialogue about "minutes assigned" and "minutes worked."

Students can report anonymously, and can add Twitter-length comments. They will feel they have a voice in their own lives.

Teachers can compare themselves to colleagues teaching the same course; teenagers can make these comparisons too.

And immense amount of useful data will be produced, including: The Grand Total Average Number of Homework Minutes Every Night for the Entire Student Body.

It's called "ClockTalk" and our very own whiz kids can build it.

Check it out at: www.savethe2008.com

Sincerely,

Martha Cabot and Marc Vincenti
Gunn student and former Gunn teacher
co-founders, "Save the 2,008"


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Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 8:41 am

Reason is a registered user.

@Current Gunn Student:

So you stand by your previous statement:

"Homework load is something that students sign up for. When we sign up for classes, the course catalog lists the expected number of hours for homework per week per class. Students who complain of heavy homework loads simply made some unwise choices. "

You know of nobody who had a hard time with a class that they did not sign up for?

Really?

Never heard of a kid stuck with the 'hard' teacher, while another kid got the 'easy' teacher? Do you think the students chose that? No. You are not allowed to choose your teachers.

Never heard of a teacher losing homework, assigning homework on items that are not covered in class? I guess this is the students fault as well - heck, they signed up for a regular lane class, they should just accept whatever they get as their own fault!


It is not a line of reasoning I follow. Perhaps you can clarify.

Blaming students who have a difficult time still appears callous. I am not convinced this is something they signed up for.


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Posted by Current College Student
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 11:12 am

The problem is not with homework, it is with students overloading themselves with too many AP and honors courses that they simply have no business taking. PAUSD is great in that it has prepared me for the workload that college brings. Taking one or two AP classes a semester in subjects that interest a student will do wonders for them once they get to college. Taking 4 or 5 AP classes a semester is simply unnecessary. Looking back, these students will realize how lucky they were to be in PAUSD despite all the pressure and drama. There are not many other school districts in the country that prepare you for college better than PAUSD.


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Posted by a parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 11:38 am

@Current College Student
There are plenty of schools and districts that prepare their kids exceedingly well for university challenges, including those in the D.C. suburbs, in greater Chicago, in New York, "even in" Arizona and Texas. In fact, I have met nice, well-educated college students from all over!
It isn't a question of whether homework is good or bad - it's the quality of the homework.
Also, some parents require their kids to take excessive APs so they look better than other high achieving peers at PALY for college apps. I have known a bunch of kids who took APUSH, never looked back, went on to study their career interests in college, and the ONLY use of APUSH was for college apps - strictly a numbers game. If I took ten APs and you only took two, which student looks better to college admissions officers? Never mind that the two were meaningful to that student, and most of the ten were not to the other.
I wish local education were infused with meaning rather than being a game....

Also, to address another poster, some majors DO have homework in college, and while it sometimes may be optional it is very advisable to do it or else you will be very, very lost. I refrain from a notion that homework is bad. It should be meaningful homework, and the problem of "too much" stems from the pushy parent forcing their kid to take an unrealistic schedule in HS here.


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Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 11:59 am

Reason is a registered user.

I disagree that the entirety of homework overload is a choice of students or parents taking on too many AP's.

The homework overload I have seen exists in regular lane classes. I agree that it is widely accepted that APUSH is a homework heavy course. And students know and accept this going in. Fine; but that is not part of the conversation - I know of few people who sympathize with kids pushing 4 or 5 AP's.

However, when large amounts of poorly-formed homework are piled onto kids in regular lanes, it is really unfair to characterize this as a student choice, or a parent pushing problem. These are regular lane classes with low-quality instruction that generates hours of work to complete.

It is also clear to my why some kids feel isolated - the very discussion we are having shows victim-blaming on one side, combined with Bravado. I don't think kids should be blamed for taking a regular lane and getting a hard-core teacher. They get double stigmatized: once for taking a regular lane class, and again for 'failing' to keep up should they get a teacher with excessive homework. Neither are necessarily their fault.

The origins of isolation and victim blaming probably have something to do with the stress students feel. And the coliseum culture that has been fostered: throw them to the lions. Sink or swim.

This is not a healthy way to treat your peers.


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Posted by Gunn mum
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:25 pm

So what is the goal of high school? College preparedness or instilling academic thirst and knowledge for societal engagement. Is our end goal simply college? If true we are doing a good job. If true I think we are misguided.


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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Current Gunn,

I'm going to be blunt here, but you sound like you've swallowed the Kool-Aid. One of the reasons I don't like the excess of homework is that it makes it difficult to pursue non-school interests--and nonschool interests are often the way people find their true paths in life.

You say that being able to handle a ton of homework shows a hard work ethic. You want to know what else shows a good work ethic and actually impresses employers (since none of them will ask about your high-school courseload)? Actually having a job. The way the homework loads are structured at PA high schools, there's no such thing as an afterschool job and getting actual work experience.

Because you have so much homework, your choices are highly restricted--you just don't have time to do that much independently. That gets in the way of your creativity--i.e. developing problem-solving skills. In my own household, I've seen heavy homework loads get in the way of learning basic life skills--by the time I was in middle-school, I could cook a full-course dinner. I know very few kids who get that kind of experience--and, yet, what we eat and how we eat are central to our health.

I get that students, parents and Gunn faculty feel defensive and unfairly blamed (and I think this is fair), but aside from recent tragedies, I think the heavy homework load is counterproductive longterm. It can be a huge time-waster and redundant.

As for Ohlone--the kids I've known who transitioned to middle school have done fine. The good self-directed students continue to be good self-directed students. The ones who were unfocused continue to have issues. I know Ohlone kids who have gone to the Ivies and UCs. Really, the biggest adjustment I've seen is having to get used to the obsessive test culture around here--and, boy, is that a waste of time. It has very little to do with learning or real life.


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Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2015 at 1:07 pm

Thank you OPar, this is exactly the point I've been trying to make all along, if you would refer to my last post in the other "Anguish" article.

I am relieved that someone actually sees it the way I do. I was starting to lose hope.

Gunn presents a choice: conform to a restrictive environment, or else you are too rebellious, un-progressive, and individualist because you think the entire "community spirit" of Gunn is irrelevant. Who wants to belong to a community of blindly obedient sheep? Who don't realize that the testing system is not working in their best interests?

Most kids simply conform and feel good about it! They drink up all the koolaid!

Those who see beyond the Big High School Lie should be allowed to not even go to school. Why demoralize them at an early age? But I guess they're so "impractical" for prioritizing real life passions over the Academic Rat Race.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 2:00 pm

I think the problem and I hate to say something that the editors may choose to delete, is that our kids are in fact losing their childhoods to college prep from the age of 6. [Portion removed.]

Someone asked about the role of high school education. I think it is only part academic education with the goal to get into college, but that is mixing up education with academics as being the sole goal. I think high school education should be about learning how to deal with a myriad of experiences, some of them academic, some social and some real life. In the way that 6th grade wheel is a mandatory overview of electives, and some electives are part of the high school graduation process, we are giving an opportunity, be it slight, for some of this in our high school offerings, we are really failing in the social and real life preparedness.

