News

Palo Alto high schools prioritize culture change, achievement gap

Data, consistency also top goals in Gunn and Paly WASC reports

As a result of intensive self-studies Palo Alto's high schools undertook over the last year, both Gunn and Palo Alto High have committed to tackling the achievement gap, implementing more consistently aligned courses and engendering a major cultural shift at their schools.

Gunn Principal Denise Herrmann and Paly Principal Kim Diorio presented their top goals for the next several years to the board on Tuesday. Their goals, which overlap and speak directly to many community concerns surrounding the high schools, are the result of a year-plus long Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) process the high schools complete every six years.

Both principals said they are committed to working to close the achievement gap at their schools through more targeted, personalized learning, increased professional development for teachers and improved intervention programs.

Gunn set a series of specific goals around the achievement gap, including developing and implementing a "robust, universal academic and behavioral intervention program" by the fall of 2018; reducing the percentage of Latino students who get Ds and Fs from 45 percent to 20 percent or less by the end of the 2016-17 school year; and by 2018, boost Latino and African-American students' enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) and honors courses by 30 percent.

Herrmann said that some lanes of courses at Gunn – such as varying levels of biology (1, 1A and honors) — can "lead to a sorting of students that is unhealthy."

"We're not saying every student should be in honors (classes) ... but we are saying that we might have an artificial boundary there and that we want to examine that and to make sure that as many kids who want to take APs or who want to challenge themselves feel that support, but that we're not down-laning any kid," she said.

School board member Ken Dauber offered data that shows the district's white and Asian students performing in the top percentiles in the state, for example, on math and science, while African-American, Hispanic and low-income students don't do as well, especially when compared to other districts statewide.

"Why it is in a school district that is as highly resourced as we are and does so well for certain students that we do less well for others compared to other schools statewide?" Dauber asked.

He urged Diorio and Herrmann to think about what strategies could be developed to address differences between what Palo Alto Unified is doing to close the achievement gap and what other districts might be doing more successfully.

Board vice president Heidi Emberling stressed that any efforts to tackle the achievement gap must start before high school, with processes in place to connect with and analyze student achievement in elementary and middle schools.

"Where are the processes in place for reflecting back at elementary school teachers and principals?" she asked. "How can we begin that analysis earlier?"

And as the district commences on a deep-dive research study of consistency at the two high schools, Paly and Gunn are, too, prioritizing course alignment in response to student, parent and staff dissatisfaction voiced through surveys administered as part of the WASC process.

Most Paly students reported in a WASC survey that they would like to see inconsistent grading practices addressed, citing grade "deflation" and differences among teachers of the same course. Thirty percent of Gunn students disagree — and 14 percent strongly disagree — that teacher quality and difficulty is consistent across courses. Similarly, 19 percent of Gunn students disagree that grading is fair across teachers and courses.

Diorio said Paly will be working to develop common summative assessments and common syllabi in all courses that don't yet have them to make sure that homework, assessments and curriculum are better aligned.

Herrmann emphasized that alignment, though critical to addressing student stress, doesn't mean a loss of teacher autonomy.

"It doesn't matter if you have teacher 'A' or teacher 'B;' you know that the outcomes for the course, what you're going to learn, are going to be the same," she said. "Every teacher has their own style; that's not saying that teacher personalities aren't going to shine through or their sense of humor — all of that is what builds the relationship part. Relationships can't be aligned, but the curriculum and the instruction and the assessment can be aligned."

Diorio and Herrmann also identified data collection and analysis as an area of improvement for their schools.

"We don't right now have a culture of using data to guide decision-making at our school and we want to improve that," Diorio said. "We want to change that."

Herrmann, too, said there is a lack of access to data to answer ongoing questions about student achievement, wellness and teacher effectiveness, among other areas.

Dauber said data is necessary to create a better understanding of what the schools are doing well, where they can improve and to "break the commitment to the status quo way of doing things."

"I would expect to see from staff, from Dr. McGee and from you folks a request about what you need in order to actually make that happen," he said.

Perhaps the high schools' most ambitious and overlapping goal is shifting school culture from one that values a narrow, traditional path of success to one that is more empathetic, creative and accepting of multiple definitions of success.

Herrmann said Gunn plans to accomplish this with some big-picture steps, such as ongoing work through a partnership with youth well-being research group Challenge Success and creation of a comprehensive social- and emotional-learning curriculum, Herrmann said.

