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Opinion: Academic pressure can shortchange student engagement, passion

Discussion over proposal to report weighted GPAs gives little attention to the few struggling pupils

We need to listen better.

Year after year, our community has repeated this lesson while grappling with incidents of desperate and tragic loss. Yet louder voices prevail, displacing all others in shaping conversation and culture in Palo Alto.

A proposed policy requiring high schools to report weighted grade point average (GPA) — whereby grades in honors and advanced placement (AP) classes are given an additional "point" on a student's transcript — has been touted by proponents as a way to reward students for taking academic risks. The most ardent supporters of this policy are those who speak for the already engaged and passionate students who will undoubtedly benefit from it. As a result, little attention has been paid to protecting the interests of the silent few still struggling to find that same motivation — many of whom likely represent the 61 percent of students who did not respond to the Palo Alto Unified School District survey on the issue.

The school board, however, has an undeniable duty to the underrepresented, bound by its credo to advance the "needs of all district students." (Emphasis added.) Superintendent Max McGee's belief, that reporting weighted GPA will be detrimental to some students, thus places weighted GPA directly at odds with the board's own goals. It is obvious that the board should not further a policy that admittedly fails to advance the needs of all students to whom it owes a responsibility.

Yet the board serves at the pleasure of the community, whose most vocal speakers, ever-present at biweekly meetings, seem to echo the proven mantra of the successful: "Decisions are made by those who show up."

But what about those who cannot?

What of the students fearful of being outed as "underachievers" in a town built on genius — students who are better-suited to learn through extracurriculars and whose grades do not accurately reflect their potential for success? What of the newcomers displaced from afar in search of the best education for their children, still hesitant to voice dissent? What of the busy parents with too little time to devote to late-night board meetings?

What of the 17-year-old me, who would have enthusiastically supported weighted GPA — to his detriment — because he wanted to be just as smart and capable as his peers? The 17-year-old me, to whom AP and honors classes were not "academic risks" but simply what I was "supposed" to do. That experience was not unique; it is a common story, untold except in the memories of countless students who have been pressured into conformity by a culture of academic exceptionalism.

I remember the pressure for achievement that assailed us from the moment we stepped into high school, painting a grim picture of a life where one's potential for success was judged by a precise combination of grades, test scores and strategically chosen activities. While my friends had seemed to race with ease through these scholastic pursuits, I had stumbled along behind them, uninspired and directionless.

Instead, I devoted countless nights to ungraded projects for video production or gourmet cooking; dedicated evenings and weekends to my water polo and swim teams; and spent free periods at school hanging out with friends. But even as my test scores languished, I actively developed the qualities that would later propel me to success in law school and beyond.

My parents, despite an upbringing that emphasized academic rigor, endlessly encouraged me to pursue my passions. Through weekends spent directing movies, and nights spent experimenting in the kitchen, I learned to approach challenges with curiosity and wonder. Hours spent socializing with my peers fostered an ability to relate to all different people of diverse backgrounds. And in undying support of my teammates, I discovered that it was not grades or scores, but heart and voice, that enable success.

But the culture of academic competition at Gunn had never suggested that these qualities would help me excel in the "real" world, so while my friends marched bravely forth wielding 4.0s and 2300s, I slunk along in their shadows, shamefully clutching a 2.6 and hoping that nobody would notice.

Countless stories like mine, left untold, beg the question: How can we focus on shattering the ceiling for students who already possess the tools for success, before building a floor for those still struggling to find them? Those are the students, most often silent in these critical conversations, whose embers we must stoke through an emphasis on engagement and passion, not extinguish through ever-increasing academic peer pressure.

In evaluating the arguments surrounding this issue, at board meetings, among neighbors, or around the dinner table, I implore you not to mistake tacit acceptance with agreement. After all, those who feel their dissent is unwelcome are likely not to openly dissent. And there is no question that Palo Alto's academic culture is intimidating to those who would dare disagree with its results.

If you are resolute in your support of reporting weighted GPA, I will not urge you to reconsider. Instead, I simply ask you to remember that there is no single linear path to success, nor should we accept such a narrowly defined one. Search for the untold stories among your friends, family, teachers and neighbors. And as you strain your ears to hear them, ask yourself whether a quiet voice is less deserving of support than a loud one.

Perhaps this year it falls on me to offer the perennial reminder: We need to listen better.

Editor's note: The Board of Education will vote on weighted GPAs on Tuesday, May 9, at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. View the agenda here.

Shounak Dharap is a class action and personal injury attorney who graduated from Gunn High School in 2008 and currently resides in Palo Alto. He can be reached at shounak.dharap@gmail.com.

Related content:

Guest Opinions: Arguments for and against weighted GPAs

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Comments

45 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 5, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Dear Shounak:

What is the culture of Palo Alto? few words and thoughts crossing my mind: diversity, inclusiveness, opportunities of pursuing individual passion that could be in your cooking, performing art, painting, music, sports and academics. In fact, the WGPA argument is NOT centered around academic arm race nor has anything to do with the tragic events occurred locally (please read CDC report), rather for all students to gain an equal opportunity to college and scholarship admission whether they are pursuing scholastic path or just like you to develop your skill sets through spending the weekends learning cooking in the kitchen and directing movies or many others spending day and night practicing on the basketball court and football field hoping to join D1 college teams or sitting hours before the sketch board painting a picture dreamed to becoming an artist. I do not comprehend your logic of self-proclaiming yourself as "underachiever", many would envious of your ability of producing a great movie or cooked a lavish meal. Have you ever thought the feelings of the students who do not play sports well, who could not paint or cook, but academic is only their strength while been labeled as "nerd"?

