News

Palo Alto school board to discuss academic laning

District could consider pilot de-laning effort

Laning, the practice of placing students into different academic tracks, has sometimes been criticized in the Palo Alto school district for sustaining the achievement gap between historically underrepresented students and their peers and for being a subjective process that can harm rather than help students.

The school board is dedicating an entire meeting Tuesday morning to the topic of laning — its history in the district, research and best practices, how other school districts approach it and a consideration of whether or not to change current laning practices at Palo Alto's middle and high schools.

"The desired outcome of this student session is for Board, staff, and community to deepen individual and our collective understanding of how laning may promote or detract from educational achievement, equitable access and opportunity, consistent high quality and fairness, social emotional health, and high expectations for student success," Associate Superintendent Markus Autrey wrote in a staff report for Tuesday's special study session.

The school district has certain set pathways in English, math, science, social studies as a student moves up through the grades. For example, an eighth-grade student might be placed (by his or her teacher) into Algebra I for his or her freshman year, which then determines what classes he or she enrolls in the next few years (geometry, then Algebra 2, then pre-calculus), which would be less rigorous than a student who started freshman year in geometry. Students who start in geometry can also make their way by senior year to an Advanced Placement math class, while a student who begins high school in Algebra I would be tracked to take pre-calculus his or her senior year.

Though moving up or down a lane is possible, it's an opaque process that is less accessible to some in the district. One finding of the district's Minority Achievement and Talent Development (MATD) committee during the last school year was that waivers that parents must fill out to transfer their student from one lane to another were previously only available in English, making it hard for Spanish-speaking parents to access them or even know they existed.

MATD co-chair Judy Argumedo, who oversees the district's Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP) and English Language Development, has said that she herself as a new parent in the district was unaware of how to get her daughter – who loves math and gets straight A's in the subject – into a higher-lane math class when the family moved to Palo Alto from Los Angeles.

Fewer than 10 students of color at all three middle schools requested parent waivers in a recent year, according to Argumedo.

MATD also found through focus groups and other analysis that the process for placing students into lanes was not entirely objective, with bias and other factors — unconscious and not — often affecting teachers' decisions about a student's future. Laning begins in middle school mathematics classes, when sixth-grade teachers recommend students for a certain lane based on a nine-point rubric and placement test — the results of which can affect students' opportunity to take higher-level classes in high school.

Eighth-grade Algebra 1 is also often considered a gatekeeper class to success in high school and college, and subjective misplacement for minority students can have a devastating, long-term impact. A 2010 study that looked at math placement in nine school districts in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties found that disproportionate numbers of African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students were forced to repeat Algebra I in freshman year, which can derail their path to completing the University of California's A-G requirements.

In its final recommendations, MATD asked that the district create clear, objective and well-communicated information about laning, especially for parents of historically underrepresented students. The group also recommended that the district commission a longitudinal study to analyze the impact of laning on historically underrepresented students and their peers.

Research included in Tuesday's board packet points to studies that show tracking can be both problematic and beneficial. It is problematic in that it "segregates students on the basis of social background; reproduces social disadvantage; unequally distributes educational resources; negatively influences teacher expectations; and perpetuates harmful stereotypes of student based on social background and ability" but beneficial in that "curriculum and lesson planning can be tailored to a targeted audience allowing for a classroom pace appropriate for students; classroom management is much less an issue allowing more time to focus on teaching and learning; students work with peers (and) improves overall graduation."

"With the amount of contrasting research on this topic, it is difficult to land profoundly in the know on one side or the other," Autrey wrote. "The questions (sic) possibly changes from, 'Is tracking good for students or not good for students?' It changes to, 'As an organization, what do we stand for at the core of our work?'"

The school district has considered de-laning before. In 2014, a group of Paly teachers prepared for more than a year a proposal to de-lane freshman English at the school. Second-semester eighth-graders are given the choice whether to take the year-long "English 9" or "English 9 Accelerated" (English 9A) at Paly, a choice that created inequity, teachers and district leadership said at the time. The freshman choice for the regular lane also made students less likely to take honors or Advanced Placement English or U.S. History later in high school, English teachers said at the time.

"I've had conversations with freshman students who self-identify as being in the dummy class — they see themselves right off the bat as not being as smart as their peers," Principal Kim Diorio said at a Jan. 28, 2014 board discussion on the proposal. "I think that sets them up in that mindset that they're in a fixed place in our school, and that's really troubling.

