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Superintendent: Bad tenured teachers hard to fire

Original post made by julie, Midtown, on Jun 29, 2008

from washington postWeb Link

Few people know better than school superintendent Allan Gerstenlauer that disciplining a tenured teacher can be a long and expensive process.

An English teacher in his Long Island district remains on the payroll, earning an annual salary of $113,559, even after pleading guilty earlier this month to drunken driving charges _ her fifth DWI arrest in seven years.

The teacher will remain on paid leave at least until a disciplinary hearing in August, and it will be up to an impartial arbitrator to decide whether she needs to be fired as she faces a likely prison sentence.

"It is very frustrating that the process takes so long," Gerstenlauer conceded.

The case illustrates a nagging problem in school districts in New York and elsewhere around the country: firing bad teachers. It is also part of the ongoing debate over education reform and the role tenure plays in the process.

Advocates for reform cite a list of egregious examples they say demonstrate why teacher tenure rules need to be overhauled.

Comments (63)

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Posted by sam
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 29, 2008 at 4:46 pm

We do not have a problem with bad teachers in PAUSD

We do have a problem with DIFFICULT PARENTS however and it is impossible to fire them unfortunately.

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Posted by difficult parents
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2008 at 9:05 am

While I agree that we have difficult parents, I also believe that we have bad teachers in PAUSD. We need to have a better evaluation system for the teachers. Good teachers should be rewarded, while bad teachers should be disciplined.
A simple survey from the parents might offer some perspectives. If only few parents say bad things about a teacher, it could be that these are just difficult parents. However, if majority of parents say similar things, it is very likely that what they are saying has some truth in it, good or bad.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2008 at 9:09 am

Even the kids know the difference between good teachers and bad teachers. Ask them? Sometimes they will say teachers they don't like are bad but generally asking the right questions and reading between the lines gets a good response from them.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 30, 2008 at 9:38 am

All of this is useless talk; the union rules everything. I agree that we have the full spectrum of teachers here, certainly, from many outstanding ones who should get huge raises to two I believe should not be working here at all.GOod luck doing anything about that.

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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 30, 2008 at 9:47 am

Sam - we do have some truly terrible teachers, though not many.

My son's [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] teacher at Jordan who tells kids they are stupid, is racially prejudiced and is mean enough that the other teachers have told the kids not to be alone with her since she is verbally abusive when alone with a child.

Jordan [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] teacher who could not control her class at all (and received tenure the next year)

Paly [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] teacher who couldn't be bothered to return papers, homework, etc. for literally months and told the kids not to "bother her" by asking for them

Paly [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] teacher (who is retiring) that went off on such tangents that the kids were ill prepared far their tests.

We do have some difficult and demanding parents who forget that they don't run the schools...

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Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 30, 2008 at 10:39 am

As a teacher with 26 years of experience in 3 districts, I can tell you that every school has some poor teachers who shouldn't be teaching. Obviously, some schools have fewer of these than others. It helps if the administration really pays attention to what's happening in classrooms, especially the first 2 years when teachers can easily be fired. Administrators also need to take feedback from parents and students seriously and not view parents with a point of view as problem parents. (There are, of course, some parents who just like to complain, but, in my experience, there aren't that many.) Some administrators take their role as evaluators and their decisions about who receives tenure very seriously; others do not. Unfortunately, when they don't, we're stuck for years with poor teaching, which is totally unfair to students.
In my limited experience with PAUSD, I have come across more examples of poor teaching at the high school level than at the elementary or middle school. One example that comes to mind is my son's social studies teacher this past year who wasted much of the class time fumbling around and talking about her personal life, then regularly handed out packets of worksheets. Based on what I heard from my son and his friends, she rarely prepared an actual lesson or interesting activity. As a result, most of them dreaded going to the class. Many students complain about her teaching, but no one seems to be taking the complaints seriously.
Another example is his math teacher from last year, who regularly showed up to class late, sometimes 10 minutes. Her record keeping was sloppy, and grades were often not entered or entered incorrectly. This year his geometry teacher gave the class algebra review sheets every week, and my son and others with him in algebra last year had not even had some of the concepts that they were supposedly reviewing. They all noticed that they didn't have the same foundation the other students had. I finally hired a tutor to teach him the algebra he needed in order to complete the algebra review sheets.
The idea of finding a way to reward and penalize tenured teachers is gaining in popularity, but it's problematic. If a method could be found that didn't favor those who teach high-level students (i.e., rely on standardized test scores), it might be worth consideration.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2008 at 10:50 am

I went to a couple of those coffees for certain grade parents at the middle school level with the hopes of being able to discuss some of the suspect teachers and meet with other parents who had the same teacher concerns. Unfortunately, the ones I attended seemed to be more social gatherings and PTA types, why nothing wrong with that, I would have liked to be able to find other parents of my kid's teachers and see if they had the same issues and find out if corporately we could approach the admin at the school.

If there was a better way to contact the parents of a teacher we were having problems with it may help. It may help for the teacher too if it was just one kid and there was an issue which was down to something fundamental that could be changed. In other words, if I discovered that my kid was complaining about a teacher and I found that the other parents all got good messages about the teacher from their kids, then I would know better how to talk to my kid about it.

I know that this potentially could end up sounding like a lynch mob getting out for one teacher, but if enough parents had legitimate complaints I am sure the administrators would listen more than if it was just one parent.

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 30, 2008 at 12:13 pm

One commenter writes: "All of this is useless talk; the union rules everything."

Actually, there are changes and reforms occurring in many places. Unions are not monolithic and inflexible. There are various models for teacher evaluation around the state and country, and in some districts where teachers have more influence and autonomy, they actually do more than administrators to help struggling teachers, and then release teachers or "counsel" them out of teaching (again, at rates higher than in admin. vs. union adversarial systems). If you look at the official positions of state and national unions, they are not against flexibility or change, but they are against change that is imposed rather than negotiated, against schemes that rely entirely on test scores.

What is useless, however, is throwing up our hands and giving up based on misinformation.

As both a school parent and teacher, I would suggest that parents need to bring their concerns to teachers and administrators, in a respectful way, beginning with inquiry rather than accusation, and asking about solutions rather than issuing demands. I don't know any teacher who wants to be ineffective, and when it has come to my attention that I've been ineffective for a particular student, I'll adjust. But in many cases when parents felt I was ineffective, it turned out that their students hadn't shared complete or accurate information about my instruction and curriculum, available resources, or my offers of extra help. A friendly conversation often clears these things up quickly, while grumbling privately builds resentment.

Could we also have less anonymity on Town Square? Is it necessary to hide your name to go out on a limb and say you'd like to see improved mechanisms for parents to communicate with schools? Specific criticisms of specific teachers shouldn't really have a place here, I think, so if using your name would serve to identify that teacher, maybe it would be best to remove the identifying info about the teacher and write comments you can put your name to publicly.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 30, 2008 at 5:15 pm

The teacher evaluation form I have seen is a joke. It is structured to prevent any kind of meaningful feedback to the teacher OR the administration.
Yes, as a parent, anonymity really is necessary. In my limited experience, it absolutely does not result in any change/investigation if a parent raises a concern about a teacher to the teacher, the TA, IS, or highter administration. (I have not been in this district at all grade levels).
Remember, I greatly support and respect most teachers as I am in an allied profession. However I am aware of one really extreme case of a teacher being granted tenure here despite extreme and severe issues; administration made a decision to look the other way instead of looking for an appropriate new hire, which would have perhaps been a hassle? Therefore, a particular program is weak as a result.
By the way, I am also uncomfortable with parents who personally or publicly effusively praise individual teachers. I do not put my name forward to "kiss up" to teachers with gifts(we are at the high school level). 99% of the time my kids have handled their own affairs. I have been concerned about parents who are overly friendly with teachers; there even was a parent several years back who said she baked Christmas cookies for each teacher, which seemed over the top. I try to thank a fine teacher AFTER my children are finished with any dealings/grades with that teacher (like the next year). A businesslike relationship is appropriate, not cozy conversation.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 30, 2008 at 5:17 pm

FYI I am speaking of the high school level, not Kindergarten.

