Black students to schools: 'Raise expectations' | October 28, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 28, 2011

Black students to schools: 'Raise expectations'

Dismal results for Palo Alto's 2011 black graduates amounts to crisis, they say

by Chris Kenrick

In a sometimes tense discussion, African-American students and a parent challenged the Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday night to set higher expectations for black students in the district's schools.

A group of seniors from Palo Alto High School told the board Oct. 25 that none of the 17 black members of the Class of 2011 from Paly and Gunn had completed all the entrance requirements for the University of California or California State University, known as the "a-g requirements."

The discussion came as administrators parsed data on the 20 percent of last year's seniors — 170 out of 828 — who graduated without completing the requirements. Palo Alto has set a district-wide goal of having at least 85 percent of graduating seniors meeting the CSU and UC requirements by 2012.

Contrary to what people might assume, officials said, the majority of the kids missing the requirements —63 percent — were white or Asian.

"That's not what our assumptions would tell us," said Diana Wilmot, the district's research and evaluation coordinator, who presented the data.

"However, African-American and Hispanic students are overrepresented in students not meeting a-g," Wilmot said.

Black students made up 2 percent of the Class of 2010 but comprised 10 percent of students not completing a-g. Hispanic students were 8 percent of the class but 23 percent of the students missing a-g.

While officials cited overall progress toward the goal, the Paly students and parent Kim Bomar took issue with what they said was an "unnecessarily congratulatory" presentation.

"I have two black children, and I'm not going to stand here and congratulate you when 0 percent (of black students) are making the a-g requirements," Bomar said.

"In a district with the resources we have, where students are supported to the heights, to still have the vast majority of black students failing is disgraceful. I consider it a crisis.

"I hope you consider these figures regarding African-American students — and Hispanic students, which aren't a whole lot better — as disgraceful and unacceptable as I do and have the same sense of urgency about it."

Bomar and other members of the Parent Network for Students of Color have advocated making the a-g requirements a condition of graduation as a way to force the district to raise expectations for minority students. Palo Alto's current high school graduation requirements are not as academically rigorous as the a-g, which comes as a surprise to some parents.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly said the district is still considering instituting a-g as a condition of graduation. But when he proposed that idea to the Board of Education last May, members expressed worries about possible unintended consequences on special-education students and others, who could have difficulty graduating under those rules.

Skelly also corrected the students' data, saying that 3 of the 20 black students graduating in June actually had met the a-g requirements.

"But the bottom line is this data is not good," he acknowledged.

Paly senior Tremaine Kirkman, a member of the Student Equity Action Network (SEAN), noted that the district's own pie chart showed the data as 0 percent, rounded down from 0.5 percent.

Kirkman, who was recently named a National Merit Semifinalist, urged the board to adopt the a-g requirements as a condition of graduation, thereby raising expectations.

"We've interviewed the students of color, and we personally experience it," Kirkman said. "They drop off from kindergarten and there's just nothing being done to help them.

"These are some of our best friends that we've grown up with since diapers."

Unless a-g becomes a graduation requirement, "We're going to be in the same place" when his younger brother reaches high school, Kirkman said.

School officials, including the principals of Gunn and Paly, told the board about a wide array of focused efforts to help struggling students complete the a-g requirements.

Those include expanded summer school offerings to allow students to make up credits, individualized scrutiny of students earning Ds and Fs and programs such as College Pathways at Gunn.

Gunn is piloting a program with the online Khan Academy for students who are re-taking algebra 1, said Director of Secondary Education Michael Milliken.

"We're experimenting and trying new things to ensure success for a broader range of students," Milliken said.

In a separate presentation later in the meeting, Greendell School Principal Sharon Keplinger said a pilot early-intervention program for high-risk students, Springboard to Kindergarten, has shown positive results.

"Kids entered the program with need across all dimensions of (kindergarten) readiness," Keplinger told the board.

"Their skills improved dramatically across all four of the readiness dimensions. Every single child showed statistically significant improvement in all the areas we were looking at," she said.

Keplinger said she evaluates children at the start and the end of the program using the Pre-Kindgergarten Observation Form.

Springboard recruits pre-kindergarten children who have not had a high-quality preschool experience and provides five-day-a-week programming from February through June.

It has served about 40 children a year for the past two years under a three-year grant provided by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Board members acknowledged concerted staff efforts to support struggling students, including particular focus at the elementary level.

But several expressed frustration that little seems to have changed.

Results for black and Hispanic students "are shocking, dismal and embarrassing," board member Dana Tom said.

"The hard part is we've talked about this year after year after year and haven't made any real traction."

Board President Melissa Baten Caswell said, "I'm incredibly distressed about this. We can wring our hands or try to figure out what to do," citing other school districts such as San Jose's Eastside Union High School District who are "handling success of children of color better than we are."

"Maybe we need to go figure out what they're doing differently than we are that's helping them be more successful."

Board member Barbara Klausner described her recent visit to schools whose African-American and Hispanic students have earned top test scores.

The success of the independent Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto in preparing its students for four-year colleges also was cited.

As for the 170 members of the Class of 2011 who failed to complete the a-g coursework, Wilmot said that in many cases there were early signs of struggle.

About half of them had scored "below proficient" on standardized tests in elementary school, she said, "indicating that there's early intervention and identification that's possible."

English and math are where students have the most difficulty, Wilmot said, but noted that many don't give up easily and are still trying as late as senior year to complete algebra 2 or geometry and to make up English credits.

Overall, 90 percent of the Paly and Gunn classes of 2011 went on to college, 80 percent to four-year colleges, Wilmot said.

But many private, four-year colleges do not demand a-g as a condition for entrance.

Among members of the Class of 2011 not completing a-g, half went on to two-year colleges and another quarter are attending four-year colleges that do not require a-g as a prerequisite, Wilmot said.

Talk about it

Are you in favor of the Palo Alto school district adopting a-g graduation requirements? Share your opinion on Town Square, the online forum on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


Posted by Casey, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2011 at 10:42 am

I don't understand this push to "raise expectations." There are multiple sets of expectations: UC, CSU, PAUSD, other public and private colleges, as well as parental expectations. Each of these have their place depending on the aspirations of the students. If these students want to attend a CSU or UC, why would they not meet the UC requirements? Seems like a student ambition issue instead of a school requirement problem.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2011 at 10:53 am

While I agree that this is an important matter, I do not agree with the article as being a truly representative report on last night's board meeting.

Your reporter has headlined the article to cover just one aspect of a very busy and long meeting and completely ignored the other items on the agenda and the other issues raised by parents at open forum.

This is not the first time this has occurred.

For many of us parents, we are not able to attend these meetings or even watch them in their entirety. We want to be able to read a report on all the issues discussed, not just a headline grabbing issue which makes it look as if this was the only discussion that took place of any interest to the community.

Please ask your reporter to write on all the issues and that the headline should show that many issues were covered.

Thank you.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2011 at 11:32 am

Shouldn't every student be completing the a-g classes? Why don't the district graduation requirements line up with the a-g requirements?

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 11:40 am

At the School Board Meeting it was disclosed that very few or no African American students graduate with A-G requirements. The percentage was described, as reported above as being "zero percent." Kevin at one point said that it was 3/20 but he did not say what he was referring to, but in any event, as he himself acknowledged -- in either case it is a total fail. The Latino numbers were around 33%. At that point, really, the meeting should have stopped while everyone screamed "help, help, my pants are on fire!" but instead there was a hearty round of compliments from the board to staff telling them how great it is that they have improved the white and Asian numbers.