The statistics data shown GPA is a key critical factor to college admission and granting a scholarship. Do you know over 40% family of PAUSD students are in rental homes and desperately in need of financial support for a college education? Your voice is heard and respected but at the same time, please do not brush off and limit the opportunity of the ones with different passions than yours. Diversity, inclusiveness and respect of others choice are the culture we need to preserve here in Palo Alto.

Here I am attaching a letter written by a Paly student to PAUSD board for your reference.

Dear Board Members,

My name is xxxx and I'm a junior at Palo Alto High School. It's obvious that at this time, my peers and I are heavily preoccupied with the thought of colleges. The decisions, planning, and stress involved in the process of applying and planning for our future paths in education shape my every day. Despite the preoccupation with our inevitable senior year panic, we still carry on with school as usual ... as if the life-changing decision of college is not immediately around the corner.

We can all agree that these next few months cause heightened tensions between not only students, but their parents and teachers as well. It is indisputable that all members of our community wish only the best for the students, but this time has also brought out clear points of disagreement between individuals with differing opinions.

The issue of weighted GPAs is one these issues that has been discussed for many months. Many of those who opposed a weighted GPA in favor of the status quo claim that it relieves stress and emphasizes learning. But in order to preserve those qualities while maximizing the net benefit for all students, I firmly believe in the traditional method of reporting weighted GPAs on transcripts.

The simple fact of the matter is that most Paly students are like me. I don't get all As in my courses and in fact, I'm not ashamed to admit that I've struggled in a few. My transcript, like all students, is not perfect, but I don't let the challenge of certain classes deter me from taking them. I, too, would like to see more of my peers taking classes that intellectually stimulate them and be rewarded for their courage and determination. But without weighted classes, this undermines the sort of education-based mentality we all need. Honors and AP classes are exactly what they seem to be; They are harder and more demanding than normal classes. By weighting these courses, students are more inclined to take the challenges head-on because of the safety net the extra GPA point creates. Basically, it shows to the student that as long as they try their best, the class can be very rewarding.

Another aspect of college that seems to be commonly overlooked is the financing of our education. Evidently, getting in to a top-tier university already holds many challenges, but for many, paying for the four years is more easily said than done. The wide range in annual household incomes in Palo Alto doesn't change the fact that a college education, while a near necessity, is incredibly expensive. Need-based scholarships alleviate some of these problems but due to many of our income levels, merit scholarships are more attainable. These scholarships evaluate potential candidates primarily on whichever GPAs are reported on their transcripts. This means that regardless of weighted or unweighted, the GPA on the official document officially decides whether or not one qualifies. This clearly puts those with unweighted GPAs at a disadvantage. Due to the weighted GPA decision of this year's seniors, many students saw their GPAs rise, pulling them out of waitlists, allowing them to receive scholarships, and gain acceptance to many colleges. This past year has been an example of why weighted GPAs must be implemented in order to secure a better future for our students.

In conclusion, I believe in reporting weighted GPAs that include all honors and AP classes because it upholds a standard of education that continuously moves us forward. The pressure of securing all A's in order to obtain a perfect GPA is alleviated as well. The mindset of choosing to pursue legitimate learning over obsessing over grades is a mentality we all must work to adopt. A weighted GPA achieves these concerns while also giving financial help to the many of us who deserve it. Therefore, I strongly urge a decision in favor of the traditional weighted GPAs on our transcripts so that we all can surpass the limits of the status quo.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my views, and please vote in favor of reporting transitional Weighted GPA on transcripts.




36 people like this
Posted by PA native
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 5, 2017 at 1:39 pm

"Do you know over 40% family of PAUSD students are in rental homes and desperately in need of financial support for a college education?"

I would not correlate rentals with financial hardship. Just because I own my home doesn't mean I have more disposable income than neighbors who are renting. In many cases, it's the opposite.


64 people like this
Posted by Burned Out Kids
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 5, 2017 at 2:57 pm

The amount of academic pressure that Paly, Gunn and many parents put on their children only causes burnout.

Not only burnout from school, which often surfaces later, in the early college years-/ when burned-out kids drop out for " no apparent reason". Also from LIFE-- many overworked kids have no time for R&R, fun, or even physical activities: homework, AP classes and more homework, tutors and still more homework, language school on weekends and still more homework!

I have heard teens say, while in a state of despair, that the only way they will EVER get any rest is if they die!!!

The only other schools where I have ever heard teens say things like this are Monta Vista High, Saratoga High and Harker Academy ( a high pressure private school)!

Why are we parents and these schools cramming so much work into so few years!?

Perhaps middle school and high school should each last a year longer, spread the learning out, give the kids a chance to enjoy their childhood before the go off to college and career!


22 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 5, 2017 at 4:02 pm

To Burned Out Kids:

I fully understand your message and shared your concerns. But what you have mentioned are nothing to do with whether to report UWGPA or WGPA to colleges. Regardless how GPA to be reported, there are always a group of parents are pushing their kids off the limits and I agreed that need to be corrected and parents need to be educated but through different channels such as SEL program or school district needs to organize more seminars on parenting.

We have also heard numerous comments from Paly and Gunn graduates that the rigor of the curriculum at high school prepared them well to thrive in the college. This WGPA request is an administrative agenda to ensure that ALL our PAUSD students to have the EQUAL opportunity to access college admission and scholarships versus rest of the students nationwide.

Further to your post, unless you have personal experience with Harker, your comments on Harker are just rumors and unjustified. We have seen most of the Harker kids are happy, fulfilled, confident and resilient. So please do not stereotype, its unfair to the school, students and parents.


19 people like this
Posted by Heidi
a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2017 at 4:23 pm

[Post removed.]


22 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2017 at 5:42 pm

The case for weighted GPAs is not some kind of incentive to take harder classes. Grades aren't a reward, they're just an indication of how well you mastered the material. Parents and kids should not look at them otherwise.