When we discuss high school education, we know that the academics angle is well covered. It is often the social and real life aspects that are ignored. Living Skills is a waste of time rather than an opportunity for students to spend some time really learning life skills. The social angle is not working because the schools are (a) too big and (b) the ability to really get to know classmates is not there because the classes change students around too much from semester to semester. A couple of students who may just be beginning to form a good friendship in a certain class are by the next semester put into different classes and they never meet again in school except perhaps passing between classrooms. Too many students say they never make friends because school is too rushed that there are often very few opportunities for them to open up to one another, particularly for the more shy, quiet and introvert type of person.

The other big social problem is, as has been stated elsewhere in these discussions, that elementary/middle school friends suddenly become enemies in the race to get to the big name college. Instead of friends trying to support each other, they instead become competitors competing for the same ultimate goal. Instead of being able to talk about their failings, they are instead boasting (for want of a better word) about their successes. They try to outshine each other, because they are trying to kid themselves that they are better candidates for college than their friends. This is the arms race that is actually holding the students back from forming real friendships and getting emotional peer support.

I am still in touch with several friends from my high school days. These are people I went through puberty with, cried over crushes and broken romances with, talked for ages on the phone with complaining about teachers, parents and members of the opposite sex, and basically opened my soul with. I don't see our kids today doing the same. Instead of opening up they are trying to outdo each other. Instead of sharing their problems, they are putting up facades of fulfillment, happiness and excitement for an imaginary wonderful future.

Our elementary aged kids are expected to turn into college kids by the time they are 13. Where is the growing up supposed to happen? Where is learning from failure supposed to happen? Where is the mutual support, soul sharing, peer bonding going to happen?

In other words, where are the teenage years of our teenagers being lost and how can they become well rounded adults when their manicured lives turn into a long list of items for a college resume?


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Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 3:01 pm

I agree with so many of the statements above, Paly Parent, O Par, Johnny. (X1000)

My general comment about the debate: Everyone seems to be again arguing about imposing a standard based on what works for them, rather than figuring out how to deliver a high-quality education that best meets the needs of all of our students and their families, which we CAN do. I would argue we CAN do this without any huge structural changes. We just have to decide TO do it.

Some students and parents argue the homework is too much. Some argue it isn't enough. Some argue it's great and nothing should be changed. The administration is arguing about homework guidelines and how to enforce them. In every situation, people are arguing from the circumstances they are in, from what works for them, all valid.

Where it all breaks down is when each tells others for whom the situation is not working that the only answer is to "dumb down" the program or worse, simply label the kids for whom it is not working as lesser/less hardworking/etc. (And it breaks down when we assume that the traditional Prussian model of education is the best way to educate all kids for the 21st century, but I'll get to that.)

The other problem here is that we are all still arguing about the boundary BETWEEN school and home as if it is okay to argue over where to place it IN our homes, or worse, assuming there is no priority to have a boundary at all. Instead of arguing about too much homework or too little homework, or even how to set the amount of homework, I want to start from a conversation that assumes: FAMILY TIME IS IMPORTANT AND INVIOLATE. STUDENT AUTONOMY IS IMPORTANT. THE SCHOOL DISTRICT DOES NOT HAVE A RIGHT TO ASSUME THAT THE ENTIRETY OF A FAMILY'S OR A CHILD'S DAY IS AT THEIR DISCRETION TO USE FOR THE EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM. THE SCHOOL DAY ENDS AT X O'CLOCK.

Period. No arguments. No arguing over imposing what is right for us on someone else. There is a school day, and a part of the day that is home, and that should be expected and ENFORCEABLE. Healthy boundaries.

This does not mean the quality of the school program has to be compromised in any way. It means the school program will be optimized with that as a hard constraint. Luckily, there is every evidence it can be.

This does not mean those who want to work around the clock cannot overtly choose to ask for such a programmatic option. Those who wish to continue the school day around the clock, whose view of education cannot fathom a high-quality program that doesn't involve working nonstop -- and don't get me wrong, I was one of those kids -- they should be allowed to overtly choose a school program path that acknowledges that the boundary between home and school is removed. (And that they can always switch into a functioning, equally high-quality program where there is a boundary if they decide to change.)

Those who wish for a different educational path that is more self-paced, project-based and without any mandatory homework, should have high quality options as well, that are not limited to a single social justice path at one of the high schools or a few honors teachers here or there that they might not even get who realized the kids perform and learn just as well without homework.

The district should start with the assumption of a hard boundary between HOME and SCHOOL, as a fundamental constraint. They should plan to make an optimal educational program, assuming that constraint. If they want to make choices available as one way to satisfy the very different needs, that is possible and a way we accomplish this already in elementary school. Otherwise, we face an irreconcilable argument, as above, in which there will be educational winners and losers. That is a recipe for stress and does not optimally educate our children. Since our district vision promises to try to optimize the education of each child, we should at least be considering how to better provide such choices.

I do want to say this, though.

The world is changing, and we are educating our kids for a world that no longer exists. I look back at my own education, and the belief that a certain kind of rigorous academic challenge was the best path to success, and although I did well on that path, and resented when I did not have that opportunity, I no longer see it the same light. I look back and I see a lot of learning about HOW to do things, without a lot of actual DOING them. Learning how to write a book by learning about it rather than learning how to write a book by writing a book. I see in our situation, my child thinks of home as the place you DO creative work and school as a place where someone else tells you to do what they want, even if badly then moving on because of an artificial time scale imposed on everything.

I look back and realize that for all the excelling at academic work, I wasn't really learning to work autonomously, something it took years for me to overcome as an adult. Research shows that kids whose time is more scheduled have a harder time completing tasks they set for themselves. If people choose not to take a project-based path, I appreciate that people have different views on education. All I ask is that they afford me the same respect. My focus, and that of many illustrious educators, too (not left field) is on learning by DOING and doing autonomously.

When I was at MIT, I was overwhelmed until some upperclassmen basically forced me to appreciate that I needed to learn work-life balance skills. It turned out that taking regular time off actually made me a better student than I ever dreamed I could be, given how hard I was working at the time. I was really annoyed that I had never learned this all through my childhood. Yes, hard work is important. But isn't it better to teach people to work smarter, if they can get the same thing done in 30 minutes that will otherwise take hours? I've been looking at homeschoolers -- not the crunchy granola ones of yesteryear, but people who have left the system because their kids aren't getting advanced enough work -- and most say the kids, even average kids, can complete the typical schoolwork in 2-3 hours in the morning and have the rest of the day for higher level projects. If homeschoolers can do this because of the explosion of educational resources available now, why can't kids in school?

I will say this about this debate: I hate seeing these differences in approach work out in people tearing each other down. We have amazing kids in this district, particularly at Gunn, it's one reason I want to be here. I could only dream of such interested, interesting, nice, hardworking, decent peers when I was a kid, in fact, I can barely believe it now. Families here have some of the most caring, involved, smart, giving parents I have ever met and I am so grateful to have a community of people like this. While I may talk of problems that need solving, the teachers I've seen here have been mostly among the best I have ever witnessed. Palo Alto is nerd utopia as far as I'm concerned.

When we speak of solving problems, I hope we will
1) start by respecting healthy boundaries between home and school,
2) respect that every child has gifts that our educational system should help support rather than sort, and
3) respect our differences in needs and approaches as we try to do better and solve problems.

