Racial, gender gaps persist in AP courses in Palo Alto Unified

Students of color enrolling in fewer advanced classes

Oft-reported anecdotes about the persistently low numbers of students of color in Advanced Placement classes in the Palo Alto Unified School District are affirmed in a report that the school board will discuss at its Tuesday meeting.

This year, only seven black and Hispanic students signed up for AP biology, 11 for AP calculus AB, one for AP chemistry, one for art history and three for AP statistics, as a few examples, according to the report. More black and Hispanics students enrolled in AP Spanish language and AP Spanish literature (25 and nine, respectively) as well as AP psychology (11 students).

There are 84 black students at the district's high schools (23 at Gunn and 61 at Palo Alto), and 362 Hispanic students (160 at Gunn and 202 at Paly), according to a September enrollment report from the district.

Gunn's total enrollment is 1,885 -- black students account for 1.2 percent and Hispanic students 8.5 percent.

Paly's enrollment is 1,985, with black students making up 3.1 percent and Hispanic students 10.2 percent.

No black or Hispanic students enrolled this year in AP calculus BC, AP physics, AP computer science or AP studio art, among other courses, according to the report.

Last year, black and Hispanic students enrolled at about the same numbers in some courses, while others saw a drop in enrollment and other a slight uptick.

In the class of 2015, 65 students of color and low-income students took 122 AP classes over the course of their high-school years, according to the district. Both of those numbers have dropped in the class of 2016: Only 50 students of color and low-income students have taken 89 AP classes.

Students of color and low-income students show high pass rates on the AP exams they do take, however — performing at a similar level or in some cases better than their peers.

Female students are also underrepresented in some AP courses, particularly in science courses. The most glaring gender gap this year is in a blended AP computer-science class, which is 75 percent male students (down from 85 percent last year). Most science classes that enrolled more male students last year became more balanced this year, according to the report. AP chemistry, for example, dropped from 70 percent male to 54 percent this year.

There are more female students, however, in classes like AP art history, AP studio art and AP English literature and composition.

The report, prepared by district Director of Research Christopher Kolar and Program Evaluation Coordinator Clarisse Haxton, notes that "additional analysis is needed to track AP course-taking — and AP exam-taking and exam passage — over time."

One outcome of the district's elevated "focused goals" this year is to increase the number and percentage of historically underrepresented students in AP classes. A longer term goal is to have proportional representation in all AP classes.

The school board will discuss AP enrollment Tuesday evening as part of a larger presentation on college enrollment and A-G college requirements.

Elementary-school facilities improvements

In other business Tuesday, the school board will also discuss the proposed allocation of $60 million in bond funds set aside for capital improvements at the elementary schools. Staff is recommending that $23 million go to support a project at Hoover Elementary School, $37 million to "multi-use building projects" and $300,000 of that amount used to develop conceptual designs at Escondido, El Carmelo and Walter Hays elementary schools. The unanimous recommendation comes from a subcommittee of three elementary principals — Escondido's ChucK Merritt, El Carmelo's Danae Reynolds and Hays' Mary Bussman — who met throughout the fall.

The subcommittee is recommending the largest amount of money go to Hoover, which was not included in the previous bond because it had not opened at its present site when that bond passed, according to the district. The group has identified the following potential improvements for Hoover: expanded and modernized multi-purpose building, a new library, no modular buildings, modernized classrooms and technology.

The remaining dollars should go to build new multi-purpose rooms at Escondido, El Carmelo and Walter Hays, the principals recommended. These three sites were chosen because other elementary schools already had "extensive modernization" or have forthcoming construction, a report notes.

"Then, based on the sizes of the current multi-purpose buildings as compared to the number of students, the group chose Escondido and Hays, and based on renovation sequencing and phasing, the choice of the third school was El Carmelo," the report states.

The board voted this summer to release the reserve dollars to support projects at the existing school sites.

Before the regular meeting starts, the board will also meet in closed session to discuss a personnel evaluation related to the repeated bullying of a special-education middle-school student in the district.