The case for weighted GPAs, as articulated in the letter above, is that they have become a de facto standard in US high schools, and colleges expect them. There's statistical evidence that students with only unweighted grades on their transcripts face slight biases in admissions offices vs those with weighted grades; and some concrete examples where it put students at a clear disadvantage for financial support.

A financial problem is significant. On the admissions issue, I never personally worried that such a small bias would change my kids' lives; there are so many good colleges out there that I never feared for their education over such a difference. But not every family feels that way, and it shouldn't be the school system's call. Best to conform to the standard.


12 people like this
Posted by Better Alternatives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2017 at 8:23 am

I want to suggest to people who want the kids to not care about GPAs, APs, and academic competition, that you have a responsibility to also provide opportunities for the kids who choose that to succeed. Telling them that their only alternative is to be in the rat race and just stop caring about it and the negative consequences of quitting the rat race, without providing opportunity outside of the race is stress-inducing, too.

We decided to quit the rat race and have learned a lot about alternatives people are choosing. In some cases, school districts have programs that support this, in most cases, not: Web Link

The first thing I usually hear is that people think unschoolers are naturally self-directed and that their child could never do that. That is a fixed mindset about independence; all that external direction in school acts counter to independence. The independence in learning is also learned and should be viewed with a growth mindset. Transitioning from school to unschool for a high school student requires about a year of just deschooling (look that up). Kids go through almost a withdrawal stage when they aren't controlled by external direction all the time, and need the chance to basically find their own legs again and stand on their own two feet.

The data and my personal experience are that unschooled kids are getting into good colleges and doing well. Unschooling seems like an extreme way to go, but there are gradations. For someone who cannot handle that rat race of school, the alternative doesn't have to be inferiority and settling, but rather, finding a earning path more supportive of the child's learning style, needs, and autonomy. I hope as people wrestle with the GPA issue that they figure out a way to do that for everyone. The alternative to the rat race shouldn't just be second class status in the rat race, it should truly offer alternatives for success.


18 people like this
Posted by compromise
a resident of College Terrace
on May 6, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Why not give each student the option to report his/her WGPA or UWGPA to colleges?


Posted by To Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School

on May 6, 2017 at 1:18 pm


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27 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto is...
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2017 at 3:48 pm

For some time, Palo Alto is home to Tiger Parents.
Do what you like, but they will not cease their planning, plotting to manage their teens' "school careers" here for maximum competitive advantage, particularly tutor prepping in advanced subjects an essay editing, concocting a resume of supposed EC's. Unfortunately, teens compete against their immediate school peers for college/university offers.
What I wish for is for the "top" (according to the USN&WR, a commercial business btw) colleges/universities to see through the prepped applicants. There are tons of artificial paper records and heavily managed, supported kids (many test prep courses, tutors; many tests taken such as taking SAT in middle school befire it counts - for practice, a clever pressuring tactic known by only some parents) and more - many tactics some of us parents don't endorse, whether naive to them or not, some of us cannot afford (excessive # of apps, special college counseling/paid management of the process). In the end, it's become an artificial process, and often an ugly one of one-upmanship. I am more impressed by natural self- directed thoughtful teens who don't use stunts to "beat" their peers and crow about it (# of Ivies offering you admission perhaps can be confined to your close contacts rather than trumpeted around very publicly). But then, this would require good taste, polite behaviour, what used to be common behavior but not now in the Age of Narcissism.


20 people like this
Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 6, 2017 at 5:00 pm

"Palo Alto is...":
AMEN!!! Thank you very much for saying what desperately needs to be said: that too many parents and schools -- and even other students -- put far, far too much pressure on students in this area. And the wealthier the student is, the more pressure he or she is put under.

And it is heartbreaking to see every schoolchild going home forced to wear or drag a huge backpack full of books and school supplies.

I call both of these things child abuse, and tney have to STOP -- NOW!


18 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 6, 2017 at 5:18 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Shounak - You are arguing against the wrong thing. Go make the case against AP classes if they are the problem. "Hiding" weighted GPAs does nothing to address the issues that concern you. You seem to have legitimate concerns for struggling students, but I think if you gave it more than a few minutes thought you'd realize that masking the scores to hide the gap is the worst kind of band-aid on the problem.


14 people like this
Posted by Choose not to
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 6, 2017 at 5:39 pm

This fixation on academic pressure, and his submission to it, seems so snowflaky.


43 people like this
Posted by Former Student
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2017 at 6:13 pm

I find it a little ironic that these posts are coming from exactly the people the author is saying “show up” and the people whose voices are already heard. I don’t see anyone actually saying, let’s listen to the students.

I am a Gunn alumnus who did very well in high school, I got 1 B while I was there, yet, I remember feeling “not smart” feeling like I had to qualify my weighted GPA to people with, “but that’s weighted."

I got into great colleges, and after 2 months I dropped out and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, I wanted to die. Turns out I wasn’t as prepared for college as I thought. I didn’t know how to balance school with wellness.

I’m grateful to the author for adding to the conversation of academic pressure in the bay area and sharing his point of view advocating we work to change something and not just fall into our comfort of the status quo. It literally brings tears to my eyes to see our community paralyzed by the fear of our kids not being successful, instead of galvanized by the fear that these pressures will persist for students.


18 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent 8
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 6, 2017 at 7:08 pm

Thank you for saying what needed to be said, Shounak. What we're dealing with is a deeply-rooted systemic perpetuation of the academic pressures that rob our children of their worth, their time, and their humanity. The problem runs much deeper than the WGPA debate; however, this conversation is representative of the choice we as a community must make: will we begin to disassemble a construct which has caused more damage than it has academic success, or will we continue to allow our children to be convinced that their personal value is ranked on a 4-point scale? In voting against the reporting of WGPAs, we have the opportunity to take a stand for our children's current and future health, happiness, and quality of life by validating that they may succeed in whichever way they please.


