News


Guest opinion: School needs more limits on courseload

 

We read with sadness the email sent reporting the death by suicide of yet another student at Gunn. As parents of two current students at Gunn, we feel it is time to speak out. Gunn High School is a pressure cooker that has created a toxic environment for our children. We feel strongly that PAUSD Administration and the Board should openly acknowledge the overly competitive culture at Gunn and take steps to change it to one that supports and nurtures our children.

Even before this most recent tragedy, we had been planning to write. We've been observing previously upbeat, motivated, hard-working and self-confident middle school students transformed into stressed, insecure and depressed high schoolers. Some juniors are taking four and five AP courses and struggling with little sleep and low morale. What caused this dramatic change? We believe it's the hypercompetitive atmosphere that has taken over the school. Instead of striving to learn, students strive to get their GPA's up as high as possible by grabbing that extra grade point for accelerated coursework (the 5.0 for an A). They feel compelled to go to that name college with the false assumption that a 4.5 GPA will serve them better than a 4.0. What started as a small snowball of students taking accelerated courses has turned into an avalanche that is sweeping children away.

At no other point in life is a person expected to be good at everything — history, English, calculus, chemistry, sports and social life. Those kids who do successfully navigate 10 AP courses in high school — will they look back on these years as formative or punitive? When they graduate from Harvard, will they feel fulfilled or like they have never left the rat race? What is the long-term goal?

Given the unremitting and toxic competitive stresses, it is incumbent on the school system to step in and provide more structure to the decisions that these teens make for their coursework. For many, their ambitions are simply bigger their abilities. Even if the students are capable of the massive homework, they are missing out on enjoying their youth and, most importantly, on making lifelong rich friendships.

We believe there should either be a strict limit to the number of AP courses students can take or the number for which they can get that extra grade point. Better yet, AP courses could be eliminated in entirety — a path taken by several prestigious high schools (Scarsdale, Riverdale, Fieldstone and many others) with no detriment to college acceptances. Yes, parents and students will complain, but by encouraging our kids to live full lives with healthy goals, Palo Alto schools will ultimately be doing the best for the community it serves.

A version of this letter was originally sent to Superintendent Max McGee and the Board of Education

Comments

42 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 9:36 am

Thank you for posting this. As parents of students in PAUSD, we are seriously contemplating leaving the school district as our children enter high school. I agree that there is quite a competive culture in our community, beginning as early as the Mommy-Baby groups. Yes, Palo Alto attracts the best and the brightest. But not all of our kids can be the best and the brightest. And that is OK. That should be OK for everyone. Health and happiness need to be prioritized over high scores in science, technology, engineering and math. Warm, compassionate relations in our community will make us stronger.


13 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 31, 2015 at 10:21 am

Thank you for posting this Guest Opinion. There are still many in our community, that for many reasons, refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem with the overly competitive nature of our schools. There is a big problem,
but in order for change to occur people need to speak up. Hiding behind "it's mental illness" does not begin to address the real issues that contribute to and exacerbate mental illness.

What can be done? This is a tough crowd, and many do not even understand how stressed their kids are.


28 people like this
Posted by Gunn Junior
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 31, 2015 at 10:26 am

You bring up some fair points concerning the competitive nature at Gunn. However, many of us feel that limiting AP classes/eliminating them entirely will do little but increase frustration among the (considerably large) population of students who take AP classes because they genuinely enjoy the subject and the challenge that comes along with it.

There are a few comments from my fellow Titans on FB that put this matter much more eloquently than I can:

"It is BEYOND offensive to insinuate our lack of culture or identity, to imply that we are mindless robots taking rigorous courses to look good on paper. I take the classes I do because I enjoy the subjects, as well as the challenge. I DO BETTER and I AM HAPPIER in a difficult course load than in one I could manage easily... Yes, I’m sure there are kids who were forced in to difficult schedules by their parents. But to assume that every student—or even a fraction of them—in a difficult course load has been forced into it, is unhappy, and isn’t “balanced”? Offensive, not to mention completely wrong."

"I know students at other schools in the bay area which arguably have more rigorous and high-pressure settings than Gunn. They offer many more AP and Honors classes, yet have much lower suicide rates than that of Gunn, which goes to show that getting rid of Gunn's academic curriculum is not the cure-all solution. Many of us take classes because of interest, not because of how we want to look on paper. Is it fair to these students to abolish faster-paced classes?"

"I'm really glad that you are able to take 7 APs and enjoy each one. That is a great thing. I would also be really glad if you were to take 3 APs and enjoy each one. I would also be really glad if you were to take no AP courses at all.

I would be really glad if no matter what you did, so long as you enjoyed it and were healthy and happy, and I would be really glad if everyone else could be glad for you as well, and if you were glad for yourself. And I hope that one day this IS a stigma that applies to each and every student."

So yes, while we should prioritize health and happiness over getting into an Ivy League, I don't think eliminating opportunity for academic rigor at Gunn would be a step in the right direction. Some students have suggested a counselor meeting for students planning to take 4+ AP classes to discuss their intentions and to make sure they're aware of the drawbacks of having such a rigorous schedule, which I believe would be more beneficial than eliminating these courses entirely. Something else my fellow Titans and I are also very aware of is that stress and depression are not the same thing. Yes, they do overlap, but depression is an incredibly multifaceted issue. Stress is just one of the many factors that contribute to it. I believe what would be more beneficial in the long run is eliminating the stigma surrounding depression, and making kids aware that it's okay to not be okay. Gunn is taking some steps to reach out more to those battling depression (i.e. we now have a "refer a friend" box where you can anonymously refer a friend you're worried about to go talk to a counselor) and many great suggestions were brought up by students at a recent school board meeting. Any ideas on getting rid of the stigma surrounding depression would be great; there seems to be a deficit of these and a surplus of ideas geared toward eliminating academic stress instead.

(I apologize for the long post, and thanks those whose comments I used. I wasn't sure if you'd want your names cited or not, so I left them anonymous.)


14 people like this
Posted by Commion Sense
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 10:45 am

The world is a very competitive place.

Some kids really do suffer from depression, mental illness. The biggest problem no one wants to talk about, because they would have to look themselves in the mirror and see their part, the parents putting on this pressure on their kids! If you do not get an A you are a failure. Well as a grown 47 year old man who is a teacher in the district, I have encountered lots of Harvard Grads who are absolutely clueless when it comes to common sense and integrity etc....

Palo Alto is a economic and financial machine driven by parents and realtors etc... Parents have got to see and start to realize that failure is an option and what is really important in the long run is teaching the kids how to keep getting up when down and that they are loved know matter what. Teach the kids that who and what they represent in life, principles they live by, are in the long run what is important.

The schools and teachers work at the pleasure of the parents in this district, the hard truth, and lots and lots of parents want their kids to be driven hard in academics, just the way it is. EGO AND FEAR BASED!


5 people like this
Posted by Duveneck
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2015 at 10:58 am

I have 2 kids at Paly, and couldn't disagree with the guest opinion more! Some take more APs , some take less. Parents lead their children. [Portion removed.] We teach them what we value. Sad.


11 people like this
Posted by Parent of Three at Gunn
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 31, 2015 at 11:37 am

Some of the AP classes are to quote a Paly senior, definitely "soul sucking." But others, like Mr. Ledgerwood's AP Environmental Science and Ms. Garger's AP Spanish are actually a lot less stressful than regular lane classes. Mr. Ledgerwood allows test corrections for a half point each, and Ms. Garger spreads her grading out across five different areas so if a student has trouble in oral expression but excels in written assessments, her overall grade doesn't suffer. I think the real stress for kids comes from the fact that every single test and every single paper has the potential to wreck the student's grade for the semester. While the math department drops one quiz per semester, students must do well on every test in every other department in order to maintain a good grade in the class. My kids have never had an opportunity to re-write an English or History paper for a better grade, and so they agonize for hours before turning their papers in for a grade. That's where their stress comes from: there are simply no do-overs. Limiting or doing away with AP classes won't change that.

The pace is relentless, that's for sure. Adopting a block schedule would allow some relief as would perhaps instituting a single day of the week when no homework would be due or no tests allowed.


2 people like this
Posted by Limit APs
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2015 at 11:49 am

Re: Gunn Junior's comment: "You bring up some fair points concerning the competitive nature at Gunn. However, many of us feel that limiting AP classes/eliminating them entirely will do little but increase frustration among the (considerably large) population of students who take AP classes because they genuinely enjoy the subject and the challenge that comes along with it."

