News

Palo Alto high schools take action to ease student stress

District superintendent directs immediate implementation of homework policy

Amid fierce community conversation about the role that academic stress plays in the lives of Palo Alto high school students, Superintendent Max McGee is requiring all teachers to follow the district's homework policy, and Palo Alto and Gunn high schools are launching several parallel efforts in the hope of reducing the burden.

Both Paly and Gunn are implementing homework-free February breaks, and McGee encouraged teachers this week to not give any tests or have any major assignments due on Tuesday, Feb. 17, the day high school students return from that five-day weekend.

Teachers at both high schools have also committed to increased flexibility when it comes to rescheduling or retaking tests, offering extensions and completing late work without penalties. They're also looking at reducing homework load and the long-term goal of collaborating to avoid giving tests on the same day.

Gunn is working on extending hours at its test center this semester so that students can make up tests before and after school, rather than the current options of doing so during lunch or a prep period, Principal Denise Herrmann said Thursday. She said she has also offered to bring in substitute teachers before and after school to help oversee or proctor make-up tests.

When Gunn students register for classes later this month, they will fill out a time-management grid with counselors to map out their schedules of courses (and corresponding work loads), extracurricular activities and sleep. Both students and parents will be required to sign the grid. Students who choose multiple Advanced Placement (AP) and/or honors classes will have to meet, along with their parents, or talk on the phone with school staff about the schedule, Herrmann said. Doing so aligns with a proposal from McGee to identify a more "refined approval process" for such course loads, she added.

Many students and parents have suggested in recent weeks that Gunn should adopt a block schedule, under which classes meet less frequently but for longer periods of time. The block schedule would also allow weekly chunks of time for students to have free tutorial periods and for teachers to collaborate.

Paly switched to a block schedule several years ago, and the administration has claimed it's improved student mental health, eased homework loads and boosted teacher collaboration.

Herrmann said that Gunn will be re-convening this spring an "alternate schedule committee" that met for several months last year but then was derailed by leadership changes at the school. The committee will do research, site visits and select a schedule by December, with the new schedule expected to go into effect in the fall of 2016. However, a growing number of students, parents and faculty are asking the administration to accelerate that timeline so a new schedule could be implemented for the new school year this August.

Herrmann acknowledged the desire to get a new schedule in place soon, but said, "I want it to be done well, not just done quickly."

Herrmann oversaw a schedule change at her former high school in Wisconsin, which switched from an eight-period day (including lunch) to a hybrid block schedule in which students attend three classes on one day and four on another, with each period lasting 95 minutes. One day a week, students and teachers are provided 95 minutes for tutorial, collaboration, enrichment or intervention. Driving forces behind the switch were very similar to those in Palo Alto, Herrmann said: efforts to increase students' access to their teachers and close the school's achievement gap, combat student stress, provide teachers more time to work together to align their curriculum and reduce transitions between classes.

"After the first semester, we did a satisfaction survey and it was in the 90th percentile for students, staff and parents," she said. "They continue to say, 'We will never go back to that frantic-paced schedule.'"

Herrmann and Paly Principal Kim Diorio described possible changes for their schools in letters sent to their respective student bodies this week (read Paly's here and Gunn's here) this week to students, including: discussing and developing a plan for a few homework-free nights for the next school year; creating a calendar or system to assure that students do not have multiple tests or projects on the same days and asking teachers to review their current practices on grading, test retakes and make-up work to "assure they are consistent with evidence-based practices." Diorio's letter also invites Paly students to provide further feedback through an online Google survey.

In their letters, Diorio and Herrmann reinforced an idea voiced by many students at an emotional school board meeting last week, following a Gunn senior's suicide the weekend before: Academic stress is a problem, but not the problem.

However, both wrote, there are many people at Paly and Gunn "who believe we have the power to take small steps to reduce academic stress and create opportunities for our students" to take time to decompress from school.

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Regulating homework has risen to the top of the district's priorities, with McGee requiring all district faculty and staff this week to take immediate steps to review and follow the district's homework policy. The policy, adopted in 2012, mandates limits on homework amounts 10 minutes per grade per night, with the exception of AP and honors classes in high school but has reportedly been implemented unevenly. In a memo, McGee has asked all principals to work with their staffs to develop a plan to ensure the policy is implemented.

Though the strong direction regarding homework comes in the wake of two Gunn students' suicides since November, McGee emphasized in his memo that the deaths were not related to homework loads.

"While some in the community are quick to blame academic stress as a causal factor, it has not been a contributing factor to recent deaths," McGee wrote. "Moreover, students who spoke at our last board meeting and to me in classes, formal meetings, and informal encounters have pointed out that stress and depression are not the same.

"That said, as educators we need to help our students manage stress and strive to align students' workloads with established district policies and administrative regulations; assure consistency in curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices; and identify ways to improve our already considerable amount of social-emotional wellness and mental health supports," McGee's memo stated.

He noted that for high schoolers, seven to 10 hours of homework per week (Monday through Friday) is reasonable, but "based on my experience working with talented and accelerated high school students for several years, it is my opinion (and many of theirs) that generally 15 hours for a seven day week (Monday through Sunday) is a maximum reasonable load for top students."

In addition to the quantity of homework, the timing of assignments and tests can also be a problem for students. One administrative regulation linked to the homework policy states, "Teachers should make efforts to coordinate with one another to establish deadlines, due dates for projects/assignments, and tests in an effort to minimize student over-extension."

In his conversations with students and parents, McGee said, having multiple assignments or tests on the same days is one of the "biggest stressors" for students. He recognized that some schools try to use master calendars and others designate specific days for specific subjects (for example, mathematics tests and projects are always due on Mondays) but said that making the time for departments to communicate and coordinate on scheduling is "a significant challenge."

"This problem may be the most difficult to solve, but I am confident we can do it," he wrote.

McGee highlighted another administrative regulation directed at teachers, noting it is one of several that are "required, and not just encouraged": "Monitor homework time requirements and feasibility of assignments using student assignments, student feedback, and parent feedback."

Teachers at both Paly and Gunn have begun asking students to log the amount of time assignments take to complete, many simply by adding a line on physical assignment sheets to write it down. Herrmann has also asked Gunn faculty to input the amount of time they expect assignments to take on Schoology, the district's online management system. McGee also noted in his memo that teachers are required to post assignments somewhere -- whether it's on Schoology or a teacher's website -- so students can access their work from home or elsewhere.

"While this note likely feels 'top down,' the policy and regulation were developed through an inclusive process, and as adopted Board Policy, compliance is expected and required," McGee wrote.

In McGee's "Max Mail" newsletter this week, he wrote that now, more than ever, change will necessitate a more comprehensive, district-wide effort.

"Too often we act as a collection of separate communities, but now it is time to come together as a collective community to address the mental health needs of our young people," he wrote. "In other words, whether we are parents, coaches, educators, employers, siblings, or friends, we each have an important role in supporting and strengthening the mental health of our young people. This is not a school problem; it is a community problem; so let's work together."

The school district is also partnering with the City of Palo Alto and youth mental-health coalition Project Safety Net to host a community event, "Let's Talk: A Community Conversation about Healthy Kids and Healthy Schools," on Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. at the Cubberley Community Center Theater, 4000 Middlefield Road, T2, Palo Alto.

Related content:

Gunn student wellness committee advocates for simple, small-scale change

Students to school board: It's not Gunn's fault

District homework policy roll-out stalls

Comments

8 people like this
Posted by HS parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2015 at 7:58 am

THANK YOU

This is really good.


31 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2015 at 8:06 am

This is commendable.

I just wish the high schools and the District could start putting some pressure on the colleges nationwide to take the stress and arms race out of the application process. The real cause of stress has to be changed from there.

The push for this has to start somewhere, why not Palo Alto?


37 people like this
Posted by Bunyip
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 6, 2015 at 8:19 am

Perfect sheep.

That's the key problem. Market forces. Everyone wants to get into Stanford and change the world. Stanford has arbitrary admission standards looking for perfect sheep. The feeder schools and parents respond by producing perfect sheep. The kids are miserable.

Give them back there childhoods, let go of your own dreams and expectations for them. They will figure it out. I don't want my kid to have home work, go play. When college comes, off to Europe. Have an adventure and some education. Learn a little more then basket weaving for $50k a year.

There's a whole world out there people


9 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2015 at 8:40 am

Sounds great, but it ain't going to happen. My sophomore came home with this news earlier in the week and said, "We heard the superintendent has said 'no homework over the 5-day weekend,' but we all know it just means double the work when we get back so teachers don't have to get off schedule."


4 people like this
Posted by at last
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 6, 2015 at 9:21 am

I like Max's approach since he's joined. Simply agree to do with what anyone asks and the problem goes away. About time we stopped having pushback from the district!