Thanks.

Oh... one more thing. The district needs to stop being afraid of working with parents. I hope Max McGee will look up the idea of "open source" innovation -- and please put people who are so unable to get their minds around that in the district office someplace where they can't continue to be so obstructionist about innovating in our district....


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Posted by Julie
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 3:22 pm


Retired members of the community may enjoy being a mentor to kids in high schools. Retired persons have gone through the cycle of life, high school, college, grad school, first job and many jobs in between and many things that are difficult. Kids may need someone to talk to to assure them that life has good days and bad days, and bad days do turn into good days. Retired persons have knowledge and guidance for kids.


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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Parent,

Yes, I resent the encroachment of homework seven days a week on my family life. By their very nature, our large public schools have a cookie-cutter approach to education. I accept that, but by overloading kids during non-school hours they *do* encroach on the time we spend with our kids and the things that *we* want to share with our children. Why should kids be subject to longer "working" hours than the 40-hour work week? So they can be introduced to a topic a year earlier than they would otherwise? So they can rely on rote memorization instead of critical thinking skills that would more readily develop in college to pass another standardized test?

There *is* a very clear emotional cost to all of this and in exchange for what, exactly? It's not clear to me. It's not like the push-push-push has resulted in a suddenly capable, confident and ingenuous set of young adults.

And since we have self-reported levels of depression around 25 percent in the schools here, we *do* have the responsibility to do something about this. With one in four kids reporting symptoms of serious depression, I don't think you can just chock it all up to individuals who are "mentally ill". You *have* to look at the environment--and understand that mental illnesses, such as depression, can have a direct environmental link (just like a physical illness).

And, basically, our schools/local culture are a natural petri dish for depression--simply set up a standard for success and expectations that are A) not in the control of the student and B) can be achieved by only a small percentage of students. Add in a relentless pile of work in the pursuit of those goals so that there's no breathing space, no chance to build esteem and a sense of self-worth through accomplishment in other places, and it's little wonder that our more vulnerable students feel like crap and the most vulnerable become subject to the out-of-control spiral of serious depression. We can throw in the problems with social isolation while we're at it.

One of the many reasons that we need to get the pointlessly heavy loads of homework under control is so that kids who DO run into problems have a chance to recover, to come back, instead of feeling that they're just falling farther and farther behind.

Instead, there's this notion that high school is some sort of end-all//be-all measure of success. It's beyond stupid, though there are several things that need to change--including the current college-admissions process. (I kind of wish Anonymous would hack the US News and World Report Web site and distort all the rankings.)


10 people like this
Posted by Long Time Parent
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 8:28 pm

I remember that the grueling loads of homework began back in the Third/Fourth grade at Walter Hays. I remember a ridiculously long and tedious project on family lineage, and another on your parents immigration to American. I will never forget how hard this assignment was.

Even a simple poster making contest was mean and competitive. I remember the students who were already known as obnoxious braggarts.
Then the insane amount of homework and busy work given at Jordan.
Many kids just tuned out or shut down completely.

And sadly, my son (now a senior), tells me that he does not remember a single thing from middle school or elementary school.

The parents remember how traumatic many of these assignments were.
Looking back, NONE of them were necessary. Most of the assignments done at home with the help of parents. There would be not way kids would have been able to do these assignments (poster boards/Powerpoint/lengthy typed reports), without the help of a parent.

I remember all the years of tears, tantrums, and un-needed anxiety put on my son.

When he felt overwhelmed, he just shut down listening and learning.
Stopped talking with us fearing we might ask him about his assignment.
And then just spent more time in his room alone on the computer playing games.

So yes, there is too much homework, and much of it was unnecessary busy work.

In a way, I regret my decision to live here.






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Posted by A resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2015 at 8:39 pm

Once I read some of the math homework assigned to students in Jordan. It was a waste of time to the degree of being abusive, because the questions ( I remember that it was 30 questions) were insanely repetitive and they required students to solve the problems in a laborious way rather than the smart way. Just do one or two to get the concept and then teach the kids the smart way to solve the problem.

Agree with some of the readers. Homework should be optional – this would save the students when the homework is a waste of time.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 8:58 pm

This is such a smart community. We have to stop complaining and figure out how to change things this time to benefit all of our kids. We should be known for the most innovative, supportive educational system in the area.

Some people will not want to change. Having to resolve that should not be the barrier to innovating for those who need it. (see my post above) Some classrooms and programs clearly are innovating, mostly because of some really hard work by a few innovative teachers. How can we support others to do the same? How can we create options for kids through more independent study work? Or a community of innovators like the Homestudies program in San Jose? How can we demand healthier boundaries between school and home without creating ongoing tension but so that we don't have to keep fighting these battles?

Clearly, there's a deep desire to innovate and give our kids a high-quality education with school-home balance.

Ways forward?


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Posted by Stanford Instructor
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2015 at 9:07 pm

IMO the problem isn't the amount of HW per se but the fact that it often contributes such a high % of total grade. In college classes, typically grades are based primarily on test scores and/or major writing assignments. HW assignments are either optional or not worth a big % of the total grade. The idea is that doing the HW can help students learn the material, but we use tests or other major assignments to assess whether they've actually mastered it. The current system at Paly (the PAUSD HS with which I'm familiar) seems to reward compliance (completing long, and sometimes tedious assignments) over mastery of the material (high test scores). This is an issue close to home for me as my son, who has ADHD, often gets As or Bs on his tests, but ends up with Cs or Ds in his classes due to undone HW assignments.


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Posted by aye, there's the rub
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 9:16 pm

"Instead, there's this notion that high school is some sort of end-all//be-all measure of success. It's beyond stupid, though there are several things that need to change--including the current college-admissions process."

OPar, I was with you until your last paragraph. Why bring college admissions procedures into this? Who's defining your success metric? The parents? The kids? The colleges? One of the top issues for kids in out district is the "pressure to get into a good college".

All the stats show that a child will be able to get into *a* college if they really want to go to college. Not necessarily the college of their choice and some may also want to go the community college route to get there but most will be able to make it and probably a far higher percentage of kids from PAUSD.

Given those stats, your last paragraph implies your problem is with the "arms race" for the top colleges. And that's your definition of success. You can fight against it as much as you want and claim the district needs to reduce homework but that's not going to stop that arms race. We have high school kids doing independent research at Stanford. Should we stop kids doing that because you don't think it's fair?

I go back to my first point. Who's defining your definition of "success"?


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Posted by Current Gunn Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 9:21 pm

@Stanford Instructor

HW in my math, physics, and chemistry classes (both present and past) only made up 10-15% of our grades. In math, tests and quizzes have always been worth 70%. In sceince classes, it's slightly less because labs make up a pretty good chunk (20-30%) of students' grades.

To others:
I don't think elementary and middle school homework was busy work though. If you haven't completely mastered the basics of math, how can you expect to do well in higher levels of math that build on the fundamentals? And the only way to master mathematic principles is practice, as repetitive and boring as that may seem. Just understanding a concept isn't enough...you have to be able to be comfortable doing the problems. Make the mistakes in middle school so that when you learn more advanced concepts, you've already mastered the basics and have a thorough understanding and high level of comfort working the more complex problems later in physics and chemistry in addition to math.