40 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on May 7, 2017 at 5:53 am

"After all, those who feel their dissent is unwelcome are likely not to openly dissent."

That's exactly right. I was included onto a pro WGPA e-mail group. When I wrote in a post about
an alternate view, I was so violently shot down, as to be silenced. The time this group put into this singular view
of WGPA was impossible to compete with. Parents compiled statistics, skewed as they were, and produced
glossy brochures with all kinds of "facts". When any person dissented from this view, they were aggressively
shot down, to the point where most of us with opposing views decided to disengage.

Thank you so much for your well written piece. Palo Alto need an articulate voice like yours. I believe that the
vocal minority have silenced many of us, that disagree with their WGPA argument.


12 people like this
Posted by Better Alternatives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2017 at 8:52 am

"?Parents and students: Simply accept that you don't need to be top performers; that it is just fine to be truck drivers and plumbers and construction workers and artists. You may not get rich, but who cares?"

It's difficult to know whether that is sarcasm or not. But I want to comment that a Google exec told an auidience of parents that artists are making six figure salaries - at least, graphic artists. Plumbers make good money, too, and we all need good ones. There is a career technical college in San Jose that people should look at. They train animators and others for various technical careers. If someone was finding themselves and wanted to actually do something real for awhile, it's a way to do that. (One of the best students I knew at MIT quit for 15 years to be a carpenter.) There are many ways to go about life. Einstein as we all know, was a patent clerk.

What disturbs me is this binary view of high school. Either kids excel at this very specific learning path our district makes available, with tons of overhead that makes doing other things impossible for some kids, or they should gracefully accept that they are failures or choose a less interesting or challenging learning path in order to get by or have a life. These should not be the only options. Our district vision is to help each student reach their creative potential. (First thing would be to make some path available where creativity is supported rather than crushed or at best tolerated, but that's another discussion.) What if your kid is very mathy but not very organized? Bored while crushed by the excessive homework loads? This is especially a problem for boys and probably why boys are disproportionately represented among local high school homeschoolers. Why isn't there a path that allows such a kid to both be a successful learner in school and challenge him/herself?

Small example. Locally, we have some excellent youth symphoniesp that kids drive from far off places to be a part of. In order to get A-G credit, kids may feel they have to be in school orchestra, with homework, tests, and extra performances, too. The symphony gets viewed as optional, extracurricular, even if it is a better educational match for that child. If the child gets stressed from all this work, the only option should not have to be quitting the youth orchestra they may be doing better with and which is just about musical excellence (not grades), and maybe quitting the school orchestra, too. If the school had a way to give kids credit for the outside activity the way they do PE credit for outside sports (I think), then the student could choose the learning path for that activity that best meets their needs, without any unnecessary overhead. (Some of the local orchestras can give CC arts credit so clearly they already meet a certain standard). I hesitate to bring up that example because people jump to wrong conclusions -- all of the youth orchestras support the school orchestras strongly, this is not about reducing support for schools, but increasing opportunity for some students who need it. If some students excel doing both, and there are such students, too they should have that option. But students who don't want so much intensity because it means, for example, that they don't have time for other pursuits or to learn the music in the best way for their learning style, they should have options to succeed, to pursue musical excellence in their own way, too. Allowing them to get credit for a learning experience that best met their learning style and needs would both take off pressure and allow them a challenge/to succeed.

What can we do to create a path that would better support students who need a wider and deeper educational experience but can't because the current system only allows it if they are willing to "double school" and do badly at school by stepping away? We had that documentary at Gunn a few years ago, and then nothing. Why can't we have design sessions with parents and teachers to figure out how to create this without the admin or teachers feeling threatened, without costing money, and without compromising standards? The choice shouldn't have to be school or homeschool, school rat race or washing out, etc. it doesn't have to be. My heart aches for @Former student who burned out in high school here when life should have just been opening up. There should be many oaths for different students - THAT would allow all to succeed without the direct comparisons.

I know someone whose kid was 2nd in the school (not here, but good similar school), took tons of APs, very studious, diid not get into any top colleges. At the same time, I know kids who "unschooled" followed their passions, had no APs, and did. They would have been miserable underperformers in the limited way we allow for education here. Can't we take at least some steps toward our own vision?


9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2017 at 10:51 am

College is vastly overrated now, and high schools serve the colleges and not the students. Kids in Gunn High School are treated like cattle. I know, because I went there. The old generation is disrespecting and sabotaging the younger generation.

The internet has radically changed how we learn. The school system is to education as television prime time news and printed newspapers are to journalism -- totally outdated.

What we need is more freedom for the students. High school should be about about gaining vocational skills. The material needs to be relevant to the students and immediately applicable to their real-life endeavors.
Getting a grade and scoring well on a scantron multiple-choice test should NOT be the goal. "Getting into" a fancy, expensive college should NOT be the goal. This is a complete scam that far too many Gunn students fall for.
I think teenagers ought to work in restaurants, auto shops, theaters, etc. to learn how to become efficient workers. They shouldn't rush off to college as if it guarantees a high income to get a leg up on the rest of society.
Public high schools LIE to our youth and this is unacceptable. They should serve the student instead of serving the institution.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2017 at 1:07 pm

> Do you know over 40% family of PAUSD students are in rental
> homes and desperately in need of financial support for a college education?

It's common knowledge that almost 50% of Palo Alto's housing stock is rental. So, having 40% of students living in rental housing is predictable. What is the problem here? Is rental housing supposed to have an impact on student performance?