"In our school we talk about equity and structural inequalities that exist in our system and how we can raise achievement for all students," Diorio said.

But, facing strong resistance from school board members and many parents, the proposal was ultimately taken off the board's agenda and not considered.

One outcome from Tuesday's meeting could be that staff develop for the school board's consideration a pilot delaying effort for a core subject at the lowest level that that lane traditionally begins in the district, according to Autrey's staff report.

The board will also discuss a report on laning prepared last month for the district by Hanover Research Group, a global information services firm. "Common Practices and Challenges Related to Delaning K-12 Curricula" provides an overview of strategies for de-laning, with an emphasis on English language arts and math. It also includes "peer profiles" of de-laning efforts at San Francisco and Oakland unified school districts and Long Beach High School in New York.

The laning study session begins at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the full agenda here. The board will also convene for its regularly scheduled meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening.

Comments

32 people like this
Posted by Sally Kadifa
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2016 at 10:33 am

Hi Elena,
Per the below UC link explaining A-G requirements, taking Algebra I in freshman year, would not "derail(s) their path to completing the University of California's A-G requirements" A student can take Algebra 1 freshman year, Geometry sophomore year, and Algebra 2/trig junior year and meet the UC "c" requirement of the A-G in math.

Web Link


61 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2016 at 10:49 am

I have two children, one great at math and one not so great.It they were put in the same class it would be demoralizing to the lesser student and frustrating to the higher math student. De-laning would be detrimental all students within the class. How will the teacher teach to the accelerated student and remedial at the same time? Is that fair to either group? It may be hard for a child to be in a "Low" lane but it would be much harder to be in a class of super star math students and the lower level student not getting the concepts. Let's not de-lane the math program here. I think it hurts all levels of students. In addition, I also do not think SF and Oakland are districts to copy. They are not exactly the best districts in the state and maybe we should look at a district that mirrors Palo Alto for examples instead.


10 people like this
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 7, 2016 at 11:48 am

Math should be laned, but nothing else. For math, the specific skills in one year are a prerequisite for the next year. Social studies, Science and English don't have that restriction.


15 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2016 at 11:49 am

Thank you Sally for pointing that out. We have personally known students in that math lane to be admitted to Berkeley, UCLA, Santa Cruz, Riverside and Merced. The other schools would presumably follow suit after Berkeley and UCLA. Forcing students of any background into advanced lanes if they are not mature enough is a real DISservice. Can't imagine what the agenda is.


20 people like this
Posted by GATE
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2016 at 11:51 am

My child loved math in elementary and was frustrated by the slow pace, even as some of his friends in other classes were given more challenging work and allowed to advance at their own pace. When the kids go to middle school, it's like the system never adjusted to the elementaries having that abysmal EDM. Additionally, redshirting was common, which made a huge developmental difference. Even within advanced classes, preferences were given to some kids.

Our district got rid of all GATE programs some time ago, which had the inpact of preferencing kids who were developmentally more advanced and hurting kids who were very creative/gifted, were asynchronous learners, had executive function challenges, were not red shirted but were in classes with large numbers of red shirted kids, etc. the laning ends up arbitrarily picking winners and losers.

I'm discouraged to see that the benefits listed appear to be more from the school side than the students' One experiment I would love to see the school system do is simply to allow anyone who wants to learn at their own pace to do math as supervised independent study. If kids are given the support but allowed to customize their math education, wouldn't that ultimately benefit everyone? I hope in moving this important discussion forward, the board will differentiate between what is best for kids and what is a convenience for educators. Educator problems are very real, but can be solved. The focus should be on what is best for the kids.


36 people like this
Posted by LelandManorMom
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 7, 2016 at 11:56 am

I disagree that only math needs to be laned.

For example, for kids who are strong in English classes, but not in Math classes, a laned English program, particularly one that might offer a bifurcated Literary Analysis and Writing program, would be very inspiring. If you are a fantastic English student, why not have the opportunity to be in an accelerated, deeper probing class earlier in high school than Junior year (when, btw, Honors English, is just one semester).

And in all non-Math subjects (for example only, English, Social Studies/History and Science), for kids who are struggling or just happy where they are, instead of just one other option, let's offer two other lanes, one for kids who need a lot of intervention, one of those who are happy not to push and then the third, accelerated option. The trick is to have three lanes, so kids will feel comfortable in the middle lane.