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Posted by Public school
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 9:37 pm

aye,

"Why bring college admissions procedures into this? "

Even if it weren't college, I trust that there would be something to compete for here.

Changing definition of success does nothing to change a culture of competition.

What I got from OP's post is what is the rush?

What is the rush?

Let these kids do nothing and they will be better off than all the micromanagement which includes trying to micromanage the definition of success.


3 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2015 at 9:51 pm

Aye,

It's not my measure of success, but an observation of what's considered success around here.

However, I'm old enough to remember when it didn't take a 4.0 to get into a UC and the UCs were affordable enough that it was possible to work your way through school.

The common application has resulted in kids applying to more and more colleges--yes, they'll get in somewhere, but the whole system has become pointlessly stressful. I bring in USNWR's rankings because one of the measures of success is a college's admit rate. Colleges then game the admissions system to improve their ratings, when the ideal should be getting the right students for a particular college--not sending out a ton of rejections.

You can say there's a college for everyone, but I know kids with 4.0s who are worried about getting into a middle-level college--yes, they'll get in somewhere, but they're told they have to apply to several colleges to guarantee this.

So, yes, the college-admissions game as currently practiced is a stressor and inefficient. Very different from when UC Berkeley would state that 3.7 GPA would get you into Berkeley.


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Posted by aye, there's the rub
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 10:14 pm

After redefining success as NOT getting into a top UC and NOT getting 4.0's then there shouldn't be a problem with the USNWR ranking. You no longer deal with those colleges with massive reject rates.

It doesn't stop the arms race but you've already opted out of that so doesn't homework also becomes less relevant?


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Posted by Public school
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 10:27 pm

You have it backwards.

Homework is the way the arm's race is played.

If you are not racing with homework you can't be in the race.

Reduce homework and you have no race.

People who want to show off that they can "do" school will have nothing to show off with.


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Posted by Public school
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 10:36 pm

aye,

Less homework = no race

No race = no USNWR






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Posted by vlllage fool
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 10:43 pm

@Paly Parent---

"Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school." - Albert Einstein

not disconnected from:
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi


6 people like this
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 10:50 pm

I don't think it is fair or even popularly supported to hold down children and choke homework down their throats so that some few achieve some weird goal of prestige for USNWR or the UCs.

For two reasons:

1) this is not the path that everyone has chosen. We should have the right to choose?

2) there is little evidence that less homework would affect our admittance to UCs. The average kid is doing about 25-30% more homework than target. If homework were higher quality and well targeted we are probably talking about a real reduction in content of maybe 10-15%. Given that most of our learning outcomes come from other than homework, I doubt implementing the homework would change outcomes in any measurable way.

We're talking about somewhat LESS homework, not zero.


(And for what it's worth, a far more interesting measure of a colleges worth is not the acceptance rate, but rather it's graduation rate - that is the outcome of what they achieve. Focusing on acceptance selectivity is a silly numbers game unrelated to their fit, quality or teaching quality.)


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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 10:54 pm

...oh, and UCs only take top 10% from Palo Alto anyhow. If everyone in town did 25% less homework, the same 10% still get in.

It is foolish to race for that goalpost.


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Posted by Just Dreaming
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 1, 2015 at 11:12 pm

It seems with so many compelling 21st c. opportunities and problems, that the investigation and involvement of those opportunities and problems can provide a process of discovery that adept facilitators and students could explore together. Wouldn't that be a hopeful education? The homework would be active, no? Meanwhile, both facilitator and student develop empathy, research/investigation skills, critical thinking, creativity and all those thing that stoke learning with purpose and practicality. There's engagement and curiosity and maybe no classroom walls ?

The current public school framework may be a system designed to create checkpoints of rubberstamping to regulate the system and ultimately someone is rubberstamping my kid's forehead. It's like the movie Brazil but it's the school system that is gray and normalized.

There are a lot of talented, passionate, creative, effective and inspiring teachers who suffer with the violent expectations of an outdated framework. That framework can inadvertently safeguard untalented teacher/administrator jobs (like kids can cheat on tests, as an analogy!).

I've met more than a few AMAZING teachers in PAUSD! I wish those teachers would lead the way because they care about the whole kid, their future, all of our freedom, and not just protecting their boxed-in jobs.

Is it possible to innovate within a rusting, iron system?




3 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2015 at 11:46 pm

Sadly, it looks as though the outdated and paralyzing system continues well into college.
Colleges have a very rigid process of which classes students must take in order to earn "credits" for the all-important, be-all end-all, law of life, moneymaking ticket to prosperity known as the College Degree.

I really, really wish employers would not use college degrees as a hiring criteria. THIS practice badly needs innovation, more than anything.

To earn a degree, spines must be bent.

I believe there are many perfectly bright youth who break before they bend. When it comes to school, being independent-minded is a curse. Those who resist are apparently a lower form of life in our society because they don't have the "work ethic" to earn degree.

But earning a degree requires OBEDIENCE, not a work ethic.

How about ending all government subsidies for education? This way, schools would serve the students instead of the other way around. Think about it... a free market incentive which would force schools to innovate, whereas now they have no pressure to do so because their coffers are full.

I am bewildered that students invest thousand of dollars and go deeply into debt to attend an institution where they are told what to do, what to think, what to read out of overpriced textbooks that they MUST BUY as if those are the only sources of knowledge... then tested on it so they can win a piece of paper which supposedly gets them a high-paying job.

The simple truth is this: the internet and technology has completely shattered how people acquire information and learn. Yet the school system is being perpetuated for some mysterious reason, as if the populace craves structure and fears chaos and unpredictability.

THIS is the sad and outdated mechanism that fuels the entire broken, special-interest-serving morass that is modern education.


2 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2015 at 1:59 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

The answer to the original question is an emphatic 'Yes', and the proof is this student homework survey I started a couple months ago, results of which are here: Web Link

If students want to take the survey, it's here: Web Link




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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2015 at 2:12 am

Aye,

Here's the thing--the UCs are supposed to be affordable public universities for California kids. Some of us, even in Palo Alto, aren't rolling in dough. It truly bothers me to have seen the UC system become less and less accessible through both increasing tuition and lack of sufficient spots. I grew up during a time when a good (not great) student could count on being able to attend a UC--the loss of that is huge and a bad thing for California. Rising college tuitions have been a social disaster in general, robbing our country of the class mobility it enjoyed and benefited from post WWII.

In-state public universities shouldn't be an impossible reach for most of the graduating class at Paly or Gunn. It's certainly not a question of being unable to do the work there.

As for the Ivies and private elite schools, less homework means more time for aim-high kids to show that they do more than follow rules and work hard. Kids who are self-motivated and inner directed (i.e. the kind of kids these schools are supposed to want) will benefit from having more flexibility and having the opportunity to pursue their own interests.

I think a lot of the homework should be optional--i.e. because it will help you learn, not because it's required. Not all homework, but a definite chunk of it. Among other things, kids should figure out what they as individuals need for learning. Ideally, they learn when *they* need to study and how to master a subject. There's a lot to be said for the reverse class mentioned in the article and it's not dissimilar to a college seminar--i.e. read the material at home and discuss it in class, instead of sitting and listening (or not listening) to a lecture. I don't think the current work load creates a love of learning or the skills need for self-education.