As to the claim that every family living in rental housing not having the resources to send their graduating kids to college would seem to be based on data not in evidence. Can anyone provide a link to PAUSD data that validates this claim? Given that there are almost 4,000 colleges/unis in the US, it's hard to believe that every one of the PAUSD families living in rental housing is incapable of finding a college that meets their financial resources, or that their children are not capable of obtaining student loans.


2 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2017 at 10:12 pm

I think PAUSD should stick to non-weighted GPA. Tell those school-latching renters and those who want weighted GPA just go somewhere else, such as Cupertino.

It will reduce the traffic problem, make the houses more affordable, and make the city a more relaxed and normal place to live, for normal families. High achiever wannabes, please find another battlefield to conduct your mostly meaningless fights.

It'd be great if the average SAT scores of PAUSD high schools drop 10-15%. Great deterrence for housing speculations.


9 people like this
Posted by xPA
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2017 at 7:00 am

"It's common knowledge that almost 50% of Palo Alto's housing stock is rental. So, having 40% of students living in rental housing is predictable. What is the problem here? Is rental housing supposed to have an impact on student performance?"

The problem is that home owners paying property taxes on assessed value that is close to the market value of the home are subsidizing landlords who dump an ever increasing burden on the school system and pay little while reaping the rewards of higher rents based on a school system that is perceived to be excellent.


18 people like this
Posted by the what and why
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 8, 2017 at 7:03 am

PAO posters,

This isn't something new. Paly and Gunn have been calculating students' weighted GPAs for years along with 74% of US high schools. Both high schools give students their weighted GPAs when they meet with their college counselor. Paly sends the weighted GPA to colleges in letters upon request. Gunn sends it to colleges on the application automatically. Neither high school puts it on students' transcripts.

Last fall, Paly and Gunn learned that not putting the weighted GPA on transcripts can hurt students whose unweighted GPAs are below, but weighted GPAs are above, non-CA public colleges' scholarship GPA cut offs. (The UCs and CSUs automatically weight all applicants' GPAs. Almost every PAUSD senior who goes on to college applies to at least one UC or CSU.)

What the board is about to vote on is whether to continue calculating weighted GPAs and, if yes, the best way to calculate and send it.

The GPA is important for families that are stretched financially or just prefer lower tuition bills. Some colleges are extremely generous with their merit scholarships. Oregon, for example, has a $36,000 scholarship which it awards based on test scores and the GPA on the transcript. It doesn't recalculate it and it doesn't look elsewhere for it.

Dr. McGee spent the last 6 months doing research, finding best practices, and polling students, admins, teachers, and parents in person and online. He was thorough and presented what he found in his March 28th report.

After 7 community forums, 2 call-in webinars, 2,500+ submitted surveys, numerous teacher, parent and student petitions and letters, and public comments at 5 or so board meetings, he decided that weighted GPAs make a difference to our community:

Of the 2,500+ who responded to the survey, these wanted weighted GPAs:

77% of students

84% of parents

Staff was split:
80% of Gunn staff
37% of Paly staff (23 Paly staff members want weighted GPAs and 40 don't)
Web Link

The guest opinion writer's statement that the majority were too intimidated to answer Dr. McGee's very short online survey is conjecture. His conclusion that had they done so they would have opposed weighted GPAs is conjecture too. They may oppose it as he claims or support it or not care one way or the other about it.


5 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2017 at 9:23 am

People who are stretched financially and count on weighted GPA for scholarship should go elsewhere, such as Cupertino.

Why did you spend $5k or more per month for four years to rent here, and then worry about GPA calculation and scholarships? If you save $1000/m for four years by living elsewhere it'd be much more than the Oregon scholarship. Oregon is not that hard to get in for out-of-state students. PAUSD has no special link to Oregon. What's the point for sticking with PAUSD, and the fault PAUSD for your bad judgement?

40% of students living in rentals is not healthy for the community at all. Overseas investors have bought so many houses here to rent them to suckers for PAUSD. These families have been taken advantage of by the myth of Palo Alto. The end results are usually very disappointing. But there are many suckers that move in every year.

PAUSD should stick to unweighted. But it would be fairer if PAUSD also advertises its policies, in bold, flashing, red letters, on its web page, so that anyone who considers to move to Palo Alto are well informed before they make the move.



4 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2017 at 9:35 am

> The problem is that home owners paying property taxes on assessed value that is
> close to the market value of the home are subsidizing landlords who dump an ever
> increasing burden on the school system and pay little while reaping the rewards
> of higher rents based on a school system that is perceived to be excellent.

This may be true at some level, but as homes are sold (about 550 are sold annually), then these homes are reassessed at market rates. It would take a little work to obtain the number of homes assessed that are assessed at what rates to see exactly what is going on, but this could be done. Don't forget that all of the new commercial real estate that has so much of the community up in arms is contributing millions of dollars to the school district, without contributing any new children.

There are also the VTP students from East Palo Alto who attend the PAUSD without any property tax money from EPA funding their education. There are a couple hundred staff children attending school in Palo Alto, also without any funding from their home districts.

However, the point of the comment seemed to be that children living in rental housing were under some sort of disadvantage because of their housing being rental. This comment is being challenged. The response above does address this point.


23 people like this
Posted by Burned Out Kids
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 8, 2017 at 12:16 pm

@Gunn Parent: Actually, my nephew went to Harker for his freshman year and half of his sophomore year.

This is a very high stress school, with loads of tiger parents. They had PE, but other than lunch had no breaks.

There WERE suicides there, according to my sister-- and they were some of the highest achievers, ironically. There were also a couple of very full-blown "nervous breakdowns", witnessed by all during lunch, in which ambulances had to be called.

Also, at this time, Caucasian kids are a minority, and my nephew, in spite of his good grades, had to withstand a lot of verbal and physical bullying.

