News

Palo Alto school district eyes expansion of student research program

More students -- and at both high schools -- could participate in new program

Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Max McGee is hoping to expand a longtime student-research program at Palo Alto High School in both scope and size, bringing advanced research to students at both high schools and in subjects beyond science.

McGee will discuss his vision for an Advanced Authentic Research (AAR) program at Tuesday's board meeting. In a staff report, he lauds student-led authentic research as a proven way to foster a deeper love of learning, knowledge and engagement outside of typical classroom settings.

The foundation for the new program is Paly's Science Research Project (SRP), which for 20 years has provided a year-long, 10-unit elective that pairs highly motivated students interested in science with mentors from local bodies like NASA, Stanford University and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). McGee notes that SRP and other project-based programs are already in place throughout the district – such as the Social Justice Pathway at Paly, Connections at Jane Lathrop Stanford (JLS) Middle School and extracurricular activities like robotics, debate and model United Nations – but have limited capacity.

McGee is recommending that the district expand Paly's scientifically focused research program to Gunn High School in the 2016-17 school year, with a small pilot program to run in the 2015-16 year. He is also pushing for the program to go beyond science to include research in the humanities, arts and social sciences.

He also wrote that the program should be expanded to include a broader swath of students – "not just the top ones" at both Paly and Gunn.

"We know students learn best when they immerse themselves in a topic that has interest and meaning for them," McGee wrote in the staff report. "These projects ignite, illuminate, and inspire student learning and are likely to have an impact long after the project is completed."

A new leg of the program is also already underway: Over spring break, McGee took a small group of Paly and Gunn students to Singapore to conduct original scientific research in labs with other students at the National Junior College. They will continue their research throughout the year, prepare formal papers and ideally, submit their work for publication.

McGee comes to Palo Alto from a high school with a strong emphasis on independent student research, and in his report suggests that the district look to his former school in Illinois (among others) as a potential model moving forward. Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) has run a Student Inquiry and Research Program for 27 years that offers students a year-long opportunity to research a specific question or topic that they have chosen to investigate. An entire school day at IMSA is set aside for these self-directed projects each week.

The board could approve Tuesday night $142,000 in funding to pay for a new student-research coordinator who would oversee the expanded research program. This full-time employee would help design, develop, deliver and evaluate electives for high school students to conduct original research; collaborate with other students and on- or off-campus professionals; oversee the pilot program next year and create curricular standards for the new program. The board will vote on the position as part of a broad set of resource allocations for the 2015-16 year, which mostly relate to staffing.

In other business Tuesday, the board will consider two new courses for Paly in early childhood development; take action on a new schematic design for the Paly library project and consider approving one-year extensions of the district's leases for Garland Elementary School site and a 525 San Antonio Road property.

McGee will also provide an update on an enrollment management advisory committee, a 15-member group who met for the first time this week. The group has been charged with issuing recommendations for short- and long-term plans to accommodate Palo Alto Unified's continually increasing student population, which could include but are not limited to opening a 13th elementary school, a fourth middle school or something else entirely, McGee has said. The members of the committee were announced Friday and include: district parents and community members Scott Burton, Todd Collins, Natasha Kachenko, Joe Lee, Grace Mah, Mark McBride, Erin Mershon, Gretchen Olbrich, Wendy Ho, Diana Reklis, and Sheena Chin; the district's Bond Programs Manager Bob Golton, Chief Business Officer Cathy Mak, Attendance Accounting Supervisor Margie Mitchell and Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Charles Young. The superintendent and principals will also participate regularly.

The Tuesday, April 21, board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in district headquarters, at 25 Churchill Ave. There will be a tenure celebration from 4:45 to 5:55 p.m. before the board goes into closed session at 6 p.m.

View the full board agenda here.

Comments

64 people like this
Posted by This is why half the town is against Measure A
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2015 at 8:47 am

Point 1: PAUSD is not a magnet boarding school. It is a K-12, open-enrollment district intended to serve all students.

Point2: Independent research requires a large scale investment of teacher time and that means money. As the story reports, at McGee's elite magnet boarding school one day per week was set aside for this curriculum. It is the centerpiece of the school and a primary focus.

Supervising independent research is very labor intensive for teachers. Right now, advanced subject teachers are teaching large sections of lecture/discussion classes. In order to supervise the research of even 10 students, that would require probably 6-8 hours per week. That's one FTE full day. If you scale that to 100 students, that's 60 to 80 FTE per week. There is no way to do this in groups because every project is different and they are all individual. Given the breadth of subject matter, this involves many teachers. Many teachers would have to either have release time from their current work or would have to be hired anew to teach this new curriculum.

This is not something that the board should rush into. It is a major shift for the curriculum at both schools and will require major money -- in the millions of dollars very quickly.

It will be a giant shift of funding from the middle and bottom to the top that will revise substantially the entire high school curriculum.

Point 3: This is a stress-machine. There are many students, including my own children, who were in no way ready to do indpendent research at this young age. They would have found this overwhelming and terrifying. But they would have felt compelled to do it since the new expectation of a gradaute from Paly or Gunn will be to show their thesis on their college apps to compete with their peers or to answer questions about why they didn't pursue it.