Honestly think about whether students would take all of these AP classes if they were not GPA builders. In other words would they take them for the joy of learning if they did not get a bump up in GPA?

There can be enjoying and engaging classes without the need for extra points. Part of the pressure at Gunn is created by the AP and the not AP courses and whether a student is in or out of the AP circle.


4 people like this
Posted by Duveneck
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Taking away APs will hurt students in the regular lane who finally get the chance to participate in a meaningful way in class and score well on a test. Pushing AP kids down will only increase the stress for those average kids who are now successful in the regular lane.


14 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2015 at 12:39 pm

The relentless challenges in the high schools (both of them, by the way) is only partly due to parents, students and teachers, but the biggest problem and the underlying cause is the college application process.

Until or unless the colleges do something major to make their application process more in line with what top universities in other countries do, we will not see any changes of less stress in our high schools, and not just Palo Alto. Other countries manage to do it differently and our colleges should learn from them.

We have the top students at each high school getting multiple offers from multiple colleges and of course they can't take more than one. The next group of equally qualified students get no chance to take spaces that are not being used and the colleges know this so accept a large number of applicants that they can't possibly take all.

So we end up with this "arms race" which starts even in elementary school as students work on activities that will "look good on college applications" rather than doing things just for fun and have no apparent challenge. When everything a child does from the age of 6 is motivated purely in getting into a top college, it takes away from everyday, normal life.

Not every child can be stand out high school seniors, but every child can be a stand out teenager, son/daughter, friend, big brother/sister, grandson/grand daughter, etc. etc. Colleges must use other criteria than a manicured childhood to base their decisions.

Perhaps Palo Alto can be a leader in putting pressure on colleges to make some changes.


15 people like this
Posted by RussianMom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 31, 2015 at 1:06 pm

RussianMom is a registered user.

Teachers quality (many can't teach AP classes and more students are turning to tutors for class material explanations);
AP content, compared to other schools AP classes;
Equal grading, independent of number of qualified students (what's the problem of all good grades if the whole class is qualified?);
Test on material, mastered in class, not outside. Test should not be a 'trick' to minimize As and Bs, but rather a checkpoint on class material.

I believe that it will minimize stress tremendously and will create a healthier environment in our schools


35 people like this
Posted by jetpilot
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 31, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Some of the comments made by Gunn HS students (including student council members) at the recent Board meeting were concerning and revealed a lot of misconceptions.
1. Many repeated the false mantra that "stress doesn't contribute to depression." Perhaps it is reassuring for successful students to say this, but this is really "magical thinking" as there is a large body of scientific evidence strongly supporting relationship between stress, depression, and suicide.
2. Many students confuse "advanced classes" (good, more should be offered and should be encouraged) with AP classes for "extra credit" (bad). The extra GP credit perverts real education.
3. Many top universities no longer want AP classes (and great universities like Berkeley and MIT don't recognize AP credits at all). The feeling is that AP classes foster wrote memorization, not critical thinking skills.
4. The lack of true empathy for less-successful school-mates was shocking. In my opinion, you've left 8 of your buddies on the battlefield and essentially blamed them (since they suffered from mental illness) for being "casualties." Believe me, the Navy SEALS would be examining their program if 8 trainees died in 6 years!
5. This lack of empathy may foster success in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street, but these are not the kinds of young people we want in the military or in our medical schools.


Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 4:52 pm

@jetpilot

"3. Many top universities no longer want AP classes (and great universities like Berkeley and MIT don't recognize AP credits at all). The feeling is that AP classes foster wrote memorization, not critical thinking skills. "

I'm not sure this is true for Cal. Here's some links. I'll call on Monday.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


11 people like this
Posted by Thanks Doctors!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 31, 2015 at 4:52 pm

I was most impressed with the two doctors (and Stanford professors of medicine) who not only wrote this op-ed but also came to the board meeting to speak. Then Dr. Meg Durbin from PAMF said the same thing when she was on the radio with Dauber and the students.

Doctors are telling the community something that some do not want to hear: first, none of your children are safe. If you think they are, you are wrong. There is no guarantee that just because your teen is not depressed that they cannot (1) become depressed or (2) be impulsive, stressed out, high, panicked, be affected by the contagion, and make a terrible decision that could end in suicide.

Second, stress causes depression and can play a role in raising the risk of suicide. There are numerous of what Dr. Durbin called co-factors in suicide. Another one is substance abuse. Another one is bullying. Another one is sexual abuse/assault, which causes PTSD. Another one is serious family problems -- all stressors.

Depression is not endogenous to the individual, like some feature of anatomy. Most disease processes are affected by the environment. Cancer, for example -- there are genetic AND environmental factors that may work together or may separately be co-factors. In the case of suicide, there is evidence that stress triggers sucidality in people who have certain genetic characteristics. This relationship is still poorly understood but the science is developing and some facts are known. One fact that is known is that stress, including chronic stress related to school cause depression, and depression obviously raises the risk of suicide. A model of indirect causation is still a model of causation.

How can a community that is so educated be so ignorant?

Because suicide is terrifying. It scares the crap out of everyone. Use your common sense. We have had 9 deaths in 5 years at Gunn. Whatever is causing it -- and frankly there are a lot of things -- that is a big number. Gunn parents are scared and they should be.

[Portion removed.]

Let's get our heads out of the sand (or wherever they might be) and get something done. I hope that Dean and Julie will get and stay involved. We need their kind of thinking and education on the school board. We need their cold, dispassionate understanding of medical science now more than ever.


Like this comment
Posted by jetpilot
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 31, 2015 at 5:26 pm

See link for balanced article from Stanford News from 2013 on this subject:

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2015 at 5:48 pm

> " Believe me, the Navy SEALS would be examining their
> program if 8 trainees died in 6 years!

Talk about "apples and oranges". There is absolutely nothing to be found in a comparison of elite warriors (SEALS in training) and yet-to-graduate high school boys and girls.

[Portion removed.]




6 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2015 at 7:00 pm

"Honestly think about whether students would take all of these AP classes if they were not GPA builders. In other words would they take them for the joy of learning if they did not get a bump up in GPA? "

Uh, well, yeah, actually. One of mine took a lot of AP's because he was bored in the non-AP's, and never seemed to work that much either. My other one wasn't that way, and took very few AP's. Both did fine, touch wood.

If there's a problem here, it's a culture that says, "You have to take AP's." Kids are different, and whatever we do has to recognize that, and it has to be ok. That culture is where to focus, not banning AP's.


8 people like this
Posted by Don't limit APs
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2015 at 8:27 pm

To jetpilot: your wording of "top" universities spoke volumes to me. Cause of course all we should care about are top universities. My child's "mediocre" college accepted all APs from PAUSD and he graduated in 3.5 years from a liberal arts college. That is a substantial 20,000+ student loan debt savings. But all you care about is "top" right?


6 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 31, 2015 at 8:34 pm

Parent, Crescent Park, my kid is at UC Berkeley and they accepted 5 of her AP classes from Paly. So, you are misleading, at best.


1 person likes this
Posted by Misha
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:11 am

Thank you Doctors and Jet Pilot for your compassion.


7 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 6:53 am

I haven't posted in this thread until now...don't know if there was reference to me or not above...

Course selection is a decision that the student and parents should make. Limiting choice is an over-reach, nanny state type of measure.

That being said, I suggested in an earlier thread that there's no reason why the high schools should prepare a mandatory (for students and at least one parent/guardian) seminar on AP courses and a plain-speaking discussion on the effects of academic overload. Further, you could put a soft limit on initial class sign ups and then require parental approval for classes above the limit.

Parents should be the front line and have the final say on decisions that effect their children.


Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 6:54 am

Sorry, typo...."no reason why not..."


1 person likes this
Posted by info to inform
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 8:20 am

PAUSD recently shared its AP stats.

Paly and Gunn students' AP loads are not outliers in California.

Freshman and sophomore years: No AP classes allowed except for native world language speakers and a few math whizzes who are ready to take BC Calculus who are heard rumored to be the top students in that class.

Each high schools' stats are about the same, averaging out to

Junior year: 1.3 APs per student
Senior year: 2.5 APs

Web Link

CA average: 1.9

Web Link

The mix of APs maybe the problem. AP Bio and APUSH in the same year is ill-advised. As others have posted, some AP classes are easier than regular lane classes.


19 people like this
Posted by another gunn upperclassman
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 8:30 am

Just as a quick point worth making, if AP classes are limited / eliminated, it will be damaging to the students in regular lane classes, since there will be an influx of top lane students being forced down into lower lane courses.