My sister and her husband eventually pulled their son out of Harker, gave him some time off, and applied to Bellarmine. He was accepted the following autumn and will graduate next month.


22 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 8, 2017 at 12:45 pm

For those wanting a more forgiving, joyful high-school experience for our kids--and one that will in no way compromise their college prospects--the local community initiative Save the 2,008 is offering six simple proposals.

These proposals aren't a wrecking-ball to our beloved schools, just a toolkit for alleviating what Mr. Dharap describes as "the pressure for achievement that assailed us from the moment we stepped into high school, painting a grim picture..."

In my 15 years as a Gunn teacher, I found that the chief stressors creating that pressure were:

1) routinely overcrowded classrooms, distancing students from the support of their teachers;

2) poor school-home communication around desirable homework and AP loads (creating sleep-deprived youngsters);

3) relentless grade-reporting (300% more, ever since a key school-board vote in 2013);

4) rampant, disorienting, unnerving academic fraud, supported by many parents and countenanced by administrators;

5) students' poignant use of social media all day, even during class time, to obtain the emotional support needed just to endure the daily pressures.

All of these add up to a daily grind that, week after week, semester after semester, over the course of four long years, wears our kids down--sometimes to the point of deep discouragement and even depression.

To join the 560 supporters of Save the 2,008--parents, teachers, doctors. LMFT's, authors, engineers, faith leaders, professors, entrepreneurs--takes only the keystrokes of your name at: savethe2008.com.

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Chairman, Save the 2,008




25 people like this
Posted by Burned Out Kids
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 8, 2017 at 2:53 pm

BTW, m2grs, the Cupertino Union School District is even MORE high-pressure than PAUSD, even at the middle school level. Kennedy Middle School and Monta Vista High are at tha top of the stressful apex, by way of far more tiger parents.

We have former neighbors still living off of Bubb Rd, who tell us that there have been four suicide attempts by Kennedy students in the past two years, as well as countless attempts by Monta Vista students, mostly by drug overdose, two that were successfull.

The only reason we don't read about the suicides at other high schools is because they were not committed in PUBLIC for people to witness and reporters to report!!


3 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2017 at 3:43 pm

@Burned Out Kids, that's one of my points. Go to Cupertino if you want an extremely stimulating academic environment. You will save lots of rent money, and probably get your Oregon scholarship too.

PAUSD should tell those stretched families who rent shacks in order to attend Gunn/Paly: "You were misled by real estate agents. You guys are suckers. It's not going to be good for your kids. Go somewhere else so you have a better quality of life and don't need an Oregon scholarship."


7 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2017 at 7:49 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

For a different perspective on gaining admission to a selective college, read this story about a student from a community with a teen suicide problem who chooses Yale over Harvard, Brown, Stanford, Dartmouth, Penn, Columbia, Cornell and Chicago. No, it’s not Palo Alto or Clovis, or any other wealthy suburb with great schools and high educational expectations. It’s Box Elder, on the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana.

"From a small town: now Yale bound" Web Link

Read about Montana’s legislative effort to address suicide state-wide here.

"Anti-suicide bill's passage has personal meaning for sponsor" Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 9, 2017 at 6:25 am

Kerry Underdal: can you explain what this story has anything to do with reporting WGPA?


21 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2017 at 10:33 am

When I was in high school, our school reported the weighted GPA on the transcript. In fact, it included the weighted GPA, the unweighted GPA, ranking with weighted GPA and ranking with unweighted GPA.

As a student from a poor home of migrant farm workers attending school at a large, at-risk high school in a predominantly migrant community, I was looking for any way to improve my chances at receiving a college education. I took any courses that could prepare me for my impending college journey.

We had what others would call "financial obstacles." Our family was poor. I am not speaking of "Silicon Valley poor" either. Not only did we live in a house that we built with our own hands, but we lacked many of the things that many students take for granted. We didn't have a computer, the internet, a set of encyclopedias or other reference books in our home. We didn't even have parents who spoke English (yet who demanded that we earn high marks on English papers).

Whereas some kids were concerned about going to the movies on a Friday night, I was concerned about saving money to buy school supplies or personal hygiene products. When I was concurrently enrolled in courses at a local college, I couldn't afford the textbooks. Instead, I either checked out older versions of the textbook (if available) from the library or read the assigned chapters during lunch using a classmate's book.

Even proximity to school and libraries was difficult. My mother never learned to drive. When we were in school, we only had one car that my dad used to travel to work. Since we lived on the outskirts of town -- more than six miles away and across a busy highway (with no pedestrian ramp) from the high school. We relied on bus service to school, but I often struggled to find rides home from the college and library in the afternoon.

Despite all of this, my father expected us to excel. We always enrolled in the most advantageous courses (e.g., concurrent enrollment, AP, honors, etc.). I always took the classes that would boost my GPA or improve my chances of success in college. While I was taking courses alongside local college students, I usually outperformed them in those courses.

When it came time to graduate and our ranking was calculated, I was disappointed to learn that some of the more difficult courses weren't weighted or were not weighted in the same way as others. For instance, my concurrent enrollment courses were boosted by .5 while AP courses were boosted by 1. This was strange since I felt that the college courses were more difficult and required more effort on my part. Even a few other advanced courses weren't even boosted at all because they weren't listed among courses on the official "weighted" course list.

Consequently, I didn't graduate in the top two. However, I did graduate near the top of my class. I thought that it was an achievement that I was even competing for the top spots alongside the Valedictorian (the daughter of an Asian engineer) and Salutatorian (the son of an Anglo attorney). I felt that it was quite an accomplishment for an immigrant and a migrant farm worker to be ranked so highly in a senior class of over 700 students.