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Posted by aye, there's the rub
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2015 at 8:36 am

I said I was with you on your previous post up to the point you brought in the USNWR's rankings.

The competition for good colleges is huge. The arms race doesn't stop a PAUSD borders. It doesn't stop at US borders. It's not down to USNWR rankings or homework in Palo Alto.
We have consultants setting up shop in Palo Alto offering money back guarantees of getting into a good college. Check out the Weekly's article on this: : Web Link Note: "prices depend on the amount of work a client requires and range from $6,000 to — in one case — a quarter-million dollars".
Homework isn't the problem here.

You are lamenting that you can no longer get into Berkeley with e 3.7 GPA in the same breath that you state getting into a top college is NOT your definition of success. Don't you think kids realize this and know what you really do want? This is why the kids are stating in their surveys that their biggest fear is not getting into a good college. This is why parents are so anxious they are willing to pay a consultant "a quarter-million dollars".

This is what we need to change. This definition of success. Homework stress reduction will follow, it won't lead this change. Kids should not feel like failures because they didn't get into their preferred college. Parents need to stop pushing this and let kids be kids.

In your posts you say getting into a good college isn't your definition of success for your children but you use language that says the opposite. Where are the kids in all this?


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Posted by Public school
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2015 at 8:49 am

aye,

Excessive homework is definitely a problem, it's really bad.

But bigger than that is failure to manage the schools, to allow opinions to rule, instead of sound policies, enforcement, and to have accountability.

Homework is an EQUITY issue (and why the unfairness can cause so much emotional damage) . Stop promoting "doing" school and blaming it on a definition of success.

PAUSD should decide how it defines success first, and when it figures it out, maybe they will be able to manage the schools.


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Posted by aye, there's the rub
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2015 at 9:03 am

@Public School, please review the surveys. The top 3 issues our kids report are:

1. I feel anxiety about getting into the colleges that I want to go to
2. I feel tremendous pressure to succeed academically
3. My family expects me to attend a top college

Course load does come next but it is driven by these top 3 issues not the cause of them.


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Posted by Public school
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2015 at 10:02 am

Aye,

This is how I see it.

1. "anxiety about getting into college" BECAUSE it's so damn hard to "DO" high school with the HIGH homework pressure cooker - a big mess of a problem

2. "I feel tremendous pressure to succeed academically" BECAUSE the "best" students "DO' high school SO well (tutors, parents, money is no object) it's TRMENDOUS pressure to KEEP UP.

3. "My family expects me to attend a top college" BECAUSE that is what PAUSD is PREPARING you for - TOP colleges. Why waste all this pressure on anything less.

Suggestion:

Start with 3. PAUSD cease and desist from teaching to College, teach to HIgh School. Offer FUN stuff, treat students like a promise instead of a product.

2. Stop the rat race about keeping up with all the DOERS and create a culture of LEARNERS. You can learn without homework.

1. Realize that the anxiety is about TODAY, about what is due this week, the homework mill, the grades, the marching to the same drum, the lack of compassion for this age group.


LEAVE students alone, give them freedom to NOT do anything, and let them make their way.

If they don't learn, no problem. They will eventually.


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Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2015 at 10:44 am

I am the parent of a high school student(PALY) and a middle school student. A homework policy that gives an estimated time allowed per night doesn't work. What takes one student 1(1) hr, takes another 2(2) hrs and takes another 30 minutes. On average my middle school student gets 2 hours of work per night(and that's if there are no tests) Kids are stressed there is too much homework, too soon - period.

It starts in middle school with teams of teachers barraging the kids with projects(busy work). There is one(1) teacher in the team who is the instructional supervisor. This individual is supposed to gauge the amount of homework the teachers are assigning each week. It doesn't work - inevitably one teacher's project is more in depth than explained and languages aren't figured into this team of teachers. Do our middle school students get that much homework that each team needs a moderator? The homework policy also doesn't take into effect when kids have tests. The studying alone takes up to an hour per night for some tests (sometimes), if it's a more challenging subject.

As a parent, I am tired at the end of the day and have to muster more energy to help kids(middle school) with 2-2 1/2 hrs of homework - how do you think my middle school student feels? Exhausted, closed down to learning after a full day of learning and a sport so they can get out in the fresh air.


If the past is any indication of the future no one will successfully address or solve this problem in the near future as we have to have more studies,surveys and committees etc...This has been an issue for at least nine(9) years that I can remember. Challenge Success offers lots of research about homework and consults with PAUSD, but nobody is driving the 'change/implementation ship'. Let's make an effective, accountable change today School Board and administration.



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Posted by Former Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 2, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Declare it first, my 2 cents comment below may not be liked by many people in the forum. But, it is just my comments of trying to help and make sense here. So, too much homework as many believes, how about less amount of homework but more difficult progressive style. A piece of homework that can simply show who should earn A or B. In this way, not much load of amount of homework, but give teacher a reason to grade. I know many of you will scream at me... Let's suppose that UC is only able to take 20% kids from Gunn and there are 300/400 student have a 4.0 GPA. As a UC admission officer, how does he/she to make a decision of whom to admit? Flip a coin??? If you want to change grading system of Gunn to make most kids "A", you need to change UC admin policy first, and this is not simple as PAUSD can make a decision. Sorry for my comments.


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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Aye,

I think you misunderstand my viewpoint--it's not actually about my own family situation, but what I see at large--which is that we've lost options for the middle class that were previously available. Options that were readily available to people of my own generation are gone. That's not about defining success, but noting, accurately, at the diminished opportunities.

So, yes, it's not an issue that's about Palo Alto, per se, but a reflection of what's happening on a much, much larger scale.

The anxiety people (students, parents and school faculty) stems from something real, which is a genuine diminishing of opportunity from previous generations to the current ones for those who aren't affluent.

A lot of things need to change and should be changed. It really *shouldn't* be about blaming students or parents for their anxiety, but finding ways to diminish the hollow competition of the numbers-game currently played by colleges, USNWR, and the whole rigged college admissions system. (I hold USNWR to the fire, in part, because the rankings affect *how* colleges conduct their business and their recruitment--it's to the benefit of the colleges to make enrollment as stressful and as competitive as possible, when, really, the recruitment should be aimed not at the maximum number of applicants, but getting the best fit for the college. As it is now, people spend time and money applying to a huge number of colleges, most of which they don't want to attend, because they're worried they won't get in. Colleges, meanwhile, turn down students who qualify because they don't want their stats to look bad. Sometimes very qualified students don't get into colleges because they don't know how to play the game.)

There also needs to be a much greater focus on educational authenticity, as it were--so much of what's happening isn't about learning, but ranking. I don't think we, as a society, benefit from winnowing kids out so early. Historically, the U.S. has been a country of second and third chances--and we've benefited hugely from this.