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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 30, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Who knew? Time to make union menbership voluntary [It worked for the United Mine Workers and in crafts] and let unions police themselves. Teachers won't get fired fo not teaching but they will get fired for refusing to pay tribute to unions. My old union, IBEW, would not tolerate an inept electrician, but you could jerk wires without a card.

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Posted by teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 30, 2008 at 6:26 pm

I have three kids in three different schools in PAUSD. As a teacher myself I understand the the complexity of the profession. My biggest complaint is how PAUSD hires very well educated teachers, who can't teach and then offers them tenure. Where I see this the most is at Jordan. Middle school is really tough for both teachers and kids, but it seems like several teachers don't have any understanding of the developmental aspects of middle schoolers. One math teacher put all of the kids with learning disabilities in one area and proceeded to ignore them for the entire year. It's great that she's has amazing credentials, but that doesn't make her a good teacher. A good teacher can reach most everyone on a human level and then take care of the academics.

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Posted by Ada
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2008 at 11:29 am

Of course there are bad teachers in PAUS! Some are boring to death, some are especially mean, some are simply incompetent in their subject.
I agree that there should be a better way to evaluate teachers, and the best and most inspiring teachers should be paid big $$, and underperformers should be put on performance improvement plan, like in the real world

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Posted by mom of 3
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 1, 2008 at 4:49 pm

I am a teacher with fourteen years experience in middle school. Teachers in Palo Alto Unified really vary. My daughter had incredibly competent teachers while my son had an experience at Jordan that defies understanding. He had one teacher who never finished her sentences, and when I met with her I realized she was heavily medicated. Later she took a medical leave apparently resulting from an injury. My meeting was six or seven weeks into the school year and yet the principal or administrators were totally unaware of her problem. He also had a rookie teacher who never returned essays; I tried to meet with her but she was unavailable. Next year she was gone. He had a third teacher that year who complained to the students that they were all spoiled rich kids.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 1, 2008 at 10:52 pm

What is it with the incompetent teacher thing? I had some in school, but I've even seen it at top-level universities. Professors who'd once been able, but for various reasons were truly no longer competent to teach--but totter into the classroom they would.

I knew of one sociology professor who was so out of it that slacker students would take his class because they could tell him they'd turned in a non-existent paper and he'd give them credit for it.

It's not a new problem nor one limited to public schools and it's kind of underaddressed.

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Posted by Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 2, 2008 at 8:57 am

Of all of the districts in our area, PAUSD CAN pick and choose the cream of the teaching crop. I personally feel that a better evaluation system needs to be in place before a teacher is offered tenure. I pay a lot of money (as we all do) in property taxes. I shouldn't have to worry if my kids teachers are going to teach them what they need to know. As a teacher, i know my own principal observes me 3 times a year and SCHEDULES the observation so i'm prepared, which makes me laugh. Currently, the biggest judge of the teachers performance is parent feedback. If A LOT of kids and parents are having problems with a teacher, it's a problem. I think kids, peers, and parents should fill out yearly teacher evaluations, like in college.

I absolutely agree with OhlonePar, we've all had horrible teachers and we survived, but it is an issue that needs to be addressed here in our district.

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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 2, 2008 at 9:11 am

A lot of the PAUSD schools have evaluation forms for the teachers, they must be signed by the submitter, and go to the teacher first (not their supervisor) so I guess its up to them to decide whether to pass on the info...

there are parent visitation days at jordan - I remember my daughter telling me that was the only time her 6th grade math teacher actually taught the class.

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Posted by Grandma
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2008 at 10:43 pm

Talking of bad teachers. I remember, many years ago, when my children were in elementary school a teacher used to give her class a project, walk out, go to her car where she kept liquor, sit there and drink for the next 30 minutes. How did we know, parents saw her do it.

We knew she had a drinking problem, but to leave her classroom was more than us parents could take. We complained and the next year she disappeared. Perhaps transferred to another elementary school.

Transferring teachers with problems around between schools is often the only way the District can deal with these teachers.

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2008 at 10:58 pm

Palo Alto teachers are some of the best in California. This district constantly outperforms most others. Give credit where credit is due. All organizations have problem personnel, but PAUSD's teachers are uniformly heads and shoulders more skilled and artful than teachers in other districts.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 3, 2008 at 7:05 am

Sadly, the teachers' union is stifling education in this country. In Europe and Japan children attend school for more days per year, up to 220 and for more hours per day. In high school I had an 8 period day all fully taught, no free periods. We learned at least 2 foreign languages. I went to school from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, then 2 hours of homework.

So long as the Teachers' Union controls the number of days per year and the number of hours they are willing to teach, schools in the U.S. will drag behind.

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Posted by Also Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2008 at 9:05 am


Bad teachers union resistance may be part of the reason education has so many problems.

But the main cause is parents who do not value education. Say what you will about the craziness of parents in this area, at least they value education. That is why kids in this district do so well.

Despite RWE's high opinion of teachers here, its the parents that make the difference. If you gave our teachers the kids from Watsonville, the results would be a disaster.

Also, I think comparisons with other countries can be misleading.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 3, 2008 at 12:18 pm

Sorry, you've got to look at public-school funding. High-tax states consistently perform well (Mass., Conn., NJ--the one exception to this is DC, which has its own issues, it's *all* poor kids.)

California's ranking went into freefall after Prop. 13. The exception are districts, like ours, that do a lot of local funding.

So we do, by and large, get what we pay for. We can recruit the better and more experienced teachers and do. Teachers seem to stick around for the most part.

But, yeah, some bad ones get in, or they become bad teachers for various reasons.

I don't know that we have more bad teachers than average. We might have fewer, but there seems to be no effective way to manage the ones we do have--and that's partly a union issue.

At the same time, because school funding's such an issue in this state and teachers are a relatively underpaid group compared to other professions (worth of masters in engineering v. masters in teaching for example), so job security is an incentive for people to enter the profession. It's not like we can use stock options.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2008 at 12:22 pm


Also, I think comparisons with other countries can be misleading


Do you think some of the flaws in the system here may show or are you just afraid we may come out in a bad light?

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Posted by One Parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Jul 3, 2008 at 9:42 pm

Well put, Also Resident. It is the parents that make the huge difference for the school performance. As for the teachers, I am not so sure.

My kids are still young so I thought I'd let them sort out the simple math. Earlier this year I saw the graded worksheets brought home from school, which was totally wrong. I started flipping through the work brought home. Not surprisingly, the elementary school math is GRADED wrong left and right.

There is a school teacher, a TA, a grader, and so many parents working in a classroom, and the simple math problem still could not be graded correctly. This teacher is said to have been with PAUSD for 20+ years...

So I started looking over my kids' work that they bring home. You'd better do the same, I bet you will find something in there...

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Posted by How-Do-You-Prove-Best?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 4, 2008 at 9:46 am

> Palo Alto teachers are some of the best in California.

There is no evidence of this, because the school district is not permitted to release personnel records, such as transcripts or recommendations from previous employers.