More short-term changes include a new time-management tool students will be required to use when signing up for classes this spring and consideration of switching over to a more forgiving block schedule, where classes meet less frequently but for longer periods of time throughout the week. Paly switched to a block schedule five years ago.

Gunn students and parents have been urging the school in recent weeks to adopt a block schedule, and Herrmann said last week that a committee will be looking at the possibility this spring, with the goal of implementing a change in the fall of 2016.

Superintendent Max McGee told Herrmann that she has the district's "full support to get moving" on the bell schedule, stressing that a "sense of urgency" infuses each of the schools' goals.

"These plans aren't going to sit on the desk for six years," McGee said at the school board meeting Tuesday night, recapping the WASC presentations. "They are data driven, they are actionable and they are urgent."

View Gunn's full WASC report here and Paly's, here.

Comments

30 people like this
Posted by Never-ending issue
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2015 at 11:04 am

This is going to be another politically-correct exercise which is not going to lead to any actionable and concrete steps. Not because nobody is trying hard enough, but because the root causes of a problem like the achievement gap at school are tied to family/cultural/socio-economic factors that schools can do very little about. But of course nobody in a public role would call it like it is because the PC police would just destroy such a person.

For those of us who have had the experience to live in different countries w/ diverse demographics, especially south of the border, we can see this gap happening everywhere, and attaching an ethnic label to explain it is just a simple minded approach that is very misleading and perpetuates a vicious cycle.

Food for thought: I wouldn't be surprised if some of the kids falling into this achievement gap because they claim to be non-native English speakers, would probably be equally behind back in their home countries. This is where the non-school factors come in, and honestly, there's nothing PAUSD can do about it.


22 people like this
Posted by Gunn Father
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 11, 2015 at 11:06 am

Glad to see the leaders addressing this issue, again. At Gunn, you need not be a PhD to understand which teachers are the problem . EVERY guidance counselor knows the truth but is too scared to speak out . Just look at how many students transfer out of certain classes ; it is because the teacher is a notorious hard grader , or worse, just cant teach. I have constantly heard how ' the material on the test wasn't something we have been taught ' . How unfair is that ? These teachers are known , but they go on and on and nothing is done about it .To have real change/improvement, you might have to tackle tenure : the political third rail of teachers and their overly powerful unions. Real change? Good luck with weeding out the teachers who should be weeded out .


17 people like this
Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2015 at 11:21 am

Very glad to see much thought and research has gone into closing the achievement gap. But without recognizing a student's effort as well as their academic achievement, many students on the short side of the "gap" will continue to be frustrated, feel inferior, engage in avoidant behavior, and just plain give up when their grades don’t measure up to the “smart kids” in their classes. And let’s face it; many of those “smart kids” have the benefit of highly educated, heavily involved, heavily-financed supplemental learning support which the other kids will never have. Report cards should include two grades: 1)Effort and 2)Achievement. If we can show all students that we value them giving their full effort in all endeavors as well as what is achieved, kids respond positively and will not give up so easily. And it’s been shown that through consistent, focused, strong effort, high achievement is attained. This effort-rewarding also helps those top students who don’t need to expend maximum effort to attain top grades. But most importantly, it helps keep everyone “in the game.” Joseph Gauld started a school back East that gives the two grades on each report card, and has had wonderful results for over 40 years. And please don’t confuse this kind of Effort/Achievement grading with “participation trophies.” They are two completely different approaches (I am definitely not a fan of those kinds of trophies – there’s a huge gap between just showing up and giving your best effort consistently.)


29 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2015 at 11:33 am

Well,
the chem H teacher gave an actual 2009 released ap exam as her honors test at paly last week. She told her students it was all their fault and gave a retest that they could get at most and 80percent on.
She needed two full classrooms for all the kids who failed her original test.

She told them ap tests were easy and if they were in honors class they were responsible for mastery on chapters and topics wether she had introduced them or not. Kids at every level suffer. The kids with tutors have to miss their weekends and still may "miss" the target and kids without a tutor are without a map going in all directions trying to figure out what level they will be tested on.

Why not keep the classes accelerated with much better labs, practice work that is at a high level, speakers from the field, research projects.... synopsis sci fair etc... just giving an ap exam and then bragging that a few kids did well on it is not honors. Personally, if more than 50 percent of my kids failed a test, I would admit to bad teaching practices, hide in a corner, cry... and try to reteach the unit during my class time. Making them come in after class and telling them all it was all their fault shows an out of control elitist climate within the honors classes. Every child should be able to be successful in honors classes regardless of the amt of money they have for outside tutoring. This is urgent and can be stopped at this public school now.