7 people like this
Posted by Former Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 2, 2015 at 4:27 pm

So, after more than 100 comments in this forum, the root-cause of student's stress is a national issue caused by the current education system and how colleges doing their business and rankings. My own interpretation is that Gunn, as well as PAUSD, is only trying to "survive" in the current national system, trying to be a great school in US (which they did), and trying to send more kids to colleges. We should be happy with PAUSD and thanks them for their great work. If you think that the current education system is causing too much stress to student, don't just dump your frustration on PAUSD, you (we) should ask PAUSD to work with state/national level of educators to change the college admission policy. You should also pay more attention of whom to elect as our state/country's leader who truly cares about education and citizen's daily life.


2 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 2, 2015 at 4:47 pm

(1) Students need balanced schedules. Every semester should have those one or two easy A classes like PE, Choir, Band etc. where being present and participating is all that is required. When I was in school we were given the option of taking PE Pass/Fail and we were given the option to skip if we participated in sports.
(2) I'm not sure if grades are weighted in Palo Alto. They should not be. In my high school, 89.5 (A-) meant you received a 4.0. Let college admissions weigh the transcripts themselves if they so choose. Take away the grade incentive for taking AP classes. It's okay to have lots of 4.0 students. Let colleges make their own decisions, as they will do anyway.
(3) It would be great if all Palo Alto grads were anonymously surveyed and gave candid reviews of teachers, classes, homework load, and other advice. It would also be great to see teachers and administration address issues brought up in reviews in a public way. I don't know what an appropriate load of homework is anymore. I took AP History, and yes we were given several hours of reading every night. It was probably less than four hours, but truthfully, none of us did all of it. Sometimes life is knowing what you don't need to do. It's not always the people who study all night/day who perform the best on exams.

"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm," Winston Churchill.


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Posted by Martha Cabot & Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 2, 2015 at 6:23 pm


Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

Deeply concerned that a "homework battle" may break out in our District—with lines drawn up between parents and teachers—which will only make an unhappy city unhappier, we're proposing an inventive solution that's simple, doable, and friendly to all sides.

It's one of the six proposals of "Save the 2,008," a local initiative to bring a happier, healthier life to Gunn High.

Our solution is stated in "Step 2 — Rightsize Homework"—one of six steps set forth in our complete plan—which you'll find at: www.savethe2008.com

If you like any or all of our six steps, please join us ASAP—in emails, letters, remarks to the Board (Feb. 10, Fe. 24)—and together let's get something done.


Step 2 — RIGHTSIZE HOMEWORK

What:

• A confidential website where teachers and kids can compare notes on minutes assigned and minutes worked.

• Call it “ClockTalk.”

• For a daily and nightly “conversation” (not for “surveillance”!).

• Before the school-day ends, teachers pause to type in “minutes assigned” for each class.

• That night, students pause to click on “It Took Me Exactly That” or “It Took Me More” or “It Took Me Less.”

• (And maybe type in “actual minutes” and a twitter-sized comment.)

• Result next day: ta-dah! Algorithms and trained mice of ClockTalk have crunched the numbers to show kids and teachers how many total minutes assigned and worked, with regard to: other kids, other classes, other teachers, other teachers teaching the same course, etc., etc.—whatever helps!—including how many total homework minutes were worked in just one night by any one student so that any one teacher who is worried about any one kid can know what’s going on.

• Students’ names visible to teachers, but not to peers.

• Private to kids and teachers. (This isn’t Big Brother.)

• Use of ClockTalk optional.

• But: If we build it they will come.

Why:

• Homework is—and rightly should be—part of the student-teacher relationship.

• Homework is to teacher-and-students as a shared bank account is to marriage partners.

• Deciding on “the balance,” and what it should be spent on, is part of a close collaboration.

• During that extra, reflective pause every day, teachers will be more careful about “minutes assigned.” And during their pause each night, kids will reflect on how they’ve used their time.

• Rules, oversight, enforcement from without? We’re talking too unwieldy, too contentious, too cookie-cutter, too slow.

• Administrators shouldn’t be homework cops; teachers shouldn’t be suspects.

• Kids have no way to “speak up” to teachers about homework. (It’s too big a risk.) ClockTalk will lead to conversations in class.

The cost?

Ask our wonderful local whiz kids if they’ll build it.

Please forgive the long post, and thank you for reading.

Sincerely,
Martha Cabot and Marc Vincenti
Gunn sophomore and former Gunn teacher
co-founders, "Save the 2,008"


6 people like this
Posted by Analysis
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 2, 2015 at 6:34 pm

Okay - after 100 postings, here is a meta-analysis of the problems. I read through all the comments, and examined ONLY the areas where people expressed their belief on what the problem is. Some postings indicated multiple problems.

In rank order:

20 - Quantity of homework too much
8 - Poor Quality of homework
6 - Homework impacting lack of sleep
6 - Inflexibility on part of teachers or system
6 - Homework over breaks/No boundaries to homework in the home
5 - Poor culture/unhelpful teachers/ oblivious teachers/ uncaring teachers
5 - It's the students fault for taking on too much load & AP's
5 - Admissions game forces unrealistic competition/workload
4 - It's the parents fault for pushing kids too hard
4 - Pointless grubbing for grades/focus on ranking& sorting over learning
4 - Demotivating homework
2 - Lack of management of the schools, unwilling to change
1 - peer competition
1 - homework is too high % of grade
1 - Gunn environment is dreary


6 people like this
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 2, 2015 at 6:47 pm

@Marc Vincenti observes:
"homework battle" may break out in our District—with lines drawn up between parents and teachers—which will only make an unhappy city unhappier, "


The first shots were fired long ago when the teachers at Jordan used homework to bully, intimidate and demotivated my kids to a state of despair anxiety and complete disinterest in learning.

And they told me specifically that was their intent: to pressure kids to get homework done. No exceptions, no flexibility; no allowance for 504.

The battle started already, Mr Vincenti; what you finally see now is that the parents have found a voice to express the terrible things already done to our children.

Some of us are actually waiting for the teachers to change tack, come clean, and indicate a stop to mistreating children.


11 people like this
Posted by Truthseeker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 3, 2015 at 11:44 am

Truthseeker is a registered user.

I don't know how many "Gunn parent"s there are on this forum - seems like >1 - but I am responding to the one who posted the following:

"I actually don't think kids have too much homework. I think they just need to take reasonable amount of difficult courses or take courses based on their aptitude. I have two nephews (in 4th grade and 3rd grade) who go to two different private schools and they do 2-3 hours of homework a day and weekends too! That compares to almost zero homework for my 6th grader at Terman, and that's about the same amount of homework my high schooler has! If high school becomes too easy, how are our kids going to handle college? AP and honor classes are designed for kids that have aptitude in those subjects but nowadays many parents/kids treat it as a normal level class which of course puts a lot of stress on the kids. If we should change anything, it is not to change what high school offers, it is to change college admission criteria. If colleges stop counting AP classes, then I am sure many kids won't be taking AP classes anymore. I think Gunn is great to offer so many AP and honor classes which essentially meets all our kids' needs. We as parents just have to be brave enough to tell our kids not to overload on honors or AP's."