Unfortunately, our high school guidance counselors didn't exactly "guide" us very well, so the college application process was a trial by fire and learn-as-you-go process. I didn't even consider many top schools (because I knew that we couldn't afford the application fees). Yet, my GPA and standardized test scores were able to help me gain acceptance to several great schools that I applied to. My efforts in high school paid off too. I did very well in college and graduate school.

I believe that weighted GPA's are helpful in pinpointing the students who go above and beyond typical high school coursework and curriculum. College admission officers know this and I am certain that such things are part of their consideration in regard to prospective students.

Thankfully, my older siblings and I were able to apply what we learned to my younger siblings. We were able to help point them in the right direction that we lacked. We urged them to think about top tier schools. As such, a sister recently graduated from Stanford and a brother enrolled at Harvard. Other siblings attended other great schools. All of my siblings have attended college and graduated with a bachelor's degree or higher. Seven of us earned post-graduate degrees.

While the greatest catalyst for our academic success came from two parents who were an integral part of our lives (despite being unable to read our books or school work), I believe that the difficult "weighted" coursework helped prepare me for college and life in general. Does such coursework deserve to be "weighted?" Yes, I believe that it does.

College admission counselors are aware of such coursework and how they are distinctly more difficult or time-consuming for high school students. I wonder: Has PAUSD officials consulted Stanford admissions counselors about this? With one of the world's top colleges located across the street from PAUSD offices, I suspect that such consultation would be exceedingly beneficial.


13 people like this
Posted by Thank you
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2017 at 11:28 am

Outstanding opinion piece! Thank you for this thoughtful, articulate and powerful commentary. I couldn't agree more.

I thrived in PaloAlto schools, but my kids' experience has been radically different. For them the toxic high school climate, perpetuated by a community culture of materialism and selfish competition, has created a dark shadow over their young lives. It has indeed diminished their curiosity, creativity, community connections and sense of individual passion. Their participation in the rat race may well open doors for them, but their capacity for personal fulfillment by stepping through is greatly diminished.

My greatest regret as a parent is that I was unable to offer them a healthier alternative.


16 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 9, 2017 at 11:51 am

When I was in school, admittedly a while back, I remember a professor of mine telling the class that "A" students usually make good researchers, while "B" students make up the teaching population and "C" students earn the most money.


8 people like this
Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 9, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Make high school academics age appropriate and everyone will succeed!


17 people like this
Posted by Life Paths
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2017 at 4:48 pm

@Shounak: "there is no single linear path to success"

Correct, there is no singular path to success. Hence, I find it presumptuous and ironic that this opinion piece touts one perspective as being the 'right' one.

A few points about this opinion piece. First, I see a lot of unsubstantiated statements. For example, stating that the 61% who didn't respond to the survey must disagree and have been silenced by the vocal majority is a giant fabricated leap. Where in the world does this assumption come from? As a marketing professional with many years of data analysis expertise, I can confirm that a 40% response rate to any survey is considered a huge success and represents a solid cross section of opinions! Those who did not respond could very well have agreed with the Superintendent's recommendations. (see marketing response hit rates). Second, implying that wGPAs and therefore AP classes cause more stress is simply wrong. Challenge Success out of Stanford Univ. in fact did a recent study that showed exactly the opposite (see materials submitted to the BOE for consideration on this topic of wGPA). It's dangerous to make assumptions about tragic losses and students' level of stress based on the number of APs they take or their academic standing when stress can be completely unrelated (see the recent EPI-aid study conducted for PAUSD by Santa Clara County through the U.S. CDC and the report's reference to precipitating factors). Third, assuming any student has been "pressured into conformity by a culture of academic exceptionalism" simply because they excel in school or their extra curricular activity is ridiculous. There are students who excel in school because they want to! They are happy, truly enjoy school, and are passionate about the activities they participate in - all while working hard. (I was one of them! And earned full scholarships to multiple D1 schools as a result of receiving credit for my efforts with wGPA and sports accomplishments.). It's important to avoid making blanket unfounded assumptions and do some homework before publishing.


13 people like this
Posted by Goody
a resident of Los Altos
on May 9, 2017 at 5:04 pm

Yes, listen. All students should be honored and their potential should not be stifled.
We all have strengths and challenges......it happens that in our society now analytics and logic and quantitative ability is favored.
Let's consider the students who have challenges with those skills and serve them

But, let's also honor those with a those skills. Let them soar!! Applaud their special skills. Reward their risk taking and their accomplishments. Help them to further their gifts in the most rigorous institutions of higher education.

Our future depends on them......medical advances, quality of life advances for many people, etc.

Don't shortchange them and us.x


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2017 at 5:10 pm

I agree to an extent with "Life Paths". The problem isn't stress caused by AP's or workload. In my experience, it is rather a lack of integrity/direction in the teaching process.

Students should be actively engaged in what they're learning, rather than jumping through hoops and seeing school as a means to an end.

I took AP English at Gunn and dropped out not because the class was "difficult". In a sense, it wasn't difficult enough. The teacher lacked insight into the literature and instead obsessed over college essay formatting to "get into college" like that was our lifelong mission.

The problem isn't the workload itself, but whether the workload is relevant to the student. He should be producing something of value that amounts to more than just a GPA. There is too much importance based on a GPA in the first place so I don't care whether they're weighted or not.


1 person likes this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on May 9, 2017 at 6:13 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Gunn Parent
"can you explain what this story has anything to do with reporting WGPA"

As I read the story of Gabriella Bratt and how she had to be encouraged to believe she could compete with students from schools like Paly and Gunn for out-of-state college admission, it struck me how irrelevant WGPA would be in her setting in contrast to the entire body of her experience to this point.