Speaking firsthand, a student being in a class that is far too easy for him or her is an awful experience, both for that student, and for the remainder of the class. My experience with this is from my time in Gunn's math courses, where the second highest lane (GeoA --> Alg2/TrigA --> IAC --> AB Calc) intersects with the second lowest lane (Alg1A --> GeoA --> Alg2/TrigA --> IAC). This frequently leads to classes where older students who are not adept mathematically have an incredibly difficult time, while younger students who have a greater affinity towards mathematics skate through easily. I was originally in the second highest lane under this system, and I (unpleasantly) remember hastily tucking away my math tests whenever we got them back, embarrassed at having easily done well, while many (generally older) students around me were visibly upset with the scores. I did zero additional studying and I rarely did the homework--the class simply moved too slowly for me, and I was eliminating the possibility of curves on tests for other students, while also not feeling that I was learning much in my own right.

Limiting options for AP and advanced classes threatens to create class environments where students who would normally be able to become confident in their abilities by participating in class and scoring well on things are drowned out by the (generally more academically minded, and in some cases, though parents of students in regular lanes would be loathe to admit it, more intelligent) students who would normally be taking APs.

Again, just to leave this as food for thought, speaking as a current Gunn upperclassman in an academic track that many have been condemning as of late, my most unpleasant experiences with high school classes have not been as a result of difficulty, they have been as a result of excessive ease. I--and many other Gunn students--prefer the opportunity to reach out with our learning and challenge ourselves. Imposing strict limits on courseloads ends up hurting both parties--the kids that want to challenge themselves, or find regular and even honors classes a breeze, and the kids that don't wish to--for whatever reason--take advanced classes.



7 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2015 at 9:39 am

If AP classes are eliminated they would be replaced by other advanced coursework that is more creative more interesting and more aligned with student and teacher interests. No one is considering eliminating advanced coursework. The suggestion is that AP classes, designed by the College Board, force students and teachers into rigid forced marches through a broad but thin curriculum with heavy homework loads. They do not lead to love of learning but are a chore to be survived. Research on AP classes finds that they could make sense in poor rural or inner city areas as a means to level the playing field and assure access to some advanced classes.

Does that sound like Palo Alto?

Regarding the average AP class taking what that does not tell you is the distribution: how many students are taking 7, how many are taking 6 etc. there are many students, including some of the deceased, who were taking many many of these, far more than the average. No one is saying that all APsvare bad. But we also know students who are taking 5 or 6 at a time. If there are 2 hours per day homework for each and a student takes 5 that is 10 hours of homework per day. I feel depressed just writing that down.

Please do more research and critical analysis before reflexively defending the AP program. It is not the only way to organize an advanced high school curriculum.


2 people like this
Posted by Thank you Drs. I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 9:49 am

Looking at the Paly and Gunn bell schedules it looks like Paly has 7 class periods, and Gunn has 8 class periods.

Web Link

Web Link

By moving to a block schedule, that alone would do two things to curtail the "arms race" 1) No High School student would be starting school at 7:20 AM (no high school student ever should! and it would be incredible that PAUSD will educate about sleep while it has high school offerings at 7:20 AM.) 2) Anyone who wants to take 8 hard classes would be limited to 7.

Assuming that AP's are not appropriate or allowed in 10th grade, many high achievers are "done" with the basic high school requirements by Junior year or earlier, so the shennanigans to look good for college applications are happening Junior and Senior year. It becomes silly with some students who feel they need to take the highest highest class in EVERY subject. It is a lie that every student is passionate about EVERY subject, and it would be realistic to say, that Junior and Senior year you can choose 3 areas where you want to demonstrate uber mastery and also your interests.

Colleges could be INFORMED that in Palo Alto, you are allowed to only take 6 AP's MAX over the course of Junior and senior year. And colleges would not hold that against anyone. Colleges repeat over and over again that they look at students within the CONTEXT of their school and if the school they went not does NOT offer AP's, no problem. If they offer 6 max, no problem.

The main point here is that the schools are putting WAY too much effort to allow Juniors and Seniors to "show off" that they can do the work, and that is totally unnecessary.


3 people like this
Posted by Thank you Drs. I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 9:58 am

And by the way,

Colleges will not expect anyone to take the MAX at their school.

They will LOVE a student who decided to demonstrate mastery in 1, or 2 AP's. Taking only a few TRULY demonstrates interest, and speaks to the student's choices. Tells them more about the student.

High School should not be a place to "prove" anything.

We will all be better off with students who are intelligent in many other ways, and not just proving how much they can work.


17 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2015 at 10:10 am

I just looked at the Gunn bell schedule posted above and I want to flag an issue for Elena Kadvany. Gunn now shows a "zero" period as an 8th academic period (which offers AP math and science classes!!) and starts at 7:25.

Gunn used to start at 8:05. Following the cluster in 2011, parents agitated for late start due to the relationship between sleep deprivation and depression. We were told we were getting a late start to 8:35. Now we discover that was a LIE and actually the day npw starts at 7:25 for advanced students to pile on an 8th academic class.

That is a horrible travesty. The community was deceived by Katya Villalobos and Kevin Skelly possibly intentionally. Now the arms race starts earlier and lasts longer. Now students have 8 advanced classes in a day.

This is shocking. At Paly the zero period is basically for gym. This is evidence that without district oversight Gunn cannot be improved. Those teachers DO NOT GET IT. This board DOES NOT GET IT.

Late start is now early start ? We need to fire Charles Young and Katherine Baker and whoever else approved this.

I want to know if any of the children we lost were in zero period 8 academic class regimes. Put that in your "psychological autopsy" why don't you ?

And as regards AP classes if the homewoek policy applies and no student has more than 2-1/2 hours per day total that's fine with me. But AP is not the be all end all. I hope at least.


18 people like this
Posted by calm down
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 11:36 am

Hello Gunn Mom,

Before you start yelling and calling people liars about the zero period classes, please be advised that there are students who are early risers, and who prefer to get their classes done earlier in the day, in order to use the afternoons as "prep" period or to be done early for other extracurriculars such as sports, outside jobs, or just to relax. Please do not assume that kids who choose zero period do so because they want to pact in as many classes as possible - on the contrary, these are kids who want to be done early so they can have free time.
Please, stop blaming, think positively instead. Instead of jumping to conclusions (negative ones), think about the positives that these options offer to students as well.


1 person likes this
Posted by Thank you Drs. I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 11:46 am

Calm down

I had my reservations about blaming parents about this issue until I read your post. I'm sorry it is the most blatant example of a community going out of their way to promote healthier habits for mental and emotional health, and these messages going on deaf ears.

If you have not gotten it so far, you won't. If the schools are being held to your standards we are in trouble.


1 person likes this
Posted by Gunn student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 11:51 am

@ Gunn Mom: The only way I ever have 2+ hours of hw per every AP class each night is when I'm on social media for half that time. I agree, 5-10 hrs of hw every day sounds terrible. But fortunately, that's not how it is.


12 people like this
Posted by another gunn upperclassman
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 11:56 am

Gunn Mom,

Please do not be so quick to take an accusatory tone, especially when your basis for such is backed heavily by blatant factual inaccuracies. Your claim that zero period is used as an 8th class period to tack on extra academic classes is false. Zero period is used for an academic class if a student wishes to have a free class period later in the day (generally F or G period, so they are able to leave school at 2:30), or when unavoidable class scheduling conflicts occur (in which case the student taking a Zero per. will still have a free period).

To clarify: nearly every single student I know taking a Zero period has at least one free period. Most upperclassmen taking a Zero period have two free periods. I know seniors taking a Zero period who have three free periods. It's not used make kids take "8 academic classes a day" as you stated. Rather, it's used to restructure the schedule of the day for students who are fine with getting to school earlier and wish to leave school earlier, or don't want to risk having an academic class during an F or G period which they might have to routinely miss for a sport or other extracurric.

Your use of hyperbole and your calling for the firing of board members because of your own misconceptions about the system in place are rather shocking. I would advise you to speak with your son/daughter currently at Gunn prior to making faulty assumptions.


4 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2015 at 11:57 am

@calm down

[Portion removed.]

Gunn now starts at 7:25. Teens were supposed to get more sleep. That was the purpose of the late start. This was an effort to set limits and boundaries and instead turned into more rat race. Now students are seeing a chance to get an extra class and others feel pressure to keep up.

By the way there is a body of research by Hewitt that shows a strong connection between social expectations of perfectionism and suicidality. That also has never been discussed here.

