School district announces 'bold' proposals to revamp middle school math | News | Palo Alto Online |

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School district announces 'bold' proposals to revamp middle school math

Plans include possible elimination of grades, accelerating pace of classes

Update: The redesign plan for middle school mathematics was met with enthusiasm and criticism at the Dec. 10 Board of Education meeting. Read our latest story here.

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Moving away from grades, eliminating laning, accelerating the pace of instruction and promoting the expectation that all students, regardless of ethnic or socioeconomic background, can learn math at high levels are among the "bold" changes the Palo Alto school district has proposed for its middle school mathematics program.

The school board will hear a presentation on the math redesign at its meeting on Tuesday night, Dec. 10.

Superintendent Don Austin directed administrators and principals in October to evaluate academic policies and practices at the district's three middle schools in response to Latino and low-income students' declining achievement, particularly in mathematics, on the state's Smarter Balanced exam. Latino and low-income students' performance dropped in both math and English language arts by the end of eighth grade.

The district is hopeful that the proposals will change outcomes for these students, but also those in the "middle" academically.

"Historically, students on the two extremes of the math spectrum have received the bulk of attention, resources, and energy," a staff report reads. "We are confident that the revisions will positively impact the large 'middle' band of students by reducing redundancy of content, and mapping a clear path for the overwhelming majority of students to enter high school prepared for geometry."

Middle school math should focus on building students' foundation for advanced math in high school, the report states. The document emphasizes that sixth grade students will continue to be grouped together in unlaned math classes, except for "demonstrably advanced" students. Laning, or tracking students into different levels of math courses, early in school "limits both high and low performing students, which ultimately leads to lower achievement overall," the report states. "Heterogeneous classes result in a deeper understanding of mathematics for the high achieving students, while simultaneously raising the achievement of struggling students."

Research on laning's detrimental impacts, including the creation of "separate and unequal educational experiences for students," drove staff's thinking on the math redesign, the report notes.

The district plans to redesign sixth through eighth grade math classes to move at a faster pace, covering four years of standards in three years. As proposed, sixth graders would start with foundational math and progress to algebra by eighth grade. (The plan does propose that advanced students who pass a test can choose to accelerate one time during middle school.)

All middle schoolers would then be able to enroll in basic, advanced or honors geometry their freshman year of high school.

The middle schools will also move away from — and possibly eliminate altogether — grades in math.

"How teachers assess and evaluate students in the classroom impacts a student's mindset and agency," the report reads. "As such, grades can inhibit performance and shut down the complex thinking expected."

The plan advocates instead for using standards-based grading and "quality" feedback from teachers to assess students.

Starting this year, teachers will receive professional development to help them rethink lesson planning, assessments and other instructional practices.

The three middle schools will likely change their bell schedules, potentially as early as the 2021-21 academic year, to comply with new state legislation requiring that all middle schools start the day no earlier than 8 a.m. and high schools, 8:30 a.m. The group of administrators who prepared the math proposals have requested a "non-negotiable" daily advisory period be built into any new bell schedule.

The district plans to focus first on changes to sixth grade math in the 2020-21 school year, and then in the seventh and eighth grades in the following two years. The high schools will then have several years to prepare for any revisions or new courses.

Evaluation will start this year, during the planning phase, and stretch into subsequent years. The district will assess teachers putting new practices into place as well as student measures.

The district has not yet determined the price tag of the proposed changes, but costs will come from professional development, curriculum writing, coaching, assessment tools and membership with the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative, an effort to improve math instruction and student learning.

In other business Tuesday, the board will vote on a new president and vice president; take action on the district's first interim budget report; discuss a proposed expansion of the Middle College program; and hear reports on special education and on Title IX issues from Palo Alto High School students, among other items. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the agenda here.

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Comments

40 people like this
Posted by See Sth Say Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2019 at 10:58 am

PAUSD is hiring the foremost math reformists to "reimagine middle school math." Folks, please use your imaginations about the outcome.
Please read "What Does Stanford Have to Do With the Dismal PISA Results?" Web Link and a collection about the reformist's bold ideas Web Link.
I am crying for you, America.


38 people like this
Posted by See Sth Say Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2019 at 11:23 am

Palo Alto and Stanford communities: please do some research on how US K-12 math has been tragically misguided. The math-science-death-march catastrophe on our youths caused by Stanford Graduate School of Education faculty can overwhelm the stellar contributions by all scholars from all other disciplines. The disadvantaged kids will be hit the hardest. Visual math, finger math, number talk, formative assessments... these are modern versions of "New Math" cloaked in "brain science" or "growth mindsets." The promised "deeper thinking" or "conceptual understanding" by these reformists have been sending generations of American students onto the math-science death march!

Some background information:
1. Getting rid of Algebra 2: Web Link Web Link
2. Some opinions:
Web Link; Web Link; Web Link


19 people like this
Posted by See Sth Say Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2019 at 11:30 am

The Road Taken by Johnny Who Can't Calculate

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry Johnny could not travel both
And be one curious kid, long Johnny stood
And looked down both as far as he could

One guided by mathematicians, who urge
Rigor, focus, and coherence.
Additions, subtractions, multiplication tables, and long divisions;
Ratios, rates, percentages, and proportions.
Paper-and-pencil algorithms,
Steadily sharpen your thoughts.
Practices dispel anxiety, and practices grow knacks;
Fears will disappear; confidence will grow.
Knowledge is power, and you earn it with sweat.