I agree that there are some kids who don't belong in AP classes and are probably being forced to do so in order to look more competitive for college admissions. I do not, however, agree with your assessment of homework. Too much homework is not the same as challenging homework. Furthermore, AP classes are not meant to simply pile on extra brainless HW. They are meant to challenge students to learn more advanced material in a shorter period of time. Homework should enrich and support, not hinder learning. I have examined my children's homework from Jordan and Paly. Depending on the teacher and subject, much of the homework can be time-consuming yet totally useless in its educational value. My kids can get the same 'A's without that type of homework; in fact, the extra time would allow more sleep and productivity, and a chance to focus on what really matters: learning the content and practicing skills. In college, they don't assign you stupid grunt work that wastes your time.

Also, especially in math at Jordan, too many teachers send home assignments on topics not covered in the classroom. Are they expecting us (parents) to make up for the shortfall, if the topics are too difficult for the student to learn on his/her own? Oh, I forgot, Palo Alto parents are all supposed to be wealthy enough to hire private tutors (sarcasm), so it doesn't matter if teachers don't teach at school. It's a good thing we have two well-educated parents, including a math teacher, at home. Unfortunately, we also get little sleep by doing a full day's paid work, and then teaching at home to make up for those teachers who can't or won't cover the curriculum in school, but force the kids to do the work at home.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 2:48 pm

"If high school becomes too easy, how are our kids going to handle college?"

Secondary education is not some kind of weightlifting exercise. This attitude reminds me of the "girly man" skit from Saturday Night Live.

One of my siblings who is very successful (compensation pkg published in Forbes, CFO, etc), graduated the top student at his graduate business school, also was not a very good HS student. HS grades might have had something to do with the time spent running a mail order business out of his room, but probably not. (Paid for his car and college tuition that way.) He is meticulous to a fault now but teenage boys are different. The point is, had he spent more time trying to be a better student in HS, it would have robbed him of a far more important educational experience that he was in charge of and would have gotten him better grades but probably not perfect ones, for what. I'm really not sure he could have been a better student at that stage had he worked harder at it. The story repeats with other siblings, in other ways.

The sorting system does damage, though. Is it really helping the kids, or is it just helping a few for whom the sorting system is the right educational approach?

Kids need time to do stuff, especially today when there are so many opportunities outside of school.


4 people like this
Posted by Truthseeker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 3, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Truthseeker is a registered user.

I agree with Parent. Also, life is a marathon, not a sprint. Our kids have somehow gotten it into their heads - probably thanks to the adults in their lives - that high school and college are the end of the line. Failure to live up to certain expectations now means it is the end of the world. What ever happened to learning through trial and error, and gaining wisdom through life experiences? What happened to creativity, music, arts, health, mental well-being? What happened to chasing dreams? Our kids don't even have time to dream or daydream (a time when the human mind comes up with the most interesting ideas). I have plenty of examples of people in my family who are exceptional in their fields today, but were probably written off as "average" in high school, or even college. Their moment to shine came in grad/professional school and in their respective careers, i.e., once they found their passion. Some people have a very narrow definition of success. But hey, we need all kinds for society to function. Usually, the leaders are the ones who did not color inside the lines.


6 people like this
Posted by Truthseeker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 3, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Truthseeker is a registered user.

There is another reason high school is not an accurate reflection of the demands of college. Trying to rush furiously through seven subjects is significantly different from being immersed in four subjects. That is why my kids say that they are not really learning. They're just doing. Studying for the sake of taking tests and getting grades, without necessarily having the time to digest the onslaught of information. In college, we actually had the opportunity to dive into the material (at least, I did). The human mind has serious limitations when it comes to multi-tasking. That's why we have Agile/Scrum development in the software industry now. Do small chunks at a time, but do them well before moving on to the next chunk.

Okay, I really need to get back to my work, but this too important to ignore. Sorry for the long-winded comments. Good thread though, OP!


3 people like this
Posted by Sleepless in Palo Alto
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 4:25 pm

As a parent who closely oversees the children's education, I would say that only Castilleja dumps more homework on its students. Even Sacred Heart does not give six hours of homework per night. Nor do Crystal Springs or Walden or Mitty or Bellarmine--all of which we have looked at, and which some of my children's cousins have attended--and which are superior to PAUSD.

I only wish I had taken my children out of PAUSD sooner.


Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 8:43 pm

Sleepless,

This community is worth working on innovating. I'm really saddened that the people who have most knowledge about what needs to be reformed, leave, and leave us with a few really incompetent bad apples in the district office. Please stay and help.



1 person likes this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2015 at 10:15 pm

I have come around to thinking this isn't exclusively a Palo Alto or Gunn problem.

I would like you all to explore an option that isn't getting enough attention.

In my eyes, the root problem of education which filters down to high school misery has to do with financial incentives and forced compliance.

To defeat it and save our youth, we must implement the following:

Separation of Education and State

Go ahead and "google" it, read, and tell me what you think.


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 11:37 pm

Johnny,

I do think you have a point about power and education, but I think the root is more in power dynamics. Well-functioning democracy depends on checks and balances. School districts have been set up as independent governmental entities in order to give local control for education as much as possible. This is why the school district isn't under the control of the City Council. The trouble is that there isn't actually enough of that local control. Parents have more power in their local PTA than they have with the school if something is going wrong.

For example, when we chose a new math textbook, the math program preferred by parents was never even considered by the teachers because of a mistake. So 800 elementary school parents signed a petitions asking the district to please delay the decision to adopt a new math textbook by one year in order to consider the other program, with free materials from the publisher. The district said no. Regardless of how people feel about the programs, when that many parents feel that strongly, and they are not usurping educators' domains, only ensuring a mistake is rectified, I think they should have the power to do more than just say 'please'. An election every so many years is just not enough. At the state level, there are at least referenda and initiatives. We have no such power with school districts.

Setting up some rules to allow the equivalent of referendum or initiative for schools would help balance power. Revising our complaint process so that there is a link on the PAUSD website to plain-language forms that went to an impartial 3rd party would help, too. And giving parents more power to enforce ed code and board regulations which are supposed to be binding. What does "binding" mean anyway when there doesn't seem to be any recourse.

That said, I don't think we should sacrifice the education of this generation of students while people go off and try to chase governmental changes. See you in a few decades. In the meantime, the kids need change now.

Here's how to do it by next year:
1) Set up a Homestudies program, with 1 administrator and 1 or 2 teachers for high school. This could be paid for with a grant from PiE. The administrator would have to be someone interested in/capable of innovating and working with parents, in order to set up a community of innovation within PAUSD.
2) Let families who want self-paced options with less homework choose up to 4 classes as independent study in order to reduce homework loads and get self-paced learning immediately. Families would share the resources they find that work best for blended learning, adding to what the state and school district provide.
3) Work to transition more classrooms over to blended learning or "flipped" classrooms so that by the following year, families who want a high-quality program without so much homework have that option.

Very doable.


5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 4, 2015 at 9:42 am

An interesting article in Wired:
Web Link

"“The world is changing. It’s looking for people who are creative and entrepreneurial, and that’s not going to happen in a system that tells kids what to do all day,” Samantha says. “So how do you do that? Well if the system won’t allow it, as the saying goes: If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

"Sir Ken Robinson’s lecture, “How Schools Kill Creativity,” has become the most popular TED Talk of all-time, with 31 million views."

The district should take note of that article and how the ideas could benefit our schools. (And the parents should take note of how Charles Young will take it to mean he should try to show the door to any such uppity parents, to the detriment of the rest of us.)