Only Dana Tom seemed to exhibit the appropriate amount of outrage about this, but then he just sort of backed off and dropped the question of accountability.

A to G is related to student stress!! Indeed, these low minority numbers are the canary in the coal mine for PAUSD high school stress. One reason, which Ken Dauber, representing We Can Do Better Palo Alto, talked about at the meeting, is that many of the math and science courses are pitched way too hard. The classes are taught at an unnecessary breakneck pace and those students who cannot catch it the first time are just out of luck. At that point, racism also factors in. In that context, perhaps white kids who are falling behind receive a "C+" while minority kids are far more likely to get a D due to low expectations and racist stereotypes or predictions about whose parents will come in and go ballistic if Johnny gets a D. Stereotype threat may also affect student performance on tests and exams. So, in sum, a lot of these A-G classes are just too damn hard.

There is nothing more stressful for a student than being in a class that is too hard for them but which they need to pass in order to even have a chance at a 4 year college. The fact that we continue to put our kids in this position is terrible. We Can Do Better, Palo Alto.

The Board spent what seemed like hours agonizing over how to fix the problem, what additional data might be required, how to intervene, etc. The fact is that there are only 170 children per year who are in this boat, and unfortunately , we know who they are: the minority kids. We need to hold principals and district level officials accountable for ensuring that we fix this discriminatory situation. The idea that you can get results without accountability -- once again, seems to be a hallmark of PAUSD -- will not work.

Posted by Huh?@8, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 11:42 am

I don't understand why it is not the responsibility of the student and parents to make sure a-g are met. Is the claim that the school is not clearly explaining the requirements to minority students for some reason? I'd like to hear what the school conselors (each student is assigned one) has to say.

Posted by Trish, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2011 at 11:43 am

I agree that Black and Hispanic students are falling through the cracks at Paly and Gunn as are many other students who are average, below average, or who cannot afford private tutors. One question that should be asked is why do so many students at Paly and Gunn have/need tutoring?

In addition, the District's statistics need to be revised because I know my daughter was one of the 20 black Paly grads in 2011 and she met the a-g requirements. However, we moved into the district in her senior year, she never needed a tutor, and received an academic scholarship. Apparently, receiving most of her education out of state was a blessing.

I love Palo Alto and my children love Paly, but I think the faculty and staff need to be a lot less congratulatory about the academic success of high IQ children born of high achieving parents and figure out how to educate all of the children in District.

Posted by a parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2011 at 11:57 am

Yet another reason we should be considering reopening Cubberley as part of the Measure A plans rather than shooting our wad making Gunn and Paly into Mega schools. (Yes, Gunn and Paly need improvements, but much of the money being spent is going just because they need extra space and far more expensive multi-story structures for the expansion.)

The Finnish model -- whatever it takes -- would be a lot easier for ALL of our students if we were giving them more optimal school sizes.

We have the 3rd school site, we have the money already approved, and we can even improve Cubberly without losing any of the IMPROVEMENTS (as exposed to mega-school expansions) at Gunn and Paly. We're crazy (or, more likely, lazy) not to take stock right now.

Having more optimal school sizes would benefit our efforts to improve connectedness, benefit our efforts to close the achievement gap (that's also per educational research on school size). AND if Cubberly were reopened as a choice school, it would avoid the necessity of changing school boundaries, and allow the district total control of enrollments at all three schools as enrollment growth fluctuates, because in this district, even a moderately attractive choice school will be oversubscribed.

The district cost our community the opportunity to have a new Foothill campus in the center of town, opting to tell the city to just sit on the extra 8 acres at Cubberly just in case, even as the board has failed to evaluate what it would take to bring Cubberly back online in context of the other plans for the Measure A funds. (And as they consider buying another couple of acres at a premium. I'd actually like them to do both, but buying the two without any plans for the 8 is idiotic.)

As a taxpayer and parent in this district, I want us to tend more toward the Whatever it Takes model, because we can. I'm really dismayed by the mismanagement of our resources. But, as was expressed in more than one administration meeting, there is a feeling that they can always come back to us for more money. (So why use what they have as wisely as possible?)

Posted by Anon, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm

I'm amazed that people are assuming the percentages are due entirely to faculty discrimination or simple lack of ambition. The much deeper issue here is that these kids are most likely coming from backgrounds where they aren't surrounded by college bound peers, or adults who have college degrees. They are likely poorer students with a lot more on their mind than passing classes, and many of them are understandably not taking college into account in their future. If any, or most of them, live in EPA - they are likely to face the immediate stress of violence, poverty and cultural pressures before thinking about whether or not their A-G requirements are met. If this is indeed the demographic being discussed, they're not your average apathetic Palo Alto teenagers and they deserve all the support and resources PAUSD can give.

As always, this is a whole systemic (cultural, socio-economic, etc) problem that should be addressed from all angles. Instituting the A-G requirement will only work if programs are in place to help the students emotionally, otherwise you risk dropping graduation rates.

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm

There's only so much a school can do. Ultimately, it's the responsibility of the student and the parents. Squawking about the resources that Palo Alto has making it sound almost like a negative; smacks of entitlement. It is not the job of the school to push your child through, that job starts at home. I personally gave up many hours having to act like what amounted to a prison guard watching one of the kids I adopted to make sure they got through. TV's off, distractions toned down, kid at the counter often working until late in the night, with me right there watching, occasionally helping if I could, until the work was done. It sucked at the time, to be quite honest,and it was exhausting, and there were problems almost right on down to the last three months of her Senior year, but we got through it, she graduated, and later, got a full ride to a University. And yes, she's mixed. So, it can be done, but again, it starts at home and CONTINUES at school, only to come back home again. And no, not a two parent home, we are not wealthy, and yes, there were other kids in high school at the same time.

Posted by bill g, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I understand the Kahn program in Los Altos deals successfully with many of the problems associated with improving minority student achievements.

Since Palo Alto seems to experience no improvement in teaching children from different backgrounds, perhaps the school district should look at other methods. Or is ego involved - "we know best and don't need lessons from other districts?"

Posted by JustMe, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Teacher expectations do not trump parental and peer expectations. Teacher involvement can never equal parental involvement. Parents who demand that the schools fix what got broken at home need take part in the fixing, or it is just wasted effort. How about programs to help the parents of these kids? Help them to understand the home environment that gets kids into college. Yeah, the kids need help, but the teachers need help too, and a little help and instruction for the parents who care might help a lot.

Posted by an ex-gunn mom, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 26, 2011 at 1:03 pm

My daughter struggled at Gunn, so much so, that she transferred out for part of Junior year to a private school. A MAJOR difference during that short period for me, as a very concerned parent, was that I was able to closely monitor every aspect of her experience on a daily basis via their school online tool - including attendance/tardies for each class (updated daily) as well as homework submission (updated every Friday)and grades (for assignments and overall grade). There was an incentive program in place where students got out early on Friday unless they had a C- or below in any class, in which case they had 3 hours of study hall. This system enabled me to align my parenting with expectations and a system of appropriate incentives and consequences (e.g. tardies impacted weekend curfew). My student that was getting Ds and Fs at Gunn finished with above a 3.8 that semester.