The other favored by educational experts, who chant
A child-friendly wonderland:
Story-telling, finger plays, and diagram visuals,
Geometric slides, turns, and flips.
Let calculators do the chores,
And sweetie you are for creativity.
Practices cause anxiety, practices make you nerd.
Multiplication tables numb your brains,
Multiple ways for five times ten are the magic.
Spiraling through the K-12 woods, and you gain
Critical thinking, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and Johnny—
Johnny took the one guided by educational experts,
And that has made all the difference.


15 people like this
Posted by See Sth Say Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2019 at 11:41 am

The Stanford math reformist's “Vive la révolution” viewpoints on K-12 math:

Research has recently shown something stunning—when students make a mistake in math, their brain grows, synapses fire, and connections are made; when they do the work correctly, there is no brain growth. This finding suggests that we want students to make mistakes in math class and that students should not view mistakes as learning failures but as learning achievements. Students do not, as many assume, need to revisit a mistake and correct it to experience brain growth, although that is always helpful.

Teachers always know how well kids are doing, so you really don't need to test them. You really easily have teachers write down what kids know and can do. The kids themselves can also self-assess and tell if things are strong or not. They do that with extreme reliability. You can ask kids make a project, if you want, that tells us about what they know and can do. And most tests used do not assess what's important anymore. They might assess whether you are computationally fast — but that's the one thing computers do and we don't need humans for.

It’s bad enough when students receive grades at the end of each unit or course that tell them how capable they are.

On a visit to England at the beginning of term, she said that in an ideal world she would ban times tables tests.

“When we assign homework to students, we provide barriers to the students who need our support,” She wrote, “This fact, alone, makes homework indefensible to me.”
She suggests that teachers and school leaders who want to promote equity by eradicating homework arm themselves with resources like “The Case Against Homework” by Alfie Kohn and “The One World School House” by Sal Khan, which reinforce these conclusions.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Please visit Web Link for counter opinions from Ze'ev Wurman and others.


24 people like this
Posted by how quickly they forget
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2019 at 11:42 am

Oddly missing is any mention of the $60,000 Hanover Research study PAUSD commissioned to inform it how to de-lane classes.

PAUSD was told that, to avoid students "failing miserably" in de-laned classes, it must do these 3 things -- none are in its proposal:

1. Reduce class sizes to no more than 15 students.

2. Water down the curriculum. (PAUSD plans to accelerate it.)

3. Require students to take 2+ support classes in the subject a week.

Hanover Research, "Common Practices and Challenges Related to Delaning K-12 Curricula" prepared for the Palo Alto Unified School District, February 2016. Web Link page 40+


25 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2019 at 11:49 am

>> Starting this year, teachers will receive professional development to help them rethink lesson planning, assessments and other instructional practices.

Maybe I missed it, but, I didn't see any discussion in the article about the quality of teachers. I'm not talking about their lesson planning, I'm talking about the math achievement level. In 8th grade middle school, "Algebra I" should be the main subject. That implies that the teachers should have had a year of Calculus in college. Similarly, since Calculus in the main subject for 1/2 HS seniors around here, I would expect calculus teachers to have had (names vary) "Advanced Calculus" or "Introduction to Real Analysis". Which is not to say that math level is the only requirement. They also need to be good teachers.

Instead of either math achievement level or teaching ability, what we hear about is the schedule, lesson planning, the curriculum, the textbooks, ad nauseum. That just won't work. You need subject matter experts to teach certain subjects. You wouldn't hire an auto mechanic to teach violin, or, a violinist to teach auto mechanics. But, that is what you are doing when you hire someone who doesn't know mathematics to teach mathematics.


31 people like this
Posted by Say Sth See Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2019 at 12:04 pm

From Ze'ev Wurman, former senior advisor to US Department of Education:

All the dumbing-down agenda — including the latest campaign for removing algebra 2, is not because all the leading educationists are stupid. Many are, but many are not. The only way I can, after all those many years, to explain to myself what is going on is that all those educationists -- I don't even want to call them educrats, as this is to complimentary to them -- don't really care about education, and they don't actually believe in importance of education. The reliance on Rousseau and educational romanticism is, in my opinion, largely fake. What they are really are after is equality -- equality of outcomes.
They see all the data that educated people get higher salaries and are more successful and, like in the Polynesian Cargo Cult (Web Link), they believe that if people of every color of skin will have equal probability to show a diploma, all of them will deserve equal jobs and equal salaries. They don't believe that, or they don't care whether, there is actual talent, ability, or competence hiding behind those diplomas.
That's their Utopia, and on its altar they don't really care to sacrifice talent or merit. Somehow they believe that the world progresses on its own by the armies of mediocrity, so they role is only to try to arrange for as perfect equality as possible.
This may sound bleak, but I see no other explanation to what we see. The awful results hit those educationists in the face for decades, yet they never correct their course. Why, if not because they have different goals from you and me? After all, not all of them are stupid or charlatans.
The American educational system still has pockets of excellence, but they are being extinguished one by one. Consider the current effort to do away with the specialized high schools in NYC. So while pockets of excellence still exist, the average for the overwhelming majority is mediocre. The only saving grace of our education is the ability to have private and charter schools, and some of them are pretty good.
In any case, this is my (dark) current view of our education. Perhaps I am too pessimistic. Time will tell.