11 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 6, 2015 at 9:56 am

I am happy to hear that make ups will be offered before/after school at Gunn. It is also a great decision to offer extensions on late assignments without penalties. Less punitive environment makes the school a happier place, and encourages real learning. THANK YOU to the district, to principals, and to all teachers for implementing this.


4 people like this
Posted by Finally.
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 6, 2015 at 10:04 am

[Post removed.]


29 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2015 at 10:44 am

One other thing I would like to see addressed is the make up policy when a student is sick for a couple of days. They come back, often still weak from being sick, and end up with double homework for a couple of days plus having to make up tests.

I know many students are often home "sick" studying for a future test, but when a 14 year old has flu, it takes about four days to get back to normal health and even though they are well enough to go back to school, they still need to recover their strength and energy. The policy we have forces them to get back before they are ready and then penalizes them for being sick.


21 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 6, 2015 at 10:55 am

THANK YOU!!!!!! As the parent of 2 gunn students my family wholeheartedly supports all of these efforts to reduce academic stress on our kids. We need a block schedule ASAP and a hw policy that actually works for ALL classes, including APs and honors. Finally, some real leadership in the school district and at Gunn!!!


19 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 6, 2015 at 11:07 am

Great to hear this news! The school environment in Palo Alto is way too stressful and a block schedule at Gunn is long overdue. Our kids in high school are so busy doing homework, they don't have time to do the things that create long term resiliency like having jobs, volunteering to understand the broader world, spending quality time with family and friends, being active in a faith community, participating in sports activities. Any relief from the tyranny of homework and frantic scheduling is a huge help to our kids.


19 people like this
Posted by PE?
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 6, 2015 at 11:20 am

Any changes RE: the necessity to make-up PE exercises for days when students are ill? What about waiving severe penalties for forgetting to wear a proper uniform? Paly's current policy seems unnecessarily arbitrary and stressful.


17 people like this
Posted by Parent of a happy PALY Junior
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2015 at 11:41 am

I so appreciate that McGee and the schools are making a serious effort. My son was home sick with the flu for 5 days, missed 3 days of school and 3 tests. His teachers said catch up with your homework, then take the tests when you are ready. Thank you! It didn't used to be this way. Now I just wish he could take the tests after school rather during lunch and free period.

My son is loving the academics at PALY and doesn't feel stressed. He works hard but clearly he is in the level he should be --pushing himself but able to do the work. I've told all my kids, that this moment right now, is life. Not college, or working, or some future goal. Live this life right now and do your best but make sure you are enjoying it (mostly) and are present.

Now if only the colleges would recognize only 3 AP classes, so students wouldn't feel the need to accelerate their lives trying to take 14 AP classes in High School.

These suicides may not be do to school stress, but they remind us that many of us in this area are living stressful lives and passing this on to our kids. Lighten up Palo Alto--it's hard to be creative and fully engaged when you are under stress.


3 people like this
Posted by CW
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 6, 2015 at 11:54 am

I don't want to leap to any conclusions here, but the parents of the most recent suicide victim said academic stress had nothing to do with the boy's decision to take his own life. They said he had a pre-existing mental health issue, depression. So why the push to limit homework now? [Portion removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent too
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 6, 2015 at 12:41 pm

As a parent of Gunn students I am very hopeful that we will finally see some changes regarding the block schedule and homework load.

PLEASE do not wait to implement the block schedule for another 18 months. So much time has been wasted with more research, more negotiations with staff and more endless delays. Paly (yes, I'm going to say it) has successfully implemented a new schedule and is now in the position to make further improvements. Gunn students deserve the same, NOW. The policy should be updated in the current school year to address this deliberate oversight so that next year, all classes will be covered by a policy that is measurable and enforceable.

While I applaud the superintendent for requiring to follow the district's homework policy, the policy exempts all honors, advanced and AP classes from the policy. My understanding is that 75% of Gunn students are taking at least one honors/advanced/AP class if not many more. This applies to all grades, so a freshman taking anything but the lowest lane of math, bio and english will have 3 classes that are exempt from this policy. My experience has been that as a result my kids are doing well over the 10 hours of recommended homework for a high school senior.


3 people like this
Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Much of the current predicament stems from a school system that is 100% achievement oriented with no value placed on effort. A significant segment of our students, when faced with the pressures applied by society and reinforced by their parents (around here, many who were hi-achievers themselves)and failing to make the highest grades, respond with unhealthy actions: cheating, taking study drugs, engaging in avoidant behavior such as "recreational" drug taking (self-medicating), self-destruction, cutting classes, in general, stopping trying. "Why should I try anymore when no matter how hard I work I can't get the top grades - so I'll never get into Harvard, Stanford etc. When effort is rewarded and regarded as a true measure of character in all endeavors, achievement will follow. Until our schools, especially top-tier schools like PALY and Gunn, take a look at how only rewarding academic achievement is detrimental to many of our children, lightening homework loads as proposed will only be temporary solutions. It's up to parents to take a leading role here. It will be a challenge as many recent arrivals who have bought into the Palo Alto school system with big bucks have high achievement goals for their children, whatever the true cost turns out to be.


5 people like this
Posted by Doing our best work for our kids
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:05 pm

CW,
Ken Dauber said it better, but we are not just looking at preventing tragedies but focusing our energy on creating the healthiest, happiest environment and the best educational program for the kids, which we should be doing anyway. These kinds of events do tend to provide the impetus, that's just human, and nothing wrong with it.

My question would be why then are things that contribute directly to depression like indoor mold (which would be hard to connect in any individual case) and asthma (which 10-15% of kids have) always off the table whenever these things come up? Especially when we were promised "improving indoor air quality" in our bond measure work and equivalent to new construction in all renovations, but we got little but obfuscation and no programs in place to achieve it.


16 people like this
Posted by So right
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:30 pm

Between Paly Parent and Bunyip, the nail has been hit squarely on the head.

The colleges have let it be known that they prefer wealthy foreign students who have to pay far higher tuitions. That means American students, who SHOULD have first priority, have to work harder to beat out students from Europe and Asia whose parents can easily afford to pay whatever it takes, and whose governments pay for better education with less homework and stress. Basically, the colleges pit American students against the wealthy cream-of-the-crop of the rest of the world!

Yet, our nation's future depends upon EVERY capable student in America getting a bachelor's degree at the very, very least. Most well-paying jobs, especially in tech, require master's or PhD's. How many parents can afford that? Most of the world's nations ( except for the US and four African nations) will PAY for the qualified student to get a PhD. Most Asian and Indian families and countries will pay for their married adult students to co tinge their education all the way to a PhD degree.

Yet, it appears that only American students ( and Japanese, for that matter) have to give up their very childhoods in order to get imto any four-year college at all!
All that does is cause young and middle-age adults to act out their childhoods belatedly and inappropriately.

Yet, this is caused by the absurd requirements of American colleges and universities--and NO ONE holds them accountable. Instead, employers complain that there aren't enough qualified, well-educated Americans with graduate degrees, so they have to hire from China!







17 people like this
Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:50 pm

The article states "Superintendent Max McGee is requiring all teachers to follow the district's homework policy". This policy was adopted in 2012. Why have the teachers not been required to follow the policy for the past two years?

The District is sticking by it's story that they're not at fault. Paly principal states, "Academic stress is a problem, but not the problem." and Dr. McGee says, "While some in the community are quick to blame academic stress as a causal factor, it has not been a contributing factor to recent deaths," McGee wrote. "Moreover, students who spoke at our last board meeting and to me in classes, formal meetings, and informal encounters have pointed out that stress and depression are not the same."

Is the district now letting the students give psychological advice.

At a recent board meeting, Gunn sophomore Chloe Sorenson told the board, "Throughout my first year and a half at Gunn, I have dealt with more than my fair share of depressed friends. Whether we like it or not, depression and other mental illnesses are all around us. This became increasingly apparent to me as I watched the majority of my closest friends admit to depression, suicidal thoughts, or self-harm."

I'm sorry, but having the majority of your friends admit to depression, suicidal thoughts and self harm, is not normal. To try to claim that this is not related to school, is pretty naive. For the school district to blame this on mental illness is irresponsible, at best.

There was a policy adopted two years ago that the district ignored. Since then several students have committed suicide. Of course they're going to say it had nothing to do with school. Now they claim they're truly concerned. Let's see what actually happens.

Please find me a school district that has experienced a suicide epidemic anywhere close to the numbers that have been happening in Palo Alto over the past 10 years.


17 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Make-up PE exercises is one of the dumbest policies I have ever heard. How long has Paly been doing that?