Open session begins at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.

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31 people like this
Posted by Note to PAUSD researchers
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 15, 2016 at 10:04 am

Asians are students of color too. Make sure you are disaggregating the Asian stats, as there might be some Asian subgroups that are underrepresented in AP courses too.

7 people like this
Posted by class size reductions
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 15, 2016 at 10:50 am

Interesting result in the collective bargaining for all-day kindergarten in that packet: Web Link

"Article IX, Class Size
The Agreement provides for a change in kindergarten class size in 2017. The staffing ratio changed from 22:1 to 20:1 in kindergarten in 2016-17. In 2017-18, the staffing ratio will be 19:1."

And where did this come from? Web Link

"Baldwin claimed that PAEA has opened up class size many times in the past"

Amazing what you can make happen when you negotiate in good faith with the union!

38 people like this
Posted by Ahem!
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 15, 2016 at 11:11 am

Asian people ARE people of color!

Obviously you mean blacks and Latinos!

25 people like this
Posted by Ellen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 15, 2016 at 11:30 am

I wonder though: is the root cause of AP enrollment gaps actually "race", or is it merely income inequality, which has some unfortunately correlation to race in our current society. Asked another way: if you only looked at household income, and ignored skin color for a moment, wouldn't you still see the same AP enrollment gaps?

14 people like this
Posted by greenmom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2016 at 12:02 pm

AP classes.... a bad invention, in my opinion. It only happens in America, and it is one expression of the race to nowhere... Sadly, we talk much about improving the education system, and yet, continue to do things that undermind the goal of changing the competivive system for a more cooperative one, where students get motivated intrinsically to learn, where students feel there is room for everyone. A system where students are not sorted out according to their perceived capacity. A system that fosters the team work that is so much needed in today's jobs!! Electives? yes!!! please! Classes for all interests, AP? collegue level classes? no need to rush the high schoolers. Each developmental stage at its time. Anybody in highschool level should be able and deserves to be offerd high quality classes, designed for their age, without making some kids feel less capable that others. That is the element that is harmful. All will graduate and go their ways, according to their interests and capacity, yes, but at their pace, abd this AP classes will not mean much then... other than the flavor in their mouths about their highschool stress.. My opinion.

25 people like this
Posted by greenmom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2016 at 12:03 pm

And then, we continue making race and gender classifications of our kids....

42 people like this
Posted by Carlos
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 15, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Don't think trying to find a 'racial' explanation for these differences in AP stats will help anyone going forward. Race itself will not make someone perform better/worse in advanced classes, but perpetuating this senseless topic will definitely make some kids think their potential is constrained by their ethnic background.

As an immigrant of color who has lived in different multi-racial societies, I can tell you that non-racial family factors such as level of education, priorities, work ethic and so on are the critical factors in predicting a student's academic success.

Easy to point to race-related reasons for certain outcomes and generalize, but it's a dumbed-down explanation that people use whenever they do not comprehend what's really going on. It also happens to be used quite effectively by politicians.

60 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2016 at 3:37 pm

I don't understand what the point is; I thought any student who wanted to take an AP class can sign up as long as they satisfy the prerequisites. Is the report implying the school administration and teaching staff are discriminating and not allowing non-white students from signing up for an AP? if so, perhaps they should being launching an investigation.

The article writes that the school district has "A longer term goal is to have proportional representation in all AP classes" why does every activity have to have "proportionate" representation of every gender, race, etc.?

I think we should be encouraging students to pursue their passions and interests, and not looking at everything through a prism of race and gender, so that it fits into some pre-conceived notion of social engineering.

8 people like this
Posted by dennis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 15, 2016 at 7:40 pm

[Post removed.]