[Portion removed.]

If you want to know why things are worse it's because the old board encouraged them to get worse. Sick.

Let's get our soul back.


2 people like this
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:06 pm

another gunn upperclassman,

Good to hear that the zero period is pretty useless then because research and common sense indicates that high schools should start school later in the day.

The bell schedule is NOT supposed to bend to individual activity patterns, be it for 'early risers" or to leave just enough time make it to olympic training or whatever activity is stacked that day.

I'd call it outrageous that these excuses are preventing a switch to a block schedule. The arms race is impacting everyone, the entire community, and the race itself is for the select few who cannot fathom working with rules that work well for all students.

The Weekly should scrutinize this issue thoroughly.




Like this comment
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:13 pm

And zero period as an excuse to have three free periods during the day to leave school early to rest?

How does this make any sense.


8 people like this
Posted by Gunn student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Has it occurred to those against 0 period classes that a kid who sleeps at 10 and wakes up at 6 for a 0 period class will get the same amount of sleep as a kid who sleeps at 11 and wakes up at 7 for a class that starts at 8:25?


3 people like this
Posted by info to inform
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:23 pm

As for the writers' opposition to weighted grades, doing away with them will make school even MORE competitive.

Colleges say that GPAs are the #1 most important thing they look at. A B in a weighted class is impressive - still a 4.0. An unweighted B in that class is a 3.0, pulling a GPA down, making getting As more important, and upping the pressure our students are under.

#2 thing that colleges look at: difficulty of courses they take. Colleges count the number of APs and honors courses from high schools that don't provide weighted GPAs.

Web Link

Just limit APs, right? That won't work either for the reasons students share and because wealthy students can and will pay to take them elsewhere.


6 people like this
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Gunn student,

First I want to be careful to distinguish the exchange with Calm down, who appears to be a parent.

The response to him/her is parent-to-parent and not directed to students.

As amazingly eloquent and mature the students who are posting here are, you must see that some of us parents who are on completely opposite sides, will engage in debate and are tip toeing around issues.

The one about school start has extensive research and the formula of 10 pm bedtime and 6 am wake up for teens, I believe is a physical constraint for the majority of teenagers because teens stay up later by nature. I cannot explain exactly how that works but a 6 Am wake up call for teens is an assumption that would not fly to set a high school bell schedule.

Yet, against all common sense, PAUSD has one high school assuming that 10 pm bedtime and 6 AM wake up is OK. Confusing, yes, and that needs to change.

If PAUSD is concerned about sleep, they cannot have a high school starting at 7:20 am.





1 person likes this
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:42 pm

I meant to say best if we are not tip toeing around issues.


3 people like this
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:48 pm

info,

"wealthy students can and will pay to take them (AP's) elsewhere. "

They can and they should. As long as they do not appear on the Paly or Gunn transcript.

External transcripts would likely not add too much to an application and those who would bother would be so few it's irrelevant. It would just add the label "rich kid" on the application.


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Posted by info to inform
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 2:02 pm

The message a student taking APs offsite sends to the handful of colleges that like to admit students with several APs is that he is curious and industrious. It demonstrates that he can handle very challenging college work, something those colleges would have to guess about when looking at applicants who stuck to their high school's limit.

How many students would take APs elsewhere may be a small number. But PAUSD's average APs is much lower than the rumors lead you to believe, so there probably aren't that many students who take lots of APs rumors notwithstanding.

Since students' incentives will not have changed - a deep interest in the subject or college admissions or college credit to save instead of pay tuition - I suspect that students will take the same number of APs either way.

BTW listing parents' jobs and not checking the financial aid box tells colleges all that they need to know about the family's finances. Transcripts are required for all coursework listed on a college application and all transcripts matter.


15 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2015 at 2:03 pm


Perfectionism including especially "socially prescribed perfectionism" (read: pressure to succeed in school) is an independent risk factor in suicide. Please stop the lie that it is not a factor. Kids reading this -- when you repeat falsehoods that are proven false by science about suicide risk you could be helping to block prevention efforts that are needed. Please read the research and educate yourselves do not just repeat what you are hearing from self interested adults.

See:

The Alarming New Research on Perfectionism Web Link

Hewitt et al, Perfectionism and Suicide Ideation in Adolescent Psychiatric Patients (1997) journal of abnormal child psychology:

Abstract:
This study was conducted to examine the relations between dimensions of perfectionism and suicide ideation in an adolescent psychiatric sample. A sample of 66 adolescents from an inpatient psychiatric facility completed the Child and Adolescent Perfectionism Scale, the Child's Hopelessness Scale, and the Suicide Ideation Questionnaire. Overall, the results indicated that socially prescribed perfectionism was associated with greater suicide ideation and that it, along with hopelessness, accounted for unique variance in suicide ideation scores. The findings are discussed in terms of their practical and theoretical significance as well as their consistency with similar research with adults.

Dimensions of perfectionism and suicide ideation, Hewitt et al (1994) cognitive therapy and research.

Abstract:
Two studies were conducted to examine the relation between dimensions of perfectionsim and suicide ideation: whether perfectionism is important in suicide ideation when considered in the context of other predictors of suicide (i.e., depression, hopelessness), and whether perfectionism moderates the association between life stress and suicide ideation. Samples of 91 psychiatric patients (Study 1) and 160 college students (Study 2) completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, the Hopelessness Scale, the Beck Depression Inventory, and the Scale For Suicide Ideation. The subjects in Study 2 also completed a measure of negative life stress. Overall, the results confirmed that self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism are associated with greater suicide ideation. Moreover, these two perfectionism dimensions contributed uniquely to the discrimination of suicide groups and both moderated the link between life stress and suicide ideation. The findings are discussed in terms of their practical and theoretical implications.



3 people like this
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 2:31 pm

info to inform,

I meant to ask you about the average. As you admit, few really want the AP mill and it is very likely that the average is a small population watered down by the many who are not taking as many AP's. We need actual numbers. It's only 2 high schools.

Please Weekly, get the DATA of what populations are taking over 6 AP's at Paly and Gunn. The number of students so reliant on AP's.

Info, you should also be informed that demonstrating that you can "handle very challenging college work" only goes so far. After 6 demonstrations, what more do you need? That's plenty.

And what a contradiction, that you suggest students want "college credit to save instead of pay tuition" but you also worry that rich students will pay anyway to take AP's outside (to get into college).

PAUSD should not saving college credit money for students. Compare the savings for a few students getting college credit for APs, to the money needed to be spent on mental health programs.


15 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mum
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 1, 2015 at 7:50 pm

Wow, very disappointed in the judgmental and accusatory tone of some postings. From my empty soul I would like to say for our family zero period has been great for all three kids. My present junior is usually in bed before 9:30 and my older two were the same. All have been well rounded individuals who happened to be larks rather than owls. All find morning to be much more productive. Their ability to use zero period to have F and G period preps allowed them to pursue their passions ( not for the sake of a resume but for innate drive). Going to a block period would mess with pursuit of my child's passion. I hope it doesn't happen but will not stand against that as the group needs should be above the family. However I will not tolerate a broad brush of criticism based on generalities. Please be civil and know that how parents converse on these forums is also an education for our children and we should strive to model teamwork and problem solving.


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Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 8:22 pm

Gunn Mum,

"I will not tolerate a broad brush of criticism based on generalities."

On the contrary, there should be an open discussion about the topic, maybe on a different thread, and better if the Weekly could investigate.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Another Gunn mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 9:40 pm

@Info to inform.

At least according to US News and World Report, 77% of Gunn High School students take APs and, those that do, take an average of 5.1 exams.

At Paly, 66% take APs and those that do, on average, take 4 exams.

And of course, the average doesn't give the skew; some students are taking 8. These numbers are considerably higher than the state or the nation (on a national level, the median is 1 AP test)

People know that Palo Alto students and schools are top notch. We don't need APs to show off our students. Getting rid of APs and giving advanced courses designed by teachers has proved a highly effective strategy for some of the most competitive private schools in the nation.


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Posted by info to inform
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 10:03 pm

The official PAUSD College Board AP report aligns with the numbers the Superintendent presented at the board meeting.

Paly: 2.2 AP exams per exam taker
Gunn: 2.8

Web Link

Average for all AP exam takers in the US (maybe in the world): 1.8

Web Link




2 people like this
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 10:16 pm

Info,

If your numbers are correct, then this is yet another case to limit AP's.

Limit them to the averages.

They won't be missed by too much.