Just claiming they are the "best" does not make them so. Also keep in mind that there is an "achievement gap" in the PAUSD. If Palo Alto's teachers were "the best"--there would be no "achievement gap".

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 4, 2008 at 9:50 am

> California's ranking went into freefall after Prop. 13.

This is folk lore. There were no state standardized tests in those days .. and only the SAT to provide any sense of "ranking". The SAT is/was voluntary, so there was never any way to "rank" the students who didn't take the SAT across states.

Sadly .. people promoting excessive, and non-productive, educational spending do not seem to want to understand this point--making the ridiculous claim that Prop.13 "tanked" California education.

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 4, 2008 at 10:07 am

Regarding the quality of PAUSD teachers, there are many measures of quality. Without getting into an extended discussion (with anonymous critics), I would point out that we are better positioned to hire and retain teachers with excellent qualifications (which is admittedly different from teaching skill - but still essential). We also have way more than our share of National Board Certified Teachers - 1.5% of state's total teachers with this advanced teaching certification work in PAUSD.

Regarding broader issues of teacher effectiveness, many of the problems laid at the feet of teachers are systemic issues that limit the effectiveness of teachers. Teachers are at the front end of a much larger and troubled system.

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Posted by How-Do-You-Prove-Best?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 4, 2008 at 10:46 am

> with anonymous critics

A rose is still a rose --- no matter what name you use.

> We also have way more than our share of National Board
> Certified Teachers - 1.5% of state's total teachers with this
> advanced teaching certification work in PAUSD.

Hmmm .. there are over 300,000 teachers in California. If the PAUSD has 1.5% of the total National Board Certified Teachers employed, then this test must not be seen as of much value to the 300,000 teachers employed elsewhere.

What would be more impressive, would be to demonstrate that the students in the classes of these teachers score significantly higher on their standardized tests--say at least 10%. Then we might be able to talk about the "quality" of PA teachers (well, at least the NBCT teachers).

Sorry .. but no cigar .. just claiming "we're the best" doesn't make it so.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 4, 2008 at 10:56 am

What is it with middle school administrators in PA? Is this a problem everywhere? Jordan clearly is chock a block with "issues" including teacher selection and management. Even the teachers we know from there shake their heads over the administrators they've seen. And Terman's current principal is as uninspiring as they come; we couldn't believe her weak performance at the meetings we attended.

The school is unlikely to be stronger than its leadership. Is this damange left over from the last Super, or is this an endemic problem?

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 4, 2008 at 12:46 pm


There were certainly standardized tests in those days. Not the current set, but I was in school at the time and we took them each year and the results (percentages) were published each year.

And while SATS are voluntary, you still have certain percentage taking them. And those scores fell throughout this period--actually until they jimmied the scores so that 500 was always "average". I think they ought to switch it back because there are too many "perfect" SATS, which makes them useless for distinguishing high performers from one another. Yesteryear's Verbal 730 is now an 800.

I was *in* school when Prop. 13 passed and here's what my district did:

Cut graduation requirments so that if you were on a normal track, you could graduate with more than enough credits if you took 3 classes the second half of your senior year. That would include gym, only--

They cut gym requirements in half.

My high school, which was very demographically mixed, went from high performance to bottom. It's now at the bottom of the state rankings.

Building schools pretty much ground to a halt.

Courses were slashed right and left.

In Palo Alto, of course, they closed a third of the schools. Thus, our current problem.

You really, really think this had *no* effect on school scores?

Again, with the exception of DC, there's a high correlation between school performance and public spending in the state.

So no folklore, some of us were there learning just how little people cared about my generation's well-beiong. It's one of the reasons I put up with Palo Alto's crazy parents--it beats the alternative. I have friends in other districts who have always believed in public education pulling their kids from public schools and putting them in private schools. And I mean the kind of parents who are active in the classroom and head volunteer committees. They *tried* to make public education work and in a lot of places in California, it really doesn't.

Do those districts have worse teachers? Maybe, but the main thing seems to be that cash is scarce in general revenue districts and when cash is limited, the money you do have is spent on trying to bring up underperformers to grade level.

In one case, the kid was bright and left to his own devices. He wasn't a problem, so he was ignored, but his parents knew he wasn't getting what his PAUSD peers were getting.

The other kid was also bright, but had some academic issues that weren't noticed because she was at grade level in that district.

Which would be about a year behind grade level in our district. Her mom got her tutoring so she was performing at the same level as our kids and private-school kids and could even get into a decent private school.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 4, 2008 at 2:29 pm

OP, while I'm sure those things happened, I'm not sure they were all related to Prop 13. While I wasn't here, looking at the long-term enrollment figures for PA, there was a severe trough of students at that time. Schools closed (and frequently were sold off) all over the country in that period, due to demographic trends.

It sounds like you don't have the test score trends, though you think they may exist. That would be worth finding. While I think Prop 13 is deeply flawed, esp in terms of its effects on the housing market, I'm not sure it is the root cause of CA's educational outcomes.

A couple of data points. First, Massachusetts, in 1980, passed Prop 2 1/2, which was similar to Prop 13 in that is severely limits towns' ability to increase taxes and requires overrides for anything above a nominal increase. Mass schools, however, continue to lead the nation in outcomes, despite the cap. Second, CA is the #1 state in terms of percentage and diversity of immigrants. I suspect that the challenge of schooling such a diverse population and impact of ELL's on average outcomes, drives California results quite a bit.

I'd be interested in finding those test score trends. But I'd also be interested in seeing a more robust model of the drivers - I bet there are a 100 research papers are out there.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 4, 2008 at 3:14 pm

Sorry Me Too,

They *were* the exact result of Proposition 13. As in the board held a meeting and chose to make those cuts in response to the effects of Prop. 13. Maybe you did have to be there to see just how drastic the immediate results were, but they were shocking and disheartening.

Why do you think houses in districts like ours are so expensive? pre Prop. 13 it wasn't this way--there were rich areas and poor areas, but other factors were just as important (how nice the houses and lots were, for instance).

The influx of immigrants is a big burden for California schools, no question--but the drop happened before the big influx.

I don't know the ins and outs of Massachuesetts propositions, but Prop. 13 was followed by a couple of other Jarvis-Gann measures that made it extremely hard for people to compensate for the shortfall it created. As it is, we have a very unstable tax base because it's so dependent on income tax instead of, like other states, property taxes.

Another long-term effect of Prop. 13 is that people have voted at various times to dedicate various parts of the budget to education. Another chunk goes to prisons (a growth industry with Three Strikes) and very little is left for everything else.

We run a lot of critical services in this state on a wing and a prayer, hoping that we don't get hit with a disaster. And, yeah, you probably did have to be there to remember what California looked like before every school and every government building looked run-down. Or before people had massive bidding wars so they could overpay for small tract houses in one of the state's few good school districts.

Once upon a time, good schools were all over the place. And people weren't paying an arm and a leg to live near a good one. Overcrowded? Hey, there was actually money to build more schools. From the ground up.

Yeah, sounds pretty wild doesn't it?

You know, you get what you pay for. This is pretty obvious in the private sector. Why do you think it's different in the public sector?

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 4, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Thank you for that information. It sounds like Prop 13 was a proximate cause of the closings. But since the enrollment was quite down and schools did close in other states at the time, there may have been other contributing factors.

You write "the drop happened before the big influx" of immigrants. Can you point to the data you are referring to re the drop in academic performance? I would like to see how it correlates with immigration as well as other factors.