I view this as a way to all our kids a chance to thrive and find areas of passion, which I hope is the goal here.


34 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Mar 7, 2016 at 12:27 pm

As a once-upon-a-time student, parent, and teacher, tracks or lanes are important in high school. Abilities are not equal and when you have a mixed group, you essentially have to move at the slower rate. If you think we do a disservice to those less able, we also do to those more capable. In a mixed English class reading a novel, you can progress perhaps by one chapter a day at best taking many weeks to finish reading it. The better readers will finish the book in a week or so and be bored to tears the rest of the time.

While I think it is important to have classes with mixed skills, English and Math are not two of them. I do agree that it should be possible to advance students whose skill set improves markedly and would never keep them in a slow track.


49 people like this
Posted by De-Laning?
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2016 at 12:54 pm

I believe, with first hand experience, that de-laning is detrimental to the teacher and the students of various levels in the same class.

First of all, it posts a significant challenge to the teacher for effective classroom management.

While some students struggle to understand basic math concepts (yes there exists such a student subgroup, for example, those tutees who are helped by the non-profit organization in our district), other students who are eager to leap forward with advanced problem solving skills, it is almost impossible for the classroom teacher to meet the learning needs of both subgroups of students, within the same classroom, during the same class period, when everyone has the "same learning experience".

Secondly, putting students of various levels within the same classroom is detrimental to all the students, especially those who are struggling. De-laning is not going to help the students, but will hurt their confidence, and their learning capabilities in the long run.

In fact, the struggling students will feel that their confidence crashed by the other classmates, when others seem to get it so quickly and easily while they don't. Over the years, I have seen live instances of such students, giving up learning on certain things, just because their friends are better at it.

Meanwhile, if the teacher focuses on explaining basic ideas, the rest of the classroom is put on a halt, impatiently waiting for the class to move on. With the short attention span of developing teens, the classroom would quickly become distracted chaos, let alone learning anything meaningful.

I don't believe that this de-laning scenario would encourage similar learning experience. In fact, it results in distraught teacher and unsatisfied students, everyone in the classroom.

Thirdly, de-laning is not a solution for disparate learning experience. Students' developing academic capabilities root from way earlier life stages than middle school or high school.

There are third grader who struggle to read simple books, and pre-K students who could read. There is no way to de-lane these kids at such a young age, and have those who read unlearn how to read, so as to get a "common learning experience". The only way to bring everyone to the same level is to pull out those who struggle, and help them with dedicated resource. This would be laning at a very early age.

With the resources and teaching capabilities the district is equipped with, especially the new Measure A funding, we should focus on targeted teaching and learning for each subset of students, paying special attention to students' individual interests, academic levels and learning capabilities.

I do not believe de-laning is the solution to common learning experience. I believe this is a random idea to a much more fundamental, much wider spread problem.

For example, I can not argue that PAUSD should take my amateur soccer player into the same team with those who have started playing soccer when they were barely able to walk. If that were to happen, my amateur player would get crashed during the game by the advanced players, and the advanced players would be really frustrated that my fledging player is literally bringing the entire team down.

Unless there is a day when the soccer team would take my amateur soccer player, no de-laning please.


5 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2016 at 1:00 pm

I wonder if the district and its associated committees have realized that the media is noticing our dyslexic population these days. They are barely served in the unlaned K-3 classes in this district.


23 people like this
Posted by Dump Heidi
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 7, 2016 at 2:42 pm

Heidi Emberling might as well not exist at all given how little she does as board president and this is a case in point. How did this even get on the agenda at all let alone for a half day study session? What, an unfocused discussion of delaning? Do you want to see a community uproar that makes mandarin immersion look like a spa day? That's what this will be. All the knives are being sharpened now. If max McGee wanted to be run out on a rail this is a good plan.

This is totally unnecessary. Any proposal should be incremental and class by class based on what's best for all kids. a smart board member will have the flu tomorrow morning rather than participate in this.

I really hope Heidi loses the election. She has shown horrible judgment on OCR and now on this. What's next?