9 people like this
Posted by Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 1, 2015 at 10:26 pm

Whatever happens, I hope that the actual students get a say. If that leads to a limit on APs or a block schedule or whatever else then so be it -- I just hope that since we're the ones being directly affected by this, our voices matter.


5 people like this
Posted by Whats Missing
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2015 at 10:14 am

What's missing here:

Discussion of differences between Paly vs. Gunn.
The difference in suicide stats is stark.

Is anyone wondering why?


13 people like this
Posted by Times are a changing
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 2, 2015 at 11:16 am

Paly has taken social emotional health more seriously. Paly has block scheduling which limits homework automatically. Paly has advisory which delivers touch points and sel curriculum. Paly had a counselor for each class who loops with the class so you have a 4 year relationship with a counselor a freshman TA and a 3 year TA. Paly places less emphasis on competition and less pressure to maximize APs. It's not nirvana as the recent cheating scandal shows. But it lacks the excessively cutthroat libertarian competitive feel of Gunn which is anomic. The environment at Gunn is depressogenic for many and no one other than The Daubers and now the Stanford doctors will say it aloud. There are too many self interested pwople -- teachers who think they are drill sergeants toughening up our kids, admins who glory in the scores, parents who want affirmation that they made a good decision to move here, the worthless board that thinks it's job is to hand out praise and money to the union, the union which wants more for less, the top students who want to believe that the race they won was fair, the parcel tax committee that just wants to have won the election, the PIE board that cares about PIE more than kids, the PTAC which actually was better under Micaela than under any of the rest -- at least she did care about health, the board or realtors (especially them). Who will care for our students' health? [Portion removed.]

There is a sea change afoot. The majority has had it and can throw out these bums and get a board that won't accept district staff refusing to implement policy. We need leadership and if we can't get it from those currently serving others will come forward. The political mood had shifted. Starting with the election of Ken we can see that the mood is different.

We elected Ken and we will need to get rid of Heidi and run other candidates who will bring change. The day when the school board can just sit and praise and pass put money to a union that won't even use schoology must end. Who will run? We did it once and we can do it again.


14 people like this
Posted by More Listening, please.
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 2, 2015 at 11:39 am

I think the tone of the discourse in this thread is indicative of what the problem is. Let's be self-disciplined and keep our comments fact-based and please be considerate of the feelings of others. Hyperbole is not helpful. Personal attacks are not civil and not useful to gain support for a viewpoint...and it sets a poor example for our kids.

There are more than 2,000 students at Gunn. The divergent wants, needs and abilities of a group of people this size is challenging to address. I would like us to listen to the kids. They are starting to speak to us on this subject, and I want to encourage them to participate and to hear what they have to say.


3 people like this
Posted by Individualized education
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 2, 2015 at 12:41 pm

My son is a Gunn grad who thrived on the challenge of difficult classes and chose to take many AP classes because he would have been bored otherwise. When taking classes taught by demanding teachers, he learned better study habits and the benefits of hard work. Because he liked different subjects, he chose to focus on classes rather than extracurriculars and was able to manage the course load. He was glad he had the opportunity to take all those classes.

Other students may have different interests or abilities and that is okay. They should be able to choose the course load that works for them. Rather than a blanket generalized policy on numbers of AP courses, it would be better to have a model where each student has an individual plan that's right for them. The current offerings allow for that. There should be no stigma in choosing a lower level class if that's the right choice for that student. Similarly, other students should be allowed to,take multiple AP classes if appropriate for them.


16 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 2, 2015 at 12:58 pm

I appreciate the postings from "another gunn upperclassman", which are well-written and honest. One statement of his/hers, about the result of limiting APs - the mixing AP students with regular lane students is valid. We need to protect the regular lane students too, so they still have access to top grades - otherwise we have another issue - regular lane students with too much stress.

But the real issue is that more "A"s need to be distributed. No, not dumbing-down the curriculum or grade inflation, but more reasonable grading. My child got the top score of 5 on an AP class, yet the class was so difficult that the grade was "C". The teacher told the class they'd thank him in college because they will be texting in class because they will be bored. If a student can score a 5 on an AP test, the grade should be higher.


11 people like this
Posted by Lake Wobegon?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 2, 2015 at 1:00 pm

"Lake Wobegon, where every child is above average."
Palo Alto, where every other child is...unimportant and MY child is a genius! Yes, we know, dear.


14 people like this
Posted by Independent Parent
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 2, 2015 at 1:20 pm

I have a High Schooler at an Independent School, locally, where they have removed AP classes. Just because AP classes have been removed doesn't mean the classes are less stressful. Removing the requirement of "AP" really means the teacher isn't required to teach a certain curriculum. The load can be lighter, same, or harder than the AP curriculum for a given subject.

My daughter has easily 4-hours of homework a night and more on the weekends. She is most definitely not getting enough sleep and puts all this pressure on herself. I keep trying to get her to go to bed with a B+ instead of staying up late for the A.

If you ask me, one of the major problems is these kids have read just how hard it is to get into the UC and Cal State system as a Californian. They have older friends who did not get in last year despite having great GPAs and that is what is causing the biggest stress at least on my child. I would suggest we turn some of this frustration up at our California University Systems.


2 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Individualized education,

"The current offerings allow for that. There should be no stigma in choosing a lower level class if that's the right choice for that student." Do you really believe that this issue is that simple? Really, do you truly believe that?


4 people like this
Posted by Parent from neighboring community
a resident of Woodside
on Feb 2, 2015 at 2:08 pm

It appears that many parents have the misconception that AP classes are the only way to provide rigor and challenge to advanced level students. Getting rid of AP courses doesn't mean they should be replaced with mediocre courses. On the contrary, it would give schools the flexibility to develop rich, in depth, challenging courses that fit the needs of their students without drowning them with obscene homework loads. APs are not the gold standard. We can do better for our children.


5 people like this
Posted by NoiDoi
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 2, 2015 at 2:47 pm

There's a very relevant object lesson in this piece on admissions at Oxford University:

Web Link

One of the key takeaways is that they do not even look at GPAs. They also pretty much ignore extracurricular activities, volunteerism and all that "popular" overlay that makes every student look like every other student and burns all the available free time students might otherwise have available to them to do things like, well, relax.

Others have commented on the decline in APs, which I heartily agree with as doing well on multiple choice tests does such a good job of preparing you for college-level work.

In full disclosure I do have a child who is currently a freshman at Oxford and another who is a junior at another top uni in France, so I've recently lived through all of this process. Neither of them ever took a single AP except the one in France who had to take the English AP test to prove she was fluent in English even though she was from California and had a US High School diploma. (Go figure.)

My takeaway from the whole thing is the best track to admissions, certainly at top universities, is to focus on not looking like everyone else -- the exact words from the Oxford interviewer.


1 person likes this
Posted by Justin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 2, 2015 at 4:14 pm

I totally agree with NoiDoi. My friend has a masters degree in psychology from Stanford and also works as a college admissions coach. In light of the recent suicides she wrote a piece about how the pressure parents put on their kids for good grades, SATs, and certain extracurriculars is actually hurting their chances at getting into schools like Stanford. You can check it out here if you are interested. I think it has some really good advice.

Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Martha Cabot & Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 2, 2015 at 5:28 pm


Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

Worried that another angry fight in Palo Alto—this time over APs—will only make all of us more unhappy than we already are, we're proposing as part of our "Save the 2,008" plan a simple expedient that might bring consensus.

It's Step 3 of our six-step plan to bring a healthier, happier life to the school we love.

Here it is, below. (And you can find the other 5 steps at our website: www.savethe2008.com) If you like our ideas, please tell others you support us!

Step 3 — RIGHTSIZE COURSE LOADS

What:

• Students and parents, headed for multiple APs, will hit a flashing yellow light.

• A simple form (blanks to fill in) and a heart-to-heart talk.

• Kids & parents & counselors huddle over a written memo of understanding that spells out benefits and costs.

• Autonomy maintained but costs made clear.

• Everyone signs his or her name.

• Only then: the green light.

Why:

• The costs of multiple APs include: more stress; more anxiety over grades; less sleep (which can cause depression); more drugs to stay awake; more stress; less time to connect with teachers and classmates; losses in social, family and cultural life; damage to twelve of the “41 Developmental Assets;” more stress. And major universities such as Stanford, Harvard, and Yale recommend against students over-indulging in APs.

We continue to offer condolences to everyone in the Gunn community and in this town.