I discussed this with the principal at Gunn prior to my daughter's return and how crucial a good online system that is updated in a regular, predictable way and MANDATORY to use to the ability to parent and guide children with academic challenges. Her response was - we hesitate to do this because we have other parents in the district who will PUNISH their kids for getting an A- or a B so we try to protect the kids from this (by making their grades less accessible to parents). In my opinion, this is PATHETIC. We've created a monster if we allow the those parents to cause such a situation where the school purposely doesn't take steps to give us full access to instant information about our students. Wayward students need help and guidance and the quicker it is given, the shallower the hole they dig for themselves is (and the easier to get out). by the time mid-term Ds and Fs appear, it is TOO LATE in many cases.

My suggestion - get a good online tool, make it MANDATORY that teachers use it in a predictable way (e.g. all homework must be updated by Friday night), put everything on it (attendance and grades) in a timely manner, train parents how to use it. Figure out a solution of how to deal with the unreasonable parents who punish their kids for getting Bs. They are part of the problem.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Could someone here clarify what the problem is? Are these residents suggesting that Palo Alto schools are ignoring some minority students in favor of Anglos and Asian minorities?

What exactly are they trying to accomplish?

If it is just a matter of certain students underachieving or not signing up/preparing for a test, I don't know if this would necessarily be the fault of the schools.

No one in my high school signed me up for the ACT, SAT, other college entrance exams or even had me sign up for a class that prepared me for the tests. However, I did read the degree plans in my high school...including footnotes regarding which classes were "college preparatory" or typically requirements for college.

My parents didn't know how to do this (and they couldn't even speak English). However, they made it clear that I was to do what it takes to get into college. So, I simply saw the announcement in the hallway for the ACT and SAT exams...and signed up myself. I paid for the tests using money that I earned from an after school job. I applied to the colleges by researching them online and purchased some stamps and envelopes to submit my application packets. No one in the school assisted me.

Do California or Palo Alto schools offer more than this? And, were these individuals suggesting that Palo Alto district schools purposely ignore certain minority students and don't provide them equal access? Or, are they saying that they should be helped even more?

Please excuse my puzzlement. The article is a little confusing.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2011 at 1:34 pm

@ ex-Gunn mom:

You wrote: "My suggestion - get a good online tool, make it MANDATORY that teachers use it in a predictable way (e.g. all homework must be updated by Friday night), put everything on it (attendance and grades) in a timely manner, train parents how to use it."

Very good idea! I wish that all school progress was accessible to parents online! My parents couldn't speak English, but they were VERY involved in our academic life. They pushed us hard...and were very involved in making sure that we were doing well in school.

We didn't have a computer at home, so it wouldn't have assisted our family. However, this would help pinpoint those who don't have access to computers...and find a good way around it (such as weekly hard copy records). This would be a great way for parents to monitor their students progress -- especially if their input is made mandatory (through signatures or correspondence).

Posted by The Truth, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm

THE TRUTH: Education starts at home with parents and importance on education!!! Most of these kids failing or not meeting standards are not putting out the effort and that is a fact. Solution lies within each student and their families! Stop looking outward and look inward!!!

Posted by Pausd parent, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Oct 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm


There also was lots of energy at the board meeting last night when 5 or so people spoke about the district’s anti-stress and developmental assets goals, claiming that those goals were inconsistent with the new calendar’s earlier August start.

They were polite, but quite pointed, and raised questions that had me convinced that the early August start poses lots of problems for lots of our kids.

They called themselves “time to thrive”. It looks like they took a page from Mr. Dauber’s book and put up a public Facebook page a week or two ago that has 200 friends already:

Web Link

They posted their comments to the board there.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Another way in which the achievement gap is related to student stress is that they both have the same solutions. Increased focus on social-emotional learning has been shown in study after study to improve academic performance in all students, and especially in high-risk, low income, and minority populations. When students feel connected and feel valued their performance increases. Here are a few highlights from the academic literature:

• There is a positive association between SEL programs in schools and increased socioemotional skills and academic achievement for students (Durlak et al., 2011).

• Intervention programs that target students’ subjective school experiences have been shown to improve academic achievement and lessen the achievement gap in a lasting way. These interventions focus on telling students that they are valued and have efficacy in their scholastic environment (Yeager &Walton, in press).

• Studies show that student perception of an emphasis on competition and differential treatment by ability in their school environment are related to diminished academic values, feelings of self-esteem, and academic achievement; and increases in school truancy, anger, and depressive symptoms over time (Roesler & Eccles, 1998).

• Research finds that students’ perception of a supportive and caring middle school environment positively relates to student adaptation, cognition, affect, and behavior. Perceiving a task goal structure in middle school is positively related to academic self-efficacy, whereas perceiving an ability goal structure is related to academic self-consciousness. Perceiving positive teacher-student relationships predicts positive school-related affect and this relation is mediated through feelings of school belonging. Feelings of academic efficacy and school belonging in turn are positively related to final-semester academic grades (Roeser et al., 1996).

• Studies show that students may perform worse on academic tasks as a result of stereotype threat. Therefore, academic environments that perpetuate feelings of stereotype threat may negatively influence student achievement (Rydell et al., 2010).

• The amount of homework assigned to students is not a useful predictor of student achievement. The more useful predictor of student achievement is homework completed. Homework can be useful for students when it is completed, and when the amount and content of homework is developmentally appropriate (Cooper, Lindsay, & Greathouse, 1998).

• Studies indicate how depression and anxiety may decrease a student’s belief in his/her academic abilities, which tends to be related with lower academic achievement (Cole et al., 1999).

In sum, if we want to close the achievement gap, we need to adopt many of the same policies and pedagogies that will enhance student social-emotional and mental health: sane homework policies, an advisory counseling system, and reduced workloads through the use of coordinated test and project schedules. We need to find ways to make the high school experience less high-stakes and high stress and more task-oriented rather than ability oriented. We need to teach every child and not only those who were lucky enough to be born brilliant and easy to teach. We need to stop assigning our best teachers to teach our easiest and most motivated learners and instead apportion our teaching talent where it is most needed.

These changes will benefit every student, and help to close the achievement gap. What could be better than that?

Posted by Pausd parent, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Oct 26, 2011 at 2:59 pm


I agree that the changes you recommend will benefit every student and thus help close the achievement gap. I understand the district and school board are fortunately addressing some of those ideas now. The new early start August calendar, however, might delay implementing these important changes or at best make it difficult to judge their effectiveness, as so much time and energy will be spent next year by teachers trying to adjust curriculum to a "crunched" first semester and by students trying to juggle the many conflicts that are being identified with athletics, extracurriculars and family life. Doesn't it make sense for PAUSD to focus on the well researched interventions you have documented so well, and leave the calendar alone for now?

Posted by Marty, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2011 at 3:04 pm

I have a suggestion. Since there are only 170 students who didn't satisfy the a-g requirements, instead of just guessing about what went wrong or what should be done, call in a few of those students (or over the course of a couple weeks all of them) and just ASK THEM why they didn't.

What might their answers be? "I didn't know about those requirements." "I didn't care, because I'm not going to a UC or CSU." "I'm not interested in going to college." "Those courses are too hard for me" or "The counselors just put me in dummy classes" etc. The school's response can then be based on the real reason these students didn't take the a-g requirements.