19 people like this
Posted by not holding my breath
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2015 at 2:22 pm

I am a parent with 2 students at Gunn. All regular lanes of everything - no honors and no APs. I really want to believe in the new administration, but here's why I'm not holding my breath on any true change:
1 - Alg/Trig classes are letting classes retake a test from last week, (which many students bombed because they were distraught and being pulled out to talk to 3 different counselors) and the teachers have said that regardless of how well they score, the max grade any student can get on this retake is a B. Seriously? If they take the test and get an A, give them the A. Where the focus should be on them learning the material and showing they know it, they're getting arbitrarily penalized? That's STRESSFUL for my child.
2 - Although last week many teachers delayed tests and projects due, this week that work plus current work was due. So double work all week long. That's STRESSFUL for my child.
3 - Ridiculous processes and procedures: Biology 1A homework that's due and stamped for "completion". Doesn't get checked for whether information is correct or not. Doesn't get discussed in class unless a brave student raises their hand to ask a question (they just plow on to the next section). What happened to the old days when the class would review every section of the homework in class the following day? Said homework is then turned in to teacher a 2nd time AFTER the students take the test. And still the homework is never checked for content. Really? Just recently within the last quarter, teachers are now posting answers to the homework the day after it's turned in the first time and stamped. So now the student has to go back on their own and check their homework from the last night AND do their homework for the current night. Call me crazy, but isn't that now DOUBLE work for my student?! That's STRESSFUL for my child.
4 - Athletics: My student has been at spring sports tryouts this week, and had a lot of homework on Wednesday (plus another club sport practice that night). Upon explaining to the coach about her conflicts that night, coach replies "well if you really want to play xxx sport, you should be here instead. Which takes priority for you?". Seriously? Shouldn't the staff support a students decision to balance their load when their is an occasional overload? My student cried that night because they're afraid they won't make the team. That's STRESSFUL for my child.
5 - Just found out that said athletics also has Saturday practices. Really 6 days a week for practice? Where is the balance???? So now, the 2 days that should be used for nurturing other parts of their lives, are now interrupted by athletics. And don't forget that there's always homework due on Monday in at least one class. And gosh what if my child would like to earn some money by working. And now true "down" time is reduced to a handful of hours. That's STRESSFUL for my child.

PAUSD Administration - please look at all aspects and sources of stress and pressure for students. Big Changes coming....I'll believe it when I see it.


5 people like this
Posted by Hopefull
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2015 at 2:22 pm

I think this is great news and am very excited to hear this. As the parent of a Paly student this will help reduce stress.

My only question is will the teachers file a grievance as the Gunn teachers did in the past? Hope not since tracking of homework load for the homework a teacher assigns does not seem like an unreasonable job expectation to me.


4 people like this
Posted by Old woman parent of 3
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 6, 2015 at 3:49 pm

All three of my 40 something children went to Gunn. They were stressed, thought they were mediocre students until they got to college, had plenty of where to go to college angst, had one that was pretty depressed but no drugs to give her,etc. That is 12 years (minimum) with kids at Gunn, with all school years in this community. Kids died but certainly not at this rate nor surely so many from suicide.

Has the medical community taken a look at the multi-pharmacy these kids may be on? Prescription, I mean. I am all for decreasing the stress at school and at home (easier said than done), but I worry we are missing something here. Just a thought but I sorta agree with the kids on this one. Fix what can be fixed at school but I would want a good epidemiologist/psychologist looking at all cases to see if they had something else in common other than school stress.

This is just heartbreaking. No stone should be left unturned


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum Parent
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 6, 2015 at 4:33 pm

These changes sound very positive, although I hope they also really zero in on the added stress of all the homework/test overlap/college applications that happen in senior year. Last year we experienced a very highly anxious senior under extreme pressure during this situation, and the Paly counselor admitted there were dozens like this. But they still required a doctor's feedback. Once alerted to the situation the teachers agreed to ease up on the test deadlines/homework etc, and our student felt much less stressed and anxious. He completed all the required work, college apps, and felt successful without falling apart. Senior year is extremely difficult, and other schools (eg Castilleja) ease up on a lot of due dates to balance out the college apps. The counselors are overloaded at Paly and it takes an involved, persistent parent to advocate for their child to make things happen.


49 people like this
Posted by jock's mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 6, 2015 at 4:34 pm

What about unreasonable expectations of coaches? The Paly LAX coach has let it be know that he's scheduled practices throughout the President's Day week-end and expects the boys to be there. Anyone who doesn't attend practice over the long week-end (because, God forbid, his family chose to enjoy a brief vacation) will not be able to participate in scrimmages the following week. What about a sense of balance?


9 people like this
Posted by Am I missing something?
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 6, 2015 at 4:57 pm

"4 - Athletics: My student has been at spring sports tryouts this week, and had a lot of homework on Wednesday (plus another club sport practice that night). Upon explaining to the coach about her conflicts that night, coach replies "well if you really want to play xxx sport, you should be here instead. Which takes priority for you?". Seriously? Shouldn't the staff support a students decision to balance their load when their is an occasional overload? My student cried that night because they're afraid they won't make the team. That's STRESSFUL for my child.
5 - Just found out that said athletics also has Saturday practices. Really 6 days a week for practice? Where is the balance???? So now, the 2 days that should be used for nurturing other parts of their lives, are now interrupted by athletics. And don't forget that there's always homework due on Monday in at least one class. And gosh what if my child would like to earn some money by working. And now true "down" time is reduced to a handful of hours. That's STRESSFUL for my child."

Aren't athletics voluntary?


9 people like this
Posted by QED
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 6, 2015 at 5:09 pm

@Am I Missing Something

I LOVE this comment: "Aren't athletics voluntary?"

It captures perfectly the idea that our schools can somehow avoid responsibility for consequences if they can make it "voluntary". Don't like our sports policy? Don't play sports! Don't like a crushing homework load for AP classes? Don't take them! Don't like zero-period classes when we are supposed to have a later start time? Don't take a zero-period class! Don't like having to wear safety glasses in auto shop? Don't wear them! (Oops, that last one isn't real).

What happened to, the schools are supposed to be operated in the interests of students with the financial support of the community? Want to do whatever you want with no accountability? Don't take a paycheck from PAUSD!


7 people like this
Posted by amicus finch
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 6, 2015 at 5:31 pm

so glad my kids are out of pausd....


12 people like this
Posted by PAEA raise
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2015 at 5:44 pm

That Max McGee is only encouraging the teachers to follow a board policy is telling. The teachers union, PAEA, is in charge and will not let principals or superintendents direct teachers to follow the most basic of policies. And it has taken multiple suicides to get the nerve to encourage teachers to do their job, and do it well. Remember PAEA when they ask for more money in the spring, especially if the parcel tax passes. One suicide was too many for this school year.


8 people like this
Posted by Not Jim Harbaugh
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 6, 2015 at 5:50 pm

I'm just going call it out like it is. For those of you that follow the 49ers, The superintendent is basically Jed York.

I mean, it's commendable that he's trying to do something. At least its something....

But it seems more like a knee-jerk reaction than anything else; a band-aid to cover up a gunshot wound, some makeup to cover that blemish we don't want to see, a Jim Tomsula to cover up the egos and selfishness of the 49ers suits.

The students and teachers have been through so much already. Delaying homework for a week is like the twist of the knife. Why, you may ask?

Like many posters have deduced, this homework break won't eliminate the assigned homework, it will merely delay it for a week. The homework will then go to the back-end of the school year; more homework due in a shorter amount of time. On the teachers side, this throws off their entire lesson plan. And it doesn't get any easier for them when they have to also consider not giving more than one test per subject per day. I mean, how do teachers even start to coordinate that? But let's say the teachers do find the superhuman strength to coordinate that type of schedule, what about the students? Surely all this coordination and rescheduling will sap the energy needed to ensure the quality classroom time that is expected and especially needed during these times. The students should be the focus here; not homework. And if you're going to make teachers mass coordinate their lesson plans, then the superintendent should at least take the effort to talk to the teachers, listen to their perspectives, and work out some sort of plan with them. After all, they're the people directly in contact with the students. I would be damn pissed off if someone who has a minimal idea of what goes on came in and told me how to do my job...

*cough* Trent Baalke....*cough*....


9 people like this
Posted by Rajiv Bhateja
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Feb 6, 2015 at 6:33 pm

So finally, after 12+ years of messing around by the school board, they're making Schoology (or an equivalent web site) mandatory. Boy do the wheels of government grind sloooowly.


4 people like this
Posted by HS parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2015 at 7:33 pm

Not Jim Harbaugh,

Coordinating lesson plans should part of a teacher's job. And as you note, it's not easy. But that is not reason to not ever do it or refuse to be managed.

Decades cannot go by withe each individual teacher deciding (note previous post about Schoology).