32 people like this
Posted by Everyday Math in brand new clothes
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 10, 2019 at 12:11 pm

Beware of Everyday Math dressed up in new clothes.

How can you tell?

First, Google the "expert" PAUSD mentions - Phil Daro. He's a reform/Everyday Math guru. Web Link

Second, the report says "teachers design learning experiences for students that are open-ended and have multiple ways of arriving at a solution." Textbook definition of Everyday Math and one of the main reasons it failed PAUSD K-6 students and was not renewed.

Third, NWEA mid-year assessments are ending because they are "algorithmic based." So the only way your child will know if he/she is proficient with the math concepts the state says he/she needs to learn is if his/her parents hire tutors to do those assessments or the student waits for his/her Smarter Balanced scores to arrive in the mail after the school year ends.


52 people like this
Posted by Resting on pausd laurels
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2019 at 12:13 pm

Math is the last subject that needs de-laning. Reach the research. Students progress in math at very different rates and this is ignored to the detriment of all students. This is an equity issue when you hold back kids. Look at neighboring districts.

For any student interested in STEM, PAUSD middle school falls short in preparing them for high school. Unless they use up their precious childhood in Russian Math or other extra curricular math instruction, they will be a year behind similarly capable peers in neighboring districts and across the country. Hundreds of families know this, ignore PAUSD and go outside for math instruction leaving behind those who are not informed or cannot afford outside instruction. Meanwhile hundreds of students lose interest in math or never develop study skills (growth and grit) because they happen to understand it quickly and are bored. This is no disrespect to students who are not as math-oriented. My kids are very different. The one who readily understood math was very ill-served by the slow pace in younger years, wasted so much time in class, and has only recently been challenged toward the end of high school.

This district is behind the times, resting on past laurels and taking too much credit for results that are due to outside efforts and expense of families. This only masks and further increases the achievement gap.


16 people like this
Posted by Isn't that racist?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2019 at 12:17 pm

It says that grading will be based on "cultural differences."

How is that not racist?


32 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Dec 10, 2019 at 12:55 pm

How bold! Getting rid of math instruction! PAUSD sure takes the cake.

Who needs differentiated instruction --- especially given the dismal PAUSD MS math performance for econ disadvantaged students. Just throw them all together with the kids who are two years ahead. Perfect! And great for the teachers too.

Oh, and PAUSD wants to extend 'blended' learning down into the middle schools too, which means less instruction for all (no instruction once a week) while the teacher still gets paid the same amount!!! I'm sure less instruction will really help 'equal' out all students, especially those who are struggling! Great planning PAUSD!

And we are compelled to give them our tax dollars. And our children are compelled to go to school.

Something must be done about this.


38 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Dec 10, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Calling all PAUSD parents. Don't rely on PAUSD math programs to teach your children anything. Find WASC accredited outside programs to make sure your child is educated as PAUSD has chosen to ditch differentiated instruction and throw all students, regardless of level, together in one room.

There are online programs as well that are WASC accredited and don't cost too much.

Starting a charter school here in Palo Alto might also be a good idea, since PAUSD refuses to make sure our children are educated.


35 people like this
Posted by Jo Boaler & PAUSD again
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2019 at 12:59 pm

This is probably brought to PAUSD by Board President Jennifer DiBrienza and her former Stanford Ed School Prof Jo Boaler, a skilled promoter of very controversial math education theories PAUSD soundly rejected before like this one:

"kids should not be grouped by ability...That common practice sends fixed mindset messages to students, both the 'advanced' ones and the 'low-performing' ones...Instead, mixed ability grouping can work if the tasks are open-ended..." Web Link

Boaler would benefit from knocking on fellow Stanford Prof Carol Dweck's door, THE "mindset" expert who is not enthralled by adults who window-dress the truth and students learn less because of them: "within an incremental theory system, there is no stigma to being behind. It is simply a fact...student C is not as advanced in math as student D at this time....we acknowledge the fact ... and we turn everyone's attention to the task of learning... tell the truth [and do not] camouflage their skill level" from "Self Theories."

What works best for math learning is laning. When students of varying abilities are taught math together as Boaler and PAUSD are proposing "the performance of the middle students is actually adversely affected [and the] lowest group performed worse." Web Link


37 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Dec 10, 2019 at 1:33 pm

No laning in 6th grade math reflects the teacher's union protecting the jobs of existing 6th grade math teachers, who do not have the certification level necessary to teach math beyond 6th grade (which used to be part of elementary school). Students continue to be sacrificed to protect existing PAUSD staff's job security. After all, if a significant cohort, 20%, moved out of 6th grade math and advanced, who would they have to teach, and possibly, how would they keep all their jobs?


37 people like this
Posted by Samuel L
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 10, 2019 at 1:51 pm

Samuel L is a registered user.

"moving away from" grades or basing performance depending on culture is PAUSD's way of raising grades for underperforming minorities to make thier metrics look better. Won't help standardized test performance.

Just tell everyone how smart and pretty they are...


23 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 10, 2019 at 2:12 pm

"No laning in 6th grade math reflects the teacher's union protecting the jobs of existing 6th grade math teachers"

This is incorrect. Since the proposal is to accelerate the 6th grade curriculum for all, the teachers MUST be credentialed. The board item addresses this - Web Link - see the part on Staffing & Credentialing.