16 people like this
Posted by paly parent
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2015 at 11:46 am

I question Mr. Dauber's assertion. Did I read incorrectly, perhaps? Is he claiming that PAUSD does *worse* for Latino and African American students than, what, most other districts statewide?? I just find such a claim hard to believe, given the numbers of families trying to rent here or join the Voluntary Transfer Program from outside our taxpayer base.

[Portion removed.]


15 people like this
Posted by Interesting
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2015 at 11:49 am

"Outsider", wow, thanks for this info. I'm a current Paly parent. I hope a parent or student from this class has gone straight to the Paly Principal to let her know what happened in this Honors class (teacher using already published AP test). This is unacceptable (not to mention shows how lazy the teacher is that she can't even make up her own appropriate tests). It also makes the letter that Principal Kim Dioro sent to the Paly students last Thurs 5/5 saying that the Paly staff "cares about you" seem like a joke. Please please let the Principal know what happened.


5 people like this
Posted by mixed up metaphors
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 11, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Wow... wise old sayings come to mind reading these early comments. "Throw out the first batch of pancakes" and "The third (post) is a charm".

Only those who believe in the ability of schools and education to make a difference in children's lives need apply. Thank you Parent of 3 for your concrete idea for what is needed - and could be used in PA's unique circumstances to address student motivation and achievement.

That's the spirit PA needs for the work ahead. Thank you.


22 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 11, 2015 at 12:21 pm

muttiallen is a registered user.

It's Palo Alto's dirty little secret that the state test scores for low-income students are almost the same as the state test scores in Ravenswood District. Most of the low-income kids in PAUSD are Tinsley Transfer from Ravenswood. Parents, why bus your kids across town when Ravenswood is getting better and better every year and PAUSD doesn't care about your kids? I've worked in Ravenswood for over 15 years, and the improvement there is amazing!!


11 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Paly Parent: Palo Alto's minorities perform worse than minorities in similar districts. Although many of Palo Alto's minorities come via the Tinsley program, I assume that based on the effort it takes to be and continue to be a Palo Alto student commuting from E. Palo Alto, that these are highly motivated kids with motivated parents. That they continue to do poorly compared to minority students in other wealthy districts, is a failure for the school district. One possibility is unconscious bias from teachers who assume these students won't do well.

One simple change wold be to make it easier for students to choose to be in honors and AP classes rather than have to have the permission of the teachers and guidance counselors. Anyone who wants to try, should get a chance. If it isn't the right fit, they can drop down a level. But if you never give them a chance, you risk poor results due to unconscious (or otherwise) bias.

When I moved to Palo Alto from a southern state in the 80's, my kids were initially not put in honors classes despite having been in competitive magnet schools with good grades. Both, although not minorities, had to really struggle to get into the appropriate classes. Fortunately, with my encouragement and that of their friends, they succeeded by their second year at PALY. They both ended up being National Merit Scholars, attending competitive colleges and continue to be successful in their careers, despite their "advice" from Paly guidance counselors. So I can easily imagine that minorities run into even more selection bias. Most research shows that extra effort is needed to overcome even unconscious selection bias. The sad fact is, that most people prefer to select people like themselves with similar cultures, even though research has again and again showed that more diverse groups are generally more successful than homogeneous ones.


10 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Our child does not attend Gunn but was scheduled to take the SAT there last month. It's a large unfamiliar campus and the location provided by the college board simply said Gunn High School. We called the school administrative office and were told that they don't provide test location - that finding the test location is 'part of the test' and to 'just follow the crowd'.

There is enough stress associated with taking these high-pressure tests. Causing students to worry all night about where the test is being administered seems careless and unnecessary. This flippant response was to a PAUSD parent - the response provided to an inquiring student would likely have been worse.

Sadly, this seems to reflect a callous and apathetic attitude by the school's administration - not the 'empathetic, creative and accepting' culture referenced in the article above that the district is striving to achieve.


16 people like this
Posted by data please
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2015 at 2:19 pm

@paly parent midtown
Dauber is correct and he provided the data to the super and principals yesterday. You could email him to ask for a copy instead of saying that he's wrong. He has presented similar data every year since the Paly Math Letter was made public in 2012. It's completely true. Skelly admitted and promised the board to look into it. So far as the public knows nothing happened.