In terms of funding - here is a link Web Link showing per capita education spending by state compiled by the Public Policy Institute of NY State (which seems like a fairly neutral source). It shows CA tenth in national spending per capital. I grant that labor and other costs tend to be higher here than many other places; but how clear is it that spending is the core problem? FWIW, the schools in my fairly tony Mass suburb were chronically run down - we were shocked to find the hot water in our elementary school's boys bathroom (and 80 year old building btw) had not worked for 2 years. But they skimped hard on buildings to deliver good results. And there was no bond for new windows or "thermal comfort upgrades," believe me.

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Posted by Horace
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 4, 2008 at 5:57 pm

Web Link

Analysts have cited a legion of reasons for the state's slide in achievement: the steady leaching of resources from the schools that was the inevitable result of the infamous 1970s property-tax revolt led by Howard Jarvis; a long period of economic woes caused by layoffs in the defense industry; curriculum experiments with" whole language" reading instruction and" new math" that were at best a distraction and at worst quite damaging; a school finance lawsuit that led to a dramatic increase in the state's authority over school budgets and operations; and a massive influx of new students and non-English-speaking immigrants that almost surely depressed test scores, Whatever the reasons, the result was a sharp drop in the public's and policymakers' confidence in the abilities and, indeed, the motivation of local educators. A political coalition and consensus developed around the ideas that accurate information on student and school performance is needed in order to hold educators accountable and that educators can't be trusted to work hard without the existence of positive and negative state incentives.

(This article has more information, but this is the most important paragraph for this discussion.)

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Posted by Horace
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 4, 2008 at 6:01 pm

This is a somewhat lengthy posting, but it provides some in-depth background about the reading problem that developed in California schools during the 1980s:

Web Link

Nationalizing Curriculum and Testing
Download PDF of the larger publication

Until the mid 1800s, education in the United States was local. Virtually all decisions were made at the school level, whether the schools operated independently or were run by local government.

A chief argument for the creation of our modern state-level school systems was that the centralization of decision-making in the hands of experts would usher in a new era of more effective teaching methods and materials, and thus lead to significant improvement in student achievement. These same arguments are heard today, though it is now widely suggested that standards and testing should be directed by the federal government. In a May 2001 survey, 78 percent of Americans supported nationally standardized tests.[17]

Is our support for nationalizing curriculum and testing justified? Or is it another example of something that seems like it ought to work but really doesn't? There are a couple of ways to answer that question. Most obviously, we can look at how well the move to state-level curricula and testing have played out.

One of the most decisive examples was California's adoption of a new statewide reading instruction curriculum in 1987. The adoption process was very much what one might expect, with curriculum designers from all over the country being solicited to submit their proposals, and a state committee of education experts selecting the winner from among them. It was the same sort of process by which many other curriculum- and textbook-selection decisions are made around the country.

Over the next several years, reading scores on the California Assessment Program declined steadily. Seven years into the new reading program, California's fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) had fallen to dead last in the nation.

Though some suggested that this abysmal showing might be due to the state's high immigrant population or other demographic factors, the evidence indicated otherwise. In fourth grade reading, California's white students – when considered separately from their minority counterparts – scored worst in the nation in reading. The state's Hispanic students also scored worst, and its black students were second worst in the nation.

What had gone wrong? As it happened, the education experts on the state curriculum committee had selected a program that eliminated structured, synthetic phonics, the practice of systematically teaching children to read words by sounding out their constituent parts and then blending those sounds together. Evidence showing the great importance of phonics in early reading instruction was already well established before the committee members made their decision.[18]

So why did the committee's experts reject all the instructional programs that adhered to the consensus of reading research? Wishful thinking. Structured, teacher-directed methods of instruction run counter to the philosophy that has held sway in teacher training programs for more than 70 years. Education philosophers and theorists, those who have guided the curriculum in colleges of education for a century, espouse a naturalistic teaching philosophy that states all learning is natural, and that structured, teacher-directed lessons are stifling and harmful. So, when it came time for a group of educators to choose a method of reading instruction for California's millions of children, they eschewed structured, empirically proven phonics lessons, opting instead for the unproven but philosophically appealing "whole language" approach.

To blame California's rejection of effective reading instruction methods on this committee would be a terrible mistake. These were well-meaning individuals doing what they thought, and what they had been taught, was right. There is no reason to think that an entirely different group of people would not have made the same choice, in spite of the evidence in favor of phonics.

The problem was not with the people involved, but with the system in which they operated. If there had been a mechanism in place that would have encouraged committee members to heed the most reliable research, and that would have strongly tied their own professional futures to student outcomes, then and only then could this committee, and the next, and the next, be expected to consistently make sound decisions.

The case of California is not unique. It is just one episode in a long history of arbitrary curriculum and textbook selection decisions made by well-meaning expert educators. Occasionally their decisions have been good ones; more often they have been dubious or even disastrous.[19]

Dismayed by the lack of evidence mustered by supporters of centralized curriculum guidelines, Columbia University researcher Richard M. Wolf decided to compare the results of the nations participating the Third International Mathematics and Science Study to determine whether or not having national achievement standards correlated with higher achievement. They didn't. Though most of the participating countries did "have a national curriculum or syllabus," Wolf wrote, there was "virtually no relationship between student performance and having a national curriculum or syllabus."[20]

The 150-year-old prediction that centralizing power over the curriculum in the hands of experts would ensure sound pedagogical decisions has been proved false by hard, sad experience. Centralization of authority doesn't provide an incentive structure that consistently forces educators to heed research evidence and to focus on outcomes rather than on idealized notions of how children should learn.

The record of state testing programs is equally troubled. A great body of evidence has been amassed over the past decade pointing to widespread corruption in these programs. High-stakes test results are referred to in the scholarly literature as "polluted" and "contaminated" by fraud and are considered to be virtually useless as measures of actual student achievement. The problem ranges from occasional outright cheating by teachers and principals to inflate student scores, to the more common practices of "teaching to the test" and of preventing potentially low-scoring students from taking the tests.

These problems occur all over the country, from Michigan[21] to California,[22] from suburban Connecticut[23] to central Chicago,[24] and everywhere in between. By far, the most telling evidence of cheating comes from public-school educators themselves. A 1992 survey asked 2,256 teachers, principals, testing coordinators and superintendents from around the country whether their colleagues engaged in blatant cheating. Forty-four percent said yes.[25] Fifty-five percent of the teachers surveyed were aware of flagrantly unethical testing practices such as changing student's answers, teaching specific test items in advance of the test, and giving hints during the test. The higher the stakes associated with a particular test, the greater the incentive to massage its results.

Apart from the fact that high-stakes tests have become unreliable measures of student achievement, there are other reasons to be apprehensive about them. Unbeknownst to most education reformers, high-stakes national testing programs are not a recent idea. More than a century ago, England put in place a system whereby schools were paid based on the number of students passing a set of government tests. Scientist T. H. Huxley observed at the time that this "Payment by Results" program "did not compel any schoolmaster to leave off teaching anything; but, by the very simple process of refusing to pay for many kinds of teaching, it has practically put an end to them."[26]

Even when money is not directly at stake, evaluating schools solely on the basis of high-profile tests can have the same deleterious effects. As already noted, U.S. public schools already alter their curricula to fit the material they know to be on state- or district-level tests. To the extent that a subject is not part of a mandatory state curriculum or testing program, it is likely to be marginalized. This trend is also evident in England under its current National Curriculum. According to the National Association of Head Teachers, the "obsession with passing tests in English, mathematics and science [means] other subjects [are] being overlooked."[27]

Most of us agree on the importance of a thorough, well-designed curriculum. And the public is solidly in favor of academic testing as one way to find out how much children are learning and how well schools are performing. But the benefits to be derived from mandatory imposition of a particular curriculum or set of tests by state and federal governments are not supported by the evidence.