No high school student needs to do independent thesis work. This is better done senior year of college, or in grad school. But even if there are a few who want to do it, the entire curriculum should not be reordered to make everyone feel obligated, nor should funds be spent in that endeavor.

Palo Alto is a large K-12 Unified district, not a small elite state-wide magnet boarding school. It is not Phillips Exeter, not Andover, not IMSA. We don't have the money for this and our kids don't need the stress.

This is just the kind of shiny penny that distracts the board members. They will oooh and aahh about this thing [portion removed] without really understanding how much they are committing to. Once you hire this full time coordinator you are basically buying the whole thing and committing yourselves to a big change in our curriculum without really even understanding what the long-range costs and implications will be.

This is a terrible idea. It is stuff like this that has caused half the community to be in open rebellion over the parcel tax. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by This is why half the town is against Measure A
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2015 at 8:49 am

I mean 60-80 FTE *hours* per week, not FTE employees to serve 100 students.


36 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2015 at 9:32 am

I agree this is a very, very bad idea.

It only benefits a few, is unfair to most tax paying parents, and adds enormous amount of stress to an already high-pressure environment.

Many students in the past have managed to conduct research projects on their own. Some of them have won national competitions such as Intel Talent Search. They have done this without significant financial burden to the district.

We don't need another bureaucratic with $140K salary, plus additional expenses to the district, in order to promote such activities.


23 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:13 am

I am not sure yet what I think about the research project but I do think there is something fishy going on here.

They are pleading poverty and need to extend and increase a parcel tax that was supposed to be temporary and now there is talk about hiring an expensive specialist for this.

It looks like they want their cake and eat it too.

Money does not grow on trees, at least in our household it doesn't. I can't fund more expensive programs until they start taking financial responsibility seriously.


11 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:38 am

m2grs and against Measure A,

While I definitely would love to get into the district organizational chart with a ginsu knife myself, I would like to ask you both to reconsider on this particular issue.

I think in this case, McGee is hoping to create unique opportunities for kids who don't otherwise have them at home, and this one, if provided fairly, could reap huge benefits for all of our kids for a relatively low cost. (I say this with the caveat that it will likely only end up being provided fairly if the district improves the whole communication and trust environment. The trouble is that I can see both of you reacting from mistrust about fairness, I have the same concern myself, it's not a safe assumption that it will in this district.)

Having said that -- My middle schooler did some original research that has turned into awards and a conference presentation, a new explanation for an ordinary physics phenomenon, and probably a research publication by this summer.

Usually saying that causes people to jump to the conclusion that my kid isn't an average district kid (is, and struggles with too much homework and turning things in on time) or that my kid only had the opportunity because of access to a research institute (all the data were taken in our backyard and analyzed with free software on an old home computer), or that it's ratcheting up competition (my kid was doing the project out of pure interest and ended up entering it, never even dreaming it was even competitive - the science fairs are not really like that these days).

What my kid had in that instance was a mentor parent with knowledge, and the ability to go talk to an expert to analyze the data. EVERYONE has that ability to access the same experts in universities and national labs, in fact, my spouse has hosted kids to do work in the lab just because they asked (not affiliated with parents working there), and their work won awards. The trouble is that in the latter case, it can just be extraordinarily difficult for kids to even know about the resources available as they dream about what they want to do, and doubly difficult for them to know how to access them.

Kids end up intimidated because of the whole setup of school, not because research is hard. Discovering the world is fun. Answering questions about the world should be fun. LEARNING SHOULD BE FUN! You don't have to do gene sequencing in your garage to do good, original scientific research. (Not that it can't be fun or done, but...) Noticing the clouds in the sky and a love of photography could turn into a research project. Noticing ant behavior can (and did) turn into an award-winning science project.

I attended a citizen science conference this year in which many teachers from around the world reported projects involving school children, things like tracking box turtles in an urban area in a real research project collaboration with a local nature research center -- and some school children from disadvantaged Bay Area districts came and spoke about their work, too -- and a common feature of all the school programs incorporating this kind of real citizen science partnership research, is project-based learning. A common theme in the reports about such work is how fun it is and how it provides such a sense of wonder and competence to those who participate (not just academic superstars by any means).

My own kid now really wants to do some environmental health and medical experiments, but because of no local mentor, hasn't gotten anywhere. It is really an essential ingredient, that kind of access to a person to help bridge the gap. I think having this kind of opportunity COULD (if in the context of the right culture) be one ingredient in finding the antidote to the narrow sorting and weeding we have been doing in our schools. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first steps.

Please do not assume I am saying this out of self interest, in fact, I am saying it despite sadly having to come to the conclusion that in order for my child to have a positive and safe educational experience going forward, we may need to leave PAUSD. We haven't given up, but for one, the school environment is just not likely to be cleaned up enough (physically, emotionally, spiritually, educationally) by next year.

(I am even reticent to admit the above because our kid has suffered enough. If certain people in the district office are reading this, please do not think you have to pile on another toxic experience, it will only add to a group complaint already in the making. You have already caused enough hurt to a really sweet child and our family, and done a good enough job showing us the door.)