These aren't the school in Little House on the Prairie. It's big schools, a big organization with huge management needs and the teachers are not the managers. They are the most important part of the overall outcomes but not the managers.


1 person likes this
Posted by perpetuating myths
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 6, 2015 at 8:59 pm

@ So Right....

There are lots of reasons why someone is either accepted or rejected from various top Universities....but the idea that foreign students are taking over is wrong...

perhaps you should check the facts:
Stanford's of 2018 - 10% international students admitted. and "nearly half" will receive some sort of financial Aid.
Web Link

Harvard's class of 2018
11.6% from "outside the US" which may or may not include US citizens
Web Link


Yale's class of 2017 (couldn't find the 2018)
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Posted by jack
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 6, 2015 at 9:57 pm

No mention of the toxic social bullying on smart phones and how removing them would help reduce stress in keeping with all research!!

McGee needs to get with the millenium issues.


1 person likes this
Posted by Marc Vincenti and Martha Cabot
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 7, 2015 at 12:51 am

Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

Mr. McGee's order is full of hopes and high ideals, but we need to be realistic—because we're working, here, with human beings.

For Gunn's teachers—worn down by looking after grief-stricken kids, disheartened by public scorn, having borne leadership they couldn't admire, and now under new leadership they're still uncertain about—this is a difficult time to be given this homework edict.

In Mr. McGee's special message on homework, the sentence of overriding significance is on page 3, under the rubric of administrators' duties:

"2. Be responsible for ensuring compliance with the homework policy, including the use of feedback processes to support its implementation."

The entire notion of "enforcement"—what many have been asking for—is tucked into this one, vague line.

What is "compliance"? What are the "feedback processes"?

Can a teacher be sure he or she is assigning the "right" amount of homework each night?

What if he or she is an unpracticed or unsure predictor of how long it takes to read a chapter of "A Tale of Two Cities," or to do five math proofs, or to master a French verb?

(Has any parent ever had to guess how long it would take a teenager to sweep out the garage?)

What if the students (and/or parents) have a different perspective on what the "right" amount is? What if some students find an assignment too short, others too long? How is that worked out?

Okay, suppose a teacher's 125 kids write on their papers how long the assignment took them. Does the teacher then add and average all the timings?

What will every added task feel like, right now, when our teachers are already working in virtually unprecedented circumstances? (A Columbia expert on suicide clusters reports that an "echo cluster," such as ours, is almost unheard of.)

Okay, the prescribed number of weekly homework hours for a junior is nine. But then how does the teacher know what his or her "fair share" of that nine hours is?

Does the teacher divide nine by the number of weekdays, and then divide that again by the average number of classes all his or her students are taking?

And is it up to the teenager to report non-compliance to the parents who then report it to a vice-principal who reports it to the department head who then pulls the teacher aside for a talk?

I've seen no evidence that anyone has thought these things through, and people now rejoicing in the news might best be wary. No one's considered how "enforcement" can really be brought about—and so "enforcement" could bring about unhappiness and friction—things Palo Alto hardly needs.

The best solution to all of the nagging, devil-is-in-the-details problems would be a confidential website via which students and teachers could have an ongoing, daily and nightly "dialogue" about minutes-believed-assigned and minutes-actually-worked.

The website's nightly-crunched numbers would allow teachers to learn, for example, a single student's entire "minutes worked" for a single night, as well as the "minutes assigned" and "minutes-actually-worked" in other classes in the same subject but taught by different teachers.

For more on this proposal, which we've dubbed "ClockTalk," visit our grassroots campaign to bring a happier, healthier life to our school.

We're at www.savethe2008.com and at www.facebook.com/savethe2008.

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


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Posted by HS Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2015 at 1:32 am

Mr. VIcenti,

"I've seen no evidence that anyone has thought these things through,"

That's the problem, by now there should have been more evidence that there was an effort to answer these questions.

There is no such thing as the best solution or the easiest solution. The whole point is to ask the hard questions and work through them.

This would not be the first school to have a homework policy. Please enough excuses.


6 people like this
Posted by Doing our best work for our kids
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2015 at 1:38 am

Or, the teachers could simply figure out how to not assign homework, like some of the other teachers in the recent reporting have done. There is not mandate to assign homework, you know. Then, if they end up with something that absolutely must be done as homework, they don't have to worry so much about the policy.


6 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2015 at 6:17 am

Whoopteydoo! Nice band-aid solution. Yet another one-size-fits-all regulation that will only throw a wrench in a GOOD teacher's ability to do her job.

They have addressed the symptom and not the cause.

The real problem is teachers unions (which ensure we'll always have bad teachers) and a credentials based system that values a piece of paper (the almighty college degree; bachelors; masters; PhD or what have you) over a person's actual intelligence level.

Let's keep having students take "required courses" for "credit"... whether they have any interest in the subject or not!

The only true solution to the nationwide problem is Separation of Education and State.

Only in this way will colleges ever be held accountable.

Till then, China will continue to dominate us...


5 people like this
Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2015 at 6:32 am

Someone mentioned removal of smartphones. Not a bad idea. Either don't bring them with you at all, or put them in a bowl when you enter the classrooms. Violations of the policy results in handing it in for a week. Why not try this for one week (or one month) and see how it changes things. Remember, there was a time when no one used these things...


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Posted by SaintOrCynic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2015 at 8:38 am

I am really glad Max has shown some leadership on this pressing issue. Saint Max.

I disagree with Max - academic stress has directly caused anxiety and depression in our child. I suspect the district is avoiding responsibility as they might have to take further steps. Cynic Max

It is fabulous that the schools are starting to manage the teachers. While they see the world through their one class, students see an overwhelming overbearing system of seven classes - all uncaring in their pursuit of their individual goals. The teachers NEED management to protect the kids. Saint Max.

I also know that the parcel tax is upcoming, and the PAEA has not been supportive of homework policy, or ANYTHING that even has a whiff of management oversight. THEY DO NOT have any interest in student stress. I suspect this proclamation may be more for politics to enable votes on the upcoming parcel tax. Cynic Max.

IF Max or PAEA want my vote on the parcel tax, I NEED TO SEE ACTION on the ground:

1) slightly less homework. 20% less, and a focus on high quality work. Contrary to Vincenti, it is simple and easy to scratch 20% of the hw questions that are time wasters. Takes <2minutes/day to NOT assign some useless shit.

2) public statements by my kids teachers in the classroom reviewing Max's email, and what it means to his/her class.

3) public statement by PAEA in support of the districts goals and policy.


Three simple steps to win my vote, convince me this is not a cynical ploy, and I will gladly pay my parcel tax.


1 person likes this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2015 at 8:56 am

As a student who went to Gunn and graduated in '04 I am stunned by some of your comments. What schools need -- students and teachers alike -- is LESS micromanagement, not MORE of it.

Particularly ludicrous is the assertion that smartphones must be banned. Removing this essential part youth's modern lifestyle will only put down, enrage and further stress your children. If a kid sitting in class is reading an encyclopedia article; perhaps about the Crusades, auto mechanics or music theory; on his smartphone because it is infinitely more interesting to him (and pertains to his natural talents) than an uninspiring teacher droning on about the Pythagorean Theorem or how to balance chemical equations; must the kid give up his smartphone so he can toe the line like a some kind of sheep or prisoner?

Its this backwards-thinking mentality that has stultified education and reduced it to the outdated, paralyzing state it embodies now -- fifteen years past the turn of the millennium.


7 people like this
Posted by PAEA raise
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2015 at 9:53 am

A PAEA teacher uninspiring from a for,er student's perspective? That is virtually impossible if you check the evaluation records. Tenured teachers in PAUSD simply don't receive negative evaluations. Any evaluation that is less than glowing means that the principal is on the way out. Call or write the leader of the teacher's union, Teri Baldwin. Talk to the former leader, Triona Gogarty. They have both posted on these forums, and as leaders, they need to speak up, they need to lead, and it would be nice if it was something different than the usual teachers don't get enough respect or teachers don't get paid enough to live in Palo Alto. One student suicide is an emergency, several in a school year is an unmitigated disaster, even more over the past six years is indescribable. It changes the status quo. That the highly-paid leader of PAUSD Max McGee has had to encourage teachers to follow a board policy, that the leader of the 2012 homework policy and second in command, Charles Young, has been suspiciously absent in this latest crisis, and that unpaid children are devising responses to the current suicide emergency and filling the leadership void, is a testament to the systemic failure of leadership of the administrators and teachers.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 7, 2015 at 10:41 am

The smart phones is a difficult one.

Some teachers expect their students to have one, to take pictures or videos of the teacher explaining something or working out a math problem, for example. Or to take a picture of homework written on the white board. Or for students to check schoology or infinite campus while in class. Or, or, or....