I found it interesting, too, that there's a common concern about youth suicide in Palo Alto and Box Elder though the specifics are vastly different. How does a community like Palo Alto with plentiful resources to support its youth reduce the risks of self-harm? How does a community like Box Elder, where many young people feel a sense of hopelessness reduce those same risks?


Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on May 9, 2017 at 9:45 pm

@Life Paths,

I think on this subject we have to agree to disagree. I can see that the pro WGPA folks are super passionate
about the subject. There just happens to be different ways of looking at the subject. I am so happy that
someone as articulate as Mr. Dharap, has taken up this subject. It gives me hope as a graduate of Gunn
and now a current Paly parent.


6 people like this
Posted by Michelle
a resident of Professorville
on May 10, 2017 at 12:50 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


7 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto is....
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 10, 2017 at 1:32 pm

@ Michelle
I think I'm on the same page as you.
Heidi appears condescending, cold and pointedly ignoring the facts of the real situation here.
I did not criticize AP courses in my post above, although I have observed parents prodding or requiring kids to take subjects they aren't interested in, for the paper record to compete with peers here in college admissions. The original use of AP was enrichment in a subject a kid liked and chose to take, rather than the current pressuring to rack up brownie points and tackle the work in a dispassionate, disinterested way, merely seeking a top grade and "# of APs taken."
The current school situation:
It has nothing to do with lousy or undeserving students needing to be put in place and resigning themselves to non-academic futures or becoming truck drivers (!)
This dichotomy is false and does not describe what has been going on in our schools for about 15 years.
There is a truly unfortunate situation of many teens being placed in an artificial competitive system now being maximized by Tiger Parents.
It has a LOT to do with powerful, often wealthy, over- involved Tiger Parents who manage their Tiger Cubs' lives like a chess game, seeking every possible competituve advantage to hand these snowflakes. If anything, these "top performers" are often lifetime Tiger Cubs who have not earned their paper record on their own; this is unethical and unfair. Someone who is ranked just "below" and who has made his/her own choices, done his/her own work etc. has integrity and knows inside they are a better person.
Unpleasant attitude towards your fellow community members .
Let's try to have a rising tide that raises all boats, and not be too much of a putdown artist of high achieving students who just don't happen to share your aggressive win at all costs mentality , and who actually attend school to learn.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2017 at 2:23 pm

There is no shame in being a truck driver... you get to explore the country, listen to the radio and it beats sitting in a cubicle all day!
And it actually pays WELL. Really tired of the snowflake-y, hypersensitive way of thinking around here.


7 people like this
Posted by DawnOfMachines
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2017 at 5:11 pm

"Truck driver" might not be the best example here. That occupation will be one of the early victims of AI and self-driving cars.


8 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2017 at 11:19 am

Bleh. Give the kids credit for classes they take. Take the time to file for UC designation for ap and honors classes so kids in pausd can apply to UC's with the school's who took the time to do this for their kids.( Most schools have figured this game out and just designated 8=13 honors classes without all the drama) It does suck though and is polarizing.

I think all the pausd parents and teachers should only be mad the the UC's that have placed kids in CA on a 5.0 scale. They have thrown the UC admissions out like on piece of very good meat for CA taxpayers who deserve to have a spot for their kids. International students are recruited and CA students not in the top 6% based on this 5.0 gpa standard have to pay for private or out of state fees. OR play the game of getting those extra points and getting all A's and losing a childhood or a dream of being anything but a Rubric Robot.

Weighted or not, pausd students all deserve an easier shot at the UC system/specialized programs and scholarships. Why not just make sure the paperwork is done to label classes for the present kids ? The UC's do not care if Pausd kids are overworked or not admitted. They do not care if the label of honors was actually taught as honors-they only care about getting more money and using numbers to exclude Ca students who pay less tuition than international or out of state students. The UC system is out of control. I wish I could get all my taxes back paid to support the UC system! Most other colleges will look at weighted and unweighted and the types of classes and activities a student brings in. I can see that the admin. is really in a horrible spot , but they need to play the game for their current students I guess. I would love to see kids in the top 20 percent in Ca get money back from the UC system to use for the out of state tuition bumps ups they are forced to pay Not sure of anything actually except that the UC system should not get money from state taxes.


3 people like this
Posted by 2 cents
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 12, 2017 at 3:09 pm

The real cause of this problem is not controlled by PAUSD or UC, blaming these two here is useless but only release the frustration of parents.

PAUSD wants to send more students to UC, for sure. So, it needs to meet UC requirement and stay in the admission game including weighted GPA. UC is under pressure to admit certain quota of each race and from each area in CA although UC is not publically admitting it but we all know. Therefore, UC can only admit certain number of students from Gunn or Paly. This generates a rat-race in Gunn or Paly which has many smart students in school. So, UC admission policy is the real cause of the student stress in Gunn and Paly.

Now, for UC part, it has its political agenda for admitting students in certain races, and it needs money to operate UC. As I know, at least 60-70% of UC students are either not paying UC tuition or with reduced tuition. Get it worse, UC budget is cut from CA government. Adding these together, UC needs to look for money somewhere else, which is from out of state students and international students. That turns around hurting CA residents. Does UC have a choice? It tried to increase tuition but it generates student protest…many students do not even know that this tuition increase has nothing to do with them because 60-70% of them only pay reduced or zero tuition which is not covered in this tuition increase….nonetheless, they just like left style protest of everything.

Now, CA budget, it cuts UC funds because CA is short of money. Ironically, CA is one of the highest state tax. Where all these money goes? CA has to meet public workers’ salary and pension. And, CA has to support millions and millions of poor “citizens” and prisons.

That’s enough. For many of you, when you vote for politicians, keep the frustration in this post in mind and think clearly what you want and whom should you vote for. That will decide where your money goes in CA budget….you get what you vote for!!!


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

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