24 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 7, 2016 at 3:31 pm

@Dump Heidi - the Heidi points aside, I agree it is strange how this issue is coming up and the way it is presented. While pitched as a discussion of de-laning, the materials, including the Hanover report, are focused on "why" and "how to" de-lane, not "whether" it is a good thing or not. Somewhat amazingly, there's even a statement from Markus that says "the data on de-laning is unclear; we should just do it because it's right!" (paraphrasing here). So much for evidence-based practices!

This seems designed to generate maximum conflict, with minimal progress. Somebody in the administration must be pushing it. Is it Max? A Board member? The principals? It's a mystery.


5 people like this
Posted by PAUSD clear on the risks
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2016 at 5:31 pm

It took a while to read through the materials but it was worth it.

PAUSD says that if it doesn't do "de-laning" right, every student will be at risk: low and middle performing students will be at risk of failing and high performing students will be at risk of earning lower grades.

Just in case that isn't clear enough, PAUSD states it again another way: "there is a real risk of the effort failing miserably possibly having a negative impact on the very students the effort was intending to help."

So what must PAUSD do to do it right? Some highlights from the Hanover report:

1. Decrease class sizes to 15 students each. If I did my math right, that'll cost over $10 million and consume close to all the money generated by the parcel tax each year. Web Link

2. Require teachers to up their differentiation game. Teachers, if this moves forward, PAUSD is going to make it lots harder for you since the range you'll need to reach every time you lecture and give an assignment will be at least twice what it is now. No worries. PAUSD was told to provide professional development to show you how to do it.

3. Struggling students: To "ensure that all students have the opportunity to cultivate educational skills," struggling students need to drop after school activities and attend 8th period academic support classes instead. Support classes show up on their transcript and are read by employers and colleges as "the regular class must have been too hard for you."

4. Wealthy high performing students need to tap into mom and dad for "resources to enhance [their] educational development" outside of school and so are the only group who may be fine.

But high achieving students who can't - specifically IDing "high achieving students of color and students from socioeconomically challenging situations" - won't get help and so won't fare as well; PAUSD says that de-laning may result in their having lower GPAs.

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent Again
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2016 at 5:39 pm

To voice your opinion directly to the board please email:
Board@pausd.org

Apparently they don't get a lot of people voicing their opinion.

It is important that the board hear your views on this important topic - either in person Tuesday morning or by calls/emails before then.

To email, contact board@pausd.org.

To speak in person:

PAUSD School Board Study Session

Topic: Laning

Date: March 8, 8:30 am

Place: 25 Churchill

All emails to the board are of public record FYI.


25 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2016 at 5:52 pm

All the data in the world sounds great reading, until it is your own kid that's having problems at school.

I have one that's been there, not just at high school but right the way through. Finding math difficult doesn't help when you are in with a bunch of very bright math students. Being "mocked" for asking a question or asking for a concept to be repeated doesn't bode well next time you are struggling with a concept. For a kid struggling with math, put him with others that are at the same level and the teacher can easily repeat several times until all students get it.

Likewise, if a middle of the road student is with a bunch of bright kids, they might feel pretty dumb, but put them with some slower learners and for the first time in his life he feels smart and may actually help someone who is struggling sitting beside him.

The same can be said for English too. Some kids are able to read and retain information much quicker, others need to read slower and perhaps read a paragraph several times to fully understand it. For this child several chapters of homework will take a long time, whereas a fast reader and retainer can do the same homework in next to no time.

It works both ways. Why should those who work well and get it first time around be slowed down with those who need more time? Why should those who need to move slowly having things explained or reread several times, be made to feel inadequate? From my experience, if they continually are made to feel inadequate they will stop asking questions and stop asking for something to be repeated which means they stop learning altogether.

We have many students who are using tutors just to keep up. They aren't getting it in school because the teachers are moving too quickly. The impression is that tutors are only used for keeping kids ahead of the class so that they already know the material the first time it is presented in class. The truth is that so many teachers are moving so quickly that the slower learners can't keep up. Putting them together will help them feel better when they are with others who learn at the same pace.

Yes there is the stigma of the "dumb class", and that is something that should be worked on but at the same time, the goal should be to get all the students to learn in class without the help of tutoring.

Or am I missing something?


19 people like this
Posted by Gunn '16
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 7, 2016 at 9:01 pm

Hi, high school student here. I would like to echo a lot of what has been stated in above comments: elimination of academic laning procedures, although potentially beneficial, threatens to place already struggling students into classes which they are not adequately prepared to handle. I firmly believe that almost every student who truly wants to learn is capable of pushing him or herself to succeed, however I think it's absurd to argue that students do not learn and develop the skills needed for academic success at different rates.