So you see, m2grs and against Measure A, this could be a really good thing for our kids, if we also fix the school culture and make it about learning and curiosity and optimizing each child's education. Putting energy into fixing the school culture and trust/communication problem will reap many benefits, including here.


3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:45 am

And I say the above having also voted NO on Measure A, for many of the reasons expressed on TS already.


16 people like this
Posted by This is why half the town is against Measure A
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2015 at 11:03 am

@parent

I don't think that the benefits justify the costs in this case. You are either talking about a lot of teacher release time or hiring a lot of new teachers or a very restricted program available only to a select few. There is no way to scale "individual" research. It is by definition individual. that means teacher time to do it well. IMSA is built around this. It is a small quasi-private boarding school of studnets who selected it for that feature. That is not what PAUSD is. This isn't IMSA. It isn't even Stuyvessant. It's just a public school. Everyone needs to get the stars out of their eyes and just be a school for regular kids.

Caswell: [Portion removed.] Finish board meetings on time. Exercise oversight. Review bills before you pay them. Make sure teachers don't bully students. Stop allowing the assignment of crushing amounts of homework. Make sure board policies are followed. Stop charging students and families for graphing calculators and gym uniforms. Follow the law. Stop sexual harassment. Blah blah blah. Do your job.

The last thing we need is one more rationed program available only to a select few. How were the students picked who went to Singapore? How many students of color went? How many poor students? How many girls?

(It will also require a whole human subjects ethics review apparatus that the school district does not have but which it must have due to the fact that the district receives federal funding. if the district is going to start supervising individual research it needs to be able to ensure ethics and human subjects protections, particularly since social science research will often involve minors and other vulnerable subjects. This is a lot of stuff that will cost money and that our district is ill-equipped to handle on a large scale).

[Portion removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by unrealistic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2015 at 11:03 am

So much scaffolding is required for these projects. They are really a high school version of the immersion programs. A great idea for private schools.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 11:25 am

unrealistic and against Measure A,

Again, I agree with a great deal of what you say (against Measure A). But I think whether this is a good idea of not depends on whether the district is going to make changes in the educational program so that there are more choices, and everyone's education is optimized.

I will grant you that we could probably do FAR better than hiring someone if we fixed the communication/trust problems, and simply fostered a stronger community of collaboration with the parents. We have such an incredibly competent parent community.

But again, I would challenge both of you to question your assumptions about what doing research means for kids. Perhaps I am wrong about the intent, and if so, I throw my hat in with your opinions. I guess for me, the real opportunity in this soul searching is to create opportunities to really make good on our district vision to optimize education for all kids, and that means changing the educational program so all children are able to find and be supported in their educations and gifts to the world.


18 people like this
Posted by I Voted No On A and you should too!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2015 at 11:27 am

Max McGee (in the form of Measure A) will not receive my vote for monies to be spent on such folly. Our kids need better leadership than this. I am not about voting to fund programs that will provide Max another IMSA experience. Quit this Dr. McGee. This will not provide in promoting well being amongst the majority of our students. I am sick of certain board members who are willing to sacrifice the well-being of our students for this elitist crap.

[Portion removed.]

I voted no on A and am urging all reading these comments that haven't cast their ballots to do the same. We need real change and until the district gets the message that we are not supporting more of the same they will not changes.


12 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 12:05 pm

"Supervising independent research is very labor intensive for teachers. Right now, advanced subject teachers are teaching large sections of lecture/discussion classes. In order to supervise the research of even 10 students, that would require probably 6-8 hours per week. That's one FTE full day. If you scale that to 100 students, that's 60 to 80 FTE per week. There is no way to do this in groups because every project is different and they are all individual. Given the breadth of subject matter, this involves many teachers. Many teachers would have to either have release time from their current work or would have to be hired anew to teach this new curriculum. "

Paly's course catalog: Web Link
SRP: "This course allows students to participate in actual scientific research by working with a mentor from the scientific
community. Students who register for this course are expected to commit to their mentor for the entire school
year. Students spend 5 or more hours a week at the work site of their mentors, write a scientific abstract and a
technical paper and give an oral presentation. In order to best prepare for this opportunity, there will be a
meeting sometime in the spring which outlines expectations and procedures for finding and working with a
mentor. Students will be required to turn in time cards weekly, create a resume, and attend meetings Fridays
during lunch."
From the Statement: "This program,Advanced Authentic Research (AAR), will be a year-long research project for high school students with the interest, passion, curiosity, and perseverance to investigate an authentic topic of their choosing. These students will be paired with mentors in the particular field of research who will support and facilitate the students work in their own laboratories, offices, and other settings. The off-campus student research will be supplemented with classroom instruction delivered by PAUSD teachers."