24 people like this
Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 15, 2016 at 8:26 pm

There is individual initiative and there is parental influence and involvement. There is also teaching. At this point it is excessive to criticize PAUSD for discrepancies between performance of various ethnic groups on things like AP tests since it is well known that parent income and socioeconomic status has the most influence. Everyone should do his or her best. All students should be supported. But the incessant categorizing by "race" and "ethnic group" with a tone of some sort of recrimination is tiresome and should be stopped. There is no one to "blame." People should come together as Americans (unless one is first generation legal immigrant, a category I do recognize and which is fine.) Otherwise, it's just a ploy for taxpayer $$$ and an attempt at a false guilt trip of others.

5 people like this
Posted by Why do we fight for diversity?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 15, 2016 at 9:44 pm

Why do we fight for diversity? is a registered user.

@resident asks an important question: "[Why don't we encourage] students to pursue their passions and interests, [instead of] looking at everything through a prism of race and gender, so that it fits into some pre-conceived notion of social engineering"?

In other words, why do we care about diversity? Why do we care if there are women in tech, Latinos in law, men in nursing, African Americans in environmental science?

I think it's for a few reasons.
(a) We want to fight institutional or unconscious bias that is skewing self-determination.
(b) A diverse workforce is a stronger workforce, and yields better outcomes. Latinos will bring an important perspective to some areas of law; women may write apps that work better for families; men may be better nurses for some patients; and all people should care about the environment if we want to shore it up quickly.
(c) A balanced economy and society is a stronger one. Supporting a diverse workforce helps to make our economy and society more balanced.

It's taken me a really long time to understand the importance of diversity. I used to think it was corporate bullsh*t. But then I was put on a team with someone with a diverse background, whom we all disagreed with, and the discussions his ideas generated made our product so, so much better.

Being passive about this, and just letting people self-select, is not enough. Most people need active encouragement to go beyond the significant implicit obstacles in their own and others' minds to achieve their potential. And helping them to do that is important for ALL of us.

5 people like this
Posted by DZ
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Nov 16, 2016 at 9:06 am

What is the right formula of diversity?
I think diversity should be an attitude based on individual excellency. It should not be a fixed formula. Without individual excellency, America will be become a country of mediocre. A mediocre country don't deserve and will not enjoy the kind of leadership we have in the world and the rich life style we have today.

9 people like this
Posted by Big Picture
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2016 at 9:28 am

On the one hand, the district is discouraging APs because of the stress (limiting APs, counseling students against them, not wanting to weight the grades because it would discourage those who don't take APs, etc), and on the other, they are trying to increase minority participation in APs. This could be viewed as a greater success of counseling against APs for stress management among minority students -- doesn't this just mean underrepresented minirities are more likely to take the district's advice?

I do think the district has more work to do to reduce homework loads so that students can focus on learning. The Weekly did a story on one Gunn AP science teacher who flipped the classroom and assigns no homework, yet the students' scores on tests remain just as high. We need more of that. Then fear of APs can be dropped, and this conflicted attitudes toward advanced learning dropped. Students should not have to be afraid of challenging themselves.

The poster above is right, though. It would be great to integrate subjects better into real world experience rather than continuing this souped up Prussian model. PAUSD is not alone:

Racial gender gap persists in high performing schools
Web Link
Mountain Vw has one of the highest achievement gaps in CA, search Mtn Vw Voice for more.

Here's an interesting out of the box approach from Sacramento, it would increase connection for all students. It makes some really interesting points:
Web Link

Homeschooling or some hybrid school-homeschool programs could offer insights into how to eliminate the achievement gap while saving money. (Most people do not realize that many variations of homeschooling don't take place at home and can happen even if both parents work. The difference is in the freedom over the educational program, autonomy and better control of time, and ability to individualize learning and to address needs.)