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


9 people like this
Posted by Questions from the 70,000 for the 2008
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 2, 2015 at 6:23 pm

Martha and Marc:

I am generally supportive of Save the 2008. However, Your solution to course load has the following issues and I would appreciate a response:

1. Parent sign off is already required. Parents already sign and will continue to sign for very heavy course loads. Consent only takes you so far. Some things are beyond "choice" particularly when there are incentives to make risky and unwise choices that have public Heath implications. In America and particularly here in libertarian Silicon Valley we fetishize choice as a concept but not all choices are free and not all freedom is good. You need to account for the prisoners dilemma and so far I do not see that you do.

2. So long as AP classes are exempt from the homewoek policy there is no way to make it safe to allow students to take 5 at the same time. Other students will see this and feel they must keep up or see their college dream slipping away. This makes gunn more competitive and "choice" does not solve the problem it worsens it.

3. The weighted GPA incentive to take AP and honors should be eliminated. This is perverse and incentiviZes conduct that should be discouraged.

4. No academics and particularly AP classes should not be offered in zero period.

Thanks!


4 people like this
Posted by 70000...
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 2, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Also please address how counselors at Gunn who already barely see their students once per year would have time for a face to face meeting with every student AND parent of every student who signs up for an AP class. Without advisory or some major counseling reform there is no chance that can feasibly occur. There aren't enough hours.

However parental consent is not the issue as I wrote above. The school should be responsible not to allow students to sign up for what could be hazardous to their health. That's the responsibility of the education professionals not the parents or the students.

This is very similar to the current debate over immunization. Yes parents want choice not to immunize. But what about when their liberty threatens my security? Choice only takes you so far.

Ultimately the school must decide whether to allow the antivax parents to make a choice that endangers other children and staff. That is what is happening here.


3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2015 at 9:03 pm

Parents and their students should have the final say on what classes they take.

If a limit is forced upon the school, then the market will provide alternative solutions...private schools or accredited education businesses like Lydian in Menlo Park. Then you're going to see yet another way where more affluent families will pay to get ahead...meanwhile families of lesser means will not be able to take the courses they feel are appropriate for their children.

Educate families on the issues of heavy or difficult coursework. But don't limit free choice.


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Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 1:47 am

Crescent Park Dad,

What hypocrisy. The market?

A community which has a D- with the achievement gap is worried about poorer families not having enough money to take AP classes which less wealthy students hardly even qualify for?

Would this be to help cover the tutoring costs of the AP athletes?

Or is this like the affordable housing argument where we are being asked to provide affordable housing in the most unaffordable place on the planet.

PAUSD should not be concerned about making AP's financially accessible. And harping about parent and student choice to save money is dumb. Not when you compare to the costs financial and human from a corrupt system.

It would be cheaper to have Lydian vouchers and clean up the "me" culture a bit.


1 person likes this
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 2:04 am

I'll repeat from my earlier post

Please Weekly, get the DATA of what populations are taking over 6 AP's at Paly and Gunn. The number of students so reliant on AP's.

Would be good to know

How many achievement gap students are taking APs

Taking up the suggestion to look at this in "market" terms, how much money are we helping families save by promoting the AP market within our schools.

Maybe we can split the difference, reduce AP's up to an amount, and let families go to Lydian for more.


15 people like this
Posted by MD and mom of 3 in pausd
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2015 at 5:54 am

What is the difference culturally between Gunn and Paly? Not to overgeneralize, but there is a large percentage of "new to the US" parents who have gone through hell to get here, as the competition to get ahead is, in many Asian countries, amazingly cut-throat.

This ends up contributing to those parents colloquially refried to as "Tiger Moms". With each year and the shifting demographics of the student population here, the culture begins to warp itself to a competition between parents which occurs far earlier than even middle school.

I understand the drive to achieve upward mobility and help the next generation to have a more secure social and financial setting, but left unchecked in an area with a high percentage of parents with a masters degree or higher is a recipe for disaster. We need an active dialogue between parents and educators to set a culture of learning and appreciation of our cultural differences, at the same time redefining what is acceptable behavior amongst the generation who will be our nations leaders in the not too soon future.

Yes, the world is competitive and often unfair, but it is also a beautiful place, and we have but one life. In the short time we are on this planet we need to better define what we want for ALL of our kids.

The fact we have so many countries who send their best and brightest people here is good, but there needs to be integration of an evolving set of morays that we of a new Bay Area diverse population can embrace going forward.


5 people like this
Posted by Rovers
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2015 at 6:29 am

I have a freshman at Gunn and am honestly terrified. I can't start to think about the pain that the bereaved family is feeling. Anyone that says stress doesn't cause depression is lying. I am so glad the doctors wrote this essay, and that the Weekly published it. There is way to much emphasis on competition and homework. Let's be honest. How many of us adults remember anything of substance from high school? Most high school courses are useless -- I told my son he needs to show up to class, punch the clock, and get out. That's it. Hopefully you make some friends, get involved in a bit of music, art or sports, and get a few good books to read. The actual courses mean nothing. Pounding out hours of homework, memorizing chunks of facts, and being subject to the relentless accountability of daily and weekly quizzes and tests does more harm than good. It probably makes you a good test taker -- which is a useless skill out of school. There's lots of smart kids in this town with driven parents, and it looks like the school is looking for ways to separate kids out or put them on a curve. I told him that he should be himself the best he can, express himself, and not feel like grades and tests and homework are a judgment on his abilities and who he is.


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Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 7:53 am

MD and mom of 3,

"What is the difference culturally between Gunn and Paly? "

Demographically the schools are similar, and I would not expect it to be different than many other high performing districts.

The main difference is the bell schedules, and the advisory system.

Paly starts school at 8:15 and has 7 periods, Gunn starts school at 7:20 and has 8 periods.

The Advisory system at Paly starts in 9th grade, and for 4 years students attend an advisory class which, to advise students on course selection, standardized tests, post high school options.

I would look at this to see how these two systems influence the AP statistics. How may sections of AP's are running at Paly vs Gunn, how many students take more than 3, or 4, or 6 AP's.

Come to think of it, is there even an official opinion actually of how many AP's are advisable?

The system of leaving it to parents and students is inappropriate, and even worst if the motivation is to allow for promoting an AP market within the schools.


1 person likes this
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 7:59 am

Meant even "worse" if the motivation is to make the schools an AP "market"

ANd the idea that this is good for students who would otherwise not be able to afford Lydian or an outside AP provider is terrible.

How often do we see tutoring (expensive tutoring) fuel and support the AP system?

Helping those save money on AP's would probably only help to subsidize tutoring expenses.


1 person likes this
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 8:12 am

AP classes are staffed, scheduled, and ingrained thanks to the "market" so it may be impossible to change it, unless the market is regulated.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 3, 2015 at 8:42 am

@Rovers >> "I am so glad the doctors wrote this essay" Implications are that anyone who is not a "doctor" is unqualified to be taken seriously.


5 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 9:25 am

I couldn't agree more with the authors. As the parent of two Gunn kids they have got it exactly right. Gunn's environment is toxic and we need some top-down leadership. The school and the school district need to set limits on the amount of homework for APS and honors classes, on the # of APs and the number of classes, and above all, we need block scheduling at Gunn, just like Paly and many other area school districts have. I cannot understand how it is that academic stress was enough of an issue at Paly 5 years ago for them to move to a block schedule and yet the stress on the other half of the high-school students in this district was ignored. For 5 years. Gunn kids deserve what Paly kids have. It's about equity in this school district. NOW.


4 people like this
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 9:36 am

The implications in my handle of thanking the doctors is that there are many doctors advising PAUSD.

We have been hearing from doctors about parenting, sleep, challenging success, other education matters, many of the resident doctor advisors to PAUSD are from Stanford I might add.

Rarely has any of the previous doctor advice been bold enough.

These threads are filled with regular parents asking for real reform, real change, and it has been getting old playing dumb about some real issues that need fixing in the district.

Parents who have been asking for reform are IGNORED. To suggest something as logical as limiting AP's, heresy.

OK, so now we have a couple of medical doctors who have expressed what many of us have been saying all along.


1 person likes this
Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 9:44 am

My previous post was for Musical who made the comment to Rovers

Gunn parent,

I agree with you 100%, it is an equity issue, and if the district is again going to stall and make excuses, they should allow you to move to Paly, or start a new school.

Clearly Gunn has been made into a de facto AP market choice program.