Prop.13 had nothing to do with the introduction of "Whole English", or "new math". If is pretty clear that "educators" not interested in teaching, but more interested in "experimenting" were the cause of the general decline of the California schools.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a convenient source of information about the test scores of the state's students to review in comparison to school funding.

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Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2008 at 6:07 pm

My son had a teacher new to his middle school this year and the teacher taught them fantastic things but was not so good in other ways (disorganized, too much homework and quick deadlines) and although a lot of the parents were fretting, most did not want to tell the teacher for fear of it affecting the way the teacher might subconsciously view their child. At the end of the year, I complained to the VP and was taken seriously, fortunately, but I am wondering why the parents did not receive teacher evaluations if it only takes two years to receive tenure. Shouldn't the administrators get feedback from parents?

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 4, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Horace, thank you for that very informative posting. Can you give us a link to its source?

I have heard similar from Ron Unz - here's a link from a PBS interview where he discusses his view: Web Link. Thought provoking... The core is this:

If it's not money, what explains this fall from grace?

The answer is very simple. It's curriculum more than anything else. In other words, the reason the test scores fell so dramatically by 1990 according to very many people's opinion and a lot of evidence was that California radically revised its curriculum in the mid to late 1980s under the spur of educational fads. The state shifted from a mixed reading system to a whole language oriented system. They got rid of traditional math and moved to what might be called inventive math. Constructive science, self esteem. The emphasis became entirely on these educational fads rather than on traditional educational quality.

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Posted by Horace
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 4, 2008 at 6:21 pm

> Can you give us a link to its source?

This Blog hides the links under the words "Web link". Just select that field and the links are in the postings.

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Posted by Confused
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2008 at 4:04 am

OP -

I keep hearing the claim that we are spending more per student in real dollars than before prop 13. Is this a true claim? If so, it would seem to suggest that prop 13 is not the culprit. Maybe the way we spend money (perhaps on organization, our teaching approach, corruption in education, union demands/practices) or what we spend money on (such as dealing with students from troubled families or students otherwise unprepared for the educational experience we provide) would provide a better explanation. What do you think of this line of thought?

It does seem that California gets a kind of reverse economy of scale in its education dollar.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 5, 2008 at 8:19 am

A couple of data points related to Prop 13 and spending. While Prop 13 does not seem to be helpful, it is also not the smoking gun. And the big question of course is still how much does funding level matter, noting that the District of Columbia, New York, and Alaska, not necessarily the top performing outcomes, are in the top 5 in terms of spending.

From the Prop 13 Wikipedia article: Web Link)

California public schools, which in the 1960s had been ranked among the best nationally in student achievement, have fallen to 48th in many surveys of student achievement.[8] Some have disputed Proposition 13's direct role in the move to state financing of public schools, because schools financed mostly by property taxes were declared unconstitutional in Serrano vs. Priest, and Proposition 13 was then passed partially as a result of that case.[7] California's spending per pupil was the same as the national average until about 1985, when it began dropping, which led to another referendum, Proposition 98, that requires a certain percentage of the state's budget to be directed towards education.[3]

From the Legislative Analyst Office (non-partisan, part of CA gov): Web Link

California Ranks Right in the Middle of the Pack. Figure 1 shows the NCES PPF rankings by state for 2003–04 (the most recent data available). As shown in the figure, California provided $9,266 per pupil in 2003–04. Excluding capital outlay and interest on debt, it provided $7,673 per pupil. It ranked 25th among the states, spending slightly less than the national average.

Adjusting for Inflation, PPF Has Been Relatively Flat. Figure 3 shows that PPF in California has increased nearly $3,000 over the last ten years. Adjusting for inflation, however, allows for more meaningful comparisons of PPF over time, as this demonstrates purchasing power in present dollar terms. Figure 4 shows that PPF in California in adjusted terms has remained relatively flat over the last decade.

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Posted by Warren
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 5, 2008 at 9:12 am

> California provided $9,266 per pupil in 2003–04

Using total cost for evaluating education spending is more important that operational costs alone. Capital spending must be included in any comparisons people make for the comparisons to have full value in evaluating education spending.

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Posted by One Parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Jul 5, 2008 at 11:37 am

Thank you very much for all the informative links. I am reading through them one by one.

Me Too, I am curious what the old fashioned curriculum was that Ron Unz believes would bring California education back on track. Is there any insight on comparing the pre- and post- "fad" changes? What is he refering to that we are missing today?

I do agree that energy upgraded classrooms do not mean high achieving students out of those rooms.

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 5, 2008 at 12:00 pm

In response to "How do you prove the best?"

- I never said "the best."

- I never said anonymous posts are inherently wrong. But I'm not going to get drawn into lengthy debates with masked critics.

- Since you seem to know nothing about National Board Certification, I offer you this opportunity to educate yourself before leaping to any more unwarranted conclusions - Web Link

Regarding the broader issues of education in the state: there's no clear cut linear cause/effect relationships to be found here. Just to take one example, curriculum can't be the sole answer when we've seen dramatic drops in the children's physical and mental health in the inner cities. Some reports suggest up to a third of urban youth have some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. More kids are missing school due to increases in asthma.

Add in funding problems, demographic changes (esp. language related), shifting mandates and testing programs, various changes in the teaching profession, cuts in school counselling, decaying infrastructure, increasingly complicated funding structures and ed. code regulations -- there are certain to be some correlations in some research, some going one way, some another... but cause/effect will not be easy to identify.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 5, 2008 at 1:27 pm

David, I'm not familiar with the data showing "dramatic drop in children's physical and mental health." Is there a source you are familiar with? Is this a California specific phenomenon? If not, while certainly worthy of our attention, it does not explain California's relative decline in results. If it is California specific, then it is even more worthy of our attention.

One Parent, I imagine Ron Unz has detailed views (he seems to do his homework) but the interview is brief. He does go on to say the below, though it doesn't add the detail you are looking for...

"The solution is to undo the damage that was done by these fads and that caused the decline. The way you get there is not spending and it's not structural changes, but it's returning to traditional academic subjects, science and math and English and reading and getting rid of these fads that have done so much damage to the public schools."

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Posted by Marty
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 5, 2008 at 5:23 pm

I'm a high school teacher who teaches in a poor, urban school district. I chose to teach in a school with challenged students because I truly felt my maturity, experience, and education would help me help my students. It many ways my background has helped my students greatly, but I, and my colleagues, get zero appreciation from the school administrators for all the above-and-beyond duty efforts we put in. Many of you complain about unions and tenure. Believe me, if it were not for tenure and the resultant job security, many of our GOOD teachers would move to a better school district. Indeed, our working conditions are so dreadful that some have left regardless of loss of tenure.

Please stop the constant union bashing--if teachers' unions are so darn powerful, why are we not paid commensurately for our years of university education, including ongoing classes for maintaining our credential? (Each of these university courses cost us $500+.) All-powerful unions, I think not.

In my district, and in many others, it's past time to fire incompetent administrators. However, that doesn't happen. Incompetent principals get moved from one school to another, usually being foisted on the weakest, poorest school in the district. All too often the good old boy network promotes these incompetents to the school district office, where they do even more damage.

When you suggest evaluation of teachers, you fail to recognize the risk of unfair evaluations. Racism and ethnocentrism are causes of biased evaluations. Further, it is hard to blame an individual teacher for poor test results. The poor results may stem from many causes having nothing to do with the teacher. In most schools, some teachers are given-or are allowed to select-only the top achieving students. Other teachers, especially new teachers, are given classes stuffed with problem students. Whose test results will look good? How does one determine if poor test results stem from the current teacher and not from previous teachers? As high school teacher, I’m constantly appalled by the lack of basic skills of ninth grade students when they enter high school. Yet, somehow, I’m supposed to address all their deficits and teach to state standards.