Posted by kk, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 3:04 pm

I would like to see this further broken down by income and single parents. Its really hard for single parents ( could be a factor that higher rates of single head of household are minority???) to "be on top" and maybe if the schools could target in on who lacks an adult mentor..........that could be addressed? I would like to see how this commitment is being traced? If a child is behind and not getting at standards, is there a check off list and required meetings...task lists being assembled.

NOT every kid has an active parent smart parent guiding them. Who has help and what kind of help changes the playing field.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 26, 2011 at 3:17 pm

The reality is it isn't a level playing field here (in PAUSD schools, especially high school).
I believe it is a combination of factors at play that brings these results, and I do wish to send a message of support to those who brought their concerns to the Board of Education. They do not deserve putdowns. I am an experienced, caring parent (my students are grown up now) who IS in touch with education and current high school and college-level circumstances.
Socio-economic levels are one factor, experience with sophisticated education-
Those who post here and are puzzled and who may NOT be current, with all respect, do not realize what is going on with an ugly parental practice I will describe -- for example, Nayeli - a thoughtful poster who expresses concern and surprise about all this.
Those with economic advantages and those from certain ethnic groups have brought a "cram school" mentality here that did not previously exist here to this degree -- which is now EXTREME: costly paid prepping/tutoring (not remedial) for key, challenging courses, standardized testing; costly, elite summer programs -- sometimes academic, sometimes so-called CS (resume-listable community service or overseas "service"); outside college preparation/guidance services that run into the thousands of dollars.
At this point Tiger Moms have turned their teens into projects, not individuals who do their own work, in many cases.
When a kid has been professionally prepped -- as I witnessed in this district -- in MIDDLE school to take the SAT (in order to qualify for Johns Hopkins CTY (Center for Talented Youth) summer programs as well as prepped for YEARS in such fashion, repeatedly taking SAT etc., it DOES make a difference, even for thoroughy average pre-teens and teens. No, these are generally NOT "Gifted" students as their parents proclaim -- IF SO, then why the thousands of dollars in constant, costly prepping in advance of AP courses and the above?!
What to do: require signed disclosure of advance prepping/taking of courses at JC; some sort of disclosure on college apps and SAT/AP applications indicating paid tutoring/prepping, whether essays were written by student applicant or not, and other accountability steps (though some will still lie in order to "beat" others)...

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 26, 2011 at 3:32 pm

My point is there are ugly, underhanded tactics used which involve a lot of $$$ and ill will towards others - and kept quiet by certain parents here and in some other communities, of course. These are parents who are determined to "win" at any cost, never mind the ideas and preferences that come from their child. It's a battle for the Ivy League!
In this context, it is difficult for minorities as well as those who choose to let their students do their own schoolwork, for example. It is tough to be in a challenging AP course and do one's own work, learning in the class, while some yawn as they disdainfully remark they have already been spoonfed the work by their tutors or during the previous summer, as a precautionary measure to ensure an A grade.
These practices need to better see the light of day as they create years of a non-level playing field for students. Again, read the vulgar Tiger Mom book.
Universities are increasingly getting tired of packaged applicants, thank goodness, and better identifying students who are not self-starters but pushed and hand-held their entire lives for top college admissions - they sometimes can't handle things a bit later, when they are on their own - though we are now seeing Tiger Moms and helicopter parents in universities!
The entire mentality is competition: "beat" the other guy, enter as many contests or competitions as possible - a vulgar approach to what is SUPPOSED to be education and learning. How about ENJOYMENT and sometimes -- serendipity?! Some parents have a set of practices that are tough to beat on paper, though I won't say they turn out better people. For minorities and those who are naive or less aware of all this, be aware this environment WILL affect you and your college admissions, since you are compared with your peers from your high school when apps go in.
Constant bragging of one's top SAT scores is in poor taste and fairly typical around here (when one has been carefully positioned by parents to take the SAT multiple times -- including in middle school when it doesn't count or go on record, have sophsisticated coaching, etc. results in documented raised scores as well as a VERY stressful environment for the other students and parents who are NOT negligent but may have chosen a more balanced lifestyle for their children Or - heaven forbid - may be permitting the STUDENT to manage, to some degree, his or her academic life.
/rant over

Posted by Take responsibility, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 3:49 pm

If parents are seeing a "crisis", then they should fix in their home and community.
Students and their parents should take responsibility for poor student performance, not blaming "the system".

This is not an economic issue. This is a values issue. If you value education enough, you step it up and take advantage of the many free resources available in Palo Alto and E. Palo Alto.

Follow the college model: Form clubs/networks for minority students who support each other and set high standards for each other. Take responsibility for your performance at every grade level. If you're falling behind in elementary school, alarms should go off to get things fixed before it's too late.

Posted by ex-gunn mom, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 26, 2011 at 4:22 pm

@Take responsibility - I agree that the fix needs to involve the home. That is why I asked (begged) for the school to provide me with the tools/data so that I could set expectations in the home and measure against them. You may suggest that I simply ask my kid. that would be great. Unfortunately, some kids either can't keep themselves organized (see ADHD impact on executive functioning) or don't want to share what they perceive as their own non-performance so they conveniently forget important facts. Yeah, some kids actually lie to their parents in high school about if they've done their homework or what grade they got.

Parenting is a trade-off between allowing your kids to grow and come into their own independence vs. protecting them from themselves and their poor choices. It's documented that decision making and impulse control are still developing during high school. Kids mature at different rates. The beauty of an effective online system is that it helps me, as a concerned parent, find that balance. I can make the expectations clear, monitor my teen's results and let her make independent decisions and step in only when some red line that I've set in my mind is crossed. I'm not blaming the school for anything except succumbing to Tiger Mom syndrome and thus, blocking the rest of us from information access.

@Marty, as for your comment - why not add "severe sadness/depression/inability to concentrate and function academically after losing several friends to suicide" - how does one quantify that reason? I didn't get trained on that one in the parenting books.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 4:22 pm

@Pausd parent

I support pre-break finals. But more than that, I think that it is a bad idea to continue to try to get the board to re-open this issue. It was a close call (3-2) and could have gone either way. Obviously there is a large group of people that is disappointed with the outcome which is understandable. As I have said from the beginning, I don't think that this is armageddon either way and the superheated rhetoric, for example, comparing the calendar switch to "bedbugs" last night, or talking about how this is really the "end of childhood" and so forth, I mean to be honest I find it off-putting. We are talking here at worst about some disruption of vacation plans. In the summers I work as an NPS ranger at Yosemite. August is when my son joins me up at the park. It's going to be a bummer. On the other hand, it's not going to be end times either. We'll figure it out and so will everyone else. Shifting vacations to June is not equivalent to black kids not going to college or other kids becoming suicidally depressed. We have real problems here, and we should focus on them.

That doesn't mean you can't be disappointed or want to make sure that the district is held accountable to ensure a smooth transition. I just think you guys should drop the overheated rhetoric and work constructively on the transition now.


Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2011 at 4:32 pm


The data Web Link provided by the school district indicates that 24 percent of the 170 2011 graduates who did not complete the a-g requirements came from homes classified as "socio-economically disadvantaged." The overall percentage of such students in the district is 7 percent. PAUSD analyzed the student records with respect to fluency in English, socio-economic status, special education status and race, but did not look at single-parent household status.