PAUSD teachers are not the ones monitoring the research in that they don't watch the student actually collect data (that'd be insane, almost all if not all is done off campus). This is done by the "mentor," who presumably runs the lab. From what I know about the program (and this might be wrong), the head of SRP checks in with SRP mentors and they contact them if they have any issues (ex student not turning up on time to do research). SRP head also works to ensure that all students can find research positions and grades their final projects/presentations. To me it sounds like they're just hiring a second person to run what's essentially SRP just because expanding it to double it size is too big for one person (who's also teaching!) to run. I don't think it's going to cost 'millions of dollars' as you do, because PAUSD isn't providing the research equipment (if it were I'd agree with your claim).

"Point 3: This is a stress-machine. There are many students, including my own children, who were in no way ready to do indpendent research at this young age. They would have found this overwhelming and terrifying. But they would have felt compelled to do it since the new expectation of a gradaute from Paly or Gunn will be to show their thesis on their college apps to compete with their peers or to answer questions about why they didn't pursue it."
Well... I'm sorry to inform you, but SRP has existed at Paly for at least the past 5 years (certainly longer) and there are some students who ARE ready to do independent research. I was not one of them, but I had friends who were. This is an optional program, and it's quite similar to work-study except instead of a paying job you get school credit for an unpaid research position. Even if Paly didn't offer WS or SRP students would likely find jobs and research positions, they just wouldn't get school credit and students who wanted extra help (SRP & WS work to find placement for you) finding a job would be more out of luck. SRP & WS are great programs.

PS - Parents have to sign off on student schedules. So if your students felt "pressured" into taking a research class (and for some reason weren't able to think "I have no interest in doing this" like many students are capable of doing) you could have just stopped them! Why should we remove this option when it's opt-in and both students and parents have to sign off on it?



16 people like this
Posted by Barron Park resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 21, 2015 at 12:17 pm

How can I establish a special collaboration/program between Gunn/Paly and Stanford? Call it the Extremely Independent Brilliant Learners program.

That way, when the very gifted students at Gunn and Paly graduate high school, they will also receive a BS degree from Stanford.

It will only cost the district about $12 million, but it is so worth it for those 6 gifted students. PAUSD will be the talk of the country!

We need more challenges for our promising students and their parents.


6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 1:11 pm

@Barron Park resident,
I'm really sad when I read your message. I know why you feel that way, believe me, I do. If my own kid did not have opportunities OUTSIDE of school, the message of failure from our system would be overwhelming, and I see that happening to thousands of bright kids. (It has strengthened my resolve to find ways of providing the traditional education in a more compact way to enable my kid to thrive.)

In our district, talent is universal, but opportunity is restricted, and I don't mean to say everyone is or wants to be a research scientist.

I still think this could be a really good thing, but only after we fix the system. If you all are correct, then it's like McGee is putting the cart before the horse. We desperately need to restore trust, fairness, opportunity for all. I think the answer to that lies in taking that ginsu knife to the district organization chart, not in expanding it. I guess I was overlaying my own hopes for how our system might be improved.

I still don't think it's a bad thing, but I would be very resentful, too, if it were done and the opportunities and educational experience for the majority of kids (who don't do well in the sorting and weeding) continued to be so stifling and problematic.


20 people like this
Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Sounds like a scheme for Tiger Parents. I think that the existing curriculum should be optimized and respected. This is where I part company with Tiger Parents - they do not respect the curriculum. They aren't really interested in that - they just wish to "work it" for grades, prizes., college offers. Any extensions that most are unaware of, or refuse to pressure their kids into becomes an advantage to them.
They pay to have their students taught and tutored in advance of the (generally) high quality curriculum here in PAUSD high school. They do this to ensure an A and to "beat out the other students" when it comes to college applications. In my past experience, such parents were not involved in the schools (as in CARING about the school community, the curriculum, etc.) nor did they volunteer in the schools typically. It is all about me, me, me. IF one believes the existing curriculum should be tweaked or changed, I am ALL IN FAVOR of such parents participating in the discussion during the periodic reviews of curriculum, textbooks, etc. What I dislike is the constant probing to tease out an advantage for one's Tiger Cubs (as for example in, college level research - typically accessing the parents' employer's laboratory, or similar via introductions). Very few kids need to undertake college level research at the high school level. If they are so un-challenged by the school (which I don't really believe for a moment), then their parents should not have enrolled them in outside courses, summer schemes, tutoring to be two years advanced of the curriculum. It's like a never-ending game with some of these parents! The purpose of even a high-level public high school is NOT to be a mini-college.
I will toss out a random idea:
Perhaps if these Tiger Cubs have so much boredom and so much time on their hands now as juniors and seniors (after their spare time previously has always been taken up with getting ahead of the curriculum via the parents' money), rather than agitate for special research schemes then they should be required to do LOCAL legitimate community service. Rather than "recognizing a need for a women's health care initiative in India" (an actual CS featured in years past in the local news - a Gunn student whose Indian mom appeared to arrange all), why not consider something like Second Harvest Food Bank: "Teaching Compassion: Meno Atherton's High School's Holiday Food & Fund Drive" --described Winter 2015 "Food For Thought" (the newsletter of SHFB) -- just a minor example of LOCAL, legit potential community service - with authenticity. I'm sure there are a zillion other ideas, like obtaining a job locally.
Bottom line: I generally let my kids manage their own school experience, respected the curriculum and felt myself part of the school community for the benefit of all students.