Until the problems of bad administration and favoritism are solved, there will be ongoing problems throughout the school system. Yes, there are a few, very few, bad teachers. There are also many discouraged, unhappy teachers who feel that their hard work and commitment is unrecognized by the school administrators, board members, parents, and students. Any smart employer can tell you that happy workers are more productive. How about doing something to make teaching a better experience?

It is extremely difficult to remain upbeat and motivated in face of the constant teacher bashing that has become typical in society. (The comments on this page are typical examples of bashing.) The problems in education start at the top. School boards need to question their superintendents' judgment more carefully and they also need to be much better educated in what it takes to run happy, successful schools. In my district, board members seem more interested in gaining political exposure for self advancement.

If I sound angry, I am. I am sick of being society's whipping boy.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 5, 2008 at 5:41 pm

I'm not going to be able to hit everything discussed here, but a couple of points.

Spending per pupil dropped dramatically, but in recent years it has climbed--basically a corrective.

One of things people don't realize--and something that makes Prop. 13 particularly ironic as a *conservative* measure--is that Prop. 13 was one of two things that basically wrested away local control of schools. (PAUSD is a big exception because we're basic aid.)

Basically, Prop. 13 destroyed the local property tax base by rolling back property taxes and limited increases unless there was a supermajority vote.

In reaponse to the dramatic shortfall, the state stepped in. It went from providing a minority of school funding to a majority. Thus, we have the state now able to dictate all sorts of things to local district. They have the money, we have to play by their rules.

So, Horace, yeah, Prop. 13 is, in part, responsible for the mass institution of some education trends.

Just to be fair, the Serrano ruling a couple of years before Prop. 13 was the liberal contribution to this mess. Serrano proclaimed that there had to be equitable distribution--districts couldn't be rich and poor--one of those redistribution of wealth things. The irony here is that "wealthy" districts were ones with an industrial base and were, in fact, serving poor inner-city kids. While some "poor" districts had affluent kids in them.

So between Serrano and Prop. 13, we lost local control of our school districts and, honestly, it's kind of sucked ever since. The biggest irony is that the situation got dire enough that the basic-aid districts came into being and now there's a small number of rich districts which really don't serve poor kids. The disparity is greater than ever.

I don't like draconian laws of either political persuasion. They tend to be poorly thought out and have unintended consequences--Serrano and Proposition 13 are examples of that.

I think you get better schools when people have a stronger say and more immediate investment in them. And I really don't think all schools have equal needs.

And, oh yeah, Prop. 13 did, in fact, give more clout to the teacher's union because it turned education into a centralized state government issue.

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Posted by another teacher
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2008 at 7:32 pm

Thank you, thank you, Marty... you have captured what I have been thinking as I read this thread. (I am a teacher.) Example: Once I got a poor evaluation from my principal for 'not smiling' when I signed in at the office in the morning. Everything else in the evaluations was fine - the important stuff such as TEACHING. I was untenured at the time and was intimidated by comment and the process. However, I gathered up the courage I needed to speak with him adult to adult and asked if he would have given the same evaluation to X teacher (who was male, older, tenured, and crabby with kids and adults alike). He said he wouldn't have and rewrote the evaluation and 'got it' that he had evaluated me on being a young female teacher. That was many years ago; I got tenure and still have a positive and professional relationship with that principal even though I no longer work there. I am grateful that I had the chutzpah to challenge the evaluation. And though I did not use the union in this instance, I think this situation could have devolved into a situation where union support would have been great.

That being said -- I taught in New England for many years before I taught in California. If I could change anything in CA (other than scrapping 13 and starting again somehow), I would do away with the levels of bureaucracy here. It's unbelievable: state, county, local, superintendent of this, of that, administrator for blah blah blah, etc. etc. Trying to get paper for my classroom is so complicated and exhausting let alone trying to be the most effective teacher for my students, their families, and our community. I'd like to see Local Education Authorities with some sort of community oversight boards made up of teachers, parents, community members, etc. but I know I am dreaming.)

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 5, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Teachers, while I agree that "bashing" is not necessary or appropriate, I don't have much empathy for cries of "unfair evaluations." Anyone who has ever had a boss has suffered these slings and arrows of outrageous fortune - the boss is biased, he doesn't like people like me, my territory was not as good, I had a tough break, etc. But the alternative is worse; evaluations go on and we are all the better for it. So it can and should be with teachers..

I do empathize with that the bosses (principals, administrators, supers) need to be graded harder on the job they are doing. A bad principal is, in most ways, much worse than a bad teacher - s/he enables bad teachers and disheartens better ones. The NYC schools have made building strong principals one of the keystones of their strategy. It seems we all would do well to focus attention on these "branch managers."

And with supers, the "buck stops here." Like CEOs, they get the credit for good results; they should be shaken hard when things go wrong.

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Posted by Horace
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 6, 2008 at 8:18 am

> I never said "the best."

So many people associated with the schools say that it is hard to keep track of who doesn't say that.

> I never said anonymous posts are inherently wrong

Then why bring the topic up? In a town with 75% claiming BS or better, its a pretty good guess that people posting have BS or better backgrounds.

> Since you seem to know nothing about National Board Certification

The comment only pointed out that if the PAUSD has 1.5% of California's total Board Certified teachers that this certification can't been very interesting to over 300,000 teachers in other school districts--no more.

> Just to take one example, curriculum can't be the sole answer when
> we've seen dramatic drops in the children's physical and mental
> health in the inner cities.

This may, or may not, be true. For a teacher to make this sort of sweeping claims without links to US DoE (or some such) sources makes these sorts of claims ignored. On the other hand, the inner cities are a magnet for illegals. Care to link illegal immigration to test scores, or other societal problems?

> Some reports suggest up to a third of urban youth have some
> degree of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

"Some reports"? .. what reports? "Post-tramatic stress disorder"? Care to share with us what "trauma" these kids have experienced? Aren't you talking about millions and millions of children?

> but cause/effect will not be easy to identify.

Which gets us back to the original point--that Prop.13 is not the cause of the "demise" of the California school system.

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Posted by teacher union basher
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2008 at 8:20 am

Marty -

So many of us are not sensitive to wrong-headed blaming of teachers.

But I do currently believe that the teachers unions hurt teachers' ability to teach and to grow as teachers, and hurt students even more than that.

Re: "Please stop the constant union bashing--if teachers' unions are so darn powerful, why are we not paid commensurately for our years of university education, including ongoing classes for maintaining our credential?"

It may be a statistical correlation that those with years of university education and ongoing classes earn more than others, but who gets pay increases directly for their education? I think mostly those in unions or union influenced roles. This is a union concept, and doesn't help fair pay for productivity. (Though rewards for education alone may help impact underlying cultural and societal problems associated with racism or other discrimination).

Obtaining university education is not a directly productive activity, and it's not convincing that someone is underpaid because they earn less than someone with far fewer years of education.

(Well, I'm old; perhaps the socialist revolution in California slipped right by me.)

I think this kind of emphasis on pay based on stuff other than productivity hurts your cause.

It's hard to measure teacher productivity, but we must do that in addition to whatever else we do. Throwing more money isn't enough, and given our demographic and economic forecasts, that will also be quite difficult.

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Posted by John
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 6, 2008 at 8:34 am

> I would do away with the levels of bureaucracy here.