Studies about homeschooling are infrequent and outdated, since homeschooling and the burgeoning variations (unschooling, hackschooling, custom schooling, micro-schooling, travel schooling, independent study, ala carte schooling, studio schooling, etc) are new and evolving, and growing about 8%/ yr. That said, the last large testing study of homeschoolers >11,000 students) found they did better than public schooled students, with no gender gap and little to no achievement gap. This was regardless of income or the education level of the parents or even the amount of formal involvement by the state. The rate of going on to college was also higher.
Web Link

African Americans families, especially with highly educated parents, are one of the fastest growing homeschool demographics, one reason is to avoid the disadvantages of racism
Web Link

Although some smaller studies have suggested discrepancies in test scores based on the level of homeschool structure, a big picture view of even the most unstructured homeschoolers (unschoolers) and how they subsequently fare in life shows the benefits of allowing kids autonomy in learning:

How Do Unschoolers Turn Out?
Web Link

We have a lot of smart people looking at the achievement gap and moving forward with traditional recommendations without closing it. What can we learn from these other educational approaches that have high achievement and no discernible achievement gap that might help? Rather than using AP participation as our guide, why not more big picture data in the context of more holistic educational approaches? What has happened to the innovations Esther Wojcicki is trying to introduce? We attended the Gunn community college fair and saw almost no other students there, mostly just parents, yet met several presenters who had stellar educational experiences starting with community college at age 14 - 16. Why not encourage more diverse educational paths, middle college is not the only option. (We really blew it not letting Foothill build at Cubberly. With Prop 51passing, will we get another chance?)

Like this comment
Posted by Why do we fight for diversity?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 16, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Why do we fight for diversity? is a registered user.

@DZ asks why we don't just focus on individual excellence. My kids' teachers at JLS have a saying: "Alone we go faster, together we go farther". That is my experience as well. If we want to focus on the short-term with a fairly narrow focus, then it's reasonable to double down on individual excellence. But if we want to build a strong future on many dimensions, with a promise of excellence in perpetuity, it's better to focus on excellence that incorporates diversity.

Consider crops as an example. If you pick your best-performing potato, you will do well in the short run. But a single disease can wipe out most of your crop. This is what happened in the Irish Potato Famine. If instead you aim for more types of potatoes, all of which do well in a variety of conditions, then your future potential is much stronger, though it may seem more costly in the short term.

Like this comment
Posted by DZ
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Nov 16, 2016 at 8:40 pm

Thank you Mr/Ms Why...
You made me feel back to the 1980's...

5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 16, 2016 at 10:35 pm

Know what helps? Routine. Consistency. Four schedules in four years?! Come on, Gunn?!!! You used to be better than that!!!!!

2 people like this
Posted by What? Another schedule??
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 16, 2016 at 10:51 pm


What is the new schedule? Do you have a link? Didn't they just change it last year?

5 people like this
Posted by WTF
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2016 at 11:08 pm

@Note to PAUSD: Asians are NOT students of color. Asians are not considered minorities even though in the general national population, they are. Asians DO NOT qualify for any Affirmative Action in college, workplace, anywhere.

Our district is already college prep. AP students are competing with the top students, including those who end up attending Ivy League and elite colleges. AP classes require much more work and focus than regular lane classes. There are some AP classes where the majority of students have tutors due to the rigor. Tutors cost $40-$90/hour.

And why does it matter if minorities are underrepresented? They are allowed to sign up for AP classes also if they choose. What is the big deal?

1 person likes this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2016 at 4:54 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

I went for AP classes because I was not big or strong or competitive enough to go out for sports. I was a nerd, a geek, and played in the band. The general classes were geared to average to below-average students (the jocks and the home economics crowd, not defined by race or ethnicity) who were NOT college bound. They didn't like to expand their minds past the sports strategies, cooking recipes, typing, etc. Not that they were dumb! They were quite skilled at socialization, dating, persuading others to do it their way, getting out of homework, etc. - somewhat to my envy. They just were not interested in science, technology, engineering and math, and so disrupted those classes (though the guys did love auto shop). Thank goodness for some classes where I could learn things beyond the pablum dished out as "education"! Please keep AP and other advanced classes (I'm thinking music, art, writing and others, too - not just science) for those who want to go beyond! Please do NOT encourage those not interested to enroll; they will just hold others back. It's not a matter of race or ethnicity, rather of personality and parental support.

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

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