3 people like this
Posted by This is why half the town is against Measure A
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2015 at 1:32 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 1:47 pm

...
Former Paly Parent, I believe you've managed to completely miss the point of SRP. SRP exists to allow students to pursue very specific interests -- namely the exact sorts that CAN'T be covered in a classroom setting (in HS, at least). You're fine if you're interested in biology generally - we have classes for that! But if you're interested in how one particular sequence of one gene affects some rare disorder, research is your only option. I believe the threshold number of students for a class is 15 -- how are you to find 14 other students with the exact same specific interest and convince them all to take this class? And then find a professor qualified on this issue to teach it? And what if much of the field remains unknown, so there isn't much material to be covered? The whole POINT of SRP is to not have to change the curriculum while still catering to the needs of specific students.

PS - undertaking college level research does not mean that you're "unchallenged" by high school, it means you want to do research. Learning in HS - through textbooks and whatnot - is entirely different from a hands-on experience.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 1:59 pm

No matter how much I agree with the conditions that prompted your post, continuing to flog the tiger parent meme is not going to fix anything. It reminds me of Homer Simpson telling Bart (when plotting against Flanders): Sometimes in order to feel good about yourself, you have to make the other person feel bad about themselves. That sentiment is really beneath us, and won't help our kids.

If all of us are listening, a lot of kids are finding that tack threatening of their intrinsic desire to challenge themselves.

If our district provided opportunities for all of our kids to optimize their educations, for all of our kids to find their gifts to the world and be supported in them, if our district provided a system that valued education and personal discovery so much that taking a course in advance and then repeating it (rather than further challenging oneself in an individualized way) would just be stupid and unthinkable, then all of this backbiting would be moot.

Having said that, I leave the wisdom of this decision to others. I cannot defend it in an environment in which too many kids and families fall through the cracks and even more are pushed by elements in the system (and especially the district office) that need ... improving.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Oops, I was replying to Paly Parent, not to you, C. I think you have both made some good points, and I agree with a lot of what you just said in your posts, too, C.


8 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 2:03 pm

[Portion removed.]

Are you listening, Max? If you had made an effort to restore trust FIRST in this district, you would not be getting that kind of response now. It will only get harder as your honeymoon wears off if you don't get to the communications/trust issue ASAP.


17 people like this
Posted by Scooter
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2015 at 4:16 pm

my child participated in a version of this and it was life-changing for her. having the chance to learn outside of a traditional classroom environment was amazingly beneficial. and, through this program, she formed bonds with adults outside of her family and teachers, which helped her feel connected to Palo Alto and boosted her confidence (in ways that traditional classroom time can’t always do—even though she had good experiences at Paly). we have so many gifted adults in Palo Alto, it would be an incredible asset to our students to have them work together. also, I’m not sure that many of the readers completely understand the program—it’s very little teacher time. most of the time is spent with the volunteer mentors. and, contrary to being a stress-inducer, it was quite the stress reliever for my student. piling on more book-work may be stressful; engaging in a project that is meaningful to the student is invigorating! and, after all, isn’t the point of education to put our knowledge into action?


8 people like this
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 5:08 pm

I don't agree that the research project should be blended into the school curriculum, but I do agree that it should be a legitimate option/extracurricular within our schools. I am personally very fond of science and I love exploring new opportunities within the field. I absolutely *love* the idea of partnering with other schools to perform a science research project. It may not be for everyone, but it is definitely for me, and having this as a plausible option would significantly enhance my passion for science.

Some of the comments above mention that this extracurricular may cause more unnecessary stress for students in the district. They say that having it as an option will force children to take on more activities than they actually would like.

How about instead of teaching our kids that they have to take every available extracurricular in order to look good for colleges, why don't we start teaching them that students should take on a reasonable amount of activities that they are genuinely *passionate* towards? I am well aware that taking Robotics looks good for colleges, but the fact that it exists does not make me want to take it more, seeing as I do not like engineering. I am well aware that taking Speech and Debate also looks great for colleges, but there are other activities that I enjoy doing more than Speech and Debate, so I do not take it. Just because it is an available option at my school does not add more stress. I appreciate the numerous opportunities and freedom that I have to explore my true passions.

I am a proud student of Palo Alto High School and I am thankful that these activities and opportunities exist. I want this to be a district that thrives, and I full-heartedly believe that giving students who are passionate for science the ability to collaborate with others on a science research project will enhance the passion of our district as a whole. It may not be for everyone, but it is definitely for some; so why should we take it away from those who love it?


6 people like this
Posted by This is why half the town is against Measure A
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2015 at 5:15 pm

@Paly Student

Why is the currently already offered elective of SRP inadequate?

Thank you.


17 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Question is; will this be available to all students who wish to pursue it? or, once again, will this be a new level that will require *special* administration approval to enroll? How does this reduce student stress?

Instead of fixing the existing issues, the district is focusing on special advanced projects. Sad. Just very sad.