It is a shame that this sort of claim is not better documented. It comes up time and again, but there never seems to be any documentation. Paper is a commodity .. so it's understandable that there are some controls on it. (It might be time to begin to think about using electronic paper rather than cellulose-based paper.)

There are clues that this might be true, however. For instance, the Santa Clara County Department of Education has a budget of over $250M--larger than the largest school district in Santa Clara County. What does this entity do to increase education of the County's students?

How could this money be better spent? The Governator tried a couple of years ago to disband the County Departments of Education--but ran into a brick wall. It's high time to rethink the need for these entities. If they are a source of bureaucracy--then it's time to consign these Departments to the dust bins of history.

A complete audit of the school systems--starting with the local school districts (about 1000 of them) and finally the State controls .. would be a good start.

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 6, 2008 at 9:01 am

Horace -

Why repeat your ignorant performance without looking into any more information?

- I'll give you one quick reason we have way more than our share of Ntl. Board Teachers. It's an expensive and time consuming process for which this district provides greater support and greater incentives. It's not that other teachers aren't interested, it's that they have less opportunity. Please, look up the facts and research on the efficacy of the program before attempting any reply about something beyond your knowledge.

- The asthma and PTSD info have been widely reported. I just did a Google search for "urban youth ptsd symptoms." Try it. And the increase in asthma is a global trend.

You write: "For a teacher to make this sort of sweeping claims without links to US DoE (or some such) sources makes these sorts of claims ignored." - I suspect your main problem is that the source is a teacher, since the claims are so very easily supported and so widely known (outside of your home).

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Posted by Horace
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 6, 2008 at 9:04 am

> Spending per pupil dropped dramatically, but in recent years
> it has climbed--basically a corrective.

Sources, please.

Because schools spend 85% of their budgets on salaries and benefits--most of the "increase" in school spending has simply resulted in higher salaries for teachers--not better education for children.

> Basically, Prop. 13 destroyed the local property tax base by
> rolling back property taxes and limited increases unless there
> was a supermajority vote.

Prop.13 "rolled back" property taxes from 1978 to 1976-- all of two years (at best). It did replace the previous method of "ad hoc"/localized tax increases with a predictable tax base increase--which doubles the tax base every 35 years. Additionally, the meteoric rise in property values in California because of the electronics industries (and other businesses) has driven property values up so that the property tax base is higher here than in most states.

Price of houses (by state):
Web Link

School infrastructure taxes still were passed by the voters--just with more difficulty. Prop.39 has now eviscerated Prop.13 where school bonds are concerned. Moreover, Prop.39 has set the stage for massive waste, and the emergence of bond-financed charter schools.

> In reaponse to the dramatic shortfall, the state stepped in.
> It went from providing a minority of school funding to a majority.
> Thus, we have the state now able to dictate all sorts of things to
> local district. They have the money, we have
> to play by their rules.

As you have pointed out, this was really Serrano-Priest that shifted the funding of schools from "local control" to "state control". There has never been a subsequent legal challenge to Serrano, so it would seem to have been a good decision for the state, as a whole.

The Serrano-Priest event illuminated education disparities across the state.

> So between Serrano and Prop. 13, we lost local control of our
> school districts
> and, honestly, it's kind of sucked ever since

Sadly, schools don't do a lot of documentation. It would be difficult to go to any school district and ask to see the School Board Minutes from 1965, to see what it was like during the "golden era" .. or expect to get a copy of any school budget from that era. There is very little left (in the public domain, anyway) to fully appreciate the state of affairs of the California schools in the pre-1970 era.

Dealing with peoples' memories who were probably children at the time does not make for the basis of reasoned discussion about the history of public education.

So far .. not much evidence presented to prove that Prop.13 "destroyed the schools".

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 6, 2008 at 9:54 am

David, you of course are not obliged to respond to posts directed at you, but if you do have sources on the "dramatic drops in the children's physical and mental health in the inner cities" that would be helpful. I did Google it, but lots of flotsam and jetsam.

Personally, I expect the relative decline of CA test results is likely a combination of spending (Prop 13 didn't help), immigration (a wonderful thing long-term, but hard on school results short-term), and policy/curriculum. Those seems like 3 things that are likely to be state-specific (vs., say, health problems). Of the 3, I suspect immigration is the #1 culprit, since the size and diversity of California's immigrant community has no equal among the states. If anyone has a good source of long term relative state test performance, I would be happy to test this hypothesis and report back.

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Posted by Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 6, 2008 at 11:12 am

I realize that my comments are not about the article that started this thread, but I fet some teacher insight may be helpful

Although schools are judged on their test scores, the scores are not a valid measurement of what the kids know. Think about high school spanish, for example, remember that speaking and listening in spanish was much easier than reading and writing in it. That doesn't mean that you didn't understand what was being said or the concept being taught, but reading and writing was harder (at least for me and everyone else in my class).

I teach 2nd grade in another district and I have three kids in Palo Alto schools. In my class last year I had 12 (out of 20) english language learners from 7 different countries. My star test results are probably going to be low, because 12 of my students had to be able read in english and answer the questions. I can only read the instructions TWICE. Now think back to your high school foreign language class... How well would you have done on a state test in that language? So my results will probably be low, but the kids learned a tremendous amount and are more capable now than they have ever been, but unfortunately their growth will not be measured and recorded. We have a huge immigrant population in the Silicon Valley, besides lack of money and resources, this is one of the reasons some districts have lower scores. Palo Alto doesn't necessarily have "the best teachers" (we all go to the same schools and get the same training), what Palo Alto has is money, resources, and more english speaking children. A lot of families in Palo Alto also have money for tutors to help their struggling child. I agree with the above post (paraphrasing) the parents have a HUGE part in making our schools successful.

I work with incredibly talented and creative teacher, who devote their lives to children and these amazing teachers are also going to probably have low test scores. You cannot measure the success of the student, district, or teacher based on these scores.

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Posted by Horace
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 6, 2008 at 11:37 am

> The asthma and PTSD info have been widely reported. I just did
> Google search for "urban youth ptsd symptoms."

OK .. here's an article on this topic:

Web Link

An estimated one-third of children living in urban war zones have PTSD, according to recent research and the country's top child trauma experts. Yet few of these kids are ever diagnosed or treated.

An "estimated" one-third .. "yet few have been diagnosed".

Assuming that the "estimated" came from statistical inference .. it is very possible that this number is over-estimated? Any idea when the diagnoses will be performed and the estimations be replaced with actual data?

A little "googling" suggests that the "trauma" that has been endured by these kids is a violent act. Given the well-established crime rates in so-called "inner city" zones of our cities, there is no reason not to accept that these kids have witnessed crime.

So .. what to do? Solve the "crime" problem by beefing up our police forces, becoming fully invested in the linkages established between illegal immigration and inner city crime, recognize that the legal system (meaning the laws and the courts) by being "soft on crime"? Or put more money into the schools?