If there was such a rule about putting phones in a box, there would be worry about thefts, etc. and in Palo Alto kids could easily have more than one phone just to put an old phone in a box and keep the new one with them.

Funnily enough, the school hasn't worked out how to send texts to the whole school body to inform them of floods on rainy days, to change a classroom at the last minute or inform them in the case of a disaster or emergency. These things would at least be a useful tool to have available. Not many people check their email multiple times a day, but do check a text almost immediately - unless of course they start using them to text us about non important stuff.


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2015 at 11:40 am

It is easy to say academic pressure doesn't lead to suicide unless it has happened to you. It has directly hurt my family and there is no end to the agony it brings. I hope the lawyers show up and find a remedy for those who have had to pay the price for the elitist agenda.


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Posted by Sequoia HS parent
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2015 at 4:18 pm

I hope these measures work, but I worry that the students are putting the stress on themselves because of the pressure-cooker environment they are in. My kids attend Sequoia HS, where probably only 25% of students take IB classes (our version of AP). There simply isn't the same atmosphere of pressure as when 75% of the school is taking these high-level classes and competing with one another for college admissions. (And lest you think that this must mean that Sequoia students won't get into good colleges, we already have 2 seniors admitted through early action to Stanford, and there may be more admissions in March. Considering the lower number of students who are even aiming at 4-year colleges, that's like 20 Gunn kids getting admitted.)

When you are surrounded by other kids who are competing with you for the same thing, you put pressure on yourself to do more than you can handle. If you hear that Susie Starstudent is taking 5 AP classes and 2 sports and is on the board of 3 student clubs, you can shrug and say "well, that's Susie." But if not only Susie but dozens of other classmates are carrying a similar load, you start to panic and wonder if you need to be doing the same.

One final thing: it's true that stress and depression are not the same, but it's well known that stress can exacerbate existing depression. When you're feeling depressed, you find it harder to complete required tasks, which means you start falling behind, which increases your stress, makes you feel like a failure, like you might as well give up because you'll never catch up to where you should be. When we tell our kids that the most important thing in the world for them is to succeed at school, if they feel like they're falling short of that goal, there's nothing left for them.


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Posted by Contrary
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2015 at 4:57 pm

I don't think mental illness is something the school district is responsible for. [Portion removed.] Overall I am blessed to have my kids in PAUSD!


2 people like this
Posted by Ken Horowitz
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2015 at 7:50 pm

The best long term proposal that I have read about is the mental health awareness campaign that four high school students have launched called the Youth Empowerment Seminar(YES). This approach should have been adopted by the PAUSD after the first suicide. The District's K thru 12 curriculum currently is lacking in comprehensive health education that not only includes physical health but also psychological health(mental and emotional), social health, spiritual health and environmental health. Comprehensive Health Education just like other subjects have to be learned. Bravo to the Gunn and Paly students for piloting this YES program this weekend!


6 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 7, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@Contrary opines:
" don't think mental illness is something the school district is responsible for...Overall I am blessed to have my kids in PAUSD!"


That is the opinion of a lot of people . . . until it happens to their kids. Then they experience the enlightenment of the informed.

Once your kid has a teacher intimidate or bully them day in, day out for a year, they develop real anxiety about teachers and school. Fear can be a learned response to a stressful environment.

It is very real.

And really depressing.


1 person likes this
Posted by contrary
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2015 at 2:42 am

@reason

"Once your kid has a teacher intimidate or bully them day in, day out for a year, they develop real anxiety about teachers and school."

I wouldn't disagree with that. But you are making up the fact that that was the case for these individuals. A minute ago I thought it was number of AP's.


4 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 8, 2015 at 8:58 am

Reason is a registered user.

@contrary writes:

"I wouldn't disagree with that. But you are making up the fact that that was the case for these individuals. A minute ago I thought it was number of AP's."


You seem to be assuming I am writing about specific issues of AP's. I am not. Nor am I making up facts for any individuals. I was relaying our own experience.

Your first comment was a general comment, that appeared to have no context:
"I don't think mental illness is something the school district is responsible for. [Portion removed.] Overall I am blessed to have my kids in PAUSD!"

Now, perhaps context was removed by the editor, and maybe _you_ were discussing specifics of AP's and mental illness. But that is not what I saw, nor was not what I responded to.

Here is a more specific summary of my thinking: There is a general theory among some posters, parents and administrators that school cannot ever cause mental illness. Such a theory is disproved by a single example (that is the nature of science - you cannot hold a general theory that is contrary to the evidence).

So I provided the evidence. We have at least one example where the school did cause mental illness. That is what I put forward in my post. Nor do I think we are alone in this experience.

So in a general sense, the school can cause mental illness; and while it may be rare, it is real. The Suicides are rare but real as well. And while we don't know exactly what happened in each suicide case, what we can know is what happens in the cases of students who have anxiety and depression, but HAVE NOT committed suicide. They are a good proxy for what is going wrong in our system.

However, unlike you, I would not generalize too much about what various groups of students think, but I would generalize our approach to the problem: we should identify high risk students, and support them. That support may involve changing the system of education that either causes, or exacerbates their illness.

Clearly, not everyone in the community or administration and teaching staff feel they should change to support the students.

Note that the cause _might_ be originated in school. Ours was. It is real, and it does happen. So general theories that neglect this possibility are just head-in-the-sand denial. Such denial does not help the remaining students with mental illness.

I have never mentioned AP's in my post. Maybe you did, I don't know if the editor deleted it.

At this point I don't know of any case where taking an AP caused mental illness, but I would not form any general theories around this, as there are thousands of mediating vectors that might happen. It is logically very difficult to make the statement: "AP classes don't ever cause mental illness" . I would like to hear from someone who thinks there are issues, or contributing factors. So far I have heard of a market-like theory where all kids are pressured when a large number take AP's and brag about it. A competitive theory of student pressure.

So while it is not something I have experienced, and I would be skeptical about it, I would not rule it out if someone stepped forward and said "Oh, yeah - this happened to us, and it is wrong and should be changed." Personally, I like AP courses in moderation if they are focused on something the student chooses and has a great interest in.



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Posted by Catl8y
a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2015 at 9:17 am

All the parents chattering about my kids and school but as I remember some 30 years ago while I was in high school it was the same, the kids all had plenty of homework. And after school activities. But I believe your missing a huge part of your kids daily lives and this is home life. Mom and Dad are a huge portion for anxiety whether you know it or not, the way you as parents approach daily stressors and even seemingly unstressful daily functions, there are little things you as parents might not even see as stressful in the daily goings on of your student child. When you approach your kids about what they are doing with friends or what they do in their day are you actually approaching them from an angle of it must be done this way or that but not the way your going about it? Iam full of memories of my parents telling me it was their way or the highway, and that made me feel like I had no choice what so ever to make my own decisions, any simplistic of choices.
I came away from school every day terrified I would be harassed at home about how I approached some trivial issue at home or at school and remember feeling it was a do or die situation. I barely graduated as a result. Yes I was one of those suicidal thinkers that it would be so easy to end it. But some how I made it out of school found work and managed a career of my own making, but I paid a price, I spent much of my adult life figuring out my parents and how they had failed me with many years in counciling, this finally allowed me to see it was my parents way of approaching rearing kids, not their fault in any way but the only way they knew how to go about raising good children in a tough day and age.
How I would like to think that parents would actually turn these questions on themselves. Parents mean well but don't always know they are the point of anxiety in their kids lives. Please parents think about your kids and how you approach them and allow them to make their decisions. Letting them know there are many choices in life and they can make good choices if given the opertunity with out repercussion. Life has plenty of options just allow them (your kids) to find Their way with out feeling at a dead end.


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Posted by I posted above and can't remember the handle
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2015 at 2:26 pm

As a parent, I find it really stressful that our home time is always up in the air and usually used up by school demands. I can never plan. I find that is the most major source of stress between parents and kids at home.

I also find it really stressful and draining that the district people seem to think it's normal to play political games and be dishonest. When I hear they want to reduce stress or foster communications, it just digs the knife deeper, since they don't mean reducing stress or fostering two-way communication for those they don't find copacetic, and they don't mean honest communication.

I really want to believe every new announcement or initiative is a new page, but then things are pursued with such dishonesty. They want to teach the kids resiliency, but the first thing would be to model trustworthiness and responsibility. Apologize if you do something wrong. When's the last time anyone saw anyone in the district office or at school take responsibility for doing anything wrong and apologize for it? (Please don't go on and on about liability, the reality is that not apologizing and not facing problems is what incurs liability, not apologizing and fixing things.) They confuse parents' going away silently because of the imbalance in power with getting away with the dishonest.