What will likely happen is that the teachers will go get math credentials, or be re-assigned to elementary school and replaced by credentialed staff. There also seems to be mandatory professional development and changes in instructional practices. These are usually the opposite of what the teachers' union goes for.


15 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 10, 2019 at 2:17 pm

"Boaler would benefit from knocking on fellow Stanford Prof Carol Dweck's door..."

Since Dweck wrote the forward for Boaler's 2015 book "Mathematical Mindsets," I think that connection has been made... Web Link


21 people like this
Posted by Class action
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2019 at 6:51 pm

This is NOT the plan for competent school district with staff who actually know what they’re doing.

Not much can be said about this plan, at least not anything good.

It’s time to start advertising not to come here for the schools and maybe if the Home value start to decline someone might actually do something right for our kids instead of self-serving propaganda prigrams.


18 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Dec 10, 2019 at 7:30 pm

@Parent- no wonder the teachers union is then trying to demand a 'non negotiable advisory' period as the price for doing anything at all that changes the status quo. Less work for the same pay? Maybe they should just teach these kids some math.


15 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2019 at 9:48 pm

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and perpetual revamps to the math curriculum


25 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2019 at 11:16 pm

Throw everyone in together! Problem solved! Everyone will be advanced now, we promise!

... hold on, wait a second... what's that rotten smell?...


16 people like this
Posted by What if . . .
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2019 at 12:20 am

Why is it that Asian countries produce students who excel in math? Why don't we follow how they teach? That is how we learned back in the 1960s, some rote memory, not the B.S. Everyday Math, trying to make it fun and learn to calculate in a newfangled method that required rote memory anyway. The issue is that K-6 teachers do not enjoy math. Warm/fuzzy people aren't usually math people. Why doesn't PAUSD hire math teachers for K-6? Many of the recent Asian immigrants are having their kids do extra math outside of class time, which is why they are excelling in math here while others students are not. PAUSD doesn't choose good math programs for our elementary school students.


8 people like this
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2019 at 12:28 am

casey is a registered user.

Does the school district know how many students receive additional tutoring for their math, either from parents or outside math enrichment classes?


23 people like this
Posted by See Sth Say Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2019 at 1:53 am

Since five years ago, SFUSD has banned algebra in middle schools, following Boaler's "mixed ability" and detracking theories Web Link. Recently, LAUSD has started using "data science" to replace algebra 2. PAUSD is her next target.
Reform math has left children with poor arithmetic skills, which further obstruct their learning of algebra and higher-level STEM courses.
Boaler does not stop at transforming K-12 math; She is aiming at college math now --she has started teaching reform calculus at Stanford.
Certainly, the critical part of her revolution is to transform math assessment-- replacing timed tests with open-ended group tasks or "formative assessment."
She won't stop until America collapses...


24 people like this
Posted by Yuri
a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2019 at 5:48 am


I encourage all interested parties to remember this: school board members are politicians, and district officials and site administrators are political operatives. Politicians make their bread and butter off crises, real or imagined. Therefore, when there is no crisis, one must be manufactured. That is what you are seeing now with the current math “plight”. It is old hat.

For example, take a look at the data tables from the 2016 $250,000+ Hanover study. For the most part, in each academic category where parents were surveyed, the numbers came out as follows: 70% or so satisfied with PAUSD performance, about 15 to 20% indifferent, and about 10-15% dissatisfied. Any outside observer would say those are impressive numbers, but the aforementioned politicians chose to focus on the “uncaptured market share”, or the 10 to 15%. Don’t get me wrong, these unhappy folks have some legitimate beefs, but that does not change the fact that an overwhelming majority of stakeholders are happy, and system wide changes are not necessary. The unhappy can be dealt with case by case. To the astute politician however, the dissatisfied segment presents an opportunity for grandstanding, and for the operative, an opportunity to roll out the gravy train for cronies in the education support business. Cronies who have jobs waiting when the overhaul proves ineffective and the politician or operative needs to move on.

The current math crisis is very similar. If one looks at the data published by California regarding the CAASPP, overall the numbers indicate a very successful math program that includes strong Latino results.* All Palo Alto 8th graders beat their statewide peers soundly in the “Met or Exceeded Standards” categories, and Latino 8th graders beat the same statewide measure (aggregate of ethnic groups) by 20 points. They also beat their Latino peers statewide by well over 20 percentage points. Again, impressive numbers, so the politicians have to mine a crisis, which in this case, meant focusing on a data point called “distance from standard”, and bemoaning recent small slides that are cyclical. Seriously, if an all star baseball player had a small hitting slump, but was still beating the league average hands down, would you call for a complete revamp of the player’s methods, even though the player was still having an all star season? Only if you are a politician.

The PAUSD math rebuild is political (get out your calculators) and the gravy train will be there to suck up your taxpayer dollars with consultants, guest speakers, researchers, conferences, new curriculum, software, hardware, re-named programs, association memberships, monitors, books, and a host of others that make money off crises. By the time the district actually implements the plan to solve the faux crisis, and assesses its effectiveness (assuming they ever do so), if they find out it is not working as advertised, those who called for all of the change will be long gone. Why? Because they are not dedicated to your community or your children. They are dedicated to the next gravy train.

Bottom line, this is Kabuki theater and your children are near the lower rungs of the priority ladder. Your hard earned dollars hard at work? Well, the Kabuki actors covet your money, and if they are good enough actors, then you will be convinced that your interests are being served. They aren’t.