Posted by qqs, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Oct 26, 2011 at 4:36 pm

what is this social-eco-disadvantage?

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Not all kids benefit from the old 4 year + college education--many drop out by choice, subculture values etc.

In Europe non academic kids are streamed into technical tracks at 14 years

--they stay in school till 18yrs but serve apprenticeships as machinists, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters etc.

In Germany-for example-many kids who go to technical earn more through their 20s-30s-40s than kids who take liberal arts university degrees.

PAUSD should have a technical track to position non academic students for success, employment, good incomes and a sense of self efficacy.

If you look at the drop out rates of non academic students who do get affirmative--action they are very dismal. For those who get promoted through college and affirmative actioned into law schools the drop out rates are even worse and among those who complete law school the majority never pass a law licensing exam--they have then wasted at least 7+ years of their lives.

If these non academic had pursued the technical track then they would have 7+ years of good income
--good credit

--no debt and the ability to buy a home and support a family.

Social promotion is setting up non academic kids for failure--and wasting PAUSD and PA taxpayers resources.

Time for a technical track in HS--before it is too late for these kids

Enough is enough.

Posted by Tom B, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 26, 2011 at 5:48 pm

There are lots of "Achievement Gaps" at play in our schools. To me, we need to redefine the phrase to mean the difference between what each of our children is learning and what each is capable of learning. Our kids need to excel in a world economy. Today, even our best and brightest kids are having a hard time competing with the education being provided by Scandinavian and Asian countries.

The discussion of bringing up our lowest performing students is certainly worthwhile, but the single minded focus on this is destructive and out of date. It (and No Child Left Behind) has brought us a society that measures success as having all children equally mediocre. Instead of focusing on why our lowest performers aren't doing as well our medium performers, we need to focus on why our students AT EVERY LEVEL have an achievement gap in the new economy.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 5:58 pm

@Tom B. and Sharon

What we need to focus on is why our "lowest performing students" and our so called "nonacademic kids" are wildly, crazily, disproportionately comprised of black and brown kids. To imply that these kids are just those that happen to be our "lowest" performers who are in need of a "vocational" track is about 60 years behind the times. Hopefully.

The issue isn't that some kids are college material and others aren't. The issue is who it is that PAUSD is lumping into that pile and why. If it was racially and economically just and proportionate we might be sending home some reminder cards but we wouldn't have Board of Ed meetings about it.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm

The next bubble to burst is the academic bubble.

A 4 year liberal arts degree is not worth the time, money or effort in the modern world.

Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Oracle etc-- all multi billion dollar companies-- were founded by people who had a technical training and who never completed college.

We need a technical track in PAUSD.

It is a waste of teachers time and taxpayer money to pretend that every kid is academically talented.

We have objective tests of academic aptitude-- if kids do not have it by 13-14yrs then they will never have it.

Lets face reality and stop handicapping really academically talented kids by focusing upon those who will not benefit from an academic track.

A skilled mechanic, carpenter, computer repair technician etc- can earn a lot of money, dignity and respect.

ROTCs in HS can also give these kids a path into the US Military- where the opportunities are outstanding.

The technical/vocational track is now being adopted by Germany, UK, France, Japan etc

-- because it works for kids and society

Posted by education bubble, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Sharon, I actually agree with you!

There is an "education" bubble in play, and that is in part driving the competition to prepare to make a good first (only?) impression during university admissions processes. And that is skewing the values of high school education and student development, and that in turn is impacting both school and family life in a big negative way.

There are so many ways to learn what universities purport to teach now, that the personal growth cost to gain admission, the time taken to complete a degree and last and least the tuition cost are all absurd relative to the value gained.

Posted by Reasonable, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 26, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Most of the commenters here are missing what I believe is the key point: Not every child -- of any color -- is intended to go to college. BRING BACK THE TRADES! Kids should be able to choose a non-college track and get a great high school education pointing them toward a trade. That's how it used to be and it worked fine.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2011 at 8:09 pm

@ education bubble

You are correct -- you can get the full MIT lectures for free on the web.

In medicine you do need hands on supervision and mentoring to maintain and improve standards or treatment.

Most medical treatment---as the US Military proves--can be provided by technicians

--the main issue is the " Golden Hour" to get our very seriously wounded troops to surgery.

The importance of technicians to MD specialist is 1000 to one.

We need more technicians, health, IT, plumbing, car repair, public health, military, police etc

--a liberal arts degree adds no value to any of those critical jobs

--America now is beginning to understand that reality

We need technical schools in PAUSD

Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Unfortunately, the vulgar level of competition here has led to a district where the norm requires a great deal of tutoring just to pass a math class as well as some of the science classes. Teachers have become dependent on this outside support to cover the inflated curriculum. They no longer have the time or the ability in class to teach all the material students are accountable for. All they can do is test and quiz on it. If you are from a family that does not understand, or can not provide this help for you,or if you spend time socializing, doing a sport, or playing computer games, you will not get these requirements. Raising the 'expectations' will not help. These are already too high. Hence the problem.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm

@observer -- well said.

Posted by registered user, Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2011 at 10:33 pm

The first thing to do is to eliminate racial identification of students. Expunge all race based records and allow/demand everyone compete as an individual. Racial identification leads to class compensation and varied expectations. Perhaps there might be some loss of funding for "special" classes. The only possible legitimate need to consider color is when selecting the color of a band-aid to put on an ouwie.

Posted by Distorted, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 27, 2011 at 12:00 am

We should be careful using black/brown as synonyms for African-American/Hispanic, or intermingling race with socio-economics. If you look at the "black" kids in the PA schools that actually live in PA, almost 100% are children of 1st or 2nd generation African immigrants in the tech industry or at Stanford, and their kids perform just as well as the other kids, if not better. It's just that there are only a handful of such families in PA, and they are likely to list themselves as "other" instead of "African-American" on school forms so they aren't always picked up by the stats.

Although there is an element of racism in the PA schools - people are human, after all - it's really a socio-economic issue. Expecting that, say, an EPA kid in the Tinsley program will, on average, perform at the same level as their PA counterpart with a Ph.D. computer science father and a $100/tutor, is naive. Many factors go into kid's education: family background, finance, peers, etc. Blaming PAUSD is ridiculous.

Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 27, 2011 at 6:18 am

There is a huge difference between black students residing in Palo Alto whose parents are college educated professionals and black kids from EPA. The issue is not skin color but the environment in which the student grew up in. There is also no question that the insane level of competition in our high schools, which also involved gaming the system by some parents, is causing many kids to fall through the cracks and become second class citizens in their own schools.

Posted by My experience, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 27, 2011 at 6:24 am

My child, Hispanic, will be one who will NOT complete the our request. He is simply not capable of it, the demand that he do it stresses him into total rages. I am very, very, very grateful to Gunn High School for all the support they are giving him to just help him get a high school degree, and with any luck, he will also be able to hook into a useful skill through high school to give him the chance to get into a vocational type training school after high school.

Unfortunately, he will be one of the "minority" numbers, but I can tell you that he has had every opportunity possible through our schools and through his family life, from tutors etc to special support in the school. Honestly, without the tremendous support from our schools ( and us, his family), I absolutely believe he would drop out completely. This is simply the way he is made.

Not every kid is made for a-g requirements, and, frankly, going to a UC school is simply not the best life outcome for a lot of our kids. Not every kid is made for hours of homework and projects and studying for tests. Not every kid is made to be an academic.