5 people like this
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Correction: Many of you seemed to have complaints about how there is already a science research project blended into the school curriculum. When I said "I don't agree that the research project should be blended into the school curriculum, but I do agree that it should be a legitimate option/extracurricular within our schools," I really meant that if it is not blended in the school curriculum, then at least have it be an option/extracurricular within our schools. I am all for the idea of a SRP class, but I was trying to make a compromise.

I believe that having Science Research Project as both an extracurricular or an available class will allow students who are passionate towards STEM to really excel in their field and enhance their passion as a whole. It also requires students to pair with mentors throughout the community, which is an incredible enrichment opportunity for students in the district.


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 5:49 pm

The current Science Research Project class is available to anyone in the district. Although one could easily pair with a mentor to complete a science research project without the help of the school, providing a legitimate class, however, allots a specific time period to work on the project, reducing stress as a whole as it integrates real applications of STEM into the school system. On top of this, it is not a required course and instead it helps students stay on track with their research. This is beneficial for the school.

Regarding the Science Research Project in Singapore - I believe that it really took STEM to the next level by encouraging international collaboration. For now, yes it was for students who excel in STEM because it is an expensive program that is difficult to offer to everyone. Yes, that is sad, but it is also realistic. And on top of this, imagine what an incredible opportunity it was for those who genuinely love science and want to further enhance their ability to pursue it. Why should we take that away from them? Not everything has to be about competition. Hopefully, with the help of parents and administration throughout the district, within a few years this program could be enhanced to incorporate any students who are interested, because it is evidently an incredible and meaningful program.


2 people like this
Posted by wondering
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 21, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Can Gunn students currently participate in the SRP like Paly students?


13 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Research Participant
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 21, 2015 at 7:14 pm

As one of few students who recently participated in PAUSD's first research exchange with Singapore, a nine month program, I can say that it was worth every moment and all the hard work put into it. It was honestly the greatest pabulum of my education and I learned so much about science (from the project I chose which I will not specify to maintain anonymity) and communication. I learned about education in another culture. I learned how to persevere. I learned to not fear difficult concepts. I learned to enjoy every moment of learning there since research pushes you beyond any school curriculum. Labs ins school will forever be experiments with no true "unknowns." Research truly exposed me to scientific discovery, not the so called "discovery" that school labs are. It truly peaked my interest in science and gave me a new passion (in the area of science that my research is).

I fully support Dr. McGee's push for a research program and wish that it were already incorporated into the school curriculum. The only research-like class right now is at PALY and I've heard that it is a boring class.

Research opportunities should not be avoided or restricted to limit stress. An easy way to make students feel no pressure to take the class is to make is unweighted. Then, you will truly attract the scientists, the intellectuals, the curious, the inspired to spend time doing experiments to make a real impact in the scientific community. Enough with doing labs in which the question has been answered before it has been asked. It's time to allow students to pursue real science, science as it is in the world.


6 people like this
Posted by HR
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 21, 2015 at 7:54 pm

Would this new course program meet the State A-G requirements?

Would this new course program count for the district vocational education requirements?

Would this new course program be focused around a "lab" consisting of nothing more than electronic research tools
and plastic 3d printers?

Would this new course program "need" a district administrator to "manage" the teachers who do all the work?

What programs would be displaced or eliminated to justify this new innovative offering?

Will this program take Carl Perkins funds away from other areas to "justify" the costs?


17 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2015 at 9:10 pm

Nobody is against students doing research, if they choose to do so. As I said earlier some students have done well in the past and won awards in national competitions. The current system works as is. It is all fine with mostly their own effort and resources.

The problem is that is it fair to deploy more tax dollars to these few students? Is it fair to focus the perhaps 5%, while adding more anxiety and stress to the rest of 95% "losers"?

I think it is not fair.

Plus some who claim to be "genuinely interested" in science don't ever intend to pursue a science research career. To them (or to their parents) it is a shiny item on the resume. The goal is to get into an Ivy, majoring in business and finance (hint, Wall Street), or Computer Science, or law, or doctor. I heard parents use their connections to get their kid into a bioscience research program, knowing perfectly well that the kid will not major in anything related. It's just convenient since they have the connections.



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Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 9:55 pm

@PAUSD research participant,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful post. You said something I hope you will say to the administration:

"An easy way to make students feel no pressure to take the class is to make is unweighted."

Good luck in your chosen endeavors.


3 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Research Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2015 at 12:00 am

@Parent

Thank you for your response.

However, just to give credit where credit is due, I believe that this idea is actually originally Dr. McGee's whom I was speaking with about the possibility of a research program.

He is really is on the outlook for student stress and after spending a week in Singapore with him, watching him agonize over decisions pertaining to our school district, I really believe that he genuinely cares for the students of PAUSD.

On a side note, to everyone, it would seem that many of my respective peers have come to disrespect him because of his recent unpopular decision regarding 0 period. He has my support. I don't think he wanted to take away 0 period, but was forced to compromise. After all, no ruling body like a dictator-like person in it.


13 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2015 at 12:19 am

The bottom line is that, while I believe public high school is not about equal outcome, it is not just about equal opportunity either.

Public high school should enforce equal distribution of resources, regardless of the talent, aptitude, interest, or any other factors of the students.