I didn't get Chemistry the first time I took it--the material just didn't click with me conceptually. As a result, I received a C in Honors Chemistry--a class I had been placed into by my Biology teacher following a fairly solid performance in freshman year Bio. I later took AP Chemistry, and found that I had developed the logic skills I needed in order to conceptually grasp the information, and ended up doing well in the class without undue difficulty. I imagine this is the case for many students; oftentimes, people do not have the necessary skillset for an advanced class, and could benefit from time spent developing their academic skills prior to taking extremely difficult courses.

That being said, the current laning system for math is an utter mess. 8th grade Algebra 1A classes follow (or at least in recent years, have followed) an absurdly convoluted and nebulous grading system, and the entire criteria for placing students in Geometry or Algebra as freshmen comes down to a teacher's not-unbiased judgment: personal like or dislike of students played a very clear role in the math lane placement of many students coming from Terman to Gunn four years ago (although in that year (2011-12 school year) one Terman 8th grade math instructor's conduct was deemed so egregiously poor that the last few months of that instructor's classes were conducted with an administrator or PTSA parent present at all times--that specific instructor was a thoroughly inappropriate individual to be determining students' high school math opportunities).

A student's 8th grade math instructor should not be a the single deciding factor in what math courses a child is allowed to take over the next four years. I firmly believe that math placement should follow a similar pattern to science placement, where 8th grade teachers strongly advise their students on which courses to take, but the ultimate choice on which course to take--within reason--is given to the child.


14 people like this
Posted by Plus one for keeping Math lanes
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2016 at 9:21 pm

Please let's try to fix the unfairness and bias in the current lane placement system before throwing out the whole thing. Start with equity in communicating the options. Do it early and often and in many languages.

I wonder what % of students currently take extra-curricular math programs here. There sure are a lot of math schools around. With PAUSD students needing to compete worldwide to gain admission to many STEM programs, extracurricular math will increase if the schools slow down math advancement opportunities. Families who can afford it will put their child in more advanced math outside PAUSD, and the gap between the haves and the have nots (or have less) will grow.


17 people like this
Posted by Been There, Done That
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 8, 2016 at 12:29 am

Placing lower aptitude students with top students is an uneven playing field. There is no way it's going to make them perform better. If anything, they'll lose hope. Plus, underrepresented students usually don't have access to the tutors that other students have, pushing them further behind.

The 5 math lanes at Paly should be reconsidered, especially the accelerated lane, which is right above the regular lane. The accelerated lane students end up in the AB lane (higher) in 11th grade & 12th grades (they are with 10th/11th grade students in the AB lane). This laning makes no sense! Just because the accelerated student is one year older, doesn't mean they can compete with AB lane students. They should change the class for the accelerated lane students so they are not with AB lane students. And everyone knows the BC lane is insane and most everyone has tutors.

Does the BC lane really score that many points with colleges or are the students being unnecessarily tortured?


10 people like this
Posted by Concerned Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2016 at 2:04 am

Our family is relocating to Palo Alto for Fall 2016 matriculation. This very streaming is EXACTLY why we decided to not only withdraw our applications to the local private middle/high schools but also why we decided to purchase a home and live in Palo Alto. My children attend a school where one or two kids regularly get 100% on math tests while others regularly score in the 40's. Does this work for anyone? The teachers and lower scoring students feel demoralized, and the accelerated kids feel bored and needlessly unchallenged. This artificially boosts and deflates confidence during already angst-ridden tween and teen years and has a nasty way of influencing the social community outside of the classroom. PLEASE KEEP THE MATH LANES!


4 people like this
Posted by Lose Heidi, keep lanes
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Mar 8, 2016 at 7:08 am

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Squirrel!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2016 at 10:25 am

Remember the dog in Up? Always works.

Until we get to a place where the public conversation is the actual conversation and it's honest, the public can't know if this is diversionary - possibly worse than Squirrel!, intended to start a diversionary brawl - or genuinely intended to help.

I'd love to put the lot at 25 Churchill into intense ethics training, and (after getting rid of any sociopaths who can't be trained) hit reset.