Maybe Max will now actually do something about it. That would be a welcome change. Here's some suggestions:

1. Get to the bottom of that Math Letter. Replace the Math IS at Paly and remove every teacher who does not publicly repudiate the sentiment in the letter. Do not work in a district that would tolerate having that letter just sit out there like a neon blinking sign saying "our teachers are ignorant and some of them are probably racists"

2. Get Stanford school of ed in here to fix what's broken. Reducing laning as Denise Herman said. Get the experts in the door, get the student teachers from Stanford in the door, get the best practices from Stanford. We have Linda Darling Hammond across the street. PAUSD looks parochial and ignorant (see 1 above).

3. Stop wasting time with the Task Force that just sits there recycling ideas, complaining, and doing no real work. Make a plan and execute it. That Task Force is window dressing and time wasting.

4. Read some books about how to fix the problem and fix it. It's not rocket surgery. There are districts that do a lot better in achievement for minority and low income students and they do it for less money, with fewer teachers, in worse neighborhoods and more underprivileged kids. Get the job done and stop the handwringing.


8 people like this
Posted by Si se puedes
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 11, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Here is a link to Ken Dauber’s website Web Link where he has posted the California Department of Education STAR test data, downloaded and crunched for 2011 Web Link and 2010 Web Link

Here is what Mr. Dauber has to say about this analysis:

“How can we translate our commitment to the education of every child into real and sustained progress? I believe that a key element in a successful strategy is an attention to data, which helps turn a situation that can seem overwhelming and outside the schools' power to address into a series [of] smaller and more tractable obstacles to be overcome. For example, I've looked at the achievement data for specific high school math and science courses, using data that can be publicly downloaded from the California Department of Education. What I've found is that for some courses, other districts are doing much better than we are in educating lower income and minority students.
For example, in 2011 we ranked 165th in the state for black students on the Algebra I STAR test and 143rd for black students in Algebra II. For poor students, the corresponding results were 192nd for Algebra I and 114 for Algebra II. For white students, by contrast, we were 7th in the state in Algebra I and 10th for Algebra II. The results are similar for 2010, and also similar for Biology and Physics, and for Hispanic students. (I've made this data available as Google spreadsheets for 2011 and 2010).
LEARNING FROM OTHERS. The fact that other districts are having more success educating similar students than we are can be humbling -- but it’s also a real opportunity for us. It means that a GROWTH MENTALITY that every child can do better, combined with differentiated instruction, has a real opportunity for success. We’re at the top of the state for our overall results -- we should also be at the top of the state for our minority and lower income kids. We have the resources, we have dedicated and high quality teachers, and we have a strong community commitment to educational equity and opportunity. Let's work together to realize this promise.”

I agree with @data please. Let's bring in the experts from next door and get to work.


9 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Parent of 3: Thanks for this:
"And let's face it; many of those "smart kids" have the benefit of highly educated, heavily involved, heavily-financed supplemental learning support which the other kids will never have."

I am stunned at the competitiveness in Palo Alto schools. My neighborhood in Midtown has 3 or 4 SAT prep mills. If these kids are spending their weekends at these places, I am so very sorry for them.


19 people like this
Posted by gerbil
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 11, 2015 at 7:11 pm

@Si se puedes,
And how many of those "comparable" districts bus in the same number of students as the Tinsley program?

If we're going to compare, at least compare apples to apples instead of making stuff up. That's were data stops being used for analysis and starts being used for propaganda.


8 people like this
Posted by questions
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2015 at 7:45 pm

Low income and minority kids do worse in Palo Alto than in other districts. What data led to the conclusion that this is caused by bias? Could it be that the school administration and teachers here are not that top notch? The wealthy kids are just lucky to have a family supporting them with extra help, which compensates for the gap in teaching. If you compare PAUSD with Piedmont, PAUSD have better scores but teachers in Piedmont are ranked higher.


Like this comment
Posted by Say what?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2015 at 8:18 pm

@palyparent

Thankss for being so transparent with your comment regarding "genetics and upbringing." The legacy of the eugencics movement is so apparent.