What's the point of telling the community the schools aren't causing kids to be stressed enough to be depressed? I don't think that's true for some kids. And the way the schools handle kids who may have problems is only going to stress them out more, it's like the schools think there's some ideal depressed kid who fits all their copacetic requirements who just needs to know there are trustworthy resources to help them. Nevermind the ones who would never go in because stressors or emotional problems might have made them less than ideal along the way and there's no way they'd ever trust the advertised resources after being treated like s$%^t by those same people for years. Really, I can't imagine why the schools use the psychologists who do the dirty work in the special ed and 504 stuff to also fill that role for emotional support. If I was a kid having problems, I wouldn't tell those people we were vulnerable, they'd use it as an opportunity to be more cruel hoping to get you to transfer to a private school. (I have witnessed this.)


5 people like this
Posted by contrary
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 9, 2015 at 8:47 am

@reason
[Portion removed.] We all have stories of person grievances regarding teachers. My children have them, too. But that is life! You know how I told my child to fix their problem with a teacher once. Bring the teacher a candy bar with a note thanking them for recognizing that I am better than I am showing you right now. This changed the teacher's attitude completely, and it changed my child's attitude comletely. #blessed


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Posted by AP homework load?
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 9, 2015 at 9:22 am

I would like to know how much time students are spending on homework for each AP class, and whether they think the homework load is reasonable. When I was a senior a long time ago in Southern California, I took 4 AP classes. I averaged about 15-20 hours of homework per week. Given that I was taking such a heavy course load, I thought that was reasonable, and I still had time to play on the tennis team and play violin in orchestra (I suck at violin, but it was fun). My wife took a heavy load when she was at Lynbrook High School, and she spent more time on homework than I did. My question is, are there a lot of Gunn and Paly students taking 4 AP classes in a single year, and how many hours of homework do they average per week? Also, do these students think their homework load is reasonable?


5 people like this
Posted by Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 9, 2015 at 9:49 am

Some students are taking more than 4 they are taking 5 or even 6 at a time and some taking them in zero period at Gunn too. It is a travesty, the district knows that Gunn has allowed vulnerable "at risk" students who never should have taken such a heavy load to take many APs including early morning APs, and that these students were depressed, were having trouble, were struggling, and no one intervened. When district admins say "we don't think that heavy academic load plays any role" watch them they are lying and they know it. The truth will eventually come out. Students know. Parents know.

[Portion removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2015 at 11:05 am

I live in Pleasanton, and our high school has exactly the same problems. Teachers routinely assign 4, 5 hours of homework a day to young kids...and parents who complain are told "your kid might have ADD, have you considered medication?"

The harsh fact is, the school system is out of control and kids (and parents) are being burned out, and in many cases encourage to use drugs, to achieve high test scores, so the district can hit performance goals.

Teachers are angry and frustrated and take it out on kids with massive loads of junk homework. Happens every day.

The schools and the teacher's unions have NO reason to change. They have no incentive to change. They will keep delaying and evading forever, to keep the money flowing.


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Posted by parent2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2015 at 11:42 am

Gunn has 1 early AP class.

The maximum number of classes students are allowed to take a semester is 7 so those with a zero period take a prep period or leave school early, usually for work.

I asked my child how many students take 5 or more APs a semester. Answer: Only one or two.

As to why the district's tune may have changed, because the person now writing the messages and being interviewed is Dr. McGee, a new superintendent with a new focus.


4 people like this
Posted by Lies and the Lying Liars ...
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 9, 2015 at 11:51 am

You are incorrect about the number of APs offered in zero period. Go look again.

You are incorrect about the number of students who take 5 or more APs, as much as we appreciate the very authoritative source you cite.

McGee had the same line as the prior administration until recently. Go look when it changed and then ask yourself why. If more people were more curious perhaps this could have already been stopped. People just swallow whole what they are given. People have friends. They have family members. It is possible to ask questions and find out answers. Ask: can I trust what I am being told based on the lack of credibility that has already been exhibited? If not, what might be going on?


8 people like this
Posted by Ruby
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 9, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Parent of 3. I have the reverse issue. I don't understand why the teachers differentiate AP/Honor and regular class by amount of homework. School are measuring endurance not skills. Isn't this the reason a lot of colleges are finding out their straight A high school graduates cannot write or do math? Too much emphases are on homework. Shouldn't the homework be optional? If you need to master the subject than do the homework and for those who already know the subject, use the time to do something else.

I much rather that classes are skill based than age based. Why should AP/Honor classes have double the homework. I expect the subject matter to be more complex. In real life, a senior engineer may have more complicated problem to solve but he/she does not work longer hours than a junior engineer.


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Posted by I posted above and can't remember the handle
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm

@Reason,
Thank you for your thoughtful post.

@contrary,
Let me get this right. You think other people are having problems with the district only because they do not realize if they just gave their teachers candy bars and sucked up again, all problems would go away and they'd realize the problem was their fault in the first place? Which assumes, of course, that people didn't actually wield another even more positive and helpful attitude than you ever have, that they didn't try many different avenues of diplomacy and collaboration first, and still got smacked. (witness over and over again) You are welcome to live in your cloud of denial but please don't inflict your blame-the-victim mentality on everyone else.


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Posted by parent2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Lies and the Lying Liars,

Granted students don't know everything but they probably know more about what's happening at their school than parents do.

Not sure why you think offering an AP in zero period is problematic since zero period students take the same number of classes as other students do. But on how many AP courses Gunn teaches in zero period, what information do you have on that which differs from the "1" that I posted from Gunn's website? And on the number of students taking 5 or more APs a semester?


14 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2015 at 12:53 pm

I have read many of these comments and I do not see many parents taking responsibility for their role in their child being stressed. When a parent allows a child to take 3 or more AP/Honors class, participate in multiple extra-curricular activities, community service, etc. than that is a parenting problem - not a homework problem or a teacher problem or a school problem. If a student is allowed (and parents have final say over schedules, NOT THE SCHOOLS) to take 5 AP classes, they have NO RIGHT TO COMPLAIN about homework load. As an AP teacher, I can reduce my homework, but then what happens when your child does not pass the AP Exam? You cannot have your cake and eat it too!

Also, there are some great colleges in the US that are NOT Stanford or UCs or in the US News Top 50 -- and they offer great educations and do not have the increasingly competitive admission requirements that the Top 50/Top Tier colleges require. Many years ago, I came across an article that listed the Top 100 CEOs in the US and where they went to college and approx. 75% went to State Schools -- not Ivy League, UC (or UC compatible) colleges.


3 people like this
Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2015 at 1:13 pm

TEACHER's comments just posted are right on the money. A student's workload (in and out of school) is ultimately a family decision, and is most cases the parent(s) are the head of the family. Alas parents are subjected to peer-pressure too, and in some case, pressure from their own parents. Lasting change usually comes from within. You can work towards changing the system but while we are waiting for that to happen, we as parents need to make decisions affecting out children,ourselves. Setting extremely high-minded goals which may or may not result in healthy children living up to their unique potential is something all families need to examine before setting in motion the sequence of events that we are starting to see lead to horrible results.


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Posted by I posted above
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2015 at 2:12 pm

I do not have kids in high school yet, we do not pressure our child about grades, and yet we have all the problems of too much homework, and district employees who do not act in a trustworthy or even sometimes a competent manner.

I generally don't have a problem with teachers, but I do have a problem with anyone who confuses rigor with homework.

"As an AP teacher, I can reduce my homework, but then what happens when your child does not pass the AP Exam? "

Or, you could stop being lazy, bring yourself into the 21st century, and do as some of your colleagues do, and learn how to teach the material without having to rely on the kids having to give up the rest of their lives to do it. If you have to rely on the kids learning the material at home anyway, not in your classroom, what kind of a teacher are you anyway?


6 people like this
Posted by HS Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Your logic necessitates judgement of where students should go to college.

Your logic - don't apply to top 50 schools. By doing so, you will not need to stand out amongst your peers.

Trying to stand out among peers in PAUSD is bad for your health.

I suggest a better logic. Don't make education about "standing out." It is pretty obvious that serial AP's and the academic race are out of whack at PAUSD.


2 people like this
Posted by HS Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2015 at 2:21 pm

By limiting the ways of gaming the system to "stand out" - like offering too many APs the schools will make learning safer.

The parents who will continue to game the system are not in this crowd, it is a minority of parents that will not heed to any advice and yet they will be responsible for the pace and culture set for the rest of us.

Please don't look at all your students that way.


5 people like this
Posted by I posted above
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2015 at 2:28 pm

HS parent,
Why is there even such a limited "system" anyway? Isn't our district vision about optimizing every child's education?

So why does the district offer only high-quality options to those whose idea of education is a way of constantly judging them rather than using all the tools possible to have optimally educated, happy children?