It's a time honored tradition at 25 Churchill to create goose chases when they don't want to deal with something.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 8, 2016 at 11:43 am

Agree, the whole exercise was odd. At the study session, the board made it clear that it didn't really know why we were looking at de-laning in the abstract, and Max was mum about any specific proposals. Everyone agreed that the Hanover report was a weak effort, and that casting aspersions at lower lane classes generally didn't reflect reality. There were references to past efforts and experiments, which staff was mostly unaware of.

The main thing the exercise seemed to accomplish was to energize a lot of parents to write emails to board members, plus about 30-40 to show up at the meeting.

Diversionary tactic? Prelude to something? Dead-end? Stay t!uned


4 people like this
Posted by Common Sense Need Not Apply
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2016 at 2:00 pm

As long as it is easy to move between lanes I think it is common sense that students do best when they can learn at their own pace. Choice is a good thing so let's keep the lane system but give more power and responsibility to the students and parents to select the curriculum that is right for them. Gunn seems to be heading that direction.

While we are at it, we should do away with the stigma of honors courses. Why do we need both an advanced and a honors level? I think simple categories like introductory, intermediate and advanced (e.g. Algebra or Geometry) are more descriptive and don't imply an air of superiority.

Everybody should be equal if they develop the same mastery of the subject.


Like this comment
Posted by No lane advantages
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2016 at 3:51 pm

If students work in groups, discussing problems, they learn the material in a more natural and broader way.

Then the students who are less competent learn from the others, and those more competent gain robust understanding by explaining. In this environment, it's better not to have lanes. Especially true if there's a lot to learn that does not require building on many levels of previous learning.

If they don't ever work in groups and work and learn alone, or don't speak English well, then they will probably learn better at their own pace. Lanes come close to approximating those paces.


3 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 9, 2016 at 11:52 pm

No lane advantages,

Working in teams/groups can be great--but only if there's not a huge disparity among the students. When there is, the more adept students take over because they're impatient and the slower students just sort of draft off the work of the more adept students. The adept students end up frustrated because they can't progress as quickly as they'd like *and* they feel like they're doing most of the work. The slower kids feel marginalized. They get angry because no one seems to be paying attention to their contributions or they feel dumb because they don't seem to understand what their table-mates do.

True teamwork happens when there's some sort of balance in abilities--and then it really is a joyous, creative way of learning--but too often is a sort of cop-out--with strong students carrying the weight of weak/disengaged students, which teaches resentment more than anything else.


3 people like this
Posted by GATE
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2016 at 1:17 am

I don't necessarily think teamwork requires equal abilities in an atmosphere of respect. Unfortunately, Stanford duck syndrome gets ahold of kids starting in middle school, too.


2 people like this
Posted by Equal abilities
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 10, 2016 at 12:08 pm

Do the Golden State Warriors have equal abilities?

"Equal ability" is not the issue, whether it's a learning or a performing environment. That's true whether each student learns alone or together with others.

I agree with GATE that respect is key. Good teaching is also key.

And there is actually a very wide range of ability represented in the highest lanes. That also is best handled through a culture of respect and good teaching.

But I'm afraid the shortcut of looking only at measured results of subject matter testing is too tempting for most of our teachers. The administration needs to step up to counter this aspect of human nature.

The district administration pays enough to draw those capable of doing this.


Like this comment
Posted by Math_Interest
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 10, 2016 at 12:25 pm

The most important thing in learning Mathematics is to encourage kids early on to think & find methods on their own to solve problems. Unfortunately that does not happen in most classrooms. Doing all the problems correctly or scoring high grades are secondary. Once they start thinking on their own high grades will follow eventually.


2 people like this
Posted by Segregation again
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2016 at 3:12 pm

How are posters and how will the school determine who gets tracked into which lane? Is rigorous material reserved just for some students, and not others. I noticed that the teachers just asked for yet another automatic raise, but don't they shriek that they can't teach "challenging" students? What is the percentage of white, Asian, Latino, and African American students in the different lanes?


4 people like this
Posted by Opar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 10, 2016 at 3:24 pm

I didn't say equal, I said not a wide disparity. Laning happens because on one level, it works. There are alternatives, but the rigidity of our very test and grade focused system make them hard to implement. When you're graded on outcome, you're basically creating a situation where the stronger students will take over in team situations.

There's a pretense that just shoving kids together will create a miraculous learning environment through teamwork. It just isn't that simple--you have to teach teamwork as well.