Besides, I have to ask..of the 170 kids who did not complete the a-g requirements, how many did not complete them out of choice? vs out of error? How many are now picking themselves up and going to Foothill or DeAnza college, where the requirements can easily be made up and a transfer to a 4 year UC becomes possible? At some point, the constant allusion to some sort of 'racism" is tiring.

I would really like to know what the 170 are doing with themselves now...if they are all at Foothill or Deanza and successfully passing the classes, then I will accept that something went wrong in our system. But, honestly, if not..then how can we say it was our "system's" fault? At some point, individual makeup and choice, family situations and choices, and motivation/study habits are the foundations of life, and we have to stop "blaming" others for what we do or don't do.

In the future, the default of our schools is a-g. The expectation is all kids enroll to graduate with a-g. It will take an active opt-out ( as we have done) to NOT graduate with an a-g. That should solve any problems...anyone choosing to not graduate with an a-g can do so, but must choose to do so either by not passing the a-g requirements or by actively opting out.

But please, quit whining about our schools. I think they are out of this world, and can't imagine more support for our kids than our schools give them.

Posted by Other, a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2011 at 6:56 am

Making a-g a requirement for garduation is ridiculous. We will turn most of those kinds graduating without completing the a-g requirements into High School Dropuots.

Posted by bill kelly, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 27, 2011 at 7:19 am

Dear ex-gunn mom and others,

What's your objective? It seems by having lots of tools to track your kids every step in school you are dis-empowering your child to make his or her own choices to succeed. By trusting your child and truely following up when your child gets into academic trouble, you could empower your child to take responsibility for his or her own actions. Right now, if you know every detail about your kids assignments, why should your kid worry? Your already worrying for this kid! What happens when your kid gets into a college? Will you be there to blow his or her nose?

Gunn provides adequate time with warnings to fix academic issues, if you have an honest relationship with your kid and ask questions about how things are going you should have enough info to help your kid. I have a clue, if your kid never has homework and never studies then you probably have issues.

From what I've read your the definition of helicopter parent and this is not a good thing

Posted by another parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 27, 2011 at 7:34 am

I wonder what the gender breakdown is for the 170 kids. It's possible we would be having a discussion about gender rather than race if the data were presented differently.

Posted by a-g req, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Oct 27, 2011 at 7:39 am

This a-g requirement really is for the lower-performing yet still having potential kids to have a set of goals to achieve in their otherwise not knowing what to do mind.It has no effect on the majority of pa (85% last year?).So there will be not much pressure on the majority kids.It will only remind those who have potentials to keep up.

Posted by Moira , a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2011 at 8:18 am

I grew up in CA and went to a basically middle-class high school in the late 70's. We were mostly white, but with about a third Latino and small Asian population (no immigrants in this era so no English learners). The class diversity was much broader than now in PA, from doctor's kids to children of blue collar families. We were not all planning to go to college, and I will admit that entry level jobs with decent pay were much easier to find then in businesses, factories, tech companies. Many of my classmates had valuable work experience in high school as admin assistants, dental technicians, mechanics, etc.

My point is I agree with the posts that want PAUSD to acknowledge that not all students are able or interested in going to a 4 year college. There should be more counseling and work-experience classes to prepare this group of students for careers. It is not a failure to not go to Princeton, the future jobs will not be just for Ivy League graduates.

If the minority students are indeed being under-challenged, then that should be addressed. If it is a matter of kids who do not wish to go to a university, or are unable to handle academics of UC requirements, PAUSD should acknowledge this openly. By Sophomore year, it is obvious who is on track for college or not. Kids who aren't headed for college should be clearly told by counselors (with information given to parents) where to get advice and possibly aptitude testing to PLAN early for career-figure out a community college or trade certificate to strive for. We still need electricians, plumbers, and numerous health related technicians.

Posted by a-g req, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Oct 27, 2011 at 8:29 am

But our schools do not think this way that it is time to set up a seperate path for the kids who will be trive in those areas.

Posted by checkthemiddle, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2011 at 8:38 am

My kids are now out of Gunn High School. There were many wonderful advantages provided by the school, but the stress levels in academics was too high. They were able to keep up and are attending UC's. But middle school did not prepare them well -- and yes we used tutors to keep up their math/English skills. Both my husband and I have advanced degrees and could make up for the fluffy curriculum in the middle school. This may be the biggest problem facing disadvantaged children is that they are not getting the preparation they need in middle school.

Posted by Carlos, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 27, 2011 at 9:16 am

Regardless of the differences in our own cultural, academic, socio-economic backgrounds, we should all take ownership for our decisions as to how hard to try and how much to accomplish in life (parents and students alike). Can't expect PAUSD to define your personal paths, and then blame them when things don't turn out to your liking. And definitely can't expect to pull back those who are doing well to ensure harmonious mediocrity.

The reality is much harsher once you are out of high school and you have no convenient people/organizations to blame anymore. It's some kind of social Darwinism, and we all know what happens to those who don't get it. It's all about personal decisions, but somehow in this age of political correctness many aren't willing to tell it like it is.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 10:02 am

It is important to understand the overall picture for Blacks/Latinos in the district, and the community should take an interest and educate itself. There is plenty that the district needs to work on here. There is a *state-mandated* remediation plan to address the substantial overrepresentation of Blacks/Latinos in special education. Blacks/Latinos are substantially *under-represented* in GATE, which impacts state GATE funding. Why are our teachers misidentifying students of color in this dramatic, systematic, on-going fashion?

Blacks/Latinos are subject to nontrivial school environment issues, including "N-word" incidents at Jordan last year, for example, and department IS leaders who are supposed to be committed to teaching all students, but instead cite as their official departmental position "brain theory" for the proposition that these kids cannot do Algebra 2 and our path for them is community colleges and jobs, and they should be happy with that.

PAUSD also has a substantial "pay to learn" problem, in terms of charging for summer school, and all the other fees and charges that go with class and school-related activities, including extracurriculars. Even with waivers, which can be humiliating to seek, this is unlawful and deters many from participating fully in our system. See the ACLU lawsuit in Southern California that immediately settled if you have any question about this matter, in terms of the right to a free public education in California. Blacks, Latinos and lower-income families are impacted by this.

PAUSD cites "excellence by design" but where are the excellent outcomes for these kids? In our squeaky wheel community they have no voice and are left behind as a result. A-G means that students will have the chance to attend affordable public college in our state, and private colleges that require A-G, which is most of them. When kids apply to college, the colleges don't say, you went to PAUSD and we know it's harder so don't worry about meeting our requirements. No, they treat PAUSD like any other district when it comes to academic requirements. Because we make our curriculum more advanced than necessary, we make it harder for all to move on to a successful outcome. Of course we must maintain that academic excellence, but we have to create different lanes, or normalize curriculum, or provide online learning options, or whatever -- don't sink our kids by the elite environment we have created that is stressing them ALL out.

If we require A-G, then we must design success for Blacks/Latinos starting in elementary school and hold ourselves accountable, rather than continuing to sweep them aside on the non-college track, which their families generally don't even see coming. If you are familiar with the proposal, it would enable waivers so it would not impact graduation rates.