4 people like this
Posted by Press RESET now!
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 10:07 am

What excuse can possibly stand up to scrutiny as to why our schools are not run in a consistent manner with best practices applied accross the district. Even negotiations with teachers are held separately from what I have heard! This is simply ridiculous. Stop talking. Press RESET now! The new principal at Gunn is a magnificent change, Max at the helm of the district is showing so well in the early stages of his tenure, let's capitalize on the energy and talent. Press RESET now!


1 person likes this
Posted by Question
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Didn't the parents of this recent victim come right out and say academic stress was not the cause of their son's death?


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Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 1:07 pm

@Question

Yes, but the 3 suicides in the past few months, and past suicides are a cumulative amount of something that is being addressed as a community.

What the district has put on the table is sleep.

Related to sleep are schedules, school starting time, homework levels.

Related to homework levels are AP's.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 2:35 pm

[Portion removed.] Why are suicides not occurring elsewhere? Academic stress may not be the sole reason, but it's definitely a factor. When our children have so much schoolwork after school with no time to relax, how can they be happy? Even the students who are not striving for elite colleges know their parents expect them to do well in school. And by "do well", I mean at least "B"s, which are not necessarily a cake-walk, depending on the teachers. And depending on how involved their parents are (if they help with homework or pay for tutors), students can feel isolated and dumb if they are on their own.

[Portion removed.]

Let's face it, the colleges know that PAUSD is rigorous, but our college acceptances are still being hurt by the lack of good grades being distributed. Most of our children in PAUSD are capable of excellent grades if they have the proper help - there are parents who tutor up the ying/yang to reach this goal. If there are 30 students in a classroom and the teacher limits the amount of "A"s distributed, how do the children with no tutors have a fighting chance? It's clear that our students competing in a regular, non-college prep school district would easily having 4.0s.

I guess the rich win again. At PAUSD, and at Menlo and Castilleja, the schools which have college counselors with ties to elite schools, the schools that have can make their own rules. We shouldn't let our children drown in the quicksand.


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Posted by info to inform
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Paly parent,

"colleges know that PAUSD is rigorous, but our college acceptances are still being hurt by the lack of good grades being distributed...the teacher limits the amount of 'A's distributed?"

Just curious.

What percent of A grades would alleviate undue student stress?

How about the percent of Bs or better which you say is doing well in PAUSD? 50%? 60%? more?


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Posted by Yikes.
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2015 at 3:59 pm

"Paly starts school at 8:15 and has 7 periods, Gunn starts school at 7:20 and has 8 periods. "

That is a very misleading statement. Gunn starts at 8:25 and has 7 periods. There exists a "zero" period that starts earlier, but it replaces one of the other 7 periods. Note that Paly also has a "zero" period which begins at 7:10AM.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Upper limits or lower limits? One must inquire periodically, because the answer changes every few years.


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Posted by 4NR
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 3, 2015 at 4:18 pm

What I see is that the universities have become quite contentious and over-competitive, desiring only the wealthiest and highest performing students. That usually means non-native students, who are required to pay more and need higher grades to qualify, so they are now given priority. Now what has happened is that A erican students have to beat out forein ones just to get in to any four-year college.

Another problem is that it has become a necessity to acquire a master's degree, and many tech companies openly prefer PhDs. The American culture does not support its youth after the bachelor's degree. Many European and especially Asian and Indian cultures support the student all the way through to the PhD degree, even if the student is married and has children. This way, the student does not have to waste time working at a low-level job and can have an uninterrupted path to a graduate degree as quickly as possible.

As long as the universities put American students at the bottom of their list, this will cause parental fear of their child never getting a degree--which the parents will pass on to their children.

As long as American parents refuse to support their children in obtaining a graduate degree, which has become a necessity for gainful employment, American students will lose out on the competition between American va foreign students.



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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 4:30 pm

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Than you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 6:06 pm

yikes,

"Gunn starts at 8:25 and has 7 periods. There exists a "zero" period that starts earlier, but it replaces one of the other 7 periods. Note that Paly also has a "zero" period which begins at 7:10AM."

Wondering,

1) How many academic and/or AP classes are at 7:20 am at either school?
2) Is the zero period/as replacement for another period at Gunn used to allow some students to leave school early at either school?
3) How many students are using Zero period at either school?


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Posted by i go to gunn
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 6:59 pm

"Regarding the private homework forum aspect of the plan, student stress is not simply caused by handling too heavy a workload; in fact, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness the leading causes for teenage suicide are due to emotional and mental issues such as a breakup, a substance-related disorder, or family turmoil—challenging academics may add onto the original troubles but they are not the fountainhead themselves. According to a study done by Assistant Professor of Economics Benjamin Hansen of University of Oregon, suicide rates skyrocket during school months since high schools are too densely packed with students and as a result teens feel isolated with no strong friendship bonds. Therefore, instead of decreasing the academic load which helps students retain knowledge they learn, it would be much more effective to reform the counseling program by increasing the number of ACS counselors and making more mental health resources available to foster a closer and more supportive community."

source: Web Link


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2015 at 7:35 pm

Note: Both our kids graduated from Paly 5 and 3 years ago...one took 2 AP classes, the other took 5 AP classes.

I find it interesting that no one has offered a concrete rebuttal to my assertion that the family (parent/guardian) and the student should make the final course load decision.

No one on this forum, and certainly no one on the BoE, knows our children better than we do. To say that some organization or board has the right to limit our educational opportunities - well they don't.

If you're worried about your children and their academic load, then step up and manage the situation. Don't let them take a monstrous load. Don't let them lane up to the most difficult classes. Limit their AP classes yourself. Start being a parent and stop expecting someone else to make those decisions for you or your neighbors.

Being a parent isn't easy. But I would never want someone else to tell me how to raise my children.


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Posted by Thank you Drs I agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 7:49 pm

Crescent Park Dad,

The issue is that a fraction of parents cannot help themselves, and because they are desperate to distinguish their children in the college application arm's race, they demand the AP arm's race which is unnecessary.

After 3-5 AP's this issue is no longer about passion, or demonstrating ability to handle college work, it's blunt competition.

My rebuttal is that if you will have a ridiculous and potentially harmful race on school grounds, the schools have the responsibility to ask for helmets, seat belts, BUT because the schools have a responsibility to educate ALL students, and not just focus on the elite racers, then they are treading on very shady ground when they are obsessed with not regulating AP's, as far as equity is concerned.

Who wants so many AP's? Nobody, nobody reasonable.

You seem like a reasonable person, 2 AP and 5 AP classes seem fine. So a limit of 6 would have worked just fine for your family.


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Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 7:55 pm

For Heaven's sake, we are not discussing a student taking 2 AP courses - likely very appropriate for the needs and interests of many students here. We are talking about someone taking 10 APs purely for competitive reasons for college offers. Major parental planning, tutoring, financial support then comes into play and those without that or who wish to take APs which suit their interests (likely to be be 2, IMO) and do other worthwhile activities with their time are nonetheless put in a disadvantaged position when AdComs look at # AP courses taken within a particular high school pool of applicants. It's game playing and therefore should not be condoned by authorities.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 3, 2015 at 8:14 pm

Ok excuse my ignorance, when people on these threads talk about a given number of AP classes, how are they counting? Is this a number added up across all four years? Are APs offered freshman year? (In my day high school and APs started with 10th grade.) Are there any one-semester APs? Sometimes it sounds like a student is taking five APs all at one time, which I'd call a bit aggressive. Five APs across four years however doesn't sound like much of a load to me, though perhaps APs are more difficult now than (gasp) 45 years ago. Just trying to keep score.


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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 9:06 pm

@Crescent Park Dad writes:
"If you're worried about your children and their academic load, then step up and manage the situation. Don't let them take a monstrous load."

Normally you write such clear-headed things, so I was surprised to see the gap in your reasoning.

IF the only issue is AP or lane selection, I might agree with you.

However, our experience is that is not the only factor or even the biggest factor in workload. If your child gets a teacher in a regular lane who overloads your kid, there IS NOTHING YOU AS A PARENT CAN DO TO MANAGE.

So your example from your sample set of two kids did not observe the problem, but rather you observed the norm.

When a teacher does:
1) fail to teach in class, and export confusion and self-learning into the home
Or
2) decides to teach at a ridiculously hard level relative to their peers one class over

Or
3) constructs homework and tests so poorly that it is disorganized, unexplained, unwritten, lacks any relation to the class, lacks a due date, lacks a description of form (is it a paper? Is it an online quiz? Is it a worksheet? Who knows?)

In these cases the workload has nothing to do with parent choices, AND YOU CANNOT SWITCH CLASSES, so it is also immune to parent management.