19 people like this
Posted by parent Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2015 at 10:00 am

Although I live in Menlo Park, I see similar trends at our schools and with my teenager and his classmates.

I think the schools react to the parents and we parents are driven by what we think the top universities want. Many parents are afraid to de-escalate the academic arms race because we want the best for our child and a top university is seen as the ticket to that better future - and the number of spots are limited. The local school districts then respond to us parents.

Many of us chose to live in these neighborhoods (despite the extreme costs of buying a home here) because of the advantage we perceived in the local schools for our children. We are vocal and sophisticated and some of us have time and energy to drive for ever stronger academics, usually measured by the number of AP Classes and Test Scores and how many kids get into top Universities etc... We raise significant money for our schools and we influence the policies - the schools in turn offer more AP classes instead of limiting or eliminating them, and the schools obsess about test scores etc...

From the perspective of our school districts: What would happen if our schools eliminated AP Classes? What would happen if test scores decreased? What would happen if the number of kids getting into top universities decreased - even if most all kids continue on to universities? I think our school districts are afraid of the possible consequences.

If the parents and the school districts are afraid of making the change, how must our children feel? Can we really expect them to defy this system without feeling like losers?

Maybe if we did deescalate we would create a community where more kids would go to universities including the top universities and be more successful as people. Isn't that the reason we chose to live in these neighborhoods?


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 5, 2015 at 11:50 am

parent Menlo Park,

What I have heard from my neighbor, a former principal, teachers, and the principal at JLS, is that the perennial complaint profile from parents is that there is typically an equal number complaining about too much homework and complaining about too little.

I think there is probably a leftover idea from when adults were younger and there weren't even so much as VHS tapes as an educational opportunity, and homework was pretty much the only educational opportunity outside of school, that more homework equals better school. We also get a lot of parents from Asian countries where the educational system really IS a big sorting system, who will never really be convinced that homework burden isn't directly proportional to rigor and quality.

I think it's also really important to acknowledge all the work that has been done to create choice for kids with different educational needs in Palo Alto, something manifested as choice programs in the early grades, but which phase out by 8th.

There are just as many parents on the other side of setting boundaries and minimizing or even ending homework, who feel homework is destructive to creativity and autonomy and usurps important family time, focus, and more rewarding use of children's time, even better educational opportunities. Since I am on the homework side you describe and have been engaged in the Sisyphean effort of trying to reduce the homework and encourage a more suitable program for very creative and autonomous kids, I would encourage you to read through the discussion about the legality of homework (What right does the school have to give my child homework) before deciding the reason we have this problem is pushy parents and the solution is just backing off.

You have a point that there is a segment of parents who will never be convinced out of their idea that homework is proportional to the quality of a school program. We could try to solve things by hashing out a one-size-fits-all solution again, that no one will be happy with and that will be under constant pressure from different sides. Or we could try to figure out a way to more individualize the educational path for different types of learners, which we already do in PAUSD in early grades and should continue through high school, as some of the teachers are already doing apparently, as quoted in the article. Those teachers innovated themselves, through really hard work. We should find a way to provide support for more to do the same, and provide a formal alternative for families who want a high-quality education without formal homework. It can be done. There are people asking for it to be done.

If you wish for that kind of innovation, please let your district know. Without constant and overwhelming feedback, left to their own devices, the educators act from pride and insularity, believing they know best. You don't get innovation from that.


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 5, 2015 at 11:55 am

Of course I meant:

Since I am on the other end of the spectrum from the homework side you describe ,and have been engaged in the Sisyphean effort of trying to reduce the homework and encourage a more suitable program for very creative and autonomous kids, I would encourage you to read through the discussion about the legality of homework (What right does the school have to give my child homework, one of the best discussions I have ever had the chance to be a part of on TS, lots of intelligent comments) before deciding the reason we have this problem is pushy parents and the solution is just backing off.

What gives the school the right to give my child homework?
Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 6, 2015 at 12:15 pm

I agree with what Gunn Parent said here: I actually don't think kids have too much homework. I think they just need to take reasonable amount of difficult courses or take courses based on their aptitude. I have two nephews (in 4th grade and 3rd grade) who go to two different private schools and they do 2-3 hours of homework a day and weekends too! That compares to almost zero homework for my 6th grader at Terman, and that's about the same amount of homework my high schooler has! If high school becomes too easy, how are our kids going to handle college? AP and honor classes are designed for kids that have aptitude in those subjects but nowadays many parents/kids treat it as a normal level class which of course puts a lot of stress on the kids. If we should change anything, it is not to change what high school offers, it is to change college admission criteria. If colleges stop counting AP classes, then I am sure many kids won't be taking AP classes anymore. I think Gunn is great to offer so many AP and honor classes which essentially meets all our kids' needs. We as parents just have to be brave enough to tell our kids not to overload on honors or AP's.


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 6, 2015 at 12:15 pm

I agree with what Gunn Parent said here: I actually don't think kids have too much homework. I think they just need to take reasonable amount of difficult courses or take courses based on their aptitude. I have two nephews (in 4th grade and 3rd grade) who go to two different private schools and they do 2-3 hours of homework a day and weekends too! That compares to almost zero homework for my 6th grader at Terman, and that's about the same amount of homework my high schooler has! If high school becomes too easy, how are our kids going to handle college? AP and honor classes are designed for kids that have aptitude in those subjects but nowadays many parents/kids treat it as a normal level class which of course puts a lot of stress on the kids. If we should change anything, it is not to change what high school offers, it is to change college admission criteria. If colleges stop counting AP classes, then I am sure many kids won't be taking AP classes anymore. I think Gunn is great to offer so many AP and honor classes which essentially meets all our kids' needs. We as parents just have to be brave enough to tell our kids not to overload on honors or AP's.


8 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2015 at 12:36 pm

This thread is filled with anecdotes, from parents who witness little homework to parents who experience children slammed with too much homework. The schools need to look into teacher consistency. While "Paly Parent" above states her children have almost no homework in 6th and Paly, one child of mine was overloaded with homework/projects in 6th and another in 9th - it was pure Hell. IT ALL DEPENDS ON THE TEACHERS - DO NOT THINK YOUR EXPERIENCE IS COMPARABLE TO EVERYONE ELSE'S and thank God if your child is not stressed-out.


8 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 6, 2015 at 5:50 pm

"If high school becomes too easy, how are our kids going to handle college?"

You equate homework with rigor, which is a false correlation.

Additionally, learning work-life balance usually makes it possible to work harder when one is working.

Lastly, in my experience at MIT, the kids who were burned out from high school did not do well.

I want the OPTION to send my child to school, expect a high quality education, and come home and expect our time to be our own. I don't want homework at all, and I don't want to be denied a good, rigorous education. The news stories have given examples of how you can even have good AP classes, with students more engaged and getting higher scores, with no homework. If other people want homework to rule their lives, fine. I want you to have that option. But it should be a choice.

School is mandatory, and everyone has a constitutional right to one and an equal one. My family's life outside of school should not be subordinate to sloppy pedagogy. They're always justifying homework by saying the kids need to learn time management. I'd like to see the schools lead by example.


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

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