One board member just said publicly that it is expected that students will bring outside prep, resources, and high parental involvement to achieve success. She needs to educate herself on what it means to be a fiduciary in public education. While this is obviously desirable, and the profile of many or most PAUSD parents, by law it cannot be *expected* by the district, because this is a PUBLIC school district, subject to the laws of the state and federal government, not a private school system for us all to ignore public equity issues.

We must take children as we find them and educate them, not just label them as unambitious or blame them their parents for working, being uneducated, or whatever. The district must take responsibility for all students, and we as a community should reach out and partner with these families and share the resources and expertise that we use for the success of our own children.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 10:13 am

Some interesting points being raised.

The purpose of education is to prepare young people for the life that is ahead of them.

Realising that a high school diploma is now no longer enough to get an entry level job in many walks of life is something that our schools should be making aware to our students. Giving them something that will enable them to graduate high school in June and put them in the job market in July is a fact of life.

I don't necessarily think our schools should include a comprehensive vocational skills set of electives is right. But, at the same time we must ensure that someone who is not college bound has the right resume to enable them to enter the job market albeit in a trainee category.

I would much rather see juniors and seniors getting day release and work experience, internships and being taught work skills and this should be something that all can benefit from, not just those that are not college bound.

I was recently in a business where the reception desk was being manned by a very young girl. I asked her if she was new and she told me that she was on a day release work experience program from her charter school and that she would be in the office one day every week for the school quarter. She was learning office management skills and doing a very good job of making me, a client of the business, feel valued as a client and get the information I needed in a very businesslike manner. This young lady will definitely be ready for an entry level office job upon her graduation which is her immediate goal.

PAUSD is in the business of educating students to get them into college and generally does this very well. What they do not do is to prepare a student for the work place. What good is it for a low income minority student who needs to be able to earn some money on graduation when all they have is a PAUSD diploma and no work skills? This person is much more likely to deviate into a life of crime or lifetime dependence on welfare benefits if they don't have something they can use to get an entry level job or into a training program for a blue collar job.

Getting day release work experience would be much better than vocational training, and getting them to learn how to budget, open a bank account, file taxes and buy a car are life lessons which will be really useful no matter which route they go. Education is not just about academics, it is about preparing them to be adults.

Posted by Leonard, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2011 at 10:19 am

It would be nice if people could see how lucky "all" of our kids are to have such a supportive community and school district. What about the many other California schools that can barely stay afloat? Let alone have extra resources for help and support. Help for this, help for that, name it and our school district and community probably has some kind of support to offer.

Each child is given the same opportunity for a great education and the final outcome depends on many factors. But I believe that the most important factor in determining our children's success comes from within the home through parenting. Sure, not every child may want to go to college but the opportunity for a good education through high school is available and what you do with that opportunity is your responsibility.

Posted by Gunn mother, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:07 am

What is the mandate of the high school guidance counselors? When I was in school if you got a warning letter or a D it always came with a visit to guidance for them to figure out what was going on. Are our counselors expected to spend too much time meeting the needs and demands of the "fill out every Ivy league school app, and justify why I should get into this AP class drones"? I would be interested in seeing percentage breakdown of hours and priorities for tasks attributed to the guidance department. Although their scope includes both areas I would hope that the mental, emotional and academic health of our schools would be better served if the emphasis were more on success in high school completion vs. college admission. These struggling kids (many of whom are white) often do not have the insight to know when and how to access help. I think that a mandatory guidance meeting should happen with every D or warning letter issued. Waiting until the senior meeting with these kids is too late.

I too am frustrated with the lack of consistent use of the online reporting resources. Unfortunately, in our case the correlation is high for teachers who do not use the system to also be the teachers in whose class many kids struggle due to lack of clarity in assignments, tardy return of work and disorganization. The perfect storm conditions for a struggling kid. This is not helicopter syndrome for struggling students as the impetus is not control but rather survival and support.

Posted by parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:31 am

Before forming an opinion be careful to read the board packet report by Diana Wilmot. Contrary to what some of the posts have stated, the majority of the 170 are not African American or Latino, are not special-ed and are not socioeconomically disadvantaged. The school district and board should be complimented and we as a community should be grateful that they are taking their responsibility to all of our children seriously. The parents and students pushing for A-G will not acknowledge that some students simply are not cut out to pass the requirements, that the requirements are not necessary for many jobs and that continuation of one's education at a community or private college can lead to UC, CSU admission, not to a dead end. These parents and students mean well but they are misinformed. As usual, the weekly did not report the meat of the district's impressive report but only the sensationalistic comments by those who were grandstanding at the meeting. Please search your conscience and have some compassion for our students.

Posted by Kahn academy Helps Our Family, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:32 am

Kahn Academy is available FREE to anyone who logs on. Kids can learn at their own pace. It is wonderful! We use it for practice at home, and it helps our kids master concepts they didn't grasp in class.

Part of the problem is so many kids take the classes over the summer so they aren't learning in class--hence, the breakneck speed. They are REVIEWING. Big difference. These kids should be identified and peeled off and put in a separate class that moves at a pace for reviewers rather than learners.

Here's the Kahn Academy link. It's great and it's FREE.

Web Link

I recommend you start here:

Web Link

Posted by Shaun, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 27, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Don't all kids have the expectation to do well in school? Why is this article about the black students - and now deemed a crisis? This article seems to be talking about the "achievement gap" once again.

Our community wants to bring in a diversity of children through the Tinsley program and low income housing and issues like this become the result. Is the achievement gap really that surprising? Who is really to blame? The school district, the city, or maybe the parents of the kids who were ok with having their children attend a school in Palo Alto which may prove to be a difficult journey for them. I'm so happy for the kids from EPA who are able to attend our schools and have such a great opportunity for a wonderful education, but is it worth the academic struggle and low self esteem they endure just to fit in and get through the system?

Posted by Herman, a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Here is a suggestion from another community (in Oregon). I'm a 70's Gunn grad, and involved in a very successful "Futures" mentor program at fairly low income high school in Central Oregon. Over 60 volunteer parents are involved in a program that matches a parent mentor with a Junior student, many who are low income, Hispanic, or first generation college eligible. Intensive training is provided the volunteers geared to helping each and every student with their future plans, which could include college, junior college, trade school, military or other options. The key is to give each student options, and assist them for almost two years to achieve the goals (of course, the student must follow through with tasks). Each mentor has 6-10 students they are helping. The professional counselors at the School each have over 400 students to assist, and thus many can fall through the cracks. This system has been extremely beneficial for many students, even those who have active and involved parents. Most of the volunteers are just a busy a the Palo Alto folks I grew up with, but believe in giving up free time to help.

Posted by charter school?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 2:02 pm


"I'm so happy for the kids from EPA who are able to attend our schools and have such a great opportunity for a wonderful education, "

It's not any more your schools because you you're in Fairmeadow than kids who come over in a bus from EPA. It is actually also their schools.

And because it's their school as much as it's your school, there is accountability to be expected from the district.

Public school but it's like private school? No, it's still public.

If the district can't so anything, what about a charter school?

Posted by Marie, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Teacher expectations are VERY important. The majority of white teachers have low expectations for kids of color and low skill white kids. PAUSD tries to satisfy the high end kids/parents. The kids in the middle get screwed - time & time again. Do parents really expect the district to prepare their kids to compete against the "others?" There is a LARGE pool of applicants and fewer spots available in most upper tier colleges. But there are institutions of higher learning which offer students a solid educational experience that do not require a-g/UC requirements.