*A political operative at one of the middle school sites said this when presenting CAASSP data, “The district is not looking at African American test scores because their enrollment numbers are statistically insignificant”. Imagine if the press got wind of that statement.





5 people like this
Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 11, 2019 at 9:21 am


Here is a link to a document demystifying and interpreting the district's proposed plan.

Web Link


16 people like this
Posted by E to the x, dy, dx
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2019 at 9:29 am

Eliminating grades in middle school math is the clearest indication that PAUSD does not value the desires of many Asian families.

At 36% Asian students, why isn't there a single Asian school board member?

Please - someone reading this - run for school board on a platform of supporting the perspective of Asian families and others whose values overlap. There are many families here who care deeply about high academic achievement. Run for school board.


12 people like this
Posted by What if . . .
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2019 at 10:58 am

@E to the x, dy, dx: We had two Chinese School Board members in the early 2000s: Barbara Klausner and Dana Tom, both of whom were unimpressive, [portion removed] who hold Ivy League degrees. [Portion removed.] They voted for Everyday Math, too, a terrible, non-Asian math program. The whole Everyday Math push was political by the former Barron Park principal who bullied the committee and everyone else into adopting the program. In addition, one Asian School Board member representing Asian immigrant values will not be able to sway the entire School Board, it will be unproductive. Plus, the Asian values are a large range of different generations and beliefs, some believing in more rigorous academics to others being more lenient. For instance, the ones supporting Kathy Jordan were the dogmatic ones whom many Asians disagreed with. There are Chinese immigrants who actually value things other than strictly academics and elite colleges. Anyone who would be a good School Board member is not interested in the 4 year term of the position, they are busy in their careers and who wants to waste time, arguing for 4 years?


16 people like this
Posted by tnh27
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2019 at 1:05 pm

@ See Sth Say Sth

Boaler's CME 10A course on "big ideas of calculus" offered to a small group of incoming students in the summer at Stanford will meet the same fate as Boaler's earlier CME 10 course "How to learn math" (it no longer exists, and had dismal enrollment in its 2nd = final offering).

The Math department at Stanford continues to teach single-variable calculus with the same traditional content as always (e.g., see the course schedule and homework on the Math 21 webpage from Fall 2019 via Google search) and bans the use of calculators on exams its calculus courses (see the "Exam overview" section on the main Math 21 page, for example). A summer course that does not provide the traditional skills necessary for success in learning actual calculus is going to fizzle out just like CME 10 did.


36 people like this
Posted by Matthew McClain
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 11, 2019 at 1:21 pm

Most worrisome to me is the intentional elimination of the best math performance metrics our district has, our NWEA MAP results, which afford a "real time" (3x per year) view and would enable us to compare results "apples to apples" with past performance on the same metric. Accountability and transparency are needed now more than ever.

District staff struggled mightily to answer questions from board on assessment. We need to ask our board to hold staff accountable. No assessment is perfect, but data can make fools of our ideologies, my own included.

I strongly support higher expectations for PAUSD in serving ALL kids toward increased math excellence. Being that it seems this is happening, we should advocate strongly for two common-sense emendations:

(1) Insist on an NWEA MAP assessment plan with public reporting on cohort level data, for quick visibility and reaction (or celebration) if warranted.

(2) Ensure that the proposed acceleration routes are determined openly with standards-aligned, non-home-grown mastery criteria. History is not on the side of district admin in being honest brokers here. This is an A+ opportunity to change that and start bringing our community together, not apart, on math excellence.

If we do those two things, this can indeed represent progress toward transparency and a commitment to student success, whosever ideologies are eventually disappointed.


37 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Dec 11, 2019 at 2:04 pm

No grades --- perfect!! Just as kids approach high school, there will be few metrics to know how they are doing.

This will be wonderful news for math tutors in the area --- I'm sure their business will go gangbusters from now on!


26 people like this
Posted by someone
a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2019 at 3:22 pm

Great News for countries like Romania, Hunagary, Russia, China...We need your graduates to do our work, while we do all the lip service.
I am also very happy that I may be finally able to buy a house in Palo Alto with the school standard becoming the worst in the world!


16 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2019 at 4:23 pm

Posted by See Sth Say Sth, a resident of College Terrace

"[it] won't stop until America collapses..."

It is collapsing politically. But, mostly not for this reason. America has long imported mathematical talent, and, there is no reason to think that America won't be able to continue importing mathematical talent as long as there is economic demand. Socialization has long been more important than academics in American schools, and, learning math is an individual endeavor, not a team sport. Something that has bothered people since the days of Alexander the Great.

I do favor better mathematical education in the US, though. Not because I think there will be a shortage of talent, but, because it isn't fair to American students for them to not have a good mathematical education available.


3 people like this
Posted by Yuri
a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2019 at 4:32 pm

Thank you Mr. McClain.


16 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2019 at 4:49 pm

Posted by Independent, a resident of Esther Clark Park

>> No grades --- perfect!! Just as kids approach high school, there will be few metrics to know how they are doing.

Perhaps that is what the "standard" math class should be. No standards, no grades, all teamwork. It could also double as what we used to call "homeroom".


34 people like this
Posted by Here comes more private math programs
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2019 at 2:30 pm

If this proposal is implemented it will lead to even more parents enrolling their kids in private math programs (Khan academy, Russian math, etc.) which will result in more inequality -- a bigger achievement gap between the haves and have-nots. This is the opposite effect of what PAUSD wants.