To say that the only choice is high-stress, heavy homework, or low-stress, less rigorous/less academic is a false one. It's a system set up by lazy people like the teacher above still living in the past and equating homework with educational quality. Of course the few winners in that system want to keep it, including teachers who don't want anything to change. But that's not the best way to educate all of our kids, and it's certainly a recipe for making most of them unhappy and not meeting their potential.


2 people like this
Posted by HS Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2015 at 2:54 pm

I posted above,

I may have said whatever I said backwards, but I meant to say what you are saying.

A good illustration of the "winners" system is the post from Contrary who suggests that solving the problem is to thank teachers for driving students so hard.

"Bring the teacher a candy bar with a note thanking them for recognizing that I am better than I am showing you right now. "

This to me is unnecessary and disruptive to learning. That is why the argument about "show me" has to go hand in hand blaming parents, it is to deflect.


3 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 9, 2015 at 3:47 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Teacher - you say "I have read many of these comments and I do not see many parents taking responsibility for their role in their child being stressed. When a parent allows a child to take 3 or more AP/Honors class, participate in multiple extra-curricular activities, community service, etc. than that is a parenting problem - not a homework problem or a teacher problem or a school problem."


Okay - I follow this logic. My kid does not have 3 AP classes, does not have any exra-curricular or community service. They have no time for their friends, and they still have too much homework, and too much pressure from teachers.

So by your logic, this is NOT a parent problem. We already did all the things you point out.

So this MUST be teachers problems or schools problems.

Your logic. I agree with your framing. When parent does everything to relieve the child of stress, and make as much time as possible for homework, and there is STILL TOO MUCH work, then what remains must be school problem.

And this pressure from the teachers causes burn out and losing interest in school and education. This is not healthy for a school to squeeze the interest out of their students.


8 people like this
Posted by Lies and the Lying Liars ...
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 9, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Go look at the zero period schedule and you will see that there are many advanced math classes. APs include calc and econ, and many other courses offered during zero period. There is an 8 period day for some students. This is known. Gunn has private arrangements with many students so that some students take extra classes and advance more quickly than others. We have been told that there is no connection between academic load and depression or suicide. Is it true? Be curious.


9 people like this
Posted by Not a teacher
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 9, 2015 at 4:48 pm

"Or, you could stop being lazy, bring yourself into the 21st century, and do as some of your colleagues do, and learn how to teach the material without having to rely on the kids having to give up the rest of their lives to do it. If you have to rely on the kids learning the material at home anyway, not in your classroom, what kind of a teacher are you anyway?"

What a self-righteous, nasty way of attacking someone whom you know nothing about. In my opinion, this comment reflects more badly on the person who wrote it than on the person it was addressed to. I am not a teacher but I am appalled by the language used to speak to the teacher this is addressed to.


2 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2015 at 7:57 pm

"Not a teacher", a little sensitive, are we? Thanks for your pointlessly indignant post.

"I posted above" is absolutely correct and the "Teacher" on here sounds like a perfect example of the teaching-credential squares who can't express themselves beyond terminology such as "AP exam". They threaten children with pointless quizzes, pointless worksheets, pointless tests, pointless paperwork, and then slap a letter grade on their forhead before moving on to the next crop. They're actual PERFORMANCE is irrelevant as long as they CONFORM to sinking academic standards.

Whether a class is deemed AP or not does not a high standard impart. It depends far more on the human adult's intelligence level, intutition, and ability to engage the youth.

I took AP English in '04 and ended up with a lousy teacher who had no creativity or depth. The other AP English teacher was known for being far better, but I was simply unlucky and ended up with the wrong one.

We cannot imprison the children inside a class where they have to obey an unimaginative, dry and uninspiring teacher, when today's technology allows new access to knowledge and better, more efficient use of students' time.

They MUST be held accountable but they are not. Its a travesty they keep getting away with hiring mediocre teachers.

I had to suffer through it and it's taken a decade and some suicides for you people to finally wake up. And it sounds like most of y'all, including most of you "parents", haven't learned a gosh-darned thing.


5 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2015 at 8:20 pm

I must add: school should not be a strenuous, boring and torturous experience.

Learning should be fun and productive.

Kids are vulnerable and easy to brainwash or intimidate. I have had it with FEAR-based education.


3 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 9, 2015 at 8:20 pm

Dear Johnny,

I am a parent, and I have learned a "gosh-darned thing". I am in agreement with you, although anxious and saddened, as I fear retaliation from PAUSD. So what are we to do as we engage our kids, letting them know the system may not work? I agree it has been the lucky straw since elementary school. No chance in changing this. Too worried about the high school years. Can we start a charter in Palo Alto? No unions, teachers that are new, or are also enthusiastic, and wanting to be a role model for the new generation. I am open to dialogue, and anonymous for now, still have kids in the system and worried.


4 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 9, 2015 at 8:58 pm

Reason is a registered user.

I can honestly say that after 12 years with this district, two kids, I have seen quite a bit of the dysfunction discussed on these forums. I really really regret sending my kids through PAUSD. Not just because of the disengaging teaching, but the outright abuse of students, and an administration that is completely unwilling to do anything about it.

The teachers are insulted by the mere thought that anyone should manage their efforts for the best outcome of the students. It is a mess that is typified by Principals unwilling or unable to correct the worst abuses. Minor issues such as 'just poor quality teaching' aren't even discussed, as you waste so much time and effort on truly horrendous behavior, and helping your kid manage from one tragedy to another.

I have to conclude that continuing to negotiate with the school district is a waste of time. It is largely a facetious negotiation anyhow - there is no intention on the part of the teachers, principals or district to change a thing. Certainly the benefit of the students comes last.

In this environment, I would have to agree that starting a Charter school is probably the only realistic way forward. A buddy of mine in Santa Rosa did this - I was shocked how easy it was. There are firms that specialize in this work. They got 20 families to kick in $100K for legal fees, formed their own board, hired a great principal, and they really focus on student engagement. It was up and running under a year.

For a $5000 investment for each founding family, plus a bit of support on an annual basis, and you have a safe environment where students are really engaged. The Principal and teachers report to the families that run the school. It is the only real way to do education. The mess that we have with local politics and teacher unions doesn't even compare.

How would I do it over again? I would send my kid to elementary in PAUSD (generally, they were okay). I would send my middle schooler to Bowman (I have never heard any complaints from them), and I would form a Charter for High School. Sure it would have been a bit of extra work, but probably less money when you factor in PiE donations, PTA donations, & tutors needed to get through PAUSD.

And the end result would be kids that love learning, rather than kids that despise learning, and hate their parents and their community for putting them through hell in this gulag. No parent should send their kids to such a terribly uncaring environment. Each year you think you will get lucky with the roll of the dice, and by the end of the year, inevitably one of the teachers turns out to have been a real dud.

These duds wouldn't last in a Charter school.


7 people like this
Posted by Not a teacher
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 9, 2015 at 9:06 pm

As I said I am not a teacher. I am actually a parent with over twenty years of PAUSD behind me, my last child graduated from high school last spring.

If it was to be done over again, maybe I would not want my children in PAUSD either. That is not because of the teaching or the teachers. Overall we found the teaching to be quite good. Some teachers were not as good, but we have always told our children that it is life. Wherever they will go, they will find competent people and also some incompetent people. It is better to learn to deal with it right away. That said, incompetent teachers were not our most common experience. We found most teachers to be well learned, compassionate people who cared deeply about their job.

No, it is not the teachers, but the bulk of the insufferable parents that I would try to avoid, if it was to be done over again. [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by HS Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2015 at 11:53 pm

Not a teacher,

First of all, the teacher who posted is from "another community" so the hollering about "no right to complain" is apparently not based on first hand knowledge.

Our best teachers are probably not posting here.

This practice of calling all parents insufferable is not true. There are some bad ones, just like there are bad teachers, which is WHY there needs to be management of the situation. You cannot give free reign to each classroom, and you cannot allow the use of public resources for serving a few students (parents) to play Newsweek rankings.

Anyway, the news is GOOD, schools take action is good.


4 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:40 am

Web Link


Check out this article!


10 people like this
Posted by HS parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:59 am

Teacher,

You are preaching to the choir here

Extremely wealthy families are buying here to race their children into Stanford, and USING our public schools to do so. Most of us are chump change.

Let's stop catering to the special ones and make schools about learning, not AP mills, zero periods, and whatever.

Sadly, as an AP teacher, you benefit from the pressure to have AP's. YOu are not objective, sorry.


Like this comment
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2015 at 11:13 am

Teacher,

Thank you for the link. It is rather inspiring.

I am not a huge Google fan, but if only more employers would drop out "must have at least bachelors" from their hiring criteria.

What is having a bachelors degree supposed to symbolize? That a person was able to conform for 4 years and pay outrageous amounts to an instution so he/she could waste much of their life sitting in classes and taking tests?