And, no, the kids aren't equal--there are many reasons for that and probably most have nothing to do with innate ability, but nonetheless, that's a reality in the upper grades--and teamwork doesn't fix it.


4 people like this
Posted by GATE
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2016 at 4:35 pm

Good points, Opar. The other things to realize is that kids' relative advancement in math can change over time for a variety of reasons. The system labels the kids and becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. Ukrimately, tools for better individualization could help solve the problem.


3 people like this
Posted by Lane Framing
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 10, 2016 at 5:36 pm

The entire framing around laning is wrong-headed: it is based on the assumption that kids are (a) laned correctly, and (b) incapable of learning at a different pace than their "lane" designation indicates. (sort of 'once-stupid-always-stupid' view of students).

Both of which are so wrong and so frustrating as to be unbelievable.

a) - most laning decisions are done after a year of poor teaching. The result of poor teaching is poor laning. So let's just agree that every 7th grader can learn arithmetic, and the issue is bad teaching, not bad students.

b) - once a kid has a bad teacher, the school should use laning to apply more skilled teaching and more time on task to catch the kids up to grade level.

So what does this look like? Let's say I have Mr. G for math in one year, and he botches the job. Rather than lane the student down, the student is placed the next year with Mr. S. AND Mr S. is given 1.5 class times in the week to teach a curriculum that covers more content: Mr. S is the most skilled teacher in math. His content starts with an intensive review of the prior year content so that he can analyze and fix misconceptions left over from Mr. G (student will have accumulated a bunch of this stuff).

Then Mr S. will continue the curriculum for the current year. All of this takes extra time which is why the catch-up lane has more classtime allocated to it.

Net result: after each year, the catch-up lane kids are high performing again, and the school has a narrower range of skills to teach, rather than an ever-growing range of student skills.

Basically you make the school responsible to fix the errors the school creates. You know, accountability...


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Posted by Data would be helpful
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 10, 2016 at 5:52 pm

Great idea, @Lane Framing. But, hmm, can you provide any evidence that most laning decisions follow a year of "poor teaching"? Or that kids in lower lanes come mostly from these "poor teachers"? That would make this argument more compelling. Otherwise, it just seems like something you dreamed up.


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Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 10, 2016 at 7:55 pm

"The entire framing around laning is wrong-headed: it is based on the assumption that kids are incapable of learning at a different pace than their "lane" designation indicates. (sort of 'once-stupid-always-stupid' view of students)."

I disagree entirely. Laning doesn't say "Oh, you're bad at math so stop taking math" - after all, EVERY math lane has a course for senior year of HS. What it's supposed to do is differentiate Susy, who either has learned the material before or in general grasps things rapidly - from Bobby, who is equally smart and performs equally well but requires slightly more time to learn the material. Furthermore, laning allows for changes in ability to grasp things in a certain time- if Susy really struggles with geometry but loves and works quickly with trig, it is possible for her to take a slower-paced geometry course, study over the summer, and join a high lane of trig. It's not done all that frequently, because not many are willing to put in the extra studying, but it is done.


Posted by Lane Framing
a resident of Palo Alto High School

on Mar 11, 2016 at 8:35 am


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Posted by LelandManorMom
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 14, 2016 at 6:01 pm

How would one encourage PAUSD to create a laned writing and literary analysis program with more elective options beyond journalism?


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Posted by Old man
a resident of Monroe Park
on Mar 14, 2016 at 6:20 pm

@LLM - Hmm, one might have a hard time with that. Heck, 20 might be stymied! The faculty, led by the department head (Instructional Supervisor), generally develops courses and programs. They'd want to know there was supply (teachers to teach it) and demand (students who would sign up). And some teacher(s) would have to get excited about it and champion it. You might want to start with the principal and talk with her about it, and have her point you in the right direction (which might be the exit door, but you can try).


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Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 15, 2016 at 10:44 am

Be Positive is a registered user.

@ LelandManorMom - At the high school level, there are quite a few English electives for Juniors and Seniors beside Journalism. And if we really want to prepare our students for college level work, we should be doing less literary analysis of fiction and more researched writing projects.

@Old Man - Instructional supervisors are not department heads, which is why the teachers often take turns being the IS. In addition to your example of supply and demand (teacher and student interest) it would have to be a course that could be UC/CSU approved.


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