30 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2019 at 5:21 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

@ "Here come more private math programs"

The last big dumbing down of the Palo Alto math program was around 1995-1996 (2009 was just a blip caused by Everyday Math). This brought about a huge increase in people reaching out for other solutions. Those who had either the resources, cleverness, or luck were able to get their kids some help that the PAUSD would not provide. I was able to hire tutors that bridged the gap for my two younger kids.

I had to eat humble pie on Tuesday. My daughter moved her son (my grandson) to a private school for 6th grade starting this last September. I opposed this move when she made it, but I had to confide that the PAUSD has once again moved to damage the math program, so perhaps she was right in her decision.

Parents tend to know their own children and what is best for them. There is nothing like being able to solve your own problems rather than hoping some bureaucracy will care about their customers.

I hope other parents are able to find some help. It is probably a good idea to see how it goes next fall and to organize against this decision if things don't work out well. I am certainly interested in helping.


24 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2019 at 5:34 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

@casey,

Regarding the district's view of parents who seek out additional help, it is hard to say what they really think.

My guess is that they don't mind at all. The district is not paid much for each additional student because PAUSD is a basic aid district. Since the bulk of their funding comes from property taxes, which are not a function of the number of students, each student who leaves altogether, or gets certain services elsewhere, is not a problem at all. Less work for administrators and teachers but the same pay.


11 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 12, 2019 at 7:02 pm

How will they grade on "cultural differences" what does that even mean?! What if a kid is mixed race, will the elementary teachers be able to deal with the concentration/percentage problem so grades will be based on math and not racism. What is that? Do kids get better grades if they are of different cultures. don't think any "culture" wants to be treated like this.


9 people like this
Posted by Jordan parent
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 12, 2019 at 8:39 pm

When my child was a 6th grader, the math teacher separated the students into kid and adult tables. She whispered to the ones at the adult table and provided them special treatments. If you are not in the adult table, you will not be able to join many science and math clubs.
But, the problem is not lane vs. de-lane. We attended the math night every year. What the chairperson presented was completely different from reality. It is not about what they allow or don't allow. It is about whom you know and how much time you can spend in the principal office fighting. The school runs like a third-world country.
Why would the board care? If they don't even send their children to our middle schools.


6 people like this
Posted by Yuri
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2019 at 5:53 am

By the way, the teacher's union had nothing to do with any of this, and other than safeguarding the the contract, will have absolutely no say in how this grand scheme is implemented.


10 people like this
Posted by Shant
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 13, 2019 at 7:17 am

As a current high schooler honestly laning is a way of weeding out the smarter people so that they can get better education to their level and the lower lanes are for those less motivated, less into school, or just not as smart as those in honors or advanced classes. Even then most people with a brain are in honors or advanced classes and there are very few in the lowest lands


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Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2019 at 9:39 am

I don't see this as delaning. The kids who are ahead will skip 6th grade math. Currently, doesn't everyone take 6th grade math? So this actually means kids will get to lane ahead right in 6th grade rather than in 7th. They are effectively raising the bar for the lower lane starting in 6th.

The administration needs to reword this roll out. Kids are in fact laned and laned sooner for advanced kids.


10 people like this
Posted by Greene parent.
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2019 at 10:44 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


15 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 13, 2019 at 11:28 am

rsmithjr is a registered user.

Greene parent,

Unfortunately, this is just kicking the can down the road. Each level of the educational system passes the kids to the next level, leaving the problems for someone else.

The best thing I ever did was to hire a math tutor for my two youngest kids during their stay at Jordan (when it was called Jordan).


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 13, 2019 at 2:26 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2019 at 5:38 pm

Posted by rsmithjr, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

>> The best thing I ever did was to hire a math tutor for my two youngest kids during their stay at Jordan (when it was called Jordan).

Math in the US seems destined to become a kind of speciality sport which enthusiastic parents engage their interested children in, passed down generation to generation. Like, say, ice skating. Certain mommies and daddies make sure their kids know how to ice skate and have an opportunity to become advanced skaters. Some kids take that opportunity. Since demand for math at least at the Algebra II level won't go away, a lot of folks from foreign countries will be needed for those jobs. And, sadly, I've heard so many times adults say to their kids, "Don't worry about it. Nobody ever uses math at work anyway."

Folks-- don't freak out if someone from, say, Singapore, gets that job, instead of your kid. Everyone who can, should learn math at least through Algebra II.


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Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2019 at 6:35 pm

pearl is a registered user.

I went to elementary school in the 1940's. I have never heard the term "laning"; what does that mean?


9 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 13, 2019 at 6:53 pm

what credentials do the admin have in math? what level did they get to. It should be a more advanced,informed group making such decisions. seriously, what kind of expertise do they have to set up such a large experiment and what parameters are they giviing themselves. Do they have degrees in statistics? Math instruction or will they outsource to a disconnected guru who has studied math but never taught it successfully.


8 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2019 at 10:39 am

rsmithjr is a registered user.

@Anon,

The speculation that math will sort of disappear as a mainstream subject has been around for a while. Hasn't happened.

What I have noticed quite a bit is that people who had no apparent interest in the subject found that they ended up in math-related jobs, since those were available and paid well.