4 people like this
Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2015 at 9:16 pm

Here are the 2013 CST (STAR) test data that I provided at the WASC review session yesterday: Web Link

The data show the percentage of students in various demographic groups who scored proficient and above in 2013 on the end-of-course California Standards Test in various math and science courses, and PAUSD's rank against other districts statewide. As I said yesterday, white and Asian students in PAUSD are almost always in the top 10 to 15% of the state when compared to the same demographic groups in other districts in California, while African-American, Hispanic, and low income students lag further behind when compared to their counterparts in other districts. That underlines the importance of the work that Superintendent McGee is leading on addressing the achievement gap, and the commitments that the high schools made in their WASC plans to work to close the gap. It also suggests that we can benefit from learning from other districts.


6 people like this
Posted by @ ourselves
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2015 at 9:51 pm

Ken,

Other districts are proof that it's not that complicated.

I hope that there will be some serious connecting the dots between the gap and the culture/stress/depression issues which are evident here. As we look at ourselves, and how we have been short on compassion for ALL kids, I hope we can also expect better for the gap just from these changes.

If you can't get everything done, please first focus on the things that will matter to all students, bell schedules, homework policies, alignment, stopping the AP mill - this is causing the gap too. The equity thing.


15 people like this
Posted by Baloney
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2015 at 11:16 am

This is the biggest pile of baloney ever! Pitting Chinese nationals against American Caucasians against Mexican-Americns against Blacks is NO WAY to promote cultural change or stimulate superior academic performance!

This is causing racial hatred, huge stresses that make many kids simply give up, and not allowing cultural individuality or economic differences.

This really smacks of an attempt to gloss over the REAL problems in our schools with mere lip service.


15 people like this
Posted by Misleading Data
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 12, 2015 at 11:24 am

Ken, it is great that you're compiling this data but I think it is very misleading due to one reason - Tinsley.

CST results are incredibly correlated to demographics. Children with better educated parents do better, children of wealthier kids do better, and certain races do better. There's no judgement here and it's certainly not fair, but it is a fact. You can fairly accurately district CST test scores simply by looking at the demographics.

The demographics of the Palo Alto school district are very unique due to Tinsley. We've got 90% of the students that mirror Beverly Hills demographics (one of the top school districts for all demographics) and 10% of the students that mirror Ravenswood demographics.

I've been told that neither the state nor Palo Alto has separate Tinsley vs. non-Tinsley data. Ken, can you get that data in your new role? I suspect that non-Tinsley PA CST results (for all demographics) would look very similar to Beverly Hills. And I hope (and it should be a goal) that Tinsley students would be doing significantly better than those in Ravenswood.

I suspect your data would point to Beverly Hills as a school district that is doing things right, but I'm sure you would agree that your data is too simplistic in this case. Ken, when you say other districts are doing better, can you find a district that is similar to ours that you think is doing better (Please don't say all of them - I'm just asking for one). If so, let's try to see what they're doing right.

Until we can break out Tinsley vs. non-Tinsley, I think that blanket statements about how PA is worse than other districts is too simplistic.



17 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2015 at 11:27 am

I have no doubt that there are new methods that PAUSD should evaluate for *all* lower performing students (not just minorities, low-income...all students). And the work should start at the elementary schools and run through the middle & high schools.

But there are a couple of good points given (above) that PAUSD can't remedy. For example, we can't expect PAUSD to somehow fix lower income status or other family/cultural/socio-economic factors.

Certainly PAUSD can provide different teaching methods or after school programs...but the targeted families/students have to be willing to invest their time & efforts as well. We cannot compel attendance to after school programs...but we certainly can promote the opportunity and the obvious benefits.

One last note on the data showing poor performance for minorities. I recall that when this data first surfaced and was presented, there was an extended discussion about the sample size. There was no debate over its accuracy but there was discussion about comparing to school districts who don't bus minorities vs a district like PAUSD - where a majority of minorities are spending hours/day busing back and forth between home and school. And let's not forget that the VTP students who attend Paly or Gunn have to find their way to school on their own - there is no school bus for them.

Sorry...one more thought. Now that M-A will be the primary HS for EPA/EMP students (they won't get dispersed all over the Sequoia district), I wonder how many VTP families will go through PAUSD for K-8 and then attend M-A for HS...closer to home, good academic reputation, etc.


2 people like this
Posted by Evelyn
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 12, 2015 at 11:21 pm

The problem is in the elementary schools, too. Everyone says PA schools are so great, but when we moved out of PAUSD, our kids struggled academically. All of a sudden, they had homework and the teachers expected more from them during class. I'm not surprised kids at Gunn are struggling not just with the workload, but socially as well, if they haven't had a solid foundation going in.