As for the asthma issue --

Web Link

ERIC #: EJ725335
Title: Childhood Asthma and Student Performance at School
Authors: Taras, Howard; Potts-Datema, William
Descriptors: Attendance; Academic Achievement; Diseases; Children; Correlation; Symptoms (Individual Disorders); Child Health; High Risk Students; Literature Reviews
Source: Journal of School Health, v75 n8 p296 Oct 2005
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Publisher: Journal Customer Services, Blackwell Publishing, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148. Tel: 781-388-8200; Tel: 800-835-6770 (Toll Free); Fax: 781-388-8210; e-mail:
Publication Date: 2005-10-01
Pages: 17
Pub Types: Journal Articles; Numerical/Quantitative Data; Reports - Evaluative

Abstract: To better understand what is known about the association between childhood asthma, school attendance, and academic outcomes, the authors reviewed published studies investigating this topic. Tables with brief descriptions of each study's research methodology and outcomes are included. Research reveals evidence that rates of absenteeism are higher among students with asthma. The exact magnitude of absenteeism is difficult to ascertain. However, the studies have helped to identify characteristics of children with asthma that are most likely to be associated with the highest absenteeism rates. Some interventions to improve rates of absenteeism among school-aged children with asthma show promise, but it cannot yet be concluded that students who adhere to medical routines for controlling asthma will as a result increase their rates of attendance. Studies thus far have shown that there is either only a weak or nonexistent association between asthma and school achievement. Further studies are required to verify, if certain subpopulations of children with asthma (eg, those with severe and ongoing symptoms, those with disturbed sleep, kindergarten children) are at higher risk for poor school achievement.

> Studies thus far have shown that there is either only a weak
> or nonexistent association between asthma and school achievement.

To be fair to the discussion, this study is about ten years old, and possibly another study will provide a more positive linkage. However, this 1997 study seems to discount an asthma-school performance linkages.

By the way--here is a nice web-site for child-related statistics (including on asthma):
Web Link

Most people are not involved with the schools system, nor with public health system. So .. it would pay for people to recognize that and to at least post links to the sources they would like to introduce into a blog session. It only takes a little time to find one or two links--and it saves the readers of the blog a lot of time trying to guess what you are talking about.

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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 6, 2008 at 1:58 pm


I respect what you're trying to do, but you won't make much progress with this type. Thanks anyway. I'd let it go if I were you cause you never know when one of these self-styled hyperactive critics will end up as a parent at your school or in one of your classes. Don't give them any ammo, and don't stoop to their level.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 6, 2008 at 2:57 pm


Many homeowners pay well below the rate of their home's market value--so the meteoric rise in real estate does not provide a one-to-one benefit to the schools. The assessments come nowhere near market value. Housing prices jump 20 percent in one year? Well, if there's minimal turnover there's nowhere near the rise in property-tax income.

This does encourage sprawl and real-estate developments with their quick promises of a boost in property taxes.

So, property taxes rise nowhere near as fast as the real-estate values. What does rise, of course, is cost-of-living.

So, yeah, ya gotta pay teachers a living wage. And that living wage ties in much more closely to the actual cost of housing than the assessed value.

Yes, Serrano did damage. Proposition 13 pretty much completed the fiasco. There's a Rand report online that goes into the details.

As for my being a child--well, I was a literate teen-ager reading those board minutes. And newspapers keep records. It's actually quite easy to document if you want to hang out in some archives.

For that matter, all you really have to do is look at when our schools were built and when they were sold, leased, etc. and the reasons given.

Since you don't sound as if you were a child at the time, should I make a comment about the fading memory of the elderly? Fact is, children and young adults have terrific memory retention.

And since my education was directly affected by Proposition 13--unlike yours--I have every reason to have noticed what was going on.

Oh, and *I* actually did keep a written record.

So Horace, you're batting zip for three on that one.

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Posted by Jane
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 6, 2008 at 3:49 pm

FT Web Link
"A startling and profoundly important fact about the US economy has received surprisingly little attention. The educational quality of the country’s workers is starting to decline – not just relatively (because other countries are catching up and moving ahead) but also, for the first time, in absolute terms. Over the coming years, baby-boomers departing from the labour force will have better educational qualifications than the younger workers replacing them. If the ultimate source of an economy’s ability to grow and prosper is its human capital, the US is in trouble.

For decades the educational quality of the US labour force surged. In 1940, less than 5 per cent of the population aged 25-64 had at least a four-year college education. By 2000, the proportion had increased to nearly 30 per cent. Successive generations of workers improved on the educational attainments of their predecessors. Retiring workers were replaced by better-educated youngsters. This remorseless accumulation of human capital helped fuel the country’s postwar growth. According to at least one authoritative study, it was the principal driver.

This trend came to a halt with workers now aged 55-59. Younger cohorts are no better educated than these soon-to-retire boomers. Broadly speaking, educational quality has topped out – and on at least one measure, it is actually deteriorating. In 2006, Americans aged 55-59 collectively possessed more masters degrees, professional degrees and doctorates than Americans aged 30-34. This impending loss of educational capital is entirely outside the country’s experience."

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 6, 2008 at 4:03 pm

I'd like to thank "Teacher, Duveneck/St. Francis" for his/her posts which are insightful. I certainly don't think teachers should be paid based on STAR test results, that would be unfair. You are working in a challenging environment and showing progress, which is great. I understand the concern of teachers who feel they will be held accountable for "results" -- but what can be used for valid results for the sake of comparison?
Nonetheless,I know there are extremes out there on both ends: so I am truly sorry for outstanding teachers who do not earn merit pay and public acknowledgement which they really deserve (particularly around here in this high cost of living area) and angered by the few extremely incompetent/perhaps dangerous teachers who should be fired on the spot but who go on their merry way.

I think the huge numbers of immigrants/illegal immigrants/English language learners entering our CA school system has created an untenable situation, regardless of how much taxpayer money we throw at the system. LA Unified is a horrow show, I understand.
I have lived in another school district that really bent over backwards to accommodate illegals and therefore didn't have the money/energy for regular students/operations. This school system put up a sign on school office windows saying they would not ask for any documentation, etc.
First off, I totally oppose paying to educate illegal aliens. What other country does this?
Second, one wonders about the entire structure of our political/bureaucratic school system in CA., including these county boards of education. SCCBoE has many employees - what do they do? I visited once and was surprised at the scale of the place.
Isn't it true in Sacramento we have both a political and an educational head of the school system at the state level...we have a big bureaucracy...we have complicated funding systems. Maybe we need to do what NYC is doing, take an extreme new management setup.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2008 at 5:48 pm

So reading between the lines on some of these threads, we do have some poor teachers and some bad teachers here in Palo Alto. It seems to me that we do not only have lotteries to get into immersion and choice programs, but we also have lotteries to see if our child is unlucky enough to get one of the bad teachers.

I find this thread quite interesting as it seems that Jordan in particular and also Paly have parents willing to write in on this thread but I am not naive enough to think that they are the only schools with poor teachers. I have also read that some poor teachers are tossed around the schools because they can't be tossed out altogether.

What concerns me is what happens to my child if they end up with one of these poor or bad teachers. Do these kids have to repeat the subject due to bad teaching? If enough kids of a poor teacher fail the class, is there anything we as parents can do? Can it be proved that the kids fail due to poor teaching and not their abilities? And, in the lower grades a child could potentially be turned off for life if a subject is badly taught. Is there any way we can turn this around?

This is a good school district where people move here for the schools. If we have bad teachers, can't something constructive be done?

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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 7, 2008 at 12:50 pm

yes, if your child has a poor teacher, they can fall behind (or parents/tutors pick up the slack).

Biology at Paly - it seems as if a good number of kids dropped it, are retaking it, or for a variety of reasons are not qualified to take chemistry their sophomore year. It is the same at Gunn? Is it the course or teachers?

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2008 at 1:20 pm

We signed up for the biology summer school, but it was cancelled because of lack of interest. If someone fails that class they have to retake it. Unfortunately, the class was cancelled before people knew they had failed it, so it seems that next year they will have to retake the biology instead of chemistry. It is a shame that we couldn't have a system so that they could retake the class during the summer they have failed rather than having to mess up classes for the following year.

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