If its supposed to symbolize their competence, then it is hideously inaccurate.

I dropped out of every college I attended (in spite of having some amazing professors, the credit/course requirements were stringent and irrational) because I guess I'm independent-minded to a fault and being treated like a marionette was an inefficient use of my time.

Perhaps I have a false assumption of colleges and I may go back one day...

For now, I'm simply a workhorse and trying to determine my next move towards prosperity WITHOUT having a college degree. Should I take risks? Should I start my own business?

Some of us break before we bend because we don't see "passing an AP exam" as a worthwhile goal.


7 people like this
Posted by I posted above
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2015 at 3:13 pm

@Not a teacher,
You wrote,
"No, it is not the teachers, but the bulk of the insufferable parents that I would try to avoid, if it was to be done over again. They think they are God's gift to the world, they are condescending with almost everyone including their fellow parents whom they deem inferior for some superficial reason"

I feel really sorry for you. One of the most special things about this district, in my experience, one of the reasons it's been worth putting time and energy into solving these problems, is the amazing parents, families, children. I remember how miserable it was growing up in schools where you had to hide being interested in science and math, and where there was so much self-destructive behavior among other students.

I also love how just plain nice the parents and kids are. It's probably THE reason we have stuck with this district even though middle school has been such a nightmare. And the teachers - we mostly think they have been pretty good.

I can't refute your experience because that's your experience. But while kids have no choice about what teachers they get, or for the most part, their neighborhood schools, you do have choice about the company you keep. I know families in your neighborhood who are sweet, loving families. I have also known a very few stuck up parents in all my years here, but in relation to the accomplishments of people I know around here, I'd say we actually have less of that than anywhere else I've lived.

There is definitely a "maker" spirit among tech types, which is a lot of the parents here. If you're used to people behaving like sheep and never using reason against illogic and inertia, those who don't put up with it can sometimes be misconstrued. I am personally glad of having other smart, involved, caring parents who are willing to be involved when there are problems in need of addressing.


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2015 at 7:01 pm

The most terrible thing is, all this high pressure homework is largely a waste of time.

There is zero correlation between high test scores and success in a career.

At my company, we routinely hire Indian employees who have zero English composition skills and zero US history, but they can write software.

We routinely turn away kids who have history degrees from Berkeley. Or we hire then as receptionists.

How many kids are being deprived of bright careers because they were too busy doing junk homework, and couldn't learn marketable skills?


1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:08 pm

Re: Anonymous

What an extraordinarily limiting view!

It is just as likely as not that routine programming will be done by machine in 20 years as by humans - of any origin. Education is for:
* Skills,
* Curiosity - scientific, mathematical, linguistic, humanities,
* Acculturation,
* and most importantly - learning how to think.

To turn education into a trade school would be a travesty.


3 people like this
Posted by I posted above
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:49 pm

@Paly Parent,
I think Anonymous' point is that all that homework kills curiosity, and the kids would be better served by learning by doing.


2 people like this
Posted by SaintOrCynic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:06 pm

@Paly Parent overlooks something critical when criticizing computer science education:

"* and most importantly - learning how to think."

It turns out that all those engineers changing the world actually have thinking skills. That is evident to -almost- everyone.

You see, learning to program is entirely about problem solving in multiple levels of abstraction. In fact, no other discipline combines logic, analysis, integration, abstraction and algorithmic thinking with such clarity and purity as computer science.

That we fail to teach this as a mandatory class in Silicon Valley is a remarkable testament to the anachronistic traditions we clucth to in our outdated public schools. Welcome back to the 19th century... Now memorize this while you get smacked with a ruler. We know best...


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of another community

on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:48 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2015 at 10:39 am

Palyparent said:

"What an extraordinarily limiting view!

It is just as likely as not that routine programming will be done by machine in 20 years as by humans - of any origin. Education is for:
* Skills,
* Curiosity - scientific, mathematical, linguistic, humanities,
* Acculturation,
* and most importantly - learning how to think.

---------

This is exactly the kind of vague, specious arguments that teachers used long ago, to try to preserve the teaching of slide rules, buggy-whip making, and ancient Greek.

In case everybody in Palo Alto has somehow missed the events of the past 2 decades...the high tech world has overturned these ancient, dusty ways of "thinking". Having a bunch of random facts stuffed in your head by history and english teachers is completely useless in the modern economy. Writing 15 page term papers is completely useless -- nobody in the modern economy does this any more (with the exception of academics) nor do we want people who have been taught to do this.

These things might have been great in 1960's... but HELLO! IT'S 2015!

We need kids who can move 10 times faster, who can access the internet instantly to get relevant facts, who can use their mobile phones to collaborate with their peers quickly and come up with creative solutions quickly. Note that kids are learning how to do this on their own...if we just would stop overloading them with obsolete junk homework.

Marketing people are now expected to be able to write code. Scientists and biologists write code. Everybody is expected to build web sites and create videos. Everybody is expected to be Twitter-savvy. These are core skills for the modern world, yet we somehow, don't bother to teach them in school.

Wow. Pretty amazing.

Why haven't we replaced 25% of our high school curriculum with modern digital skills...programming, data analysis, web site design? Because our high schools are relics of a past age, run by teachers and education "experts" who are relics of a past age. The education system is where they are hide from the modern world, and they are dragging our kids down with them.

The result are thousands, perhaps millions of kids with college degrees, who I as a manager cannot hire.

if you are a parent and you want your kid to be employable, then join up with other parents and create a charter school with modern curriculum. It will be expensive...but it's more expensive to have your college-graduated kid living with you because they can't find a job.


5 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2015 at 10:44 am

I'd just like to highlight the comment above by @reason...this is spot on...

"I can honestly say that after 12 years with this district, two kids, I have seen quite a bit of the dysfunction discussed on these forums. I really really regret sending my kids through PAUSD. Not just because of the disengaging teaching, but the outright abuse of students, and an administration that is completely unwilling to do anything about it.

The teachers are insulted by the mere thought that anyone should manage their efforts for the best outcome of the students. It is a mess that is typified by Principals unwilling or unable to correct the worst abuses. Minor issues such as 'just poor quality teaching' aren't even discussed, as you waste so much time and effort on truly horrendous behavior, and helping your kid manage from one tragedy to another.

I have to conclude that continuing to negotiate with the school district is a waste of time. It is largely a facetious negotiation anyhow - there is no intention on the part of the teachers, principals or district to change a thing. Certainly the benefit of the students comes last.

In this environment, I would have to agree that starting a Charter school is probably the only realistic way forward. A buddy of mine in Santa Rosa did this - I was shocked how easy it was. There are firms that specialize in this work. They got 20 families to kick in $100K for legal fees, formed their own board, hired a great principal, and they really focus on student engagement. It was up and running under a year.

For a $5000 investment for each founding family, plus a bit of support on an annual basis, and you have a safe environment where students are really engaged. The Principal and teachers report to the families that run the school. It is the only real way to do education. The mess that we have with local politics and teacher unions doesn't even compare.

How would I do it over again? I would send my kid to elementary in PAUSD (generally, they were okay). I would send my middle schooler to Bowman (I have never heard any complaints from them), and I would form a Charter for High School. Sure it would have been a bit of extra work, but probably less money when you factor in PiE donations, PTA donations, & tutors needed to get through PAUSD.

And the end result would be kids that love learning, rather than kids that despise learning, and hate their parents and their community for putting them through hell in this gulag. No parent should send their kids to such a terribly uncaring environment. Each year you think you will get lucky with the roll of the dice, and by the end of the year, inevitably one of the teachers turns out to have been a real dud.

These duds wouldn't last in a Charter school."


Like this comment
Posted by HS parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2015 at 1:21 pm

I disagree completely about generalizing and MIXING up teachers with poor management.

There are many excellent teachers in High School. Not just as educators (to teach the subjects) but as mentors and good with this age group (better than parents!!), compassionate, caring, and the best ones DO know better.

Like dud parenting, there are dud practices in the classroom, but they are exceptions. Unfortunately, the exceptions cause repeated harm. These, with better management would be a non-issue, or not as bad.

Whoever said blessed, it's not far from the truth, just need to be even better for the kids.

Name calling is so unnecessary.


2 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2015 at 1:29 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

"Like dud parenting, there are dud practices in the classroom, but they are exceptions. Unfortunately, the exceptions cause repeated harm. These, with better management would be a non-issue, or not as bad. "


By exception, do you mean about 1 out of 5? Okay - I agree.

By better managing, how does that happen? The teachers defy any management direction, and there is no way to hold accountable. I don't see good teachers supporting better management and eliminating bad teachers. So all are responsible for the bad behavior of some few "exception"


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

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