2 people like this
Posted by PA Parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 13, 2015 at 8:31 am

Let's stop grading for 2 yeas. Pass/fail. Written evaluatinos. Be the change!!!!!!!! Show our kids we value their lives/learning over their ranking.
Universities will absolutely not turn their backs on all the $$$$$ coming from the Silicon Valley.


6 people like this
Posted by data please
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 13, 2015 at 9:25 am

@ "misleading"

You are wrong in may assumptions. What you are really arguing is that the minority students who come to Palo Alto are somehow more disadvantaged than the minority students in other districts, even districts that also draw from very poor neighborhoods. There is no evidence for that, and in fact, there is good reason to believe that the children from EPA who come here under the consent decree as VTP students are from family backgrounds that make their educational achievement more likely than their peers because they applied for the VTP program and have stuck it out all the way through high school despite the lack of transportation, lack of social integration, overt and covert discrimination and the low expectations that permeate the community, including from you.

But in any event, the data allows you to see how PAUSD is doing for "low income" students of all races. This is presumably the variable you are trying to test with your hypothesis about "Beverly Hills" black people and "Tinsley" black people. Low income is in fact where PAUSD does the worst of all compared to other districts. On test after test, PAUSD's low income students perform worse than low income students throughout the state regardless of race. While PAUSD is in the top 10% for white and Asian students, it consistently ranks near the bottom for poor students -- that is, it is better to be poor somewhere else -- indeed, almost ANYWHERE ELSE than it is in Palo Alto in terms of your CST performance on math and science.

Why is this? It is a good question and the one Dauber asked the principals at the school board meeting. Katherine Baker prevented them from answering the question, however, Denise Herman said that she thought excessive laning at Gunn had something to do with it. I do not doubt that is true, because Gunn's three lanes of Bio have the effect of creating a racially segregated bottom lane in which the designated dummies know exactly who they are and what their teachers and peers think of them. As Herman said, "what do we need three lanes for?" Right.

Then Melissa Caswell cut her off and proclaimed excessive laning to be an "emotional" issue. I'm sorry, I thought these were professional educators in whose judgment we have invested not an episode of Dr. Phil.

So, in answer to your question, no. PAUSD does a bad job with middle and upper income blacks compared to other districts. But it does a really bad job with poor kids of every color compared to other districts. In some classes PAUSD is dead last in the state for poor kids.

Minority Task Force: disband or get something done. Endless boring meetings of complaining are not solving anything. Get some experts from Stanford in here and do a job. Why have this committee anyway? What is your purpose?


11 people like this
Posted by Misleading Data
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 13, 2015 at 10:12 am

@data please

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree with you that the VTP students should in general do better than similar students because those parents have made a choice to prioritize PA education over the convenience of a local school.

However, what Ken and others are claiming is that there is something particularly bad about PA and our teaching because our white/asian/advantaged students are performing great and our minority/low-income students are doing poorly. In fact, look at Ken's data and you'll see that our minority/low-income students are doing average (40-70% in CST standings with the exception of physics) . Our white/asian/advantaged students, on the other hand are doing excellent (90%+). I argue that this is exactly what you'd expect due to our demographics. Our white/asian children have high-income educated parents. This imbalance between these groups' test scores seems to be what Ken has a problem with and I argue it's entirely predictable due to demographics.

I'll go back to my earlier comment and ask for one single district where you think things are similar to PA which has taken the right approach to improving minority/low-income education. You've highlighted ANYWHERE ELSE as a better place - please name a single place. To me, this would be the most productive approach to improve things. Despite my skepticism on the data, I do believe there is such a place doing things better but I've yet to hear anyone name this place.


2 people like this
Posted by data please
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 13, 2015 at 11:13 am

I don't think you understand the data. The data is not comparing poor to non poor in Palo Alto. It is comparing poor In Palo Alto to poor in other districts. Poor students in Palo Alto do worse than similarly situated (ie poor) students elsewhere regardless of race. Black students do worse in PA than black students elsewhere. If you look at the 2011 and 2012 data dauber posted on his website, then you can see a list of those districts doing better which include places like Visalia and Gilroy. There are over a hundred districts, some basic aid some not, none as rich as we are, who do more with less. Black, Hispanic and poor students do better there. That's the point.