It is because of this principle that I think the use of Measure A money for research programs is a bad idea.


6 people like this
Posted by happy parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 22, 2015 at 7:21 am

Wait people. I read this to expand an opportunity to learn beyond math and science. Yay. And no where does it say this is an academic program only for the best and brightest. Any student can participate. Isn't this the perfect antidote to APs? We've all been screaming about giving our children options and reducing the stress? Shouldn't we give them the chance to pursue something they are interested in? Expand their wings in a way that isn't about test scores and comparable performance but knowledge for knowledge's sake?


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Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 22, 2015 at 10:03 am

Can someone please direct me to where in the Gunn catalog this opportunity is listed? I missed it. Can 9th graders do this? I can't even find "Independent Study" listed in the Gunn catalog this year. Is it listed in Paly's?


2 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 22, 2015 at 11:51 am

@Parent:
Here's the link to SRP in the Paly Catalog (bottom of page). The program that this article mentions hasn't been implemented yet (and might not be given how the current climate is for removing student choice, rather than supporting it).
Web Link


19 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2015 at 6:46 pm

on the school website, it says.COME HOBNOB WITH THE ELITE STUDENT INTELLIGENTSIA .

The only kids who can do this program are the ones who have parents as doctors or who can set this up, or have money to fund it. It is closed to students otherwise.

The chem teacher is forcing her class to attend if they want 10 extra credit points. They have to sit and listen to kids who had this opportunity when they did not.

None of these efforts were worthy or the synopsis sci fair.

I wonder if the Tinsley kids are super excited about hobnobbing with the super elite sponsored kids that had this opportunity when they did not. How is this happening at a public school.

Los Gatos,Lynbrook and Harker all have a research class and all kids are welcome and all the kids present at the synopsis sci fair. These palo alto rich bubble people are really not as elite as they think they are if they have to "pay" the poor kids to watch them act better than them. This totally reminds of a scene in pee wees playhouse with Frances.... the rich fat kid.


12 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2015 at 11:29 pm

To say that any student can participate is disingenuous.

The resources are limited. How many mentors are out there? The bay area is filled with academically highly competitive kids. It's not just Palo Alto high schools.

From mentor's perspective it is unlikely he or she will pass up the best and brightest applicants and choose "secondary" students, unless there is a "personal connection", as one can imagine.

This is just common sense. Imagine if you were the professor, who you will choose?

In the end, the elite students will get the opportunities. Rest of the students are left out.


5 people like this
Posted by resume builder
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2015 at 1:20 am

Clearly priority setting is not done in PAUSD.

Money is wasted on the wrong things.

I'm not sure about Measure A yet, but if if I vote no, this will be the reason.


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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 23, 2015 at 1:42 am

I actually think there's some value in the program--our kids are so regimented that giving kids a chance to work more independently is a good thing.

I like participant's suggestion--make the class unweighted--so that it's less of a GPA perk and more an opportunity to explore.


2 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2015 at 7:54 am

@OPar, if one day Palo Alto crazily decides only B students can apply Harvard, do you think Harvard will have no choice but to accept these B students?

The same for research opportunities. It is not just up to Palo Alto to decide who get them.


23 people like this
Posted by accountant
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 23, 2015 at 8:16 am

I think the Weekly should report on the fact that two board members expressed real skepticism about this proposal. Godfrey said that she was not really interested in a research program at all, but might support an internship program if she could tell what it was really going to cost and how many students it would serve (things that McGee does not yet know). Dauber said he thought the program was not yet ready to bring to the board and there were too many unknowns and expressed concern over the cost due to the fact that McGee said it would be limited to only 14 students in a class (half the normal number), so would require hiring teachers or eliminating courses currently being taught. Dauber and Godfrey both voted against hiring the coordinator at this time but said that they preferred to wait and develop the program using a different strategy such as a contractor or a temporary employee rather than a $140K permanent district staff person.

Both Godfrey and Dauber voted to wait on the 2 million in appropriations, including for this program, until after Measure A and until the full budget could be seen as a whole in 6 weeks.

That was a very important discussion that has not been covered in the Weekly so far.

I guess I was shocked that McGee was willing to go ahead with 2 board members expressing such severe skepticism about this program and with him being totally unable to answer even basic questions such as how much it will cost, how many it will serve, how students will be selected, whether it is science or other things, whether it is an internship or research. It was clear he has no real idea even what this is. This is really worrisome since the 3 old board members authorized 2 million in expenditures and the new board members, both much smarter and more seasoned businesspeople, were both really worried about this.

Is there going to be a story about that?


12 people like this
Posted by Waht happened to transparency?
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2015 at 6:15 pm

"A new leg of the program is also already underway: Over spring break, McGee took a small group of Paly and Gunn students to Singapore to conduct original scientific research in labs with other students at the National Junior College. They will continue their research throughout the year, prepare formal papers and ideally, submit their work for publication."
So much for transparency! This is a public school district. I did not see this opportunity announced anywhere. How does it benefit all of our students?
And the new committee- was it announced? Or were some parents just appointed?