Be practical. Be honest. Be prepared.

Posted by Another parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Dear Parent from Gunn,

How dare you accuse these kids and parents of "grandstanding". You should be ashamed of yourself. They should be congratulated for exercising their rights as citizens. The issue for minorities was buried in the report, and it needs attention. The point here is the relative percentages of success, not the total numbers, as these minorities, are well a minority. If you are okay with 0% for Blacks and 30+% for Latinos in terms of success, and you're saying that's because these "some students" are "simply not cut out to pass the requirements", that's troubling, and very sad.

Posted by parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 28, 2011 at 7:44 am

On the contrary, I did not mention anything about being okay with 0% and 30%, I merely point out that there are 170 students of all races who may not have attained the diploma they worked very hard to earn had the proposed rule been in effect. You misinterpret the situation - as did those students. How will forcing these 170 students of ALL races out of our district help raise expectations for minorities? Students of any race who are not planning college for whatever reason will merely be gone and out of our minds. Our district will become more class-based and therefore less diverse than it is now.
What we need is to force high expectations, not graduation requirements. Those are very different because high expectations are not going to undermine kids who struggle, while forcing A-G could do more harm than good. We need to have compassion for those who struggle, not make their stress levels intolerable.

Posted by registered user, Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2011 at 8:23 am

As long as we classify students by race, race will matter. As soon as we outlaw racial classification, race will no longer matter. We have had 30 years of this racist crap and it has segregated our schools. Time to put away a failed race based policy and start treating students as individuals.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2011 at 9:28 am

Dear Gunn parent,

Can you please withdraw your pejorative statement about "grandstanding" unless you intend for us to enter a new era where we adults anonymously attack PAUSD students online. If you meant it as a compliment, please clarify, and I'd like to see if you are capable of acknowledging them in a positive fashion for their efforts in citizenship.

Posted by parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 28, 2011 at 9:45 am

Well, okay, grandstanding may have been a little harsh considering that these are students. But I'd like to see some compassion for struggling students - no one is acknowledging their efforts to stay in school. No one is acknowledging the value of their diplomas. What kind of message is that?

Posted by parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 28, 2011 at 9:48 am

I misspoke again, the School Board and PAUSD is acknowledging the value of these students and the effort they put in over 13 years to stay in school to earn their diploma - that was evident from the majority of their comments at the board meeting.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm

People have a false understanding of what an a-g certified class actually should be, and what the content of these classes are in other districts. These are supposed to be academically challenging classes, to be sure. But they need not be college level classes. A-G is not the same as AP. And AP at Gunn is not, frankly, the same as AP in other schools. There is no need to force every kid who is trying to qualify to go to a CSU to take the same a-g class as those who hope to attend UCB. Of course, there is no need to put those who hope to attend UCB through the ridiculous gauntlet of hopped-up difficulty and ginned-up homework for its own sake, either. The workload in many courses at Gunn and Paly is a hazing ritual that bears little relationship to its purpose and value.

I suggest for your consideration that the poor A-G completion rates for our minority students are representative of the same problem that has been a focus for Project Safety Net: our classes are too stressful, the assignments too numerous, the work proceeds at an unnecessary breakneck pace. The hamsters are running as fast as they can, but some of them are getting caught in the gears of the wheel. Those who are weaker for whatever reason -- whether due to depression or other challenges, or due to family income, or language barriers, or being first-generation, or just not knowing how to self-advocate in such a competitive place -- the weaker hamsters just get thrown from the wheel.

It has been well-known for years that there is a set of kids that is not well-served by PAUSD. Those with resources and know-how, and parents with time to devote to helping their kids, are able to find tutors or other resources for their kids, or have the knowledge to tutor them themselves. Or have the money if all else fails to remove their kids from Gunn and send them to private schools. Everyone reading this knows families, including minority families, who have done these things to ensure that their kids got to a 4 year college if that was what the child wanted. Minority children from EPA are much less likely to come from a background where the parents have those resources. However, they do come from ambitious, resourceful families that attempted to do the best they could to get their children a good education and against the odds got them into the Palo Alto schools.

We don't have to be powerless to change this. The school board should stop wringing their hands and insist on accountability from the district staff on this issue. It might be time for a third high school, perhaps a charter school, for Palo Alto. There are nonprofit charter organizations that specialize in raising the achievement of at-risk students. Palo Alto has a great need for a smaller third high-school that can provide the kinds of social-emotional learning strategies and interventions that many students need to be successful.

We can do better than this.

Posted by registered user, Brian Guth-Pasta, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Why didn't they say we should raise standards for ALL students? If a white person were to suggest this they would be called a racist. Why is it okay for a minority to say, "we need special treatment"??? I agree that there is racism in schools, but, I am tired of the double standards, let us have all our children improve.

Posted by registered user, CrunchyCookie, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Oh come on. It's silly scapegoating to blame a school district for what is, almost by definition, either a student failing or student conscious choice. The request to take 4 years of English, 3 math, 2 science, 2 history, 2 language, and 2 misc isn't all that demanding... hell, you can do all that plus the mandatory freshman science and frosh/soph PE, and still have 8 prep periods over a 4-year high school career.

The aptitude argument (sorry to bring it up) doesn't much fly either. It might be relevant in discussing demographic differences between AP/non-AP tracks, but getting a buttload of B's in standard classes is pretty doable for anyone who makes an honest effort (even I did it, and I suck), which is enough to take you to San Jose State. Any implied racism allegations hardly fly either: SATs know no color, and I'd estimate that 80+% of our teachers are super progressive. I met maybe one or two that I suspected were racist, out of what, 60(?), in PAUSD K-12.

I'd put 75% of the blame on lack of effort. If things haven't changed since my day, most of the Hispanic kids were either goofing off in class or not attending altogether (i.e. hanging out in the Batcave) -- a natural extension of their JLS-era behavior of spending their after-school hours gangsta posing / harassing other kids at Alma Plaza or whatever. And let's not forget that whole V-Street thing. If you must have an external scapegoat, blame the lack of parenting.

Posted by registered user, CrunchyCookie, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 28, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Oops, make that 10 prep periods:
7 periods x 4 years = 28 classes to fill
15 A-G + 3 Gunn = 18 classes filled

Posted by registered user, Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2011 at 9:13 am

All about this...make it an "opt out" curriculum, whereby there is a minimum schedule for all students for graduation, such that all are presented with a schedule that would complete the a-g requirements..In this age of computers, isn't there a way that all students can have such a curriculum built into a "recommend" form for their semester/annual course signups?

If any student wants to "opt out", at least one of the parents has to sign a waiver saying s/he is aware that her child is not going to have the requirements necessary to qualify for the UC system.

Thus, all students are "on the path" for a-g, and it still acknowledges that not all students MUST be on the 4 year University track. Any who opt out, do so freely. more "low expectations" or "racist" charges ( though I am not naive enough to think that when/if there is STILL a higher rate of opt-outs in latino and black kids there won't be accusations of "institutional" racism or something..tiring)

I refer to a similar proposal by the Board that was reviewed a month or so ago, with concerns about a "one size fits all" graduation requirement hurting some kids, but proposing "waivers", if done well, to support the kids who are clearly not on that track ( and, my aside, to have vocational/technical high school tracks for those kids).

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