14 people like this
Posted by Paly Freshmen parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 13, 2015 at 11:25 am

I thought moving inside the city limits to allow my child the opportunity of quality education was a good idea. Instead it turned out to be a huge mistake. Its true Palo Alto high school has not shown me that my child matters even after reaching out to his so called counselor. Honestly, its been so bad that I'm transferring my son out of the district to a private school in a community where he is not looked at some "black child" looking for a free ride. Its very expensive to live in Palo Alto. I didn't seek a transfer to come in the city from East Palo Alto or any other surrounding area but my'O'my have we been treated like we don't belong. Its all about politics in this city who has the most money if you have enough money your child with reap the benefits. I experienced the politics during football and basketball. With my son being a freshmen and the tragedy's that have occurred so far this year. I choose to remove him from the culture of i phones,social media and all the distractions combined with the you have to go to Stanford, Yale, or Harvard. It just doesn't go together. When my child's math teach refuses to send home tests for the students to study from but expects them to retake the test and have a different result. Things need to change in Palo Alto. As a single mother who isn't on any of the city's help programs I can stand up and say my money is not good here. The people of Palo Alto have ran this African American single mother only looking for the best for her son out of their community. Sad but true, I believe there are several people happy about that!!


4 people like this
Posted by Misleading data
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 13, 2015 at 12:10 pm

@data please

I'm looking at the latest data Ken posted above and that he presented on Feb 10 from 2013 results. Is there more recent data?

In Ken's latest data, low income, AA, and Hispanic students ranked at 47%, 31%, and 65%, respectively, which averages out to 47% as a whole. I'll stick by my previous statement that these results are "average".

Asian and white students are scoring better than average in PA precisely because they also have the benefit of having parents who are educated and high income. Take that away from them, and our asian and white scores in PA would also be average.

I need to ask why you keep trying to indict the PAUSD culture and teaching using the data? Your conclusions just aren't backed up by the data. I applaud Ken for using data, but I don't think the latest data supports the claim that PA does worse than other districts, and I think even Ken's latest statements subtly reflect this.

I want the education of disadvantaged to be better - not because I think there's anything that PA is doing worse than anyone else, but because I think it's inherently un-American for parents' status to have such an impact a child's success or failure.

Thank you for naming Visalia and Gilroy for districts that are doing better. I haven't seen the data on them, but if they are in fact doing a good job than I would support identifying anything PA can learn from them.




6 people like this
Posted by Another Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2015 at 1:43 pm

@Paly Freshman parent

I'm a white single mother who moved to Palo Alto to provide what I thought would be the best education for my child. For what it's worth, I've experienced some of the things you described. We have been treated as if we didn't belong by PAUSD staff as well as various members of the "in-crowd" and their children (general disrespect, semi-ostracism, and two incidents of recreational theft at Paly). My child, who was always an enthusiastic Honor Roll student, developed depression and anxiety as a result of the competitive, non-cooperative atmosphere at Paly and has been attending a different school for the past two years. Best of luck to you and your son.


1 person likes this
Posted by Data please
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 13, 2015 at 2:14 pm

You don't understand these date in spite of my very clear explication. Your comments indicate that you are being purposefully obtuse and defensive. Here is my final effort: if a district is in the 47% percentile for poor students that means that 53% of districts in the state are doing better than we are for that type of student. That means that half of the districts in the state of California --- hundreds of schools -- produce better scores and more proficiency for poor kids regardless of race. But we are in the 90th percentile for white and Asian students meaning that only 10% of districts are better places if you are white regardless of your income.

A list of those schools doing it better would be hundreds of schools long. It would be very long. Maybe Dauber could post it here just so that pwople can see how many lost opportunities for improvement we are really talking about. It's a lot.

Fortunately Dauber and McGee understand these numbers even if you don't and will act on them. I think it is just so unfortunate that PAUSD has had a decade of terrible management because many people seem to believe the various incorrect PR statements made during this period of time.


2 people like this
Posted by can't remember previous post
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 13, 2015 at 2:16 pm

@misleading data,

The concern isn't that Palo Alto is doing worse than comparable districts, it's that Palo Alto is doing worse than ANY district.

We pride ourselves on being a high achieving school district. Why does that only apply to high-income students with well educated parents?

The fact that low-income students are only coming in as average is seen as the problem. There are 191 districts listed as being ahead in algebra for low-income students (Web Link).