My son took a math BS from Santa Cruz and got a job readily. His best friend hated math and tech, but found himself employed doing it since they were the only jobs he could get. He was initially doing fancy Excel data entry. He started studying, and is now a full-stack developer in NYC.

The risks are that this can take a long time in a young person's life, and that your "math education" ends up a patch quilt of things that you needed to learn without having an exposure to all of the content that you actually need. I have known many people that begin taking college classes or online classes to fill in the gaps.


12 people like this
Posted by Fact Checker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2019 at 5:14 pm

Why is the District changing math again? Who is driving this change? Parents? Teachers? Students? Frankly, it seems like the administration is driving something forward that no one has asked for. Why can't we work on our English program? We change math every few years, but we are not investing more heavily in our writing programs.

This math de-laning is 100% unsupported by research and the reports that PAUSD paid for.

Also, we paid for teacher training in EDM and that got us nowhere (I believe scores declined). We are going to flush more training down the toilet.

If we have to re-work math, then let's start in Elementary and rework the entire system. Let's have kids spend 1/3 the day with reading/writing specialists, 1/3 the day with math specialists and 1/3 the day with more generalists for art, music, science, etc. Then, after we get that working, let's take on middle school.


5 people like this
Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 14, 2019 at 9:56 pm

Board member Melissa Baten-Caswell at the December 10 board meeting presented questions to CAO Sharon Ofek regarding the concerning issues with the current plan. See

Web Link


-- We need measures to support intervention, planning, placement (and inform families on where kids are and how they are growing). It is concerning that the best assessment tool we had, NWEA MAP, got terminated just as we are heading into an experiment.

-- Consequences of the elimination of "grade level" to struggling students: Currently we have about 30% of our students at grade level (Los Altos has 15%). About half of these students at PAUSD are positioned to do well in a pathway to 8th grade Algebra (which will be the only option going forward). What is happening is that they are derailed due to broken recommendations and mindset but standards-aligned assessment would put them in an Algebra pathway. BUT the other half of the students currently at "grade level" path includes students that enter 6th grade already 1-2+ years BELOW minimum grade level standards. These students will now be expected to do 6 years of math in the three years of middle schools (after doing 3 years of math in the 5 years of elementary school)!! This is not very reasonable. Moreover, these students struggle currently in a watered-down 9th grade Algebra course. That course got de-laned three years ago (following the same de-laning agenda) but these students did not do better and other students feel cheated out of learning. But somehow the district *believes* (with all evidence pointing otherwise) that these students would do better in the single lane to 8th grade Algebra??


-- Students at PAUSD must learn on their own 1.5 years of math (and navigate an unusual placement process) in order to get to Algebra2Trig at 9th grade (and Geometry in 8th grade). Board member Baten-Caswell talks about her conversation with MVLA staff (where 30% of their 9th graders, that come from LASD and Mountain-View Whisman, are well prepped for 9th grade Algebra2Trig.


3 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on Dec 15, 2019 at 10:48 am

I thought Obama solved all these issues with Common Core?


5 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 15, 2019 at 11:53 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@pearl - Lanes are the new politically correct way of saying tracking. Cars change lanes, so it is more flexible than a train on a track which can't to switch (except they do, all the time). It is more sad coddling of an over coddled to death group of kids.


4 people like this
Posted by anonymous2
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 15, 2019 at 8:40 pm

Laning works but can not work because teachers are biased against certain kids, girls and ethinicities. Also if a parent asks them a question, your child will be delaned. The HS has SOOO many different textbooks and not one matches up with the other and many overlap which wastes time. Lanes are a mess and there is not direct path and rules are subjective with no power given to parents or students.

So... go to any other math school. Take Alg 2 at any other wasc accredited online or CC and get the heck out of the mess. Actually, do not ever to into the mess. Too much is at stake to trust this crew. Look away and avoid. You can do it! We did not let our kids take any math at Paly because the IS was so masogonistic and so out of touch. He told us how great the nonsensical web was that looked more like a trap than anything else. Brigham young, Apex, UC scout are all UC a-g approved classes colleges accept and have stand alone transcripts. well worth the effort to avoid the power points , no feedback and unfair off text , off instruction testing. A boycott of the math dept would not be a bad idea. When they actually state in the course description that kids need to teach themselves to take the class, there is a big clue parents should look at and respond to. If they have to teach themselves, why waste time sitting in class They can teach themselves on their own time and save time. Why again are these teachers being paid when they say kids have to teach themselves if they dare to take a class that may challenge them? Nothing will change except more arrogance and posturing while kids sit and wait. dont wait.


5 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2019 at 9:35 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Huh? What happened to the days where the teacher stood writing problems on the blackboard, showing how they were solved? We all had the same math text, and each day we were assigned math problems from that text that we had to try and solve on our own (homework), based on the teacher's instruction given in class that day. We learned math basics in elementary school (add, subtract, multiply, divide, fractions, percentages, beginning algebra and beginning geometry), but why we were required to take a beginning algebra class in our freshman years in high school and college is beyond me. For what reason, unless we were going to go into a profession that required those skills. In the over 50 years I worked, I never once used algebra. Struggling with algebra in high school and college was a waste of my time. As an aside, I think algebra should be an elective in high school and college, not a required course. Anyway, I'm glad I grew up when I did (1940s-50s). Life seemed so much simpler then.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2019 at 11:58 am

Posted by pearl, a resident of another community

>> but why we were required to take a beginning algebra class in our freshman years in high school and college is beyond me. For what reason, unless we were going to go into a profession that required those skills. In the over 50 years I worked, I never once used algebra. Struggling with algebra in high school and college was a waste of my time.