11 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2015 at 7:59 pm

When is anything announced in this district (except to cover something up)?

I was looking for something else, and just found out that PAUSD hired registered lobbyists Frost, Davis & Donnelly a few times within the last few years:

Web Link

I can't pull up all the links because my ISP is too slow. What I find discouraging is that the NAME of PAUSD is not listed, but the district address of 25 Churchill and our superintendent at the time, Kevin Skelly, was listed as the employer, as superintendent.

These things are not cheap. Why did we hire lobbyists? For what purpose? Why wasn't this reported to the public, I searched using Google and on the Weekly site and did not find the name of the registered lobbyists anywhere, nor a board agenda item where the expenditure was approved.

This district has too little oversight.


11 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2015 at 9:31 pm

I seem to have have nothing but questions. Why is it so difficult to understand how the Measure A funds will be used? Why has the superintendent not effectively communicated this apparently important budget item? Why do students interested in research need to all fly to Singapore for a project?! Why do we need another expensive line item for a research coordinator for the limited elite students when we supposedly do not have adequate operational funds? Why has there not been effective measures to address the epidemic number of student deaths due to suicide by violent means? Why was the superintendent recently arguing against the medical advice of internationally recognized sleep experts against zero period? I can go on, but my questions all seem to start with "why"?


13 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2015 at 8:14 am

There is just something wrong about an elite group going to singapore when the bulk of the suicides over the last 10 years have been Asian. Probably it is just a coincidence but it seems in bad taste this year. Why not Denmark? It , by association seems to be embracing this elitism that seems to be out of reach for the middle or upper class and only available to the upper, upper class that somehow heard about or created this opportunity for their own kids. seems like just another teacher that wants to take credit for kids and parents doing things outside of school and then wanting the school to be responsible for bragging only.

How are these parents getting the school to be elite cheerleaders and how are they getting these opportunities without opening them up for all the kids? This school is really, really messed up. This type of activity is what may be causing depression in the kids who missed out but would have loved this opportunity, as they have to sit in class and hear announcements about the elite kids and also have to listen to the actual elite kids brag. For the parents and kids who talk about how great their research experiences are... realize how your comments would seem to a smart kid who was told they could not do this because their parents did not have money or connections.


7 people like this
Posted by yikes..
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 27, 2015 at 11:23 am

"the bulk of the suicides over the last 10 years have been Asian"

Not true at all.


7 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2015 at 4:33 pm

There are many examples of special opportunities offered only to a LIMITED number of students, e.g. Spanish immersion field trip to Costa Rica, JLS Connections trip to DC, etc. etc. This Singapore trip isn't the only one....


8 people like this
Posted by Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 10, 2015 at 12:04 pm

I personally is very interested in this program and would definitely want to participate. Hope this can be open up to those that are really interested in research.


12 people like this
Posted by @Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 10, 2015 at 1:04 pm

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Former Expatriate
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 10, 2015 at 10:47 pm

This is a huge mistake. Please, don't do this program!
If you have not lived and worked in Singapore, it may be hard to understand and believe.
Please stop thinking that "the grass is greener, smarter and better in the Far East
There is a huge exodus of people coming out of Singapore (and all Asian countries for that matter), and you should ask yourself WHY?

Like other developing countries, Singapore has extremely high levels of academic cheating.
Just because it is a country with modern air-conditioned skyscrapers, schools, and hospitals does not mean it is any better than the other corrupt Asian or Southeast Asian countries.
Singaporean's hope other people will use "judge a book by it's cover" mentality when they visit.
If you work in the schools there, you will easily understand.
If you need emergency medical care while living there, you will totally understand.

The math and science programs, and way of thinking are far below the US and other European countries.
As a scientist who has lived and taught there for 6 years, I can tell you that I would not want my kids to attend Singaporean schools or universities.

Western students (children of expats) attend International School.

Singapore is a country whose buildings are nothing more than a facade.

It is a country which has become a springboard for Chinese and Indians to immigrate to Western countries (Australia / Canada / the US, and Europe).

Students pay huge amounts of cash to middlemen, in order for them to have others write fake letters of recommendation, forge scientific data, and take exams for them - all to immigrate to Western countries.

Our students do not (should not) be exposed to this way of education.
I protest.


5 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2015 at 9:17 am

Have I missed the reports on the outcome of the OCR compliant at Paly. Isn't it going on 2 years? Is the Board just falling on past practice and not being transparent?


6 people like this
Posted by For pete's sake
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 11, 2015 at 10:00 pm

How is Grace Mah on this advisory committee to the PAUSD board when she is on the County Board of Ed? Conflicts much?

This district is so inbred.


8 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 12, 2015 at 10:35 pm

@outsider,
"How are these parents getting the school to be elite cheerleaders and how are they getting these opportunities without opening them up for all the kids?"

My kid has done original research just out of personal interest, published/won awards, and yet would be (has already been) shut out from access to this program, too. There is just no accountability in this district for fairness (among much else), hence there is no attempt at fairness. If they like you, if you suck up really well, then you MAY be rewarded by some special perk like this someday. Maybe not. Public schools should care about fairness.


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

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