If you really want to look at "similar" districts, Cupertino comes in at #20. Then you start getting into the argument of whether it is because the students live within the district or are bused in when you add in that they have 67 compared to 125 in Palo Alto.

However, all of that doesn't matter, the real question is why aren't we a high-achieving district for low-income students? Could it possibly be that PAUSD is really only an "average" school district? Could it be that it's only the parents & tutors that make it "high achieving" and nothing to do with the schools?


8 people like this
Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Dear PA Parent:
"Let's stop grading for 2 years. Pass/fail. Written evaluatinos. Be the change!!!!!!!! Show our kids we value their lives/learning over their ranking.Universities will absolutely not turn their backs on all the $$$$$ coming from the Silicon Valley."
Your proposal would be an interesting experiment but there is a growing group of fairly recent arrivals who have paid $2,3,4+ million in cash to live here and they would not think too kindly of anyone messing with the system they paid to be part of. We can thank Ken Deleon and his realty wizards for making that a specialty and helping make that a reality.


5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 13, 2015 at 5:38 pm

I just attended a conference in which a speaker put up a cartoon with a guy sitting in front of a potential employer who says "I see you did well in school, but what real world skills do you have?" To which he answers, " Tests, I can take tests."

Some people will always want the intense academic experience in the same way some will always want to climb mountains. Just because it's a great achievement does not mean everyone else should be subjected to mountain climbing and only mountain climbing. The more diversity there is in the educational program itself, the more the program will support the diversity of students.

Going back aways, I tried to point out in past decisionmaking such as deciding to make really large schools rather than more optimally sized ones (such as by reopening Cubberly rather than going larger at the other two) would per research hurt the avhievement gap, but got nowhere. We hardwire our schools with greater systemic challenges to getting better results, then throw up our hands and say there's nothing we can do, it's not the schools...


8 people like this
Posted by We left
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2015 at 2:23 am

Our kids received straight A's or the equivalent during their years in PAUSD, but we constantly had to put up with low expectations from teachers and principals. The majority of parents were wonderful, but the number and effect of boorish parents was high enough to get out. Our kids are not white. They also were not depressed but they tell us where they are now is so much better in terms of the atmosphere that surrounds them. Some PAUSD teachers are better than others in expressing their fear or apprehension about having a student of color or a student in poverty because of a defensive worry about test scores,even though I know those of you who flaunt your MIT or Stanford degree would agree that correlation does not equal causation. Palo Alto has gotten meaner since the tech boom of the late 1990's and it seems a bit worse every year, which kind of mocks all the uncomfortably-positive PR pieces about how great our school system and community are. The latest suicides are a continuing emergency that is ignored just enough by any employee who wants to keep their job. Expect the trends of suicide, opportunity gap, and others to continue. We don't need quasi-data crunching from Ken Dauber or Max McGee to tell us that. Most of us parents with students of color, and an increasing amount of white and Asian parents who have students in the special education system, feel the very real unwelcome mat by many in the school system and city. Not sure how to fix that, but marketing is probably not the answer.


6 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 14, 2015 at 9:45 am

How about we stop fretting over SAT scores, "data" and grades? Are students some kind of mass manufactured commodity?

We must stop putting so much importance into academic achievement. Only by ignoring it can we expose it for its irrelevancy. Stop paying so much money to colleges!

Bringing race into this is equally irrelevant. There is no Achievement Gap. School performance does not measure a students' worth so STOP buying into this.

The fact is: some students conform and thrive on the structure of school. Some don't. I believe blowing off, marginalizing and shrinking public education is the solution.


4 people like this
Posted by a contrary view
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2015 at 9:49 am

To Can't remember previous post,

You say that "Palo Alto is doing worse than ANY district. ..low-income students are only coming in as average...why aren't we a high-achieving district for low-income students?"

Check out "Beating the Odds Schools - Top Schools for Low Income Students" where Gunn and Paly's low-income students came out on top in California and the US:

Gunn
10th in California (2nd in the state if you take out charter and magnet schools)
61st in the US

Paly
22nd in CA
146th in US

based on low-income students' college-readiness, percent college bound, and graduation rates. To make the cut, state standardized assessment proficiency rates (STAR scores) MUST EXCEED THE STATE'S AVERAGE by at least 0.5 standard deviations when accounting for students’ socioeconomic status.

Web Link

Relatively speaking, PAUSD doesn't seem to be "average" or "worse than ANY district."


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

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