Your claim that we can manage:"Start being a parent and stop expecting someone else to make those decisions for you"

Is simply not possible.

For this reason, your view of the problem fails to grasp all the issues at play. So your prescription that this is all parental fault misses the mark.


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Posted by NoiDoi
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2015 at 9:39 am

As a parent of two girls, now in university, who never took an AP, were not 4.25 students, had "OK" SATs. and averaged, maybe 1.5 to 2 hours of homework most nights and still got into every uni they applied to, including Ivies, Oxford, and Berkeley/ UCLA, the counsel I will give is that APs are a high road to nothing. What's important is to *not* look like all the other kids in the pile of applications.

I can guarantee that if your child has 7APs on his/her junior year record that there is a stack of applicants with exactly the same "credentials" high enough to fill every spot 10 times over. As one Ivy admissions officer told me about students like that -- "dime a dozen." Your kids are beating themselves up for zero advantage in the admissions sweepstakes.

Make them stand out. Make them actually fluent in a foreign language or two, have them travel the world or really pursue an outside passion.

My 2 cents.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2015 at 11:20 am

Yes - I admit to the gap. The entire homework load issue is out there and needs to be addressed as well. I agree that these are not discrete conversations and it is challenging to solve both without involving each other.

And to help with the conversation of too many APs...I have a relative in a neighboring city that also has it's own highly acclaimed city/school HS district. They allowed/pushed their child to take many AP classes right from the start (2nd year) through graduation. The kid did great academically, very social and seemingly on top of a fun life. However - the intended payoff didn't happen (admission to the first 2 UC choices (Cal, UCLA), Stanford or some of the Ivies. In other words, there is no guarantee that taking umpteen AP courses will get you into the top tier schools of your choosing.

At the risk of repeating myself - I have mentioned that I'm not a opposed to a soft limit and that parents/kids must receive mandatory training/counseling about the effects of overloading.

Lastly, I appreciate the discussion here and that even if I hold an opposing view to some on this thread...I am glad to see a rationale and civil discussion.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2015 at 11:36 am

oops..."rational"...


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2015 at 11:36 am

oops..."rational"...


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Posted by Parent from SUHSD
a resident of Woodside
on Mar 18, 2015 at 5:21 pm

My children have not gone to Paly or Gunn. Like the rest of the Bay Area I follow the sad and consistent stories about the suicides. In regards to the student's parent saying that academics had nothing to do with their child's suicide.....are you kidding? If they knew why their child committed suicide then they would've tried to stop it. Nobody really knows the exact reason unless a very detailed letter is left, and even then it is doubtful the student was mature or sane enough to say why this was the only answer.

All I can say is that this high number is only happening there. Above, all I see is a ton of arguing that the status quo is just fine. I also see a lot of student's saying they just love how challenging the classes are.

Please, stop wanting more from children than they can handle.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 19, 2015 at 4:46 pm

If we leave things as they are in our educational program, and we just say to people for whom it is not working that they should just react or feel differently to the current sorting system that is our educational program, it's not going to stick. Things will just go back the way they were when the dust settles.

I'm very concerned for our kids and our educational program when I see people replacing the imposition of one set of high expectations — go to Harvard or bust — with the imposition of another set of low expectations — cool it, lower your sights, you're not that smart, you'll hurt yourself if you aspire to anything more. Both are an unfair imposition of adults fears on our children. Both are a cop-out, in my opinion. Our educational program needs to be broadened and improved so the kids all have the ability to feel supported and challenged and find their gifts to the world.

Where is the appreciation of the dynamic nature of the human brain and our abilities? These kids are all too young to start pegging them as "average" or "ordinary" — I think we should move away from a system in which we are constantly measuring kids, or thinking about labeling them at all. It's unhealthy, and misses the adaptability of human potential.

If our program were to focus more on kids DOING things rather than sitting at their desks filling out paperwork (and waiting for score after score of that paperwork), then all of the kids will have accomplishments under their belts by the time they leave school, a wide range of accomplishments, and each will have learned better what they needed to in the course of achieving those accomplishments.

Rather than having a system in which our kids essentially fight for bigger slices of the same pie, why don't we just bake a bigger pie or pies for all of them? Isn't that what our district's vision is about, optimizing education for all of our kids?

When I wrote about this before, I was bringing up an accomplishment of my child outside of school, not realizing it was being taken as bragging. It didn't occur to me it would be taken as, "see what my kid can do," when I was saying, "my kid is normal in this district, see what every kid can do if our program were more focused on giving them more freedom and opportunities like these?" But now I see, even though I was trying to say, clumsily apparently, that we need to create those opportunities, some parents can't imagine anything else for their kids, because those other opportunities just simply don't exist in our school system, and they've gotten used to seeing their kids NOT finding that spark in their schooling.

And the people running our system portray to the families as if that narrow ladder and way of doing things is the be all and end all of success. (Really, I could point to the instances and letters from this year.) Since how well kids measure up on that ladder does affect their opportunities later, it's disingenuous and unnecessarily demeaning to just tell kids to accept that they don't measure up.

If we keep this limited pre-Internet traditional academic ladder system, in which kids are constantly scored as the measure of their worth, the best they can do is achieve an A grade, and be compared with each other. Any wonder grades become their unhealthy focus? If we don't offer other opportunities, a better system that works for everyone, it is absolutely not going to solve things permanently to just try to overlay a different interpretation on the same system.

Maybe some students who don't do well with what we have won't care, but most will -- it's not fair to continue to impose an educational structure that doesn't provide the education in the most optimal way, just telling most to accept they're mediocre, and make them miss out on realizing what they could do and be with other opportunities. Is it any wonder the kids for whom this is working don't want it to change, and everyone else is miserable?

What if school were more about projects that incorporated the learning into the projects? What if we gave up on the score cards and just fostered kids throughout their projects, and at the end, through discussion and some testing, figured out where they may have missed any core knowledge, gave them rapid feedback so they could acquire that knowledge, and tested them again? If the program is any good, all the kids should succeed and get an A. Isn't that the goal after all, to give every kid the education?

Because of the projects, the kids would all then have some individual accomplishment, different than everyone else's, would have learned the material better by using it, and the school program would have been geared to ensure everyone succeeded. In fact, after 4 years of projects, all kids would have a portfolio of individual accomplishments. Who remembers the worksheets they did? Everyone remembers the projects and what they learned by using their knowledge.

My kid wanted to learn how to write a video game and asked me to sit with him through hours of online videos on how to use the software. I fell asleep. When I woke up, I shut it off and said, "now it's time to just get started." He was pretty upset and said, "but I don't remember everything!" The traditional school approach would have him tested on how well he remembered what he saw, or some menial task related to the individual skills - a poor way to learn. I told him, "No one remembers any of that. You just needed to get the general idea, you need to start working and when you need to refer back to the resource for something, you can." He still needed a little help in the beginning, but once the PROCESS of figuring out how to build something and use the available tools became clear, he quickly outstripped anything us parents could help with.

All kids are capable of that, learning how to learn to help them accomplish goals they set for themselves. They'll learn better if they learn in context. In this new world, giving them that kind of dynamic experience is critical to their future success, and far more valuable than sitting them down and making them rote learn.

I don't understand why we allow our kids to be still subjected to this antiquated sorting system that works only for the people at the top of the sort, and even then, I don't think prepares them that well for life, it just gives a few of them advantages for later opportunities. If the kids have more freedom, and more, individualized, project-based opportunities that incorporate their core learning (with teachers more as guides and facilitators than lecturers), then it gets students off that narrow ladder, and they can be collegial rather than dog-eat-dog. In such a system, failure would be an option, because it would be a learning experience on a project-based journey to everyone's individual best learning experience.


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Posted by Old but wise
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 19, 2015 at 8:00 pm

So, we can't get away from pushy parents, and it is getting worse, so lets have a school dedicated to the "brilliant kids and their parents who insist on the AP classes. And then the rest of us can relax and watch OUR children flourish and do their best in a normal school without academic pressure... It is amazing how children can do well without AP classes, etc. My child was in special ed and now has 2 master degrees and is teaching.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:26 pm

@Old but wise,

I don't personally think there's anything wrong with APs for the kids who want them. There are people who really do best in that kind of educational program. I say, more power to them. I just want to be sure the rest of the kids who don't want that have real options and opportunities, too. I want to have other options for kids who need and want a project-based learning approach -- without homework. (Yes, I am one of those people on the other end of the spectrum pushing for no homework as the default! Changes in educational opportunities have made that possible with no loss in educational quality.)


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

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