I've heard people tell their children that, but, it is bad advice today. Even high-school graduates installing HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) systems need to understand basic algebra so they can make sure systems are sized and powered correctly. Any level of accounting or finance requires algebra. Any supervisory position in gardening requires algebra-- sizing irrigation systems and setting them to water correctly, for example. Unless all you are doing is bagging groceries, chances are you will be using algebra

>>As an aside, I think algebra should be an elective in high school and college, not a required course. Anyway, I'm glad I grew up when I did (1940s-50s). Life seemed so much simpler then.

There used to be much more demand for pure physical labor than there is now. Modern society just doesn't need that much manual labor, and there is a huge surplus of manual laborers. I think everyone who can learn algebra should do so, since not learning algebra will greatly reduce their career options.


4 people like this
Posted by more time
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 17, 2019 at 5:21 pm

Ugh. We are ALREADY trying the NOT LANING EXPERIMENT in middle school (and elementary school) math. This is exactly what is happening now K through 6th grade. And it is clearly NOT WORKING.
IF our schools were actually good at teaching the full range of students all in one class then all students at the end of sixth grade would currently be ready to be on the track to algebra.

Keeping all students together in the same math classes in 7th and 8th grade will only continue to slow down the math education of higher level students. These students have spent years of their lives bored in school. Higher achieving students needs should also be met by public schools otherwise we are forcing families to find outside resources.

Reducing the acheivement gap has to happen in ELEMENTARY school. This will require higher quality math education in younger grades, a return to useful HOMEWORK expectations, and additional help for the students who need it. Help for students in younger grades needs to be provided to students OUTSIDE the normal school day. Continually pulling students out of their regular class time for interventions during the day means that they are constantly in catch up mode. They need MORE help. The district should provide this help afterschool or on weekends.

Our school day and school year is not long enough, particularly as we add in more curriculum (SEL, technology, etc.) without expanding available hours.

And eliminating adequate testing to be able to evaluate the success of the math program is a huge warning sign.


12 people like this
Posted by See Sth Say Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 21, 2019 at 8:49 am

Excerpt from: Web Link

A recent New York Times commentary by American engineering professor Barbara Oakley has, once again, stirred up much public debate focused on the critical need for “Math practice” and why current “Discovery Math” methodologies are hurting students, and especially girls. “You and your daughter can have fun throwing eggs off a building and making paper-mache volcanoes, “ she wrote, “but the only way to create a full set of options for her in STEM is to ensure that she has a solid foundation in math.” Mathematics is “the language of science, engineering and technology,” Oakley reminded us. And like any language, she claimed, it is “best acquired through lengthy, in-depth practice.”That widely-circulated commentary was merely the latest in a series of academic articles, policy papers, and education blog posts to take issue with the prevailing ideology in North American Mathematics education, championed by Professor Jo Boaler of Stanford University’s School of Education and her disciples. Teaching the basics, explicit instruction, and deliberate practice are all, in Boaler’s view, examples of “bad math education” that contribute to “hating Math” among children and “Math phobia” among the populace. Her theories, promulgated in books and on the “YouCubed” education website, make the case that teaching the times tables and practicing “multiplication” are detrimental, discovering math through experimentation is vital, and making mistakes is part of learning the subject.


8 people like this
Posted by See Sth Say Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 21, 2019 at 9:37 am

Boaler: "There are also political undercurrents to keeping the system as it is now - some people don’t want teaching to be more equitable. They do not want to open the doors to everyone. " “My main point is that it may not be enough, as a math teacher, to treat students equally in the pursuit of equity...Some students face additional barriers and disadvantages, and we must work to address those quite deliberately if we are to achieve a more equitable society.”

Barry Simon: "If anyone is racist or sexist, it is those who claim that women and minorities are unable to deal with traditional mathematics."

Reform math churned out of Stanford GSE damages students' math ability like a mass-destructive weapon.


2 people like this
Posted by confused parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 16, 2020 at 1:03 pm

I attended the incoming 6th grader parent info meeting at JLS yesterday. We were told that all 5th graders will be evaluated in Math during the month of May to determine if they can be part of an accelerated Math program in 6th grade.

This is very much contradictory to what this article reports.


Like this comment
Posted by member 1
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 17, 2020 at 11:56 am

confused parent:

Best Advice. Test your kid yourself and know where they are yourself. FInd a good tutor that loves math that can be with your child for the next 4 years and SAT prep. NEVER trust this district. Their tests are never in line with what has been taught and generally is skill based. Get hold of a Jurgensons Geometry book and Alg 1 Structure and Method by Brown-- get the "classic" version. Do the work honestly and your kids will have a good middle school base. We had no money for tutors, so used these books along with Art of Problem solving and Stewarts Calc page by page and it was pretty painless. They finishes it all by soph year and did work an hour a day in summers, and took weeks off.

It is not that hard and you do not have any obligation to the Math dept to let them every label your child. There are also UC approved online courses that colleges will accept happily, or Jr College courses form pre alg and up colleges love to see. You only have to take Geom and Alg 2 for HS. No one cares if you take the upper classes elsewhere. Good luck


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